American Spirits – Proposal

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When considering historical events, one does not immediately consider the role spirits such as whiskey, bourbon, and rum played in the United States. The distillation of these alcoholic beverages were a popular past time of colonial and post-colonial Americans. This past time and the need to replenish government funding led several excise taxes on whiskey and other liquors, initiating events such as the Whiskey Rebellion (1791-1794), the Brooklyn Whiskey Wars (1869-1871), and the Whiskey Ring Scandal (1875). On top of the events created through tax laws are the development of reform movements, such as the Temperance movement and Prohibition. Furthermore, while various aspects of political history can be learned from this subject matter, American spirits can be found in both culinary and medical history, accounting, capitalism, marketing and trade.

The primary audience for this project are young adult Americans. Wineries, breweries, and distilleries are becoming more prominent and popularized in today’s society. Many young Americans are attending tastings and becoming increasingly interested in the historical aspects of the beverages and the areas in which they are. These young adults are a large population that can be reached through email list serves from the distilleries, as well as social media outlets, primarily Twitter and Facebook. Additionally, individuals interested in political science and how laws affected the American public, created scandal, and were portrayed in social outlets (newspapers and magazines) will also be the focal point of this project. These individuals will also be reached through the use of social media outlets and by reaching out to organizations who focus in this area, professors of political science and social reform, and university level and and high school government and history class rooms.

These topics will be accentuated using a variety of resources. Letters and political cartoons will highlight the political aspects American spirits, while newspaper ads, recipes, and advertisements will emphasize the culinary, medical, marketing, and trade aspects. Additionally, the music was prevalent during the Temperance movement and distillery ledgers will further the accounting and trade aspects. The use of such a diverse set of resources will appeal to a number of user interests and increase engagement. In an effort to promote the major topics and events that arise with the resources, mini exhibits will be created, describing the historical events and displaying the related resources.

To further enhance engagement, this project will utilize citizen archivist to transcribe traditional documents and eventually financial records. These documents will primarily be comprised of the Leibmann Collection at the New York Public Library, and eventually expanded. They will also be able to assign basic metadata, including keywords from a controlled vocabulary lists, user generated tags, and comment on items in order to promote a discussion around the materials and the topics they discuss. All user generated content will go through a checking process by project staff in order to ensure appropriateness and accuracy. Users will also be encouraged to continue contribution by being credited through a point system every time they add content.

In order to achieve this digital project, the website will be created using the open source platform, Drupal. By using the core framework of Drupal, the American Spirits project will use a number of fields to relate content to each other, and various views displays to encourage users to engage with the content. Such displays will allow the users to search the collection by keyword and topics/events, view the collection in a linear fashion using a vertical timeline, and browse keywords using a tag cloud. This platform will also allow for citizen archivist to contribute in the ways described above, getting users to create personal accounts where points can be credited to.

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