Digital Humanities

Serendipity and Digital Collections


Daniel McCarthy, Petroglyphs fr Riverside County, Agua Client Cultural Museum, via Calisphere.

One of my favorite things to do on a weekend morning is to scan library websites for newly digitized materials, and for digital collections and exhibits.  I keep storing up bits about various sites and what I’ve found compelling, thinking that I’d try to write a post for the Scholarly Kitchen about how these collections can help to inspire scholarly serendipitous browsing.  Lots of folks have written about how discoverability, the golden ticket for access to scholarly content, can in important ways deter and impede serendipitous discovery.  The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media even created a cool tool, the Serendip-o-matic (“let your sources surprise you”)  to try and recreate the analogue experience of browsing the library shelves for related materials.

Anyway, other thoughts about digitized collections include their importance for #VastEarlyAmerica.  Libraries tend to (of course not always) collect locally and are often (again, not always) strongest in local materials.  For early Americanists that means that looking to libraries around the #VastEarlyAmerican geography is important.

My latest digital obsession is Calisphere, with over 650,000 items from California universities and an  incredible number and range of other California libraries and archives.  There are collections and exhibits on Calisphere, as well as an individual item search capability.  The exhibits are also categorized– one group is “California Cultures:  Native Americans.”  It includes an exhibit of photographed Native rock art and “Pre-Columbian California to 18th century.”   Beyond the early period gems I loved perusing including the John Muir correspondence from 1856-1914, over 6700 items from the University of the Pacific.

I use lots of digital collections to enhance the research I’ve done on site in libraries and archives.  Browsing collections that I’m not expecting to speak directly to my research but rather to my broader interests in #VastEarlyAmerica often brings surprises, including material that I end up incorporating in my scholarly writing.  Serendipity!

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