Digital Humanities Metadata

Why Metadata Matters

“If you are not having fun you are doing something wrong.” Groucho Marx

For a previous class assignment I reviewed the “Market Research & American Business, 1935 -1965” digital collection.  The site provides a wealth of information regarding America’s consumer culture. One notable feature of the collection is how well it incorporates metadata in its search features. Unlike a search engine site which encompasses a broad and wide range of objects, digital collections by their very nature, are more narrow in scope. They can be more surgical in their use of key words and metadata.

We know that metadata is descriptive information that assists users in looking for digital objects like images, documents, and media files. But not all online collections use metadata consistently. When properly applied metadata ensures a higher degree of success in making digital objects discoverable. This is due to the fact metadata helps users create associations or relationships between objects. As a result they can use the choices of metadata to ask relevant questions and get the search results they need. However, more often than not, valuable information stored in collections go undiscovered. This is due to the poor use of metadata and user frustration with search results.

Market Research & American Business is a good example of how to properly describe a collection’s available content through its navigation options and metadata. Users are provided several ways to search for objects. This includes well defined directories and a useful “glossary” page that presents a extensive list of key words that can be applied to advanced searches.

The collection focuses on both marketing research and studies (documents) as well as the images of the advertisements from the 1935 – 1965 period. The metadata associated with the collection’s objects provides the user a good overview of the era’s brands and companies as well as the industries they serviced. What makes the collection unique is the discoverable research that provides a behind the scenes vantage point of the psychology behind the major American marketing campaigns of the era. 

1940’s advertisement for Air France

However, the site’s features and metadata does not easily provide identifiable information on the types of studies conducted or the intended audiences response to the specific advertisements and campaigns. This would be a valuable resource that would permit future researchers to study the effectiveness of marketing during this period.

For researchers using the collection, the site’s application of metadata and search functions permits some interesting questions to be asked. For example, the availability of consumer research by industry permits questions to be raised on what impact did variables such as sex, or race, of the intended audience have on how they responded to certain brands or product purchased. Also, the three decades of available digital objects, allows a user to track significant trends in the changing marketing styles of the era (tail fins on 1950s automobiles).

Unfortunately the site is limited in scope to only three decades of research and the collection of one marketing expert, Ernest Dichter. While the collection is a significant glimpse into how Americans were persuaded to purchase and consume, it does not provide a complete catalog of available objects during the period. As a result the site’s metadata does not allow you to ask some very obvious questions. For example were American consumers really oblivious to being manipulated during those decades? As consumers, are we any different today?

Databases Digital Humanities

A review of the “Market Research and American Business,” 1935-1965 Database

Lying beneath the surface of the popular search engines we use are countless data collections or public databases.  These collections carefully gathered and maintained, provide a valuable resource for digital historians.  However, not all of these databases are the same.  Some are intuitively designed and assist with searches, while others may be full of useful data but are difficult to navigate.   

An example of a well thought out collection is the “Market Research and American Business,” 1935-1965 Database.  According to site’s introduction page:

The collection provides a unique insight into the American consumer boom of the mid-20th century through access to the market research reports and supporting documents of Ernest Dichter; the era’s foremost consumer analyst and market research pioneer.”

The collection is also a valuable time capsule by providing access to information on some of America’s best-known brands.  It contains thousands of reports commissioned by advertising agencies and global businesses in a booming era for consumerism, ‘Madison Avenue’ advertising and global brands on consumer goods ranging from tobacco and broadcasting to cars and hotels.

But most important the database provides a behind the scenes vantage point of the psychology behind the major American marketing campaigns of the era.  The site’s wide variety of available research provides an interesting perspective of America’s consumer culture.

The site provides three ways to search.  A basic text search option.  An advanced search that includes keywords, text, along with a proximity option.  Finally, there is a rather thought out search directory that provides several options including pre-determined lists of keywords, companies, and brands.  I found that the search was intuitive and very responsive. 

The Market Research and American Business collection provides access to data objects from 1935 – 1965.  It includes access to three primary advertising and marketing collections.  These include the Hagley Museum and Library; the John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History; and the Advertising Archives. Users are able to download a wide range of research documentation, including studies and proposals, as well as high resolution PDF’s of original published advertisements.

In regard to “terms of use” and access, the site is primarily for education and research purposes.  There are specific sated restrictions, especially since the material concerns some well known brands.  There is a detailed FAQ page that provides clear instructions for educators on fair use of the material, including how to cite documents, and what can be downloaded and copied.

In addition, Market Research and American Business has a well written introduction to the collection and provides a very helpful “Page by Page guide” as well as offers users to “Take a Tour.”  It goes into sufficient detail for first time users on how to get started, review of resources, and how to conduct searches.  Finally, there is an “Editor’s Choice” that provides users with some whimsical postings when Madison Avenue was in its heyday.

Document highlights include topics as:
Why women buy
How to get more people to go to the movies
Attitudes and motivations of the American voter
Cigarette advertising: the untapped possibilities – a creative memorandum on the psychology of smoking
A motivational research study of the Negro market for Esso gasoline, services and related products
Creative research memorandum on the psychology of hot dogs
A creative memorandum on psychological advertising of toys to parents
Cigarette smoking among women
Sexual attitudes in the United Kingdom – today
Marketing Chrysler automobiles in a rapidly changing society
The role of supermarkets in our modern culture
A pilot study on the Bird’s Eye logo

The Advertising Archives Material Types:
Case studies
Pilot Studies

Gender/Women’s Studies

A search of online reviews found several articles that support the author’s conclusion that the Market Research and American Business collection is well organized and supports research efforts to study America’s consumer culture.  For example a review form the University of Delaware’s Library, Museums and Press states that the site provides “valuable insights,” and that it is “highly recommended for students at all levels,” and “a unique perspective into the world of buying, selling, and advertising in pre-and post-war America.”

Market Research and American Business collection sets the bar very high as a database resource. It is purposeful in trying to help researchers get access to the material that they are looking for as quickly as possible . In addition, it goes out of its way in instructing users how to best leverage and the collection assets by utilizing the available search options. Finally, the advertisements and the psychology behind them makes for a compelling story.

Digital Humanities

Everything but the kitchen sink.

Does a picture really speak a thousand words? Some of the author’s kitchen condiments.

The assignment was to take still images and videos of some of the objects in my kitchen. It was part of a lesson module to teach my graduate class about digitization. We take it for granted today, but every time you use your smart phone to take a picture or video you are “digitizing” something. This process captures a significant amount of information and for the most part can easily be shared. However, it becomes self-evident that every image or video is subjective in the eye of the beholder as to the information it conveys.

French copper pots

For example, the image above of the French copper pots does not do justice to the wonderful meals that they have been used to prepare over the years. It also does not convey the tedious work required to shine them up. A cooking video would be more appropriate. So how you capture or digitize an item is really part of the story you want to tell.

According to Melissa Terras, “Digitisation and Digital Resources in the Humanities” (2008) anything that is visible is capable of being digitized. She believes that this process “creates the core content for a digital resource.” Marlene Manoff, in her 2006 abstract “The Materiality of Digital Collections: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives,” points out that every object has “material characteristics.” These characteristics, like size, color, shape, texture, usually can be captured in a digital image. But some characteristics like smell, or sound can not be capture with an image. While sound can be captured with a video, smell-o-vision is still not a reality. As result, the accompanying textual content included with an image plays an important role in establishing the object’s informative value. By supplementing the obvious visual data, more detailed characteristics of an object can be preserved.

Manoff believes that the end result of all this digitization is a “content management” process. A process that has become more personalized as everyone must now learn how to manage their digital collections. In the past, managing the capture of multimedia was dependent upon the manual entry of associated descriptive text or meta data. However, the growing utility of cognitive services like facial recognition, and transcribing, are rapidly automating this process.

Paul Conway, in his 2009 paper “Building Meaning in Digitized Photographs,” points out that more and more cultural heritage organizations are recognizing the need to leverage Image Digital Archives (IDA). He adds that the digitization process is adding value to these organization’s archives by creating “digital” surrogates. But Conway also acknowledges that a digital file of an archived photographic print is still just a representation of the original artifact. Well known institutions like the Library of Congress have become the standard in providing researchers access to a variety of file formats and image resolutions. This provides researchers the ability to determine the level of detail they require.

French recipe for chocolate cake

So as a lesson learned the “kitchen digitization” project was useful in determining the broad scope of things that can be digitized, and in what format. One of the assigned items to digitize was a recipe. Shown above is my wife’s family recipe for “Gateau au Chocolat” or chocolate cake. I’m not sure it is a secret, but tasting this cake for the first time probably had something to do with our getting married. But in regard to digitization, just a digital image of the recipe may not have been enough. For those that do not understand French, but are eager to taste this wonderful cake, a translation would be helpful.

Finally, in the field of digital humanities, the creation of these so called “digitized representations” is part of a bigger debate. Are these new surrogates worthy of their own study and should everyone be encouraged to use them as unique objects in their own right?. For me, the issue comes down to accessibility. Having online access to countless numbers of digitized photographs is a tremendous resource. Especially in this time of Covid 19. There is no doubt that in an age of social distancing the need to capture and make public cultural heritage archives is becoming very compelling. Especially if these institutions want to maintain their relevance.

Digital Humanities Public Domain Sources

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg’s mission is to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks. In fact, Project Gutenberg’s website ( says that they approve about 99% of all requests from those who would like to utilize their eBooks and disseminate them , within their various local copyright limitations.

Project Gutenberg states that it is powered by ideas, ideals, and by idealism. The site leverages volunteers and provides them the freedom to offer what books to do, what formats to do them in, or any other ideas they may have concerning “the creation and distribution of eBooks.”

Project Gutenberg claims that they are not in the business of establishing standards and strives to bring eBooks to their readers in as many formats as their volunteers wish to make.

The project encourages everyone to contribute.

Thus, there are no dues, no membership requirements: and still only the most general guidelines to making eBooks for Project Gutenberg.

Their stated goal is to provide as many eBooks in as many formats as possible for the entire world to read in as many languages as possible.

Terms of use and copyright information are listed in the following link ( The site states that most permission requests received do not require a custom response. This is due to the fact that a vast majority of Project Gutenberg eBooks are in the public domain in the US. This means that nobody can grant, or withhold, permission to do with this item as you please. The site does provide access to a further description for “As you please”, including any commercial use, republishing in any format, making derivative works or performances, etc. They recommend to read more about the public domain in Wikipedia.

Digital Humanities Public Domain Sources

Library of Congress Civil War Glass Negatives and Related Prints

The Library of Congress’ online Civil War photograph collection ( provides access to about 7,000 different views and portraits made during the American Civil War (1861-1865) and its immediate aftermath. The images represent the original glass plate negatives made under the supervision of Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner as well as the photographic prints in the Civil War photographs file in the Prints & Photographs Reading Room. These negatives and prints are sometimes referred to as the Anthony-Taylor-Rand-Ordway-Eaton Collection to indicate the previous owners. The Library purchased the negatives in 1943.

As a publicly supported institution, the LOC generally does not own the rights to materials in their collections. Users should determine for themselves whether or not an item is protected by copyright or in the public domain, and then satisfy any copyright or use restrictions when publishing or distributing materials from our collections. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond what is allowed by fair use or other exemptions requires written permission from the copyright holder (

The site provides an excellent overview of copyright usage (

Digital Humanities Public Domain Sources

The Lincoln Collection

The Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection ( exists to interpret and preserve the history and legacy of Abraham Lincoln through research, conservation, exhibitry, and education. The Collection provides Lincoln enthusiasts, students, educators and scholars with one of the world’s most comprehensive and accessible collections of Lincoln artifacts, artwork, photographs, and literature.

When Lincoln Financial Group announced in March 2008 that the Lincoln Museum would close, Lincoln Financial Foundation, which owned the museum collection, was adamant on two points. First, the organization wanted the collection to be donated to an institution capable of providing permanent care and broad public access. Second, the collection would not be broken up among multiple owners. In other words, this collection which had been built over so many decades was not for sale and would remain intact.

In December of 2008 the largest private collections of Abraham Lincoln-related material in existence was donated to the people of Indiana. Today the Collection is housed in two institutions, the Indiana State Museum in Indianapolis and the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne. This allows the Collection to live on in its entirety, available to the public in various exhibits at all times.


Public Domain Sources

NASA Commons site on Flickr

Launched in 2008, NASA Images is already making hundreds of thousands of images and thousands of hours of video and audio content available to the public, and the collection is growing daily at no cost to taxpayers.

All photographs on the NASA Commons Flickr ( account originate from the compilation of archives at NASA Images. NASA on The Commons will allow the media on NASA Images to reach an even wider audience and invite that audience to help tell the story of these photos by adding tags, or keywords, to the images to identify objects and people. In addition the community can engage in conversation by sharing comments to add information, stories, and thoughts. These valuable contributions will help make the images easier to find online and add insight about NASA.

There are two locations that provide rights information:

Digital Humanities Public Domain Sources

Getty Museum

The J. Paul Getty Trust is the world’s largest cultural and philanthropic organization dedicated to the visual arts. The online collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum comprises Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art from the Neolithic to Late Antiquity; European art—including illuminated manuscripts, paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts—from the Middle Ages to the early twentieth century; and international photography from its inception to the present day. The museum’s archive promotes knowledge and appreciation of art among audiences of all ages throughout the world.

The museum seeks to inspire curiosity about, and enjoyment and understanding of, the visual arts by collecting, conserving, exhibiting and interpreting works of art of outstanding quality and historical importance.

The site’s “Terms of Use” page provides guidance on their “Open Content Program” as well content available for use through Creative Commons.

Public Domain Sources

Prelinger Archives

Prelinger Archives ( was founded in 1983 by Rick Prelinger in New York City. Over the next twenty years, it grew into a collection of over 60,000 “ephemeral” (advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur) films. In 2002, the film collection was acquired by the Library of Congress, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. Prelinger Archives remains in existence, holding approximately 11,000 digitized and videotape titles (all originally derived from film) and a large collection of home movies, amateur and industrial films acquired since 2002. Its primary collection emphasis has turned toward home movies and amateur films, with approximately 17,000 items held as of Spring 2019. Its goal remains to collect, preserve, and facilitate access to films of historic significance that haven’t been collected elsewhere. Included are films produced by and for many hundreds of important US corporations, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, community and interest groups, and educational institutions. 

Rick Prelinger and The Internet Archive hereby offer public domain films from Prelinger Archives to all for free downloading and reuse. Rights information are located on the about page (

Digital Humanities

Defining Digital Humanities

by Peter Vaselopulos

For over twenty-five years scholars have struggled with defining Digital Humanities (DH).  One reason could be that there is an inherent divergence between the two terms “digital” and “humanities”.  The first term represents a modern approach to identifying and capturing knowledge, leveraging the latest advances in computing technologies.  The second rests comfortably on an academic legacy of writing, publishing, and peer review, going back to the Renaissance and the “Age of Enlightenment.”  It is interesting to look back and see how the DH field emerged at the turn of the century.

Digital Humanities is deeply rooted in the wave of personal and public computing established by the popularity of PCs and the Internet during the 1990s.  While all fields of academia have been “digitized” the Humanities appears to have gone through a more contorted transformation.  This is a direct result of the impact computing has on digitizing text, and the corresponding development of taxonomies, ontologies, and metadata.  Early definitions of DH primarily focused on the collection of data, initially textual, that enabled academics to “objectify” their thoughts and concepts and to make them more public.  This reflects the early digital technologies that leveraged word processing.  The ability to search large corpus of text and analyze and research patterns of information was groundbreaking.

During the mid 2000’s, Digital Humanities went through another round of redefinitions due to advances in new information technologies.   There was a growing recognition of DH’s dual role, not only to digitally preserve the “human record” but provide a resource to create new artifacts of understanding that are unique in their own right.  This evolving definition of Digital Humanity reflected a general acceptance that “new techniques and technologies are continually being developed and applied to Humanities data.” 

By 2010 new communication technologies introduced improved methods of online scholarly collaboration.  Time and distance were no longer a factor in knowledge transfer and conceptualization.  As a result, the broadening definition of Digital Humanities encompassed the reality that it is no longer about the technology but rather what you can do with it and who can have access to the information.  But more important there was a general realization that academia’s traditional role as the gatekeepers of knowledge was going through a transformation.  Like the impact of the printing press on the church over five hundred years ago, the public creation and dissemination of information is altering society’s long held beliefs about education.   

By reviewing the evolving definitions of Digital Humanities over the past twenty-five years it is clear from our 2020 vantage point how much the field has matured.  Unfortunately, the challenge to present the simplest DH definition never appears to stop.  But definitions aside there continues to be a pronounced shift to the “what” rather than the “how” in the use of terminology.   No matter what the definition DH will continue to be the “bridge” that connects traditional research with the promise presented by machine learning and collaborative technologies

In conclusion, and for the benefit of my peers, I present my definition of DH.

“Digital Humanities is a field of study that utilizes information technology to transform analog and digital records into new objects of knowledge that can be stored, searched, and disseminated publicly”.