I am proposing the creation of a virtual historical society for West Lafayette and Lafayette, Indiana. Currently, neither city has a local historical society; however there is a county historical society (Tippecanoe County Historical Association). The issue with the TCHA’s website is that its main focus is on the Tippecanoe Battlefield and a local military fort (Fort Ouiatenon). While historically significant, these two locations do not present a comprehensive history of the cities of West Lafayette and Lafayette. The website for the TCHA is very basic and only has information about the battlefield, fort, and a historic home in the area. The main purpose of that website is to encourage people to visit the sites in person which is not always a realistic possibility.
The TCHA also runs the Frank Arganbright Genealogy Center which houses a research library and archives. Within this center there are numerous documents including books, vertical files, court books, microfilm, genealogical records, and CD-ROMs relating to Tippecanoe County history. However, unless you are willing to drive to the center in Lafayette and look through the stacks yourself these documents are essentially unavailable. The other option is to email a request for certain research to be done. Issues with this are that it costs money to have the research performed and if you do not see the library for yourself there is no way to know what documents are there.
I am proposing to create a website that will digitize all of the aforementioned data. This would allow greater access to those interested in the history of West Lafayette and Lafayette. Patrons will no longer have to physically go to the library or archives and spend hours searching for a court record which may or may not be there. This website makes that information readily available. With an increase in accessibility to these sources, there will be an increase in awareness of the local history of the community. The resources are there, they just need to be changed into a digital format.
People interested in the history of the community in which they grew up or currently reside in should have access to it. Considering that the technology to transform these paper documents into digital files is available, every effort should be made to do so. West Lafayette and Lafayette are not the only cities in the country that have this same issue. Many communities have all of their documents in centers like the Frank Arganbright Genealogy Center which end up restricting who can search the archives. This in turn weakens the interest in local historical societies. By creating this website for West Lafayette and Lafayette, I can show how a project like this can benefit the local community, which in turn can be emulated by other communities. The “Why Here” tab on the main page further explains how West Lafayette and Lafayette can serve as a model for how best to utilize this type of website.
There are two main audiences toward whom this website is directed. The first is the general public. There is evidence that this audience is interested in the local history of the cities. This evidence comes in the form of the numerous websites that appear when one types West Lafayette history into Google. Among these sites are http://newchauncey.org/about/history/, http://www.ninthstreethill.org, and http://westlafayettememories.blogspot.com. While all of these have something to do with the history of the cities, none provide access to the primary documents in the center mentioned above. The first two listed are more focused on community outreach, while the memories blog is more about providing a public forum to discuss memories of the cities (I will address this later in my proposal).
The students of the local high schools represent the second audience toward whom the site is directed. The impact of this audience is further described in the “Why Here” tab.