Meet The Portal to Texas History

By Hillary Brady, December 18, 2013.
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One key aspect that makes the DPLA model so unique is its aggregation of data—making a one-stop shop for users to access millions of items from our service partners, representing collections nationwide. That network of partners is continually growing. Just this past October, the DPLA was pleased to add The Portal to Texas History into that community, bringing in more than 300,000 new items.

The Portal was created, and is now maintained by, the University of North Texas Libraries’ Digital Project Unit. This ambitious project has been in the works since 2002, when planning stages began. Thanks to buy-in from local supporters and a Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund grant from the state, the Portal was up and running online just two years later. Since then, the Portal has received National Endowment for the Humanities funding, other grants, added new collections and launched new projects.

The Portal to Texas History describes itself as a “gateway” to a variety of Texas history materials, with collections from libraries, museums, archives, historical societies, genealogical societies and individual families. Bringing together this rich group of collaborators has come in the form of several successful approaches: partnering with organizations to receive grants; presenting at local meetings and conferences and publicizing to promote the Portal; and offering small digitization mini-grants. The UNT Libraries’ Rescuing Texas History mini-grants began in 2006, and offer up to $1,000 of free digitization services. These include scanning, archival, metadata development and hosting on The Portal.

“This is a huge benefit and very attractive to organizations or individuals that do not have the infrastructure in place for full-scale digitization projects and for partners who may have the infrastructure, but need additional services that UNT offers,” UNT Libraries Project Development Librarian Tara Carlisle said.

This helps create a large, varied collection that lets less-well known and smaller collaborators receive the same access to digitization as, what Carlisle describes as, the “big player” partners. These smaller institutions now have collections that receive a lot of attention from users across the country, who wouldn’t have access to those items without The Portal to Texas History. It also allows for “ethnically diverse collections,” like the Danish Heritage Preservation Society and the African American funeral programs from the San Antonio Public Library, to be used by both scholars and the wider public on a larger scale. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for small, rural communities to really preserve their own history—digitizing things, like newspapers, that are the biggest and sometimes only historical record of their town.

Beyond opportunities for organizations to digitize their collections, The Portal to Texas History offers new ways for teachers to engage their students with history. While it also includes a variety of educational resources for teachers, the content is what really helps educators highlight key historical moments for students. These primary sources are key in helping students discuss and draw their own conclusions about moments in history.

“The digitized sources provide a first-hand account that makes history feel more authentic and believable to a student than a textbook might,” Carlisle said. “Teachers love The Portal to Texas History because there is nothing quite as captivating as a historical photograph revealing the crude home of a pioneer or a freedman’s first vote at the ballot box, a soldier’s account of his experience in battle, or a survivor’s memory of the Galveston hurricane.”

There are a variety of these kinds of unique and interesting items in The Portal’s collections. In addition to its papers related to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Collection, there is also digitized correspondence from Lorenzo de Zavala, the Mexican politician and interim Vice President of the Republic of Texas in 1836. Users can also view a collection of photos from Ruth Salmon’s career as a champion rodeo performer from 1914-1938. There is also a large collection of regional newspapers and maps that offer new insight into state and national history.

Featured image courtesy of the UNT Archives, from The Portal to Texas History. 

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