History Database Trials

The Library is running two history-related database trials: Empire Online and Declassified Documents Reference Service (DDRS). Examine each database by clicking on its title (from this post), or by pointing your browser to the Trial Databases page. Both trials run through March 12, 2006. Quick Overview: Empire Online will appeal to those working on European history and the Colonial and Early National Periods in the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Oceania; DDRS will interest those studying American history and diplomacy during the Cold War (compare to the Digital National Security Archive). Empire Online By 2007, this database will consist of “over 70,000 [page] images [but not OCR-scanned texts] of original manuscripts and printed material, 1492-1962, taken from libraries and archives around the world.” The core of Empire Online consists of documents digitized from the archives of the British Library, the British National Archives (Kew) and the Bodleian Library, Oxford. To date, 463 documents have been imaged. The primary source material is supported by thirteen bibliographic essays written by historians. Each essay contains between 30 and 50 hyperlinks leading back into the primary source material. This unique arrangement means that Empire Online can be used very effectively to introduce undergraduate students to primary sources. Beyond its pedagogic value, Empire Online would no doubt delight faculty interested in easy access to a range of important primary documents in Empire Studies. Empire Online does have its drawbacks. The most significant seems to be the lack of a full-text search engine for the primary sources. (The bibliographic essays are, however, full-text searchable.) While this problem is not fatal given the database’s extensive indexing, it is a serious oversight. Sorely missed also is a side-by-side transcription of manuscripts. This is less of a concern when viewing images of printed sources. Declassified Documents Reference System (DDRS) This is the online version of the long-standing print DDRS. (See the already-subscribed-to Digital National Security Archive for an example of a very similar database.) DDRS “users can query every document in the database for any name, date, word, or phrase. Searches can also be focused according to document type, issue date, source institution, classification level, date declassified, sanitization, completeness, number of pages, and document number. The database ranges from the years immediately following World War II, when declassified documents were first made widely available, through the 1970s. Nearly every major foreign and domestic event of these years is covered: the Cold War, Vietnam, foreign policy shifts, the civil rights movement, and many others.” DDRS exists largely because thousands of researchers over the years have specifically requested the included documents from various presidential libraries. On the other hand, most of the documents available via the Digital National Security Archive were orginally made available through executive agency compliance with the 1966 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The two databases, though similar in purpose, are therefore unique; both are worth checking out. Please provide feedback — favorable or otherwise — on these databases to David C. Murray, History Librarian.

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