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Originally created at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) and first introduced in its beta version in 2016, Tropy today is jointly developed by C²DH, the RRCHNM and Digital Scholar, a nonprofit corporation which operates data management projects like Zotero, Omeka, and Sourcery.

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tropy is free, open-source software that allows users to organise, describe, and manage photos—ideal for research projects. It was part of a broader movement to help historians and digital scholars deal with data and sources, including annotating photos for research. 

Professor Sean Takats, who leads the Digital History Advanced Research Project Accelerator (DHARPA) at the C²DH, is also the Principal Investigator of Tropy and Director of Zotero, and his projects have been awarded over €10m in public and private funding. As he explains, the fact that Tropy is free, open-source software is “a bit unusual, [but] there are a lot of developers who prefer to work on open-source projects because they like the idea that they also have a social impact and can be reused elsewhere.” 

Anita Lucchesi, a Postdoctoral Research Associate who has been working on Tropy since September 2022, likens the tool to a “portable archive reading room”: researchers can take data home, adding context which had previously in the archival room, only now from a distance. “This is a huge shift for historiography because you work with more data. It’s not just a question of quantity, but also the kinds of questions you ask: you can actually produce new historical arguments using these tools.” 




Since the first version, there have been 205,000 downloads of the software. The team says when they’ve presented Tropy, it normally doesn’t take much to convince new users of its benefits, and they’re even relieved there is such a software to help in their research. With Tropy, users can import images, which can then be organised into project files; merge separate images into one item; and even bulk edit (rotating a group of images, editing metadata for a series of images, etc.) 

Tropy can make copies of the image files, but this doesn’t change the original files; rather, those are moved to a new project bundle folder. Users can add item-level metadata, write notes or transcriptions of images, even make selections of an original image to create a new one (ideal, for instance, for a newspaper clipping on a larger page or creating map sections). Additional tools within the software allow users to enhance the eligibility of documents, e.g., in terms of brightness, colour inversion, saturation, etc. Customised tags can also be added to help organise materials and to search for them. 

In 2023, Tropy 1.13 was released, providing additional performance and user interface enhancements. The user interface is now available in English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Ukrainian, Spanish, and Portuguese—including the recently added Brazilian Portuguese (PT-Br) locale. And the Tropy team benefits from the support of users, who regularly provide feedback, make requests or issue reports, so the team is constantly working to continually improve the tool. 

Tropy is on its third major grant from the Mellon Foundation, which will end in 2024. In light of this, the team anticipates a new business model which will include add-on services. The software will, however, remain free of charge for users, and the new business model will not affect the software’s current functionality. 

Tropy is something that requires constant development—not just to maintain it, but we’re also constantly adding new, real functionality to it,” Takats adds. “Launching a successful project like this isn’t about building something flashy and getting it out there. It’s about being reliable: people’s entire careers depend on this software… we have a huge responsibility not to leave those people in the lurch.

More about Tropy

Project leader: Sean Takats. 

Partners: Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM), Digital Scholar.

Funding: Mellon Foundation (United States).