Digital History Project and Project Poster

Hi everyone it’s Ricky here, and I am very proud to present the class with my work. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been researching and finding information about our climate change, our natural world as it is today and I cannot believe the semester is coming to an end. I initially created a blog post with a print project proposal about the Netflix documentary: A Life on Our Planet. Initially, I thought I would end up writing a paper but further down the line, I realized my idea would make for a great visual presentation. My project features the details about the Chernobyl disaster because the documentary begins with David Attenborough walking through the abandoned wasteland that used to be a populated city. I developed an interest in this event as I asked myself questions about what went wrong on April 26, 1986. Although this became a big part of my project, I didn’t forget to focus on the greater picture of what the documentary is truly about.

In David Attenborough’s own words, he says that this documentary is his witness statement not only for what occurred in Chernobyl but for what has been occurring on our planet since humans have dramatically changed the circumstances of the wildlife on our planet. Since the first time I ever watched this documentary, I have been enthralled with the idea of working towards a better future for our planet. As I conducted my research, I realized that the efforts of a single person to change the world will lead to no progress. I ultimately learned that if you want something like global warming to be stopped, we must work together as a species to create real results in the form of a positive change for our planet.

This project is more than just a digital history learning experience and digital media representation. This project is a call to all humans to raise awareness about the real problems our world is facing today. I hope this project serves as an incentive for people to watch the documentary and sympathize with the information David Attenborough is sharing. As we can see in the documentary, David Attenborough is over 90 years old and he cares very much about the future of our world. This man was lucky enough to visit natural habitats all over the world and view the world from the perspective of a natural historian. This project is certainly about digital history, but it is also about raising the standards for our human society to act with a conscience for a better future. My project is pretty straightforward in terms of what I studied and the information that I displayed. One of my goals in creating this project was to stay on topic and to elaborate as much as I thought was necessary in order to convey my message to the audience.

I used ArcGIS for the first time to create this project and I found it to be quite interesting. I do not consider myself technologically gifted in terms of how I operate on the computer but I found myself able to navigate through the website and make use of the basic features that it has to offer. I found myself entertained because I love the subject I picked for my project. I think I made a good choice and I hope my classmates and professor enjoy what I am sharing. This has been a truly magnificent learning experience and project creation experience that will help me with my future projects. I believe my technological skills have also gotten better since the start of this course and I’ve learned that I love learning about the natural world. Without further ado, here is my poster and my project link.

My Story Project: https://arcg.is/1eDSv1

My Poster:

This is my project poster.

Print Project Update: Digital Folklore on TikTok

Since my proposal, my print project has changed a good deal. As I did further research, and I realized that while there certainly is folklore on Reddit, much of my interests showed examples that seemed to limit the capacity of users to partake in folklore practices or create legends. For example, the r/nosleep subreddit has an extensive set of rules, which require viewers to only post original stories, never break character in the subreddit comments section, etc. which fundamentally limits the process of creating and sharing a legend. As a result, I aimed to find what I thought was an incredibly current, viral example of folklore in action: the Randonautica app and the subsequent TikTok trend that grew out of a gruesome Randonautica story.

For my project, I have been evaluating the user video creation and response to Randonautica on TikTok, placing this phenomenon as a case study for the theoretical concepts discussed in digital folklore and digital ethnography. I have tracked the most popular TikTok videos that follow the randonaut adventures of users, looking at views, likes, and comments, as well as mainstream responses through articles and other forms of social media, to understand the impact of User-Generated Content (UGC) on the capability for folklore to spread quickly, powerfully, and ultimately for a very short amount of time (as it seems to be for all TikTok trends).

Please find a draft of this paper attached below, and let me know your thoughts!

Folklore and the Fear Factor: The Evolution of Legends in the Era of Reddit

In the era of technology, modern medicine, and science, the concept that people still believe in, share, and adhere to folklore might sound absurd. Take, for instance, the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. The story of a colorfully dressed rat catcher, hired by the town of Hamelin, who plays his flute, entrancing the pests and leading them out of the town. When the town refused to pay for his services, however, the Piper used his flute to lure a new set of victims: the town’s children. Lured by his tune, the children left town and vanished never to be seen again. By today’s standards, this story sounds more than a little odd, the type of tale that would be unlikely to pass the test of time as it once did. However, if you dig more deeply into that story, a truth unfolds.

Pied Piper of Hamelin rendition, copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hamelin.

While the rats were a later addition to the story, one common truth remained: a stranger came to town, and left with the children. In 1227, approximately 50 years prior to the story in Hamelin, the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark fought in a battle that pushed back Danish borders. Colorfully dressed Roman salesmen, often called “locators,” travelled the land to find skilled men and women to move north to protect the Empire’s new borders. For obvious reasons, this was a hard sell. For towns like Hamelin, losing skilled laborers could put the town at risk. As a result, it was common practice to sell or give away children to this cause when locators came into town. For Hamelin, the tracing of surnames to new towns proves the less savory version of this folktale: a town made the collective decision to sell their children to locators to ship off to new towns. From there a collective story was constructed as a way to cope with their actions for years to come, and the Pied Piper was born.

Much like those that came before us, humans still tell stories to make sense of the world. Most especially, we continue to be drawn in by stories of tragedy, of what hides in the dark, or what steals our children. Our modern legends can be traced in figures such as the Slender Man. Slender Man, an unnaturally thin and tall humanoid creature, is said to stalk, abduct, and traumatize it’s victims, usually children or young adults. His story began on the Something Awful forum, with a couple of doctored photos, but those on the forum (and on other forums, such as Reddit and 4chan) began adding narrative and visual art, building a mythos of Slender Man.

The legend increased in popularity, showing up first in video games, blending into traditional popular culture, and then movies. Unfortunately, much of this limelight was a result of a 2014 tragedy, when two 12 year old girls lured their friend into the woods and stabbed her as an “offering” to Slender Man. Their actions, as awful as it may seem, continue to show the pervasive power of folklore in the modern era.

Film poster for Slender Man Movie, released 2018

While the original Slender Man story proliferated on a pre-Reddit site, there is little doubt that Reddit has become a breeding ground for modern day folkore. Subreddits such as r/creepypasta, r/nosleep, r/letsnotmeet, and more have acted as a space for entire communities built around the purpose of creating, sharing, and commenting on scary stories.

For now, my primary question remains: when we compare these stories against more traditional folklore, what role does a medium such as Reddit or TikTok play in the creation and proliferation of folklore? And in the era of science and technology, are we somehow more beholden to these stories than ever before?

In my project, I am hoping to explore some of the most popular subreddits and examples of modern folklore, examining how the medium of social media plays a part in the creation and proliferation of folklore. Without our knowledge, have these stories become even more important to our societies than the folktales we believe we have left behind?

For now, I will look at examples such as Slender Man (and other creepypasta figures) and trends such as Randonautica to track how they show up in social media (most likely using tools such as Voyant, Google n-gram, and topic modeling programs where possible). From there, I will attempt to assess the role these platforms play in the potency of the stories told, as well as assessing the lasting power of the legends in the context of “virality” and the fleeting nature of trends online.

Citations:

Blank, Trevor J., and Lynne S. McNeill. “Introduction: Fear Has No Face: Creepypasta as Digital Legendry.” In Slender Man Is Coming: Creepypasta and Contemporary Legends on the Internet, edited by Blank Trevor J. and McNeill Lynne S., 3-24. Logan: University Press of Colorado, 2018. Accessed February 24, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv5jxq0m.4.

Manhke, Aaron hosts, “A Stranger Among Us,” Lore (podcast). December 28, 2015. Accessed February 24, 2021. https://www.lorepodcast.com/episodes/24

photos:

https://www.cinematerial.com/movies/slender-man-i5690360/p/fwdpcmpf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin

Projects as a Scholarly Genre: Readings 1-3 for 2/24

What exactly is a project? By most business standards today, it could be seen as any sort of plan or operation enacted to achieve a specific aim. For scholars, however, the answer becomes much more involved.

For example, the authors of Digital_Humanities outline how the field of Digital Humanities fits within the broader scholarly work of people in the humanities. The excerpt works through various sets of questions aimed at dispelling typical misconceptions about digital humanities. This spans from fundamental questions about the field, to questions about digital humanities projects, institutions, the evaluation of Digital Humanities work, methodology, outcomes, advocacy, and much more. Ultimately, this piece works to fit the work of academics in Digital Humanities within the more traditional scholarly field, going so far as to argue for the ways that Digital Humanities work builds upon the goals of most academics as a more successful option, for example, the use of post print tools in digital projects.

The other two primary readings work through a structured process that follows the creation and execution of a project, rather than answering questions. Daniel Brown’s Communicating Design focuses primarily on documentation, or specifically, deliverables, “a document created during the course of a web design project to facilitate communications, capture decisions, and stimulate innovation.”(1) In outlining the different types of necessary documentation that often remain an integral part of project creation and execution, Brown gives readers direct insight into the best practices for working on a web-based project. The book is exceptionally practical, carefully organized, and clearly written, making it easy to understand even for readers with little experience in the field of web design and/or web project creation.


By contrast, the IDEO’s “The Field Guide to Human Centered Design” offers some similar advice for project research, conception, and creation. However, it’s primary offering is more rooted in their self-defined philosophy of human centered design. By their definition, human centered design is “believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality, and clean water, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer.” (09) Furthermore, those who call themselves human-centered designers are “optimists and makers” who work by 7 mindsets: Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure (10).

The IDEO field guide offers a clear and well organized guide for project processes, from initial inspiration and research, to ideation, iteration, and implementation. In some places, their philosophy seems very centered in the suggested practices (see: the importance of interviewing and immersion to the inspiration process, emphasis on iteration and fast prototyping to allow many rounds of feedback ). However, in others I personally cannot help but feel the advice feels more like your typical workplace project policies than something specifically “human centered” (see: synthesis of ideas through insight statements/how might we statements, integration of feedback, road mapping for implementation of a project).


Ultimately, the contrast of Brown’s book and the IDEO guide had me questioning: how important is it that we, as public historians or those involved in digital history, root our work in a broader philosophy or outlook? Brown and the Digitial_Humanities authors offer us a set of protocols for project creation that offer professionals a guide to prove their work as thorough and legitimate. The act of thorough research, peer review, etc. is what qualifies one’s work to be defined as a successful project based on the concepts laid out in their books. However, for IDEO, it also seems essential that members on their team ascribe to their philosophy to be part of a human-centered design process.

In the future, do you think it would be valuable, or even necessary, to have your team decide on a communal philosophy for project goals, actions, and execution? Or rather, do members only need to agree on a standard of work, as set in Brown’s book? Looking forward to your thoughts on this question and many others below and in class this week!

StratComm Lessons Learned

I know we’re only supposed to list three takeaways but I’ve got five. Sorry. Brevity has never been my strength.

So here we go…

1. Diplomacy matters.
Probably the one thing that seemed to matter the most during my project was the importance of accurately assessing and navigating interdepartmental politics, and on a related note, accurately assessing workflow considerations for both the initial producers and the end user group. Both of these exercises in diplomacy went a long way towards convincing my organization that the changes I was proposing were not overly cumbersome and that implementation would be beneficial.

2. Considering the organizational scope may actually whittle down the problem set.
My organization was somewhat larger than most of the other class projects, so this probably doesn’t apply across the board, but I found it important with an organization of this scale to keep in mind the functional limits of the department’s purpose. For example, it was a pretty hard sell to convince a communications department that they should start performing annual fixity checks, or that they should consider investing in a specialized tool like Archivematica. Rather, it made more sense to look for relationships that could be formed with other entities where it made more sense to house those capabilities, and to then concentrate on formalizing those relationships and processes through policy.

3. Worry about one step at a time.
I found it crucially important to communicate the incremental approach to digital preservation. StratComm’s daily pace of business is sort of like emergency room triage. At any given moment they are restarting hearts and sewing up bullet wounds. Telling them they should prioritize something like format migrations was kind of like telling them they should tuck their patient in and read them a book. I got much more interest from my leadership when I offered them low hanging fruit that they could achieve with the resources and staff they had on hand. I did mention some of the more complex high resource measures but was careful to emphasize that they were long-term goals to work towards rather than an immediate and dramatic heightening of the bar that they must surmount in one giant leap. During the times that I crafted this message successfully (e.g. the topic of storage and location) I could see the relief on their faces that moving the needle forward was enough. During the times that I botched this message (e.g. the topic of checking fixity) I could see that they basically just shut down and considered the entire subject too wonky and unfeasible.

4. Curation and preservation are not mutually exclusive activities.
So many times during the project I kept drifting into areas that served both curatorial as well as preservation needs. Separating the two seemed at least difficult, if not impossible. For example, addressing the metadata section of the NDSA levels necessarily triggered a larger look my organization’s curatorial goals and what approaches to that metadata would directly enable those ends.

5. Yay, existentialism!
I was struck by how often taking a step back and asking myself really basic existential questions (e.g. who is our user group, what level of usability do they require to achieve their goals, what is outside the realm of our responsibility, etc.) ended up clarifying solutions to what seemed like impossible questions with no good answer. This was particularly helpful for me on the topic of file formats. Several times during the project file formats served as a sticking point, but asking these questions made it easier to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of equally imperfect options and choose a path forward that, if not ideal, was at least logical.

 

The collected works of my StratComm Digital Preservation project are attached here:

StratComm_DigiPreserve_Collected_Works