PART III: Archives and Arguments: Build Your Own Database


In this project, you will develop an archive of your own, using materials from the Digital Public Library of America and Northeastern’s Digital Repository Service. We will build these archives using the Northeastern University Library’s CERES Toolkit, which has several options for displaying archival materials, including timelines, maps, and multiple views for item collection and display.

You should first choose a scope for your archive: what kind of materials do you want to collect and curate? Think about the archives we have studied in class and pay particular attention to the questions we’ve discussed related to diversity in the archive. You can focus on any subject (you are not limited to the literary or required to work with early materials), but you should choose an approach that will enable you to remediate existing archival silences or otherwise work to diversify the archival record. Remember that curation and collection can have as great an impact as publication itself in making subjects visible—in almost all cases, the materials you’ll be working with are already online, but you can still make these items much more visible just by bringing them together and providing a framework for examining them.

Once you have chosen the subject of your archive, you should begin to identify materials that you wish to collect. Plan to spend some significant amount of time locating materials—and note that you can include items that are not in the DPLA or the DRS by uploading them to our class WordPress site (these just won’t have the same advanced Toolkit functionality). In choosing your items, you’ll want to carefully think about selection principles such as: medium, subject and content, authorship, and publication date. You should email us with the scope of your archive, the audience of your archive, the kinds of items you plan to include (you don’t need to link to every single one, but you should describe what you’re including and provide a few examples), and any questions you have about developing your archive by Thursday November 30 (before midnight).

Once you’ve selected your materials, think about how you want to display these in an online archive. Look at the example archive, which demonstrates many of the display options that are available to you. But, be aware of the limitations in web publication as well, some of which are related to the metadata (that is, data about data) available. In auto-generated metadata, there will be inaccuracies, gaps, and other issues that might make some of the display options less useful in certain cases (for example, the inconsistencies in automatic geotagging of publication locations means that the map view will often obscure more than it reveals). You will want to be thoughtful in how you choose to present the contents of your archive—don’t just mash items and display options together at random. Look at the example archives linked below (many of which were also created with the CERES Toolkit) and think about what kinds of display approaches would work with the contents and goals of your own archive.

You will also want to include information about your archive, addressed to your audience, describing your selection principles and explaining how to navigate your site. In our explorations this semester, you have frequently remarked how important it is for web resources to include contextual information (and how frustrating it is when they don’t)—this is your opportunity to create a resource that successfully contextualizes the material it includes. Every archival site should clearly identify your principles of selection, should articulate how your collection helps to remediate the exclusion of marginalized materials from existing archives, and should provide information on navigating the archive.

You should also write a 500 to 800 word reflection, articulating your strategies in compiling your archive, what you see as the successes and failures of your archive, what you might do if you had more time to work on your archive, and what you learned from building it.

There is ample documentation on publishing with CERES Toolkit (see below); we will also have the assistance of a Digital Scholarship Group Research Assistant during this unit and we will have plenty of time in class to workshop these archival projects.

The deadline for this project is Monday, December 11; please “publish” your archival site and email your reflection to us by the end of the day (before midnight). We will have a final class party on December 11 at 1pm, during which you’ll be able to present your archive to the class and invited guests.

Students who wish to take on larger archival projects can choose to work in small groups for this project.

Grading Rubric:

  • Clear overview of the archive and its relation to questions of diversity and digital access on introductory page: 25%
  • Appropriate selection of items for the archive in terms of size, scope, and definition (minimum 15 items): 25%
  • Clear visual display, curation, and contextualization of materials: 25%
  • Reflection provides a clear and thoughtful account of the project: 15%
  • Accurate spelling, grammar, and formatting throughout: 10%


Links and Resources

Student Projects