Creating Digital Archives: American Soldiers World War I Letters

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:20 AM
Mile High Ballroom 3B (Colorado Convention Center)
Jennifer D. Keene, Chapman University
As historians we relish the thrill of the chase and the tactile handling of primary sources. At the same time, the digitization of archival collections has greatly increased the range of materials available to researchers. The growing demand for these collections has also changed the demands put upon university librarians, who are now asked to create digital archives to increase public access to their special collection holdings. This session will discuss a multi-year project having students enrolled in a World War I class create a digital archives of soldiers’ letters home in World War I at the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University. In this exercise, students as a class collectively transcribe and key-word code the collection which is then uploaded into a database so that they can access all the letters (not just the ones that they transcribed) for research papers in the class. They get the best of both worlds – the experience of handling the actual primary source and the range of material that digitization offers. Three years of trial and error have helped perfect this assignment, whose value extends beyond the writing of course research papers. Students learn the process of creating digital archives, an especially valuable experience for those considering careers as librarians or historians. As the gatekeepers who will determine the way future researchers will access the collection, they learn the benefits and pitfalls of digitization. Additionally, their contribution to the library’s digitization project hastens public access to the collection. The presentation will discuss the details of this project so that attendees can “hear it on Saturday, teach it on Tuesday.”