A team of James Madison College faculty and librarians from MSU have been working throughout the pandemic on building a “Living Archive” on the collapse of the USSR and the early years of statehood of the Soviet successor states. The digitized materials collected for these events include contemporaneous newspaper accounts in Russian and in the various national languages drawn from central, national and local press, hand-outs from political opposition and non-governmental organizations, television broadcasts from the days around the event, and eye-witness videos. It will also include materials and translations crowd-sourced from users of the site. This project has received an extensive donation of archival materials from Columbia University’s Harriman Institute, and Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies has been a junior partner in some of our grant applications.
Working independently at home and in dorm rooms, using portable scanners, and having weekly meetings on Zoom we have transitioned from a prototype website that used ESRI Storymaps and ArcGIS to a Beta version, designed on a foundation of Omeka S using the CSS Editor plugin for customization. The home page of the website provides an orientation to the materials on the site, including sections for our narratives, the archival collection, bibliographies, and includes links to the Open Educational Resource tool and crowdsourcing information that we will be developing during the period of proposed funding.
MSU has provided incubator funding to help fund training and labor of a 15-person student team writing the narrative themes doing the scanning, document preservation and data management of the project. Our students are being mentored by professional staff members of the MSU Library Digital Scholarship Laboratory and its Slavic Collection. The first cohort of student workers have already taken their newly acquired skills into graduate training and specialized employment.
We are doing a soft launch to a targeted web-readership during summer 2021 to broaden our audience to those who were part of these events, so that they might share their eyewitness accounts, suggestions for additional events to be featured, and offers of archival material for curation and inclusion as well as provide translation assistance through our targeted readership campaign. We are particularly interested in outreach to diaspora community service organizations.
We are expanding public access to our materials through developing educational tools designed for the needs of two communities. It will include materials for teachers to be used in lesson plans and teaching modules (grades 9 through college introductory courses) that we will allow for deeper engagement with our digital archive, as well as serve as an introduction to existing digital resources on the historic focus of the archive. It will also include a “how-to” guide for students to use the archive’s materials and bibliographic tools to do extended research and to create narratives of their own from available open-source materials.
Since 2022, we have partnered with the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREES) at the University of Kansas to expand and diversify our collection and curation efforts, taking advantage of CREES’s linguistic and historical expertise as a Title VI National Resource Center.
Given the limited historic period that we are focusing on, we think that the project will reach its natural limits of expansion within the next several years. By then, the size of the collection should be relatively stable, with only slow continued growth. Concurrently, the day-to-day management of the project will increasingly be turned over to a naturally regenerating student team, recruited by faculty through MSU’s course curriculum and extracurricular activities, who will continue to be supervised by MSU’s library team. Our sustainability plan is available upon request.