Defense of the Contract

Our portion of the Century America project began with the simple mission of researching the FSNS and the town of Fredericksburg during the Great War, and creating a digital project from what we discovered. The project has been a great success, a rewarding experience, and an exciting fulfillment of our contract.

To complete both the UMW site and the overarching home page for the Century America project, we used each of the tools originally planned, including WordPress, Timeline JS, and MapsAlive. We completed each aspect of the contract on schedule, with the exception of minor tweaks and a few technical challenges with the map that created delays. Structurally, the finished website very closely resembles that which was outlined in the contract months ago. The way we decided to provide citations changed as we were able to start using the site, but all menus and main pages were created following the format outlined in the original contract. Sub-categories within the Fredericksburg and FSNS pages saw some changes, as we got a better sense of exactly what material would make the strongest argument. We determined not to use the Eastburn diary as its own page, but to incorporate it into the introduction to the Fredericksburg site because its timeline content was less suited to a full narrative. Due to lack of primary source material, we also followed the same method for the influenza section.

For the technological aspects, the interactive map saw the greatest evolution as we learned more about the capabilities of Maps Alive and how the program could communicate with WordPress. In talking with representatives from Maps Alive and working closely with the invaluable DTLT, especially Ryan Brazell, we were able to self-host and embed an interactive, visually appealing map to the main Century America site, through which visitors will navigate to each individual project. The “Voices of the Great War” section also developed over time, and in the end became one of my favorite aspects of the UMW site. Using widgets in a custom sidebar, we were able to highlight some of the fascinating stories and quotes from our research that could not constitute one of the main sections of the site. In some places, these images were even linked to digitized newspapers to allow visitors to explore more of the archival material for themselves.

We did not strictly follow the division of labor in all aspects, although honestly we never had intentions of doing so. However, we maintained a consistent, effective, and enjoyable group dynamic throughout the project, in which all four team members worked on virtually all aspects of the site together. Generally speaking, Jack and Leah provided more technical support, especially when coding was involved, through I was primarily responsible for the technology behind the map. Julia and I were primarily responsible for the Voices of the Great War sections. All four members made significant and equivalent contributions to text writing and editing and to the overall design and creation of both sites. All majors decisions were made as a group, and each person made significant contributions to the conceptualization of both sites as a whole.

Our greatest weakness was in the promotion of the site, which to date has been minimal, but will continue more extensively now that it is complete.

Conceptually, I believe both sites fulfill their missions, and I am very pleased with the finished product. We sought to create a digital history project that would serve as an online, educational exhibition, of interest to locals, students and alumni, and anyone interested in the Great War era. The site is engaging both in visual appeal and in content, and requires little to no background in World War I history to be enjoyable and educational. I have been fascinated by the stories of our school and its community during this time period, and am truly excited about how we have been able to present them to the public.

 

Has digital media changed how we do history?

The issue of legitimization of digital scholarship is one I find particularly relevant, as before taking this course in digital history, it was an issue I had serious questions about. I viewed digital history as “history lite,” a practice that could create engaging, interactive, and exciting work to appeal to the masses, but not groundbreaking, peer-reviewed scholarship. In “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument About the Past,” Sherman Dorn addresses this assumption surrounding digital history, and gives voice to the concern of young historians that their digital work somehow doesn’t “count” toward the larger body of scholarship to which they hope to contribute. I relate to this. I held a similar view toward digital history myself, until we dug into the archival trenches on the Century America project.

Dorn also addressed many of the same benefits and challenges that digital media brings to the discipline, including the use of databases and new publishing platforms like Wikipedia. I particularly agreed with Dorn’s argument that the field should embrace the digital age by incorporating new media into how history is taught. This is something UMW is doing well.

Joseph Turinni’s article “The Historical Profession and Archival Education” also hit home for me. (I guess the end of the semester is making me self-centered.) Archival work is one of the most obvious and prevalent options for someone (me) seeking an entry-level job in the public history field, and I had assumed a (sort of) history degree would be adequate educational credential for those positions. However, more and more I have found that any archival work requires a MLS.

Apparently, it’s not just me observing this trend, and Turinni provides a compelling argument for why this is the case, and what we history as a discipline can do about it. He holds history’s failure to respond to the changing function and needs of archives responsible for it falling behind library science in the archival profession. Noting the lack of archival courses in history departments across the nation, Turinni posits that the trend of decline in history-trained archivists will continue until the field responds by embracing the new archive in its education of future scholars (and public historians.)

 

 

Example for Map Blurb

Here’s an example for how to write the short blurb for your school for the Century America home page map.

The University of Mary Washington is located in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a medium-sized town in between Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia. During the Great War, UMW was a women’s training school for teachers, called the Fredericksburg State Normal School.

This is really about as long as the text should be. As Dr. McClurken mentioned, it’s definitely important to include the name of your school during the 1914-1919 time period.

Send me your text at croland@mail.umw.edu. Thanks!!

-Candice

Lessons on Digital Identity

From Will Richardson’s “Footprints in the Digital Age:” 

1. Internet education today must be about empowering students to carefully construct their own positive digital identity, not just avoiding a negative one. Being wise with your image online must be less about avoiding publicizing stupid decisions (though that’s still a really good idea) and more about a person actively and intentionally determining what the internet will say with say about him or her self.

2. The internet is a powerful networking tool, and today even elementary school kids understand this. Schools should enable students to professionally connect with those who share their goals and interests in the same way they are naturally learning to connect from a young age.

from Seth Godin’s “Personal Branding in the Age of Google:”

3. Google never forgets. As users of digital media, we are creating a trail of information about ourselves that, for better or worse, is really fairly permanent. Godin suggests users should “live like (they’re) on Candid Camera, because (they) are.” Seems like a good suggestion to me. I do think, however, that Godin’s article leans a little towards the perspective that the internet should be approached with caution and almost fear. (This could be attributed to the 2009 publication date.) The permanence of the internet doesn’t have to be negative truth, but should be accepted and the utilized for its potential. Though it still seems like really good advice to avoid pictures of yourself, as Godin puts it, “drinking beer from a funnel.” That just seems really hard to reclaim as something positive, in most circles.

From Evan Ratliff’s “Vanish:”

4. We are all connected, visible, and trackable in the digital age. Honestly, this thought is not entirely pleasant to me. As I read about the extreme lengths the writer had to go to to “disappear,” I fond myself wanting to attempt the same thing. (Well, some of the digital escaping, anyways.) I do think Ratliff’s article proves once again, however, the necessity of creating a digital identity you can be proud of. If it is truly so difficult to not be found online, it is certainly important that what people find about me an accurate representation.

From Digital Tattoo at the University of British Colombia:

5. Internet safety should be taken seriously, and taught actively in schools. The internet is full of potential dangers, many of which are not often considered, and everything from a wifi connection to a Facebook post can be used nefariously in the hands of the wrong people.

6. A Bonus lesson: “Think before you ink.” The internet is permanent: once online, always online, to some degree. The chief lesson I’m taking away from all of these articles, summarized nicely by the Digital Tattoo imagery, is that the permanence of the internet doesn’t mean we should never get a tattoo, it just means we should think carefully about what we get tattooed on us forever. If what I put online will be attached to my name forever, I want to make sure that it tells the story I want it to tell.

Online Resume

I began creating a digital resume at Prof. Turdean’s suggestion to keep a portfolio of some of the larger projects I was completing in my historic preservation classes. Since then, I have transferred it over to a DoOO site candiceroland.org and tailored it to better fit the types of jobs I have been applying to. I think the site will help set me apart in job applications, and I’m so grateful for UMW’s initiative in this area.

Digital History in Research and Education

Digital history holds incredible potential for the way historians research and the way students of history learn; however, a host of challenges remain for determining how digital history should best be approached and in what ways it can be most useful.

My professor, Dr. Jeffrey McClurken, has written on this issue and the many opportunities and challenges facing digital history today. Focusing primarily on the digitization of archives, McClurken considered the great benefit to students from having primary source materials accessible online. Where distance from physical archives can be limiting especially in an academic setting, digitization allows students to pursue a wider range of topics and a broader base of primary source material, the foundation for any history student’s training.

But despite the great potential of digital archives, digital history still faces challenges. McClurken points out that not all of the digital history publishing online is up to the standards of scholarship required by publishers of peer-reviewed, printed books. Though the flexibility and mutability of the web can be a great asset, it also presents another great challenge–digital archives can simply move or disappear from the internet in a way physical archives do not. This can be especially problematic for educators, who may depend on a digital archive from one semester to the next and need consistency.

Adrea Lawrence presents another outlook on digital history in education in her article “Learning How to Write Analog and Digital History.” Lawrence focuses on the collaborative benefits of digital history, and the ways digital media can allow students to better learn and work with researchers and each other to understand the process of “doing history.” In her course, Histories in Education, students used both traditional and digital methods to publish their work, even writing and editing Wikipedia pages on their topics. Lawrence argues that the fluid format of Wikipedia, the very aspect of the site that makes scholars most skeptical of its integrity, allows historians to pursue a more collaborative methodology. Because Wikipedia pages are published but then can be edited infinite times by infinite editors, a work of historical research published in this medium will naturally be the result of many different contributions and collect various perspectives along the course of its life on the web.

Lawrence fails to address the many challenges that come with this digital approach however, some of which are discussed above. While Wikipedia certainly could encourage a more collaborative approach, its flexibility also could mean weaker scholarship and an invitation for error. The ease of digital publication is indeed an incredible asset, but brings with it a need for tight monitoring of the quality of that which is published. (Unfortunately, Lawrence’s digital article itself suffers from a few “typos,” despite its strong argument and creative approach.)

Both McClurken and Lawrence agree that digital aspects should be incorporated into the modern historian’s education, and that digitization poses great benefits to the future of the study of history. Recognizing both the benefits and difficulties that come with the versatility of digital media, historians should indeed embrace a digital future while pushing for a high standard of scholarship in digital publications as in print.

Dr. Jeffrey McClurken’s article Waiting for Web 2.0: Archives and Teaching Undergraduates in a Digital Age is published on his website: mcclurken.umwhistory.org.

Adrea Lawrence’s article is published in the Spring 2012 edition of Writing History in the Digital Age, a born-digital journal edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzk and available at writinghistory.trincoll.edu.

The Project Takes Shape

After a productive and colorful meeting today, the UMW group produced an outline for our Century America digital project. Here’s the concept:Slide1Slide1

photo

Just kidding. Conceptually, this is how we have chosen to structure our information:But of course a website is not navigated the same was as one reads a book, so the outline is perhaps not the best way to visualize the architecture of the narrative. (This is why we used color coded post-its on a giant chalkboard chart.) Perhaps a better way:

Home Page>>State Normal School//Fredericksburg Town>>Specific Categories of Impact

The visitor will first come to a home page, which will be visually engaging with images, quotes, etc. to introduce the site and communicate why the project is important enough for them to continue. They will then reach a page where they can choose between the State Normal School or Fredericksburg Town. This page will likely feature a map from the time period, or an interactive element. From this point, either choice will take them to a page with each of the above outlined subcategories available to them. These topics will likely be designated with an image. (For instance, to read the Eastburn Diaries you would click on a picture of the digitized diary.)

Within each subcategory, the page will feature a significant, engaging, moving, or even humorous quote that captures the essence of the narrative we wish to communicate about the school or town’s WWI experience through that particular source. For most of the subcategories under the Fredericksburg parent page, an interactive timeline will allow them to quickly get a sense of the scope of the story before reading a concise narrative or viewing an image gallery. These were selected because we felt that the stories uncovered with the diary, the Knox Family, and the Rowe book are compelling and significant enough to warrant individual pages.

The Eastburn diary, because it incorporates international events, is a convenient way for our site to pull in a broader historical context for the Fredericksburg and State Normal School experience. The Knox Family Collection communicates a story of sacrifice and loss, while drawing together the home front and the military experiences, as well as the impact of the Spanish Influenza. The Rowe book gives the best picture of a military experience, but frequently references home, a powerful story of the war from both positive and negative angles, ultimately with a happier ending than the Knox family.

For the State Normal School, the focus will be on depicting a holistic student experience from the war years, focusing on the impact of the war and influenza while still including details that don’t directly relate to either event. For instance, in the Student Life category we will discuss the various clubs and organizations at the time, perhaps including humorous quotes from the yearbooks, but focusing on the Rifle Club, whose founder served overseas, and the Red Cross and YWCA clubs who participated in the war effort.

The goal of the site is to tell the story of the school and town’s experience during these years is as engaging a manner as possible. For us this means minimizing lengthy text, using as many of the great images and quotes we have found as possible, and above creating a navigable, clearly organized project. This outline will surely evolve as we begin to explore the themes and plugins available to us through Omeka, but for now this structure seems pretty satisfactory.

If only you could see our post-it note chalkboard.

Timeline Tool: A Brief History of UMW

I never would have believed using a Google spreadsheet and a simple website could produce such a visually appealing, interactive, and user-friendly digital timeline. The whole process was simple and relatively fast; honestly, it took longer to find all the images on the UMW archives website. While the timeline doesn’t provide many options for customization and all images must be first hosted online, it does allow the creator to add all sorts of media, and the final product is as engaging and interactive as the creator wants it to be. I will definitely look at using this tool in the final Century America project, and have already started creating another one with some of the records from the Central Rappahannock archives.

Coming Soon: Interactive Mapping

Week Three: Century America Project Update

As our research continues, the Century America project is starting to take shape, and it’s exciting to see themes and stories emerge from piles and piles of archives.

In our Skype sessions, the Century America project has been discussing David M. Kennedy’s work Over Here, and it has provided a strong context for understanding the American home front experience during World War I. As I’m working through the themes he discusses, I’m starting to apply some of the national trends locally to Fredericksburg, and I love seeing the connections between names we’ve found at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center or the UMW Special Collections and the broader historical understanding of World War I. I’m excited to delve more into the specific Fredericksburg experience, now better prepared to place it in a national context.

Dark and Light- Research Continues

One theme in particular I’ve been mulling over: the contrast between darkness and light associated with the war, as first mentioned by Professor Ellen Pearson. On the one hand, American men who went abroad were almost like tourists: their time in Europe was short, and often marked by long period without any action. They experienced the old world, and wrote back home in romantic language about the cathedrals and countrysides they’d touched and seen. At home, the American spirt thrived as communities made joyful sacrifices, like conserving food, to support the war effort. Rallies and campaigns brought people together in patriotic display, and within months, the war was over. But behind the banners and poetry was of course a darker side of war, particularly the modern warfare that World War I has introduced. Soldiers returned home disillusioned, and writings turned to the dark realities they faced. Influenza had gripped the nation, taking more lives than the far-away war.

From our research thus far, it appears the narrative of Fredericksburg and of the State Normal School was dominated by the light. We’ve seen food conservation classes and war effort clubs and patriotic rallies and posters. Though two faculty members served in the war, they were ultimately celebrated, not mourned; in fact the greater loss from the period was certainly the influenza epidemic. How was the State Normal School’s experience different because it was a school for women? I’m curious to see how we will address this theme in our digital project, to communicate the story of the time and place as it was and as the records show, but thinking critically about the sunny glow that seems to radiate from 1914-1918. As we begin the process of organization, these questions of interpretation will be further developed.

Designing the Site

For now, some of the ideas for organization we’re discussing:

  • By place: The State Normal School, Fredericksburg, and national themes
  • By theme: Home front culture, influenza, military, academic experience

Design elements:

  • an interactive map that includes all the schools in the Century America project, with links to their individual projects
  • a comprehensive timeline, including major events in the war nationally and in all the towns and schools of the Century America project
  • short, documentary-style introduction videos at each major section
  • an archive of significant images and scanned documents
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