Join us to celebrate!
Nearly ten years ago, Harvard Library embarked on a large digitization project of the manuscript materials relating to North America in the colonial era from across the Library's repositories: Colonial North America. This project enabled hundreds of thousands of pages to be made widely available online.
In celebration of this important work, we invite you to join us for a series of events culminating with a three-part symposium.
March 4, 2021 - 3pm
Guided virtual tour
Did you know you can explore Widener Library digitally?
With our 3D virtual tour, you can wander the virtual halls. In the newest addition to the experience, we're featuring the Colonial North America project in our virtual gallery. On March 4, Ross Mulcare, gallery co-curator and archives expert, will lead us through this new enhanced exhibit, "Portals to the Past - Selections from Colonial North America at Harvard Library."
March 15, 2021 - 3pm
Meet our curators as they share their favorite early American items.
On March 15, experts from Harvard libraries will share a favorite early American item from their collection, explaining the context and importance for research of these materials crossing topics such as medicine, law, religion, slavery, business, and education. These items provide a snapshot of the wealth of information packed into everyday documents related to the history of Harvard and beyond. You’ll have the chance to ask the curators questions and learn more about the project.
April 6-8, 2021
Beyond Digitization: a virtual symposium
Join us in April for a three-part event to celebrate the Colonial North America at Harvard Library digitization project.
On the first day, Karin Wulf, Director of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture at William & Mary, will open with the special keynote address Digital Access and Making Early America Vast, and Library staff will share the inspiration for and execution of the project. The following days will include special panels, led by colleagues and various subject-area experts on topics related to emerging ideas about digital content. We’ll close out our symposium with Diane Paulus and Jeffrey Page, Co-Directors of an upcoming American Repertory Theater production, a bold, new, re-envisioning of the Tony-Award-winning musical that premiered in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, 1776. Diane and Jeffrey will speak briefly about what 1776 the show is communicating to its audience and what 1776 the year and the event continues to communicate to us hundreds of years later. They will introduce a clip from the multi-media conversation 1776: The Audacity to Exist.
Tuesday, April 6: Keynote Address
Tuesday, April 6: 11:00am-12:30pm Welcome and Keynote address: Digital Access and Making Early America Vast
Martha Whitehead, Vice President for the Harvard Library and University Librarian; Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the Faculty of Arts & Sciences
Karin Wulf, Director, Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and Professor of History, William & Mary
The Genesis and Impact of an Idea
Claire DeMarco, Interim Head of Information and Technical Services; Associate Director for UX and Strategy
Franziska Frey, Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor for University Library Strategy, Planning and Assessment, Harvard Library
Megan Sniffin-Marinoff, University Archivist, Harvard University Archives
Suzanne Wones, Associate University Librarian for Discovery and Access
Wednesday, April 7: Panel discussion—Beyond the Reading Room
Wednesday, April 7: 11:00am-12:30pm Panel discussion: Beyond the Reading Room — Using Digitized Manuscript Collections in New Contexts
One central effect of digitization has been to effectively remove the walls of reading rooms in archives and libraries. Researchers anywhere in the world can have incredible volumes of cultural heritage materials delivered to them instantaneously, without the need to travel or negotiate access. The unprecedented expansion in access has been heralded as one of digitization’s great triumphs—but who is using this access?
- What aims and objectives of individuals and institutions are supported by this accessibility?
- What communities do these materials serve?
- How are issues of ownership and stewardship challenged or changed by digitization?
- What new contexts for encountering these materials are created by digitization?
- Can digitized manuscript collections drive innovative research methods?
- Can we learn anything new about colonial America from this project?
- How is the experience of doing digital research different?
- Can there be too much available content?
- Stephen Curley, Director of Digital Archives, The National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition
- Zachary Nowak, Lecturer on History, Harvard University
- Christopher Parsons, Associate Professor of History, Northeastern University
- Peter Pellizzari, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Threadable Books
- Karin Wulf, Director, Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and Professor of History, William & Mary
Vincent Brown, Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard University
Thursday, April 8: Panel discussion—Seeing at Scale
Thursday, April 8: 11:00am-12:30pm Panel discussion: Seeing at Scale — Artificial Intelligence and Access to Manuscript Materials
The Colonial North America at Harvard Library project alone makes available for research nearly 700,000 pages of manuscript material. Understanding and engaging with the content of that much material is beyond the scope of any individual person, but there are at least two ways to engage with these collections at scale: crowds and computers. Crowdsourcing efforts focused on transcription and analysis have proven effective but require significant management and oversight. Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) offers another way to see and analyze large volumes of materials. While our technology for machine-reading printed text is well established, handwritten materials—especially from different eras, in different languages, and in varying hands—are at the center of cutting-edge projects that are looking to allow us access to the contents of large collections at scale. While these projects promise to open up our digitized collections to new research questions and methodologies, AI/ML brings with it potential pitfalls as well and questions to address.
- What is the state of the art of using Al and machine learning to organize, interpret, transcribe, and interact with manuscript material?
- What issues—technical, ethical, practical—are unique to computational approaches to the problem of access and description at scale?
- Manuscripts from the colonial era are marked by their inconsistency of hand and multilingual nature. How are these features being addressed?
- What are the potential points of convergence with crowdsourcing methods and computational methods?
- Noelani Arista, Associate Professor and Director of Indigenous Studies Dept. of History and Classics (Kanaka Maoli), McGill University
- Tom Blake, Content Discovery Manager, Boston Public Library
- Samantha Blickhan, Humanities Lead, Zooniverse and Co-Director Zooniverse team, Adler Planetarium, Chicago
- Matt Cook, Digital Scholarship Program Manager, Harvard Library
- Donatella Firmani, Assistant Professor Engineering Department, Computer Science and Automation, Roma Tre University
- Maxime Gohier, Professeur Département des lettres et humanités, Université du Québec à Rimouski (Professor of History, Dept. of Letters and Humanities, University of Quebec at Rimouski)
- Jean-Francois Palomino, Direction de la recherche et de la diffusion des collections patrimoniales, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (Map Librarian and Coordinator, Dept. of Research and Dissemination of Heritage Collections, National Library and Archives of Canada)
Stu Snydman, Associate University Librarian and Managing Director, Library Technology, Harvard Library
A Special Close from American Repertory Theater
We’ll close out our symposium with Diane Paulus and Jeffrey Page, Co-Directors of an upcoming American Repertory Theater production, a bold, new, re-envisioning of the Tony-Award-winning musical that premiered in 1969 at the height of the Vietnam War, 1776. Diane and Jeffrey will speak briefly about what 1776 the show is communicating to its audience and what 1776 the year and the event continues to communicate to us hundreds of years later. They will introduce a clip from the multi-media conversation 1776: The Audacity to Exist.
About Our Donors
Major support for this multi-year project was generously provided by Arcadia, The Polonsky Foundation, James B. Adler through the Adler Preservation Fund, and Peter H. Darrow and William O. Nutting through a fund for the Colonial North America ("CNA") Digitization Project at the Harvard Library.