Digital Project Reflection

Project Reflection

[If you haven’t already—check out my website on Masonic Structures here!]

As many of you probably remember, I spent this past semester interning for the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite in the United States (I know—quite a mouthful).  During these last few months at the House of the Temple, I have been fortunate enough to learn a great deal about the history of Freemasonry in this country, as well as the District’s ties to the fraternity.  I was also able to gain first-hand knowledge on the extent of the public’s knowledge on this history, which, in my opinion at least, was far less than it should be.  Freemasonry has been intricately linked with the United States since the country first began to take form; however, with the recent popularity of Masonic conspiracies, many people have misjudged and do not understand the rich past of the organization.  In order to clarify some of the misunderstandings surrounding Freemasonry, I decided to create a web resource that would educate D.C. visitors on the history of Masons in our city.

My initial idea for this project was to create some form of an interactive map of the House of the Temple—this quickly got pushed aside as I expanded my audience to include Masons.  Many members of Freemasonry travel to the House of the Temple every year in order to learn more about their brotherhood or to simply admire the mecca of the Scottish Rite.  Many Masons are often unaware of the many other Masonic structures located in D.C. and, upon learning of them, are very eager to explore these sites as well.  This excitement to explore more of the city, which I witnessed multiple times, led me to broaden my digital project and to include Masonic sites throughout the D.C. area.

After finalizing the subject matter of my project, my next step was to choose the platform I would use to build my web resource.  It just so happened that this step coincided with the presentation of Viewshare in class.  Viewshare had everything I wanted and more!  A map, a gallery, a sortable list—oh my!  Despite my initial enthusiasm, after completing a draft of my project I became very disappointed in Viewshare.  The platform was very simple and easy to use but it was also not very flexible.  Overall, the webpages just didn’t look how I imagined they would.  Alas, I decided to expand my project further and create an entire website.  I chose to build my website by using Google Sites due to its simplicity and the ease by which I would be able to integrate other Google products into the pages.  My new website, Masonic Structures in D.C., now offers a simple history of Freemasonry, a (Google custom) map of the sites, a gallery with pictures of each structure, and an individual page for each location that provides a brief history of the site.

I am very proud of what I have created; nevertheless, there are still improvements I wish to make to the site.  For example, I would like to alter the appearance of the gallery and add multiple images for each of the structures, I hope to expand the information pages and include some more helpful traveling and visiting information, and perhaps also add an “F.A.Q.s” section to answer some of the common questions people ask about Freemasonry.  I plan on continuing to improve my website and hopefully have it appear on the homepages of various Masonic-related organizations in D.C.

If you have any suggestions for how the site can be made better, please let me know.  And if you’re looking for something a little different to do, make sure to check out Masonic Structures!

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Introduction to WordPress

From the “Things-that-would’ve-benefited-people-had-I-posted-this-weeks-ago” Department:

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Project Statement – Colin

Project

Again for reference my final digital project can be found here or below

http://musicandyoutube.wordpress.com/

Project Description:

For my project I chose to curate an exhibit of the evolving relationship between music & YouTube.  Everyone knows that each have been affected greatly by the other but I wanted to explore what exactly has changed to both over the years. 

“Music” is a very broad thing. So without getting all “John Cage” on you – this exhibit will focused a few core areas of music, and their subtopics, on how they’ve been affected by YouTube.  The exhibit covers how the following have been affected: live music, the music industry, the history of music, & the education of music.

In the end the projects purpose is to not just bring awareness but primarily to promote discussion.  Many of these topics I’ve held close kept opinions about but never formally realized until I started writing about them.  Hopefully this exhibit will be a nice platform for people to start to develop their thoughts and opinions.  Also I set out for this exhibit to help push visitors to other sites & resources to gain further information on the topics covered

The platform I used to host the exhibit was WordPress.com

 

Goals of the Project

First and foremost I wanted to enjoy doing this project.  The topic selection and types of projects we could do were very open which was very refreshing.  I knew I wanted to do a digital project so I could build some sort of skill and also cover a topic that was interest of me and probably wouldn’t cover in another class.

Spurring from the “Machine is Us/ing Us” video that I covered during the course my idea for covering music began to develop.  The video hinted about how we must rethink certain things that we know; one of them was copyright.  Having down research on the topic in the past I knew I wanted to reopen the topic and explore how it’s changed since them but also go deeper into the topic of music specifically.  A lot of the topics I cover I feel use examples that most people would be able to understand.  If I were to continue work on the project I would hope to cover more of the niche of music that I personally enjoy.

For the topic I wanted to also make sure that it was one that covered an emerging technology that I was interested but also had an element of history to it of course.  In many other courses the bulk of the content was on the past and current events were just given a small amount of attention.  So with my topics I wanted to make sure to cover news that was fairly recent as well.  Overall I tried to make the topics as broad as possible but used case studies to bring it into context.  Moving forward I would probably like to do more posts involving current events as they happen.

The platform I used was WordPress and my goal for that platform was just to gain a basic understanding of its use.  Building off the practicum that was held during class I wanted to simply recreate what we learned and possibly go a little more in detail with the site.  Using a free WordPress blog you sort of max out the options that you may apply or tweak with the site.  Fortunately I also obtained a WordPress.org paid website that let me go into WP even further that what I planned.  Through this I was able to understand the difference between the two better and see the pros/cons of both.  In then end I tried to cheat the system and present my WP.com blog as a WP.org web page and the end result I believe is okay.  Towards the end of the project I also tried to experiment with the format with some of the pages in the exhibit.  I didn’t want each piece to just be a wall of text and wanted to make the experience a little more interactive.

In the end, as I mentioned before, the main goal was to create something that would push people to think about the topics covered.  Hopefully they would gather my opinion, think about theirs, go out and read more on the topic, and continue to develop how they felt.  I wanted to set up the site to make sure that process was as friendly as possible to go through.  I tried to include not only links & other content to what I was directly talking about but to other sources that would help give further incite or overview on similar topics.

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Reflection Post

My print project on Watergate proved to be rewarding in a number of ways.  First and foremost, for someone who is extremely fascinated by this particular scandal, examining some of the public’s comments about it on various blogs and news websites challenged me to re-evaluate some of my own ideas about this important moment in U.S. history.  It was really interesting for me to see how the public’s ideas about Watergate compare and contrast to what scholars say about it.  (For instance, the convention wisdom among many scholars is that Watergate continues to affect U.S. politics today, but a large number of people made thoughtful comments online about why they think it doesn’t really matter anymore.)  Before I started this project, I assumed that most Americans agreed with this conventional view because, to me, the numberous ways in which Watergate continues to touch politics are quite obvious.  But the comments that various people made online made me realize areas where I need to strengthen my argument in order to defend my belief, which will be quite helpful for my future research.

Additionally, this project (and this course in general) have made me think about what qualifies as a “legitimate” historical source.  It made me realize that as I continue my research, it is perfectly acceptable (and even beneficial) to count blogs and other digital media as quality sources.  Especially since blogs, Facebook and Twitter have essentially replaced traditional journals and letters as people’s means of self-reflection and communication with others, the Internet can provide a wealth of insights that historians may not otherwise be able to find and utilize. 

As far as my project itself goes, I can’t pinpoint what I would change about it.  It is not a perfect project by any means, but it satisfied my goal of learning a little bit about how public memory compares to scholarly memory.  I don’t think that I’ll carry on with this particular project but, as noted above, it will certainly help me with further research, even if only indirectly.  I do think this project could have been stronger if I figured out how to tighten up my methodology.  To find comments, I did a google search and combed through the top twenty websites that popped up so that I wasn’t simply scouring hundreds of sites, looking for the one or two comments that pertained to my project.  In some ways, this method still seemed inadequate and faulty.  But I still think it was sufficient enough to help me fulfill the goals I had for this project.  Overall, I am happy with my paper and think that if I continued working on it and tightened it up, some of my findings could potentially be useful for digital scholars as well as historians. 

 

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Show and Tell: Take a Virtual Dive on the Titanic

The Virtual Dive of the Titanic on the Discovery Channel Site allows viewers to explore the technology surrounding the dive down to the Titanic ruins. It is a good tool with a lot of information, but doesn’t give much background on the Titanic or allow you to explore the wreck itself.

 

 

 

The introduction allows you to explore each vessel used in the dive process. By clicking on the ship, the floats, and the Mir diving pods, the user can learn more information on each. Then you are ready to proceed to the dive.

You fill the sub’s ballast tanks to add weight to the Mir 1 and Mir 2 in order to dive. The dive is in the perspective of the Mir 2, looking out over the Mir 1. The virtual tour allows you to explore the fiber optic cable that attaches the subs to the ship. It event provides a diagram that compares the width of the cable to a pencil eraser. Next, you have to engage the sub’s thrusters to begin a slow corkscrew descent (100 feet-per-minute to the sea bottom). The view from the portal is now completely dark as we are now virtually 800 feet below the surface. The external lights are off in order to conserve battery power. On the side, we see our depth in relation to the Empire State Building (40th floor). We continue to dive by using the thrusters until we reach 3,000 feet (over two Empire State Buildings). The dialog on the bottom of the screen tells us that the cabin temperature is 54 degrees. Finally, we reach the bottom at 12,600 feet (10 empire state buildings) after two hours and the external lights are turned on to explore the wreck. We can now read about the wreck or the safety concerns of the fiber optic cable.

The wreck information is incredibly extensive. It is focused on the wreckage itself, with only one sentence introduction about the voyage and sinking. I didn’t know that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have reported the wreck will most likely collapse within the next 50 years. It also discusses the guidelines they released in 2001 for research, exploration and salvage of the ship to preserve the wreckage as long as possible (which are not legally enforceable).

Next, the information reveals more about the corrosion and deterioration of the wreck including scientific reasoning for deterioration and how humans have interacted with the wreck, what they’ve left behind and what they’ve removed.

You deploy the X-bot rover (which you see through the small portal window) and can control it using a joystick on the screen. The pilots relay on historical experts and computerized 3-D model of Titanic to guide. However, you only get one view of the wreck. There is no ability to look at different parts of the ship.

The Virtual Dive tool was initially created in 2005 in anticipation of the live broadcast of images from a live dive that year. It is a very informative learning tool and easy to use. However, I think it would have been served with a little more flexibility in the exploration of the ship and more images of the wreck itself. I can see how this keeps the focus on the technology used for the dive, but it ended up being disappointing because there was really no point to giving the user control over the pod when there is only one view you can see. Taking the viewer step by step on how the technology is used is definitely beneficial. Especially to young learners.

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Show & Tell: PBS’ The Video Game Revolution

I came across an interesting site hosted by PBS.  “The Video Game Revolution” offers a lot of neat facts about video games.  The site is apparently a companion to a PBS documentary by the same name.   The site discusses the evolution of video games, how they are made, how video games influence our culture, and much more!  It even includes a “cheat” section that offers clues about how to do well in certain classic games like Pac-Man.

Two of the parts I really like are the “Essays” and “Additional Reading” sections, which are found under the “Impact of Gaming” tab.  Both of these sections offer insightful, thought-provoking readings that often speak about the stereotypes associated with gaming.  For example, Aleah Tierney’s article “What Women Want” describes how women relate to video games, and how they are portrayed in them.  Usually, we think of women as being disassociated from video games; most players, according to the stereotype, are teenage boys.  Tierney admits that most players are indeed young men, but points out that a growing number of women play games too.  Moreover, she says that some female characters are simultaneously depicted as attractive, sexual beings (who fulfill mens’ fantasies) and strong warriors, who represent how women are not always meek individuals who depend on men to rescue them.  (See Tierney’s article.)  Although this article is brief and does not thoroughly flush out a lot of the issues it brings up, it does raise some interesting points that could potentially spark further discussion.

Additionally, Henry Jenkins’ article “Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked” seeks to do exactly what the title says.  According to the site, Jenkins is a MIT professor, and he tries to shoot down various myths associated with video games, ranging from the idea that games lead to more violent youth to the idea that kids are the only age group that play these games.  (Like Tiernan, he also rejects the notion that girls do not play video games.)  Again, this article is brief and Jenkins does not fully analyze all of the ideas that brings up, but his ideas do challenge the conventional way that we think about video games.

I think this site provides a nice follow-up to the class discussion we had, as well as to the other “Show & Tell” posts that pertain to gaming.  I encourage anyone who is interested in gaming to check it out!

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Shaping the Nation: Open Source

At the suggestion of Professor Owens, Shaping the Nation now has source code hosted on Github as kmlmap. I don’t have a license selected for it — I believe the existing licensing of the projects it’s made of will determine whether it’s GPL/MIT/WTFPL licensed.

In the next couple of days, I’ll be adding documentation and usage examples at chrisdroukas.github.com/kmlmap. If you’d like to play with your own hosted version of Shaping the Nation, head over to Github, download the ZIP archive and deploy it to your host of choice.

Additional documentation for the components in this project are available here:

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Project Reflection: Culture at Home

"Culture at Home" Homepage

On paper, I feel like my plan to integrate pseudo-social interaction into the homeschool class I tutor was sound. While uploading the student’s essay onto a WordPress blog was relatively straightforward, using an integrated custom Google Map added a bit of flavor to what otherwise would have been a dull educational resource. When I first pitched my idea to the parents, they seemed generally interested; I took this as evidence that what I was creating would succeed—it did not. Unfortunately, some parents become wary of posting their child’s work on the blog itself. I don’t believe this has to do with it being on the Internet per se; rather, I believe they were self-conscious about their peers seeing the work of their kids. It’s hard to get annoyed by this—obviously they have their child’s best interest at heart. However, it was rather fascinating to see how enthusiasm for a concept can wane when it becomes a reality.

The student’s didn’t seem that enthusiastic about their role in the blog either. Since there isn’t much social interaction regarding their respective essays, I assumed that they would be naturally interested in seeing the work of their peers. Unfortunately, this proved to be false. Someone pointed out to me that getting people to leave “natural” comments in a public, online space is incredibly difficult. If you force people to do so—in this case, by making it a graded assignment—the comments become contrived. However, if you adopt my chosen approach of “wait-and-see,” you end up with nothing. It’s a difficult conundrum to crack.

All in all, this was still a great experience. Beyond the obvious benefit I’m now rather familiar with WordPress, I also learned that while feedback from your users is incredibly important, it’s by no means proof that your concept is faultless. In someway, I’m sure this knowledge will prove fruitful moving forward.

Link to blog

Poster

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Bridget Sullivan Final Digital Project

Check out the link to my digital project, the design document for an interactive game, Abolition Adventure!

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Menokin Adventurer: Final Thoughts

My hope is that the blog I created for Menokin, called Menokin Adventurer, will be used by the site in the future and will be a place where the museum can engage with the public. Menokin is the home of Declaration of Independence signer Francis Lightfoot Lee.  The Menokin Foundation’s vision is to be an internationally known center for learning. I envision this blog that I created for Menokin to be a way for this museum to not only increase its online presence, but to also allow the Foundation to teach and communicate with the public (and potential visitors).

Aims

Menokin Adventurer should further in-depth learning of Menokin and its past. Through Facebook, the Foundation  posts upcoming events and news. The blog, on the other hand, is a way for the Foundation to share educational information on the site’s history as well as on the other specialties of the museum, including conservation, preservation, and architecture. Further, posts on this blog should promote critical thinking. I inserted questions to have visitors critically think about the material or I gave examples of an historian’s process, such as explaining research behind an object found on site. The blog should be used not just as a news feed, but mostly as a place to educate the public while highlighting Menokin’s resources.

In order to create a blog that is interesting, but also engaging and informative, I researched blogs of similar historic house museums.  Dan Brown, in Communicating Design, writes, “Like any deliverable, a competitive review must be actionable; the lessons learned from looking at other sites must be immediately applicable to the design endeavor” (Brown, Loc. 6604) I noticed that the best museum blogs had vibrant pictures and short interesting stories.  There were blogs that highlighted the museum, such as Monticello where most posts were about Thomas Jefferson in the news.  Other blogs had categories of different topics to appeal to a broad range of visitors, including the blog for James Madison’s Montpelier that had categories labeled “Museum Stuff,” “Slaves & Freedmen,” and “Trees & Plants.”   Other blogs focus on educating the public about the particular historical figure at the site, such as Mount Vernon’s “George Washington Wired” blog where all posts center around Washington.  Since Menokin is a small, not well-known historic house museum. I created my blog to combine all of these elements.  The blog is intended to make Menokin more visible to the public, but more importantly to teach visitors of all different interests the site’s history.

Most importantly, the blog should further open communication between the museum and the public.  The blog can further the museum’s mission to become an internationally renowned learning center.  The Foundation can pose questions, spark critical thinking, and encourage discussion.  Posts should encourage comments from the visitors. One area in particular that the Foundation could gain valuable feedback is for their upcoming “Glass House Project.”  They plan to rebuild the house with glass and if the Foundation engages with the public now, it can include the public in this important process and growth. For example, I posted an announcement of the new architecture firm of the project,  included links so people can research the firm further, and encouraged questions and comments.

The major indicator of success for this blog will be the amount of commenting on blog posts. This will reveal that the blog is engaging the public and has opened paths of communication. Hopefully, in the process Menokin will become more well-known and take steps toward its goal of becoming a learning center.

Reflections

My greatest takeaways from this project is learning how to use WordPress and also critically thinking about how to reach an audience.  Through creating this blog, I learned the ins and outs of WordPress.  In fact, I am also creating a WordPress site to showcase the final portfolio of a group project.

For the blog I created for Menokin, I learned that theme and layout are important.  After considering multiple themes, I decided on a theme that has a flair of historical type font, but is very streamlined and simple.  I found this furthered my goal of opening communication with visitors. It is very easy for people to read and comment on the posts.

I also toyed with the idea of having different pages, such as an “About” page or an “Events” page.  However, I found pages to be distracting. Furthermore, I wanted to connect this blog with the broader online presence of Menokin.  As such, on the top of the sidebar, I placed an image of Menokin that links to its website and added a link to its Facebook page.  This way, visitors can learn about the museum and its events by using these links and focus more on reading, learning, and commenting on the blog.

In order to cater to different audiences, I created different categories that could appeal to a variety of people.  At first, I included in the sidebar these categories, recent posts, and archives.  However, since my goal is to have people explore the site and learn more about Menokin and its resources, I decided to delete “recent posts” and move up “archives.” Since the blog is not intended to be an up to date newsfeed, the archives are important because they too reveal educational information about Menokin’s history.

I also learned how to cater to audiences while inciting enthusiasm about Menokin. In my research, I realized that the best museum blogs also promoted the museum and individualized every story to relate somehow back to the site. I at first strictly only posted stories that furthered learning, but realized this helped the visitor learn about Menokin’s history, but not about the museum.  So I added a post about a big project at Menokin to garner excitement as well as included a countdown to big events in the sidebar.  This way, visitors are learning about history, but in an individualized manner that is catered to the experience only one can receive at Menokin.

If I am to make a blog in the future, I would definitely more closely follow Brown’s suggestion in Communicating Design that “articulating the design direction benefits from moving beyond a simple bullet list. Examples are powerful; they illustrate elements of the design direction and provide context” (Brown, Loc. 6411).  Before starting my blog, I listed ideas for the blog, including being a space for learning and engaging with the public, but did not expand on this list.  As such, my design process was more trial and error and eventually I found the format that would further critical thinking. However, I had to go back and fix previous posts to fit this format. If I expanded my list to concrete examples, I would have been able to unify the project from the beginning.

Lastly, to further the blog to better be a learning tool, I believe even more public involvement is needed.  I am intrigued by the crowdsourcing projects that are being done by the University of Iowa Libraries (Owens, Crowdsourcing) and the New York Public Library.  This allows people to directly engage with historical material, help museums create collections, and garners enthusiasm for the material. For this blog, I would like to build off of the same involvement advanced by projects like crowdsourcing. I would like to include more posts on this blog that furthers immersion in historical texts.

Next Steps

I am currently working with the staff at Menokin who is hoping to take over the blog and add posts every week.  This project has truly widened my perception of blogs to be an effective teaching tool and has enhanced my skills as a public historian.  I am ecstatic that my work for this project might help a very special historic house museum augment its online presence and create more dialogue with its visitors.

Below is my poster:

Notes:

Dan M. Brown. Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning. (Berkeley, CA: New Riders Press, 2006), Kindle Edition.

Trevor Owens. “Crowdsourcing the Civil War: Insights Interview with Nicole Saylor.” Library of Congress. December 6, 2011. http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2011/12/crowdsourcing-the-civil-war-insights-interview-with-nicole-saylor/

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