Overview and Principal FindingsFinal Report
EVOnline: Electric Vehicle History Online Archive
Principal Investigator: David A. Kirsch
Anderson School at UCLA
To recap, funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation supported the development and operation of EVonline (http://www.sloan.stanford.edu/EVonline/), an online archive for the history of electric vehicle owners and drivers.
Following preliminary organizational meetings at Stanford in March and June 1997, design and development was completed over the summer, and the site was officially launched in October 1997. A public panel on "Historians, Hobbyists and the Electric Vehicle" was organized in connection with the Annual Meeting of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) in Pasadena, California, on October 19, and thereafter, the PI and other EVonline staff promoted awareness of the site through various outlets. We attended meetings of local electric vehicle clubs, posted descriptions of the site and its aims on EV-related lists, registered the site with online search engines, and, in certain instances, contacted key individuals directly to solicit their contributions.
Active collection and maintenance continued for approximately 24 months (i.e., until Fall 1999), during which time approximately 107 electric vehicle drivers completed all or part of the Electric Vehicle Pioneer Survey. We also received and responded to many hundreds of email messages from electric vehicle drivers and other interested parties. A few of these contacts produced important archival contributions (see below); the vast majority tended to be inquiries about either specific vehicles and components or future scenarios.
Initially, we hoped to reframe existing debates about the recent history of the electric vehicle by inviting the site's target community - drivers and owners of modern electric vehicles - to participate in telling their own history. Using appeals like "if you don't tell your story, someone else will," we were able to attract a relatively steady stream of EV drivers to the EVonline site. On the technical side, we tried to connect the site to the user community by, for instance, using simple designs (no frames), small graphics, and basic colors to enable access for older, slower modems. When even our "thin" site proved too graphics intensive for some, we added a text only version of the site.
As the project progressed, however, we discovered that a visit to the EVonline site was not enough to sensitize the EV drivers to the kinds of materials and issues of interest to historians of technology, let alone turn the participants into historians themselves. Although many EV drivers were willing to answer our questions, most were unmoved by our larger historical agenda, failed to evince interest in anything beyond traditional history of artifacts, and could not understand why we thought the failure of the electric vehicle could be due to anything but inadequate battery technology. In the end, we found that the target community stubbornly maintained "Their Own Interests."
In response, we developed a variety of experimental tactics to connect to these interests. We employed a friendly, non-academic tone in all our communications with the EV users: electric vehicle drivers were "pioneers" not "research subjects." Knowing that EV hobbyists cared about cars, not history, we tried to showcase information about contemporary and historic electric cars, races, and rallies. After fielding repeated queries about the early history of the electric vehicle, I assembled a special slide show on the "Myths of the Electric Vehicle" addressing familiar and inaccurate perceptions about the first generation EVs that I used as a calling card at meetings of EV hobbyists. Also, as we accumulated historical materials, rather than scanning entire papers and hearings transcripts, we only posted title pages or tables of contents and waited for someone to ask before investing staff time on scanning and OCR. Other specific techniques are detailed in the attached presentations (see especially UCLA/GLIS Seminar, May 1999).Archival and Research Products
Website.The EVonline site, designed and constructed by Shauna Mulvihill with software support provided by Jim Coleman and David Soergel (Stanford University Libraries), is the first original product of our efforts.
Survey responses. More than 100 electric vehicle owners and drivers took the time to fill out our online EV Pioneer Survey. Several other EV drivers filled out the survey via email or in hardcopy form and were entered into the database manually. The data they provided will be archived along with the records of the project at Stanford and will also be maintained on http://www.evonline.org and at other repositories for the history of the automobile (see below).
Additional contacts with user community. Beyond the survey respondents, we also communicated with approximately 300-400 other people interested in the recent history of the electric vehicle via e-mail and regular mail. Singular successes
Two sets of contributions underscore both the successes and the frustrations of the EVonline collection effort. First, we received a complete operating log of Bill William's converted electric vehicle (see http://www.sloan.stanford.edu/EVonline/ ...). The log, along with other supporting materials regarding Williams' long involvement with EVs, arrived via email and was converted to html by Shauna Mulvihill. At the other extreme, we have received wonderful historical contributions from Victor Wouk, an engineer who has been active in the electric and hybrid vehicle field for over thirty years. However, all contacts with Wouk have been one-to-one personal messages, letters, and meetings. In this instance, the existence of the website was immaterial to the success of the collection effort.Conference papers and presentations
See attachments and other supporting materials. One additional paper using the EVonline data will be prepared during calendar year 2000.Follow-on Activities
As the STIM project began to draw to a close, we recognized that there were two possible avenues for http://www.evonline.org, fold-up shop and prepare the EVonline database for use at one or more traditional archives, or move the project from its base as an experiment within the Stanford University Libraries to a new, independent organizational setting.
We have decided to pursue both avenues simultaneously. Robert Casey, Director of Collections at the Research Center at the Henry Ford Museum, has agreed in principle to serve as one repository for the EVonline archive, including the contents of the database. EVonline will also be archived on CD-ROM along with the rest of the STIM websites.
At the same time, I have obtained rights to the new domain,http://www.evonline.org, and in the coming months, the contents of EVonline will be ported to their new home, pending the outcome of my search for additional funding to sustain the project. I have had promising contacts with at least one potential funding source and one possible long-term host.
Principal Investigator's Additional Comments
On the central issue of interactivity, I conclude this project humbled by the magnitude of the challenges that lie ahead, but with my basic hopes and expectations still intact. It is now possible and will become increasingly affordable in the future to create communities of interest around the history of contemporary scientific and technological discoveries and innovations. These communities will grow and thrive to the extent that they successfully combine attributes of physical and virtual space. In this respect, the existence of the web enables many new types of communication, but it does not replace older, traditional modes of historical research and archival collection. Moreover, issues of maintenance, credibility and persistence are considerably more complicated in the web-based world.Budget
Per our original proposal, approximately half of the total funding for this project was channeled to the Stanford University Libraries for support of "core" activities that cut across all five of the STIM research topics. I am not in a position to address the disposition of funds distributed to Stanford. A final accounting budget report will be submitted by the UCLA Office of Sponsored Research later this year. For present purposes, I will note only that the budget was both too much and too little for the task. The bare bones, low-graphics, collection focused site that we designed and operated probably could have been implemented for half of the total funding allotment. And for one quarter of the total (i.e., one half of what was granted directly to UCLA), we could have accomplished almost all of the same functionality using only email and a minimal web presence. We would been required to manually enter form data in a local database, and we would not have been able to showcase our preliminary results with real time queries to Stanford's Oracle database, but for the most part, we did not absolutely require all the unique characteristics of the web to achieve the initial goals that we established. In general, however, I do not think that this statement would apply equally across all of the STIM projects and believe that some of the topics and investigator goals required substantially more technical support and system development than did ours.Additional Supporting Materials