AHA program criteria indicate this session should be categorized as “experimental” because we envision it as a hybrid, consisting of a practicum segment followed by a discussion/roundtable segment.
Part 1: Practicum. The first half of the session will be devoted to a hands-on demonstration of the capabilities and limitations of the Department of State Electronic Central Foreign Policy File collection available via the National Archives’ Access to Archival Data website. The session presenters are thoroughly familiar with the system, having logged hundreds of hours of research time on it while it was still a classified database. The presenters will set up four stations, each with a computer and projection capability. After a brief introductory overview, the audience will be invited to divide into groups according to subjects of interest and gather around the computers/projectors. The three presenters, one assigned to each station, will walk one or more audience members through a brief search and retrieval sequence. Observers at each station will be encouraged to ask questions, and in the process, the principal glitches, nuances, drawbacks, workarounds, and advantages of this digital document collection will be highlighted. Each presenter will have a checklist of key points to cover. Handouts will be made available to attendees that outline essential information, procedures, and “decision trees” for dealing with common obstacles. The goal of the practicum segment is twofold. First, it will enhance historians’ knowledge and therefore encourage imaginative exploitation of this new medium. Secondly, the run-through will illustrate the many significant research, methodological, and epistemological issues raised by the electronic-only archival format that will provide grist for Part 2.
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