Category Archives: Posts

A Day at the Schomberg Research Center for Black Culture

The Director of Education at the Schomberg Research Center for Black Culture, Brian Jones, was very kind to tour us through parts of the building and to introduce us to two of the curators of their departments at the Center. He also informed us about the important people that made the Center what it is today and a bit of its history – It was interesting to learn about Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and that his collection was bought for $10,000 in 1926 by the New York Public Library.

Before we started our tour, we were asked to try and guess the number of items and artifacts in the collection and to state the programs that we are all in, for context, before walking us through the Latimer/Edison Gallery. The Center’s exhibit space is small but large enough to walk a group through to talk about the materials represented. The exhibit currently on view is Crusader: Martin Luther King Jr. and showcased photographs of King and his wife traveling overseas to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, in addition to text to accompany the images. Along with formal photographs printed in a dark room and a large vinyl image, there were Polaroids of the family that have a more snapshot and candid feel to them.

From the exhibit space, we were brought down to the conference room on the lower level to meet with Cheryl Beredo, Curator of the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division. She explained the best practice for utilizing the Schomberg for research is to make a 10-minute appointment to talk to an employee about their interest. From there, advice can be given on where to go to do research. It was also mentioned that maybe a 5-minute browse through the collections before meeting with an employee may help, as well. After the class found out collections are divided up between divisions, the question of the original location of materials came up. Regarding, dividing up the collections to separate divisions, Cheryl responded that they’ll have access points leading the items back to their original collection. One of the most important statements that Cheryl made sure we understood was if we use a source from the Center to make sure to cite correctly. She said far too many times sources are not cited correctly.

Michael Mery was the next employee we met with and he is the acting Curator of the Photographs and Prints Division. He brought with him his white gloves and an archival box stock full of historic photographs in mylar sleeves – just a sampling of the 500,000 plus photographs and prints in his possession. Before he presented some of the photographs he brought with him, he allowed all of us to ask questions. Regarding some of the classifications of photographs he has, he stated there are photos on the Harlem Renaissance, religion, jazz, military, and prominent and not so prominent photographers. The photographs he pulled out were of WWI African American soldiers in France. I was very impressed with the way the photographer superimposed imagery into the photographs, like a picture of a significant other and a musical instrument. Something I was excited to hear about was some of the more prominent photographers in the collection. Eli Reed, who is a photographer with the Magnum Agency, is someone who’s artwork I’ve worked with and enjoyed viewing while in Georgia. Another photographer I was excited to hear about in the collection was Gordon Parks. I have also worked closely with Parks’ artwork and researched his Segregation Story to create a tour map of locations where he photographed the Thornton family for my Documentary Photography and Film course. On our way out we walked by the original theatre and took time to look over the Cosmogram in the center of the lobby. I look forward to utilizing the Center for research in the near future.

This website dedicates itself to collecting images of La Celestina, in illustrations, paintings, theater performances, and on film. It is displayed in both Spanish and English. La Celestina is a work of fiction written in 1499, in Spain, describing how a procuress, Celestina, plans an illicit affair between Calisto and Melibea, while plotting to gain financially from the situation. Celestina is a subversive character who is portrayed as a brothel owner, a witch, and a seller of goods. She has a keen sense of the human psyche and uses people’s greed, and sexual desires as a way of control them to her advantage. The people she manipulates end up succumbing to their own desires, and eventually to their own destruction. Celestina’s image and actions, and the situations told within La Celestina have been used since its inception, until today, as an impetus for the creation of artworks.

The popularity of the characters and the circumstances within La Celestina, and the creation of centuries of further works based on it, has generated the need to form a collection of the related images based on the book.

The audience for this site could emcompass a variety of fields where images relating to La Celestina could be used and cited in their research.  It could appeal to historians of Spain’s literature, or historians of the period of time when the book was written. This would be during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella, and Columbus’ voyage across the Atlantic. It was also the beginning of a renaissance in Spanish literature. People interested in historical literature would also be interested, as well at those interested to following the publishing history of a work that has continued over time. In addition, students of Spanish history and culture would find it of value. Sociologists or humanists would be intrigued by the interactions of the characters and how these personalities have continued over the years. Researches of prostitution or brothels through history could also use the images and information included in the site. The inclusion of the way to site each item points toward scholarly use.

The images and information within the site also give inspiration for artists to create new works, as well as continue the legacy of La Celestina

The relationship of the creators to the site is through University Spanish departments within Canada. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada finance the site. The professors involved are mostly likely involved in programs that include Spanish language, history, literature and art. This site could be a learning to for the students of these universities, but its appeal extends out to others concerned which the historical, psychological, and social aspects of the collection.

The site contains images of a variety of visual objects. These could be drawing from books, sculptures and bas-reliefs, paintings, book and program covers, and performance reviews. There are also videos from movies and television productions. There is also a bibliography of scholarly journals and books which contain elements relating to La Celestina. The different categories of items are organized through different tabs that lead you to them.

All of this material has been brought together using Omeka as a convenient way of collecting all the elements and being able to share them with others universities and the world. To create such a site, you would need to gain knowledge into how Omeka works, and how different items are added to it. In addition, knowledge of web design would aid in getting the look you want. Design would also help in creating the best way of organizing the material, as well as being able to create a simple and useful way of navigating the site.

Celestia Visual shows that you can create a site out of one created work. This work can form connections to other mediums, and be an inspiration to future generations. An undiscovered or unpopular work from the past could be brought to light and connections to it could make it relevant again. This could be done through a website. Many angles can be taken in the use of an object. Celstina Visual also shows how good organization and a convenient platform can be useful elements in the creation of a website. It has made me want to read La Celestina.

  • Darren Chase–tYnLum3CtbcoSwwuu4/edit#slide=id.p

Chronicling America

I chose the Chronicling America project.

What motivated me in picking this project is banal: piracy. The subject of pirates within the 18th/19th centuries and their representation has always interested me on personal and (recently budding) scholarly levels. Having nailed the subject down, I then asked which projects may aid in discovering more news about them. Among the projects offered, I decided Chronicling America would be a great starting point—and that it was. The ‘about’ page claims they “provide access to information about historic newspapers” but that’s not all. Thousands upon thousands of newspapers have not only been digitized but went through text encoding. The fact that each participant of the National Digital Newspaper Program receives an award to digitize around 100,000 newspaper pages goes to show that there are thousands of newspapers still in microfilm, most likely sitting within an archive somewhere. Chronicling America is for any number of people: from the cultural historian who wants to trace the journalism of Melville to the public-school teacher looking for news within their local state, the sheer breadth of the project tells me it’s meant to serve any and everybody. The Website offers an interactive HTML for magnification and navigation. To undertake a similar project one would need an understanding of archival practices and methods (microfilms), HTML, Java, Meta-data practices, and the Open Archive Information System. The producers of the website are NDNP, a partnership between the NEH and Library of Congress. What worries me about such a project are which newspapers are selected to be digitized and which are not. Participants of Chronicling America are expected to digitize from microfilm holdings merely for efficiency and cost. It makes me wonder what gets elided in that preference for efficiency. Future projects could learn to implement a similar Web interface enhanced with dynamic HTML and OCR scanning—it makes interacting with the Website smooth and pleasant.

Dawnland Voices: an emergent indigenous digital archive

dawnland voices heaer

I chose to focus on Dawnland Voices because of its focus on archiving and presenting New England indigenous writing that includes writing from members of the Penobscot Indian Nation, a tribe whose input is crucial to a project I’m working on that focuses on the Penobscot River. Linked to and expanding on a print anthology published in 2014, currently houses both a literary magazine showcasing contemporary indigenous writing, and an emergent (i.e. still in process, or intended to be still in process) digital archive that was/is assembled as a collaborative effort between tribal authors, tribal collections, and scholars/students. The book’s editor and one of the collaborators on the digital archive, Siobhan Senier, describes the project’s impetus, with its origins in a lack of digitized indigenous writing:

We wanted a living document—one that could expand to include some of the vibrant pieces we could not fit in the book, one that could be revised and reshaped according to ongoing community conversation. And we wanted to keep presenting historic materials alongside new (in this case born-digital) texts, the better to highlight the long history of Indigenous writing in this region.

The website itself foregrounds the literary magazine; this is where you land via the primary domain name. To find the digital archive, you either need to notice the small link in the header that reads “Indigenous New England Digital Collections,” or navigate to the “About” page, which explains and links to the site’s two components. This right away suggests a focus on the project of presenting contemporary voices, and locates the archive as a site for a more limited audience, one that knows what it’s looking for. The site makes its partners and funding explicit, important for a project that intends to decolonize the idea of the archive: it’s key to show potential audiences, both indigenous and non-indigenous, that appropriate collaborative channels have been followed, and to recognize the labor of the contributors. There is information about how to get involved in the project, underscoring the set intention that it would grow and function as a true community-based and -generated resource.

Ultimately, exploring the archive, you get the sense that it hasn’t managed to expand beyond its pilot phase. Senier writes about this phase, which was supported by a grant from the NEH that enabled the editors to work with three representative partner collections, one at a tribal museum, one at a tribal office, and a cluster of private collections belonging to four elder tribal members who have gathered themselves under the title “Indigenous Resources Collaborative.” After this grant was spent, there seems to have been little activity. What the site presents is therefore a framework for digitizing tribal archival materials, and representative samples (currently 189 items), along with a number of simple, straightforward ways of exploring these materials: by item, by collection (there are currently 3 collections), by nation, or on a map. The map was created using Google Maps, and the website looks like a WordPress site, although there is no information about the technology used to build the site other than a link to the company that designed it. The pages for each item in the collection contain useful basic information: contributor, citation, a link to the document itself, an embed code, a geolocation, a link to the collection(s) to which it belongs.

Key concerns of a project like this include the ongoing discussion around digital repatriation, a term that at its best refers to efforts made by large traditional/colonial archives to increase tribal access to tribal items in their collections that cannot safely be physically repatriated to the tribe in tandem with ongoing efforts towards physical repatriation and collaboration with tribes on stewarding their own heritage. At its worst, it is a kind of coverup term that allows an institution to say it’s participating in repatriation efforts and complying with NAGPRA.

The site’s seemingly indefinitely arrested pilot state also raises questions around whether there might be a mismatch between the project’s intent and the needs/desires of its target audience. Because this project would need to rely on contributions from an expanded network of tribal collaborators in order to move beyond its pilot state, this is a more pressing issue than with an archival project with clearly-defined curators on the one hand and audience on the other, that doesn’t rely on this kind of back-and-forth (that doesn’t position itself as “emergent”). Senier notes the importance of social media for tribal members and institutions, an observation my personal experience can anecdotally corroborate.

Facebook is a proprietary, and notoriously problematic platform, especially on the issue of intellectual property. And yet it has made room, at least for now, for a kind of fugitive curation that, albeit fragile and fugitive, raises the question of whether such curation should be “institutional” at all.

Thus, in its present state, the site is actually an ideal kind of case study or model for creating indigenous archives. Due to lack of long-term resources and possibly lack of interest in the product, it’s not fleshed out; but the skeleton might be productively be built on. It’s at least a good place to start.

DIY History

DIY History is a crowdsourcing effort where volunteers contribute to creating transcriptions, tags, and comments for the holdings of the University of Iowa’s Digital Library. The site started its crowdsourcing efforts in the spring of 2011 with the Civil War Diaries and Letters Transcription Project to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. On the About page of the site, the library declares that of their hundreds of thousands of holdings they are asking for the public to assist because it is “much more than library staff could ever catalog alone”. The Collections are featured from already digitized materials from the University of Iowa Libraries’ Special Collections, University Archives, and Iowa Women’s Archives. If materials from the library’s contents are not digitized and featured, the library insists to contact them.

The site is powered by Omeka 2.6 and has a custom theme and transcription plugin developed by the libraries’ Digital Scholarship Studio. Regarding the goal of the project, the intent is to make historic artifacts more accessible. Although typeset texts can be scanned to make searchable, the site states “there’s no such easy fix for other primary source materials like handwritten documents or photograph”. Anyone can contribute to help transcribe and “no special expertise is required”. However, you must be a subscriber before you can transcribe.

Upon entering the site, underneath the title, the number of pages transcribed is presented with the header. Below the header of ‘Transcribe’, ‘About’, ‘Press’, and ‘Login’ is the search bar and underneath that the viewer is presented with the cover page of a sample of a featured collection of the month. Beneath the search menu there is a statement regarding DIY History’s mission and the eight core collections to transcribe by topic; ‘War Diaries & Letter’, ‘Early Iowa Lives’, ‘University Life’, ‘Social Justice’, ‘Early Manuscripts’, ‘Keith-Albee Collection’, and ‘Hevelin Fanzines’ and ‘Szathmary Culinary Manuscripts & Cookbooks, which are color coded.

The digital materials to be transcribed are scanned with clarity and can be zoomed into for easy legibility. From the image page, a sidebar has a box to transcribe and another box to translate the contents. To read the metadata of the text the viewer taps on the ‘More Information’ and clicks the ‘Digital Collection’ option. From there you are sent to the Omeka site where you can go through the object description and interact with multiple different collections in the digital library.

At the bottom of the page is a ‘Transcription Tips’ tab that links to the dos and don’ts of transcribing on the site. From the links on that page, the user is sent to an information database on the University of Iowa Libraries page with a basic video from Youtube regarding what the archive is, in addition to terms and other helpful information. If all else fails, the contact information to a librarian by the name of Katie Hassman is there if assistance is needed.

Eclipse Archive

The Eclipse Archive is a collection of digital facsimiles of radical small-press poetry written primarily between 1975 and 2000. Its name a nod to Sun & Moon Press, an important publisher of experimental work during the period, Eclipse was founded around 2002 by poet and scholar Craig Dworkin, professor of English at the University of Utah. Dworkin co-manages the archive with Danny Snelson, associate professor of English at the University of California at Los Angeles.

Both Dworkin’s and Snelson’s scholarly research involves the materiality of contemporary poetry: Dworkin’s monographs Reading the Illegible (2003) and No Medium (2013) feature erased, defaced, blank, and otherwise unreadable texts, while Snelson’s work tracks media formats in poetry databases. This engagement with, and concern for, the primary source materials (both print and born-digital) of 20th-century experimental poetry informs Eclipse’s underlying ethos, and connects the archive to related avant-garde collections in UbuWeb and PennSound.

In interviews, Dworkin routinely links his motivation for establishing Eclipse to the need to make accessible the many limited-edition, avant-garde books and periodicals that were going out of print. “As someone committed to teaching such work, and to having a rigorous scholarly treatment of such work,” Dworkin told Entropy in 2017, “I realized that its availability to students and researchers was imperative.” This echoes an interview with Jacket2 in 2016, in which Dworkin says: “There were scholarly articles starting to come out about the history of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, 70s and 80s avant-garde in America—and people were writing about it without having ever read the primary documents. In any other field in literary history [this] would be unthinkable; you’d never write a book about Renaissance poetry and say, ‘Well, yeah, I’ve never actually read John Donne, but let me tell you what I think about him.’”

Despite its commitment to discipline-wide recovery, the Eclipse Archive is fundamentally a home-grown effort. Dworkin taught himself to cobble together the archive’s original HTML by working through an introduction to web design book he checked out from the library. And, of the facsimiles currently up on the archive, most have come directly from Dworkin’s personal collection, which he says he scans on a ten-year-old Canon printer late at night after his son goes to bed. This intimate connection to the archive sometimes comes at a price, with Dworkin occasionally electing to destroy binding in order to make his copies of print texts more readily available to others online.

Eclipse Archive entry for Gwendolyn Brooks’s RIOT, including bibliographic information

Whether their work requires destructive methods or not, though, Dworkin and Snelson are nothing if not thorough. They insist on securing permissions from authors and presses before admitting a text into the archive, something they acknowledge their peer archives sometimes do not do. They commit to scanning each page—including (or, for Dworkin, especially) the blank ones—in full color at a high-resolution 600 dpi, even when it means effectively doubling the file size and hosting costs. There is also at least some effort to capture significant bibliographic metadata from the text, with facsimiles typically accompanied by notes on anything from the text’s circulation history to its illustration credits to the typography or type of binding methods used.

This metadata, however, is not captured consistently or made available in any structured form, which seems to be an intentional choice, as Dworkin says in the Jacket2 interview: “Part of the ideology behind Eclipse is that I don’t want to try and predict or imagine or limit what people will do with the materials. I want to make as much available as possible. This is why there’s no metadata; I’m not tagging.”

Future projects, either by Dworkin and Snelson or by their peers, might want to consider how actively collecting and sharing metadata about the materiality of these texts would help develop Eclipse into a more intentional educational resource. Such contributions would likely have an outsize benefit to those studying the texts collected under Eclipse’s “Black Radical Tradition” category, an important counter to the perceived whiteness of the avant-garde archives. Because the rise in the study of Black literature in the last quarter-to-half century has coincided with the relative decline in the practice of scholarly bibliography—the study of books as physical objects—one consequence of this divergence has been that the field relies on bibliographical reference tools that tend to define works worth studying as only those produced in feature-length forms (usually novels) from elite publishing houses. This limitation arguably reinforces a color barrier for literary scholars studying the complex publishing histories of radical small-press work—including pamphlets, chapbooks, periodicals, and low-cost reprintings—that reached wide audiences in the Black community. Since Eclipse, in some instances, may provide the only known digitized version of the Black Radical texts, doubling down on their efforts to contribute not only primary source materials but also significant metadata about these materials would go a long way toward recovering these minor texts into the larger canon of the American avant-garde.

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.

Alaska’s Digital Archives

I explored Alaska’s Digital Archives (ADA) for this assignment. The “About” page is seemingly purposefully empty, in order to not distract from the plethora of materials available throughout the archive. It says: “Alaska’s Digital Archives purpose is to provide a single easy to use location for institutions across this state to share their historical resources.Our goal is to support the instructional and research needs of Alaskans and others interested in Alaska history and culture.”ADA is a digital repository for materials from seventeen cited collections, ranging from the University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska State Library, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, and Alaska State Archives, to name a few. It would appear that the need or opportunity that motivated the creation of ADA was a united place for all these collections to be housed together, digitally. The importance of understanding the historicity of the state to the archive’s creators is apparent in the types of materials found throughout the site.

On the homepage, there are two main digital exhibits: “Alaska Native History & Cultures” and “Movement to Statehood.” Each exhibit offers different options for exploring the materials either categorically, like “art, education, military, traditional ways of learning, natural resources.” One could also explore by clicking a specific physical region of the state. Finally, there is a historic option as well, clicking on a specific timeline will bring you materials so related. The anticipated user appears to be a general audience; Alaskans, or anyone else, interested in learning more about the history of the state. I say a general audience because one of the things that stuck out to me was their link to the page “General Search Tips for Online Databases.” While clicking the link produces a 404 error, their inclusion of the would-be helpful article tells me that the site’s creators expected people to use their archive that weren’t necessarily skilled in online databases. The archive presents materials in a scrolling list and tabs of pages that make navigation very simple, but its design is a little clunky in that it is rather slow to load (probably typical of many online databases) and it would be a little bit difficult to find something specific.

Beyond the main “exhibits” on the home page, there are also links to historical photographs and albums, oral histories, moving images, maps, documents, physical objects and “other materials from libraries, museums and archives throughout our state.” This appears to be a gateway to the wealth of the materials housed on the site. I was exploring the moving images, and I found short news stories entitled “The Heritage of Alaska.” These were short, five-minute clips from a TV series shown from 1950-60. Select titles include “Farthest North School – The University of Alaska,” “Fred Machetanz – Distinguished Artist,” “Alaska on the World Map,” and “Alaska Day 1867.” These short videos are hosted on a site called SchoolTube.

The materials throughout the archives seem to have an admirable place in the site creator’s heart. This seems to be a very passionate project, with the main goal of telling the story of Alaska and Alaskans. Obviously, the site’s creators are very fond and proud of their state, one can tell by the sheer thoroughness of what is included throughout the archives. I have been going through the site for quite some time and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of what is fully available.

The design of the site isn’t very flashy, so as not to be a distraction I suppose. Some basic web development skills (HTML, CSS, Java) could build a similar site. Even the copy of the different sections is very minimal so it wouldn’t take much to write as they do. What is most impressive is how they housed and hosted so many materials. That would be the greatest technological challenge. While some of the videos are hosted externally (i.e. SchoolTube), the majority of the photos and albums I saw was right on their site. Same for the documents and maps, etc.

I’d say future projects could take away a great deal from this archive for their own purposes. If one was building an archive on a particular physical location, ADA has much to offer for inspiration purposes. There is stress on the heritage of the indigenous population, so that would be a possible research track this site would be helpful for too. I’d say something that could be improved would be the overall usability and browse-ability; it would probably be helpful if they classified more items into groups based on their appeal/type of product/theme. However, ADA is very well maintained and curated, done lovingly so to seem. The scope of the collections is vast, and ADA has a number of reputable partners for source materials so that is also very impressive.

Electronic Literature Organization

The Electronic Literature Organization‘s mission is threefold:  to promote, preserve, and study works of electronic literature. Founded in 1999, they seek to “foster and promote the reading, writing, teaching, and understanding of literature as it develops and persists in a changing digital environment.”  Although currently “housed” by Washington State University Vancouver, the organization’s Board of Directors consists not only of scholars and teachers, but also artists, developers, and writers.  Along with maintaining digital collections and archives, the organization also hosts conferences around the world and offers prizes/awards for submissions of scholarly criticism and creative works.  It also hosts a directory which acts as both a way to discover individual works as well as an encyclopedia/glossary-style critical companion.  Although the ELO’s digital collections are freely available to view by the public, “membership” in the organization requires payment, whether individually or through one’s institution.

The ELO’s “collections” are distinct from their archives in the sense that they are curated, journal-like online publications of works of electronic literature.  The term “literature” in this context is taken loosely to include many forms of interactive and audio-visual focused media:  from interactive fiction and hypertext, to flash poetry, visual novels, and computer games.  At the moment, there are three volumes of the publication, with work currently under way on the fourth.  The format of these publications is quite interesting–an example of the third volume can be found here:  Electronic Literature Collection #3.  The home page consists of thumbnails of the works included; if an entry catches your eye, you can click through to check the entry out.  You can also sort the collection by the keyword, title, author, country, and language tabs on the page’s header.  Although some of the works can be accessed directly within one’s browser, many of them require additional software to run:  for example, the entries of interactive fiction often require the user to download a Z-machine interpreter such as Frotz.

It is clear that the editors of the collections seek to push the boundaries of traditional literary history–and indeed, one’s experience of many of the literary works included could be described as “playing” rather than “reading” in the traditional sense.  In addition, many of the works in the collections are already “endangered” in the sense that the platforms they utilize, such as Adobe Flash or the Unity web player, are quickly becoming obsolete or outmoded. By including textual descriptions and video documentation along with the source materials, the ELO hopes to preserve the insights and history of these works and to overcome their erasure in an environment of relentless technological change.



Making History: The Colored Conventions Project (CCP)

At Lisa Rhody’s suggestion, I decided to examine the Colored Conventions Project (CCP) established by Professor Gabrielle Foreman of the University of Delaware with the assistance of two of her graduate students, Jim Casey and Sarah Patterson.  The colored conventions were as series of meetings convened by African-American between the years 1830 and 1899 to advance the concerns and advocate for the rights of African-Americans.  There were both national and state-wide conventions.   They chronologically spanned for the Ante-Bellum period when they could only be held in the northern states to the Post-Bellum period when they were also be held in areas that had been part of the former Confederacy.  In fact, immediately after the American Civil War (1865, the number of state-wide conventions skyrocketed, many of them occurring in the Dixie heartland for the first time, which was in no doubt partially fueled by the impetus of Reconstruction.  I am really glad that Lisa suggested this database for my blog, as it provides challenges analogous to my current project proposal to examine the limited archives of an American-Irish cultural organization that existed between 1878 and 1995. 

The corpus that has come down to us consists primarily of three things:  the conventions’ meeting minutes, newspaper advertisements publicizing the meetings, and reports of/from the conventions, which appear primarily in the black press.  These conventions are an almost forgotten part of American history, yet in their heyday, such meetings were regularly attended (and addressed) by Frederick Douglass, and the grandfathers of Langston Hughes and W.E.B DuBois.  The records that remain narrate a phenomenal ongoing struggle by a vast group of socially and politically disenfranchised people to assert their rights and advance their people towards equality.  In particular, the complex and broad social links that developed among the participants and the black press are testament to the persistence and ingenuity involved in developing social networks in the pre-internet age by a marginalized group who often faced bigotry and institutionalized violence.  

The site is well organized around an introductory YouTube clip from a local Delaware TV station giving an overview of Foreman, Casey and Patterson and the creation and goals of their endeavor.  There is a longer text description of the project which is essentially a series of abstracts from a 2015 symposium with a description of the particular features and challenges of it archival corpus, very effectively interspersed with 3-minute YouTube clips of the authors of the paper abstracts speaking in turn at a roundtable discussion which was part of the 2015 symposium.  Some of the specific salient topics raised at the symposium include:  the role of black churches (many of these conventions were sponsored by the African Methodist Episcopal Church), the debate over the emigration movement (return to Africa (Liberia)), the role of women in the movement, the focus on the nature and extent of educational opportunity, issues of wealth and class (particularly among the nascent black bourgeoisie and emerging elites).     

Two key aspects of the project website that excite and inspire me are the focus on encouraging schoolteachers to incorporate the conventions story and related social issues into school curricula and invitations to interested citizens encouraging them to engage with transcribing the corpus so that it can be utilized as searchable database text. As part of the website, there is a series of short clips of some of the graduate students currently working on the project discussing certain aspects of focus.  As you go through these video clips, each graduate student ends with a line that becomes a mantra “Open access is empowerment.”