Final Project Idea 5

I admit I was stumped for an idea on my final project. I had a few things floating around my head and, predictably, the light bulb went off at about 3:00 am. This time I was prepared, wrote it down and went right back to sleep. Over the next few days, I ran my idea of a “people’s archive” past historians at work and in my other classes. Everyone seems to think it is a good idea. I just don’t know how excitable it will be.I also thought it was innovated until I saw the Hurricane Katrina Digital Memory site. My idea is similar to the site.
I wanted to do something with “Victory Mail” also known as V-mail. A search of archives grid seemed show personal archives of the WWII letters, but no full repository for the microfilm, or a full collection of correspondence. By creating an online digital repository for collectors, hobby historians, academics, or any one who found a box of letters in their grandparents attic but didn’t know what to do with it, this collection could be shared and utilized by numerous groups and projects. I envisioned the project moving past v-mail and on to letters, post cards, documents, pictures, videos, pictures, or anything else. Then my dreams got overly ambitious and I saw a site that would be limitless, not just one collection of v-mail but the ability of the public to upload, tag and assign metadata under a review process of historians utilizing the site. I realized I was in over my head and have decided to scale it back to focus on V-mail, but also allow for the integration of other correspondence from Soldiers.

Main Objective of the site:

The project would be a repository for anyone looking for a place to upload correspondence from  WWII soldiers. While I will primarily upload V-mail as examples the hope is for others to contribute any correspondence. In turn it would be an online repository for researchers interested in any number of historical areas, postal history, social history, military history, etc…

Features of the site:

Open for anyone to upload or access.
When uploading meta data fields would be open for population based on LOC Recommended Formats Statement.
Comments and Reviews available to subscribers. Allowing those with “expert” opinions to comment on the validity of the documents hopefully reducing forgeries and ensuring authenticity of the documents. I think of this somewhat like peer review, it would be interesting to see if there is a way to register and authenticate a person, similar to the check mark for celebrities on twitter, to increase the validity of the document.
A marking for those who have cited this document in scholarship. With a link to the citation, or a list where this document has been used.
Ability to email/other way to contact the document holder. Because this is open access, the document is still held by the owner. If the researcher had questions, or wanted to meet to see the original document this would be a way to connect.
“Help a Historian.” By uploading questionable documents, images or questions academics, or other historians could open source a problem. This comes from my own experience working with images. As an example, in Milwaukee, street names were changed and buildings were torn down. I was assigned with finding the location of a sign on a building that no longer existed. I had the image, I had an approximate date of the building but because the street names had changed, using directories and Sandborn maps was difficult. We wound up putting the image on the Facebook page for the project and people commented with help. Allowing historians to open source questions engages everyone in the project and increases interest in history.

Potential Problems:
Where can the documents be stored? Will space be an issue as the project grows?
How can I control forgeries? While self policing, there is a high potential for forgeries.
Copyright issues- I am not even sure where to start with finding the legalities of this,  at best it would be hoping for the best in people to not steal.
How would people be encouraged to upload? How great is the learning curve of scanning documents?
One way I have thought of is through message boards, collecting websites and museum links.
OCR does not work well with handwriting. While some people may be willing to participate by transcribing, the document texts themselves would not be easily searchable, putting the burden on the metadata, again the concern of learning to input it correctly is there.
Maintenance? The self policing aspect is great for me. I would like to think documents with higher ratings would be used more, but there would still need to be a way to weed out bad scans, illegible documents, and answer questions when the up-loader is no longer interested in the project.

Can this be done? How in over my head am I? If I am, how can I scale it back to make it somewhat possible.

Tools Needed:
I am guessing Omeka is going to be my primary tool. I am not sure (yet) what platform would allow me to create a space for people to upload and create their own profiles. I plan to keep digging through the Hurricane Digital Memory site to get more ideas, but I don’t want to mirror the site exactly so I am hesitant on digging too much and just copying their ideas.


From the readings, I have to admit Milligan has furnished one of my new favorite quotes for this class “Many historians are already unwitting digital historians.”


5 thoughts on “Final Project Idea

  • Allison

    The personal nature of your project seems really interesting. As you mention, I think the maintenance of the site will be an issue, and verifying the authority of those posting. It would also be interesting for there to be a way to connect the mail so you could see where it was sent from and where it was going and also when it was sent. Or even a way to position it within the events of the war.

  • Ashley Christie

    I think allowing anyone to upload correspondences from WWII could bring to light some very interesting primary sources, that would have gone unseen by many. I agree that your concern about forgeries will be hard to control.

  • Pearl Harris-Scott

    This is a really interesting idea (and I totally have a photo album of my grandparents pictures that I don’t really know what to do with) although it seems like a really big project!

    • Danielle Post author

      The enormity of it is the biggest problem to me. Everyone I talk to seems to have this personal archive of letters, pictures, newspapers, all these “things”- but they don’t know what to do with them. Some don’t want to part with them either. In theory this could open up primary sources for historians. In practice it might just be too big.

  • James Felton

    This is an excellent idea. After I read your post I remember doing an undergrad project in which we had to interview persons who lived during World War II and write about their experiences. I thought there was a Library of Congress collection about the American experience during WWII, however I couldn’t find it at this time. I did find the “Veterans History Project” ( however that may provide some ideas or possibly I site that yours could link to.

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