Tag Archives: Library of Congress

Georeferenced Cultural Repository Inventory at the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative

Over the last three weeks I began working in earnest on the Conflict Culture database as an online intern for the Smithsonian Institute and University of Pennsylvania Museum. This internship satisfies the semester requirement for fieldwork in the field of Digital Humanities as part of the post-graduate certificate in Digital Humanities at George Mason University. Although the government shutdown delayed a bit of work at the beginning of the semester, things are now running smoothly. I was given Ireland as my assigned country for the Conflict Culture project. This project is both ambitious as well as exciting and involves collaboration from nearly twenty organizations and institutions. When asked about this project, I often paraphrase the mission as stated on the homepage:

Joined by researchers from around the world, the Conflict Culture Research Network supports rigorous, interdisciplinary research that examines how conflict impacts the culture of communities experiencing violence.

In terms of my own progress, there are 319 sites for Ireland and the excel workbook contained previously entered data mostly related to coordinates and some other basic categories. While it may not seem difficult, the process of verifying and making minor edits to existing content has been tedious and time consuming. That said, the success of this project and the ultimate outward-facing data sets available to the public are dependent on precision and accuracy. For these reasons, I have been very careful in checking and verifying data. I am happy to report that I have nearly completed my work on the existing data for Ireland. I will then shift to researching and collecting new data to complete the documentation for each and every heritage site and site of historical and cultural significance for Ireland.

One cultural heritage site that I found interesting was the De Valera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre, located just south of the city of Limerick.

De Valera Museum & Bruree Heritage Centre

The De Valera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre is dedicated to Eamon de Valera, former president of Ireland and one of the country’s most famous statesmen.

This image of Eamon de Valera in 1922 is from the National Photo Company collection at the Library of Congress. There are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work. Click here to access the image file and record.

Eamon de Valera’s political career spanned over half a century, from 1917 to 1973. He served several terms as the head of government and led the efforts to ratify the Constitution of Ireland.

One of de Valera’s most famous speeches was entitled “The Ireland that we dreamed of.” Click here to listen to the audio of the 1943 speech, below is an excerpt sponsored by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster:

“…The Ireland that we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose fire sides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that me should live…”

The museum houses a collection of his personal belongings, as well as a wide range of articles which record life in Bruree in the early twentieth century. There is also a visitor centre where Eamonn de Valera grew up.  In the village of Bruree, the cottage where he lived has been preserved and the national school he attended houses another museum dedicated to his memory.

I look forward to learning more about Ireland in this process and to contributing to this very important project.

Mary Ellen Pethel, Ph.D.
Harpeth Hall School, History Dept. Chair, Digital Humanities Coordinator
Belmont University, Honors Program Adjunct, Global Leadership Studies Fellow

References:

“De Valera Museum & Bruree Heritage Centre” Visit Ballyhoura  (Ballyhoura Failte: Ballyhoura County, Ireland), 2018, http://visitballyhoura.com/index.php/2015/07/22/de-valera-museum-bruree-heritage-centre/.

“Eamonn De Valera, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front,” Library of Congress (LOC Prints and Photographs Division: Washington, D.C.), 1922, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00652544/.

“The Ireland That We Dreamed Of” 1943.” Éamon de Valera (1882-1975). RTÉ Archives. March 1943.

The History of Digital Public History

1) How has the work of digital public history changed over time?

Digital Public History, as an emergent field, has dramatically evolved over its short twenty-year history. Here is a summary from each of the three periods explored as part of Module Two:

1998-2001
There is a great deal of experimentation in this phase. Examples include crowdsourcing, full-text, digitized images, zoom in/out functions, audio, apps, and a variety of organizational tools through which to view and present digitized historical materials. The scope of each of the three projects surveyed was different. Two focus on specific events, i.e. Chicago Fire and NYC blackouts, while the other focuses on a specific topic, i.e. Af. Am. pamphlets from turn of the twentieth century (Progress of a People). All three are appropriately narrow in scope, but each builds out and has updated (or not) differently. The NYC Blackout Project site looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1998 and the Chicago Fire & Web of Memory site perhaps needs to be reorganized completely after growing online for nearly twenty years.

2002-2009
A definite move to use java/flash was evident from 2002-2009 digital public history projects. Sources are presented in a more visual and interactive way, but formatting and navigation is intended for desktop users. These projects are based on larger events and seem to focus on the notion that we should “complicate” history. This is part of the larger effort to move beyond the typical characters studied in U.S. history and American culture. This trend to uncover troubling parts of our historical narrative are equally, if not more, important. Projects during this phase include: Slavery in New York, Raid on Deerfield, A More Perfect Union: Japanese Americans and the U.S., and Jasenovac: Holocaust Era in Croatia.

2010-2015
More recent digital public history projects are less about presentation of a set or distinct group of materials with a somewhat prescribed lesson or learned outcome and more about engagement through contribution and feeling invested in the project. Formatting also move past java and flash and is friendlier for different sizes and types of screens. These project are much, much bigger — tackling millions of pages or sources rather than presenting a thematic “online” exhibit or digital project. This phase shows that digital projects are fluid rather than final. Examples include: Lincoln at 200, Bracero History Archive, Manifold Greatness: Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible, and Operation War Diary.

2) What should qualities we be looking for as markers of good digital public history work?

The qualities of good digital public history are in many ways the qualities of two complementary goals of historians more generally: effective teaching using primary sources and student engagement leading to a deeper understanding of history. This involves the organization and presentation of primary source materials in a way that encourages students and the general public to become “detectives” and to think critically and historically about primary sources as well as context, subtext, and significance. For more see Sam Wineburg’s “Thinking Like a Historian” (TPS Quarterly).

3) What are promising new directions in this field?

Promising new directions in the field of Digital Public History include more clearly delineated categories for the projects themselves. Several categories have emerged and include: teaching resource, virtual tour or exhibit, archival body of sources, digitized sets of data, and blog/essay. Another promising development is the more reliable and sustainable use of open-source technology rather than plug-in or software based projects that can limit the user experience. Crowdsourcing projects or creating large digital  collections should be wary of data-entry inconsistencies and should clearly identify the purpose and potential use of the sources being digitized.  Conversely, digital projects aimed at K-12 learning  should be careful not to be too limited in scope. As a whole, Digital Public History remains a dynamic field, full of possibility, and intentionally wide-ranging.