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 Duderstadt Municipal Archive

The project »Digital Recording of Historical Archives (Digitale Erschließung von Archivbeständen)«

With the programme "Archive als Fundus der Forschung - Erfassung und Erschließung" the Volkswagen-Stiftung created the financial basis for a research project. This project aims to develop a computerised version of the files of a whole archive. In this joint project with the Duderstadt Municipal Archive and the Max-Planck-Institute für Geschichte the main subject is the series Official Books (Amtsbücher), in which the treasury registers are exceptional, because since the late 14th century the series has never been broken up. In addition to that there are some other official books of the town council, which contain other aspects of the town's budgetary administration in the middle ages. These include, for example, protocols from the council, tax lists and books concerning the town's economic affairs.

These records are a very rich source for different kinds of research about the town's history. But all these sources have in common, that they are normally not edited. If anybody wants to do a research on Duderstadt's history, he (or she) has to go to the Duderstadt Municipal Archive. That takes time and money.

Moreover, the subjects and aims of modern historiography have not led to any changes in the techniques or the subjects of editions. On the contrary: even though in the fifties hopes were sometimes expressed for better editing facilities for the wide series of sources of town history in general, in our times there is no demand at all. The deficiency is located in a very low level. Already in the late seventies several historians demanded to verify the existence of sources in the archives. This is really useful, but they cannot be achieved without the expenditure of time and money for research in the archives.

Against this backround the project, which was supported by the Volkswagen-Stiftung, aims to resolve these problems. The solution has to take into consideration the requirements historians have for a non-local supply of their sources, but not to adapt conventional editions.

This project takes place in a period in which fundamental changes in the humanities are evident. The transition from printed matter to computer-based medias is only to be compared with the transition from handwriting to printing letters. We are now in the same situation as people were at the beginning of the modern age.

In the archives, too, the advantages of computer technology are a subject of intensive discussion. In 1987 an archivist periodical asked wether a computer was a real aid in daily work or wether it was only a modern game. This question was answered a long time ago. Consequently the motto of the 68th "Deutsche Archivarstag" in 1997 was "From Register to Internet - Registration Work in the Archives Before New Challenges".

Up to now the usage of computers in archives has mostly been limited to the creation of registers. Only occasionally do archives let their users make searches in electronic registers. And only in the last two years has consideration been given to the question of how to transform existing registers so that they are useful for the internet and all the possibilities the internet offers.

But all these considerations have in common that they only put information about sources at the researchers' disposal, which means registers and other general information. That meets the demands of many historians to verify the existence of the sources in the archives. But research needs the presence of the researcher in the archive.

The Duderstadt Project is much more ambitious. The records named above are completely digitalised and then put at the users' disposal by registers. These descriptions are managed in a database together with the scanned images of pages of the records. The aim is to build up a research system which not only offers access to the sources in a way which preserves the originals, but also has many more facilities for the researcher than work with the originals. One aspect of this research system is the same as in conventional editions: it is not fixed at the place of the archive and in principle can be used globally.

In contrast to conventional editions with their apparatus of annotations and variants, summaries and indexes, less time is required to build up a computer-based research system. That can best be explained by an example:

The heart of the record Official Books in the Duderstadt Municipal Archive is the treasury register ("Annalen"). In Germany there are only a few towns which have such well-knit sources for their history.

After digitalisation the images of the pages were put together year by year. This organisation of image-files cannot be called a full archival register. But it enables the user to work with the images in the same way as he/she would read originals. To improve access to the information which the images of the treasury register pages contain, details from every page and their columns are integrated in a database.

These details are not necessary to provide the digitalised records on the internet. But additions of the database with more information about the digitalised sources are possible at every time. Contrary to conventional editions, which cannot be changed after they are published, computer-based "editions" have a dynamic element. Also a lot of archives have electronic registers, which can easily be integrated in the internet research system.

In Duderstadt the digitalisation programme is connected with the results of a project that started in 1990. In this project a register was made of every household, its members and the buildings since the beginning of the sources ("Häuserbuchprojekt"). For this the registers of taxes within the treasury registers were entered in a computer. This data can easily be assigned to the description of the columns of the treasury registers, that is made for the digitalisation project. So at the end of the digitalisation project all the taxpayers in Duderstadt between 1395 und 1650 (period of time the project covers) are entered in the database.

The digitalisation of archive records has a high requirement of technical equipment, which costs a lot of money. Therefore it is useful to limit the number of archival records which are to be digitalised. The record of the Duderstadt Official Books is very heterogenous. So the solutions the digitalisation project offers are to be applied to other archives. In this way the Duderstadt Project is an example for source oriented pure research. Despite the high requirements which are made, for example for the quality of the scanned images, the Duderstadt Municipal Archive had after the first year of the project an amount of digitalised records, which contains almost all the medieval sources. [...]

From: Stefan Aumann/Hans-Heinrich Ebeling/Hans-Reinhard Fricke/Manfred Thaller, Innovative Forschung in Duderstadt: Das digitale Archiv. Begleitheft zur Ausstellung in der Sparkasse Duderstadt 5.-16. Mai 1997, Duderstadt 1997.
ISBN 3-923453-19-1
Translation: Peter Hoheisel, 1997

[first page] [order of records] [investigation of the database]

© Stadtarchiv Duderstadt / MPI für Geschichte