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Several gems from the digital memory of humankind


It was fruitful year for digital archives and for the dissemination of historical knowledge.

The creation of any archive is perhaps among the most noble of tasks amidst everything we can do to preserve of humankind’s memory. This is particularly true in an era like our own, when contemporary technology has enabled two parallel capabilities: those of digitizing and sharing. That’s to say, the capability for transforming as many material files as possible into digital files and then making them available to a broad audience on the internet.

The process in meeting these objectives isn’t simple, as it usually involves extensive resources of all kinds. But whenever the task of digitizing an archive is completed, satisfaction is generally widely shared because any digital file added to the internet is like the inclusion of an invaluable tome to the vast library of existing information. Amidst all of this data, on the other hand, continuous review is necessary, such that the true jewels aren’t lost among all the straw.

Towards those ends, below is a brief sketch of the most important archives digitized over the course of the past year, and which we learned of through the Atlas Obscura website.

Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
Almost 6,000 photographs from the Valley Times newspaper archive, published between 1946 and 1965, now enrich the memory of the Public Library of Los Angeles.

The New York Public Library
In 2017, the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture sponsored the digitization of books published between 1930 and 1960, from the bibliography begun by librarian Augusta Baker in 1946. The collection includes little-known works by and of importance to the African-American community.

Library of the New York Academy of Medicine
Among the most surprising digital achievements of the year was the Chirurgia magna manuscript, a work from the 14th century. Elaborately illustrated, the work’s author, surgeon Guy de Chauliac, intended to share everything known to the medical world at his time.

Sojourner Truth
Sojourner Truth was an abolitionist and one of the first activists to fight for women’s rights. Her portrait, photographed in 1863, is now part of the digitized archives of the U.S. Library of Congress.

The James L. “Rusty” Hevelin Collection
One of the most eccentric collections on this list, it consists in American science fiction fanzines from the mid-20th century, along with some copies from the horror genre. All of them were enthusiastically preserved by James L. “Rusty” Hevelin, and bought by the University of Iowa upon this death. Although the collection presented some problems in being digitized, in the end, the job was carried out by volunteer students of history and other interested parties.

The Gabriel García Márquez Archive
Only three years after his death, the personal files of Gabriel García Márquez are already digitized and accessible onlineNew Window. This is thanks, on the one hand, to the writer’s family and, on the other, to the diligence of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. The sale of the García Márquez documents by the estate – including manuscripts, notebooks, passports, letters, etc. – was conditioned on the institution’s commitment to making them available to the public.

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