Digital Project Proposal

A few weeks ago, Samir Meghelli, chief curator at the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, told our practicum class that the wall of flyers and advertisements near the end of his exhibit was a last-minute decision made just days before the exhibit opened. Meghelli found hundreds of postings, flyers, papers, and advertisements while doing his research on DC neighborhoods for this exhibit. Instead of letting them go another fifty years without seeing day light, he quickly taped them to an empty wall near the end of the exhibit and created a huge collage. I propose to digitize this section from the Anacostia Community Museum’s “A Right to The City” exhibit to make it more accessible to the public and encourage public interpretation. I believe these should be made accessible to the public because it is, in fact, the public’s history. These signs were created and made by the people of DC, for the people of DC.

Audience

The audience for this digital project will be the Anacostia community, DC locals and natives, museum goers, and various online researchers.

Example Project

I would use Cornell University’s “Hip Hop Party and Event Flyers Collection” as a comparison project. Just like Meghelli’s collection, Cornell’s collection was created and collected entirely by hand. Their flyers preserve “raw data from the days when Hip Hop was primarily a live, performance-based culture” in the Bronx. They contain information about early “Hip Hop groups, individual MCs and DJs, promoters, venues, dress codes, admission prices, shout outs and more”. To make these important historical documents more accessible to students, researchers, and enthusiasts, Cornell University Library is in the process of making digitized versions of these flyers freely available to the public.

Why?

This project would be enhancing and adding to the Smithsonian’s online collections database. In addition to the digitizing of artifacts and archival accumulation, I propose that a public dialogue be open to the public to discuss and remember the events that the flyers pictured. This dialogue would be open to the public in the form of a blog, using WordPress. Here, guests would be invited to comment, ask questions, convey memories, and remember the stories behind these flyers. This blog will thus create a data resource for the public.

Outreach and Publicity

This digital project will practice outreach and obtain publicity through social media sites. By using sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and even the Smithsonian websites, the newly digitized collection and associated public blog will be highly publicized. People love to remember features of their past, see long-forgotten artifacts, and revel in memories. Therefore, highly accessible resources, such as Facebook, are the perfect way to advertise this digital project and reach many people.

Evaluation

I will evaluate the project through the amount of activity the blog attracts. If the blog is not receiving many comments or views, I will know that the collection is not being publicized in the right context and that changes need to be made.

Digital Project Proposal: Mapping Suffrage History

What’s the Plan?

Last semester, as part of an institutional analysis on the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, I hypothetically proposed a map that would provide access to profiles of suffragists from different socioeconomic, racial, and geographic backgrounds. By demonstrating the breadth of these backgrounds, a visitor would be able to understand why a woman might have chosen to join a suffrage organization such as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) or the National Women’s Party (NWP), or why she may have chosen not to affiliate with either group. In this class I would like to take the opportunity to actualize that map, through historypin.

Women of color and those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds were often excluded from suffrage organizations and narratives, leaving a gap in our understanding of suffrage history today. My proposed project would therefore collect profiles of these women who participated in the women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries through official organizations or on their own terms and organize them on a historypin map.

Who Would be Looking at It?

As the centennial of women’s suffrage approaches, there will be growing interest in the history of the suffrage movement. This project then, would apply to all those interested in knowing more about the women themselves. This could be a teaching tool in middle school or high school class rooms, or could be a learning tool for a someone with a casual interest but a desire to know more. It will most directly target those with a prior interest in women’s and suffrage history. In theory then, the project has a potentially large audience base.

Are There Other Suffrage Maps Out There?

There are a number of historypin tours related to women’s suffrage. However, these tours are location dependent, and tell a conventional story of white, middle-class reformers. For example, Humanities New York created a historypin of the suffrage campaign throughout their state, detailing locations of important meetings, locations, and biographies of influential members. Interestingly, they also included present-day events, such as “Convention Days 2017,” and the Long Island Woman Suffrage Association’s meeting in November 2016. Another example can be found in the digital exhibit on the Arkansas Women’s Suffrage Centennial by the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. The exhibit includes an imbedded map that allows visitors to explore landmarks in Arkansas related to suffrage history. Finally, the National Archives has a small historypin map detailing women’s suffrage campaigns in D.C.

While all of these maps depict localized events for potentially local audiences, my proposed project would depict this history on a national scale. In addition, these maps, perhaps because of their locations or because of the resources available to them, rely on traditional organization-based history, and so do not include women of color or women of lower socioeconomic status, who had a fraught relationship with NAWSA and the NWP. This map then, would serve to ameliorate these issues.

What Would Outreach Look Like?

As a historypin map, this project will be available for anyone who searches “suffrage” on the site. However, to increase outreach there are a number of possible avenues. For example, as this project originated with ideas based at the Belmont-Paul, reaching out to the public programming and digital media teams there could result in publicity on social media or on their webpage. This in turn would increase viewing traffic on the map.

What Does Success Mean For This Project?

There are a number of challenges facing this project. Because the NWP and NAWSA at times actively worked to exclude women of color and those of lower socioeconomic classes, these women often left few official records, making it hard to research them today. Potential resource includes the website for the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, which includes webpages on African American suffragists and spotlights on suffragists from across the country. In light of these challenges, a successful project will be one that leverages the existing material to create a fuller picture of suffrage history.

Project Proposal: qAccess

What’s the issue?

Too many history apps and projects are wildly inaccessible to the disabled, despite having all the right tools for creating an accessible, usable app that includes people with a wide range of disabilities. This is especially true of digital tools focused on the LGBTQ community: far too many rely on utilizing simplified, text-and-photo methods for their content, and those with on-site elements often forget the limitations of mobility issues and access many in the LGBTQ community have.

According to the National Institutes of Health, non-heterosexual-identified individuals are more likely to be disabled, and are more likely to experience bias and bullying. As a result, any effort to create public-facing community deliverables must address the disabled community. These considerations should be made honestly and at the fore of any project and should not be limited to general acknowledgement of certain high-profile disabilities.

Example project

One high-tech but immensely informative project that seems promising is the Shipwreck Alley app. This app, utilizing the TourBuddy platform and various data triggers called ibeacons, allows visitors to experience various shipwrecks while having these wrecks described to them. For those who need accommodations, the app also offers a voiceover mode. The app works fairly well, and although it’s not exactly one to criticize on colorblindness levels as its color scheme is fairly accessible, that is one consideration to make when reviewing an app.

Project proposal

qAccess would utilize existing queer histories in various cities to create accessible, functional histories. Using either GPS or the ibeacons, the app would allow users to plot out a path to various important sites, interesting histories, and varied narratives within the community. For those that are mobility impaired, the options would include a virtual tour that narrates the tour on a google map “flyover” with captions, a listing from point to point to allow direct access to the locations, and a note identifying which locations are not accessible by mobility device.

For the visually impaired, voiceovers and large text captions will be made available, as well as zoomable pictures of the locations. For the hearing impaired, captions, transcripts, and full-text articles will be made available. For those vocally-impaired, useful text/audio buttons to allow quick communication at historic sites. Those with mental and learning disabilities would also be presented with listings of those sites with interpretive specialists that fit their needs (such as National Parks Service sites). The app would be compatible with alternate input devices, including wand, puff-suck, and eye movement, methods that are already within most iPhone and Android devkits.

Outreach plan

To make the project more functional, having a good outreach relationship with historic and civic organizations within cities is vital. Establishing a good rapport with, for example, the Rainbow History Project and Brother Help Thyself would allow for a great history of the leather scene in Washington, DC to be produced for such an app. It would also lead to community promotion, and perhaps, ultimately, media.

Successful?

Success of such a proposal is probably only measurable in the number of community members positively impacted, rather than the acclaim and notice it gets. For this project, the proof of concept is in how historians and the community at large respond to the needs of the disabled community and their desire to also be educated on their local history, therefore, the more historians adopting methods that acknowledge the disabled community, the better.

Digital Project Proposal: Reformatting Academic Journal Articles for Non-Academic Audiences

The Problem

In a recent Washington Post Opinion piece, Max Boot argues that historians should accept rightful blame for the sorry state of America’s general ignorance of its own history. Historiographic shifts to studying social and cultural history and history through the lens of gender have “[led] to the neglect of political, diplomatic and military history — subjects that students need to study and, as enrollment figures indicate, students want to study but that universities perversely neglect… Historians need to speak to a larger public that will never pick up their academic journals.” Boot’s unoriginal argument took heavy criticism from historians via Twitter. In other words, Boot lobbed a familiar rock at the academy, and historians lobbed a familiar rock back at him.

I argue that Boot and other critics of the academy have mis-identified the root of the problem. Boot posits that historians’ changing interests have rendered students, and therefore the American populace en masse, ignorant of their past and thus incapable of learning from mistakes like electing a demagogue to be president.

Not exactly.

Some people simply have a genuine disinterest in reading or watching or hearing interpretations of history, but many more will take an interest in subjects is they are discussed using creative, intellectually, and financial viable formats. Historians must give them a way of doing so. I’m not so dense as to think that universities and private colleges have the resources to reproduce a Hamilton-type cultural wave. But institutional subscriptions to JSTOR or ProQuest simply aren’t enough to make waves in public intellectual culture.

Unlike Boot and some of his critics, my project doesn’t pick fights. Instead, it tackles the immediate problem: an uninspired public and an academy that can inspire others to learn and ask questions.

The Project

I propose to develop a model for an open-source audio-visual journal that replicates existing journal articles through visual representation and full-length audio recordings. In an ideal world, my project would consist of dozens of videos and recordings dedicated to distilling single articles down to stimulating yet captivating segments. Seeing as how the semester is limited in time and resources, I propose to produce one such video and audio recording of a single article to demonstrate the utility of this resource.

Existing Project Models

There are a few existing projects that serve as models for my proposed project. The first is the Journal of Visual Experiments (JoVE). JoVE is an online, peer reviewed scientific journal that shares videos of thousands of different scientific experiments with institutional and individual subscribers. The video articles run the gambit of subjects, from Breath Collection from Children for Disease Biomarker Discovery to Assessing the Particulate Matter Removal Abilities of Tree Leaves. The videos follow students, researchers, and top scientists as they conduct the experiments so that they may be reproduced. Yet unlike JoVE, my proposed platform will not exist behind a paywall; it will be open-access.

A second similar project is historian and host Liz Covart’s Ben Franklin’s World podcast. Published weekly for free download, Dr. Covart conducts interviews with leading historians on subjects related to their recent publications. During a recent interview with Professor Ryan Quintana, they discussed what historians refer to as the “state” within the context of colonial South Carolina. A subject as complex as the “state” is not well understood beyond academic and policy circles. An audio-visual journal modeled after Dr. Covart’s hour-long podcast episodes aim would introduce nearly any audience to the complexities of any number of fascinating historical subjects while reproducing the same stimulating yet welcoming atmosphere of Ben Franklin’s World. My proposed audio-visual journal will not address monographs or edited volumes, but rather will focus on journal articles, which receive far less attention from podcasts generally.

Outreach and Benefits

First, students with visual impairments often have to rely on readers or text-reading software to consume text-based readings including articles. My proposed audio-visual journal provides students the option to listen to articles, read by historians and voice-over professionals on their own time as they would an audiobook or podcast. Those with hearing impairments may also find use in videos with subtitles generated not imbedded software but rather by video editors who include accurate transcriptions of what otherwise may be heard.

Second, my proposed audio-visual journal adopts models of video content production to reproduce articles in visual form. For example, an article that relies on and even quotes from archival material may be reproduced visually. The video would proceed through an abridged version of the article with photos of the same primary sources used as evidence in the original text. Editing software will allow the narrator to guide the user to specific lines in text and places in photographs and objects that are noted in the article. Visitors to historic sites and cultural institutions want to see the places and objects and documents that comprise the historical record. Seeing what is otherwise only spoken of demystifies the process of producing history and inspires pride and a commitment to learning and sharing knowledge with others of the public.

As for publicity, I propose to share (with necessary permissions) the videos and audio files with professors and history teachers in high schools who currently use academic articles in their classrooms. Until sufficient resources are acquired for wider distribution, my proposed audio-visual journal will spread through word-of-mouth.

Evaluation and Final Considerations

A successful project will attract a slowly but gradually enlarging base of non-academic users as more articles are distilled as videos and recorded as audio files. That being said, the videos produced using this platform are not intended as permanent substitutes for textual articles. They are meant as teach tools and take on a medium that is often more engaging than readings.

Chronicling Americ……Exhibits

As public historians, one area of study we often look at is museum display and effect. As I begin to enter this world, one thing which I have noticed is that there is no central database which stores information about exhibits which have existed in the past. This has resulted in my tracking down various tidbits of exhibits which I knew existed, often leaving me with an incomplete picture of the exhibit as compared to if I had been able to visit the exhibit myself, or the exhibit was on view in more recent times.

While this information certainly does exist, it is usually kept by large institutions which have the means to keep extensive institutional history records, such as this collection from the Smithsonian. Larger, more famous exhibits such as King Tut or The Family of Man also have a fairly extensive footprint. Smaller, less well known exhibits, and exhibits put on my smaller institutions are at a disadvantage in that they don’t often keep extensive documentation of past exhibits, as they don’t have the resources and/or don’t think to do so.

I have run into this issue with my own research which deals with visual displays, and specifically museum exhibits about the Titanic over time. It’s been incredibly hard to track down exhibits that have existed, and when I have found advertisements in newspapers for said exhibits, there is little to no institutional record of them. And while I have put in a lot of time and effort contacting various museums for any information, much of my older evidence cannot be helped by anecdotal evidence from a curator as those curators who worked on the exhibit itself are no longer alive, or have since retired.

It has not been impossible to track down exhibit information about the Titanic. Chasing leads, talking to curators, and putting in extensive footwork is certainly part of the research process. But wouldn’t it be much more efficient if this information was compiled into a digital database which researchers could just search based on keywords, date, and location such as the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America?

Audience: The main audience of this exhibit would be other academics wishing to use exhibits as a primary source in their research. That being said, this database could also prove a useful tool in expanding museum’s reach to those who don’t have the means to attend exhibits themselves due to distance or financial circumstances. Therefore, the audience of this database could go far beyond academics. It could even be potentially used in classrooms to teach museum history and at lower levels, how our perception of the past has changed over time or as a view into culture from a certain period. In this way, the database would have the potential to reach many people (in theory, of course,  as I don’t have the skill or the resources to build it on such a large scale)

Existing Projects: Large institutions like the Smithsonian have institutional collections which catalog this type of information, including which pieces from the collection where used, photographs, and why the curators made the choices they did. Such as this online record. But again, most of these records aren’t digitized, which means you would likely have to go in person to view the materials, limiting their accessibility. Online exhibits exists, as we saw with Omeka, but this is a little different than what I am trying to do. Surely physical exhibits have been recreated on Omeka, but my concept is of one central database, which is easily searchable.

What I Plan to Create: As aforementioned, obviously I won’t be able to create such a database in full, as I have neither the skill nor the funding, and certainly not the time. Therefore, for this project I will take my grand idea and scale it down, using the information I have from my Titanic research and applying it to the conceptual framework I detailed above. I will use something like Omeka to recreate the various Titanic exhibits I have found overtime, spanning from 1912 to 2018.

Plan for Outreach and Publicity: I think that a project like this would be best created via some kind of crowdsourcing. While it would be possible to compile the various institutional records that exist in one place, as I mentioned before sometimes these records don’t exists. But what does exist is people’s photos from their trip to the exhibit, like this family blog I’m using in my own research, and newspaper articles about various exhibits. Therefore things like social media could be used to engage people with the database, spread awareness, and ultimately help build it.

Evaluation Plan: In order to evaluate the success of this project, I would need to test its usefulness to researchers, which would be the primary audience of the database. Theoretically, this could be done by monitoring how many people interact with the database, institutional subscriptions to it, and its being cited in academic work. Since I am not actually creating the database to this scale, perhaps a more reasonable evaluation plan would be if someone were to be able to grasp what the exhibit was and looked like based on the information I have provided, and perhaps even make an argument about it.