Archive for the ‘Digital History’ Category

Looking Back on the Class

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Top Three Things I Liked About the Class Structure:
1. Like a lot of other people have mentioned, I liked that each group got to build a project from scratch. It was a bit nerve-wracking at first, but it was fun to have the freedom to think big and then experiment with what actually worked. And now we all know that our sites really reflect what we wanted them to be.
2. I liked that we had to blog and present about our progress. It was fun learning about what the other groups were working on and also helped to keep us on track with what we had to be doing to make progress on our own site.
3. The collaborative aspect of the projects was pretty great as well. We had our group members, but then we also got to hear feedback from our classmates, professor, DTLT staff, map groups, and, in our case, all of the alumni that we met. When we had questions someone out there could answer them, find the person who could, or come up with a creative way around the problem.

Three Things I Would Change About the Class Structure:
1. The technology intros were great, but they sometimes felt rushed. And I would make sure that each tool presented had an accompanying example, too, just so everything isn’t quite as abstract (when all you’re hearing are things like ‘code’ and ‘widgets,’ it can be hard to picture real world usage for things. Or maybe that’s just me).
2. Maybe after the initial onslaught of tools, there could be a few mini seminars in things like basic HTML or Omeka or something. Even if one person from each group went the group would at least have a foundation to stand on.
3. I would have liked to have met with the map groups a little earlier, or even just had more of a conversation about what the map groups can and cannot do a little earlier. It’s hard coming up with a plan for a map when you aren’t sure what the mapmakers resources are going to be.

Suggested Future Topics for Projects:
1. Why, a continuation of our site, of course 🙂
2. I think something on the history of slavery in Fredericksburg would be interesting. We all confront it every time we walk past the auction block downtown, but I don’t think people necessarily know much about the role of slavery in this area.

Advice for Future Students:
1. Communication with group members is key. It’s important that everyone’s on the same page for the duration of the project.
2. Even if you think you don’t know anything about computers or the internet, don’t be afraid to be creative and think big.
3. When in the process of thinking big you get stuck, there are plenty of people around to help you work out the technical side of things. Ask them.
4. Make a solid contract, keep to your deadlines, and have fun!

Final Thoughts

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Would have had this written earlier, but I got distracted poking around everyone’s finished sites and musing over how impressive they are, especially when considering we all started only three months ago with vague project outlines and a bunch of technological tools we didn’t know how to use. The Alumni Images group hit the ground running with our project; our collective enthusiasm for what we were working on helped us bond as a group and kept us on track to meet all of our deadlines while our now novel-length Google.doc allowed for easy collaboration, serving as a space where each member of the group could contribute her or his ideas.

Our contract underwent several edits within the first few weeks of the semester as we worked to define exactly what our project would be, but the contract we settled on gave us a solid base for all of the work we’ve done since that point. We met all of our deadlines, most importantly the site launch date. We used Omeka, with only minor difficulties, to organize and lay out our site, and we used other technology that fit with the purpose and goals of our site, such as our Google Map and Guest Book, which allow alumni to interact with the site, and our slideshow that provides a general overview of the images.

As for our primary goals for our site, to collect information from alumni and to create a place for alumni to enjoy the images, I believe we met those to the best of our ability. We intended the, admittedly unwieldy, Omeka plug-in Contribute to allow visitors to submit their own images and information about the photos we already have, but so far only Dr. McClurken has done so (thanks!). But that is not to say that we haven’t learned a lot. Various people have left Facebook messages, emailed us, or contacted us in some way or another to share what they know. We’ve also had several offers of significant contributions, including newspaper articles from a scrapbook, a video of the 75th anniversary of the school, and photos from various alumni who worked for the Bullet or other school organizations. We’ve done our best to communicate with everyone who has contacted us and sincerely hope that they will be able to get their items onto the site. We’ve also done a good deal of our own research and learned a lot about the photos we chose from the archive as well as fun facts about our school. We didn’t quite reach our goal of uploading 200 images, but we do have a spreadsheet full of data to add to the archive’s records. As for whether we’ve created a site that alumni enjoy visiting, our Google Analytics records seem to indicate that we succeeded. We’ve had hundreds of hits, and visitors as of now spend an average of more than five minutes clicking through the images. I couldn’t be more thrilled that people are taking the time to view this site we’ve worked so hard on throughout the semester.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to this project because our site has the potential to continue growing, something that each of us hopes will happen in one way or another. All in all, this class has been unlike any other I’ve taken at Mary Washington. I’ve learned the importance of having a sense of humor and experimentation when it comes to using technology (and map groups), of considering your audience, of teamwork based on individual talents, and the satisfaction of having something to show that we built from the URL up. Thanks to my group members and all of the other wonderful people who have helped make our site what it has become.

And, the Archive Ends Up in the Archive?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Kind of hard to comprehend that our semester is so close to wrapping up. I so impressed by everyone’s work, and it’s really quite cool to see how far each group’s project has come since we all started with vague concepts and an overwhelming amount of internet tools back in January. The images group has been adding a few things here and there to help make our site as complete as possible by next Tuesday (though, with a site like ours, complete is an interesting term. But more on that later). Caryn put together a sources page, listing all of the different yearbooks and reference materials that we’ve consulted in putting together our site. We also added an acknowledgments page so that we could thank all of the people who have been so much help in making our project a reality. Finally, we created a spreadsheet to document all of the research that we ourselves have done and all of the new details that alumni have sent us so that we can easily pass the information along to the UMW archive. We’d love for them to be able to update their records and fill in some of the missing gaps that our group was created in large part to fill.

We did also finally get a second version of our map, one which we all agreed was a pretty big improvement from our first one. We’re not overly thrilled by it, in large part because it does look rather strikingly similar to the standard maps that UMW hands out to any and all campus visitors, but it does have its value, and we plan on linking it to our site from the page which houses our current map. Speaking of that map, Jonathan and DTLT are working on getting it set so that the code put into it will function like it’s supposed to and any guestbook updates from alumni will automatically plot onto our Google map. It’s pretty fun to look at if you haven’t checked it out yet. Just sayin’.

Oh, almost forget Research and Creativity Day! We presented for our wonderful classmates who I’m sure are tired of hearing us ramble on about yearbooks and alumni by this point, the camera man, and Jonathan’s parents. His mom was great for asking both groups questions. There’s something terribly ironic about our project, which grew out of the archive, being documented to go into the archive. Life is funny that way. But we’re all really honored and excited to come back in twenty or thirty years and try and find the video of our long gone undergrad days.

Our last big part our contract that we need to complete is creating a guide for a future administrator of the site. We’ve split up the information that we’ve think will be the most helpful, and once each of us writes our section we plan on adding the guide as a non-public item on the site. Sadly, no one at the moment seems especially willing and able to take on the project. I’m sure that all of us will continue to check up on it and maintain it when we have the chance. I, for one, would love to have more time to work with it. Ever since the April e-newsletter went out to the alumni a few days ago we’ve received a huge jump in guest book entries, several notes correcting an item in our glossary (that was actually correct, but still, the point is people are looking!), and at least three or four offers of substantial amounts of photos from various people. Since we don’t have much time left in the semester, it’s a bit difficult to respond to some of these notes (what can we do with a CD with the yearbook photos of the entire class of 1968?!), but we’re beyond thrilled that people are offering us their contributions.

History in the Digital Age

Monday, April 5th, 2010

The article titled “Blogging for your Students” caught my eye first, probably because of all of the blogging that we’ve been doing for this class. The author starts by basically explaining to his audience of professors what a blog is, which for me reinforced how lucky we are to have UMW Blogs and professors who not only know what the technology is but are willing to experiment with its use in class. I like the idea of a professor keeping a blog for a class, but for the entire article I was wondering why he didn’t also have his students writing their own posts instead of limiting their thoughts to smaller comments on his blog. Then I got to the end and discovered that students doing their own blogging was the ‘next step’ in the use of blogs for class. Apparently we’re all far more advanced than we realize 🙂 His comments on blogs being public were important as well. I think many people believe all blogs to be entirely informal online journals of sorts, but I suspect that even those who begin blogging rather sloppily will take more time to sort out their thoughts once they really understand that their content is public, perhaps through a comment or Google Analytics tracking.

I also read the article on Wikipedia since it connected in a way with the discussion we had a few weeks ago about Wikipedia and its validity as a source. Of course we spent only a class period mulling over the merits of Wikipedia while her class spent the better part of a semester, but I think both classes followed the same sort of progression in thought. We kind of doubted Wikipedia’s accuracy, then we got all excited about how people watch over it to maintain it and update it, then realized that it is in fact an encyclopedia and should be treated as such. I definitely like the idea of history being ‘created’ rather than ‘discovered’ though, which I think is something all of us are grappling with in our projects. The way that facts, figures, stories and such are framed and determining what’s included and what’s left out of a discussion about a time/place/person in history can truly influence someone’s perception of historical “reality.” Many of the discussion page debates we read while poking around Wikipedia dealt with this issue, and, in creating out project sites, we’ve all dealt with what information to include and how our interpretation will subsequently influence our visitors’ knowledge of our topics.

Last but not least, I read “Doing History in the Digital Age.” She talked about how when people read digital copies of journals they often read only those articles relevant to a narrow list of interests rather than scanning through an entire issue. This has been my mom’s argument against digital newspapers since the day our hometown paper shrank considerably to cut back on costs, and I suggested she read the news online instead. She insisted that when she had a newspaper in front of her she ultimately read about a greater range of topics, many of which she wouldn’t have bothered even looking at had she instead been staring at a list of headlines online. I think both the author and my mom have a point in that most people are creatures of habit and will read what is familiar and avoid the extras when possible. It presents quite the challenge to digital journals to create ways to entice readers into exploring a wider variety of topics without making them feel like they are being forced to read them. Ah, the joys of the digital age!

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!

The Alumni Group Meets Real Live Alumni

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Saturday morning the four of us in the Alumni Images group sat in on a meeting of the Alumni Board meeting that was not nearly as boring as it sounds. When the time finally rolled around for our mini presentation we showed the members of the board our Omeka site where we had thrown up a handful of photos to demonstrate what our site will look like when launched. Our presentation basically mirrored the one we gave in class last week, though we left out some of the technical tools involved and focused more on the site itself. Everyone seemed pretty excited about the idea, and Caryn was awesome and made business cards with the URL and launch date of our site that she passed around as reminders to them all to help us out after we get our site up and running. The board members had a few helpful suggestions, such as that we should take into consideration the fact that many alumni have different names for places and buildings on campus (i.e. Arrington Hall was New Hall way back when), so we’ve decided to include a glossary of sorts in our site to help visitors find and identify the places they are looking for. It was great to present to such a receptive audience, and it definitely built our enthusiasm for the project even further. We’ve got people counting on us to make something of this site. And we got a free lunch and some stories about life at UMW in the ’90s out of the deal, so not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning.

Since the meeting we’ve all been pretty swamped with midterms and whatnot, but we divided up our two hundred images by decade and assigned group members to each decade, so we now know which groups of images we’ll each be responsible for uploading to the site and researching for further information. We also picked the four categories we’ll have as special, thematic exhibits on the site so that not everything is simply divided by decade. We worked out a pretty solid plan for the map and are now just waiting for the input of the geography students as to what they can and cannot do with our ideas. We hope to have all of the images uploaded after break and then we can start researching and working on additional items like our guestbook and a slideshow for the front page. Counting the days until our site’s launch!

Everyone Can Edit

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Any technological tool that gives UMW President Hample the nickname “The Rampage” for even a short amount of time has lots of interesting pros and cons. Watching the video about Wikipedia I was amazed to learn that, at least when that video was made, most of the work that goes in to maintaining the site is done by volunteers. I can’t even imagine the extensive amount of dedication involved in committing to monitor the flood of information that is Wikipedia. But I really admire their goal of giving everyone access to an encyclopedia, especially if they follow through on the portions of that goal that involve improving access to computers and internet for those throughout the world who don’t currently have the use of them. It’s very cool to be able to trust in the collective knowledge of society to build such a large and diverse resource.

At the same time, the sheer numbers of contributors and topics in Wikipedia bring a certain degree of chaos. Looking through the history of a couple of sites, including the entries for Ellis Island and the Oregon Trail, it wasn’t all that uncommon to find random phrases like “Mandy is the greatest person! Ever!” tossed into the entry. Fortunately, most got removed fairly quickly. Most of the changes though seemed to be fairly insubstantial. People move pictures around, change punctuation and occasionally add links to other sites. I had never really taken the time to look through the history pages on Wikipedia, so it was interesting to see that even the page for UMW itself has been edited many, many times over.

I found the discussion pages to be even more intriguing. The things that people debate were equal parts arbitrary and substantial. The Ellis Island site had a bit of a spat over when exactly the facility closed. A November 12th and a November 29th camp emerged, which seemed kind of odd to me. Something like a date for the closing of a major government facility should be fairly easy to access, but I guess this shows why teachers are always reminding us that even the most basic of knowledge might not be accurate in Wikipedia. The Oregon Trail page questioned the substantial inclusion of the Donner Party despite the fact that the Donners had been headed for California, not Oregon. I think it’s very important that people utilize the discussion site, because they do bring up valid arguments about the information in the site and can help to keep Wikipedia accurate and current. Some people used them to ask questions about the material, and several participants brought sources to the discourse, bringing weight to their points while also helping to provide Wikipedia with citations. Some are as odd as suggesting the inclusion of a song that happens to be called “Oregon Trail,” while others attempt to prove mathematically the number of victims of cannibalism within the Donner Party. Wikipedia has its flaws certainly, but I think that as a forum for academic exchange it certainly has its merits.