Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Students Add to Digital Library of American Slavery

UNCG has outstanding digital archives. What you might not know is that, through coursework and internships, students have the opportunity to contribute to them.
This spring, several history courses are interacting with one of UNCG Libraries’ most valuable resources – the extensive Digital Library of American Slavery, created by professor emeritus Loren Schweninger over more than 20 years, and currently managed by Digital Technology Consultant Richard Cox.
Dr. Lisa Tolbert’s undergraduate history research methods course and Dr. Joey Fink’s graduate history course are using, and adding to, the DLAS’s Runaway Slave Advertisement Database. The advertisement database is managed by University Libraries’ Digital Projects Coordinator David Gwynn, who is helping to facilitate the students’ contributions. A recently awarded Strategic Seed grant will fund student interns to help digitize advertisements and work with classes in adding to the database.
Since the Runaway Slave Advertisement Database presently includes ads up to 1840, the students from Tolbert’s class are adding content from the 1850s and 1860s. To find this content, they’re reading newspapers on microfilm to find runaway slave ads, and later creating transcriptions and metadata that will make it easier for researchers to locate patterns within the ads. When they finish the data collecting portion of the assignment, they will develop research projects that will contextualize the slave ads. Their projects will include different areas of research—they may include looking at social networks of runaways, how advertisements document the skills of runaways or the distinct experience of women runaways.
“I am particularly excited that these students will get an opportunity to see how a primary source database is created,” says Tolbert. “More and more, historical documents are being digitized and students are regularly using sources on the web, but they don’t often get to see how many choices go into digitizing those documents and how those choices affect the way we interpret a source.”
With Tolbert’s guidance the classes are discussing the way that newspaper readers of the nineteenth century may have seen the advertisements on newspaper pages, compared to the way we see the scans of the ads today.
The DLAS is one of the most used digital collections in the UNCG libraries, and, as Tolbert has said, shows the outstanding commitment to a teaching mission demonstrated by the University Libraries’ staff, beyond their work as collection managers, curators and preservationists.
Tolbert has been working closely with David Gwynn and Sarah Prescott to integrate the DLAS into coursework. Gwynn and Prescott have led a class workshop that instructs students in filling out the metadata spreadsheet and shows them techniques for transcribing the ads. Data Services and Government Information Librarian Lynda Kellam has trained the students in using microfilm readers and will lead workshops on bibliographic development as the students embark on their research this spring.
“This project offers them unique opportunities to develop more sophisticated digital and information literacies, says Tolbert. “I feel incredibly lucky to have the instructional support we enjoy from the library staff here at UNCG.”
The initial phase of the Runaway Slave Advertisements Database was supported by a federal Library Services and Technology Act grant administered by the State Library of North Carolina. The database contains more than 2,300 items published in North Carolina newspapers from 1751 to 1840. The NCRSA website includes digital scans of the ads, contextual essays to address their historical research value, full text transcripts, an annotated bibliography to aid researchers and a searchable database. In the fall, a library information science class will also use and contribute to the DLAS. 

By Susan Kirby-Smith, Campus Weekly

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