DH Project Evaluation (Harris Pollack)

 Analysis of an Archive Development Project

The American Prison Writing Archive is a digital database that represents a culmination of non-fiction writing by currently incarcerated Americans. The inmates write about their experiences inside the American criminal justice system. The project is navigable and easy to understand. Users can quickly understand the project because everything is explained on the homepage of the archive. This project is unlike any other DH project in regards to the material. Additionally, the archive is constantly evolving since letter submissions continuously flow into the database. As much as the prison is meant to keep inmates inside, it is also supposed to keep Americans outside of the prison. This project gives voice to those that have been silenced by the criminal justice system.

The archive holds over 1,300 essays in analog form, enough essays to fill sixteen 350-page books. One of the many goals of the archive is to provide transparency into the lives of imprisoned people with first-hand accounts of those in the American criminal justice system. Furthermore, the database is fully searchable, meaning users can search the prison that the inmates are in, the religion that the inmate identifies with, and other identifying categories. This type of organization makes the documents easy to search, especially if the user wants a viewpoint from a specific type of inmate. This represents the interactivity of the database. It is user-friendly, as exemplified by the easy-to-understand format and design of the database.

The database uses simple tools that make the documents accessible to the public. The documents are scanned, coded and transcribed in order to make the documents searchable. The best part of the website is that anyone that is interested in this project can help out. There are essays that need to be transcribed and any user can participate in the transcription process. By allowing the user to help develop the archive, the user can become invested in this project and develop a personal interest. It is one thing to view a DH project, but it is a completely other thing to be part of a DH project. This American Prison Writing Archive invites users to participate.

The impact of this project touches academic and legal spheres. Professors that want to teach students about the injustices of the American criminal justice system can use these nonfiction letters as examples. Furthermore, when the archive is fully updated, lawyers can use the material to file class-action lawsuits in defense of inmates. Much research on the criminal justice system is hypothetical. These documents break down the hypothetical barrier and give tangible evidence to the misfortunes experienced within the criminal justice system.

~ Harris Pollack

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