Masonic Print Proprosal

Growing up I was a very avid reader. I could do  without video games. TV? Didn’t need it. But books? I always had one close by–you couldn’t pry them from my hands. My favorite type of literature was fiction, especially that which integrated real history into the plot. Eventually, like nearly every other person in the world, I got swept up in the Dan Brown books.

These books were my first introduction to the world of freemasonry and I was fascinated by the conspiracies that were spun around the fraternity. Curiosity eventually pushed me to investigate further so I began researching the history and foundations of the Freemasons. The mass of information available was overwhelming and it was difficult to find the truth.

Now, as an intern at the House of the Temple, the headquarters for the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, I have not only been able to learn a great deal about the history of freemasonry but I am also able to share my knowledge with visitors. Some of the questions that I am asked while giving tours often seem strange to me. How could a person believe something like that? Where would they even hear something like that? Though I once was a believer in masonic conspiracies, people who ask similar types of questions now seem naive to me. It is these feelings that I wish to draw upon for my print project.

I am curious as to what historical information on the Freemasons (particularly the Scottish Rite masons) is available through digital sources, how accurate this information is, and what people believe freemasonry to be. I am currently planning to utilize popular websites such as Wikipedia to determine what type of information is available. Then I plan on using Mason-written print texts to determine the validity and accuracy of this digital information. Finally, I’m hoping to assess the beliefs of individuals by analyzing freemason references on sites, including Yelp, YouTube, the talk page of Wikipedia, blogs, and fan sites of the most recent Dan Brown novel, The Lost Symbol.

I believe that this project will be a valuable asset to both myself, and the House of the Temple. By completing this research, I will be able to better estimate the knowledge of visitors who come to the House of the Temple. In addition, the Supreme Council will be able to use the conclusions of this project to better understand the image of Freemasonry on the digital front. And,  if they so desire, the Council will know in what areas they should improve or attempt to change their image.

Print Project Proposal

With the proliferation of digital media, more resources than ever imagined are available for educators. Despite education not being their primary mission, archives, museums and cultural institutions have increasingly produced content specifically for teachers as their intended audience with the intention of delivering resources directly to the K-12 classroom. As Cohen and Rosenzweig write “online lesson plans have become so ubiquitous that no one has yet cataloged them.” Yet the quality and scope of these lesson plans can vary widely. For my print project, I am interested in researching and analyzing the educational resources and tools of three institutions, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian.

More specifically I want to investigate how “digitally literate” the educator resources from each institution strives to be. For example, is the emphasis on providing resources to teachers digitally, or is there an emphasis on utilizing the institution’s content to build digital literacy in students? The abundance of digital media in and of itself is a welcome development for educators at all levels. But simply giving students more to look at should not be enough. I want to discover if these institutions leverage digital resources to provoke and encourage higher level thinking in students. Increasingly, the goal of digitized content is to engage and challenge the student, not merely show it to them.  As Cohen and Rosenzweig write, “what has been talked about endlessly but has been much harder to achieve is interactive learning exercises.” The challenge becomes using the resources of museums and archives to teach students to think as historians in a digital medium.

I also am interested in discovering how the educational resources of each of the three institutions view the teacher. Is the focus of the educational materials simply to provide as much online content and digitized resources as possible? Are teachers given agency to alter and adapt resources as they see fit? Often lesson plans are produced as if they were recipes, only needing to be followed to produce the intended results. I want to discover how much pedagogical freedom online resources allow the teacher.

The proliferation of digital media has the potential to change the paradigm of K-12 historical education. With my print project, I want to investigate how the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian engage educators to employ their resources in the classroom.

The Bay of Pigs– Print Proposal

On April 17, 1961, Cuban exiles landed on the beachead of the Bay of Pigs in an attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow Fidel Castro and his government. The mission was an American failure and forever changed the relationship between Cuba and the United States. Many exiled Cubans living in Miami, Florida, were isolated by US policy as restrictions for visiting the country were put in place.

Recently, however, these restrictions have been lifted and the United States has even allowed direct flights to Cuba. What I would like to research through a variety of websites, is how people react to the vast changes in Cuba on the allowed visits through tour groups. Since the Obama administration took office, traveling to Cuba is getting easier every day. I want to find out what places one is allowed to visit , what tours are being offered and if there are still any restrictions on Americans in certain parts of the country. Also, have attitiudes of Americans changed regarding Cubans or Cuba and how have these restrictions changed with each presidential administration. I want to find out why during Bush 43, for example, why were the restrictions tightened up?

Finally, I want to, through different websites, including Flicker and trip advisor get the images that people have captured. I also want to determine if I were to go for a visit, what part of Cuba I would most like to see and what is suggested as the best visting sites.

Communicating Design: Concept Models & Site Maps

Relevant blog post theme music: Follow by Crystal Fighters

Getting meta: A concept model explaining concept models

Dan Brown’s (different Dan Brown) Communicating Design presents an excellent top-down method for presenting relationships between content on the web. Using nouns — described in the chapter as nodes — and verbs — as connections — we can form sentences of flexible complexity that describe the actions we want users to take on websites. This is called a concept model.

Concept models give designers insight into how content will be presented and the relative connections between parts of the site. Associations to other content that may not have been immediately obvious can be discovered while creating a model. While it yields a structure to overall site content, it’s important to note that concept models are different from site maps in that it’s relational, rather than hierarchical.

Site Maps Concept Models
Represent hierarchical structures Represent all kinds of relationships
Have a clear beginning, but no clear ending May have neither a clear beginning, nor a clear ending
Illustrate how content categories relate to each other Tell a story about the site’s underlying concepts (which may or may not be content categories)
Presume that nodes represent particular pages or templates Make much broader assumptions about what nodes represent

Brown describes this process as multilayer, meaning that once a broad overview has been established, we as informational designers can revise and refine our model to include finer nodes and relationships. What Brown doesn’t suggest in his explanation of the concept is a tool to diagram a concept model. Creating a pencil-and-paper concept model might work in initial layers, but as complexity increases you may want to consider a digital utility. Tools like Visio for Windows and OmniGraffle for OS X are built with this application in mind. Even Prezi is flexible enough to be refactored for concept modeling.

As mentioned, the other part of developing a site overview is a site map. Site maps typically give a taxonomic view of a website with the clear intention of showing where things are. Where the node-connection idea drove concept modeling, site mapping is more driven by pages and links. A good point Brown makes is that site maps have the simultaneous function of describing site navigation. In designing a site map, try to keep data to a three-level maximum.

Site Maps Concept Models
Describe a website hierarchy Describe a complex concept
Use web pages as the basic unit of currency Use concept as the basic unit of currency
Have a very clear starting point Have ambiguous starting and ending points
Show hierarchical connections between pages Show semantic connections between ideas

In practice

What’s really interesting about concept models is that node-connection relational data is being ‘graphed’ by one of the most successful online companies ever: Facebook. What Facebook calls the Open Graph is really a living concept model being written to a database every time an action is taken on (and now, off) the site. Connections are called edges, depicted in the graph as actionable content.

The new Timeline profile design comes as part of a larger set of underlying structural improvements to Facebook itself. The company revised its Open Graph to reflect edges as being anything — opening up the capability to take social action on the web as a verb, just as you like things today on the site.

Print Project Proposal: 9/11 and Online Archives

The print project that I am proposing for this course stems from my interest in the role of digital media in the evolution of cultural memory. The central question driving my attention to this area of study lies in discerning whether or not technology is having a significant impact on public discussion and collective understanding surrounding the remembrance of historical events. By exploring more recent history, in particular the destruction and loss of lives in three American cities on September 11, 2001, it becomes possible to explore how the expanding digital humanities movement is changing our understanding of the archive. The proliferation of born-digital content leading up to this national tragedy has resulted in numerous online archives dedicated specifically to this event, as well as the availability of materials in special collections as part of larger projects. These archives espouse vastly different purposes, aggregate varying types of content, and originate from a variety of civic, federal, commercial, and individual sources.

In surveying the websites yielded by appropriate keyword searches, I hope to create a clearer picture of how the archive is being enacted online. For each site, I will attempt to provide a concise summary of what the stated goals for the project are, who funds and maintains its offerings, how content is collected, whether content is limited to a specific subset or leans toward universal collection of relevant artifacts, how content is organized and presented, whether user-generated content is allowed or encouraged, what types of policies are in place regarding access and responsibilities for long-term upkeep of the collections, and whether the site appears to curate their materials with or without bias. It will also be useful to explore whether or not these online archives appear to have implied audience, either professional or amateur, and whether the low cost of online broadcast opens up the mnemonic discussion to minority voices such as conspiracy theorists and 9/11 deniers.

I am further interested in seeing what role the traditional physical objects associated with historical practice have found in online archives. Not having yet delved into the research, I would assume that these sites are dominated by born-digital content that is easy to upload and manage while tangible objects languish under the same time and resource constraints limiting how quickly they can be documented and processed for viewing online that are currently affecting the digitalization of historically offline archives of pre-digital artifacts. Where relevant in the case of websites that simultaneously offer physical access to collections, as is the case with the National Archives, I will discuss this divide between offline and online at additional length by looking at differences in policies for access of materials and how much of the total content is available online.

Finally, the diversity of online archives presenting content relevant to this particular historical event includes some that allow user comments and/or reviews of specific content, as well as usage or download statistics. Whenever possible, this information will be included and discussed in hopes of sketching out how the content is being used and how those users or site visitors identify themselves in relation to the material.

This paper will work in concert with another paper that I am preparing this semester that will look specifically at policy issues surrounding user-generated content in the online archive. Hopefully, these attempts to create a tentative framework of how online archives currently function will underwrite future research into what effect broader access to these primary materials has on the shape of the public discourse of cultural memory.