Tweeting on the National Mall

I am still getting the hang of Twitter and how to use it for academic purposes.  For years I refused to create an account because I wasn’t sure exactly what purpose it served and I didn’t want to be on another form of social media shared with distasteful celebrities.  However, now that I’ve been expected to keep up a Twitter account I’ve realized it’s much more than celebrities and tabloid news.  It has been a fun experience following other historians and getting to understand the tech humanities a little bit more.  However, while I’ve gotten used to reading other people’s tweets, I’m still getting the hang of tweeting my own thoughts out in the Twitterverse.

Live tweeting was a very interesting experience. I purposefully chose what would be an exciting day to do my live tweeting so I would have a  little bit better of a chance of not being a boring tweeter.  The day we tested the Histories of the National Mall in DC and I knew there would be lots of pictures and fun experiences that would make for a good day of reading for all of those who cared to follow me.

While I managed to get out quite a few tweets, testing a mobile website and switching back and forth between Twitter was a little bit more difficult than I had initially planned—which should have probably been the first issue that popped into my mind when I chose that day. However, Alyssa, Jordan, and I managed even though I was usually a few feet behind them playing on my phone so I could tweet more of our day out.

The only other issue we had was the length of the day.  We ended up being able to test the mobile website a little bit faster than anticipated, which meant that my day of live tweeting was cut just a little shorter than I would have liked.   I did manage to get out plenty of tweets full of interesting information about mobile testing on the Mall and it appeared the people following us from the center enjoyed watching us run around the National Mall attempting to find new clues on our scavenger hunt.  Those invigorating tweets can be found here:

 

Public Projects Division Reflection

Working in Public Projects has been a great learning experience. While working in the Division we were able to “sample” several different projects, which provided me with a firm understanding of the breadth of work this Division does.

I live tweeted our first day in Public Projects, which you can read about here. The focus of our first week was Omeka, the content management system used in online digital collections. We first looked at the showcases of Omeka to learn more about the front end. Our Clio class that evening was on Public History, so it was convenient to have the overlap between work and class. For the rest of the week we played around with the back end of Omeka. Megan took us through the steps of downloading Github, placing it in our directory on the dev server, and using command line in our Terminal to navigate. We also did user testing of Omeka, during which we installed the guestuser and poster plugins. We worked on generating posters on each other’s sites. We then installed all available Omeka themes and used them to test out the captions in both static and carousel views.

The second week we became more familiar with Histories of the National Mall. We compared Baltimore Heritage and Heritage Pin to Histories of the National Mall. Those sites have similar goals but use various methods to achieve those goals. Personally I liked History Pin – it’s a great example of crowdsourced history and it encompasses all parts of the globe rather than a single geographic region. Later that week we went on a field trip to the National Mall to do some live testing of the site. Since I don’t have a smartphone, I brought an iPad with me. Unfortunately for us, the wifi on the Mall wasn’t functional that day, so I was unable to do any testing (except for one minute when I was right outside the National Gallery of Art). Jordan and Stephanie graciously let me look at their phones so I was able to have some interaction with the site. At least our visit was a true visitor experience. After our field trip, we were each given a Mall Exploration to review and revise. I learned quite a bit about alternative plans for the Washington Monument. First I edited the content and trimmed down all five sections to under 50 words (apparently I’m unable to read directions that clearly state the sections can be 100 words or less). Then I fact checked the Exploration, using Dan Savage’s Monument Wars, a Washington Post article, the Library of Congress, and the National Park site. Editing and fact checking is a part of the writing process that I really enjoy, so I had fun with the Exploration.

Our final two weeks were spent on the 911 Digital Archive. We worked with several documents from the Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings. I was given five of them, which I read through and then added metadata to the item record. Using Dublin Core, each document was given a title, description, date published, subjects, contributor, rights, and an item type. I never used Dublin Core standards in library school since I didn’t specialize in archives, but I am fully convinced as to the utility of the standards in museums and archives. Working with the Boston Federal Aviation Administration Fillings reminded me of my love of metadata and collection description.

Working in Public Projects has been incredibly rewarding. I greatly enjoy working in the public history field, and was pleased that we were able to work on so many different projects during our time in the Division. I found that working with the Histories of the National Mall Exploration and creating metadata for the 911 Digital Archive to be fun, which isn’t something I would have expected, but I attribute my love of editing content and creating metadata to my library background. Since this Division undertakes public history projects, when working on them I found it helpful to keep the audience in mind. What would a person creating a poster need or expect? Where might they run into difficulties? What type of wording in my Mall Exploration is the most concise, cohesive, and easy-to-read for a variety of reading levels and ages? When someone accesses the Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings what sorts of data are they looking for? Is the wording of my description descriptive enough?

While I cannot believe our time is already over (I say that at the end of every Division but time really does go by too quickly), I am looking forward to CHNM’s 20th Anniversary Conference on Friday and Saturday!

First-Year Review

Our spring semester as Fellows at the Center passed remarkably quickly (not solely a result of the frequent snow days but cancellations definitely contributed to the rapid approach of summer). We were kept very busy with projects for the Research division and an intensive DH Seminar this semester. Below I’ll briefly describe some of the activities we undertook throughout this period and reflect on my first year fellowship at CHNM.

The semester started with six weeks in the Research division – by far the most intimidating to someone that is new to DH. Quickly, however, we were put to work on several engaging projects and I found that I acclimated without feeling overwhelmed. We learned about PressForward by doing some user testing and improving the documentation for the plugin. We also were able to learn about the grant-writing process by doing some research for an upcoming project and we got a clearer idea of how plugins and tools are developed at the center. The majority of our time in this division was spent on the challenging task of using digital tools to uncover information about THATCamp. We blogged about the process of being set loose on the contents of THATCamp and the scraping and topic modeling we performed (those posts are available here). We shared these results in a center-wide presentation and received a lot of support and feedback for the project.

Across the semester the Fellows also focused time on providing support and assistance to other students. As many of us were also enrolled in Clio 2, we were visited many of our classmates and our table was often filled with students collaborating on skills and resources. With assignments that required significant use of digital tools, we handled questions regarding Photoshop and Dreamweaver, sought new resources and tools, and helped find errors in HTML or CSS. I saw a huge benefit in working through problems and took a lot of inspiration from the advice and suggestions of everyone at the table.

Finally, our semester came to a close as we spent the last six weeks in a seminar with Dr. Stephen Robertson. The seminar built on the experiences within each department at the Center and, with this base of knowledge, asked us to turn our gaze outward at the digital humanities as a field and DH centers as centers of production. This discussion was also a timely one, as this fall CHNM will celebrate its 20th anniversary and the Center has begun to reflect on this period. We used Diane Zorich’s work on DH centers with readings by Mark Sample, Stephen Ramsay, Bethany Nowviskie, Neil Fraistat, Elijah Meeks and Trevor Owens, to frame our discussions and answer questions about where, when and how DH work has been done.

Using centerNet as a starting place, we tried to unpack a larger history of digital humanities labs and centers. This process raised interesting questions for us about the differences between a resource center, library service desk, institutional organization and brick-and-mortar DH center. Projects, staff, infrastructure, institutional support and audience were among the issues we considered, but we were also curious about how these locations are linked through shared resources, staff and projects.

Next we dug into the history of CHNM. Oral histories have been collected from participants at the center- but we soon realized that the overview these interviews provided would be only part of the picture of CHNM. In order to further unpack this history, we would need to dive into the projects themselves. Each of us examined a pivotal project. For me this was ECHO, a web portal for the history of science and technology. Working through grant materials enabled me to make connections between this early project and current/recent projects like Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, Zotero, and Omeka. Using ECHO as a vantage point, I gained greater insight into the transitions the Center has seen – from an emphasis on CD-ROMs and single-subject websites to building tools that enable us to organize, analyze, present, and use content in new ways. Understanding and unpacking this trajectory was very useful for me and a meaningful part of my semester.

Looking across my year at CHNM, I’m very happy with the time we spent in each division. Walking into the center can be an intimidating process. One has the immediate sense that you are entering a place where things happen, where goals are made, met, and exceeded. It was very hard to imagine my place in the midst of such an accomplished group of people. With a limited digital background – this was a year of learning, asking questions and digging up online tutorials. The Center has been a remarkable resource toward that goal. Cycling through each division exposed us to a variety of projects and workflows and I’ve learned a great deal through this process. Though each division responds to their own set of concerns and audiences, there is a definite cohesion to the work that is done. It has been remarkably informative to have played a small part in that process.

Educational Websites – Audience and approach

Over the past week we have been looking at the various generations of educational websites produced by CHNM. The first of these comprehensive sites, History Matters, hit the web in 1998, and obviously there have been major technical improvements in content management and design since then. Rather than talk about these developments, I want to discuss the way that the focus of the educational websites has evolved.

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