Open Durham: A Community-Sourced Project to Record

Local History, Architecture, and Culture

Open Durham is a crowdsourced project meant to record and preserve the history and architecture of a city in North Carolina. Their website relates some of the backstory:

Open Durham is a highly interlinked archive/inventory of information about people, places, and history in Durham, NC. It grew out of the blog “Endangered Durham,” which Gary Kueber started in August of 2006 in reaction to the ongoing demolition of historic structures in the city of Durham, NC. Frustrated by the belief that city/county/ state policy was ver}' weak in providing avenues for protection of historic property, and that the city had become particularly aggressive in destroying such property to “reduce blight”, Gary wanted to highlight what was being lost, and that there were more creative alternatives. Incrementally, the site grew to be an archive of over 2000 places.15

Developed from a blog, the current interactive site invites community members to contribute knowledge of Durham. For instance, the site owners will often post a photo and invite the community to identify buildings or suggest information about ownership or date. It is also possible for anyone to add information about a photo or building through a content editor on the site. That community members have become deeply invested in the project is clear.

The Data-Sitters Club: Making Digital Humanities Work Approachable to a Larger Audience

Members of the general public might be interested in the digital humanities, but Quinn Dombrowski and several other scholars worried the specialized nature of the work could be off-putting to those without extensive training. In response to that concern, Dombrowski partnered with Roopika Risam, Katia Bowers, Maria Cecire, Anouk Lang, Lee

Skallerup Bessette, and others to found the Data-Sitters Club. They explain the process of computational text analysis by using the corpus of a popular book series for girls: The Baby-Sitters Club.'6

With the idea that relying on a popular text geared toward children would be more approachable, the group’s leaders focused on the fun and nostalgia adult learners have in interacting with the series, which had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s. Focusing on such literature, they surmised, would make approaching digital analysis less intimidating, and their educational blog often uses the easy and familiar style of the books, including similar artwork, to narrate the process of working with software to learn more about the texts.

Though they have gone to lengths to make their work approachable, they have not held back on scholarly rigor. The work the Data-Sitters are doing promises to be valuable research. The original series contains over 200 books written across three decades. That is a major corpus of work that can be evaluated for changes over time. Focusing on girls’ literature is also work that is deeply grounded in feminist approaches to popular culture. Making that kind of work more accessible to a larger audience is an admirable goal.

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