Rachel Simmons first used the Wayback Machine for research projects at her Sacramento, California, high school. Now a senior at UCLA, she’s discovered even more ways to find material not available elsewhere.
Simmons, whose mother and grandmother were both librarians, is an applied math major with a minor in film, television and digital media. As she looks up information about media figures or needs to find a rare film, she says the Internet Archive’s digital collection has been an invaluable resource.
“It’s really great to have access to information for anyone to use from their home computer,” Simmons says. “I don’t physically have to go into a library. If I’m working on something late at night, it’s convenient.”
When taking a class on American film history last year, she was assigned to research a famous actor; she chose Peter Lorre.
“I’m a big fan of classic horror films and he’s an icon whose legacy has continued long past his career,” she said. “I just wanted to learn more about him and what people thought of him at the time.”
To find those contemporary views of Lorre’s work, Simmons turned to the fan magazine collection in the Archive’s Media History Digital Library. There she found interviews with the actor and reviews of his movies from the 1930s. Despite appearing as a mysterious figure on film, Simmons says she learned the interviews present him as a conventional, regular guy. She gained even more insight through the published fan letters in the magazines. “I found it really interesting that I was reading these letters from almost one hundred years ago,” Simmons said.
For another UCLA course, Simmons tapped into the Internet Archive to view silent German films that were discussed in class. While she was studying, Simmons found herself stumbling onto trailers for other films, which led her to checking out similar movies for fun after her projects were complete. Many of the more obscure titles that interest her are not available on streaming services, she notes.
Simmons says she tells others about the resources available through the Internet Archive—including her family of librarians.
When Graeme Currie was working at a university, he went to the campus library for research and often lingered in the stacks just to enjoy the collection.
Now, as a freelance translator and editor operating remotely from a small town near Hamburg, Germany, Currie doesn’t have that same access. Without an institutional affiliation, he relies on materials in the Internet Archive for his work.
“It’s been vital for me because, at times, it’s the only way I can find what I need,” says Currie, 51, who is originally from Scotland. “For freelancers who are working from home without a library nearby and using obscure sources and out-of-print books, there’s nothing to replace the Internet Archive.”
Currie first heard about the Wayback Machine in the early 2000s as a means to check changes in websites. Then, he discovered other services that the Internet Archive provides including its audio and book library.
As he edits and translates academic books from German to English, Currie says he often has to check book citations—looking up page numbers and verifying passages. The virtual collection has been helpful as he researches a range of topics in the arts, social sciences and the humanities. Currie says he’s borrowed titles related to philosophy, criminality and global urban history, including the early history of tourism in Sicily.
Not only are many of the books hard to find, but Currie says logistically, they are difficult to obtain. Without the Internet Archive, Currie says he would have to wait weeks for interlibrary loans or try to contact the book authors, who are often unavailable.
“I simply could not do my job without access to a virtual library,” says Currie, who has been freelancing for about five years. “The Internet Archive is like having a university library on your desktop.”
Sarah Barry wanted to become a fighter for something—but she didn’t know exactly what.
“I was frustrated with all that was going on in the world. I knew I couldn’t wave a magic wand and fix everything, but I wanted to help in some small way,” said the 28-year-old who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works in IT.
She decided to leverage her research skills to help correct misinformation about vaccines and public health.
For Barry, the Wayback Machine has been critical in tracking the science and sharing what she’s discovered. Without the Internet Archive, she said, valuable internet history that she needs to do effective research would have been completely lost.
“I use the Internet Archive to look up old links and resources that have since gone defunct,” said Barry. “I also use the Archive to actively input web pages that need to be saved or saved again to ensure that any resources I’m currently using are saved for mine or other’s future reference.”
She has turned into a citizen journalist and independent activist, volunteering for nonprofit organizations to better inform the public. Barry has given public presentations on her findings and provided materials to reporters that have appeared in a variety of news outlets.
As a millennial, Barry said she grew up being active online and has long used the Internet Archive as a tool. “It’s a common language among people like me who do research,” she said. “We all know the Internet Archive is legit.”
Lace signified wealth in America’s early years. In colonial times, people who wore it improperly could face punishment (both men and women wore lace). During the Revolutionary War, women made lace to supplement their income while the men were away fighting.
Mary Mangan is fascinated by the history of lace in the United States. The Somerville, Massachusetts, resident makes lace herself and is on a mission to raise the profile of lace more broadly. Looking for a project that could be done with other lace enthusiasts remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, they started to research the lace community in Ipswich, Massachusetts, during the 18th century.
Although European nations had many important centers of lace production as economic drivers, only one community in the American colonies developed a bobbin lace industry. Hundreds of people in Ipswich became skilled lace makers and their unusual activity was captured in the papers of Alexander Hamilton who was seeking to understand America’s capacity for production. This unique style of lace adorned fashionable people in the early Republic, including Martha Washington. The origins of this activity and the identities of the lace makers are still being actively sought, and that’s where library collections like the Internet Archive fit in.
Mangan said the Internet Archive proved to be a valuable resource for the project of the New England Lace Group. “The quirkiness of the collection is really interesting,” she said. “With a quick search of a few key words, I came across some really unusual things that I would not have unearthed otherwise.”
For instance, Mangan found court records detailing the prosecution of people wearing lace in Puritan times. The Internet Archive had links to agricultural pamphlets from Massachusetts about a woman winning a prize for her lace at a fair in 1832, and information that led the research group to a box from Newbury, Massachusetts, in a local museum with lace making artifacts. There were also anecdotes in a 1884 book about individual women, such as Betty B., who made black silk lace.
“We discovered important social and economic data about the lace and the people who made it,” said Mangan, who is a volunteer for her local historical society. “We have identified new names for further research leads.”
Mangan said while the lace society is dedicated to keeping the knowledge of lace alive, its resources are limited. Much of the history of lace is not written down because it was largely women’s work and it can be hard to find information in physical places.
Materials through the Internet Archive allowed her group to access books online that are often out of print, rare and expensive. “The ease of researching from home is a huge benefit,” she said. “It makes the work easy to share with others on the team and saved us from purchasing used books we don’t need.”
As Mangan’s group pieced together the puzzle of the Ipswich lace community, the information was compiled into a poster presentation complete with references and images downloaded from tine Internet Archive. The mobile educational exhibit is being displayed at libraries, fiber fairs and historical sites throughout New England. For more information, click here.
As a doctoral student in anthropology at Yale University, Spencer Kaplan often relies on the Internet Archive for his research. He is an anthropologist of technology who studies virtual communities. Kaplan said he uses the Wayback Machine to create a living archive of data that he can analyze.
Last summer, Kaplan studied the blockchain community, which is active on Twitter and constantly changing. As people were sharing their views of the market and helping one another, he needed a way to save the data before their accounts disappeared. A failed project might have prompted the users to take down the information, but Kaplan used the Wayback Machine to preserve the social media exchanges.
In his research, Kaplan said he discovered an environment of mistrust online in the blockchain community and an abundance of scams. He followed how people were navigating the scams, warning one another online to be careful, and actually building trust in some cases. While blockchain is trying to build technologies that avoid trust in social interaction, Kaplan said it was interesting to observe blockchain enthusiasts engaging in trusting connections. He takes the texts of tweets to build a corpus that he can then code and analyze the data to track or show trends.
The Wayback Machine can be helpful, Kaplan said, in finding preserved discussions on Twitter, early versions of company websites or pages that have been taken down altogether—a start-up company that went out of business, for example. “It’s important to be able to hold on to that [information] because our research takes place at a very specific moment in time and we want to be able to capture that specific moment,” Kaplan said.
The Internet Archive’s Open Library has also been essential in Kaplan’s work. When he was recently researching the invention of the “corporate culture” concept, he had trouble finding the first editions of many business books written in the late 80s and early 90s. His campus library often bought updated volumes, but Kaplan needed the originals. “I needed the first edition because I needed to know exactly what they said first and I was able to find that on the Internet Archive,” Kaplan said.
A precious tool. That’s how Laura Ranca describes the Wayback Machine in her work.
As a researcher at the Berlin-based organization Tactical Tech and its Exposing the Invisible Project, she helps people use technology to inform, educate and advance causes. Ranca trains journalists, human rights activists, scholars and everyday citizens to use the internet to investigate and gather evidence.
The Wayback Machine has been particularly useful in finding and retrieving lost websites, said Ranca. She also makes sure materials she produces are preserved online so future researchers can build on her work. As people try to document how the public is interacting with technology, the material stored by the Internet Archive has been essential to investigators, Ranca said.
“We face the challenge of websites and webpages being modified, altered or intentionally taken down. Sometimes it’s to hide something that was previously published, but is no longer relevant, or it now has maybe a different connotation than was intended,” Ranca said. “For us, this is very valuable to access historical records and to save different web pages and resources online using the Wayback Machine.”
When researching environmental issues, Ranca has discovered material that reflects missed early warning signs. Finding 20-year-old mining reports, video footage or other documentation affecting the climate can be important evidence in making the case for climate action. These items need to be protected, Ranca said, and the Wayback Machine provides that security. Ranca and the team at Exposing the Invisible conduct workshops on how to navigate the Wayback Machine, as well as train-the-trainer sessions on investigative skills more broadly. She also created guides on how to use Internet Archive content, available as open source through Creative Commons.
This post is part of our ongoing series highlighting how our patrons and partners use the Internet Archive to further their own research and programs.
David Samuel, a Canadian-born viola player, has lived all over the world working as a professional musician. A graduate of The Juilliard School, he lived in Europe and New Zealand before settling in San Francisco two years ago.
As Samuel works through the U.S. immigration process to get his permanent residence (green) card, he has turned to the Internet Archive for help in gathering documentation. He’s applying for residency under the “extraordinary ability” category. To make the case, he needs to put together an extensive resume of his accomplishments, awards and reviews in the arts.
Samuel performs and teaches in the Bay Area, as a member of the Alexander String Quartet and a lecturer at San Francisco State University. Using the Wayback Machine, he was able to track down website postings and programs about his past concerts to use in his application. “It was quite remarkable to find the exact dates and times of past performances,” said Samuel. “It would have been really tough otherwise, because I only have a limited number of actual physical documents with me.”
The application process is grueling, Samuel said, but being able to freely search for supporting evidence on the Wayback Machine has made it easier. “It’s been an important tool for me,” said Samuel, who heard about the Internet Archive years ago. “It’s like an encyclopedia for the history of the internet.”
This post is part of our ongoing series highlighting how our patrons and partners use the Internet Archive to further their own research and programs.
From Patricia Rose, in her own words:
In 2019, after retiring from an administrative career at the University of Pennsylvania, I signed up to be a tour guide at Philadelphia’s historic Laurel Hill Cemetery (now Laurel Hill East), the first American cemetery to be named a National Historic Landmark. With more than 75,000 “permanent residents”, there are lots of opportunities to tour stopping at the graves of fascinating men and women, most from the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, although there are still some new burials. It was so much fun I started leading tours at their larger sister cemetery, Laurel Hill West, itself listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and with permanent residents mostly from the twentieth century to the modern day.
In 2020, COVID made fresh-air cemetery tours quite popular, and I led specialized tours on spiritualism, and on gay and lesbian residents called “Out of the Closet and into the Crypt.”
Among the stops on some of my tours was the grave of Sara Yorke Stevenson (1847 – 1921). She was an Egyptologist, a museum curator, co-founder and leader, author, journalist and fighter for women’s suffrage. She led a full and eventful life, born in Paris, and ending after her successful efforts to bring medical help to France during World War I, raising the equivalent of $36 million in today’s dollars.
As part of the cemetery’s educational programming, my fellow tour guide Joe Lex (retired Professor of Emergency Medicine) created a wonderful podcast, All Bones Considered, focusing on both Laurel Hill East and West, and I jumped at the chance to present Stevenson on the podcast.
There is a wealth of information on Stevenson. As a co-founder, curator, and board chair at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (the Penn Museum), Sara appears in numerous histories of the museum, and in volumes on the beginnings of archaeology in this country. Luckily, in 2006, Sara’s private papers were discovered in the attic of a Philadelphia home that was being cleaned out for sale. Those papers are now housed in the Special Collections of the LaSalle University Library, and in the Archives of the Penn Museum. These I visited and enjoyed reading letters Sara received, a few materials she wrote, and relevant newspaper clippings she saved.
Fortunately, also in the Internet Archive I found relevant issues of the Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum from the early days of the twentieth century. (The Pennsylvania Museum became the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and its School of Industrial Art became Philadelphia’s University of the Arts.) Sara served as a curator at the Philadelphia Museum, and also as the acting director. In the April 1908 edition of the Bulletin, the following appears:
“It is proposed to establish at the School of Industrial Art of the Pennsylvania Museum…a course in the training of curators for art, archaeological and industrial museums, under the supervision of Mrs. Cornelius Stevenson, ScD.”
Museums were being founded throughout the country, and there was a need for trained curators. The next issue of the Bulletin details the twelve lectures in Stevenson’s course. She begins with The History of Museums, followed by the Modern Museum. She covers the Museum Building, with attention to light, heat, water, workshops, repair shops and store rooms. She addresses the Art of Collecting. In addition to lecturing, she took her students to every museum in the city, met with directors and curators, critiqued exhibits and identified problems of preservation and conservation. This was the first course in museum studies and curatorship offered in the United States, and luckily I could read all about it on the Internet Archive.
Finally, on the Archive I found John W. Jordan’s 1911 volume, Colonial Families of Philadelphia, which contains invaluable genealogical information on the families of Stevenson and her husband (and many others).
The Internet Archive’s Sara Yorke Stevenson collection was invaluable to me as I prepared my blog post. Going forward, I will turn to the Archive whenever I do research for my cemetery tours. Thank you to all who have created this marvelous resource.
In Spira’s work, the Wayback Machine has played an integral role in providing stamped artifacts and metadata.
For example, when researching the Bolivian coup in 2019, she wanted to learn more about the sentiment of indigenous people toward political leadership. Spira used the Wayback Machine to examine how indigenous Bolivian websites had changed since 2009. She discovered after initial criticism, some websites seemed to have disappeared.
“The great thing about the Internet Archive is that it really protects the chain of custody,” Spira said. “It’s not only that you look back, but you can even find a website now and capture it in time with the metadata.”
In 2020, The Berkeley Protocol on Digital Open Source Violations provided global guidelines for using public digital information as evidence in international criminal and human rights investigations. Spira said this allows preserved website data to be used in court proceedings to hold parties accountable.
On other occasions, Spira has investigated companies suspected of unethical practices. Sometimes executives openly admitted to certain behaviors, only to later deny their action. Companies may attempt to erase past communication, but Spira said she can uncover the previous versions of websites through the Wayback Machine.
“Our knowledge is not being held sacred by many people in this country and around the world,” Spira said. “It’s incredibly important for research work in any field to have access to preserved [digital] information—especially when that research is making certain allegations against powerful entities and corporations.”
We thank Lili and her colleagues for sharing their story for how they use the Internet Archive’s collections in their work.
Whether you are a teacher, filmmaker, journalist, scientist or historian, having access to recordings about the tobacco, drug and other industries can be invaluable.
For more than fifteen years, archivists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Industry Documents Library (IDL) have curated a collection of more than 5,000 video and audio files documenting the marketing, manufacturing, sales, and scientific research of tobacco, chemical, drug, and food products, as well as materials produced by public health advocates. As of 2023, the collection has received more than 300,000 views.
This wealth of information is available to the public through the UCSF Industry Archives Videos on the Internet Archive. The recordings include commercials, focus groups, internal corporate meetings and communications, depositions of tobacco industry employees, and government hearings.
Most of the files were made public beginning in 1998, following a lawsuit involving 46 states against tobacco manufacturers. In the settlement, the court ordered the companies to restrict advertising and release internal documents. “The industry put out misinformation for years to hold off on regulations,” said Rachel Taketa, IDL processing and reference archivist at UCSF. Having access to these materials provides new insight into marketing strategies that can help the public be on the lookout for future industry activities.
“It provides transparency and accountability,” said Kate Tasker, IDL managing archivist at UCSF. Examples from the collection are marketing campaigns and materials that targeted marginalized groups, in particular women and the African American and LGBTQ+ communities. “We talk to community advocacy organizations that often say it is powerful to show these videos to a group where it lays out clearly what the industry was doing to their community. It empowers people and inspires them to take action.”
UCSF archivists say the partnership with the Internet Archive provides users with two different access points and expands the audience for the collection beyond academics. The Medical Heritage Library has also added videos and audio files from UCSF into its larger collection on the Internet Archive, spreading the materials’ reach even further.
Next, the UCSF archivists are looking to develop new ways of working with and accessing the collection, using automated transcription to enable data scientists to analyze the recordings in new ways. The IDL is also adding opioid industry recordings to the collection as part of its work on the Opioid Industry Documents Archive, a collaboration with Johns Hopkins University. These new recordings will enable the public to learn more about the circumstances leading to the opioid crisis.
“It’s exciting to be connected to such an innovative organization as the Internet Archive,” Tasker said. “It’s out in front of a lot of big issues that most digital archives are facing. Whenever we’re looking to do something with a new media type, format, or a new way of distributing content to people, archivists and librarians look to what the Internet Archive is doing as a guide.”