Houston, TX

Discussion on partnership to expand digital scholarship on demand for underrepresented and unheard voices

Jessica Yang


HOUSTON, TX — American Library Association Virtual Annual Meeting discussed partnering to support underrepresented and unheard voices through digital scholarship.

The panel session was moderated by Cal Murgu, the instructional design librarian at Brock University, Ontario.

The panel started with a presentation by Dr. Portia Hopkins, CLIR/DLF postdoctoral research associate in data curation for African American studies at Rice University, Houston.

Hopkins discussed recognizing Houston’s history through Project Pleasantville and Rice University special collections, which have been a part of her postdoctoral assignment.

Pleasantville community is a veteran community for African Americans after WWII that was established in 1948. The initial goal of this project was to focus on toxicity and environmental racism relating to the community, but changed to a project to record oral histories project and made virtual. However, the challenges were started to come up as some communities did not have internet access or proficiency with virtual tools.

At the same time, she talked about the Rice University’s attempts to curate and archive pieces of historical records digitally. The collections are new but are subject to growth to a larger research project. These pieces of local history have helped in curriculum development, including the Convict Lease and Labor Project. Hopkins showcased how these pieces of local history contributed to curriculum development, including the Convict Lease and Labor Project.

Student-workers have been collaborating with the Houston Flood Museum and added Pleasantville major events that contained oral histories.

Hopkins believed that digital curation gave creative control to the community members. They plan to train a younger generation of the community through a workshop to encourage the community to feel empowered in collecting, restoring, and preserving their history, which will provide institutional resources for the community members.

The presentation was continued by Dr. Alex Gil, a digital scholarship librarian at Columbia University, NY, who spoke about the Frontline Nurses Project.

The project attempts to archive and exhibit nurses’ oral histories who served in the frontline during the Ebola crisis in West Africa. These records will be taken into comparison with New York City nurses serving in the frontline fighting for the COVID-19 pandemic. The Ebola record is already available online.

According to Gil, the project gathers three aspects: the oral histories, an interactive timeline, and a multimedia historical essay that provides historical context. The interactive timeline was built using an open-source tool, Timeline JS.

The importance of digitalizing oral history has been made more visible due to the current pandemic. The goal of these projects is to raise the voices of minority veterans, the woman nurses at the frontline, and other stories that are often left unheard. As discussed, engaged research and collaborative learning will be the next generation of studies for digital humanities.

Hopkins mentioned the idea of combining resources for new academic scholarship in this matter and field to give back to the communities that contribute to digital projects, validating and remembering the struggles of the people involved in the historical narratives.

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