Searching Digital Commonwealth

About Digital Commonwealth

Since its creation in 2006, Digital Commonwealth has grown into an extensive repository of nearly one million items. Photographs, manuscripts, letters, scrapbooks, maps, artifacts, audio/video recordings, drawings, prints, and paintings are all free for research, education, posterity and pure enjoyment for all. Material from institutions of all sizes, both public and private, is either hosted or harvested by Digital Commonwealth and the Digital Lab at the Boston Public Library. The curated collections come from public libraries, colleges and universities, historical societies, archives, and community organizations throughout Massachusetts.

Home Page
Digital Commonwealth home page

Users of Digital Commonwealth typically find the site intuitive and easy to navigate. From the landing page, it is possible to search geographically with the Map button, by Collection, by Institution, or by Format. A general search box is also available with field options (Title, Subject, Place, Creator).

Searching via Map
Digital Commonwealth map search

Users can select a part of the world to search for items. While most of the material corresponds to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, other states, countries and continents are also referenced.

Searching via Collection
Digital Commonwealth collection page

Digital Commonwealth provides access to over 1,500 individual collections of varying size--from less than one hundred items to thousands each, including the work of notable photographers Leslie Jones, Arthur Griffin, Peter Simon and Diana Mara. The collections are listed alphabetically, with dates coming before names. Within each collection, users can browse by subject, place, format and date.

Searching via Institution

Searching by institution works the same way as searching by collection. More than 200 institutions contribute to Digital Commonwealth. Within the alphabetical list filters include subject, place, format, date and also availability. Member institutions include The American Antiquarian Society, Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital, Boston Children's Museum, Digital Transgender Archive, UMass, WGBH, and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution among so many more.

Searching via Format
Digital Commonwealth Formats page

For those users new to Digital Commonwealth, format is perhaps the best manner of exploring the depth and breadth of collections. See the list below of the many formats available for browsing. For students whose teachers or professors have asked for a particular kind of primary source, the ability to search in this way allows for a very focused and successful search. As is standard, filters include subject, place, date, collection and institution.

Zoom in for a closer look
Digital Commonwealth zooming image viewer

When you've located an item and clicked on it, a magnifying glass icon appears in the upper right. By selecting it, a new window opens and users can zoom in closer and also rotate the image. Much additional historical detail can be gained in this way.