Final Project: Cleopatra and the Public Blog

For my final project, I created a blog diving into the public discourse on Cleopatra’s race. I created a total of five blog posts. Through my blog posts I explored how Reddit users discuss Cleopatra, how classical scholars insert themselves into the public debates, and why people would say Cleopatra is Black. Overall, I came away from the project learning a lot more than I already knew!

Project Poster

Interestingly enough, Reddit users agreed that Cleopatra was Greek/Macedonian. It was almost unanimous. The Reddit threads I found did not have any kinds of debates. I had originally search through Reddit with the key term “Cleopatra.” Reddit users were mostly coming to Cleopatra’s defense stating that historical facts show that Cleopatra was Greek/Macedonian. If I were to do this project again, or continue it, I would search through Reddit using the key term “Black Cleopatra.” This key term could help me find more of a debate.

Three classical historians wrote two blog posts for the Society for Classical Studies. They essentially dive right into the controversy surrounding Gal Gadot’s casting as Cleopatra. The classical historians came to the conclusion the Cleopatra means different things to different people for different reasons. Cleopatra has lost her own voice becoming a manifestation of people’s desires and fantasies. Cleopatra is a popular figure in modern Egyptian culture, she represents Eurocentric beauty standards, and she has become a symbolic ancestor.

I originally was going to write a blog post about the way Twitter users discuss Cleopatra’s race. However, I thought it would be much more useful to consider why someone would call Cleopatra Black in the first place. I am really glad that I did this because I was able to find a reason through Shelley Haley’s work. Through Black oral tradition, Cleopatra has become a a symbolic ancestor based on a shared history of oppression and exploitation rooted in Pan-Africanism. Haley explains it much better than I can so make sure to check that blog post out when it is released on April 27.

Through my research and blog posts, I found a common thread. People are talking about Cleopatra because they are actually interested in her public memory. Reddit users come to Cleopatra’s defense to make sure people know she is Greek/Macedonian. Egyptians want an Egyptian to play Cleopatra because of how important she is to modern Egyptian culture. African Americans, and the descendants of the African Diaspora, have been passing down their symbolic ancestor Cleopatra which each generation. This goes back to the three historians, but people want to protect their public memory of who Cleopatra means to them. A link to my blog is down below. The remaining three blog posts will be posted between April 25 – April 29. I hope everyone enjoys it!

Digital Project Proposal: Cleopatra 2.0

Hey everyone! For my digital project, I would like to take my original print project proposal and turn it into a digital one. I will quickly summarize that proposal here. I essentially want to dive into the social debates surrounding Cleopatra’s representation. In my personal opinion, this seems like a polarizing topic that people are generally invested in. People are constantly going back and forth about her skin color debating whether she was Macedonian, Egyptian, or both. These debates came up again recently when it was announced that Gal Gadot would play Cleopatra in an upcoming film. Here is what Gadot had to say during an interview with BBC Arabic’s Sam Asi, “First of all if you want to be true to the facts then Cleopatra was Macedonian. We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there, and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.” Throughout this debate over Cleopatra’s race, people make claims like Gadot based on facts. Well, what are the facts? I want this project to explore the different claims that people make regarding Cleopatra’s race and trace how those claims are based on historical facts or lack thereof.

I originally wanted to trace these debates over a variety of media forms and I would still like to do that for this version as well. I would like to collect tweets using the Twitter API and twarc2. This will allow me to collect tweets that reference Cleopatra. I also want to look through blog posts, scholarly and non-scholarly ones, to consider how historians insert themselves into this public debate. Finally, I wanted to consider the nature of this debate on Reddit using the Pushift Reddit Search tool which will allow me to search for posts and comments about Cleopatra. Here comes the experimental twist.

Using either WordPress or Medium, I want to create a blog that is dedicated to exploring this debate. I could have one blog post dedicated to my search on Twitter and another dedicated to my search on Reddit. However, I want this blog to be styled in a similar way to the blog from the film Julie & Julia. If you haven’t seen the film, Julie decides to write a blog about her journey cooking the French recipes from Julia’s cookbooks. I want my blog to not only explore the debate surrounding Cleopatra’s representation but also explore my methodology and overall process linking the claims of the debate with historical evidence. Public documentation of my documentation of the debate on Cleopatra’s representation could create a trail for other people to explore the debate.

It would be amazing if my search led to the ultimate discovery of Cleopatra’s race, but this is highly unlikely. Overall, this debate seems to get a lot of people interested in the field of Classics (Egyptology should be categorized under Classics in my opinion). This blog has the potential to create discourse around public historical debates. I think it is particularly interesting for public historians to understand the nature of public historical debates and I hope that this blog could provide useful commentary on this debate in particular.

Practicum: Omeka

Hey! For this week, I will be guiding the class through the publishing platform Omeka. In a nutshell, Omeka is an online platform that allows users to share digital collections and create object-based online exhibits. This is a great resource for students, teachers, archivists, and librarians. As seen in our weekly reading of “Omeka and Its Peers” by Tom Scheinfeldt, there isn’t anything on the market that can compare to Omeka’s usability or accessibility. As an example, the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum uses Omeka to share their digitized collections with the public. I have been using Omeka since the spring of 2019 and it is a great way to learn website design, collection management, and curatorial practice.

Website design is very complex so I am going to do my best to briefly walk you through the different elements of Omeka. I will be using images from Miriam Posner’s “Up and Running with” blog post alongside some images of the Clinton Digital Library as examples.

Once you have created a site, there are two important elements you must understand. The first being the public view of the website and the second is the backend of the website.

Public view
Public View Homepage

The public view is what visitors will see when visiting your site. You have the ability to customize this view as you see fit. This includes the homepage and the different exhibits you may add over time.

Clinton Digital Library Homepage

The backend of the site is where the magic happens. This is where the owner of the site can edit and change how the site looks. The public does not have access to this portion. The owner of the site can add in items (videos, images, recordings) create collections of items, and install plugins (creative add-ons like an exhibit builder).

Plugins page
Add an item
Adding Items
Add a Collection
Adding Collections

When you add in items and collections, you will be greeted with a screen that allows you to describe your item or collection. This is one of the biggest reasons why it is so popularly used by professionals. For each item and collection, you can extensively provide the metadata that is appropriate.

Add collection metadata
Adding Collection Metadata

These are the key aspects of Omeka. Like any digital tool, it takes some trial and error to understand the limits and possibilities of the site. At its core, Omeka is designed to showcase digital collections and build exhibits around those collections. The possibilities are truly limitless. The Clinton Presidential Library and Museum uses Omeka to make its digitized collections accessible. If they wanted, a family could use Omeka as a digital photo album to share family photos. I have used Omeka to curate an online exhibition on the video game Assassins Creed Odyssey and included video recordings from my Xbox. Hopefully, this has been a useful introduction to Omeka and I would be happy to answer any questions in the comments below or in class this week!

Print Project Proposal: Cleopatra

Hey everyone! For my print project, I would like to dive into the social debate surrounding the representation of Cleopatra. As a Classics and Africana Studies major during undergrad, I have always been interested in this debate. People constantly go back and forth about whether she is Macedonian, Egyptian, or both. The debate specifically revolves around her skin color. This debate was recently sparked again when Israeli actress Gal Gadot was casted as Cleopatra in an upcoming film. As a co-producer, Gadot publicly defended their decision. Gadot stated in an interview with BBC Arabic’s Sam Asi, “First of all if you want to be true to the facts then Cleopatra was Macedonian. We were looking for a Macedonian actress that could fit Cleopatra. She wasn’t there, and I was very passionate about Cleopatra.” Like Gadot, people have very strong opinions about the “facts”, and this leads to (probably) the largest social discussion regarding the Classics field.

I want to investigate the variety of arguments that people have made regarding Cleopatra’s representation on Twitter, blog posts, and Reddit while tracing how those arguments are based on historical facts. This is a truly fascinating discussion that shapes how Cleopatra is represented in films, video games, and classrooms. To analyze tweets, I plan to simply use Twitter’s search function to find the latest posts that include Cleopatra’s name by hand. If time permits, I may use the Twitter API and twarc2 to collect tweets using Python. From my preliminary research, I noticed a number of articles and blog posts dedicated to Cleopatra’s race. There were a few that appeared to be scholarly. This would be a great way to consider how scholars participate in this debate. Finally, using the Pushift Reddit Search tool, I hope to analyze how Reddit users are discussing Cleopatra’s representation. The Pushift Reddit Search tool will allow me to search through all the posts and comments that mention Cleopatra throughout Reddit’s history as a platform.

Discovering Cleopatra’s race would be the best possible outcome for this project. More realistically, I think this project could highlight a few key things for public historians. Public historians consider how the general public interacts with history. The debate over Cleopatra’s race is a really interesting case study that gets a lot of public attention. Like Gadot, people often rely on the “facts” when discussing it. Where are these facts coming from and how are people getting access to them? Classics scholars do not have the definitive answers, but many people believe that they do. As a public historian, how would you go about curating an exhibition on Cleopatra when people have their minds set on who she is? More generally, how do you insert yourself as a historian within this debate or ones like it? I hope that this project can explore the nature of the arguments and historical evidence behind Cleopatra’s race while providing commentary on how public historians can insert themselves within public historical debates.

Defining Digital History: The Final Four

Hey everyone, I’ll be guiding us through the last four readings for this week! The first article, “Snapshots of History: Wildly popular accounts like @HistoryInPics are bad for history, bad for Twitter, and bad for you.”, is exactly what it sounds like. The article dives into a number of popular history twitter accounts that aren’t interested in historical accuracy, context, additional sources, or even proper photo attribution. The author, Rebecca Onion, briefly compares the historical blog that she writes with these popular accounts. She acknowledges how difficult it is “to hit the sweet spot between click-worthy intrigue and historical interest.” What is that sweet spot? How does that change depending on organization or social media platform? The author focuses on how the lack of additional context and information takes away from what she considers is the best aspect of history. She concludes the article by saying that these twitter accounts are creating dead ends which I COMPLETELY AGREE with. However, what is it that makes people follow accounts like @HistoryInPics (1.02 million followers) while @SlateVault only has 9,000?

“Digital History and Argument” was created as a white paper produced through a workshop. The document’s goal is to bridge the gap between digital historians/digital work and traditional historians/historiographical work. The white paper advocates for a two way street, bringing digital historians into historiographical conversations and traditional historians to digital history. The paper provides a number of specific examples I could go through, but there are a few questions I rather ask. Who is this white paper for exactly? And how can we best utilize its arguments? I don’t want to speak for everyone in the class, but I want to go on a hunch and assume that we all understand the benefits of incorporating digital history into historiographical work. The Colored Conventions Project is just as valuable to me as any other book or exhibit on the topic. Perhaps this white paper is to help introduce the importance of digital history or to persuade those who are on the fence about it. Maybe if a professor said your digital history paper or project isn’t real history, then you can bring this bad boy out. Realistically, I think this paper is a great way to introduce someone to digital history, specifically college freshmen who have had limited experiences with history.

Our next reading is a Medium blog post titled “DarkMatter: The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/write—and it’s the future of museums” by Michael Peter Edson. Edson discusses how museum professionals, librarians, archivists, and many more have been “participating in an extraordinary — the building of a planetary scale knowledge sharing network for the benefit of everyone in the world.” However, Edson notes that in terms of technology and the Internet, institutions have only tapped into 10% of its power. Edson points to the awesomeness of Hank and John Green and considers other ways people have tapped into the uncharted waters of the Internet. Edson concludes with looking into the multiverse, the limitless possibilities in which cultural institutions can truly connect with people via the Internet. Will cultural institutions be able to harness technology and the Internet better in the future? Will this require taking risks? Or is there a way for museums to experiment with little to no costs involved? Find out next time on …

Our final reading for the week was “More Crowdsourced Scholarship: Citizen History” from the American Alliance of Museums. This reading explores the Citizen History project at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which investigates what happens if visitors help with the research of a museum. I LOVE this project and it truly highlights “shared authority” that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in the public history program. It allows anybody, with time, to become a historian using online databases and research. As historians and emerging historians, what makes us worthy of this work/profession compared to those without “professional training”? Does working to train the public undermine current professional historians? Maybe if the history profession was more accessible, there would inherently be more voices in the field than there are now. I am excited to hear what everyone thinks about these readings!