ReSounding the Archives

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) received a 4-VA Research Grant to fund the digital project, ReSounding the Archives.

ReSounding the Archives is an interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together digital humanities, history, and music. Partners include:



The project’s goal is literally to “re-sound” the archives — to bring World War I sheet music to life through recordings and live performances. Students from Mason, UVA, and VT will work together to select, research, and record music, exploring history from new vantage points. The project website will provide digitized sheet music, historical context, and usable recordings of each song.

Contemporary students live very musical lives. Allowing professors to integrate historical sheet music into their undergraduate and graduate courses via audio recordings will provide a way for students to historicize that experience and deeply engage historical resources through lyrics, artwork, and the songs themselves to better understand their social, cultural, and political uses. By making the recordings freely available, ReSounding the Archives also addresses the lack of historical music available for classroom use.

During spring 2018, students in Dr. Elizabeth Ozment’s “ReSounding the Archives” course at UVA, working with librarians Abigail Flanigan and Winston Barham, will select and research WWI-era sheet music. Students in the English and History departments at VT, led by Trudy Harrington Becker, Tom Ewing, and Mark Barrow of the History department, Jim Dubinsky of the English department, and Marc Brodsky of Special Collections, will also select and research sheet music. Music students at Mason and VT will work with student sound engineers to create studio recordings of each piece. Performances and song recording will be organized by Nicole Springer, Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and Assistant Director, Arts Management Undergraduate Studies, and Linda Monson, Director of Mason’s School of Music and Distinguished Service Professor, in Mason’s CVPA, along with Tracy Cowden, Michael Dunston, and Brian Thorsett in the music department at VT.

On April 24, 2018, UVA will host a concert and symposium in Charlottesville for partners from all three institutions to showcase student work as well as create live musical performances that will be recorded and added to the website.

RRCHNM, led by Dr. Kelly Schrum, Associate Professor of Higher Education, and Jessica Dauterive, Digital History Fellow, are coordinating the 4VA collaboration and will build and populate the website.

This 4-VA grant will enable students, faculty, and staff to establish relationships across Virginia institutions, leading to new course development as well as opportunities for student work, research, and external funding to expand the project.

Scripto Update Funded by NEH

We are pleased to announce that the Omeka team has an opportunity to upgrade its popular Scripto tool with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities Office of Digital Humanities (NEH-ODH). Scripto is a free, open-source tool used for collaborative online transcriptions of documents and multimedia files, originally funded by the NEH-ODH in 2009, used by many.

We are grateful for this opportunity to redesign Scripto as a module for Omeka S, and to generate new documentation and guidance that will assist other cultural heritage organizations in managing their own community transcription projects.

This work will coincide with the migration of the Papers of the War Department digital documentary edition to Omeka S with funding from the American Council of Learned Societies.


ACLS Digital Extension Grant to Migrate Papers of the War Department

We are excited to announce that the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) awarded Sheila Brennan and RRCHNM one of five digital extension grants to migrate the Papers of the War Department 1784-1800, (PWD) an online documentary edition comprising nearly 43,000 digital documents, to Omeka S to revitalize and stabilize this legacy digital humanities project. The migration will allow for an efficient upgrade of the infrastructure and will provide a path for long-term preservation and access, while also allowing the team to redesign the user interface thus enabling greater use and discoverability of these early federal documents.

On November 8, 1800, fire destroyed the US War Department office and the records held within. For over 200 years, the records of one of the first federal agencies, representing much of the early government’s work, were unavailable for research and learning. The papers do not merely record military matters, but also how the Department handled Native American affairs, veterans’ pensions, and procurement from merchants across the nation. The War Office was the nation’s largest single consumer of fabric, clothing, shoes, food, medicine, building materials, and weapons of all kinds.  Ted Crackel and staff at East Stroudsburg University led a decade-long effort to digitize and unite copies of nearly 43,000 lost documents,  and then transferred those assets to RRCHNM in 2006. The Papers of the War Department (PWD) website presents digitized copies and richly-described metadata of the papers, together with community-contributed transcriptions.

Once fully migrated to Omeka S, the project’s existing metadata, which includes the names of thousands of individuals and geographic places referenced in correspondence, will be connected across the semantic web as linked open data. Jim Safely, PWD’s original web architect, will lead the migration process, and Kim Nguyen, RRCHNM’s Lead Web Designer, will redesign the PWD user experience.

PWD’s Editor-in-Chief, Christopher Hamner will work with Brennan to develop four learning modules for use in upper-level high school and introductory undergraduate courses. Enhanced documentation and outreach combined with a new system will make the Papers of the War Department more intuitive and inviting as it expands the project’s user base of scholars, students and teachers, history enthusiasts, and genealogists, and researchers of all levels.

We are extremely grateful to ACLS for this opportunity to extend and sustain access to these important documents from the early American republic.

New IMLS Grant Helps RRCHNM to Train Librarians in Doing Digital Local History

We are pleased to announce that the Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) a three-year grant to develop and run professional development opportunities that train public librarians in facilitating local digital history programs across the country.

Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon will lead the Creating Local Linkages project that will introduce approximately 300 public librarians to a range of historical research methods and digital history skills through online courses and in-person workshops. Stephen Robertson and Megan Brett will contribute to course and workshop development, and Kim Nguyen and Jim Safely will design and develop the online course environment in WordPress.

In support of those training opportunities, the project will develop and launch a curricula of open educational resources that can be used, reused, and remixed by any other organization or individual. Through this online program, RRCHNM will invite librarians to dive into their primary and secondary collections with the eyes of an historian and to expand their digital skills, at their own pace.

By offering different professional development opportunities, Creating Local Linkages will support librarians interested in developing public programming that engages their patrons in creating digital local histories that will benefit their communities at large.

RRCHNM has significant experience designing in-person and online training for mid-career professionals, and looks forward to beginning work on the grant during the summer of 2017.


New NEH Planning Grant Explores Transnational Roots of American Popular Music

NEH LogoRRCHNM is pleased to announce we received a National Endowment for the Humanities, Digital Projects for the Public, Discovery grant to plan Hearing the Americas, a digital public humanities project that will increase users’ understanding of the transnational roots of American popular music.Working closely with Mason historians Matthew Karush and Michael O’Malley, Sheila Brennan, Megan Brett, and Kim Nguyen of RRCHNM, will use digitized music collections available in the Library of Congress’s (LC) National Jukebox and the University of California at Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Cylinder Audio Archive to expose the diversity of American popular music before 1925. These songs will provide the building blocks for the team to design a digital public project that will ask users how well they know their music history and invite them to discover a rich contextual network of related historical collections.

The grant funds will allow the team to research the audio and archival collections; conduct audience research; test with different user groups; and produce a design document that will lay out how the project will proceed in future phases.

Hearing the Americas deals with commercial music from the period immediately before the advent of many of the most iconic American genres. By incorporating the most recent humanities scholarship, this project will expose the origins of jazz, blues, and country as deeply transnational. Even audiences who are already familiar with popular music history will gain a new appreciation for the multicultural roots of American music, and of America’s broader cultural history.

RRCHNM is grateful to the NEH for its support of humanities work here and around the country.

Omeka S 1.0 Beta Release

Omeka S LogoThe Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University is pleased to announce the public beta release of Omeka S (1.0), the next-generation, open source web-publishing platform that is fully integrated into the scholarly communications ecosystem and designed to serve the needs of medium to large institutional users who wish to launch, monitor, and upgrade many sites from a single installation.

Though Omeka S is a completely new software package, it shares the same goals and principles of Omeka Classic that users have come to love: a commitment to cost-effective deployment and design, an intuitive user interface, open access to data and resources, and interoperability through standardized data.

Created with funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Omeka S is engineered to ease the burdens of administrators who want to make it possible for their end-user communities to easily build their own sites that showcase digital cultural heritage materials.

  • Colleges and universities that want to encourage their faculty and students to develop online publications that make use of special collections and digitized materials will find Omeka S
  • Museums and historical societies that would like to create a digital exhibit to accompany the many physical exhibits and installations at their institutions can turn to Omeka S as way to efficiently administer that digital work and reuse digitized collections.
  • Individual researchers interested in publishing linked open data will find Omeka S a reliable solution for creating and maintaining research collections, and for publishing new scholarship.

While the Items remain the core of Omeka S, the new software is designed to capitalize on linked data standards for item description. Omeka S uses JavaScript Object Notation-Linked Data (JSON-LD) as its native data format and ships with popular RDF vocabularies, which make it possible to enmesh Omeka S in the semantic web and to connect to aggregators like the Digital Public Library of America.

After users create and describe their items or import materials from a range of external repositories for access in a shared pool of items, Omeka S allows them to create and publish individual sites. Sites are built by creating pages, selecting from a range of layout blocks for those pages, and attaching items or media from the pool of resources selected for use with the site. As Modules extend Omeka S functionality, they can also add page layout blocks, such as a map or a collecting form. Site Themes can be customized in a number of ways, including with the addition of a logo and the selection of colors for styling elements.

Developers will appreciate that Omeka S’s Read/Write REST API enables all of the major software actions, such as the creation of users, items, item sets, and sites. This infrastructure makes it possible to easily create modules that extend Omeka S’s core capacities.

Omeka S users will find extensive documentation written for developers and end users to guide them in learning more about working with the software.

IMLS funds Opening Omeka for Close and Distant Reading

RRCHNM is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund Opening Omeka for Close and Distant Reading [LG-05-14-00125-14].

Over the course of the two decades since the invention of the web browser, the world’s libraries have provided digital access to a torrent of cultural heritage materials. For many libraries and special collections, Omeka has been the route to providing this kind of unprecedented public access to their holdings. While access to digitized materials is better than ever, average users do not have adequate tools to help them gain intellectual control over these materials—up close and at scale.

Libraries and archives with diverse collections need a new set of easy-to-use tools to enable visitors to engage in both distant and close reading, without requiring users to have knowledge of sophisticated programming languages. In some collections, an individual item may appear trivial and anecdotal. But, examining all items as a coherent corpus holds the promise of surfacing larger insights by evaluating large bodies of text in the aggregate. While some researchers interested in examining large-scale collections, researchers often also need to closely examine individual elements. This practice (more…)