Linked Archives a Digital Approach to Visualising Historical Literary Networks

1. Abstract

‘Linked Archives’ is a digital tool developed at Western Sydney University, Australia, by Dr Jason Ensor (Project Leader) and Dr Helen Bones (Research Associate) as part of the ARCHIVER project ( The aim of the project was to develop an archive curation tool to harness the untapped potential of large manuscript collections. Recent publications (e.g. Bones, 2019) demonstrate the potential of ‘Linked Archives’ to unravel the complexities of international systems that elide traditional research structures. The initial iteration houses and displays over 19,000 digital images of documents from the business archive of iconic Australian publisher Angus & Robertson from the State Library of New South Wales manuscript collection.

Nationalised collection practices and national frameworks have obscured the international workings of the publishing and writing industries of the twentieth century. Understanding the infrastructure that underpinned literary creation in places like Australia and New Zealand (that were dependent on overseas networks to sustain writing communities) requires piecing together fragments from vast and scattered archival evidence. Historical research often involves time-consuming collections of large quantities of data in the service of one set of questions. ‘Linked Archives’ is a workflow or model for exploiting the explanatory power of archives in a way that allows other researchers to use the resultant annotated data set, build on it, and if desired, link different datasets together to form a digital mega-repository. In this way, big questions can be asked of multiple datasets.

‘Linked Archives’ consists of a database and web interface that uses structured metadata to curate large collections of digital images of manuscript archives. It uses a system of Linked Open Data content tags, which are keywords based on the Resource Description Framework (or RDF) —a standardised model for ontological representations of online resources using structured metadata. Using these guidelines, we have developed a controlled vocabulary that is specifically designed for describing publishing correspondence. Using such vocabularies helps to provide context that may be lacking when faced with hundreds of search results from all over the world. Tim Hitchcock warns of the dangers of full-text searching when results are ‘deracinated’ from the careful information structure of libraries and archive collections, based on a ‘coherent collection of beliefs and systems for discovering and performing taxonomies on information’ (Hitchcock, 2013, 14). ‘Linked Archives’ retains the structure of the archive (in terms of the arrangement of pages and boxes), so it is possible to browse as if leafing through the pages in the library.

We hope to use ‘Linked Archives’ to address the inherent structural biases of literary archives, as well as considerations of representation. The manuscript archives of publishers, writers and editors contain information not only about the books that got published, but also those that did not—the voices that were silenced and those that never got to take part in the conversation. The next stage of the project involves understanding the workings of the Australasian literary world in the twentieth century by using ‘Linked Archives’ to interrogate the literary historical record.

Works cited

Bones, H. (2019). Linked digital archives and the historical publishing world: An Australasian perspective. History Compass 17 (3):

Ensor, J., Bones, H., Gonzalez, M., Hannan, S. and Burrows, S. (2017) ARCHIVER: Angus & Robertson Collection for Humanities and Education Research.

Hitchcock, T. (2013). Confronting the Digital: Or How Academic History Writing Lost the Plot. Cultural and Social History 10 (1): 9-23.

Helen Katherine Bones (, Western Sydney University, Australia

Theme: Lux by Bootswatch.