Category Archives: Intern Experience

The Memory Project: Showcasing a digital collection with a website

Katie Odhner was an intern in the International and Area Studies Department in the Duke Libraries. She has a B.A. in Chinese Studies and History from the University of Pennsylvania. She recently graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill with a Master’s of Science in Library Science. The following post is written by her.

Over the course of this summer, I have been working with Luo Zhou, Duke’s Chinese Studies Librarian, and Will Shaw, our Digital Humanities Consultant, to create on a website showcasing the Memory Project digital collection, which went up on the Duke Digital Repository in July. Launched in 2010 by documentary filmmaker Wu Wenguang, the ongoing project has collected hundreds of oral history interviews from elderly Chinese villagers. The initiative was originally intended to document individual stories of the Great Famine, which caused the death of 20 to 43 million people between 1958 and 1961. It has since expanded to cover other movements in the early history of the People’s Republic of China, including the Great Leap Forward of 1958-1960, the Land Reform and the Collectivization of 1949-1953, and the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976.

We had a number of reasons for wanting to create a website to feature this collection. Firstly, a website can provide additional context. Luo used TimelineJS, an interactive, open-source software to create a visual timeline of the period covered in the interviews. This allows users of the collection to examine the events and policies that underpin the personal experiences found in the oral histories.

                Secondly, the website helps promote the collection. With more than 200 interviews, it can be difficult to find an entry point. We asked students and filmmakers who had worked on the collection to recommend one or two of their favorites. I created a tile lay-out on our WordPress page to feature these interviews, along with comments from the recommenders. One of my favorite parts of working on this project was looking through the featured interviews. They contain many tales of devastating tragedy and incredible courage that bring the bleak events in history books to vivid life. The website also provides a platform for advertising events about the project. Stay tuned for the visit of a number of the filmmakers in October!

Finally, the website provides new access points for the collection and a way of quantitatively visualizing the interviews via a map. The map was the most challenging element of the website to design. There is an abundance of mapping tools, both free and proprietary, so part of the difficulty was selecting the one that fit our needs best. Once this was accomplished, it took a great deal of time just to understand the capabilities of our chosen tool (ArcGIS Web Maps). Shout-out to Drew Keener and Mark Thomas, members of the library’s Data and Visualization Services Department who gave great GIS tips along the way. It was a fun design challenge to come up with a method that could allow the user to filter the interviews by topic, as well as link out to interviews for a given village in the Digital Repository.

After reflecting on the overall experience of building the website, here are some of my major take-aways for future digital humanities endeavors:

  • Decide on your priorities. I found that the tools I was using could not always achieve what I envisioned. Sometimes finding a solution was just around the corner, and sometimes it could mean getting sucked down the rabbit-hole for hours. Having an understanding of what is important in the long-run helps prevent wasted time.
  • Consult with colleagues. The excellent members of the Digital Scholarship and Data Visualization Departments provided lots of good advice and saved me from wandering around in the aforementioned rabbit-hole on several occasions.
  • Give yourself time to play around. I discovered some of the cooler mapping features just through experimenting with ArcGIS. Sometimes no amount of guide-reading can replace trying things out for yourself.

Working with digital tools was great, but the best part of the project for me was the opportunity to reflect on the aspects of the collection that are most valuable and how best to highlight them. The tools stand in service to providing alternative means of access to the collection, visualizing its scope, and bringing the human stories contained in it to a broader audience.

Author Agreement for a DH Project — Is That a Thing?

This post by Liz Crisenbery, 2018-2019 Project Manager for Project Vox, is part of a series on graduate students’ “Intern Experience” at Duke University Libraries. 

Author agreements — contractual documents provided by the publisher to the author, explaining the terms of publication — are foundational to many print and digital publications. Yet this stock element of publishing is not frequently discussed in relation to DH projects. Open access is a hallmark of digital humanities — making content available to anyone with an internet connection and thereby challenging the paywall approach to scholarly publishing. While open access also pushes against the overuse of copyright protections, it doesn’t oppose or necessarily undermine the rights of authors. How might digital humanities projects use author agreements to help acknowledge and protect the labor of people who develop content while also ensuring the resulting works can have broad access and use?

Communicate the role of the author agreement as a contract
Why might an established DH project consider creating author agreements?

Enter Project Vox, an open-access digital-humanities project that seeks to amplify the voices of early modern female philosophers, challenge the canon, and provide access to teaching materials and research guides. It is chiefly a collaborative effort, dependent upon a team of individuals who research, write, edit, and stage biographical and bibliographical entries on women philosophers.

Project Vox itself is an open educational resource, yet not all the content that appears on the site is created by the team. As the range of content types published by Project Vox has expanded, we have realized the need to better communicate protections and access for works published on our site.

For instance, Project Vox recently published the first English translation of Émilie Du Châtelet’s essay on optics (the complete version of which was itself only recently discovered and transcribed). As project manager I worked with Liz Milewicz (co-director of Project Vox and Head of Duke Libraries’ Digital Scholarship Services) to create an author agreement that could be used for this translation and also future Project Vox publications. We wanted the translation to be easily accessible to a wide audience and to be available for use in research and instruction; we also wanted to protect the translator, Bryce Gessell, from having his work published in other forms without his consent.

Fortunately, we were able to consult with Duke Libraries’ Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communications, specifically Arnetta Girardeau (Duke Libraries’ Copyright & Information Policy Consultant) and Dave Hansen (Associate University Librarian for Research, Collections, and Scholarly Communication), to create a template author agreement for Project Vox publications. Suffice it to say, we would not have created such a document without their expertise and guidance. This is the resulting template for Project Vox author agreements: Project Vox Author Agreement – Master Template.

The process of creating this agreement highlighted for us how author agreements can be challenging for DH publications and yet necessary if we truly hope to protect and honor the work of content creators while also making that content freely available. While some of the information included in the author agreement is relatively mundane (e.g., the name of the author, the name of the work, information used to create a citation, etc.), much of the document establishes legal relationships between different parties. In the process of creating our author agreement, we realized our long-held assumption that Project Vox was the “publisher” of content needed to be reevaluated. Rather, because Project Vox is hosted by Duke University Libraries, and because the Libraries provide a more stable partner for entering into agreements, the Libraries are named as the publisher. Increasingly, academic libraries are acting as publishers, challenging the nature of publishing and creating new models. (Maria Bonn and Mike Furlough edited an essay collection on this very subject, which is itself available via open access.)

illustrate what a Creative Commons license looks like
Creative Commons licenses provide digital projects and publications legal protections while promoting open access.

Additionally, the author in our agreement is tasked with choosing the type of Creative Commons license for their work and then to apply for that license. As stated on the Creative Commons organization’s website, “The Creative Commons copyright licenses and tools forge a balance inside the traditional ‘all rights reserved’ setting that copyright law creates. Our tools give everyone from individual creators to large companies and institutions a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work. The combination of our tools and our users is a vast and growing digital commons, a pool of content that can be copied, distributed, edited, remixed, and built upon, all within the boundaries of copyright law.”[1] These licenses allow copyright holders the ability to qualify how their work can be re-used while prioritizing greater access to the work.

Through creating this template and publishing the first work on Project Vox with a signed author agreement, I’ve gained insight into parts of DH publishing that I never previously considered, particularly related to process and documentation from the standpoint of a publisher. As DH projects continue to partner with libraries to facilitate hosting and digital publication, I hope to have more conversations about how different projects handle publication, if they have author agreements, and what processes they follow to make content accessible.

[1] https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

Liz Crisenbery is a PhD Candidate in musicology who studies early twentieth-century Italian opera, exploring the intersection of gender, politics, and music. Her dissertation examines masculine identities of fascist composers and reception of their operas during the height of Italian fascism. Other research interests include digital humanities, opera and media, and riot grrrl. During the 2018-19 academic year, Liz worked as project manager for Project Vox with the support of Bass Connections.