CORVALLIS - A new online database providing improved access to archival collections at 13 different Northwest institutions is now available, allowing researchers to learn more about everything from the history of mining to changes in environmental laws or the writings of novelist Zane Grey.

Called the Northwest Digital Archives, the project was coordinated by Oregon State University through a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. More than 1,800 "finding aids," which are guides to a collection, are currently available in the database, and well over 2,200 will be available when NEH support ends later this year.

"Each of the consortium's institutions has hundreds, if not thousands of collections that may not be as accessible through standard HTML searching techniques," said Larry Landis, who is OSU's university archivist and consortium director. "With our coordinated database, which is quite sophisticated yet simple to use, a researcher could find out information on a single subject - like the development of flax - that is in the repositories of the 13 different institutions. In fact, 18 collections at seven of the institutions pertain to flax.

"You simply would not be able to access that kind of information through a normal web search," he added.

Elizabeth Nielsen, consortium manager for the Northwest Digital Archives and senior staff archivist at OSU, said a quick search on the subject "Mount St. Helens" returned 15 collections at eight institutions - a treasure trove of information about the collections that includes research, photos, films and other data pertaining to the 1980 eruption and its effects. A search on the term "Iraq" produced eight collections at six institutions dating from the mid- to late-20th century.

"What the Northwest Digital Archives does is allow you to look through the finding aids from many different institutions in aggregate instead of one at a time," Nielsen said.

The database can be accessed at http://nwda.wsulibs.wsu.edu/.

The OSU archivists say the database should be especially useful to university faculty and students, high school and middle school students, authors, policymakers and other members of the public.

Member institutions include OSU, University of Idaho, Montana Historical Society, University of Montana, Oregon Historical Society, University of Oregon, Pacific Lutheran University, Seattle Municipal Archives, University of Washington, Washington State Archives, Western Washington University, Washington State University, and Whitworth College.

The collective areas of strength in the institutions' archives include:

  • Natural resources, including mining, forestry, agriculture and fisheries;
  • Environmental laws, issues and data;
  • Political collections, especially as they relate to specific issues;
  • History of the Northwest and each state;
  • Cultural and social movements, athletics and entertainment;
  • Changes in the urban environment;
  • Film, photographic and oral history collections.

"There are a significant number of political collections," Nielsen pointed out. "These include the papers of early territorial governors to more recent politicians such as Montana Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin, whose papers are at the Montana Historical Society and the University of Montana, and Oregon Sen. Richard Neuberger, whose collection is housed at the University of Oregon."

Among OSU's major contributions are the Linus Pauling Collection, which has more than 500,000 items from the career of the two-time Nobel Prize laureate; and materials from the career of environmentalist and photographer William L. Finley.

The Northwest Digital Archives finding aids database is housed at Washington State University.