Digitized student: Accelerated research using a digital camera

Sep 04, 2008

A researcher on a short trip to a foreign country, with little money, but a digital camera in hand has devised a novel approach to digitizing foreign archives that could speed up research.

Christopher Gennari is an Assistant Professor of History at Camden County College in Blackwood, New Jersey and a hobbyist photographer. His research into Swedish military history and the reign of Charles X of the seventeenth century took him to the Riksarkivet in Stockholm, Sweden. He details his visit in the inaugural issue of the International Journal of Digital Culture and Electronic Tourism.

"As a US university student I was constrained by factors of time, space, income and, unexpectedly, source material," Gennari says, "I only had the income and free time to support living in Sweden for about a month. Travel space restrictions on transatlantic flights limited my ability to perform massive photocopying; the sheer bulk weight (not to mention cost) of hundreds of photocopied pages made for a daunting endeavor." With this in mind, he planned to make very specific use of the Riksarkivet materials, reading only highly relevant letters and documents in the archives.

However, there was a major stumbling block in his research path. The letters, although expertly categorized and chronicled were incredibly difficult to read. "The 17th century handwriting was difficult to read, it was narrow, close together, and in many cases nearly the entire page is filled with script making it difficult to know where a sentence finished or began." The archivists in Stockholm offered Gennari a magnifying glass and a handwriting decoder photocopy and wished him luck.

"Suddenly, in leafing through a series of folios," he says, "I realized why very few Swedes and not a single English language historian had done large scale, archival level work on the reign of Charles X."

His plan to efficiently glide through letters searching out significant keywords or authors lay in tatters. The idea of photocopying all the relevant documents was impossibility, because of cost, time and travel constraints. Gennari had traveled to Stockholm with few possessions, but his trusty digital camera was among them. An off-hand remark to one of the staff at the Riksarkivet revealed that they not only allowed non-flash photography of their collections, but they even had a camera stand setup for the occasional photographing of maps and images that could not be photocopied.

Gennari set about photographing 2,500 documents, producing some 25,000 images in total, which would have been the equivalent of $15,000 worth of photocopying. If he had used a film camera, almost 700 rolls of film (about $4,000) would have been required with the attendant costs of converting those to photo CDs adding $30,000 to the total costs).

However, with the images safely stored on a handful of recordable DVDs Gennari was able to import the whole collection into Google's free Picasa image library software for cataloguing and study on his return to the US.

"Digital photography and computer technology allowed me to capture, transport, and manipulate a previously inconceivable amount of document at a tremendous cost saving," he says, "Additionally, my need for frequent return trips and long, expensive, stays in a foreign country to continue my research has been eliminated. I have a lifetime worth of research documents at my fingers whenever I wish to conduct the research; 24 hours a day, 365 days a year."

"Digital photography allows for the collection of large amounts of archival documents in a short period of time," explains Gennari, "This has many benefits for the researcher including a greater convenience of time, a dramatic savings of money, and an increased flexibility in using the documents." Gennari has one additional piece of advice for other researchers hoping to exploit digital technology in this way: Take spare rechargeable batteries for your camera.

Source: Inderscience Publishers

Explore further: Japan orders air bag maker to conduct probe

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

LiquidPiston unveils quiet X Mini engine prototype

4 hours ago

LiquidPiston has a new X Mini engine which is a small 70 cubic centimeter gasoline powered "prototype. This is a quiet, four-stroke engine with near-zero vibration. The company said it can bring improvements ...

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

4 hours ago

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

New terahertz device could strengthen security

4 hours ago

We are all familiar with the hassles that accompany air travel. We shuffle through long lines, remove our shoes, and carry liquids in regulation-sized tubes. And even after all the effort, we still wonder if these procedures ...

European space plane set for February launch

5 hours ago

Europe's first-ever "space plane" will be launched on February 11 next year, rocket firm Arianespace said Friday after a three-month delay to fine-tune the mission flight plan.

Recommended for you

Japan orders air bag maker to conduct probe

14 hours ago

Japan's transport ministry said Friday it has ordered air bag maker Takata to conduct an internal investigation after cases of its air bags exploding triggered safety concerns in the United States and other countries.

Senators get no clear answers on air bag safety

Nov 20, 2014

There were apologies and long-winded explanations, but after nearly four hours of testimony about exploding air bags, senators never got a clear answer to the question most people have: whether or not their ...

Winter-like temps can reduce tire pressure

Nov 19, 2014

The polar plunge that has chilled much of the nation does more than bring out ice scrapers and antifreeze. It can trigger vehicles' tire pressure monitoring systems overnight, sending nervous drivers to dealers ...

US: Gov't aircraft regulations apply to drones (Update)

Nov 18, 2014

The U.S. government has the power to hold drone operators accountable when they operate the remote-control aircraft recklessly, a federal safety board ruled Tuesday in a setback to small drone operators chafing ...

Mapping the crisis of displaced peoples

Nov 17, 2014

Population displacement is a global problem, one that historically has been insufficiently quantified and analyzed, especially given its wide-ranging effects. Displacement can result from a number of factors, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.