Digital History: A Virtually Limitless Library

This month Nick Poyntz looks at how to access the wealth of digitised source material now available to historians.

In the last ten years increasing numbers of primary source materials, including History Today's enormous archive, have been 'digitised'- that is, turned into an electronic form that can be easily reproduced. Manuscripts have been scanned, paintings have been digitally photographed and oral histories have been recorded. Many are put onto the web or CD-Rom so that they can be accessed by anyone. As a result, digital versions of sources are now an essential research tool.

One of the most significant advantages of digital sources concerns capacity. A single computer hard drive can contain the contents of an entire library. The website Early English Books Online (EEBO), for example, contains scanned copies of over 100,000 of the 125,000 or so surviving books printed in England between 1475 and 1700. They can an be accessed at the click of a button, without applying for permission to read each one and without any risk of damaging the increasingly fragile originals. Archives like EEBO provide historians with unparalleled access to primary sources.

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