Public Domain Sources

Prelinger Archives

Prelinger Archives ( was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City. Over the next twenty years, it grew into a collection of over 60,000 “ephemeral” (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 11,000 digitized and videotape titles (all originally derived from film) and a large collection of home movies, amateur and industrial films acquired since 2002. Its primary collection emphasis has turned toward home movies and amateur films, with approximately 17,000 items held as of Spring 2019. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven’t been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. 

Rick Prelinger and The Internet Archive hereby offer public domain films from Prelinger Archives to all for free downloading and reuse. Rights information are located on the about page (

Digital Humanities

Defining Digital Humanities

by Peter Vaselopulos

For over twenty-five years scholars have struggled with defining Digital Humanities (DH).  One reason could be that there is an inherent divergence between the two terms “digital” and “humanities”.  The first term represents a modern approach to identifying and capturing knowledge, leveraging the latest advances in computing technologies.  The second rests comfortably on an academic legacy of writing, publishing, and peer review, going back to the Renaissance and the “Age of Enlightenment.”  It is interesting to look back and see how the DH field emerged at the turn of the century.

Digital Humanities is deeply rooted in the wave of personal and public computing established by the popularity of PCs and the Internet during the 1990s.  While all fields of academia have been “digitized” the Humanities appears to have gone through a more contorted transformation.  This is a direct result of the impact computing has on digitizing text, and the corresponding development of taxonomies, ontologies, and metadata.  Early definitions of DH primarily focused on the collection of data, initially textual, that enabled academics to “objectify” their thoughts and concepts and to make them more public.  This reflects the early digital technologies that leveraged word processing.  The ability to search large corpus of text and analyze and research patterns of information was groundbreaking.

During the mid 2000’s, Digital Humanities went through another round of redefinitions due to advances in new information technologies.   There was a growing recognition of DH’s dual role, not only to digitally preserve the “human record” but provide a resource to create new artifacts of understanding that are unique in their own right.  This evolving definition of Digital Humanity reflected a general acceptance that “new techniques and technologies are continually being developed and applied to Humanities data.” 

By 2010 new communication technologies introduced improved methods of online scholarly collaboration.  Time and distance were no longer a factor in knowledge transfer and conceptualization.  As a result, the broadening definition of Digital Humanities encompassed the reality that it is no longer about the technology but rather what you can do with it and who can have access to the information.  But more important there was a general realization that academia’s traditional role as the gatekeepers of knowledge was going through a transformation.  Like the impact of the printing press on the church over five hundred years ago, the public creation and dissemination of information is altering society’s long held beliefs about education.   

By reviewing the evolving definitions of Digital Humanities over the past twenty-five years it is clear from our 2020 vantage point how much the field has matured.  Unfortunately, the challenge to present the simplest DH definition never appears to stop.  But definitions aside there continues to be a pronounced shift to the “what” rather than the “how” in the use of terminology.   No matter what the definition DH will continue to be the “bridge” that connects traditional research with the promise presented by machine learning and collaborative technologies

In conclusion, and for the benefit of my peers, I present my definition of DH.

“Digital Humanities is a field of study that utilizes information technology to transform analog and digital records into new objects of knowledge that can be stored, searched, and disseminated publicly”.  

Digital History Research

Digital Detecting

Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to metal detect at a site where Union soldiers camped in North Arlington in 1862. There are some interesting parallels with metal detecting and conducting digital research. First, the detector can only lead you to some close proximity as to where the artifact is buried. Second, you need another device, known as a “pointer,” that helps narrow your search. In digital research the pointing comes to play when you deploy the power of key words or metadata. A broader search can get you close to your subject matter, but it is the secondary or “pointing” that lets you know if you have found something of value.

Civil War artifacts discovered on Upton's Hill
A few of the items discovered on Upton Hill.

By now you realize that I am very much interested in the Civil War, and in particular what happened during the war in Arlington. Having lived in the area for almost 40 years, I am always interested in learning new facts about the people, places, and events that occurred over 160 years ago. But it has been the past five years that has been the most interesting in terms of Civil War research. All across the United States and even abroad, researchers have been digitizing, cataloging, and indexing their collections. What makes this important is that information that was once “buried” or lost is now so much more discoverable. New cognitive technologies, like facial recognition, makes historic photographs more compelling.

23rd New York Militia
Soldiers of the 23rd NY in Arlington, VA during the summer of 1861.

For example, the soldiers in the photo above can now be more easily identified. There were over eight million photographs printed during the war. Many have survived and there are special collections like the Library of Congress that provide an excellent resource for historians. The transcription of letters and diaries and their digitization is providing a fresh source of historic research. Research that is shedding new light on subject matter once thought already covered. In regard to the Civil War, these first hand accounts from the average soldier are providing a new perspective as to how the war was fought. For digital historians researching the Civil War the search for new subject matter has just gotten exciting. But as with all things uncovered, it sometimes takes awhile of poking, and investigating to determine if what has been discovered has value or just needs to be buried again.