Final Project and Reflection: American University Project Plaque

When I first thought of creating American University Project Plaque as my digital project, I initially saw it as a way to kill two birds with one stone. The Archives of American University asked for a master list of all of the plaques on campus and I saw this as an opportunity to create a digitally curated collection. While I did not know how many to expect, I’m glad I set limitations of collecting plaques outside and on the main campus. As of today (April 26, 2018; approx. 4:15 PM) this collection houses the information for 64 plaques on an Omeka site. All of the plaques have been transcribed and include their exact latitude and longitudinal coordinates. In addition, all plaques have been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons and are linked to the collection. If I continue this project in the future, I would create smaller collections for all of the plaques within specific buildings and then on the additional campuses, the Washington College of Law and Spring Valley. In line with the ideas of Kirschenbaum, this project is “done;” however, I look forward to continuing this work in the future.

The next step in Project Plaque will be emailing the Archives of American University with my deliverables. I hope to maintain this relationship to add information to the items in the collection and link corresponding records in the Archives. I am happy with the progress of this project thus far, since I was not sure how many plaques to expect. I also liked working with Omeka and Wikimedia Commons, which I can confidently say I have experience with

. Overall, this project let me explore my campus in a new way and I have tons of new fun facts for when I give tours for the university!  For example:

Most Controversial: 

School of International Service Cornerstone, American University

This plaque revealed that the cornerstone of SIS was set with a traditional Masonic ceremony in 2011 with various members of the AU community present. Too bad Dan Brown wrote The Lost Symbol in 2009, we could’ve had a major shoutout! (However, there is a line about the Tenleytown/American University metro stop…close enough!)


Amelia Claire Jones, Japanese Snowbell on American University Campus


Christine M. Taaffe, Flowering Dogwood Tree on American University’s Campus

As a certified arboretum, American University must have all plant life labeled with their genus and species. However, I found these two to also have dedications to women who have passed away. While these are the only two that caught my eye, it would be interesting to find more!

Military History:

Birthplace of Army Chemical Corps, American University

AU had a part in creating chemical weapons in WWI; this is why the athletes have to be checked every few months since there is arsenic underneath our sports fields and Children’s Day Care. (Proof that knowing History is important!!!)

Mark of Commendation to American University from the Navy

I never knew this about AU, so it was cool to learn!


Joe B. Bullard Memorial Rock, American University


Appreciation of Donald G. Zauderer, American University

During the process of running around and taking pictures of plaques on my iPhone 7, I realized that I did not have my location services on so I would not be able to retrieve the exact coordinates. I then went around (with location services on!) and retook all the pictures. However, I couldn’t find these two again…. This speaks to my feelings throughout this project. Every time I walked somewhere, it seemed like there was a new plaque that I did not have before. Since I took the initial photos shortly after the snow disappeared and a week or so before Sylvia Burwell’s inauguration, I definitely saw an increase in signage around campus since I had my eyes constantly looking out for plaques. Hopefully I will find these again…

My Favorite:

Hurst, “College of History,” American University

Whenever I give a tour, I always point out “College of History” as our oldest building on campus. When I was transcribing this plaque, I found a quote that made me love this building even more; “It is highly proper that our group of noble edifices should begin with the College of History. This science takes the first place… in the development of a great educational scheme – a modern, a complete, and an American University.”


I truly enjoyed working with American University Project Plaque and learning more about my campus. Throughout this semester, I have learned what it means to be a Digital Historian and I am glad to say that I am one–sorta.

Additional Links:

Kathryn Morgan_AU Project Plaque Poster

Digital History Project Draft- Project Plaque: American University

A few months ago, the Student Historical Society was approached by the American University Archives to collect information on all of the plaques on campus that have commemorated different events, people, and organizations throughout the years. While they asked for a simple list, this project had the potential to translate well into a digital project which would grant more people access to the collection. Detailed below is my progress in this endeavor with links attached to each portion of Project Plaque: American University.

In my initial project pitch, I contemplated the question: what counts as a plaque? For example, since AU is an arboretum (still a fun fact!), all of the trees are labeled with their species and accompanying information. Does this count? I decided that the plaques on the tree would not count, unless there was a dedication to someone’s life on them. I found at least two or three with these dedications. This was something that I did not expect to find. I also found some spacing errors or even typos on some of the plaques, which was interesting to see. Ultimately, I experienced my campus in a new way by collecting this data.

First though, I had to find all of the plaques around American University’s main campus, excluding the Spring Valley Building and the Law School. I further set parameters that all plaques collected would be those outside. One day, I would like for the plaques to be collected on all campuses, both indoors and outdoors. To be honest, I am not entirely sure if I found all of them, but I have 52 readily available for you to look at! I took these photos on an iPhone 7, so as to collect the latitude and longitudinal coordinates through features on iPhoto. Unfortunately, I did not realize that my location settings specifically for my camera were off. I will have to retake these photos, however I intended to so anyways since some pictures uploaded strangely to the digital platforms of Omeka and Wikimedia Commons. I also transcribed all of the information on the plaques, which can be found in every description.

Second, the pictures of the plaques and their accompanying information were turned into a living collection online through the use of Omeka.  The information included at this point is mostly the transcription of the plaques, as well as some additional contextual pictures. Eventually, I would love to collaborate further with the Archives to link their resources or any other additional information they have on the topics. For my online collection, I used the free version of Omeka. If I were to gain funding for this project I would buy the Silver package on Omeka to utilize the geo location plugin to create a map attachment. Since this was not the reality, I uploaded the pictures to Wikimedia Commons as well. Since each photo was uploaded individually, I could not get the same effect with the contextual pictures as I did with Omeka so I created both versions of the collection. The specific location is also not as accurate as it will be soon; again, I will retake these photos to collect this metadata. Additionally, I plan to link all of the Omeka information to the Wikimedia Commons entries and vice versa.

My larger goal is to present these deliverables to the Archives so they will have usable digital collections of all of the plaques around the main campus to add to for years to come. Perhaps this project will expand to all campuses of American University as well. I hope this project can further foster a relation with the Archives so I can better research the origins and people behind these plaques.

Audience Questions:

  • Did I miss any plaques you can think of/have seen?
  • Should any additional information be provided?
  • Were all of the labels easy to understand/could be searchable (I realize as an AU student, I may understand and describe the plaques differently than someone with no knowledge of the campus)?
  • Any further comments or suggestions?

Should Sound Studies Survive?: HiPSTAS and the Fight for Oral History Preservation

In my previous post, I mentioned that audio-video recordings are one of the most underutilized forms of historical sources according to Michael Frisch. In the coming years after Frisch wrote Oral History and the Digital Revolution, this would remain true. In 2010, the Council on Library and Information Resources and the Library of Congress released a report (The State of Recorded Sound Preservation in the United States: A National Legacy at Risk in the Digital Age) that claimed cultural heritage institutions would stop preserving sound archives if students and scholar did not start utilizing them. In response, the School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin and the Illinois Informatics Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign decided to create the High Performance Sound Technologies for Analysis and Scholarship (HiPSTAS). Originally funded by the NEH, archivists, librarians, scholars and students came together to discuss how audio collections could be made more accessible and how to create a suite of open-source tools to foster such scholarship. Through this dialogue, all participants from affected fields were able to relay their concerns with organizing as well as accessing sound artifacts.

According to HiPSTAS’s grant proposal, “there [was] no provision for scholars interested in spoken texts such as speeches, stories, and poetry to use or to understand how to use high performance technologies for analyzing sound” (1). This can be seen in Wendy F Hsu’s Digital Ethnography Toward Augmented Empiricism: A New Methodological Framework, as she hoped to, “spark[ed] some interest in creative engagement with digital methods in ethnography,” by explaining a methodological framework for using audio files. Writing in 2014, Hsu saw the potential for work with audio files and felt similarly as the people behind HiPSTAS that some sort of structure should exist for first time users of these audio sources. In particular, Hsu focuses on sound-based cultures that can be found on the internet. She listed a lot of different sites and resources where she conducts her research, which was interesting since Hsu mentioned our two practicums for this week, Audacity and SoundCloud. As Hsu states, “Digital technologies afford us the capability to engage with empirical data in multiple modes and at multiple levels.” By examining bites of sounds through these technologies, there is potential for deeper cultural understandings. However, this can only be accomplished if there is an understanding across the board by researchers and cultural heritage institutions of methods of best practice to utilize audio collections. This was the main purpose behind HiPSTAS.

Since 2013/2014, HiPSTAS has come through on its promise to offer guides and tools to work with audio. Introducing the HiPSTAS Audio Toolkit Workflow: Audio Labeling by Tanya Clement reviews the new application by HiPSTAS mentioned in the title and the workflow for deconstructing complicated audio files. By creating tools for students and scholars to use, the task of searching through audio files will not seem so daunting as long as the steps that Clement provides are followed. In this particular application, the audio project focused on distinguishing sounds, from the main voices to background noises such as applause. By inventing technologies to process the distinctions between these sounds, oral histories will gain a clearer focus in instances where numerous sounds exist on one track. As this project was from just a year ago, it appears that HiPSTAS met its goals and cultural heritage institutions will preserve sound archives as students and scholars start utilizing oral histories more in their research.


  1. Have you attended any conferences or taken any classes where oral histories were used? How were the used, explained, or described to you?
  2. Do you think HiPSTAS met their goals? Is there still more work to be done?
  3. When reading Clement’s steps, did the workflow make sense to you? Do you think you could conduct research on sound collections with this knowledge?

Oral History in the Digital Age

***Disclaimer: There was confusion and Cristina & I reviewed the same articles, sorry for the repeat in information!***

When sitting down to research a topic, our first objective is to find the perfect primary source to support our claims. What’s your favorite primary source to work with? Picture it in your head! Maybe you thought of diaries, letters, speeches, government files; but how many of you imagined oral histories? As Michael Frisch comments in Oral History and the Digital Revolution, text-based materials are thought to be the most efficient and effective source to engage in history since they are easy to, “read, scan, browse, search, publish, display, and distribute” (Frisch, 2). However, oral histories add a nuance to sources when it comes to the preservation of memory. As Doug Boyd perfectly states in Designing an Oral History Project: Initial Questions to Ask Yourself, “We conduct oral histories, not for obscurity, but to eventually connect one person’s story to the larger historical narrative.” While searching for and through oral histories can provide difficulties, there is a wealth of information than can be garnered from these personal narratives that should be considered when gathering sources for research. Thus, it’s important to understand the production processes and implications of oral histories in order to start utilizing more as they become further accessible with advancements of the digital age.

Why use oral histories?

As Michael Frisch mentions in his article, audio-video recordings are one of the most underutilized forms of historical sources. This is generally because searching for keywords or the right interviews in finding aids is complicated with varying degrees of organization between collections. However, oral histories are becoming easier to work with since technology now allows for, “rich annotation, cross-referencing codes, and other descriptive or analytic ‘metadata’ [that] can be linked to specific passages of audio/video content” (Frisch 3). This means that specific phrases can now be found within these audio/video files, which makes these sources more approachable to work with. Oral histories should be utilized since they offer another layer to analyze than traditional written records do. Oral histories are dynamic in, “context and setting, in gesture, in tone, in body language, in expression, in pauses, in performed skills and movements” (Frisch 2). When conducting or producing oral histories, it’s crucial to keep these considerations in mind. These choices of portrayal, whether for audio or video, affect the message and overall presentation of others’ stories.

Considerations when making an oral history?

There are many considerations to be made when setting out to create an oral history project. In his article, Doug Boyd provides multiple resources and tips to set up a good project, especially if you are the interviewer or director. Boyd reminds aspiring historians to, “understand that an oral history interview creates a relationship between, not only the interviewee and the interviewer but also between the interviewee and the project.” Sharing personal stories has larger implications than the project itself, so it’s important to keep this in mind when framing information for mass distribution. To conduct a successful project, release forms should be signed so participants understand their role in the oral history. Boyd also mentions that oral histories can be expensive if using professional equipment, however they can be conducted with a basic audio recorder or video camera. Audio or video should always be captured at the highest resolutions possible. Kara Van Malssen provided more insight into video recordings in Digital Video Preservation and Oral History. Video captured oral histories introduce additional presentation considerations. Lighting, editing, and directing all contribute to the message that is represented in these visual oral histories. In addition, video or encoding formats have to be taken into consideration; these include: H.264, AVC, DV, MPEG-2, and MPEG-4 (Van Malssen). It’s important to keep in mind that every, “conversion from one encoding format to another– introduces a loss of generation,” especially when preserving these histories (Van Malssen). In preservation, the bit and frame rate, frame size, and coloring of the originals should further be kept consistent. With changing technologies between competing companies, the formats of video will shift with the trends, thus techniques within oral history will too (Van Malssen).

Implications of oral histories?

With the constant advancement of technologies and methods, one word seemed to emerge among these three readings: accessibility. In oral history, archivists of these collections seek to share these stories with as large an audience as possible, which has become increasingly easier with internet access (Frisch 4). While this makes much of the material accessible to the public, not everyone has internet access in the first place. This implies that oral history is limited to only privileged audiences. These limitations, along with usability as previously discussed, contribute to the lack of oral history use. However, these forms of evidence provide, “new dimensions of understanding and engagement through the broadly inclusive sharing and interrogation of memory” (Frisch 17). These primary sources add not only new perspectives to historical narratives but have an impact that is different from written texts. There is an added humanity in oral histories that can be both heard and seen that brings history to life.


  1. Have you ever conducted an oral history? Share your experience!
  2. Do you find oral histories an accessible option for you to use in your research? How so? Where do you search for these sources?
  3. Do you see any parallels in these readings with previous weeks?
  4. Has technology changed since these articles were all written?

Week 10 Practicum: SoundCloud

SoundCloud allows users to upload original music, sound, or any other form of audio to the internet. A more in depth explanation from the “Terms of Use” page states that the collaborate site, “grants you a limited, personal, non-exclusive, revocable, non-assignable and non-transferable right and license to use the Platform in order to view Content uploaded and posted to the Website, to listen to audio Content streamed from the Platform or offline and to share and download audio Content,” to name a few of its features. As long as the file is uploaded as an AIFF, WAVE (WAV), FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR, or WMA and it’s 5GB or less, you are good to share! The main page offers three sections for surfing the audio database: Stream, Charts, and Discover. Discover allows you to search through categories of sounds, from “chill” to “party.” Charts creates a list of the top 50 most played tracks of the week or what the site deems “new and hot.” Stream is your own personal collection of the people/groups you are following.

But how does this all relate to Digital Humanities?

Since this practicum was placed in the week of “Digital Audio: Oral History and Sound Studies,” I wanted to see how extensive a collection there was for Oral Historians. Upon searching “Oral History,” the two most followed groups (on March 16, 2018) were Busselton Oral History Group of Busselton, Australia and the Southern Oral History Program of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Both had close to 200 followers (now including me!) and 2,170 and 812 audio clips, respectively (again, on March 16, 2018). Other results showed college or local history collectives trying to preserve the memories of their community members; however, these did not have as many followers or sound bites as the top two mentioned.

I next wondered about the specific content of Oral Historians. I immediately searched for Studs Terkel, an American Historian who recorded the words of Unionizers and Laborers throughout the last half of the twentieth century. I was happy to find that SoundCloud housed a “Studs Terkel Radio Archive.” This page had 622 followers and 368 tracks, as of March 16, 2018. There were also additional links provided that could bring you to more extensive digital libraries or historical sites in general. I found this to be true of other pages from “Oral History Jukebox,” which is sponsored by the American Historical Association and the “LBJ Presidential Library.” I tried searching for famous speeches as well, such as FDR’s “Fireside Chats” from WWII but there seemed to be limited uploaded files. This is not to say that these files are not accessible to the public; a quick search for “FDR’s Fireside Chats Audio Files,” will bring you to FDR’s Presidential Library and Museum website to hear his compliments of the New Deal program. Overall though, it seemed that SoundCloud is not the premiere way of sharing interviews, speeches, or any other sounds of the past.

However, SoundCloud does offer a platform for interesting ways to interpret audio from history. Since the site as well as the app (SoundCloud Pulse) allows users to download and upload their own content, users can interact with pre-existing files. In “The Dream That Came True [MLK “I Have A Dream” Speech],” DAH Trump sets MLK’s speech to background beats/music. This reinterpretation allowed not only DAH Trump but all who listen to the file to interact with history in a new way. SoundCloud lets other users comment on sections of the sound they like and overall feedback for further collaboration. At 35 seconds of this particular track, ML Ruubz stated, “Great concept, Darrick! Nice inspiration beat. Definitely sounds like the intro for something bigger!” while caseybxl thought at the 6th second, “I love almost every single one of this man’s speaches…so powerful. gives me so many chills. I have been to the mountaintop.” All of these people were moved by MLK’s dream in addition to this new spin on one of the most iconic speeches. As seen by their comments, a conversation was started that could lead to larger discussions of historical analysis without users of SoundCloud even knowing it!

I’d love to hear your opinions of SoundCloud! Has anyone used SoundCloud for historical research? In what ways? Have you uploaded any of your own files? Let’s keep the conversation going!