Named after the abolitionist and great American orator, Douglass is an electronic archive of American speeches and related documents intended to serve both general scholarship and courses in American rhetorical history at Northwestern University. Douglass now includes the texts of nearly one hundred speeches ranging from John Winthrop's "On Liberty" (1645) to Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Words to Break the Silence and Then to Act" (1995). The layout of the site, the site search utility, and the indexing of the speeches by speaker, title, chronology, and "controversy or movement" suggest, however, that Douglass is meant to grow. Indeed, the structure of Douglass could easily accommodate hundreds, if not thousands, of speeches, which would make it a major resource in its field.
But Douglass is more than an archive; it is also designed to incorporate user contributions and serve the needs of ongoing scholarship. According to Douglass editor Dan Oetting, "one of the gaps in the teaching-research-publishing sequence of speech professionals is the short, informal research note." Douglass attempts to fill this gap by soliciting research notes as well as more extensive guides. The notes are now displayed on associated Web pages, each covering a different period of American history, beginning with "Colonial and Revolutionary America" and concluding with "After Vietnam." Links to these pages of "User Notes" appear next to the speeches themselves and are intended to facilitate the study of the texts through reference to the research notes, guides, and other pertinent documents on the Web. Unfortunately, the site includes very few research notes and no guides to date. One hopes that as Douglass grows, the value of the notes will become apparent and they will flow in. Links to audio files containing recordings of the original speeches would also be a welcome addition. Douglass as an interactive, multimedia educational enterprise could become an example of the Web at its best. It is no surprise, therefore, that Douglass has already been the recipient of more than thirty awards.
One final note: With its links to academic speech associations, professional news, and a wide spectrum of online resources, Douglass is also well suited to serve as an online desktop reference for both students and professionals in the field of Communication.
W. Thomas Nichol
College of St. Benedict & St. John's University
17 December 1997