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Viewers enter virtual worlds of spiders, ceramics, and graffiti with the help of digital initiatives

March 25, 2011

  • Graffiti image by Kaye Blankenship B.A. ’12, taken in New York City

Watzek Library

A new series of digital initiatives is extending the college’s global reach and influencing the study of the humanities around the world.

Digital projects at Lewis & Clark are making abundant archival materials freely available to audiences worldwide. Developed by staff at the Watzek Library, these projects integrate digital tools, the principles of library science, and extensive multimedia materials to make information more accessible than ever before. 

In just a few very busy years, the digital initiatives team and their collaborators have built cutting-edge, compelling resources for disciplines as diverse as arachnology and poetry, graffiti and ceramic art. The clear, easy-to-navigate presentation of these websites conceals the sophisticated design and wealth of information lying below the surface. Within just a few clicks, students, faculty, and scholars from around the world can delve into these databases and retrieve the information they need.

A recent New York Times story considered how liberal arts colleges around the country are employing the digital humanities to foster student engagement and “explore how new media may alter the very process of reading, interpretation and analysis.”

Learn more about digital initiatives at Lewis & Clark and their influence on contemporary scholarship in the stories below.

AccessCeramics: fusing technology, education, and the arts (2008)

An innovative project developed by a team of Lewis & Clark faculty and staff members has quickly become a vital resource for the arts and education communities. AccessCeramics is a robust online collection of contemporary ceramics images that has become a highly effective educational tool and an influential model for increasing access to both art and education.

Launched in March 2008, accessCeramics is the only major, free ceramics database online. Watzek Library staff members collaborate with Associate Professor of Art and Studio Head of Ceramics Ted Vogel to support the project’s technological, artistic, and educational dimensions.

“High-quality images of the ceramic arts are among the least represented in licensed and open digital image databases,” said Mark Dahl, interim director of Watzek Library, who managed the logistics of the project. “AccessCeramics is a unique collection that combines work by recognized ceramics artists with rich metadata to form an online database that can be used as a resource for education in the ceramic arts both at the college and K-12 levels.”

Since its inception, accessCeramics has grown tremendously and has caught the attention of artists, scholars, and experts in instructional media services. The originality of the project and its educational mission have earned it grant support from prominent foundations such as the National Endowment for the Arts. Housed in Flickr, the foremost online photo-sharing application, accessCeramics is free and user-friendly for contributors and viewers. The database now includes nearly 4,000 images from 250 artists representing more than a dozen countries.

AccessCeramics’ stunning growth and effective integration of cutting-edge tools make it an unparalleled resource for arts education.

Learn more about accessCeramics or visit the site.

William Stafford Archive: fostering education on campus and beyond (2009)

An invaluable resource for educators, authors, historians, and fans of one of America’s foremost poets, the William Stafford Archive contains an incomparable range of materials. Stafford, who passed away in 1993, was Oregon’s poet laureate from 1975 to 1989 and a professor at Lewis & Clark for more than 30 years. Since the Stafford family donated the archive to Lewis & Clark College in 2008, it has become a vital tool for instruction on campus, in the Portland community, and beyond.

The archive includes more than 20,000 pages of Stafford’s daily writings, as well as a large collection of correspondence, photographs, recordings, and teaching materials. A team of staff members from Special Collections and Watzek Library sought innovative solutions to organize and display the archive in a user-friendly way.

“We didn’t have a formula to follow,” Erickson said. “We couldn’t say, ‘Let’s just do what they did with the Emily Dickinson archive,’ because nothing like the Stafford archive exists elsewhere. This is truly a unique project, which has lent itself to the imagination of our staff. We were starting from scratch in designing the website, relying on the ingenuity and creativity of our staff.”

Visitors to the William Stafford Archive website will see the impressive results of the team’s efforts. To date, students and staff have digitized Stafford’s first two books of poetry, West of Your City (1960) and Traveling through the Dark (1962). For each collection, visitors can view the drafts and typescripts of poems, alongside supplemental audio and video material, when available.

Though local educators have access to the tangible materials in the archive, digital materials and teacher resources are available on the website for visitors to access from anywhere. The public’s unprecedented access to the poet’s archive will ensure that Stafford’s legacy will continue for generations to come.

Learn more about the William Stafford Archives or visit the website.

Oregon Poetic Voices: documenting Oregon’s literary heritage (2010)

Bringing together new technologies and the oldest part of our oral traditions, the Oregon Poetic Voices Project (OPV) is creating a comprehensive digital archive of readings from poets across the state. Spearheaded by Lewis & Clark’s Special Collections staff, the project recently received a second year of funding from the Oregon State Library Board to continue to expand its scope.

The archive draws from three major collections of recorded Oregon poetry from almost every significant Oregon poet of the last quarter of the twentieth century, along with a good selection of recent innovators in the increasingly diverse world of Oregon poetry. In addition, the team is using mobile studios to create new recordings around the state, partnering with libraries to engage communities from Ashland to Madras. Poet and professor Joanne Mulcahy, a partner in the OPV project, and other distinguished poets, like current Oregon Poet Laureate Paulann Petersen, have hosted free writing workshops around the state in tandem with the recordings.

“Oregon Poetic Voices will enable us to maintain a record of poetry in performance,” said Doug Erickson, head of special collections. “Hearing the poet read his or her work aloud is a vitally important aspect of interpretation and a valuable teaching tool.”

The site already includes more than 100 voices, and many more are still being added. Featured poets include each Oregon Poet Laureate and notable present-day Lewis & Clark poets like Vern Rutsala, professor emeritus of English; Mary Szybist, associate professor of English; Paul Merchant, William Stafford archivist and special collections associate; Kim Stafford, associate professor and director of the Northwest Writing Institute; and Jerry Harp, assistant professor of English.

Seeking to be as inclusive as possible, the project serves as an avenue for discovering voices and stories in Oregon and a testament to the state’s rich literary heritage.

Visit the Oregon Poetic Voices site.

New York City Graffiti & Street Art Project: synthesizing contemporary art and new media tools (2010)

A pioneering collaboration between Watzek Library and the Office of Overseas and Off-Campus Programs led to the creation of an archive of graffiti art in New York City, viewable by neighborhood.

Margo Ballantyne, former visual resources coordinator and collaborator on the accessCeramics project, led an off-campus program in NYC during the fall 2010. Ballantyne taught the course The Contemporary Art of New York City, which provided an opportunity for students to document graffiti and street art they encountered around the city with mobile devices and digital cameras.

“This type of art is certainly contemporary, it is controversial, and a wonderful contrast to the precious and priceless artworks […] in the galleries, museums and public venues in the city,” Ballantyne wrote on the project blog. “It is also artwork that lends itself to digital capture—it is often ephemeral, it can be neighborhood based and site-specific, and therefore a great candidate for geo-tagging.”

Students uploaded images to the image-sharing site Flickr with geo-location information. Digital Services Coordinator Jeremy McWilliams is now synthesizing the images and metadata into a map-based digital archive of the students’ research. The project’s website is projected to launch this spring.

“The main intent of this project is not to create an online, searchable database,” Ballantyne wrote. “It is an experiment in using mobile devices and social software to collect examples in the field that can then be scrutinized and critiqued for the possible importance of ‘location’ in this style of art.”

Visit the NYC Graffiti & Street Art site.

Spiders of Lewis & Clark: raising awareness of biodiversity (2010)

During the fall 2010 term, students in Associate Professor Greta Binford’s Perspectives in Biology course collected and identified spiders from the Lewis & Clark campus and surrounding neighborhoods.

A digital archive of the student-faculty collaborative research will document their discoveries, highlighting local biodiversity and educating the community about our ecosystem.

Binford’s work with venomous spiders has taken her around the world and led to discoveries about the evolution of venom toxins in related spider species. She recently appeared on an episode of the PBS program “Nova” to discuss venom. Though no local spiders are known to be harmful to humans, Binford’s fascination with spiders and passion for collaborating with student researchers made this a fitting project.

After photographing the spiders under high magnification, students uploaded more than 300 images to Flickr. The website, which is projected to launch this spring, will display images and geographic locations of the spiders.

Partially funded by the National Science Foundation, the project will increase awareness of our local spider species among students and the larger community.

View the Spiders of Lewis & Clark site.

Rabat Genizah Project: collaborating across borders and cultures (2011)

What began with simple curiosity about a small room filled with bags of papers in a synagogue in Rabat, Morocco, has become a project that will help change the way anthropologists and historians document cultures around the world.

Oren Kosansky, assistant professor of anthropology, earned a $50,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a digital archive of Judaic Moroccan documents from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. The online archive will open access to researchers with an interest in Jewish culture in Northern Africa and allow them to share ideas and information widely. Of even greater interest to the NEH, the project will offer a new model for intercultural and international collaboration in the creation of technological resources to share historical information.

The project stems from Kosansky’s 2005 Fulbright research trip to Rabat, the capital of Morocco and former home to a large Jewish community. During his stay, Kosansky worked closely with leaders of Rabat’s major synagogue and community center. It was there that he discovered a genizah—a room or depository found in synagogues, where old religious documents that are no longer in use are kept and periodically buried.

“I found literally thousands of books and documents pertaining to virtually all facets of Jewish life in Morocco, especially as it was transformed during the 20th century,” says Kosansky. “My first thought was, ‘How can I save these materials from burial, so that they can be consulted by community members and scholars?’”

With the approval of community leaders, Kosansky sorted through the documents, noting which ones were appropriate for historical preservation. Synagogue leaders gave Kosansky these documents, and he donated them to the Jewish Museum in Casablanca. The documents are the focus of his NEH digitization project, which begins this spring while he is directing Lewis & Clark’s first overseas program in Morocco. The project is expected to come online in fall 2011.

“This is about far more than an archive,” says Kosansky. “It’s an opportunity to effectively bring a cross-cultural project to fruition and a chance to develop a model for academicians and laypeople to share information and ideas about the documents that they access.”

Learn more about Kosansky’s project.


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