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Primo primary sources

By August 20, 2014September 16th, 2023No Comments
U Libraries acquires 3 new digital collections

By Suzy Frisch

18 Pounder Field Gun of 120th Field Battery, Royal Field Artillery in Action During 1915

18 Pounder Field Gun of 120th Field Battery, Royal Field Artillery in Action During 1915

Read a British school girl’s account of living through a World War I air raid by German Gotha bombers. Watch a silent movie clip of a Victorian woman changing in her boudoir from 1896. Peruse maps and accounts of an 1887 buffalo hunt in Montana. 

Three new digital collections acquired this summer by the University of Minnesota Libraries contain these items—and many more—offering rich fodder for anyone seeking to learn about World War I, the Victorian era, and the American West. For students doing class projects or research papers, this treasure trove of primary source material will help them learn first-hand about these subjects.

Each collection contains carefully curated primary source material that opens windows into these eras. From diaries and letters to posters, photos, and film clips, the collections provide unique views of the sights and sounds of the time. Gaining digital access to these collections helps the Libraries meet its mission to entice students to use primary sources in their coursework and research, says Charles Spetland, collection development officer. 

“It’s really exciting. In the past, people would have had to travel to the source archive to get at this material,” Spetland says. “There is so much visual content that I think it will stimulate a lot of interest. You can really lose yourself in the collections.”

New collections complement existing materials

The Libraries selected these new collections because they complement existing University collections. Librarians also suspected that the 100th anniversary of World War I will spark heightened interest in the collection called “The First World War: Personal Experiences, Propaganda and Recruitment, Visual Perspectives and Narratives.”

The “Victorian Popular Culture”collection pairs nicely with a previously acquired collection called “London Lowlife,” as well as the Libraries’ Sherlock Holmes Collections—the world’s largest gathering of material related to Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The “American West,” derived from Chicago’s Newberry Library, can be cross-searched with a collection called “American Indian History and Culture.” Together they offer students and researchers a diverse array of viewpoints, periodicals and books, visual artifacts, and more.

CIC partnership provides buying power

The University gained access to these collections—and four others previously—through its partnership with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation. Comprised of the 14 Big 10 universities plus the University of Chicago, the CIC’s group buying power allows members to purchase digital rights at a steep discount, notes Spetland.

The digital nature of the collections also means that University-affiliated users can gain access to the material remotely—from their home, a coffee shop, or classroom.

Collections provide primary sources for coursework, research

A multitude of items will satisfy diverse inquiries. For example, emerging visual entertainment for people of the Victorian era—such as the kinora, magic disks, and flipbooks—are depicted through photos and film clips. Interactive maps detail how the Battle of Verdun in France unfolded day by day.

The American West collection seeks to explore the fact and fiction of the era, covering commercial, cultural, and social trends unfolding during a transformative time. Researchers can read letters from California homesteaders in the 1850s, the journal of a solitary Arizona ranger in 1906, pamphlets on Sioux culture, or the first newspaper accounts of the Battle of Little Big Horn. They also can study maps that detail the development of railroads or the migration of Mormons, among many other topics.

“We hope these collections get our students involved in using primary sources for their coursework and research,” Spetland says. Exploring any one of these collections will help the subjects come alive for students and researchers, making courses even more meaningful.

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