Author Archives: Regina Crotser

Visit to the NYPL

This was definitely not my first time at the NYPL because I’ve been doing all of my thesis research there.  The Jack Kerouac Papers are part of the Berg Collection, so I usually go to that reading room on the third floor. I first went there two years ago when I was but a small, novice researcher.  I actually choked up the first time I got to hold one of Kerouac’s notebooks!   

This visit was really wonderful!  I enjoyed the emphasis on critical thinking and discussion.  Too often I find myself focusing only on what information I’m looking for and what artifacts I need to call next.  But pausing to think about what you expect simply based on the item description was really fun!  It speaks to the deeper issues of what we talked about in our first few classes.  How do you manage your expectations while at the archive?  What happens when you go in with expectations but are disappointed?  Should you go in with expectations of serendipity, or just with your to do list?

Funnily enough, I feel like the giant registry of dogs that we looked at taught me some great lessons.  First, there’s a lot to be gained from random encounters.  I would never have sought out that item on my own because it is so far away from my own area of research.  But even the most insignificant, random artifact can help you understand something about the past you never would have otherwise. 

My second take-away was that collaborative research is much more enjoyable.  I can’t remember all the times I’ve been doing research on my own, found something truly remarkable, and just had to whisper in awe to myself.  Just being able to say what I was thinking out loud about the dog registry and hear what others were noticing helped me consider it on a much deeper level.  So often research is isolating.  And I wonder if I would be getting more out of my Kerouac research if I was talking about it with someone else. 

Visit to The Morgan Library

The Morgan Library was only the second archival experience I had ever had—and it was quite exciting.  The building itself was beautiful and it seemed a peaceful place to do research.  The glass ceiling and indoor trees in the lobby, the double-tier of bookshelves in the reading room, all of it brought me so much joy!

I appreciated the presentation’s focus on the investigative nature of archive work.  In my own research I find that the most interesting part—even if it does lead me down an irrelevant path.  I like the idea of looking at multiple versions of the same artifact trying to figure out why this or that thing is missing or incorrect.  I was particularly interested in the Paris Review collection of artifacts.  I plan to go back to look at their interview with Jack Kerouac to see how the actual recorded interview went and what the original versions of the print interview looked like.  The changes between the versions could reveal a lot about Kerouac’s personality and reaction to media personalities.

Though likely unintended, the highlight of trip for me was talking to the librarian about her career path.  I’ve always wondered how the different archivists and librarians I’ve met in academia got to where they are.  It seems like most come from different careers before they start their Masters of Library Science.  As I near the end of my time in grad school I find myself wondering what I should do next.  I wonder if I would be ready for the glamour of an archive…

Letters 1916 – 1923

“Letters 1916 – 1923” is the first participatory digital humanities project in Ireland. This website contains letters from formal institutions and private collections.  People can either share letters of their own or help transcribe previously deposited letters.  The website states that its aim is to be a “window into what life was like in Ireland a century ago, told in the voices of those who lived through it.”  

The website, created in September of 2013 as “Letters 1916”, expanded its collection period to the end of the (Irish) Civil War through a generous grant from the Irish Research Council.  It was also funded by Maynooth University and Science Foundation Ireland. Ireland’s fight for independence during this time period would have made a physical collection of this type impossible.  While there are a few famous Irish figures who have their own archives, the tagline “ordinary lives, extraordinary times” shows that the Irish people are looking for a more nuanced, robust understanding of this pivotal point in their history.    

The first intended audience is historians and researchers.  Since the letters on this website come from institutions around the world, it allows researchers a one-stop-shop for finding information.  The database is organized by keyword, source, author, gender, and language. There is also an insightful search function — for instance, I jokingly typed in the word “tea” and there were 277 results.  These functions would make it easy for researchers to find what they’re looking for. Already there have been academic articles written using this website as a resource–for instance, one called “WWI Letters and Recollections: Looking at WWI through the letters and memories of those who served, and those who had to stay at home”.

Another intended audience is Irish citizens interested in genealogy or family history.  Ireland is a small and insular country, which makes investigating one’s family history a manageable endeavor.  Also, genealogy tracking has been popular lately. One could easily type in a relative’s name or location and find any related letters.  The crowd-sourcing aspect of this website gives armchair historians an opportunity to turn their family heirlooms into something meaningful.  According to the website, there have been over 2000 transcribers since its inception. Additionally, according to news stories and blog posts about this website, it seems that people are interested in learning about forgotten parts of Irish history using these first-hand accounts.

A third intended audience seems to be teachers and students, as there is a whole section of the website that has project and lesson plan ideas.  Primary sources are a great way to teach history, and having an easy-to-use “playground-esque” archive for students to poke around in makes it all the more desirable.  

The people who work on this project are primarily graduate students at Maynooth University in Ireland.  The Project Director and Editor-in Chief is a Digital Humanities Professor there. It seems like she has enlisted her colleagues and students in this project — from both the digital humanities and history departments. The “About” section of the website has all the technologies information listed clearly and in much detail; it even goes so far as to give a link where people can contact them if they’re curious about how the website is built.

Future projects could learn a lot from this example.  Using a familiar interface like WordPress is definitely the way to go if a portion of your audience is the elderly and children.  It is important to have a username and password function so submissions and transcriptions aren’t anonymous. And having high-resolution images of the letters is a must not only for transcription purposes, but also for the aesthetic aspect.