Archival work has for centuries privileged the aggregation over the dissemination of rare and important content. And while this has been necessitated largely in order to preserve the objects within, it has particularly been harmful to marginalized communities whose narratives lie outside of mainstream consciousness. Thankfully, the affordances of digital humanities has opened up new avenues for these elusive materials, and the expansive histories they hold within, to reach a multitude of audiences.
The newest project at HyperStudio, MIT’s Digital Humanities Center, the Blacks in American Medicine (BAM) archive innovates on this unique potential offered by digital media to promote and display never-before-seen materials. The BAM project features over 23,000 biographical records of African American physicians from 1860-1980 and countless primary documents associated with these practitioners and the African-American medical community at large. From numerous pieces of personal correspondence, such as a letter to the AMA pleading with them to hold the annual convention in a non-segregated locale, to unique biographical data that charts the ebb and flow of African Americans in medicine, much of the content within the BAM archive has never been available to a wide audience, and all of it has never been digitalized in a central location. Our archive incorporates both a focused study into the history of specific physicians and a broader analysis of the trends within the African American medical community to unearth untold chapters in the vast history of the black experience in America.
While still in the initial stages of this project, we are working on a number of intersectional methods to display this wealth of content. As with most of HyperStudio’s archival projects, we are making sure that the content is discoverable by both scholars as well as more casual audiences. This begins by making sure that the content is encoded using established metadata standards such as Dublin Core, allowing to connect our high resolution primary materials and biographical records to other relevant archives. Additionally, within our site itself, we plan to integrate our Repertoire faceted browser, which allows for both a targeted search usingspecific criteria and the ability to explore interconnected documents that interest the user. Additionally, this project will feature our Chronos Timeline, which dynamically uses events and occurrences to present historical data. Outside of displaying content algorithmically and chronologically, we plan on incorporating geographic, visual and biographical tools to help novices and experts alike delve into this content in order to discover new stories and explore existing narratives. By allowing users multiple entry points, these cross-sectional methods of content interrogation will further highlight our project’s unique ability to test traditional views of the African American experience, which focus on a few key moments that affected the larger populace than the long history of the people themselves.
Our job as custodians of this trove of content is to make sure that it is not only widely accessible but, more importantly, that it is intuitive and useful to our audience. A poster session at DH2016 will allow us to gather feedback from thought leaders in the field in order to facilitate the evolution of our product. This is a crucial step in making sure that our project has the impact, reach and power that it deserves.
At HyperStudio, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s center for digital humanities, we use new media to discover and explore forgotten stories. By both focusing on specific people, places and details and zooming out to view trends and patterns, our methods and tools allow us to question traditional narratives and investigate emerging ones. This project, a collaboration with Pulitzer-Prize-finalist author and African-American science historian, Kenneth Manning, demonstrates the power of new/innovative archival approaches to discover and promote new content. This archive is a chance to articulate stories that have remained untold and question narratives that have remained unchallenged, and the Digital Humanities 2016 conference is the perfect place to deepen this discussion.