Smithsonian Digital Internship, Final Reflection

As this internship winds down, I’m reflecting back on what I’ve learned and accomplished throughout the past eight months. I’ve gotten to experience interning for the Smithsonian Institution, which was a wonderful experience. I’ve learned more about publishing a piece in the Smithsonian Magazine than I ever thought I would’ve when I started college. The amount of editing that goes into just the writing portion of my pieces has been incredible to watch and participate in. I’ve spent countless hours researching, editing, and creating digital pieces that I’m really very proud to call my own. I’ve gotten much more comfortable working with different DH softwares, like TimelineJS and Carto. I’m starting to feel more comfortable working with HTML, and I wouldn’t mind taking some time this summer to work more with it.

I enjoyed the work I’ve done the most this year. Seeing all my hard work put into fruition, published, instead of just sitting on a hard drive for me to look back on in a few years. I enjoyed watching my work go from unpolished to publishable over the course of each project. The part of the internship that I disliked the least was probably one I have a love/hate relationship with – the digital part. I loved the digital aspect because it allowed me to work full time and still have this internship. I could juggle both without much problem. The digital part I disliked involved difficulties in communication and sometimes feeling “seen” or “heard.” It’s easy to forget about someone when they’re not in front of you on a daily basis, like they would be in a traditional internship. So while I liked the freedom the digital aspect allowed me, sometimes it got frustrating when communication became difficult.

This internship will absolutely be helpful as I move forward in my own professional development. I hope to continue to build my DH skills, and potentially branch out of the world of academia and into the museum world with DH. I now understand so much more about the DH world, even though I know it’s constantly evolving and that I know only a small percentage of what the DH world entails. I’m a lot more comfortable with my abilities in DH, and I hope that they will help me in my future professional endeavors. DH isn’t so much a specific job, instead it’s incorporating the digital world into the museum and academic worlds. DH demonstrates what we’ve been doing in the analog world for so long but in a digital format. DH is only going to continue to grow as the internet and digitization continues to accelerate. Speaking for education, I know that the production of digital products by teachers and students is a huge push at the moment. I’m sure it’s happening in the museum world as well. But it all boils down to how can we incorporate the digital tools to the analog world of public humanities. And how can we help spread the humanities through the digital world? I hope to be able to build upon that digital humanities push in my own life and career.

The coursework in the Digital Public Humanities Graduate Certificate program helped prepare me for my internship by giving me a bit of hands-on time with certain products used in the DH world. I was able to call upon those experiences in my internship and use those for my initial projects. As I continued in my projects, I was able to research and find tools that were better suited for my needs at the time. Sometimes I wished for more knowledge of code, but overall, I felt prepared from my courses to handle a variety of digital tools.

I’m really glad I participated in this program, and I’m really glad I was able to complete this internship with the Smithsonian. Being able to work hands-on with the digital tools I was learning about really cemented my joy in spreading the digital public humanities work. The most joy I got out of this internship was, admittedly, selfish, because I most enjoyed seeing my projects published. But otherwise, I just simply enjoyed using the digital tools. I’m glad I selfishly got to try new things and use the digital tools, but I’m also glad I was able to teach people new things, whether it was about Freedom Riders, the former Presidents in retirement, or local podcasts that present history and culture with flair.

Smithsonian Digital Internship, Mini Update

After two months of researching, editing, and creating, my piece on podcasts in every state was published! In it, I highlighted one-two podcasts on each state, focusing on local culture and history. I’m very proud of this project! I learned way more than I ever thought I would about podcasts and local history and culture throughout the United States. I built the map using Carto, which has become quite comfortable for me to use over the past several months. I hope people enjoy it as much as I enjoy it!

Smithsonian Digital Internship, April 2017

I can’t believe this internship will be over soon!

I’ve continued working on the podcast project from last month, into this month. It’s just about done, but now it’s about fine-tuning it. I narrowed the list of historical podcasts from about 200 down to about 75, with at least one in every state. I then used Carto to map the podcasts, choosing which information to display. We decided against making it a story map, instead letting the user browse through the map at their own leisure instead of guiding them one way or another. Now it’s down to editing the texts of the introduction and the descriptions of each podcast.

It has still been a struggle to maintain balance between the amount of time needed for my full-time job teaching and my internship needs, but some days are better than others. Communication still seems to be a difficult point in my internship, but otherwise, I’m pleased with all of the new things I’m learning about the digital humanities. It’s time consuming, but valuable, to learn new skills, like HTML, which has helped in creating and understanding my projects. I’ve started working with one of the writers from the magazine, and she’s helped advise me through my podcast project. It’s been nice to have another set of advice moving me through the creative process. As the internship winds down over the next month or so, I’ll be excited to see how things end up.

Smithsonian Digital Internship, March 2017

Another month, another full plate!

I completed the interactive story map on the Freedom Riders in time for it to be published in February. (Follow the Path of the Freedom Riders in this Interactive Map) Using Carto to build the map itself, and then using Odyssey.JS to connect the dots as a story, the project came together very well. I’m particularly pleased with how well it came together. Sometimes, I do wish that I was more connected with the actual office of the magazine in a physical-sense, but working remotely really does work well for my schedule.

Currently, I’m working on a project of mapping historical podcasts in the United States. So far, I’ve found a ton of podcasts, it’s just narrowing down the best and then deciding how many major markets to include. I think we are going to go for at least one podcast per state, with more depending on the state. We’ll see! I’ll probably use the same techniques from Carto and Odyssey to compile the information again. So far, I’ve really enjoyed how well it works, and how I can make the softwares work for me, definitely more-so than working with Storymap.js. That software proved to be more glitchy for me than anything else. I look forward to seeing how this all comes together over the next couple of weeks!

Smithsonian Digital Internship, February 2017

So far this semester, I’ve encountered the struggle of juggling a full-time teaching job with completing projects for the digital internship. Unfortunately for my schedule, there have been no snow days this year, meaning the teachers are just as starved for a day off as the students are. Planning pitch-able story ideas has tested my creativity over the past few months, but I’ve enjoyed flexing that part of my brain. I’m so used to having a set “script” of what I’m teaching on any given day, that it’s nice to think outside the box and try to create new things.

In January, I had my second project, “Lives of Former Presidents” published on the Smithsonian Magazine website. Using StoryMap from Knight Lab again, I created a story-map of the post-presidency lives of the former United States presidents. I found the software simple to use, however, it consumed a tremendous amount of system resources, making it a difficult program with which to work. I made it work, but it isn’t exactly my favorite mapping program at the moment. I enjoyed getting to research and map the lives of the former presidents.

Currently, I’m working on creating an interactive story-map of the Freedom Rides of 1961. I’m using Carto to map and create the interactive. So far, the research has been very time-consuming, but very interesting. In the next few days I plan on getting the map up in a draft format, and hopefully finishing it within the next week or so.

Working remotely is great for my schedule, but it does make it more difficult to feel connected, but my advisor and I are communicating regularly about my progress and different tools to use.

Smithsonian Digital Internship, December 2016

Throughout this semester of digitally interning with the Smithsonian Magazine, I have gained many valuable insights into the workings of a large publication.  Being an intern away from the office and the group is difficult, but many of the writers for the magazine happen to be freelancers, so they are also rarely in the office, if ever.  I have enjoyed watching my work go from idea to draft to published piece.

My internship advisor has helped guide me through the creative process for the Smithsonian Magazine.  He has encouraged me to come up with various ideas that might be able to incorporate the different types of digital humanities tools that I’ve used within my graduate certificate program.  The first tool that we chose was TimelineJS.  The story idea lent itself to the tool format very well, since it was about the history of Columbus Day.  Having used TimelineJS during my certificate program, it was not difficult to put the timeline together.  After we agreed on my story topic and the tool to use, I started to research.  After putting together all of my research, I started to input the information into my spreadsheet for TimelineJS.  Over a few weeks, I shared the spreadsheet with my advisor, and he provided commentary on changes or additions to make.  Once the timeline was complete and I had drafted the introduction to accompany it, I sent it to my advisor.  He edited the draft, and uploaded it to the Smithsonian Magazine website.

For my second project, my advisor chose StoryMap, a tool I had never used before.  He asked me to provide story ideas utilizing StoryMap.  With the impending election, I thought a history of women’s suffrage in the United States would be appropriate.  After researching, I created a map timeline of the women’s suffrage movement.  This project was a bit more hands-off on the part of my advisor, he gave guidance at the beginning and at the end of the project, which lasted about three weeks.

The insights I’ve received into the creative process for projects with the Smithsonian Magazine have been incredible.  Watching my work go from just an idea to a published work was very gratifying, especially knowing how much time and effort went into them.  It’s not a singular act to have a story published through the Smithsonian Magazine, or any major publication, and I’m glad to be a part of a team that’s able to put the ideas into publishable action.

Smithsonian Digital Internship, November 2016

This year, I’m digitally interning with the Smithsonian Magazine.

So far, I have worked on two major projects.  The first project was about Columbus Day, its origins and how it’s celebrated today.  I created a digital timeline, using Timeline JS, to demonstrate the history of Columbus Day and its celebrations.  That was then embedded into an article on, titled “The Timeline History of Celebrating (and not Celebrating) Columbus Day.”

Then I’ve spent about three weeks working on my second project.  My second project was about women gaining the right to vote in the United States.  Using StoryMap to create a map timeline of women gaining the franchise throughout the United States, starting in the colonial period and through to the modern era.

Through both of my projects so far, I have used digital tools to propose, research, and create for the internship.  I have had quite a bit of creative freedom in what I want to study and how I choose to write about and create my projects.  I have enjoyed this freedom to create, especially coming from teaching, where I have a set curriculum to fulfill.

Even though this is a digital internship, I have regular contact with my advisor.  We use Slack and email to communicate regularly, with phone check-ins once every couple of weeks.  I wish that I did have more face-to-face time, to feel connected to the office, but otherwise, I feel good about the digital internship.  The digital internship allows me to continue teaching while also completing this internship.  I look forward to my next projects.

Student Project Response

This assignment was nice because I got to watch and listen how other students worked their ways through creating their digital projects.  Erin Bush’s project encompassed an entire semester of reading and analyzing documents and how those were impacted by that point in history.  One day I wish to be able to create courses like that, especially using Sam Wineburg’s approaches.  Nate Sleeter was informative, largely due to that he owns up to the fact it’s not exactly how he would’ve imagined it and it’s harder to explain the breakdown of how we think as historians to students than he originally thought.  Sleeter is honest and that’s refreshing as I start to really focus my project and how I want my students to think about the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharpe had a project on a much larger scale, but they still underwent the same process of drafting and asking “how much work is too much, both on the students and us?”  I think the overwhelming advice was to break down how historians think about things, so we can better teach the students how to critically think, as well as to draft and re-draft, while honing in on the final message to present.

I will absolutely take their advice into consideration as I really start to hone in on my final message for my project.  I’ll keep rethinking how things are explained and presented for my students, while also trying to give them the best chances for thinking critically about the information.

Sixth Piece of the Puzzle

For my final project, I want to present the Cold War to my students in a geographic format, allowing them to research the events, people, and places of the Cold War through a map.  In the greater picture, I’d love to make this about the Cold War as a whole, starting with the formation of the Soviet Union and stretching to its collapse.  Due to the time constraints of this course, I will be focusing on a small piece to start with: the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Many students don’t realize the importance of the Cuban Missile Crisis, they simply associate it as an event of the Cold War they are required to memorize.  I want them to know where the major players in the Cuban Missile Crisis were, and why the Soviet Union was so upset about the U.S. missiles in Turkey, and why the U.S. got so upset about the Soviet missiles in Cuba.  The students will be able to see all of this through a map format, with information linked to specific places.  When they are done looking through the map, they will have to write a thesis statement and an essay response on who they think was more to blame for the Cuban Missile Crisis: the U.S. or Soviet Union.

The Malleable Past

When presenting information to my students, I usually think about how they can access the information.  Thankfully, we live in an age where the Internet is highly accessible, and students can regularly research things they have questions on.  When I was in high school, the Internet was not as accessible as it is today.  We were just really starting to use the Internet for research possibilities, it was mostly reserved for the library.  Today, my students can research in the middle of class on their smartphones.  This can allow me to vary the way I teach different lessons.  Instead of relying on the limited school library, I can simply give the students laptops or allow them to use their smart devices to research in class and they can teach the class about what they’ve learned.  So many new lesson ideas are available to them thanks to the growth of technology.  It also enables me to fact-check myself if they have questions in class that I don’t know the answer to (for example, the origin of the phrase “out of left field“).

In museums, visitors can also “fact check” or ask questions as they see fit in exhibits.  Museums can harness this by using various technological tools to add more information to an exhibit without changing the physical exhibit.  They can use QR codes to allow individuals to read, view, or hear more about a topic.  They can also use a recording system that the visitor can listen to as they walk through the exhibit.  The growth of technology shouldn’t be considered damaging to schools or museums, it should be considered a fantastic resource to be utilized at every available chance.