Archives Wiki

archives-wiki.jpgAttention Historians of Psychology who do archival research: there’s a new resource in development! After the initial proposal was made in October 2006, the American Historical Association (AHA) has finally launched an Archives Wiki this month.

According to the site, the purpose of the project is to provide “a clearinghouse of information about archival resources throughout the world. While it is primarily designed to be useful to historians and others doing historical research, we hope that researchers in many disciplines will find it useful.”

But why create a Wiki to collect these resources you might ask? According to Robert Townsend, the AHA’s assistant director for research and publications, and Vernon Horn, the AHA’s internet projects coordinator:

“It would be impossible for the staff of the AHA to develop such a project on their own. The National Union Catalog of Manuscripts Collections lists more than 5,000 archival collections in the United States and Canada, and the AHA’s interests encompass the world—expanding the number of archives exponentially. Beyond that, the information a history researcher needs to know is more specific and particular, something that can really only be obtained at the ground level. So a wiki seems to be the only way to make such a resource possible. But it will rely on the good faith and efforts of researchers and archivists to meet its potential.” (Perspectives on History, February issue)

The site aims to collect the following details for archives around the world:

  • Location
  • Contact info
  • Website
  • Hours
  • Collection summary
  • Finding aids
  • Archivists
  • Restrictions
  • Where to stay
  • Photocopy/Reproduction policies (cost? self-copying? scanners? digital camera allowed?)
  • Organization of materials
  • Author of materials
  • Oddities within or about the materials; Suggestions for approaching the material; Special features

Though only recently launched, the site already has listings for a number of archives (see Browse All Archives).

The one thing that stands in the way of the success of the wiki is certainly the support it receives from researchers. On the AHA’s blog this week, Robert Townsend highlighted this hurdle:

“Unfortunately, this project will face some high hurdles given the rather solitary tendencies of many in our profession. When I circulated my original proposal to some senior scholars in the field, their response was sadly dismissive. Most averred that, “if I want to know about a particular archives, I just write to my network of friends.” Some in the archival community are skeptical as well. In a first assessment of this project at ArchivesNext, Kate Theimer wondered yesterday, “how eager historians will be to share really detailed information about … how to get access to ‘the good stuff.’” This project is offered in the hope that the profession is better than that; that historians young and old, and many others with an interest in archival research, can come together to make this a vital resource. We have done what we could within the resources available to us, so now, as they say, it is up to you.”

Though there are a handful of sites out there to aid in the search for archival material, the Archives Wiki seems like it will be a great resources for the more practical details one needs to know prior to heading to a particular archive – details that come straight from the mouths of those who have already used that particular archive.

Selection of other archival sources that may be of interest to our readers:

About Jennifer Bazar

Jennifer Bazar is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Her research focuses on the history of psychiatric institutionalization.