Archive of Immigrant Voices: Final Project Reflection

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For my project I created the Archive of Immigrant Voices using Omeka. Created in 2012 by the Center for the History of the New America (a history department center for which I am one of two graduate assistants), the Archive has remained largely undeveloped. Currently, the Center owns ten oral histories, all conducted as part of an undergraduate final project for the UMD course HIST428N Immigrant Life Stories: An Oral History Practicum (held Spring 2014 and sponsored by the Center—more of these from an additional class are forthcoming), yet only one was uploaded to the Archive.

 

After creating the new Archive page on Omeka, my initial plan was to upload all ten of the oral histories (with tags, metadata, and transcripts), create an about page, an education page (including one lesson plan), and pages on conducting oral history and immigration history. All four of these pages and a sample lesson plan were created. Only five oral histories, however, are currently included in the Archive.

The education and immigration history pages were of particular importance to my supervisor, executive director of the Center, Dr. Katarina Keane. I brainstormed many ideas with Dr. Keane about what kinds of resources and information we wanted to include on the site in order to effectively convey the place of the Archive within the mission of the Center, and highlight the importance of contemporary immigration history. In order to meet these goals, we settled on offering on the immigration history page a basic background overview of the significance of post-1965 immigration and the role of the Archive in sharing individual stories of contemporary immigration. Within this page, I also chose to include additional information and web links on immigration history, other immigration centers and programs, and a recommended bibliography. The choice was made to include links and information like this so that users could investigate immigration/migration history further without being overwhelmed by a long historical narrative.

On the education page I decided to provide an overview of the education mission of the Center, and the ways in which the Center, and now the Archive, are fulfilling this mission. While contributing to the goals of the Center, the Archive itself is focused particularly on oral history, so I wanted the Archive education page to reflect that. Because of this I chose to include links for educators to other immigration/migration oral history projects and lesson plans, and information on the Archive’s plans for future education resources along with a sample lesson plan that includes objectives aligned with C3 standards.

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The oral histories themselves were the most challenging—and surprisingly time-consuming—aspect of this project. While I originally hoped to upload all ten of the interviews, space constraints within the webpage, along with incomplete metadata information, prevented me from doing this. In the end, I have currently uploaded five interviews. I included tags and metadata for all five of these. They are all, however, in different formats, and some do not have transcriptions. Others that I chose to not upload were video interviews (requiring more space) and/or did not include any metadata.

Throughout the process, Dr. Keane, my fellow graduate assistant, and other graduate students in the history department, used the website and offered advice on how to improve layout and content. From these comments, I worked to simplify titles of pages, rearrange content, and edit down wordy background information. I was unable, however, to do any user testing of the website and lesson plan with educators. At a Smithsonian-led interdisciplinary meeting on education a few weeks ago (for a different project I am working on for the Center) I was able to speak with multiple public school K-12 educators and administrators on the particulars of effective lesson plans and resources. Dr. Kathy Swan, associate professor of social studies at the University of Kentucky and co-author of the newest version of the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards, spoke with me at length about what educators actually need/want in lesson plans and resources from cultural institutions, subject experts, etc. She adamantly argued that these kinds of educational tools should provide teachers a framework for instruction and incorporate content in different ways, but they do not have to align directly with state or national standards. The teachers themselves should be able to do this, she argued. Because of this, I edited my lesson plan to also include objectives not explicitly aligned with standards, but instead highlighting the specific content within the chosen oral history and larger questions about immigration and migration. Dr. Swan also explained that the C3 stresses inquiry and critical thinking as the most important social studies skills for K-12 education. Because of these, I worked to make sure that these overarching skills were present throughout the lesson plan and will serve as central ideas governing further educational resources created by the Center.

Moving forward, I plan to work with Dr. Keane and Prof. Castillo on collecting further metadata for the rest of the interviews, as well as alter the size of files to improve access. Compressing the audio/video files to much smaller mp3 files will standardize the formats and allow for additional interviews to be uploaded. Dr. Keane and I have also discussed paying for additional space and plugins from Omeka in order to accommodate more interviews and allow users to contribute their own oral histories. I also hope to create additional lesson plans for other grade levels and engage public school teachers, and undergraduate professors in user testing. More feedback from users on the oral histories themselves (exploring them, listening, contributing interviews, etc.) will also be helpful in improving the Archive as it grows.

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