A Digital and Historical Exchange

“Each library serves a distinct community of users. Our metadata needs to speak their language.”[1] Found in the transcript of the speech “We need to talk about cataloguing” is the dynamic relationship and continuous interaction between a community of researchers and the text or object capturing its history. In presenting such an artifact or text, it is important to learn the nature of such a community to respectfully and rightfully display its history. Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia (A4BLiP) alludes to a similar idea within their “Anti-Racist Description Resources,” summarizing how archivists and researchers can best approach and support black lives within their work.[2] The WordPress workshop with Bridget Dahill, the Digital Library Software Developer at Amherst College, highlighted the connection between the Amherst community and the presentation of its history as she discussed the importance of making websites accessible to all members of the community. During the data analysis workshop, my partner and I investigated New York City Police Department (NYPD) arrests over the past decade; through analyzing the data and pondering the ideologies that might have led to the arrests of people of a specific sex or race, we established a connection between our research and NYPD’s history. 

Initial investigation into a similar exchange between communities of researchers, students, or faculty and their respective histories has already prompted me to deeply investigate the history of disasters presented in Amherst’s student publications and to ask detailed and engaging questions. How can we engage the Amherst community with a project presentation that appeals to community’s interests and values? How can the visual representation of our project facilitate an ongoing dialogue between Amherst students and the history captured in 19th and 20th century Amherst student publications? We can address these questions not merely in the presentation of our work to the Amherst community but in the ongoing research process. While collecting data, how might we best present or organize the data so that it may accurately and respectfully portray the sentiments and worries of 20th century Amherst? In what ways are the students and administrators responding to disasters that have occurred on campus? In reading student publications on these disasters, who are we not seeing responding to various disasters on Amherst’s campus? Why might that be the case? What can we understand about the context of that time that might explain the lack of specific voices? Such questions are critical to conducting and presenting our research and to helping us create a more community-centered, dynamic, and detailed project.

I will start to answer some of these questions in the shift from the learning phase to the project phase. These questions will help me formulate a concrete and rich research question. Throughout the research process, I hope to continue finding sources on the history of Amherst College’s disasters and honing in on important aspects to present to the community. I eagerly anticipate seeing our project come to fruition and writing our project proposal this upcoming weekend. And making this transition will bring to life ideas and focuses from brainstorming sessions, allow us to apply the methodologies and ideas learned in Zoom workshops and meetings, and enrich and broaden our curious minds.

[1]McCulloch, Alissa. “We need to talk about cataloguing: the #NLS9 transcript.” Cataloguing the Universe: A work in progress, WordPress, 11 July, 2019. lissertations.net/post/1177

[2] Antracoli, Alexis A. et al. Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia: Anti-Racist Description Resources. Creative Commons, 2019. Web. 10 July, 2020.

Stepping Into the World of Research

Within his blog post, Trevor Owens discusses Joe Maxwell’s “interactive approach”[1] to the research process, the importance of focusing on the process itself instead of the more performative aspects of research proposal writing. Like Maxwell, Owens takes a deep dive into the world of reflection and tool-based research and into the implications of theory on research methods. The research question, as Owens describes, is dynamic; it is not merely the end product of the research process but complementary to it. As the research question changes, grows, and develops, it remains in conversation with the formation of new ideas and the growth of their presentation.

Such reflection and thought are crucial to my own research process as I continue to investigate and dive into Amherst’s digital archives. An initial investigation into these resources has helped further an intellectual curiosity towards the digital archives, TimeMapping, and digital exhibits. I have begun to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for this process of reflection that seems to not be a part of many of the research processes of other courses and opportunities. Not merely does it allow me to question and make sense of the material but allows me to really savor reading Amherst Student articles, understanding more about the ideologies and philosophies of former Presidents of the College, and learning about Amherst College’s emergency response through history. Through the Learning Types workshop, I have thought about the importance of metacognition on learning, building a research project, and working in a team. I also have processed through my own ideas on the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection, the finding aid, and discussions on “No one owes their trauma to archivists” by Eira Tansey, utilizing these resources and discussions on them to inform my own research process, something I had never done previously. I have also begun to reflect on the roles of archivists, researchers, and librarians within the research process and the role of the local community in the collection part of the research process. Through this reflection, I am curious to explore further the way that local communities and archivists, researchers, and librarians have interacted throughout history. In thinking about my research question, I am intrigued by the role of the College in public health emergencies. How have students and administrators viewed these emergencies? Have their responses contrasted or conflicted? Who do we not see responding to these public health emergencies and why? What can we attribute this to? I also might want to explore how black Amherst College students responded to events like the Civil Rights Movement or the racial history of the College.

In addition to pondering my research interests and questions, I am beginning to think about the structure of the project. I know I would like to use TimeMapper or topic modeling in some form as I further analyze the ideas, keywords, and events that occur in an article or archival work. I continue to ask crucial questions. How many people/events/time periods do I want to focus on? How do I want to structure the project? How will I present my introduction? How will the visual representation of my work incorporate the more reflective parts of my process? As I continue to formulate a research question, I believe that the structure of the project will become clearer, and I will begin to understand how to build a concrete presentation of my work.

[1] Owens, Trevor. “Where to Start? On Research Questions in the Digital Humanities.” Trevor Owens: User Centered Digital Memory, WordPress, 22 Aug. 2014. www.trevorowens.org/2014/08/where-to-start-on-research-questions-in-the-digital-humanities/


Understanding the Process

Through reading, synthesizing and processing, the readings and meetings this week led to an intriguing deep dive into the world of Digital Exhibits. “Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display” by Steven Levine and Ivan Karp brought me into the world of presentation, culture, and permission-giving.[1] The 1984 taking of the taonga or treasures from Maori elders for an exhibit on the Maori people demonstrated the dichotomy of the spiritual significance of these taonga to the Maori people and the historical implications of these taonga as presented in a museum. The article continued to discuss the ways in which museums should incorporate the perspectives and input of local and/or indigenous communities and questioned the methodology behind incorporating a diverse range of perspectives on the material being presented. The article prompted me to think more deeply into the role of museums within the community and the space and framework they take up and how within the world of digital humanities this very dichotomy may exist. How might in the future digital humanities scholars seek to incorporate works and traditions of indigenous communities letting these communities be at the forefront of the collection process? How can we create an environment that upholds the values and the ideologies of various communities and populations without infringing on these communities? To me, these questions are never-ending; they must be incorporated uniquely into each project and each ethnological exhibit, project, and collection.

Amherst College Head of Archives and Special Collections Mike Kelly’s description of the origins of the The Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection deepened my perspective on collecting and storing of works from local communities. A community of those wanting to sell their works, leaders in the indigenous communities, professors, archivists, and librarians helped welcome and respectfully situate the Native American collection into its new home. And so after this discussion, I began to think in more specific ways. How have curators/archivists put these ways of collecting information and where? In what ways do these ways of collecting and synthesizing information and material from local communities translate into my own research process? I begin to answer this last question by thinking about the relationship between the materials, the lives of those captured on the pages of literature collections or yearbooks, and the collector, archivist, or researcher. The archivist or researcher is the one that translates both literally and figuratively the lives of historical peoples and objects through their presentation of the material, calling to an audience of fellow researchers and laypeople to interpret the material. While neither the audience nor the archivists or researchers do not know these actual, lived experiences, they might interpret the thoughts and feelings of those captured in the material. And by a solid and in-depth understanding of these historical materials and its contextualization, the archivist, librarians, or researchers will translate the material with greater clarity and precision, closer to replicating the sentiment of the actual time.

And thus, through understanding this intricate pathway of relationship might we better understand the archivist, researcher, or librarian’s role within the community and start to understand how to include “multiple perspectives or to reveal the tendentiousness of the approach taken” (6).[2] I hope to incorporate these same ideas and the same thought process into my own research process as we move forward.

[1] Karp, Ivan, and Lavine, Steven D. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. Smithsonian Institution Press Washington and London, 1991.

[2] Ibid.