Nov 09

What Tools Do Researchers Reliant on Born-digital Primary Sources Use—and Need?

One of the discussions that I’m interested in having with folks at THATCamp intersects with points raised by Lincoln Mullen and Karrie Peterson. Lincoln invites us to explore the potential use of Omeka as a primary source repository that can function as a digitally-enabled anthology for teaching and other uses. Karrie encourages us to talk about the problems that scholars, experienced and novice alike, face in the digital humanities, the tools that they currently use, and the ones they still need so that libraries can usefully reinvent their services and products.   

For my part, I’m curious to discover whether Omeka might be a solution to problems I’ve encountered in my own work. Specifically, scholars concerned with contemporary events and culture increasingly find it useful, if not essential, to include Web-based and other born-digital materials among the primary sources that they study. The transient nature of Web-based information, however, presents a problem for long-term projects and creates difficulties for those who wish to consult a scholar’s sources at a later date.  My own efforts to study museum engagements with the current war are a case in point; much of my data is drawn from Internet sources, such as the exhibition pages on museum Web sites, press releases issued as PDFs, reviews from online media, etc. These born-digital materials are supplemented by material from my own fieldwork (photos, collected printed matter, sketches of exhibition layouts, etc.). So what I end up with is data scattered across virtual as well as physical file folders and a collection of Delicious bookmarks. It’s hard enough for me to navigate let alone share with other researchers who might be interested in, say, a broader topic such as the viusal culturesof war or to utilize in the classroom. 

Are you in a similar bind? What tools are you using? What solutions have you jury rigged? What features would your ideal tool or suite of tools possess?  

My wish list includes a one-stop resource that could be used to:

  • Collect, preserve, organize, and display
    • Web sites or selected pages from them
    • Image, text, audio, PDF, and video files
  • Analyze data (text mining, georeferencing??)
  • Share evolving and finished work
    • In an open access or pass-word protected environment, or a combination of both as desired by the primary user(s).
  • Invite collaboration from a broad range of possible constituencies
  • Provide informal and formal learning opportunities for a variety of learning communities   

I can imagine Omeka, with its plug-in capabilities, being the springboard for such a tool—but I lack the programming know-how to move it further in this direction myself. (Hello, BootCamp; you’ll be seeing a lot of me this weekend.)

Others have commented on the pitfalls (copyright issues being a significant one) that such archives, which pool together materials from other sources, pose. And, what is the right term for this sort of personal, project or topical archives-on-steroids? Custom archives-plus? Personalized research and teaching platform? Super scholar software?  

I look forward to learning what other folks are doing and thinking in this area.


2 pings

  1. cliotropic.org

    I’m also interested in people’s ideas about Omeka as a research tool. My experience with it (and with DSpace, to the extent that I’ve played with it) is that the existing systems designed for multi-person work teams aren’t as useful for individual research with a large body of materials. They require a lot more work (metadata, file shuffling) than one person can do, which is ideal for collaborative projects but less immediately useful for a solo project like a dissertation.

  2. izenstark.tumblr.com

    This is a fascinating question – and in some ways it intersects with the proposal that Rob Widell and I put together.

    As a librarian, I find that I am more frequently turning to the Internet Archive to find fugitive information from the web. As someone who works with undergraduates and grad students, I think it’s great to have these resources, but does it create more silos of information that don’t cross-reference each other? My question might be “…and how do we make sure there’s easy access to these sources for future researchers?”

  1. THATCamp New England » Blog Archive

    […] of all, I think Clarissa, Carrie, Lincoln, and to some extent Cathleen have raised issues that I’m very interested […]

  2. THATCamp New England » Blog Archive

    […] isn’t a session proposal; that can be found here. Rather, this is a reflection that I recently posted to my much neglected blog and was invited […]

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