Digital North Carolina Blog

Digital North Carolina Blog

This blog is maintained by the staff of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center and features highlights from the collections at DigitalNC, an online library of primary sources from institutions across North Carolina.

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Viewing entries posted in January 2020


We Can Do Better: Making Our Metadata More Equitable

Over the last few months I’ve been working on a pilot project that looks at how NCDHC staff have portrayed women through metadata (the information that accompanies the images on DigitalNC) over time. This is a small step towards finding unconscious bias in our work and making our metadata more equitable. I’ve accumulated some interesting examples, and I thought I’d share them here.

Anyone who’s ever tried to trace a matrilineal line knows the frustration of women being referred to only in the context of marriage. This was the convention in historic American culture – you’ll see it in newspapers, books, correspondence – and special collections are no exception. It was pretty easy for me to start looking at bias in our metadata with a simple search on Mrs., which netted me over 2,000 results.

Screenshot of the top 3 search results on DigitalNC.org when searching "Mrs."

If you browse that search yourself, you’ll see how many records don’t include the woman’s first name. The information that’s been written on or passed down with a photograph often inherited that cultural bias towards a woman’s married state. When NCDHC staff set out to describe a photograph, if all we have is “Mrs. Lewis Dellinger” then that’s what gets transferred to our metadata. Even if we had time to do research to try to locate Mrs. Lewis Dellinger’s given name, in most cases we couldn’t be positive it was the correct identification. So there are a lot of records that can’t be improved given the reliable information we have on hand.

Still, after browsing through DigitalNC, I started seeing places where a simple and quick change could make a difference. Here’s one example:

Black and White Image of white woman smiling and facing the camera

A screenshot of how this record looked initially, with the photograph entitled “Governor Scott’s Wife.”

Unlike many individuals in our collection, I knew this woman’s name and identity would be easy to confirm. Jessie Rae Osborne Scott was a graduate of what is now UNC-Greensboro. She taught high school, helped run a farm, raised five children, and was active in a number of charities and social causes. Other verified photographs of her are available online because she also happened to marry a governor. That fact is notable, but I’ve amended the record so that her own name is foremost while retaining the information originally included with the photograph in the description. 

When I first searched our website for the word “wife” I received 221 results; “husband” yielded 54. Because of ingrained bias, even if a woman’s name is available in the metadata her relationship to the man or men in the picture is privileged instead. Conversely, unless the woman was particularly well known or the overt focus of a photograph, husbands aren’t named as such. Here’s an example: 

Black and white family portrait with the man seated and holding a young child, and a woman standing to his left.

This photograph is entitled “Eppie N. Clifton, wife Melissa Honeycutt, and daughter Mettie.”

Note that the man is mentioned first, and the woman and child are described in relation to him. Here’s how I amended the photo’s metadata:

Black and white family portrait with the man seated and holding a young child, and a woman standing to his left.

This photograph is entitled “Mettie, Eppie N. Clifton, and Melissa Honeycutt.” The Description reads “L-R Mettie (daughter), Eppie N. Clifton (husband), and Melissa Honeycutt (wife).”

In the updated version I’m just going left to right and taking each person in turn, communicating what was written on or with the photograph. Their family relationship is still given, so that information isn’t lost, but it’s recorded in a way that’s more equal across the group.

Here’s another example I found interesting:

Black and white photo of five family members standing in front of a house.

This photo is entitled “Eldridge Troy Westbrook family and home, Bentonville Township, N.C.”

Note that the house is named after the male head of household and his name is noted in the title, but he isn’t in the photo. (The original description we were given even mentions that “ETW was living at time of photo; he doesn’t just happen to be in photo.”) I don’t want to remove the entire name of the house – it might have been identified that way among those who lived in the area – but I can easily improve the equity shown to the individuals who are actually shown in the photo without losing any important information. See what you think. All I did was keep the surname, and move the male’s name down to the description. I also put the familial relationships in parentheses instead of having them precede each name. I think this might subtly shift how people see this photograph and those pictured within. To me they seem less like they’re just hanging around waiting for ETW to arrive.

To sum it up, here are the types of changes we will regularly make to help improve the equity of our metadata:

  • We’ll note the full known identity of all of the photograph’s subjects in the title, moving from left to right, as in the example above.
  • When a couple’s only known information is a surname, we’ll record the honorifics for individuals from left to right. (In other words, we won’t default to always placing Mr. first.) Example: Mrs. and Mr. Detweiler
  • If a familial relationship is recorded about those in the photograph, we’ll note that in parentheses within the description. We’ll give equal consideration to noting relationships of all genders. 

Why is this work worth doing? How we name things influences power. It changes who gets noticed in a crowd. It shifts who gets resources when they’re scarce. Every individual has a right to their own identity; we don’t believe that the fact that a woman who lived in a time when she was considered secondary because of her gender should endure the same condition today. Why should we sustain a bias that’s been proven to do harm to society as a whole?

I’m sure I’m not doing a perfect job. I’ll miss my own biases as I make corrections. But with just a few small changes researchers will be able to find people they might not have found in the past. Even more, people viewing these photographs won’t have social conventions keeping them from really seeing all of the individuals in the pictures.


More Yearbooks from John Graham High School in Warrenton, NC now online

Thanks to our partners at the Warren County Memorial Library, we’ve added 13 new John Graham High School yearbooks to DigitalNC, bringing our total from this school to 22. We now hold each yearbook from 1947 until 1969, enabling digital access to resources on student life in Warrenton, North Carolina. The school integrated in 1966, so these recent earlier additions show the school when it’s population was all white students.  

Our holdings of John Graham High School yearbooks were created by the school after it had become a coeducational, public high school. The original school, named Warrenton Male Academy, was founded in 1786 and was one of the first high schools in the state. John Graham High School of the 1900s was the white high school in town until integration with John R. Hawkins High School in the mid-1960s. The class of 1981 was the last graduating class of John Graham High School, which then became a middle school. Local teenagers moved to the new Warren County High School building. The building is now the John Graham Center for Warren County Family Services.

To learn more about Warren County Memorial Library, visit their partner page here or visit their website here. To see these and other high school yearbooks, visit our North Carolina Yearbooks collection.


Correspondence related to the Currituck Shooting Club is now on DigitalNC from new partner Currituck County Public Library

Currituck County Public Library has partnered with us to provide documents related to the Currituck Shooting Club. This robust collection of letters, telegraphs, and notes cover decades of communication between members and business associates of the Currituck Shooting Club.  The collection includes a booklet (shown below) on the club written by one of its most prominent members, Samuel Russell who was President of the club from 1901 to 1926. The booklet tells of the clubs origins, being organized in June of 1857 and incorporated in February of 1877. It also includes a list of the clubs Presidents, Secretaries, Treasurers, Officers, and members beginning at the clubs founding and ending in 1940.  The Club stood until 2003, when it burned down.  

booklet

Currituck Shooting Club booklet

booklet

List of Presidents

Correspondence to Samuel Russell makes up the bulk of the collection and primarily covers the shooting clubs early 20th century business dealings. If you are interested in what communication and establishing and maintaining the business of a shooting club looked like at the turn of the century or just the leisure habits of the upper class on the east coast, this collection would be useful for that research.  

letter

Correspondence to Samuel Russell

Click here to learn more about the Currituck Shooting Club and to learn more about our new partner, Currituck County Public Library, visit their website here


Durham County Aerial Photographs from 1980 and a 1951 Zoning Map Recently Added to DigitalNC

Comparison of part of I-85 from 1980 and 2019

Thanks to the Durham County Library, DigitalNC now hosts several aerial photographs and maps of the county from the second half of the twentieth century. Among the 1980 aerial photographs is a 1951 zoning map, which focuses mainly on the borders of the county and shows all major roads, bodies of water, and railroads. Landmark Engineering Company from Cary, NC, took the aerial photographs on March 13, 1980. They document the landscape of much of Durham County, though some are annotated to include street names.

Each photograph is identified by a four digit number followed by a two digit number in the bottom right-hand corner of the page. This index shows all four digit zones and how they split into four sections with two digits each. Use landmarks such as roads to identify the location of the photograph or map, then these locations can be matched to current landmarks on Google Maps or a similar tool. The hand drawn sketch (left) shows which segment of the county each grouping of photographs documents.

  1. Northwestern Durham County
  2. Northern Durham County
  3. Northeastern Durham County
  4. Northeastern Durham County
  5. Northwestern Durham County
  6. Northern Durham County
  7. Northeastern Durham County
  8. Eastern Durham County
  9. Eastern Durham County
  10. Southeastern Durham County
  11. Not included in this batch

To view all maps and photographs in this batch, click here. To learn more about the Durham County Library, visit their contributor page here or their website here.


More yearbooks from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library now online

Thanks to our partner the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, we now have yearbooks from local Charlotte high schools on our website up to 1969. The yearbooks are from several Charlotte, NC high schools, including Independence Senior High School, Garinger High School, Central High School, Harding High School, West Charlotte High School, East Mecklenburg High School, Myers Park High School, Charlotte Country Day School, and West Mecklenburg High School.  These yearbooks are in addition to an already large collection of yearbooks from Charlotte on DigitalNC, which can be viewed here and span 1909 to 1969.

The cover for the 1969 edition of The Tomahawk, the yearbook from West Mecklenburg High School, in Charlotte, NC.

For more information about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library, check out their website and their partner page.


New materials from Rockingham and Stokes Counties are now online!

New materials from the Rockingham County Public Library are now available on DigitalNC. This batch includes photographs, remembrance books, neighborhood histories, newspaper clippings, and a football schedule poster.

Photographs include the one above of Lowes Methodist Church, now Lowes United Methodist, in Reidsville, and one of Charlie Jackson Bennett laying in state in 1953. There are remembrance books for the same Bennett, as well as Carrie Lee H. Bennett and Sylvia Bennett Brown. The funeral home where Sylvia Bennett Brown was laid to rest also created a remembrance plaque, included in this batch of items.

Other items include a variety of materials documenting the history of Mayodan and Stoneville, North Carolina, mostly from the twentieth century. The Carolina Heights neighborhood in Eden, North Carolina, is also represented here by a leaflet sharing its history. Carolina Heights was formerly in Spray, which was consolidated into Eden in 1967. To see all materials on DigitalNC from Spray, click here.

DigitalNC is thankful to our partner, Rockingham County Public Library, for enabling access to these materials online. To learn more about the Rockingham County Public Library, visit their partner page here or their website here. To see all items in this batch, click here, and to see everything contributed by the library, click here.


New High School Yearbooks from Bethel in Pitt County Just Added

Thanks to our partnership with The Ward House: Bethel Heritage Center in Bethel, North Carolina, DigitalNC recently added fifteen yearbooks from Bethel High School (1949-1970). These yearbooks shed insight into the lives and activities of white students in northern Pitt County in the mid-twentieth century, particularly before the school was integrated with Bethel Union High School in the late 1960s. The class of 1970 was the final graduating class from Bethel High School. The following fall, North Pitt High School opened for students of Bethel, Belvoir, Pactolus, Stokes, and Staton House. Click here to browse all of the yearbooks from Pitt County on DigitalNC.

Click this link to see all fifteen yearbooks added in this batch. To learn more about The Ward House: Bethel Heritage Center, visit their contributor page here. To view more high school yearbooks from throughout North Carolina, check out our list here.