Choosing Your Topic

There are any number of ways that you can choose a subject around which to build your digital archive. Doing some general reading about New Jersey and its history will give you a sense of the possibilities.

Your first goal should be to make certain that you can locate sufficient resources to complete the project.

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Frank Sinatra
Archival Collections You may want to start from an archival collection that you can access and find a New Jersey-related topic within it. Not familiar with using an archive?—see here
Places Your project can center on a place, a historic house, street, block, neighborhood, park, cemetery, or gallery
People Your project can be about any of the many people who lived it or is associated with New Jersey: politicians, radicals, labor leaders, musicians, artists, philanthropists, writers, criminals
Organizations Your topic can focus on one of the many businesses, settlement houses, churches, schools, clubs, political groups and parties, and salons in the state
Events You may want to focus on a crime, protest, concert, strike, disaster, opening, or other specific event. Use digital newspaper resources to identify something of interest.
Groups You can look more broadly at immigrants, women, African-Americans, radicals, politicians, writers, or artists in New Jersey.

How to define your topic?

  • Do some preliminary checking to make sure that there are sufficient resources with which to create an archive and exhibit.
  • Is the material under copyright protection?
  • Do you need to secure permission to include the material in the digital archive/exhibit?
  • Are there secondary sources available to help with context?
  • Is the topic too big to cover in a small archive/exhibit? Can you find sub-topics within the collection?

Sample Topic Investigation

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Robert A. Roe portrait

You have the idea of looking at the Robert A. Roe.
You consult the finding aid for the collection and see that it contains 21 feet of primary source material, including photographs, manuscript materials, pamphlets, and press releases, and it is held by William Paterson Library. .

  1. Most of the collection is open to researchers, some of material is restricted.
  2. Though the collection covers 1966-1980, the bulk of the material is from the 1974-80. Any part of this collection will need to be cleared for copyright.
  3. Robert A. Roe is still living, and likely you will be able to contact him for permission to publish via the archive.
  4. Because of the time period of the collection, you should be able to use newspaper searches to fill in details; it is likely that not much secondary history has been written about him yet.
  5. The archival collections is extensive, and without a secondary history to help cut through it, taking on Roe's whole life in a short exhibit probably would be too much. Looking through the collection and searching the news, you can find smaller topics within his life. These topics might include:
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Robert A. Roe
  • General biographical treatment of Roe.
  • Roe's work in for the environment
  • Roe's Congressional campiaign
  • Roe and the 1970s economy
  • Roe and the Route 287 extension

What if I can't find 20 objects?

  • You might create some of your own images by photographing the current condition of the sites that you are studying. This should not be the bulk of your exhibit, but you can add several images this way if it makes sense for the topic.
  • Think about whether you can expand to compare two topics, which might make it easier to collect sufficient material. An example might be looking at the fortunes of two buildings on the same block, activists from different generations, both sides of a political issue, etc.
  • Seek out a broader range of materials, in addition to photographs and manuscript materials, you might locate objects, advertisements, municipal records, oral histories, videos, paintings and drawings.
  • Maybe you should consider a different topic.
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