Digital Project Proposal: Historic Plaques of American University

With the inauguration of President Burwell in a few months, American University is planning ways to celebrate not just our new president but 125 years of AU history. As an e-board member of the Student Historical Society (SHS), we were 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 just wanted a simple list, this project has the opportunity to become digital. I will execute the following plan before the festivities begin in April, 2018.

First, I will collect the information asked of the SHS for the Archives that will include the location of the plaques and any other details found on the plaque through an Excel spreadsheet. Pictures will be taken to visualize the plaques digitally and will have the exact latitude and longitudinal coordinates through features on iPhoto. Furthermore, the plaques will be transcribed. This brings me to question: what counts as a plaque? Since AU is an arboretum (fun fact!), all of the trees are labeled with their species and accompanying information. Does this count? I will decided these limitations based on the information the Archives specifically wants collected. Additional background information of who/what/where/why these plaques were created might not be available to the public. Thus, I will dig deeper by conducting research at the Archives. In general, this project will be partnering with the work done by the SHS and the Archives at large.

Second, this information will be turned into a living collection online through the use of Omeka. Each picture in the collection will have the information noted above in one place for the Archives to use for future reference. One example of a similar project that I will use for inspiration explores the Historic Plaques of Ontario, but this is just a demo site. Furthermore, I will be using 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 I don’t have funding at this time, I will use Google my maps to execute this additional feature to the collection. This technology as been used before, for example through a compilation of historic plaques by the Society of Historical Preservation of Greenwich Village. Through Google my maps, the various plaques will be linked through points to locate the specific monument with exact latitude and longitude from the pictures. This will provide users during the Inauguration festivities to easily find plaques from where their sorority donated a tree to where JFK gave his speech in 1963.

As of now, there will be a day in April (TBA) where alumni and current students are invited to partake in a sort of history walk that will be staffed by student ambassadors that will relay the history of AU. My project will serve as an additional interactive component advertised before everyone arrives through emails and flyers on campus. The flyers will include a QR code that can take the audience to either the Omeka site or Google my maps, depending on interest. After these events, these sites will act as a new collection for the Archives to use and maintain in the future.

 

I will evaluate the success of this project through Google Analytics by examining the traffic of these websites over the course of the week of the Inauguration activities. While this project will be aimed for this audience during this week, my larger goal is that the Archives will have a usable digital collection of all of the plaques around campus to add to for years to come.

Suggestions are always appreciated, especially if there is a better way to technologically format this project!

Print Project Proposal: Analyzing WPA Slave Narratives through Macroanalysis

This was then turned into the seventeen-volume collection in 1941, Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States from Interviews with Former Slaves. Overall, this work features more than 2,300 accounts of life in slavery and is open to the public through the Library of Congress. These are all visible online through scanned transcripts that have also been transcribed. For my print project, I will analyze the tones and word choices utilized in these collections to form a glimpse of the experience of slavery by state and gender.

While not many primary accounts exist by African Americans on their experiences for various reasons, the WPA interviews offer historians a way to examine slavery through the memories of those who survived until the next century to recount their childhoods. This is where the interviews are often criticized. Since these accounts are based off of memories, it’s often argued that these are questionable in accuracy. However, this does not dismiss that they are excellent tools to examine history as long as you keep that fact in mind. I first came across the heavy use of these interviews in Deborah Gray White’s seminal piece, Ar’n’t I a Woman? As a historian on women’s perspectives in slavery, White admits that there are not many sources to find that include first hand accounts. In fact, her book was one of the first to be written on the topic in the 1980s. Yet through these interviews, White was able to draw a narrative to discuss what life was like for enslaved women.

To add further analysis to this topic, it would be interesting to examine all of the WPA interviews side by side to see the similarities and differences by state and gender. As stated above, all of these interviews are digitally accessible thanks to the Library of Congress. I would then upload these to the database that Jockers used in Macroanalysis to determine if there are any patterns in speech between former slaves of the same state and gender. I would also look at the overall tone of these pieces to see similarities. Since some of the interviewers were the grandchildren of their former masters, the interviewees are often believed to be reserved in their recounts due to this fact. It would be interesting to track a correlation between interviewers who knew the participants and those who had no connection. The tone and word choice would change, if I were to guess. I would further utilize Voyant Tools to track if similar adjectives were being used to describe former masters. This would also help to establish the tone of the pieces and the memories of the formerly enslaved.

This would be a huge task to undertake in such a short span of time, so in that sense this proposal is mostly theoretical. That being said, the tools are all there to someday turn this into a feasible project that could offer new insights to African American slavery studies in the United States.

Feedback is always appreciated 😉

Introduction Post- Kate Morgan

Hello! My name is Kate Morgan and I am a sophomore at American University. I am a History major with minors in Graphic Design and American Studies. One day, I plan to go to graduate school for Public History or a synonymous field. At this point, I think I want to work in museums, yet I do not know in what capacity. However, I am taking the time in my undergraduate years to explore the different avenues of sharing stories and memories of the past with the public. I hope this course will especially introduce me to different ways to do so.

Currently, I work in visitor services at the Smithsonian Castle and in museum education at the Spark!Lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. I have also volunteered for my county’s historical society doing library and archival work. It was at the Camden County Historical Society that I learned PastPerfect. I also know how to use Adobe applications, due to my Graphic Design minor. Other than these, I do not know any other programs related to Digital History. I am thrilled to learn though throughout the course of this semester! In all honesty, I did not even know Digital History was a field before signing up for this class. From the readings so far, I find many of the topics fascinating, especially longue durée. I cannot wait to read more on this topic and explore this new field of study with all of you!