One summer, years ago, I got my first exposure to the work of digitizing archives when my son, something of a computer geek, spent a summer during high school digitizing old documents and photographs, learning how to handle and document this work. He wore gloves to protect old paper as he scanned documents. His work along with that of countless other volunteers is still online at Worthington Memory.
Digital archives are a profound boon of the internet era. I’ve accessed out of print books, census, geneology, and death records, old newspaper articles, plat and survey maps in the course of blogging. One of the biggest sources of digital archives is the Internet Archive. A recent article on Open Culture reports that Princeton Theological Seminary has digitized over 70,000 religious texts from all the great world religions. You can look at a first edition of J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough, a King James Bible from 1606 or an edition of Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection by E. A. Wallis Budge from 1912 (if I am reading the Roman numerals correctly).
When I visited the Princeton Theological Seminary archive, I was delighted to scroll down and find a history of our own small denomination, Holsinger’s History of the Tunkers and the Brethren Church. It is an amazing and eclectic collection with everything from Kathryn Kuhlman’s Victory in Jesus to an early edition of the Mahabharata. One can find histories of particular congregations, mission society histories, hymnals, language studies, William Paley’s Natural Theology, theological monographs, and much more. These are not electronic texts but digital editions of works in the Princeton Seminary Library, with library stamps, signatures, damage and aging to the paper.
There is a search box, and you can filter by collections or individual texts, by year, by subject, by collection, by creator (denominations or individual authors), and by language. A few searches yielded everything from postcard images of Youngstown churches, to works of Charles and A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin Warfield.
Obviously, I had great fun just scrolling through the first few pages of texts. Some texts are simply early editions of books readily available. Some are works, like old Bible dictionaries, that have been superseded by recent scholarship. Yet I suspect there are scholars who find research-worthy studies in the comparison, or in tracking down earlier literature. Fine biblical and theological work has been done for centuries and to limit one’s study to the last ten years is limiting indeed.
This is just one archive within the Internet Archive. While browsing around I also came across the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) which advertises nearly 21 million images, texts, video and sound from across the United States. But that’s for another post!