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Megan Townes and Amy Atticks

“‘I Was There’ Digital Repository Project”

The “‘I Was There’ Digital Repository Project” began with a simple idea: digitize the materials from a local elementary school’s oral history project.  What evolved was far more complex but very much a real digital humanities experience, whether it was negotiating between the needs of project team members at Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and Brown University’s digital repository (where archival copies of the files would end up), or tracking down last year’s files and creating metadata for them at the Center for Digital Scholarship, Rockefeller Library, Brown University.


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  1. Susan Smulyan / Jun 9 2010 8:13 am

    This project remains both very moving and very important. Institutions like Brown often undertake community projects, involving students in learning and service. The kind of care that needs to be taken as students and faculty move in and out of such projects changes in a digiverse. Dropping in and creating various digital documents (oral histories, photographs, lesson plans) and not taking responsibility for their archiving is a form of exploitation. Meghan and Amy embraced the idea that digital scholarship involves not only cool looking websites and funky tools, but metadata and storage. They learned a lot about XML and MODs and a lot about negotiating between the community and the university. I love their own description of their process:

    Our project began with a simple idea: digitize the materials from a local elementary school’s oral history projects. What evolved was far more complex–a web of wants and feasibilities, relationships, data, and technology–the reality of working in the digital humanities. It was all logical: get files, develop metadata, upload and link. The files would have a permanent (more or less) storage solution, the team working on the project would be able to use them with ease, and the public would access them through a curated platform. However, due to the dynamic composition of the community partnership; various stakeholders’ concerns about access, ownership, and the vagaries of digital repositories; and our dependence on institutional hardware and software structures, our final project has evolved and devolved from an actualization to a proposal. We hope that while this shift has postponed the creation of a material repository structure, it has allowed us to better imagine what is and could be possible, as we prepared files for transition and developed a practical and strategical framework for the project’s successors.

    I got a chance to hear the oral histories which are not yet public (but they are charming and fun) and I also recommend the Flickr site, Fox Point Oral History Projects photostream (begun in an earlier iteration of this course) as well as Meghan and Amy’s longer paper which outlines both what they did and proposes next steps (The “I Was There” Digital Repository Project), all included on the website.

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