Active Archives: Building a new archival platform for the discovery of hidden narratives

At HyperStudio, the home of Digital Humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of our main aims is to develop new, dynamic ways of representing, researching, and learning about the past. Through our Active Archives Initiative, we are exploring the emerging role that digital archives can play in this process.


A core purpose of Active Archives is to empower users to engage in ‘story-making’, by discovering, interpreting and organising archived materials to construct new representations of the past. These archives should be simple and enjoyable to use, and designed with a wide range of prospective users in mind, from professional scholars to school students. By combining rich sets of resources with a design that accommodates a diverse user base, we hope that our Active Archive model will facilitate the creation of new, previously untold stories.


We have selected two existing projects as prototypes for this initiative. For the US-Iran Relations project, we have collected and digitised documents and testimonies relating to the diplomatic relationship between the United States and Iran during the past several decades. The Blacks in American Medicine project combines biographical records of African American physicians with countless primary documents associated with these practitioners to create a comprehensive archive of all black physicians within America from 1860 to 1980. These projects leverage interactive tools such as dynamic timelines and innovative collection and story-making tools, allowing previously untold narratives and unseen connections to emerge.

As we continue to develop our Active Archives Initiative, we’re putting particular emphasis on the idea that our content is not only accessible but, more importantly, that it is intuitive and useful to our audiences. Presenting a paper about the initiative at the Digital Humanities Congress will allow us to gather feedback from thought leaders in the field in order to facilitate the evolution of this exciting new concept.