Explore and Help Museum and Library Archives from Your Computer

You’ve been on the virtual tours. You’ve made recycled art masterpieces and kept up with the real masterpieces, watched live animal feedings, and done science experiments. You’ve successfully done the museum thing during quarantine. Or have you?

Many museums, including some of our museum partners, historical societies, libraries, and the like have preserved their collections in digital archives that anyone can access from the comfort of their own home. These archives contain the rare, important, illuminating, and sometimes just plain weird documents that tell our collective story.

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the primary archive of all documents relating to the life and work of President John F. Kennedy and his administration. It is also the primary repository of the papers of Ernest Hemingway. Visit their website to view some of JFK’s personal papers and photographs from his life, and listen to audio of his speeches and oral histories from those that knew him best.

The Cape Ann Museum has put together an entire online archival exhibition, Unfolding Histories: Cape Ann Before 1900, exploring the early history of Cape Ann, in addition to their thorough list of digital resources for continuing research projects from home. You can even try your hand at creating your own archival content during this moment in history, with some advice on creating oral histories with your family members.

The Museum of Science Collective Memory archive tells the fascinating history of the museum through staff discussions, photographs and artifacts, and quizzes! Be sure to check out the Junior Explorers Bulletin from 1945, their collection of animal photography, and invertebrate glass models.

The Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum is also a wonderful resource for documents on the cultural heritage of Massachusetts. Through a new digitization initiative, some of the Phillips Library’s extensive collection of manuscripts, photographs, maritime journals, and even documents from the Salem Witch Trials, are now available online.

And if you’d like to do more, many institutions welcome volunteers to transcribe documents to make them more accessible. All it takes is a computer, patience, and time! 

By the People from the Library of Congress is a crowdsourced effort to transcribe and tag digitized content from the Library’s collections, including letters to Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman’s writings, documents from the Women’s Suffrage movement, and more. 

The Smithsonian Museum’s Transcription Center is also full of interesting transcription projects, including Sally Ride’s papers. 

Atlas Obscura has also compiled two lists of various ways to volunteer remotely, such as tagging photos of America’s scenic byways for the National Archives, transcribing science fiction fanzine from the 1930s, and fixing transcripts from public broadcasts, including a conversation with James Baldwin. Check out more of their ideas here and here to get started today!

You can also visit the Abbot Public Library’s own digital archive, featuring articles from the Marblehead Messenger and Marblehead Reporter!

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