Launching the “History Hub”
Spring 2016, Vol. 48, No. 1
By David S. Ferriero
Archivist of the United States
Researching at the National Archives is usually a rewarding experience.
After all, you've got 12 billion-plus pages of documents dating back to the Revolutionary War, 14 million photographs, miles and miles of audio and video, a cache of electronic records growing at warp speed, and countless other kinds of records.
But sometimes a researcher gets a feeling there's more. Yes, you got the answers to all your original questions, but you still feel that you don't have all the answers, all the perspectives, all the interpretations needed for putting the event in proper context.
Where would you find information like that?
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The National Archives is on the case.
We are developing a platform for researchers to connect with people interested in their topic and people interested in our collections and expertise. It will be a support community for researchers, citizen historians, archival professionals, and open government advocates to provide the answers, interpretations, and perspectives you might need.
We're calling it the History Hub, and it's available at historyhub.archives.gov.
This is more than just a giant chat room.
The idea is to bring all the resources, including the National Archives' vast holdings nationwide and the archivists who oversee it, to bear on a topic someone is interested in. One of our Strategic Goals is to "make access happen." This platform does.
The History Hub invites researchers—or anyone, really—to touch all the bases to fill out the story of our national experience. This includes students and teachers, historians and journalists, citizen archivists, subject matter experts, or even people who participated in a particular event. It all adds value to the research experience at the National Archives.
And if you're an archivist, you'll be better able to connect your records with the communities who can use them—and maybe not answer the same questions for researchers again and again.
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The History Hub is one of the initiatives that has grown out of the work of the Office of Innovation. This office seeks to develop ways to share the National Archives' extensive holdings with the public, launch collaborative projects, and form partnerships with the archival community, industry, and academic institutions.
In everything we do, we have our agency mission and goals in mind. The History Hub helps us remain "A Customer-Focused Organization" and achieves another one of our four strategic goals, "Connect with Customers."
The History Hub will strengthen our connection with customers by expanding public participation using tools like discussion boards, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history.
We plan to collaborate with other federal agencies, cultural organizations, and citizen experts to offer a one-stop shop for crowdsourcing information related to your research subject.
Let's say, for example, you're interested in the details of President Andrew Jackson's removal of Native Americans from the eastern states to territory west of the Mississippi.
Some students weigh in, as do some of their history professors. A few other history buffs with appropriate expertise have something to say about it, as would experts at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the National Archives staff archivist familiar with the records pertaining to this dark chapter in U.S. history.
Or how about the day the last helicopter left the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon as the Vietnam War ended? A lot of eyewitnesses and participants are still around: soldiers, journalists, government officials, and some fortunate South Vietnamese.
When the six-month History Hub pilot project is finished in May 2016, we'll gather up the statistics about its use and see where to go from there. We'll be tracking questions that were asked and answered, the number of views, the number of people who have signed up—as well as how qualitative data such as how much useful crowd-sourcing of knowledge occurs.
We'll also look at how well the History Hub does compared to more traditional websites. The History Hub is just one more way the National Archives broadens access to the records we hold around the country. That's what we at the Archives have to draw on and bring to the discussion. Please join the conversation at historyhub.archives.gov. We look forward to learning from your expertise.