History, Department of


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William G. Thomas III, "Renegotiating the Archive: Scholarly Practice in a Digital Age," in Terra Cognita: Graduate Students in the Archives, A retrospective on the CLIR Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources (CLIR, May 2016)


In the last two decades scholarly practice in archival research has changed substantially. The availability of digital finding aids and digital facsimiles of original sources combined with powerful search engines and digital library technologies have altered how historians and other researchers encounter, access, and use archives and sources. Scholars who were trained to work solely in physical archives are now dealing with a fundamentally new environment. These changes have come with considerable anxieties about whether digitization and digital archives are replacing, as well as displacing, traditional archival work in the archives. Judging from the experience of the Mellon Fellows, however, these same changes have also heightened scholars' reliance on the expertise of archivists and librarians. The relationship between the scholar and the archivist or librarian has become more central, more direct, and more consequential, not less. As a result, we need to renegotiate what happens in and with the archive.