Week 5: Digital Collections – How We Use Sources

For this week we are looking at a selection of digitized resources that are available on the vast number of archives on the internet. I decided to jump right into the Library of Congress’ American Memory Collections. I was very tempted by Connected Histories and the Reading Experience Database, but I’m not up to speed on British history. I’m pretty involved in a lot of American Civil War readings for other classes and I know we’ll be doing a walking tour of a Connecticut town for this class. So I decided, why not stick with the good ol’ US of A for now?

Looking for Mystic, CT, since that is where I’ll be doing my walking tour. I’m lucky enough to find View of Mystic River & Mystic Bridge, Conn. 1879. Drawn & pub. by O. H. Bailey & J. C. Hazen. This isn’t available on the Connecticut History Online site, which I’ve used in the past to find old buildings or locate shops in Mystic. The way the American Memory Collections display and allow you to navigate their collections is a bit archaic. It’s a very basic HTML site and every time you click to move or zoom it is loading a different page. I found this out the hard way when I tried to click “back” to go back to the original search. You can, however, download a HUGE version of the original image, which most Flash based image navigation doesn’t let you do. I tend to have to do screen captures (holding down the PrtSc button).

Combining the information from each site I can get a clearer picture of the layout of Mystic River and Mystic Bridge in the 19th century. I am completely aware that these are hand drawn maps and were not done to be 100% accurate. What people who are more familiar with Google Maps and other satellite images might not understand is how to compare these hand drawn maps to the photographic versions. By having these maps available online it is much easier to look for the specific location you want to investigate. You don’t have to go to a library, dig out a 3 foot map and wander around a table with a magnifying glass to try and see who your 19th century next door neighbor was.  You can also take individual photos of the areas you want to include in your research.

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