Project 6 – Exploring the Digital History Project: “Feeding America”

December 21, 2018 |  Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Project 6 – Exploring the Digital History Project: “Feeding America”

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Thomas Fangmann

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Sometimes I am very disappointed by digital history projects. The interface looks cutting edge, the features are hyped up, and the project relates to an important topic. However, when I attempt to actually use the resource I am usually overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of data and the open-endedness of the application. I may use the features for a short amount of time before I get bored and continue on to something else. Granted, sometimes the project concerns a field that I am not very interested in.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 This was not the case when I explored Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project from the Clements Library, University of Michigan. Because of my general interest in preserving historic cultural traditions and my job at a historic site, this digital history project seemed to apply directly to my interests. It is a collection of 75 representative samples of American cookbooks and other related texts spanning the period from 1798-1922. When I went to the website I was not met with some overwhelming interface, but with a list of links with information about how to use the project’s resources. This included an introductory video, an introductory essay, and other resources such as an FAQ section. After watching the 15-minute video, I got an idea of what the project included, the rationale behind it, and some of the digital preservation methods used. Furthermore, the introduction essay was an extremely useful resource that divided the project into useful categories based on time-period, ethnic groups, regions, and other areas of interest. The introductory essay also had a list of secondary sources related to the topic of American culinary history.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 One of the very useful features of the project is the text searchability. Each document in the collection was scanned using methods to preserve the physical integrity of the sometimes-delicate historic documents. In addition to the scanned images of the actual historic documents, each document also has a text transcription which is searchable. The entire project is also text searchable through a search bar tab. The original documents are available in a downloadable PDF and are also visible online. Part of why I like this project is the straightforwardness of its presentation. Granted, it is not dealing with an immensity of small data points, but instead with discrete documents that can be easily separated from each other. Still, the user is essentially presented with the raw data concerning the collection, as opposed to an interface that represents the data in a potentially limited way.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 One of the limitations of the project was the inclusion of only 75 representative examples of the over 7,000 culinary texts that are available in the University of Michigan collection. The introduction discusses early American colonists using pre-existing European cookbooks and resources and mentions the names of some prominent examples. These early resources, however, and not included in the project, with the first available resource being Simmons, American Cookery from 1798. The rationale for the representative selection is not explicitly stated, however the immense size of the collection may be a factor.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Overall, if your focus is American culinary traditions in general then this is potentially a very valuable resource. One of its strengths is that it contains documents that represent a variety of regions and ethnic groups as well as over 100 years of American history. Because my focus is largely the 17th and 18th centuries, this project has limited utility, although it does provide full and high-quality access to American Cookery. The main audience for this project appears to be those who have a serious interest in studying American social history. The accessibility of the project and the introductory resources available however, ensure that anybody with an interest in history and culture could find it useful.


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