Lynne M. O’Hara 2014-02-12 14:27:09
As an archivist, you know the excitement of finding that one document: the photo, map, or text source that proves your thesis right (or wrong). You know how exciting it is to see a document in the original handwriting of George Washington or Alice Paul, the thrill of touching a map that’s more than one hundred years old, and the honor of examining photographs of an event. Imagine sharing these humbling experiences with teenagers. I know, I know: preteens and teens can be a scary bunch. They talk loudly, move in packs, are perpetually connected to their cellphones, and chew too much gum. But they are a key audience for your organizations. They are the young adults who we are preparing to be citizens, and they need to know the significance of archives. After reading this article, I hope you will consider becoming involved in National History Day (NHD) and working with middle and high school students to introduce them to or further expand their knowledge of archives. About the Program NHD (http://www.nhd.org/) is a program that helps more than 600,000 students lead the educational process. Students choose if they want to work independently or collaboratively, and then they select a topic, research it, write a thesis statement, tie it to an annual theme, and develop their choice of final product. Students can write papers, develop websites, create documentaries, build museum exhibits, or script performances to present their work. The program allows students to investigate areas of their own interest while learning key skills. Students hone their abilities to sort through research, work with others, produce a technologically competent piece of work, edit their writing, speak in public, and, most importantly, produce work of which they are proud. The projects are impressive; visit http://www.nhd.org/StudentProjectExamples.htm to see samples from the 2013 national contest. An NHD project is not a history report; the goal is not to recite facts and rattle off dates. Rather, students focus their analysis of people or events around an annual theme. The theme (Rights and Responsibilities in History in 2014 and Leadership and Legacy in History in 2015) helps the students to frame their analysis and make a case about why their person or event in history matters. It helps students set a context and make a conclusion. NHD then provides a tiered contest structure. The contest is an avenue for students to exhibit their work to a panel of community members, often historians, museum experts, teachers, veterans, or local volunteers. These judges view the students’ work and question them on their research and choices. This gives students the authentic experience of having to show their work and receive feedback from unfamiliar adults. Many areas have regional contests, where the best entries advance to the state level and then on to the national contest, held at the University of Maryland each June. I can attest to the power of this program—I was an NHD kid. I wrote papers on the history of radio, the D-Day Invasion, the Yalta Conference, black-and-white images, to assess both functionality and aesthetics. The images for this sample set were already on our Flickr page (http://www.flickr.com/photos/center_ for_jewish_history/), and the first step in this process was to download them and assign locations. We then made a simple Excel spreadsheet with the appropriate metadata: title, description, parent collection, and location. Next came the testing phase. We developed a rubric for assessing the platforms. Ease of use and aesthetics—a platform that would have a unique look but that wouldn’t have to involve our web designer—were criteria at the top of our list. We also considered cost of the product and the amount of advertising on the pages. Each of the platforms had strengths and weaknesses. Viewshare, for instance, was easy to use but would have required modification to meet our aesthetic requirements. Geostoryteller, which was initially designed for walking tours, was a helpful tool for displaying information but was not useful for our purposes. We had difficulty with image display with GoogleMaps, which we felt detracted from the experience, and it was challenging for CartoDB to express the locations within our parameters. We had learned about Flickr’s mapping tool through our previous work with the site. After preliminary web research, we learned it’s possible to encode locations into image headers using Picasa, specifically through the EXIF header (Exchangeable Image File Format) function. We simply had to customize the settings in Flickr to automatically generate the maps. The maps created were large and clear, and the header was already customized with our logo. We removed the photographs from our proprietary digital asset manager and cropped, edited, and geotagged them using Picasa. All that was required from there was to upload the images with appropriate descriptions. We already had the German data courtesy of Fraas, but we wanted to create new data for our map and for Fraas to work with as well. A CJH intern who is fluent in Russian translated the stamps from the Baltic region, and we developed an initial map that shows looted libraries in Latvia, Poland, and Russia. Working in tandem and sharing our data enabled us to create a visually engaging representation of looted and stolen books throughout Europe taken from archival materials. The CJH hopes this project brings this history to life and inspires new interest in these fascinating books.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.