Bridget Sullivan Print Project Proposal

In recent years, museums and archives have made a concerted effort to take advantage of digital media in connecting with public audiences. These institutions have undertaken a multitude of projects to make their collection available to a greater audience through digital access to these types of collections. For my print project, I would like to take a closer look at some of these approaches to presenting historic material culture to a public audience and how digitization efforts have affected the way that the public engages with historical narratives through material culture.


Specifically, I would like to focus on the digital offerings of the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Historically, these are two of the most widely used research facilities for American history. As such, they have fallen into the category of most archives, which tend to discourage visitation from anyone outside of serious historical researchers. There is little opportunity to explore the holdings of these types of institutions and they can even be intimidating for newer researchers.


However, digitization has broken down the barrier between the public and these repositories of American public knowledge. Both have taken great strides to make portions of their collections available to all types of researchers through the Internet. Further, these efforts have been targeted at different audiences. The National Archives and the Library of Congress have both made documents and finding aids available through general search features of their websites. However, they have also gone beyond the basics of digitization. Each has created online offerings that are more suited to general exploration of their collections, as opposed to research with a specific focus and mission.


The National Archives offers the Digital Vaults, a way to digitally wander through their collections. Documents are linked by categorical tagging. It also allows explorers the ability to create their own collections of documents and artifacts that are interesting to them. Similarly, the Library of Congress has created MyLOC. Explorers can register for their own account and create collections of interest to them. These collections can incorporate all aspects of the website, including general information about visiting the Library of Congress as well as online exhibits.  


I will compare and contrast these two sites, focusing on the audiences they target and the various pathways these audiences have to interact with the collections of these institutions. Additionally, I will address how the ability to interact with collections online has affected the demographics of those who take an interest in these collections.

2 Replies to “Bridget Sullivan Print Project Proposal”

  1. Nice proposal. I would also suggest carefully looking at the “about” pages on these sites and incorporating those into your consideration. These pages provide you with a great idea of what the institutions are asserting that their collections and or interfaces are intended for.

  2. Bridget-
    Your project sounds interesting. I am Peter Holdsworth, a first year Public History M. A. student at Carleton University, and am taking our digital history seminar #HIST 5702x. My research, using network theory analysis to analyze the centennial commemoration of the War of 1812 in Ontario/Canada at the turn of the twentieth-century would not be possible without the move to digitize documents for public consumption that you are touching upon with your project. I see a similar trend in online exhibits and collections here in Canada, especially at Library and Archives Canada (the Canadian national archives and Library of Congress of sorts) and at the Archives of Ontario. Such exhibits often feature popular topics such as the War of 1812. What I generally see though is that they offer set narratives that use the collection and direct you to key fonds for further research. There are search functions that will bring up digitized forms of items in the collections as well, but this is less prominent on the institutions’ websites.
    It would be interesting to see how in your analysis the programs and digital collections you mention have shaped your interpretation of their documents and images. This could be contrasted with letting the public chose, possibly using the two Canadian institution’s websites and collections as a comparative model to inform your study. Another angle you could take in this project, particularly if you want to look at demographics, is to compare the two governmental institutions to the American Libraries Collection of the internet start-up and digital archives , Internet Archive. This archive works on a different principle than a national archives (more along the lines of open access and Wikipedia) and is possibly more welcoming to first time researchers than the National Archives’ digitizing. I have been using their Canadian Collection to access the annual reports of one of the key organizations I am analyzing (the Ontario Historical Society). This has certainly simplified things for me since the physical books and documents are scattered in a number of national and university libraries.
    I hope my comments can be of some help to your paper proposal and wish you well on your intriguing project.

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