Digital Project Proposal: American Girl

Context

I may not be where I am in life if not for American Girl dolls. I was introduced to American Girl dolls at a very young age and they are a largely responsible for my interest in history. Through American Girl dolls and their accompanying stories, I got to learn about history and culture in a fun, interesting, and relatable context. The history was written both for me and featured a girl like me (girl, aged 7-12). As we learned in Rosenzweig and Thelen’s The Presence of the Past, history has more meaning and impact when it relates personally, which is what makes American Girl dolls so effective. Although they are fictional, they are personal and therefore create a connection to history.

With this project I want to expand the historical reach of American Girl dolls. I will create historical content that adds more depth and context to the history in the dolls’ books, while still creating historical content specifically for upper elementary aged children.

Audience

Girls, aged 8-12. A periphery audience is their parents since parental interest and participation is integral to involving children.

The Project, Itself

I will create a historical tour of San Francisco using the sites and events in Julie Albright’s and Ivy Ling’s stories. Julie and Ivy’s stories are set in 1974-1975 San Francisco and involve the feminist, environmental, and disability rights movements. Ivy’s story also delves into the history of Chinese-Americans in San Francisco.

My aim for this tour is that it can be used solely as a digital resource as well as a resource for exploring the physical place.

Comparison to Other Projects

There are multiple historical sites and museums that use(d) American Girl dolls as a bridge to the history. In 2011, the National Museum of American History offered a self-guided tour called Addy’s World, which allowed “children, ages 8 to 13, to explore the museum and see what life would have been like for the fictional character Addy Walker, a nine-year-old American girl who was born into slavery and escapes to freedom with her mother during the Civil War.” The tour takes artifacts on display in the museum and contextualizes them from Addy’s perspective and makes meaning based on Addy’s story.

Outreach and Publicity

I would hopefully partner with different organizations to get the word out about this resource. In a perfect world, I would collaborate directly with American Girl to publish this resource. Their support and publicity resources would both validate the project and help it reach a wide audience. In a less perfect world, I would work with San Francisco organizations to promote the resource. The specific organizations will depend on what histories I decide to highlight on the tour, but one that stands out at the moment is the San Francisco Public Library. I could possibly try to work with schools, but working with K-12 organizations is always particularly difficult due to various bureaucratic factors.

I’d also create a social media presence. Possibly creating a hashtag for the tour that users can tweet photos of themselves at the different stopping points with or without their own American Girl doll.

Success?

A successful project is one that is used. I will hopefully get social media response to the tour, which will indicate use. I may build the tour using Historypin. If this is the case, Historypin allows engagement directly on the site through comments and it shows how views each pin has received, both of which would be incredibly useful to understanding engagement with the tour.

Digital Proposal: Creating a Digital Repository of Syrian Archival Material

Project Description: As the Arab Spring rocked the social and political foundations of the Middle East, many foreign and internal observers alike believed that Syria would survive the storm with their regime intact. In March 2011, however, protests broke out in the city of Deraa after the regime arrested and tortured several schoolchildren for writing anti-regime graffiti on the wall. As government repression and violence escalated, so did opposition to the Assad regime, soon plunging the country into a civil war that continues to this day.

The consequences of this conflict have been numerous and devastating. The human cost of the war alone has been enormous. According to the World Bank, the death toll has risen to almost 500,000 since 2011, with 5 million seeking refugee abroad and 6.3 million internally displaced. Syrian cultural heritage sites have been damaged or destroyed by military bombardments and deliberate targeted destruction carried out by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The violence and unsafe conditions have also prevented travel to the area. The U.S. State Department has issued a warning advising all private citizens against travel to Syria “due to terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict.”

The on-going conflict poses significant problems for researches of Syrian history. While conducting research there has never been an easy process, with language barriers and government censorship, the current conflict has made it next to impossible. So what options are available to scholars or even the general public interested in learning from Syrian archives?

The idea for this project came to me while I was meeting with my advisor in my second week at AU. In the corner of her office, she had several boxes stacked in the corner. She said that they contained documents from Damascus that she had collected for research on her previous book. She commented that she should probably digitize them because it didn’t look like people would have access to that archive any time soon. How many other scholars of Syrian history have had similar thoughts?

My digital project will create an online archive of historical material from Syria. I will use Omeka to develop a digital archive to house documents and artifacts collected by scholars. As a crowdsourcing project, the targeted volunteers are a small group. I will begin by contacting scholars of Syria in the surrounding area to determine if they possess documents from Syrian archives and if they would be willing to digitize them.

Audience: The audience for this project are historians, academics, and researchers interested in studying Syrian history but are unable to visit the Syrian archives due to current circumstances.

Existing Projects: Several projects have focused on documenting the civil war itself. One such project is the Syrian Archive, which is dedicated to collecting visual documentation of human rights violations in Syria that is “transparent, detailed, and reliable.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum also has an exhibit dedicated to keeping the Syrian crisis present in the minds of the public.

Other projects have explored digital methods for preserving Syria’s cultural heritage. Arachne is a site launched by the Orient Department of the German Archaeological Institute and the Museum of Islamic Art dedicated to creating an online archive of Syrian cultural objects. UNESCO has been similarly involved in generating international awareness of the destruction of “built, movable, and intangible” heritage in Syria.

The Wilson Center Digital Archive of declassified Cold War documents has provided a model for this project. While this project is funded and run by the History and Public Policy Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the concept has provided inspiration. Documents are digitized and sometimes translated from all over the world, including the former Soviet bloc, giving scholars access to information that would normally remain out of reach due to language barriers and travel constraints.

Plan for Outreach and Publicity: My first avenue of outreach will be to scholars of Syrian history in the surrounding area. I will expand my geographical reach from there. I will also reach out to organizations dedicated to the study of the Middle East, such as the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Middle East Research Institute (MERI) for critical feedback on organization and publicity outreach.

Evaluation Plan: A successful project will collect material from several sources and to successfully communicate with Middle Eastern research institutes to discuss outreach opportunities.

Citations

The Syrian Archive – https://syrianarchive.org/en

iDAI.objects arachne – https://arachne.dainst.org/project/syrher#Browse_project_content

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – https://www.ushmm.org/confront-genocide/syria

Observatory of Syrian Culture – https://en.unesco.org/syrian-observatory/

Wilson Center Digital Archives – https://digitalarchive.wilsoncenter.org/

Digital Project Proposal: Mapping the History of DC’s Alley Dwellings

Alley dwellings between Pierce Street, L Street, First Street and North Capitol Street. Washington, D.C. (1935). Source: Library of Congress

Washington, D.C. is home to an abundance of historic alleyways and alley dwellings that are evidence of a rich urban and social history.  In 2014 the D.C. Historic Preservation Office (HPO) completed a survey of the city’s alleys to get a better picture of their history and current conditions. For three years, HPO staff members and volunteers traversed the city’s historic districts to study and document these historic alleys and the buildings within them.  What they created was an in-depth report that described their findings, including recommendations to help protect and revitalize these sites. One of these recommendations was the idea of creating virtual tours to help educate the public and encourage them to learn more about this often overlooked history- and that is what I will be doing for this digital history project.  

By learning about these alley dwellings, users will explore the physical and cultural landscapes of the city’s built environment. To accomplish this, I will create a tour using HistoryPin to not only identify where alley dwellings can be found in D.C., but to present a more in-depth story about this important history. This tour will also encourage users to compare what these alleys looked like in the past and how they appear today using historical images. The Library of Congress has a collection of city insurance maps and photographs taken of these dwellings and the communities that lived in them. By including these visuals in this tour, users will be able to see how much the city and its community has changed over time.

The Audience

The potential audience for this project would be Washingtonians, or anyone else interested in learning more about the history of the city’s community.  This project might also attract the attention of preservationists in offices like HPO or in neighborhood historical societies, like the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (where many of these alleys are). I am hoping that this project can be a useful educational tool for anyone looking to learn more about this local history.

Comparison to Existing Projects

There are quite a few examples of public history projects creating geo location-based content to tell stories about the past.  For example Curatescape and Omeka host quite a few public history projects for organizations across the country. For D.C. specifically, the DC Preservation League runs a website called DC Historic Sites that allows users to explore the history of the city’s built environment.  I was unable to find a project that deals with alleyways specifically, but the projects mentioned above are resources that I am finding very helpful. I have also been exploring tours that users on HistoryPin have created. These existing projects are good models for what I plan to create.

Outreach and Publicity

In order to get the word out about this project, I will use different social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.  I will also try to reach out to local historical societies in the city to talk to them about my project, which will hopefully lead them to advertise this tour on their social media accounts as well. In addition to that, I will also try and get into contact with HPO, considering they were responsible for the survey on alley dwellings in the city.

Evaluating the Project

HistoryPin includes two features that are important when gauging public reception on their site. First, there is a simple counter on each collection’s page that allows anyone to see how many views they have. This feature is beneficial when trying to see how many people a tour has reached. The second feature I find important is the ability for users to leave comments. I’m a big proponent of public historians engaging in conversations with the public to discuss what they have learned. I am hoping to not only present this history to the public, but to continue a conversation with them after they have finished the tour as well. By using the commenting feature, users and I will be able to continue a discussion about this topic.

Digital project proposal: “Lord Peter’s England: Britain Between the Wars”

One of my favorite things about reading old books is the look that they offer into the past.  While as a history student I spend a great deal of my time reading more didactically-focused texts, I appreciate how much can be gleaned incidentally about an author’s culture and time period from the novels that they write. With careful enough study, a novel can serve as a sort of microhistory.

Dorothy L. Sayers’ series of Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels provides an uncommonly well-developed portrait of an era.  In Sayers’ case, her eleven Lord Peter novels published between 1923 and 1937 chronicle life in England in the interbellum period; although the books were not written to be intentionally didactic, they entertain while teaching modern audiences about English culture between the wars.

For this reason, I propose to create an online exhibit titled “Lord Peter’s England: Britain Between the Wars” that explores the cultural history of England during this time period using the Lord Peter Wimsey books as a window inside.

Audience
Admittedly, the Lord Peter Wimsey series is fairly niche in the modern era.  However, an audience still interested in Sayers’ work is out there!  Clues: A Journal of Detection has continued to publish articles on the Lord Peter novels as recently as 2018, and the Dorothy L. Sayers Society continues to “support and promote the appreciation of the many aspects of Sayers’ work and interests,” as well as writers and creators who work with her novels.

Additionally, while Golden Age mystery novels enjoy only a narrow following, cultural history is a subject of perennial interest to scholars and amateur historians alike.  My aim is that the exhibit will provide illuminating and useful information to students of cultural history who seek to better understand England during this area through the interesting and engaging lens of the Lord Peter stories.

Comparison with existing projects
Lord Peter is hardly online.  The Sayers Society webpage only offers links to traditionally published materials on the author’s work, and other widely available online material is scarce.  Although all eleven novels have entered the Canadian public domain and are thus available on FadedPage, and although Wheaton College has Dorothy L. Sayers’ papers in their special collections, none of this material is interpreted in any extensive way.

However, similar projects have been undertaken with other sources.  For instance, the American Antiquarian Society’s “Women and the World of Dime Novels” site provides a model of a site examining literary women in the context of their society and era and gives a look at what “Lord Peter’s England” might look like on Omeka.

Description
I have not yet decided between Omeka and WordPress for the platform—while Omeka lends itself more easily to building exhibits, Omeka sites’ focus is often more on uploading and sharing collections than on writing interpretive material.  WordPress might be a better option for a relatively text-driven digital exhibit.  It would also allow a simpler means for audience engagement through commenting and using tags to make the exhibit more discoverable.

As for the exhibit’s contents, I plan to organize the site thematically, exploring how the Lord Peter Wimsey books address certain topics.  The themes I currently plan to explore include:

  • Shell-shock and men returning from war
  • Economic vicissitudes postwar
  • The woman’s place in British society: her role in relationships, in academia, and in the workforce
  • Attitudes toward immigration and foreigners
  • Consumer society

For each theme, I plan to include a synthesis of traditional historical scholarship on the topic along with a review of how it plays into the literature, analyzing the historical implications of the literary text.

Additionally, I plan to include at least one page whose purpose is to teach visitors how to read literature historically, using excerpts from Lord Peter Wimsey novels to illustrate what historical context in a novel might look like so that visitors will be able to identify similar features in other old books.

Outreach and publicity
If I create the exhibit using WordPress, it will be easier to publicize using tags.  In any case, I plan to reach out to the Dorothy L. Sayers Society as well as to the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections to share my project upon its completion so that they can in turn share it with their communities.

Evaluation
With an eye to the limited audience for such an exhibit, I would consider the site successful if people visited it and offered feedback.  On the still more limited scale of this class and with the idea in mind that I may not finish an exhibit of sufficient quality to share with literary societies by the end of the semester, I would consider it a success if visitors to the site reported finding it illuminating about the period in question or reported reconsidering what literature can teach us about history.

Digital Project Proposal: Web archiving Black queer and trans activism in BLM collections

In sticking with the theme of social media activism, my digital project is a fraternal twin to my print project proposed two weeks ago.  Through the tools and guidance provided by the DocNow team, I plan to create a collection of social media activism revolving around the protection of Black queer and transgender lives.

The defense of Black queer and trans people is an affirmation of the movement, #BlackLivesMatter (BLM).  The movement was founded as a call to action by three Black queer women who unapologetically use their platform to defend the lives of all Black groups, including those that are often dismissed by hetero-patriarchal Black liberation movements.  This includes protecting the quality of life for Black women, Black queers, Black trans, Black disabled, Black undocumented, Black wrongfully imprisoned, and Black people stricken by a system that binds them to poverty. The movement’s mission is not ambiguous.  The defense of Black queer and transgender people are not intentionally pushed aside for other causes. Yet, most discussion of archiving the social media presence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is centered on the impact of the Trayvon Martin murder and protest against police brutality.  

#Ferguson, #MichaelBrown, #TrayvonMarton, #FreddieGray, and other related hashtags centered on these cases are the most popular subjects of collections and datasets relating to #BlackLivesMatter.  It makes sense. It was the murder of Trayvon Martin that prompted the founders of BLM to start the hashtag, now movement. It was the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri that escalated the movement from a social media presence to protestors hitting the pavement in massive droves.  It was the murder of Freddie Gray that ignited the Baltimore Uprising. Millions participated in protests for these events both on social media and in the streets across the country. However, there is still a large presence of social media activism for Black queer and trans advocacy that is not receiving the same push for web archiving.  

It’s important to archive all of the affirmations and activism led by the Black Lives Matter movement.  Lack of web preservation for all the movement stands for will leave silences in the story that will prevent the very transformative social change the founders of BLM are pursuing.  It’s the mission of this project to resolve the missing pieces in the collections and datasets about the impact of the BlackLivesMatter movement. Web content related to #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackWomenMatter, #BlackTransLivesMatter, #BlackTransMatter, #YouOKSis, and other hashtags focused on Black queer and trans advocacy will be added to pre-existing BLM collections and datasets, like Archive-It’s #BlackLivesMatter Collection

The DocNow platform will aid in not just finding preexisting BLM collections and datasets, but advertising the need for black queer and trans content. Remembering Bassem Masri is a model of how I plan to publicize a call for help in web archiving this content for #BlackLivesMatter.  Using Medium/DocNow, this project will seek the attention of archivists, historians, scholars, activists, and the general public.  It is my hope that the project can use this platform to gain contributions and amplify a call to action for more web archiving on Black queer and trans activism.

To be completely transparent, there are still many steps to this project that need to be ironed out.  As a novice to digital preservation and illiterate in the language of coding, I plan to lean on the DocNow team’s expertise in assuring this project comes into fruition.  DocNow is a groundbreaking resource for web archiving significant social media content. I have full faith that the DocNow platform is the ideal space to ignite more web archiving efforts for Black queer and trans activism and all of BLM’s principles.