Using blogs for history education: MappingWIMS

When I conceptualized this digital project, ‘MappingWIMS’, I didn’t necessarily realize how challenging building an educational blog could be. The world of blogging- or even just using the blog format- seems to be unstructured and idiot-proof yet requires great attention to detail and know-how. My project was inspired by using personalized mapping tools such as My Maps by Google. The original idea was to have a personalized map which displayed something of a visual trip log of the civil rights project “Wednesdays in Mississippi” (WIMS) which took place during the 1964 ‘Freedom Summer.’ Since the foundation of this historical project was traveling from the North to the South, I thought that a map, with accompanying contextual information would be a great educational tool.

As I began piecing together this project, I weighed using WordPress.com against WordPress.org or Omeka.net. Simplicity and accessibility won out here. Omeka ruled out first because I needed something more quick and dirty. I didn’t have the time or vested interest to learn one my own how to navigate and optimize Omeka. Then I considered WordPress.org, which is obviously similar to WordPress.com, but requires you to download the program. That was simple enough, but when it came to adding plugins and manually managing the blog from my hard drive- I just didn’t have the patience or savvy (or admin power on my work computer!) to make WordPress.org work for me. So that left me with WordPress.com. Also, I wasn’t willing to pay for hosting for a more premium site like WordPress.org since I didn’t yet know how to use it well. So, since I was already familiar with the basic functions of WP.com because of using the online format for class and the blog I run for my interns, I defaulted to that one. Then I really just needed to explore how to make WP.com work for “MappingWIMS”.

I was somewhat surprised to find that WordPress.com did not have a map plugin and had blocked <iframe> embedding (which is how Google Maps are written). So what I thought would be a seamless, single site project turned into a kind of dual featured thing. All I managed to do was link the screenshot image of my maps to then navigate to my Google map. The idea was to keep the blog as its own little self-contained, themed experience so that you could reference the other posts and information while moving about this map. For obvious reasons, I was a disappointed with this issue. Perhaps if I had tried an alternative mapping tool, I could have avoided this, but like I said, I’m a dilettante.

I feel that I also allowed the content on my blog become inconsistent. In my head, I had imagined it taking much less work to include all the content and context needed to get the whole picture of what WIMS was. Since there’s next to nothing available about WIMS as far as secondary sources go, I found myself trying to throw up primary sources to legitimize the maps/historical accuracy, but then having to narrate and interpret all of the posts became more of a research project than anything else. As Dennis mentioned with his History Comps website- this is a lot of research and manual labor! The way my blog exists now is not my ideal and I think I might continue to improve upon it just for my peace of mind.

Further, I mentioned during my presentation that I was worried about almost ‘spilling’ about WIMS. I had had a little brush with the daughter of a WIMS team leader which put me on the defense a bit. Then after working with a doctoral student who has been writing her dissertation on WIMS for over five years, I began to feel a little sheepish about so casually using this information like people’s names, former addresses, etc. In the bigger scheme of things, what this predicament indicated to me is that ‘getting published’ at this day in age is as simple as opening a blog account. As we discussed early on in this class, print journalism is no longer restricted to newsprint and official sites. Whether I’m a seasoned, globetrotting, investigative journalist or some random employee at a tiny archive, if I have control over publishing some of the only information about a particular subject on the web- then people will read it, and probably believe it!

Using my privileged access to primary source information and translating it directly to the web and intermixing it with preexisting web sources, rather than writing a full length book, feels like I’ve transgressed some sacred ritual. Even with the advent of WikiLeaks, breaking news by way of Twitter, and the temporal life of Facebook… I’m not sure that a blog like MappingWIMS, as some of the first evidence on a historical topic, is the right way to go about ‘it’. Conversely, perhaps the fundamental idea behind this class is to inform new scholars that all is fair in web and technology?

Google Art Project – Final Thoughts

At the start of this paper, I was excited to explore the translation of the Freer Gallery of Art to the digital platform of the Google Art Project. Of course as a student in Art History, being able to explore museums abroad from my dorm room is a great tool. Yet the experience presented by a museum in a digital format is a much different one from the traditional museum-going experience.

My findings for this paper – that there is really no viable substitute for the physical experience of an art museum – were perhaps colored from the start by the fact that I am an art historian. Viewing the works of great masters in person is ethereal, and often changes the way one has previously imagined a work to look or the emotions it can evoke. However, after digging into the literature on the museum experience as a result of many variables (architecture, display tactics, lighting, etc.), it seems that the majority feel that the museum experience is one of an almost “spiritual” connection to the objects housed within, and ultimately disseminates some form of enlightenment from a close proximity to those objects.

With that said, I was surprised to find that some of the points from Cohen and Rosenzweig’s book ( the first reading done for our class) meshed with this same feeling of “loss” inherent in the digitization of physical history. Moreover, they felt that digitization does not necessarily mean “accessible” (economically speaking), a point of contention I personally had with the Google Art Project. While I did not entirely buy into the Google Art Project, though,  its viability as a supplement to physical visits is undeniable.

All in all, I found the process of “visiting” both the physical and virtual Freer Gallery of Art and documenting the respective experiences to be an illuminating one. The process also made me appreciate being in DC, a place where one has access to so many renowned museums and thus occasion for “spiritual” and intellectual enlightenment.

The Online Memorial, Moving Beyond the Marble: A “Living” Interface and Born Digital Cenotaph

The sepulchral spirit of war memorials suffuses them with emotion and, accordingly, these memorials elicit a strong emotional response. Memorial visitors typically harbor great expectations of what the static collection of stone blocks and sculptures should evoke. These physical sites are expected to be participatory, interactive, and experiential despite their inherent inertia because they are tangible materializations of memory. Paradoxically, the official online sites representing the memorials, that  have the potential to be truly interactive and participatory by creating a virtual “common space” where users could share their experiences, pictures, and emotions with other visitors and veterans, are neglected. The result, is that these virtual sites are as static, inexpressive, and emotionless as the fixed physical sites they represent. Interestingly, rather than displaying the memorials to best advantage, these sites display the reluctance on the part of many scholars and historians to enter into the digital age. Critics of internet scholarship often bemoan that “the Internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral. . . . Every source appearing on the screen has the same weight and credibility as every other; no authority is ‘privileged’ over any other.” Yet, this neutrality is what makes a participatory online memorial an ideal democratic forum for remembrance, echoing the neutrality of an encounter with the physical memorial all while moving beyond the often disputed value of the statuary itself.

First, adding a community conscious social networking ability, or at least a virtual message board, to the website could facilitate emotional reflection, memory sharing, and discourse that would serve as a facsimile for human connectedness.  The internet being the most fundamentally democratic platform where members of an imagined community are able interact.  The internet as the “great equalizer,” also re-emphasizes the non-judgmental nature of the physical memorial focusing instead on the  universal and human understanding of war and nation.

Second, memorials tell a story of historical heritage freed from the confines of the written word and linear narratives. In the same way, designers of a web memorial should not be limited to text. Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig rightly wonder, why historians who have been “stuck with boring-looking texts” for so long, do not “revel in the freedom and artistic possibilities of the web.” So often, sites are designed down “to the point where it is simple to use but has lost its ability to convey profound thoughts and emotions.” It seems, that the greatest danger that a memorial website faces is the freezing and embalming of the experience in text. While the most common Yelp reflections for all the memorials refer to the solemnity, somberness, and sobering aspects of the memorials, the second most remarked upon aspect of the memorials was their ability to awaken empathy and arouse dialogue.

In keeping with this, born digital experiences should be living, growing, evolving interfaces; collaborative projects that engage rather than instruct. As Will Thomas explained in a recent roundtable discussion regarding “The Promise of Digital History,” “Every presentation of the past is ‘chosen’ and a representation; indeed, narrative history is the most selective and digested. Digital history probably must be more ‘open’ to be effective.” So the superlative memorial website must share this “open” quality, where users have the ability to shape their own experience by choosing where to go and what to see, just as a visitor to the physical site can walk freely around the site. Text should, therefore, be minimal and “chunked” allowing for an experience that is both “participatory and spatial.” Following this example, in an ideal world, the homepage of each site would include three-dimensional virtual model to simulate an actual visit to the site, in which the user could “walk” through the space and view it from all angles.

In addition to the quasi-religious, nationalistic significance of the memorial, the memorial is also expected to “preserve social ideals for future generations.” The ideal memorial, then,  is both somber and social. This expected duality of purpose came arose from a heated debate that surrounded the societal role of memorialization at the end of World War I, and reignited after World War II. Traditionalists argued in favor of majestic, triumphal memorials which in their opinion properly commemorated glorious sacrifice, while the critics argued that “living memorials” that centered around democratic community life were an attractive alternative to “tawdry ‘monumental’ monstrosities.” Living memorials — dedicated libraries, parks, highways, community centers, and other civic projects—were thought to more “fluidly incorporate traditional memorial strategies…in terms of national identity.” The debate polarized the two aspects of the memorial and, as Andrew M. Shanken further explains in his examination of living memorials, “choosing a form of memorial was tantamount to choosing a form of society.” Most post-World War II communities overwhelmingly preferred memorials that emphasized living projects in contrast to seemingly useless, decaying, and vulgar tomb-like reminders of death.

This debate rages on, and interestingly, tracing trends of repetitive praise within Yelp and TripAdvisor reviews allows for a loose analysis of what a memorial visitor finds most evocative, impacting, and important about the experience that could eventually integrated into the online experience. Interestingly, the “living” attribute of the Vietnam and Korean memorials is a point of continual praise for many of the same reasons this aspect was highly praised by early proponents- connectivity. As one Yelper recalled, “I felt an aura from the wall. It feels as if it’s alive.” This emphasizes, again, the necessity of moving beyond the two-dimensional online approach to engage the user and draw them into a “living” space. As noted by Dan Cohen and Roy Rosensweig:

Digital media also differ from many other older media in their interactivity—a product of the web being, unlike broadcast television [or monograph, a two-way medium, in which every point of consumption can also be a point of production. This interactivity enables multiple forms of historical dialogue—[…] among people reminiscing about the past—that were possible before but which are not only simpler but potentially richer and more intensive in the digital medium. Many history websites offer opportunities for dialogue and feedback.

Harnessing the interactive possibilities of digital media, social networking capabilities could be, and should be, incorporated into the online memorial presence. This can be done by utilizing existing social networking sites and platforms like facebook.com or emulating the reflective quality of a Yelp or TravelAdvisor site. In many ways, the interactive behaviors that users engage in on the Yelp site mirror the kind of public sharing and engagement that takes place at the physical memorial. In addition, including a Wikipedia-like section could allow veterans, family members, and site visitors (both physical and digital) to share their experiences, the stories of their loved ones, and post images. This interactive quality would reflect the evolving and “living” qualities so appreciated at the Vietnam memorial by allowing visitors and users to leave their mark of remembrance–personalized textual and photographic memorabilia, so to speak.

Early proponents of the “living memorial” in the post-World War II debate often expressed grief over the excessive amount of money that was wasted on stone that could have been used to fund civil projects to advance humanity. Naturally, this debate does not apply in the case of physical sites in this instance since the memorials are already built, but that early desire to raise funds for “memorial causes” and scholarships would be a valuable addition to the National Parks Website. Online memorial websites have the potential to be fundraising sites for civic and national projects and scholarships. Using platforms like kickstarter.com or donorschose.com could allow people to raise money in honor of their loved ones. Sites like kickstarter.com, for example, is a website that allows people to pledge money for projects without infringing on intellectual copyright or obligating pledged donors to pay for projects that do not receive adequate funding.

The meaning of the memorial is variable and never frozen in time and each of the memorials educes a unique response. So, too, should the websites be unique and variable. By determining how visitors engage with these memorials and their experiential expectations, we can see how the National Park Service might enhance their web presence by creating an interactive, participatory, and engaging multimedia experience that not only replicates but surpasses the physical encounter. Recognizing that the website, unlike the physical site, is something that anyone could visit from anywhere in lieu of a visit to the physical site, accentuates the need for a complete online experience. Properly utilizing digital media provides this advantage. Digital media has what historians Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig call, “quantitative advantages—[website creators and historians] can do more, reach more people, store more data, give readers more varied sources; we can get more historical materials into classrooms, give students more access to formerly cloistered documents, hear from more perspectives.” Digital networks and platforms allow historians to reach to the largest possible audience, and allows this audience of users to interact more easily and cheaply than ever before; therefore, it is the most ideal and accessible medium for collaborative historical study. Website visitors, who would otherwise be unable either physically or financially to make a visit to the actual site would be able to experience and relate to the monument in a comparable, if not superior way. Naturally, websites creators and historians would need to exercise hyper-vigilance to maintain the historical integrity of the site, but with adequate oversight, a memorial website has seemingly limitless potential to serve as an educational tool for audiences of all ages and backgrounds.

The suggestions for website improvement presented here are just the tip of the digital iceberg for understanding how new technologies can be developed and exploited to design a site that is both user-friendly and scholarly. Whereas the current websites merely reaches the audience and provide them with essential information, an improved web presence would also respond to the audience. Furthermore, taking advantage of cutting-edge web designs would not only rectify the disparity between physical and digital memorial sites, but would also potentially move the memorial experience beyond the marble and into living rooms and classrooms around the world.

Cited sources in post:

“The Promise of Digital History,” Vol. 95 > No. 2 (Sept. 2008)

Cohen, Dan and Roy Rosenzweig. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006)

Shanken, Andrew M. “Planning Memory: Living Memorials in the United States during World War II,” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 84, No. 1 (Mar., 2002), pp. 130-147.

www.barbarywarfare.com is launched!

Route of William Eaton’s Army from Alexandria to Derne, 8 March-25 April 1805; prepared by the Office of Naval Records and Library.
www.barbarywarfare.com has arrived!  I thoroughly enjoyed making the website and look forward to educating the public and connecting to other people through it.  It has more pages than I anticipated (thirteen; see below), as I decided to break down topics into smaller units.  For instance, “The Tripolitan War of 1801-1805” and “Coup and Aftermath” were originally one page, as were the two “Cultural Legacies.”
Home
The Beginnings of Barbary Warfare
Algerian Captivity Crisis
Interlude:  1796-1800
The Tripolitan War of 1801-1805
1805 Coup and Aftermath
Final Wars of 1815
Monument
Cultural Legacy- Literature
Cultural Legacy- Movies
Bibliography
About Me
Blog

As I mentioned in my project proposal, my goals include reaching the public, having a forum to share my own research ideas, and generating discussion with others.  The pages feature informative articles along with primary and visual sources; I want www.barbarywarfare.com to stimulate critical thinking about the events and show readers how historians create knowledge.  Communicating Design was especially useful in helping me plan my website and spurring me to create personas to simulate my target audience.

Fortunately for me, the definitive compilation of Barbary primary sources was published by the federal government, allowing me to freely include letters and pictures from this six-volume set without worrying about copyright restrictions.  The collection has been digitized and is available for free at (http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/000367640), although the scans of the pictures are of poor quality.  Thankfully, though, my HP Officejet 6500 features an awesome scanner!

Regarding the technical details, I bought a domain name and web hosting services from DreamHost and downloaded WordPress software to use for constructing www.barbarywarfare.com.  I selected a theme with a crisp, minimalist design and blue color (redolent of the ocean); I want this website to be easy-to-read and for the pictures not to compete with other graphics.  For the header background, I chose a colorful and exciting painting from the mid-nineteenth century that depicts Stephen Decatur and Thomas Macdonough boarding a Tripolitan gunboat during the August 3, 1804 naval attacks.  I also installed Disqus to run the comments section, as I want to make it easy for readers to link www.barbarywarfare.com to their Facebook and Twitter profiles since this amounts to free advertising.

In order to maximize discussion and provide immediate context, I have comment sections on the bottom of each page.  I also created a separate blog, which I will use to reflect on general questions about the Barbary conflicts and my own research as it progresses.

What’s next?  I’m passionate about this website and want it to impact a wide audience.  As the Barbary Wars are rarely taught in middle and high school and college history courses, I plan to e-mail teachers and professors and tell them about my research and website.  And as www.barbarywarfare.com includes a thorough bibliography of primary and secondary sources, I’ll mention that it can be a great resource for students working on their own projects (although the Barbary Wars are not often taught in school, students can still write about them for research papers).  Also, I’ve included my website on my profiles on websites such as Facebook, Linkedin, www.academia.edu, and the various professional organizations to which I belong.

Altogether, I’m proud of what I accomplished during this class, as building www.barbarywarfare.com has been and will continue to be an asset to my research portfolio.  I continually want to refine my website and would appreciate any feedback!

 

Lee Has Resigned But The Blog Goes On

Creating a blog was a personal challenge for me. I shy away from putting personal information on the Internet, which has meant no blogging for me (perhaps there has also been a lack of interest). But, creating a blog based on history, with a little fiction tossed in, where few know that I am the writer, has allowed me really get into blogging and figuring out how to best put history on the internet in an easy and accessible way. My goal with this project was to bring more attention to Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee and her experience surrounding Civil War. At Arlington House the history is focused mostly on Robert E. Lee, it is his memorial after all, but I feel that the history of women at Arlington House can be overlooked and that during the Civil War women played an important roll in society. Because of this I wanted to write about the history of a woman and Mrs. Lee turned out the perfect candidate. I have tried to stay true to her voice and her beliefs; because of this the blog can have a decidedly religious feeling about it sometimes.

While class has ended, or has almost ended, this blog will continue and while I think the content has been interesting for the first few months it will become more interesting now that Lee has resigned. The blog will now be following Mrs. Lee journey from her family home to her final resting place Washington College, now Washington and Lee University. In a few days Mrs. Lee will be posting about how her husband is telling her she needs to leave her home and that will in turn bring to her mind memory of the house and of her family.

I have enjoyed thinking about how to present Mrs. Lee’s history to the public and how to make the blog make sense. I want to present her family life and her intellectual life to the reader right as has she has to leave her family home because of the Civil War. It can be difficult to see her apart from her family because so much of her life was taken up with family and so in this endeavor I believe I have failed but I think that looking at her family life I have exceeded beyond my expectations. When writing about her family, her children and her husband, I think that Mrs. Lee’s personality comes through and that the reader can see how the Civil War begins to impact her life.  Through the blog I hope readers can see how the Civil War impacted not just the soldiers, but the civilians removed from the war as well.

Over all the blog has been much more successful than I ever imagined. I honestly thought that I might get a handful of views but people are consistently visiting the site. I have been pleasantly surprised. I am excited to see where the blog goes and where it ends up, whether or not I am the person finishing up the blog. I have really enjoyed the process and the current outcome of this project.

 

 

Wandering the Wasteland, Final Thoughts

One of the perks of doing a project about a video game is that I get to play the game. In the case of Fallout 1, 2 and 3 this involved a great bit of nostalgia mixed with mounting horror. Video games present an enormous challenge to unpack for a cultural historian. Fallout alone could be the anchor for a dissertation, and in a way, I continually felt that I was doing a disservice to the game by not packing more in.

As mentioned in On Gaming, Games, unlike movies have no forth wall. There is no point where the set ends to find the camera crew standing by, or a convenient catering table full of goodies. The experience of a game is limited only by the programming budget of the gaming company and the gamer’s willingness to explore.

Looking back on my paper, I was necessarily sparse in talking about the details. I limited myself to several of the main areas of the game, and even then I was brief. I didn’t talk about the presence of robots, built as a pastiche of 50s sci-fi movies. Like the post-apocalyptia in Fallout, the Robots are a homage to the 50s and yet, indelibly modern in their depiction. I didn’t mention that Fallout 3 featured an oasis full of green, mainly because it was not part of the main plot and is extremely hard for players to find.

Granted, Fallout is a special case because it is a sandbox game that allows players to wander freely. Rail-shooters which keep the player’s perspective fixed (still found in many arcades) are much more akin to cinematic experiences, and far less packed with information.

Yet even those are full of interesting topics for a cultural historian. Treatments of gender for instance. Why do some games allow for male or female protagonists? How does the gameplay differ, if at all between them? Questions of race are also interesting. Fallout uses ghouls as stand-ins for race, but when you’re dealing with former humans, beings that are physiologically and genetically different from human beings, is it really the same conversation?

It will be interesting to see how long before deconstructing games moves into the academic mainstream. I suspect my generation will play a major part in that transition. Having been raised on videogames, we are far more likely to take them seriously. In an odd way, Fallout is a part of my childhood, as much a part of my memory as the Challenger disaster, 9/11 or moving from Seattle to Cincinnati. The way games speak to us, and the way we talk back to game companies is a discourse that deserves our full attention.

Supreme History. Site has content and final thoughts.

So if any of you were interested in my Supreme Court podcast, the site is up with five episodes right now at supremehistory.blogspot.com.

I have had a lot to think about since working on the site. The biggest and most important is the amount of work that went into it. The amount of work that went into just having 5-10 minutes worth of content to discuss was easily what it would have been for a ~5 page paper on any of the given subjects. Then recording each individual episode itself took extra time. The second episode in particular I decided to try and add some comedy to the episode by adding text to the video with sarcastic comments. It was an interesting experiment and one that I would have done more if I had had more time, but the entire digital process was just more time consuming that I would have originally thought. Part of it was my poor ability to budget my time, but part of it is that falling behind puts an extra strain on you. Maybe in the future I will tinker around with the web again and try some other form of digital delivery, but for right now it is rather work intensive and not conducive to getting other school work done.

As far as the medium goes, I’m not entirely certain that there is not a greater potential for learning through podcasts. I know that they already exist to a small degree, but there is not real market for them, but I think that with some work this could be a new method for broadening someone’s education. Part of the problem is who is speaking. To put it briefly, I am an undergraduate student. I am only slightly more qualified to talk about Supreme Court history than any other person. In order for this for of education to be more accepted, there should be actual educators and specialists making recordings. It is all fine and good for me to play around with this for a school project, but I think for something like this to actually take off, you would need someone a bit more professional than just some 21 year-old with a headset, particularly in a field like history. I can see it mattering less for topics that are studied, such as graphic novels as literature or any other popular culture topic, but there are some things you want professionals talking about.

As for what I have personally learned, I think a project like this would work better with at least a second person. Learning two programs and building a website was hard enough, but I also had to do research on every topic. And I still feel like I didn’t do enough. I barely advertised (I apparently forgot to even provide a link on the blog before now), I didn’t spend a lot of time designing my website and I feel like I cut corners on the video and audio quality to make sure I got the history part that I needed in each episode. I know other people had to do work and in no way am I complaining and saying that my project was harder than anyone else’s, but I do feel like I could have benefitted from a partner on this. If I was going to do this full time or something similar to this, I would absolutely get myself a partner who knew the digital stuff so I could focus on the history stuff.

On a side note, I don’t really feel like I got a chance to live up to my original goals. I was originally trying to make Supreme Court history brief but entertaining. I don’t think I ever really got into a groove until the very end. Part of that could have been my early topics. I know part of it was my political science background adding in information that was extraneous to the exercise and taking away from the history. Part of it was just playing around with something new and seeing what works.

I would say that the resource I was missing through all of this was time. If I was going to approach this again more professionally, I would need more time. Maybe with a couple more episodes I could finally get comfortable with the process and be more comedic and less worried about sound quality and other minor details.

Midwifery In Colonial America Final Thoughts

Creating a website, www.midwiferyincolonialamerica.com was an interesting and sometimes frustrating endeavor.  I initially started my project using Word Press and then switched to Omeka.  However, making the switch was not as easy as it was supposed to be when in the process my entire website disappeared from the internet.   I contacted the help desk at my hosting site, BlueHost.com but found they were actually not at all helpful.  I explained that my website disappeared and they kept insisting that it was still there with all of the content I described.  After discussing my dilemma with Trevor, I posted to the Omeka forum which actually proved quite helpful by making suggestions regarding what to look for to recover the missing information.  I consider myself computer literate, however I know absolutely nothing about computer programing which seemed necessary to fix the problem with my website.  I contacted Trevor again and he was able to add the missing information to the Omeka program on my hosting site and in the process recovered my website.  Once this was accomplished I was able to begin working on my website.

Before I started my website I used Google to search the internet for any websites related to the history of midwifery in the United States.  The Google search for “history of midwifery” located “The History of Childbirth and Midwifery in America – A Timeline”, Wikipedia pages and links to articles and books.  Outside of the Google search there are very few websites related to midwifery and the only site which discusses the practice of midwifery from a historical perspective is www.dohistory.org which is the companion site for Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, A Midwife’s Tale.  In addition to this website, I have provided links (in the exhibit section) to some other websites including Archiving Early America at www.earlyamerica.com which provides links to primary sources, and Colonial Williamsburg at www.colonialwilliamsburg.org (under the heading History and Education/people) which provides links to information regarding people who lived and worked in Williamsburg during the eighteenth century.

In creating the website, I considered several aspects of my current research project, carefully determining which aspects could be incorporated into the website.  The practice of midwifery is an ancient one carried to the colonies from England by women who had learned their art from a female friend or relative who was an experienced midwife.  Midwives kept the secrets shared with them by their patients and therefore did not usually keep written records of their daily practice.  If records were kept, they were usually destroyed when the midwife stopped practicing due to age or infirmity.  In England, midwives traditionally testified in court in cases of infanticide, abortion, bastardy, fornication and adultery.  My research involves utilizing court records for the colony of Virginia to determine if this aspect of the English practice of midwifery was successfully transported to the American Colonies.  Court records provide a window into the lives of colonists and help historians to understand their interpersonal relationships as well as the gendered and class-based nature of crime and punishment.

I have incorporated into my website the records of several interesting court cases in the Richmond County Courts, the Court of Oyer and Terminer and the Colonial Court of Accomack-Northampton County, Virginia.  These cases ultimately highlight the reasons why it was imperative to use the services of a midwife in childbirth.  The presence of the midwife not only safeguarded the lives of mother and child during the birth process, but also offered legal protection for the mother.  Midwives testified in cases of paternity for unwed mothers who provided the midwife with the identity of the father at the height of labor – a time when it was believed women would not lie.  This belief grew out of the fear women suffered during childbirth – they feared for their lives because women died during childbirth at much higher rates than today due to complications, especially childbed fever (Puerperal fever).  The presence of the midwife also provided the mother protection against charges of infanticide – if the baby was stillborn the midwife and other women present were able to attest to the condition of the child at birth.

The cases included on this website involve charges of infanticide when childbirth took place outside of the company of women, as well as cases of bastardy, fornication and adultery.  When men of property were charged with crimes the primary “punishment” assigned involved a fine payable in cash or tobacco.  In contrast, when women and indentured servants (men and women) were the defendants in these cases the punishments assigned included whipping, added time to their indenture and hanging.

Also included in the exhibit section are some photographs taken by me at Colonial Williamsburg of the man-midwife/surgeon’s tools and Dr. Galt’s license to practice midwifery from London, England.

I enjoyed creating this website and feel that I have accomplished the goals stated in my project proposal.  I also decided to add a comments page using Intense Debates so that visitors can leave comments or suggestions regarding the website.  I plan to continue to add case files and photographs to the site as I pursue additional research into the practice of midwifery in colonial America.

 

A reflection

Despite the findings of my research paper, I was notably impressed with the ability of video games to educate. The primary reason I chose not to include Medal of Honor: Frontline in to this group of educating video games, I feel, was because it was so outdated. The primary cause to this point, I feel, was my own bias towards the outdated graphics, the rudimentary objectives and the god-awful aiming system I found so captivating nearly a decade ago.
Yet, this game, I felt was the beginning to what I learned in this class. While the game, itself, was not representative of the direction society is taking itself, I feel this class demonstrated the change in society as well as the current trend. From electronic museums, to charting the use of the word “the,” to a website that catalogued every change or edit to the bible since its original penning, I can, with ease, say that I was witness over the pas semester to the change in direction of how my children, grandchildren and grand-grandchildren will be learning. Truly, there will be no more speak and spell.
Five years ago, Hitachi claimed the world’s smallest microchip, with dimensions of .15 millimeter x .15 millimeter. The innovations I’ve personally seen and explored in this semester lead me to be very excited about learning and, especially, what role our generation will take in the annals of digital history. Will this countless amount of innovation be portrayed simply on one website or, in 50 years, will computers simply plug right in to our brains and tell us everything it is we need to know. I’ve enjoyed imagining and exploring with all of you and I hope you have with me. Thanks for a great semester!

Proposal for future research

As Gee’s six-year old noted, “the bad guys become the good guys.” In the most recently released version of Medal of Honor, titled, “Black Ops,” already cited as completely unrealistic (Elliott 2011), the multiplayer option exists to play as US forces or Taliban in Afghanistan. The game is groundbreaking in that, previously, no game has ever been produced during the same time period of the conflict (KENRECK). Previous versions of war games have depicted Vietnam, WWII, WWI, etc but have all been produced years following the conflicts. This current day game allows for players to play as the Taliban and, essentially, kill soldiers. The problem comes heretofore in that, in current times, these very same things are happening. Four thousand deaths are attributed to the Iraqi War and that number is currently being broached in Afghanistan. War Veterans, regardless of what conflict they served in, will synonymously chime in that war is hell. At what point can the seeming invincibility of soldiers or the glorification of video games be considered enough? The United States Army uses “America’s Army” – a video game made and produced by the US Army – as its number one recruiting tool (Hsu).
A proposal for future research would be to investigate a comparison between actual war experiences and the emotions triggered alongside such things as compared to video game experiences. Alongside this, the psychological toll of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom could well be our generation’s Agent Orange, cites Dr. Sally Satel (Satel 2005). The wounds of the thousands of soldiers coming home from war takes form not always in missing limbs and dismembered lives but scarred minds and damaged psyches. It is notable in my research to point out to my detachment to the horrors of war. Research, is therefore, commendable on the link between post-traumatic stress disorder and the playing of video games. If soldiers that couldn’t perform in the field get a second chance to save themselves or their brethren, healing, perhaps, could begin to emerge.

Kenreck, Todd. “From Real Drug War to Video Game.” In-Game. Web. 23 Mar. 2011.
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Hsu, Jeremy. “For the U.S. Military, Video Games Get Serious | LiveScience.” Current
News on Space, Animals, Technology, Health, Environment, Culture and History | LiveScience. Web. 23 Mar. 2011. .

Satel, Dr, Major Gregory Burbelo and Nate Zinsser. “AEI – Soldiers, Psyche, and the
Department of Veterans Affairs.” Welcome to AEI. Web. Collection of studies. 19 Apr. 2011. .