SourceLab (An Idea)

Source Lab (An Idea):

Improving the Web for History by Building Digital Publishing into Undergraduate Education

Has this Ever Happened to You?

So there's this film someone posted on YouTube in 2010.

By the summer of 2015, it had been watched over 71,000 times. The video appears to be haunting, archival footage–a documentary? a newsreel?–of work in a Parisian studio, circa 1918.  But this is no ordinary studio.  Instead of making busts of famous poets or rich patrons, the artists are sculpting new faces for soldiers gruesomely mutilated by World War I.

Art, medicine, war, movies: this is the sort of source that makes connections, that shows the lived past in all its power and complexity.  It's the kind of thing anyone who wants to explore real history would find meaningful: from classroom teachers to specialist researchers to the public at large.  But there's a catch.

Like millions of other digitized historical artifacts now available on the Internet, we don't know enough about this film to really use it in scholarship, teaching, or public history.  Who made this document, when, why–and for what audience?  Is this digital copy authentic, has it been edited? Where is the original now, who owns it–how can we use it or cite it?  Will it be there tomorrow?  Brilliantly successful at providing access to new sources, the Web all too often serves them up stripped bare of the kinds of information people need to think about the past.

In the Fall of 2014, students, faculty, and staff in the Department of History at the University of Illinois began to imagine a new, student-centered model of publishing, that would help higher education address this basic flaw in how historical artifacts are often presented online.

We're calling this concept SourceLab.  The idea is to build the traditional practice of documentary editing–along with newer, digital publishing techniques–back into history education, with benefits for both our students and society at large.  Our hope is to train students to create reliable, critical, free editions of previously digitized material, so that they can prepare the Internet's new historical records for use by anyone who wants to explore the past. 

We're planning to publish these student-created editions in a new, department-based series, under the supervision of both specialist experts and a rigorous, independent editorial board.  The goal is for students to earn two kinds of credit for their work: course credit they can apply to their degrees, and author credits they can add to their resumés, to demonstrate their accomplishments after they graduate.

This online brochure describes these and other ideas behind SourceLab in more detail, as they exist today.  But the first thing you need to know is that we're still getting going.   We'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions for how this might work.  Follow the path below to learn more.

Contents of this path:

This page references:

  1. Red Cross Work on Mutilés (1918)
  2. H. Barth, Travels and Discoveries
  3. "Troika" (Lithograph, 1865)