DC Communities: International Families and Their Creation of Identity – Oral History Project Extension

I would like to propose an extension of an oral history project that I began with Jack Cunningham last semester. Being from the Midwest, Jack and I took an interest in the incredibly diverse and ‘transplanted’ population here in the DMV area. I became aware of the massive international population thanks to my relatives whom I live with, and the families their children are friends with. The young girl I live with is friends with two little girls born in Finland whose parents are from Bolivia and Finland, and whose older siblings were born in Bolivia. This family is in the United States on an extended three-year work contract. We had the pleasure of interviewing this family as well as a family from Ukraine and England, whose children were born in England and live here permanently.

While coming up with the parameters for the project, Jack and I determined we would interview couples who are both not from the United States who now have school aged children. That way the couples inherently have something in common, even if it just having children in the American school system. We went into this oral history project to explore a variety of factors, beginning with the basic concept of how people create a sense of identity, and how that processes changes across borders. What sorts of experiences impacted an individual before they met their partner? How do the husband’s and wife’s answers vary from that of their partner?

Ultimately our objective was to gain an understanding of the international population that makes up DC, focusing on the themes of family, work, identity – national identity, worldview, and home country. Our concluding questions included: How do you compare your citizenship status to your national identity? Do you identify as an American? What sorts of things create a person’s identity?

While brainstorming final project ideas, we came up with either a podcast or an interactive exhibit-like website. We decided to create a podcast because it best fit our skills, but felt like given the time the website would have been the most effective way to communicate these family’s stories and draw deeper conclusions.

I propose following up on this project and producing a story-map like website that tracks the family’s stories across the globe. Imagine a map similar to Google Maps with elements of Prezi that move the audience from country to country, following the narrator’s life. ArchGIS/story mapper is probably the best format for this project. The website would feature four curated story lines, one for each of the narrators. “Stops” along the individual’s route would feature commonalities and differences in the couples’ history, contributing to the history of that place.

Just like this! But digital…

The website could include items such as the interview guide, the podcast produced last semester, and other selected clips from the interviews. Let me know if there is other material you would be interested in seeing!

20th Century American Politics, Language, and Digital History

This semester is the most I’ve ever engaged with political history and historiography. Thanks to Aaron Sorkin and his fascination with presidents like FDR, I’ve come to learn a lot about the New Deal era in my course on the TV show The West Wing. Throughout the course we watch episodes and read relevant readings pertinent to the theme of the week. This includes topics like capitalism and the New Deal, and other historic moments of the 20th century. Class discussion has centered around both historian’s and historic people’s use of language. Three major terms surrounding early 20th century politics include liberal, progressive, and conservative.

Based on common knowledge, these three terms are incredibly vague, whose meanings have changed significantly over the last century or so. These changes have accompanied significant changes in U.S. politics including the politics and affiliation of the Republican and Democrat parties. At first glance on Google Ngram, the term liberal drastically decreased in use while progressive and conservative were on the rise. Around 1915 the terms follow a similar pattern of use, with all three coming to a peak in the late 1970s.

Note that this focuses on American English!

I propose a three-pronged print project surrounding these terms. First, I’d like to track the trends of liberal, progressive, and conservative as evidenced by Google Ngram. I’d like to find out why these terms were at their peak use in the 1970s. Does this have to do with the work of historians publishing books on the labor movement from earlier in the century? The trend could certainly reflect a shift in the historiography. As the image above shows, the term “liberal” is also incredibly popular at the beginning of the 19th century. What sort of literature drove this popularity?

Second, I’d like to track the changes in the definition of the world. How, historically, has the word been defined? How do people use the word now? Wikipedia is a great digital source for this step because it offers a variety of definitions and link paths to follow. For example, when searching the word “liberal” Wikipedia suggests classical liberalism, conservative liberalism, economic liberalism, and social liberalism. This trend leads me to acknowledge that I should use the derivative function on Google Ngram to include other endings of the term.

Note that the page goes on to discuss “In the U.S. the term liberalism can refer to either of the following.” There is certainly a global trend within the Wikipedia page that requires navigating.

Lastly, I’d consider exploring other relevant terms, such as populist or populism and how they correlate to these trends. William Jennings Bryan ran for president as a populist in the emerging People’s Party at the end of the 19th century, but it appears that the term was not readily used until the mid-20th century. From a traditional historical perspective, the proposed terms intertwine and influence each other. They serve as a call and response of sorts. What, however, does digital history tell us about the development of 20th century American political history?

I don’t consider myself a political historian… but I’d do anything for Leslie Knope and Jed Bartlet. Until next time!

“Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” – The Machine is Us/ing Us

Roy Rosenzweig’s 2006 article “Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past” can be found on the Center for History and New Media web page. The website is a great resource for historians and anyone curious about a variety of topics! Check out some of the articles and exhibits on the website.

Rosenzweig breaks down the history of the beloved website Wikipedia, including its origins and how the website works. Wikipedia is based on the concept of the ancient Library of Alexandria and collecting all knowledge in one place. As of January 25, 2020 there are 5,896,924 articles on the database. You could make a case for the site serving its original purpose!

Wikipedia was founded on four pillars which serve to maintain the database as a credible and reliable source. First, Wikipedia serves as an encyclopedia. Nothing else. To do so, the second pillar is to avoid bias, which is why articles simply describe an event or person without taking a side on an issue. (Naturally this doesn’t always happen, but they try to monitor articles!) Third, don’t infringe copyright. This is a logical pillar for a database and establishing credibility. Lastly, exhibit respect for other contributors. Wikipedia serves and is served by a community of collaborators all coming together around a common interest.

Rosenzweig then moves into a discussion of Wikipedia as a form of history and what that means for the academic history community. The article concludes with the looming question: Why should we care? Implications for Historians.

Historians, academic and amateurs alike, need to continue to commit time and energy into open sources like Wikipedia for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because of how user friendly and popular these sources are. Rosenzweig acknowledges the shortcomings of the source, but concludes that if historians are not happy with the result, historians must be a part of the process of improving the source and democratizing history.

As an “open source”, it means that the website has less coding, meaning the information is not uploaded to a server, which in turn makes the information more accessible. The YouTube film “The Machine is Us/ing Us” is a less than five minute crash course in new media, mostly rooted in the internet.

While “The Machine” was published in 2007, the basic language and skills presented in the video are true 13 years later! Digital text, and media, is adaptable and flexible, and always changing.

How does an idea get from our minds onto a web page? What is a blog?! How does Instagram know to advertise Reynolds Wrap to my friend who wraps her bagel in aluminum foil every morning? The internet learns from us!

Check out the clip below before reading the article to have a better grasp on open source and coding before diving into Rosenzweig’s article.

Wikipedia is a part of this “machine”. Wikipedia is adaptable and engaging, reaching millions of people on a daily basis. As Rosenzweig points out, an overwhelming percentage of the articles on the site are history related. Does this mean that history can be open source? I would argue that history can and should be open source because of the overwhelming benefits. Open source history is a great example of public history at work as it encourages collaboration and debate, even if the debate all takes place on the back end.

At the end of the day, regardless of the quality of writing, amateur history is better than no history. A community invested in itself and contributing to collective global knowledge is a beautiful gift and should be fostered in an ethical and reliable manner.

Hi! I’m Ani.

My name is Ani (pronounced ahh-nee) Murray, and like many of the posts you’ll read here I am a first year Public History MA student.

A little more about me – Like many people my age I am obsessed with the Office, but would describe myself as a combination of Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins from Parks and Rec, thanks to my love of the National Park Service and tendency to be a voice of reason.

I also have some sweet dance moves, exhibited on rare occasion.

I’m from the north star state of Minnesota, but have called many places home since graduating from undergrad in 2016. I majored in History, with a focus in Latin American history, and minored in Theater with a focus in costume craft and design. During my final semester I fell in love with the idea of working in a museum to combine my love of history and interest in design.

I moved to Germany for six months after graduation and spent time looking at graduate programs and internships in my field of interest. Oh, and I spent plenty of time traveling around Europe and eating wonderful food.

I moved back to Minnesota in 2017 and spent that year as an Exhibit Research Intern for the Minnesota Historical Society, where I had the pleasure of working on the current exhibit: First Avenue: Stories of Minnesota’s Mainroom. This position confirmed my love of exhibit research and development, and encouraged me to apply for a second internship in San Francisco, California.

I spent 2018 living and working in the Presidio in San Francisco. I had the wonderful experience of serving as an Exhibition Intern where I further familiarized myself with exhibit development and maintenance, collection management responsibilities, and gained new skills in museum evaluation. Again, my experience was an inspiring confirmation that I had found a field that I love.

This image is from the exhibit mentioned below, the very gallery I worked in throughout 2018.

The Presidio worked in collaboration with The National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) and the Fred T. Korematsu Institute to create their exhibit Exclusion: The Presidio’s Role in World War II Japanese American Incarceration. This collaboration showed me how institutions have a key role to play in embracing history and telling all kinds of stories, and prepared me to further my career by attending graduate school.

My hope for this semester is to gain a better understanding of how to work with digital methods and how to use these resources for everyone’s benefit.

Until next time…. Ani