Digital Review: Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”

Screen capture of Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race,” taken 2020

Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race”. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/performingarchive/index. Created and maintained by Claremont Center for Digital Humanities. https://scalar.usc.edu/works/performingarchive/acknowledgements. Reviewed February 2020.

The Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race” project emerged in 2018 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This project serves as a digital archive for the photographic works of Edward S. Curtis, and as a virtual exhibit space for work that responds to Curtis’ exploitation of Native American tribes. This interpretive work questions concepts of permission and consent for the Native peoples in question and serves as a meta commentary on the digital humanities.

The site features over 2,500 digitized archival items from seven institutions. Users can search these items using keywords or use the site’s visualization tool to explore how items interconnect with one another. These tools are immediately accessible, but the site’s layout encourages users to read the “Introduction” page before embarking on their personalized journey. The “Introduction” page gives an overview of the project’s background and goals, then details how to use the site most effectively. While you can search at any time, there are “paths” that lead to different items and exhibits. The user is put on a pre-set path through a few exhibits, putting the most critical and contextual work first. By clicking on the links inside the exhibit texts, the user can deviate from the set path to explore new items and interpretive pieces. This method exploration allows the user to dive a bit deeper into the incredible volume of content available within this project.

This site’s content is extensive because the creators have allowed the public to contribute their research and interpretation of Curtis’ work using a review process to control what occupies their site. These interpretive pieces can be found using the visualization tool and the search bar, leading to topics from YouTube to Curtis’ conceptions of race. If a user isn’t quite ready to publish their own research, they can use the comments function to give feedback and input without investing as much time as engaging in original research. In these ways, the project welcomes all people to become a part of this project. The site also features resources for working with Native stakeholders, and plans to contact Native peoples for future work, emphasizing the need for their input and consent in projects dealing in Native history. By showing their practices clearly, the project welcomes Native users, reassuring them that while Curtis was exploitative, modern creators and historians can and should be better. This project certainly acheives these goals.

Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race” is completely transparent in their methodology, which preserves the trustworthy image of this initiative. The design and methods are incredibly strong, with the only drawback to the site being the visualization tool’s loading time, which at worst can take over a minute. The user can choose how they want to interact and contribute, which is a huge plus for engagement. This type of project has no equivalent in the physical world, making use of online tools for increased engagement and thoughtful interpretation. Performing Archive: Curtis + “the vanishing race” serves as proof of what Digital Humanities at its best is capable of.

The 9/11 Digital Archive: A Tribute to the 9/11 Disaster

The September 11 Digital Archive, https://911digitalarchive.org/, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, https://911digitalarchive.org/about , consulted on February 16, 2020

The Library of Congress inaugurated the 9/11 Digital Archive in 2003. The archive is a virtual smorgasbord of materials related to the events of September 11, 2001. It contains thousands of items: newspaper articles from before and after the event, pictures taken by families in front of the Twin Towers just days before the disaster, poems written in honor of first responders and fire fighters, personal compositions written by people who were effected by the events of 9/11, oral histories, news clips, and much more. In total there are over seventy thousand items in the archive. The archive is not purely scholarly, but rather acts as more of a digital home for the memories of those who experienced 9/11. As their about page states, ” The September 11 Digital Archive uses electronic media to collect, preserve, and present the history of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania and the public responses to them. “

The design of the archive is simple, but it works. It is divided into different collections (for example the Anniversary Collections or the Audio Collection). Also, a visitor to the archive can browse the items without having to chose a particular collection; all text submissions, oral histories, videos clips, and photos will be mixed together, instead of being separated into different collections. Interestingly, the archive also has links to additional collections complied from outside sources, and a crowd sourced collection open for visitors to the digital archive to add their own memories of 9/11. Browsing through this collection, a visitor finds memories that are only a few sentences long, and these are usually not composed by those who participated in the events first hand, but instead by those who experienced the events from their T.V. screens or even half way across the world. This is significant, as it reminds the visitor of how far reaching 9/11 was for the American people. The archive also has the usual archive search option and an about page describing how the archive was compiled as well as a staff page thanking the team that put together and currently oversees the archive.

The audience for the 9/11 digital archive is extremely diverse. It is meant for all people who remember the events of 9/11. It is not merely limited to those who participated in the events first hand. This is evidenced by the sheer number of items in the archive, as well as the different kinds of submissions; many of which are written by or submitted by ordinary Americans who experienced 9/1 1. These submissions, as noted above, range from oral submissions to simple text submissions. However, all the submissions offer insight into how Americans viewed 9/11, both then and now.

The archive, as mentioned before, has a simple layout. However, it has a unique history in that it was the first digital archive to be accepted into the Library of Congress, thus helping to insure that it would be preserved for posterity. In 2011, the archive was moved to Omeka, where the website was relaunched on a more stable platform. This fathered the project team’s goal of preserving the archive and these memories forever.

The original team that put together the 9/11 Digital Archive is made up mostly of archive and meta data experts from George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media as well as historians, investigators, programmers, and web designers from City University of New York Graduate Center and John Jay College, City of New York University. Today, the project is overseen by a team from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. The 9/11 digital archive has also attracted many influential partners such as the Library of Congress and The Smithsonian Institute which have helped to preserve and grow the archive. Additionally, visitors to the archive can make their own contributions thus adding their voices and their stories to the it..

The 9/11 Digital Archive is a simple, well organized, and meaningful archive that successfully catalogs the emotional turmoil felt by a nation and its people during one of the most tragic days in its history.

A Screenshot taken by the author of the 9/11 Digital Archive’s Home Page, taken February 16, 2020 | Screen shot taken by author

Digital Review: Bracero History Archive

Bracero History Archive. http://braceroarchive.org/. Created as Co-Principle Investigator by Sharon Leon and Tom Scheinfeldt. . http://braceroarchive.org/about. Reviewed January 26, 2020.

The Bracero History Archive is a digital collection of images, documents, oral histories, and artifacts collected to record primary sources, evidence, and data pertaining to the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was a sequence of diplomatic legislation between U.S and Mexico, which was originally instituted by an American executive order in 1942, to abate the issue of labor shortages during World War II. The program’s labor contracts for Mexican immigrants seeking temporary work in the U.S., mostly related to U.S. agriculture. The program provided an opportunity for Mexican immigrants to seek a better life, yet over the course of the program’s existence, it was apparent that the United States government exploited their great opportunity by oppression and mistreatment. This digital archive provides a voice for those Bracero workers and their families.

This digital archive provides 3,209 total items, under the archive tab, which is divided by five sub-tabs that present an option of images, documents, oral histories, contributed items, or all items. Users can further navigate the site to explore teaching and historical information regarding the Bracero program. Additional options exist to allow the user to learn more about the digital archive and its mission. The site provides supplementary information regarding their site and virtual partners that contribute to this digital archive. The metadata includes texts of personal statements that contextualize the history behind the program and how it affected each individual and their families. The images tab provides digital metadata to include detailed descriptive images, scanned labor contracts, paycheck stubs, work permits, and items such as postcards.

In addition to each metadata, it provides bibliographic citations and a list of keywords related to the Bracero History Archive. The oral histories tab provides personal testimony by audio regarding Bracero workers and/or their families recalling stories of the program. In most of the audio recordings, the interview is conducted in Spanish. Although most items have thorough metadata, the audio recordings do not include description, text, creator, or a date for the interview. There is no option for translation, either through text or audio, for the interviews conducted in Spanish which might prove challenging for a non-Spanish speaking user of the site. The oral interviews that are conducted in English do give a date and time through audio but lack separate descriptive metadata. The interviews are at times difficult to hear due to background noise and separate conversations happening close to the interview.

This site is open access and does provide a URL for users to gain access to the archive’s metadata if they so wish to contribute to the archive. It produces resources and video tutorials giving step-by-step information on how to navigate Omeka providing information on how to effectively use and add to the digital archive. Additionally, it provides information on how to effectively scan and upload digital images, documents, and other relevant artifacts that contribute to the history of the Bracero program. The resources tab provides information on how to conduct an interview, what questions to ask, a checklist for your interview, and files and documents for authoritative release.

The Bracero History Archive was a 2010 winner at the National Council on Public History and awarded the Public History Project Award. The site has much potential and the idea structure behind the archive is worthwhile, yet, it seems not much has been updated since possibly 2010. Navigation is easy but rudimentary in terms of deficiency regarding metadata and historical information. The history tab only gives a giant bibliography and does not interpret or give much background information on its collection. The site should acknowledge more visibly that it is not actively curated or updated anymore.

All things considered, the Bracero History Archive is sitting on a gold mine with these great interviews, documents, images, and artifacts within its digital archive. There is a great need for labor in adding metadata to many of its items. It could also benefit from a digital make-over to be more aesthetically appealing. Maps and other visual aids would be more helpful in dispensing a geographical idea of designated areas in the country where bracero camps existed and parts of the country where the law was invoked for labor necessities.

Digital Review: Wearing Gay History

Wearing Gay History. http://wearinggayhistory.com/. Created and maintained by Eric Gonzaba and Amanda Regan, http://wearinggayhistory.com/about. Reviewed Jan. 2020.

The Wearing Gay History project is self-described as “A Digital Archive of Historical LGBT T-Shirts,” hosting the queer t-shirt collections of 14 different American archives. The digital archive contains shirts from the last 40 years of queer history, and showcases them using Omeka, a platform friendly to digital archiving. The website puts LGBT history in context with itself, defeating coastal biases and exhibiting the diversity of the queer community.

The site features over 4000 items that have been divided into 21 collections based on their origin. Users can search the items by a list of preset tags, by collection, or by detailed search using keywords, locations, and other signifiers. The images are not uniform in background color or mannequin, but these details don’t detract from the cohesiveness of the archive. The metadata includes a description of the creator, date, place of origin, subject, and a few other fields. Each item includes a citation and information about copyright, which is a great help for those wanting to refer to these t-shirts in their work.

The site also includes interpretation of its collections in the form of digital exhibits. These exhibits use the digitized t-shirts to inform about queer history by placing these shirts in context. Many of these shirts require context that non-experts don’t understand without explanation. The page “The Ones that Laughed: Humor in the LGBT Community” explains the necessary context of humorous t-shirts. For example, a t-shirt reading “Homo-Depot” is a play on a scandal involving the department store Home-Depot. The site uses this t-shirt to inform its audience about the history of anti-LGBT workplace policies during the 21st century .

The goals listed on the “About” tab are congruent with the digital products featured on the site. To counter bicoastal  bias, the site includes a t-shirt map  that shows that the bulk of the digital archive comes from inland. To examine the connection between distinct identities is the site uses a tag system, many items having multiple tags which span across differing identities. The goal of increasing visibility for small archives is met by the map as well, shirts grouped according to their archive of origin. Making these collections accessible to the public, this site brings queer history to the forefront  of public consciousness. The site shows commitment to education by linking to other digital resources about the queer community, including articles and other digital archives.

While the site does well to reach the goals its set out, navigation and inclusivity serve as minor issues. While the tag system is helpful, the map is accessible, and there is a means of searching the shirts, the search feature is a bit intimidating, containing many fields that have little use for the non-expert. Additionally, this archive isn’t inclusive of many queer identities that have developed more recently. While the archive includes many examples of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender t-shirts, it excludes (though not intentionally) the other identities that the expanded LGBTQIA+ features. Because, these identities are only beginning to gain visibility, it’s understandable that this archive of the past 40 years of queer history would face difficulty keeping finding materials representing all identities.

In all, this digital archive achieves its many goals through its diversity of materials, interpretation, and ease of use. This archive has clearly been curated by queer historians with a queer audience in mind. It uplifts the queer community, and makes often forgotten tales available at your fingertips.