Collections and Resources, Digital Library, North Carolina History

Allen, Library Honored for Innovation in Digital History

Robert Allen with material featured in the digital archives.

Step back in time with the click of a computer mouse and read about the Bijou, Wilmington’s first movie theater, which opened in 1906 in a tent before moving to a permanent home in 1912.

Going to the Show,” a searchable digital archive of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, brings together thousands of artifacts about the Bijou and other movie theaters in the state –photographs, newspaper ads and articles, city maps and directories, old postcards, and architectural drawings – to document and illuminate the way movie-going became one of the most important social practices of the early 20th century. It also highlights the ways that race conditioned the experience of movie-going for all North Carolinians.

American studies scholar Robert C. Allen and the University Library have been honored for their innovative work on “Going to the Show” and another digital history project that will focus on the character and identity of North Carolina towns and cities.

“Main Street, Carolina,” still under development, will enable users to explore the history of North Carolina towns over the past century through maps, photographs, newspapers, architectural drawings, family papers, historical commentary, oral history interviews, and more.

Movies Over the Waves at Lumina Theatre, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, N.C., 1931,” Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

"Movies Over the Waves at Lumina Theatre, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, N.C., 1931,” Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library.

The team received the Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History, given by the American Historical Association and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The prize honors work on an innovative, freely available new media project. It also recognizes work that reflects thoughtful, critical and rigorous engagement with technology and the practice of history.

Allen is the James Logan Godfrey Distinguished Professor of American studies, history and communication studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Both projects were developed in collaboration with the Carolina Digital Library and Archives, part of the University Library. Natasha Smith led the library project team.

In both projects, users can track the development of their communities and compare the historical downtowns of North Carolina cities with contemporary satellite and map views of the same cities.

Allen also developed a graduate seminar and undergraduate course based on the projects. Last spring, about 20 undergraduates made use of “Going to the Show” in digital projects exploring the development of downtowns across North Carolina. This fall, 13 graduate students from the School of Information and Library Science, department of city and regional planning and the School of Education are field-testing the “Main Street, Carolina” software.

The projects involved collaborations across the University and with cultural heritage organizations around the state, including the department of American studies and the School of Information and Library Science at UNC, the New Hanover County Public Library in Wilmington and the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte.

“Going to the Show” was funded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services under the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Library of North Carolina. Allen’s work on the project was supported by a Digital Humanities Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

“Main Street Carolina” received the first C. Felix Harvey Award to Advance Institutional Priorities at UNC. The award funds faculty outreach projects that apply innovation of scholarly expertise in the humanities and social sciences and supports the Innovate@Carolina Roadmap, UNC’s plan to help Carolina become a world leader in launching University-born ideas for the good of society.  The project also is supported by a Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant from the NEH.

The Rosenzweig Prize honors the work of the late Roy Rosenzweig, a digital history pioneer who developed The Sept. 11 Digital Archive, which consists of more than 150,000 e-mails, voice messages and video clips made by ordinary people around the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Courtesy UNC News Services

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