Digital History in Western New York

We had two fantastic presentations of WNY digital projects this week in my Digital History course. On Tuesday Nick Gunner (who works in Fredonia’s marketing & communications division) showed us the mapping application he developed to present the prodigious research efforts by Doug Shepard and Wendy Straight to map antislavery activism and the underground railroad in Chautauqua County. Check it out at orbitist.com. Nick used Open Maps to create his program, and we took a look at that as well, and even corrected a few errors in the Dunkirk map.

On Thursday we trekked to Reed Library to hear about the digitization of Anna Clift Smith’s Van Buren Life journal. Smith lived at Van Buren Point¬† (on Lake Erie) and her journal (written in 1904-1905) contains her observations on local flora and fauna as well as her activities,¬† and is punctuated by her own illustrations. This journal is held by Fredonia’s Reed Library Archives and was transcribed and published in book form in the 1990s (with the support of the Friends of Reed Library). Cindy Yochum showed us how she did the scanning and coding, and Lisa McFall gave us the low-down on TEI coding. We also saw the original journal in the archives, and Barb Kittle showed us the local histories, atlases, and directories available here for the students’ research projects. Two of our librarians, Katie Sacco & Sara Parme, have begun the process of creating the site (on Omeka!), which will eventually include the transcript and the original of each page, the illustrations, and a participatory annotation tool. Take a peek at what they have put up so far on Anna Clift Smith’s Van Buren Life.

Not only did my students learn some of the nuts and bolts of creating these two cool projects, they also had reinforced one of the main messages of our readings and class discussions: it takes a village to do DH! This is a collaborative process, as I keep telling them, and a long-term one. As many have pointed out, librarians are key allies and collaborators for all of us wanting to do digital history. So here is a big shout-out to all the librarians at Reed (and Lisa, who works at Hamilton College) who have contributed to this digitization project and who have been so helpful to my class. In addition to those above, this includes Scott Richmond, who taught my students the mysteries of Dublin Core last week. Another big thank you goes to community folks such as Wendy and Doug, who devote so much of their free time and energy to researching local history, and coders like Nick, who create applications to help them present their work.

I am humbled by all the hard work and enthusiasm that has gone into creating these two digital projects. Terrific work all around! Next week my students begin work on their projects. More on that to come.

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