Digital Humanities and the Library

The topic of Digital Humanities (and Social Sciences Computing) has been a ubiquitous one at recent conferences, and this is no less true of The 53rd annual RBMS “Futures” Preconference in San Diego that took place June 19-22, 2012. The opening plenary, “Use,” on Digital Humanities featured two well-known practitioners in this field, Bethany Nowviskie of the University of Virginia and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum of the University of Maryland. For those of us who have been working in the digital library and digital collection realm for many years, Bethany’s discussion of the origins and long history of digital humanities was no surprise. Digitized library and special collection materials have been the source content used by digital humanists and digital librarians to carry out their work since the late 1980s. As a speaker at one of the ACH-ALLC programs in 1999, I was exposed to the digital tools and technologies being used to support research and scholarly exploration in what was then called linguistic and humanities computing. This work encompassed not only textual materials, but also still images, moving images, databases, and geographic materials; the stuff upon which current digital humanities and social sciences efforts are still based. What I learned then—and what the plenary speakers confirmed at this conference—is that this work has and continues to be collaborative and interdisciplinary. Long-established humanities computing centers at the Universities of Virginia and Maryland have supported this work for years, and they have had a natural partner in the library. Over the years, humanities computing centers have continued to evolve, often set within or supported by the library, and the field that is now known as Digital Humanities has gained prominence. The fact that this plenary opened the conference indicates that this topic is an important one to our community.

As scholars’ work is increasingly focused on digital materials, either digitized from physical collections or born-digital, we are seeing more demand for digital content and tools to carry out digital analysis, visualization, and computational processing, among other activities. Perhaps this is due to the maturation of the field of humanities computing, or the availability of more digital source content, or the rise of a new generation of digital native researchers. Whatever the reason, the role of the library (and the archive and the museum, for that matter) is central to this work. The library is an obvious source of digital materials for these scholars to work with, as was pointed out by both speakers.

Libraries can play a central role in providing access to this content through traditional activities, such as cataloging of digital materials, supporting digitization initiatives, and acquisition of digital content, as well as taking on new activities, such as supporting technology solutions (like digital tools), providing digital lab workspaces, and facilitating bulk access to data and content through mechanisms such as APIs. Just as we have built and facilitated access to analog research materials, we need to turn our attention to building and supporting use of digital research collections.

As Bethany stressed in her talk, we need more digital content for these scholars to work with and use. Digital humanities centers can partner with libraries to increase the scale of digitized materials in special collections or can give us tools to work with born-digital archives from pre-acquisition assessment through access to users, such as the tools being developed by Matthew’s “Bit Curator” project . By providing more content and taking the “magic” out of working with digital content, greater use can be facilitated. Unlike with physical materials, as Bethany pointed out, digital materials require use in order to remain viable, so the more we use digital materials, the longer they will last. She referred to this as “tactical preservation,” saying that our digital materials should be “bright keys,” in that the more they are used the brighter they become. By increasing use—making it easier to access and work with digital materials—we can ensure digital “futures” for our collections, whether physical or born-digital.

The collaborative nature of Digital Humanities projects — and centers — brings together researchers, technologists, tools, and content. These “places” may take various forms, but in almost all cases, the library and the historical content it collects and preserves plays a central role as the “stuff” of which digital humanities research and scholarly production is made. With its historical role in collecting and providing access to research materials, supporting teaching and learning, and long affinity with using technology for knowledge discovery, the library is well-positioned to support this work and become an even more active partner in the digital humanities and social sciences computing.

Mary W. Elings
Head of Digital Collections
(this text is excerpted and derived from an article written for RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage).

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Russell Means, November 10, 1939 – October 22, 2012

Russell Means, seen here with Dennis Banks (and William Kunstler in the background) at a press conference regarding the Patricia Hearst kidnapping at the San Francisco Airport Hilton on February 19, 1974, from the Bancroft Library’s Fang Family San Francisco Examiner photograph archive negative files.

Born on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, Russell Means moved with his family to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was three, in 1942. Banks graduated from San Leandro High School, and after stints in college and working on Indian reservations around the United States, he went on to become a leader in the American Indian Movement.

A Oglala Sioux, Means fought for the rights of indigenous people around the world, urging President Reagan to support the Miskito people in Nicaragua during the rise of the Sandinista government, and staging occupations at Mount Rushmore and the site of the Battle of Wounded Knee to raise awareness of Indian treaties and claims to land that the U.S. government neglected.

Means was a charismatic and divisive public figure, running for the Libertarian nomination in the 1987 presidential election, and appearing in dozens of films, including a starring role in The Last of the Mohicans.  Means died of cancer at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation on October 22nd.

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Fiat Lux Redux: Ansel Adams and Clark Kerr Online Exhibit

The Bancroft Library is pleased to present the online companion exhibit to Fiat Lux Redux: Ansel Adams and Clark Kerr, which opened in The Bancroft Gallery on September 27, 2012. The online exhibit features photographs of the University of California System in the 1960s by legendary photographer Ansel Adams. These photographs — commissioned by former UC President Clark Kerr, and published in the 1967 book Fiat Lux which celebrated the educational system’s centennial — offer a rarely seen look at the evolution of the renowned University of California system through the eye of a master photographer best known for his iconic California landscapes. Fiat Lux was intended not as a document of the University as it was, but rather a portrait of the University as it would be. The Fiat Lux project was a massive endeavor, producing 605 fine prints and over 6,700 negatives, far more than the 1,000 images stipulated in Adams’s contract. After Adams’s lifetime devotion to Yosemite, Fiat Lux was probably the biggest single project of his life. The online exhibit also showcases related archival materials about the controversial Kerr himself, and the evolution of his ideas and ideals.

Visit the companion online exhibit:
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/fiat-lux/

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©1967, the Regents of the University of California, by permission of The Bancroft Library.

Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by copyright beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. All requests for permission to publish must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services.

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Amusements of Yesteryear

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A zoo in the Mission?  Water slides in the Richmond?  As early as the 1890s, there was no shortage of places to seek thrills and fun in San Francisco, though almost no trace of these attractions exist today. Here’s a few of the spots where San Franciscans used to go to have fun:

  • The original and once-exclusive home of the It’s-It ice cream sandwich, Playland, also known as Chutes At the Beach, was an amusement park at Ocean Beach that operated from the 1910s-1972.  Visitors could enjoy rides like the Big Dipper, the Aeroplane Swing, and the Ship of Joy, as well as a 68-horse carousel, a fun house with a Laughing Sal, game booths, and an enormous camera obscura (which still exists today near the Cliffhouse).
  • If you weren’t in the mood for sugar and adrenaline, you could visit another seaside institution not far from Playland, the Sutro Baths.  Operating from 1896-1966, the Baths were a gigantic indoor pool complex with six salt water pools ranging from ice-cold to 80 degrees.  Less of a lap pool and more of a place to play in the salt water, you could enter the pools through slides, by swinging on trapezes or rings, or by jumping off one of the many diving boards.  Non-swimmers and spectators could watch from the stadium-style seating.
  • Over in the Mission in the late 1870s, you might spend a sunny weekend day exploring Woodward’s Gardens, located on a four-acre plot of land near Mission and 15th streets.  For 25 cents you could take in live animal attractions, including bears, lions, monkeys, wolves and kangaroos, as well as the extensive collection of taxidermy animals (seen in the slideshow above) arranged in curious groupings not found in nature.  As if that weren’t enough, there was an extensive aquarium, four art museums, an art gallery, a rollerskating rink, hot air balloon rides, and various live performances, including acrobatics and other feats.
  • Finally, if thrills were what you sought, you could visit any of the Chutes locations that cropped up around the city in the early 1900s.  For a dime you could take an elevator to the top of a tower, where 8-person boats awaited to plunge you at break-neck speed to the man-made lake at the bottom.

1-3: The Chutes at The Beach (a.k.a. Playland at the Beach)

4-6: Sutro Baths

7-9: Various Chutes

10-17: Woodward Gardens

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The Bancroft Library Presents “Shrouded in Mysteries”: A celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge through mystery, detective and crime novel covers

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the official opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, The Bancroft Library is pleased to present “Shrouded in Mysteries,” a guided tour of the bridge as depicted on the covers of mystery, detective, and crime novels.

Within just a few short years of its opening to traffic on May 28, 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge began appearing on the covers of San Francisco mysteries. The earliest known depiction of the bridge on a mystery novel occurred in 1940, on the cover of John Mersereau’s Murder Loves Company. Since then, the span has been featured on dozens of books. With its grace and beauty, and as the Bay Area’s iconic landmark, the Golden Gate Bridge immediately connects the reader to the setting of the story. Just as the physical bridge is often shrouded in fog, the image of the bridge is now shrouded with the stories told in these fictional mysteries.

Enjoy the tour: http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/shrouded-in-mysteries

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Pet Photography through the Ages

Our cultural obsession with cute animal photos might seem like a recent phenomenon that has flourished with sites like Cute Overload and icanhascheezburger, but photographing our pets is as old a practice as photography itself.  Many of the Bancroft’s collections, from the Oliver Family Photograph Collections to California Faces: Selections from The Bancroft Library Portrait Collection include photographs of everyday-life moments that look familiar to the modern pet owner, such as posing with a beloved collie or cat.  Click on the links below to explore the collections to which these images belong.

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  1. Dog.
  2. Anita? Oliver with dog.
  3. A Boy and His Dog. Los Angeles, California
  4. Our Police Dog on Nov. 4/24 Election Day. 
  5. Engineer Frank Crockett and his dog
  6. [Phelan, girl, and dogs]
  7. [Dog in carriage]
  8. Dog owned by Sheldon Nichols
  9. Group portrait of men with dogs, University of California at Berkeley, Summer School of Surveying.
  10. [Unidentified man with dog.]
  11. Dog, Pekinese, named “Jet”, owned by J.P. Smith. 
  12. Anita Oliver and dog, Ginger.
  13. [Woman with parrot]
  14. Two cats
  15. [Cat. Unidentified location.]
  16. Miss Coolbrith with cat, 1924. 56 Tarabal St., S.F. 
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Announcing The Bancroft Library’s New Online Companion Exhibits!

The Bancroft Library is pleased to announce the launch of a new online companion exhibit to the exhibition A Place at the Table, which opened today in The Bancroft Library Gallery. A Place at the Table celebrates the life and art of the LGBT community through text, image and voice. The development of this new online companion exhibit is part of an initiative spearheaded by the Bancroft Exhibition Committee to ensure an online component for all of The Bancroft Library’s rich physical exhibitions.

With the support of the Bancroft Exhibition Committee and working closely in with the curators of the exhibition, the Digital Collections Unit of The Bancroft Library developed this first online exhibit using Omeka, an open source web-publishing platform. Omeka is a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and is supported by UC Berkeley’s Library Applications and Publishing group. It allows libraries to upload digital collections and create complex and visually interesting exhibits. The A Place at the Table exhibit marks the first of many online companion exhibits by The Bancroft Library. We hope you enjoy them!

Visit the online companion exhibit to A Place at the Table:
http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/aplaceatthetable

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