Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The American Missionary Association and the Promise of a Multicultural America: 1839-1954

1. Collection Principles

This collection of photographs relating to the American Missionary Association offered by the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University has a nice introductory page on the background and scope of the collection. It tells the number of items in the collection (over 5,000 digital images), the years they cover (1839-1854), how/why the photographs came into being and the purpose that they served for the Association, and from where the center drew the photographs to be digitized (the AMA Archives, AMA Archives Addendum, AMA Annual Reports and American Missionary Magazine Records). In all, I think it gives a nice picture of the collection. I do wish that it explicitly stated the relationship between the AMA and the Amistad Case, and consequently then the Amistad Research Center, which I did not understand until I talked to an archivist from the Center about for an unrelated purpose. The AMA arose out of the Amistad case, and its first members were drawn from the the Amistad defendants' supporters and defenders. The group then went on to do Christian missionary works that they believed would help end slavery and improve US race relations. This page does have an interesting paragraph that offers transparency on the part of the collection processors describing how they decided to deal with some of the now patently offensive language used within the collection to describe various ethnic groups that was common at the time. I appreciated their openness about the challenge they saw in remaining true to the archive in its original state while demonstrating the advances our society has made in showing respect through language choices.

2. Objects
The images are arranged as thumbnails, so it is easy to browse. When one is clicked, the window changes to show an enlarged version of the image. The enlargement could be bigger to show detail, but it is nice that at least there are no watermarks. The images have unique identifiers, but against the recommendation in the NISO guidelines, the identifiers are persistent URLs rather than any consistent naming scheme. Right-click is disabled when dealing with the images, so I couldn't pull up "properties" to see what format they used. One cool thing about the objects is that they scanned the photographs fully, with no trimming either of the original or the digital image, so you can see marginalia written around the edges of some.

3. Metadata
The collection provides a lot of metadata, which is useful. First, as I stated above, there is a good deal of metadata on the overall collection in the introductory page. Then, on each image, they have used many of the dublin core fields that we are encountering in greenstone, like title, subject, description, notes, rights, format type, coverage, source, language, relation, and so on. A nice thing is that in the "notes" field, they bothered to put exactly where the particular image is housed in the physical collection, including series, box, and folder numbers, so it would be really easy to find these if one travelled to New Orleans to deal with the actual materials. There is not, however, any information on scanning equipment used, date scanned or updates.

4. Audience
This collection could be used by middle and high school students, the general interested public, and possibly by scholars. Since the images do not blow up very large, for a scholarly audience it would probably be most useful for browsing the collection without having to travel to New Orleans, in order to see if such a trip would be warranted after checking out the collection online.

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