Digital projects using archives

#BlackLivesMatter   #SayHerName   #BringBackOurGirls   #ICANTBREATHE

Internet activism has changed the national conversation and must be taken seriously. Social media is reshaping how scholars study social movements. Is there an opportunity for archival collections to support these conversations on race and digital social justice activism? Can archival primary source materials that weren’t born digital be more effectively used alongside born-digital records in data analysis and scholarship? This semester members from the AADHum Project Team, along with our Teaching and Learning Librarian and Labor History Archivist, explored these questions to gain a broader sense of how primary resources support projects in the digital humanities.

The African American History, Culture and Digital Humanities Initiative (AADHum), which includes an interdisciplinary community of scholars, developed a set of Digital Humanities Incubators to introduce the tools and skills necessary to build digital projects. The Initiative’s 4th Digital Incubator Module on Social Movements and Social Media explores African American practices online by examining the use of communication technologies to facilitate and complicate relationships between localized action and national social movements.  Incubator participants included graduate students, community members, and digital humanists from sociology, American studies, and history departments. 

Using NVivo Pro 12, data analysis software, incubator participants learned how to develop and build structured sets of Twitter and multimedia web archive data for research on contemporary Black social movements. Supplemented by Gephi software, we built network models to trace the historical relationships between the labor and civil rights movements using the Civil Rights Department records of the AFL-CIO collections in the UMD George Meany Labor History Archive. The broad historical scope of the AFL-CIO collections was a great fit for this project, particularly since the archival material in the collection highlights some of the larger issues that occur when analysing social movements online – managing control and authority. In other words, who gets to define and prioritize which social issues get support or visibility, and, who gets to lead the charge. Special Collections hopes to continue to support the intersectional work of digital humanists across campus, and demonstrate that our collections not only help us understand the past, but also the present.

Photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO

Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO, Miami, Florida, December 11, 1961

Photo of Bayard Rustin speaking at Solidarity Day

Bayard Rustin speaking at Solidarity Day, September 19, 1981

Front page of The Black Worker, July 1937

The Black Worker newspaper article, “Brotherhood Fighting for Fair Agreement”, New York, July 1937


Written by:

Ashleigh D. Coren, Special Collections Librarian for Teaching and Learning
Will R. Thomas, Graduate Assistant, AADHum Project Team
Kevin Winstead, Graduate Assistant, AADHum Project Team

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