Project reflection & semester review

This semester has been a very tech-oriented one for me and I was happy to be able to put those skills into practice along with my team for our project. The mission statement definition of our project in a broad sense, was to digitize the Civil War letters of Montgomery Slaughter and George Murray. In our contract we outlined several milestones and assigned each other roles to help keep us organized. In the end although we missed a few milestones, I feel that we created a fully rounded space to house these documents. The only area in which I feel we are presently lacking is in advertising. Our group worked steadily from the finalization of our contract, to fixing edits until our symposium presentation to create a worthy website, but I think all this energy may have exhausted us and taken away some time to advertise before the event. Looking back at our contract I think most of my team would agree that we were a little ambitious with our goals, but I think that worked in our favor because even though we sometimes found ourselves in a time-crunch to make up for passed deadlines, in the end the website turned out to be more than just an online archive but also a digital museum in my opinion.

In the group planning stages we envisioned this website as a good primary resource for those interested in Fredericksburg Civil war history, and I think we accomplished that goal very well. I have to mention that I was/ am very proud of the teamwork within my group. I’m not sure if it was due to the survey we initially completed before the start of the semester (I think that was a great idea!) but we ended up having a good balance of skills, Breck and Kathleen as History majors, were already familiar working with primary documents and citations, which really benefited us the entire semester. In addition, Matthew and I brought varying levels of technical skill and experience working with coding and website design which we consistently used as well throughout the semester.

I think the most challenging part for my team was the actual digitization of the letters themselves because it was the most time consuming. I was responsible primarily for the scanning of the Murray letters, and his biographical page on our site. Kathleen and I spent the first weeks of the semester scanning letters, and then the whole team was responsible for uploading and including the correct metadata for a selection of letters. My own contributions leaned more to the technical and creative side of the project. Within the website I worked on configuring our theme on Omeka and the individual page designs for our website. I also created some original art for our homepage including a banner and the decorative image of Murray and Slaughter. One of the biggest challenges I had was figuring out exactly what kind of beast Omeka was. I’m not used to working with websites that are more restrictive, but the experience helped my test myself in working around a problem to find unconventional solutions. One example of this is the image galleries I created to display separate images in both the Slaughter and Murray bios; I would have liked something a little fancier, but it serves its purpose.  In the final weeks I also collaborated with Kathleen to make an introductory video for our website. It was an experience, that I won’t forget soon, after 11 hours in the video editing lab I think both of us walked away with new skills. Ultimately though I feel it’s a nice and necessary addition because it summarizes everything that our website represents in a concise way.

In closing, I’m very pleased with the final product and the experiences I’ve had in this class. I hope our website and the depth of information it holds become a good resource and add to the historical Civil War community in Fredericksburg.

Group update

This week has been very productive for my group. We are nearly done with our website, which makes me really happy as it’s been a a tough process getting the pages to look exactly as we envisioned. I can say that it’s tested my resourceful-ness especially with the image gallery I wanted to include for both Slaughter and Murray’s introductory bios. I couldn’t alter the HTML in a way that would allow  me to integrate an image slider into the pages so I created small icons for the images I wanted to include and attached links to them that redirected to “secret” pages where I could host the image at it’s original size and provide captions.

see ex:

Yesterday I also joined my group mate Kathleen to record the introduction video for the website which we’re hoping to have done by next Thursday. Otherwise things are coming along well, my other group members are continuing to record some more letters this week and our StoryMap is almost complete. Other than some more website fine-tuning these are the three major things we hope to complete by the project due date. It’s amazing how fast the weeks seem to be racing by at this point.

Thoughts on readings

For this weeks reading I found that one important principle for the future of digital humanities seems to be how to use technology to make information more accessible. In one of the articles I read “Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical scholarship” it was stated that the library of congress contains over a million academic dissertations, but much of this information is typically buried within itself due to it’s size and depth. The task is to make all the information easier to organize, share and discover and this is where program concepts like social computing via, or Zotero come in handy. I am already familiar with Zotero, having used it for previous research assignments, and there are many aspects to it that I find useful such as being able to store and share information from your personal collection with others via it’s cloud website.

A similar article I read which stressed the importance of incorporating new tools was by Amanda Grace Sikarskie called “Citizen Scholars: Facebook and the Co­creation of Knowledge” and focused on the new role of the historian or “Citizen scholars” (non-traditional academics) in using social media as a tool for historical research. In her example she mentions a Facebook fan page for quilts she managed and how she would regularly post questions for followers to answer. In this she explains how within the online community of quilt enthusiasts a broad scope of information was shared but also returned and analyzed by this online collective :

“Social media shifts the role of authority from being vested solely in a historical cultural domain, such as the museum or the university history department, to being shared with a community- or user-generated body of information that is critiqued within the community.” (Sikarskie)

I personally agree that this shift is a good thing for the future of digital history, as was mentioned in a previous class  Wikipedia used to hold little academic standing but that has changed in the last few years. Likewise, I believe social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are going to be further adopted into digital history methodologies because they offer accessibility in both their reach and organization of information.


Project update

This past week our website has really begun to take shape. Working with Omeka has been an experience. I think my biggest challenge has been assuming that editing the web interface would be as easy as in WordPress, and while I value the archival elements that Omeka has, I wish a better option existed that blended the best elements from the two platforms together.  So far my biggest issue with Omeka is getting the homepage configurations right. There seems to be some presets to the main tables on the page which I’m hoping to get around by possibly creating a new page and linking that as the new homepage instead of using the default option.

Another issue I’ve had this past week is sourcing images to highlight the content we already have. I was able to find a a great painting by Carl Rochling of the battle of Fredericksburg which I used as a backdrop and then layered a slightly transparent copy of one of Murray’s letters. I think this new banner gives a good sense of what our website contains, and the personal/ intimate feel that we’re going for. I also attempted to create an image of for our site introduction by combining both the Murray and Slaughter photographs, but I mistakenly forgot to account for the Union flag, which is incorrect in the image. I’m going to email our contact Luisa from the national park service and hopefully she can point me in the right direction as to picking a more accurate flag for the time.

This week my main goal will be completing/ revising page aesthetics and getting the skeleton of our website in order so that our group can organize our information in a clearer more definite way.

Digital Resume

The last few days I’ve been working on revising both my resume and domain of one’s own to resemble more of a digital portfolio of my cumulative work at UMW thus far. Admittedly I  spent quite a lot of time on the aesthetics of the site itself. I’m a fan of  minimalist style but I also wanted my site to be customizable  so that I could include widgets like an “about me” and icon links to my other social media accounts. It was tough to find a layout that worked, but I’m happy with the current results, although I’m sure after my presentation today in class I will be tweaking a few things. I have already included a “projects” page which has a few selected digital media projects, unfortunately I don’t have anything substantial to show for my second German major yet, but that should change in the fall after I have completed my honors thesis. I have also included both a text and link to a copy of my resume / CV in the menu bar. I think I’ll continue to edit my resume since this assignment has given me the opportunity to really overhaul the information I previously had down. I’ll be planing to use my resume in the Fall and the university’s upcoming internship fair, so this updated website will also be a good asset to have for the near future.

Maps & Timelines

This assignment was a good interactive way to familiarize myself with these new tools. I have never done a project that involved the use of either StoryMapJS or TimelineJS but I can really see now how they will be helpful for this class and especially my group project. StoryMapJS was pretty simple to use, I had no problem uploading pictures and editing the content. I preferred the StoryMapJS of the two because it looked better visually. I like the integration of the map while the slideshow played; for this slideshow I mapped out all the places I’ve ever lived and visited, and  it was great to see the scope of all the locations marked out on the map. TimelineJS was good, but I think it’s more suited to factual and historical information due to how simple it is. Using the excel doc took a little more time to navigate but it wasn’t impossible either. I simply transferred the info as best as I could from my previous StoryMapJS.

Lastly, I liked how both applications gave me the option to save and share a link to the project, and I also liked that the code was readily available for copy and pasting into our own sites.






Why I’m taking Digital History

I’m taking this class because I’m currently working on a communication and digital study’s major and this was one of the electives available this semester. In all my classes up to date I have yet to participate in a  project like that of our group projects, particularly one involving civil war artifacts and research. I’ve always been interested in learning about new forms of media and how they can be applied to fields like history, the arts, business etc. I’ve also always been very interested in history and the humanities and regret not being able to take more of those types of classes so this class is a welcomed blend of both concentrations. It will also be a nice opportunity to finally apply concepts and  digital tools to a project that could potentially be used beyond this class. After I graduate from UMW I am strongly considering grad school for communications, so I’m excited to make the most of any projects this semester that could help my application.