Digitizing the Past: the Delfina de la Guerra Collection

By Katherine Lowe

When processing a new collection, one of the fun things is thinking about ways to share the collection.  Thanks to constantly evolving technology, there are so many new and interesting ways to share historical collections with a much wider audience. Researchers can now search and browse millions of photos and letters from the comfort of home. Here at the Presidio Research Center, we are working on digitizing a portion of items from Delfina de la Guerra’s personal papers. This important collection detailing a portion of Santa Barbara’s history will be available for viewing on the website. This blog series will give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse at this process.

There is no substitute for seeing a letter or photograph in person to get a true sense of the scope of its historical value, but digitization offers us a close approximation. One of the most rewarding aspects of processing and researching historical material is viewing it up close and noticing the details that make it truly unique, such as the way the ink on a letter has faded or how the nature of handwritten letters has evolved over time. Our goal with this digitization project is to translate that feeling into a digital setting.

After selecting a portion of the materials for the digitization project, the scanning stage is next. The most important thing is for us to get a clear image that is as close to the original as possible.

Wearing gloves while scanning helps us to not introduce any damage or fingerprints. Photo by Anne Petersen

One of the advantages of digitization is the ability to zoom in for a closer view, so resolution of the scanned image is very important. For example, consider this photograph of an unidentified woman.

The following set shows what happens when you zoom in on a portion of this photograph that has a lower resolution (left) versus something that has been scanned with a higher resolution (right). The image on the left is more blurry, while the image on the right has more detail.

In the next blog post, we will discuss historical research as it relates to digitizing this collection.

Katherine Lowe is a volunteer at the Presidio Research Center. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the hidden treasures lurking in archives.

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