Building the newest DPLA student exhibition, “From Colonialism to Tourism: Maps in American Culture”
Two groups of MLIS students from the University of Washington’s Information School took part in a DPLA pilot called the Digital Curation Program during the 2013-2014 academic year. The DPLA’s Amy Rudersdorf worked with iSchool faculty member Helene Williams as we created exhibits for the DPLA for the culminating project, or Capstone, in our degree program. The result is the newest addition to DPLA’s exhibitions, called “From Colonialism to Tourism: Maps in American Culture.”
My group included Kili Bergau, Jessica Blanchard, and Emily Felt; we began by choosing a common interest from the list of available topics, and became “Team Cartography.” This project taught us about online exhibit creation and curation of digital objects, copyright and licensing, and took place over two quarters. The first quarter was devoted to creating a project plan and learning about the subject matter. We asked questions including: What is Cartography? What is the history of American maps? How are they represented within the DPLA collections?
As we explored the topic, the project became less about librarianship and more about our life as historians. Cartography, or the creation of maps, slowly transformed into the cultural “maps in history” as we worked through the DPLA’s immense body of aggregated images. While segmenting history and reading articles to learn about the pioneers, the Oregon Trail, the Civil War, and the 20th Century, we also learned about the innards of the DPLA’s curation process. We learned how to use Omeka, the platform for creating the exhibitions, and completed forms for acquiring usage rights the images we would use in our exhibit.
One of the greatest benefits of working with the team was the opportunity to investigate niche areas among the broad topics, as well as leverage each other’s interests to create one big fascinating project. With limited time, we soon had to focus on selecting images and writing the exhibit narrative. We wrote, and revised, and wrote again. We waded through hundreds of images to determine which were the most appropriate, and then gathered appropriate metadata to meet the project requirements.
Our deadline for the exhibit submission was the end of the quarter, and our group was ecstatic to hear the night of the Capstone showcase at the UW iSchool event that the DPLA had chosen our exhibit for publication. Overjoyed, we celebrated remotely, together. Two of us had been in Seattle, one in Maine, and I had been off in a Dengue Fever haze in rural Cambodia (I’m better now).Shortly after graduation in early June, Helene asked if I was interested in contributing further to this project: over the summer, I worked with DPLA staff to refine the exhibit and prepare it for public release. Through rigorous editing, some spinning of various themes in new directions, and a wild series of conversations over Google Hangouts about maps, maps, barbecue, maps, libraries, maps, television, movies, and more maps, the three of us had taken the exhibition to its final state.
Most experiences in higher education, be they on the undergrad or graduate levels (sans PhD), fail to capture a sense of endurance and longevity. The exhibition was powerful and successful throughout the process from many different angles. For me, watching its transformation from concept to public release has been marvelous, and has prepared me for what I hope are ambitious library projects in my future.
A huge thanks to Amy Rudersdorf for coordinating the program, Franky Abbott for her work editing and refining the exhibition, Kenny Whitebloom for Omeka wrangling, and the many Hubs and their partners for sharing their resources.
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