Digital Durham: Past, Present, Future (2017-2018)


The Digital Durham archive project began in 1999. Since then, the project has seen continual use from academic, community and K-12 educators and students.

Digital Durham is based on the idea that understanding the past is a civic virtue. It fosters awareness of the complexity of Durham communities, including the interconnections of the white and African-American communities in the past. The project lays bare Durham’s experience of industrialization and segregation and demonstrates how that history shapes the present and the future. In addition, it promotes the thoughtful and responsible use of information technology to share and interpret historical documents.

As Digital Durham approaches its twentieth anniversary of supporting research into the post-Civil War South, the technology undergirding the project is showing its age. The site is not set up well for adding new items to the collection, showcasing student projects based on the collection or linking to external resources or other Durham-based projects. The time is right to revisit this foundational resource and to build it up for the future.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will update and enhance the Digital Durham infrastructure and content.

The team will move the existing Digital Durham website to a newer content management system (Omeka or Drupal), and provide a hub for links to related projects. Team members will also enhance the use of Digital Durham archival resources—particularly those relating to the African-American experience—by providing digitized images, metadata and TEI transcriptions for some exceedingly rare materials that cannot be readily accessed through any website. These include:

  1. James Whitted correspondence: Some of the most interesting materials will come from a folder of correspondence from the 1880s between James Whitted, the founder of Durham’s Colored Graded School and his confidante, black newspaper editor Charles N. Hunter.
  2. Maps in the Rencher Nicholas Harris collection: Many of these have been digitized, but they cannot be retrieved (by date, title or subject matter) because they lack item-level metadata.
  3. A. M. Rigsbee ledgers: These business ledgers from 1880 include general store transactions and document the store’s role as the community bank in a credit economy.
  4. 1875 Tax List for Durham: The list contains 60 pages detailing the wealth of Durham’s property owners, and whether they had paid poll taxes.
  5. Durham neighborhood Polaroids: Unpublished photographs of neighborhood homes and street scenes were created by the Durham Public Works department in the 1960s.

In addition, the team will develop modules based on Digital Durham materials for use in AP US History courses in the three-week slot following the AP exams. Through a partnership with the Shodor Foundation, a summer program for high school students will be focused on database design for the archive resources. A Digital Durham Colloquium will be presented in partnership with other Durham-themed courses and projects at Duke to showcase the team’s projects and introduce the new website.

Anticipated Outcomes

Digital Durham website revamped and expanded, with infrastructure for future submissions built in; Durham History online resources and possible app based on archival content and student research; Digital Durham Colloquium in Spring 2018; conference presentations at international digital humanities conference and/or HASTAC presentation; publications based on experience developing and teaching with and through the project


Summer 2017 – Spring 2018

  • Summer 2017: Shodor foundation work on the MySQL database infrastructure for tax rolls; infrastructure development for future home of site; summer M.A. student work on relocating Polaroids and georectifying maps
  • Fall 2017: Faculty roundtable around Digital Durham writ large (other faculty doing Durham projects); testing and refinement of new website; group independent study; student internships with History Hub; Transcription Tax List Jam event at the Durham Public Library with Durham and Orange County genealogists
  • Spring 2018: Digital History/Digital Humanities course, draft encoding of letters, test projects with maps and online tours; website development and launch; public symposium around Digital Durham; student project presentations; student projects refined for public consumption; integration of partner project representation on website

Team Outcomes to Date

Digital Durham: Past, Present, Future (poster by Trudi Abel, Victoria Szabo, Naomi Kraut, Brian Norberg, Joel Herndon, Courtney Hissong, Leanora Minai, Claire Xiao, Jo Kwon, Kira Xie, and the Digital Durham Class Team), presented at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

This project was selected by the Franklin Humanities Institute as a humanities-connected project.

Voters of Durham

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Trudi Abel, Duke Libraries*
  • Joel Herndon, Duke Libraries
  • Hannah Jacobs, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
  • Naomi Kraut, Arts & Sciences-Program in Education
  • Brian Norberg, Arts & Sciences
  • Victoria Szabo, Arts & Sciences-Art, Art History, and Visual Studies*

/graduate Team Members

  • Courtney Hissong, Liberal Studies-AM
  • Jo Kwon, Digital Art Hist/Comp Media-AM
  • Leanora Minai, Liberal Studies-AM
  • Shiqi Xie, Digital Art Hist/Comp Media-AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Helen Healey, Visual and Media Studies (AB), History (AB2)
  • Philip Moss, Computer Science (AB)
  • Claire Xiao

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Museum of Durham History
  • Bob Panoff, Shodor Foundation