Know Your [Digital] Archives

Michael J. Altman

I wrote a blog post for the Hacking the Academy project last week where I argued that digital collections could change the way we think about graduate seminars because they allow for easier original research without having to leave campus. A while back Michael Pasquier wrote a great post on digital humanities and religious history.  Building on his list of sources I wanted to point out two more great online archives I've used in the past year to write seminar papers that will eventually make their way (in some form) into my dissertation.

First, there is the pair of Making of America collections--one at Cornell and one at the University of Michigan.  As the websites describe them, they are:

Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history primarily from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology.
 The Cornell collection contains 267monographs and over 100,000 journal articles while the Michigan collection contains about 10,000 books.

The second collection is, I believe, a little less well known.  The University of Pittsburgh has a digital collection of 19th Century Schoolbooks that is fascinating to browse through.  It is a smaller collection, only 140 volumes, but there is some great stuff in there for folks interested in American civil religion throughout the century.

Both of these collections have titles and journals that deal with missions, religious education and other things of obvious interest to historians of religion.  However, the full-text searchability of these collections makes them even more useful.  In my own research I've turned up really interesting references to South Asian religions in places I would have never found in a traditional brick and mortar archive.  I also think these sorts of collections have a lot of potential in the classroom--both for teaching and as resources for original student research.  It's one thing to lecture on the tensions between North and South in the 1850s, but reading a southern schoolbook versus a northern schoolbook offers a very different feel for those tensions.

If anyone knows of other good digital collections for religious history let us know.


rjc said…
I've been finding that Google Books is an incredible resource that is bringing texts that I never would have even thought to look for right to my desktop. Lots of old books and pamphlets, from missionary reports to travel writing, pop up at the drop of some creative search terms. Try it out.
Jeri W. said…
I am new to the blog, but wanted to add a couple of digital resources. The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale has published Jonathan Edwards' writings online at and Brown University has a digital archive of womens' writings that includes a significant number of early American women writers at
Larry Cebula said…
How annoying is it that there are TWO sites named Making of America with different resources on each?
Hilde said…
The Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College has some really fun and interesting material at
transmorgified said…
I used Oberlin College Archives' site at very heavily during my senior thesis. Since I was in the area, I could easily physically visit the site.

Their collections are affiliated with the Electronic Oberlin Group, which I believe is run by a professor in the college's history dept:

All 71 volumes of The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents can be viewed here:

Popular Posts