In 2018, 11 Ball State University undergraduates led by Elizabeth Agnew, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, participated in the Muslims in Muncie project, researching and conducting oral history interviews and producing a film to document the histories, lived experiences, and cultural identities of Muslims living in Muncie, Indiana. Earlier this year, University Libraries archived and published these resources online in the Ball State University Digital Media Repository, making the work of students in this immersive learning course discoverable, searchable, and viewable worldwide.
The Muslims in Muncie Oral Histories and Documentary Project digital collection contains over 34 hours of fully-transcribed interviews with a diverse cross-section of members of Muncie’s Muslim community, with interviewees reflecting the population’s diversity with regard to race, gender, age, and nationality. The feature-length documentary rounds out the collection, highlighting the collective histories and experiences of the project participants.
The project has been recognized with scholarly acclaim since its completion, receiving the 2019 Award for Oral History in a Non-Print Format from the Oral History Association.
“The online publication of the digital archive will make it a valuable professional resource for the students who created it, and also for many future students, scholars, and journalists” explained Agnew, commenting on the project’s inclusion in this digital archive.
Launched as a project of Ball State University Libraries in 2004, the Digital Media Repository provides online access to over 250,000 assets across 300 collections that support research and learning. Included are digitized archival records from Ball State University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections pertaining to the history and scholarly activities of the University, the cultural heritage of Muncie and Delaware County, and the architectural history of Indiana.
The repository has been a collaboration primarily between three separate units within the Library. Archives and Special Collections collaborates with faculty, students, and community partners to identify, acquire, and preserve historic records of significant research value. Metadata and Digital Initiatives digitizes, describes, and publishes research collections online to advance access to researchers worldwide. And Library and Data Discovery Solutions provides critical technology support for maintaining the repository platform.
Sarah Allison, who serves as Head of Archives User Engagement at the University, affirmed the collection’s significant research value to a broad and diverse audience. “Similar to other oral history collections, Muslims in Muncie provides a unique resource into the lives of members of our community for local and global scholars to view through our Digital Media Repository,” she explained.
“Members of the Muncie Muslim community will benefit from the chance others have to hear their stories, which are diverse, compelling, and sometimes heartbreaking,” added Agnew. “This opportunity to learn about the personal experiences of local Muslims provides an important complement to scholarly and textbook resources on Islam.”
Beyond preserving these digital resources, archivists and librarians worked directly to provide students access to scholarly collections and to develop students’ research competencies to inform their study of Muslims in America. Libraries staff also provided guidance regarding the creation of interview transcripts that allow these invaluable conversations to be more searchable and readable by researchers worldwide.
Ely Sheinfeld, Archivist for Electronic Records and Digital Collections at the University, highlighted the value of faculty collaboration in maximizing the searchability and discoverability of the collection. “Being able to work directly with the faculty member who conducted this project allowed me to verify terms and concepts covered by the interviewees in the videos to better determine the correct subject headings for each individual video. In fact, this is still an on-going effort, as we continue to refine the headings to enhance discoverability for each individual interview.”
The Muslims in Muncie Oral Histories and Documentary digital collection is the latest in a series of oral history projects created by Ball State University scholars that document distinct local communities and experiences. In addition, researchers can visit the repository to view over 40 student-produced interviews in the Ball State University African American Alumni Oral Histories collection. Also available are oral history projects pertaining to religious leadership and deindustrialization in Muncie created by the University’s Center for Middletown Studies.
The online accessibility of the Muslims in Muncie project is already demonstrating an impact, as researchers worldwide have viewed the assets in the collection over 350 times in the repository.
To access this collection and many other digital research resources, visit the Ball State University Digital Media Repository at dmr.bsu.edu.