For years, the Chattanooga History Center’s vast collection has been kept in a secure vault. But now, the center is gradually making the collection available on their new online database.
The database has about 400 items thus far, with more being added daily. Users can search the database with keywords and phrases or just use the "random image" search to browse the collection.
"The CHC has a large collection, and only 5 percent of that collection will be on display in the physical exhibits," said Marie Bourassa Cullis, curator of collections for the center. "Most museums are only able to exhibit a small percentage of its holdings, so the Internet is a great avenue for allowing people to view some of the objects, archives and photographs that are not on display."
With the museum’s opening in the late funding stages, the database allows users to explore some of the potential exhibits beforehand. The collection is vast, and many of the items represent an entire period of time in Chattanooga’s history.
One of the first items uploaded was a series of photographs featuring Tennessee soldiers during the Spanish-American War. These portraits were donated to the center in 2009. Each photo is of a soldier from the 3rd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry. Click here to view those photos.
Another series is a collection of letters written by members of the Crutchfield family in the 1840s. Each of the letters has been digitized, and many have been fully transcribed. Click here to view the letters.
"I am going to continually add items; it will be a growing database for a long time to come," Bourassa Cullis said. "Right now, I am adding items almost daily because I'm trying to build up a baseline. I plan to add at least a few new items every week until we get up to 1,000. Even that number is a small percentage of our holdings, so this database will just keep growing."
Some of the items are priceless. Take for example a 2010 oral history interview with the late Luther Masingill or a 1923 recording from Bessie Smith of "Mama’s Got the Blues."
The Chattanooga History Center is always taking donations. Digital donations will be returned to the individual. Physical donations—objects and artifacts—can be added to the growing collection by calling 423-265-3247 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Users can also send feedback on the database or a particular item from the collection. A "send feedback" link is at the top of every item page.
"Recently, a user submitted feedback on one of our photographs, suggesting a correction on the spelling of a sign in the background of the image," Bourassa Cullis said. "We were able to make that correction and fix it almost immediately, thanks to that viewer."