Digital Assessment: eHistory

Today’s digital project assessment focuses on the challenges of adherence to digital projects’ missions, maintenance, and sustainability. This week, as I searched for a digital humanities project to review, I stumbled across the work of Claudio Saunt, who had posted a GIF showing the growth of the African population alongside the European population in North America before 1790.

As I was exploring Saunt’s work, I discovered eHistory, a University of Georgia online collection of several digital history projects that Saunt and Stephen Barry founded and developed in 2011. eHistory seeks to involve “citizen historians,” that is, the broader public beyond those who study history in academia, in a series of “citizen histories” for a public audience that “better reflects the way knowledge is created and consumed in our increasingly digital world.” Rather than focusing exclusively on one of these projects intensely, I have chosen to evaluate a selection of the projects both to highlight some of their individual merits and shortcomings and to provide myself a more expansive glimpse into several different ways scholars are incorporating digital humanities into the field of history. While I was initially excited by what the site had to offer, I increasingly encountered disappointments. I chose the following three sites to highlight the different ways people can use digital history either as a research tool or a way to display historical knowledge, as well as to highlight issues of quality and management. Read more

Challenging Dominant Narratives in the Historical Record

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Image from ncph.org.

Along with several of my colleagues, I attended the National Council on Public History’s annual meeting this past week. This year’s theme, “Challenging the Exclusive Past,” raised important questions about the obstacles to uncovering obscured narratives.

Several panels and workshops I attended taught me powerful lessons on these topics, but one particularly stood out to me in light of much of my own work. Courtney Hobson presented on her experience as a docent at Darnall’s Chance, a historic house museum and the only museum in Prince George’s County in Maryland interpreted from the perspective of a woman, Lettice Lee.

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Darnall’s Chance House Museum. Image from Darnall’s Chance House Museum website.

Courtney recognized that the narrative focused solely on the white elite woman of the household, and relegated discussion of slavery, and the important women of color within this household, to the kitchen. She has sought to reconfigure this narrative to include the women of the Davis-Bentley-Barton family, who were descendants of a white indentured Englishwoman named Mary Davis and a black slave, Domingo, who married during the colonial period. Read more

Access at a Price

This past year, Colonial Williamsburg worked to relaunch its website on a new platform at the domain history.org (not to be confused with the History Channel’s history.com!). In addition to providing information for tourists interested in planning a trip to the living history village, the site also seeks to achieve educational outreach goals by providing a host of digital materials for researchers, learners, and history enthusiasts of all ages. Some of these resources are free and publically accessible. Others, however, require a paid subscription (although some opportunities are available to subsidize these costs). Within some tabs, educational opportunities are mixed with endeavors to advertise and sell products. Sometimes these commercial impositions unexpectedly inhibit open exploration of the site, though they are a clever means for an institution dependent on income to sustain such an incredible physical and online presence.

The site has an almost overwhelming array of tabs to choose from, putting information at an explorer’s fingertips. Some of these include: Read more

Visualizing Women’s Suffrage

As Maggie, Fazila, and I work to digitize collections for our final project, an online exhibit featuring Evanston neighborhood women’s involvement in the women’s suffrage movement, I consider how I can use tools like Photoshop to enhance the quality of images we digitize. Having used photo-editing services such as Gimp, Picasa, and Paint to crop and sharpen photos for a brief documentary video before, I have learned that editing can go a long way to improving the visibility of a photographed or scanned document or image, but can take a lot of time and effort. Often, the digitized format for sources needs some enhancement before its online presentation: scans are often washed out and need sharpening, while photographs of collections often need straightening, cropping, and sharpening to correct glare and other issues. I am curious to see what features Photoshop has to offer when we experiment with it in class next week. Here are some raw images I hope to enhance as a result: Read more

Tweeting Public History: Successes and Pitfalls

This course has brought me into the world of Twitter for the first time. Though I’ve carefully avoided Twitter for years, as soon as I started following some of my favorite museums and public history institutions, I grew impressed as I scrolled through their feeds, learning about the institutions and what they have to share. I had a negative preconception that Twitter created a messy, disjointed feed of news, opinions, images, and information that was difficult for anyone without context, or knowledge of twitter abbreviations and hashtag lingo, to comprehend, but I found that many of the institutions feeds were concise, clear, clean, and easy to follow. As I looked at the feeds, I made some observations about the best practices and shortcomings of using Twitter for public history. Here are some of my takeaways that I would give as advice for public history institutions to make the most of their Twitter presence: Read more