An image of a blue card catalog is shown behind a black banner that reads

Online Course: Basics of Archives

Course Description

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

The course consists of seven lessons:

  • Archives and Archivists
  • Acquiring Your Collections
  • Processing Collections
  • Housing Your Collections
  • Access and Outreach
  • Digital Records
  • Digitization


COURSE DATES: January 27 - March 1, 2020

COST: $85 AASLH Members / $160 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: November 1, 2019 - January 19, 2020


Course Logistics

FORMAT: Online, self-paced course with instructor feedback

LENGTH: 5 weeks; 15-20 hours to be completed anytime during the five-week course period (dates above).

PARTICIPATION STYLE: Online chat. There are no required times to be online.

MATERIALS: There are no required texts for this course. All materials will be provided.

Who Should Take This Course

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with archival materials.


Charlie Arp has a BA and MA in history from Ohio University where he specialized in archival studies. From 1991 to 2003 he worked at the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) where he held a variety of positions including archival processor, reference archivist, Head of Reference, Assistant State Archivist and State Archivist. As Assistant State Archivist he was the digital projects coordinator and he formed and chaired the Ohio Electronic Records Committee, an interdisciplinary group formed to draft electronic records policy, guidelines, and best practices for state and local governments in Ohio.  As State Archivist he was a senior level manager responsible for the planning, coordination, and administration of the operations of the State Archives including the Local Government Records program and the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor Archives/Library.

In 2003 Charlie was hired by the Battelle Memorial Institute as Enterprise Content Manager. At Battelle Charlie pioneered managing electronic records in lieu of paper records. Charlie also supervised the Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) archives. GLP records fall under FDA regulations to ensure that the records documenting scientific research for substances put in or on humans are created reliably and maintained authentically over time. In 2015 Charlie tested and validated the use of an electronic management program to enable Battelle to create, manage, preserve and use electronic records as part of submissions to the FDA.

In early 2016 Charlie accepted an offer for early retirement from Battelle. Since then he has started an archival and records management consulting firm and authored Archival Basics: A Practical Manual for Working with Historical Collections (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Participant Feedback

“This course was exactly what we need to improve our rather small Collection and take it to another step. Thanks for all of the ideas and information. I am especially impressed with how well the course is organized and presented online. The site was very well thought out and presented no problems for me – a slightly challenged computer geek-wanna be.”

“This was a marvelous course and now I have confidence that I can do the work: material to reference and people to communicate with as needed.”

“I just wanted to say thank you for having this course.  It has really helped me decide what direction I want to make my education in and had definitely helped me with some of the smaller preservation jobs I take on at the library.”

A group of students observe and point at a microfilm reader.

Citizen Historians, U.S. Newspapers, and the History of the Holocaust

This article is from the Winter 2019 issue of History News, AASLH's quarterly magazine. Members can access the full issue in the Resource Center.

A group of students observe and point at a microfilm reader.

By David Klevan and Eric Schmalz

On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Fajwal “Fred” Hendeles appeared with a broad smile and a dozen roses at the Kaiser shipyards in Richmond, California, seeking employment. Hendeles, a Jewish refugee from German-occupied Poland, had escaped a German forced labor camp, fleeing to Shanghai via the Soviet Union and Japan. On September 28, 1941, he boarded the S.S. President Pierce as a stowaway bound for San Francisco. The ship manifest listed Hendeles as an “indigent” with no passport or visa. He entered the country with support from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Kaiser shipyards provided Hendeles with employment as a steamfitter. Two months later, the United States was at war.

Hendeles’s story—uncovered by volunteers working with the Richmond Museum of History in Richmond, California—is one of many that have emerged from the nationwide “citizen history” project, History Unfolded: U.S. Newspapers and the Holocaust. Publicly launched by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in early 2016, History Unfolded invites people across the country to research how their local newspapers reported on Holocaust-related events during the 1930s and 1940s. Project participants share their discoveries by uploading findings to a searchable online database. The museum has used this data to support exhibitions, educational resources and programs, and hopes it will be used to support future scholarship.

The idea for History Unfolded emerged in 2014, when staff gathered to discuss the Holocaust Museum’s new initiative on Americans and the Holocaust. Like previous initiatives, Americans would include new scholarly research and a special exhibition, then scheduled to open in spring 2018. However, the small team gathered that day sought to inject something new. Rather than the museum performing research, mounting an exhibition, and then developing educational resources and programs, what if the museum asked schools and the public to perform research ahead of the exhibition launch—research that might help shape the exhibition and even future scholarship on the topic?

What if the museum asked schools and the public to perform research ahead of the exhibition launch—research that might help shape the exhibition and even future scholarship on the topic?

This approach was ambitious, but it made sense. An investigation of reporting by local newspapers in American communities had never before been pursued on this scale. It offered the museum a unique opportunity to investigate an otherwise distant and sometimes abstract “European” history of the Holocaust by making it American and local in a very concrete way. This would also allow the museum to engage learners in the discovery process, uncovering what information was available to members of their communities about the threat of Nazism and the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, it could reinforce understanding that while the Holocaust took place in Europe, it was also an American story.

As a participatory “citizen history” project of national scope, History Unfolded offered additional opportunities for the museum. First, because the museum itself does not house the newspaper collections used for this research, it was necessary to do research in the field. Second, the broad research scope and wide dispersal of sources would have made it difficult to do this without a crowdsourcing element. Third, and most importantly, the project offers an excellent opportunity for students and the broader public to learn about history by learning how to do primary source research.

In 2014, the concept of “citizen history” was relatively new. Prior to using the phrase to describe one of their projects in 2005, Holocaust Museum staff had never seen it used elsewhere. For Holocaust Museum staff, citizen history is more than crowdsourced data collection.1 Rather, it builds upon the existing research and collections of an institution, and at its best, encourages amateurs and enthusiasts to formulate authentic research questions and helps them learn the process for answering them. This engagement with citizen historians may also enhance the reputation and authority of local history institutions, promote access to their digital collections, and help to grow their communities of stakeholders, both virtual and in-person.2

Because participants in History Unfolded learn while contributing to a large national effort on behalf of a trusted institution, they tend to express high degrees of commitment and self-motivation and appreciate the opportunity to do meaningful work. Therefore, museum staff viewed citizen history as a win-win. Participants could learn about the Holocaust while developing authentic research skills, a love of history, and a strengthened affinity for the museum and its mission. In turn, the museum would compile large quantities of data to help shape an exhibition, programs, and resources. In the process, the museum also would develop a dedicated corps of institutional stakeholders around the country.

A woman observes a digital exhibition panel displaying a newspaper article from the World War II era.

The Holocaust Museum’s decision to launch a large scale, multi-year citizen history project was not without risks and challenges. One key challenge was how best to help participants access widely dispersed collections, typically on microfilm and of varying quality. Unsurprisingly, a major determinant of the breadth and scope of newspaper articles submitted to History Unfolded from any particular state corresponds to whether the state’s historical newspaper collections have been digitized and are easily accessible online. However, most local newspaper collections from the 1930s and 1940s are available only on microfilm or in hard copy, and some collections are incomplete. Typically, the collections are housed in local or state libraries, university libraries, or historical societies. Therefore, the active participation of organizations housing the collections is critical to the project’s success.

In addition, many citizen historians are not familiar with microfilm technology, and many young citizen historians are unfamiliar with print newspapers altogether. Therefore, the History Unfolded website provides participants with guidance on where to find print newspaper collections, how their information is organized, and how to use a microfilm reader. The project website also provides scaffolding for the research process itself, focusing the research of citizen historians. History Unfolded has identified more than thirty Holocaust-related events of specific interest to the museum for citizen historians to use as a guiding framework for research in their local newspapers. A short historical summary is provided for each event, as well as date ranges and keyword search suggestions. When citizen historians find an article, they are prompted to upload their finding, along with specific metadata such as page number, date, headline, and author. All submissions are reviewed by staff and volunteers, who frequently provide feedback to participants on their research.

Despite the challenges associated with access to collections and learning how to perform research with historical newspapers, History Unfolded has enjoyed significant success. This is due largely to the museum’s willingness to dedicate staff and volunteers to engage project participants. The museum invested in a full-time community manager dedicated solely to the History Unfolded project. This fostered a regular flow of communication between citizen historians and the museum, enhanced participant engagement, and resulted in a high rate of retention. Educators whose students participate in the project tend to return with new classes year after year. History buffs, who contribute the bulk of submissions to the project, continue to participate months, or even years, later. When tasked with specific research assignments, such citizen historians typically respond with zeal and take pride in the museum’s reliance upon their participation.

When tasked with specific research assignments, such citizen historians typically respond with zeal and take pride in the museum’s reliance upon their participation.

In three years, over ten thousand individuals, one-fifth of whom are educators, have created accounts on the History Unfolded website. Roughly 30 percent of registrants have submitted data to the project, and as of September 2018, almost fifteen thousand articles from newspapers in all fifty states (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) have been indexed in the project’s online database. The Holocaust Museum has organized community events called “research sprints” to focus citizen historians on the investigation of reporting about specific Holocaust-related events or newspapers from specific communities. Research sprints are organized events during which groups of citizen historians gather—sometimes in person at a library, archive, or historical society, other times virtually—to research one or more History Unfolded events in a specific collection of newspapers. Previous research sprints have generated content, such as letters-to-the-editor advocating for and against the Wagner-Rogers Bill of 1939, some of which appear in the museum’s special exhibition, Americans and the Holocaust, that opened in April 2018.

Research by citizen historians has provided visual evidence that illustrates the context in which Americans learned about Nazi persecution and murder of European Jews. For example, major public events that shocked the conscience—such as the Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in April 1933 and the Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938—often were reported on front pages in communities large and small throughout the United States. These stories ran for several days or even weeks, but they did not appear in a vacuum. The Nazi boycott shared space on the front page with President Roosevelt’s order to cut veterans’ benefits, efforts to repeal Prohibition, New Deal projects, developments in the Scottsboro Boys case, and devastating storms that killed scores of people across the South.

In many communities across the United States, information about the Holocaust was available, but it was not always prominent, and coverage was often ephemeral. Once America entered the war, the attention of Americans shifted, understandably, to the progress of the war.

Indeed, after U.S. entry into the war in 1942, front pages were dominated by news related to the war effort. Stories about the Nazi plan to kill all Jews (the “Final Solution”) appeared in many American newspapers the day before Thanksgiving (November 25, 1942); the top story in many papers that day was that the Soviets finally had broken the siege at Stalingrad and nearly encircled the German army. The Allies’ public condemnation of the “Final Solution” appeared December 17, 1942, one week before Christmas. It was not uncommon to find these articles on interior pages of newspapers printed beside advertisements for turkeys and holiday sales. The History Unfolded project has helped both the museum and the public learn more about the specific contexts in which many Americans learned about the Holocaust and Nazism.

There is still much to learn from History Unfolded. With a more comprehensive data set, staff at the museum look forward to analyzing and comparing coverage across communities—in university newspapers, Jewish and Catholic newspapers, African American newspapers, newspapers large and small, urban and rural.

Two African American women are seen looking through boxes of microfilm in a drawer.

In addition to its broad appeal among educators, History Unfolded offers librarians, archivists, and staff at historical societies ample opportunities to meet their institutional objectives. Some of the most innovative approaches to and most exciting outcomes from the project have come from special programs in which libraries and historical societies have engaged staff and volunteers to investigate collections.

The Richmond Museum of History in Richmond, California, for example, began its participation in History Unfolded in 2016. Staff there were curious to find out what information about the Holocaust, if any, was available to the local community—home to the Kaiser Shipyards, which made significant home front contributions to the war effort during WWII. Were the men who built the ships aware of Nazi persecution and murder of European Jews? Or were their eyes solely on the Pacific theatre? The museum placed advertisements in the local Jewish newspaper and invited members of a nearby synagogue to participate in volunteer research using the museum’s collections of historical newspapers. Eventually, they expanded research beyond just what their community might have known about the Holocaust to an exploration of the history of Jewish Richmond and surrounding Contra Costa County, resulting in a new exhibit that opened in January 2019 documenting the Jewish history of the city and surrounding region. The exhibition includes the aforementioned story of Fred Hendeles and the local press response to the Holocaust.3

Some of the most innovative approaches to and most exciting outcomes from the project have come from special programs in which libraries and historical societies have engaged staff and volunteers to investigate collections.

Other institutions took different approaches to the project, but with similarly productive results. Jill Weiss Simins, a historian at the Indiana Historical Bureau, viewed participation in the project as an opportunity to “help make sure that the lessons and warnings of the Holocaust are not forgotten” and to “make Holocaust history more accessible [and] relevant to Hoosiers, who sometimes feel removed from national conversations.” Weiss Simins worked with intern Jenna Auber to upload content to the History Unfolded website, featuring their findings in the Hoosier State Chronicle blog. At the suggestion of the History Unfolded community manager Eric Schmalz, Weiss Simins and Auber recruited a small, highly engaged group of citizen historians from local universities for a research sprint to investigate Holocaust events in the two Indiana newspapers with the largest circulation in 1940 and upload entries for each to the History Unfolded database.

Similarly, for Natasha Hollenbach, Digital Projects Librarian at the Montana Historical Society, History Unfolded offered a way to make her collections more visible and available to scholars. After first digitizing and uploading articles from the historical society collection, Hollenbach set up internal “research sprints” for her colleagues. She started small, asking for a few hours of staff time and maintaining a flexible schedule. Hollenbach made sure everyone knew they were welcome regardless of experience, both on the project and with the microfilm readers; this ensured a continuing number of new converts to the project and extended word of mouth advertising about how much fun it was. Through the staff sprints and Hollenbach’s individual contributions, the Montana Historical Society has uploaded hundreds of Montana newspaper articles.

Participation by public history organizations has proven critical to the success of the History Unfolded project. Their ability to engage local communities in research, discovery, and learning has made significant contributions to the breadth and diversity of local reporting indexed in the museum’s database. Of equal importance, this participation has made local collections and local history more visible, and has allowed staff, volunteers, and members of the public to learn about their community’s role in Holocaust history.

A close up image of a smart phone in front of a microfilm reader, demonstrating the app used to upload newspaper articles for the exhibition.

History Unfolded has demonstrated its potential as an engaging education tool that teaches valuable research skills and encourages critical thinking. During the project’s first three years, the Holocaust Museum has indexed more than fifteen thousand entries for newspaper articles submitted by citizen historians across the country in a searchable online database. This can only be viewed as a major accomplishment and a successful beginning. However, half of these submissions came from newspapers published in only eight states (primarily in what today would be called “the Rust Belt”).

For the project to function as a representative index of American news reporting, and to maximize its value for historical institutions and scholars, a consistent minimum data sample must be collected across all fifty states. In an effort to achieve this goal, the museum instructs participants to research newspaper reporting about a specific limited set of Holocaust-related events. It aims to compile a per state sample of at least one data submission for each Holocaust-related event for the two newspapers with the highest circulation in 1940. This should provide a minimum level of consistent data across states and allow for meaningful state-to-state comparisons of reporting at the time.

The museum will continue to accept research submitted to History Unfolded through summer 2021.Therefore, libraries, archives, and historical societies have ample time to lend their expertise and ensure that their communities are represented in the project results. In 2021, the museum plans to shift the project focus from collecting new data to synthesizing and analyzing the compiled data. Correspondingly, the Holocaust Museum expects to provide tools that will allow citizen historians, Holocaust historians, and digital humanities scholars to filter, sort, and analyze the data in order to evaluate trends and anomalies and draw conclusions about this history based on the accumulated evidence.

Though the Holocaust took place primarily in Europe, the research of citizen historians from around the United States makes clear that it is also an American story. It was told in front page headlines, editorials, letters-to-the-editor, and political cartoons of local newspapers from Richmond, California, to Helena, Montana, to Indianapolis, Indiana. By examining the information available to Americans, the stories we chose to tell, and the opinions we published, we learn as much about who we were as Americans as we do about how Americans responded to the Holocaust.

David Klevan is Education Outreach Specialist in the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where he develops educational resources and programs for a diverse group of audiences. Mr. Klevan specializes in experiential learning in online and digital learning environments. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1990) and his master’s degree in Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (2004). Contact David at [email protected]

Eric Schmalz is the community manager for the History Unfolded project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He oversees the review of newspaper submissions to the project website, assists participants with their questions, and helps educators effectively incorporate History Unfolded into various learning environments. Mr. Schmalz specializes in developing and deepening authentic human connection through his work. He earned his bachelor’s degree in History at the College of William and Mary (2010) and his master’s degree in Teaching (Secondary Social Studies) at the University of Virginia (2011). Contact Eric at [email protected]

[1] There are several excellent examples of cultural institutions using crowdsourcing to transcribe and index historical documents. For example: “The World Memory Project,” US Holocaust Memorial Museum, accessed January 29, 2019,; “Transcription Center,” Smithsonian Institution, accessed January 29, 2019,; “Citizen Archivist Project,” National Archives and Records Administration, last reviewed November 7, 2018,; and “Operation War Diary,” Imperial War Museum and National Archives, accessed January 29, 2019,

[2] Elissa Frankle, “Making History with the Masses: Citizen History and Racial Trust in Museums,” Digital Dialogues, Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, April 4, 2013,

[3] Fajwal “Fred” Hendeles became an American. He married, had children, and lived the rest of his life in California. He died at age 91 in Los Angeles.

This article is from the Winter 2019 issue of History News, AASLH's quarterly magazine. Members can access the full issue in the Resource Center.

The How-Tos of Digital Collections Management

Guest speaker Leigh Grinstead will walk us through the process of selecting which collections to digitize, policy and strategy development, and caring for digital collections regardless of whether they are born digital or reformatted. Leigh will highlight organizations that can model good practices in each of these three subject areas. She will also discuss lessons learned by organizations that made early mistakes but managed to “right the ship” and transition to a successful digitization program.

Date: May 31, 2017 at 3pm-4:30pm EST/2pm-3:30pm Central/1pm-2:30pm Mountain/12pm-1:30pm Pacific/10am-11:30am Hawaii/ 4pm-5:30 Atlantic

Cost:$25 StEPs participants (discount code available within the StEPs Community website) |$40 AASLH members | $65 Non-members


Full Description:

Do your organization’s collections hold a treasure trove of photographs, correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, oral histories, videos and other materials that contribute to the rich interpretation of your mission?  Many organizations are interested in digitization for collections preservation and increased access and sharing. But knowing where to begin with digitization is difficult for even the most sophisticated museum, archive or library.

Whether your organization is new to digitization or it has been digitizing materials for years, it is critical that you have guidelines, policies and strategies in place to prioritize the work. The other issue of equal—and sometimes even larger concern—is what to do with collections that originate in digital form, known as “born digital.” How do you evaluate and assess those collections?

Join us on Wednesday, May 31st for the webinar, “The How-Tos of Digital Collections Management,” presented by AASLH’s StEPs program. Guest speaker Leigh Grinstead will walk us through the process of selecting which collections to digitize, policy and strategy development, and caring for digital collections regardless of whether they are born digital or reformatted. Leigh will highlight organizations that can model good practices in each of these three subject areas. She will also discuss lessons learned by organizations that made early mistakes but managed to “right the ship” and transition to a successful digitization program.




About the Instructor:


Leigh Grinstead has been an individual member of AASLH since 1996 and has served on the Historic House Museum Task Force; the Publications, Awards, Standards and Ethics, and Annual Meeting Program committees; as Membership Coordinator for Colorado; and as trainer for the Digitizing Historic Collections workshops. She works as a digital consultant, conducting in-person and online courses for LYRASIS, a nonprofit organization with a mission of supporting information professionals. Leigh consults with and trains cultural heritage staff nationwide in the use of digital technologies, preservation and workflows.




This webinar is part of the StEPs Lab series of online continuing education offered to both StEPs program participants and all others interested in digital collections. Applying what you learn in a Lab to your policies and practices helps your organization make meaningful progress. The more progress you make, the more boxes you can check off in the StEPs workbook. The more boxes you check off, the more Bronze, Silver, and Gold certificates your organization earns. And that translates into more credibility, more support, and an organization that is a valuable asset to its community for many more years to come.

Visit our Calendar of Events to learn about more AASLH Continuing Education Opportunities.

Creating 21st Century Digital Collections

Join Kristen Gwinn-Becker, as she discusses strategizing, creating or updating, engaging, and sustaining modern digital collections. She will walk through the six areas outlined below, showing examples for each section. Participants may send an email in advance that contains a link to their digital collections and the top three questions they would like answered about their current situation or a future initiative. Kristen will work with examples from participants as well as draw on real (digital) world examples of digital initiatives from her international technology company HistoryIT. The different challenges these institutions faced and the innovative solutions that were employed to maximize user impact and sustainability will be shared with attendees. This webinar will focus on what users of digital collections demand now, and on sustainable best practices for converting or creating online platforms that not only grow with their users’ interests and expectations but also bring out the hidden stories each collection holds.

  1. Then and now – what’s different about digital collections in the 21st century?
  2. Strategy – what do you have and who do you want to reach?
  3. Managing versus Sharing – what’s the difference and where to place your effort?
  4. Digital Framework – is your digital environment optimized to connect your content with the audiences you seek to engage?
  5. Digital Storytelling – how can you tell engaging stories with your collection or collections once they are digital?
  6. Ongoing considerations – how can you best position your digital collections for sustainability? Most importantly, where is the funding?


Date: May 16, 2017

Time: 3pm EST/2pm Central/1pm Mountain/12pm Pacific/10am Hawaii

Cost: $40 members/$65 nonmembers


About the Instructor:

Kristen Gwinn-Becker, PhD is a successful, dynamic and engaging entrepreneur with a unique background. She was the youngest graduate of the University of Maine, received a Master’s Degree from Trinity College Dublin, studied Museum Studies at Harvard University, and obtained a Doctorate in U.S. History from George Washington University. She is also a skilled computer programmer and database expert. In 2012, Kristen combined her expertise in history and technology to found HistoryIT with a mission to address the need for historical collections to be made accessible to a much broader audience than professional researchers. With the goal of building truly searchable digital heritage collections, HistoryIT combines its software and services solutions to deliver robust digital presentations that are transforming the way the public will access our collective history. As CEO Kristen has grown HistoryIT to an international industry-leading organization that works with cultural institutions, universities, corporations, professional associations, sports teams, and others throughout the world.


Digital History Company Plans to Create Interactive Digital Version of the Library from American Philosophy: A Love Story

One of the year’s best books is a beautifully written story about books – specifically, a lost collection of priceless tomes with inscriptions and margin notes by many of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Now the library made famous in John J. Kaag’s American Philosophy: A Love Story is on track to be brought to life through technology.

americanphilosophy_custom-2e099ff24c575195c29cf1a1f49d5b799983d01b-s400-c85A Kickstarter project has been started to raise the funds so that my company, HistoryIT, can recreate the William Ernest Hocking library as an interactive digital space where visitors can peruse the shelves and open books to read the text and the book owners’ notes or inscriptions.
Hocking was an early 20th century philosophy professor, and his library became a repository for the collections of many of his mentors and colleagues. Among the treasures are first editions of works by Descartes, Locke, and Kant, and signed copies of books by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman and Robert Frost.

Kaag, also a philosophy professor, discovered the neglected library in rural New Hampshire at a point when he was undergoing a personal transformation. American Philosophy: A Love Story documents not only Kaag’s reflections on the philosophers, novelists and poets whose work he finds at the Hocking library, but also the evolving relationship with the woman who would become his second wife.

“Kaag hits the sweet spot between intellectual history and personal memoir in this transcendently wonderful love song to philosophy and its ability ‘to help individuals work through the trials of experience’" said a review by National Public Radio.

Tackling the next, digital chapter in this exciting tale is ambitious, given that Hocking’s original library held 10,000 titles. It also is a huge honor, and dovetails nicely with our recent projects for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Washington, D.C. Historical Society.

American Philosophy: A Love Story leaves readers wanting to interact with the library’s contents, so it’s a perfect opportunity to leverage our methodology.

Ernest Hocking's Library
Ernest Hocking's Library

Once the 60-day Kickstarter campaign is completed, I will lead a team of historians and technologists in creating interactive digital replicas of many of the 200 Hocking library books housed today at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, where Kaag teaches. HistoryIT will create a digital version of the library where visitors can learn more about the 10,000 or so titles that were in the original library, as well as explore connections among the handwritten notes and inscriptions in the rare works.  Rewards for participating in the 60-day Kickstarter campaign range from a “thank you” message sent via social media ($20) to a 1,000-word essay by Kaag on a topic chosen by the donor ($2,000).



Should We Create the Same Digital Archives for Different Audiences?

RL front screen

As a part-time history Ph.D. student embarking on my dissertation (while working full-time at Ford’s Theatre—indeed, I don’t sleep much), few things thrill me more than searching for digitized primary sources.

I tend to use loose search terms, as I know that many digitized collections have minimal metadata, and then sort through the results manually to find what I need.

Wearing either my academic or my museum professional hat, I’m the not-oft-stated but oft-implied audience for many collections databases. My many, many, many years of training (I’m in something like 23rd grade) have prepared me to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But what of users who haven’t gone through years of professional history and museum training, like K-12 teachers? Should we expect them to use an online archive in the same way?

Just as we wouldn’t run the same type of public program for academics as we would for K–12 teachers (I hope), we shouldn’t expect everyone else to use the same type of online platforms we create for use by academics and fellow museum professionals.

This was perhaps the biggest lesson that became clear to us at Ford’s Theatre as we planned our Remembering Lincoln Digital Collection, which launched in March 2015. After we identified four (in hindsight, overly broad) target audiences during the course of a planning meeting (teachers, students, enthusiasts and scholars), we began an audience evaluation process led by Conny Graft.


Both during the planning process and after launch, Ford’s Theatre conducted videoconference focus groups with teachers, enthusiasts and recent museum visitors.
Both during the planning process and after launch, Ford’s Theatre conducted videoconference focus groups with teachers, enthusiasts and recent museum visitors.

We conducted focus groups with teachers and enthusiasts, and surveys of teachers, enthusiasts and scholars.

Ultimately, we identified teachers and students as our most important long-term audiences. We realized that much of the interest from enthusiasts would coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Lincoln assassination, but teachers and students would have interest in this resource year in and year out.

Do busy teachers have the same interest that researchers like me do in sorting through reams of lightly-interpreted primary sources to find the right ones for their classes?

As they told us, and as research efforts by the Minnesota Historical Society have shown as well, not so much.

Rather, teachers understandably don’t have time to sift, and also indicated that they prefer for a subject expert to give recommendations.

So pursuant to this, we made sure that the website includes several features that add interpretation and context—something that took a lot of extra work, but that we would argue is worth the effort.

There is an interpretive section of the website, with a timeline (not always the best interpretive method, but in this case, a way to show events and related primary sources in time), a map that displays a selection of primary sources, and short biographies of featured people.

We have a set of thematic “curated collections” to give another entry point.

We worked with a group of teachers to create teaching modules—the teachers told us that they trusted lesson plans created by their fellow professionals, and not as much by museum staff.

We’ve also used a tagging system, which has sometimes broken down in spite of efforts to maintain a controlled vocabulary. We’re working with our web developer on replacing a free tagging system with check boxes.

We’ve also started working with classrooms on transcriptions, since many of the items in Remembering Lincoln are as yet un-transcribed.

We’ve also encouraged—not always successfully—our contributing institutions to add rich descriptions to their items. In a focus group after launch, teachers indicated a strong preference for items with more interpretation.


Diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam, a teenager living in Boston who drew the look on her face when her father told her of Lincoln’s assassination. As an adult, Putnam was a portrait painter. Massachusetts Historical Society.
Diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam, a teenager living in Boston who drew the look on her face when her father told her of Lincoln’s assassination. As an adult, Putnam was a portrait painter. Massachusetts Historical Society.

In the future, we’ll likely be going back to add richer metadata.

An important point about adding richer metadata: It takes a lot of time and counters the notion of “more product, less process” that is prevalent in archival work today. Instead of what others have told me is an average of 20-30 minutes per item, Jessica Ellison at the Minnesota Historical Society, who is preparing sets of richly-described primary sources for teachers, tells me she spends one to two hours per item, depending on how much research she needs to do.

But as Mike Lesperance, a principal at exhibition development firm The Design Minds (disclosure: where I formerly worked), put it to me in a recent conversation, interpreting collections items in this way is making them intellectually accessible to broader audiences. Isn’t that what we are supposed to do as educators?

In addition to curated sets of primary sources and rich metadata, our research and that of others also indicate that teachers are looking for variety.

This is one of the unresolved questions that we still have with Remembering Lincoln. In our collecting—not nearly finished (so if your institution has materials, please let me know!)—we have aimed, not always successfully, for geographic and ethnic diversity. Indeed, in the extensive audience research and interpretation process, building the collection was one of the aspects that suffered, although we have 693 items as of May 31.

Still, how do we reconcile the desire for a larger variety of items with the desire for a more curated focus? We haven’t quite cracked that nut. Any suggestions from others in the field are appreciated!

David McKenzie is Associate Director for Digital Resources in the Education Department at Ford’s Theatre. He also is currently a part-time History Ph.D. student at George Mason University, studying 19th-century U.S. and Latin American history, as well as digital history. Before coming to Ford’s in October 2013, he worked at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater WashingtonThe Design Minds, Inc. and the Alamo. Follow him on Twitter @dpmckenzie.

Historical Society of Washington, DC and HistoryIT Release New Digital Archive Portal for DC History

Earlier this month, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C. and history technology and consulting firm HistoryIT (AASLH members since 1995 and 2013, respectively) announced the release of a new web portal –Discover DC History – that tells rich stories from the history of the nation’s capital and allows the public to search and view items in the archive. The new digital archive is just one of the results of a grant from the City Fund awarded to the Historical Society of Washington by the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. The grant funded the creation of a plan to digitize many of the organization's historic collections and begin the digitization process.

The new Discover DC History site contains nearly 1,000 items, including contracts, correspondence, deeds, photographs, postcards, rsz_discoverdc2ephemera, and three-dimensional museum artifacts, some of which have never been seen before by the public. This is a small sample of the Historical Society’s vast collections focused on Washington’s local history from the 17th century to the present. HistoryIT has also completed a preliminary assessment to evaluate the Historical Society’s existing catalog, which includes approximately 100,000 records, as well as all of the materials housed at its headquarters in the Carnegie Library at Mt. Vernon Square, and has produced a strategic digitization plan, informing the Historical Society how best to digitize and make accessible its vast holdings over the next few years.

The new site features a curated exhibition entitled “Washingtonians at Play.” Visitors can also simply explore items from collections that have been hidden away for years in the “Discover Unseen Images” section. HistoryIT’s digital collections technology ArchivesTree allows viewers to search items across collections and by item type. The Historical Society’s digital initiative is an ongoing project. More of the collections will be added to the site on a continuous basis, and as more stories are uncovered, the Historical Society will release new curated exhibitions. The new digital archive provides exciting, unprecedented access to the history of the people and places of the nation’s capital, which will only grow over time.

rsz_discoverdc“We are particularly happy to announce this new digital platform – we have been building our digital presence and this website is the best way to demonstrate the breadth of our collection. Making collections readily available online is a priority, and I am pleased that we have created an important new way for the public to research, collaborate, and innovate,” said John Suau, the Historical Society’s Executive Director. “Thanks to the City Fund support, we have dramatically increased visibility and accessibility to our collections. We now provide a digital library for everyone in the world to learn about the history of Washington, D.C.”

Dr. Kristen Gwinn-Becker, CEO of HistoryIT, described the new site as “a rich resource for people of all ages interested in Washington’s past.” She continued, “At HistoryIT, we are dedicated to creating digital spaces that bring history to the general public as well as the researcher. We are excited to continue to work with the Historical Society to build and turn this web portal into an ongoing asset that will provide the public and media with interactive digital history experiences.”

Press release shared via HistoryIT.

Classifying and Naming Digital Objects with Nomenclature 4.0

Nomenclature 4.0 can be used to catalog digital objects.  It allows museums to record information about the format (e.g., “Document, Digital”) for certain objects in the “Art,” “Documentary Objects,” and “Exchange Media” classes.

An increasing proportion of the objects managed by museums are digital (for example, documents, artworks, photographs, and sound or video recordings in electronic format). Some of these materials are “born digital” and some are digitized from analog sources.

By Acrylictouch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Only those digital objects that are actually a part of the museum collection (and not part of the collections documentation) are accessioned.  This is often the case when the digital object is a born-digital original (e.g. born-digital artworks or photos), not a derivative.  But in some unique cases, digital objects that are derivative (those created by converting from an analog source, e.g., scanning a photograph) may also be accessioned as part of the museum’s formal collection.

Terminology in Nomenclature’s Category 6: Tools and Equipment for Communication for describing the physical media used to store the digital file (e.g., “Diskette,” “Drive, Flash,” “Videodisc”) or for describing the applications that are used to create the digital objects (e.g., “Software, Word Processing,” “Software, Email”) are not sufficient to name and classify the digital file itself.

In general, the digital object should be named just as a physical equivalent would be. For example: a digital photograph is still a photograph; a digital report is still a report; a digital ticket is still a ticket. So their object names should be “Photograph,” “Report,” and “Ticket.”

However, the object’s “digital” status should also be reflected in its object name (as a cross-reference) to make it possible for the museum to find all of its digital materials. Alternatively, the museum may choose to record the fact that the object is a digital object in a separate field.

For example, a born-digital drawing or photograph depicting a ship could be cataloged as follows:

  • Object name field—use “Drawing” or “Photograph”
  • Object name field—also use “Art, Digital” or “Document, Digital”
  • Subject field—use “Ship” (or term from an appropriate subject authority)

Although the primary name for this object is “Drawing” or “Photograph,” the fact that it is a digital object should also be recorded. This can be done by adding a cross-reference in the object name field or recording the information in another field.

Nomenclature 4.0 includes new terms for digital objects within three different classes within the “Communication Objects” category—“Art,” “Documentary Objects,” and “Exchange Media.”

Capture of Textbox Digital Objects - modified2These terms for digital objects can be used in combination (cross-indexed) with another object name to describe the content.  For more information on how to catalog digital objects, see the Users' Guide within Nomenclature 4.0.