Final Project: “Legacies of Slavery” Tour at the National Gallery of Art

Hi all! You will find my poster here, my finished audio tour here, and my physical tour script here. (In a perfect world, this audio tour would be available on the National Gallery of Art’s mobile app or via rentable/borrowed earpieces at the museum, rather than only on SoundCloud… but that’s not important for now!)

Looking back at this project, I was surprised at how user-friendly the digital aspects were, especially in terms of getting my audio tour onto a public platform. SoundCloud, my platform of choice, was quite user friendly, and my files uploaded quickly. Then, I simply combined them to a playlist. Luckily, I did not post enough audio files on SoundCloud to exhaust the number of uploads available to free users, but I can see that as a possible drawback if this project were to expand. Otherwise, I think that SoundCloud is a great, transparent platform. One drawback—making my “Legacies of Slavery Tour” playlist public has led to many messages from fake accounts/scammers asking me to join their band or check out their profile. It is definitely a bit frustrating, but I suppose every social media platform has drawbacks like this.

Perhaps the hardest part of recording my audio tour for SoundCloud was finding a quiet space in my tiny apartment building and getting a “perfect” take. I hate hearing my own voice, so I ended up rerecording each tour stop about five times in an attempt to get the sound, tone, etc. just right! Without access to any fancier recording materials, I simply used my iPhone. It took most of a day to get my final recordings, but I am happy with the way they turned out. I was then able to “perfect” these audio files using digital tools to alter, clip, and merge recorded pieces before uploading them. I am sure that these skills will come in handy. 

While these digital aspects were quite easy, the research behind my audio tour was difficult, and certainly the most time consuming part of my final project. It makes sense—I chose to write and talk about slavery in the National Gallery of Art’s collection because they did not openly share that information—and as a result, it was tough to find the stories I wanted. It took quite a lot of digging, but I am proud of my discoveries and truly think that a tour like this should be used at the NGA (*cough call me! cough*). I had hoped to find more tour stops to include in my final script, but there just were not enough resources, leads, or time to do so. Still, I think that ten stops make a manageable tour that is short enough to hold the attention of casual tourists. I was wary of overdoing it with the knowledge that this is a difficult subject that can weigh heavily on a visitor’s mind. 

I hope you all will enjoy the stories included here, and perhaps learn something new about the role of slavery in art.

It was also important to me to make my digital project as user-friendly as possible. After many conversations this semester about the accessibility and convenience of digital platforms, I realized that an audio tour is completely inaccessible for deaf or hard of hearing patrons. A physical tour script is my quick solution for this problem. 

All in all, I cannot imagine a more relevant course or project experience than learning about digital history in the time of a worldwide quarantine! My eyes have really been opened to the necessity of understanding these digital techniques as I move forward as a practitioner in this field. Not only that, but I learned through others, enjoying each of my peers’ projects and the various outlets and tools they used. I have even used Omeka for another course project, and I feel like an expert after our in-class practicum on both versions! Thanks all for a fun, informative semester. Be sure to check out my SoundCloud and let me know what you think! 

schitts creek kiss GIF by CBC

“Legacies of Slavery” Tour at the National Gallery of Art

Hello everybody! 

Although I am doing the digital project, my first draft is mainly centered around the script that I have written for my audio tour. I’ve attached it here. A large majority of time has been taken up by using the digital archives at the National Gallery of Art to learn about the artists, subjects, and provenance of their collection in order to link it to legacies of the slave trade. In addition, I spent most of this week attempting to map the collection pieces I chose to highlight onto the physical space of the galleries, ordering them in a potential tour path that makes sense for visitors. The layout of the NGA’s Main Floor and Ground Floor are below, and I’ve added red circles to the areas where my tour will stop so you can see the galleries I’ve chosen.

The tour begins on the Ground Floor, and then moves to the Main Floor.

My next step is the major digital aspect— recording each tour stop on SoundCloud. I haven’t yet been able to do this, because my tiny apartment is VERY loud, and it’s difficult to do sound recordings here. In any case, I’ll be spending the next week working on creating those. The NGA already has audio tour files on SoundCloud, so I will be doing my best to mimic their template for my own tour. 

This is the NGA’s SoundCloud page

I also plan to edit this physical script to be more visually-pleasing, because I want to allow deaf or hard of hearing patrons to still take the tour without using the audio version. Inclusivity is the bomb! 

I do think that I’ll make the intro/conclusion a bit longer, but I wanted to keep each tour stop short in order to allow for more stops and to avoid boring the visitor! Please let me know if you have any recommendations (or if you know of any other works I might include in the tour!) 

Practicum Assignment: The Valley of the Shadow

Hi everybody! I hope that you’re staying safe, staying healthy, and STAYING HOME! Anyway, let’s talk about practicum for this week: the Valley of the Shadow. This research database originally began with one man’s dream of creating a book on the topic of daily life in two places close to the Mason-Dixon Line during the Civil War—Franklin County, PA and Augusta County, VA. Historian Edward Ayers hoped to help Americans piece “together the disparate details of people’s everyday experience [to] reveal the underlying patterns of life during the Civil War era,” but as technology advanced, it became clear that a book might not be the most effective format to engage with this information. When his original research began in 1991, using the web for digital history was still a far-off dream. BUT as primary source research, transcriptions, etc. continued into the 90s and early 2000’s, a digital database became the optimal way to share the historical information collected by his team of researchers at UVA. The many evolutions of the project led to the participation and collaboration of many academics, practitioners, and institutions, including UVA, the Virginia Center for Digital History, and the Institute of Advanced Technology in the Humanities.

Home page of the site

Thus, the online website you see here was born. The research itself is available in three groupings: pre-war (“The Eve of War”), wartime (“The War Years”) and post-war (“The Aftermath”). As you click around these areas, you can read about daily life in Franklin/Augusta County during each time period by looking at primary sources filed under themes like “maps and images” or “letters and diaries.” There are transcriptions, statistics, historical interpretation and essays by experts, images, and more. One cool aspect is the ability to trace certain individuals or families throughout the years– you can look at their letters, their registration in the census, etc. by following links on the site. Here’s an example:

After finding this letter within the War era grouping of documents, it shows me other primary sources that have to do with the McCutchan family so that I can better follow their story!

All in all, the site is a wealth of information—almost overwhelming if you don’t have a specific goal in mind when searching for documents or historical essays.  Those of us who are interested in this time period or in community histories will probably be fans of the collection. As a Southern PA gal, it was very cool to learn about local history!

Some nice areas included on the site are a teacher resources page (with lessons, assignments, interpretation and more) and instructional “walking tours”that give broad overviews of how to use each section of the database. These, as well as other helpful tools for understanding the site, can be found here, a page titled “How to Use the Valley Project.”

When in doubt, click the “FULL VALLEY ARCHIVE” button at the bottom of a page to return to the home screen.

“Walking Tour” guide
Teacher resources!

There are, of course, imperfections in a site that has aged so much– from what I can tell, it has not been changed in ~10 years (correct me if I am wrong!) First, there is much to be desired design-wise. You’ll notice that it is pretty basic, which can become a bit boring on the eyes after a long time on the site. Secondly, topics like slavery, gender in the Civil War, and other areas that are less-considered on the site have recently undergone huge upticks in the realm of historical research. These new areas of study are missing from a dated site like this. (This reminds me of our conversation last week about the sustainability of digital resources! Much to think about.) Still, there is so much to learn here, so I encourage you to play around with the three categories.  Overall, the database is a great repository for both community and national histories, and I realize that at the time of its creation, it was absolutely groundbreaking! Check it out, and let me know what you all think!

Disrespect des Fonds and Archiving Aboriginal Australia

Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives by Jefferson Bailey

What is “respect des fonds?” : A by-product of the French Revolution, where revolutionaries destroyed the archival history of the monarchy in the Bastille, but preserved records of their own actions in Archives Nationales.The segregation and classification of archival material was both chaotic and purpose-led during a time of political change, and became the basis for Circular no. 14, which posited that the archives were: “to form a collection of all the documents which originate from a body, an organization, a family or an individual, and to arrange the different fonds according to a certain order.” (3) Thus, the creatorled the classification of archive, and they were kept in the original order of accession. This became the Western norm for archival classification for centuries.

 respect fourth of july a capitol fourth 2019 GIF

What are the flaws when “respecting des fonds?”: 

  • Original order of accession is not the same as order of creation
  • Lack of context about past stewardship of archive
  • It privileges old methods over accessibility for many users

What are some alternatives? 

  • Peter Scott developed the “series system,” an alternative that instead classified by function/use.
  • Luciana Duranti proposed the “archival bond” which “identifies a web of documentary co-dependencies that presumes an inheritance and relationship between records based on functional proximity.” (5)
  • Michel Duchein proposed “the parallelismus membrorum, “the similarity of parallel files” in 1983 (5)
  • Chris Hurley and “parallel provenance (5)

What does this have to do with digital media? 

Interpreting digital objects is different than purely physical archival material, and “trails of ownership” as well as contextual material are contained within the file data. Moreover, new and digital ways of accessing archives like databases need not rely on the “fonds”—databases are mutable and responsive the research needs. “Disrespecting des Fonds” creates a new model and mode for the classification of archival material!

schitts creek seriously GIF by CBC
Des Fonds after reading this article:

Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia by Kimberly Christen

This article discusses the work done by Christen and others with the Warumungu community in Tennant Creek, Australia to create a digital archive that is responsive, mutable, and accessible to aboriginal Australians. Because it was difficult for aboriginal people to actually visit museum collections with community objects (despite their desire to do so), an alternative was necessary. So, archivists involved worked diligently to make an accessible platform that catered to the needs and requirements of a community with little experience using digital archives, low literacy, and religious needs (example: challenges in the display of sacred objects online).

Through community conversations, they created a visually-driven archive with settings for elders, male vs. female, members of different aboriginal groups, etc. Their major purpose was to create“a place where knowledge is produced, exchanged, and enlivened through dialogue.” (23) All in all, it is a great mix of community-based history, responsiveness and shared authority, and takes major steps toward the decolonization of the archive

Overall, I think this is a great lesson in community engagement and the need for responsiveness to individual needs when creating new databases or programs! What do you all think?

SoundCloud 101

Image result for soundcloud

Hello friends! Many of you have probably heard of SoundCloud—maybe a rapper from your high school uses it, or you’ve seen follow demands from someone in a Twitter thread that went viral. In any case, SoundCloud is an “open platform that directly connects creators and their fans across the globe. Music and audio creators use SoundCloud to both share and monetise their content with a global audience, as well as receive detailed stats and feedback from the SoundCloud community.”[1]

                In order to get started, you’ll need to make an account. With your account, you can listen to music, podcasts, etc., interact with the community, and best of all? Create your own content! From the homepage, you can see the many musicians, podcasters, etc. that call SoundCloud home—and it’s super fun to explore, but my role is to show you how to use the platform for your own work.

There are three account tiers: the free, basic version, SoundCloud GO ($4.99/month) and SoundCloud GO+ ($9.99/month). For the purposes of truly using the site to upload your own content, you’d really need a premium, paid account. This is because a basic account only allows users to upload 180 minutes of content, maximum. For a large oral history project or podcast, this would clearly be too restrictive.  In addition, the paid versions have higher audio quality. For projects with a large, invested audience, you’d probably want to splurge on that higher quality!

Inclusions for the paid tiers

                                So, let’s talk about the options for uploading with a free account. Once you’ve got a username and confirmed it via email, you can upload your own files to your profile, either privately or publicly. Although you can upload most types of audio files (OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR, and WMA), SoundCloud recommends “lossless” formats like WAV, FLAC, AIFF, or ALAC. In addition, the size limit for a single upload is 4 GB.

This is where you can upload your own content– but keep it short unless you’re willing to pay!

                When you upload your file, you can add an image, give it a name/genre/description, and tag it so that it’s searchable. SoundCloud then optimizes your audio file for streaming! It’ll be available to add to playlists, share via social media, or search on the website (this is only if you make your audio file public). All in all, the process is super simple, and could definitely be useful for history! There is also an app, but I used the desktop version.

Here’s my audio file after uploading it to the site!

The major downfall of the platform is the limited scope of the free version, but there are plenty of free trial offers for the other two tiers. Also, there is a student discount for 50% off of the SoundCloud GO+ tier, which could be very useful for us here in class!

pay me jenny slate GIF

[1] “About Soundcloud,” SoundCloud,