Digital Histories Critique

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I decided to explore the National Archives Cabinet Papers 1915-1982. The project followed PRINCE2 methodology. This approach is widely used within Government and also the private sector. The new resource had been digitised from microfilms held at The National Archives that contain a large collection of volumes of documents.  This source was digitalised and funded by JISC as part of the JISC Digitisation Programmes. JISC supports UK further & higher education and research by providing leadership in the use of ICT, and JISC receives funding from all the UK further and higher education funding councils. For someone who is fairly computer alliterate such as myself, I found the website to be pretty accessible and simple to use which made it easy to navigate through the website. The design of the website includes a number of accessibility features such as; the ability to adjust text sizes, access keys, transcripts for video content etc. The technical standards they work to are XHTML 1.0 Transitional, CSS 2.0, and The UK Government Guidelines for websites and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 – they work to meet the minimum double-A checkpoints. The National Archives was committed to user centered design, which means involving users at all stages of their design work, in order to make it accessible to all.

There are various ways to locate the cabinet papers, one of which is the search engine. Very basic, enter a keyword and a date which should take you to a list of papers that mention the word, or were written on that date. However there is also an advanced search where not only the keyword and date is needed but also phrases, full text or description and what type of paper you want to find e.g. Memoranda, conclusion, notebooks etc; with an explanation of what each type of paper is. The search is provided via the free text and metadata search facility, in combination with the browse sections of the website. The National Archives has used the IDOL 7.0 search engine supplied by Autonomy to power searching of the Cabinet Papers. This software provides the facility for both free-text and metadata based searching. Testing of the service was used to ensure that the free text searching was effective when used in conjunction with OCR of PDF scanned images of the Cabinet Papers features. I think the advanced search incudes all that is needed, as I found a limitation to the basic search. When a keyword is typed in such as ‘world war two’, the results bring up all documents that have the words either ‘world’, ‘war’ or ‘two’, so the advanced search is typically needed as you can type it in as a phrase instead of a keyword, and hopefully find what you are looking for. The other way to search for a cabinet paper is by browsing through a theme. There are three main themes which have sub-titles within them which takes you to the topic webpage with a description of that topic, and then within that webpage there are more sub-titles that link to various cabinet papers on that topic or event. Although the process is a little long winded, I think it is purposely broken down. This sight is not just for university level students but college students as well that start from the age of sixteen, therefore this website needs to be useable by them.

This website uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology. The ease of access that the OCR provides to the documents is of great value to research, however this project has also discovered the limitations of OCR in its inability to recognise images, foreign text etc. and the use of manually transcribed metadata is useful here in ensuring access to the document. New processes have been developed for Quality Assurance (QA) and correction of OCR and for managing document releases within the collection. A new database had to be created which linked the references and information in Documents Online to the XML file references. The cabinet papers are all on a PDF file, scanned onto the sight. I like this as it shows the original paper and provides the authenticity people are looking for. Not only does the sight provide cabinet papers but it also has a whole section along with sub sections about cabinet and how it works, how the records work and the development over the years in quite some depth. What I have found about this website is that it covers a lot of ground but then also provides further reading for people who want to research more. This leads me onto the writing frame section of the website.

This section of the website makes it more interactive and is an encouraging way of getting students to do extra research or to do an independent project of their own. The Writing Frame is an interactive software tool designed to support your use of primary historical resources, there are already A level research projects that people can build on and add to or they can start their own using their template. The last use of this sight is the ‘maps in time’ feature which a nice touch. This is to provide users of the geographical locations of places mentioned in the cabinet papers that may be unfamiliar. The map Is a great way to visualise where certain events took place, this is done by simply clicking to zoom in on a particular country and clicking a time period on the top of the map. This brings up little red information dots which you can hover over and find out information about that time and place. It spans from 1900-200 so it exceeds the years of the cabinet papers provided which it a good resource to go and explore the places and the history further. There is an alternative map that is non-flash player which is good for apple mac users who cannot watch many things on flash; this version is in a PDF file. This version is less interactive as you are unable to click and navigate around the map yourself; this causes some restrictions to this version. Due to it being a snap shot of the map screen, the whole map can’t be shown at once so the countries that are not visible, they write about without a picture or image; this could confuse people who are unaware of where the country is. The material featured on this website is subject to Crown copyright protection and licensed for use under the Open Government Licence unless otherwise indicated. You may use and re-use Crown copyright information from this website (other than the Royal Arms and departmental or agency logos) free of charge in any format or medium, under the terms and conditions of the Open Government Licence, provided it is reproduced accurately and not used in a misleading context.

Overall the website is quite well put together, a great way for students and researchers to get information with minimal limitations.

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