The Freedom of Information Archive brings together in a single database documents that are now isolated and scattered in multiple online repositories and commercial databases, and only accessible through stand-alone search engines, which in most cases are quite primitive. History Lab has integrated millions of these documents in a common database, extracted metadata, and built tools to reveal the most important persons, places, the topics. Users can now obtain an overview of different collections, overlaying one atop another, and use document counts over time to chart the rise and fall, and patterns of historical activity. After identifying documents sharing common features, the Merriam tool automatically retrieves similar texts from all collections based on desired criteria, such as simultaneity, semantic features, and social networks.
The archive interface enables users to identify documents within a desired date range, determine and graph the number of documents in the archive over time, filter by country, map the geographical distribution of countries referenced in documents, search collections by document topic and visualize results,
While the content is open access, only IP-address authenticated researchers are able to create their own password-protected user accounts. This system,which is now being tested by students at Columbia, allows users to save individual documents, tag them with labels (either new ones they devise on their own or auto-completed from previous labels), highlight and annotate sections of texts. These are individual accounts, but can also be used for class assignments or collaborative projects.