Developing a user portal (graphical interface) that will be able to display content from the scanned archival documents in ways that reveal previously hidden or unknown connections, based on tagging and other algorithmically-identified content.
Traditional (paper-based) archives and repositories hold a tremendous amount of historical information of continuing relevance to local communities, yet accessing this information remains a challenging, time-consuming, and sometimes prohibitive process for students and members of the general public. In particular, mayoral administration papers from the mid-20th century to the present reveal how local decisions regarding economic development, housing policy, employment, transportation, law enforcement, and the environment produced the metropolitan settings that a majority of Americans live in today; however, revealing this past’s continuity with contemporary socioeconomic issues is typically left to professional scholars or the handful of amateurs with the time and patience to extract the relevant information. We propose to dramatically expand access to one city’s recent past – and thereby open new collaborative and interpretive spaces – through the Ivan Allen, Jr. Digital Archive, a joint project of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Atlanta History Center. As mayor from 1962 to 1970, Mr. Allen oversaw a period of Atlanta’ s history widely identified with economic dynamism but also characterized by protracted challenges to both the racial status quo and the particular development strategies pursued by his administration and the local business community. By building a networked, digital archive using a wide selection from the Allen mayoral papers – only recently made publicly available – we will enable diverse stakeholders, including student and community researchers as well as traditional academics, to pursue more open-ended interpretive experiences that can potentially enhance and empower civic participation.
Scanning a significant portion of the Allen mayoral records is only the first step in the creation of what will be a new portal for understanding Atlanta history in a more inclusive, fair, and balanced way. Innovative data processing tools will be applied to the digitized records, including optical character recognition for full-text searching, tagging (including georeferencing), embedding hyperlinks to similar or related documents, and ultimately big-data approaches like topic modeling and data visualization. We will also create curricular approaches to the archive for students — lists, themes, glossary, or other meta-information that can help students engage with cultural and historical issues in multiple courses.
We identified significant content within the physical papers, digitization (scanning), quality-checking and initial description of the contents. A Brittain fellow, Joshua Hussey, also developed content for his course using some of the scanned artifacts.
GRA Christopher Long continued the process of evaluating the scanned documents, and acted as a liaison between Michney and the Junior CS Capstone team developing a prototype of the interface, in consultation with Hodges. Michney and Hodges applied for an NEH Digital Humanities grant, with the goal of increasing funding for project development. Michney also met with staff at iPaT and IMTC for suggestions regarding future collaboration.
Michney and Hodges are looking into options on how to leverage additional resources here at GE, to continue the project on a longer-term basis. These could include another Junior CS Capstone team to continue prototyping, approaching graduate students in the HCI-MA program to do thesis-related work on the project, or graduate the creation of a VIP project to bring together interested faculty and students in developing the project concept on a more sustainable basis. Continued funding, through DILAC, NEH or some other source will be necessary if the project is to make it to the next level.