D.C. Communities and Their Identity – Oral History Turned Digital History

Hello fellow digital historians! We did it! The end of the semester is upon us. Congratulations on all of your hard work this semester.

While this semester has been one of the most difficult of my career for many reasons, I think it has been one of the most valuable and educational. The skills and knowledge I acquired this semester has been the culmination of many. I sent Trevor an email after helping my mom convert and mv4 (or something like that) file to mp3 so that she could upload it to a PowerPoint. I was so proud of myself!

No, really. I felt like a hero.

My digital history project turned out very similar to what I imagined. As you may recall, I proposed a story-map like website that follows the narrator across the globe.

Check out the final map here!

I ran into difficulties along the way, including changing which platform I used about half way through the process. I began the process using StoryMaps, but was struggling with finding the tools I felt I needed. One of the biggest issues was the inability to change the color of the points on the map to indicate which narrator the point belonged to.

This led me to Google’s My Maps, which allowed me to curate the map in a more effective and interactive way. I ended up including my own life in the map for a variety of reasons. First, I was curious to list the various places I’ve lived in my life, and see what my life “looks like”. (Check out the yellow dots on the map!) Second, reflecting on my life helped me trouble shoot a few editorial decisions. I decided to label the joining black lines as dates – this means they indicate how long I was gone or when I went somewhere. (For example Summer 2015 when I was in Michigan, and June 2016-January 2017 when I was living in Germany) I also used variants of the same color to indicate different things. Places of employment are in a dark orange, and places I’ve lived are in a gold color, and a place of importance is in light yellow. This allowed me to bring more meaning and sense to the map I created.

This is a visual of my life! I’m sure I have a lot more to add to it, but it was a lot of fun to develop.

The map felt a little blank and disconnected to the stories which came out in the oral histories, so I decided to include quotes from the interviews on the map. Svetlana, for example, talks about learning English in school when she first immigrates to the United States. This not only adds interest to the map, but potentially helps the visitor connect with the exhibit.

Once the map was close to finished, I had to pivot my focus to creating a platform for the map to live! WordPress was a logical choice for me, as it allows you to upload documents and audio – two outcomes of the oral history project from last semester on which this project is based. One element on my “wish list” would be attaching audio to the map so that you can hear the narrator tell their own story.

Check out the full website here!

While taking countless walks during this pandemic, I kept brainstorming about the meaning and value of this project. This project began as more of a database and exhibit, but I slowly found the message of connectivity. I was no longer thinking about the themes Jack and I initially discussed in the oral histories, and thinking more about the connections between the narrators not just the couples. Perhaps this is the ‘human element’. My hope for this project is to show that we really aren’t that different from our neighbors, especially if we take the time to get to know their story.

Check out my poster below! I’d love your feedback, as this is my first presentation style poster for a project! (TBT middle school for my last poster)

I’d love to go back and interview these families again to follow up on moments I totally missed, or ask about certain events we barely touched on. Svetlana mentions 9/11 affecting her ability to travel back and forth to England, but only briefly. How else did the attacks change her life? This is a moment that affected everyone in the world, and could certainly be visited in another project.

A second “going forward” aspect to keep in mind is that this platform is intended to serve as a database. The website holds links to the recordings (hosted on SoundCloud) and the transcript of the interviews. This material belongs in the family’s hands. It is something they can add to and adapt as their lives change. I will certainly add to my map as my life goes on! I’m not one to journal, so this might be the way I leave my mark on this world.

Okay… now I’m crying. Be well! I miss you all.

DC Communities – Project Update

Hello digital history fans! Here is a little update on my project.

I made some great progress a few weeks ago and started working on my StoryMap and writing a narrative for the website. The map builder seems simple enough to use, but I quickly ran into problems. I could not assign different colors to different stops, making the entire map one color. I decided to create two maps – each following one couple instead of both. In addition to this technical difficulty, I decided that I am not intimately familiar enough with the husband’s interviews to tell their stories. At this point in time I will likely just follow the wives and map their stories.

I like this idea because I started thinking about my life and all of the places I’ve lived, worked, and visited. I’d love to map out my own life because I’ve never taken the time to write it down. This platform is a great way to preserve our stories, and pair them with other resources such as oral history and images. In an ideal world, these maps could layer over each other and see where stories/lives overlap. This also creates potential for finding common themes and events in people’s lives. For example, researchers could use this collection of stories to research citizenship and nationality like I did, or look at international reactions to 9/11. (Svetlana went to visit Jude in London around the time of attack, and was sent back to the United States because of a problem with her visa.)

Here are some pictures of what I have so far!

Here’s the first thing you see when you open my StoryMap! It is followed by a description of the project.
I haven’t added arrows following the subject’s path, yet! I’m worried it will make the map look messy.
Here you can see glimpses of orange, which denote “points” – aka cities important to the couple.

I’m also struggling with being able to add my documents, and there appears to be a lack of ability to add audio to the platform. Creators can upload or link videos, but not audio… Strange. Maybe I can embed a link to SoundCloud?

For my next steps, I’m going to look into the map creator a bit more rather than the map within story maps and see if I can get it to do what I want. I’d really like to use different colored points for different kinds of events, some with dates attached and some more narrative.  I’m also debating if I should switch this project over to Word Press so that I can upload documents and audio clips.

Any tips, colleagues?

“HEY! What’s the Rumpus??” – The Theresa Duncan’s CD-ROMs

The Theresa Duncan’s CD-ROMs website is a thing of beauty.

When users open the page they are greeted with the phrase “Hey! What’s the rumpus?” in a young, friendly voice. It took me a couple of times opening the page to realize that it was the page talking to me, not the music I was listening to…

My approach to this practicum was to read through the entire website and click on the links in the text, which helped me understand the service which ran these 20+ year old games.

This website is a part of First Look: New Art Online – a “Series of innovative online projects and new commissions”. The New Museum, physically located in New York City, hosts a series of online only exhibitions on their platform – Rhizome. Their other exhibits seem similar to Theresa Duncan’s CD ROMs in format and language.

Rhizome is a great example of a collection of online exhibits and interpretation of digital objects. I really appreciate that their online exhibits are free, too!

As we all know, hardly anyone is capable of running a CD-ROM on their laptop. This is because our operating systems have changed drastically in the last 20+ years, and even in the last five years. In order to run Theresa Duncan’s games, the website uses a program called Emulation.

Emulation’s goal is to “provide a digital object’s native environment and thus maintain its original characteristics, look and feel, and utility.” Such a program is key in digital media preservation efforts now and in the future. It shows an understanding of forensic and formal materiality, and how a game (for example) is fundamentally different when run on a different operating system.

Emulation further clarifies that users can “Use Emulation as a Service to…”

The exhibit of the games goes through ten sections: Intro, The Games, Origins, A Trilogy, Story, Artwork, Music, New Ventures, Conservation, Thank You/Credits. The visitor could imagine these sections as labels or panels of a traditional exhibit. They are short and informative, something Beverly Serrell might approve of. (Sorry for bringing up such a treasured memory, PH MA people…)

My biggest “take-aways” from the exhibit is that the games were ahead of their time as a moving storybook geared towards girls and their interests. The folk-inspired aesthetic and narrative focus were quite different from the ‘fast-moving’ gameplay coming out in the ‘90s. Apparently the technology was actually quite advanced.

To play the games the player click arounds the city scapes in each game. This allows the player to ‘choose their own adventure’ and click on what interests them, but still come away with an understanding of the story. (Just like a visitor would to a good exhibit!!)

This is the “Home Page” of ‘Smarty’! I clicked on the house with the purple roof – Aunt Olive’s home
When the player arrives at this page, the narrator explains that this is Aunt Olive’s house, and that she lives with her “roommate” Rose. We can read into the history of female roommates another time…
When you click on the house, the player has the choice to enter the home or the cellar! There’s a fun underground poker game going on between some root vegetables…
There is a lot to do inside the home! Click on the TV and learn more about Smarty’s relationship with her aunt, or click on “Don’t Look – Top Secret” to type in your VERY OWN notebook! – I’ll show you mine later.

I’d like to point out that the exhibit has clips from within the game, which are saved on sound cloud! I feel like we barely scratched the surface when it came to the preservation qualities that sound cloud holds. Not only does this preserve the game, but also the work of the musicians, etc. who worked on the game content.

The exhibit concludes with a mention of conservation and changing media. In ’97, when the three games were successful, the author attempted a fourth CD. This one was a struggle because of the increasing popularity of online games and content. Overall, “these CD-ROMs offer a particularly compelling case for the cultural importance of digital art, with the potential to inspire a new generation of artists, scholars, game enthusiast, and of course, kids.”

Once I spent my time with the exhibit, I moved on to playing one of the games. I chose to focus on “Smarty” because it’s definitely a game I would have played in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. I wonder how playing the game first would have affected my perception of it and how I experienced the game.

I highly suggest taking a 20-minute break from our current reality and throwing it back to the mid-90s by enjoying one of these fun games. Here are some of the cool things I found during my interaction with the game!

Here’s that notebook I mentioned earlier…
Password secure! Pretty cool for the targeted demographic… My inner 9-year old was SO excited for some real privacy.
Like I’d actually let you read my diary?? AS IF!

The leaving the game, you have the option of quitting or “saying goodbye”. I chose the say goodbye option, which finishes the narrative of the game. I really appreciate how the game combines fun game components along with a story. The activity can be mindless, or the user can be more invested in following the story. – Yet another reason to preserve this material!

Thanks for reading my post! Sending you all lots of good energy and positivity the next few weeks of COVID-19 quarantine boloney. Goodbye for now!

Glitching – Images!!

Greetings fellow self-quarantiners! (If that’s a word….)

If I’ve learned anything from this practicum, it’s that I know less than I thought I did about how computers work, which was very little to begin with.

My task for this practicum was to glitch some image files. After reading Trevor’s blog post: https://blogs.loc.gov/thesignal/2012/11/glitching-files-for-understanding-avoiding-screen-essentialism-in-three-easy-steps/, I thought this would be a really simple process. The linked articles and video in the blog got me really excited to create some Glitch Art and see what messing with the code of an image can do.

I’d like to discuss the blog post and linked articles before going into my adventure of glitching.

An overarching theme across the articles is that understanding the tools and underlaying structures of function within your computer’s operating system enables you to know what is going on inside of the computer. What does the program do and intentionally not do? On a basic level, how you save a file – the format – controls how you view and interact with the data in the file. The structure of the file controls these interactions and the presentation of information.

Certain kinds of data are meant to be viewed in certain ways. For example, an image is meant to be view in .jpg format. That’s what lets people see an image in it’s truest and most interpretable form. Take, for example, this image of a cute house I found on Google.

When this jpg is opened with notepad, the data (or code) is turned into a bunch of letters and symbols that make up what in .jpg format translates into an image. Unlike audio files and programs, the coding is essentially gibberish and means virtually nothing to the naked eye. The idea behind glitching the file in .txt form is that by modifying the data you get a different result!

Andrew Amato has a more thorough discussion of how programs can help repair broken or unusable files in their post found here: http://wiki.opf-labs.org/display/SPR/Solving+TIFF+malformation+using+exiftool

This conversation is certainly relevant when it comes to working with already corrupt files, but is more applicable to someone with a greater understanding of how to read coding than I.

This brings in @samplereality’s article, Criminal Code: The Procedural Logic of Crime in Videogames.

This article goes more in depth on what code is and how we can use it to interact with data and files. Essentially, code is the language that operates on a literal plane – it operates in the machine, but is prone to human ‘interaction’, if you will. @samplereality goes into the realm of videogames and how the player’s perceived success in the game relies on their discovery of the underlaying algorithm.

Players, or people in general, have the option to 1- surrender to the simulation 2- reject the simulation 3- understand and explore 4- deconstruct the simulation where the user sees the pieces and how they fit together. This brings us back to the beginning of this post and the notion of understanding what a program does and does NOT do. @samplereality brings up the excellent point of the history and erasure that may lie within the code of a program or data, which only exemplifies why it is important as historians (and users of 21st century technology) to understand how our data works!

Going back into the Glitching assignment… I’ve shown you steps one and two above.

Step One – Start with a .jpg, basically an image saved in this format

Step Two – Convert that .jpg to .txt. This was a little tricky for me! Thanks, Google, for showing me how to view file name extensions!

Step Three – Delete some gibberish. This step is simple! I tried deleting just a line or two, and then more to see if there was a noticeable difference.

Step Four – Convert the file back to .jpg. This step was simple once I knew how to correctly convert the files. Ideally, your file would be modified and produce a result like this one on Trevor’s original post.

My computer, however, simply tells me that the file is corrupt and cannot be opened.

Does anyone have advice on how to get around this? I’d really like to see the magic of “The Art of Glitch” for myself! The video inspired me to create a glitch piece with an image of the Supreme Court that made some sort of statement, but alas the file won’t open…

Ethnography and Digital History – A Historian’s Take

Before reading “Digital Ethnography Toward Augmented Empiricism: A New Methodological Framework” I did a quick google search for Wendy Hsu, and found their website: beingwendyhsu.info/

In the about section, it explains that W.F. “writes here to reflect on the intersection among ethnography, civic innovation, and the arts, and on their research of urban sounds and music.” The website is essentially a blog, complete with a “tags” section referring to the content of the posts on the page.

This should look familiar!

I had heard of ethnography, but did a quick Google search “what is ethnography” just to be sure and found the definition “the scientific description of the customs of individual peoples and cultures.” Ethnography has a long history in sociology, but as Hsu’s article suggests, it also holds potential for public historians and researchers in general.

Hsu’s overarching question is “How do digital technologies deepen ethnographic practices?” To answer this, Hsu breaks down their dissertation project to hone in on the methodology of digital ethnography and promote the usefulness of both physical and digital material. The introduction certainly made me think about Jocker’s Macroanalysis with the discussion of close and distant readings of material.

Hsu defines two key terms – scalability and intermodality. Scalability encourages “us” to rethink how we sample culture, the close and distant reading of material referenced above. Intermodality is the relational exploration “we” can do with material. Hsu’s project focuses on the relationship between music and place, but goes beyond the physical by using software to survey Myspace. (major throwback!)

Please tell me you all remember dial up internet….

This leads into a discussion of software methods for data gathering, one of which is called “webscraping”. A basic definition is that webscraping “bots”, which are further defined in the article, extract targeted information from web pages. This allows the researcher to go beyond default user interaction with the website. When reading this I was curious if this is how Facebook and other sites collect data to sell to other companies, and Hsu somewhat confirmed this with their discussion of Amazon.com.

Hsu used webscraping to create a form of mapping, which contained many, many layers of information. A large focus in this article is the role of quantitative data, and that researchers have to be careful to not rely on data alone. Ethnographers, and certainly historians, can use data to reinforce an idea or trend, or even use data to find a new line of inquiry. Hsu suggests layering information, similar to the close and distant reading approach previously mentioned, in order to better “see” the story.

Digital historians, ethnographers, and even journalists alike should take serious note of Hsu’s methodology, especially when it comes to their use of digital audio workstations (DAW). In this case, Hsu used audacity to peel back the layers of a recording to make sense, and eventually meaning, of an old cassette tape. With little information on the tape, Hsu was able to make use of digital resources to break down the historical context and content stored.

W.F. Hsu includes the term ‘augmented empiricism’ in the title of the article, which “describes the goal of finding and documenting social and cultural processes with empirical specificity and precision.” I’m sure this is a term commonly used in ethnography, but the process and goal seem applicable to everyone! This article helps make digital history a little more accessible to me, and encourages my curiosity of asking interconnected questions that may have answers in the digital world!