Digital Project Proposal: Historic Plaques of American University

With the inauguration of President Burwell in a few months, American University is planning ways to celebrate not just our new president but 125 years of AU history. As an e-board member of the Student Historical Society (SHS), we were approached by the American University Archives to collect information on all of the plaques on campus that have commemorated different events, people, and organizations throughout the years. While they just wanted a simple list, this project has the opportunity to become digital. I will execute the following plan before the festivities begin in April, 2018.

First, I will collect the information asked of the SHS for the Archives that will include the location of the plaques and any other details found on the plaque through an Excel spreadsheet. Pictures will be taken to visualize the plaques digitally and will have the exact latitude and longitudinal coordinates through features on iPhoto. Furthermore, the plaques will be transcribed. This brings me to question: what counts as a plaque? Since AU is an arboretum (fun fact!), all of the trees are labeled with their species and accompanying information. Does this count? I will decided these limitations based on the information the Archives specifically wants collected. Additional background information of who/what/where/why these plaques were created might not be available to the public. Thus, I will dig deeper by conducting research at the Archives. In general, this project will be partnering with the work done by the SHS and the Archives at large.

Second, this information will be turned into a living collection online through the use of Omeka. Each picture in the collection will have the information noted above in one place for the Archives to use for future reference. One example of a similar project that I will use for inspiration explores the Historic Plaques of Ontario, but this is just a demo site. Furthermore, I will be using the free version of Omeka. If I were to gain funding for this project I would buy the Silver package on Omeka to utilize the geo location plugin to create a map attachment. Since I don’t have funding at this time, I will use Google my maps to execute this additional feature to the collection. This technology as been used before, for example through a compilation of historic plaques by the Society of Historical Preservation of Greenwich Village. Through Google my maps, the various plaques will be linked through points to locate the specific monument with exact latitude and longitude from the pictures. This will provide users during the Inauguration festivities to easily find plaques from where their sorority donated a tree to where JFK gave his speech in 1963.

As of now, there will be a day in April (TBA) where alumni and current students are invited to partake in a sort of history walk that will be staffed by student ambassadors that will relay the history of AU. My project will serve as an additional interactive component advertised before everyone arrives through emails and flyers on campus. The flyers will include a QR code that can take the audience to either the Omeka site or Google my maps, depending on interest. After these events, these sites will act as a new collection for the Archives to use and maintain in the future.


I will evaluate the success of this project through Google Analytics by examining the traffic of these websites over the course of the week of the Inauguration activities. While this project will be aimed for this audience during this week, my larger goal is that the Archives will have a usable digital collection of all of the plaques around campus to add to for years to come.

Suggestions are always appreciated, especially if there is a better way to technologically format this project!

2 Replies to “Digital Project Proposal: Historic Plaques of American University”

  1. This is a nicely focused project. It’s great that you have a built in audience and a clear end user/client to do the work for in the University Archives. I think building this out in Omeka makes a lot of sense. With that noted, I think there is also good reason to consider uploading your images and text to Wikimedia Commons as a platform for getting your content further used and reused online.

    I’d offer a few points of advice as you get started in this. First off, I would suggest trying the whole thing out end to end. That is, go and take a few photos of plaques, set up your omeka instance, and work through the process of putting up a few. Do that as soon as possible. That is going to give you a sense of the work involved and it’s also going to help you get a sense of which metadata fields/profiles you want to use for the site. Once you’ve done that, I would also suggest that you set up a spreadsheet to organize the info on all of the plaques and that you then get a minimal inventory of the full set you are going to try and do. That will help you get a sense of how much time you are going to need to put in to get everything together.

    If/when you think about crafting a tour through these various place markers, it would be good to step back a bit and think through what kind of argument/interpretation you want to craft about the history of the institution. The plaques themselves offer a perspective and a story, however, you’re approach to sequencing them and providing context on them is going to offer another layer for you to provide a narrative about the history of the campus.

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