Save Our Stories: Engaging with Digital Collections

One of the goals of the USM Digital Archives Research Group is to encourage faculty, staff, students, and community members to explore how digital and physical archives help us to reflect on our disciplines and communities. Thus, in addition to a series on digital archives, we are excited to announce the first annual Save Our Stories: Engaging with Digital Collections, a collaborative project designed to engage the public with the USM Special Collections.

In February 2007, USM Special Collections began the “Item of the Month” online feature, and we are excited to build on this well-received initiative by providing the opportunity to experience USM Special Collections more directly. We are inviting entire classes of students, as well as interested individuals, to reflect on specific topics, course content, and disciplinary research by searching the archives for images relevant to their interests and then contributing 200-500 word “essays” that contextualize and reflect upon the significance of the image. Individual essays can be creative or academic in nature, and we invite entries that contextualize images historically, artistically, rhetorically, culturally, bibliographically, or however you may see fit.


How to Participate

There are numerous ways to participate in this project, and our research group seeks and values varied contributions. A good place to start is by visiting the Special Collections’ catalogue of previous “items of the month,” where you’ll find examples of how to write about archival objects for a general audience.  We also encourage creative approaches to the project that suit your own interests or a course’s specific learning outcomes. Sample essays might include the following: a photograph of a childhood toy and an explanation of how it contributes to our understanding of American childhood; an undocumented photograph of an area in the Pine Belt and an essay describing that area today; a political cartoon and a rhetorical analysis of its historical relevance; a photograph from the civil rights collection and a creative essay inspired by the image; a manuscript letter and a description of its literary significance; and more.  Included below is a template to help you brainstorm ideas about what collection to use, how to make it suit your pedagogical goals, and how to incorporate the project into a course.

Regardless of the angle or approach, the goal of Save Our Stories is for students, faculty, and community members to experience the excitement of locating, describing, and narrating an archival object from the USM collections while lending their hand in curating these objects for the public. The opportunities for research and expression are vast. Collectively, we hope that the artifacts and essays will engage participants in primary research and help readers learn more about the stories behind USM Special Collections. A committee will choose the top submissions, and curate and publish them as part of the Special Collections Item of the Month feature. Participants and winners will also be recognized at the “Celebrating the Archives” event hosted by the A&L Digital Archives Research Group on March 31. Submissions are due by March 17, 2017.


Where to Begin

As you think about how to utilize the project into your courses, or how to participate in the contest yourself, we encourage you check out some of the resources made available here.

To kick start your thinking, we’ve put together a heuristic that you can use to brainstorm ideas: Handout for Creating Archive-Based Assignments.

While completing the handout, we also suggest that you review The University of Southern Mississippi Digital Collections to see what collections are available.

For those new to the collection, we also suggest watching the virtual tour of the Digital Collections, which provides a useful overview of the collections available, as well as how to search and navigate them: Digital Collections Virtual Tour.

If you’re looking for archival material not found in the digital collections, check out Special Collections at Southern Miss. You can also plan class visits or have a librarian come to your class to discuss available resources.  For more information about Special Collections, contact Jennifer Brannock at or 601.266.4347.


Example Projects & Assignments

A good place to see some examples of archival-rich essays is the Library’s “Items of the Month” feature. Although short and mostly written as expository essays, these examples provide a useful overview of the possibilities involved when writing about archival objects.

We also wanted to share a few example assignments based on the SOS project. Hopefully they provide you with some ideas and inspiration.  Feel free to adapt them as you wish.

Digging Up Disney (by Dr. Joyce Inman)

Archival History (by Dr. Craig Carey)

Mississippi in the Sixties (Charles Hunter Joplin)


How to Submit

To submit your essay, click on the button below and follow the instructions. You will need to upload your essay in document form, along with a file of the image you have chosen. If you have any questions about your submission, please email Dr. Craig Carey ( or Dr. Joyce Inman (

Submit Here