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How Digital Photography Has Changed Archival Research

smartphone with filing cabinets, globe in background, illustration

Credit: Getty Images

Digital photography has become the new normal for archival research. Instead of reading papers during an archival visit, historians and other researchers snap pictures of documents and then look at them later. A survey by Ian Milligan, a historian at the University of Waterloo, found that a subset of researchers (about 23 percent) took fewer than 200 photos for their "last substantive project," while a plurality (about 40 percent) took more than 2,000.

The smartphone and cheap digital photography are the driving force. Digital photos drive down the cost of archival research, allowing an individual to capture far more documents per hour. An archival visit becomes a process of standing over documents, snapping pictures as quickly as possible. Some researchers organize their photos with an open-source tool named Tropy.

The ways that information is collected and managed marks a "dramatic reshaping of historical practice," Milligan says.

From The Atlantic
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