Alphabetical Order

Yesterday I wrote a post about some things you could do with a body of digital “data” that was not specifically related to the purpose of the original documents. Later in the day, during our opening demonstration of the web site, I was reminded of the very powerful nature of the printed word in telling the story of history.  A relative of Thomas Dodd sat down and searched for the phrase: alphabetical order .

Surprisingly to me, but not to the person who typed it, the phrase returned three results from a presentation by Dodd to the Tribunal. In showing that the execution of prisoners was a calculated policy, Dodd reviewed death records from one concentration camp:

“These pages cover death entries made for the 19th day of March. 1945 between fifteen minutes past one in the morning until two o’clock in the afternoon. In this space of twelve and three- quarter hours. on these records, 203 persons are reported as having died. They were assigned serial numbers running from 8390 to 8593. The names of the dead are listed. And interestingly enough the victims are all recorded as having died of the same ailment – heart trouble. They died at brief intervals. They died in alphabetical order. The first who died was a man named Ackermann, who died at one fifteen a.m., and the last was a man named Zynger, who died at two o’clock in the afternoon.”

Just thinking a bit about what the description of this activity says about the people and government that calmly and efficiently carried out and very consciously documented the horrors described here is alarming and disturbing. I know that we often say that we live in a “post-literate” society, and that data visualization is the latest and greatest way to create an impact on that highly visual society. I think that these 122 words say more in their own way than any photo or visualization of data could.

What’s for Breakfast?

In about an hour, we will be doing a public demonstration of our new repository infrastructure. Of course most people won’t know that, they will be looking at the Nuremberg Trial papers of Thomas J. Dodd (archives.lib.uconn.edu). What they won’t see is the underlying presentation and management Drupal/Islandora application, the Fedora repository, the storage layer, and a host of decisions about metadata schemas (MODS with uri tags for subject and names), OCR (Uncorrected, machine generated), data and content models (atomistic pages brought together in a “book” using RDF) and Drupal themes (Do you like that button there or here?).

The papers themselves represent about 12,000 pages of material (about 50% of the total–we are continuing to digitize the rest) collected by then Executive Trial Counsel Thomas J. Dodd during the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg just after WWII. There are trial briefs, depositions, documentation, and administrative memos relating to the construction and execution of the trial strategy of the U.S. prosecutors that has never before been available on line. As one of the most heavily used collections in our repository, we felt that this was an appropriate first collection for our new infrastructure. As with all digital collections, it will now be possible to access this material without having to travel to Connecticut and will open up all sorts of research possibilities for scholars of international law, WWII, the Holocaust, etc.

While all these things are very valuable and were the primary purpose for digitizing the collection, I wanted to focus this post on some unintended consequences (or opportunities) that full-text access to a body of material like this supplies. I’m a big believer in the opportunity of unintended consequences. This has never been more true in the era of digitization where documents become data that can be manipulated by  computers to uncover and connect things that would take years to do by hand, if they could be done at all.

In the course of building their case, the prosecutors collected a massive amount of information about the workings of the Nazi regime. A lot of that information is mundane, relating to supply chains (what we would today call “logistics”) and procurement, or economic output, or the movement of material and resources along transportation routes.  Without expressly meaning to, they created a picture of a wartime society that includes all sorts of information about mid-20th century Europe.

It may seem inappropriate to study the record of a global tragedy to find out what people ate for breakfast or to study the technology infrastructure of  transportation systems, but that is exactly what you can do. Digital resources create opportunities to ask research questions that could never have been asked before, and as we well know, it is not our job as archivists to decide what is an appropriate question to ask about any historical resource.

Raising the Floor

Yesterday I was again fortunate to participate in an event here at UConn called “Digital Media/Innovative Collaborations” a symposium organized by Tim Hunter of UConn’s Digital Media and Design program. The symposium  brought together folks from across campus who have an interest or experience in working with digital media and was organized according to Tim’s idea of the digital media “table” being supported by four “legs” of Business, Creative Arts, STEM, and Digital Humanities/Social Science.

Two excellent keynotes by Gael McGill of Harvard Medical School, and Tom Scheinfeldt of the CHNM kicked off the day and after a networking lunch, we went to breakout sessions in each topic area with an admonition for people to try to visit an area with which they were not familiar.

I was invited to speak as part of the Digital Humanities breakout session, and I chose to speak broadly about the role of digital repositories in the context of not only the Humanities, but all digital media and design. Taking Tim Hunter’s analogy a step farther, I see digital repositories as the “floor” upon which the legs of the digital media table sits.

It is repositories that supply the digital content for visualizing and are the places for created content to live and be repurposed in the future. And so without repositories the table, while it would still have legs to stand on, would not have a floor for those legs to rest on, and the structure would collapse.

The audience was filled with mostly Digital Humanities practitioners, a core group of potential users and contributors that we wanted to reach. There were some people who were hearing  one of my talks for the first time and who understood my message and a few were interested in pursuing a collaboration of some type or another. So, all in all it was a worthwhile  day and was great exposure for the repository program.

 

Want to Help Build the Next Generation Repository AND Save the World?

Or at least help make it a better place? The Archives and Special Collections at UConn is at the center of both the development of the digital repository and of the documentation of Human Rights.  We are looking for a Curator of Human Rights Collections who has a strong interest in Human Rights as well as experience working with digital content and archives. If you are interested in working in an environment where innovation is the rule and challenging intellectual endeavors are commonplace, think about applying to join our group!
Minimum Qualifications include:

  • A graduate degree in Library or Information Science from a program accredited by the American Library Association.
  • Understanding of issues and challenges relating to human rights documentation.
  • Three years experience in an academic library, archives, or related institution.
  • Two years experience working with digital content in a repository or archival setting.
  • Ability to work independently, identifying problems, implementing revisions and changes to policies and creating and implementing new policies.

With additional preferred qualifications including:

  • Experience with digital content management and digital curation.
  • Demonstrated work or field experience in human rights documentation.
  • Experience working with archiving web and/or social media resources.

For a complete description and application instructions please visit HuskyHire at: http://www.jobs.uconn.edu

0r follow this link:

http://s.uconn.edu/humrightscurator

then choose “Advanced Search”  and enter  2012498 in “Job Opening ID”