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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.