Project Reflections

For my final project, I researched how the website for HBO’s “The Pacific” was used as a space for viewers to discuss their thoughts about the show.  What drew me to this idea was my own interest in the show and how this non-traditional space for discussion was used.  What I wanted to know was: what type of comments did people leave? What do they talk about? What is their background in history or the military?  What parts of the show do they have issues with? How many posters are having a dialogue versus leaving a few posts?

In going through the site, I was both reassured and surprised at what types of comments were left and what prompted discussion.  In my paper I argue that history presented on television is a one sided dialogue because viewers cannot ask producers what they were thinking when creating the show.  Unlike museums where a visitor could ask a tour guide or staff member why decisions were made, a viewer can only hope to find answers online.  The other issue with this is that unlike an exhibit, once the show is made there is no going back to make revisions for future viewing.  With these restrictions in place, I was interested to see how people reacted to the particular stories and information the show covered.

For the threads I studied in the “Talk” section on the website, I entered the data into charts to see what the ratio of reactions were to any particular conversation thread.  Using this data I was able to make general conclusions about how people felt about the show and its content.  For the two pages outside of the “Talk” section that I studied, I found that viewers were very attached to parts of history that had personal meaning to them.  One of the comments that had most consistent responses was a post that criticized HBO for inaccurately portraying who burned the Turkish city of Izmir.  Personally, I could not recall this part of the series and since there was a much larger message the show was trying to convey, I did not hold on to that short scene.  However, there were several viewers with Turkish backgrounds who took great offense at HBO’s portrayal of the event and they questioned the integrity of the historians doing the research.  This is the best example of how memory is a powerful tool for influencing what people perceive is the right type of history.

Overall, I really enjoyed writing this paper and learning about how websites like “The Pacific” are used to prompt viewers to post their opinions.  The site was not a traditional blog in that less than five of the 100+ comments I studied were past the year the show came out.  Viewers also tended to leave one, maybe two, comments about the show.  Unlike our class site where comments go back and forth, that was not the usual practice on this site.  This project was useful for studying the role of public memory and the changing media used to teach history.  It will be interesting to see if this will change at all in the future or if the nature of sites like this is such that they will only hold the attention of viewers as long as the series is on the air.

Show and Tell: Mr. Jefferson’s Mystery Maze

In the kids section of the Colonial Williamsburg website, there are a variety of games centered around colonial history.  Mr. Jefferson’s Mystery Maze is a quiz game that takes players through the garden at the governor’s palace in Williamsburg.  While the maze is easy to navigate for players of all ages, there are many flaws that detract from its historical value.

The game works by the player collecting clues scattered in the garden and answering questions posed by animal gatekeepers.  I do not mind that it was animals asking the questions but there was no explanation of why they were there.  The questions are rarely relevant to animals so their presence is a disconnect.  A child would probably not take as much notice or question the role of the animals but I would have liked to know their connection to the game.

Another flaw was the lack of points awarded for correct questions or explanation of the answers.  Players do not know where they stand in the game as they advance to higher levels because there is nothing to measure a players success.  The only measurement of success or failure is deducting from the three tries to get answers correct.  Once the three tries are gone the game is over.  As for the answers, no further explanation was offered to contextualize the subject.  For questions like “who polishes and files pieces removed from a mold?” the answer is “a founder” but no historical background is given.  Without a sentence or two of explanation or elaboration the game fails to teach history in an effective manner.

The biggest flaw of the game is that there is no explanation of what the end goal is.  I played for more than twenty minutes and I was given no indication that I was close to finishing the game.  There was no logic to the levels either.  As I advanced through them, the garden did not appear to change and the questions were not harder.

Overall, I do not feel this game is valuable for teaching a historical narrative.  The questions are random and do not offer any historical context for the answers.  Aside from learning definitions of jobs and people, the game does not succeed in making connections to history.  The lack of a clear purpose to the game makes it frustrating to play.

Digital Project Proposal

For my digital project, I propose taking pictures of memorials around DC and looking at what their locations signify.  How close are they to the National Mall?  What does their distance mean?  When were they created? Why at that particular time?  Using these questions, the point of the map would be to create a timeline of when memorials were built and the significance of their time and place.  This would shed light on the sociopolitical atmosphere of DC in the past century or more.

Having only lived in DC since August, I know the main monuments on and around the National Mall but I feel like there are more memorials scattered throughout DC that I’m unaware of.  Why don’t the monuments further from the Capitol receive as much attention?  Maybe they do and I’m unaware of it but creating an interactive map with all of the memorials would be fun and useful not only for myself but others as well.

The tool I would use to create this map is Viewshare.  For each monument, I would tag the location and include a short paragraph about when it was built, why that time and who proposed the memorial.  I think it would be interesting to see where the ideas for a monument come from and who generally supports them.  Is it common for certain groups of people to create a committee to build a monument? If so, who are they? For example, looking at military/war memorials, are veterans the core group for proposing a memorial or is it people outside of the military?

In looking at the monument’s histories, I would cite the distance between when the memorial was built and time period of the person or event it represents.  For example, how soon was the WWII memorial built after the war ended?  Was there a reason for the delay in building the memorial (if there was)?

While all of this information might be too detailed for this project, perhaps I could focus more on the facts of the monument (date it was built, who initiated the project, time gap between the event/person and memorial) and leave the tags open ended.  By this I mean I could put a question at the end so visitors would take it upon themselves to inquire more about why the memorial was placed where it was, why were time gaps as long or short as they were, etc.  Leaving the paragraphs open ended could be a good way of creating curiosity in visitors when they go to sites.  It is way of promoting critical thinking about history.  It might be possible to create a sort of scavenger hunt.  I don’t know what the prize would be, aside from gaining knowledge (which is always good).  Maybe in the future the map could be used for activities like that.

Brown, Introduction and Personas

The introduction to Dan Brown’s “Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning” focuses on the significance of design documents.  These documents are important for three reasons: consistency, traceability and accountability, and insight.  A particular document Brown focuses on is deliverables, a stand-alone document that provides context about a particular idea in the larger project.

Within a deliverable, the design team can use diagrams as a way of focusing on one particular part of the project.  These diagrams cannot stand alone, they only serve as anchors that can be shared between deliverables as a way of providing context, reference points and continuity.  A key piece of these design diagrams are personas (chapter 3).  Personas are used to assist with the design process by creating an imagined target audience and trying to figure out what issues they might have and how to solve them.  Creating personas are a part of Brown’s larger goal of this book, looking at understanding the domain, stating the problem and solving the problem.

What must be considered when creating these personas?  Brown has four criteria: activities, detail, breadth and stakeholders.  Design teams must keep these things in mind at all times to create accurate and effective personas.  If they create unrealistic scenarios, they will be ill-prepared to handle the challenges that do arise.

There are three layers to creating a persona: establishing requirements, elaborating relationships and making ‘em human.  Each of these layers adds more depth and individualism to the personas created.  The first layer is the most basic information including names, sources, and distinguishing features and characteristics of each persona.  From this level, more detailed information is attached, such as scenarios, quotes, photos and even personal backgrounds.  The more detailed and organized the personas are, the more helpful they can be to a design team in achieving prioritization, validation and completeness.

When applying this to the humanities, what unique challenges do you think we face?  With history, it is a subjective field for everybody so how can we know that the personas we are creating are an accurate reflection of the target audience when there are so many possibilities as to what they might think?  How do we measure when we think we are close enough?


Print Proposal

For my print project, I would like to analyze blogs or forums for the show “the Pacific” on the HBO website.  Primarily, I would like to find out how much of it references academic work or the primary sources the series was based on.  The show focuses on three main characters who were real soldiers and two of them lived through the war to write memoirs.  I would be interested to see what bloggers are more interested in, the veterans perspectives or the academics’ perspectives.

More generally, I would be looking at what topics are the most popular for the show’s blog.  What do people want to talk about?  Is there a space for WWII veterans themselves to share their stories?  I know there is a section for viewers to share about their grandparents, parents, uncles, etc. experience but is there a space, anywhere on the website where veterans can tell their stories?  If so, is there a space for people to comment on the footage or information they are shown?

In looking at the comments, I would like to look at how much dialogue is taking place between bloggers.  Are people responding individually with no expectation of a response or are they reaching out in response to another post?  What is the purpose of this blog?  How is it fostering discussion of WWII?

The series cannot cover every aspect of the war so looking for comments that critique the show would be interesting.  What parts are they critiquing? Why? What grounds are they opposing a part of the show on?  Having two grandfathers who were in the Pacific, the show portrayed the brutalities they experienced.  There was not one homogenous experience, I acknowledge that, but I would be curious to see if there are any stories shared that contradict the events the show portrayed.

Studying the personality of the bloggers is of interest to me as well.  How do people identify themselves?  In a few of the posts, people identify themselves as history majors or having an interest in history.  How many people do that?  Are there any posts where people identify as not having been that interested in history or this part of history but were brought in by the show?  Many people speak of their families’ veterans with pride, how many people put that in the beginning of their post?

Overall, I would like to evaluate how the post is used to create dialogue about WWII in the Pacific.  Do people talk primarily about the show or do they bring in personal stories to contribute to the existing narrative?  History series have been very successful on HBO, what is it that keeps drawing people in?  Why do people go to the HBO forum to share their stories that they may not have shared or learned about if they had not seen the show?