Art on Call – Reflection

When I started this project in the beginning of the semester I didn’t realize how much of a passion project it would become. The more people I spoken to about Art on Call, the more frustrated I got about how no digital resource (or archive!) was available for people to learn more. I was more determined than ever to complete the archive, even if the completion date would be way after the last Digital History class. It was a huge lesson in how public work projects can be lost in time without proper documentation.

There remains no master list for every call box that was renovated, which remained the main speed bump for this project. I found an incomplete map on google M Maps that someone had put together, but mostly the callboxes have been located through trial and error.

Since I vastly underestimated the time spent walking through neighborhoods trying to locate each individual box, I got someone to partner with me on this project for the documentation portion. With their help, we have been able to tackle individual neighborhoods quicker, and therefore locate over 80 boxes during the semester. There are an approximate 150-175 boxes, so hopefully the documentation project will be complete by August of 2018.

The ultimate goal of this project in not just the documentation of these boxes, but also the digital archive that can be a resource to the greater DC community. I have created an open google drive folder that will contain mine and the project partners contact information, any resources I used to locate the call boxes, the master excel sheet of all the information (including pictures of boxes, locations, and descriptions), and also a folder of all original photographs that are named clearly and concisely. It remains public, but non-editable while I work on the project. At the completion I will allow anyone to edit it, so that if Art on Call gets picked back up and I am unaware other people can crowdsource it and maintain a complete master list.

Finally, the last portion of the project will be the uploading of all pictures into WikiCommons, so that the rights of the photographs are clearly in the public domain. This way they can be utilized in other spaces, including Wikipedia pages, blog posts, and publications. My hope is that this archive might inspire other community based nonprofits to work on it again, as there over 1,000 call boxes that have been stripped and primed but only ~150 boxes that have actually been renovated.

One thing I didn’t expect while working on this project was the clear redlining that happened with this project. It’s obvious that the only neighborhoods who could complete their project were ones with wealthy residents who could donate time and money to the project. While it’s a wonderful thing to allow individual communities control over art projects that represent their neighborhoods, it has to be clear that some projects should focus more resources to the communities that need assistance in the implementation of their ideas. These boxes are mostly located directly downtown or in wealthy neighborhoods in NW DC, including Georgetown, Glover Park, Cleveland Park, Tenleytown, and Woodley Park.

After talking to my classmate Lina, she inspired me to dedicate my research seminar into exploring community art revival in DC, particularly the redlining practices of renovated historical space. I’m hopeful that this project will not only end with a resource that people can use, but will also continue to inspire my work in other ways.

The Fallout 4 Boston Tour: A Reflection

As previously mentioned, the goal of the Fallout 4 Boston HistoryPin tour is to integrate well-known, historically-significant areas of present day, real-life Boston with the post-apocalyptic version of Boston presented in the smash-hit 2015 videogame Fallout 4. Though this Fallout 4-centric project is, at the time of writing, several months or even years from being fully completed and perfected, its potential as an educational tool that can engage a younger age group is already visible to some; a friend who teaches elementary school saw my poster and asked, were I to do a version of this project set in Washington D.C., to let her know immediately because she thought it would be a great way to engage her notoriously moody and difficult age group with the history of the city. Luckily for her, two titles prior to Fallout 4 was Fallout 3, a lower-tech recreation of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. that, while smaller and even more tightly compressed than Fallout 4’s Boston, still attempts to recreate a real-life city within a fictional future by blending the city’s historicity with the game’s dark, overarching narrative, blending a real-life historical D.C. with a stylized, fictional D.C. We shall return to this later, as this is where I see the future of this project, should I continue to develop it on my own time.

I chose Fallout 4 for three reasons:

Firstly, having played through multiple times from every point of view, I knew it backward and forward such that I had, in my own way, already studied the primary material.

Secondly, I saw Fallout 4 as not only an interesting case study in alternate history but as an opportunity to engage with an elusive, difficult, but passionate demographic sought after by many marketing agencies and advertisers—the tween and adolescent market. Not only would many tweens and adolescents already be familiar with the game, but they could take advantage of this HistoryPin tour while on the traditional middle school trip to Boston that so many northeastern schools take. This would help them relate to educational information that would otherwise bore them by integrally tying it to something which interests and engages them, reinforcing both.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Fallout 4 is by far the most accurate attempt to recreate to any exactitude a real-life major U.S. city; though previous Fallouts are all set in real-life locations, the capabilities of computing and data processing technology at the time of the previous games was simply insufficient to recreate a city to the level of accuracy found in this most recent edition. Though it depends heavily on where one is on the map, the ratio between Fallout’s Boston and our Boston is, on average, about 1:3. Of course, one of the many things I learned over the course of this project is that, should one head downtown, the ratio can become infinitesimally small as the game’s programmers would regularly take up to and sometimes in excess of a dozen blocks and condense them to a single street in-game for practical purposes. On the whole, though, Fallout 4 is to be commended for the overall success of its ambitious quest to digitally recreate Boston.

I learned a lot from this project and this class, but one fundamental theme stood out: accurately translating a real-life location into a digital form is extremely difficult and problematic, to say the least. Most real-life cities (even modestly-sized cities and towns) are still too large to recreate on a 1:1 scale with our current technology; it’s simply too much information for current consoles and PCs to process at the speeds necessary for reliable gameplay. Even if a game designer were to recreate an exact 1:1 scale city, the fans might view this more as a gameplay downgrade than upgrade; the 1:3 scale of Fallout 4 was still a sticking point for some fans, who complained of slow gameplay because of the enormous amount of walking required to travel from one settlement to the next.

The already short attention-span of many gamers can be tested by including too much to explore, or by requiring long monotonous actions and movements to travel from place to place. However, the inclusion of a “fast travel” mechanism for most game modes has eliminated this problem, as players need only select a point on the map and click to be instantly warped there, a trend that is likely to continue as videogames get larger, more expansive, and more ambitious. On top of all that, the programs that accurately map real-world locations are often difficult to obtain, expensive, and even more difficult to use and master, often requiring professional instruction and a relatively tech-forward background to operate at even the most basic level. But as technology grows and data processing continues to increase in speed, efficiency, and availability, we are likely to also see an uptick in real-life locations featured in our videogames and other digital mediums.

As I mentioned in the beginning, I see the immediate future of this project in previous and subsequent Fallout titles. With the series going strong and almost ten titles under its belt, we’re likely to see several more post-apocalyptic locales courtesy of Fallout in the foreseeable future, locales that will only continue to grow in sophistication and accuracy. After Boston, analyzing Fallout 3’s recreation of Washington, D.C. and creating a similar HistoryPin tour is the most logical next step; after that, I could delve further into Fallout’s past with settings like southern California, Las Vegas, and the Midwest—that is, at least until Fallout 5 is released! Once the Fallout series has been exhausted, or should another intriguing urban recreation present itself, there are a plethora of games set across the country that would make nice subjects for a tour such as this. If others were to pursue similar projects, hopefully one day we could live in a future where a digitally-based world of fiction is just one button away in the form of HistoryPin tours cataloging video game-related maps and locations within most major American cities, allowing anyone with knowledge of a video game to blend information which interests them with historical and educational information, simultaneously reinforcing both.

Fight for Identity; Reflection

Choosing to write my paper was an incredibly difficult process.  From the beginning, I had planned to do a project which publicized the work my Public History Practicum group was doing this semester.  I wrote the pitch for my paper on something I loved because the stakes were low; I wasn’t going to do it anyway.  When it came time to make my decision, I felt drawn to it in a way I hadn’t anticipated.  The use of queer language is something that I find interesting and it’s something that impacts me personally.  I couldn’t shake the urge to follow up on that proposal and so I did what I thought was the unprofessional thing (seriously, who follows their passions when practicality is an option?) and chose the queer project.

I don’t think people develop ideas; I think we find them.  Ideas come to us or we stumble upon them.  If one finds an idea that appeals to them, they can tie it down with language to a piece of paper to be shared.  The skill by which the idea is shared is dependent both upon the writer’s skill as a communicator and their care for the subject matter at hand.  Not everyone could have written Fight for Identity, and by that same logic if I had done the publicity project instead, I doubt it would have been as good.  This project made my heart sing in a way very few projects have before, and it is work by which I am proud to stand.  If we put ourselves in positions where we’ll find projects that appeal to us, we’ll do better work.  My biggest takeaway from completing this project is: fulfilled and engaged people make better professionals.

Interest was the point of origin for this project, but goals and tools shaped it along the way.  In our week on scholarly projects, we learned that projects have ends and can be finished.  The product eventually changed, but I initially set a goal of constructing a timeline; I would compare the various numeric trends of the NGram graphs to political trends in LGBTQ history.  This goal put a limit on what I planned to do and the limited scope of the project would allow me to concentrate on the nuances at hand.  At least, this was the first plan.

The Google NGram tool did as much to shape the final project as did my personal curiosities.  The tool provides data on frequency of use over time which can fuel a quantitative analysis and titles and excerpts from Google Books which lend themselves to a qualitative analysis.  This tool didn’t, in the end, provide me with particularly strong evidence tying the literary trends to political ones, but after noticing  the trends I did have and spending substantial time with the data, I learned to ask a different question; “what do these trends reveal about the social and political climates in which they were developed and used?”  This question, born of curiosity and methodology, eventually led my analysis and guided my paper.

I am incredibly happy with the work I’ve done in this class and plan to continue it.  I’ve learned a lot about professionalism by taking the chance to do research I thoroughly enjoy and a lot about research by listening to what my tools provided me.  Even if my tools provided me with something for which I was no looking in the beginning, it was interesting, regardless.  Once I’d finished my analysis and written my conclusion, I found myself wondering about what else these data could tell me.  What did these graphs look like if broken down by country?  What would it look like to compare straight words against queer ones?  And what is the deal with the weird dip in popularity of most queer words after the mid-1990’s?  Any of these questions would make for interesting further study and I plan to use my summer research seminar to continue this work.


Reflection: American Revolution Floridian Road Trip,-81.311467,11/bounds/29.722383,-81.449915,30.072002,-81.173019/paging/1/pin/1105527

My favorite part about this project was researching sites in Florida that had some connection to the American Revolution and learning how to use HistoryPin to create a tour of these sites. Though I was familiar with some sites and their connection to the American Revolution, I found out about a lot of new information about Florida and the American Revolution that I had never known before, which was really interesting to explore.

If I were to continue this project, my next steps would be to continue to contact the various historical organizations that feature in the tour or local historical sociaties that could help promote the HistoryPin tour to a wider audience, especially since not many people know about HistoryPin. I have yet to hear a response from the places that I have contacted but I think it would be interesting going forward to work with these institutions in order to promote revolutionary history in Florida. HistoryPin is currently working or fixing their app, so if/when that is up and running again, I think it would make it easier for people to follow my tour and learn more on the sites that they are visiting.

One of the more challenging aspects of creating this HistoryPin tour was selecting which sites to include. While I found many sites around Florida with a connection to the British Period, it was harder than I thought to weed out which sites actually had connections to the American Revolution and which sites were just connected to the British Period in general. Another issue that I ran into when working on this digital project was HistoryPin itself. Before starting the project, I thought HistoryPin seemed very straight forward and I didn’t anticipate much issues. However, I had to figure out many aspects of HistoryPin, such as creating a tour, though trail and error, especially since I did not find their help or faq section particularly helpful. I also ran into issues when I left HistoryPin open for too long and it would sign me out without me realizing or would run very slow. Sometimes the pictures that I would want to use for a pin would come out blurry and it would take about an hour of me replacing the photo until it somehow just worked looked normal. Little technical things like that would be a bit frusterating during the process of the project but it all worked out.

Overall, I had a lot of fun working on this project, especially since it allowed me to explore other skills and allowed me to do something other than a paper.

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.