In an effort to document what he described as a “transformative event,” Prof. Travis Gosa, Africana studies, is leading a project that will provide online access to the University’s collection of campaign memorabilia from President Barack Obama’s 2008 election.
The Cornell Library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections began building the collection — which Gosa’s project will make available in a digital format — in 2008.
Gosa said his project will aid scholarship of Obama’s campaign and electoral victory –– an event that he said will likely be regarded as one of the most consequential moments in American history.
“Numerous articles and monographs on the significance of Obama’s 2008 victory have already been written in the U.S., Europe, Africa and Asia,” Gosa said. “Thus, the [digitization] of the Obama 2008 election materials held in Cornell Library’s … collections will aid both interdisciplinary and global study.”
Gosa said his project will allow researchers to observe the social and political changes that have occurred in the time between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
“The 2008 election was characterized by Obama-mania, a grassroots social movement meant to reunite Americans. The campaign materials show strategies meant to unify a divided nation around the charismatic image of Obama,” he said.
Gosa also said that the memorabilia can help scholars better understand how Obama’s campaign drew in younger voters.
“The memorabilia speaks to the successful attempt to politicize youth voters. Youth voter ... turnout in 2008 was the highest since 1972 — especially the explicit use of popular culture and hip-hop music to brand Obama as the young, hip-hop candidate vis-à-vis Republican opponent John McCain,” he said.
Gosa explained that the digitized collection reveals the impact of new technologies –– such as the extensive use of Photoshop and inexpensive digital printing –– on political elections.
“The 2008 materials show the democratization of modern campaigns,” he said. “Anyone with a computer could ... download images of Obama, attach their own words and graphics and created mashups of new political messaging outside of the control of the Obama [campaign.]”
The materials also show that “Obama’s victory was due in part to his savvy use of YouTube, Facebook, blogs and text-messages,” Gosa said.
But aside from its scholarly value, the digitization project, Gosa said, holds personal meaning and relevance to him.
“As an African American male, I’m pleased to help archive a moment in American history in which the American Dream was embodied in the image of Obama,” he said.
Gosa received grant money for his project as part of a joint initiative spearheaded by the University Library and the College of Arts and Sciences. Thus far, the library and arts college have awarded 11 grants to faculty members to digitize memorabilia and archive collections owned by the University.
“The grants program enables faculty to select scholarly materials based on their academic interests and specialties and make them available online for broad use in their teaching or research activities,” said Oya Rieger, associate University librarian for digital scholarship and preservation services. “Also, having content in digital form allows different methods of research and explorations.”
Along with Prof. Sturt Manning, classics, Rieger is the chair of the Arts and Sciences Visual Resources Advisory Group –– which, since 2010, has overseen the digitization program and determined faculty demand for the service.
According to the group’s website, “the program aims to support collaborative and creative use of resources through the creation of digital content of enduring value to the Cornell community and scholarship at large.”