Footnote is an impressive resource which launched last week that allows users to access and annotate millions of historical documents online for the first time. Interested in the Civil War or perhaps the Bureau of Investigation? Just look it up on Footnote and within seconds view digitized copies of the original documents including photographs, signed documents, letters, case studies and more. Footnote has also established a partnership with the National Archives providing access to millions of historical documents for viewing online. Around 4.5 million documents have already been added to the site and apparently millions more to come. I’ll admit, I wasn’t one to raise my hand during history class, but it’s pretty neat being able to view transcripts that George Washington wrote back in 1775 for the Continental Congress and the signature of John Hancock. I’d imagine Footnote to be a prime attraction for genealogists, historians, public libraries, school systems and history buffs in general.
On top of viewing original documents online, Footnote encourages users to share their knowledge by uploading images, annotating documents and maintaining member pages. Users can also download any image on the site and add it to their account gallery. There is a catch, however. Not all images on the site can be viewed and downloaded for free. Respectably, Footnote is a resource for those who are serious about original documents and that are willing to pay either by member subscription ($9.99/month and $99.99/year) or a per download basis ($1.99/image). But if you’re like me and just want to take a look around, you can register for a basic membership (free) and view select documents from the National Archives as well as contribute to the site by uploading images, annotating documents and creating member pages.
To start things off, let’s take a look at the Original Documents section. This is where you can find featured titles and the latest titles of documents on Footnote. It is also where you will spend most of your time searching, viewing, annotating, downloading and sharing. Now let’s say you are looking for a specific set of documents. You can either select to browse all available titles or perform a basic search. Browsing titles, as seen in the screenshot above, works much like the file panel on a Mac. You select a title from the list and then drill down into each subtitle until you find your document. It’s a nice view if you’re wanting to simply view the database of images. But if you’re looking for something specific, such as a name, you can use the document search and find matches from basic descriptions and annotations.
Selecting an image from a title will bring you to the Footnote image viewer. Powered by Adobe Flash Player, the viewer allows you to zoom in, rotate, and drag around an image so you can easily explore every last detail of a document. It also uses a similar technology to Google Maps where the image is re-buffered each time you zoom in and out to maintaining a high quality output. You will also find a bar on the right side of the viewer where you can view information about the image as well as comment and browse document annotations. Additionally, users can save an image to their account gallery, download it, and print it out all within the viewer. (Note: The document in the screenshot above is of the Declaration of Independence. Cool, huh?)
Now let’s say you were viewing an image in the viewer and found something specific that you would want to point out, like a name. Rather than simply commenting about the occurrence, Footnote allows you to annotate it so others can easily spot the name and search upon it. Just click on “Add Annotation”, drag the box to where you want, and size it to what you are annotating. Then specify whether the annotation is of a person, date, place, or text and fill in the appropriate information. That’s all to it and now other viewers can find your annotation and better understand what they are looking at.
Footnote also provides members with what they call, Member Pages. Essentially, Member Pages are small websites on a specific topic which can be created by any member for free. Members can write freely about anything they find notable and can write in sections, which holds a similar form to a blog. Member pages can also receive comments from other Footnote members and include images as reference. Footnote suggest members use pages to: publish histories of people and events; create a notebook for ongoing research; and showcase original documents that they’ve found and want to share. For example, one member has created the page “HMS Titanic Timeline” which covers the events of the “unsinkable” ocean liner.
Overall, I found Footnote to be a great resource and development. I don’t have a high interest in history, but it was entertaining to look through documents that one can’t normally view without going to a historical museum. The ability to browse through millions of documents and zoom in to every last detail of an image is quite impressive. I also felt that the social features of adding comments, annotations, and member pages to Footnote is a great addition as it allows members to get involved with our history and share their knowledge. I suspect Footnote will be big with genealogists, educational systems, libraries and anyone with high interest in history.