THATCamp SE 2: Online CollectionsMarch 8, 2011
The second and fourth sessions of my day at BootCamp SE (part of THATCamp SE) covered several steps in the process of creating an online digital collection at civilwarpapers.org. The collection we worked on was of American Civil War Papers housed in the MARBL rare books library at Emory.
In the morning, working under Alice Hickox, we were given digital photos of the actual letters and a first-pass transcription in a text file, then taught to create an xml document using TEI encoding. In less technical terms, we created a structured digital file of the letter, with special codes that allowed us to designate the salutation, date, location, unreadable portions of text, assign Library of Congress subject headings (taken from the finding aids for our letters in the Emory catalog). The added structural elements – the metadata – allow the letter to be searched for and searched within in special ways, and allow it to be presented in online environments in ways that respect its structure.
In the late afternoon, we had a more extended discussion of what metadata is and why it’s important (with Kim Durante and Laura Akerman), and explored Omeka, an open-source software (there are hosted options) that enables the presentation of encoded documents online in digital collections (with Chris Pollette).
Why would this be useful for you, as a classicist? Well, have you looked at the Homer Multitext Project? That’s basically what we did at BootCamp, in the sort of way that one can do such a thing in a couple of hours. Any presentation of a collection of primary sources online – inscriptions, papyri, photographs – could use these basic techniques. One could create a project that would engage undergraduates or graduate students as researchers and encoders, or use this method to publish a collection of, say, squeezes in your departmental library, or of 19th century photographs taken on Grand Tours of the Mediterranean.
This isn’t the sort of project that a scholar can build from the ground up solo without a lot of preliminary learning and some stumbling blocks along the way. If you’re interested in doing something like this, a great first step is a consultation with a digital projects librarian (or someone with a title like that – ask your subject librarian who that might be) at your institution – they can point you to the resources you need, and maybe even be a collaborator or partner.
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