Why Build a Digital Archive?
Digital archives have the power to weave together objects and texts otherwise siloed by time and space. In so doing, this kind of archive, built explicitly to link data and objects in ways that reflect or expose the interpretive possibilities among digital objects housed on this site. My goal in creating this site is not simply to display digital objects, but to put them into dialogue with one another, to draw out latent or under-studied connections by making strategic use of the affordances of Omeka, TREATOOL, and the pages of materials reproduced herein.
Archives take many forms. Some archives are made of documents written by famous people. Some are housed in boxes under peoples’ beds. Others do not call attention to their identity as archives, such as a cemetery or an historic garden, but still operate as figurative or literal archives. The word archive has expanded in recent years with the rise and awareness of digital archives and thematic research collections as scholarly platforms for interpretive curation and knowledge creation.
The Lyon Archive contains not only archival digital objects and exhibits, but documentary digital editions of writing produced by members of the Lyon family. In many ways this project is an example of history from below--meaning, this is not an archive about well-known historical figures. Rather, it offers records of the individual lives of ordinary people who participate in and reflect upon their culture in powerful ways.
With this approach in mind, this site has been designed specifically to inspire and enable interactive, experiential reading of the writing remains of members of the Lyon family. The Lyon Archive helps us to imagine perspectives frequently excluded from the dominant historiography of London life. Digital archives can help us preserve, visualize, interpret, translate, adapt, and illuminate nineteenth-century culture through otherwise overlooked perspectives. Yet, the archive is not a mirror of another world. It does not display objective truths about writers or the post. Rather, like any other archive, The Lyon Archive is an interpretive ecosystem where a curated collection of ideas and images interact to produce new meaning and interpretive possibilities.
Although both are important, digital archives and collections do not function in quite the same way. As a digital archive, The Lyon Archive makes rare, out-of-print materials accessible to scholars interested in studying nineteenth-century diaries and archives. Hence, digital content has the power to democratize access, and hence to expand the intellectual reach of its holdings. At the same time, this site presents some of the ways that platforms like Omeka can expand the way we read and teach archival materials. While many of my students were initially skeptical about building an archive of items, creating a map, or designing a timeline, in the end they were excited about the way these tools helped them to think about the significance of A.S.Lyon's writing acts and his diary. Similarly, users of this archive will find opportunities to identify rich connections among podcasts, archival items, or visualizations that help us to study nineteenth-century London and its Atlantic connections in a dynamic context.