Choosing Your Topic

There are any number of ways that you can choose a subject around which to build your digital archive. Doing some general reading about the Village and its history will give you a sense of the possibilities.

Your first goal should be to make certain that you can locate sufficient resources to complete the project.

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Bob Dylan
Archival Collections You may want to start from an archival collection that you can access and find a Village-related topic within it
Places Your project can center on a place, a historic house, street, block, neighborhood, park, cemetery, or gallery
People Your project can be about any of the many people who lived it or is associated with the Village: politicians, radicals, labor leaders, musicians, artists, philanthropists, writers, criminals
Organizations Your topic can focus on one of the many businesses, settlement houses, churches, schools, clubs, political groups and parties, and salons in the Village
Events You may want to focus on a crime, protest, concert, strike, disaster, opening, or other specific event. Use digital newspaper resources to identify something of interest.
Groups You can look more broadly at immigrants, women, African-Americans, anarchists, socialists, hippies, writers, and artists in the Village.

How to define your topic?

  • Do some preliminary checking to make sure that there are sufficient resources with which to create an archive and exhibit.
  • Is the material under copyright protection?
  • Do you need to secure permission to include the material in the digital archive/exhibit?
  • Are there secondary sources available to help with context?
  • Is the topic too big to cover in a small archive/exhibit? Can you find sub-topics within the collection?

Sample Topic Investigation

You have the idea of looking at the Greenwich House social settlement.
A search of New York University's archival collections reveals a wealth of primary source material, both photographs and manuscript materials, held by Tamiment/Wagner Archives.

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Greenwich House
  1. Most of the collection is open to researchers, some of the photographic material is restricted (the newer materials)
  2. Though the collection covers 1896-1990, the bulk of the material is from the 1930s-1940s, which means you will need to seek copyright if you use that portion.
  3. Permission to publish must be obtained from Tamiment/Wagner Archive.
  4. There is a rich historiography on settlement houses in general. There are 240 hits in JSTOR, including articles written by social workers at Greenwich House, 4 books at Bobst, 653 articles in ProQuest Historical Newspapers, the organization still exists and has some historical material on its website.
  5. The archival collections are extensive, and without a secondary history to help cut through it, taking on the whole history of the settlement house probably would be too much. Because the collection is so rich, however, there are plenty of smaller topics within. These topics were culled just from the historical background section of the finding aid for the Greenwich House records.
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Isadora Duncan
  • Mary Kingsbury Simkowitch, the founder
  • Greenwich House in 1910, 1920, or 1930 (using the census to get a snapshot of who lived there)
  • The expansion of Greenwich House in its first 25 years.
  • Greenwich House's opposition to saloons
  • The Greenwich House Social Investigation Committee
  • Greenwich House and the Great Depression
  • Greenwich House and Fascism
  • Greenwich House Mobilizes for War

What if I can't find 20 objects?

  • You might create some of your own images by photographing the current condition of the sites that you are studying. This should not be the bulk of your exhibit, but you can add several images this way if it makes sense for the topic.
  • Think about whether you can expand to compare two topics, which might make it easier to collect sufficient material. An example might be looking at the fortunes of two buildings on the same block, activists from different generations, etc.
  • Seek out a broader range of materials, in addition to photographs and manuscript materials, you might locate objects, advertisements, municipal records, oral histories, videos, paintings and drawings.
  • Maybe you should consider a different topic.
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