As the JSTOR Labs team began its collaboration with the amazing folks at Library of Congress Labs, and we interviewed a series of baseball historians, researchers and journalists, I kept returning to the concept of baseball cards. I used to collect them, as a kid, nearly cracking my teeth on that gum they came with. I remember practicing the different batting stances shown in the pictures on the front, and studying the stories in the statistics the back. Each card was a tiny window onto the drama of a season of baseball, told one player at a time.
The challenge we set for ourselves with this project was to find a way to bring together collections that were alike in subject matter -- they were all related to baseball – but diverse in form and structure, ranging from academic articles to pictures of baseball jerseys. How to organize the material so that users could find their ways through it? We held a collaborative flash build with the LC Labs team to explore our options. The LC Labs team ended up organizing the material geographically: you can see the results of their work here: Mapping America’s Pastime.
We at JSTOR Labs were interested in organizing the material around the players, managers, and other figures at the center of the history of baseball, and that’s where the idea of baseball cards popped up. (Credit where it’s due: I think the idea first popped up in a conversation the LC and JSTOR Labs teams were having with Alex Stinson and Ben Vershbow from Wikimedia). If a “normal” baseball card told the story of a single season of baseball one player at a time, then ours would tell the history of baseball more broadly. It would focus less on the play on the field as represented in baseball statistics and instead shine a light on baseball in society.
And so, I am thrilled to announce the release of Cultural History Baseball Cards. Pick a player, view their card, browse through primary and secondary resources about that player from JSTOR, the Library of Congress, WikiMedia and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture. The story of baseball, as seen through the people contributing to it – not just vibrant players like Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams and Willie Mays, but others, too, like Marvin Miller, the head of the players union, or Bill James, who spearheaded the statistical revolution in baseball.
We see the site more as a proof of concept than a finished product: certainly there are more collections that could and should be incorporated. There could also be value in connecting out to resources like Baseball Reference that look at these historical figures from different angles. One can also imagine expanding the idea beyond baseball. And those are just our ideas: we are eager to hear what you think. So, I encourage you to explore Cultural History Baseball Cards – with or without a stick of incredibly stale gum.