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Adam Matthew Digital Explores New Ways to Make History Come Alive
Posted On April 6, 2021
By the time I retired from academic libraries, I thought that the main challenge for librarians was to know the difference between what was quality online information and what wasn’t. They needed to know that an online journal represents an editorial process that includes peer review, careful editing, and distribution online to the library’s collection of databases. Similarly, ebooks are usually works that have gone through a careful and substantial editorial process before they are placed online. Sadly, I found that students overwhelmingly saw all of these works as “stuff on the computer,” just like the things they found on Google.

Today, the distinctions for quality information are far more important than ever. Online learning became the rule more than the exception, and students who are learning at home have a rich array of flawed information to choose from.

In 1990, the Adam Matthew company was founded to distribute archival collections in microfilm. Over the next decade, it evolved into CD-ROM products and, finally, digital. In 2012, Adam Matthew Digital was acquired by SAGE. This year, the company is hoping to use its substantial holdings as a launching pad for a new type of digital product—one that will teach digital literacy.

A Chat With the Deputy Managing Director

Adam Matthew Digital’s new product is named Research Methods for Primary Sources, and it is coming out by the end of this year. Jennifer Kemp, the company’s deputy managing director, arranged for a video chat session from her base of operations in Wiltshire, England. She explained, “At Adam Matthew, we have a long history in publishing collections of archival materials and pride ourselves on our relationships with archives and the academic community. Our mission at the heart of our business is to empower critical thinking—expressed here in our mission statement: ‘We believe that at the heart of education is the freedom to think critically. Harnessing the latest technologies, we reimagine primary sources, to empower current and future generations to challenge, analyse and debate.’”

Kemp was very excited about Research Methods for Primary Sources, noting that it builds on the company’s existing substantial library of archival materials and is a teaching tool that shows students how to interact with primary sources. Adam Matthew Digital is creating a series of value-added features, such as case studies and lectures from scholars. Kemp told me that more than 100 scholars share their approaches to diverse source types and themes in more than 140 case studies. I asked her if this is going beyond the traditional idea of providing an online reference source and making an interactive teaching tool, and she agreed that this is where it is headed. This movement is also seen on Adam Matthew Digital’s website, which describes its solutions as “cross-searchable products [that] offer primary source material for teaching and research.”

“We have some really great learning tools such as ethical considerations in the archives,” Kemp said. “Why are some sources archived while others aren’t, and how to research marginalized groups—these are topical and important subjects that help to build students’ knowledge of areas that have been traditionally overlooked.”

When I asked about the pricing, Kemp said that the normal arrangement is a one-time purchase, but there is the option of subscriptions. (This is based on the typical criterion of FTE enrollment.)

Kemp is proud of her company’s list of partner institutions, including The Huntington Library in Los Angeles, The Newberry Library in Chicago, The New York Public Library, Schlesinger Library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, the British Library, and Cambridge University Library in England. I checked Google to ensure that every A-list library I could think of offered Adam Matthew Digital collections in their online catalogs.

On a closing note, I asked Kemp where the name “Adam Matthew” came from, given that the founders were named David Tyler and William Pidduck. Each of the founders had a son, and the company name was derived from their first names.

Trying Out the American History Module

As of this writing, the company has 90 products available, including coverage for most of the world. This image shows just a portion of the list:

The list of Adam Matthew Digital productsI chose the American History, 1493-1945 product to focus on here because recent discoveries from my family tree showed that I am directly descended from 14 Revolutionary War veterans. The archive includes material from the 15th century until the end of World War II. I went to the Advanced Search and found it generally powerful and intuitive. Images of carefully preserved letters could sometimes be difficult to read, but each item has a substantial abstract. (I did not see any mention of my direct ancestors, including Tory colonel Ambrose Mills, but there was interesting information about Barksdale’s Charge at Gettysburg, where my great-great-grandfather lost his life.)

Choosing the Explore option, I found a video library of a dozen scholars, with lectures on George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln, among more general topics. Each video is fully transcribed. There is also a collection of scholarly essays, a large image gallery, and an interactive map of the Gettysburg battlefield. The section on Mount Vernon includes a substantial image gallery. There is also an illustrated timeline of American history. Anyone interested in American history would surely find this a treasure. Here is the map of Gettysburg:

map of Gettysburg from Adam Matthew Digital


I was told that Research Methods for Primary Sources will include 350 primary sources and 50,000 images. The case studies will include a range of examples drawn from 50 of Adam Matthew Digital’s archives. There is clearly a hunger in academia for substantial information sources. Given this company’s reputation for high-quality work and imagination, I expect that the launch will be well-received around the world.

Images courtesy of Adam Matthew Digital

Terry Ballard is the author of three books and more than 100 articles about library automation. In addition to several writing awards, Ballard was given the Albert Nelson Marquis Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019 and appears in the 2020 edition of Who’s Who in America. Further information can be found at, and he can be reached at

Email Terry Ballard

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