Crossing the Line: Facilitating Digital Access to Primary Sources


Kate Johnson, Loyola University Chicago
Marie Pellissier, Loyola University Chicago


Jim Ambuske, University of Virginia School of Law, Arthur J. Morris Law Library
Rosalind Beiler, University of Central Florida
Michelle Bickert, Digital Public Library of America
Deborah Cornell, William and Mary Libraries, College of William and Mary
Keith Erekson, LDS Church History Library
Nicole Ferraiolo, Council on Library and Information Resources
Adina Langer, Museum of History and Holocaust Education
Sara Martin, Massachusetts Historical Society
Ellen Noonan, New York University
Leighton Quarles, American West Center, University of Utah
Kelly Schmidt, Loyola University Chicago
Carlene Stephens, Smithsonian Institution
James Wyatt, Robert C. Byrd Center for Congressional History and Education

About this working group:

Public history institutions, archives, universities, and libraries are increasingly making archival materials available online. However, as Sheila Brennan reminds us, research and resources made available online are not necessarily “public” projects. She contends that a truly “public” digital humanities project intentionally places the public’s needs and participation at the center of all stages of the project. This working group will engage with Brennan’s premise and critically explore the ways in which public digital archival projects have tried to fulfill the call to put the audience at the center of the discussion. Collaboratively, we will produce a website that serves as both a best-practices resource and an index of public-facing digital archival projects.

This working group will bring together a diverse group of public historians and digital humanists to discuss the challenges and benefits of public-centered digital archives projects, using a case study-based approach. Questions for discussion might include:

• Is putting the public’s needs and participation at the center of the project practical and achievable? Are there alternate visions for how a “public digital humanities” archival project might appear or engage with the public?
• What are the criteria for success? What metrics are we using to measure or assess audience engagement? How do those metrics limit or expand our view of “the public”?
• How does a project’s scale affect its success in engaging with the public?
• How does the goal of incorporating the public at every stage of the project change based on the level of institutional support? Type of collection? Life cycle of the project?
• Are there digital projects that are not suitable for public engagement? Are there other considerations that recommend limiting public engagement on some projects or some aspects of projects?
• When we say “public”, who are we talking about? What kind of audiences should digital archives projects be engaging with?


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