Glacier images, Latin American journals to be digitized

Scholars and students around the world will soon have online access to some of Cornell's most prominent collections, thanks to 2014 awards from the Grants Program for Digital Collections in Arts and Sciences.

“The two projects chosen will contribute to the burgeoning field of digital scholarship through the use of innovative digital methodologies,” says Oya Rieger, associate university librarian for Digital Scholarship and Preservation Services.

One project is led by Aaron Sachs, associate professor of history, Matt Pritchard, associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and Julie Elliott of Purdue University. Their interdisciplinary project will create a digital library of historic images of glaciers in Alaska and Greenland from Cornell’s R.S. Tarr and O.D. von Engeln collections, which will support teaching and learning activities in such fields as environmental history, climate change and visual culture.

“I often use historical photographs in my lecture courses to help students become more fluent in reading and analyzing the visual culture in which they’re steeped, and also to help them get in touch with the texture of the past,” Sachs says.

Tarr, a Cornell professor of geology and geography, and von Engeln, a student and later a professor of geology at Cornell, conducted several field expeditions to Alaska in the early 20th century, using pioneering photographic techniques to document their findings. Alaskan historical glacier photography expert Bruce Molnia of the U.S. Geological Survey said the Tarr collection has been little studied and is likely to reveal important new observations of glacier change over the past 100 years.

The Tarr and von Engeln images will help scientists understand glacier dynamics and document climate change over the long term. One goal of their digitization project, Elliott says, is to determine the precise locations of the glacier photographs to construct a three-dimensional model. Another scientific objective is to quantify the retreat and advance of individual glaciers to better understand the relative effects of regional climate change and the glaciers’ response.

The researchers plan an exhibit this fall using photos from the test scans to celebrate the centennial of Tarr and Lawrence Martin’s 1914 book, “Alaskan Glacier Studies.”

The second funded initiative, the Global Literary Networks Project led by assistant professor of comparative literature Tom McEnaney, will create a digital collection of vanguard Latin American literary journals, currently held in collections among various libraries around the United States. Consolidating a digital collection of publications featuring Latin American poetry, stories, essays and visual art will make otherwise difficult-to-access print journals available for global scholarship.

One of the project goals is to support the mining of textual information with techniques such as topic modeling, natural language processing and information retrieval in order to reconsider questions of style, genre and literary influence, McEnaney says. Digitizing this archive would also benefit students interested in experimenting with such tools and methodologies at Cornell.

“The grant will help to scale up Cornell’s database of Latin American journals in order to better understand the actual shape of the literary network, rather than accept presumed canons of importance,” says McEnaney, who plans to use the digitized materials in his course Cuba: Technology and Literature.

Rieger and classics professor Eric Rebillard co-chair the Arts and Sciences Visual Resources Advisory Group, which administers the grants. Rieger also oversees Cornell Library’s Digital Consulting and Production Services, which will produce the digital collections.

The Art and Sciences digitization program also supports instructional needs by providing digitization services, especially for the history of art and visual studies, anthropology, archaeology, art history, classics and music departments.

Linda B. Glaser is staff writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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