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Walter Lewis, Marine Historian & VITA Toolkit developer

Partial page from Northern Navigation Co. Limited. Canadian National Route, 1927

In a recent Facebook post, Walter Lewis, the primary developer at OurDigitalWorld, talked about his recent home digitization activities. A maritime historian, Walter dedicates a substantial amount of time to writing and publishing articles and books on Great Lakes ships and shipping history, digitizing and making marine history available to everyone on his VITA Digital Toolkit site Maritime History of the Great Lakes.

Walter’s expertise also reflects the principles and best practices of the ODW all-in-one digitization process, including using best copies to obtain higher Optical Character Recognition (OCR) results to enhance the user experience, and to optimize public access and discovery. In his post, Walter says, “I had the opportunity this week to ‘finish’ (to the extent that any of these projects are really finished) putting online just over 20,000 pages of the Marine Review from between December 1891 and January 1908. Up to the end of 1899, these were in bound volumes which had had the covers and some of the advertising pages trimmed off…. From 1900 to 1908, I worked from individual issues, most of which were complete with their covers, but never a complete set of issues for the years. For 1900-1902, these are supplemented by the digitized microfilm issues that were already in place… Searching is dramatically better because the OCR was significantly improved, especially of the editorial columns. Further good news is that reproduction of the images is far better (remembering the process of reproduction in those years and the effects of time on paper), with three or four levels of zoom. … I would be delighted to fill in the gaps from originals in other collections, which is why these projects are never *really* done.”

Walter Lewis’ home scanning set up

Walter’s historical research and the resulting digital collection provides well over a hundred thousand rare and wide ranging resources to the marine history community. The Maritime History of the Great Lakes site also acts as a prototype and testing ground for his development work on the VITA Toolkit. Having a public, ever developing collection is the ultimate test for the features and functionality we then share with our VITA clients. As Walter likes to say: “We eat our own dog food.” The resulting collection is a showcase not only for the VITA Toolkit but a testament to Walter’s commitment to making primary materials available online and to the never ending pursuit of a better quality, more comprehensive, and accessible historical record.

Almost immediately following the Facebook post, a fellow historian responded to Walter’s request and offered up a set of bound volumes of the Marine Review to help fill the gaps in the online collection. “OK, so I’m not finished,” quipped Walter.

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