4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Archives Timeline


8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Palace Archive of Ebla, Syria 2,500 BCE – 2,250 BCE

Ebla Tablet

Ebla tablets in situ.

Ebla tablets in situ.

Distribution of tablets on room shelves.

Between 1974 and 1975 Italian archaeologist Paolo Matthiae from the University of Rome La Sapienza and his team discovered up to 1800 cuneiform tablets and 4700 fragments, and many thousand minor chips, representing the palace archives of the ancient city of Ebla, Syria. The city of Ebla, long known from Egyptian and Akkadian inscriptions, had been discovered by Matthiae in 1968.

Collectively, the tablets discovered at Ebla have come to be known as the Ebla tablets. Found in situ on collapsed shelves, the tablets retained many of their contemporary clay tags, by which they could be referenced by original users. 

"About 80% of the tablets are written using the usual Sumerian combination of logograms and phonetic signs, while the others exhibited an innovative, purely phonetic representation using Sumerian cuneiform of a previously unknown Semitic language, which was called Eblaite. Bilingual Sumerian/Eblaite vocabulary lists were found among the tablets, allowing them to be translated. Giovanni Pettinato and Mitchell Dahood believed the Eblaite language was West Semitic, however I. J. Gelb and others believed it was an East Semitic dialect, closer to the Akkadian language. Now it is commonly accepted that Eblaite is part of the East Semitic branch of Semitic, and very close to the Akkadian language."

"It now appears that the building housing the tablets was not the palace library, which may yet be uncovered, but an archive of provisions and tribute, law cases and diplomatic and trade contacts, and a scriptorium where apprentices copied texts. The larger tablets had originally been stored on shelves, but had fallen onto the floor when the palace was destroyed. The location where tablets were discovered where they had fallen allowed the excavators to reconstruct their original position on the shelves: it soon appeared that they were originally shelved according to subject" (Wikipedia article on Ebla, accessed 01-12-2013).

The Ebla tablets are preserved in Syrian museums in Aleppo, Damascus, and Idlib.

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The Garsana Archive of Cuneiform Tablets is Returned to Iraq 2,031 BCE – 2,024 BCE

On November 2, 2013 it was announced that Cornell University planned to forfeit and return to Iraq the archive of about 1400 cuneiform tablets known as the Garšana archive (Garsana), which was donated to Cornell beginning in the year 2000. The archive was returned under the assumption that the tablets were looted in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War

The Garšana archive represents the records of a rural estate at or near the town of Garšana located somewhere in the territory of the Sumerian city of Umma, probably in the vicinity of ancient Zabalam (Zabala) and Karkar. The tablets date from an eight year period, 2031-2024 BCE, during the Third Dynasty of Ur.  

"The estate was owned by Šu-Kabta, a physician and general, and his wife, the princess Simat-Ištaran. These documents record many of the daily functions of the estate and provide for the first time a comprehensive picture of life on such an estate. Detailed information on the construction and maintenance of the many buildings on the estate that included a brewery, textile and flour mills, leather working shop, and kitchen; the hiring and supervision of builders and laborers coming from various towns near and far; management of orchards; canal travel and trade between the estate and the cities of Sumer; and numerous other details of daily life. Particularly noteworthy are the funerary records of the family and the role of the princess Simat-Ištaran who assumed the control of the estate upon the death of her husband" (http://cuneiform.library.cornell.edu/collections/garsana, accessed 11-03-2013).

"Among the tablets is the private archive of a 21st century BC Sumerian princess in the city of Garsana that has made scholars rethink the role of women in the ancient kingdom of Ur. The administrative records show Simat-Ishtaran ruled the estate after her husband died.

"During her reign, women attained remarkably high status. They supervised men, received salaries equal to their male counterparts' and worked in construction, the clay tablets reveal.

" 'It's our first real archival discovery of an institution run by a woman,' said David Owen, the Cornell researcher who has led the study of the tablets. Because scholars do not know precisely where the tablets were found, however, the site of ancient Garsana cannot be excavated for further information.

"Other tablets provide detailed administrative records of ancient life, including the procedures for temple rituals, the resettlement of refugees and the output of agricultural lands.

"The source of the Garsana tablets was the subject of a 2001 investigation by the Department of Homeland Security, according to records obtained by Harvard researcher Benjamin Studevent-Hickman under the Freedom of Information Act. Buying and possessing antiquities illegally removed from countries such as Iraq, which claim them as government property, can be a violation of U.S. law" (http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-iraq-tablets-cornell-university-20131103,0,7036026.story#axzz2jav6tYSE, accessed 11-03-2013).

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Survey of Ancient Libraries and Archives in the Near East 1,500 BCE – 300 BCE

Olof Pedersén, Archives and Libraries in the Ancient Near East 1500-300 B.C. (1998), remains the most comprehensive survey of the earliest western archives and libraries that I have seen, as of February 2013. It contains numerous schematic diagrams of ancient building layouts on which it identifies the location of each library or archive found. With a few exceptions, it does not discuss or attempt to summarize the contents of any archive or library covered.

1. Pedersén's study describes 253 archives and libraries from 51 different cities, of which 125 archives and libraries date from 1500-1000 BCE and 128 to 1000-300 BCE. "Since many of the very early excavations did not properly document the find-spots of tablets, it is probable that some additional archives or libraries from this period have been unearthed. . . ." (p. 238)

2. "Most of the cities or towns where archives or libraries have been unearthed were cities of medium or major size. Only rarely has material been found in smaller towns. . . ; it is unclear whether this is due to lack of written documentation in rural areas or only a consequence of a limited number of excavations of smaller settlements.

3. "Several of the archives and libraries, expecially the larger ones, were apparently placed upon wooden shelves. Evidence of wooden shelves is proposed to exist for a limited number of official archives (Tapigga 1, Harbe1), and has been assumed elsewhere (e.g., Nineveh 2). There is, however, a lack of evidence in many sites indicating the use of wooden shelves, probably due to the perishable nature of wood and a lack of sounder achaeological methodology during the earlier excavations. Sometimes the shelves were constructed of brick or designed as niches in the walls. Such imperishable shelves have been preserved in the some libraries  (Dur-Sarrukin 1 and 2, Sippar 2). The temple library in Sippar is the oldest library in history found with literary texts still standing in their original position on the shelves" (p. 244).

4. "The largest archives and libraries consist of between 1,000 and 30,000 texts. There are at least 16, perhaps even 21, archives or libraries of such size. They represent six or eight percent of the total number of 253 archives and libraries discussed here. The largest archive is the Neo-Babylonian administrative archive from the Samas temple (Sippar 1), comprising about 30,000 texts." (pp. 244-45).

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Archive of Egyptian Diplomatic Correspondence Written in the Diplomatic Language, Akkadian Cuneiform Circa 1,360 BCE – 1,330 BCE

ME E29785 of the British Museum: A letter from Burnaburiash, a king of the Kassite dynasty of Babylonia, to Amenhotep IV. The tablet is one of the Amarna Letters. (View Larger)

The Amarna Letters, or Correspondence, an archive of mostly diplomatic correspondence between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom, written on clay tablets, was found around 1887 in Upper Egypt at Amarna, the modern name for the Egyptian capital of Akhetaten (Akhetaton), founded by pharaoh Akhenaten (Akhnaton), during the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt.  

"The Amarna letters are unusual in Egyptological research, being mostly written in Akkadian cuneiform, the writing system of ancient Mesopotamia rather than ancient Egypt. The known tablets currently total 382 in number, 24 further tablets having been recovered since the Norwegian Assyriologist Jørgen Alexander Knudtzon's landmark edition of the Amarna correspondence, Die El-Amarna-Tafeln in two volumes (1907 and 1915).

"These letters, consisting of cuneiform tablets mostly written in Akkadian – the regional language of diplomacy for this period – were first discovered by local Egyptians around 1887, who secretly dug most of them from the ruined city (they were originally stored in an ancient building archaeologists have since called the Bureau of Correspondence of Pharaoh) and then sold them on the antiquities market. Once the location where they were found was determined, the ruins were explored for more. The first archaeologist who successfully recovered more tablets was William Flinders Petrie in 1891–92, who found 21 fragments. Émile Chassinat, then director of the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, acquired two more tablets in 1903. Since Knudtzon's edition, some 24 more tablets, or fragments of tablets, have been found, either in Egypt, or identified in the collections of various museums.

"The tablets originally recovered by local Egyptians have been scattered among museums in Cairo, Europe and the United States: 202 or 203 are at the Vorderasiatisches Museum in Berlin; 80 in the British Museum; 49 or 50 at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo; seven at the Louvre; 3 at the Pushkin Museum; and 1 is currently in the collection of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago.

"The full archive, which includes correspondence from the preceding reign of Amenhotep III as well, contained over three hundred diplomatic letters; the remainder are a miscellany of literary or educational materials. These tablets shed much light on Egyptian relations with Babylonia, Assyria, the Mitanni, the Hittites, Syria, Canaan, and Alashiya (Cyprus). They are important for establishing both the history and chronology of the period. Letters from the Babylonian king Kadashman-Enlil I anchor the timeframe of Akhenaten's reign to the mid-14th century BC. Here was also found the first mention of a Near Eastern group known as the Habiru, whose possible connection with the Hebrews remains debated. Other rulers include Tushratta of Mittani, Lib'ayu of Shehchem, Abdi-Heba of Jerusalem and the quarrelsome king Rib-Hadda of Byblos, who in over 58 letters continuously pleads for Egyptian military help" (Wikipedia article on Amarna letters, accessed 09-01-2009).

In July 2014 digital facsimiles and transliterations of the Amarna tablets in the Vorderasiatisches Museum were available from CDLI (Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative) at this link.

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1,000 BCE – 300 BCE

Knowledge as Power: King Ashurbanipal Forms the Earliest Systematically Collected Library as Distinct from an Archive 668 BCE – 627 BCE

In an effort to collect all knowledge, Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria from 668 to 627 BCE, collected a library at his capital city Nineveh, containing, it has been estimated, 20,000–30,000 clay tablets written in cuneiform script

"Ashurbanipal was one of the few Assyrian kings to have been trained in the scribal arts—by one Balasî , a senior royal scholar " (Robson, "The Clay Tablet Book," Eliot & Rose (eds) A Companion to the History of the Book [2007] 75).

"Recent cataloguing in the British Museum has enumerated some 3,700 scholarly tablets from Ashurbanipal's Library written in Babylonian script and dialect—about 13 percent of the entire library. Ashurbanipal's obsession with Babylonian books did not, then, completely overwhelm indigenous production, but he did view them as highly valuable cultural capital; their forced removal to Nineveh undermined Babylonian claims to the intellectual heritage of the region and thus pretensions to political hegemony, while reinforcing Ashurbanipal's own self-image as guardian of Mesopotamian culture and power" (Robson, op. cit., 77).

The library was discovered at Nineveh by archaeologist/explorer Austen Henry Layard in 1849, and is considered the earliest systematically collected library, as distinct from a government archive. Clay tablets such as those in Ashburbanipal's library, or other cuneiform archives, were not typically fired in kilns for preservation. However, it is thought that a significant portion of Ashurbanipal's library survived to the present because the clay tablets were baked in fires set during the Median sack of Nineveh in 612 CE. Layard published an account of his discovery of the library in Discoveries in the Ruins of Nineveh and Babylon (2 vols., 1853) from which Clark, The Care of Books, page 2, reproduced the floor-plan of Ashurbanipal's record room:

"The tablets have been sorted under the following heads: History; Law; Science; Magic; Dogma; Legends: and it has been shewn (1) that there was a special functionary to take charge of them; (2) that they were arranged in series, with special precautions for keeping the tablets forming a particular series in their proper sequence; (3) that there was a general catalogue and probably a class-catalogue as well" (Clark, p. 4). 

To deter thieves, Ashurbanipal had the following curse written on many or all of his tablets. It is the earliest known book curse, and because it was also a means of identifying his property it might also be considered an early ex-libris, albeit a verbose one:

“I have transcribed upon tablets the noble products of the work of the scribe which none of the kings who have gone before me had learned, together with the wisdom of Nabu insofar as it existeth [in writing]. I have arranged them in classes, I have revised them and I have placed them in my palace, that I, even I, the ruler who knoweth the light of Ashur, the king of the gods, may read them. Whosoever shall carry off this tablet, or shall inscribe his name on it, side by side with mine own, may Ashur and Belit overthrow him in wrath and anger, and may they destroy his name and posterity in the land" (Drogin, Anathema! [1983] 52-53).

In 1872 English Assyriologist George Smith of the British Museum edited the surviving records of Ashurbanipal's life on clay cylinders and tablets and issued cuneiform transcriptions with interlinear translations as History of Assurbanipal, Translated from the Cuneiform Inscriptions (1872).

The surviving portion of Ashurbanipal's library includes 660 cuneiform tablets that concern medicine. These were published in facsimile for the first time, but without translation, by Reginald C. Thompson as Assyrian Medical Texts. From the Originals in the British Museum (1923).

Menant, La bibliothèque du palais de Ninive (1880). 

(This entry was last revised on 12-27-2014.)

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The Persepolis Administrative Archives 509 BCE – 457 BCE

Between 1933 and 1934 excavations directed by Ernest Herzfeld for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago discovered the administrative archives of the Persian city of Persepolis, consisting of the Persepolis Fortification Archive and the Persepolis Treasury Archive. Persepolis (Old Persian: Pārśa, New Persian: پرسپولیس) literary meaning "city of Persians", was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The modern name of the location is Takht-e Jamshid in Fars near Shiraz in southwestern Iran. 

The thousands of clay tablets, fragments and seal impressions in the Persepolis archives are a part of a single administrative system, representing continuity of activity and flow of data over more than fifty years from 509 to 457 BCE. These records contain information on the geography, economy, administration, religion and social conditions of the Persepolis region, the heartland of the Persian Great Kings from Darius I the Great to Artaxerxes I.

The Persepolis Fortification Archive was found at the northeastern corner of the terrace of Persepolis, in two rooms in the fortification wall in March 1933. The entrance to the rooms were bricked up in antiquity. The tablets had been stored in a small space near the staircase in the tower in the fortification wall, arranged in order, as if in a library. The upper floor of the fortification wall may have collapsed at the time of the Macedonian invasion, in the process partially destroying the order of the tablets while protecting them until 1933. Paradoxically, the burning of Persepolis by Alexander the Great in 330/329 BCE contributed to the preservation of the Achaemenid administrative archives that might have been lost due to passage of time by natural and manmade causes. Herzfeld estimated that the find included about 30,000 or more inscribed and sealed clay tablets and fragments.

"Persepolis Fortification Archive (PFA), also known as Persepolis Fortification Tablets (PFT, PF), is a fragment of Achaemenid  administrative records of receipt, taxation, transfer, storage of food crops (cereals, fruit), livestock (sheep and goats, cattle, poultry), food products (flour, breads and other cereal products, beer, wine, processed fruit, oil, meat), and byproducts (animal hides) in the region around Persepolis (larger part of modern Fars), and their redistribution to gods, royal family, courtiers, priests, religious officiants, administrators, travelers, workers, artisans, and livestock.

"But before Persepolis archives could have offered any clues to the better understanding of the Achaemenid history, the clay tablets, mostly written in a late dialect of Elamite, an extremely difficult language still imperfectly understood, had to be deciphered. So, in 1935, Iranian authorities loaned the Persepolis Fortification Archive to the Oriental Institute for research and publication. The archive arrived in Chicago in 1936 and has been under studies since 1937. It was not until 1969 when Richard Hallock published his magisterial edition of 2087 Elamite tablets [in] Persepolis Fortification Tablets leading to the renaissance of Achaemenid studies in 1970s. The long term project spanning over seven (7) decades is far from completion.

"153 tablets, approximately 30,000 fragments and an unknown number of uninscribed tablets were returned to Iran in the 1950s. So far about 450 tablets and tens of thousands of fragments have already been returned to Iran in total" (Wikipedia article on Perepolis Administative Archives, accessed 04-26-2014.)

The Persepolis Treasury Archive was found on the southeastern part of Persepolis terrace in the block of buildings identified as the "Royal Treasury" where small pieces of gold leaves were found. The find consisted of 746 clay tablets and fragments, covering 35 years from 492 to 457 BCE, from regnal year 30th of Darius I the Great, to regnal year 7th of Artaxerxes I, with the largest concentration from regnal years 19th and 20th of Xerxes

In April 2014 a history of the excavations and study of the Persian Achaemenid Administative Archives entitled Persian.ology. Gate-keepers of (clay) dinosaur bones by A. J. Cave was available from academia.edu at this link. The book was presented in an imaginative illustrated and typographic format.

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How Herodotus Used Writing and Messages in his Histories Circa 450 BCE – 420 BCE

As Herodotus (Ἡρόδοτος) was the founder of historical writing, references to written or archival records in his Histories (The History) are of particular interest. By the mid-fifth century BCE writing in Greece had existed for only about 300 years. Because writing was relatively new, and only a small portion of society was literate, it may not be surprising that Herodotus appears to have consulted few written sources in compiling his Histories. From Herodotus's own account it seems that most often he did not find it necessary, or perhaps practical, to verify information that he compiled from personal observation through the consultation of written records. Herodotus also expected his Histories to be read aloud, in which case citing written sources within the Histories might have been a kind of distraction.

Herodotus begins his Histories with a sentence that has been translated in various ways: "Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time."  Another translation of the same sentence reads, "What follows is a performance of the enquiries of Herodotus from Halicarnassus." According to Robert Strassler, editor of The Landmark Herodotus (2007) 3, Proem.b, "This almost certainly implies that Herodotus performed (read aloud) his text, in whole or in part, to an audience gathered to hear him."

Herodotus usually refers to records in the context of government, law, or communication. He often refers to dispatches sent by leaders as part of political or military negotiations, such as dispatches sent in the context of war. He describes attempts to send secret messages. He also refers to records used for the enforcement of laws, which were, of course, in written form. He is aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of writing over oral communication.

"Herodotus recognized the usefulness of writing for interpersonal communication, but he also knew that it could be problematic. Because writing fixed a message in time and space, a written document that seemed objective and straightforward could also be full of paradoxes. In the generation after Herodotus, Socrates would complain (in the dialogue Phaedrus, set down by Plato) that writing represented 'no true wisdom, . . . but only its semblance.' Written words 'seem to talk to you as though they were intelligent,' the philosopher said, 'but if you ask them anything about what they say, from a desire to be instructed, they go on telling you the same thing for ever.' Even worse, once something is put in writing it 'drifts all over the place, getting into the hands not only of those who understand it, but equally of those who have no business with it; it doesn't know how to address the right people, and not address the wrong. '  

"Like Socrates, Herodotus knew that writing was full of ambiguities. Since a written document could not be cross-examined as a speaking person could, it might be used not to inform but to deceive. Themistocles, the Athenian general who led the resistance to the invasion of Xerxes. knew this too. Both sides in the war were vying for the help of the Ionians, descendants of Greek settlers who had colonized the Aegean islands and the adjacent mainland coastal areas of present-day Turkey. Most Ionians sided with the Persians, their powerful near-neighbours, but the Greeks sought their aid on the grounds of common ancestry. Themistocles used the ambiguity of writing to enlist their help, or at least to minimize the potential harm they might do to the Greek cause. He sent men to the "drinkable-water places" where Ionian ships put in for resupply, and he had them cut written messages into the rocks there, urging the Ionians to abandon Xerxes and join the Greek side. His plan was clever: either the Ionians who read the messages would be persuaded to rebel against the Persians, he reasoned, or Xerxes himself would see the messages and distrust his allies, withholding them from the order of battle (8.22). As it happened, only a few Ionians defected to the Greeks (see 8.85), but a more important point had been made: writing could send a deliberately confusing message as well as a direct one. Writing was not always so straightforward as it appeared to be.

"Writing could also be useful for sending messages in secret, and Herodotus provided several examples of how written records promoted secrecy. There was a danger in committing anything to writing since, if the document were intercepted, secrecy would be lost. Histiaeus, who had been made Despot of Miletus by Darius, learned this lesson when he sought through secret messages to stir up a revolt against his benefactor. The King's brother intercepted these letters, read them, and then sent them on to their original destination, having meanwhile profited from knowing what plans were afoot. When the revolt came, the loyal forces 'killed a great number ... when they were thus revealed' (6.4). Still, writing out a message and smuggling it to a confederate could be safer than entrusting it orally to a messenger, who could be bribed or tortured into talking if apprehended. Because of the possibility of such discovery, special care was needed over secret communications, and Herodotus found several instances of such security precautions.

"These stories present the historian at his anecdotal best, and we may well doubt whether any of them actually happened. Their very dramatic content, however, highlights the problem Socrates complained of; namely, writing drifting 'all over the place' and getting into the wrong hands. In one case, a Mede named Harpagus plotted with Cyrus to overthrow the King and install the young man in his place. 'Because the roads were guarded,' a secret message had to be smuggled through by some 'contrivance.' Harpagus took a hare and split open its belly, leaving the fur intact. Next, he inserted "a paper on which he wrote what he wanted," stitched the animal back together, and entrusted it to a servant, disguised as an innocuous huntsman. The servant made it past the guards along the road and delivered the message to its intended recipient (1.123; the text of the message itself is at 1.124)" (O'Toole, "Herodotus and the Written Record," Archivaria 33 [1991-92] 153-54).

Whatever Herodotus's ideas regarding the written record, his Histories survived because he wrote them down, and because they were re-copied. According to Roger Pearse, tertullian.org, 18 papyrus fragments of Herdotus survived, all fragments of a page, with little overlap. Most of these fragments date from the first or second centuries CE. Pearse cites nine medieval manuscript exemplars. The earliest, Laurentian 70, 3, known as Codex A, dates from the 10th century C.E. This was carefully written by two scribes in succession. The text contains marginal summaries and the remains of scholia, copied from its exemplar, as well as much later marginal notes, especially in book 1.

Pearse provides the following general comments on the surviving sources for Herodotus: "The manuscripts and papyri do not give us information on all the forms of the text of Herodotus that were known in antiquity. This we can see from the quotations of the text in other ancient authors. . . . Both the manuscripts and papyri appear to derive from a common ancient edition which was widely circulated in the early centuries AD. Who made this is unknown. . . ."

(This entry was last revised on 04-24-2014.)

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The Lead Tablet Archives of the Athenian Cavalry Circa 350 BCE – 250 BCE

While information has survived concerning ancient Greek library and archive buildings from excavations of ruins, most information concerning library and archive holdings, and library and archive operation, is based on third party accounts, or is fragmentary or speculative. Dramatic exceptions to this overall lack of surviving archives from ancient Greece are the Archives of the Athenian Cavalry from the fourth and and third centuries BCE preserved on lead tablets. An Archive of the Athenian Cavalry was excavated in 1965 from a water well within the courtyard of the Dipylon, the double-gate leading into the city of Athens from the north. It included 574 lead tablets from the third century BCE. Six years later, in 1971, another hundred or so lead tablets from the fourth and third centuries BCE were excavated from a well at the edge of the excavated section of the Agora in Athens.

Historian of ancient archives Ernest Posner characterized these finds as

"by far the largest name file of ancient times. Tightly rolled or folded up, they contain the following information: the name in the genitive of the owner of a horse; the horse's color and brand, if any; and its value stated in drachmas, with 1,200 drachmas as the highest valuation given. Normally, only the name of the owner appears on the outside; the other data is relegated to the interior of the tablet and could not be read unless the tablet was unrolled or unfolded. A number of tablets are palimpsests; that is, the original entries were erased and replaced by new data"  (Posner, "The Athenian Cavalry Archives of the Fourth and Third Centures B.C.", The American Archivist (1974) 579-82).

The wide range of pottery as well as lead tablets excavated from the Dipylon were described by Karin Braun in "Der Dipylon-Brunne B¹ Die Funde," Mitteilungen des Deutschen archäologischen Instituts Athenische Abteilung, Band 85 (1970) 129-269, plates 53-93. Plates 83-93 illustrate lead tablets unfolded to show the writing and tablets rolled up.

From the extensive information available, John H. Kroll, author of the primary paper on the 1971 excavation, developed a theory of the purposes and operation of the Athenian Cavalry Archives, of which I quote a portion:

"The continual turnover of the horses explains, I think, why the records of the horses' values were kept as they were-individually on lead tablets. Official annual records at Athens were normally kept in list form on papyrus or whitened boards. But since a cavalryman was likely to have changed his horse at any time in the course of a year, a more flexible system of records was called for-the equivalent of the modern card-file system-whereby the record of a given horse could be pulled out and replaced if the horse itself was replaced. For such individual records, lead had obvious advantages over paper or wood, and, becatuse it was cheap and could be erased and re-used repeatedly, it would have been less costly in the long run. The re-use of the tablets, incidently, must surely be a factor in the low survival rate of tablets in most series and the loss of other entire series. There is one other respect in which the tablets stand apart from most annual records. I assume that they were rolled or folded simply to facilitate storage and not because the evaluations they contain were to be kept secret. But the fact that they were folded or rolled up, many of them as tightly as they could be, indicates that no one expected them to be referred to on a regular basis. Indeed, since all of the unbroken tablets were recovered from the Kerameikos and Agora wells in their original folded or rolled state, it appears doubtful that any of the extant tablets had ever been consulted. This of course does not mean that the evaluations were never consulted, merely that the records were made up annually and filed away to be consulted only in rare, though anticipated, cases. If the occasion did not arise in the course of the year, they expired, were replaced with the next year's evaluations, and were put aside, eventually to be erased and re-used" (Kroll, "An Archive of the Athenian Cavalry," Hesperia XLVI [1977] No. 2, 94-95). Kroll's extensive article occupies pp. 83-140 of the journal issue and includes numerous drawings and photographs.

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300 BCE – 30 CE

The Musawwarat Graffiti Archive Circa 300 BCE – 350 CE

Thousands of graffiti— informal pictorial and inscriptional incisions— adorn the extensive sandstone walls of the Great Enclosure at Musawwarat es-Sufra (المصورات الصفراء al-Musawwarāt as-sufrāMeroitic: Aborepi, Old Egyptian: jbrp, jpbr-ˁnḫ), also known as Al-Musawarat Al-Sufra. This large Meroitic temple complex in modern Sudan, dates back to the 3rd century BCE. The site is located 190 kilometers northeast of Khartoum. Many of the graffiti stem from the Meroitic period (c. 300 BCE to c. 400 CE), but also from the more recent post-Meroitic, Christian and Islamic periods. The graffiti, which name and depict gods, humans, animals — sometimes arranged in scenes, and showing symbols, objects and others — may offer a method for the interpretation of the use of this site over the many centuries of its operation. For example, the graffiti allow a rare view into the interplay between state and folk religion and practices.

In 2011 the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Humboldt University Berlin began development of the Musawwarat Graffiti Archive. In the "Graffiti in Place Database" a solution was developed for the integration of systematic graffiti-focussed information, and of data on the exact spatial contexts in which the pictorial and inscriptional graffiti were created and used. Such space-related data sets were difficult to publish in traditional paper format, and for this reason were often neglected in research and publication. In March 2014 database entries described 1542 graffiti on 1598 blocks of Temple 300 at the center of Complex 300, one of the most densely marked buildings at the site. The archive also contained more than 2,500 photographs, as well as 900 drawings of the graffiti of Temple 300. 

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The Archive or Library in the Temple of Edfu 237 BCE – 57 BCE

The Temple of Edfu dedicated to the falcon god Horus, located on the west bank of the Nile in the city of Edfu, which was known in Greco-Roman times as Apollonopolis Magna after the chief god Horus-Apollo, was built in the Ptolemaic period between 237 and 57 BCE. Inscriptions on its walls provide information on language, myth and religion during the Greco-Roman period in ancient Egypt. 

In this temple "there is a small room near the court which was used as an archive. The walls show inscriptions concerning 'many chests of books and large leather rolls.' They included all the literature appertaining to a temple; liturgy for daily rites and feast days; manuscripts containing the building plans and instructions for the decorations on the walls of the temple; incantations and priestly lore but also documents relevant to the administration" (Hussein 21).

"Because of the great quantity of extant papyrus rolls, which nevertheless form only a fraction of these existing in ancient times, the question arises as to how and where the Egyptians collected and arranged their books. The texts indicate that papyri were kept because we read that copying was necessary when the original had become worm-eaten. Two institutions could have served as depositories: the 'mansion of books' and the 'mansion of life'. 'Mansion of books' was the designation both for the archives where books were kept and an adminstrative office. . . .The 'mansion of life' was more than a library—it was a kind of university. Here books of all kinds were not only collected and classified, they were also written and handed down to the younger generation. It was the place where all branches of knowledge were cultivated and taught. The term 'mansion of life' also indicated that its prupose was primarily the custodianship of religious texts and the celebration of rites connected with the preservation of the king's life and that of Osiris.

"We are not able to say according to which principles libraries in the 'mansion of books' and in the 'mansion of life' were arranged. But we know. nevertheless, that the collected rolls were listed in catalogues, according to their content, and kept in chests (or other receptacles) on which a tablet with the titles of the books could be fastened or whose covers bore paintings indicating the content of the rolls" (Hussein, Origins of the Book. Egypt's contribution to the development of the book from papyrus to codex [1970] 21-22).

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The Tabularium, Archives of Republican Rome, is Founded Circa 78 BCE

The Roman Tabularium. (View Larger)

In 87 BCE the archives of Republican Rome, the Tabularium, was constructed within the Forum Romanum.

"Except for a few isolated cases, the general archives is a product of the last two hundred years. Although the Tabularium, the archives of Republican Rome, showed a tendency to absorb records of various administrative orgiins, the idea of concentrating in one place the archives of different creators was alien to ancient and medieval times. The ancient world did not even have the concept of an archivio di deposito, for nowhere are there to be found arrangements revealing an intention to differentiate adminstratively between current records and those no longer regularly needed for the dispatch of business. It was only in the Middle Ages that a discriminating attitude toward the value of records developed. This was expressed in the practice of copying important records in cartularies so as to have them available for frequent use, while the originals were carefully protected in an inner sanctum, as for instance, the Byzantine skeuophylakion. By and large, however, it was the emerging recognition of the research value of records that led to the distinction between records of daily usefulness and others to be preserved because of their long-range importance.

An interior corridor of the Tabularium. (View Larger)

"In the ancient period, this distinction was not made; and this means that by archives we must understand all kinds of records. In fact, the term archives itself may be slightly inappropriate, for even in its broadest meaning the word suggests an intention to keep records in usable order and in premises suitable to that purpose. In the Near East, where great quantities of records have been found on excavation sites, only rarely could any part of the site be identified as an archives room. Most of the time we cannot tell whether we are dealing with an archival aggregate or with a collection of trash, the equivalent of a modern waste-paper basket. And yet we cannot exclude such disjecta membra from our consideration, because they may still reveal a pattern worth discovering. When Bernard P. Grenfell, Arthur S. Hunt, and J. Gilbart Smyly discovered the mummies of the "papyrus enriched" holy crocodiles in Eqyptian Tebtunis, they sensibly decided to include in the first volume of their publication a "classification of papyri according to crocodiles," for papyri in the belly of the same animal might reveal relationships reflecting their administrative provenance and an original arrangement" (Posner, Archives in the Ancient World [1972] 4-5).

♦ In February 2014 a slide show about the Tabularium was available at this link.

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30 CE – 500 CE

Origins of the Lateran Library, Precursor of the Vatican Library Circa 350 CE – 650

"The first allusion to a papal library comes from Julius I (337-52), who directed the clergy to settle certain legal matters not in the civil courts in the scrinium sanctum in ecclesia. The use of the singular suggests a central library, whether in the Lateran or in the episcopal church. There is evidence that a little later Damasus I (366-84) rebuilt the basilica of the church of Saint Laurence (San Lorenzo in Prasina) to better house a library. A dedicatory hexameter inscription that once stood over the entrance to the basilica is preserved in a codex of the Vatican library. It reads:

archivis fateor volui nova condere tecta addere

preterea dextra laevaque columnas

quae Damasi teneant proprium per saecula nomen.

"This library, however, was probably not the central ecclesiastical library at Rome, for the Lateran Palace had been the official residence of the pope and the center of ecclesiastical administration since the time of Sylvester I (315-335), and it is more likely that the papal library, including the central archives, was located there.

"Excavations carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century in the Capella Sancta Sanctorum, the only surviving part of the ancient Lateran Palace, discovered among the foundations of the chapel the remains of a room of the earliest Lateran library. On one wall was a fresco of a reader, apparently Augustine, seated at a desk, an open codex before him. Beneath it was a legend referring to the writings of the fathers. Clearly this library contained theological literature, not merely archives. The painting dates from the fifth or early sixth century, but the room was probably a library much earlier. Although the Liber pontificales lists a series of popes, beginning with Celestine I (422-32), who contributed to the growth of the Lateran library, little is known of its scope and contents before the seventh century. The proceedings of the Lateran Council of 649 include an extensive list of books the council requested from the library in order to document the issues, a list that includes a great variety of theological texts, orthodox and heretical, deriving from both the Greek and the Latin church. If this list reflects the actual or approximate holdings of the library, it held an extensive collection of theological literature at least by the middle of the seventh century" (Gamble, Books and Readers in the Early Church [1999] 162-63).

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500 CE – 600

An Archive of Papyri, Including the Oldest Surviving Poems Written by a Known Poet Circa 520 – 585

The archive of Flavius Dioscorus (Dioscoros), called Dioscorus of Aphrodito, consists of several hundred papyri in mostly in Greek, with some in Coptic. The papyri are the records of Dioscorus, an Egyptian landlord, notary and village administrator who lived in the Egyptian village of Aphrodito from about 520 to 585. This town, located 45 north of Sohag, is now called Kom Isgaw, Kom Ishgau or Kom Ashkaw. The archive was discovered by accident in Kom Isgaw during a home renovation in 1905 when a floor collapsed revealing historic objects below. As a result of this discovery, more is known about Dioscorus and his intellectual-political-religious milieu than virtually any other individual in Egypt during the Early Byzantine period.

Dioscorus's native language was Egyptian and his faith was Christian; however, he was also versed in pagan Greek culture, and he had studied Roman law. Petitions that he composed on behalf of citizens of Aphrodito are considered "unique for their poetic and religious qualities." Dioscorus was also a writer of poetry; his poems represent the oldest surviving poems written by a known poet. In December 2013 a scholarly English translation of his poems was available from byzantineegypt.com at this link.

"The archive can be divided into several, well-delinated periods. Some of the oldest documents are related to Dioscoros's father, Apollos, who moved the family into the upper classes of Aphrodito, and was eventually accorded the honorific nomen 'Flavius." In the last decade of his life, Apollos retired to a monatery that he had himself founded. Disocoros received a higher education in Antinoopolis or Alexandria. Following in his father's footsteps, he became village headman and received numerous petitions. After acting as a notaroy in the nome metropolis Antinoopolis for some years, he returned to Aphrodito sometime between 570 and 573. Having a great interest in Chrstian and pagan literatures, Disocoros maintained a private library that included works by Homer and the comedy writer Menander. In his spare time he appears to have been an enthusiastic poet of wedding songs and the lie, written in classical Greek meters" (Vandorpe, "Archives and Dossiers," Bagnall (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Papyrology [2009] 241-42).

A standard biography is Mac Coull, Dioscorus of Aphrodito. His Work and His World (1989); in December 2013 a digital edition of this was available at this link.

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1000 – 1100

The Domesday Book, Recording the First English Census December 1085 – August 1086

The Domesday Book. (View Larger) /></p></a>  <p>William I of England, better known as <a href=In 1085 William I, the first Norman King of England (better known as William the Conqueror, and less well known as William the Bastard), commissioned the Domesday Bookwhich recorded the first English census. (The name is pronounced like "doomsday.")

The first draft of the Domesday Book was completed in August 1086 and contained records for 13,418 settlements in the English counties south of the rivers Ribble and Tees (the border with Scotland at the time). William commissioned the book to assess the extent of the land owned in England, and the extent of the taxes he could raise. The information collected was recorded in two huge books in around one year, but William died in 1087 before the Domeday Book was completed. It is preserved in The National Archives of Britain in Richmond, Greater London.

A page of the Domesday Book on Warwickshire. (View Larger)

The work was called the Domesday Book because:

"It was written by an observer of the survey that 'there was no single hide nor a yard of land, nor indeed one ox nor one cow nor one pig which was left out.' The grand and comprehensive scale on which the Domesday survey took place, and the irreversible nature of the information collected led people to compare it to the Last Judgement, or 'Doomsday', described in the Bible, when the deeds of Christians written in the Book of Life were to be placed before God for judgment. This name was not adopted until the late 12th Century."

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1100 – 1200

Foundation of the Trésor des Chartes July 3, 1194

At a battle on July 3, 1194 with Richard I of England (Richard Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lion Heart) on the edge of the Fréteval forest (near Vendome) Philip II Augustus (Philippe Auguste) of France suffered a crushing defeat, and lost the treasure and the fiscal records that he carried on his campaigns. As a result of this loss Philippe Auguste was forced to reconstruct his records, and he decided to establish a greffe (registry) for his public acts. He entrusted the project to Gauthier de Nemours, his grand chambellan (grand chamberlain). From 1195 official records were stored in the Trésor des ChartesAfter Gauthier's death in 1220 the soldier-monk Guérin (Garin, Guarinus, Garinus) garde des sceaux (Keeper of the Seals) directed the project. 

In 1204 Philippe Auguste had the archive moved to the Louvre. At the end of the reign of Louis IX (St. Louis) in 1270 the Trésor des Chartes was moved to a building adjoining the Sainte-Chapelle within easy reach of the advocates of the Le palais de la cité. The archive grew as rapidly as the monarchy itself, and by the fourteenth century there was already a well-established archivist tradition in France. 

Dessalles, Le Trésor des chartes (1844) 91-92. Kelley, Foundations of Modern Historical Scholarship: Language, Law, and History in the French Renaissance (1969) 217. Moore, Restoring Order. The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 (2008) 3.

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Foundation of the Vatican Registers 1198

From one of the registers of Innocent III for the period between 1198 and 1120. ASV, Reg. Vat. 5, f. 84v (detail). (View Larger)

In 1198 Pope Innocent III initiated a regularized system of record keeping at the Lateran Palace Library in which copies of letters sent were entered by hand in great registers. These were called the Vatican Registers.

"This series is one of the principal sources for documents on the papacy between the years 850 and the reorganization of the papacy in 1588. From the perspective of the history of the nature of documentation, the Vatican Registers are important in that they were regular in format and durable" (Blouin, Jr. Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide to Historical Documents of the Holy See [1998] xviii). 

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1200 – 1300

Banning the Use of Paper for Legal Documents 1231

From his book, De arte venandi cum avibus (The art of hunting with birds), a portrait of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, flanked by a falcon. (View Larger)

In 1231 Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II of Sicily, from his court in Palermo, banned the use of paper for notarial documents, believing it to be less permanent than parchment or vellum. The use of paper in the chanceries was mainly restricted to drafts, registers, and minutes.

Bernhard Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages (1990) 12.

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The Vatican Archives Follow the Movements of the Pope 1245 – 1783

". . .during the Middle Ages, particularly after Innocent IV (1243-1254), the popes moved around a great deal. In 1245, Innocent IV is known to have taken a part of the archives with him to the Council of Lyon, after which the records remained for a while stored in the monastery at Cluny. Benedict XI (1303-1304) had the archives placed in Perugia. Clement V (1305-1314) then had the archives placed in Assisi where they remained until 1339, when Benedict XII (1334-1342) had them sent to Avignon.

"The archives remained in Avignon during the time of the Great Schism. Once the difficulties were resolved, Martin V (1427-1431) had the records transported by boat and wagon to Rome, where they were temporarily housed in S. Maria Sopra Minerva then established in his family palace (Colonna) in central Rome. Though important historical records were returned to Rome at this time, including the Vatican Registers, the Avignon material, the paper registers known as the Avignon Registers, were not incorporated into the ASV until 1783" (Blouin, Jr., Vatican Archives: An Inventory and Guide. . . [1998] xviii).

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The Domus Conversorum, Later the Public Record Office 1253

Henry III, by an unknown artist. (View Larger)

In 1253 Henry III of England established the Domus Conversorum (House of the Converts), a building and institution in London for Jews who converted to Christianity. The building provided a communal home and low wages needed by Jews because all Jews who converted to Christianity forfeited all their possessions.

With the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I (Longshanks) in 1290, the Domus Conversorum became the only way for Jews to remain in England. At that stage there were about eighty residents, out of a former Jewish population in England estimated at 3000. By 1356, the last of these converts died. Between 1331 to 1608, only 48 converts were admitted. The warden of the facility was also Master of the Rolls.

The Domus Conversorum was in Chancery Lane. No records for converts/residents exist after 1609, but, in 1891, the post of chaplain for the facility was abolished by Act of Parliament and the location, which had been used to store legal archives, became the Public Record Office, now called The National Archives.

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1600 – 1650

Baldassare Bonifacio Issues the First Separate Publication on Archives 1632

In 1632 Bishop Baldassare Bonifacio published De archivis liber singularis in Venice. This pamphlet appears to be the first separate publication on archives. It contains brief information on the history and importance of archives, and very little about archive administration. Bonifacio's pamphlet was translated into English with commentary by Lester K. Born in "Baldassare Bonfiacio and his Essay De Archivis", The American Archivist IV (1941) 221-37.

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Filed under: Archives

1650 – 1700

Joachim Johann Maders Issues the First Anthology on Libraries and Library Science 1666

In 1666 Joachim Johann Mader published the first anthology of texts on libraries, archives and "library science": De bibliothecis atque archivis virorum clarissimorum libelli et commentationes. Cum praefatione  de scriptis et bibliothecis antediluvianis. 

"The work is prefaced by his account of antediluvian libraries—those of Adam, Noah, etc., and then follow several monographs from such authors as Justus Lipsius, Franz Schott, Fulvio Orsino, Michael Neander, and pieces on the Vatican and Escorial libraries"  (Catalogus Catalogorum [Predominantly Post-1900]. Part III of the Private Library of Hans P. Kraus. Catalogue 190, H. P. Kraus [company,] no. 538).

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The First Published Rules for Archival Operation? 1678

Regole, e Capitoli per l'eretione, e mantenimento degli Archivii publici delle Città di Piacenza, e Parma were published in Parma, Italy in 1678. These may be the first published principles, rules and procedures for archival administration and operation.

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Filed under: Archives

Foundation of Palaeography and Diplomatics 1681

In his book on medieval documents, De re diplomatica libri sex, published in Paris in 1681 Benedictine monk Jean Mabillon founded the formal study of palaeography and diplomatics, laying down the principles for dating scripts and ornament in manuscripts.  At this time the term palaeography did not exist. It was later coined by Mabillon's pupil Bernard de Montfaucon, who in his Palaeographia Graeca (1708) applied similar principles to the dating of Greek manuscripts.  

Initially paleography developed to resolve legal disputes over documents. During the Middle Ages, the production of spurious charters and other false documents was common, either to provide written documentation of existing rights or to bolster the plausibility of claimed rights. These spurious documents were later employed to bolster claims that were fraudulent. In 1675 the Jesuit Daniel van Papenbroeck (Papebroch) proved that a charter guaranteeing certain privileges to the Benedictines, supposedly issued by the Merovingian king Dagobert in 646, was a forgery.

"The French Benedictine order, which had recently been revived under the title of the Congregation of Saint Maur and was devoting itself to various scholarly enterprises, treated van Papenbroeck's work as a challenge. One of its most able members, Dom Jean Mabillon (1632-1707), spent several years in studying charters and manuscripts, drawing up in a systematic way for the first time a series of criteria for testing the authenticity of medieval documents. The result was De re diplomatica (1681), to which we owe the word diplomatic, normally used as the technical term for the study of legal and official documents. Mabillon's work dealt also to a lesser extent with manuscripts, but was resticted to Latin. It was immediately recognized as a masterpiece, even by van Papenbroeck, who had a cordial exchange of letters with Mabillon, acknowledging that his attempt to prove the spuriousness of all Merovingian charters was an excess of skepticism. On the other hand his thesis about the charter of 646 was upheld" (Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars 3rd ed [1991] 189).

Boyle, Medieval Latin Palaeography: A Bibliographical Introduction (1983) No. 72.  Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) No. 158.

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1700 – 1750

Bernard de Montfaucon's "Palaeographia Graeca" Coins the Word Palaeography 1708

In 1708 Benedictine monk and scholar Bernard de Montfaucon, published Palaeographia Graeca in Paris. This work coined the term palaeography (paleography) and founded Byzantine (Greek) paleography in particular.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) No. 175.

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1750 – 1800

Mesmer & the Animal Magnetism Movement: An Archive 1777 – 1787

During the decade from 1777 to 1787 more books and pamphlets were published in France on Animal Magnetism (Mesmerism in the movement's own terminology) than on any other subject. On the eve of the French Revolution the Viennese-born Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer held sway over the public, "mesmerized" them as we would say, with his philosophy aimed at creating a more perfect society through harmony with the physical universe, and with his healing through "rapport" between physician and patient. Mesmer always insisted on the physical character of his cures, which he at first attributed to magnetic forces, or electricity. He later abandoned these in favor of a "universal fluid" acting on the nervous system which was susceptible to it on account of its inherent property of "animal magnetism." At first Mesmer used actual magnets to effect cures, borrowed from the Hungarian astronomer and Jesuit priest Maximilian Hell. Later Mesmer concluded that the magnets could be dispensed with in that nearly all substances could be magnetized by touch, and it was this that led him to the idea of a magnet-like property inherent in living creatures. Initially he employed direct contact between his body of the physician and the patient. To transfer the healing magnetic force, Mesmer would sit with patients' legs squeezed between his knees, press their thumbs in his hands, stare intensely into their eyes, and stroke their limbs to manipulate their internal ether.

Mesmer promoted Animal Magnetism through his own publications and those of his many followers. His most famous book was Mémoire sur la dévouverte du magnétisme animal (Geneva & Paris, 1779). He also had a great flair for the dramatic and theatrical. In Paris he was besieged by more patients than he could hope to treat individually—as many as two hundred a day, so he invented what he called the baquet to accommodate groups at a time. Because the reactions Mesmer provoked seemed to be contagious, the dramatic effects were exacerbated in a crowded room. Some baquets could seat twenty people, and Mesmer had four of these in his Paris treatment rooms at the Hôtel Bullion on rue Coq-Héron. 

The baquet, as Mesmer named his magnetic device, was in keeping with the contemporary craze for medical electricity. Physicians and apothecaries frequently prescribed electric shock treatment, especially in attempts to cure paralysis, and often exposed the sick to a more general "electrical aura" as a healing agent. Benjamin Franklin, then American ambassador to France, was fond of demonstrating the power that could be harnessed in a Leyden jar, the prototype of the modern battery, by using one to send a bolt of electricity through a chain of people.  The sole remaining example of Mesmer's baquet, is preserved in the Musée d'Histoire de la Médecine et de la Pharmacie at Lyon. An excellent image of it was reproduced in Cabinet Magazine, Spring 2006.

Mesmer's critics observed that the actual and remarkable cures effected were due to Mesmer's working on the "imagination" of a "willing patient," who could be put into a "special state of mind." The peculiar nature of these cures continued to provoke interest among medical men, even after the Académie royale des sciences report of 1784 by Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and others attributed the power of Mesmerism to the "imagination." This report was translated into English in 1785. Interest of physicians also continued despite the scandalous financial practices of Mesmer and his associates in Mesmer's Society of Universal Harmony, initiation into which could cost a man his fortune. Successful surgery was practiced on patients in a mesmeric state by Topham and Ward and John Elliotson in England in the 1840's. About the same time James Braid identified the valid phenomena in Animal Magnetism, coining the terms hypnosis and hypnotism. Jean-Martin Charcot in the later 19th century connected the clinical manifestations of hysteria with artificially indcued hypnotic phenomena, and Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis from his acquaintance with Charcot's practices. Thus through Memser and his disciples medical attention was directed toward psychological phenomena and the first scientific steps toward an adequate approach to psychological problems were taken.

In its own time Animal Magnetism was as much a social movement as a medical practice. It spread from Paris all over Europe and to America, had an official program, administered instruction in its practices for certain fees, encouraged testimonials from members and urged the spread of Animal Magnetism "for the sake of humanity." It was perceived as a potentially radical force in France, provoked enormous public controveries and official condemnations, and stirred up its followers to a pitch of "religious" fervor.

Among the exceptional group of manuscripts that I offered for sale in my catalogue eight entitled Twelve Manuscripts issued in 1980, were the papers of the Amiens chapter of the Society of Universal Harmony formed by Mesmer and his associates Guillaume Kornmann and Nicolas Bergasse. We described the collection as follows:

ANIMAL MAGNETISM (MESMERISM). A collection of 56 manuscript items in French representing the correspondence & papers of the Amiens affiliates of the Animal Magnetism movement. Totalling nearly 300pp., including: {1} 10 letters & 5 documents signed by Franz Anton MESMER (1733-1815). {2} 12 letters signed by Guillaume KORNMANN, co-founder & treasurer of the Society of Universal Harmony, the organization through which Animal Magnetism was offically promoted. {3} 4 documents signed by Nicholas  BERGASSE (1750-1832), theoretician of Animal Magnetism. {4} A collection of approximately 100 case reports by a physician practicing Animal Magnetism. {5} 10 formal documents, including contracts for the teaching & practice of Animal Magnetism, membership lists for the Society of Universal Harmony, and declarations docuementing the schism which led to the movement's decline {6} 5 theorectical works, including an MS. copy in English of the illustrated textbook of Animal Magnetism written by Bergasse with a key to its symbols, and and MS. French version of this work {7} Miscellaneous papers of the Amiens group. All in very good to fine condition, in a half mroocco box. Mostly 1784-85, with a few later dates.

. . . . Some 40 items in the collection represent correspondence between the Paris and Amiens Societies of Universal Harmony or of the Amiens Society itself. These include 10 letters from Mesmer (signed Mesmer) and 12 letters from Guillaume Kornmann, the Society's treasurer, a Strasbourg banker who eventually broke away from Mesmer in 1785, taking with him the movement's theoretician, Nicolas Bergasse. The correspondence documents the fees, rules, and social complexion of the membership (e.g., a list of official practioners of Mesmerism names General Lafayette to teach it in the United States which he had served so well in the Revolution). It also shows the nature of the issues between the parent and local organization, and the emotional tone of the movement, particular in its great crisis in 1785 [when Mesmer left the country.]

. . . .The philosophy of Animal Magnetism was felt as an intellectual force for nearly 100 years after its inception. With roots going back to the hermetic thinkers of the 17th century, passing through Newton and the English physician Richard Mead into the Enlightenment, and extending into Romanticism and Naturphilosophie, the movement had many ramifications in culture and science. As representative of the philosophy of Animal Magnetism, the collection contains two manuscript versions of Nicolas Bergasse's Théorie du monde, the illustrated textbook of the movement, published in an engraved volume in 1784, and consdiered "très-rare" by Dureau, who prepared the standard bibliography of Animal Magnetism in 1869. Bergasse, whose inclinations toward systematization were much stronger than Mesmer's, was the theoretician of the movement. His "theory of the world and organic beings" was in part hieroglyphic, and the symbols used the text were "generally considered as magic hieroglyphics, capable of communicating primitive truths" ( Darnton 186 & reproducing illustration.). Subjects treated in the Théorie range from theology to physics, medicine and morals. The occult symbols have affinity with alchemical and other magical symbols, and a more elaborate and elegant English language version. The French manuscript appears to be in the hand of our Amiens physician; it may represent his copy or his interpretation of Bergasse's work. The English manuscript is contemporary with or a lilttle alter than the other materials in the collection, but is not an orginal part of the Amiens papers. It is a carefully prepared folio with diagrams and illustrations on nearly every one of its c. 100pp. What most intrigues us about it is that there is no published English language version of Bergasse's text. . . .

Darnton, Mesmerism & the End of the Enlightenment in France (1968) Dureau, Notes bibliographiques pour servir à l'histoire du magnétisme animal (1869). Hunter & Macalpine, 300 Years of Psychiatry (1963) 480-86. Mottelay, Bibliographical History of Electricity and Magnetism (1922) 235-37. Zilboorg & Henry, History of Medical Psychology (1941) 342-55 (chap. 9 "The discovery of neuroses").

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Thomas Astle Issues the First English History of Paleography and Diplomatics 1784

In 1784 archivist, paleographer and antiquary Thomas Astle, Keeper of Records in the Tower of London, published The Origin and Progress of Writing, as well Hieroglyphic and Elementary, Illustrated by Engravings Taken from Marbles, Manuscripts and Charters, Ancient and Modern: Also, some account of the Origin and Progress of Printing. This work was probably the earliest treatise on paleography in English, and the earliest English work on diplomatics, the "science of diplomas, or of ancient writings, literary and public documents, letters, decrees, charters, codicils, etc., which has for its object to decipher old writings, to ascertain their authenticity, their date, signatures, etc." Astle also provided detailed summaries of the history of writing materials— parchment, vellum, and paper, including Chinese paper— and a well-informed summary of the history of printing and typography in Europe. The colored plates in this work may be the first color plates published in a treatise on paleography.

By hieroglyphs, Astle meant "picture-writing," and used as examples pictograms by the ancient Maya and the Egyptians.

Astle was well aware that the Romans brought literacy to Britain, and that after the departure of the Romans from Britain in 427 Britain reverted to illiteracy, writing on p. 96:

"After the most diligent inquiry it doth not appear, that the Britons had the use of letters before their intercourse with the Romans. Although alphabets have been produced, which are said to have been used by the Ancient Britons, yet no one MS. ever appeared that was written in them. (I have several of these pretended alphabets in my collection; though they are only Roman letters deformed.) Cunoboline, king of Britain, who lived in the reigns of the emperors Tiberius and Caligula, erected different mints in this island, and coined money in gold, silver and copper, inscribed with Roman characters.(Many of these coins are preserved in the elaborate dissertation of the Rev. Mr. Pegges, on the coins of Cunoboline; and many particulars concerning this prince appear in the hist. of Manchester, by Mr. Whitaker, vol. I p. 284, 372, and in his corrections, chap. ix.). From the coming of Julius Caesar, till the time the Romans left the island in the year 427, the Roman letters were as familiar to the eyes of the inhabitants, as their language to their ears, as the numberless inscriptions, coins, and other monuments of the Romans still remaining amongst us, sufficiently evince. (See several monuments inscribed with Roman British characters in Borlace's Hist. of Cornwall, p. 391, 396. See more in Warburton's Vallum Romanum, London, 1753, 4to). However, we are of opinion, that writing was very little practised by the Britons, till after the coming of St. Augustin, about the year 596.

"The Saxons, who were invited hither by the Britons, and who arrived about the year 449, were unacquainted with letters. The characters which they afterwards used, were adopted by them in the island, and though the writing in England from the fifth to the middle of the eleventh century is called Saxon (The architecture in England, which preceded the Gothic, is usually called Saxon, but it is in fact Roman.) it will presently appear, that the letters used in this island were derived from the Roman, and were really Roman in their origin, and Italian in their structure at first, but were barbarized in their aspect by the British Romans and Roman Britons. A great variety of capital letters were used by the Saxons in their MSS. of which many specimens are given in our plates."

Note that in the quotation from Astle above I have added in his footnotes to the paragraphs in parentheses, to provide a more complete example of Astle's scholarship.

The numerous plates in Astle's volume are beautifully produced through engraving, some printed in a single color, and some colored by hand. The scan provided on the Internet by Google books is not reflective of the fine quality of the printed images or of the overall fine quality of book production shown in Astle's deluxe publication.

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Foundation of the Archives nationales de France 1790

The Archives nationales were founded in Paris in 1790.

"The Archives nationales were created at the time of the French Revolution in 1790, but it was a state decree of 1794 that made it mandatory to centralize all the pre-French Revolution private and public archives seized by the revolutionaries, completed by a law passed in 1796 which created departmental archives (archives départementales) in the départements of France to alleviate the burden on the Archives nationales in Paris, thus creating the collections of the Archives nationales as we know them today. In 1800 the Archives nationales became an autonomous body of the French state. Today, they contain about 364 km. (226 miles) of documents (the total length of occupied shelves put next to each other), an enormous mass of documents growing every year. The original documents stored by the Archives nationales range from A.D. 625 to today."

"Due to the massive volume of documents and records kept by the Archives nationales, these have been divided among four archives centres complemented by a microform centre serving as a back-up in case original documents are destroyed. The main centre is the CHAN (see below) located in Le Marais in the heart of Paris, but a new centre is being built in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, in the northern suburbs of Paris, and will become the main centre of the Archives nationales from 2010 on, the CHAN keeping only pre-French Revolution records. 

"The Centre historique des Archives nationales (CHAN), French for "Historical Centre of the National Archives", has been located since 1808 in a group of buildings comprising the Hôtel de Soubise and the Hôtel de Rohan in the district of Le Marais in Paris. This centre stores all the documents and records from before 1958 (except the documents and records concerning former French colonies) as well as the archives of the French heads of state. Since 1867 it has also housed the Musée de l'Histoire de France.

"The CHAN keeps 98.3 km. (61 miles) of documents (as of 2004): 15 km. are pre-French Revolution archives; 52 km. are archives of the French central state from 1790 to 1958; 20 km. are the so-called Minutier central, i.e. the archives of all the Parisian notaries extending from the 15th century to the beginning of the 20th century; 5.8 km. are private archives, notably the archives of the aristocratic families seized at the time of the French Revolution; 4.5 km. are books; and finally 1 km. are ancient maps and plans.

"It should be noted that due to the events of the French Revolution, the pre-French Revolution archives kept by the Archives nationales are not just the archives of the central state, but also the many local archives of the Paris region, such as all the archives of the abbeys surrounding Paris (e.g. the Abbey of Saint-Denis), the archives of the churches of Paris, and the archives of the medieval Paris city hall. Thus, the Archives nationales serve as the archives of the French central state for records from 1790 onwards, but for records before 1790 they serve as both the archives of the central state and the local archives of Paris and its region. The Archives nationales, however, do not keep the church records of Paris (baptisms, marriages and burials). These were entirely destroyed by fires set by extremists at the end of the Paris Commune in 1871.

"The oldest document kept at the CHAN is a papyrus dated A.D. 625 coming from the archives of the Abbey of Saint-Denis seized at the time of the French Revolution. This papyrus is the confirmation of a grant of land in the city of Paris to the Abbey of Saint-Denis issued by King Chlothar II. This document is the oldest original one kept by the Archives nationales, although the Archives nationales possess medieval copies of earlier records going as far back as A.D. 528 (but not the originals).

"In total the Archives nationales possess 47 original documents from the Merovingian period (ended in 751). They also possess 5 original documents from the reign of Pepin the Short (751-768), 31 from the reign of Charlemagne (768-814), 28 from the reign of Louis the Pious (814-840), 69 from the reign of Charles the Bald (840-877), 1 from the reign of Hugh Capet (987-996), 21 from the reign of Robert the Pious (996-1031), and then a rapidly increasing number of original documents after Robert the Pious, with for example more than 1,000 original documents from the reign of Philip Augustus (1180-1223) and several thousand original documents from the reign of Saint Louis (1226-1270)" (Wikipedia article on Archives nationales [France], accessed 07-11-2009).

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Jeremy Belknap Founds the First Historical Society in the United States January 24, 1791

On January 24, 1791 American clergyman and historian Jeremy Belknap founded the Massachusetts Historical Society, the first historical society in the United States.

"As he [Belknap] envisioned it, the MHS would become a repository and a publisher collecting, preserving, and disseminating resources for the study of American history. Through their pledges of family papers, books, and artifacts the founding members made the Society the nation's most important historical repository by the end of their initial meeting. With the appearance of their first title at the start of 1792, they also made the MHS the nation's first institution of any description to publish in its field."

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1800 – 1850

Foundation of the Ecole nationale des chartes February 22, 1821

On February 22, 1821 the École nationale des chartes, an elite French university-level institution providing education and training for archivists and librarians, was founded by royal ordinance at the Bibliothèque royale, predecessor of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

The school closed in 1823, and reopened following a new ordinance of November 11, 1829. In 1862 the school moved to a site close to the Archives nationales, and later still to the Sorbonne, to facilities intended for the suppressed theology department.

Moore, Restoring Order. The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 (2008).

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Foundation of the Public Record Office 1838

The British Parliament established the Public Record Office (PRO) in 1838 to reform the keeping of government archives and court records. 

"Up till this time the records were being held, sometimes in poor conditions, in a variety of places."Some of these were court or departmental archives (established for several centuries) which were well run and had good or adequate catalogues; others were little more than store-rooms. Many of the professional staff of these individual archives simply continued their existing work in the new institution. A good number of documents were transferred from the Tower of London and the chapter house of Westminster Abbey, though the Domesday Book was not moved from Westminster until the 1850s, when proper storage had been prepared.

"The PRO was placed under the control of the Master of the Rolls, a senior judge whose job had originally included responsibility for keeping the records of the Chancery Court, and was originally located in the mediaeval Rolls Chapel (the former Domus Conversorum), a sort of halfway house for Jews who converted to Christianity, on Chancery Lane at the boundary of the City of London with Westminster. The first Master of the Rolls to take on this responsibility was Lord Langdale, while his Deputy Keeper, the historian Sir Francis Palgrave, had full-time responsibility for running the Office.

"There was no right to consult the records freely for scholarly purposes until 1852, despite the 1838 Public Record Office Act's intention of enabling public access. Fees were paid by lawyers who used the archives to consult a limited number of documents. These charges were abolished for serious historical and literary researchers after a petition was signed in 1851 by 83 people including Dickens, Macaulay, and Carlyle.

"A purpose built archive was designed and built between 1851 and 1858 (architect: Sir James Pennethorne) and extended onto the site of the Rolls Chapel, which was demolished as it was structurally unsound, between 1895 and 1902. Public search rooms were opened in 1866, but greater access led the authorities to restrict certain classes of document, and to favour visitors who were experienced in dealing with historical material.

"The growing size of the archives held by the PRO and by government departments led to the Public Records Act 1958, which established standard procedures for the selection of documents of historical importance to be kept by the PRO. Even so, growing interest in the records produced a need for the Office to expand, and a second building was opened at Kew in south-west London in 1977. The Kew building was expanded in the 1990s and all records were transferred from Chancery Lane to Kew or the Family Records Centre in Islington by 1997. The Chancery Lane building is now known as the Maughan Library, the largest library of King's College London" (Wikipedia article on Public Record Office, accessed 07-11-2009).

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Filed under: Archives, Libraries

1875 – 1900

Standardization of Archival Practice 1898

Dutch archivist Samuel Muller, Dutch jurist and historian Johan Adriaan Feith and Dutch historian Robert Fruin published Handleidung voor het Ordenen en Beschriejven van Archieven.

This work, which represented the culmination of European archival development up the time of its publication, attempted to impose standardization on archival practice from records management to the management of archival repositories, from the use of archival terms to the preparation of inventories. It was translated into German in 1905, into Italian in 1908, into French in 1910, and into Bulgarian from the French in 1912.  A summary of its contents appeared in Russian in 1925. The work was translated into English from the second Dutch edition of 1920 by Arthur H. Leavitt of the U.S. National Archives in 1940. As Manual for the Arrangement and Description of Archives, it was reissued in 1968. A centennial edition with a 105-page introduction by Peter Horsman, Eric Ketelaar, and Theo Thomassen was issued in Dutch in 1998. The most recent edition, reprinting the Leavitt translation, with a condensation of the  Horsman, Ketelaar, and Thomassen introduction and a reprint of  Marjorie Rabe Barritt, "Coming to America: Dutch Archivistiek and American Archival Practice", Archival Issues 18 (1993) was published by the American Society of Archivists in 2003.

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Filed under: Archives

1920 – 1930

Jenkinson Publishes A Manual of Archive Administration 1922

In 1922 Hilary Jenkinson, Deputy Keeper of the British Public Record Office, published A Manual of Archive Administration, Including the Problem of War Archives and Archive Making.

Part II. Origin and Development of Archives and Rules for Archive Keeping, included §1. The Evolution of Archives.

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Filed under: Archives

1930 – 1940

Foundation of the U.S. National Achives June 19, 1934

On June 19, 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Archives Act, creating the National Archives as an independent agency (48 Stat. 1122), with the Archivist of the United States as its chief administrator, and also creating the National Historical Publications Commission (NHPC).

Previously each governmental department maintained its own records, resulting in considerable losses.

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Filed under: Archives

Founding of the Society of American Archivists December 1936

In December 1936 the Society of American Archivists was founded.

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Filed under: Archives

Otto Bettman Founds The Bettmann Archive: the Beginning of "The Visual Age" 1938

The Bettmann Archive, founded in New York in 1936 by Otto Bettmann, a refugee from Nazi Germany, contained 15,000 images by 1938.  Bettmann later characterized this period of time as "the beginning of the visual age." By 1980, the year before Bettmann sold the archive to the Kraus-Thomson Organization, the archive contained 2,000,000 images, carefully selected for their historical value, mainly under the five categories of world events, personalities, lifestyles, advertising art, and art and illustrations.

In 1984 the Kraus-Thomson Organization acquired the extensive United Press International (UPI) collection, containing millions of worldwide news and lifestyle photographs taken by photographers working for United Press International, International News Photos, Acme Newspictures, and Pacific and Atlantic.

In 1995 Corbis, a company controlled by Bill Gates, bought the Bettmann Archive.

"Beginning in 1997, Corbis spent five years selecting images of maximum historical value and saleability for digitization. More than 1.3 million images (26% of the collection) have been edited and 225,000 have been digitized. Because of this effort, more images from the Bettmann Archive are available now than ever before.

"In 2002, the Archive was moved to a state-of-the-art, sub-zero film preservation facility in western Pennsylvania. The 10,000-square-foot underground storage facility is environmentally-controlled, with specific conditions (minus -20°C, relative humidity of 35%) calculated to preserve prints, color transparencies, negatives, photographs, enclosures, and indexing systems" (http://www.corbis.com/BettMann100/Archive/Preservation.asp, accessed 01-17-2010).

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Fantasies of an All-Encompassing Archive or "Universal Library" 1939

In 1939 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires published an essay entitled La bibliotheca total (The Total Library), describing his fantasy of an all-encompassing archive or universal library.
In Borges' work this universal library was created, remarkably, by an abstract device that produced a random sequence of letters and symbols, ad infinitum. In his essay Borges

"traced the infinite-monkey concept back to Aristotle's Metaphysics. Explaining the views of Leucippus, who held that the world arose through the random combination of atoms, Aristotle notes that the atoms themselves are homogeneous and their possible arrangements only differ in shape, position and ordering. In De Generatione et corruptione (On Generation and Corruption), the Greek philosopher compares this to the way that a tragedy and a comedy consist of the same "atoms", i.e., alphabetic characters. Three centuries later, Cicero's De natura deorum (On the Nature of the Gods) argued against the atomist worldview:

" 'He who believes this may as well believe that if a great quantity of the one-and-twenty letters, composed either of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them.'

"Borges follows the history of this argument through Blaise Pascal and Jonathan Swift, then observes that in his own time, the vocabulary had changed. By 1939, the idiom was 'that a half-dozen monkeys provided with typewriters would, in a few eternities, produce all the books in the British Museum.' (To which Borges adds, 'Strictly speaking, one immortal monkey would suffice.') Borges then imagines the contents of the Total Library which this enterprise would produce if carried to its fullest extreme:

" 'Everything would be in its blind volumes. Everything: the detailed history of the future, Aeschylus' The Egyptians, the exact number of times that the waters of the Ganges have reflected the flight of a falcon, the secret and true nature of Rome, the encyclopedia Novalis would have constructed, my dreams and half-dreams at dawn on August 14, 1934, the proof of Pierre Fermat's theorem, the unwritten chapters of Edwin Drood, those same chapters translated into the language spoken by the Garamantes, the paradoxes Berkeley invented concerning Time but didn't publish, Urizen's books of iron, the premature epiphanies of Stephen Dedalus, which would be meaningless before a cycle of a thousand years, the Gnostic Gospel of Basilides, the song the sirens sang, the complete catalog of the Library, the proof of the inaccuracy of that catalog. Everything: but for every sensible line or accurate fact there would be millions of meaningless cacophonies, verbal farragoes, and babblings. Everything: but all the generations of mankind could pass before the dizzying shelves—shelves that obliterate the day and on which chaos lies—ever reward them with a tolerable page' " (Wikipedia article on Infinite Monkey Theorem, accessed 05-25-2009).

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1940 – 1950

Borges' Universe as a Library, or Universal Library or Archive 1941

In 1941 Argentine writer and librarian Jorge Luis Borges published the short story La biblioteca de Babel (The Library of Babel) in his collection of stories entitled El Jardín de senderos que se bifurcan (The Garden of Forking Paths) in Buenos-Aires through the publishing house of Editorial Sur. 

In 1944 the entire 1941 book was included in his Ficciones (1944), through which it received much larger circulation. In 1962 two different English-language translations of The Library of Babel appeared: one by James E. Irby in a collection of Borges's works entitled Labyrinths and the other by Anthony Kerrigan as part of a collaborative translation of the Ficciones. A new translation by Andrew Hurley appeared in 1998 as part of a translation of the Collected Fictions. Hurley's translation of The Library of Babel was republished separately in 2000 by David R. Godine with reproductions of eleven etchings by Erik Desmazières illustrating Borges' text.

Borges' story of a universe in the form of a library, or an imaginary universal library, has been viewed as a fictional or philosophical predictor of characteristics and criticisms of the Internet.

"Borges's narrator describes how his universe consists of an endless expanse of interlocking hexagonal rooms, each of which contains the bare necessities for human survival—and four walls of bookshelves. Though the order and content of the books is random and apparently completely meaningless, the inhabitants believe that the books contain every possible ordering of just a few basic characters (letters, spaces and punctuation marks). Though the majority of the books in this universe are pure gibberish, the library also must contain, somewhere, every coherent book ever written, or that might ever be written, and every possible permutation or slightly erroneous version of every one of those books. The narrator notes that the library must contain all useful information, including predictions of the future, biographies of any person, and translations of every book in all languages. Conversely, for many of the texts some language could be devised that would make it readable with any of a vast number of different contents.

"Despite — indeed, because of — this glut of information, all books are totally useless to the reader, leaving the librarians in a state of suicidal despair. However, Borges speculates on the existence of the 'Crimson Hexagon', containing a book that contains the log of all the other books; the librarian who reads it is akin to God" (Wikipedia article on The Library of Babel, accessed 05-25-2009).

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The Society of Archivists (England) is Founded 1947

In 1947 the (British) Society of Archivists was founded.

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Filed under: Archives

1950 – 1960

Archival Records Include "Machine-Readable Materials" 1950

The Federal Records Act of 1950 expanded the definition of "record" to include "machine-readable materials." At this time machine-readable records included primarily punched-cards.

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1960 – 1970

ICPSR, The Largest Archive of Digital Social Science Data, is Founded at the University of Michigan 1962

In 1962 ICPSR, the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, was founded at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. ICPSR became the world's largest archive of digital social science data,  acquiring, preserving, and distributing original research data, and providing training in its analysis.

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Theodore Schellenberg Issues "The Management of Archives" is Published 1965

In 1965 American historian and Assistant Archivist of the United States Theodore R. Schellenberg published The Management of Archives

"In this book Dr. Schellenberg successfully undertakes to define the archival methodology that heretofore has been available only in isolated books and journals. . . An indispensable manual, which anticipates and answers most questions that arise in the handling of nonpublic records." --The American Archivist

(This entry was last revised on 03-21-2014.)

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Filed under: Archives, Libraries

The Vanderbilt Television News Archive is Founded August 5, 1968

On August 5, 1968 the Vanderbilt Television News Archive was founded as a unit of the Jean and Alexander Heard Library of Vanderbilt University.

In October 2014 the website of the Vanderbilt archive described its contents as follows:

"The collection spans the presidential administrations of Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The core collection includes evening news broadcasts from ABC, CBS, and NBC (since 1968), an hour per day of CNN (since 1995) and Fox News (since 2004). Special news broadcasts found in the Archive include political conventions, presidential speeches and press conferences, Watergate hearings, coverage of the Persian Gulf War, the events of September 11, 2001, the War in Afghanistan, and the War in Iraq."

Also in October 2014 the Wikipedia article on the archive summarized some of its holdings as follows:

"The Archive’s collection consists of more than 40,000 hours of video content, including:

  • The daily news broadcasts of ABCCBS and NBC from August 5, 1968 to the present
  • A daily one-hour CNN news program beginning in 1995
  • A daily one-hour Fox News program beginning in 2004
  • The weeknight broadcasts of Nightline by ABC, beginning in 1988
  • The networks’ televised coverage of live presidential speeches, press conferences, summit meetings, and other events
  • The networks’ televised coverage of live presidential election-related events, including debates, political conventions and election night coverage."
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1970 – 1980

Acquiring New Archival Material at the Rate of 1 Mile per Year Circa 1970

During the 1970s The National Archives of Great Britain in Kew, Richmond, Surrey, measured the extent of its holdings by shelf length. It held about 80 miles of physical information, and acquired new material at the rate of about 1 mile per year.

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Foundation of Apple Computer and the Origin of the Name April 1, 1976 – December 13, 2011

On April 1, 1976 Steve JobsSteve "The Woz" Wozniak and Ronald G. Wayne signed the contract founding Apple Computer, then designated as Apple Computer Company.

Wayne relinquished his 10% stake in the company for $800, only 12 days later, on April 12, 1976.

In an interview done in the mid-1980s Steve Wozniak and the late Steve Jobs recalled how they named their upstart computer company some 35 years ago.

" 'I remember driving down Highway 85,' Wozniak says. 'We're on the freeway, and Steve mentions, 'I've got a name: Apple Computer.' We kept thinking of other alternatives to that name, and we couldn't think of anything better.'

"Adds Jobs: 'And also remember that I worked at Atari, and it got us ahead of Atari in the phonebook.' " (http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=52707, accessed 12-30-2011).

In November 1997 Stanford University acquired the historical archives for the early history of Apple Computer.

♦ On December 13, 2011 Sotheby's sold as lot 244 in their Fine Books and Manuscripts sale in New York Wayne's copy of the original contract document for $1,594,500, including buyer's premium, to Cisneros Corporation CEO Eduardo Cisneros. This was the highest price paid to date for anything related to the history of computing.

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1980 – 1990

The First Formally Recognized Archival Description Standards in the U.S. 1982

In 1982 the National Information Systems Task Force (NISTF) of the Society of American Archivists developed the first two formally recognized archival description standards in the US: NISTF Data Elements Dictionary and USMARC AMC.

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Filed under: Archives

The Digital Domesday Project--Doomed to Early Digital Obsolescence 1984 – 1986

From 1984 to 1986 Acorn Computers Ltd, Philips, Logica and the BBC (with some funding from the European Commission's ESPRIT program) marked the 900th anniversary of the original Domesday Book—an 11th century census of England—with the multimedia BBC Domesday Project. This publication is frequently cited as an example of digital obsolescence.

The Project "included a new 'survey' of the United Kingdom, in which people, mostly school children, wrote about geography, history or social issues in their local area or just about their daily lives. This was linked with maps, and many colour photos, statistical data, video and 'virtual walks'. Over 1 million people participated in the project. The project also incorporated professionally-prepared video footage, virtual reality tours of major landmarks and other prepared datasets such as the 1981 census.

"The project was stored on adapted laserdiscs in the LaserVision Read Only Memory (LV-ROM) format, which contained not only analog video and still pictures, but also digital data, with 300 MB of storage space on each side of the disc. The discs were mastered, produced, and tested by Philips at their Eindhoven headquarters factory. Viewing the discs required an Acorn BBC Master expanded with an SCSI controller and an additional coprocessor controlled a Philips VP415 "Domesday Player", a specially-produced laserdisc player. The user interface consisted of the BBC Master's keyboard and a trackball (known at the time as a trackerball). The software for the project was written in BCPL (a precursor to C), to make cross platform porting easier, although BCPL never attained the popularity that its early promise suggested it might.

In 2002, there were great fears that the discs would become unreadable as computers capable of reading the format had become rare (and drives capable of accessing the discs even more rare). Aside from the difficulty of emulating the original code, a major issue was that the still images had been stored on the laserdisc as single-frame analogue video, which were overlaid by the computer system's graphical interface. The project had begun years before JPEG image compression and before truecolour computer video cards had become widely available.

"However, the BBC later announced that the CAMiLEON project (a partnership between the University of Leeds and University of Michigan) had developed a system capable of accessing the discs using emulation techniques. CAMiLEON copied the video footage from one of the extant Domesday laserdiscs. Another team, working for the UK National Archives (who hold the original Domesday Book) tracked down the original 1-inch videotape masters of the project. These were digitised and archived to Digital Betacam.

"A version of one of the discs was created that runs on a Windows PC. This version was reverse-engineered from an original Domesday Community disc and incorporates images from the videotape masters. It was initially available only via a terminal at the National Archives headquarters in Kew, Surrey but has been available since July 2004 on the web.

"The head of the Domesday Project, Mike Tibbets, has criticized the bodies to which the archive material was originally entrusted" (Wikipedia article on BBC Domesday Project, accessed 12-21-2008).

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"Slow Fires: On the Preservation of the Human Record" 1987

In 1987 American filmaker Terry Sanders, the American Film Foundation, and the Council on Library and Information Resources, issued Slow Fires: On the Preservation of the Human Record, a film narrated by Robert McNeil. The AFF characterized the film as:

"The unforgettable story of the deterioration and destruction of our world’s intellectual heritage and the global crisis in preserving library materials. . . .

"Millions of pages of paper in books, photographs, drawings and maps are disintegrating and turning to dust. This remarkable film provides a comprehensive assessment of the worldwide situation, demonstrates methods of restoration and preservation and suggests ways to prevent new documents from facing ultimate destruction".

In December 2013 the film could be purchased from the American Film Foundation's website on DVD, in 33 and 58 minute versions.

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1990 – 2000

The Memory of the World Program 1992

In 1992 UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Program, an international initiative to guard against collective amnesia, by promoting preservation and dissemination of valuable archive holdings and library collections worldwide.

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The NSF Digital Libraries Initiative: The Origins of Google September 1, 1994

In 1994 the National Science Foundation Digital Libraries Initiative made its first six awards. 

"DLI and DLI-2: 1994-2003. From 1994 to 1998, NSF, DARPA and NASA funded six digital library projects in the $30 million Phase 1 of the Digital Libraries Initiative. In 1999, NSF, DARPA, the National Library of Medicine, the Library of Congress, NASA and the National Endowment for the Humanities, with participation from the National Archives and the Smithsonian Institution, provided $55 million for Phase 2 (DLI-2). DLI-2 funded 36 projects to extend and develop innovative digital library technologies and applications" (http://www.nsf.gov/news/special_reports/cyber/digitallibraries.jsp, accessed 11-15-2013).

One of the six initial awards, funded on September 1, 1994, was for The Stanford Integrated Digital Library Project, in which Larry Page and Sergey Brin participated.

"This project . . . is to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal' library, proving uniform access to the large number of emerging networked information sources and collections. These include both on-line versions of pre-existing works and new works and media of all kinds that will be available on the globally interlinked computer networks of the future. The Integrated Digital Library is broadly defined to include everything from personal information collections, to the collections that one finds today in conventional libraries, to the large data collections shared by scientists. The technology developed in this project will provide the "glue" that will make this worldwide collection usable as a unified entity, in a scalable and economically viable fashion."

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The Task Force on Digital Archiving is Created December 1994

In December 1994 the Commission on Preservation and Access and the Research Libraries Group (RLG), Mountain View, California, created the Task Force on Digital Archiving. The purpose of the Task Force was to investigate the means of ensuring “continued access indefinitely into the future of records stored in digital electronic form.” On May 1, 1996 the group issued its report: Preserving Digital Information.

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An Online Searchable Archive of Over 1000 Academic Journals 1995

JSTOR (short for Journal Storage), an online system for archiving academic journals, was founded in 1995.  In 2012 it provided online searchable texts of more than 1000 academic journals to member educational institutions. 

"JSTOR was originally conceived as a solution to one of the problems faced by libraries, especially research and university libraries, due to the increasing number of academic journals in existence. The founder, William G. Bowen, was the president of Princeton University from 1972 to 1988. Most libraries found it prohibitively expensive in terms of cost and space to maintain a comprehensive collection of journals. By digitizing many journal titles, JSTOR allowed libraries to outsource the storage of these journals with the confidence that they would remain available for the long term. Online access and full-text search ability improved access dramatically. JSTOR originally encompassed ten economics and history journals and was initiated in 1995 at seven different library sites. As of November 2010, there were 6,425 participating libraries. JSTOR access was improved based on feedback from these sites and it became a fully searchable index accessible from any ordinary Web browser. Special software was put in place to make pictures and graphs clear and readable.

"With the success of this limited project, Bowen and Kevin Guthrie, then-president of JSTOR, were interested in expanding the number of participating journals. They met with representatives of the Royal Society of London, and an agreement was made to digitize the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society back to its beginning in 1665. The work of adding these volumes to JSTOR was completed by December 2000. As of November 2, 2010, the database contained 1,289 journal titles in 20 collections representing 53 disciplines, and 303,294 individual journal issues, totaling over 38 million pages of text (Wikipedia article on JSTOR, accessed 01-12-2012).

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Brewster Kahle Founds the Internet Archive 1996

In 1996 computer engineer, Internet entrepreneur, activist, and digital librarian Brewster Kahle founded the Internet Archive in San Francisco.  After the modern Bibliotheca Alexandrina opened in 2002 the Internet Archive established a mirror site at that historic location.

This video embedded below was produced in 2012:

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Origins of Australia's Web Archive 1998

In 1998 the National Library of Australia, Canberra, initiated its Digital Services Project with the goal of establishing a web archive. This evolved into PANDORA, Australia's Web Archive.

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NARA Begins ERA for Preservation of Digital Archives 1998

In 1998 the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) began the Electronic Records Archives Program (ERA) for the eventual preservation of digital archives.

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On the Preservation of Knowledge in the Electronic Age 1998

In 1998 American filmaker Terry Sanders, the American Film Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the American Council of Learned Societies issued Into the Future: On the Preservation of Knowledge in the Electronic Age.

This film, narratived by Robert McNeil, was a sequel to Slow Fires (1987). It "explores the hidden crisis of the digital information age. Will digitally stored information and knowledge survive into the future? Will humans twenty, fifty, one hundred years from now have access to the electronically recorded history of our time?" (from the American Film Foundation blurb; it was available in 33 and 58 minute versions on July 28, 2009). The film included interviews with Peter Norton and Tim Berners-Lee.

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Storing Public Records Electronically 1999

In 1999 the British Government issued a white paper entitled Modernising Government, setting among its goals that by 2004 all newly created public records would be electronically stored and retrieved. 

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NewspaperARCHIVE.com 1999

In 1999 Heritage Microfilm, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, launched NewspaperARCHIVE.com, making available newspaper pages from 1759 to the present. When I accessed the site in December 2008 it stated that you could :

"Easily Find Over 3.12 Billion Names • Over 1.04 Billion Articles Search 96.5 Million Pages • 794 Cities • 240 Years • 3,150 Titles"
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2000 – 2005

MINERVA to Preserve Open-Access Web Resources 2000

In 2000 the Library of Congress initiated a prototype system called Minerva (Mapping the Internet the Electronic Resources Virtual Archive) to collect and preserve open-access Web resources.

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National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program December 21, 2000

On December 21, 2000 the U.S. Congress appropriated $99,800,000 for the planning and implementation of the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP). It was a collaborative initiative of the Library of Congress.

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The Digital Preservation Coalition January 2001

In January 2001 the Digital Preservation Coalition was established in Heslington, York, United Kingdom "to foster join action to address the urgent challenges of securing the preservation of digital resources in the UK and to work with others internationally to secure our global digital memory and knowledge base."

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A Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System January 2001

In January 2001 The Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), Washington, D.C., issued Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS).

"An OAIS is an archive, consisting of an organization of people and systems, that has accepted the responsibility to preserve information and make it available for a Designated Community. It meets a set of such responsibilities as defined in this document and this allows an OAIS archive to be distinguished from other uses of the term ‘archive’. The model provides a framework for the understanding and increased awareness of archival concepts needed for long-term digital information preservation and access, and for describing and comparing architectures and operations of existing and future archives. It also guides the identification and production of OAIS related standards." ISO Number : 1472

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"The Wayback Machine" Becomes Operational October 24, 2001

On October 24, 2001 The Internet Archive first made its retrospective data available through the Wayback Machine. The name Wayback Machine is a droll reference to a plot device in the animated cartoon series, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Showin which Mr. Peabody and Sherman routinely used a time machine called the "WABAC machine" (pronounced "Wayback") to witness, participate in, and, more often than not, alter famous events in history.

"In 1996 Brewster Kahle, with Bruce Gilliat, developed software to crawl and download all publicly accessible World Wide Web pages, the Gopher hierarchy, the Netnews bulletin board system, and downloadable software. The information collected by these "crawlers" does not include all the information available on the Internet, since much of the data is restricted by the publisher or stored in databases that are not accessible. These "crawlers" also respect the robots exclusion standard for websites whose owners opt for them not to appear in search results or be cached. To overcome inconsistencies in partially cached websites, Archive-It.org was developed in 2005 by the Internet Archive as a means of allowing institutions and content creators to voluntarily harvest and preserve collections of digital content, and create digital archives.

"Information was kept on digital tape for five years, with Kahle occasionally allowing researchers and scientists to tap into the clunky database.When the archive reached its five-year anniversary, it was unveiled and opened to the public in a ceremony at the University of California" (Wikipedia article on Wayback Machine, accessed 12-06-2013).

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Trusted Digital Repositories: Attributes and Responsibilities May 2002

In May 2002 RLG in Mountain View, California, and OCLC in Dublin, Ohio issued the report, Trusted Digital Repositories: Attributes and Responsibilities.

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Latent Dirichlet Allocation March 2003

In 2003  David M. BleiAndrew Y. Ng, and Michael I. Jordan presented Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) as a graphical model for topic modeling in natural language processing

Blei, Ng, & Jordan. "Latent Dirichlet Allocation," The Journal of Machine Learning Research, Volume 3 (2003) 993-1022. 

In 2013 Blei published an informative illustrated survey of algorithms for managing large document archives: "Probablilistic Topic Models," Communications of the ACM Vol. 55, No. 4 (2012) 77-84, accessed 10-20-2013. 

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HIPAA: Privacy of Medical Records, Goes into Effect April 14, 2003

On April 14, 2003 the Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) went into effect.

"The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website, Title I of HIPAA protects health insurance coverage for workers and their families when they change or lose their jobs. Title II of HIPAA, known as the Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, requires the establishment of national standards for electronic health care transactions and national identifiers for providers, health insurance plans, and employers. It helps people keep their information private.

"The Administration Simplification provisions also address the security and privacy of health data. The standards are meant to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the nation's health care system by encouraging the widespread use of electronic data interchange in the U.S. health care system."

"The HIPAA Privacy Rule regulates the use and disclosure of certain information held by 'covered entities' (generally, health care clearinghouses, employer sponsored health plans, health insurers, and medical service providers that engage in certain transactions.)  It establishes regulations for the use and disclosure of Protected Health Information (PHI). PHI is any information held by a covered entity which concerns health status, provision of health care, or payment for health care that can be linked to an individual. This is interpreted rather broadly and includes any part of an individual's medical record or payment history.

"Covered entities must disclose PHI to the individual within 30 days upon request. They also must disclose PHI when required to do so by law, such as reporting suspected child abuse to state child welfare agencies.

"A covered entity may disclose PHI to facilitate treatment, payment, or health care operations, or if the covered entity has obtained authorization from the individual. However, when a covered entity discloses any PHI, it must make a reasonable effort to disclose only the minimum necessary information required to achieve its purpose.

"The Privacy Rule gives individuals the right to request that a covered entity correct any inaccurate PHI. It also requires covered entities to take reasonable steps to ensure the confidentiality of communications with individuals. . . .

"The Privacy Rule requires covered entities to notify individuals of uses of their PHI. Covered entities must also keep track of disclosures of PHI and document privacy policies and procedures. They must appoint a Privacy Official and a contact person responsible for receiving complaints and train all members of their workforce in procedures regarding PHI.

"An individual who believes that the Privacy Rule is not being upheld can file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR). However, according to the Wall Street Journal, the OCR has a long backlog and ignores most complaints. 'Complaints of privacy violations have been piling up at the Department of Health and Human Services. Between April 2003 and Nov. 30, the agency fielded 23,896 complaints related to medical-privacy rules, but it has not yet taken any enforcement actions against hospitals, doctors, insurers or anyone else for rule violations. A spokesman for the agency says it has closed three-quarters of the complaints, typically because it found no violation or after it provided informal guidance to the parties involved' " (Wikipedia article on Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, accessed 08-05-2009).

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Netpreserve.org is Founded July 2003

The IIPC logo

In July 2003 the International Internet Preservation Consortium  (IIPC,) netpreserve.org, was founded.

"In July 2003 the national libraries of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, The British Library (UK), The Library of Congress (USA) and the Internet Archive (USA) acknowledged the importance of international collaboration for preserving Internet content for future generations. This group of 12 institutions chartered the IIPC to fund and participate in projects and working groups to accomplish the Consortium’s goals. The initial agreement was in effect for three years, during which time the membership was limited to the charter institutions. Since then, membership has expanded to include additional libraries, archives, museums and cultural heritage institutions involved in Web archiving.

"The goals of the consortium are:

" * To enable the collection, preservation and long-term access of a rich body of Internet content from around the world.

" * To foster the development and use of common tools, techniques and standards for the creation of international archives.

" * To be a strong international advocate for initiatives and legislation that encourage the collection, preservation and access to Internet content.

" * To encourage and support libraries, archives, museums and cultural heritage institutions everywhere to address Internet content collecting and preservation."

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2005 – 2010

The First Intelligible Word from an Extinct South American Civilization? August 12, 2005

Gary Urton with some khipu

Carrie Brezine studying khipu

An example of khipu

On August 12, 2005 anthropologists Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine published "Khipu Accounting in Ancient Peru," Science 309(2005)1065 - 1067.

"Khipu [quipu] are knotted-string devices that were used for bureaucratic recording and communication in the Inka [Inca] Empire. We recently undertook a computer analysis of 21 khipu from the Inka administrative center of Puruchuco, on the central coast of Peru. Results indicate that this khipu archive exemplifies the way in which census and tribute data were synthesized, manipulated, and transferred between different accounting levels in the Inka administrative system" (Science).

"Researchers in the US believe they have come closer to solving a centuries-old mystery - by deciphering knotted string used by the ancient Incas.

"Experts say one bunch of knots appears to identify a city, marking the first intelligible word from the extinct South American civilisation.

"The coloured, knotted pieces of string,known as khipu, are believed to have been used for accounting information.

"The researchers say the finding could unlock the meaning of other khipu.

"Harvard University researchers Gary Urton and Carrie Brezine used computers to analyse 21 khipu.

"They found a three-knot pattern in some of the strings which they believe identifies the bunch as coming from the city of Puruchuco, the site of an Inca palace.

" 'We hypothesize that the arrangement of three figure-eight knots at the start of these khipu represented the place identifier, or toponym, Puruchuco,' they wrote in their report, published in the journal Science.

" 'We suggest that any khipu moving within the state administrative system bearing an initial arrangement of three figure-eight knots would have been immediately recognisable to Inca administrators as an account pertaining to the palace of Puruchuco.' (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4143968.stm, accessed 04-28-2009).

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Electronic Records Archives System September 8, 2005

The Lockheed Martin logo

The National Archives seal

On September 8, 2005 the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) selected Lockheed Martin Corporation to build the Electronic Records Archives (ERA) system, a permanent electronic archives system to preserve, manage, and make accessible the electronic records created by the federal government. The ERA system would capture electronic information – regardless of its format – save it permanently, and make it accessible on whatever future hardware or software is currently in use. Development of the system would continue over the next six years, and cost $308,000,000.

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Second International Conference on the Preservation of Digital Objects September 15 – September 16, 2005

On September 15-6, 2005 the second International Conference of the Preservation of Digital Objects took place in Göttingen, Germany.  (The first international conference in this series took place in 2004 in Beijing.)

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The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America's Collections December 2005

The Heritage Preservation logo

The Institute of Museum and Library Services logo

In December 2005 Heritage Preservation, the U.S. National Institute for Conservation, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services published The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America's Collections. Among the conclusions of this report were that there were 4.8 billion cultural heritage materials in the U.S. and over 1.3 billion of those items were at risk.  Forty percent of the surveyed institutions that housed those items reported no budget allocated for preservation while 80% of the institutions had no disaster plan.

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Data Curation as a Profession 2006

In 2006 The Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS), formerly the Library Research Center (LRC), of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, began funding the Data Curation Education Program (DCEP).

"Data curation is the active and on-going management of data through its lifecycle of interest and usefulness to scholarly and educational activities across the sciences, social sciences, and the humanities. Data curation activities enable data discovery and retrieval, maintain data quality, add value, and provide for re-use over time. This new field includes representation, archiving, authentication, management, preservation, retrieval, and use. Our program offers a focus on data collection and management, knowledge representation, digital preservation and archiving, data standards, and policy, providing the theory and skills necessary to work directly with academic and industry researchers who need data curation expertise. To this end, DCEP has established a number of educational collaborations with premier science, social science, and humanities data centers across the country to prepare a new generation of library and information science professionals to curate materials from databases and other formats. We anticipate that our graduates will be employed across a range of information-oriented institutions, including museums, data centers, libraries, institutional repositories, archives, and private industry."

The program began with a focus on "data curation curriculum and best practices for the LIS and scientific communities. IMLS provided additional funding in 2008 to extend the curriculum to include humanities data" (Data Curation Education Program website, accessed 01-28-2009).

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A Research Library Based on Historical Collections of the Internet Archive February 2006

A screenshot of the D-Lib Magazine homepage

In the February 2006 issue of D-Lib Magazine researchers at Cornell University from the departments of Computer Science, Information Science, and the Cornell Theory Center described plans for A Research Library Based on the Historical Collections of the Internet Archive. The library, a super-computing application consisting of 10 billion web pages, was intended to be used by social scientists.

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Access to Nearly One Million Archive Collection Descriptions March 2006

A screenshot of the ArchiveGrid homepage

In March 2006 RLG opened ArchiveGrid, a new search engine providing access to nearly a million archive collection descriptions in thousands of libraries, museums, and archives.

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OCLC Merges with RLG July 1, 2006

The OCLC logo

The RLG logo

On July 1, 2006 OCLC merged with RLG. The combination of programs and services was expected to "advance offerings and drive efficiencies for libraries, archives, museums and other research organizations worldwide."

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The Royal Society Digital Journal Archive October 29, 2006

The entrance to the Royal Society of London

On October 29, 2006 The Royal Society of London announced that The Royal Society Digital Journal Archive, dating back to 1665 and containing the full text and illustrations of more than 60,000 articles published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society was available online.

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It Could Take 1800 Years to Convert the Paper Records . . . . March 10, 2007

Bookshelves inside the Library of Congress

On March 10, 2007 the U.S. National Archives estimated that at the current rate of digitization of its 9 billion text records, it could take 1800 years to convert the paper text records in the National Archives to digital form. This estimate came from an article in The New York Times entitled History Digitized (and Abridged), which pointed out that economic and copyright considerations required the digitization of library and archival collections to be very selective. 

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DROID, an Archives Analysis and Identification Tool September 27, 2007

The National Archives in London

"An innovative tool to analyse and identify computer file formats has won the 2007 Digital Preservation Award. DROID, developed by The National Archives in London, can examine any mystery file and identify its format. The tool works by gathering clues from the internal 'signatures' hidden inside every computer file, as well as more familiar elements such as the filename extension (.jpg, for example), to generate a highly accurate 'guess' about the software that will be needed to read the file. . . .

"Now, by using DROID and its big brother, the unique file format database known as PRONOM, experts at the National Archives are well on their way to cracking the problem. Once DROID has labelled a mystery file, PRONOM's extensive catalogue of software tools can advise curators on how best to preserve the file in a readable format. The database includes crucial information on software and hardware lifecycles, helping to avoid the obsolescence problem. And it will alert users if the program needed to read a file is no longer supported by manufacturers.

"PRONOM's system of identifiers has been adopted by the UK government and is the only nationally-recognised standard in its field."

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Europeana, the European Digital Library, Museum and Archive is Launched November 20, 2008

Europeana, the European digital library, museum and archive, was launched on November 20, 2008, giving users direct access to some two million digital objects, including film material, photos, paintings, sounds, maps, manuscripts, books, newspapers and archival papers.

"The digital content will be selected from that which is already digitised and available in Europe's museums, libraries, archives, and audio-visual collections. The prototype aims to have representative content from all four of these cultural heritage domains, and also to have a broad range of content from across Europe."

"We launched the European.eu site on 20 November and huge use - 10 million hits an hour - meant it crashed. We are doing our best to reopen Europeana.eu in a more robust version" (Europeana website accessed 11-21-2008).

Note: the site re-opened on or before January 1, 2009 after quadrupling server capacity.

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The BBC Intends to Place 200,000 Oil Paintings on the Internet January 28, 2009

"The BBC is to put every one of the 200,000 oil paintings in public ownership in the UK on the internet as well as opening up the Arts Council's vast film archive online as part of a range of initiatives that it has pledged will give it a 'deeper commitment to arts and music'."

"A partnership with the Public Catalogue Foundation charity will see all the UK's publicly owned oil paintings – 80% of which are not on public display – placed on the internet by 2012. 'The BBC said it wanted to establish a new section of its bbc.co.uk website, called Your Paintings, where users could view and find information on the UK's national collection.

"The Public Catalogue Foundation, launched in 2003, is 30% of the way through cataloguing the UK's collection of oil paintings.

"In addition the BBC said it was talking to the Arts Council about giving the public free online access to its archive for the first time, including its wide-ranging film collection dating back to the 1950s" (quotations from http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jan/28/bbc-digitalmedia)

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The Largest Municipal Archive in Germany Collapses During Underground Construction March 3, 2009

On March 3, 2009 the building containing the Historic Archive of the City of Cologne (Historisches Archiv der Stadt Köln) collapsed in a pile of rubble. The building was apparently constructed in 1971.

"Fortunately, staffers, researchers, and onsite construction workers inside the building were alarmed by strange noises and left immediately before the structure collapsed earlier today. However, at the time of this writing, three [people who were in buildings adjacent to the archives are still missing.

"At present, the cause of the building's collapse is unknown. A new subway line is being built under the street in front of the facility, but the section of the tunnel adjacent to the building is apparently complete. The building may also have had structural problems.

"Until today, the repository in Cologne was the largest municipal archives in Germany. It held 500,000 photographs and 65,000 documents dating back to 922, including manuscripts by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and materials relating to 20th-century writer Heinrich Böll. Government officials have promised to help salvage the archives' records, but street-level and aerial photographs of the building's remains suggest that many of the records are beyond recovery" (http://larchivista.blogspot.com/2009/03/collapse-of-historic-archive-of-city-of.html).

As of March 4, 2009 it was thought that two people from an adjacent building were missing; the Historic Archive of the City of Cologne was successfully evacuated before the building collapsed.

News stories were referenced at http://archiv.twoday.net/stories/5558898/. 

In December 2013 a detailed story in Spiegel Online International was available at this link.

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The World Digital Library Launches April 21, 2009

On April 21, 2009 UNESCO, Paris, France, and 32 partner institutions launched the World Digital Library, a web site that featured unique cultural materials from libraries and archives around the world. The site included manuscripts, maps, rare books, films, sound recordings, and prints and photographs.

"The WDL will function in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish, and will include content in a great many other languages. Browse and search features will facilitate cross-cultural and cross-temporal exploration on the site. Descriptions of each item and videos with expert curators speaking about selected items will provide context for users, and are intended to spark curiosity and encourage both students and the general public to learn more about the cultural heritage of all countries. The WDL was developed by a team at the Library of Congress. Technical assistance was provided by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina of Alexandria, Egypt. Institutions contributing content and expertise to the WDL include national libraries and cultural and educational institutions in Brazil, Egypt, China, France, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, the Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Sweden, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States" (http://portal.unesco.org/ci/en/ev.php-URL_ID=28484&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html)

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The WARC Format as an International File Preservation Standard June 1, 2009

On June 1, 2009 the International Internet Preservation Consortium (IIPC), netpreserve. org published the WARC file format as an international standard: ISO 28500:2009, Information and documentation—WARC file format.

"For many years, heritage organizations have tried to find the most appropriate ways to collect and keep track of World Wide Web material using web-scale tools such as web crawlers. At the same time, these organizations were concerned with the requirement to archive very large numbers of born-digital and digitized files. A need was for a container format that permits one file simply and safely to carry a very large number of constituent data objects (of unrestricted type, including many binary types) for the purpose of storage, management, and exchange. Another requirement was that the container need only minimal knowledge of the nature of the objects.

"The WARC format is expected to be a standard way to structure, manage and store billions of resources collected from the web and elsewhere. It is an extension of the ARC format , which has been used since 1996 to store files harvested on the web. WARC format offers new possibilities, notably the recording of HTTP request headers, the recording of arbitrary metadata, the allocation of an identifier for every contained file, the management of duplicates and of migrated records, and the segmentation of the records. WARC files are intended to store every type of digital content, either retrieved by HTTP or another protocol" (http://netpreserve.org/press/pr20090601.php).

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Costs of Managed Archiving versus Passive Archiving of Data June 4, 2009

"Regarding storage costs -- again its unhelpful to be vague, but equally unhelpful to be too specific. The cost of a 1 TB [terabyte] hard drive from the local IT hyperstore is NOT a useful number for estimating cost of reliable storage. Unfortunately the 'price of reliability' is equally hard to determine.

"The 'rule of thumb' most quoted now is 'one million dollars per year per petabyte' for 'managed server' storage eg disc-based storage from a well-run data centre that does good redundancy and backups. That means of course one thousand dollars per terabyte (per year) and that's a good estimate, in my view, to use for funding request and planning purposes. It can be done more cheaply -- up to ten times cheaper -- but that introduces various risks and requirements that you may or may not want to get into. In the BBC where we know that archive content is, on average, used once per four years, we're happy to put datatape on shelves and go for a much lower cost per terabyte" (Richard Wright, Sr Research Engineer, Research & Development, BBC Future Media & Technology, from: owner-dcc-associates@lists.ed.ac.uk, 06-04-2009).

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2010 – 2012

Biological Journals to Require Data-Archiving January 2010

"To promote the preservation and fuller use of data, The American Naturalist, Evolution, the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Molecular Ecology, Heredity, and other key journals in evolution and ecology will soon introduce a new data‐archiving policy. The policy has been enacted by the Executive Councils of the societies owning or sponsoring the journals. For example, the policy of The American Naturalist will state:  

"This journal requires, as a condition for publication, that data supporting the results in the paper should be archived in an appropriate public archive, such as GenBank, TreeBASE, Dryad, or the Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity. Data are important products of the scientific enterprise, and they should be preserved and usable for decades in the future. Authors may elect to have the data publicly available at time of publication, or, if the technology of the archive allows, may opt to embargo access to the data for a period up to a year after publication. Exceptions may be granted at the discretion of the editor, especially for sensitive information such as human subject data or the location of endangered species.  

"This policy will be introduced approximately a year from now, after a period when authors are encouraged to voluntarily place their data in a public archive. Data that have an established standard repository, such as DNA sequences, should continue to be archived in the appropriate repository, such as GenBank. For more idiosyncratic data, the data can be placed in a more flexible digital data library such as the National Science Foundation–sponsored Dryad archive at http://datadryad.org"  (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/full/10.1086/650340, accessed 01-22-2010).

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The Library of Congress Will Preserve All "Tweets" April 14, 2010

On April 14, 2010 Twitter announced in its blog that it would donate to the Library of Congress its archive of 10,000,000,000 text messages (tweets) accumulated since the founding of the company in October 2006:

"The Library of Congress is the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States and it is the largest library in the world. The Library's primary mission is research and it receives copies of every book, pamphlet, map, print, and piece of music registered in the United States. Recently, the Library of Congress signaled to us that the public tweets we have all been creating over the years are important and worthy of preservation.

"Since Twitter began, billions of tweets have been created. Today, fifty-five million tweets a day are sent to Twitter and that number is climbing sharply. A tiny percentage of accounts are protected but most of these tweets are created with the intent that they will be publicly available. Over the years, tweets have become part of significant global events around the world—from historic elections to devastating disasters.  

"It is our pleasure to donate access to the entire archive of public Tweets to the Library of Congress for preservation and research. It's very exciting that tweets are becoming part of history. It should be noted that there are some specifics regarding this arrangement. Only after a six-month delay can the Tweets be used for internal library use, for non-commercial research, public display by the library itself, and preservation.

"The open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. This is something we firmly believe and it has driven many of our decisions regarding openness. Today we are also excited to share the news that Google has created a wonderful new way to revisit tweets related to historic events. They call it Google Replay because it lets you relive a real time search from specific moments in time.  

"Google Replay currently only goes back a few months but eventually it will reach back to the very first Tweets ever created. Feel free to give Replay a try—if you want to understand the popular contemporaneous reaction to the retirement of Justice Stevens, the health care bill, or Justin Bieber's latest album, you can virtually time travel and replay the Tweets. The future seems bright for innovation on the Twitter platform and so it seems, does the past!"

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Universal Music Group Donates a "Mile of Music" to the Library of Congress January 10, 2011

The Universal Music Group, headquartered in Santa Monica, California, which traces its origins to 1898, donated its archive of recorded music, consisting of circa 200,000 metal, glass and lacquer master discs, recorded from 1926 to 1948, to the Library of Congress.  The agreement called for the Library of Congress to own and preserve the music and to convert it to digital form for usability and long-term data preservation. Universal Music Group retained the right to commercialize the digital files.

"Under the agreement negotiated during discussions that began two years ago the Library of Congress has been granted ownership of the physical discs and plans to preserve and digitize them. But Universal, a subsidiary of the French media conglomerate Vivendi that was formerly known as the Music Corporation of America, or MCA, retains both the copyright to the music recorded on the discs and the right to commercialize that music after it has been digitized.  

“The thinking behind this is that we have a very complementary relationship,” said Vinnie Freda, executive vice president for digital logistics and business services at Universal Music Logistics. “I’ve been trying to figure out a way to economically preserve these masters in a digital format, and the library is interested in making historically important material available. So they will preserve the physical masters for us and make them available to academics and anyone who goes to the library, and Universal retains the right to commercially exploit the masters.”  

"The agreement will also permit the Web site of the Library of Congress to stream some of the recordings for listeners around the world once they are cataloged and digitized, a process that Mr. DeAnna said could take five years or more, depending on government appropriations. But both sides said it had not yet been determined which songs would be made available, a process that could be complicated by Universal’s plans to sell some of the digitized material through iTunes.  

"Universal’s bequest is the second time in recent months that a historic archive of popular music has been handed over to a nonprofit institution dedicated to preserving America’s recorded musical heritage. Last spring the National Jazz Museum in Harlem acquired nearly 1,000 discs, transcribed from radio broadcasts in the late 1930s and early 1940s by the recording engineer William Savory, featuring some of the biggest names in jazz" (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/arts/music/10masters.html?hp, accessed 01-10-2011).

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"Physical Archiving is Still an Important Function in the Digital Era."The Internet Archive Builds an Archive of Physical Books June 6, 2011

In one of the more ironic developments since the Internet, the Internet Archive is creating a Physical Archive in Richmond, California, of all books they scanned that they did not have to return to institutional libraries, and of other physical books as well. Their goal is to collect "one coy of every book." Their purposes in doing this are that the physical books are authentic and original versions that can be used in the future, and "If there is ever a controversy about the digital version, the original can be examined." The physical books are being being stored in the most compact archival fashion in environmentally controlled shipping containers placed in warehouses—not in the way an institutional library would store them if they had to provide regular access.

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive explained the Physical Archive of the Internet Archive:

"Digital technologies are changing both how library materials are accessed and increasingly how library materials are preserved. After the Internet Archive digitizes a book from a library in order to provide free public access to people world-wide, these books go back on the shelves of the library. We noticed an increasing number of books from these libraries moving books to 'off site repositories'  to make space in central buildings for more meeting spaces and work spaces. These repositories have filled quickly and sometimes prompt the de-accessioning of books. A library that would prefer to not be named was found to be thinning their collections and throwing out books based on what had been digitized by Google. While we understand the need to manage physical holdings, we believe this should be done thoughtfully and well.  

"Two of the corporations involved in major book scanning have sawed off the bindings of modern books to speed the digitizing process. Many have a negative visceral reaction to the “butchering” of books, but is this a reasonable reaction?  

"A reason to preserve the physical book that has been digitized is that it is the authentic and original version that can be used as a reference in the future. If there is ever a controversy about the digital version, the original can be examined. A seed bank such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is seen as an authoritative and safe version of crops we are growing. Saving physical copies of digitized books might at least be seen in a similar light as an authoritative and safe copy that may be called upon in the future.  

"As the Internet Archive has digitized collections and placed them on our computer disks, we have found that the digital versions have more and more in common with physical versions. The computer hard disks, while holding digital data, are still physical objects. As such we archive them as they retire after their 3-5 year lifetime. Similarly, we also archive microfilm, which was a previous generation’s access format. So hard drives are just another physical format that stores information. This connection showed us that physical archiving is still an important function in a digital era.  

"There is also a connection between digitized collections and physical collections. The libraries we scan in, rarely want more digital books than the digital versions that we scan from their collections. This struck us as strange until we better understood the craftsmanship required in putting together great collections of books, whether physical or digital. As we are archiving the books, we are carefully recording with the physical book what the identifier for the virtual version, and attaching information to the digital version of where the physical version resides. 

"Therefore we have determined that we will keep a copy of the books we digitize if they are not returned to another library. Since we are interested in scanning one copy of every book ever published, we are starting to collect as many books as we can" (http://blog.archive.org/2011/06/06/why-preserve-books-the-new-physical-archive-of-the-internet-archive/, accessed 06-09-2011).

"Mr. Kahle had the idea for the physical archive while working on the Internet Archive, which has digitized two million books. With a deep dedication to traditional printing — one of his sons is named Caslon, after the 18th-century type designer — he abhorred the notion of throwing out a book once it had been scanned. The volume that yielded the digital copy was special.  

"And perhaps essential. What if, for example, digitization improves and we need to copy the books again?  

“ 'Microfilm and microfiche were once a utopian vision of access to all information,' Mr. Kahle noted, 'but it turned out we were very glad we kept the books' " (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/04/technology/internet-archives-repository-collects-thousands-of-books.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha25, accessed 03-30-2012).


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2012 – 2016

"Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories" January 2013

In January 2013 archivists and curators at six institutions, including Michael Forstrom at the Beinecke Library, Yale; Susan Thomas at the Bodleian Library, Oxford; Jeremy Leighton John at the British Library; Megan Barnard at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin; Kate Donovan at the Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL), Emory University; and Will Hansen and Seth Shaw at the Rubenstein Library, Duke University, published through Media Commons Press Born Digital: Guidance for Donors, Dealers, and Archival Repositories.

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The Library of Congress Has Archived 170 Billion Tweets January 4, 2013

On January 4, 2013 Gayle Osterberg, Director of Communications at the Library of Congress reported in the Library of Congress Blog

"An element of our mission at the Library of Congress is to collect the story of America and to acquire collections that will have research value. So when the Library had the opportunity to acquire an archive from the popular social media service Twitter, we decided this was a collection that should be here.  

"In April 2010, the Library and Twitter [based in San Francisco] signed an agreement providing the Library the public tweets from the company’s inception through the date of the agreement, an archive of tweets from 2006 through April 2010. Additionally, the Library and Twitter agreed that Twitter would provide all public tweets on an ongoing basis under the same terms.

"The Library’s first objectives were to acquire and preserve the 2006-10 archive; to establish a secure, sustainable process for receiving and preserving a daily, ongoing stream of tweets through the present day; and to create a structure for organizing the entire archive by date.

"This month, all those objectives will be completed. We now have an archive of approximately 170 billion tweets and growing. The volume of tweets the Library receives each day has grown from 140 million beginning in February 2011 to nearly half a billion tweets each day as of October 2012.  

"The Library’s focus now is on addressing the significant technology challenges to making the archive accessible to researchers in a comprehensive, useful way. These efforts are ongoing and a priority for the Library.  

"Twitter is a new kind of collection for the Library of Congress but an important one to its mission. As society turns to social media as a primary method of communication and creative expression, social media is supplementing, and in some cases supplanting, letters, journals, serial publications and other sources routinely collected by research libraries.  [Bold face is my addition, JN.]

"Although the Library has been building and stabilizing the archive and has not yet offered researchers access, we have nevertheless received approximately 400 inquiries from researchers all over the world. Some broad topics of interest expressed by researchers run from patterns in the rise of citizen journalism and elected officials’ communications to tracking vaccination rates and predicting stock market activity.

"Attached is a white paper [PDF] that summarizes the Library’s work to date and outlines present-day progress and challenges."


♦♦ To which James Gleick, author of The Information, responded in the New York Review of Books on January 16, 2013 in a blog entry titled Librarians of the Twitterverse, from which I quote this selection:

"For a brief time in the 1850s the telegraph companies of England and the United States thought that they could (and should) preserve every message that passed through their wires. Millions of telegrams—in fireproof safes. Imagine the possibilities for history!  

“ 'Fancy some future Macaulay rummaging among such a store, and painting therefrom the salient features of the social and commercial life of England in the nineteenth century,' wrote Andrew Wynter in 1854. (Wynter was what we would now call a popular-science writer; in his day job he practiced medicine, specializing in 'lunatics.') 'What might not be gathered some day in the twenty-first century from a record of the correspondence of an entire people?'

"Remind you of anything?  

"Here in the twenty-first century, the Library of Congress is now stockpiling the entire Twitterverse, or Tweetosphere, or whatever we’ll end up calling it—anyway, the corpus of all public tweets. There are a lot. The library embarked on this project in April 2010, when Jack Dorsey’s microblogging service was four years old, and four years of tweeting had produced 21 billion messages. Since then Twitter has grown, as these things do, and 21 billion tweets represents not much more than a month’s worth. As of December, the library had received 170 billion—each one a 140-character capsule garbed in metadata with the who-when-where. . . . "

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Launching of "Founders Online" June 13, 2013

On June 13, 2013 the National Archives issued the beta release of Founders Online, a database consisting of over 119,000 searchable documents, fully annotated, representing the correspondence and other writings of six major shapers of the United States: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams (and family), Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison.

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Launch of "The Zuckerberg Files" October 25, 2013

On October 25, 2013 Michael Zimmer of the School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Director of the Center for Information Policy Research, launched The Zuckerberg Files, an online archive that attempted to collect every public utterance made by Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and chief executive of Facebook, in an effort to analyze Zuckerberg's evolving response to privacy issues.  The archive included blog posts, magazine interviews, TV appearances, letters to shareholders, public presentations, and other events, from a 2004 interview with The Harvard Crimson to the present.  

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Destruction of Canadian Environmental Libraries January 2014

On January 4, 2014 Boing Boing blogger Cory Doctorow reported:

"Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives

"Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

"Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

"An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas.

"The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.

For further information see "What's Driving Chaotic Dismantling of Canada's Science Libraries? "by Andrew Nikiforuk, The Tyee, December 23, 2013.

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Indexing and Sharing 2.6 Million Images from eBooks in the Internet Archive August 29, 2014

On August 29, 2014 the Internet Archive announced that data mining and visualization expert Kalev Leetaru, Yahoo Fellow at Georgetown University, extracted over 14 million images from two million Internet Archive public domain eBooks spanning over 500 years of content. Of the 14 million images, 2.6 million were uploaded to Flickr, the image-sharing site owned by Yahoo, with a plan to upload more in the near future. 

Also on August 29, 2014 BBC.com carried a story entitled "Millions of historic images posted to Flickr," by Leo Kelion, Technology desk editor, from which I quote:

"Mr Leetaru said digitisation projects had so far focused on words and ignored pictures.

" 'For all these years all the libraries have been digitising their books, but they have been putting them up as PDFs or text searchable works,' he told the BBC.

"They have been focusing on the books as a collection of words. This inverts that. . . .

"To achieve his goal, Mr Leetaru wrote his own software to work around the way the books had originally been digitised.

"The Internet Archive had used an optical character recognition (OCR) program to analyse each of its 600 million scanned pages in order to convert the image of each word into searchable text.

"As part of the process, the software recognised which parts of a page were pictures in order to discard them.

"Mr Leetaru's code used this information to go back to the original scans, extract the regions the OCR program had ignored, and then save each one as a separate file in the Jpeg picture format.

"The software also copied the caption for each image and the text from the paragraphs immediately preceding and following it in the book.

"Each Jpeg and its associated text was then posted to a new Flickr page, allowing the public to hunt through the vast catalogue using the site's search tool. . . ."

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