News

Library of Congress Expands Online Collections

AHA Staff, November 1998

Frequent visitors to the American Memory web site of the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov will have noted that new collections of digitized texts and images are continually being added, making this site one of the richest repositories of online historical material.

Among the recent additions are approximately 23,000 images and texts that were added to the online collection of the George Washington Papers. The documents include letterbooks from the Revolutionary War period and financial papers dating 1750-96. The papers already available online include letterbooks dating from 1744 through 1799. This particular digitization project is funded by the Reuters America Inc. and the Reuters Foundation.

Another new and fascinating addition to the American Memory site is a collection of 9,000 photographs, 260 architectural drawings, and 80 thousand pages of written history from the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) collections. Catalogs of the complete collections--which will be digitized over the next few years--are also available online. The HABS, joined by the HAER in 1963 is the only New Deal-era operation still in operation, and is the government's first attempt to systematically record the built environment in the United States. Since November 1933, more than 35 thousand historic structures have been documented.

The online documents in the web pages entitled "Built in America: Historic Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record, 1933-Present," can be searched by building name and place, and in many cases by type, creator name, and subject.

The buildings documented include famous landmarks such as Independence Hall and the Lincoln Memorial as well as the not so famous buildings like lighthouses, courthouses and even windmills.

Similar documents from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design were also added recently to the Library of Congress web site This collection of 2,800 lantern slides provides a historical view of buildings and landscapes from 1850 to 1920 and includes work by Frederick Law Olmstead Jr., Bremer W. Pond, and James Sturgis Pray. The collection offers views of cities, buildings, parks, and estates.

The digitization of these historic slides was made possible by the Library of Congress/Ameritech National Digital Library competition, a three-year program aiming at helping libraries, museums, and historical societies to digitize historic documents in their possession and to make them freely available on the Internet through the American Memory web site. The program is supported by the Ameritech Foundation.

Among other award winners in this program are North Dakota State University, which digitized photographs (from the Fred Hultstrand and F. A. Pazandak collections) that depicted life on farms and in towns of the Great Plains at the turn of the 19th century; Nebraska State Historical Society for digitizing 5,500 glass plate negatives of images recording the process of settlement of Nebraska and selections of diaries and letters of the Oblinger family; and the University of Washington for digitizing materials (from the university, the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, and the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle) consisting of images, manuscript texts, ephemera, and journal articles concerning Native Americans.

The rapidly growing American Memory site promises to be a rich trove of texts and images that can easily be mined with a click or two of the mouse on the desktop.