As so often happens, the school I work at has a big football rivalry. Much of my summer has been spent plotting and scheming displays and outreach activities around the 100th regular season iteration of that rivalry, coming up this fall. One project in particular is related to a trove of videos that a vendor has been digitizing for us. I wrote about that project over on the school blog.

Identifying the videos relating to this rivalry has been a serious challenge, so I wanted to share some of the challenges while I’m still in the middle of it. Here’s a list:

  1. Preservation: The digitized films arrived from the vendor along with the 16mm originals, on an external hard drive. The total girth of all the files is about 500GB, which presented an immediate problem- I do not have access to that much free storage space on our servers. We are in the process of implementing a cloud solution with a company whose name rhymes with “zoogle”, but there are still kinks in that to be worked out.
    In the meantime, I’ve kept the hard drive plugged into a power source and hoped that bit rot stays at bay. As a way of having a stable second copy, I’ve uploaded all of the films to YouTube, which I’ll talk more about in a minute. As an ad hoc preservation solution, I’m actually pretty happy with this, as it gives me a chance to tag and add descriptive metadata in a way that a windows environment won’t.
  2. Access: This is the piece where YouTube has really come in handy. My first thought as I held the external hard drive for the first time was “what the **** am I going to do with all this?” After thinking through the audiences- alumni, football fans, current and former players, and maybe even some students- YouTube made a lot of sense. It’s free, everyone can use it (or find a small child to help them figure it out), and it gave me a (theoretically) a static URI to point to.
    This past spring I shared a new video each week, primarily promoting it via social media, and got what I considered to be a terrific response from alumni and others in the school community. I’m carrying this project into the fall, spotlighting a different year’s rivalry game each week. Which leads me into the biggest challenge of all:
  3. Identification: The films that have been digitized are coach’s films. They were shot by a student on orders of the coach, with no graphics and for the most part no sound. With a few exceptions they are in black and white. Something like 2/3 of the films came in well-labeled canisters that identified the opponent, year and score, but that meant that 1/3 did not. Also, we all know that labels can lie.
    Picking out a specific opponent and identifying/confirming the year and final score has been a much larger challenge than I thought it would be. I used all of my collections to become an expert on the minutae of the our football history- uniforms, locations, players and their numbers, and even weather (yes, weather). I’ve consulted my photo collections, yearbooks, school newspapers, local Baltimore newspapers and photo morgues, The Old Farmer’s Almanac (really, I’m not kidding), the works.

    Dick Riggs running against McDonogh in 1956
    Dick Riggs ’57 (#31) takes off against McDonogh in the 1956 game.

    For example, take this picture on the right. The absence of stands with a stone facade means it was a home game for us. Our opponents are wearing their brown and orange jerseys, which dates it to before 1963, when they switched to white jerseys. The helmet with the cross-like stripes and the single bar facemask, along with the fact that some of the background players are not wearing facemasks places it most likely in the 1950s. But more importantly, the fella with the ball is wearing our distinctive blue jersey with the double arm stripes, which we started wearing in the 1956 season. I started with that tidbit- a look through the 1956-7 yearbook yielded the original of this picture, and the fact that #31 was team captain Dick Riggs.

    So I then applied the same types of analysis to the videos. Here’s a film of the same 1956 game:

    You’ll note that the video is shaky, grainy, and from too far away. This is sadly par for the course. The canister label for this particular game was intact and correct, thankfully. I use the knowledge gleaned from these correctly labeled films and the approach outlined above to inform how I approach the unlabeled batches. To date, I’ve been mercifully successful. I think. Because sometimes you get a curveball, like a JV game, or a scrimmage where no one is wearing numbers, or… You get the idea.

  4. Metadata: For descriptive metadata, I’ve been turning to either the school yearbook or school newspaper. For the most part, because of the rivalry, they have reliably included a full (or at least interesting) description of these games. If there’s a particularly interesting tidbit left out, I’ll usually write something of my own. As for video tags, I usually stick with those already generated by YouTube, in the hopes of generating more serendipitous views.

I’ve gone on quite long enough. Suffice it to say, it’s been a lot of work, for a reward (views) I can’t be certain of yet. The major benefit to me has been gaining a more in depth knowledge of school history (I’ve got a side project in the works about the history of the school’s football uniforms), and gaining a reputation within the community for sharing more about the school’s history than has been done in the past.


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