State of the Archive on the Eve of the 10th Anniversary

Many of us still find it difficult to believe that ten years have passed since the September 11 attacks. Every person who lost a loved one or who lived through the aftermath of the events experienced something unique. It was in the wake of 9/11, we at CHNM together with our friends at the American Social History Project (ASHP) at the City University of New York Graduate Center built the September 11 Digital Archive to preserve some of those responses to the traumatic events in the months and years that followed.

When we launched the Archive in 2002, we could not have imagined how it would grow to become the world’s largest public collection of born-digital materials related to the events of September 11, 2001. At 150,000 items, the Archive is a uniquely rich collection of the feelings, hopes, and fears of Americans and people around the globe as they attempted to process the world-changing events of that late summer morning. Collected materials range from recordings of Manhattan residents’ voice mails on that morning, to drawings of the attacks by children in Los Angeles, to photos of impromptu memorials from around the world.

We also published digital collections shared with the Archive by large organizations such as the Red Cross, the National Guard, the New York Fire Department, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Library of Congress and smaller groups serving flight attendants, the Chinese community of lower Manhattan, and Arab-American groups.

The September 11 Digital Archive is significant not only because of its contents and use, but also because of the way it was produced. At the time it launched, the Archive was a unique example of how the Internet could be used to collect history from ordinary people, and it has served as a model for countless other digital archives projects. In 2001 most individuals were not regular users of the Web, nor were they as comfortable sharing personal materials online as they are today.

As we approach the 10th anniversary, we will direct our efforts towards preservation. A Saving America’s Treasures (SAT) grant, jointly-administered by the National Park Service and National Endowment for the Humanities, will help pay for our preservation efforts as we transfer the aging collection to the Omeka platform, a more stable and standardized archival system. This is an essential step to making the contents of the Archive more accessible to scholars, students, policy makers, and the general public in the coming years.

We will use this blog to update you on our progress and detail some of the work required to transfer a large digital collection using one data model to another system with a different one. We also plan to highlight some of the collections and items that have intrigued us as we sort through the Archive.

Finally, we are re-opening the collecting portal and want to hear how your life has changed since September 11, 2001. By collecting reflections at this commemorative moment, we hope to further the life of the Archive as one that not only includes the most immediate reactions to the attacks, but also shows change over time as individuals reflect at different points in the post-9/11 world.

When asked what did you do to commemorate the 10th anniversary of September 11th, we hope that includes submitting a quick reflection to the September 11 Digital Archive.

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