Teaching from the Archives

Today’s post comes from Meredith Doviak, Community Manager for the National Archives Catalog. 

Meredith recently spoke to Dr. Jaime Cantrell, Visiting Assistant Professor of English at The University of Mississippi. Dr. Cantrell has introduced undergraduate students to the importance of archival research and materials by encouraging them to become citizen transcribers for the National Archives as part of their coursework.

Tell us a little about yourself. What is your background and what courses do you teach?

Jaime CantrellI am a Visiting Assistant Professor of English at The University of Mississippi, where I teach courses in English, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Southern Studies, including “American Literature I”, “American Literature II”, “Literary Criticism”, “The South & Sexuality”, “Women in Literature”, and “Queer Theory”. Innovative pedagogy is crucial to my intellectual life as a scholar, and my research and teaching methods challenge institutional and individual biases. In short, I am familiar with teaching against the grain and through an intersectional perspective.

I co-edited Out of the Closet, Into the Archives: Researching Sexual Histories (SUNY Queer Politics and Cultures series, December 2015). With a foreword by Ann Cvetkovich, OCIA meditates on the ways queer archives spark precarious pleasures and compelling tensions for researchers—ultimately taking readers inside the experience of how it feels to do queer archival research and queer research in archives. OCIA is a Lambda Literary Award finalist for Best LGBT Anthology. I am presently at work on a book project titled Southern Sapphisms: Sexuality and Sociality in Literary Productions, 1969-1997.

How do you use the National Archives as a venue for primary sources? Why is this important in the classroom?

Two years ago, in my ENGL223: Survey of American Literature to the Civil War course, I lectured from a unit on our reading schedule titled “The Revolutionary Period”, which included, among other texts, selections from Benjamin Franklin’s The Autobiography Part I (1791) and Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1785). As I launched into discussions on shifting American identities, a refocusing of the Puritan worldview and the rise of the enlightened citizen (and why students should care that Benjamin Franklin is the most humorous literary voice we’d encountered in class since Thomas Morton!), my students’ eyes wandered away from their textbooks and out the window paneled wall of the large auditorium. Careful not to lose their attention entirely, I enthusiastically redirected their gaze to a library slip from the Free Library of Pennsylvania that once belonged to Franklin, and read across that ephemeral document to his Autobiography: “These Libraries have improv’d the general Conversation of the Americans…” Sadly, that library slip was little more than a stock-Norton power point slide image projected on the screen behind me.

How did you learn about the Citizen Archivist Program at the National Archives?

I hoped to enhance the “general conversation” in my ENGL223 courses by turning to the library—or more specifically, to archives. I applied and was accepted to a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for College and University Teachers titled “Early American Women’s History: Teaching from the Archives” that took place in Providence, RI in partnership with the Newell D. Goff Center for Education and Public Programs at the Rhode Island Historical Society. It was an incredible opportunity! Nearly two dozen community college and university professors collaborated for two weeks–intent on developing classroom methodologies to “access, recover, and contextualize the voices of marginalized women…” through archives. We heard lectures from leading scholars in multiple humanities fields; each described their own struggles and successes with archival research. We visited collections, and met with librarians and archivists at The Massachusetts Historical Society, The American Antiquarian Society, the John Hay Library (Brown University), and the RIHS Library. That NEH workshop heralded many productive shifts in my pedagogical practices for ENGL223; I refined strategies for facilitating student access to digitized primary sources. Upon returning to my home institution, I immediately reframed my course description to read (excerpted, in part):

“In 1855, Nathaniel Hawthorne lamented that ‘America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women, and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied with their trash-and should be ashamed of myself if I did succeed…” Writers and critics have long tried to dismiss or ignore the achievements of early American women writers. In the last several decades, however, feminist literary critics have recovered the works of women writers and reshaped the early American literary canon to include works from Phillis Wheatley, Lydia Maria Child, Angelina E. Grimké, Fanny Fern, Sarah Orne Jewett, Hannah Webster Foster, Sarah Josepha Hale, and Rebecca Harding Davis, alongside more familiar contributions from Anne Bradstreet, Mary Rowlandson, Abigail Adams, Emily Dickinson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Harriet Jacobs. This course will highlight a number of women’s writings from the colonial period to the middle of the 19th century.…….Particular attention will be paid to questions of race and gender and the relationship between history, culture and writing (including both “literature” and other written or transcribed forms of expression).  As archival collections are increasingly made available online, students will have the opportunity to digitally engage with exciting primary-source materials. In doing so, students become active critics and curators of those literary productions rather than mere explicators of them.”

To date, students in ENGL223 have sifted through the John and Abigail Adams Family Collection to access Abigail’s 1776 letter to John, exhorting him to “Remember the ladies…” (accessible through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s digital repository), they’ve discovered postcards and correspondence from the Charlotte Perkins Gilman Collection, available online from the Harry Ransom Center’s Project REVEAL (Read & View English and American Literature), and they’ve analyzed Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I Heard a fly buzz” in her own handwriting, available through the Dickinson Archive at Harvard’s Houghton Library. I believe the archive—and paradoxically, the past itself—is an innovative path for moving forward into a radical, digital learning future. With that in mind, I turned again to the archives when structuring course assignments, and exhorted students to whet their appetites for archival research by participating in Citizen Archivist Transcription Projects through NARA. As part of the assignment, students completed Written Document Analysis worksheets developed by the Education staff at the National Archives. Below is a partial screenshot of a “Getting Started Guide” I posted to our course Blackboard page:

ENGL223 Assignment page

Example of a document selected and transcribed for Dr. Cantrell’s ENGL223 course. U.S. v. Sale of Negro Man, Woman, and Two Children https://catalog.archives.gov/id/12130607

Example of a document selected and transcribed for Dr. Cantrell’s ENGL223 course.
U.S. v. Sale of Negro Man, Woman, and Two Children. National Archives Identifier 12130607


Did you or your students experience any unexpected hurdles throughout the course of this assignment? How did you resolve them?

Yes, these things do happen. About forty or so of my 120 students experienced difficulty registering their personal and/or university emails with the catalog; Ms. Suzanne Isaacs, my NARA point of contact, was especially generous and gracious in ensuring they were able to register successfully. My own hurdles encompassed fielding questions and concerns from students as they undertook the assignment; to that end, I developed a “Troubleshooting” Blackboard page (see below) to address common concerns as they arose:

ENGL223 screenshot troubleshooting section


For many of your students, this assignment was the first time they had interacted with archives and transcribed historical documents. What were some of their takeaways from the experience?

Michael FortierMichael Fortier, a Junior Psychology major at The University of Mississippi with a minor in Gender Studies, transcribed documents in the National Archives Catalog for the first time during this course. Michael said of his experience, “A lot can be learned just from the use of language, and a lot of history can be uncovered from just a simple document. It really gave me appreciation for bookkeeping in the modern era, and appreciate the importance of it as well. Some of the most interesting revelations I had were from just the few moments I would write out a sentence and then go ‘no, no, that can’t be the right word.’ Discovering what the words could be, and having the same word suddenly make sense to me throughout the entire document was quite fun. It was like a puzzle piece just falling into place.”

While transcribing documents related to legal situations surrounding slaves, Michael learned more about a topic that was previously unfamiliar to him: “It isn’t a topic I find most schools to delve deeply into, and so it was all new information to me. I would love to look over the same kind of documentation about women’s rights battles.”

Katherine Campbell, also a student at The University of Mississippi describes the connection she felt with the documents as she transcribed: “What makes the process of transcribing documents so engaging is that it allows for a first hand experience of the way that people communicated with each other in the past. Before I participated in the National Citizen Archivist Project I thought that the art of transcription was confined only to important government documents and declarations. Upon visiting the website I found instead an abundance of personal letters and diary entries as well. I was able to view directly the diction people used to speak to each other, their styles of handwriting, and even the type of paper that was used. Transcribing a letter from the 19th Century was like reaching back into history and bringing a small piece of the past into the present.”

Do you have any advice for other educators or students who want to incorporate primary sources in the classroom/are considering contributing as Citizen Archivists?

For educators and students alike: Citizen Archivist transcription projects are both time consuming and rewarding; that pleasure and challenge is a privilege not to be missed.

Are you looking for ways to bring primary sources into the classroom? We can help get you started! Contact us at citizenarchivist@nara.gov. You can also explore documents, browse lesson plans, create teaching activities and more on DocsTeach.

Posted in Catalog, crowdsourcing, Education, Online Research | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Catalog is Cooking!

Household Workers Training Project, Women in Kitchen

You might already know that jelly beans were a staple in Cabinet meetings with President Reagan, or that President George H. W. Bush was not a particular fan of broccoli, but did you know the National Archives Catalog contains many food related records, including recipes from the White House chefs and First Families?

The holdings of the Presidential Libraries include many favorite recipes of the First Families as well as recipes prepared by White House kitchen staff for special events.  Some Presidents, like Dwight D. Eisenhower, were avid cooks, and the Eisenhower Library has a scrap book of clippings that Ike kept of his favorite recipes.

We invite you to celebrate the New Year by cooking your way through the National Archives Catalog! Here are some historical recipes guaranteed to please a crowd (or at least start an interesting conversation). Bon Appetit! 

Waffles or Pancakes? Start your day with President Kennedy’s Favorite Waffles or Betty Ford’s Buttermilk Pancakes from The Republican Congressional Cook Book. If you are looking for something light to go with your coffee, try First Lady Rosalynn Carter’s recipe for Sequoia Orange Biscuits. How about royal scones? Try making Queen Elizabeth’s Scone recipe that she sent to President Dwight Eisenhower and read the letter that accompanied her recipe for additional details.





At lunchtime, try making Lady Bird Johnson’s recipe for Pedernales River Chili. This was a much requested recipe, so much so that she claimed this chili recipe was “almost as popular as the government pamphlet on the care and feeding of children.” Why don’t you accompany the chili with the Carter family recipe for Herb Corn Sticks?


Cocktail Hour
As evening approaches, construct a cocktail using this excellent chart from the engineering and architectural drawings of the Forest Service and serve the Plains Special Cheese ring from the Carter family right alongside.

Cocktail Construction Chart

We’ve selected a bipartisan dinner menu. Try serving Nancy Reagan’s Piccata of Veal with Rosalynn Carter’s Eggplant Souffle on the side. We think you really could use a starchy side-dish too. We can’t decide on one, so page through the Forest Service’s Lookout Cookbook to find a recipe that appeals to you.


Feeding an army? We’ve got you covered! Try this 1879 Manual for Army Cooks for some practical tips in the kitchen.

Still hungry? Did we whet your appetite? Browse our Catalog for more recipes and cookbooks.

Have you made one of these recipes? We’d love to see a photo of your dish and hear how it turned out! Comment below or email us at catalog@nara.gov.

Interested in more finds from the National Archives Catalog? Subscribe to our newsletter!

Posted in Catalog | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Get More from Archives.gov with our New Search

Today’s post is the third (and last) in a series about recent enhancements to NARA’s flagship website, Archives.gov.

On average, about 180,000 queries are entered into the search box on Archives.gov each month. Roughly 8-10% of those queries originate on our homepage. What these statistics tell us is that search is a critical pathway for our website users to find the content they are looking for. Since search is such an important tool for connecting our customers with what they seek, earlier this year we implemented a new search technology (DigitalGov Search) with the goal of providing more relevant results.

One of the really useful things about DigitalGov Search is the analytics about how people are using the search. We are able to monitor trending keywords and optimize the results to help people find the best content for their search. For example, we noticed that “Declaration of Independence” is consistently in our top 10 searched terms. But that search query will return 28 pages of results! We curated a “Best Bet” to highlight the most relevant content for people who are just getting started on their search. To date we’ve created several dozen Best Bets and will continue to add more when we see a need based on search usage. Look for the “Recommended by National Archives” denotation at the top of search results pages for curated Best Bets.

Search results for “declaration of independence

Search results for “declaration of independence”

With the implementation of DigitalGov Search, we’ve also been able to make our search more comprehensive. You will now find results from our Presidential Library websites and the latest news from our many social media accounts. (In the example above, a recently-published YouTube video is featured.) You can also easily filter your results for images, including those we’ve shared on Instagram and Flickr, or limit results to content from the Presidential Libraries.

Results for a search on “fourth of July” images

Search results for “fourth of July” images

In the future, we hope to use the Catalog API to better integrate records into our search results. With millions of potential Catalog results, however, we are approaching this project cautiously so as not to overwhelm our searchers!

Please take the new search for a spin and let us know what you think! Did you receive useful results? What didn’t you see that you expected to? How can we make search work best for you?

Posted in Archives.gov, Catalog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Try Out Our New Calendar of Events

Today’s post is the second in a series about recent enhancements to NARA’s flagship website, Archives.gov.

From book signings to workshops, NARA’s educational programs and public events provide many opportunities to learn about America’s government and history. We host hundreds of events each year in locations across the country, including 13 Presidential Libraries, the National Archives Museum, and in regional facilities.

A new online calendar now makes it easier than ever to find events of interest to you. Want to see everything that’s happening near you? You can now filter events by location. Looking for programs designed for a particular audience in mind? Filter by event type including those for kids, for teachers, and for researchers. Interested in films or book signings? You can filter by those categories too. Because our new calendar is based on a database of event entries, you can now also easily search by keyword or select specific dates to see what’s happening.

Once you’ve found an event of interest, you can easily add it to your own preferred calendar (iCal, Google, Outlook, etc.) so you’ll never forget where and when to join us! Or use the Facebook and Twitter icons to easily share the event and spread the word.

Screenshot of events list, featuring image from the event "Pearl Harbor: From Infamy to Greatness"

Bummed about missing an event? Search the listing of past events to easily access webcasts of recorded programs.

Our online event database is based on a government open and structured content model, which makes it easier to display and share content in new, flexible ways. Let us know how you’d like to access information about our events!

In the next post in this series, we’ll look at our improved website search.

Posted in Archives.gov, Events | Tagged | 2 Comments

Are you a Writer? Come Join us for NaNoWriMo Write Ins!


November is known for many things: Autumn weather, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving. It’s also known as NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. Every November thousands of folks (over 430,000 people signed up in 2015) spend November completing life dreams of novel writing. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Many of the books on your shelf may have been written as a result of NaNoWriMo, including some bestsellers like Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Hugh Howey’s Wool, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (see more published books here).

Are you an aspiring writer in the Washington, DC area? Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? Consider joining us in the Innovation Hub for the lunchtime write ins. Although it’s called National Novel Writing Month it doesn’t have to be a novel you’re writing: many work on non fiction and poetry too! It’s an opportunity to get focused on writing. You can even use the space to bounce ideas off other writers. We will provide wifi, power outlets, white boards and inspiration to get your creative juices flowing. Meet other writers and learn what they are doing.

The Innovation Hub will be hosting 4 write ins in November, all from 11am-2pm:

Thursday, Nov. 10
Wednesday, Nov. 16
Friday, Nov. 18
Wednesday, Nov. 30

During these events we’ll have the space set up with some inspirational images from the Archives and provide a great opportunity for writers to write.

Not in the DC area but interested in participating? Try to take an hour or two of your day to write and let us know what your progress is! Get some coworkers together and get creative!

Innovation Hub, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
700 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Metro: Take Metrorail’s Yellow or Green lines to the Archives/Navy Memorial station. The Archives/Navy Memorial stop is across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Archives building.
Bus: Several bus lines stop at the National Archives building on Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Check the Archives website for more information.
Parking: Several commercial parking lots are located nearby and metered curb parking may be available on nearby streets.

You must bring a valid photo ID to enter the building

If you have any questions please email InnovationHub@nara.gov

Posted in DC-area Researchers, Events, Innovation Hub | 1 Comment

Archives.gov is Now Mobile-Friendly!

A few days ago, our website underwent a substantial behind-the-scenes overhaul (learn more on the AOTUS blog). While most of the changes we made are “under the hood,” there are a few visible enhancements we’d like to highlight for you. Today’s post is the first in a series that will share some of the details of these changes. We look forward to your feedback about these improvements!

Why mobile matters
More than a third of visitors to NARA’s websites access our information via a mobile device. For us, that’s more than 8 million people a year using our sites on a tablet or smartphone. (You can find more fascinating statistics about mobile use of government websites on the DigitalGov blog.) The number of mobile users to our site increases every year, making mobile access to our holdings and information a significant priority. It is more important than ever that our holdings and content are available anytime, anywhere, and on any device.

Going responsive
The most recent changes we made to Archives.gov focused on the underlying infrastructure of the site and not on the front-end design. (Note: We are planning to kick off work on a full redesign next year.) However, as we worked to migrate the site into the Drupal content management system, we took the opportunity to re-code the page templates using a technique called responsive web design.

In essence, responsive design automatically scales down the display of a website for smaller screen sizes. The layout of pages changes based on your device. You might notice, for example, that only a single column is displayed on a smartphone, whereas three columns of content appear on a larger desktop screen. This technique allows us to make the most of the limited real estate on smaller devices. The navigation, for example, moves from an “always on” display to a “hamburger menu” in the top right. Navigation items are therefore hidden until you need them, making more efficient use of space on smaller screens.

Images of responsive site on various sized screens


America’s Founding Documents go mobile
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. On our old site, these founding documents were displayed in a completely different web design which did not render well on mobile devices. As these are some of the most visited pages of our website, we decided to implement responsive design and bring these pages into the fold to match the rest of Archives.gov. You can now easily access these critical documents from every page of our website because we also added “America’s Founding Documents” to the main navigation.

America's Founding Documents page screenshot

We hope you’ll agree that the changes we’ve made improve the user experience on smaller screens. By implementing responsive design on Archives.gov, we are able to make web-based content accessible to the broadest possible set of audiences and devices. Please check out Archives.gov on your smartphone or tablet and let us know what you think.

In the next post, we’ll look at our new calendar of events.

Posted in Archives.gov, Events, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Join us for a Gender Equality Edit-a-thon on October 22, 2016

Come out and join us on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm for a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon on Gender Equality in the Innovation Hub at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Register for this event today!    

Gender Equality Edit-a-thon graphic showing Wikipedia logo and Amending America logo

Help us improve Wikipedia entries related to gender equality with the National Archives and Records Administration. You do not need to have prior experience editing Wikipedia. During the event we will have an introduction to editing Wikipedia and a discussion of World War I Nurses and Red Cross records in the National Archives. It will be a lively discussion of women in the Historical record.

This event is part of the Amending America Initiative at the National Archives in celebration of the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights. This event is also co-sponsored with Wikimedia DC and part of DCFemTech’s Tour De Code 2016 and in connection with our celebration of American Archives Month.

National Archives Gender Equality Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

Saturday, October 22, 2016, 10:00am – 5:00pm

Register and learn more about the event or email innovationhub@nara.gov if you have questions.

No advanced technical skills required!
All members of the public and NARA staff, whether Wikipedians or not, are welcome to join.

What to bring
Photo ID; Laptop or tablet
Lunch will be provided

The event will be held in the Innovation Hub at the National Archives in Washington, DC. To access NARA’s Innovation Hub, please use the National Archives Building’s entrance at Pennsylvania Avenue. This is the research/staff entrance, not the main exhibits/events door.

A livestream option will also be available.

Related Events
Are you NYC based? Join our Gender Equality Edit-a-thon at the National Archives in NYC on Thursday, October 13, 2016 from 10 am to 2 pm. Learn more and register here.

Join us online! Learn more and register here for the Virtual Gender Equality Edit-a-thon from October 14 – 21, 2016.

Posted in crowdsourcing, Events, Innovation Hub, Online Research, Open Government, Research | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Your First Thoughts on the Social Media Strategy

This post is written by Jeannie Chen, Mary King, and Hilary Parkinson and is part of our ongoing series about our social media strategy. We welcome comments from staff, other cultural institutions, and the public, and will continue to update the strategy as a living document.

When we introduced NARA’s new social media strategy in August, we called it a living document. But what does that mean? We wanted it to be the most relevant and up-to-date framework to guide our social media efforts, and to evolve as we worked. We asked you, the public and our staff, for feedback, and we’re excited to share the first round of edits we made based on your comments.

We put out a call for suggestions, and we heard lots of ideas! You shared your thoughts with us during in-person and virtual lightning sessions, on GitHub itself, by email, and of course through social media channels.


“Right on the Button” moving image from Department of the Treasury. Internal Revenue Service. NAID 11900. GIF via https://giphy.com/usnationalarchives

We read each comment and discussed them, and then we clarified and expanded these parts of the strategy. You can see the changes we made to the document, and if you’re feeling extra nerdy, you can take a look at the GitHub versions. We found that the feedback fell into four major themes:

Community of practice: You told us that you wanted us to continue our role in building a strong social media community internally and with peer organizations.

Diversity: You told us that you’d like us to share more stories from and about diverse groups, and focus on records related to communities that are often under-documented in archives.

Workflow: You asked us how we get different departments, staff, and offices to all work together.

Purpose: You asked us to clarify how social media supports the greater mission of the National Archives.

Thank you for all of your comments…but we’re not done yet! We’ll continue to update the strategy as it is implemented, from sharing successes to lessons learned. Want to know what we’re working on next? Keep an eye out for our digital plan worksheet!

Posted in crowdsourcing, Open Government, Social Media (Web 2.0) | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Wartime Films Project: Remembering WWI

This post comes from the team working on the Wartime Films engagement project, and is part of a series outlining how NARA is using design thinking to reach new and existing audiences. This project was made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation and a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Read the whole series here.

In this last installment of our series on user-centered design and the national WWI App, now titled Remembering WWI, we look at our initial public launch, workshops with cultural heritage partners, and the process of continued feedback and iteration.

Together with our content partners the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, we made our first major public announcement at the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) Fest in April. As part of this gathering, we held a number of user workshops to continue fine tuning the user experience of the app’s first public iteration, which will debut in beta this fall. We also gave two presentations on the collaborative process of building Remembering WWI: “Smithsonian, Library of Congress, and National Archives: Opportunities and Challenges for Working Together”, and “Historypin and the National Archives: APIs, Apps, and Audiences.”

Working closely with our national content partners, and with thematic guidance from the National WWI Museum and Memorial, we started to identify WWI content that each could feature from their own collections. This was an opportunity to focus on the diversity of narratives and paint a more complete picture of the American experience during WWI. Looking for geo-locatable content played a role in this as well, as we wanted to make sure that we could surface content from a wide variety of regions. Since many institutions do not prioritize location as part of their metadata, this also gave us an opportunity to note some partner content that could potentially benefit from crowdsourced user input once the app is live.

Jon Voss from Historypin moderating a panel focusing on institutional partnerships for the app project at DPLA Fest

Jon Voss from Historypin moderating a panel focusing on institutional partnerships for the app project at DPLA Fest

Throughout development, we’ve never stopped seeking and building upon feedback from our target audiences. In June, we held a workshop in Kansas City in which teachers had a hands-on opportunity to review updated designs. For this intimate workshop, educators from across the country gathered at the National WWI Museum and Memorial to help test the app and explore realistic scenarios for how it could be used in a classroom setting. Workshops like the one in Kansas City play an important role in helping us maintain relationships with key external representatives who will follow our progress and feed it as we iterate.

Having fun walking through potential app scenarios at the Kansas City teacher workshop. Photo credit: Kimberlee Reid

Having fun walking through potential app scenarios at the Kansas City teacher workshop. Photo credit: Kimberlee Reid

Moving forward, Remembering WWI will allow users to undertake deep exploration of NARA WWI content and create their own collections. We are seeding as much content as possible through the location-based Historypin platform, where we are also working to create themed collections based on WWI subjects recommended during the Kansas City workshop. These collections will provide jumping-off points for content discovery, and can serve as inspiration for app users. As the resources and community within Remembering WWI continue to grow, we plan to work with our user-design partners to introduce additional features such as helpful resource text for both teachers and curators.

The Historypin collection where we are currently seeding content for the app, at historypin.org/en/rememberingww1

The Historypin collection where we are currently seeding content for the app, at http://www.historypin.org/en/rememberingww1

As we reach the end of the initial development stage and prepare to share the product of this work with the public, we look forward to hearing your reactions. How will you use the app as a teacher or as a cultural institution?  What are you hoping to learn, and how can we help to enrich the experience? This is just the first step in our collaborative goal of Remembering WWI  and we hope you’ll join us.

Posted in Digitization, Films, partnerships, Photographs, Preservation, Questions, Research, Social Media (Web 2.0), Veterans / Military | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Wartime Films Project: Design Workshops and Feedback for our Pilot App

This post comes from the team working on the Wartime Films engagement project, and is part of a series outlining how NARA is using design thinking to reach new and existing audiences. This project was made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation and a generous gift from an anonymous donor. Read the whole series here.

In our last Wartime Films Project post, we explored the process behind selecting our pilot project, a National World War I app. This week, we’ll take a look at how gathering continual user feedback during the development process is key to project success.

A scene from our app user-design workshop at the Innovation Hub on Dec. 1st, 2015.

A scene from our app user-design workshop at the Innovation Hub on Dec. 1st, 2015.

We started by holding workshops to explore user journeys and use cases. Figuring out the way in which people would want to interact with our app was the first step in determining our requirements and design. We met with representatives from our three audience groups, making sure to talk with the people who would ultimately benefit the most from the end product.

We enjoyed holding two of these audience workshops in the Innovation Hub, an open space in the National Archives building in Washington, DC, where staff collaborate on projects with interested public stakeholders. With both museum innovators and educators present for these sessions, we presented early conceptual designs for what the app might look like and how it might function. We also asked for key pieces of feedback- What would you need? How could you use something in a simple classroom setting? In a simple museum setting? In the time allotted?- to help shape our ideas into a product that would be meaningful for users.

A flurry of Post-it notes recording feedback during an app workshop.

A flurry of Post-it notes recording feedback during an app workshop.

We held similar workshops within NARA, talking to experts on the WWI motion pictures and photographs that we’d be showcasing, to learn how we could best focus on the experience of the content itself.

We were also fortunate to have the opportunity for a meaningful partnership with the Library of Congress and Smithsonian Institution, who each provided their own original WWI records for the app. This project was the perfect opportunity to combine rich, openly licensed, and reusable content from across national institutions into a collaborative commemoration of next year’s centennial of the American entry into the Great War.

During the design-process, we started with films themselves for inspiration, looking at how we could harken back to the past visually.

During the design-process, we started with films themselves for inspiration, looking at how we could harken back to the past visually.

With our partnerships forming and the influx of fantastic feedback received early on in the design process, we kept sketching and simplifying. We became more and more realistic as we continued wireframing, zeroing-in on the actual in-app user experience. We ended up with early designs that reflected the experience of physically pulling content out of the Archives, where the records themselves are front and center and can be used to create new narratives.

Check back next week when we conclude our series with a look at our official launch announcement and user workshops.

Posted in Digitization, Films, partnerships, Photographs, Questions, Research, Social Media (Web 2.0), Veterans / Military | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment