Historians are increasingly aware of how digital research tools cast shadow as well as light, influencing what can be discovered, and thus the history that is written. This paper will argue that this focus on digital research tools is obscuring the broader truth that all information management systems contain their own biases, and archives are not the historical “ground zero” sometimes suggested. Digital tools are simply the latest in a line of mediators influencing historians present day interactions with material from the past.
We will show how data from a range of little used sources, such as catalogue metadata at scale, datasets of document productions and journal citations can allow us first to understand the shape of the archival terrain which researchers are navigating and then to understand the effects of this landscape on historians' document use and scholarly practice.
In doing so we will seek to explore the layers of influence which registry clerks, archivists, cataloguers and volunteers have had on archival collections and how these might be made more visible in order to be evaluated (if never removed) by historians.