Bracero History & Shelley-Godwin Archives Practicum

Hi everyone and welcome to the world of digital archives! I am sure we are all familiar with a variety of different digital archives, with different topics, tools, and setups, but today we are looking at the Bracero History Archive and the Shelley-Godwin Archive. These have quite different topics yet both are fairly straightforward and user-friendly.

The Bracero History Archive

First, the Bracero History archive is part of a collaborative effort from different universities and institutions, most notably the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, to document the history of the Bracero guest worker program. This program involved millions of Mexican agricultural workers coming to the United States as guest workers between 1942-1964. With an online archive, these contributors, including community members, could upload and make accessible the history of these workers, which was especially important due to a previous lack of source material and an underrepresentation in historical research.

Home page of the Bracero History Archive

The archive itself was created on Omeka and is fairly aesthetically simplistic. There is an option to view the whole archive in Spanish. From the main page, the first tab you can click on is the archive, which has a way to view all of their items (with 3,209 total!), as well as images, documents, oral histories, and contributed items specifically. The archive’s specialty is its oral histories, as there are 737 currently available, with interviews of the braceros themselves, as well as their wives and families. Many of the interviews are conducted in Spanish and some are conducted in English, especially ones with younger generations of family members.

Oral history section of the archive

Another strength of the archive is its availability of teaching materials and a lengthy bibliography of secondary sources on the Bracero program for educators and researchers interested in learning more (in the tabs Teaching and History). The archive also seeks contributions from the community itself as there are videos and documents leading someone through how to submit materials with access to the archive’s Omeka page (in the tab Resources). There is even a Contributed Items section of the archive where these materials (there are 47 items here) came from the public. The archive also clarifies which sources are which with a comment at the top of these items: “This item was contributed by a user and has not been curated by a project historian.”

An example of one of the contributed items

Lastly, there is also further information about the Bracero program, the staff involved in the project, and the site, virtual, and collecting partners that helped this project come to life. Overall, it is apparent that many different institutions came together to create this digital archive in order to help ensure that the Bracero program was documented in a digital space. I would argue that a digital archive fits this project well for a few reasons: it seeks to include contributions from different institutions and individuals in one digital space, the site houses its hundreds of oral histories, and it is able to provide further resources for those interested in delving more into Bracero history.

The Shelley-Godwin Archive

Now to Frankenstein. No, seriously, my next digital archive is the Shelley-Godwin Archive, which houses digitized manuscripts of the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft and her husband William Godwin, as well as their daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley. The archive calls them “England’s First Family of Writers” yet perhaps the most popular is Mary Shelley for authoring Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. The archive is a partnership between the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, as well as other contributors, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Impressively, “in total, these partners libraries contain over 90% of all known relevant manuscripts.”

Home page of the archive

From the home page, you can delve straight into exploring the archive, but our first stop is the About page, where we get a deeper look into the development of the project and a brief biography of the Shelley-Godwins. Next, the Explore the Archive page lists each of the works and manuscripts available for use, which are arranged by title and then by manuscript shelf mark.

For example, if you click on the Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus link, it will take you to a brief description of the work, a few secondary sources on it, the manuscripts of the work available on the archive, and a timeline of Mary Shelley’s writing process, with links to the different manuscript drafts and copies in the archive. From the page of a certain piece of work, or back on the Explore the Archive page, you can discover the manuscripts available. One of these is Bodleian MS. Abinger c. 56, which is from one of the notebooks Shelley used to draft Frankenstein.

A view of one of Mary Shelley’s digitized manuscripts

When you click on one of the pages, you get to perhaps the most distinctive and interactive part of the digital archive. You can see above an example from the same Bodleian MS Abinger c. 56 manuscript. For each page, you can see both Shelley’s original handwriting and a transcription of what she wrote. There are many interesting things you can do on this page, such as view it as metadata or have it highlight either what Shelley wrote or what her husband commented on the pages in each step of the writing process.

One thing I do want to mention is that the availability of metadata and transcriptions depends on the manuscript. While Frankenstein has extensive transcriptions available in order to view the tools I mentioned, others, such as a few of William Godwin’s pieces, have much more limited or even no transcriptions. There are even a few pieces of work that are listed yet are only shown “in the physical order of the manuscript leaves.”

Moving on, the search function is currently off as they are switching to a different system. On the last tab Using the Shelley-Godwin Archive you can see their old search system in the tutorial video and it appears to be a pretty classic search setup, with ways to refine your results and a view of the search terms in the different works. The Using the Archive page also has tips for accessing the materials and tutorials for how to use the different features of the archive.

Overall, I was pretty impressed by this archive and it was interesting to view one that was focused on literature and manuscripts of famous writers rather than a historical topic. I particularly enjoyed the way you could view manuscripts with both the original writings and the transcription, which helped the piece come alive and showed the progress of each writer’s work.

I had to include a Frankenstein gif…

To conclude, these were both interesting examples of digital archives and ones I could see being useful for research projects, educational programs, and personal use. The Bracero archive highlighted its collaborative approach to documenting Bracero history, especially within its oral history projects. The Shelley-Godwin archive had distinctive tools and ways of visualizing these writer’s works as they transitioned from the drafts to the final piece.

5 Replies to “Bracero History & Shelley-Godwin Archives Practicum”

  1. Hi! Thank you for your detailed breakdown of these archives! I found the Braceo Archive very interesting. I love that it was made on Omeka and that readers can chose to view the entire thing in Spanish! That’s amazing and I had no idea omeka could do this. I also personally loved that they included a Contributed Items section that houses the people’s contributions of those that this affected, which I think is invaluable in history and in something like this. I’m curious if you had a preference between the two?

    1. Hi Claire! I really enjoyed exploring both of these archives, but as a big literature enthusiast, I thought the tools of the Shelley-Godwin archive were especially fascinating. It was super cool to play around with the different digital manuscripts to see the author’s original writings and the transcription alongside each other, which is something you might not be able to engage with regularly when reading a classic text.

  2. Hi Claudia, thank you for these demonstrations. Like Claire I was interested to see that The Bracero History Archive was built out using Omeka. It is useful to continue to see examples of what the system can do (in conjunction with the readings we previously did on Omeka). I think the bilingual nature of The Bracero History Archive is so important due to the history itself. However, it got me thinking about ways that digital archives can expand accessibility. As a historian, I was always interested in Soviet Union history, but I didn’t speak or read Russian, and therefore didn’t feel I could pursue a Ph.D. in this specialized area. However, examples such as the Bracero History Archive (again being cognizant that the history itself expounded the U.S. / Mexico border and therefore English / Spanish language) gets me excited about the potential of digital archives being more accessible on the basis of language.

    1. Rosie, I agree with your thoughts about the accessibility in having the archive also available in Spanish, for those either interested in research on the topic or especially for those with personal connections to the program. Oral histories is another unique thing to consider the effect of language differences, especially because most of the interviews are conducted in Spanish and like you said, perhaps an interested researcher might not be able to use these resources (and I am realizing I forgot to mention I do not see transcriptions on the website).

  3. hi claudia, i think you did a wonderful job showcasing these archives. I like the Shelley-Godwin archives use of digital text alongside the original manuscript, as it allows for the tangible object to be displayed while offering the writing in a mode that is easier to read and digest. I think that this method can also be a stepping stone for using text-to-speech technology and therefore increasing its accessibility further.

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