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Creating A Historical Archive

Creating an archive is easy, but maintaining and improving an archive is the hard part. I would like to share some of what I have learned over the years.

What Is An Archive?

Once you save your first photograph, you have created your first Archive. In contemporary times, this could be something as simple as taking a photograph with your cell phone. Sometimes, those images are shared on social media, texted to friends, emailed to others, or transmitted in many other ways. But that isn’t enough to create a true Archive.

An Archive suggests a degree of permanence. Those social media posts, or text messages, or emails, are not an Archive because they are not set up to be permanent. People move on to other media platforms, and people invariably lose texts and emails over time. An archive is set up to overcome those limitations and be useful to others in the future.

What should be in a Historical Archive?

The short answer is: Everything. Anything that can be kept and preserved should be archived.

It is important to understand, especially when working with contemporary work, that preservation should be more important than interpretation. What you think is unimportant today may actually be historically important decades later.

Documents and images can exist in both physical and electronic formats. In fact, if you are able to have both, then even better. Here are some ideas on what should be in your Archive.

Historical Print Photographs

For the majority of Order of the Arrow events, no photograph exists. In fact, my friend Josh Hunt was commissioned by the Order of the Arrow to create large sketches of important Order of the Arrow events where no photograph is thought to exist.

Historical photographs should be treated with utmost care. Paper brittles with age and the imagery fades with exposure to light. For an old image, you may want to use gloves when handling to avoid getting oil or fingerprints on the original. Scan at the highest quality format you can and use an archival file type like TIF. JPEG is a popular contemporary format, but it is Lossy1 and changing the file also hurts the quality of the image.

The Archive Tools I Use

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Adobe offers the Photographer’s Bundle for $ 9.99 per month and it includes both Lightroom and Photoshop. It is less expensive than your Netflix subscription. While Photoshop is a great tool for editing photographs, it is a destructive editor. In other words, when you edit the original file, you are permanently changing that file unless you save a separate .psd file.

One of the best parts of using Lightroom is that it is a non-destructive editor. The original file is never changed. Lightroom captures the image and metadata information, then stores it separately in a Lightroom Catalog database. The file is never touched again until you export or Publish an image, and even then, it uses the information but never changes that file.

The other key tool in Lightroom is the Library module. There, you can add information for each image that gets stores as metadata in the catalog. Some of the metadata you can keep in Lightroom includes:

  • Location: GPS location, City (Location), Sublocation, State, Country
  • People: Who is in the image? Lightroom detects faces, and can find additional similar faces for you. That data is then kept as a “People” keyword in the database.
  • Title of an image.
  • Caption of an image. You can also write extensively in this field. If you have a flat image with a lot of text, you can type out every piece of that text into this field and it will be stored forever.
  • Date of an image. You may have just scanned a photo, but if you know it was taken in 1953, you have the ability to date it and keep the images chronological.
  • Quality of an image. You can rate each photo from 0 to 5 stars, so you can easily sort your best photographs. You can also apply colors as Labels. For instance, you might consider using Red to notate Order of the Arrow images in your Archive.
  • Keywords. You can add any keywords that describe an image and you will have the ability to search for images with just that keyboard.


There are so many CMS2 Systems out there, but WordPress endures as the most extensible and customizable tool out there.

WP/LR Sync

WP/LR Sync is a set of two plugins. One exists in your WordPress installation, and the other is attached to your Lightroom Catalog. Connecting your Lightroom Catalog with your website provides you with powerful tools to maintain Collections, Sync them, and keep them constantly updated.


The most important camera is the one you have in your hand. That can be any camera, of course. Like many, I own a modern cell phone. That can be a powerful but limited photographic tool. Its use should always be encouraged. I also own a powerful DSLR camera, which is where I prefer to make most of my photographs.

  1. Lossy denotes a file type that uses file compression to decrease the storage size of an image
  2. Content Management System

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