Unknowns in the Archives

One of my favorite things about archives is (carefully) rifling through photos and papers to find hidden gems. Sometimes we know a lot about the items in archives, but with many objects the creators, people pictured, or context are a mystery. When archivists are describing these items, we often list the creator as “unknown” or people as “unidentified.”

Metadata, the terms used to describe an object, is essential to discovery when searching digital collections. When metadata is missing, the objects lacking those descriptions can go unnoticed, hidden beyond the search terms. That’s why I’ve created this digital exhibit highlighting items from Texas Digital Library members’ digital collections that might otherwise be rarely seen.

Unknown and Unidentified features items from many of TDL’s members. Browsing through the images, you’ll find items ranging from photos and letters to hand-crafted masks, all with either unknown creators or unidentified elements. Some of the items come from the papers of prominent figures or organizations while others are part of regional community collections featuring the materials of everyday people. In many cases, the reason archives don’t have appropriate metadata to include proper names is because the creators and subjects were not well-known and their names were not recorded at the time of the object’s creation. 

Click through the gallery to learn more about the collections where these items originate and discover your own new favorite digital archival items. The title of each image links to the object’s original online location, so you can continue exploring collections beyond what’s displayed here.

If you are able to identify an item in this exhibit, please email Texas Digital Library at info@tdl.org

-Rachael Zipperer

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