Using the 500 Year Archive

The 500 Year Archive site is a searchable online research tool created by the FHYA research project.

For an easy step by step guide to getting started click HERE

For more detailed information keep reading below.

Quick links for information on:

How the material is organised on the site
How to search
How to make a contribution

Some useful terms to know before getting started:

Tree view:

The tree view shows users at a glance where they are in the hierarchical organisation of the material. It is a contextual and navigation element located in the context menu for archival descriptions, places, and subjects. It shows the current record’s relationships to other records, with links, e.g. the hierarchical placement of archival descriptions within fonds, or the hierarchical placement of a term within a taxonomy. The tree view can also be used for navigation.


Holdings is a generic term referring to the records and other materials held by archival institutions. In AtoM a list of holdings is displayed in the context menu on archival institution view pages.


The FHYA has created this level of description to signal that the project has selected certain materials to upload and this can be viewed as a curatorial intervention.


This refers to institutions or private collectors who hold custody of the items that the FHYA has selected to appear on the 500 Year Archive site.


This refers to the repositories (including the Private Collection category and the Additional Resources) which house the items which the 500 Year Archive draws on.

Archival Descriptions:

Archival descriptions occur at all levels (collections, selections, series, files, items, and variations of these in accordance with institutional standards). They offer contextual information about the archival materials at each level.

Makers and Shapers (Authority Records):

Makers and Shapers (Authority) Records identify and offer information about the various actors involved in the making and handling of collections, selections, series, files, and items.

User Comments:

These are direct contributions made by members of the public on the 500 Year Archive website. These include texts, sound, or images uploaded by members of the public as Additional Resources, as well as public comments linked to archival items that may include references, links to other websites, and links to material that the member of the public has uploaded on the 500 Year Archive as Additional Resources.

Additional Resources:

Additional Resources are supplementary materials uploaded by the FHYA team and members of the public. These include bibliographies, books, articles, images, and whole collections. These resources are collected together in a “Library hosted by the FHYA”, which is positioned as an Institution and appears on the Institutions page.

How is material organised on the site?

The 500 Year Archive site uses a form of open-source software called AtoM that organises material in terms of levels. Users will find it helpful to pay attention to which “level” the searched-for item is located.

Repositories: All the archival items on the 500 Year Archive are presented as items within repositories, or in private hands. Users can access these by clicking “Browse by” on the left-hand side of the screen. Clicking on a particular repository will take users to the repository’s page where they will find information about the repository as well as contact details, including a url for the repository where available.

Collections: On the left-hand side of a repository page, the user will find a list of ‘Holdings’, or selections that the FHYA has made from the repository. These are the 500 Year Archive’s top level of organisation. In some cases, such as the Killie Campbell Africana Library, for instance, the user will also find ‘empty’ holdings. These serve as placeholders for relevant collections / further materials from the Killie Campbell African Library for which the FHYA does not have permission to make available online.

FHYA Selections: In some instances, the user can find a whole collection on the 500 Year Archive site. In other instances, the FHYA has made selections from a collection in line with the temporal and regional focus of the project. These are represented on the ‘selection’ level. In the case of the James Stuart collection, the 500 Year Archive provides the six volumes of published edited texts based on this collection, and the handwritten pages on which 168 pages of published text are based. The reason for this limited selection is explained at the selection level.

Series: Within a ‘selection’, archival items are arranged into ‘series’, typically representing a series of information collected by a certain collector. In the case of the James Stuart collection, the volumes of published edited text appear as a discrete series, alongside further series. Another series comprises the photocopies of the handwritten Stuart notes used by the editors to prepare the published volumes, while a third series is a digital Archival Research Tool designed by the FHYA which, amongst other things, links pages in the published text directly to the photocopies of the handwritten notes on which they are based. In some cases, there are also subseries, which divide the material up further. For example, the uMgungundlovu archaeological material is divided into series by excavator, and then into further subseries by excavation year.

Items: The series comprises ‘digital items’ (digital representations of each specific object/sound recording/video file and digital representations of items such as catalogue cards associated with these objects etc). In the case of the published volumes based on the James Stuart collection, each volume is divided into about 20 discrete “chapters” made up of texts organised under the names of the main interlocutors with whom Stuart held conversations. Each of these chapters appears as an ‘item’.

How to search the site:

Basic searches:

Basic searches can be conducted using the search bar on the top of the 500 Year Archive home page. This remains an option at all levels as users navigate through the site. Basic searches query all fields in each record.

As one clicks their cursor in the search box they will be given some useful search tips.

Like Google, as one types, automatically-generated descriptions that match the search appear. One can click on one of the “quick results” or click on the magnifying glass/"Search" button to search for more results.

If one uses a search term with more than one word, e.g. James Stuart the default setting AND will apply. This means if more than one word is entered, the search will bring up results for “first word” and “second word”. The button “Add new criteria” allows you to employ AND/OR/NOT in order to create a narrower search.

Narrow your results by:

The search results screen will show all records that match the search term(s). The results will show all record types (Archival Descriptions, Makers and Shapers, User Comments, Additional Resources and Repositories) in which the search term occurs. The type of record is indicated below each search result. Users can narrow their search further by “type” by clicking on that type in the left-hand bar, in this example by Archival Descriptions.

Once users narrow their results by a certain type of record, further “Narrow by” options will become available.

Options include:

Within Archival Descriptions:

  1. Part of
  2. Repositories
  3. Level of Description
  4. Media Type

Within Makers and Shapers:

  1. Entity type

Within Repositories:

  1. Archive Type
  2. Geographic Region
  3. Locality

Please note that the advanced search options are also available at this point when users ‘narrow by’ Archival Descriptions and Repositories. More about the advanced search below.

Sort by:

After clicking through to the results, one can also choose a “Sort by:” option from the drop-down list on the right-hand side of the results page.

Browse/Browse by:

Users can also search using the “Browse” option which appears on the left-hand side and top of the page. The categories available in the browse menu are:

  • Repositories (which house material from our partner institutions as well as private collections)
  • Makers and Shapers (which offers the biographies of the people/institutions who were in any way involved in the ‘handling’ of an item. Makers and Shapers also links to the archival descriptions in which these people/institutions are key actors.)
  • Archival Descriptions
  • Additional Resources
  • User Comments and Digital items.

When browsing by Archival Descriptions, by default top-level descriptions (e.g. a selection or a series) are shown. These top-level descriptions contain many other records. To see all levels (i.e. all of the records within a selection or series), click the “x” next to “Only top-level descriptions”

To see all of the media (i.e. scanned images, digital photographs, sound and moving image items, etc.) on the 500 Year Archive, browse by Digital Objects. Some Archival Descriptions do not have Digital Objects attached to them. To see Archival Descriptions (including those without Digital Objects) click the “x” next to “With digital objects”.

Search within a holding/selection/repository

The left-hand Quick Search box can conveniently be used to browse within the repository that is currently being used. Click in the "Quick Search" box and enter a search term. Click on the magnifying glass or press ‘enter’ to run the search.

Search results will appear directly under the search box. Some of the titles may be cut off, but users can hover over the results and see the complete title and the reference code (if applicable).

Click one of the results to view the complete record. This opens that particular item and one is also able to see where that item is located in the holding via the tree-view above it.

Advanced search:

Advanced Search is a way to tailor a query if too many results are being shown in the basic search. Users should be aware that the advanced search option only applies to institutional materials -Archival Descriptions, Repositories, and Digital Objects- not User Comments or Additional Resources. After clicking through to one of these types via the “Narrow your results by Type” on the left-hand side, the Advanced Search option is shown.

The Advanced Search box allows users to target their search to specific fields in the records and offers a set of search filters to focus their search even further. Users can type a search term into the search box and use the drop-down menu to select a field. The options include:

Any field - will search all of the fields below
Title - this will search titles at all levels of description (e.g., fonds, series, file, etc.)
Archival /custodial history - this will search descriptive histories about the creators of archival material (e.g., persons, families, corporate bodies)
Scope and Content - this will search free-text notes about the types of material in each collection
Extent and Medium - (physical description) this will search notes about the size and format of the material in each collection
Identifier - this will search the unique identifier associated with a collection. This is helpful when searching for finding specific collections if the identifier (example JL-C-23) is known to the user.
Digital object text - computer files that can be uploaded into and displayed by AtoM; they can include scanned images, digital photographs, sound and moving image files, and other scanned or born-digital items.

There are multiple “filter results by” options too.

Search results will appear under the Search button. Results will include all Levels of Description (e.g. series, sub-series, files etc) unless the Level of Description filter has been used. Reference codes will be indicated in the search results when applicable

How to interact with the site:

This function offers a space for users of the 500 Year Archive to add materials relevant to the item at which the user is currently viewing. Such materials could take the form of additional or related information, further details, pointers to comparative items, possible corrections, alternative accounts, references, personal knowledge, translations, interpretations, family histories, photographs, recordings, maps, references to published or unpublished studies, or even full copies of such studies where copyright allows. Public contributors can both type a contribution directly into the comment box provided, or upload a file with text, photographs, recordings, etc.

Users who wish to comment on archival items and/or contribute material to the site need to register in order to do this.


There is a log in button at the top right-hand corner of the screen. Once a user clicks onto the login button it prompts them to either log in if they are already registered, or to press the register hyperlink.

a) Add in a username in the first box
b) Add in an email address in the second box
c) Write a short bio in the box below “About Yourself”.
d) Click reCaptcha

A confirmation email will be sent to the user. Users are reminded to check their spam/junk mail folder if they do not receive an email.

Once users receive the email, they can follow the link in the email and log in with the auto-generated password.

Once one is logged in, the log-in button changes into that user’s profile button - this will be indicated by the username. Users can edit their profile and biography. To change a password, click ‘reset password’.

Contributions and comments:

Once logged in, users can make a User Comments contribution by typing in the box below each archival description, additional resource, repository page, and authority record.

In addition, users can add links and/or upload media files in the following formats:

  • Text files should preferably be in a searchable PDF format,
  • sound files should be in MP3 format,
  • video should be in MP4 format.

The FHYA does not vet or arrange this material and cannot guarantee its accuracy. The FHYA reserves the right to remove anything deemed to be racist, homophobic, sexist or otherwise offensive.

Contributors to the 500 Year Archive site may wish to upload materials that are not related to a particular item, but to the 500 Year Archive as a whole, or to sections of the 500 Year Archive. These might be substantial, such as a whole collection of items. In that case the public contributor should go directly to Additional Resources and upload the materials there. Public contributors may be individuals, groups, or institutions.

All of the contributed material is searchable by other users of the 500 Year Archive site. In every instance, the source of the materials (i.e. the username of the person who uploaded the materials, and any other producers of the materials whom the contributor identifies, such as the maker of an item or the author of a book), any further information about an uploaded resource provided by the contributor, and the date of the contribution, will be visible to others who wish to consult the material uploaded by a public contributor.

Contributions by members of the public who have registered accounts are asked by the FHYA to ensure that the contributions are either old enough to be out of copyright or that they have the necessary permissions to upload material and for it to be made available on the 500 Year Archive under the CC BY-NC-ND.