Henry Ford, Open Access, & 4th Grade

Having worked extensively on MBDA this semester and having been especially vocal about project-related milestones during recent dinner conversations, it wasn’t entirely surprising when my son asked me to tell him a little more about MBDA and to explain the progress we’ve been making…

‘Why is it so important, mom?’ he wondered.

Two reasons,’ I replied: ‘Access and modeling.’

But I should step back a moment and note first that his fourth grade class had been talking about Henry Ford and had been studying Ford’s contributions to the automotive industry. When my partner Garrick (who also happens to be MBDA’s programmer) heard this, he drew him over, pulled up the MBDA dev site, and showed him letters from and photographs of Henry and Clara Ford. A very cool teachable moment.

Thanks to that interaction, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to explain later that it would be very difficult for him and his classmates in Pennsylvania to travel to the Berry College Archives in Georgia to read the letters written to and from Ford. But a digital collection like MBDA (open, freely available) creates opportunities for people from across the globe to access all kinds of letters and manuscripts and important documents —

And at the dinner table with a nine-year-old, a project like MBDA enables us to take a discussion of Henry Ford from the abstract to the concrete (Ford did, after all, donate autos and tractors as well as significant sums to the Berry Schools, and documentary and photographic evidence excellently illustrates this history).

The importance of modeling is more complex to a nine-year-old, but ours did appreciate that, in some very, very small way, kind of like Henry Ford’s assembly line, MBDA’s participatory editing model can be used to improve the processes of editing, accessing, and engaging with historical texts. And our guy: ready to sign up as MBDA’s first fourth grade editor.