Archive for March, 2010

Digging Through Yearbooks

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

The Images group, with the bulk of the structure of our site done, is turning towards tweeking the details of our site and researching our images. We haven’t had the flood of submissions we were hoping for, but we’ve submitted another write-up to go out in withing the next few days in the April e-newsletter to 30,000 alumni yet again. Perhaps this time, now that the site is up and running, we’ll get more responses. In the mean time, Megan has made it her mission to pass out or business cards to everyone she can, and we’ve all been attempting to recruit alumni friends. (My friends, so far, have proven rather uncooperative.) Jonathan came up with a Google map to track the location of alumni who sign our guest book, and we’re working on getting it to sync with the Google Spreadsheet that is currently our guest book so that he doesn’t have to enter each individual pin point. It’s good that we have that map too, because our map counterparts over in the geography department have been a little slow to come up with a design for us. We finally got a rough draft on Tuesday though, and we sent some of our comments back in the hopes that we’ll get a revised version as soon as possible.

We’ve also been researching. After spending quite some time with the yearbooks I was able to place two of our undated photos into the 1940s collection, which was rather exciting. As a note to the Mary Washington group, the 1945 yearbook features some photos of the Mary Washington house and some little poems about how Mary Ball Washington’s influence remains at the school. I’m not sure how much the students knew about her, but they definitely seemed to have some sort of idea or image of her that they believed gave MWC some of its character. I was also able to add a few more names to other images. It’s a slow process. But the yearbooks themselves are fascinating, especially because I’m responsible for the decade of the 1940s, and we’re talking a lot about that era in Dr. McClurken’s Women’s History class right now. It brings some of the stories from that class to life to see the students include in their yearbooks notes about some of their classmates not returning after Christmas of 1943 because of “Cupid’s Arrows” or read about the different roles Mary Washington women took on to help with the war effort or the rebuilding afterward. Next up, the 1948 yearbook…

Oh, and, as a class dedicated to the intelligent use of technology, I think we can all agree that tonight’s bizarre email bruhaha, though perhaps entertaining, was the exact opposite of such.

Research Phase

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

The readings/videos for this week had a number of interesting tidbits. The sections about how people tend to search for things were especially relevant to our Images group, since one of our biggest issues right now is directing people toward our site. I’ve played around with Google Analytics enough to see that people do search for the strangest of things sometimes (someone who googled “austrian singing toast” ended up at my study abroad blog). And the ability to search through massive amounts of materials in a short amount of time does have lots of relevance for historians. As Dr. McClurken was saying, people can now easily search for data that they once would have had to spend a significant amount of time looking for by hand. As long as we are careful not to lose the context of where our materials are coming from, this new ability frees up time for other research or writing. And not just historians, but anyone curious about a topic can more easily answer some of the questions they may have.

As for our project, we’ve continued to get a few hits here and there from alumni, which is exciting. Over the weekend my group members put together a list of current UMW faculty and staff who are graduates of the school and sent them an email hoping to solicit some responses. We’re also looking to get either a mass email sent to all 30,000 alumni or another mention in upcoming newsletter to help get the word out that our site is now up and running. While we wait, we’ve been doing some research of our own. We added descriptions of our exhibits and hope to do the same for our collections, highlighting significant/historic events from each decade so that the collection descriptions don’t just blandly restate the name of the decade. I spent some time on the third floor of the library paging through some yearbooks from the 1930s and 1940s which was really kind of fascinating. Reading about how excited the students were to be at Mary Washington, how much their clubs and traditions meant to them, was kind of neat. I did manage to find quite a few names for some of the pictures in those collections too, so I think several more trips to that corner of the library are in my future. (I also decided that every girl in 1939 had the exact same haircut, but that’s another story.) Our map group has assured us that we will have a rough draft of our map by Monday, so we’re looking forward to seeing what they’ve come up with, and now that we’ve had some guest book entries from alumni we’re going to start playing around with getting our other map together as well.

Let the Data Collecting Commence!

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

I’ll start with the obligatory hooray for getting our site (which is super awesome and you all should visit it and pass it on to your other UMW friends) launched! Megan flipped the switch on Sunday night at midnight, so though we’ve already checked the guestbook enough times that it feels like weeks, Mary Washington Images Throughout the Years has been in actual existence for less than 48 hours at this point. Hopefully as word gets out the number of submissions will start to grow. So the site launch has been the highlight of late. But a lot of work went into it and continues to go into it. On Friday Jonathan, Megan, and I met with Jim Groom to talk about how to incorporate some of the tools we wanted to use but hadn’t been sure how to make function properly. I’m pretty sure Megan and I squealed with happiness when he showed us how to use a Google spreadsheet as our guestbook. He also agreed to change the header font size for us to put the focus more on the images and to add a slideshow. Highly productive meeting.

Over the course of the rest of the weekend I put together the slideshow so that Jim could add it, Jonathan created the guestbook for us, and Caryn tackled all sorts of crazy HTML code so that the different simple pages on our site would look neat and organized. We also worked out a brief explanation of how to contribute something to our site. We were good to go! Or so we thought, because of course Dr. McClurken was ready with his suggestions a mere five or so hours after we made the site public. But his hints were very helpful, and I put together a new and much more thorough How-to page for the site. Hopefully now even people not very comfortable with picking their way around the internet will be able to submit the things that they wish. Ideally, people would be able to comment directly on an individual image’s page, but until/unless Jim Groom works some internet magic, Omeka just doesn’t seem to be able to handle that sort of thing.

Today in class we got the exhibits up which was great, we just need to tweak our descriptions of them. The issue of having multiple pages actually isn’t a big deal so for some of you guys who have been worrying about it I’d say try putting up some materials and seeing what the finished product looks like from the front end of your site. I feel like our site has already changed so much since we launched, and hopefully we can keep adding materials and submissions for the rest of the semester. Now we turn to the research side of our project, we’re sort of working backwards from what the rest of the groups seem to be doing, and we’re going to be pouring over yearbooks and the like in the days to come attempting to place the pile of photos that we do not yet have a year or even a decade for. And we each have responsibility for two or three collections worth of pictures, so as any identifying materials come in, we’re going to be updating the image information to reflect the new submissions. Okay, have to go check the guestbook again!

PS- Just came from the Career Night panel for the History Department, and there was a big emphasis on digital skills and knowing how to work within digital history. This class may help us in the real world after all 🙂

Countdown to Launch Date

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

So the images group got back from spring break with the terrifying realization that our site is going to up and running in less than a week! We each spent lots of time over our week off uploading photos into our chronological collections and transferring the data that the library currently has about each picture onto our site. It was quite the time consuming process, but that was one of the largest components of the project that we can now check off the list. We had a few issues initially with making sure that we were all being consistent in our methods of labeling things, but once we talked to Patrick and consulted with the instructions that Carolyn Parsons at the library had given us those issues worked themselves out. We’re still unsure as to how to add images to the special themed collections that we created, but hopefully we can resolve that soon. We have a huge incentive to have everything organized by Monday the 15th (Mark your calenders!) because our group got featured in the top position of the March alumni e-newsletter. Pretty schnazzy.

On Tuesday we met with the geography students charged with making our idea of a map into reality. They had some really good ideas and were able to make our thoughts more concrete in terms of what a map of campus expansion throughout the years would really look like. We provided them a link to a helpful UMW site that has the construction dates of all of the buildings on campus and told they’re going to work from those dates to create a color coded map of the UMW campus, beginning with the three original structures in one color and then working their way out through the different building and acquisition phases. I’m excited to see what they come up with. They’re also looking into MapLink and seeing what they might be able to create for us as far as a simple US map to track the location of the alumni contributing to the site. We know we’re going to be largely on our own for that one though, so we’re going to be doing some experimenting over the next few days.

We’re working on finalizing the things that we absolutely want in place before alumni start visiting the site, so I’ve been looking up things to include in a glossary of sorts to help people identify things that may have changed names over the years, primarily the different buildings on campus. It will both help alumni to search among the photos currently on the site and help us as current students to sort through photos that alumni may update with their own labels. I’m also working on a brief write up that will explain the site and how to contribute to it so that visiting alumni feel comfortable getting involved and interacting with our site. So much to do in so little time!