Project Ideas

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Irish American Pamphlet Collection

The Archives of Irish America at Tamiment has a pamphlet collection that I think would make a really interesting digitization project. Of particular interest might be the pamphlets concerning the relationship between Great Britain and Ireland, especially if the project attempted to in some way tie in to the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, which will come in 2016.

Parish Baptismal Records

I am working on a volunteer project for a catholic church in the Bronx, going through baptismal records dating back to 1875. There is a lot of interest in the parish church from people who grew up there in the 1940s-60s, and these records would probably also be of interest to people doing genealogical research. In order for the digitization project to have more widespread interest, I would have to figure out some way to connect it to a wider group of people, I think.


Washington Square Women Students, 1920's-1960's

** I'm interested in the college experience for women, especially between WWII and the Women's movement. NYU Archives has two collections, one of Dean of Women Dorothy McSparran Arnold, and another of Dorothea Berger, counselor and professor. The Berger collection is mostly administrative correspondence, while the Arnold collection also includes photographs and news clippings. I would like to combine the two to create a fuller picture of how female students interacted with the administration. I also think the Washington Square campus would present a more diverse group of women than, for instance, studies of the Seven Sisters' colleges.**

American History Textbook comparison

My general idea is to look at a major event in US history - perhaps turn of the century immigration - and see how the language changes. Ideally I would like to look at textbooks from the 1920's through present, maybe every ten years or so. There are definitely websites with archived textbooks, but I don't think this particular comparison has been investigated. I am interested in how changing demographics are dealt with. Ramapo College in New Jersey has a collection of American history textbook open to researchers, and I have contacted New York Public Library to see what they have as well.


Daily Worker and Daily World Negatives Digitization Project

I would like to explore the possibility of digitizing negatives from the Tamiment Library's Daily Worker and Daily World Negatives Collection. The photographs were taken by staff photographers for the Communist Party's daily newspaper, based out of New York City. There are approximately 670,000 negatives in the collection in varying formats, covering a long period of time. I would like to focus on the period of 1930-1948, which was formative for the Party and covers the Depression, WWII and the beginnings of McCarthyism. The images are of great historical interest, particularly to labor historians, as they document the Communist Party's relationship with trade unions and with the left, and cover an array of social and cultural events and issues. These early photographs are also interesting in that they were taken primarily by two unknown staff photographers, and therefore constitute full bodies of work. Copyright resides with the Communist Party so digitizing these negatives, as opposed to the companion collection of prints, collected by the paper from press agencies and freelance photographers, is potentially doable. Concentrating on the negatives, which are more difficult for users to access than the prints, will open up this historically important collection. While text has traditionally been privileged in historical scholarship, historians are increasingly looking to images and visual culture for insight into the past, to understand how people in the past saw the world and also as evidence, on par with text.

Willard Asylum Digitization and Oral History Project

This idea comes out of my MA thesis. I wrote about patient labor at an asylum in upstate New York called Willard, between the years of its founding in the late 1860s, and 1890 when the State Care Act was passed. Willard was the first asylum solely for individuals who were both chronically mentally ill and paupers. Many of its first patients came from the county almshouses, many were immigrants and women. Employment was built into the design of the asylum and was rationalized on therapeutic as well as economic grounds. Patients did much of the work — including farm work, sewing and construction — to keep the asylum self sufficient and it grew to over two thousand patients, with a five hundred acre farm. I would like to explore the possibility of creating a documentary history of the life of the asylum and its patients, beginning with its founding until it closed in 1995. This would include digitizing annual reports, documentary images, and scrapbooks housed at the New York State Archives and the Oscar Diethelm Library at New York Hospital. Other records including patient information are restricted under HIPAA. In 1995, when Willard closed, several hundred suitcases were found containing patient belongings that had been untouched for decades. These were put on exhibit at the State Museum and a book published. I think it would add another dimension to the project to digitize some of these objects as artifacts. Some oral histories have been conducted but I'm not sure how many or when. I would like to conduct additional ones on audio and combine these with still photographs.


The Far Corners of the Earth

I'm interested in the possibility of exploring a digital humanities interactive site focusing on the supply chain of the telephone as described by the more comprehensive materials Western Electric published in 1927 and 1935. In response to the increased production of the telephone, and the increased marketing that accompanied, the company put out a large number of materials directly related to the manufacturing details of the phones they were producing at the time ("candlestick" style phones in the early 20s to later models in the mid 30s). These materials directly relate the material, geographic, and social conditions of telephone production - material that is difficult to obtain for most products. This includes a number of educational pamphlets, trade journal publications, and advertisements. The information as presented could be reinterpreted, digitized directly, and cataloged. Some of the material include specially comissioned photos of various parts of production (from silk farming to cotton production). An interactive digital map of the material would allow exploration of the supply chain from a geographic perspective, although direct digitization is also possible.

Locating the Telephone

This project would explore creating a digital collection of materials related to the geographic and social positioning of the telephone in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Archival materials related to the production and distribution of the telephone tend to be difficult to access. Many of the materials remain in corporate archives with difficult access policies, while others are distributed through various museums and archival collections in the federal system. Much of this material has not been made directly available, with a few key exceptions (Bell's papers, records of patent disputes, etc.). Collecting this material into a singular collection would be difficult, given the diverse number and nature of insitutions involved. A digital collection of the material, however, would make it possible to explore records related to telephone manufacture and production that cuts across a large number of institutional boundaries. This material includes trade catalogues, advertisements, journal publications, technical drawings, purchase orders, and similar documents.

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