Monthly Archive for August, 2011

Tour Civil Rights Sites in 21 States

With the hottest part of the summer behind us and autumn approaching, it’s a good time for weekend road trips. We recently came across a wonderful tool through the National Park Service’s website: a tour of sites that were important in the long struggle for civil rights in America.

Produced in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, the United States Department of Transportation, and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, the website lists houses, stores, churches, and more, in 21 different states, complete with historical summaries and pictures. An interactive map gives visitors another way to plan their trips.

The site's interactive map gives readers a visual sense of where these civil rights sites are located.

The NPS has even provided a list of resources for further research on the civil rights movement. Check it out!

Controversy on “The Help” Makes Its Way into the New York Times

The tempest in an ivory teapot that has been brewing over the film The Help, adapted from the novel of the same name, has bubbled its way off of Internet message boards and onto the table of public consumption. In a relatively mild op-ed in the New York Times, UC-Davis Professor Patricia Turner makes this very important point:

Jim Crow segregation survived long into the 20th century because it was kept alive by white Southerners with value systems and personalities we would applaud. It’s the fallacy of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a movie that never fails to move me but that advances a troubling falsehood: the notion that well-educated Christian whites were somehow victimized by white trash and forced to live within a social system that exploited and denigrated its black citizens, and that the privileged white upper class was somehow held hostage to these struggling individuals.

Not quite as blistering an attack as Malcom Gladwell unleashed on Atticus Finch, but a powerful point concisely made.

Remembering the March on Washington

On this day in 1963, over a quarter of a million people participated in the March on Washington and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., present what would become his most famous speech. In “I Have a Dream,” (audio) King spoke of a brighter future—a time when blacks and whites would be able to come together as brothers and sisters, when his children would be judged by their character rather than by the color of their skin, and when the American creed, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” would truly be realized.

Forty-eight years later, near the spot from which King spoke these famous words, Americans now celebrate the life of this well-known minister and the contributions of the civil rights movement. The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial opened to the public on Monday south of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Although the dedication, originally scheduled for this weekend, has been postponed in anticipation of Hurricane Irene, visitors can now tour the four-acre memorial and view the granite statue of King—a memorial that had been in planning for over two decades. The official dedication, including remarks from President Obama, will be held in September or October.

A Murder in Mississippi

People walking out of a theater an hour after the vigil last week said that although Jackson has changed in some ways, racism remains.

A racially motivated attack. Vigils for the victim. Soul-searching. A state that has “struggled mightily to move beyond its past.” In June, an African American man was murdered by a white teenager, one of a group who robbed and beat the man outside a hotel in the wee hours of the morning. In the aftermath of the attack, now deemed a capital murder, Jackson, Mississippi is holding vigils and looking hard at the relationship between whites and African Americans. And concluding that “racism remains.”

The New York Times’s coverage reveals not only a tragic story, but also the odd collusion between southern communities seeking to move “beyond” their pasts and a national media willing to look past evidence to the contrary. The South will never move beyond its past (cue the now cliched Faulkner quotation) and furthermore, until white southerners are willing to look hard at their present absent a murder they will continue to struggle to handle its legacy. A national media sensitive to judging white southern communities on account of their racially oppressive pasts abnegates their responsibility to ask hard questions and find answers and colludes with southerners and others who, whatever their motives, are eager to avoid confronting the very real legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. The denial embedded in this paragraph is, well, undeniable:

Although a conversation with them might be laced with racial slurs, they point to black friends, including some running Tater Tots and limeades to the cars parked at the drive-in. The way people are portraying them is simply wrong, they said.

Dedicating the MLK Memorial: The Invite List

From an NBC affiliate comes this news of civil rights veterans jockeying for position at the official dedication of the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington. 

There will always be more unsung heroes than heralded ones, more forgotten struggles than those that are documented. We could go further with this–contested memory, anyone?–but let’s leave it at that.

Remembering James Meredith and the Integration of the University of Mississippi

With students across the country preparing to return to colleges over the next few weeks, it is interesting to consider how different the college landscape looked just half a century ago. On this same day in 1963—just 48 years ago—James Meredith received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi, becoming the first African American alum in the school’s 115-year history.

Meredith, a United States Air Force veteran, transferred to the University of Mississippi in September 1962, following sixteen months of legal maneuvering and repeated attempts to enroll. His eventual acceptance was followed by a riot that lead to two deaths and 375 injuries. Protected by substantial numbers of National Guard troops and military police, Meredith endured months of poor treatment and threats, and went on to receive his bachelor of arts in political science less than a year after he transferred.

The New York Times digital archives contain a copy of the August 18 article, which was published front-and-center along with a picture of Meredith.

The U.S. Marshals web site also includes substantial coverage of the events surrounding Meredith’s enrollment, experiences, and graduation. Check it out:

The Help Stirs up Controversy

The film adaptation of The Help, Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel that became something of a sleeper hit in the summer of 2009 opened in cinemas this past weekend to generally positive reviews. Those who like their movies “a warm and sweet song of hope — and chocolate pie — that pushes all the right buttons” will like this one, as will those seeking to find a message of uplift in the grinding oppression of the Jim Crow South. But those with a more clear-eyed view of what life was for African Americans in the Mississippi of the 1960s have started a discussion they hope will counterbalance the sentimentalized vision peddled by The Help. The conversation began with a piece from the Association of Black Women Historians.

Our friend Karen Kruse Thomas, Postdoctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins’s Institute of the History of Medicine had this to say on the matter in a recent online discussion:

I second the ABWH’s criticisms of the movie “The Help,” and would like to encourage the historical community to consider this film as an extraordinary teachable moment. The rich and varied literature on the history of American black women, and of race in America generally, has vividly depicted and analyzed the racially motivated violence, sexual abuse, and economic exploitation that were all inherent in the system of legalized Jim Crow segregation and disfranchisement. Yet it is also true that the scholarly literature on these topics has not reached a wide enough popular audience, and that unfortunately, many Americans remain shockingly ignorant of the historical context in which “The Help” took place.

Continue reading ‘The Help Stirs up Controversy’

Voting Rights Act Anniversary

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, enacted in 1870, declared that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, through the use of poll taxes, literacy tests, and other forms of discrimination, it would be nearly a century before African Americans were able to fully exercise these rights.

Today marks the 46th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally outlawed disenfranchisement practices common throughout the South. Immediately challenged in the courts, the act was consistently upheld as constitutional, and led to the speedy registration of hundreds of thousands of new black voters. The Act has since been readopted and strengthened in 1970, 1975, and 1982. For a great contextual summary, see this page:

Enhanced E-books and Portal Books

This is a follow up to a recent posting on what we have learned from the LCRM Project’s online publishing pilot.

This blog post has two sections:

1.  Publisher-library partnerships and enhanced e-books
2.  Links to related “portal books” projects and enhanced e-books

Publisher-library partnerships and enhanced e-books

A new kind of publisher-library partnership might take place at the level of the individual book.  I would like to see archiving, digitizing, and publishing happen in tandem.  For example, when an author has conducted oral-history interviews and consulted archival documents during research for a book, the interviews might be ingested into an archive and made available digitally, and the archival collections that were consulted might be digitized, at a library.  Simultaneously, the book would be edited and produced at the publishing house.  This parallel process would make it possible to publish the book as an enhanced e-book with archival material imbedded in it and outbound links to primary-source collections included as well.

The process would be most efficient if a single archive hosted the most important material; however, material from multiple archives could be included in much the same way that illustrations and tables from multiple sources are currently included in print books.

A quotation or illustration selected by an author is usually representative of a larger collection.  The author’s choice is in itself valuable scholarly information, because it prioritizes the primary-source item in an interpretive context. In a new interconnected online environment, that item can also serve as a portal to the full collection from which it was selected.  The author might write captions or sidebars that include links to full collections, or she might prefer to have an archivist write them.

There is an exciting future for enhanced e-books in scholarly publishing in the humanities and social sciences, and I look forward to seeing publishers and librarians share best practices and work out a repeatable, scalable process.  (The AAUP report “Sustaining Scholarly Publishing:  New Business Models for University Presses” rightly recommended that “there should be a central conduit for sharing information about these projects.”)  Although the number of e-books enhanced with multimedia materials is growing, it is a challenge to find examples in which illustrations/captions and sidebars/annotations serve as portals to full archival collections as in the LCRM online pilot; I list a couple of links below, but surely I am not aware of all related projects. I would welcome comments on this blog post sharing such projects.

Enhanced e-books would be even more useful to scholars if they also included DOI (digital object identifier) links.  (In the LCRM pilot, bibliography entries include outbound DOI links to the full text of the referenced sources, when available via the CrossRef system.) Historians and sociologists are certainly not used to seeing DOI links in bibliographies; the “wow” factor of this feature in the LCRM pilot was significant.  According to the LCRM technical team, it is quite feasible to include DOI links in Epub files.  Has anyone done this yet?  Please comment on this blog post if you know the answer.

Links to related “portal books” projects and enhanced e-books

We need to coin a term for an e-book that is connected to multimedia sources via annotated links (and perhaps connected to published sources as well, via DOI links).  A “portal book”?  Someone will surely invent a term more clever and appropriate for a book that is transformed in the digital environment into a dynamic “interface to a body of information” (Tim O’Reilly).

Archaeology of the Americas Digital Monograph Initiative,

This project plans to incorporate multimedia data sets within enhanced monographs as well as partner with archaeological data aggregators to include links to databases outside of the monograph itself.  I look forward to hearing whether any of the collaborating presses will partner with their own university library or institutional repository for stable hosting of the data sets.


Candide 2.0:  A networked edition of Voltaire’s 1759 classic,

Based on CommentPress (see Institute for the Future of the Book, below), this site includes commissioned annotations from a variety of commenters.  The commenting period is now closed, but all of the content is still accessible.  The emphasis was textual commentary, but at least one comment by a curator linked the text to online archival collections.


Ethnomusicology Multimedia (EM),

This project turns our LCRM Project approach 180 degrees by prioritizing the annotation of audiovisual material within the audiovisual archive; if I understand it correctly, keying of that material to monograph pages would be a second step.  This is a fascinating idea that could also work for oral histories and books on (civil rights) history.  Archivists are keen to capture scholars’ notes on their holdings, and an annotation that is not tied to a particular secondary text could apply to many texts.  However, within a particular monograph, the reader might find more meaningful an annotation that is contextually connected to the narrative.  I look forward to learning whether the Indiana University Library is partnering with the project to create and host the archive, and to seeing how the idea of keying archival material to monograph pages will develop.


Institute for the Future of the Book,

The above site describes CommentPress and links to the many interesting experiments that New York University has done with it, but as far as I can tell, the site does not offer any information about the new software that Bob Stein described at the recent AAUP meeting in Baltimore and which he said would launch in October 2011.  It is a new, more sophisticated version of CommentPress that he called SocialBook (not to be confused, I believe, with a currently available iPad app by the same name).  Using Epub files, it will allow readers to highlight, annotate, share comments, have virtual book groups, and—the main reason I list it here—comments can incorporate links as well as other uploaded materials.  Users will be able to choose whether or not to share their comments publicly.


The Long Civil Rights Movement Project,

Some of the most pertinent links inserted by users in our project are attached to annotations now closed to public access, but you can still see how the annotation feature works on the open access content.  Again—in sum—scholars and archivists were invited to add annotations and links to primary source collections.  One advantage of the dynamic, participatory model is that it is always poised to take advantage of the constant, rapid increase in the amount of primary-source material that is coming online as a result of archivists’ digitization efforts.  The potential for links to break and need updating is a disadvantage that needs to be addressed.  In order to link to published sources, bibliographies in the collection include both DOIs and OpenURL links (the latter for those users who know how to set up the OpenURL plug-in).


Note that the foregoing projects might be considered a subset or offshoot of the growing body of enhanced e-books in which multimedia files are embedded (rather than linked).  Some exciting and fascinating examples in scholarly book publishing are:


Dangerous Citizens by Neni Panourgiá (Fordham University Press and Columbia University Library, 2009).  A specially programmed open-access website-book. (Marginal commentary is termed “parerga.”)


The Elements by Theodore Gray (Touch Press,  2010) An iPad app.

Demo on YouTube:

Give My Poor Heart Ease:  Voice of the Mississippi Blues by William Ferris (University of North Carolina Press, 2010).  A Kindle enhanced e-book; soon to be a Nook enhanced e-book.


Gems and Gemstones: Timeless Natural Beauty of the Mineral World  by Lance Grande and Allison Augustyn  (University of Chicago Press and Touch Press, in collaboration with the Field Museum, 2011).  An iPad app.

Demo on YouTube:


Learning from YouTube by Alexandra Juhasz (MIT Press, 2011). A “video -book” available online only, in an experimental interface .  (A page integrating text and video is termed “texteo.”)



Corrections, additions, and discussion are welcome.


Reflecting on the LCRM Project’s Online Pilot

This post contains 4 sections:

1. Close of the online pilot
2. The expected, the unexpected, and in between
3. What did we learn?
4. What is next for the LCRM Project?

Coming soon:  A follow-up post on enhanced e-books

Close of the online pilot

After 14 months, the Long Civil Rights Movement Project’s pilot online collection officially closed its test period on July 18, 2011.  You can still see it at, although project staff will no longer grant premium access to the full text of the experimental site’s 87 titles (books, articles, papers, and reports) to those who register except by special request.  Registration will continue to give any user the ability to see open-access content and comment on it at the paragraph level.

The commenting feature was the focus of the experiment.  During the test period, the number of registered users grew beyond our expectations, finishing at 776.  The number of annotations contributed by users was also impressive, finishing at 607.

The expected, the unexpected, and in between

As with any experiment, some desired and expected outcomes eluded us, while other developments both raised knotty questions and presented new opportunities.

In the elusive-goals department, for example, the authors of the 87 books, articles, papers, and reports in the collection did not enhance their published writing with sidebars offering further thoughts since publication, nor did they share links to archival sources–despite several authors’ enthusiasm about these ideas in focus group meetings.

Authors and other scholars saw the site as a teaching tool.  One author added discussion questions to his book,  and five undergraduate classes around the U.S. used the site. (The number of courses might easily have been higher than five, but we limited this aspect of the experiment.)  One class at Duke University, taught by an author, contributed 80 percent of all the comments in the site.  Students responded to the assigned reading about civil rights activism with candor and genuine emotion in their comments, sometimes linking to outside sources and occasionally sharing related personal experiences.  This activity led us to knotty-question territory, challenging us to think about how to design a business model for an online collection that would include or rely upon course-adoption books.

One desired outcome proved elusive until we offered participants an honorarium.  We hoped that archivists, who have an intimate knowledge of the materials in their collections, and who have worked hard to make those materials available online, would have an incentive to increase the discoverability of those collections.  A desire to link published scholarship with archival materials in a granular, contextual manner was a prime reason for the inclusion of a commenting tool in the site.  We hoped that archivists would voluntarily contribute annotations for that purpose, but—despite their stated enthusiasm—they did not find the time.  Once they were commissioned to do so on deadline, however, and offered an honorarium, they produced the most useful, scholarly, detailed annotations in the site.  Their contributions present an attractive opportunity to work with archivists on e-book enhancements in the future.

What did we learn?

In science publishing, there is attention to the importance of archiving data sets and making them accessible for reference and reassessment.  In the humanities, primary-source materials, such as diaries, letters, pamphlets, manuscripts, and oral history recordings and transcripts, are the scholar’s data sets.  Continue reading ‘Reflecting on the LCRM Project’s Online Pilot’