Microfilm and digital copies

Researchers are most happiest when they have the
source material on their desks next to their computer and notepad. In practice, however, researchers usually need to commute to a repository in another city or even another country. This places limitations on the quality, the duration, and the scale of much research.

In principle modern techniques aid in fulfilling this ancient desire by placing the sources in many places at the same time, taking it as far as the researcher's desk. Traditionally this takes place in the form of microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm has proved to be of great value. It is relatively cheap and simple to produce and to consult, while the end product lasts over a hundred years. However, availability remains limited to the institution managing the archives because the cost of the equipment required to read the film forms a barrier.

  Microfilming of archives in Cennai
(click to enlarge image)

New developments in the field of information and communication technology (ICT) make it possible for archive documents to be copied onto digital data carriers such as CD-ROMs. The scans of the documents can in turn be linked to intelligent search engines. Digital products can be consulted on a home computer. In theory ICT offers more possibilities than film, but a number of important dilemmas need to be resolved before it can be applied. These problems are derived from the massive size, diversity, and often poor physical state of the archives, the high costs, the limitations because the techniques are still in their infancy, the rapid development of new technology, and uncertainty over the durability of the end products.

An important by-product of filming or scanning archives is the physical preservation of the documents. They can safely remain in the stackrooms and experience no more wear and tear. For many repositories this is the main reason for filming the materials. At the same time, back-up copies can be made and stored elsewhere, so that the information in the archives remains secure despite any possible disasters. As a result of the problems mentioned earlier, the repositories have preferred to use microfilm to copy and make the information available.

Thanks to the great functionality of digital products, it is a challenge to develop new techniques whereby a selection of the voc archives can be consulted world-wide. As far as this is concerned, there is a direct relationship between the development of the integrated database and the pilot projects set up within this framework. However, the emphasis in those pilot projects is to make the archives accessible. The emphasis with the TANAP component project at hand lies with making the archives available.

The programme component about availability has been included in the budget as a reminder. The intention is that the means are actively sought during the implementation of the TANAP programme to develop the new technology required and to achieve distribution. According to a report compiled in 1998 by the Scientific Technical Council (SURF) for the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, digitizing archival documents (scanning as well as making and linking digital access) is estimated to cost twelve million Dutch guilders per kilometre. This comes to fifty million Dutch guilders for all the voc archives. It is therefore necessary to select which archive documents should be scanned and which should not. This is an excellent area of cooperation between user and keeper of the archives, researcher and archivist. The super inventory is an important aid in determining which archival documents are duplicates and where else materials may be found that can fill gaps in the record groups.

Transcription project

The resolutions of the Politieke Raad (Council of Policy) of the Cape of Good Hope constitute the backbone of the voc archives in South Africa. The Council, under leadership of the govenor, comprised the local authority. The resolutions between 1651 and 1743 are previously transcribed and printed. The Cape Town Archives Repository will make a transcription of the remaining series of resolutions (1744-1795). Moreover, the ten printed volumes will be digitized by scanning and OCR-technique. When the project is finished the complete series will be available on the internet.

Important series in capetown: the resolutions of the Council of Policy; Governor and Council (click to enlarge)


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Archives keeping VOC documents

Conservation Methods

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