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.

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.