Justice For All: A Digital Exhibit for South Carolina Civil Rights

By Mēgan Oliver

In December of 2018, Digital Collections Librarian, Mēgan Oliver, and Library Web Developer (Library Technology Services (LTS)), Sarah Funk, met with the exhibition team from the Center for Civil Rights History and Research.  The civil rights team was planning an exhibition entitled “Justice for All: South Carolina and the Civil Rights Movement“. The team members, Dr. Bobby Donaldson, Jill Found, Patrice Green,  Jennifer Melton, Celeste Minor,  and Jonathon Johnson, expressed their needs for a digital exhibit, and we in Digi and LTS laid out what digital exhibition options are available (we’re building digital exhibits in WordPress currently). The civil rights team chose their layout, essentially the digital look and feel of the exhibit, and expressed their goals. As the Director of the Center, Dr. Donaldson communicated what was most important, in terms of the collection’s context and emphasized how he wanted to highlight visually compelling digital archives to support the physical exhibit of Justice for All: South Carolina and the American Civil Rights Movement. With these parameters, Digi and LTS began working to support this traditional exhibit structure with an online component.

The exhibit opened in the Ernest F. Hollings Library in February of 2019,  complete with civil rights speakers, tours of the collections, special events, and a variety of press releases. This summer, the exhibit will see it’s final few months. Don’t miss the incredible collections on display! Justice for All is open until August 31. If you can’t make it to Columbia, SC to see it in person, not to worry: there’s a permanent digital exhibit with the same title, Justice for All.

 

A Team Effort

By John Quirk

The creation of a digital collection always demands some amount of collaboration. Content matter experts, scanning technicians, metadata librarians, web developers…all working together to bring a project to fruition. The size of the team varies from collection to collection but it is always a collaborative effort.

UofSC’s Digital Collections has been involved in a project lately that not only exemplifies this spirit of collaboration but pushes it to unusual lengths. This project is the Abstract of Voter Registrations Reported to the Military Government, 1868.

This 31-volume abstract of voter registrations was originally created by order of the commander of the Second Military District who had ultimate responsibility for the registration of voters and the conduct of elections. The volumes record the name and race of each registered voter arranged by county and registration precinct. It is a fascinating and historically valuable snapshot of elections in South Carolina in the years just after the Civil War. The process of bringing these documents into the digital world has demanded the efforts of an unusual number of dedicated souls.

These historic volumes were originally microfilmed in 1987 by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. The South Carolina State Library recognized their significance and the potential value of having them digitized and made available on the web. The University of South Carolina’s Digital Collections department scanned the microfilm, creating the digital files using its Mekel Microfilm scanner. The South Carolina State Library then created the metadata describing each volume. UofSC’s Digital Collections used that metadata to upload the digitized Abstract of Voter Registrations to its CONTENTdm database make them freely available online. The road often ends there…but in this case the road has a few more twists and turns…

Having such historic documents digitized and online certainly extends their discoverability and accessibility well beyond volumes on an archive shelf or in a microfilm drawer. However, if a text can be made fully searchable the usefulness and discoverability is hugely improved. When scanning text that is printed or typewritten it is possible to create a searchable text file using an optical character recognition program (OCR) that can decipher text in a still image. However, automated OCR is not an option when the text is handwritten as it is in this Abstract of Voter Registrations. This is where the collaborative aspect of this project grows exponentially.

Richland County Library’s Walker Local and Family History Center has been marshalling a phalanx of intrepid volunteers and librarians to manually transcribe each page of the entire 31 volumes. These transcribers are peppered across the state and as they complete their efforts the transcriptions are sent to the Walker Local and Family History Center to be collated.  Those transcriptions are then sent from Richland Library to UofSC where they are integrated into the digitized items online. In the end, this process will make the entire Abstract of Voter Registrations fully searchable for names and locations thus improving its reach and usability.

One example of the broad reach these files can have is the recent featuring of an item from this very collection on a segment of Henry Louis Gate, Jr.’s PBS program Finding Your Roots. Click here to see a clip: https://www.pbs.org/video/michael-k-williams-immediate-voter-registration-p9xcw3/ After so much coordination and concerted effort, it is quite rewarding to see the fruits of those labors pay off in such a way.

All of this cross-institutional collaboration is aided by established relationships developed over time as partner members of the South Carolina Digital Library. The SCDL is a statewide search portal that aggregates digital collections from over 60 institutions bringing together over 300,000 digital items. The UofSC Digital Collections department is the  scanning hub helping to coordinate collections being created in the Midlands and hosts collections for smaller institutions that do not have the means to do that.

 

Employee feature: Meet Allison!

By Allison Rogers

Allison working with illustrations on the Zeutschel OS 14000 A0 planetary scanner

Hello, I’m Allison, one of the new digitization specialists in the Digital Collections family. When I’m not studying for exams and assignments in my undergraduate degree in Computer Science, I’m digitizing letters and documents from the American Revolution or scanning film from newspapers in the 1950s. While meticulously charting metadata can sometimes be monotonous, the work is intriguing. In digitizing the material we have, I get to experience a more casual glimpse into American history, as I review letters about plantations, accounts of purchased goods, and even notes from meetings of the Continental Congress. Currently, I’ve been scanning and creating metadata for newspapers that my grandparents might have read in the morning before heading to work.

What I do here is not only fascinating; it’s distinctly different from what I do in my classes at the university. Computational science can be extremely engaging and exciting, but the work I do now is dry and technical, with little room for creativity and perspective. Additionally, many of the career paths for these kinds of majors are concerned with how to create more profit for already giant companies. Before working here, there seemed to be little application for involving art, literature, or history.

Allison working with illustrations on the Zeutschel OS 14000 A0 planetary scanner

Working at Digital Collections has truly been a magical experience for me. In my classes at the university, programming is logic and linear algebra and string operations on arbitrary homework assignments. Here, in the basement of the library, among gorgeous aged rare books, I see incredibly intelligent and skilled individuals writing and running scripts, coding databases, interpreting and analyzing metadata, and preserving rare historic material. It is astounding and encouraging to be a part of a department that marries programming with history.

I am also delighted to see so many women around me engaged in programming, troubleshooting, and web development. It’s wonderful working with such talented and skilled women, especially coming from a male dominated field. In my short time in this office, I have come realize that a background in computing and programing can offer a sort of modernization to the humanities, and that we can work together to keep art and history and cultural relevant in an increasingly digital age. Although for now, I do simple data input, I’m excited to learn more about web development and big data analysis and apply it here or in adjacent areas as the field of digital humanities expands.

Abby Munro: Educator for destitute children in South Carolina, 1870-1890s

By Sarah Moore

Abby Munro was a teacher from Rhode Island who came to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina to help Cornelia Hancock in teaching Black freed men and women at the Laing School. At the Laing School, students received an education and were given an opportunity to learn a trade. (Laing Middle School of Science and Technology; Fludd; Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission). In the 1870s, Munro took over for duties from Hancock and became the principal of the school. She expanded on the original work of Hancock, when in 1882 she opened a Children’s Home for Destitute Children, one of the first orphanages for African Americans in South Carolina (Fludd; Mount Pleasant Historical Commission). Though older than the Jenkins’ Orphanage, the Destitute Children’s Home was smaller and served  the local population of Mount Pleasant. (Fordham, 2009).

This collection consists of a range of items related to Abby Munro’s work at the Home of Destitute Children and the Laing School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, like legal documents signed by parents giving custody of children to Abby Munro. Additionally, documents in the collection frequently outline that a child will be cared for while receiving an education. A second medium found in this collection is photographs, most of which are of the Laing School. These photographs allow for a glimpse into education at the Laing Normal and Industrial School. One photograph shows students learning to cobble shoes. Another photograph shows young girls learning to sew.

Arthur Macbeth, an African American photographer based in Charleston, South Carolina, took many of these photographs of the Laing School. After studying with German, French, and American photographers, Macbeth opened his own studio in Charleston in 1886 (Bowser, 1999). A few of Macbeth photographs were used some of the in Laing School publications that reported on progress of the school and home. Both the Laing school and Children’s Home relied heavily on donations and these publications used to show how the donations were being used, plus how the donations were making a difference.

Check our our digital collection, Abby D. Munro papers, 1837-1913. The physical collection is held at South Caroliniana Library.

Citations

  • Bowser, P. “Pioneers of Black Documentary Film.” (1999). Struggles for Representation: African American Documentation Film and Video. (page 4)
  • Fludd D. “Laing School History” Accessed October 17, 2018.
  • Fordham, D. L. Voices of Black South Carolina: Legend and Legacy.(2009).
  • Laing Middle School of Science and Technology: For a New Generation of Learners. “School History.” Accessed October 16, 2018.
  • Town of Mount Pleasant Historical Commission. “Mount Pleasant Home for Destitute Children.” Mount Pleasant Historical. Accessed October 15 2018.

Digitizing a sample of the John Caldwell Calhoun Papers

By Sarah Moore

I landed in digital collections by pure serendipity.  I entered the Public History program with a focus on historic preservation at the University of South Carolina. Receiving no funding from my department, I applied for a position in Digital Collections helping to digitize The Gamecock from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. Discovering my love for Library Science too late, I continue to work in Digital Collections hoping to build upon my interest in  how digital collections can be used for historical preservation. Over the last few months, I have worked on five different projects including digitizing a portion of the John Caldwell Calhoun papers.

A silked letter from J. C. Calhoun to his mother Floride Colhoun. Note the surname spelled differently.

In planning for the Teacher Workshops for Social Studies teachers, library organizers selected the John Caldwell Calhoun papers for use in the workshop. A controversial figure of history today, Calhoun was an active proponent of slavery and states’ rights during his political career. A native of South Carolina, Calhoun served in the United States House of Representatives, became the Secretary of War and became the Vice President of United States. Thus, it was easy to see why items from this collection were ideal for a workshop focused on helping social studies teachers utilize digital collections in their classroom.

This collection consists mainly of business and personal correspondence of John C. Calhoun from the South Caroliniana Library, little of which was digitized. For the workshop, a few letters were selected to be digitized. In selecting this letters, however, it was discovered that these letters were silked, in attempt to preserve the letters. Silking was a conservation technique used in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth centuries. In basic terms, this process consisted of adhering a thin piece of transparent silk to a document. The reasoning behind this process was to slow down the deterioration process of the paper (Barrow, 1942; McCarthy, 2016).

In digitizing the Calhoun papers for the Teacher’s Workshop, my initial thoughts were on time management for the project, in order to ensure that everything was accessible and usable for the workshop. Thus, my focus was on the project flow of this endeavor, scanning all the items and ensuring clear images, that any questions about the metadata edited, and everything loaded on the library depository, well before the deadline. Although it was interesting to see and work with letters that went through this early method of preservation, the fact that items in this collection were silked was not a part of my initial focus.

I started by scanning letters from the Calhoun collection on the Zeutschel, a large flat base scanner in the Digital Collections office. In looking at the first images of the scanned letters, I noted problems in seeing the handwriting in the images. Since the letters were going to be used in a workshop, and the fact that handwriting from the nineteenth century materials are in themselves hard to read, the clearest images were needed. Thus, I sought advice on getting more clear images. The library consulted a conservator to see what could be done about the silked documents while in the office, basic research was conducted into experiences from other libraries and archives in using silked materials.

A silked letter from J. C. Calhoun to his mother Floride Colhoun. Note the surname spelled differently.

One unexpected outcome of silked archival items it that the items become harder to read over time. The aluminum in the paste affected the acidity of the paper, resulting in ink dissolving and discoloration of the paper overall. It is possible that this what led to the discoloration in the documents. Further research also revealed that this process often used arsenic. While there was no evidence that these materials contained arsenic, I took precautions and wore gloves when handling the Calhoun papers (Information Resource Management Association, 2019; McCarthy, 2016).

While the problem with clarity of some of the images remained, I continued to scan the letters and began to create metadata in hopes some of the images could still be used in the Teachers Workshop. The last step was to add the images and metadata in to the library’s digital depository known as CONTENTdm, so the images would be accessible online through the Library’s website. Some of the more legible images were used in the teacher’s workshop. The fully digitized John Caldwell Calhoun collection can be found here: https://digital.library.sc.edu/collections/john-c-calhoun-papers/

Citations:

Barrow, W. J. Restoration Methods. (1942) The American Archivist. Page 152 Retrieved from http://www.americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/aarc.6.3.497248722g4584rr?code=SAME-site.

Information Resource Management Association USA. (2019). Digital Curation: Breakthrough in Research and Practice. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=lcxjDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA200&lpg=PA200&dq=arsenic+in+silking+archival+materials&source=bl&ots=ymV2dnhioj&sig=nzhC0NeX3EpyvjEGAzeaKA2nyAU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiwv5jFv-rdAhWC21MKHcwZDfAQ6AEwCXoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=arsenic%20in%20silking%20archival%20materials&f=false.

McCarthy, C. of YUL Conservation and Exhibition Services, Preservation Department, Yale University. (2016 October 11). “Arsenic and Old Paste: Using XRF to Assess Silked Documents” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://yulconservationandexhibitservices.wordpress.com/2016/10/.

 

WORLD WAR I: Centennial Selections from University of South Carolina Libraries

By Mae Howe

Red Cross Nurse’s Album, Irvin Dept. Special Collections

To commemorate the centennial of “America’s Forgotten War,” Digital Collections has teamed up with five of the University of South Carolina’s special libraries and McKissick Museum to create a digital exhibition that features compelling photos, papers, and publications from our Great War holdings. The exhibit includes over a thousand previously digitized materials, new archival selections, and recent acquisitions from Government Information and Maps, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, McKissick Museum, the Music Library, South Carolina Political Collections, and South Caroliniana Library.

WORLD WAR I: Centennial Selections from University of South Carolina Libraries” juxtaposes the experiences of individuals with the political climate; the home front in our beloved Palmetto State with the battlefront on foreign soil; America’s entry into the war with the Allies’ victory over the Axis Powers. In addition to liberty bond propaganda, anti-German cartoons, and patriotic sheet music, this retrospective includes the correspondence of an African-American Croix de Guerre recipient from South Carolina, the scrapbook of a Red Cross nurse serving in the main theatre of war, and the reaction of a soldier stationed in France when the “War to End All Wars” officially ceased.

Topical Sketches by Douglas G. Ward, Irvin Dept. Special Collections

This digital exhibition aligns with the United States World War I Centennial Commission’s aim to “raise awareness and give meaning to the events of a hundred years ago” and is accompanied by physical exhibits in both the Ernest F. Hollings Library and McKissick Museum. The Irvin Department of Special Collections will also host a talk by Dr. Janet Hudson, on November 14: Black Soldiers Mattered, Carolina’s Unheralded African American Soldiers of the Great War.”

The support of many persons and departments made this project possible, but special thanks goes to Mēgan Oliver, Digital Collections Librarian, for initiating and supervising the exhibition, Sarah Funk, Library Technology Services Web Manager, for designing and troubleshooting the website, and Mae Howe, Digital Collections Intern, for organizing and managing the project. This exhibition is the first of many, with future projects slated for spring, summer, and fall of 2019 on Civil Rights, Scottish Literature, and the Civil War in South Carolina. Please contact Digital Collections via digital1@mailbox.sc.edu with any questions or comments about our exhibition.

 

[Part II: William D. Workman, Jr. Photographs] Reprocessing

Chauna working on the Workman project

As mentioned previously the reprocessing of the Workman photographs began last Fall (2017) with Mae Howe conducting the arrangement and reprocessing of the collection images. She rehoused all of the materials collection using proper storage resources for preservation sake, as well as adequately addressing all of the new changes and topics covered in each image in an updated finding aid. Mae worked diligently with the help of Laura Litwer (South Carolina Political Collections digital initiatives archivist) to create a finding aid that covered the extensive collection of images Workman kept. A challenge in itself due to the many duplicates the collection contains. Questions quickly arose as to how redundant the finding aid should be in this regard. The two agreed that to minimize redundancy an appendix should be made.

To further explain, the Workman photograph collection houses different size print images and different size negatives, mostly of those same images and of others that remained undeveloped by Workman. Mae not only had to identify the duplicates in a collection of over 3,000 images, but she also had to identify potential copyright violators, create item level metadata, and continually update the finding aid with the daily changes whenever she came across the two previously mentioned issues. She achieved these tasks that quite thoroughly with only minor mistakes that Chauna would later find and fix.

Chauna working on the Workman project

Chauna took over the project for Mae at the beginning of the summer, picking up where she left off digitizing negatives. Chauna was placed in a unique situation where she had to start in the middle of a large project and carry on the work of someone else. With a little help from Mae and her trusty blue binder filled with detailed notes, she was able to continue her initial work and complete the digitization and creation of metadata for the remaining Workman negatives.  It may not seem like much but starting where someone else has left off is a daunting task in itself. If you remember from this post, we had to take some time to get our bearings and review the progress completed up to this point.

NHPRC

Chauna quickly found her footing and was able to complete the remaining scans and add valuable information to the metadata where necessary. When processing images and creating metadata at the item level it takes some time to create item specific information. But, Chauna gladly accepted the challenge having done similar tasks in the past with South Carolina Political Collections. Now all that is left for her to do is upload the images to CONTENTdm, finalize the finding aid, and release the collection for public access online.