Ohio Memory: An Online Scrapbook of Ohio History
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Ohio Memory: An Online Scrapbook of Ohio History
Created and maintained by the Ohio Historical Society, Columbus. Last site update May 2003.
Reviewed June 115, 2003.

Ohio Memory is part of a collaboration by the Ohio Historical Society, the Ohio Historical Records Advisory Board (ohrab), the State Library of Ohio, the Ohio Public Library Information Network (oplin), and the Ohio Library Council to commemorate the 2003 bicentennial of statehood by raising public consciousness of Ohio history. Designed as a “scrapbook,” the Web site consists of digitized documents and images of artifacts, ranging from Indian treaties to women’s dresses to fossils, that have been contributed by archives throughout the state. These records have been assembled in two phases. During phase 1, which ended in June 2002, only items created before 1903 were collected; that restriction was removed for phase 2, which is scheduled for completion in September 2003. As of this writing, most collections in Ohio Memory, even those whose guides have been revised down to the present, are still largely composed of pre-1903 records. As an archive primarily of the first hundred years of statehood, Ohio Memory reflects both the long-term collecting strategies of donor institutions and the organizational principles of the Web site.

Crazy quilt created by Gertrude Sutton in the 1880s.

Employed throughout the Web site, the term scrapbook is more than a conceit linking a popular present-day hobby with the nineteenth-century pieced quilts whose images grace the archive. “Scrapbook” signifies a distinctive approach to the past. In his “Introduction” on the home page, the historian Andrew R. L. Cayton makes no attempt to place the images in a state or regional narrative but instead announces to users, “You don’t need historians any more to tell you what to think. You can do it yourself.” Elsewhere on the home page, “My Scrapbook” allows users to collate records that interest them most, and “Featured Scrapbooks” displays new additions to the collection, images organized around special themes such as “Hats” and “Black History Month,” and “Staff Picks.”

Ohio Memory's catalog is straightforward. The subject categories—citizenship, people, economy, culture, and environment—and their subheadings emphasize comprehensiveness, but the collections they describe are uneven in size and quality. There are, for example, five pages of images of prehistoric effigy pipes under “Geography and Natural Resources,” a subcategory of “Ohio’s Environment,” yet the subcategory of “American Indians in Ohio” mostly concerns the military defeat of native peoples and their removal from the state. The guides to the various subjects are similarly uneven. The best, such as “Military Ohio” and “Religion in Ohio,” describe the records both as collections and in historical context and offer good introductory bibliographies. Others, such as “Plants and Animals,” simply introduce a space for images of plants and animals.

Does the Ohio Memory scrapbook succeed, in Cayton’s words, in “allow[ing] people of all backgrounds to experience history as a process rather than receive it as a product”? Surely this depends upon how users understand what it is to “experience” history. A quilt is, after all, something more than the assemblage of its scraps. Those looking for a story of Ohio in the context of region and nation will not find it here. They will, however, find a plethora of stories about all sorts of people who lived in Ohio in times past. In its sheer variety, the Ohio Memory collection is rich, and it offers teachers at all levels many pedagogical possibilities. Researchers, whether professionals or not, will find the Web site a useful introduction to the major Ohio archives.

Susan E. Gray
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona