Review – Parallel Archives

At the DHLU Symposium 2012, I complained in a tweet that there was no equivalent to Zotero for managing my archives. Marin Dacos from told me of a product developed by the Central European University in Budapest, called Parallel Archive. Last week, I spent some time at the archives of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York and decided to give it try. Parallel Archive (PA) is essentially a tool to manage the photos you take during your research: all eight researchers who visited the archives of the RF last week took photos and several complained that they have no idea how to manage them. That’s why I stopped using a camera because I have hundreds of photos on my computer, which I have never looked at. This time I used PA from the beginning on: it allows you to upload the photos, obliges you to describe them, makes pdf’s of the them and transforms these pdf’s into text thanks to an optical character recognition software that produces satisfying results for English texts. The aim of the organisation behind Parallel Archive, the Open Society Archives (OAS), is to create a digital repository of all the millions of documents that are copied every day but remain on the computers of the individual researchers.

At the moment, PA suffers however from four major flaws:

  • Since 2008 (!), there has been no development. I was a little bit worried on the perennity of the site1. I wrote them a mail and got an answer from Csaba Szilagyi, one of the guys working for PA, who reassured me that the project is still supported. He told me that they plan to start a second phase this year and that from now on all the online requests addressed to the OAS for documents will be served via PA.
  • Several small technical problems remains. The downloaded pdf’s are sometimes of dreadful quality and no longer ‘readable’. It is not possible to rotate all your photos at once: so you have to do it individually, which takes a lot of time, when you have copied a report of 50 pages. The options to sort your photos before transforming them into a pdf are quite limited.
  • The private space is not very important (500 MB) and so you are obliged to make your archives public (no limits for this option), which is understandable when one knows the general philosophy of the project, but which is problematic in a lot of archives where you don’t have the right to put your photos on the internet.
  • Finally, only a few scholars use PA at the moment. Is it because nobody knows about it or are researchers reluctant to share their work?

In general, I found PA however convincing and it would be interesting to persuade institutional archives to join PA by proposing the researchers already prepared folders where they can post their photos. I spoke with one of the archivist of the RF who estimates that a least a fifth of their collections has already been photographed individually. Would it not be great to have access to all these copied material from wherever you are working? And I am sure that the restoration of the Historical Archive of the City of Cologne which collapsed in 2009 would not take 30 years, if they had used a system such as PA. PA cannot replace institutionalised digitisation programs, but is a great complementary tool to these projects.

  1.  I downloaded all the pdf’s on my computer. But I was less anxious about losing my usb-stick with everything on it, because I knew that all my photos were saved on PA.



History journals in the new ranking proposed by Google

Google proposes a new ranking for scientific journals based on Google Scholar, called Google Scholar Metrics (GSM)1. It establishes a slightly different image from the one created by Thomson Reuters and “its” impact factor.

The top 10 publications proposed by Google in comparison to the Thomson Reuters Index2

Name of the journal Google Scholars Ranking Thomson Reuters Index
Nature 1 3
New England Journal of Medicine 2 1
Science 3 7
RePEc 4 not considered as a journal
arXiv 5 not considered as a journal
The Lancet 6 4
Social Science Research Network 7 not considered as a journal
Cell 8 6
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 9 11
Nature Genetics 10 2

The initiative is quite interesting. First, there is no longer one single reference but at least two. The monopolistic position of Thomson Reuters is slightly challenged. Second, with RePEc, ArXiv and Social Science Research Network, Google takes into account initiatives outside the medical and biological fields, which is beneficial for a broader image of what science is.

The limits of Google Scholar Metrics appear however quickly when I tried to use it for historical journals. In the English top-100 list, no historical journal is recorded. In the German top 100, one historical journal – Historische Sozialforschung – is listed at 33. And in  the French top 100, Genèses (48) and Annales (57) represent history. If you ask GSM for the most influential journals in history you get the following top ten:

  • The Journal of Economic History
  • Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies In History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
  • The Economic History Review
  • Explorations in Economic History
  • Journal of Natural History
  • Amsterdam Studies in the theory and history of linguist science series 4
  • Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • The International Journal of the History of Sport
  • Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Studies In History and Philosophy of Science Part A

If I am quite pleased by the importance of journals dedicated to science studies3, it does clearly not represent the major trends in the field. So I wonder if Google Scholar Metrics will be another Google Beta project that will disappear in a few months or if it will be improved by a new magic Google algorithm.

  1. All the requests for this post has been done on 6 April 2012
  2. The Thomson Reuters Index I used is the one published for the different journals on Wikipedia (2009 or 2010). Google’s ranking covers articles published between 2007 and 2011
  3. Based on GSM, I will claim from now on having published an article in a top ten historical journal: Pieters Toine et Majerus Benoît, « The introduction of chlorpromazine in Belgium and the Netherlands (1951-1968); Tango between old and new treatment features », Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 42-4, 2011, p. 443–452.