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.

Project Proposal: A Walk with Francis Lightfoot Lee

Nestled amid the fields and woodlands of Virginia’s Northern Neck rests Menokin, a site almost forgotten to history.  Menokin was commissioned in 1769 as a wedding present to Rebecca Tayloe from her father, on the eve of her marriage to Francis Lightfoot Lee.  Frank, as he was known to his peers, was a Virginia planter, a patriot, and a rebel.  Most notably, he and his brother Richard Henry signed the Declaration of Independence.  Despite this amazing pedigree, Menokin was allowed to crumble in the latter half of the twentieth-century.  Approximately half of the building stands today.  While this might sound like a tragedy, Menokin’s dilapidation has actually transformed it into a “rubble with a cause”.

Menokin and its 500 acres of surrounding property were gifted to the Menokin Foundation in 1995.  The Foundation is committed to transforming the property and great house itself into a teaching center for history, architecture, archaeology, ecology and other humanities through innovative practices.  This commitment to innovative teaching methods is best demonstrated by the glass house project, the Menokin Foundation’s plan to stabilize what remains of the house, and fill in the missing walls and floors with plexiglass.  This project, utilizing state of the art glass technology, will essentially transform Menokin into a 3-D cutaway of 18th century Virginian architectural practices.

This commitment to innovation and technology is also reflected in the Foundation’s commitment to exploring augmented reality platforms for self-guided learning experiences on the site.  Augmented reality will allow long-disappeared dependencies and outbuildings on the property, such as slave quarters, agricultural buildings, tenant houses, and the original kitchen and office to be visually recreated for the visitor.  Self-guided, technology driven options are especially practical at Menokin, as the small staff cannot always be pulled from their work to give private tours, and the ruin of many of the places to tell historic stories presents a challenge to the interpreter.

Here is where my Public History Practicum team and this Digital History project enters the mix.  The Menokin Foundation has partnered with AU’s Public History program in order to research additional innovative methods for interpreting and teaching Menokin’s stories.  Four of us (myself, Laura Heiman, Kelly Colacchio, and Meghan O’Connor) are working this semester to help the Menokin Foundation, and Laura and myself will be taking advantage of this Digital History project to delve into one specific platform for interpreting Menokin’s history for the public.

We intend to develop an interactive mobile phone based tour using the platform ARIS, to give Menokin visitors a unique and informative experience on the property.  ARIS, currently in development at the University of Wisconsin Madison, is a platform for creating games or tours on smartphones.  ARIS is especially innovative in that it allows for users to interact with information or plotlines in real space.  The app allows visitors to trigger information and “characters” on their phones through scanning QR codes or simply standing at a specific, flagged GPS location.

Specifically, Laura and I will create a mobile Aris tour for Menokin’s property, hopefully consisting of a working mobile prototype, or possibly simply a paper mock-up (depending on time constraints).  We will use the “character” feature of Aris to allow a “historian”, along with figures from Menokin’s past, such as Francis Lightfoot Lee, to communicate through time with visitors on the property.  The tour, due to its user-driven nature will allow for either a linear flow or a one-location-at-a-time look at Menokin’s property and history.  Our project will also hopefully involve usability testing.  As Dan Brown notes in Communicating Design, “usability testing is an essential part of the web design diet,” and we wouldn’t want to miss this opportunity, in creating a product which could feasibly be introduced to a real historic site, to conduct some tests with potential audience members (49).

This project will help Menokin further their goal to become a teaching center in many areas of the humanities, either through creating a product they can put in the field, or at least by testing the waters for the use of modern technology in a historic house setting.  Airs, a brand new platform for constructing interactive, user driven tours will be a perfect fit for Menokin’s current low-staff, low-budget reality.  Furthermore, this tour will allow for Menokin to test run low-budget augmented reality technology by allowing visitors to interact and learn from buildings which are no longer standing.  Additionally, by engaging with technology that is familiar, comfortable, and potentially preferred by younger audience members, it will be able to attract and impress a new segment of its potential audience.  This awareness of the audience we intend to reach will help us, in the words of Brown, “capture user needs and create a framework for making decisions about the design” (26).

Digital Project – JFK’s AU Commencement Address

On June 10th 1963, President Kennedy gave the commencement address to the American University graduating class. Although it was an exciting event for those present, it was largely ignored by the domestic media. Little did they know that the real audience for the speech was Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev. Kennedy spoke of the need for peace, a reduction in Cold War tensions, and most importantly, his willingness to sign a limited nuclear test ban treaty. This last point was a veiled signal to Khrushchev – the two governments had been working covertly for years to get such an agreement.

This AU Commencement Address was the catalyst that led to the signing of the 1963 Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty – the first successful treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union since the start of the Cold War, and the last Soviet treaty Kennedy would sign before he was killed.

With the 50th anniversary approaching next year, now would be an excellent time to create a digital exhibit of this material. The AU archives maintains a small online presence of the event with some photos and short summary. However, their site is directed mainly towards an AU student audience, and tells little of the greater significance of this event.

Using Omeka, it would be possible to consolidate AU’s display into a much more elaborate exhibit of photographs, as well as incorporate primary documents and historical analysis to explore not just why this event was important to AU, but why it was important in a larger Cold War context. Given the approaching anniversary, done right, this could garner some attention from a larger audience than the AU archives’ site currently draws.

Digital Project Proposal

For my digital project proposal I would like to create a website using wordpress that will consolidate information from travel books and other websites about the Battle of Verdun during World War I. It would seem like a helpful project to provide World War I history buffs with a website that will allow them to access detailed information about the battlefield to enable them to enjoy a visit.

Unlike Ypres in Belgium and the Somme in northeastern France, which are the two most popular battlefields for visitors, there is not a wealth of online visitor information about the Battle of Verdun. This battle tends to dwell in the shadows of its bloodier rival, the Somme. The Somme and Ypres are quite close to each other geographically and there are websites that provide visitors with history, analysis, visitor information and visitor experiences for those two battlefields. No one has provided an extensive historical website for prospective visitors from for Verdun, which is considerably farther away in central-eastern France.

Many people do not know that the Battle of Verdun witnessed just under one million casualties, which was the fourth most of any battle during the Great War. Hopefully this digital project will give both agency and a wealth of useful information to prospective visitors and traveling history buffs so that they can better enjoy a trip to Verdun.

I intend to create the website as a way for potential visitors of French World War I battlefields to learn more about the battles fought on the battlefields themselves as well as to provide visitor information about tours. I intend to include maps, photographs from the Verdun battlefield and from the present, recommend reading lists, my own analysis of the importance of Verdun, as well as those from acclaimed historians, and past experiences and stories from visitors and history buffs who visited the Verdun battlefield to show not only what potential visitors might expect to see on their visits but also how these battlefields touched and influenced visitors from the past.

While there are currently websites about the history of Verdun and tour information in French, there are no exclusive English websites that offer the same information. Many websites that I visited offer tourist information about hotels, desirable car routes, and nearby restaurants. While this may be helpful to some people, I am more interested in providing a website more focused on historical facts, scholarly analysis, stories, and past visitor thoughts and experiences about Verdun. I intend to conduct some of my research in French as many websites on this subject are in that language.

“Show and Tell” Post: Hidden Agenda, A Game With A Clear Agenda

Alright, so before I launch into what Hidden Agenda is, I will let you know how to get the game. Since publishers no longer carry this game it is free. You can download it at this website along with some instructions:

You can also get it from the developer himself. All you need to do is send him an e-mail saying that you will donate to one of a number of charities with a focus in South America. I doubt any of you will do that, but it gives you some information on what kind of person made this game. Now once you have downloaded the game you are going to need a program called dosbox to run it, probably. You can find that here:

Essentially, if you want to play the game, you first install dosbox, and unzip the Hidden Agenda file. Then in the Hidden Agenda folder you will find a file called Agenda, drag and drop that into the icon for dosbox you will now see on your desktop. Now you should be running Hidden Agenda. If that seems far to complicated for you, you could just read what I have to say about it here.

The first thing I would like to point out, is that to download this game I had you go to a website that styles itself as a museum for video games. The reason I point this out is because I would like to ask an open ended question to you about the present and future utility of video games as historical sources. Some video games are played by several million people and have the ability to either reflect sentiments, or alter peoples understanding of the world around them. An easy example can be found by looking at the glut of games that now depict Americans in a war with Russia. With Russia being the old bag guy and showing some regional aggression now this could reflect something of how Americans perceive Russia. What do you all think about video games one day being a source for historians?

Now the second thing I would like to discuss is the game itself. The State department actually bought a single copy, pirated it, and then sent several hundred copies of it to diplomats. In addition to being a potential source, this game has a very clear argument. If you play it you will see what I am referring to.  Essentially the game places you as the leader of a fictional South American country, Chimerica. The game creator had witnesses violence and corruption in South America first hand. As the leader of this country you are given a number of policies you can set, and you are also presented with a number of crises. As you play through you will find you are being pulled several different directions. You may want to be the benevolent ruler of the people, but a strong military, the CIA, and more will all force you to weigh your decisions carefully. When I play through I usually get on the military’s and CIA’s bad sides, and then die in a bloody coup. If you want, play through it and let me know if you have a different experience. Anyways, the argument is that with all these different pressures, stability is out of reach for many South American countries, and the United States is certainly not helping anything.

As you can guess, the main reason why I bring this up is to present video games as not just  a primary source, but also as a secondary source. I think video games can be a good way of presenting historical arguments to students and the general public alike. Consider that the American Army pays for a video game to boost recruitment and provides it for free and that the history channel had games for major battles during WWII. This is a powerful medium. Let me know what you think about video games as potential historical texts!

Here are a few interesting links regarding the game:

An interview with the creator:

The website regarding the game the creator maintains: