The Indigenous Digital Archive

Building an archive
Building blocks:CaEpSrFhTiMcAnVw

The Indigenous Digital Archive is a project of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, Santa Fe, in collaboration with the New Mexico State Library Tribal Libraries Program and the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

It helps explore the history of US government Indian boarding schools in the 19th and 20th centuries. Over 500,000 images from US National Archive microfilm rolls were digitised and sorted into individual letters, reports and other archival documents using tools Digirati developed for the platform. The site we created is driven by the use of generous interfaces to group and explore documents by tribe, person, place, school, theme and other topic categories. The topics are generated partly through automatic entity recognition on the source material, as it is run through our enrichment pipeline. The emerging vocabularies create site navigation, assist search queries, and provide new ways into the content.

Individual report page showing tagged terms

Volunteers can apply the vocabulary to handwritten material, correct mistakes, and create new topics. Volunteers can also improve the machine-generated transcription for the archival documents, and add new text content. The machine-generated tags create a large number of topics, and this emerging vocabulary is managed using our Tacsi tool, improving the navigation and quality of the site metadata over time.

The whole process is driven by IIIF and web annotations and joins together the techniques explored in the enrichment pipeline, annotation studio, and crowdsourcing.

The techniques developed for this project are applicable to many archive scenarios, especially where the archive grows through community participation. The combination of visual tools to identify items, natural language processing on those items to generate vocabulary, human enrichment and improvement of the machine output, and the use of this data to create generous interfaces shows how digitisation, enrichment and community participation can turn the theoretically public archive (microfilm rolls on shelves) into the publicly useful archive.

If you would like to use these techniques for your archives project, please get in touch!

Find out more

Visit the site at

A video walkthrough of the IDA from the IIIF Archives Group Call

How to Make History with the Indigenous Digital Archive