Digital Project Proposal – Standing Around

My Digital Project Proposal for Digital History 677 is creating a virtual tour and public education program of the Capitol, the Statuary Hall collection, and general Capitol history for the United States Capitol Historical Society titled “Standing Around”.

Statue of Congressman-Elect John “Jack” Swigert

The project will be to create new and elevate existing social media presences of the USCHS and adhere to their Congressionally chartered purpose of “educat[ing] the public on the history and heritage of the U.S. Capitol, its institutions and the people who have served therein.” Where the USCHS usually only posts daily “on this day in history” facts, this more active and in-person series of videos would be hosted by Society staff, tour guides, and volunteers as supplemental content. The Society’s social media presence on Instagram is limited to pictures of static and dated oil paintings and disconnected themes. By starting a series with a consistent medium, length, setting, and personality, I believe it will make the Society’s presence current, enthusiastic, and relevant. Where new statues are being added and old ones replaced, the history of the Capitol is still being added to. In a world where a social media presence is paramount to elevating notoriety and access to the broad public, historical institutions need to adapt to practice public history.

Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol

The key to creating a successful series is deciding the parameters of the project beforehand. The first is deciding in what order the statues will be presented as the Statuary Hall collection consists of two statues from each state not including donated pieces from citizens and Congress. It could be ordered chronologically from the oldest statues to the newest or in reverse order, thematically focused on commonalities such as Women’s History Month or Black History Month, by state (maybe in order of statehood), or even alphabetically. What is evident is that the first post must be a popular, well-known, interesting statue to set the tone for future posts to come. I would have a main personality to explain the history and significance of the statue in a short 30-second to 1-minute video, with occasional guest hosts consisting of tour guides and staff members. This way, the variety of personalities encourages viewers to have favorites and stay tuned for who will be hosting next.

Statue of King Kamehameha in the Capitol Visitor Center

Another logistical issue would be to have a pre- and post-production schedule for planning posts timing, content script, and editing to remain consistent. We could also break from the consistency by highlighting important anniversaries or current issues in combination with rotating hosts. I believe by presenting little-known histories of the Capitol in a modern, enthusiastic approach, we can raise the profile of the USCHS and public history.

some drawing strategies

At some point during the semester, it started to seem strange to me that digital art curation didn’t also mean a trail of audio / visual / moving-image process documents. I used GIFs and video as shorthand on the blog, trying to illustrate or punctuate a point here and there, but didn’t synthesize anything through visual production.

Backing slowly away from Plan A — a “lessons learned” post composed entirely of Hamilton GIFs and lyrics — I’m instead taking some space here to speculate: What are some alternative ways to represent the products and processes involved in digital art curation? Here’s a look at some of the drawings I made while grappling with @mothgenerator.

1_Authenticity-access grid
With thanks and apologies to Dragan Espenschied.

Authenticity-Access Grid for preserving @mothgenerator. Inspired by <a href="">Geocities</a>
Authenticity-Access Grid for preserving @mothgenerator. Inspired by Geocities

I used this diagram as a working tool while writing my statement of significance for Moth Generator. It was a useful way to start looking ahead to the kinds of experiences and characteristics different stakeholder groups might value and expect. Because the grid was designed to express authenticity and access from the users’ (not creators’) perspective(s), mapping my project to it was a natural fit for an overall shift towards a more user-centered preservation strategy. It’s also a sneaky example of how techniques for visualization can shape the content, purpose, and management of information. So, nice work, Dragan — your nefarious grid convinced me!

2_Distributions of significance

Plotting the concept-to-AIP transformation.
Plotting the concept-to-AIP transformation.

As a way to trace the evolution of this project from conceptual (identifying significance) to somewhat-less conceptual (declaring preservation intent, assembling a dummy AIP), I mocked up this rainbow circle mapping Moth Generator’s components, stakeholders, and significant characteristics to the contents of the eventual AIP. It’s interesting to see how conceptual elements converge around certain parts of the AIP, but I wouldn’t drawn any conclusions from that about priorities or complexity. It’s not as though more connecting lines means more value (maybe mo’ problems). I mocked this up without much of an agenda beyond, “Let’s draw some lines and see what happens,” and am at least pleased with how it represents the project’s trajectory.

3_Tool-lifecycle grid

Digital curation tools and the digital art curation lifecycle.
Digital curation tools and the digital art curation lifecycle.

This grid diagrams the range of tools considered, tested, and ultimately used to capture, describe, and package material into an AIP. I tried to represent the overlapping functions of many of these tools, where they address the digital art curation lifecycle, and the degree of success I had with each. In choosing shades and ordering the vertical axis, I tried to avoid designating things as “failures” or “bad tools,” since success or failure in digital curation is often a matter of mismatch (right tool / wrong purpose, or vice versa) rather than of quality. One early idea for the vertical axis was to sort tools on a spectrum from ideal to contingency to NO, but in the end I chose to list them by earliest point of intersection with the lifecycle. Interestingly, making this diagram called my attention to how actually useful DataAccessioner (one of the “contingency” tools) really was.

There is so much digital preservation software out there — check COPTR or the POWRR tool grid if you doubt it. With this little drawing, I mostly want to convey the value of diversifying and experimenting. The grid has been a useful way for me to track what I’ve done and what to try next. Rhetorically, it says, “Keep trying!”

UPDATE (5/5/16): Images now give the actual course number. Sleep-deprived regrets.