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

Advertisements

Sustainability on the History Web

Sustaining a web exhibit requires dedicated time, energy, and funding. Antebellum Cincinnati: Social Intersections in the Queen City, a website I designed with my classmates in an undergraduate history course, does not have an in-depth sustainability plan for these reasons. Unable to support ourselves through funding or a dedicated staff, though we had hoped to design a more complex and interactive site, we recognized that we needed to scale back based on our resource limitations. Read more

Bridget’s Sisters: A Play made Digital

For our upcoming online exhibit about Evanston women and the 19th Amendment, Maggie, Fazila, and I are constructing a video recording of a play by Evanston suffragist Catharine Waugh McCullough, highlighting the script of the play we feature in our collection. The play is a fictionalization of a true story about the organization of the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association. Because we are using Tiki-Toki as an entryway to the site, due to its ability to situate Evanston women’s contributions to the women’s rights movement on a timeline in a state and national context, we will feature the video on the date that the Illinois Equal Suffrage Association was established. A description of the play and the event on which it is based will be present alongside the video. A “find out more” link will direct users to our Omeka site, where we are using Timeline JS to trace the life of the play’s creator, Catharine Waugh McCullough, alongside the contributions of other Evanston women’s rights advocates (find out more about this from Maggie’s blog post). We will highlight elements of Catharine McCullough’s story as a part of our social media campaign (more on this from Fazila!).

Above: Copy of Bridget’s Sisters: A Play by Catharine Waugh McCollough, courtesy of the Evanston History Center and the Evanston Women’s History Project. Read more

Conveying the Holocaust through Video

Digital exhibits containing video are harder to come by than imagined. As I searched for new history websites to review for their multimedia presence, I found that very few incorporated video into their exhibitions. Those who did, such as the Gilder Lehrman Institute, simply hosted 1-2 minute videos of a scholar sharing a brief academic commentary on a specific topic. Access to Gilder Lehrman’s online exhibitions page, which promised more videos and multimedia experiences, required a paid subscription. Of the websites I searched, only Colonial Williamsburg, which has its own digital productions team, had a variety of freely accessible educational history videos available online, though even Colonial Williamsburg kept its best material locked behind a subscription screen, and for good reason—video production requires extensive time, money, and effort, which is why so many of the sites I visited had little video to show.

However, I eventually stumbled across Yad Vashem’s online exhibitions, whose multimedia usage impressed me. The site’s exhibits incorporate images and video into their textual narrative to tell stories of Jewish history, culture, and life before, during, and after the Holocaust. The Death March to Volary exhibition’s use of video was particularly powerful. The exhibit tells the story of approximately 1,000 Jewish women forced on a death march from a camp in Poland. An introductory video blends the stories of women who survived the march with images and film clips to make the horror of their experience more vivid. The video served as a compelling introduction to the site, bringing the opening text to life. The rest of the exhibit traces the chronology of the march day by day, from its origins to liberation and return to life. In each section, more videos, images, and artifacts pertinent to the event tell the story of those specific days of the journey. Unlike many other unsuccessful attempts to integrate written historical narrative and video components that I’ve seen, the text, audio, and video on this site complemented one another. Not only does the video enhance what’s described in the narrative, text and photographs situated alongside the videos contextualize the experiences the women describe in their testimonies.

Read more

Down the Rabbit Hole with Alternate Reality Games

I’ve had several encounters over the past few years which have revealed to me the myriad possibilities of conveying history through gaming. As a child at heart who loves to play, Bryan Alexander’s chapter, “Chaotic Fiction; or, Alternate Reality Games,” in his work The New Digital Storytelling caught my attention.

Scholars of history are sometimes hesitant about the benefit history-themed games can have for teaching history. They are concerned that the presentation of history through gaming, where altered outcomes may result, will skew students’ understanding of the past. But Alexander’s chapter has shown me how alternate reality gaming can be an excellent way to teach historical research skills in a National Treasure fashion, compelling players to uncover evidence from primary source material that leads at some points to dead ends, and at others to more information that unlocks more of the story. Users treat the story like a mystery, using their critical thinking, reasoning, and analytical skills to determine where to look next. Read more

Challenging Dominant Narratives in the Historical Record

PhotoGrid_1457473685543-1200x1200
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.

darnalls exterior
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

The Virtual Bookshelf: Shelfari and Goodreads

This week our blog assignment is to write a brief history of a social networking site listed on Wikipedia. Seeing Shelfari, a virtual bookshelf-sharing site for book-lovers, on the list, I thought, “Oh good, I love Shelfari, I’ll pick that!” Much to my alarm, when I clicked on the Wikipedia page, I saw the following statement: “Shelfari continued to function as an independent book social network within the Amazon.com family of sites until January 2016, when Amazon announced on Shelfari.com that it would be merging Shelfari with Goodreads and closing down Shelfari.” Luckily, Amazon provided users an easy option to save their booklists for their own records, as well as to migrate their booklists to a Goodreads account. I quickly hopped onto Shelfari, saved my booklist, created a Goodreads account, and started the merge. My mini-emergency serves as an important reminder for public historians who use digital programs to store and share material that digital platforms often have short lifespans. But first, a history of the two sites: Read more

Museum 2.0: Caveats and Considerations

Ready to dive into a new online history project? You may want to pause for a second and make sure that you’ve considered all of the effort it will take before you begin. If you haven’t fully assessed all of the work necessary to complete a successful digital history project, you may be unpleasantly surprised when issues keep seemingly popping up. As a part of my Public History New Media course, I will be working with classmates to design an online exhibition. In preparation for beginning the project, I consider here some of the challenges we may face as we compose and complete the digital exhibit. Here are some “things to consider” when contemplating whether to take on the endeavor of beginning a digital project: Read more