ABSTRACT

This work uses a case study to examine the practice of digital curation in a museum archives, with a focus on convergence between museum and archival methods for providing online access to individual items as well as to collections. The case study focuses on the recently digitized Historic Boards (or “H boards”) collection at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. This collection includes approximately 25,000 photographs depicting Harvard-led research expeditions beginning in the mid-1800s. By the early 1900s, museum staff had organized the photographs into groups and pasted them onto mat boards, with each board showing multiple views of a particular geographic location. As the H boards were created as a resource for educators and students, they provide a valuable source of documentation for both the museum's curatorial history and the pioneering work of Harvard ethnographers. With digital surrogates now accessible through the museum's Collections Online portal, the H boards project offers detailed examples of how the evidence contained in archival photographs and accompanying text-based records can be more sharply focused or, alternately, obscured, by the decisions made in constructing and displaying digital surrogates online. More generally, the H board project offers insights on how archives and museums may benefit from treating digital curation as an iterative practice shaped by an ever-shifting technology landscape, by the resource constraints faced by many repositories, and, ultimately, by the historic opportunities afforded by making archives visible in digital form.

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