Monday, March 2, 2009

Agents of Social Change Online Exhibit: New Resources on 20th Century Women’s Activism

The Agents of Social Change Online Exhibit is a project of the Sophia Smith Collection, the Women’s History Archives at Smith College. This project is interesting because it is one of several online exhibits of the Sophia Smith Collection (SSC); the exhibit format adds context and information for readers, and it indicates ongoing work of the SSC to generate connections with a broad range of users even beyond Smith College.

In 1997 the SSC wrote for and received a National Endowment for the Humanities Grant to process and partially digitize eight collections. The grant funding indicates some consideration went into what kind of digital collection this exhibit would comprise. The eight collections include the papers of six individual women and two organizations. The exhibit includes a curriculum for middle and high school students, and the curriculum explains that these collections were chosen for digitization “because of their impressive achievements as ‘Agents of Social Change,’ the name by which the project became known.” The digitized documents include letters, photographs, newsletters, syllabi, and ephemera like brochures and flyers; there is no information about how these particular documents were chosen from the collection for digitization.

Metadata exists on four levels: the description of the collection as a whole, which links to the objects organized by the person or organization who is the author or subject of the objects; the description of the person or organization connected with the objects; the lesson plan connected with some objects linked through the “More online documents” link from each individual or organization; and the description of the object itself. On the object level, images generally include author, date of creation, and copyright information; though some include instead a brief description or explanation of the content. For example, the National Congress of Neighborhood Women poster about Community Leadership Training is accompanied by a paragraph about the NCNW’s job training programs.

The documents are scanned from the original sources and saved as JPEGs. Photographs are scanned and saved as GIFs. All of the images seem to be scanned in color, even if the object is black and white.

The SSC explains their specific outreach goal (which may be connected to an evaluation requirement with the NEH grant): “Part of the project's mission was to reach beyond the traditional community of archival users-beyond senior scholars, graduate students and undergraduates. Recognizing a need, the SSC has endeavored to bring the richness of the various ‘Agents of Social Change’ collections into middle and high school classrooms.” Certainly the lesson plans, including documents and activities, along with the contextualizing levels of metadata make this collection interesting for classroom use. The interface could, however, be more simple or less layered.

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