Digital History Project Draft- Project Plaque: American University

A few months ago, the Student Historical Society was 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 asked for a simple list, this project had the potential to translate well into a digital project which would grant more people access to the collection. Detailed below is my progress in this endeavor with links attached to each portion of Project Plaque: American University.

In my initial project pitch, I contemplated the question: what counts as a plaque? For example, since AU is an arboretum (still a fun fact!), all of the trees are labeled with their species and accompanying information. Does this count? I decided that the plaques on the tree would not count, unless there was a dedication to someone’s life on them. I found at least two or three with these dedications. This was something that I did not expect to find. I also found some spacing errors or even typos on some of the plaques, which was interesting to see. Ultimately, I experienced my campus in a new way by collecting this data.

First though, I had to find all of the plaques around American University’s main campus, excluding the Spring Valley Building and the Law School. I further set parameters that all plaques collected would be those outside. One day, I would like for the plaques to be collected on all campuses, both indoors and outdoors. To be honest, I am not entirely sure if I found all of them, but I have 52 readily available for you to look at! I took these photos on an iPhone 7, so as to collect the latitude and longitudinal coordinates through features on iPhoto. Unfortunately, I did not realize that my location settings specifically for my camera were off. I will have to retake these photos, however I intended to so anyways since some pictures uploaded strangely to the digital platforms of Omeka and Wikimedia Commons. I also transcribed all of the information on the plaques, which can be found in every description.

Second, the pictures of the plaques and their accompanying information were turned into a living collection online through the use of Omeka.  The information included at this point is mostly the transcription of the plaques, as well as some additional contextual pictures. Eventually, I would love to collaborate further with the Archives to link their resources or any other additional information they have on the topics. For my online collection, I used 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 this was not the reality, I uploaded the pictures to Wikimedia Commons as well. Since each photo was uploaded individually, I could not get the same effect with the contextual pictures as I did with Omeka so I created both versions of the collection. The specific location is also not as accurate as it will be soon; again, I will retake these photos to collect this metadata. Additionally, I plan to link all of the Omeka information to the Wikimedia Commons entries and vice versa.

My larger goal is to present these deliverables to the Archives so they will have usable digital collections of all of the plaques around the main campus to add to for years to come. Perhaps this project will expand to all campuses of American University as well. I hope this project can further foster a relation with the Archives so I can better research the origins and people behind these plaques.

Audience Questions:

  • Did I miss any plaques you can think of/have seen?
  • Should any additional information be provided?
  • Were all of the labels easy to understand/could be searchable (I realize as an AU student, I may understand and describe the plaques differently than someone with no knowledge of the campus)?
  • Any further comments or suggestions?

One Reply to “Digital History Project Draft- Project Plaque: American University”

  1. Congrats on how well this project is coming together! Documenting all of these plaques is a ton of work and it’s clear that you have pulled together a lot of metadata for all of them too. It looks like the project is coming together nicely. I’m not sure if the free version of Omeka supports this, but I think it may. It would be great to add in an About page to your site where you could give some background and context on the project and your work on it.

    Given the way Omeka works, it might be worth thinking about organizing the plaques into some collections. That is, you could organize them into historical periods, or based on their subjects. That would help make that home page for the Omeka site more engaging and also help to prompt more ways for visitors to explore the collection you have put together.

    I think it’s a great idea to link out all your Omeka pages to the places on Wikimedia Commons where you uploaded images of the plaques too.

    It is going to be really neat when you have all of these in a format where you can see them on a map!

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