The University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection

The University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection is a digital collection developed in 2018 by the university libraries in cooperation with the College of Business’s Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design.

The physical collection, established in 1951, includes textiles, costumes and ephemera from Rhode Island and all over the world, spanning in time from ancient Egyptian cloth to garments by 20th century designers. It was developed to support teaching at the university, encourage research, and provide artifacts for use in classes and exhibitions. Only a small portion of the physical collection—which numbers more than 25,000 objects—have been photographed or digitised for inclusion in the digital collection.

One of the goals of this digital initiative is to publicise the collection and make it more accessible in an online format. In Historic Textile and Costume Collection in the Academic Setting Linda Welters and Margaret Ordoñez note that digital fashion, textile and costume collections provide for greater collection access, detailed imagery and the ability to view the collection, whilst minimising handling of the actual objects. Additionally, they point out that linked data and further information such as donor records, exhibition history and conservation issues make a digital collection more complete.

Digital fashion, textile and costume collections provide for greater collection access, detailed imagery and the ability to view the collection, whilst minimising handling of the actual objects.

Linda Welters and Margaret Ordoñez

The collection uses the Omeka content management system, which allows libraries, archives and museums, as well as scholarly collections to host visual content and develop digital exhibitions. The platform is customisable to the needs of the developer, allowing a plug-and-play system without the need for advanced computer coding knowledge. 

The landing page features university branding, a search bar and five main subpages: About, Browse Collections, Exhibitions, News and Contact Us. Next a visual header from an item in the collection, recently added items, a featured item, featured [sub]collection and a featured exhibit. Administrative data regarding ownership, funding information and a copyright notice are located at the foot of the page.

As of September 2021, the digital Historic Textile and Costume Collection collection has 19 thematic subcollections, with titles such as “Accessories” and “Materials of the future” which contain as few as two or as many as 70 items. Each subcollections contains metadata such as subject, title, date range, description and contributor, in addition to images and links to the digital objects. Social media links, not visible on the collection homepage do appear within the subcollection record.

“Cubism” University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection

The digital object record includes entries on subject, data, format, description, source, accession identifier, collection contributor, (original) creator, medium, provenance as well as an indexical subcollection hyperlink, the suggested citation and social bookmarking links. The source entry contains information related to the physical item’s donor, and in some records notates that it was a university purchase. Some objects’ records list just a name, while others have a more complete record of the item’s provenance and include information about the item’s initial appraisal. Object description ranges from a few sentences to fully-researched entries with accompanying bibliographic information. 

Regarding imagery, besides a digital photograph of the full textile, there are a variety of images included in the different records. For example, the Cubist textile record from ​​the Tirocchi subcollection contains just one image and is enlargeable. The record for the Woman’s Velveteen Top by Pucci contains a full image of the garment, and also one close-up photo of the collar and label. An enlargement of the Pucci image shows that the photo is not in a high enough resolution to allow for a closer look. However, the record for Woman’s Apron, Hutsul Culture, Ukraine, features two additional high-resolution close-up photos allowing for a very detailed inspection.

An analysis of contributors to the objects’ scholarship and description reveals a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as faculty from the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, highlighting the use of this digital collection as an important education tool used to support scholarship in the fields of fashion, textile and costume studies.

Besides the digital collection, which is accessible via the library’s digital collections website, the only other access point for the physical collection is the Quinn Hall Textile Gallery, a small rotating exhibition space on campus. The digital collection supports the gallery through digital documentation of current and previous exhibitions and allows for greater access to the collection material. For example, the most recent exhibit, Jessica Strubel’s The Kaleidoscope of Textiles: Dress as Multidimensional Cultural Documents has also been digitally curated within the collection allowing for the exhibit to be seen by a worldwide audience.

In an Analysis of University Historic Clothing and Textile Websites Catherine Murphy suggests a successful digital collection includes images, accompanying text, exhibitions, and social networking links, as well as funding, copyright and site developer information. The digital Historic Textile and Costume Collection includes all of this information and is an example of a successful digital collection. Some recommended improvements would be to develop a standard for imagery including multiple views and closeups within the digital object records, standardisation of metadata fields throughout the collection, provide links to related resources and an increase of information in the entries for some of the objects who lack detailed information.

The strength of this collection is its function—not only as a digital surrogate of the physical collection, but the department’s integration of the collection as a digital humanities laboratory and the creation, transmission and preservation of departmental scholarship.

*Header “Arts and Crafts Movement,” University of Rhode Island Historic Textile and Costume Collection

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