The crackly sound of an old wax cylinder recording can evoke the past in an incredibly immediate way. In the State and University Library of Denmark, many such recordings have been digitised in order to provide a deeper look into the national history and unveil hidden truths of the past. One of these valuable materials, for example, has helped shed a new light on the life of the Emperor of Russia, Alexander III and his wife, Princess Dagmar of Denmark.
The recording, which is available for download here, involves a man singing an old song in Russian and a female voice that states “I am so pleased to hear my husband’s voice” in Danish. Although never confirmed, the recording was probably made on the occasion of one of the royal couple’s visits to Denmark, probably between 1889 and 1893. Depicting their life and relationship, this recording offers a new perspective on the national history and represents a resource of great historic value. In order to preserve and future-proof this and many similar historic materials, the State and University Library of Denmark has launched a new large-scale digitisation project.
Teaming up with Preservica, a digital preservation and access software, the Library will work to gather all born-digital and digitised collections dating as far back as 1666 in order to create a comprehensive system for storing and researching historically relevant audio-visual materials. Among these, a set of digital assets representing the lives of Alexander III and Princess Dagmar will be compiled through the new system to enable a more effective research. Together with the library’s 24,000,000 online pages of newspapers dedicated to this famous couple, these assets will help illustrate a more realistic picture of their lives and the popular culture of the time.
This is only one of the ways Denmark’s latest digitisation project will help historic research and its ultimate goal is to preserve petabytes of data with similarly great cultural and historic value. Tonny S. Jensen, Director of the National Library Division at the State and University Library of Denmark notes:
“The task of looking after all these different collections and media grows every single day, and becomes increasingly complex as old media becomes more fragile and new types of media are developed. A key objective of the project is to be able to manage and properly preserve all our digital content in one system and then overtime make these culturally important collections more easily accessible to the public.”
Using software specifically designed for enabling preservation of cultural and historic materials through digitisation, the State and University Library of Denmark will conserve hundreds of years’ worth of history. Its focus on modernising the systems and workflows used to manage these valuable assets is a great example of how technology can be used to save the historic knowledge and improve traditional processes of exploring the past.