My Friday afternoon session at the AHA annual meeting was much more productive, largely because it was more focused on things Russian and East European. That meant the audience was there to learn about content resources rather than about “tech tools” as in my morning session.
Steve Barnes presented his Gulag project, which is now close to done. There was a lot of excitement in the room about this project, because it will be so obviously useful for those teaching about Soviet history and courses about genocide.
Sandy Bostin’s presentation on the Meeting of Frontiers project at the Library of Congress also generated a fair amount of interest, in particular around the various kinds of sources available through the project. For all its rich resources, however, this project (like all LOC projects) is handicapped by the very clunky interface that the LOC still employs. I can’t tell you how many teachers and students have simply thrown up their hands in defeat after trying to find resources via the standard LOC interface. If I had my way, I’d put the kibosh on any new digital projects and instead spend whatever money the Library has for digital work on retrofitting their existing projects with an interface that actually helps people find what they are looking for.
I got to go last, making a more formal presentation of the 1989 project than I did in the morning session. Rather than go through all aspects of the site, instead I focused on two issues I think the project will raise. The first is how students will use the tagging features we are building into the site. It’s not clear to me how much they will take advantage of this feature and how much work it will be for us to administer it.For instance, how much policing of tags will be required? How much policing of tags do we even want to do? Obviously, we can’t allow certain words to be used as tags (it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to figure out which ones). I think the 1989 project makes a good test case for this feature because it will always have a smaller universe of users than, say the September 11 Digital Archive. That smaller universe will make it easier for us to figure out what to do about tagging without getting overwhelmed.
The other issue I brought up has to do with the video interviews we are creating. Because we are going to let users either watch the entire interview in sequence or watch the four interviewees answering the same question (one after the other), what I’ll be interested to see is how many users do the latter rather than the former. From my perspective as a teacher, being able to watch more than one person answer the same question could be quite powerful. But I have no idea just how heavily used this feature will be.