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The digitisation of archives has enabled the public lives of very ordinary women in the past to become much more accessible to the historian. But some have argued that the wonders of searchable Internet databases have taken the serendipity out of historical research, with our understanding of the context and richness of the past the poorer for the ease with which we can now zoom into what we set out to find. This article uses the author's research into the lives of mid-nineteenth-century, colonial, urban businesswomen as a case study to investigate the pleasures and the pitfalls of the digital archive for women's history research. It concludes that a new kind of serendipity—the serendipity of unexpected connections between people and across spaces—is provided by the ever-growing global digital archive, enabling us to see these women more completely than previously possible and creating a new narrative of women's past experiences.


School of Arts

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Journal Article

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