Metadata Review for American Consumer Culture


 American Consumer Culture homepage
*Copyright information bottom of post

One of the most engaging, comprehensive, and unique databases I have recently discovered is called American Consumer Culture: Market Research and American Business.  This database provides insight into the world of buying, selling and advertising from 1935 to 1965 at a pivotal point in American production, consumption, and media/technology. The collection provides access to thousands of market research reports by pioneering analyst Ernest Dichter who founded the Institute for Motivational Research (1946). In contrast to other advertising experts and market analysts post World War II,  “Dichter’s techniques were largely qualitative, focusing on depth interviews and projective tests rather than simple surveys” (“Nature and Scope”). Types of sources included American Consumer Culture are either graphic still images or text and include: memoranda, reports, advertisements, and other industry or business-related documents. Advanced searches have Boolean, primary/secondary source, and (corporate) brand filters.

The search process and metadata mining is quite impressive allowing the user to ask and answer questions based on a variety of searchable fields including author, date, document type, keyword, These fields are also cross-referenced chronologically and thematically with additional components of the database: a comprehensive timeline and thirty-one thematic collections organized within the larger structural framwork (ex. retail and wholesale). Each thematic collection includes an introduction, description, and examples. (See: Industries). There are a few cracks in their metadata search engine, for example, it is difficult to determine where and how many of these documents were used. The use and audience of advertisements is quite simple, but for the many documents (reports, studies, memos), one wonders: Who was the audience and how did that affect and shape the conclusions drawn and arguments presented.

Within the record of the digital object, American Consumer Culture: Market Research and American Business continues to impress. Here is an example for a document entitled “The A-B-C of humor in advertising” — a 1967 report published by Leo Burnett Company, Inc. Click on the image to enlarge.


This search result, and the metadata included, is a great model for creating clear and consistent “data about data.” It describes several of the documents features including physical location of the original (box #, report #), holding library or institution, language, related document info link, date, and copyright. In terms of the original document, additional information is provided: document type, industry, commissioned by (original producer), conducted by (consulting firm), location of consulting firm, method of consultation (ex. test, survey), and keywords. All of these categories work with controlled vocabulary–a key component in creating “successful” metadata. There are also links to their controlled vocabulary glossary and a link to relevant chronology.

As for the features of the digital objects described by metadata, there are options to download as PDF, pages can be viewed in full page or thumbnail view. The document is also keyword searchable and offers an export/citation option. Features not describe by metadata are the scanning specification, scan technician, application, pixels, dpi, and other metadata related to the actual digitization process. Some of this information can be attained by right-clicking the “properties” of the document once downloaded but are not available from the database itself.

American Consumer Culture is a great example of the overlap between definitions that both compete and complement (and heavily discussed in our readings): project, collection, database, and digital thematic research. In the end, regardless of categorization, American Consumer Culture epitomizes “the closest thing that we have in the humanities to a laboratory,” as Kenneth Price argued.


*Copyright information listed on the use of images or text accessed through American Consumer Culture: This selection of images is protected by copyright, and duplication or sale of all or part of the image selection is not permitted, except that the images may be duplicated by you for your own research or other approved purpose either as prints or by downloading. Such prints or downloaded records may not be offered, whether for sale or otherwise, to anyone who is not a member of staff of the publisher. You are not permitted to alter in any way downloaded records without prior permission from the copyright owner. Such permission shall not be unreasonably withheld.


Guide to Digitization


Module #4 focused on the different purposes, methods, and uses of digitization and issues related to it. In creating a Guide to Digitization, one must first consider three essential questions and the answers to them.

  • What can you capture, and not capture, when you digitize something?

Digitizing an image or object can help to create core content that can represent and disseminate information, text, and at time audio-visual content. However, according to Melissa Terras, “additional infrastructure (such as a database, a website front end, and an explanatory apparatus or additional teaching materials) is required in order to deliver the content successfully to users.”

  • Which forms of digitization make the most sense for different types of items?

Our activity nicely illustrates the differentiation of digitization and its effectiveness based on the type of item. The following categories were used to digitally asses three images and corresponding videos of the “21st Century Kitchen”: size, weight, color, texture, all sides, sound smell. Digital Images captured an average of 50 percent of these categories, while digital video captured an average of 90 percent. The objects included text, food products, and inanimate objects. Images worked best for text-heavy items while videos worked best for objects or substances: texture, size, sound, or weight.

  • To what extent does working with digitized representations impact how we understand different kinds of items, and/or our ability to use them for different purposes?

Marlene Manoff identifies what she calls, “Textual Scholarship,” which address the physical aspects of a source in addition to the text itself. I think this is important to consider even when dealing with what many researchers would largely dismiss as an essential consideration. For artifacts, I think that descriptions, dimensions, and audio-visual aids are extremely helpful but not always practical or affordable for those (libraries, archives, etc.) doing the digitizing. OCR is also an extremely useful technology for translating and providing information from non-traditional texts.

While many digitized representations are utilized for the purpose of research and/or learning in an educational environment, several of our readings pointed to the growing interest and availability of digitized information for public audience interest (such as Google Books) as well as  commercial digitization ventures.

  • My “Guide to Digitization” would include the following components:
  1. Following the Digitization Guideline of the Library of Congress in terms of scanning and color settings as well as formatting.
  2. As Paul Conway argued, digital humanists should always be cognizant of the intellectual premise, goals, and “meaning-making” that is created through and by the digitization process. As Manoff stated, “If print and electronic versions are different objects, we should not treat them as if they are interchangeable.”
  3. We must discern the cultural purpose, academic relevance, and historical significance of the original item(s) when considering the best method and format of digitization. This credo should guide the digitization of individual items as well as overarching goals of collections, databases, or exhibits. It includes decisions whether to enhance, zoom, crop, etc.
  4. Digitization should never be a substitute for preservation. While digitization can reduce wear and tear, digital surrogates should serve a greater purpose.
  5. Within reason and with given resources, the digitization of images, objects, texts, and other forms of media should be accompanied by as much information and technology as possible including OCR, indexing, searchable terms, and cross-referencing.