November 07, 2005
amanda's two cents worth
Amanda von Argyriadis
Comments on Digital Age Archival Websites
Nov 7, 2005
For this week’s assignment I visited the New Deal Network, a searchable, educational archive found as a segment of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute at: http://newdeal.feri.org/
Within this site are a host of sub-sites that offer a variety of classroom exercises, student projects, and a variety of sources about FDR and the New Deal. The site supports an eclectic selection of documents, images, and archival letters. The documents are grouped and the site is planned to meet the demands of specific features and projects.
I think to be competitive in the present academic environment most research projects require the interdisciplinary use of images (be it maps, photographs, or art,) and well researched, clearly written text to be fully effective. As we learn more about the learning process itself and how the human mind retains information, we learn how to better reach an audience and make a desired impression. A visual presentation given in coordination with a spoken narrative on Roosevelt’s New Deal would be much easier to research and create with this website than with just hard copy text found in the library. A few years ago, in order to create a New Deal presentation for classroom or general audience use, you would have had to scour the library for books, journals, and magazines to gather enough information for the text and images you would like to use. It would require untold hours of scanning; resizing images, converting images to overheads or slides, copying texts and then authoring a narrative.
Here, all in one website, there is ample material to glean information for such a project. Moreover, it is arranged so that you can quickly and easily access whatever portion of the project you need without manually searching the entire library, often with the help of the librarian as you would for brick and mortar housed source material. The sitemap serves as a librarian of sorts, guiding you where to look for certain items of interest. Surveying the site before you begin the project can often give you creative ideas about what to include. While we run the risk of overload in the face of such a glut of information, the options open to us for a simple project such as a presentation on the New Deal seem limitless and exciting when compared to the encyclopaedia based discussion one might be forced to have within the time creative constraints three years ago.
We are already well into in the digital era. Today almost everyone has access to the internet. Everyone in academia had better have access to the internet or they will quickly fall behind. Anyone who has tried to do research in the last three years without the use of the internet is at a great disadvantage. Research and writing is already different than it was three years ago when I began my studies here at GMU. There are numerous websites I have been able to glean information from that did not exist when I searched the web in 2002. I imagine this situation will only grow exponentially, burdening me with the responsibility to make decisions regarding which sites to use and what information I can consider as reliable for research.
The dilemma that faces us all when we click on a site is the same as that which has concerned us in the past; is this information reliable, is it ultimately useful for the project at hand, and finally, is it accessible? Searches for hard copy text in the library over the years have often turned up to be a dead end when the library no longer holds the issue for the journal that you seek, the one copy of the book is being rebound, the microfilm is no longer available, or it is warehoused and not accessible in the time you need to access it. Or as frequently in the case of the GMU library, the book is missing or has not been shelved or filed properly. And that is only for the sources you’re aware of from the library catalogue search.
The web, however, offers instant access to many documents and archival texts and images that would otherwise be stockpiled somewhere in a dusty attic and unavailable, or perhaps even unknown to the public. Aside from being able to order books and journals in print, personal accounts, letters, images and other archival primary source documents are available via the internet that would not be readily available to a mass public prior to this digital age. While we may find some links are broken and/or gated, we can get citations and look for them elsewhere as one of our classmates did just this week for one of our reading assignments. By the time I write my dissertation, I probably won’t have to travel much, if at all, to obtain the records I seek for documentation. They will probably all be on line. It may not be perfect, but neither were library and other brick and mortar archives. Web based research is exciting, dynamic, and offers us untold learning opportunities we may never have had without it.
Posted by avonargy at November 7, 2005 03:16 PM