The strike-throughs, underlines, doodles, and marginalia made by historical figures in their personal papers at the Library of Congress give researchers a more intimate sense of who they were. These markings sometimes shed light on the story of how a work was made or received. Researchers can understand more about the creative process, opinions and musings of people throughout the centuries by understanding these historical markings that are often, literally and figuratively, in the margins. Artist and educator Courtney McClellan is inspired by this tradition of mark-making, and today the Library of Congress announced her appointment as 2021 Innovator in Residence.
McClellan’s project, Speculative Annotation, will invite Americans to join this historical lineage of annotators by creatively engaging with a curated collection of free to use items from the Library’s vast treasure chest.
McClellan’s vision for Speculative Annotation draws on her rich background in visual art and education and a question that drives anyone engaging with the Library’s collection: how does the past influence the future? With just a web browser, Speculative Annotation presents items from Library collections for students, teachers or any users to annotate through captions, drawings and other types of mark-making. Working with Library curators, grade school students and teachers in the classroom, McClellan will that encourage students to make their own marks to express their questions or interest in primary sources – and support the types of conversations students and educators want to have to explore historical objects.
“Speculative Annotation intends to offer students a way to delve into the Library’s vast collection and respond to what they discover,” McClellan said. “I want to create an opportunity for students to use mark-making and notetaking as an active form of inquiry, and I hope Speculative Annotation provides space and means for students to react and respond to the notable collection through creative, visual gestures.
The project will be available in summer 2021 on labs.loc.gov.
McClellan is a research-based artist who lives in Atlanta. With a subject focus on speech and civic engagement, McClellan works in a range of media including sculpture, performance, photography and writing. She has served as studio art faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. Most recently, she was named the 2019-2020 Roman J. Witt Artist in Residence at the University of Michigan.
McClellan’s project is the latest development in the Library’s ongoing legacy of incorporating innovative, experimental technology in its daily mission. The Innovator in Residence program, established in 2017, invites creative people to work directly with the LC Labs team and subject matter experts across the Library to develop research concepts and experiments. The ultimate goal of these experiments is to spark public participation, opening the Library’s vast treasure chest to the world in bold, new ways. Previous Innovators in Residence include data artist Jer Thorp, Citizen DJ creator Brian Foo, and machine-learning expert Benjamin Charles Germain Lee, whose Newspaper Navigator tool launched in September.
Through experimentation, research and collaboration, LC Labs works to realize the Library’s vision that “all Americans are connected to the Library of Congress” by enabling the Library’s Digital Strategy. LC Labs is home to the Library of Congress Innovator in Residence Program; has nurtured experiments in machine learning and the use of collections as data; and incubated the Library’s popular crowdsourced transcription program By the People. Learn more and subscribe to the monthly newsletter at labs.loc.gov.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States — and extensive materials from around the world — both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.