Third Stop: Public Projects

On February 08, 2016, we started our time in Public Projects working with Sharon Leon, Megan Brett, and Alyssa Fahringer. We began by taking a look at the work the public projects division had done so far in order to have an understanding of the kind of work the division did.

The next task was a familiar and welcome one for me, testing. I have had a lot of fun testing the various projects for all of the divisions this year. In public projects, I did some testing for Omeka.net, Omeka S, and Liberian Journey. I particularly enjoyed doing the testing for Liberian Journey because it was a new experience for me: testing the mobile capabilities of the site. I found myself looking for issues I had not previously needed to look for in a site such as how easy it is to move around, if content runs off the screen, how different does the page become depending on how the phone is held? However, I also felt limited on what I could test as I was only able to test its functionality on an iPhone.

Another task I had was to review pieces for Mall Histories and go on a hunt for a photo for a Mall History biography piece. I did broad searches in engines and through digital collections such as the Library of Congress and was not able to find anything. However, through a Google search for the individual I found a pdf of a finding aid from a law school, the individuals alma mater. The finding aid allowed me to see that they had multiple photos of him. However, they were not digitized so I wanted to see what I could find before emailing the institution. Luckily, the archives had digitized many of their yearbooks, so my next step was to find him in them. With only being able to estimate when he would have graduated from the law school, I looked at about ten yearbook before I found him. The picture would be small, but it was definitely better than nothing. I emailed the institution to ask if the yearbook photo could be used for Mall Histories and, unfortunately, they have yet to give an answer.

The remaining, and majority, of my time was spent preparing for and advertising the five year anniversary of Paper of the War Department. First, Andrea and I sat down to brainstorm on the audience we would like to reach and how we could go about it. After meeting with Megan and Alyssa, the four of us created a plan and divided up the audiences; I was assigned the Native American studies crowd. Before any groups could be contacted, though, we needed a press release. Over the course of a week, Andrea, Megan, Sharon and I wrote a general press release. I then edited the release to target the Native American studies crowd. Knowing my name, as a new scholar, would not have any pull in the community, I contacted Dr.Joseph Genetin-Pilawa to post the targeted press release to his Facebook page as well as on the Ethnohistory and NAISA Facebook pages. I personally posted the targeted press release on H-Net in the AmIndian, West, and FedHistory channels. Lastly, I created tweets using #Indigenous and #NativeAmerican to be scheduled on Twitter with the PWD account.

Overall, I am highly satisfied with the work I accomplished with working in Public Projects. I took a look specifically at the amount of accounts created on PWD from March 17-April 4 (after the initial anniversary outreach) and out of 23 new accounts, 7 were created with a motivation of Native American studies; this is more than any other motivation with specific research and genealogy tying for second at 5. After looking at all of the data, I would have to say that the 5 year anniversary outreach was a success.

Research Division Rotation

During my time with the research division, I became familiar with Press Forward plugin development and functionality and Digital Humanities Now’s funding model, editorial workflow, publication process and traffic statistics.  Though, I had been reading and nominating posts for DHNow earlier in the semester, my time in research gave me a fuller understanding of the trends in digital humanities and popular blog posts on the subject as well.  This came primarily from compiling the most popular or relevant posts over the past year.  Of particular interest to me seemed to be the move to global perspectives on resource building and scholarship, how digital humanities teaching employs critical investigation, libraries grappling with linked data models, and the transform DH movement to build more robust analyses of race, gender, sexuality and disability.

I also did some research on open access for a Press Forward white paper and learned a lot about the history of open access and how scientists approached the topic.  I was surprised to find out how much authors are required to pay to be published in open access science journals and it seems that there is a shift from library subscription models to departmental funding for scholarly publication.

I set up my own Press Forward installation and was able to follow along a bit in a meeting about reworking database assets to speed up plugin functionality.  I also tested a new Press Forward theme.  Both of these processes exposed me to some changes in the WordPress api since I last built a site, which was over five years ago, which will be of great use if I intend to build another site with this growing platform.

When I was last at CHNM, while doing my master’s, Dan Cohen first proposed and built DH Now during a ThatCamp.  It was originally built to automatically re-post popular DH blog work, with little labor required.  Reading the PressForward and DH Now proposals and white papers published in the last few years, helped me understand how the original automation was transformed into a fairly time-consuming editorial process, and finally to a more streamlined approach that benefits greatly from the inclusion on volunteer editors-at-large which contribute nominations from the perspective of a variety of academics, museum and library professionals.

Second Stop: Research

The second rotation at RRCHNM was research for Andrea and I. We worked with and were supervised by Stephanie Westcott. Although the first assignments had us working with Stephanie, the majority of our time in Research had us working along-side the graduate research assistants Mandy ReganAmanda Morton, and Josh Catalano.

My time in the research division started a little differently than my time in Education. The first thing we did was familiarize ourselves with documentation for PressForward. We read over all posts from its conception to PF3 in order to prepare us help Stephanie do some research for a white paper. The experience research for a white paper was interesting. When I have done research in the past it had never been on something related to the digitl realm where all sources will be online. However, for the whitepaper we were researching information about Creative Commons Licensing, what people say about it, and the best ways to use it. Additionally, Stephanie wanted us to keep our eyes out for anything that may work better. I discovered that Creative Commons has a Science Commons they created for online science publications. It is not as well publicized, but there was a lot written about it when it started up so it was interesting to be able to compare the two.

The rest of my time was spent mostly doing different sorts of testing for Mandy and working in DHNow. With DHNow I worked as editor-in-chief for two weeks before the start of the spring semester. Sitting by Josh every week, who I have seen be editor-in-chief many times, I had an idea of what to do. Also, my work nominating content each week prepared me for knowing what kind of content I was looking for. However, it was still the beginning of the year and not much was being posted on the digital humanities. I also experienced how helpful editors-at-large were because each week there was only one nomination waiting for me. With a lot of searching through the content and Twitter along with some reassurance from Stephanie that the posts would work, I was able to get two editors’ choice pieces up each week along with four news pieces (which I was surprised ended up being even harder to find).

Also for DHNow I drafted some blog posts to explain the upcoming user management system, answer some questions in a FAQs format, and explain the two methods for nominating content through (Pressforward and bookmarklet).

Lastly, I tested the Turnkey theme for Mandy and the new user management system. The testing of the new theme allowed me to start getting used to Github, a website I had watched tutorials on in September before starting in Education but had no experience in. Mandy showed me some basics on getting around and where to report any issues. By the end of the testing I was fairly comfortable with Github which I imagine will keep coming up the more work I do at the Center.

That’s all for now, next up on the rotation is Public Projects!

Education Rotation

It was a busy start of the year in the Education Department at CHNM.  I worked on data cleaning for the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) War Dead Database, transcribed Sacrificing Freedom eulogy videos, prepared/uploaded Lesson Plans for ABMC’s new Education Site, and did a content inventory for the National History Day redesign.

Working the war dead database I came to understand that optimizing search and sorting for large data sets involves strategic efforts to ensure proper data importing and input, detailed taxonomies, multiple testing stages and checks for uniform outputs.  My job was primarily searching, sorting and testing cross-browser functionality, but in the process I was able to come gain some insights into how the data set was moved from the old to new system, that could be of benefit if I work on any other data migration projects.  I also was able to get to know a bit more about the different ranks and divisions in the U.S. military.

By transcribing eulogy videos, I was reminded of the importance of accessibility to digital work.  Furthermore, the people in the database entries came to life . The Understanding Sacrifice project works with teachers to develop lesson plans on WWI, by researching individual soldiers and eulogizing them at their overseas resting places.  I was moved by the teachers attachment to their subjects.

I also helped CHNM’s filmmaker Chris Preperato identify selections from project leaders and teachers interviews for the Understanding Sacrifice intro video.  This helped me understand the goals of the project facilitators and see that they were met by the reactions of the teachers.  Teachers were reinvigorated as working historians by doing primary source research on the First World War.  They made lasting connections with the families of fallen heroes.  Perhaps most importantly, they were able to channel the power of place, connect it the lives and stories of individuals on the battlefield, and bring that knowledge back to the classroom with renewed vigor.

In a time when middle and high school teachers are sometimes treated like little more than pre-packaged content distributors and assessors, projects like these seem to make them feel like experts again, with unique experiences to share with students.  Jennifer explained to me how impressed the teachers were that their final lesson plan products were professionally designed and distributed.  When marking up the lesson plans with some html, and uploading documents, I was able to see the great variety of ways that the history teachers approached their lessons, which could be helpful in my own teaching.  However, the painstaking detail to each minute process and attention to national standards, reminded me that a career in secondary education will likely not be in my future.

One of the major takeaways from this experience would be the importance of close collaborations.  Understanding Sacrifice is a collaboration between CHNM and National History Day (NHD).  During my work tenure, NHD had trouble putting together a birthday video for one of their major donors.  On short notice, Kelly was able to step in.  I helped by taping the directors message while Chris was on vacation.  (Note:  the WWII memorial is windy and loud, so if you tape there, be prepared)  Despite my bad audio collection, Chris was able to get together tons of other footage and testimonies and Kelly hired a professional musician to score the video and help with other audio layovers.  I hear that the major donor is really thrilled with his video and shows it to all of his friends.

In sum, I think that the flexibility of working relationships,  i.e. going outside the box with professional development like Understanding Sacrifice and being able to solve partner problems on the fly without huge administrative hurdles, shows how the Education Department at CHNM knows how to make things happen and is dedicated to serving the needs of partners and teachers in unique ways.  It is a model example of how to develop dynamic working relationships and lasting professional collaborations.

First Stop: Education

The first rotation of the divisions here at RRCHNM landed Andrea and I in Education working with Kelly Schrum, Jennifer Rosenfeld, and Chris Preperato. Over the course of eight weeks, I worked with each of these individuals on specific projects. While in education my time was spent assisting with the rebuilding of the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) database, Understanding Sacrifice website for ABMC, and organizing of the Folger Shakespeare Library metadata.

American Battle Monuments Commission
Most of my time in Education was dedicated to working with Chris and Jennifer in preparing the reworking of the ABMC website as this had the fastest approaching deadline. My work consisted of checking the new database for errors and comparing it to the old one, testing the new site, comparing the new site from the old one, transferring image files into the new site, and checking compatibility across browsers and systems.

As part of the project, RRCHNM took the database ABMC was working with and completely reworked it to fix any bugs and tidy all the data. This was the largest part of the project taken on by James McCartney and Chris. I was able to help with this process by first going through the database on Drupal and documenting what information was inconsistent with the live ABMC website (which currently held the old data). This was a good introduction into the kind of data we could expect to be working with the rest of our time in education. Additionally, this first task taught me a lot about what James and Chris were doing to rework the data. A lot of the differences I found between the old and new data were good things. In other words, the changes were intentional and reflected that the errors they were fixing were successful.

An enormous part of my time working with the ABMC site can be labeled as testing. With so many changes being made to improve ABMC’s website, there were new aspects to be checked each day. Once the data was complete to Chris and James’ standards, all the testing involved checking the new website. A lot of this work was checking that links were working, information was not provided on the back end while missing in public view, everything was displaying correctly, soldiers were listed in the correct database online (War Dead vs. Korean Honor Roll only), and ensuring there were no general styling mishaps. This work was very repetitive, but extremely necessary. I would sometimes go a long time without finding anything wrong, but once I did, I often found that it was universal (similar profiles shared the same issue). Sticking through and thoroughly checking allowed many issues to be found and addressed before ABMC was shown the site.

Something may be tedious, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.
I went in with this attitude. I knew that I would not be asked to do something just to keep me busy. The more issues I found and reported, the more fulfilling the work was.

Understanding Sacrifice
The second largest portion of my time was spent working with Jennifer and Chris on the Understanding Sacrifice website. This website was created to showcase what teachers across the nation had learned about fallen heroes of WWI. The education project is sponsored by ABMC in partnership with National History Day and RRCHNM. I helped Chris transcribe and caption the videos he shot and edited of the teachers giving a eulogy for their chosen fallen hero. Helping Jennifer involved various aspects of the website. I assisted in inputting information for the fallen hero profiles, entering and editing information for the teacher-created lesson plans, and looking over lesson plans for any mistakes.

Working with Chris to create transcriptions was the most familiar tasks I had for this project. As an undergrad at Illinois College, I worked with Steven Hochstadt creating transcriptions of oral histories. However, my experience creating transcriptions for Education introduced me to a new method I will continue to use. After a suggestion from Jennifer, I downloaded the VLC player and learned how to slow down the playback of the audio. Decreasing the speed made doing transcriptions so much easier, I wish I would have thought of it before!

The rest of my time working on the Understanding Sacrifice project had me working with Jennifer to upload content for fallen hero profiles and teacher lesson plans (called activities on the site). I enjoyed doing this because I came in with some html experience, but had not used it in quite some time. Figuring out how to correctly use the code to accomplish the styling aspects asked of me was fun for me. I would have gladly done more of this, but there was only so many profiles and activities.

Shakespeare and Friends
Towards the end of my time in Education, I worked with Kelly to organize and generally make sense of the metadata provided by Folger. The Center has been tasked with revamping the Folger website and have specific requirements for how they would like the data to appear. They provided Kelly with a spreadsheet containing all of their metadata so far as well with instructions on how everything should be shown. In order for James to make sense of everything down the road, Kelly tasked me with organization and clarity.

This task was very difficult for me at first, quite possibly the most challenging one during my time in Education. I think the main reason for this is due to how overwhelming the spreadsheet was to look at. There was a lot going on all at once and terms I had never heard of before. This issue had already been addressed prior to my involvement, though, and there was a tab in the spreadsheet which explained all the terms; this helped me a lot. I created my own tab to work in within the spreadsheet and after three revisions, the information was organized in an easy to understand way with instructions Folger approved.

This project involved a lot of back and forth work while communicating questions and concerns with Folger. Kelly allowed me to sit in on a call with two representatives from Folger with helped my understanding of the project immensely. After that call, the spreadsheet that was once so daunting seemed like a breeze to read and organize. What I enjoyed the most out of this project was being able to be a part of more of the beginning stages and seeing how the “behind the scenes” communications work.

Base What?
My time in Education also taught me how to use Basecamp. Before August, I had not even heard of it. I quickly learned how to log my hours for the fellowship (thanks to Alyssa Fahringer), but I was not aware for a couple weeks into the semester that it was also a project management system as well. Having been on three different projects with Education, I now have a handle on how to use Basecamp to communicate with other members of the project in an efficient way.

Next stop on my tour through the RRCHNM divisions is Research!

Collaborative Second Year Post

We’ve reached the end of our two-year stint as Digital History Fellows at RRCHNM. The time we’ve spent at the center has introduced us to various tools and techniques, provided the opportunity to work with scholars, given us insight into the process and progress of grant-funded DH projects, and enabled us to build a supportive cohort of students across the program that will continue to serve each of us as we move into the next stage of our programs. Below, each of us will expand on the experiences we’ve had at the center and reflect on the work we’ve done.

Anne

The structure of the DH fellowship helped me to gain knowledge and skills of digital history in a meaningful way—one that assisted me in learning more collaborative ways of doing history, achieving more skills to accomplish creating digital history, and understanding the reasoning behind doing DH. During my first year, we were able to travel between the divisions, which allowed for a relatively quick overview of the different ways that digital history is done. In the second year, I was placed into two divisions—one each in fall and spring—and I was able to delve further into particular projects within these divisions and work more closely with the members of each division.

The Center for History and New Media is structured in such a way that open collaboration and communication is possible. Although there are three divisions, there are open discussions for ideas, collaboration amongst the members, and many people that are very willing to help if needed. Through my work here, I’ve learned that many people in the Center use different tools to create their work, and this has helped me to become exposed to new methods. There are also several meetings in which ideas are discussed, and these meetings are productive for learning new ways to do Digital History.

I had a much easier time with my trio of Clio classes due to my time as a DH Fellow. When I came in, I had some experience with certain tools, but I did not feel confident in my ability to actually do digital history. Our classes have changed that, and my time at the Center was very complementary in that it seemed whenever we were doing work for the Clio classes, we were also working on something similar within our CHNM work. It also was a great establishment of skills for taking Clio 3, which involved much more programming. Because of my time at CHNM, I had previous experience with some programing languages, and it made the process of taking Clio 3 much easier so that I was able to produce a meaningful piece of scholarship in the end.

In the future, I plan on taking the ideas of collaboration, communication, and the skill set that I have gained from CHNM into my career as a historian. Since I plan on working in a public history setting, I feel that the ability to utilize these skills will further my ability as a historian.

I believe that one of the most meaningful activities of my time at CHNM was the building of relationships with my colleagues through our mentoring and support space. Although we were all working on different projects throughout the two years of our DH Fellowship, the availability of mentoring—first with the third years mentoring us and then us doing the same for the first years—allowed us to communicate, collaborate, and to learn from each other. I believe that this is one of the most important aspects of the DH Fellowship, as it fosters an environment that promotes this type of dialogue for our future careers and work, whether inside or outside the academy.

Mandy

The second year of the fellowship, for me, has been incredibly useful.  I’ve really enjoyed being positioned on PressForward in the Research division. My work in this division has allowed me to further develop my programming skills, stay current with the latest DH scholarship through DHNow and the Journal of Digital Humanities, and participate in the development cycle for an open access piece of software.  Our first year of the fellowship was focused on testing various tools and becoming familiar with different platforms and approaches to Digital History.  This year I’ve moved into more of a building role and have had the opportunity to draw on the programming skills I’ve developed to contribute to the PressForward plugin. The structure of both the first and second years of the fellowship compliment each other well and has provided me with a broad knowledge of the centers organization, various digital history tools and approaches, as well as a chance to implement and build on what I’ve learned.

When I began this fellowship, the structure of the center was very unclear to me. However, through our rotations and experience in each division, I’ve become familiar with the current structure of the center, its origin, history, and its position in the larger field. CHNM has a long history of collaborating with teachers and schools, museums and libraries, as well as individual scholars and researchers to produce tools and projects that are innovative and sustainable. Participation in the Open Source community has been important to projects like Omeka or Zotero and has created a group of users who are active in testing and developing for these projects.

The digital history coursework we’ve been required to complete has often complimented our work at the center and helped to shape my views on digital history. Our practicum at RRCHNM provided practical hands-on experience while our coursework often provided a theoretical and sometimes historical perspective on Digital History methods, tools, and projects. I think taking these courses as a fellow gave me a unique perspective and some unique experience in Digital History.

Looking forward to the next year, I am planning to finish up prepping for my comprehensive exams and prepare my dissertation prospectus in order to advance to candidacy. Over the summer, I’ll be working on developing my dissertation prospectus and working to develop a proposal and plan for a digital component. My experience as a Digital History Fellow has shaped the way I’ve conceptualized using digital methodologies and techniques in my dissertation and has helped me to develop some of the skills that will be necessary. Because of the work I’ve been involved with at the center and my digital coursework at GMU, I have a realistic idea of what will be required to build a digital component.

The projects I have found most valuable during this fellowship have been projects like our THATCamp Topic Modeling project where we generated a data set about a center project and mined it. This project, in many ways, was a productive failure and I benefited greatly from it. Looking back on the project now, a year later, I realize many of the assumptions we made were flawed and we could have extracted and cleaned the data in both a reproducible and an easier manner. Projects where the fellows are given creative license to draw on techniques and concepts discussed in our coursework in order to create something based on a center project (or on center history) is, I think, extremely valuable for Digital History Fellows. These types of projects are also ideal for fostering and promoting mentorship among the fellows.  Spencer Roberts was such an important resource for us during the THATCamp project and we couldn’t have completed the project without him.  He offered advice on how to approach the project, explained programming concepts, and worked with us for several days on troubleshooting our python script.  Through this project, as well as projects like creating the RRCHNM Omeka Archive for the 20th Anniversary, I gained valuable insight into what it takes to accurately and realistically conceptualize a digital project as well as experience thinking through critical choices like information architecture with the user in mind. We were often faced with unexpected challenges and messy data along the way. I’ve taken a lot away from these projects and I think they are a valuable and unique aspect of the fellowship that should be continued and implemented in a thoughtful way for future cohorts.

Jannelle

Recently the next cohort of PhD students visited GMU. As we sat with them and described the fellowship track and digital coursework, I began to reflect on my own experience along these lines. It is surprising how quickly we were incorporated into the activities of the center. The structure of the fellowship was remarkably useful in this regard- we were introduced to people and projects in a six week cycle that provided a low barrier to entry. As we moved across the center, we were able to identify the projects and skills that appealed to each of us. The second year took this process further. Moving into a single department meant that each of us was able to take a larger part in the work. Each of us was able to explore subjects of interest and work more extensively with others within that division. In my case this meant a fall semester in the Education division working on the 100 Leaders project and a spring semester in the Public Projects division working on the Mall project. Working more extensively in one division meant that each of us had to balance the responsibilities of the fellowship with our tasks in each division, but in most cases we were able to manage these well.

Working as a DH Fellow has definitely guided the direction of my coursework. I entered the program here at GMU with very little technical experience. Working at the center enabled me to build skill and confidence in these areas. It definitely gave me the confidence to enroll in Clio 3; Programming for Historians without these valuable experiences. I also found the Support Space to be a valuable aspect of my time at the Center. Bringing my challenges to the table and helping others with their work allowed me to create and build relationships with other students in the program. Oftentimes, we would spend time talking a problem out together and I found this type of collaboration particularly edifying. Last spring, Mandy Regan led a group of students in our Clio 2 class in a tutorial on 960 grid. This impromptu tutorial was a great example of the way that we were able to bridge our coursework with the fellowship. These activities have fostered collaborative relationships that continue to encourage us to share techniques and digital work with one another.

I’ve written on this subject in the past, but the preparation we did for the 20th anniversary was particularly meaningful for me. We started this work as a group and over the course of the summer I expanded the repository to include the many projects in the Center’s history. The process enabled me to read each one of the grants in the center’s history. Quickly I gained a better understanding of how the field has changed in 20 years. The project forced me to reconsider tools like Zotero as part of a larger vision. To think about projects like History Matters in terms of the other work the center has produced. To put them on a timeline and to view them not as discrete but connected by a thread or an idea. I learned more about iterative projects and the complexities of collaboration. Considering these things while I was working through my coursework enabled me to make connections with readings and class discussions. The experience encouraged me to see these projects from multiple perspectives.

When I reflect on my time as a fellow – this project encapsulates the value of the fellowship for me. It encouraged me to think about the legacy of digital history projects while also considering what is to come from the field. It is a project that will be difficult to duplicate, but one that would serve future Fellows in a meaningful way.

Next year, we all move on, either as a Graduate Research Assistant at the center or as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of History and Art History here at George Mason.  Although our stint as Digital History Fellows is over, we all agree that it was a beneficial experience and we look forward to seeing what future cohorts will do.

 

A Tale of Two Projects

In a week’s time, the semester and by extension the DH Fellowship will come to an end. As such, it is time for the end of the semester blog post. IN the time since my last blog post, I have had divided my time into two projects associated with Digital Humanities Now. The first project (Web Scraping) was focused on the content published by DHNow while the second (Web Mapping) focused on DHNow’s Editors-at-Large base.

Web Scraping

Over the years, Digital Humanities Now has published hundreds of Editor’s Choice pieces. For 2014 alone, roughly 165 Editor’s Choice articles from numerous authors were featured. Such a large corpus of documents provided a ready source of data about the publishing patterns of DHNow. In order to translate the documents into usable data we needed to format the Editor’s Choice articles into a usable format, namely machine-readable text. The task, then, was to go through each Editor’s Choice article and scrape the body text down into a .txt file. I had never scraped a website before, so this project was going to be a great learning opportunity.

I began the project by reading through the Beautiful Soup web scraping tutorial on Programming Historian by Jeri Wieringa. It uses a Python library called Beautiful Soup to go into a website and scrape the data. During my rotation in the Research Division last semester, the three first year Fellows had quickly worked through the Beautiful Soup tutorial but I needed a refresher. However, I made a switch from Python and to R. This change came from the suggestion of Amanda Regan who has experience using R. As she explained it, R is a statistical computing language and would be a better resource in analyzing the corpus of Editor’s Choices than Python. After downloading R Studio (a great IDE) and playing around with R, I found it to be a fairly intuitive language (more so for those who have some background in coding). I came to rely on Mandy and Lincoln Mullen when running into issues and they were both extremely helpful. Learning R was fun and it was also exciting as R is the primary language taught and used in the Clio Wired III course, which I plan on taking the next time it is offered.

In order to scrape the body text of each post, I relied on the class names of each html tags containing the text. I imported in a .csv file of all the Editor’s Choice articles and search each website for a specific class name. When found, R would scrape all the text found in that tag, place it in a .txt file whose name corresponds with the articles ID number. Finding the class name was a hang up, but I was able to use the Selector Gadget tool to expedite the process. It essentially makes your webpage’s css structure interactive allowing you to click on items to view their extent and class names. I learned a lot about website structures in while identifying each body text’s class name. In the end, I was able to scrape 150 of the 165 Editor’s Choice articles.

You can find my code on my Github account here.

Web Mapping

The second project I was fortunate to work on was displaying our Editor-at-Large spatially on a map. My undergraduate work is in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) so this project in part came out of my interests and prior experience. In association with this project I am writing two blog posts for the soon to be DHNow blog. The first will detail the process of developing and designing the map while the second will delve into what the map is “telling us.” For the sake of the Fellows blog, I will instead reflect on my experience in creating the Editors-at-Large map and will link to the other two blogs when they are published.

It had been almost a year since I devoted any real time to cartography. I decided to use the same model I went through in my undergraduate capstone class on web mapping. To being with, I needed a dataset that I could use on the web. During my undergraduate, I used ArcGIS to convert a .csv into a geoJSON file that could be used on the web. However, since coming to GMU and the Center, I have embraced Open Source (both by choice and by financial force) and instead relied on Quantum GIS (QGIS). I had no real experience with QGIS so this project provided me an opportunity to become familiar with the QGIS platform. This was an added benefit that I both appreciated and enjoyed. In the end, converting to a geoJSON format was fairly straightforward.

To render the web map, I used Leaflet, which I was introduced to in my undergraduate coursework. While as an undergraduate, I found Leaflet somewhat difficult to use but this is probably because I was simultaneously learning HTML, CSS, and Javascript while working with Leaflet. Returning to Leaflet, my impression was how easy it was to use and its fairly intuitive design. I attribute this change in attitude to the training in and supportive nature of the Research Division as I was exposed to Python and other coding languages. In the end the map turned out pretty good and my work on the project has reignited my passion for cartography and all things spatial.

In the final days of the Fellowship, I feel both excited and melancholy. I am sad that the fellowship is coming to an end and I am moving out from the Center. It has been a wonderful experience working with great people on interesting and engaging projects. Yet, it is exciting to think back to myself on the first day of the Fellowship and realize how far I have come in my digital work.

The End of the Fellowship: Where am I now?

It has certainly been an interesting and rewarding year as a first year fellow at the Center.  The life of a PhD student–much less a first year PhD student–is filled with trial, error, struggle, and hopefully at times, victory.  I came to the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media with little to no knowledge of the digital world outside of checking my e-mail and Facebook.  I’d never had a Twitter account, I had no clue what Python was, and html looked like a foreign language.  I can happily say that nine months later, I have a Twitter account, I’ve created my first digital history project with a proficiency level in html and css–but I still just cannot wrap my mind around Python.

After working at the Center for a year and spending time in all three divisions I can say that I have a much better grasp of the digital world, digital history, and what it means to be a member of this growing field.  I am proud to say that over the last year I’ve worked on multiple projects that have made me feel like I belong in this community and can continue to grow in my personal goals.  This semester in  the Education division, I had the opportunity to work with one of my favorite organizations–National History Day.  I did a lot of background work for their 100 Leaders project–collecting data, organizing tallies, and adding and organizing that data onto the website.  However, one of the most gratifying projects over the semester was working on information that will be implemented into the online DH certificate that will be offered by the university and the Center in the Fall of 2015.

I would like to thank the Center for giving me this incredible opportunity.  While it has been a trying semester I have learned many things that I can now use to further my career in academic history. While I will not be returning to the Center in the fall and will be returning to my love of working with undergraduates I am excited to show everyone at CHNM how much I was able to learn when I present a digital portion of my dissertation in the coming years.  I believe what I learned in both my Clio courses–especially Clio II–gave me a strong foundation that will make for promising research.

Thank you RRCHNM.

 

On Mentoring

Last year all of the second year fellows benefitted from the mentorship provided by the second year students. My mentor was Amanda Morton and throughout the year she offered assistance in the various divisions, especially when I began on the PressForward Project in the Spring and Summer of 2014. In addition, Spencer Roberts helped us on various projects and his support throughout the year was invaluable.

This year I’ve had the opportunity to mentor Stephanie Seal. We’ve jointly produced the Digital Campus Podcast several times and I’ve offered her assistance on projects when she has needed it. The new cohort’s first rotation this year was in Research and for the first few weeks they worked on PessForward. As the digital fellow positioned on the PressForward project, I assisted in helping them set up their own WordPress blogs on the dev server, showed them how the plugin worked, and guided them through being both Editors-At-Large and Editors-In-Chief.

During the second semester each fellow was placed in a division. Jordan Bratt came to research and worked with us on PressForward. One project he spearheaded was learning R to scrape and download some Editor’s Choice pieces for a mapping/text mining project. I was able to take some time this semester to work with him to write some “if” statements in R since I am somewhat familiar with the language. He’s done an amazing job on the project and its been fun to watch him further develop his skills and do some interesting things with the DHNow data.

Aside from working with the first years on PressForward and with Stephanie on Digital Campus we’ve also used our roles as mentors to help out in the Support Space. During the fellows time in Clio II, I’ve assisted several students with things like learning the 960 grid (an easy way to quickly structure the layout of a site) and troubleshooting code. I think the mentorship program is very useful in the sense that it brings the two cohorts together across projects and promotes collaboration. Being stationed on one project has meant that I always have things to do aside from fellowship responsibilities. The mentorship program has allowed me to take time to work with Stephanie and the others through both the support space and collaborative projects like producing Digital Campus.

Live Tweeting–Is this always a good idea?

One of the requirements as a RRCHNM fellow is to live tweet once a semester the interesting things that happen around the Center.  Last semester this requirement was simple.  I was fortunate enough to live tweet the first year fellow trip to the National Mall during our time in Public Projects.  We ran up and down DC testing Histories of the National Mall and completed a scavenger hunt that drew attention to many of the historic sites in the area.  It was an interesting time, full of goofiness, excitement, and entertainment.  My live tweets came with images of the scavenger hunt and different types of media that made my live tweeting more of a pleasure for my followers.  It was easy to create tweets at least once every twenty minutes and from the amount of likes and retweets I received, I assume that my day of live tweeting went over well.

Similarly, the fellows and I added an extra day of tweeting at the 20th anniversary conference for RRCHNM.  While this event was a lot more professional than our scavenger hunt on the Mall, I was still able to tweet out all day long–even gaining followers across Open Source advocates and national museums.

It was a great experience!  However, by the time second semester came around I had a much more difficult time finding an outlet to live tweet.  While interesting things happened around the center this semester, the first year fellows were certainly more about business than testing or conference going.  Every week I waited for an interesting opportunity to tweet for the Center and my followers.  However, nothing extraordinarily interesting that I could draw out for an entire day ever came my way.  The good news is that we were working!  We just didn’t do anything my followers were interested in hearing about all day long. Plus, the portions that would have made for incredible days of live tweeting during my time in education had to be kept under wraps until the projects we were working on went live.

The last week of our fellowship I decided that it would be a good idea to live tweet our fellow sponsored DH Help desk that we and the second year fellows host every week. This help desk allows students to come to the Center and ask for help in their Clio Wired classes.  Since it was the end of the semester, a large percentage of PhD students had some sort of Clio Project due and we knew that our desk would be flooded with last minute questions on html, css, and mapping, I thought this would be the best chance to live tweet.

Well.  My live day of tweeting did not go the way I would have liked.  Unlike running up and down the National Mall and listening to a handful of panels chaired by the biggest names in our field–it was me, the fellows, and a bunch of confused PhD students.  In essence, no one but us gave a dang about what we were doing.  I think I even lost a Twitter follower or two by grasping at straws throughout the entire day with lame tweets.

While I feel like my live tweeting day crashed and burned like no other, I think this assignment taught me and the other fellows a lot about using social media to promote organizations and/or academic interests.  If you don’t have anything thoughtful to tweet, you probably just shouldn’t tweet.  There is a level of professionalism that must be upheld and we all follow that one person on Facebook or Twitter who fill our feeds up with nonsense and we resent them.  In order to remain respected, it’s best to leave live tweeting to some of the more important and enlightening events.

However, just in case you are interested in my by “Barney the Dinosaur-esque” tweets, here is the feed: