Digitizing history offers many benefits. Increased accessibility, manipulability, and flexibility improve analog sources for teaching and personal use. The debate of cost typically favors digitizing, as maintenance for analog tend to weigh heavier in the cost department. In addition, durability of resources is increased by digitizing as digital media is not worn down by overuse. Some drawbacks include the cost of storage, the time it takes to store, and the lower quality of visual media. However, the matter of storage cost and the time storage takes have dropped significantly over just the past few years.
With so much of the analog world of history now put into digital formatting, historians are finding that more people are researching the past. Proving that this new accessibility appeals better to non-historians. Historians are also able to cut down on research time by word searching documents. This allows for very specific research to be done in which we may find out how many times authors and historical figures used certain words, from which we can draw conclusions about the underlying messages in their works.
There are several ways to digitize analog historical documents. For the most basic projects, such as one involving simple text documents, scanning is the easiest and most economical. However, as the project grows larger this method becomes problematic. In addition, older texts from which you make be making digital copies may not bend enough to fit into a flatbed scanner without damaging the book. Another option is OCR (optical character recognition), which is software that converts images of text into machine-readable text. Clearly, this would seem the most convenient approach, but this software does have limitations. Even with the best software only operates at 80 to 90 percent accuracy. A more tedious, but economic and accurate approach is to transcribe the document yourself with a word processor.
Some tips for starting a digital history project include looking to see what is already in the digital history community to build a schematic for your project. It’s important to further train yourself in disciplines that aid digitzing history. Workshops and seminars will undoubtedly help improve your final product. Creating a site as a “permanent beta” makes a large project feel less overwhelming. And incorporating open-source software instead of building something yourself may help you cut corners and save time.