Lewis & Clark plays a leadership role in the emerging field of digital scholarship.
by Shelly Meyer and Claire Sykes
Oren Kosansky paused in his work, adjusted his dust mask, and surveyed the remaining bags and boxes stuffed with aging documents. Even here, in the synagogue’s genizah, a small room for storing sacred papers before burial, he could feel the heat penetrating the walls from the Moroccan sun.
Kosansky, assistant professor of anthropology, pondered his task. In the span of just a few short weeks, he needed to sort through thousands of Jewish Moroccan documents from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries to determine which ones should be preserved for posterity and which ones should be buried according to Jewish tradition.
Many texts were disintegrating around the edges. Others literally fell apart in his hands. All were remnants of a once major, but not yet fully studied, urban Jewish community in North Africa. Religious texts, personal letters, poetic manuscripts, public records—they were all represented.
Kosansky’s near-term goal was to deliver the rescued papers to the Jewish Museum in Casablanca, where they would be housed in a library archive. But his long-term goal was more ambitious: he hoped to create a digital archive so the texts could be preserved, shared, studied, and commented on by scholars around the globe. Today, he is well on his way to achieving that goal—the online archive is slated to launch in 2012.
Kosansky is one of several faculty and staff members at Lewis & Clark who are advancing scholarship in extraordinary new ways through digital initiatives.
Key to these endeavors are library staff, who are broadening the role of the traditional academic library. At Lewis & Clark, staff from Watzek Library are partnering with faculty to help conceptualize and execute a variety of digital initiatives.
“Digital scholarship is about more than convenient, online access to information,” says Mark Dahl, interim director of Watzek Library and a champion of this new field. “It’s about bringing fresh perspectives to scholarly inquiry and enabling new discoveries in a variety of academic disciplines.”
Behind the scenes, Jeremy McWilliams, the library’s digital services coordinator, designs website architecture for each initiative and writes the nitty-gritty software coding. Anneliese Dehner, the library’s metadata and digital projects specialist, creates the graphics for each initiative’s website and provides other support.
The result? Six elegantly designed digital scholarship projects that include some of the first collections of their kind.
The project: accessCeramics is a robust online collection of contemporary ceramics images designed for use by artists, arts educators, scholars, and the general public. A five-member curatorial board reviews submission to ensure that the collection is populated by the works of accomplished artists in the field. Initiated in 2008, the project grew out of frustration at the lack of high-quality images available for contemporary ceramic arts education. It’s now the most comprehensive resource for contemporary ceramics online.
Project staff: Ted Vogel, associate professor of art and studio head in ceramics, and Stephanie Beene, visual resources coordinator in Watzek Library.
Coolness factor: accessCeramics brims with more than 4,000 photos of works by at least 250 artists from 14 countries. Click on the site’s world map to find an artist by location, or go through the alphabetical list. Visitors can also search by glazing/surface, material, object type, technique, and temperature.
The big picture: Not only does accessCeramics feature the work of individual artists, but it also serves as a portal for partnering institutions to share images never before included in digital collections. Recent collaborators include the American Museum of Ceramic Art in California and the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Montana.
Nuts and bolts: The images live on Flickr, a leading online photo-sharing site; additional data about the image, known as metadata, is stored on a Watzek Library server. Lewis & Clark’s software code captures the images from Flickr and combines them with the image metadata to produce each page.
Quotable: “My big goal is to get more major artists—particularly international artists—on accessCeramics,” says Vogel. “We want to show the real strength of what’s going on in the world of ceramic art.”
External funding: National Endowment for the Arts, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education.
The project: William Stafford, who died in 1993, was one of the most prolific and important American poets of the last half of the 20th century. He was Oregon’s poet laureate from 1975 to 1989 and a professor at Lewis & Clark for more than 30 years. The William Stafford Archives, donated to Lewis & Clark by the Stafford family in 2008, contain his private papers, publications, photographs, recordings, and teaching materials.
Of the many Stafford materials digitized by students and staff, the first two poetry collections —West of Your City (1960) and Traveling Through the Dark (1962)—are currently available for online study. For each collection, visitors can view the drafts and typescripts of poems alongside supplemental audio and video material, when available.
Project staff: Doug Erickson, head of special collections; Paul Merchant, William Stafford archivist and special collections associate; and Jeremy Skinner, archives coordinator.
Coolness factor: Perhaps you’ve read some of Stafford’s poems, but have you heard him read his own work? Have you had an opportunity to study the subtle (and not-so-subtle) changes he made during the revision process? With this site, you can.
The big picture: The site functions not just as an interactive archive, but as a fully developed educational resource. Kim Stafford, William Stafford’s son and literary executor, has overseen the process of developing and collecting resources for elementary and secondary teachers. Director of Lewis & Clark’s Northwest Writing Institute, he facilitated a successful summer workshop for area teachers to create curricula around William Stafford’s poetry. These resources, which are now available on the website, provide suggestions for lesson plans, discussion topics, and writing assignments focused on selected portions of the archive, representing themes in Stafford’s writing, like the environment, and writerly concerns, like editing.
Student input: More than a dozen Lewis & Clark students, often English and history majors, have worked with the archives and gained firsthand experience in the essentials of biographicaland archival processes. Several of them have gone on to graduate study in library science and landed jobs in other libraries.
Looking forward: The materials currently available on the archive website represent just a portion of the entire collection. In coming years, an updated bibliography of William Stafford’s work is planned, which will provide the key to the entire collection of text, video, and audio materials.
Quotable: “The compelling story of the William Stafford Archives is, I think, the poet’s awareness of the importance of preserving the record of a complete poetic life,” says Paul Merchant. “The archive may be unique in its comprehensiveness.”
External funding: William Stafford Family, Lamb Foundation.
The project: Oregon Poetic Voices is a comprehensive digital archive of poetry readings that complement existing print collections of poetry across the state. Recorded readings of some of the state’s most noteworthy poets serve as the foundation of the site. The recordings come from the Fishtrap Writers’ Gathering, KBOO radio interviews, and the Mountain Writers Series.
Project staff: Doug Erickson, head of special collections; Melissa Dalton, current poetry project fellow; and Tessa Idlewine B.A. ’09, former poetry project fellow.
Coolness factor: In addition to highlighting established poets, Oregon Poetic Voices allows younger and beginning poets the chance to be recorded and archived alongside recognized poets. This portion of the project has focused on Oregon’s often overlooked rural areas, engaging communities from Ashland to Madras. So far, more than 100 people have given voice to their verse.
Looking forward: Oregon Poetic Voices will continue to expand with more regional recording “studios,” continued development of the project website, and additional outreach to educators.
Quotable: “Poetry belongs to everyone. It’s not the domain of merely the elite, the select,” says Paulann Petersen, Oregon’s current poet laureate and a project participant. “A truly democratic archive is a gift to us all. This one ensures that generations to come will be able to hear these voices, in all their range and richness.”
External funding: Oregon State Library.
(Website under development)
The project: The Rabat Genizah Project will result in a digital archive of Jewish Moroccan documents from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
Project lead: Oren Kosansky, assistant professor of anthropology.
Coolness factor: The collection contains many unique documents, including some written in Judeo-Arabic (an endangered Arabic dialect written in Hebrew script).
The big picture: The online archive will enable open access to international researchers interested in North African Jewish culture and allow them to share ideas and information. The project will also offer a new model for intercultural and international collaboration in the creation of technological resources to share historical information.
Student input: Kosansky and his student research assistant, Samantha Stein cas ’11, are currently working on this project on site in Morocco. (Kosansky is leading the college’s first overseas study program there; Stein is a student participant.) Stein is fluent in Hebrew and has a working knowledge of Moroccan Arabic. She is playing an important role in cataloguing, translating, annotating, and imaging the cache of documents. Hannah McCain cas ’12, who has previously lived in Morocco and brings with her French language skills, will be joining the team in June, supported by a faculty-student research grant.
Quotable: “For scholars, these documents offer great insight into a culture and a community that once thrived in Morocco,” says Kosansky. “For the Jewish community, these texts represent something perhaps even more valuable—an opportunity to reflect on how their traditions have been shaped by modern life, colonialism, technological change, and global networks of migration, communication, and commerce.”
External funding: National Endowment for the Humanities.
The project: The New York City Graffiti and Street Art Project was developed in conjunction with the college’s fall 2010 off-campus study program to the Big Apple. Students used digital cameras, smartphones, and the photo-sharing site Flickr to document and catalog ephemeral graffiti and street art throughout the five boroughs of New York.
Project lead: Margo Ballantye, former visual resources coordinator in Watzek Library (recently retired) and leader of last fall’s study program to New York.
Coolness factor: The project enabled students to upload images as well as add data about the images and geotags (location labels). As a result, viewers of the site can browse by categories such as neighborhoods, subjects, techniques, and work types.
The big picture: The project was an experiment to develop and employ mobile technologies for teaching and learning. It could serve as a model for creating collaborative digital image projects with mobile devices and Flickr for other overseas and off-campus study programs.
Student input: This project offered students the flexibility to do field research at times and locales of their choosing—as long as they had their cameras or smartphones with them. Whether participating in a daytime architecture tour or walking through the theatre district for an evening play, students captured a variety of images to enhance the overall project mix.
Quotable: “Graffiti, as the art of the streets, contrasts with the precious and priceless art seen in upscale galleries and world-class museums. At the same time, it’s being featured in those venues and commissioned by major corporations. We’re witnessing the assimilation of graffiti and street art into the mainstream,” says Ballantyne.
The project: The Spiders of Lewis & Clark began in one of the fall sections of Perspectives in Biology, a course designed to teach the principles of basic scientific inquiry to nonscience majors. This particular iteration of the course focused on biodiversity using arachnids (spiders and their relatives) as examples.
Project lead: Greta Binford, associate professor of biology.
Coolness factor: Visitors to the site will find lots of close-ups of spider eyes, genitalia, and spinnerets (silk-spinning organs).
Student input: Around campus or in and around their Portland homes, 70 students beat tree branches, swept nets across grasses and weeds, and lifted up logs and rocks to hunt down local spiders. In the lab, they isolated each insect’s DNA sequence to identify species. Next, they photographed them under microscopes for close-up views of their eyes, genitalia, and spinnerets. Then, using Flickr, they uploaded more than 300 images to the project website, where viewers can search by species and body part.
Quotable: “I get calls all the time from people around Portland asking about the spiders they see. It’s great to be able to refer them to a website with photos and information about the most common spiders in our region,” says Binford. The project also brings awareness to the local biodiversity. “We’re so fortunate to have these intact forests nearby, which only increase the number of species of spiders,” she continues. “All the time, they’re doing important work in the ecosystem.”
External funding: National Science Foundation.
Shelly Meyer is editor of the Chronicle. Claire Sykes is a freelance writer in Portland.