For scholars of environmental history and hobbyists alike, there is a wealth of archival resources to be discovered — the trick is knowing where to look for them. Thankfully, archivists and other information professionals are in the business of making these resources discoverable and available. Many heritage professionals in Ontario are using Archeion to provide free access to descriptions of records relating to Canada’s environment.
What is Archeion?
Archeion is an online archival information database that acts as a directory for Ontario’s archival resources and the institutions that maintain them. Archival resources can range from photographs, to textual records like diaries, letters, reports and ledgers, to audiovisual materials, sound recordings, maps and so much more. Heritage institutions holding archival resources typically keep some kind of records describing their holdings, to assist researchers in finding relevant materials. Institutional members of the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) contribute descriptions of their archival holdings to Archeion, as well as descriptions of the creators of those archival holdings and information about the collecting institution. The records described in Archeion cross time, space, and all manner of subject matter. Those interested in researching the history of Ontario and Canada’s environment through archival sources should begin with Archeion.
What kinds of records are out there?
- Photographs: Over 16,000 digital images are published in Archeion, and countless more are described in the database. Digital copies of photographs or other graphic materials that are not directly uploaded to Archeion can often be requested from the holding institution, or onsite visits to see physical copies of items may be arranged. A few examples of environment-related digital images found in Archeion are included here.
- Newspaper clippings: Esquesing Historical Society describes a number of environment-related newspaper clippings, with titles like: “We must act now if the environment is to be saved” (Aug 09 1989; MG7 A1 – John Sommer Collection), “Canoe Country’s Julie Pomeroy is committed to the environment” (06-Jun-98; Collection MG3 A34 – Canoe Country, Norval), and “Printed work a century ago reflects the life and environment of Halton’s early residents” (1955; MG1 A4 – Luena Campbell Collection). You can contact the Esquesing Historical Society if you would like to read any of these articles.
- Entire fonds and collections: Many institutions across Ontario have entire fonds and collections containing a variety of record types, documenting aspects of Canada’s environmental history. Here are a few examples; click the links to learn more.
Crash course on finding environmental records
Now that you know what kinds of records are available in Archeion, it’s time to learn how to find them!
There are a number of ways to find resources on a particular subject, using Archeion. The first is by browsing Archeion’s list of Archival institutions by thematic area. Under Advanced search options, click on the Thematic area drop-down list, and select a theme. These thematic areas consist of subjects represented in the archival holdings of a particular institution. Readers of The Otter may be interested in the Environment and Natural resources thematic areas, among others.
A second way to find relevant resources is by browsing Subjects, also known as Subject access points. These terms are used to tag archival resources with shared subjects, in order to gather like resources to improve discovery. The same is also true of Archeion’s Places taxonomy, which brings together resources relating to particular geographical locations. In order to find resources relating to Ontario’s environment, a researcher may want to browse the Subject access points for Environment, Geographic features, and Energy and natural resources.
If you are looking for something in particular, the best way to do so is to perform a basic or advanced search. You can perform a basic search by typing a word or combination of words into the Search box in the header bar of any Archeion page. A basic search for the term “environment” yielded 381 results, though some of those discussed the “workplace environment” or other irrelevant topics. We could refine this search by using the Advanced search options.
There are a few ways to perform an Advanced search of Archeion. You can click in the header bar search box where you would perform a basic search, and you will see an Advanced search button. You can also click to expand the Advanced search options on the results page of a basic search, like the one shown above.
Advanced searches allow you more control over your search results. As pictured in the screen capture above, you can limit your search terms to particular fields (for example: Title, Creator, or Scope and content — which generally provides a free-text description of the archival resource). You can also limit your Advanced search using a number of other filters, including whether the archival description has a digital object attached. Digital objects might be JPEG photo files, PDF textual documents, MPEG-4 video files, or a number of other possible attachments. You can also filter your search by date range, which can be helpful in narrowing down your search results to relevant resources. On a search results page, you will also see facet filters for language, archival institution, subject and more; those filters will further refine your search results in more meaningful ways.
TL;DR: use historical archives!
A vast majority of Canada’s environmental history is tucked neatly away in acid-free boxes and file folders in archival institutions dotting the landscape “from sea to sea to sea.” Archeion is a powerful tool for discovering hidden treasures amidst the holdings of Ontario’s heritage institutions, and similar databases exist for other provinces and territories. Who knows what we will discover, if only we take the time to explore?
Feature image: Solid iron ore and Roberts River overlooking a landscape of trees at the closed Moose Mountain Mine in Sellwood, Ontario. 023-1-.1-2-.196-11. 196-40. September 1940. Sudbury Star Fonds. City of Greater Sudbury Archives. https://www.archeion.ca/196-40.
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