A Capital Market: Final Reflection

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try  again.”

– Some man named William Edward Hickson [1]

“No. Try Not. Do. Or Do not. There is no try.”


Last semester, I began researching the history of Center Market after finding a picture of the market building at the National Archives. The caption on the back of the photograph claimed that Center Market was, “a fixture of downtown Washington for over 50 years before it was torn down starting in 1931 to make way for the National Archives”.[2]

I immediately wanted to learn more about this forgotten landmark.

As Center Market is no longer standing, I turned to photographs to provide valuable information about the marketplace: including the architectural features of the building, the layout of the market, the goods sold at market, and the dress of the people at the market. Despite the claim that, “fewer than five interior photographs of Center Market are known to survive,” I found an abundance of photographic images of the market.[3]

Although I found wonderful resources and images from the market, I was not fully satisfied with my final product. My critique of Omeka.net aside, the most disappointing part of the project was that I was unable to share all of the cool images and stories that I found about the market.

Therefore, I was thrilled to partner with the National Archives’ Office of the Historian to create a new web exhibit on the history of Center Market. I decided to channel my inner-Yoda (there is no try!) and re-tackle this project. I identified two major goals.

  1. Increase public access to images of the marketplace
  2. Streamline my interpretation while limiting the content to sources from the National Archives

Increasing public access to the photographs required research, digitization, copyright analysis, and the use of social media. When I began this project, there were only 6 photographs of Center Market available in the National Archive’s Online Public Access (OPA) database. I identified and scanned over 30 photographs from 3 series in the Still Pictures Division of the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Before I could digitize the scans, I had to determine each photograph’s copyright status. Although the authors of Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright make a compelling case for fair use, the National Archives has its own ideas on the subject. Luckily, most of the still pictures holdings were created by government employees and are automatically in the public domain. However, I did find a few images in the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Corporation Series that appeared to be copied from other sources. From research at the Library of Congress, I determined that most of these photographs were taken by private individuals and the copyright status was unknown. I did not upload these images  into OPA.

Once the images were scanned at the appropriate resolutions, I entered all of the metadata (Title, General Records Type, Production Date, Specific Media Type, Scope and Content, General Note, Parent Arc ID, Image File Name) into an excel spreadsheet. The images and information were submitted to NARA in early March and will be available through OPA in the next 4-6 weeks.

Although the OPA database is a great resource for researchers, I also wanted to share the photographs via social media.  OPA automatically groups the photographs by their assigned government series. Flickr Commons allowed me to display all of the Center Market photographs from all of the series together. The Flickr gallery currently includes the 6 photographs that were already in OPA. The rest of the photographs need to be loaded into OPA before being added to Flickr.

The Flickr gallery is great because it is interactive. Flickr allows users to share, group, favorite, and download images. Flickr also has a wider audience than OPA. To date, 7.687 users have viewed the first photograph in the set. WOW! Check out my previous review of Flickr Commons for more information about this project.

OPA and Flickr are good for public access, but I also wanted to provide more of a historical context for the photographs. My second major goal was to streamline my interpretation for a new exhibit.

A Capital Market: Washington D.C.’s Center Market  is guided by the big idea that Center Market was a social center in the middle of Washington D.C. I coded the web exhibit in HTML5 and CSS using Dreamweaver. The web exhibit  will be hosted by the National Archives. It is not online yet, but please check out my sneak preview here.


Screenshot of the Exhibit Homepage. The navigation bar includes links to “Exhibit Home,” “History,” “Inside the Market,” “Outside the Market,” and “Flickr Gallery”

Social relations in the market were structured by the built environment. Inspired readings on spatial history, I juxtapose images from inside of the market with images from outside of the market. The photographs will be displayed as tabbed galleries and will link to official Archives record on  OPA.


Close-up of the tabbed gallery. Users will click on the the tabs to cycle through the gallery.

In addition to the two photo galleries, the web exhibit also features a page on the history of Center Market and a link to the Flickr gallery. When new photographs of Center Market are discovered at the National Archives, they can be added to the Flickr gallery.

I used responsive design to code the web exhibit to be sure that it would display properly on different sized web browsers. Keeping in mind Nancy Proctor’s advice about the importance of mobile technology, I created a separate CSS that will automatically trigger when screen displays are less than 400 pixels wide.  Although the mobile-friendly website is a good first step, a mobile app would be a good future project to occupy all of the people waiting in line to see the Constitution!


Mobile display of the web exhibit.

I am really proud of the final product! The exhibit design is simple and clear. The images that did not make it into the web gallery are all still easily accessible and available for scholarly research or creative reuse.

Even better,  this model can be used for future projects at the National Archives. I am working with another intern in the History Office to upload his research on  the Federal Records Survey and create a new Flickr set. He found great images of  the (ahem) questionable storage of government records prior to the establishment of the National Archives.

War Department Records stored in the White House Garage.

War Department Records stored in the White House Garage. U.S. National Archives’ Local Identifier: 64-NA-48-3

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and so I close with this image. The preservation of historic  buildings, documents, and images requires thoughtful planning and dedication. History is full of silences. In the digital age, records are vulnerable to more than fire, or vermin, or poorly built shelving.

Public historians must do their part to promote preservation and accessibility. I truly believe that it is the responsibility of historians to share their research and their sources with the public.

There is no try.


[1] Sorry, William Edward Hickson, but I have to go with Yoda on this one.

[2] Center Market, Ninth Street, Looking to the Southeast, ca. 1928. 64-NA-273a. National Archives and Records Administration.

[3] James M. Goode, Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington’s Destroyed Buildings, (Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979), 263.



One thought on “A Capital Market: Final Reflection

  1. drdankerr says:

    This is the first Yoda epigraph I have seen, and I find that kind of shocking. Fantastic work! I’m thrilled you have worked with css and HTML5 to build the site from scratch. And I am even more thrilled that the National Archives is working to get the site up and running and hosted on their own servers. From the screenshots, I can tell it will be a wonderful site. Let me know when it’s live, I want to be sure to highlight it for future classes! Have a great summer.

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