H-Net: Preserving and Improving Access to Specialized Electronic Mailing List Archives
“H-Net: Improving Records Access and Utility of Specialized Electronic Mailing List Archives” is supported by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The NHPRC, “a statutory body affiliated with the National Archives and Records Administration, supports a wide range of activities to preserve, publish, and encourage the use of documentary sources relating to the history of the United States.”
The H-Net archival preservation and searching project furthers Objective 5.2 of the NHPRC Strategic Plan: “Support institutions that acquire, preserve, and promote ready use of electronic records, especially those that promise to be sustainable and that are built upon collaboration and open systems and support research projects in electronic records.”
H-Net’s significant collection of records will be utilized to address important challenges to preserve, appraise, and retrieve electronic records from discussion list archives as well as large e-mail archives more generally. H-Net maintains the largest and oldest online archive of born-digital, contemporaneously generated, and content-moderated arts, humanities and social science material on the Internet. The astronomical growth of H-Net’s log of messages during the past 13 years parallels the historic rise of the World Wide Web and the emergence of networked scholarly communications. Upwards of 150,000 subscribers and 450 list editors have created a valuable collection, a unique anthology of layered conversations of scholars, teachers, and members of the public from practically every career level and intellectual disposition to be found in the humanities and social sciences. H-Net is committed to maintaining this source data in perpetuity, and this project aims to assess existing preservation practices and implement improvements to ensure longevity of the content.
The accretion of interdisciplinary content and the epistolary style of most postings in the H-Net electronic discussion list make it difficult to implement a clean, consistent, precise search and retrieval system. Keyword or keyword string searches cannot detect the semantic similarities between different words. Some of the NHPRC funding for this project will thus support research that will make search and retrieval of records from topical e-mail discussion archives more effective and meaningful for scholars, archivists, teachers, researchers and students.