Practicum- Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond

This digital collection is part of the Library of Congress and it presents a long history of the academic exploration of the Universe. The collection was built on the foundation of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan archive, but by including many other historical works it situates Sagan and others within a historical context. This archive has a wide variety of both physical collection items that have been digitized for easy access, and articles and essays from both Sagan and a variety of other authors.

The starting page of this collection is actually one of the three top tabs used to maneuver through the archive. You start out in the “collection items” area of the archive but you can use these tabs to go to the “articles and essays” section or “about this collection”. However, if you stay in the collection items you can refine your search using the categories on the left. These include the format, date, and location of the item, what collection is the item part of, the contributor, the subject, and the language. Looking through all this I went to Subject and under that I clicked on Extraterrestrial Life. I then scrolled down until I saw a manuscript called “The Evolution of Interstellar Space Flight” by Carl Sagan.

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This was made by Carl Sagan in the mid 1940s, when he was around the age of 13. It describes a few of the early developments in space travel including the Nazi V-2 program and the early American and Soviet efforts to get into space.

If you leave collection items and go to articles and essays there are three subject areas to explore, Modeling the Cosmos, Life on Other Worlds, and Carl Sagan and the Tradition of Science. You can move through these sections to read essays about different aspects about the development of science in respect to space exploration. The section on Life on Other Worlds also gives a cultural viewpoint on what people were thinking about space in the past. I uses paintings, maps, and movie posters to show what people have thought about when looking towards the stars.

This digital collection also includes teaching resources and expert resources which can both be found by looking to the left sidebar. These include advice for lesson plans and primary sources while also giving easy links to some of Sagan’s papers. As well as the digitized printed material, this collection also has audio and visual materials that you can search by using the search function at the top of the page.

Overall this collection is somewhat intimidating by its size and scope and it forces visitors to explore the collection in order to figure out all the search tools. I think that the overall layout could be improved to make it more user friendly. For example, instead of just having the start page be the “collection items”, a page giving links about general subject areas would be helpful. Having an opening page with a site map and links to general subject areas like Carl Sagan’s work or the history of astronomy would make the collection much more accessible to visitors.

Practicum: The Shelley-Godwin Archive

Hi everyone! This week I will be showing you how to use the Shelley-Godwin Archive. This online archive, created by the New York Public Library and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, catalogs over 90% of known handwritten manuscripts relating to the Shelley-Godwin family. It also features a relatively easy-to-use platform and search functions to make research a breeze. As someone who majored in English in undergrad with a strong focus on Romanticism and the Romantic poets, this archive was super interesting to explore!

Off the bat, the archive features 5 highlighted tabs on the top of the page for easy navigation– “Home”, “About”, “Explore the Archive”, “Search”, and “Using the Archive.” I will be going through each and explaining its contents in this post.

The five front tabs featured on the Shelley-Godwin Archive.

The home page serves as the main landing site for the archive and includes introductory information on the database’s contents. This page is a good place to start if you know you want to use the archive, but are not sure yet on what to look up.

On the left, the main page features a short “About the Archive” section that is a shortened version of the introduction posted under the “About” tab. It also features a link to the “Using the Archive” tab page and to a short introductory video on how to use the database. Finally, an “Explore the Archive” icon is posted underneath the “About the Archive” section. This takes you to the “Explore the Archive” tab, which will be discussed later on in this post.

A look at the archive’s home page

There are two areas where featured archive documents are suggested– on a top banner slider and to the right side of the page under a “Featured Works” section. While the top banner focuses more on drafts of works and information on each of the writers within the Shelley-Godwin family, the featured works section shows completed works of the authors (for example, Frankenstein or Prometheus Unbound). Clicking on one of these works will bring you to the writing’s corresponding dedicated database page. This page features a short background on the writing and a dropdown menu with documents relating to the work, as well as fair copies of the work itself.

The About tab explores more into the legacy of the Shelley-Godwin family and explains the reasoning behind the project. This page is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about the Shelley-Godwin family in general and their influence on English literature. Next, the technological infrastructure of the database is listed, as well as the reasoning behind the technological choices used.

The About page also lists contributors to the database as well as encoding contributors, or people who have worked on the technological side of maintaining the archive.

Under the “Explore the Archive” tab, users have the choice to browse the archive by work or by manuscript.

The Explore the Archive tab categorizes archive materials between “By Work” (left) and” By Manuscript” (right). Accessing a work by manuscript will show you page sequences in the order they are in in the actual manuscript, while accessing a page by work will show you pages in the order they appear in linear sequence the particular work (such as by acts or chapters). Clicking on a particular work (such as in the picture, Caleb Williams (William Godwin) or Bodleian MS, Abinger c.56) will bring you to the dedicated database page for that work.

Now, let’s explore these dedicated database pages a little more. As I stated before, each database page for a work includes a short introductory explanation of the work and its significance in the larger world of literature. On the bottom of a database page, you will find thumbnails of the manuscript’s scans. Clicking on these will bring you to a reader page, which will be explained in more detail later. On the right sidebar of the dedicated database pages are a plethora of possible helpful links depending on what text you are looking at. For example, academic resources corresponding to the work, reconstituted sequences that can be formed by linking several related manuscripts together to tell an overall story, or a link to other manuscripts a text is found in can be found here.

A closer look at the database pages. On the left, an introduction to the text and its significance is available. On the right sidebar (in red), helpful links to additional scholarly resources and corresponding manuscripts are posted. These links vary based on the text the database page is about.

Now let’s look at the reader pages. Clicking on a thumbnail of a manuscript scan will direct you to a reader page, which lines the manuscript’s scan up with a text translation.. There are also options on the top of the reader window. These options are “search translation”, zoom in and out (of scanned image), flip scanned image, “view image only” and”view text only.” On the top of the page, important information about the scan including the author, date written, title, state (draft/published), and institution where the manuscript is located is available.

The reader page for a scan from the Volume I draft of Frankenstein. This page allows the user to zoom in and out of the scan, search the text written, and view a typed translation of the scan.

As of the writing of this article, the search function, typically available by clicking on the “Search” tab, is no longer running as the website transitions to a new system. Because of this, browsing is limited to the tabs listed on the “Explore the Archive” page. However, based on the site’s introductory video, it seems like this function would have allowed users to search for specific manuscripts as well as search for particular words within a text.

Finally, the Using the Archive tab explains detailed instructions on how to use the database. If you are interested in exploring more about the Shelley-Godwin database, I would definitely suggest starting here! On this page there is a video that explains more in-depth instructions on using the archive as well as explanations on each of the site’s features.

Overall, the Shelley-Godwin Archive is an excellent place to research and explore more about the works of the Shelley-Godwin family. While the archive is definitely still an ongoing project, it still is an easy-to-use online resource for taking a closer look at these manuscripts. If you are a fan of Romanticism or just a literature lover in general, it’s certainly a treat to spend some time exploring the site!

–Claudia Faith Santa Anna

Practicum: Audacity for Digital History Projects

Audio set-up

We have officially made it halfway through the semester! Last week’s proposal pitches highlighted our wide-ranging research interests. I was impressed to see some of the proposals included tools that had been introduced in previous practicums. There were a few proposals that plan on using audio and/or video elements so I am very eager to discuss an open-source audio software called Audacity.

Audacity is an audio editing program that is completely free and available to download on Windows, Mac, and Linux. This program does not have as many advanced features as other audio editing software since it is an open-source program. However, the features that are included are comparable and often exceed competitive software such as Adobe Audition. I was first introduced to Audacity while working in the Innovative Media department (The Workshop) at VCU Libraries. One of my job responsibilities was training students, staff, and faculty on how to operate the equipment and software in the audio studio, video studio, and makerspace. Most library patrons preferred using Audacity because it was much easier to produce high-quality projects in less time. Also, the program imports and exports audio files such as MP3 and WAV.

You can download the software onto your computer by visiting

Audio recordings can be used on numerous types of digital history projects including oral history projects, field recordings, and podcasts. The results of an audio project are reliant on the audio quality, so it is important to select a high-quality microphone prior to recording any project. You can borrow microphones and other audiovisual equipment for research projects by visiting the lower level of Bender Library. The full list of AV equipment can be found here .

Note: It is very difficult, if not impossible to edit grainy audio recordings.

As mentioned previously, Audacity can import and export some of the most common audio types such as MP3 and WAV. If you plan to record your audio project using an iPhone, iPad, or other Apple device then you will need to download additional plugins since the file type associated with Apple devices is M4A.  Here’s a link to a quick tutorial on how to import M4A files.

Once you have uploaded your audio recordings then you can begin editing multiple audio files. If you are planning on recording a podcast, then using multiple audio files is a very common practice. The next time you listen to your favorite podcast, pay close attention to any music, or sounds that you hear other than the speaker(s). These sounds are usually much lower than the speaker. The intentional decision of adding background music or sound effects adds the illusion of depth. I learned about this technique when working with Virginia-based public radio producer, Kelley Libby on an NPR story. You can listen to the interview here. Kelley used a combination of field recording and studio recording to create this piece on the research that I had conducted at James Madison’s Montpelier.

While there can be more artistic control with podcasts that is not always the case with oral history projects. Many oral history projects are associated with academic or cultural institutions. In the assigned reading for this week’s class, Dr. Doug Boyd of the University of Kentucky noted the benefits of partnering with an archival institution when publishing an oral history project.

The University of Kentucky’s library has an extensive oral history collection which has interviews dating back to 1973. I have spent time exploring UK Libraries various databases including the Lonnie B. Nunn Center for Oral History collection.  During a trip to Kentucky in 2017, I met one of the oldest living relatives in my family named Alfonso Vance. Alfonso Vance served in World War II, and he was the oldest living nephew of my great grandmother. I spent an hour with Alfonso and his wife Juanita discussing various topics from his childhood in Henderson, Kentucky to his experiences of residing in Germany with his wife during the war. While I can still vividly recall the shared stories, they were not recorded. I had planned to return to Kentucky and bring my recording equipment the following summer, but it turned out that my first meeting with Alfonso Vance was also my last meeting because he passed away the following year.

When I revisited the UK Libraries website, I came across oral histories from 1980s of other natives of Henderson, Kentucky. The structure of these oral histories is very straightforward without any background audio or sound effects. UK Libraries has been able to preserve these audio files over the past few decades even though technology has drastically changed. Academic institutions are much better equipped to preserve recordings over time rather than individuals holding onto personal recordings.

I strongly encourage you to use Audacity for your digital history project, if you plan to create a podcast or oral history project. If you are using a computer or laptop with a built-in microphone, then you can record directly into the program. Otherwise, you will need to plug in an external audio device(s). Audacity allows you to easily switch between multiple external audio devices by clicking the drop-down menu next to the microphone icon (towards the top of the screen underneath the stop button). This is helpful for projects where each individual speaking has a separate microphone. You can see in the image above that there are two audio tracks listed. Audacity has the option of lowering or increasing the sound levels on each track until you achieve the ideal sound. Also, you can split and rearrange tracks easily with just a few clicks. I will provide a demonstration of how to use Audacity in class so if there any questions, please list them in the comments section.

Practicum: Library of Congress’s By the People

The Library of Congress’s By the People website invites volunteers to aid the Library in transcribing and reviewing digitized archival materials. Launched in Fall 2018, this initiative has resulted in the transcription of over 400,000 pages by over 28,000 registered users and countless unregistered volunteers.

By the People’s landing page.

Anyone can contribute to this project! You don’t even need to make an account, although registering will allow you to review and tag pages.

Clicking the “Get Started” tab will take you to the Welcome Guide, which walks users through the contribution process. After reading the linked instructions, you can choose a campaign to contribute to. Each campaign features an archival collection such as, for instance, papers concerning Walt Whitman.

The Walt Whitman Campaign. Along with a short description of the collection, the page includes a chart showing how the campaign is progressing.

To make a transcription, navigate to the desired document and begin typing in the box on the right. Make sure you read the instructions first! You can also click the “Quick Tips” button at the bottom of the page if you need a reminder about transcription standards. When you’re done, click the “Submit for Review” button.

To review another volunteer’s transcription, you’ll need to have a registered account. If you already have an account, you can simply review their transcription, make any necessary edits, and accept the final product.

Along with instructions and the campaigns themselves, the By the People site also includes a discussion forum where volunteers can ask questions and solicit help with transcriptions; an About page with statistics, press coverage, and FAQs; and a list of resources. This list includes lesson plans, tutorial videos, Transcribe-a-Thon How-To’s, and all sorts of other resources for students, educators, and the general public.

The LoC’s By the People project is a great way to give back to your community, even fulfilling some community service requirements. You can get first-hand experience working with primary source documents and contributing to a world-wide public history project. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!

Practicum: Wikipedia

A generation of American schoolkids has grown up hearing the refrain, “Wikipedia is not a reliable source.” The Wikipedia of today, however, is a different beast than the Wikipedia of the early aughts. What was once a poorly-maintained, amateur website is now an encyclopedic juggernaut with strict editing rules and constantly updated articles.

While Wikipedia is no longer the unreliable source that our school librarians warned us about, viewers should still be careful to vet each article before trusting its information. There is a long history of hoax articles and vandalism on Wikipedia, and you should never trust its articles at face value. There are several ways to go about checking for accuracy and controversy, most notably the “Talk” page and the “View History” page.

The “Talk” and “View History” tabs on the Harriet Tubman Wikipedia page.

“Talk” Pages

As most students know, the first step when vetting a Wikipedia article is to scroll down to the References section, where you can often find links to historical monographs and primary sources. Lesser known, however, is the “Talk” page. Talk pages list Wikipedia’s ratings of each article’s importance and accuracy and serve as a forum for community members to discuss ways of improving the article.

The talk page for the article on Robert E. Lee, for example, describes it as a level-4 vital article, meaning Wikipedia editors voted on it being an “essential” topic worthy of an especially high-quality entry. It is also classified as a B-Class article, meaning that it could benefit from more editing and expert knowledge. The talk page for Harriet Tubman’s article, on the other hand, also identifies the page as a level-4 vital article, but rates it as a Featured Article (FA-Class). Whereas Wikipedia editors have identified both Robert E. Lee and Harriet Tubman as important, the quality of the Harriet Tubman article is within the top .1% of all articles on the English-language Wikipedia.  

You can also check the article’s rating by looking at the icons in the upper right hand corner of the article itself. The star shows that this article is FA-Class, while the padlock shows that this article is semi-protected from rogue edits. Its semi-protected status implies that, like many FA-Class pages, this article has previously been subject to vandalism.

On the other hand, the article on “Black Dispatches,” or Civil War espionage provided by Black Americans, is classified as a Start-Class article, only one step above the lowest accepted rating, “Stub.” This article is also ranked as “Low-importance” in a couple different categories, meaning that Wikipedia editors have determined that its information is not particularly vital to those topics. While future scholarship might highlight the importance of Black Dispatches, the current consensus is that they are incidental to the histories of the United States and espionage. For now, viewers interested in Black espionage during the Civil War will have to read up on individual spies like Harriet Tubman to get more complete information.

The header on the Black Dispatches talk page.

The quality of discussion on talk pages can vary wildly. On the Robert E. Lee talk page, for instance, one can see respectful debates on how to interpret his views on race and how soon to mention his culpability in defending the institution of slavery. On the Harriet Tubman page, however, some comments are less respectful.

Fortunately, users like “Plain English1” are the exception rather than the rule.

While the talk pages can contain inflammatory rhetoric, Wikipedia’s strict standards and constant revision generally stops this sort of bias from making it into the article itself. To view the edits that have actually made the cut, viewers can check the “View History” tab.

“View History” Pages

In the “View History” tab, viewers can see a log of all edits made to the article.

The edit history of the Robert E. Lee Wikipedia page.

Along with this log, one of the handiest tools is the “Page Statistics” external link. Here, viewers can see everything from page views to word counts to connections with other Wikipedia articles. Most importantly for scholars is information on authorship: tables and pie charts showing who contributed the most to each article.

Among other functions, Page Statistics show who contributed the most to an article.

The page statistics for Black Dispatches, for instance, shows that user Tfine80 contributed 82.4% of authorship. Examining Tfine80’s user page shows that they are an avid contributor to Wikipedia, often translating German-language articles to English. While there is little information about Tfine80’s credentials, user pages can give a general “vibe check” for viewers who want to know more about an article’s authors. One might trust Tfine80, for example, more than they trust ScottishFinnishRadish.

This radish has only two enemies on its “arc-enemies” list. That’s two more than I expected.

As an open source, freely accessible encyclopedia, Wikipedia is unmatched. It still, however, suffers from biased authorship as most contributors to English Wikipedia are white, Western men. As you can see from the inflammatory rhetoric on the Harriet Tubman talk page and the underdeveloped Black Dispatches article, the site is still plagued by both overt and subtle racial bias. Wikipedia itself has acknowledged that it has a problem with race as well as sex and gender . Tools like the Talk and View History pages can help you identify biases and better understand why Wikipedia looks the way it does.

I’m interested to know if anyone in this class has contributed to Wikipedia. If so, what was your experience like? Did you engage with other editors on the Talk pages? Let us know in the comments!