Documenting the American South

[This was first published at AMPed.]

To say those from the South are proud of their heritage is putting it mildly. Every year dozens if not hundreds of groups, towns and culture centers celebrate some aspect of Southern life from Civil War reenactments to living history villages to a wide array of festivals honoring everything from fruit and food to music and specialty local events. 1

To help commemorate the South’s (and also America’s) illustrious background and to give a voice to the Southern perspective, the University of North Carolina has put together a digital initiative of primary and secondary sources on the Internet. Since 2004, Documenting the American South has been the premier location for education and research materials on Southern life not just on the Internet, but also in the world. The fourteen thematic collections offer wide range of digital materials that includes books, diaries, posters, artifacts, letters, oral history interviews, and songs. This vibrant digital collection consists of numerous large print, photograph and rare materials collections made possible by Southern Historical Collection, the North Carolina Collection, UNC’s Rare Book Collection and the Davis Library.

What makes Documenting the American South such a rich resource is not just because of the various large collections that have been consolidated into a single landing point for research and discovery rather it is also because the scope, design and ease of use of the site that makes it such a valuable resource. In addition, the site is consistantly updated with new information and materials, making it not only a valuable resource for things past, but also for things present and future.

Documenting the American South has a number of discovery and mapping tools to help viewers explore the collection. This includes a Highlights section, a monthly update that explores content in the collection, which is also available via RSS. In addition is the Collections section, a listing of the digital collections by theme, also available for researchers and educators to use for finding materials that range from first person narratives, slave narratives to Southern literature and more. Specific content can also be found by using the SubjectsGeographicalAuthors and Titles tabs in the top navigation bar. And if you still can’t find what you’re looking for, there is also a search option to search the entire collection by keyword to find exactly what you need.

UNC has also put together Classroom Resources, which includes kits, lesson plans and additional materials to help bring Southern life vividly into the classroom.

This is a wonderful treasure trove of materials, that is not only rich for discovery but also a valuable archive of not just Southern life, but American life as well.

 

1. In addition, Southern Festivals is a fantastic resource for festivals happening in the South. This site is organized by state, so if you’re traveling south this year and looking for things to do, this would definitely be one site you want to bookmark.

Haystack: The Online Archive of Colby-Sawyer College

[This was first published at AMPed.]

It’s all well and good to get super excited about technology, but without examples of these technologies in action, what’s the point of being super excited? With that being said, every Friday AMPed will be showcasing a website that takes these technologies and really makes them work, whether in design, implementation or as a mashup. These are websites that are taking their outreach and content to the next level by making their sites not only more aesthetically pleasing but also more interactive with their audience.

This week, we’re showcasing Haystack, the online archive of Colby-Sawyer College. What is great about Haystack is that not only is it aesthetically pleasing, easy to browse and navigate, but it also uses social networking tools to allow the reader to re-share the information to Delicious, DiggFacebook and other sites. Haystack also relies fairly extensively on open source software for their backend.

We’ll let Kelli Bogan, the archivist at Colby-Sawyer, explain more:

In November of 2008, Colby-Sawyer College launched its digital library, Haystack to showcase materials from the college archives and to reconnect alumni to the institution. With seven name changes and a varied institutional history as a secondary school, women’s junior college, women’s four year college, and a co-educational four year college, Colby-Sawyer College has a unique history that often leaves older alumni feeling disconnected from the institution. Haystack lets alumni become active participants once again by allowing users to add tags and comments to photographs, historical diaries, correspondence, yearbooks, and other historical documents relating to the college and its founding family, to embed these images on social networking sites like Facebook, and to email the images to friends and family.

Haystack uses Scriblio, an open source Content Management System based on WordPress. Scriblio allows users to find materials through faceted searching and browsing which lets the user narrow their search through visual cues and to easily add or remove search constraints. Users can also see what other people have been looking at, what items have recently been commented on, and items that are similar to the one that he/she is looking at; all of these features allow the user to explore the materials in a nontraditional way.

What does the future hold for Haystack? The goal for the first year after the launch was to put as much material as possible into Haystack; at present, there are nearly 4,000 images uploaded and available. Now that the archives has a better sense of how Haystack is used by our alumni and what types of materials they are interested in seeing, our digitization focus for the next year is to scan all of the yearbooks and to continue to put as much of the Colby-Sawyer College Photograph Collection up as we can. We also have a couple of exhibits that we are experimenting with—a family tree for the founding family and a college time line. We would like these to be more than just static exhibits, but we haven’t quite figured out how to make them dynamically interesting yet.

As far as site development goes, we would like to add audio and video capabilities since, currently, these can only be incorporated into exhibits, not into item level entries. We also are working to add EAD finding aids to the site; this will allow us to make the finding aid the “parent” of each collection and users will be able to link directly from the finding aid to an image, creating another way to access and browse the collection. Finally, we would like to create an advanced search (in response to feedback we have received from users) and a way to see all of the keywords under a specific category in “Browse.” Our hope is to continually improve Haystack and to make it a site where our users are excited to visit and contribute.