Digitization and indexing of portrait holdings in archives of the Leibniz Association (“DigiPortA”)


The study of biography, as a “cultural universal”, is one of the core components of historical research. In the 1960s and 70s researchers focused more on social history and took a critical view of biography, regarding it as a backward-looking format which made no substantial contribution to historical scholarship and debate. Since the emergence of the “new cultural history” in the late 1980s, biographical approaches have experienced a marked increase in popularity worldwide. A “back to biography” tendency is particularly apparent in German scholarship. Furthermore, as part of the turn towards the history of everyday life, historiography and sociology have again begun to pay greater attention to the analysis of individual lives which are considered to be exemplary. These have been examined either as individual or as collective biographies – and the individual has come to be ascribed a higher status as an important actor in historical processes. Within the wider public sphere the focus on famous personalities has continued largely uninterrupted, particularly thanks to the medium of television.

For the last 15 years or so, the new interest in biographical research has been linked with the “pictorial (iconic) turn” and the diverse studies on our visual knowledge. Here interest is mainly focused on the way visual knowledge is generated, the conditions in which it comes about, and its different functions. This increased interest in biographies, however, is still confronted by a diffuse array of sources which can overwhelm the researcher. In response to this, attempts have been made in various places since the 1990s to create “electronic biographical studies”. Since private papers and manuscripts left behind by prominent figures were only to be found in scattered and in some cases obsolete print publications, electronic systems for cataloguing manuscripts, such as “Kalliope” and the “Zentrale Datenbank Nachlässe” at the Bundesarchiv, have become increasingly important.
Today there is great demand for scientifically verified biographical information. Just recently, at the annual meeting of the Historical Commission at the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, it was argued that the time was ripe for the electronic provision of biographical information. This is the starting point of the DigiPortA project, which makes available portraits from graphic reproductions and photographic processes. Scanned images from newspapers and magazines are not included.
The project’s main concern is to demonstrate, using one particular source type, the portrait, the potential of cooperative indexing, digitization and presentation of picture sources for “electronic biographical studies”, and to show the importance of the archival holdings in the Leibniz institutions. Together with eight other Leibniz archives, we want to provide new data, combinable in many different ways, relating to the 33,000 portraits which are frequently requested by the researching public. We will then link these with the images of the portraits on the Internet (insofar as this is legally permissible), and use numerous search tools to create new research resources.

For further information please see the annual report 2012 of the Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum


Haushaltsmittel aus dem Pakt für Forschung und Innovation/DBM


2012 - 2014