"Meeting of Frontiers" Conference
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Participants - About Meeting
James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress
On behalf of the Library of Congress, I wish to thank President
Mark Hamilton and the University of Alaska for hosting this
conference. We likewise appreciate the cooperation that the
university has rendered to the Meeting of Frontiers project.
I also want to welcome all of the participants, and especially
our Russian guests, who have made a long trip to get here.
This conference comes at a crucial time in the development
of the project, and we are looking to the conference participants
for concrete ideas and suggestions about future goals that
in the upcoming years can maximize the value of the project
to students, teachers, librarians, scholars, and the general
In the two-and-a-half years since the project began, we
have accomplished several important milestones. With the
previous expansion of the project, publicly unveiled in May,
we now have digitized a total of 4,693 library items – some
88,000 images – dealing with the American and Russian frontiers
and the meeting of those frontiers in Alaska and the Pacific
The Meeting of Frontiers site has gotten an enthusiastic
response from users, in Russia and the United States. In
the United States, it has been heavily used in the National
History Day competition, the theme of which for school year
2000-2001 happens to be "The Frontier in History." And we
are pleased with the positive response that the site has
gotten in Russia, as witnessed, for example, by the involvement
of the Open Society Institute and the Foundation for Internet
Education in the project.
We're also accomplishing our goal of acquiring rare and
interesting material from libraries and other repositories
in Russia and the United States and integrating it into a
pioneering "virtual library." The initial pilot site, launched
in December 1999, contained material only from the Library
of Congress. We have since added material from the Rasmuson
Library here in Fairbanks, from the Russian State Library
in Moscow, and the National Library of Russia in St. Petersburg.
And this summer, thanks in part to our cooperation with the
Open Society Institute, we begin scanning operations in regional
cities, starting with Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and Barnaul.
This is a good time to review where we are headed and to
develop ideas for expanding the site and improving those
parts of it that need improving. John Van Oudenaren and David
Nordlander will talk about this in more detail this afternoon,
but let me make a few comments.
First, even with several thousand items, there are still
large gaps in our historical coverage. We have superb illustrations
of some regions and ethnic groups, but not of others. We
need to identify outstanding collections that should be included
in the site, as well as pressing themes that we have not
managed to cover. We are looking forward to your concrete
suggestions for collections and themes, and for your help
in actually adding these materials to the site.
Second, we need to discuss whether there are better ways
to interpret and present material that we are starting to
have in abundance. We now have several hundred maps on Meeting
of Frontiers, many extremely rare, including manuscript maps
by explorers. With the "zoom" feature, these maps are very
popular with school children. But what should we be doing
to better present these maps and integrate them with other
materials, such as books and diaries of explorers? We need
concrete suggestions along these lines, and volunteers to
help us develop additional narrative sections, timelines,
and other explanatory material.
Other historical themes also need beefing up. In our sections
on Exploration, we have a lot of material on the coasts of
Alaska, but we have a lot less on the Russian trek across
Siberia. We will count on our Novosibirsk colleagues in particular
to suggest themes and collections for documenting this experience,
which has such strong parallels on the American side.
We also would like to do more on the great Siberian rivers – everything
from their exploration several hundred years ago to their
role in the Soviet period and beyond. Our Russian partners
are doing an excellent job in suggesting railroad collections,
but we want to identify more material on the great rivers.
And what about the relationship between the maps drawn
by explorers – Russian and American – and the geographic
knowledge that already resided among the native peoples?
Dr. Postnikov is the great authority on this field, and we
will look to him and others for how we can better link our
presentations of cartographic and ethnographic material.
We also are just beginning to digitize large amounts of
material from the Library's Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska
collection. We hope that our colleagues from the Russian
Church as well as from the academic community will be able
to provide advice on themes and interactions that need to
be highlighted, and for advice about other collections – in
Russia or elsewhere in the United States – that we should
try to include in Meeting of Frontiers to complement the
material from the Library's own collections.
While rounding out our historical treatment of the 18th,
19th, and early 20th centuries, we also want to include more
contemporary themes and collections in Meeting of Frontiers.
This could be the subject of a whole meeting in itself, but
we are looking for suggestions on how we can present the
Soviet and post-Soviet periods to students. It is relatively
easy to identify the rarest and most striking materials from
the 18th century, but what should we be looking for in the
20th or even 21st centuries that is relevant to our theme?
Some of you are involved in teaching or developing teaching
materials for Russian and American students, and we are hoping
for your suggestions, as well as offers to produce new sections
that will round out the content on Meeting of Frontiers.
Literature, popular culture, U.S.-Russian cooperation in
the natural sciences, World War II, fishing, aviation, and
cooperation among environmental groups are some of the newer
themes that we are just beginning to cover in the project.
John and David will discuss these in more detail later this
afternoon and will be listening for your input.
Finally, in addition to focusing on the content of Meeting
of Frontiers, we want your ideas on how best the site can
be adapted to ensure that it is fully used, in Russia and
the United States. I know that Mr. Ermolin and his colleagues
at Yukos and the Foundation for Internet Education have concrete
proposals along those lines. We look forward to hearing them,
and to hearing other suggestions for making the project more
useful and accessible to its intended audiences. Getting
the right content is of course a key step, but we also welcome
your thoughts on the kinds of supplementary materials – glossaries,
discussion questions, curriculum guides and so forth – that
might prove helpful. And we will look to some of you to take
the lead in developing these kinds of materials.
In closing, let me say that I welcome this dialogue among
historians, librarians, and those involved in education and
outreach. We look to our historian friends to ensure that
the Meeting of Frontiers project draws upon what is best
in current scholarship. We look to our librarians to help
us identify the collections that we should be seeking to
digitize for inclusion. And we look to all of you for concrete
suggestions for how we can maximize the appeal and the usefulness
of Meeting of Frontiers for the broad audience that we are
trying to reach.
Thank you, and once again, welcome.