The Process of Digital History

Over the course of the semester, we have built digital public history projects from the ground up, so to speak.  We created an idea for a project, prototyped it, storyboarded it, and actually created the digital exhibit.  There were headaches and tears, learning curves, far too many Cokes and candy bars consumed, and, ultimately, celebrations of successes as the project came into fruition.  I’m sure that’s all very similar to working on an institution’s digital history project.  At first, the frustrations came from the hosting site and the Omeka site, and the lack of knowledge about how to work them.  Once that learning curve was handled, creating the exhibits came much more simply.  The more I worked with the software, the easier it became to manipulate.  The image in my head of what I wanted the exhibit to look like and what it actually looked like came together at the end of the semester, which was exhilarating to finally have it all work and make sense.  Journey to the 1936 Olympics is the product of my efforts, and I am very proud of it.

Digital public history isn’t an easy field.  The collaboration that is necessary is staggering.  Just trying to teach myself basic coding and Unix skills to work the hosting and Omeka sites was exhausting, so I can only imagine building a site completely from scratch.  That’s why the collaboration between disciplines is so necessary, or at the very least DPH projects should consult other disciplines.  I enjoy the fact that anywhere in the world, someone could be looking at my DPH project and learning about the 1936 Men’s Olympic 8+ from the University of Washington. There’s something amazing in that realization.  I can imagine that’s how digital public historians feel as they see their projects become public, spread throughout the world with their strategies, and evolve.

Throughout this past semester, I learned a lot about myself and my skills (or lack thereof).  I also started a list of what more I want to learn (basic coding skills is very near the top).  Through the readings and activities of this semester, I learned a great deal about DPH and how institutions are able to spread their messages and exhibits through the digital world and connect them to the tangible world in their museums or collections.  Through networking and social media, these projects can be shared and connected with so many different people that wouldn’t necessarily be able to see them in the tangible world.  Museums and institutions should absolutely take advantage of the increasing technologies and increase their audience by reaching out into the digital world.  DPH is definitely the way of the future, and museums and institutions should plan accordingly.  I’m very glad at the knowledge I have gained through this course, and I’m proud of the project I was able to create.

Rowing to Greatness, Module 8 Update

This week, I’ve continued gathering information for my project.  I’ll continue to gather more information and artifacts and build my exhibit over the next week.

The prior issues with the plug-ins and copyright law that I was having still exist, and I will continue to work through them over the next week.

Rowing to Greatness Project Update, Module 7

This week, the work has been more offline than it has online.  I have edited some of the items in my exhibit with further details as I have found them.  I have spent quite a bit of time working on biographies (offline) of the individual rowers and coaches that formed the team.  After working with the oral histories from this week’s module, I’m excited to use OHMS for my own oral histories in my project.  Tentatively, I want to add them to the project now using OHMS.  I’ll have to see how they incorporate into Omeka with the OHMS plug-in.

I am still struggling with the pesky copyright issue on photographs, but I will continue my search.  I have still not had the chance to add the Omeka plug ins from the past few weeks, partially out of my fear and frustration from the first several times I tried adding them.  I’ll try to gain courage in this next week to continue working with them.

My next steps include wrapping up the amount of items in my exhibit, transcribing and archiving the oral histories I have, adding the biographies to my online exhibit, and adding the Omeka plug ins (I’ll get the courage to do it!).

Rowing to Greatness Project Update, Module 9

As the week has progressed, so has my project.  I have added a few more images.  I am also compiling more information for the biographies.  I have not been able to fiddle with the Omeka plug-ins, but I will continue to work on that aspect of the project over the next couple of weeks.  I am struggling to find images that are not copyrighted, so I will continue on my search for non-copyrighted work.

My next steps include continuing to add resources for my exhibit.  I also plan to work with the plug-ins in Omeka to make it a more interactive exhibit.

Rowing to Greatness Project Update Module 6

As Rowing to Greatness continues, I am compiling and adding new resources, such as images and audio files of the rowers.  I will continue to compile these resources over the next several weeks to keep making my project better.

I am still struggling with the Omeka plug-in for Universal Viewer, so that I can be able to upload video and audio of the rowers.  It would also be beneficial when it comes to collaboration with users, if they were able to upload their own audio and video.  Hopefully, I can get that working soon.  After this week’s readings, I’m also concerned about making the site as user-friendly as possible, especially the user contribution section.  I’ll keep looking into ways to make it so.

My next steps on the project include continuing to add more resources and clean up the exhibit, in order to make it more appealing.  I also need to map the sites of the rowers races and travel through the United States and into Europe for the Berlin Olympics.  I will also spend more time with the Omeka Universal Viewer plug-in in order to get it working.


Reflecting on Modules 4 and 5

Throughout Modules 4 (Collections) and 5 (Narrative Interpretation), the readings have been focused on the best ways to present our projects, and information to help us through that.

In Module 4, the readings I found most helpful were about collections that have experienced trial and error, and how I can learn from their experiences.  “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5” by Sheila Brennan and T. Mills Kelly was a case study in what has worked and what hasn’t worked in public history for them.  Their first-hand experiences quickly got added to my list of thoughts on my project, specifically with always adding more time to the project than I originally think necessary.  Brennan and Kelly also demonstrated the importance of having a backup plan for individuals lacking access to technology, that way they are still able to contribute to the public history project.  “It’s All About the Stuff: Collections, Interfaces, Power, and People” from Tim Sherratt opened my eyes to thinking about projects as all having a bias and an institutional power.  He made me think long and hard about the allowances of keyword searching to break free from the set path that institutions can force.  Sherratt drove home the point about not becoming mindless sheep, and thinking outside the institutional box.  Mitchell Whitelaw furthered this point in “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections” by allowing for browsing of collections as well.  Users don’t always want a linear path through history.  Sometimes, they want to forge their own way, and public historians should adapt enough to let them do that.  Allow every man to become his own historian.

In Module 5, “Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield, The Many Stories of 1704” by Lynne Spichiger made me examine using multiple perspectives within my own project, and how that might appear.  Spichiger emphasized the importance of collaboration within that project, and it made me consider collaboration in later steps of my project as well.  Richard Rabinowitz had a statement in “Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition” that has strongly resonated with me and my project since reading it (p. 44).

“As interpreters we create the devices that we hope will bridge this divide – the artifacts, images, and documents of the history and the interpretive media that make them accessible to our audiences.  In sum, the form of the exhibition is another kind of narrative, perhaps as important as the ‘content’ it is designed to communicate or the stories visitors are inscribing as they move through our galleries.  Public historians need to understand how and not merely what exhibitions mean.”

I am looking at my project now more with a lens of how my exhibition means.  I also have been thinking about how I want my project to be non-linear in its storytelling, thanks to Juan Sanabria (“Particle or Wave? Linear and Non-Linear Storytelling in Museums”).  The rest of the articles in Module 5 revolved around the curation of digital exhibits (what to do/what not to do).  Those are highly valuable too, but they were not as influential in shaping how I thought about my project as an overall.  Those are more along the lines of fine-line editing, after the big picture has come into view.

Building Project Infrastructure

In planning for an online exhibit, the steps are extensive.  First comes figuring out what should be displayed in the exhibit.  Then assessing why certain things should or should not be included.  After that gets sorted out, playing with the design of the site comes next.  Within that, the creator must storyboard and plan, while also trying to decide what is important to include in each page.  Why would a user want to continue from page to page, getting lost in your exhibit on purpose?  Or would they be better off going down the black hole of the Internet on some other tangent?

In planning for Rowing to Greatness, I’ve had to think about what pages would help draw the user in, while maintaining his or her freedom to venture about the exhibit at the own pace and on their own beeline.  I want to give the viewers ownership in their own journey through the artifacts I have carefully pulled together on the 1936 United States Olympic Men’s 8+.  In doing so, I’ve had to think about the best groupings for the artifacts, so that the stories are presented in a way that makes the most logical sense.  One page will include an interactive map, depicting the locations these men trained, raced, and traveled on their journey to greatness.  Another page will include the individual biographies of the men, so as to give the users an idea of where these men came from before they became one team.  Yet another page will include a contribution section, where rowers from today can insert their own stories, images, videos, etc., and comment on others stories as well.  As I continue building my project, I will keep in mind the way a user’s mind might travel through the information and how best to present it so that they stick around, and not venture out into the black hole.


Screen shot of the “Biographies” section of the project.