Final Reflection

My final digital project is finally up and running! Everyone can check it out at Tips and Quips DC is an online resource for graduates in the DC area studying history, museum studies, or any related field. This website, which is more of an interactive blogging site, allows incoming graduate students to ask questions related to any of DC’s myriad cultural institutions. Current grads can then answer questions as well as share their tips and quips to make visits to these institutions more efficient. My main hope in doing this project is that it will cultivate a discussion between grad students and help others have positive experiences at these places. The five institutions on the website include: the Library of Congress, NARA (in both DC and MD), the Smithsonian, and University Libraries.

WordPress was probably the most helpful tool I learned to use in this class. Not only did I create a great website for my final project, but I will also be using WordPress to create my online portfolio to present at Public History Day. Knowledge of this tool will definitely be a valuable skill to have on my resume while searching for jobs.

One great takeaway from this project is knowing that the National History Center will be using Tips and Quips DC in a wider project that is still in its nascent stages. The center envisions a resource for graduates that not only includes a guide for using cultural institutions but also one that shows students cheap places to eat, entertainment venues, and a system to connect graduate students to local historians in the area who can act as mentors.

Below is a look at my poster:

Show and Tell: The National Archives – DocsTeach

As we’ve seen throughout this course, there are various ways to connect the public to history using digital resources. Along with this, teachers are progressively acknowledging the significance of using online tools in the classroom to keep up with today’s generation of tech-savvy students. Perhaps a resource they may find useful is the National Archives’ online teaching tool for educators called DocsTeach.

DocsTeach allows teachers to create their own interactive activities, using primary sources from the National Archives digital vault to do so. Teachers are encouraged to create interactive maps, make sequential timelines based on primary documents and images, build connection-strings, match certain documents to a specific concept or topic, etc. These activities are especially valuable because teachers can assign activities for students to do themselves and later share with the classroom.

DocsTeach also offers multiple existing lessons created by the National Archives. Each lesson pertains to a certain historical era in American history, ranging from 1754 to the present. Within each are several activities relating to that lesson. For instance, the lesson Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877) contains six different activities in which students can compare civil war recruitment posters, assess the effectiveness of the Freedmen’s Bureau, use the Emancipation Proclamation and historical congressional records to solve problems, and search other documents to find out what else was happening during this period. Each activity is entirely primary source-oriented. Teachers are also given the option to reformat, or skin, each existing activity to create their own prototypes.

Each primary source is also categorized under a certain historical era to help teachers better find them to include within their activities. These categories consist of written documents, images, maps, charts, graphs, audio and video. There are thousands of sources to choose from, allowing teachers an even greater opportunity to create multiple activities for their disposal.

Thanks to the creation of DocsTeach, the National Archives has given educators an invaluable resource to connect students to history using digital tools. This is a fantastic resource that anyone hoping to enter the academic field should consider using in the future.


Digital Project Proposal

I am currently interning at the National History Center. The other day we were approached by a local historian to help assist on a new project that involved connecting incoming graduate students in the history or museum field and providing them with information on how to use various resources DC has to offer. This historian had a large project in mind that included an interactive map where students could view great local restaurants, entertainment venues, as well as historic institutions.

For my digital project, I would like to work off of one aspect of this project – connecting incoming history and museum grads with local cultural institutions. Originally I was thinking of creating an interactive map where students could hover over different institutions on the map to find information, but due to time I think I may just create an open source blogging site through WordPress.

This project would mainly involve connecting current and incoming graduate students through a two-way conversation. Incoming students could ask questions, and current students would provide information and helpful tips on how to use certain institutions. For example, when I first arrived in DC I had absolutely no idea how to use the Library of Congress. To which building did I have to go to get my readers card? How long would this process take? Which reading rooms allow personal bags? To whom should I ask questions? Where exactly is the European reading room located? How do I use the online database? This is just one example of how current grad students could really help incoming students use the resources of these institutions more quickly and efficiently.

Another aspect of this project could involve a “venue of the week” feature. For example, I could throw out a question regarding some exhibit at the Smithsonian, asking people how easy it was to find, what the purpose of the exhibit was, how it fits into that museum’s mission, etc. This would prompt people to visit the exhibit and hopefully stimulate a conversation around it. This would benefit not only incoming students who are learning about what these different institutions have to offer, but also current grad students who may not have known something about that institution.

Exhibiting Digital Collections with Omeka

Digitization has become a necessity in today’s Information Age, an issue widely recognized within the museum community. Many institutions are digitizing their collections to make them more accessible to the public but that’s just the first step. Another question remains: how can institutions exhibit these newly digitized collections, especially if they lack the resources and the knowledge to do so??

If this question applies to you, fret no more! Thanks to Omeka, an open source web publishing system, you can easily upload your digital collections and display them as an online exhibit. Developed  by the Center for History and New Media in collaboration with George Mason University, Omeka provides institutions with a free, user-friendly way to curate their collections.

Users have the option of signing-up for a basic or upgraded plan, depending on how much storage space they will need (as well as how many different sites they plan to create). The basic plan is free and comes with eight downloadable plugins to help manage your site (most of which were created by the Center for History and New Media), as well as four different design themes. Users also have the option to add others as site administrators, supers, researchers or contributors.

Once an account is created, users can begin to upload the items in their collections. Items are organized and archived within the Dublin Core metadata element set, which (according to Wikipedia) is “a set of vocabulary terms which can be used to describe resources for the purposes of discovery.” Basically, Dublin Core allows users to describe the item (video, document, image, etc) and tag it for future searches. Items can then be organized within their respective collection type.

Once items are uploaded and organized, they can be viewed on the public site (to be named by the curator). Here you can see how the website is formatted, view how the theme looks, as well as browse and search for items and collections. One limitation of the basic plan is that it is difficult to format the public site as you like. The themes seem fairly, well, basic, and there isn’t much room for change. Even still, everything is laid out nicely and easy to use.

Last summer I interned with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) within their Museum on Main Street (MoMS) division. MoMS was in the process of creating a new website called Stories from Main Street that would allow the public to upload their own stories (video or text) about a certain topic centering on whatever exhibition was being developed at the time (for instance, I worked on the exhibition “The Way We Worked,” so people could upload stories about labor and their communities). Stories from Main Street was created using Omeka, is extremely user-friendly and looks great. I’m not sure if MoMS used an upgraded plan, but Omeka was a perfect solution for a unit of the Smithsonian that did not have the money nor the staff to develop a high-end website., Omeka’s formal site, also showcases other Omeka-powered websites such as Lincoln at 200, which we looked at last week.

All in all, Omeka is a fantastic way to create online exhibits. For people like me who are not necessarily tech savvy, you should definitely keep Omeka in the back of your mind if ever working on a web development project. After all, it’s FREE!

Print Project Proposal – Evaluating Sequential Art

As discussed in class, sequential art may have some limitations in conveying meaningful historical narratives. Daniel J. Staley advocates the use of sequential art as a means of communication between professional historians, arguing through his own representation of German history that images, when arranged in a specific design, can present substantive accounts of history without the supplement of text. Allowing the viewer to discern connections between the images to piece together a larger narrative is, as Staley believes, a viable method of interpreting history.

However, Staley’s own example of sequential art (as well as his visual thesis) is a bit convoluted – and perhaps even lost – within his representation of German history.  Does this confusion stem from the method of sequential art itself, or has Staley just given us a bad example?

For my print project, I propose an evaluation of Staley’s example of sequential art among our own history department here at American University. Staley’s example online does not leave any room for other historians to comment and/or question his use of sequential art. It would be interesting to discover what our own faculty has to say about Staley’s method. For example, faculty would be prompted to answer questions such as: have they ever used sequential art to teach their own students about a certain historical topic? What is their position on using visual imagery without the support of text? Do they agree that Staley’s representation of German history is effective in conveying a meaningful historical narrative?

A second phase of this project would be to assess a new attempt at sequential art. I believe one of the most effective methods of using visual imagery is in showing a changing landscape. A sequence of images could be created to portray how a certain area has been developed, appropriated and/or exhausted over time. Some examples could include showcasing industrialization under Stalin in Soviet Russia, highlighting the emergence of electrical lines in rural America, or displaying the increase of violence throughout the Vietnam War. A second evaluation with the American University faculty comparing this new visual sequence with Staley’s representation of German history may allow us to figure out whether or not sequential art is truly a meaningful method of interpreting history.