The Ugly Truth About Preservation

Is Bert Evil?  And, Should We Care?

There once was a website called Bert Is Evil.  It no longer exists.  Is it important that it no longer exists?  Perhaps it becomes important when we realize that it disappeared after September 11.  The image of Bert was inserted to an anti-America image and the creator of Bert Is Evil was threatened with legal action, so he deleted the site.  But, if you want it is still possible to see what Bert Is Evil looked like.  This is because of Internet Archive, a private organization that tries to archive the Internet.  This is a noble goal but one organization cannot do such work alone.  In his article Scarcity of Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, Roy Rosenzweig writes about issues dealing with digital and physical preservation, the issues with each, and the relationship between historians and archivists.

The idea that the Internet should be preserved is catching on and people are wondering who is going to do it and how it is going to be done.  When this article was written, 2003, the government was not preserving the digital world, or records created digitally.  The National Archives does not require that digital record be kept digitally.  Rosenzweig then makes the point that even if digital record preserved the technology that they are preserved with may not be readable five years later.  It is not that the technology has deteriorated it is that it is now outdated. Rosenzweig states: “well before most digital media degrade, they are likely to become unreadable because of changes in hardware…or software.” While I am not always on the digital bandwagon the Internet has changed everything and it is time to conquer the problem of preservation.

But what will happen once the Internet is being archived faithfully?  It is very possible that once this happens there will be amazing amounts of primary source material available. No longer will historians be able to complain about not having enough information, they will be complaining about having too much information.  What will the world come to when historians have a plethora of information?  My sarcasm aside Rosenzweig’s point is a good one.  What will happen when scholars have too many sources, have too much information, have too many places to look?  While not having enough information can be frustrating at least a topic can be narrow and have focus.  This possibility could be a reality but only if society starts preserving all of the digital material being created right now.  Just preserving these records though is not the end it is merely the beginning of a process.

The Archivist and the Historian Should be Friends

What I found most interesting in the Rosenzweig’s article was his dissection of the relationship between archivists and historians.  After reading Nicholson Baker’s book Double Fold I had some idea of the disagreement between historians and archivist, and yes I am a bit biased on the side of keep everything.  After reading Rosenzweig’s article I think the relationship between the groups is better explained.  Historians want to save everything while archivist have to figure out how to store everything that gets preserved, not the easiest job.  What comes through the last part of the article is about the different directions that historians and archivists approach the topic of preservation.  Rosenzweig makes the point that both parties will have to change their attitudes before they have another conversation about preservation again, but he is adamant that both groups need to talk about how to preserve the past and how to preserve digital records as well.

Rosenzweig makes the point that in the beginning the historian and the archivist were friends.  They were part of the same professional organization, the AHA, when “historians saw themselves as having a responsibility for preserving as well as researching the past.”  Now perhaps this is a bit strong but the divide between being a historian and an archivist has become great.  To go by this strong characterization historians want to save everything while archivist have to figure out how to store everything that gets preserved.  What comes through the last part of the article is about the different directions that historians and archivists approach the topic of preservation.  Rosenzweig makes the point that both parties will have to change their attitudes before they have another conversation about preservation again, but he is adamant that both groups need to talk about how to preserve the past and how to preserve digital records as well.

Scarcity or Abundance is a valuable article for better understanding the complexities of preservation digital or otherwise.  The Internet has changed the way that documents are created and preservation of physical documents has never been easy.  How history is being preserved is important and it is equally important that historians and archivist understand what needs to be, should be, and is being preserved.

 

Digital Photography; A Perspective

I was being given a tour of the catwalk of the Verizon Center, the home of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and the Mystics by DC’s official photographer, Mitchell Layton when I realized what I wanted my digital project to be. Tying in themes from my written project proposal, I wanted to venture into the realm of sports photography and further explore the transition between film and digital photography and its significance in changing the archiving method of the photos.

I would like to use a website like Omeka, or venture into the world of Adobe’s Dreamweaver in an attempt to design my own website to try to document the change over the past couple decades towards the use of digital cameras instead of film, which had been the staple for nearly a century of sports photography. I would also like to continue exploring the idea of the future leaning more towards high-resolution digital video rather than continuing to use photography.

Newseum has a travelling exhibit: “Athlete: The Sports Illustrated Photography of Walter Iooss” that I would like to view that might help me further understand what exactly it is that I want to do. I’ve heard that the work of art is rather moving, but there’s no online version of the exhibit. I would love to be able to use an exhibit in the mind of this display in order to allow those who don’t know much about digital sports photography to learn about the transition from film to digital storage. I would like to use photos from several different photographers, though that might be difficult to acquire. From there, I would use my idea of creating interviews from my print project and turn it into an interactive podcast for the viewers. These podcasts would be interviews with the professional photographers that I know, in an attempt for my viewers to better understand the transition. These podcasts would be a series of interviews coming from different photographers that would focus on the ease (or struggles) of the transition. I will try to explore the effectiveness of archiving the photos, selling the photos, and submitting them to newspapers or magazines and getting them published.

With this in mind, I’m not sure if I should focus on the struggles of photographers from around the country or just in the immediate D.C. area. Input on this would be helpful, but I’m starting to lean towards focusing on just the D.C. and Maryland area. Finally, I want to explore what consequences this has had on the ability of photographers to find and keep jobs. Having talked to Mitchell Layton, I know that there are interesting stories about SI dropping photographers, so I think that would be really interesting to explore.

Design-wise, I would love to be able to make a digital exhibit, where a viewer can come and explore at their own pace, taking their time and listening to a full podcast, or moving on to another topic of digital photography. Using Communicating Design will be rather helpful in developing this website, but I think my graphic design class will help me too, especially in making the design more appealing to the consumer. From this perspective, my target audience will be history buffs and those that are looking to get into the business of digital photography. I want to provide an accurate history and an interesting perspective on what may happen in the realm of digital sports photography. Besides, I’m an amateur photographer myself, and I would find a site like this extremely intriguing. Hopefully other people like me would find it interesting too.

Mapping WIMS

Wednesdays in Mississippi (WIMS) was a program developed by National Council of Negro Women in 1963 to bring Northern and Southern women together with the goal of improving race relations and quality of life for blacks in the highly segregated South. Teams of interracial, interfaith women from Northern cities would travel to various locations in Mississippi on Tuesdays and return on Thursdays. During their stay, these groups would hold meetings with local community members, white and black, lead workshops and implement programs to encourage self-improvement for poor, uneducated members of the population, particularly black women.

For my digital project, I will create a multifaceted blog called ‘Mapping WIMS’ using WordPress.com (unless I can get Omeka figured out). The complete records of the Wednesdays in Mississippi program are held at the National Archives for Black Women’s History (NABWH), where I work as an archives technician. This comprehensive collection includes photographs, audio recordings and manuscript materials that illustrate the efforts and results of the various WIMS teams in aiding the civil rights movement. Thus my blog will present and dovetail each of these sources available in the WIMS materials.

As the study of the Civil Rights Era grows ever more popular, it is important that women’s direct actions in the civil rights movement not be overlooked. There are already some good sources about WIMS on the web, such as the website for the WIMS Film Project. This documentary project has been in the works for a few years and has set forth to gather oral history interviews for use in the film. It has also established a visually appealing website with good basic information and an overview of the project, but little else. In my opinion, this website’s best asset is its promise of ‘more to come’ and raising awareness of WIMS as a scholarly topic.    

The film project page shares a link to the University of Houston’s exhibit website on WIMS. This wonderful site “began as a collaboration between the Virginia Center for Digital History, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Civil Rights Museum, and the Wednesdays in Mississippi Film Project, with Holly Cowan Shulman, Editor in Chief.” Holly Schulman is the daughter of Polly Cowan, a founding member of WIMS. In late 2009, the University of Houston Center for Public History (UH-CPH) took over this web site and it has been incorporated into graduate level course work at the University of Houston. This site touches on many important elements of the WIMS experience and provides interesting primary materials for its audience to browse. It also gives highly detailed information about the members of specific team, something I will also strive to do. But relatively speaking, the web exhibit itself is not particularly sophisticated or visually stimulating. It lacks original photographic material from the WIMS collection at NABWH, which I will have the fortune of incorporating with the click of a mouse.

Last, there is Liza Cowan’s (Polly’s other daughter) personal blog where she posts about WIMS and her family experience with the women who worked on the project, her mother in particular. Obviously this is not a scholarly source, but her posts about WIMS are informative and enjoyable to read. Each of these WIMS sites has brought something different to the web narrative of the program. I plan to incorporate some of the fundamental elements of each of these sites in my blog project

In order to set my WIMs project apart from those already existing, I will take a more fluid, multi-media approach to presenting information about each WIMS team. As a visualization tool, I will create different maps using  My Maps from Google to illustrate the various routes and destinations of each team. I can use the geographical information pulled from manuscript and visual materials to pinpoint the locations of each trip. With this mapping tool, I can also landmark notable locations in Mississippi where other civil rights events unfolded. These maps will be supplemented by photographs, scans of original documents and audio clips. By presenting each team’s unique routes, characters, actions, and narratives, I can provide specific cases studies that will implicitly reveal a broader perspective on the WIMs program.

This blog will hopefully serve as another sounding board for the small pool of scholars working on Wednesdays in Mississippi, as well as those investigating the broader topic of women in the civil rights movement. Perhaps a casual web search on someone’s grandmother will reveal a past of civil rights activism unknown in the family history. A local historian may never have heard of the pig bank set up in a rural Mississippi town. My hope is that this project will enliven the story of the regular women who made it their mission to help desegregate the South in their own way and encourage researchers to dig further.

Documents and photographs that have never been seen by the public will enrich the small body of available WIMS material on the web. Using clear titles and descriptions for various uploaded documents, the content will hopefully get picked up by web searches and linked-to by other web sites. Upon completing the project, I will share it with other WIMS researchers for their personal use and commentary. The ultimate goal would be to spur interest in Wednesdays in Mississippi and the National Council of Negro Women and in turn increase research in the NAWBH.

To monitor the site’s success, I will keep track of how many hits the blog gets and how much commentary is coming in. Ideally the blog posts and links will invite scholarly debate and dialogue, which will encourage people to think harder about this topic in U.S. women’s history. Also, participants in the discussion might bring new information that can then be shared among other WIMS researchers. A win-win for all of us.

Project Proposal: History (Comps) in the Digital Age

“Hey John, we’re all getting together to study for our comprehensive exams every Saturday evening for the next two months. Can you make it?” This question may be the ultimate blessing to any graduate student. Unfortunately, John’s worries about his exams are not alleviated. “I can’t,” John responds. “I work every Saturday night. Is there any other time we can get together?” The study group has already been formed, and no one is willing to budge on the day or time. “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Mary says with a smile on her face. “Why don’t we just post our practice papers and notes online so John, and anyone else who can’t make it, can still be a part of the group.”

Comprehensive Exams (hereafter often referred to as “comps”) for history graduate students can be a daunting experience. It’s a pass or fail situation, and failure can alter your life’s plans in significant ways. Professors and universities understand how intimidating comps can be, and often provide packets of study materials to aid their students. They also encourage students to form study groups so they can learn from each other and organize their thoughts. While this can be an important tool in aiding comp study, not all students have the schedules that enable in-person discussion. In the digital age in which we live, there is no reason why these study groups cannot be formed online. In addition, creating a website that allows students from different universities to share their own notes, book reviews, and practice essays may help to create an immediate cross-departmental cohort of future historians. While it could be argued that historiography (the subject of comprehensive exams) is generally taught the same throughout the nation, experience has shown that university history departments across the nation place emphasis on different ideas and schools of thought according to their own teaching models. By opening a cross-departmental dialogue to graduate students at the very beginning of their studies, historycomps.com (or a similarly titled website) will help in educating students beyond their universities’ walls.

Universities, like American University, currently offer classes that help students as they study for comprehensive exams. In the Colloquium classes at AU, students are given a list of historiographically significant books within different subfields. Of these lists, which often include twenty to thirty works per week, students are assigned three to five works to read and write reviews on throughout the semester. This ensures that each week five or six students present their own book reviews to the entire class. While these reviews give students some understanding of the historiography of that particular field, many books are left unread and are never discussed in class. If the class were expanded to include students across the nation, the chances of finding book reviews of these previously “silenced” works increases. Thus, historycomps.com will allow students from colloquium class across the nation to post their own book reviews of works they’ve read, and read those reviews posted by other students.

The idea of online study groups is nothing new. Various websites offer students the ability to create their own groups, including rcampus.com, cramster.com, and grouptable.com. Unfortunately, most of these websites cater to undergraduate studies, often focusing on specific classes. In regard to comprehensive exams, most universities (and sometimes individual professors) provide study guides to their students (i.e. HistoryProfessor.org, WCU’s Guide). Sometimes sample and past questions are even given to help students write practice essays (like these questions from American University). While these tools are useful, especially the ability to write practice essays from previous comp exams, allowing students to share what they’ve written with each has many benefits. One obvious benefit beyond simply learning the historiography is the ability to read how others conceptualize the historiography.

In order to make this website valuable to history graduate students, a number of features need to be implemented. Historycomps.com will provide a listing of important scholarly works divided by a historical subfield whereupon students will be able to click on those works directing them to a page that includes 1) a link to scholarly book reviews on JSTOR and 2) a link to graduate student reviews that have been uploaded. Students will also be able to upload their own book reviews to share with others. One may wonder why student book reviews would have any value if students could go straight to scholarly reviews. Since graduate students typically write their reviews for classes that require explicit discussion of the historiography, these reviews play an important role in studying for comps. Of course, not every student review will have comparable value. Thus, students will be able to grade reviews they have read on a scale of 1 to 10 (from useless to useful) such that uploaded student reviews will be listed in order of usefulness.

In addition to book reviews, historycomps.com will also provide a list of sample comprehensive questions that students can answer in practice essays which they can later upload to the site. Students will be able to click on the individual questions which will direct them to individual pages designed for those questions. Each question’s page will include 1) a list of books (in alphabetical order) to consider when answering the question and 2) links to student-uploaded answers to those questions. The list of books will be obtained from the question’s subfield listed above. Students will be able to add books from their own university-suggested lists so that no important work will be left out. By sharing practice essays between history departments throughout the country, students will be able to view a wide variety of responses. Since different departments create their own questions to comp exams, students will also be able to post their own department sample questions. This will ensure that no single department’s focus is prioritized. It will also provide a wider variety of possible comp exam questions for students to consider in their studies.

Since this website depends on student participation, it will need to be marketed directly to university history departments. Once the website has been created (most likely using something like wordpress), department chairs will be notified by email so that they can forward the site’s address to their students. In addition, Google AdWords allows for specific marketing using key words (like “comprehensive exams”) so that students searching for help online can easily find historycomps.com. Given the scope of this project, it will be started with a focus on American history comprehensive exams and, if successful, it can be expanded to include European history, Asian history, etc. The success of this project can easily be evaluated in time based on the number of uploads, including both student reviews and practice essays.

Project Proposal: Supreme Court Podcast

For everyone who does not know me, I am a massive Supreme Court nerd. I love learning about the American legal system and how it changes over time. However, I find one of the biggest problems with learning about the high court is that the decisions are dense. Let’s face it, it is not light reading by any definition. So what I propose to do for my digital project is to do a series of podcasts about major Supreme Court decisions. The idea is to deliver old information in a new format (an audio format rather than a written one), using a new delivery system (a blog on the internet), and to do it in a more approachable manner. The idea of the podcast is that each one would be around five minutes in length, and cover the background information of the case, the decision and its impact on American history.  The goal of the site would to be to provide introductory level education on any specific cases that I would be doing. For the sake of limiting my work load, I would be aiming for one podcast per week each week following Spring Break for a total of seven. For this reason, I will be picking some the most important cases and subject in Supreme Court history, but also try to include some of the less well known or less discussed cases that also had a big impact in United States history, for the sake of accomplishing my goal of education.

There are a couple of web site out there currently that are meant to present a  brief form of Supreme Court history (Oyez.org in particular), but I plan on doing things differently in a couple of ways. First of all, I am planning going to present my information in a audio format to try an accommodate people who prefer learning by hearing rather than reading. Second, I am planning to provide more background and history to each case. Oyez.org is very good at providing people with the most necessary of information, but the site’s brevity can be annoying occasionally, especially because they are much more focused on the legal portion of the decision. My focus would be more on the history of the court as well as what impact individual decisions had. If I had to form a mission statement of what I am trying to teach, it would probably be that I want show people that the court does not exist in a bubble and that its decisions come from somewhere and have some effect. I want to show this in a brief, approachable manner. To provide a morsel of information to get people interested about Supreme Court history and show them other places where they can find more information.

If I had to pick an audience for my project, it would probably just be people who are interested in the court and American history, but do not really know where to go to find out more information.

My personal measure for this to be a success, beyond just keeping to a regular update schedule, would be getting at least 5 people to download my podcasts and hopefully to get them to discuss with me whether or not I helped them.

There are a couple of web site out there currently that are meant to present a  brief form of Supreme Court history (Oyez.org in particular), but I plan on doing things differently in a couple of ways. First of all, I am planning going to present my information in a audio format to try an accommodate people who prefer learning by hearing rather than reading. Second, I am planning to provide more background and history to each case. Oyez.org is very good at providing people with the most necessary of information, but the site’s brevity can be annoying occasionally, especially because they are much more focused on the legal portion of the decision. My focus would be more on the history of the court as well as what impact individual decisions had. If I had to form a mission statement of what I am trying to teach, it would probably be that I want show people that the court does not exist in a bubble and that its decisions come from somewhere and have some effect. I want to show this in a brief, approachable manner. To provide a morsel of information to get people interested about Supreme Court history and show them other places where they can find more information.

My personal measure for this to be a success, beyond just keeping to a regular update schedule, would be getting at least 5 people to download my podcasts and hopefully to get them to discuss with me whether or not I helped them.

Balance and History: A Proposal

Writers of revisionist history look at the events of the past that have been taken for granted, investigate, and bring to life stories that were forgotten, ignored, or misrepresented. While they can be reviled by those who hold that interpretations of history are not wrong by virtue of being traditional (and not all revisionist claims are true) their work can serve an undeniably vital purpose of bringing to the forefront stories from history that have been ignored, giving us fuller view of history (http://history.howstuffworks.com/historians/revisionist-history.htm).
The internet presents us with an opportunity for utilizing the possibility of revisionist history as a learning tool. To do this, I propose creating a web site that compares traditional and revisionist views of history. On the home page of this website, visitors would find a timeline of historical events. When they clicked on name of an event, they would be taken to a separate page for that event. On that page there would be a description of the event from the traditional point of view, another from the revisionist point of you, a counter-argument from the traditional side, and a counter-argument from the revisionist side. This page would also include pictures of the event, which would be selected to try and create a balanced view of it (ie both sides are represented), trying to realize the practical potential of using pictures as a tool of communicating history that a previous post on DigHist.org spoke of.
Obviously, many website have interactive timelines of events. And there are a number of websites, such as publicagenda.org and FactCheck.org that compares different views on political issues. The goal of my project is to create a website that is like one of these sides, but where the comparisons being made are about history rather than politics. As far as the literal use of this idea, I did not find websites that seemed to correspond to what I am imagining this would be.
By the end of the month, I could a webpage bought from wordpress.com or Dreamhost. I would then spend the month of March doing research on one or two historical events. Then, in one or two weekends, I could play with the graphics of the site and get the text on, which I imagine would not be terribly difficult and easy to access information on. What is great about this is that it is a continuous process. After the end of the semester, I could keep researching and putting the views of different historians (all cited of course) for different events. It would be a continuous process.
To promote the website, I could submit it to Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.com), an online directory recommended by Web Marketing Today (http://www.wilsonweb.com/articles/checklist.htm). I could also utilize my facebook and twitter accounts. And finally, using the recommendations of Communicating Design, I have devised the following personas for this website:
John Ambrose: John is a student of history of American University, majoring in Political Science and minoring in history. He has a major paper to write involving interpreting an event, and his paper will probably combine elements of politics and history. He wants his work to cover as both sides as best as he can, and the classes he has taken have already opened his eyes to issues of bias in the way history and the news are told. The website would be a great place for him to begin his quest, especially since the bibliography it would include would enable him to find more in depth sources to read.
Sam Everest: Mr. Everest is an average citizen, sick of all the spin and interpretations. She too, would like to get a view on events that is more impartial. While he lacks the time or interest to go and read mountains of books on certain events, having a list of different arguments at his fingertips would make him feel very well rounded.

Digital Project Proposal: Barbary Wars Website!

For my class project, I will create a website about the United States’ conflicts with the Barbary States (Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli, and Tunis) from 1785-1815:  www.barbarywarfare.com.  Geared toward the general public, it will feature commentary about the main events (initial problems with Morocco in 1784, the Algerine captive crisis of 1785-1795, the Tripolitan War, Tunisian Ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli’s 1806 visit to America, and the final wars of 1815), textual and visual primary sources, and discussions about secondary sources, including films and books.

Reading Communicating Design has helped me visualize and organize my goals.  Having perused the first ten websites that turn up with a Google search for “Barbary Wars” (discussed below), I understand how my website will be unique.  Communicating Design suggests that prospective website builders create “personas” to anticipate what type of users the website will attract.  As the U.S.’s current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq coupled with the political unrest in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen draw widespread news coverage and public interest, I envision people such as “Right-wing Ralph,” “Curious Katie,” and “Sam the Student” as visitors to my website.

“Right-wing Ralph” listens to pundits such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, supports a vigorous U.S. foreign policy, and would like perspective on modern events by learning about how previous generations of American leaders handled Middle East conflicts.  “Curious Katie” saw an allusion to the Barbary Wars in a New York Times article or heard a bit about them on NPR and would like to expand her knowledge.  “Sam the Student” represents a middle school, high school, or college student who is writing about the Barbary Wars for a homework assignment and needs to find an authoritative source for information.

To best serve all these users, www.thebarbarywars.net needs to be easy to navigate, have a learned but conversational tone, and be fun to use.  Visual sources such as paintings of participants and battle scenes will help make the Barbary Wars come alive, while a blog will allow users to both ask me questions and dialog with each other.  I have not yet decided which hosting provider to use; I will continue to weigh the merits of www.bluehost.com and www.dreamhost.com.

Surprisingly, no website solely devoted to the Barbary Wars exists!  Thus, I have an excellent opportunity to fill a vital need.  Most of the top ten results from the “Barbary Wars” Google search share many flaws:  they are amateurish (factual errors and not well-written), unexciting (lots of text, with few if any visual images), neglected (not updated for years), and passive in nature (only one allows user comments).  Moreover, some of them borrow text from another webpage; there is not much original information about the Barbary conflicts on the Internet.

The first result from the Google search is the Wikipedia article for the “First Barbary War” (i.e. the Tripolitan War of 1801-1805).  A solid effort, it details the war’s military and diplomatic components and includes some charts.  Interestingly, contrary to Wikipedia protocol, it is not objective:  it suggests that Barbary piracy stemmed from the Koran’s injunctions to attack non-Muslims.  Most scholars, however, disagree with this religious interpretation, instead arguing that piracy was just an economic activity that served as a convenient way for rulers to extract payments from foreign powers.

The second hit (http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/barbary.htm) is an encyclopedia article about the Barbary conflicts that contains inaccurate information about the origins of the word “Barbary,” the battle of Derne, and the burning of the Philadelphia.  It is frustrating to use (ads pop up all the time) and lists as its one source a website that is no longer running.  www.globalsecurity.org is operated by self-described national defense enthusiasts, who claim their website is “a trusted source of military information” used by news agencies.  Unfortunately, the Barbary Wars article reflects poorly on the website.

Hit number three is also from Wikipedia:  the entry for “Barbary Wars.”  This piece is very short, comprising just two paragraphs.  Interestingly, it has a substantially different suggested reading list from the Wikipedia article on the “First Barbary War”; perhaps a different user wrote it?

The fourth result takes one to a webpage from the Library of Congress’s American Memory project:  “The Thomas Jefferson Papers:  America and the Barbary Pirates” (http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html).  It features a very well-written article by a specialist that provides a good discussion of Jefferson’s attitudes and approaches to the conflicts.  It invites readers to explore the plethora of primary sources offered by the Library of Congress’s online database.

The fifth webpage is from a website run by a middle-school teacher: The History Guy (http://www.historyguy.com/ Barbary_Wars.html).  It makes a political statement by featuring a large advertisement for a current movie about the dangers of a nuclear-equipped Iran.  The page design screams mid-1990s and the Barbary Wars article is very brief.  Still, it is to be commended for adding a touch of nuance by mentioning that the Tripolitan War contained the first coup attempt in U.S. foreign policy history.  Also, the middle of the page includes a banner that lists Barbary Wars book for sale on www.amazon.com.

The sixth webpage is very disappointing:  “Barbary Wars 1801-1805, 1815” on the Department of the Navy’s education website (http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/stream/ faq45-4.htm).  As the navy played a huge role in the Barbary conflicts, one would surmise that the Department of the Navy would be an excellent and authoritative source for information.  However, all one finds here are two brief paragraphs, last updated on August 13, 2003.

The seventh result is a link to a 2009 New York Times article:  “Lesson from the Barbary Pirate Wars” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/weekinreview/12gettleman.html).   It is simply a newspaper article that briefly discusses how the Barbary Wars can shed light on modern problems with the Somali pirates.

Hit number eight is an article about Thomas Jefferson’s policy toward the Barbary Pirates (http://www.city-journal.org/html/17_2_urbanities-thomas_jefferson.html) on a website that describes itself as the “nation’s premier urban-policy magazine.” The article is more an opinion piece than a repository of factual information, although it suggests various books for further reading (including a couple written by academics).  However, like the Wikipedia entry for the “First Barbary War,” it advocates the non-scholarly position that the Barbary pirates acted primarily from religious motivations.  Stylistically, it is boring:  all text on a white background.

Hit number nine (http://www.answers.com/topic/barbary-wars) offers both a one-paragraph synopsis of the conflicts and an extended description of them.  It also includes a bibliography.

The tenth result is an encyclopedia article on about.com (http://history1800s.about.com/ od/americanwars/tp/barbarywars.htm).  Although the author says that he studied history at NYU, he is imprecise with dates, using “early years of the 19th century” instead of giving the exact years.  Still, it is an approachable article for the general public that is easy-to-read thanks to bullet points.

Thus, current webpages about the Barbary conflicts are lacking.   A need exists for a user-friendly website that combines accurate commentary, primary sources, a thorough bibliography, and a blog.  I hope for www.thebarbarywars.com or www.barbarywars.net to become the preeminent digital resource for information about the Barbary Wars and, ideally, it will also stimulate users to engage in research of their own.

Digital Project Proposal: A New Video Game Blog

For my digital project, I would like to do a video game blog. This video game blog would have a focus of games in the liberal arts, specifically in history and literature where I have the most experience. Each game is a product of the times, so I would like to analyze what part of the culture the game was created in response to and/or what are the literary aspects in the game, depending on the topic at hand, i.e. whether I’m looking at a game like Metal Gear Solid versus a game like Bioshock. While it is possible to cover both for certain games, each post would focus on one or the other to keep it concise.

My project would be aimed toward the young adult audience, 18-25, and at gamers. Gamers would get a better reading experience and a further understanding of how large a piece games are in our culture. They would understand the blog posts better as well. I am open to the idea that there would be older readers, but I do not believe younger readers would appreciate all that the blog posts have to offer, though I would not mind being proven wrong.

While there are many gaming blogs and sites on the internet, I had difficulty finding many that were like mine. Many of the popular gaming sites, like The Escapist Magazine and Kotaku, focus primarily on reviews, which I want to avoid. Play the Past does cover history, but it is mostly history within video games from what I saw. I also could not find many sites which analyze the literary mechanics in games, although the video series Extra Credits covers them occasionally, they approach it from a design standpoint and cannot afford to go into too much detail. My project is similar to the Game Overthinker, another video series, but mine would be much more focused, as the Game Overthinker uses whatever topic he desires and uses tangents.

For a work plan, I would start either the week of March 13 or March 20 and make weekly blog posts. I would post most likely on the weekend. I would prefer to use Blogger, as that is free, has a good aesthetic feel and range of themes, can link from other blogs on the site, and many of the blogs I read, including such as Atop the Fourth Wall (a known comic reviewing show) and Game Overthinker, are on Blogger therefore I am familiar with the layout. Blogger is also integrates well with other types of social media, which I would investigate further i.e. having a Twitter button, has openID commenting options, etc. I would focus on a different game/series of games each week, unless it is a large topic. I would not be opposed to going back and discussing games I’ve already covered at a later date and be open to suggestions from comments. I also plan on using my personal Twitter account to link to new blog posts, as many of my followers share my interest in video games.

Success would be an average of 5 comments per blog. I believe having that many comments would translate into at least twice as many hits per post. I plan on having 6-7 blog posts done by the end of the academic year. Personal success would also be avoiding a schedule slip.

Starting-up a Digital Proposal

The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1995 established the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency that promotes research, education and public programming in the humanities. In conjunction with those aims, the NEH provides start-up grants for innovative projects in the Digital Humanities. To apply, a detailed proposal must be submitted explaining not only the digital idea and methods of implementation, but the significance to the humanities community.

The proposal required to apply for the start-up grant is comparable in some ways to the print proposal assigned in class.  The narrative section of the NEH application is meant to give an overview of the initial project ideas, the ultimate result of the project, and how the suggested methodology will benefit the overall intellectual goals. Also it is in this section that the history of the project is presented along with the preliminary planning that has taken place in the field. It is the narrative that is most closely linked to the print proposal. Both ask for the plan to be grounded in the context of the present state of research. While the print project was set within the framework of current literature, the NEH focuses on what they term the “environmental scan”, a summary of the digital work being done in the same field as a way to explain how the applicant’s project relates or contributes to the existing body of work.

A digital proposal has additional facets that do not really need to be taken into consideration in terms of a print project. First, the audience of a print project is generally assumed to be historians and other scholars. In a digital proposal, however, the audience of the tool needs to be fully flushed out, even going so far as to create the type of individual personas discussed at length by Brown. Second, the NEH application asks for a plan of dissemination for the final digital product. Through which media outlets will the project be propagated to the desired audiences? Not only that, but a statement of how will the product be maintained in the long-run is required. Also, the NEH application necessitates a list of the project staff and their responsibilities. Staff is not an issue in regards to print proposals which are produced on a much more individualized basis. Finally, the NEH has a system for determining the “innovativeness” of a project and applicants must prove their idea “innovative” based on those guidelines.

Specifically, the Kansas State University application regarding the Lost Kansas project (which did win an NEH start-up grant) aptly demonstrates the distinct questions involved in a digital project proposal as opposed to a print proposal. The application lays out how their project will advance the way that students do primary research and how communal histories are preserved. In detail, the leaders of the project set the staff responsibilities, the yearly work goals, the plan of dissemination, the history of the project idea itself. Although more in-depth than the digital project proposal required for our course, the Lost Kansas premise is good model for where to begin developing and organizing your ideas.

What can Brown do for us?

Communicating Design by Dan M. Brown is best summed up by its title: it teaches you how to communicate the design of your website. The book carries through the ten deliverables and how each applies to a website, with everything from a simple flowchart to usability tests. Each deliverable gets explanations of its uses, when they are necessary, and every chapter has plenty of visuals to show you different types of each deliverable (definitely useful in the chapters dealing with charts). The book spells out its desires in simple English and even tells you how to deal with those pesky naysayers at meetings.

The book was created for people in the industry of making webpages, usually for companies. The book does not go over all the coding and such that goes into web design, though it does mention a couple tool for making some of the deliverables. Most of the deliverables are for when you are making a website from scratch.

So since most of our class is probably not currently designing their own webpage, what can we pull from this book? Many of us will most likely use services that have websites already preconfigured, with limited options for how we can personalize. However, I’m certain at least two of the deliverables can be useful. Creating personas will be useful for keeping a website focused on the target audience. Competitive analysis keeps in mind what other sites have done, not only in terms of design, but also in content, so you can make sure you take what is good and keep your site original.

Personally, I found the book very interesting. As someone who spends far, far too much time on the internet, I enjoyed learning what went into all the sites I look at every day. While I probably will not make my own website anytime in the near future, I can appreciate the work that goes into making each site useable.