Preservation News: Preserving History Digitally

In this age of the Internet, professional and amateur historians have the ability to research – and preserve – history digitally. Since the advent of the twenty-first century, we can now scour digital archives, find rare academic articles in databases, and discover thousands of new photographs and diaries never-before seen. In this week’s Preservation News, we want to shed light on two of the most notable digital history projects that were launched this year.

Civil War Photo Sleuth’s facial recognition software analyzes the face of a Union second lieutenant. Courtesy of Military Images Magazine.

In August, the Civil War Photo Sleuth project was officially launched to the public by the Crowd Intelligence Lab at Virginia Tech, Military Images magazine, and the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies. Years in the making, Photo Sleuth was created as a free crowdsource database, where the public can upload images, search, or help identify Civil War soldiers.

The software also serves Civil War photography enthusiasts in three ways: through its photo archive, integrated research tools, and as an online community. The most unique aspect of Photo Sleuth is its state-of-the-art technology. As a user uploads an identified image or helps to identify a previously unknown soldier, the software will then analyze the face and compare it the tens of thousands of other images. By recording the unique shape and features of the face, the Photo Sleuth software will have the ability to recognize that soldier in other photographs.

For preservation, Photo Sleuth will allow researchers to have digital copies of tens of thousands of Civil War photographs. Not only does the database contain images in the public domain, it also has many that have been in private collections, never before seen. These photographs will be digitally preserved for generations to come.

Last month, on the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, the Library of Congress announced their newest crowdsourcing project, called By the People. The Library of Congress invites the public to help transcribe, review, and tag manuscripts from their collections. Unlike the Photo Sleuth, By the People covers a variety of historical time periods and topics, such as Branch Rickey’s baseball scouting reports and civil rights activist Mary Church Terrell’s letters and diaries.

A screenshot of the Library of Congress’ By the People project. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

However, By the People has several ongoing Civil War projects. For example, you can help read and transcribe letters written by or to President Lincoln or read through the submissions of the Left-Hand Penmanship Contest for disabled Civil War veterans. By assisting the Library of Congress, you are helping to preserve the documents and allowing their digital repositories to be more searchable and accessible to the public. After all, through education and accessibility, history can be better preserved.

For More Information:

By the People Crowdsource Beta, Library of Congress,

Civil War Photo Sleuth,

Kurt Luther, “Photo Sleuth: New Digital Tool Redefines Photo Sleuthing,” Military Images Magazine Online, Summer 2017, accessed December 20, 2018,

1 Response to Preservation News: Preserving History Digitally

  1. Such a cool post!! I love this stuff. Maybe we will be able to identify some of those as-yet nameless fsces in the photos. Huzzah!

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