Making a Curated Playlist Reflection

Check out my final Curated Playlist of audio content about the 1978 Camp David Summit from NPR’s flagship program All Things Considered : Final Curated Playlist Digital History

This class has offered me the wonderful opportunity to create my own digital project.  Inspired by the work I was completing for my Public History Practicum course with National Public Radio, I decided to create a fun digital component to accompany the project.  At first I set out to create a Story Map that infused audio with a map of the Middle East and interpretive content. When my practicum group decided to make this tool the center of our project, I had to change gears.

In the context of the larger project, NPR was searching for ways to present archival audio content from All Things Considered on their website for students working on projects for National History Day. After evaluating feedback from my project partner Julie Rodgers,  a public historian working with the Research, Archives, and Data (RAD) team at NPR, I set out to create a playlist filled with curated audio files and short interpretive descriptions to provide background and context for the 1978 Camp David Summit.

There was one huge restriction to meeting this goal for NPR. Since the program All Things Considered conducted numerous radio interviews with outside reporters and news organizations like the BBC, much of their radio content is restricted from the public. In order to work around any clips from the BBC and new stories unrelated to the Camp David Accords, I had to edit the audio. To do this I used Audacity. I have used this program before, so it was pretty easy to cut down the clips and get them saved. All audio chosen had to be cleared by NPR before it was available for use. I am actually still waiting to hear back about a few of the clips.

After choosing the audio, I had to figure out the best way to create the playlist. Inspired by a similar playlist format used by the FDR Presidential Library and Museum, I enlisted the help of my classmate and group member, Josh Zampetti, to help me code a simple playlist. He created a basic outline for me using html. Once I had this outline, I was able to use the code editor, Brackets, to edit the playlist and insert interpretive content.

Using the code turned out to be my favorite  and most rewarding part of the whole project. This was very surprising because I have always said I would never touch code. It was actually really intuitive and understandable once I had the basic outline in front of me. I discovered that all I needed was a little help from google to get everything ready. It was really cool to move beyond my “screen essentialism” and understand what goes into creating the words and patterns on my screen. Hopefully, this new skill will come in handy moving forward and I may try out some tutorials in Python someday!

The main difference between my draft project and my final version is the interpretive text. I attempted to incorporate principles from Beverly Serrell’s Exhibit Labels  to produce a clean interpretive product. Using these principles I refined my word choice to make descriptions easy for students in grades 8-12 to understand.  My text provides a clear description of the audio but doesn’t give too much away. I hope that students will be interested by the descriptions and listen to the audio to learn more.

I hope that the presentation of this audio in a playlist format with downloadable links will encourage students to consider incorporating audio into their own projects for National History Day. Audio is an underutilized primary source, and it should become more accessible to students, teachers, and historians alike.

This playlist will be attached to a larger project called Breaking the Sound Barrier: Interpreting Audio for National History Day. My group will present this information in a poster session for Public History Day at AU on Monday, April 30, 2018. It starts at 4pm if anyone is interested in taking a look. My group will also be taking this project to NPR headquarters on May 9, 2018 to present to their RAD division. We hope that they will use our suggestions as they plan for next years National History Day.



Digital History Project Draft- Curated Playlist for NPR- Lina Mann

My digital history project has taken on a very different form from my initial proposal. If you remember, back in February I proposed an interactive map of the Middle East which would include photos, audio clips, and interpretive descriptions. I hoped that this map would complement a group project I was working on for NPR through my Public History Practicum class. I thought it would be a fantastic digital element to add. This was to be created through a fantastic web platform called storymaps and was looking like a REALLY COOL PROJECT! Well the good news is that this idea proved to be so awesome that my group decided to actually create this map for the class. We are now working on two maps and a wordpress page which will feature these digital resources for kids doing projects through National History Day! The bad news is that my digital history project got scooped.

Originally I was going to create a third storymap that wouldn’t use the NPR audio from All Things Considered. This would have been a more modern day take on the boundaries that exist today in Israel. However, this really lacked a historical component.

After hearing feedback from my project partner at NPR,  she was interested in having a curated playlist of content that would provide specific clips students could listen to and understand. This is key for NPR since their radio archives are not available to the public due to a complex set of copyright restrictions. Therefore, they cannot provide a database of content.  In the future they want to release certain radio segments, cleared for permissions, in a series of “curated playlists.” These playlists will cover a certain subject and craft an audio journey for the listener with related content. I decided to create a playlist like this using audio related to the Camp David Accords.

Since this playlist is theoretically for students, I want to be able to provide a description of the selected clips that will briefly describe the clip and reveal how All Things Considered covered the Accords and the lead up to the negotiations. The goal is that students will appreciate that radio content, an underused primary source, can be really valuable for historical study.

After examining how certain websites manage their online archival audio content, I decided on a format for my playlist. I was inspired by the FDR Presidential Library. Here is a link to their audio archives .   They provide the audio clip within a table that gives a date, description, and audio length. It is easy to understand and accessible.

For my project, I created a similar table for my playlist. In order to do this I needed some code. I have no clue where to even start with code, so I got some help from my wonderful classmate Josh! He quickly coded my a simple table outline that I could use to input my information. I can’t thank him enough for this. He did it in about 10 minutes, and it seriously would have taken me multiple weeks to figure out. I then used this outline to input my dates, descriptions, and audio files. I am still working on the interpretation for these clips so if you have any suggestions let me know!

Hopefully, this playlist can be inserted into my group’s website alongside our story maps and can be a useful model for NPR’s future efforts to release archival radio clips to the public.

Here is the playlist! Curated Playlist1

And here is a screenshot with a little bit of the code: 



The Forensic Files: Digital Content Edition

This week we are furthering our discussion of the digital by focusing on what is behind documents, digital photos, and videos. How are they constructed? Do they contain their own separate digital language?However, before we direct our attention to these questions Lisa Gitelman encourages us to consider the media history of the document through the past 150 years.

Now I must admit, this concept of the paper document is one I have been considering since 2005 when I first begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to view a little television program called The Office. In between hilarious hijinks and bouts of absurdity, the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company struggles to stay afloat while contemplating “limitless paper in a paperless world.”(The Office, Season 4, Episode 5: Local Ad). I know most people tuned in for the tactless antics of Michael Scott or Jim Halpert’s clever office pranks,  but I have always been drawn to the paper backstory. It was a poignant commentary on our digital transition by helping us grapple with our paper past. How was paper so foundational to the modern world and what does it mean now that it has been supplanted by the digital?

Gitelman explores documents and their “fillability” and how these documents prescribed a structure, way of thinking, and bureaucracy that has impacted our society (22). She also acknowledges our transition to the digital as we encounter these documents today in the form of PDF’s rather than on paper. Gitelman grapples with the photocopy and what it meant to have things copied and distributed. She uses the example of the Pentagon Papers to demonstrate that a Xeroxed copy is to be read as a document but wants us to acknowledge that the person making the copy is editing the original document. In the case of the Pentagon Papers David Ellsberg copied the papers and distributed them but cut off the words “top secret” from every page and didn’t copy certain sections. She uses all of these examples in order to show that we can apply this knowledge of the paper document to the digital word. Looking at the document helps us understand how we are conditioned to understand and looking at the photocopy helps us understand how the documents on the internet can be edited and changed as the morph from form to form.

Now we must turn our attention to the digital.

If you’re anything like me, you ascribe to “screen essentialism” (Kirshenbaum, 31). This is the tendency to focus only on display technologies without considering what is behind the document, photograph, video, audio file, or image on your screen. I can certainly say I have firmly been a screen essentialist. Until this week, my concept of the word document upon which I constructed this draft would have only extended to the words that I type that appeared onscreen.  Likewise, my knowledge of the inner workings of my computer extended only to the loud noise my fan has been making over the past couple months.

My tower of digital content ignorance has crumbled with Matthew Kirshenbaum’s Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Kirshenbaum draws upon the ideas of forensic and formal materiality to illustrate the importance of this form of writing. brings us beyond writing and language as we know it, and encourages us to consider electronic writing and digital language as a real and essential form of writing. He takes us inside the magnetic cards that store information for our metro cards, constructs a world in which our hard drives exist as a “volumetric” or three-dimensional writing space, and addresses the “fixidity” and “fluidity” of this writing space (Kirshenbaum, 91, 56).

Kirshenbaum draws back the curtain and reveals this new writing and writing space he raises the issue of digital forensics, or the activity of recovering or retrieving electronic data, interpreting it, and preserving it. Like regular forensics, this practice operates under the assumption that “every contact leaves a trace” (Kirshenbaum, 49). In other words, when you delete a file from your computer, it is not automatically erased from your hard drive. Instead, it continues to exist until it is overwritten. Kirenshenbaum likens it to an Etch A Sketch where you can still see the previous drawing behind the new one.  This means that this form of writing is both ephemeral and fixed. You can attempt to erase it or write over it, but there is often still a trace.

Sometimes, the trace is an advantage. Data is retrievable. Often new technologies and genres of digital components reconstruct previous information and data into new forms, as in the TAGOKOR  file which contains information about Korean War U.S. army officer and soldier casualties. Jefferson Bailey’s article “TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record, encourages us to consider the complexity of managing and preserving digital archival records. It traces the transition of this digital archive from punch cards, to magnetic reel tape, to tape cartridge, to disk.  This continual reprocessing of information has left a trace on how this archive is “inscribed, described, and preserved” (Bailey). Like Kirshenbaum, Bailey encourages us to note that while this archive is a representation of tragedy and human experience, it is also a record of the various methods of technological infrastructure which make up its current form.

“Digital Formats: Factors for Sustainability, Functionality, and Quality” by Caroline Arms and Carl Fleischhauer continues this exploration of the world behind the screen. It outlines the framework followed by the Library of Congress when evaluating born-digital content for preservation. There are many different types, subformats, and versions of the digital content formats people are typically familiar with. For example, a PDF is too generic and a further distinction must be applied to the file to distinguish it from various subformats. Additionally, digital archivists must consider sustainability factors when choosing a format for digital content including, disclosure, adoption, transparency, self-documentation, the impact of patents, and technical protection mechanisms.

While Kirshenbaum, Bailey, Arms, and Fleischhauer have revealed the fascinating world of digital writing, Jonathan Sterne encourages us to reevaluate our conception of “analog.” He notes that there is currently an expanding notion that everything that is not digital is analog. Originally analog was meant to indicate points of contact between digital technologies but by the 1970’s it indicates contrasts from digital technology. Just as we construct the digital world as an abstract cultural conception, we also construct the analog. As we move forward in time, the technologies we now consider analog were often understood as “jarring or artificial.” (Sterne, 40). At one point Freud’s voice on a phonograph was described as “cold and mechanical” while today it would seem “warm and organic” (Sterne 40). All this is to say, as we become more comfortable with technologies, our concept of what is digital and what is analog changes.

A Couple Questions to ponder:

Should we stop using the term analog?

What is the difference between forensic materiality and formal materiality

How are documents different when they are compiled in online databases versus collected and stored on paper in filing cabinets?






Digital History Project Proposal: Mapping Middle Eastern Conflict- Lina Mann

Project Conception

The Middle East has long been a complex and difficult concept to understand. It has had a extraordinarily turbulent past, chock full of land and religious conflicts, extending back at least two thousand years. This topic can be challenging for students and even adults to understand and visualize. We have heard about Middle Eastern conflicts in the news and in the history books but there have been rare opportunities to visualize the space in which these conflicts occur.

I propose a digital project which will focus on the Middle Eastern conflict during a small window of time, 1977 to 1982 (The years of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency). I will create an interactive map which will help high school age students understand, visualize, and interact with events in the Middle East. Since there were so many contested areas and spaces within the region, creating an interactive map would be quite helpful. I was inspired by the Cameron Blevins Houston mapping project, Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston. The concept of visualizing a space to better understand its history is a compelling idea that I hope will carry through this project.


Project Description and Comparative Project

In order to bring this project to life I hope to use a website called Story Maps. This is a fascinating tool which encourages users to harness the power of maps to tell a story. The service allows you to use a background map and then move through the map in a similar fashion to a prezi. It allows you to embed photographs, text captions, videos, and even audio files to help curate and tell a story.  It boasts the fact that you can pull from Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, Dailymotion, Google Maps, Wikipedia, SoundCloud, Document Cloud among other sites. This allows for fantastic integration of various sources.

There is a really great example from the Washington Post which used this service to explain the way Isis is currently carving out a new country for itself. It created a map where you can click through text, photos, and videos. It is really cool and you can check it out here! My goal is to come up with something similar to this. I will use these tools to set the background for the conflict in the Middle East in the lead-up to the Camp David Accords which were signed by Israel and Egypt in 1979. I hope that I can highlight locations such as the Gaza Strip, to tell the story of how the Camp David Accords came about.  

Why Should This be Digital?

Space is hard to conceptualize in the context of history. Maps are great tools to help people understand this. Also, the Middle East is a difficult place to visit. This would allow people to learn about physical space without actually being present.

Audience, Publicity, and Outreach

I came up with the idea for this project because of the current research I am doing for my Public History Practicum class. For that class we are working with NPR and their archives of All Things Considered to curate a playlist of content related to their news coverage of the Camp David Accords. This final project will be used by students working on projects for National History Day. In doing my research for that project I got sucked in by trying to figure out the why of it all and kept coming back to how Middle East events culminated in the Camp David Accords. I think this has the potential to be a fascinating companion project that could be added as related link to this other project. I hope that it will also be useful to NPR and that they will include it as a link on the National History Day website. That is the ultimate goal. I also hope they will possibly allow me to embed pieces of audio from All Things Considered into this map!

Print Project Proposal: Analysis of Presidential State Dinners and their Impact on Foreign Policy

The role of the President of the United States has been to lead the American people in domestic and foreign policy. Beginning in the twentieth century and continuing to present day, American presidents have taken on larger and larger roles in foreign policy. To name just a few examples, FDR and Harry Truman’s role in World War II, the disastrous Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter’s bid for peace in the middle east with the Camp David Accords, and the continuing War on Terror have demonstrated the importance of a President’s foreign policy. In handling these complex situations Presidents have many meetings all over the globe with world leaders, diplomats, military and government officials. They also frequently host these events on their own turf at the White House. The White House has become an important site for these meetings and Presidents regularly host formal State Dinners to celebrate long-standing relationships, build upon fractious ones, and to display formal ceremony and decorum. Despite this long-standing tradition dating back to the very beginning of this nation, President Trump has declined to host a single State Dinner a year into his Presidency, citing exorbitant cost as a factor. This has created a question of historical precedent and the value of State Dinners.

In order to evaluate the value of State Dinners and their role in foreign policy, I propose a project that would compare the official records of State Dinner speeches, meetings, and toasts with news coverage of these events. UC Santa Barbara has launched an important digital platform called The American Presidency Project which seeks to compile thousands of documents related to the Presidency in one location for researchers to use. It currently boasts 128,921 documents in its rapidly expanding archives and contains papers from every Presidency. The records from more recent administrations are quite robust and contain transcribed copies of speeches, toasts, and meetings that occurred at State Dinners.

For this project, I will use The American Presidency Project to collect all records related to State Dinners from FDR’s administration forward and use Voyant Tools to create a corpus. This corpus will allow analysis of the words and phrases most used during State Dinners. It will look to analyze the most used words and phrases to address the following: Do State Dinners seek primarily to strengthen, maintain, or build relationships? And, are State Dinners valuable to addressing foreign policy concerns or are they simply ceremonial events lacking function and value?

In addition to the official presidential papers, I think it is also important to use news articles from both domestic and foreign newspapers to further analyze the benefit of the dinners. They would provide a point of context for this study. These could also be consolidated into a Voyant Tools corpus and the frequently used words and phrases would help provide a comparison point.

With this project, I think context is important to consider. As we pondered last week in our discussion of Jocker’s Macroanalysis, there is often a fear that digital macroanalysis tools can strip a project of context. I propose an additional point to this project that would involve close reading and analysis of a few selected State Dinners. This would allow an evaluation of State Dinners through more traditional historical methods which could then be compared with the macroanalysis.