Image caption: “Admiring tourists viewing the falls, from Prospect Point, Niagara, USA.,” Niagara Falls Stereo Cards Collection, RG 599, Brock University Archives and Special Collections.
Brock University students have journeyed to the past collecting images of Niagara in the 1800s and are showcasing their findings in digital exhibits now on view for the community to enjoy.
Throughout the Fall Term, students enrolled in VISA 2P90 Art in Revolution: Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture took a deep dive into the visual culture of 19th century Niagara while learning how to use CollectionBuilder, Open Source software used by museums, galleries and libraries around the world to build digital collections.
Led by Keri Cronin, Associate Professor, History of Art and Visual Culture at Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, the idea to build online exhibitions with students was sparked by the Digital Scholarship Institute workshop in May offered by Brock’s Digital Scholarship Lab (DSL).
Cronin attended the Digital Scholarship Institute and learned to use the software herself to build online exhibits using basic coding and metadata. She knew the skills would be extremely useful to students.
“In this contemporary climate, knowing how to build an online presence for an exhibit is a vital, professional skill for students on their career path,” Cronin said. “This is important experiential education — future employers will be impressed.”
Cronin said bringing the project to fruition was a team effort. The class worked in close collaboration with Digital Scholarship Librarian Tim Ribaric, who supported their technical training on CollectionBuilder. The DSL is the centre of digital scholarship at the University.
Students also worked with David Sharron, Head of Archives and Special Collections in the Brock University Library, who provided access to the archives for students to research and collect materials from Brock’s digitized collection.
Sharron said the Library has been digitizing parts of the collections for more than 15 years and when Cronin wanted to develop a major assignment based on these records, it was a quick ‘yes.’
“There are millions of records that represent Niagara and its history in Archives and Special Collections. It is always a thrill to see what subjects and materials appeal to the modern student and what they can do with them,” said Sharron. “Projects like this bring these historical materials into the digital world in new and exciting ways.”
Cronin agreed, saying that “traditionally we look at Europe, not Niagara. Students loved engaging with the local history. It gave them an opportunity to learn about key themes relating to 19th century life, art and visual culture.”
Student Madeline Collins created an online exhibition entitled Modernizing the Landscape – Industrialization at Niagara Falls and called the project unique and illuminating.
“I’ve never done anything like it,” she said. “Metadata and archival research are kind of like the behind-the-scenes of art history, so it was amazing to get a detailed, hands-on opportunity to try it out.”
Other examples of student exhibits include Hydroelectric Power Niagara Falls by Ella Sexton examining the relationship between hydroelectricity and Niagara Falls; The Tipped Inkwell by Rachel Stangl looking at 19th century penmanship; A Fond Sigh of Friendship by Abigail Leeder displaying imagery and literature found in a ‘Friendship Journal’; and Don’t Slip and Niagara Fall by Riley Cuddy-Colbon, a collection of images of past extreme winters in Niagara Falls.
Cronin commended the students for sticking with the project, admitting that CollectionBuilder is a tough platform to use and has its challenges.
“The students worked through the learning curves, trusted the process, and have created something very special that they will use in their portfolios moving forward.”
To view all of the student digital exhibits, please visit Cronin’s website.