Today you'll spend some time browsing through an online collection of documents that reflect the history of trade, focused on commodities like gold or opium or coffee. You'll take a deep dive into a primary source database called Global Commodities that compiles digitized collections of documents from libraries, museums and business archives.
Keyword searches don't always reveal the possibilities that exist in a collection of documents, so we'll try exploring this database by browsing the "apparatus" - work done by editors and archivists to suggest ways the historical documents might be used.
We'll start by setting up groups based on three historical lenses - cultural history, economic history, or environmental history. The boxes below have brief descriptions of each lens and links to some thematic essays in the Global Commodities database that discuss how this database could be used to study various themes.
Each group member should choose a different thematic essay from the group's list of links in the boxes below. You'll have 10 minutes to skim the essay (and follow a few of its links) and look at the image gallery.
Individual task A) What kind of questions do you think a historian could explore related to the thematic area you chose?
Group task A1) each person should summarize the theme they read about for the group and suggest one or two possible topics that might interest the type of historian that the group is representing today.
Group task A2) Bring up the Introduction to the Commodities page and decide on one item from the list of 15 that the group thinks might be interesting for your type of historian.
Once the groups have decided, Priscilla will do a 5 minute demo of browsing and searching the database.
In the second 10 minute work block, browse the database and look at some of the items related to the commodity your group chose. Use the Advanced Search form and try the Filter By section to focus your result list on just your group's commodity, or try keywords related to the documents described on the Introduction to the Commodities page.
Individual task B) Select one item and figure out what it is - who created it, when, and what was its purpose. What kind of questions might your type of historian ask about this item?
Group task B1) Each member should present the document or item they selected to the group. Based on all the selected documents, can the group propose a possible topic or question that their type of historian might investigate?
To wrap up, we'll ask each group to briefly report on what they looked at.