Welcome! About This Blog.


Welcome to the ArchivesEducate blog!  I am co-Director of Digital Scholarship Services in the Skillman Library at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.  Previously, I was a Mellon/Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Scholarship in the Department of Research and Digital Scholarship at the Smith Library Center at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.  I started this blog in Spring 2014 to document and reflect upon my projects having to do with archives and undergraduate education.  In the process of relating some of my adventures in archives and education, I hope to gain insights that will improve my own work in academic libraries and contribute to the broadening body of theory on the roles archives can play in higher education.

I’m very excited about the capacity of archives—both digital and material—to enhance undergraduate education.  Are you interested in archives and education?  Let’s talk!  E-mail me at nunesc@lafayette.edu, follow me on Twitter @CharlotteLNunes, or contact me here:

Guest Blog Post: Recent Grad Rachel Robinson on Digital Archives and the Digital Humanities


Rachel Robinson is a spring 2016 graduate of Southwestern University.  Here, she guest-blogs about her experience as a student worker for the Department of Research and Digital Scholarship in the Smith Library Center at Southwestern University.  

Rachel_Robinson_headshot.JPGAs a student worker in the Department of Research and Digital Scholarship in the Smith Library Center at Southwestern University this past year, I have spent a lot of time learning about new and different ways to engage in academia within a digital format. Most of my responsibilities during the academic year dealt with showcasing digitized archival items from Special Collections on a new website. Over the summer, I was tasked with two projects that required different skills and served different purposes from my previous work. First, taking up the bulk of the summer, I converted PDFs of articles from the Anti-Slavery Reporter from the early 20th century into searchable plain text files using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. Second, I created digital copies of typed transcriptions of correspondence to Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf’s husband, regarding his work in anti-slavery activism, also from the early 20th century. Both of these projects resulted in the creation of digital humanities datasets, which can be used in many different ways for further scholarship.

Anti-Slavery Reporter Cover

Cover of the October 1909 issue of the Anti-Slavery Reporter

The process for both projects was rewarding but more time-consuming than I had expected. Running OCR, especially, ended up stretching out far longer than I had originally planned due to the level of detailed attention that the process required. While the software converts the PDF to plain text, it is a highly imperfect conversion that gives wildly differing results. Some plain text files were mostly correct, requiring only a few minor edits, while others were almost completely illegible, all the text being symbols and signs rather than words. The longest documents, between fifteen and twenty pages, tended to alternate between correct pages and illegible ones. Often, the shortest documents (one or two pages) would also be illegible and require a complete transcription. Documents that were between three and six pages tended to be the easiest to clean up. Regardless of the quality of the conversion, I had to read through every single plain text file and compare it to its corresponding PDF in order to check for errors. Small mistakes could easily slip through; for example, “be” would often convert as “he” (and vice versa). While this step significantly increased the time spent on this project, it also meant that I became very familiar with the subject matter of these PDFs. The same thing happened with the letter transcription.

Both of these groups of documents revealed to me the kind of discourse being used by British anti-slavery activists in the early 20th century. Although a great deal of outside research would be required for me to better understand the context of the Anti-Slavery Society, and the extent of Leonard Woolf’s engagement with anti-slavery politics, I can make preliminary observations of the considerable amount of text I have read and edited. The strength of conviction that the men of the Society had in their mission is evident in the amount of time, effort, and political maneuvering described in the Reporter. Topics were revisited in each issue of the journal, most notably the “Congo Question”; this allowed me to trace the political developments in the Congo, and to see how the Anti-Slavery Society reacted to them, from 1906 to 1912. It was disheartening to notice, again and again, that although the Society was vehemently against the enslavement of indigenous peoples in European colonies, it did not question the presence of European nations in Africa and other colonized areas, nor did it question the perceived superiority of white European society. The Woolf correspondence, while not directly related to the Society, gave insight into the personal, everyday lives of these anti-slavery activists in Great Britain: who they disliked (e.g., Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland), where they lived, where they ate meals, etc. The letters often included newspaper clippings, revealing a vital method by which these men exchanged information related to their purpose. These letters remind me that communication was much slower and more deliberate a century ago.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.02.38 PM

Scanned image of an ASRAF article before Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.02.03 PM

Text file of the article post-OCR

My work over the summer has helped me tremendously in my post-graduation job search. I am currently working as an intern at a fine art gallery in Houston, TX. My project is to create the database for the entire body of work of a deceased artist, whose estate has come into the hands of the gallery. The process for this includes transcribing the entirety of the hard-copy inventories from the estate’s owner, conducting research on the artist’s life (especially in digital archives), and scanning slides and editing images. In my interview, my work in the RADS department was of particular interest to my employers, one of whom noted that I “seem[ed] to like systems.” The focus of my student worker position on digital archives demonstrated to my employer that I would not only be able to handle the detail-oriented work of this digitization project, but also that I would truly understand the value of it. With the creation of this database, this artist’s work can be viewed, exhibited, and sold internationally. The vast increase in accessibility to knowledge that has been facilitated by digitization initiatives is something I am proud to have been a part of at Southwestern University. I am excited for all of the scholarship, education, and understanding that will arise out of more and more students, interns, and employees engaging in digital projects.

-Rachel Robinson

Teaching with TEI: Encoding the Lizzie Johnson Papers


During the Spring 2016 semester, I taught an English class at Southwestern University titled “Digital Frontiers in American Literature.”  (Check out the Digital Frontiers in American Literature Syllabus here.)  As part of a collaboration with Southwestern’s Smith Library Center Special Collections, our class encoded a selection of letters from the Lizzie Johnson Papers using the Text Encoding Initiative guidelines.  For their indispensable support as I developed this assignment, I’m grateful to Laura Mandell, Sarah Connell, Sarah Stanley, Grace Thomas, and Philip Palmer, my collaborator on the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) micro-grant project “Teaching Digital Approaches to Special Collections: TEI as a Mode of Primary Source Engagement in Undergraduate and MLIS Pedagogies.”

Text encoding enables the creation of digital editions of texts that can be searched and queried based on how they’re marked up.  As Sarah Connell puts it, encoded texts are “texts that know things about themselves.”  Encoding is a highly interpretive process.  People encode texts differently depending on what they think is important to draw out and emphasize.

In our class, students worked in pairs using oXygen XML Editor Academic 12-Month Subscriptions.  Over the course of four in-class TEI lab sessions, students collaborated to transcribe and encode a letter, display their thematically color-coded encodings on TEI Boilerplate, and blog about their results.  I am indebted to Sarah Connell and Sarah Stanley for an assignment they created that was an invaluable model for my assignment.  You can read students’ reflections on the TEI process on our class blog below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 2.30.01 PM.png

Each pair of students started with a digitization of a letter from the Lizzie Johnson Papers.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.44.44 PM

After reading the letter carefully, each pair transcribed their letter in a Google document.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.47.46 PM

They encoded their letter in the oXygen editor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 3.51.41 PM

And they displayed their encodings on TEI Boilerplate using a little bit of project-specific CSS.  (Again, I’m indebted to Encoding the Archive for that bit of assignment brilliance!)

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 4.03.41 PM

The assignment was a success.  It was well-paced: four 1-hour-and-15-minute class sessions was just about exactly the time the class needed to complete it.  Despite some students’ initial apprehensions about the techy-ness of it all, every pair succeeded in generating a valid encoding that they could display on Boilerplate.  According to their blog posts, this was an empowering experience and a fun alternative avenue for literary analysis.  One student, Rachel Robinson, blogged that before the transcription and encoding process, she “primarily noticed the addresses of the author and the receiver, the postmark date, and the general content of the letter, which included references to the Civil War and reports on social life.” Over the course of the assignment, however, she “realized that there were many unanswered questions in the letter.” In the process of encoding the specifics of the letter, Rachel researched a passing reference to a “protracted meeting,” which she learned connected her letter with a fascinating history of 19th-century Protestant revivalism in Texas.  Rachel concluded, “This would be an interesting topic to pursue and see if and how Lizzie’s correspondents or family were involved in this phenomenon.”

The digital humanist in me likes that in addition to enhancing close-reading and serving as a launchpad for research, this assignment provides a subtle introduction to XML and CSS.  Want to experiment with TEI in your own teaching?  Feel free to check out my English 10304 Text Encoding Initiative Project Directions and adapt them for your own purposes!

Archives at the MLA: A Review of Archives-Oriented Panels


Archival study plays an increasingly central role in academic humanities conferences.  The Modern Language Association (MLA) 2016 Conference was no exception to this movement.  Check out my review of archives-oriented MLA panels by clicking below!

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 10.17.56 AM

Archives, Digital Humanities, and the Latina History Project at #MLA16


One of the most dynamic conversations charging the atmosphere at this year’s Modern Language Association (MLA) Convention has to do with how archivists and academics relate to each other, both practically and theoretically.


The excellent panel #s258, “What We Talk about When We Talk about DH: Interdisciplinary Vocabularies,” has been a highlight of the conference so far for me and many other attendees.  Panelist T-Kay Sangwand, Digital Scholarship Librarian at UCLA, encouraged scholars to stop asking “what is the archive?” and to start drawing on terms that have already been established in archival theory.  Angel Nieves, Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Initiative at Hamilton College, on panel #s280 titled “Disrupting the Digital Humanities: New Radical Publics” called for educators to incorporate critical theory into the very foundation of digital humanities projects, rather than “sprinkling” it on top.  (Thanks @ShawnaRoss for tweeting this talk.  See Nieves’ position paper here.)

I presented this morning on panel #s460, “The Digital Humanities and the Archive.”  (Huge thanks to my fellow panelists for a great panel and discussion!)  I used the example of the Latina History Project at Southwestern University as a point of departure for a discussion of role digital archives can play in theoretically informed, community engaged, multidisiplinary higher education.

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 2.08.47 PM

I’ve talked and blogged about the nuts and bolts of the project elsewhere, but in response to calls from the Twittersphere, below I’ve included the part of my talk on the theoretical contributions that the field of archival stewardship has to make to studies in the humanities.  I look forward to continuing the conversation during the rest of the conference and beyond!

On bridging archives and academia:

“I’d like to tap into current scholarship on archives, higher education, and the digital humanities, in order to think about how the encounter with digital archives can enhance critical theoretical engagement in contexts of humanities study. Recent scholarship by Lauren F. Klein, Lisa Darms, and Kate Eichhorn, among others, suggests that there is a rift between archives and academia. Klein, Darms, and Eichhorn all use the term “invisible” to describe the labor of the archivist from the perspective of the academic. Klein considers that “As scholars, we do not see the labor involved in… the development of the encoding standards and database design that allows us to perform our search queries… [T]his digital labor remains not only invisible, but also unacknowledged by most humanities scholars.” In an editorial introduction to the latest issue of Archive Journal, archivist Darms reinforces the point that archival processes and practices remain “invisible to the theorists most likely to write about [them],” while co-editor Eichhorn validates concerns archivists have expressed about “their invisibility in contemporary scholarly, activist, and artistic discourses on archives.” Eichhorn regrets that the archival turn (so expertly theorized in her own seminal book on the topic in terms of feminist studies) is enacted by academics in such a way as to “celebrate ‘the archive’ and all the things that ‘the archive’ apparently encompasses (politics, desire, longing, death, memory, history, and list goes on) in lieu of grappling with the material questions that archival practices invariably raise.” Is archival practice so alienated from humanist theory?

Certainly, it is crucial that scholars cultivate awareness of and respect for the labor that enables access to archives as the raw material of humanities inquiry. Projects such as the LHP and the proliferation of others like it do important work to expose a rising generation of scholars to the work, craft, and expertise involved in the archiving process. Yet to bridge the perceived divide between archivists and academics, it is also necessary to recognize the theoretical contributions that the field of archival stewardship has to make to studies in the humanities. The notion that archivists operate “outside academe,” as Eichhorn terms it, fails to account for a growing field of scholarship produced by archivists and associated archives and library staff that intersects with the digital humanities, race and ethnicity studies, and feminist studies, among other fields. I resist the idea that the material conditions and practical pressures that impact archival work impede unique theoretical perspectives on the scope and significance of the archive. On the contrary, it is exactly these material conditions that premise some of the most socially and theoretically engaged work in the field of archival practice today, with implications for humanities study.

Archival practice has long encompassed scholarly and teaching components, but the designation in 2012 of an annual pedagogy issue in the Oral History Review, as well as recent pedagogically-focused articles in RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage, American Archivist, and Libraries and the Academy, suggest increasingly important roles for archives and archival stewardship practices in higher education. Scholars such as Douglas A. Boyd, Janice W. Fernheimer, and Rachel Dixon suggest that involving undergraduates in digital archival stewardship allows students to grasp the interpretive nature of metadata creation, which is an important exercise in critical thinking. Jill Goodman Gould and Gail Gradowski, in an article titled “Using Online Video Oral Histories to Engage Students in Authentic Research,” indicate that guiding students in incorporating oral histories in multimedia projects provides an engaging exposure to primary sources that equips students with skills in information literacy and primary source research—both areas marked by experts as priorities in twenty-first century higher education. And Douglas A. Boyd and Mary A. Larson emphasize that participating in oral history initiatives provides students with opportunities to hone skills in collaboration and curation, both key principles of digital humanities practice.

A related body of scholarship points out the utility of digital oral history stewardship methods not only for teaching, but for community-driven research, as well. Fresh takes on archival provenance informed by critical theory, such as Joel Wurl’s work on ethnicity and Michelle Caswell’s on survivor status as forms of provenance, emphasize the values of multiplicity, counter-narrative, and the contingent, constructed nature of historical narratives. In our work on the Latina History Project, the very process of “grappling with the material questions [of] archival practice” has exposed students to the ethics and politics of archival provenance, which in turn has meaningfully informed our examinations of analogous issues of representation, privilege, and inequality in studies of Latina history. Moreover, training students in digital archival stewardship offers an intimate encounter with the theoretical notion that values and ideology are embedded in the acts of curation and metadata creation. This exposure allows a natural transition into broader conceptions of constructed, contingent nature of history and memory making.

With the central question, as Lisa Darms formulates it—“how we can become better collaborators?”—guiding contemporary archival practice, it is clear that digital oral history stewardship has something to offer the community-engaged digital humanities classroom not only in terms of digital skill-building, but also in terms of education in critical theory. Feminist and critical race theoretical perspectives provide useful guidance for reading archives against the grain, between the lines, and with an eye to perspectives that are not represented, in order to contend with the legacy of archives as institutions of hegemonic power that represent the interests of groups that dominate in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, and/or class. In archiving and curation processes for the Latina History Project, the theory and practicalities of digital archival stewardship are heavily entwined. Students have opportunities to apply critical theoretical principles they are learning in class to an immediate context. If, as archives theorist Joel Wurl proposes, an archived community is an enfranchised community, student collaborators gained an immersion in the causal relationship between oral history documentation and the conditions of social equality. Digital archival practice thus has an important role to play in interdisciplinary higher education attuned both to digital skill-building and to currents in critical theory.”


The Latina History Project Goes Live!


The digital exhibit component of the Southwestern University Latina History Project has been under construction since fall 2014 as contributors researched, identified, digitized, described, and contextualized primary sources pertaining to SU’s Latina histories.  Our site remains a work in progress, but we are happy to unveil it at this juncture!

Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 2.08.47 PM.png

Click above to explore Items, Collection, and Exhibits related to the 1992 photography exhibit “Rostros y Almas/Faces and Souls,” which featured portraits by San Antonio photographer Mary Jessie Garza of influential Central Texas Latinas.  Congratulations to student workers Tori Vasquez, Nani Romero, and Stephanie Garcia for their hard (and ongoing!) work on this exhibit.  Special thanks to LHP faculty directors Dr. Brenda Sendejo and Alison Kafer for their support, and thanks also to Dr. Sendejo’s fall Anthropology students for their contributions to the site.

Starting a Tiki-Toki Timeline


*UPDATE May 12, 2016: This updated Tiki-Toki Lab, which I generated for my Spring 2016 class, reflects revisions and updates to the Tiki-Toki help document linked below.


Tiki-Toki is a free online platform for building digital, multimedia timelines.  Tiki-Toki timelines look good–there’s a pleasing wow-factor to a well-formed Tiki-Toki showcased on an overhead projector. Tiki-Toki is also a great choice for student projects that include and interpret digitized primary sources, since, like the digital curation platform Omeka, Tiki-Toki has privacy settings.  Students can set their timelines to “private,” sharing them only with their instructor and classmates.  This means that students can freely explore and draw from digital primary source collections such as the Digital Public Library of America, the Library of Congress Digital Collections, and the New York Public Library Digital Collections, without worrying about securing permissions to put digital images online.

I created this help document to guide students through the process of setting up a Tiki-Toki timeline, including establishing privacy settings.  The document stands on its own as a set of general guidelines, but it can also be tailored for specific assignments.  Feel free to adopt and adapt for your own purposes!

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 11.38.36 AM

Starting Your Tiki-Toki Timeline