Interactive Research Map or How I Learned to Come Up With a DH Project off the Top of My Head

My DH project was borne out of a meeting with Dr. Schocket, during which I had few ideas and pulled this one out of thin air. For my project, I will be proposing a prototype for a much larger project that I feel could greatly benefit the historical research community. Essentially, my project will create an interactive map which will feature numerous research institutions and archives from around the United States. Whenever a user hovers over one the many dots that will appear on the map, it gives information about what primary source collections are contained at that particular institution. I believe this will give scholars a much-needed boost when it comes to pinpointing where they need to travel for research.

Speaking from personal experience, I had a hell of a time creating a list of archives I needed to visit to feel as though I had adequately researched primary sources for my thesis. I remember Googling, emailing, and calling institutions to find out what exactly they could offer me in terms of primary source materials. I feel that this interactive map would save researchers this extra time, while also preventing researchers from traveling to research archives and discovering the source(s) they wanted were either not particularly useful or nonexistent (This has also happened to me. I traveled to places in Virginia that were not particularly useful).

This brings me to the second part of my project. This would be the section that is more of a prototype than the interactive map. I feel that the interactive map would be relatively easy and cheap to create. The more expensive and difficult portion of the project would be the incorporation of a “chat-feature” for each archive or institution. Modeled after the chat feature we have at the Jerome Library, this chat-feature would connect users to the institutions to which they intend to travel. This would allow users to double check both the quality and the quantity of the primary sources available at the respective institutions. The members of the institutions on the other end of chat-feature could also answer other related questions.

This brings me to another part of this chat-feature: interconnected chat-feature. Like the Facebook messenger, this would allow users to enter multiple archives into one chat. For example, if one were researching the Civil War, a user could enter both the Gettysburg and Antietam reading rooms into the chat-feature, and the user could talk with both of them about possible overlaps or gaps in their primary sources. Basically, if most, if not all, of the materials at Antietam were also contained at Gettysburg, the user would not have to bother going to Antietam (unless he or she wanted to walk through the battlefield, which I would highly recommend). Furthermore, if the Antietam reading room contained a very small amount of files, the user could ask the Antietam reading room to forward them to Gettysburg, allowing the user to pick up that information upon their visit to Gettysburg.

The chat-feature would be the prototype as the cost to keep a librarian or assistant available to answer potential questions is quite costly. As such, I would likely seek out two institutions that would be willing to try out this feature to test the viability, the amount of traffic, and the relative cost. Although there are aspects of this idea present at certain libraries across the country, I feel that this could help enhance the overall research experience.

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