Contextualizing the Object of History

The first-year DH Fellows started out the year in a seminar with RRCHNM director, Dr. Stephen Robertson, discussing the history of the Center and putting it in the context of other digital humanities centers. The final project for the seminar was to create an Omeka exhibit for the Center’s 20th anniversary site on a RRCHNM project of our choosing. I chose the Object of History, and the exhibit is available here.

I selected the Object of History partly because it was one of RRCHNM’s first projects with a public history orientation. Created in collaboration with Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH), the Object of History is a website for teachers and students of U.S. history featuring six objects from NMAH’s collections, contextual information, relevant primary sources, and interviews with curators. It struck me as a website that I would have enjoyed when I was a student, as someone who loved history museums but rarely got to visit them on field trips.

But creating the exhibit wasn’t just a way to learn about a particular project; the larger goal was for us to develop a fuller understanding of the inner-workings of digital humanities centers. One of the most important take-aways for me was seeing how every project is entwined in broader issues and developments in the field of digital humanities. To tell the story of the Object of History, I needed to explore the collaborative nature of digital humanities, the transition to content management systems, and the connection to 3D printing.

I also came to understand that even a seemingly small project shapes a digital humanities center and the other projects around it. In the case of the Object of History, the Center received the grant for the project at the same time (October 2005) as the grant for SmartFox (later renamed Zotero). This meant too much work and not enough staff for the Center, so project staff needed to delay the timeline for the Object of History until more staff could be hired. I found that within a year, the number of staff at the Center went up from 24 to 39, including an increase from two to four programmers and the addition of a budget and grants administrator. A primarily grant-funded digital humanities center can only grow its staff in relation to the number of funded projects, otherwise financial troubles are imminent. For this reason, work on smaller projects, like the Object of History, was essential to the Center’s ability to expand. Not every project is as big as Zotero, but the smaller projects help build the staff that create the big projects—and conceive of new ones. After all, centers are made up of people, not just projects.

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 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.

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!

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.

Final Reflection

Since posting my midterm reflection, I’ve been continuing to work on the Papers of the War Department and the 9/11 Digital Archive. Anne and I produced Episode #112 of Digital Campus in March, which featured three of the hosts discussing current trends in technology, including the demise of Internet Explorer, the Apple watch, and the new one-port MacBook. On behalf of the DH Fellows, Amanda Regan coordinated Micki Kaufman’s brown bag presentation on her dissertation, Quantifying Kissinger, which I briefly blogged about and live tweeted.

Papers of the War Department (PWD)
For the PWD I’ve been creating user accounts, monitoring the wiki page, and protecting and exporting transcribed documents. I’ve also written several “transcribe this” blogs describing various documents: one discusses the fever in Philadelphia; another mentions the state of affairs in the Ohio country; and my final post will be published next week that concerns the appeal for the creation of a school for Native American children. I’ve also written the community transcription updates for the months of March and April. In addition to blogging, I’ve populated the PWD Twitter with links to documents needing transcription that appeal to a wide audience. Some of these tweets cover such topics as George Washington’s presidential agenda; Washington’s 1792 speech to the Five Nations; a resignation of a brigadier general; a 1795 American expedition into Florida; and death in Early America.

The September 11 Digital Archive
After completing the review of the Sonic Memorial Project Collection, I wrote a blog post for the 9/11 blog that highlighted the various types of items housed within that large collection by going through the history of the physical space the World Trade Towers inhabited. I also reviewed the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center (MEMEAC) Interview Collection, which is a group of over seventy interviews of Arab-American and/or Muslim Americans that were conducted by the Graduate Center, City University of New York between 2002 and 2003. Currently I am drafting a blog post that describes that collection.

In addition to my work on those projects, I also performed user testing for the newest version of In addition to my current work on 9/11, I also used Omeka in Public Projects last semester while working on describing the items in the Boston Federal Aviation Administration Filings Collection, so I was already familiar with the user interface, adding content, and describing items. By testing the latest version I learned much more about how the content management system works as well as the purposes for all Omeka plugins, and I was successful in finding a few minor errors. Also: the LC-Suggest plugin is so incredibly helpful and useful!

My work this semester in Public Projects has taught me to engage with wider audiences that are not necessarily scholastic in nature. I’ve been able to choose PWD documents to tweet or blog about, and I chose to review the MEMEAC collection for my final 9/11 blog post. My blogs and tweets are meant evoke public interest in the projects, and as such the subjects of each must be compelling and interesting to scholars and non-scholars alike. In addition to understanding and reaching out to various audiences, I’ve also gained a greater understanding of the two platforms both projects are built on: MediaWiki and Omeka. Before working on the PWD I had never worked with MediaWiki, so I had to acclimate myself to the interface. I also now have a great appreciation for Dublin Core metadata after reviewing various items and collections within 9/11. I have greatly enjoyed my time in the Public Projects division, and am amazed at how much I’ve learned over the past nine months. At the end of August last year, I came in with very limited technical knowledge and was baffled as to what exactly digital history encompasses. Working at the Center as a Fellow has allowed me to broaden my technical horizons, engage with programming languages including Python, have first-hand experiences with the frustrations of American copyright laws, make history accessible to various audiences, and learn the intricacies of Omeka.

Live Tweeting a Day of Work

Last semester I was able to live tweet the 20th Anniversary Conference for RRCHNM. It was a lot of fun and really interesting to pass information around on the Twitter-verse about the various talks and sessions. My overall impression hasn’t changed about the usefulness of twitter for professionals an academics. In the time since creating my twitter account, I have had several people ask me for my opinion on twitter and I have been able to expound on its usefulness in academia. As I have developed my online presence, I have become sensitive to what type of presence I am “putting out there.” From the beginning, I have tried to separate my personal/family life from my professional life. One way I have tried to separate the two is by using Twitter for my professional life and keeping my Facebook account for family or personal use. While some cross over does exist (posting articles or conference material on Facebook or about the Red Sox on twitter), my impression of Twitter is very academic.

I chose to live tweet Monday, May 4th (May the 4th be with you…) because I knew I would be engaging in a multitude of projects. This week I am the Editor-in-Chief for Digital Humanities Now so I would be reading through the nominated material to prep for Tuesday’s posting. I also would be working on drafting a write up for my Editors at Large Map discussing the process of making the map as well as the various ways to use the E@L data in a spatial platform. Additionally, the DH Support Space takes place on Mondays to help students working digital projects. We were expecting higher traffic with the Support Space as Clio II’s preliminary drafts of their websites are due tonight. Compared to my live tweeting of the conference, Monday’s live tweeting was a very different experience.

Live tweeting a work day meant that my tweets were not all centered on a specific topic. Live tweeting the conference was more of a collaborative effort as each tweet was tagged with the conference’s designated hashtag. Thus all tweets were focused towards a single collaborative narrative or focus. Tweeting my work flow for Monday allowed me to tweet about DHNow in the morning and then about  Leaflet and mapping in the afternoon. At first it felt a bit scattered in my approach but I would attribute that to my still limited proficiency and experience with tweeting.

Fellowship and Mentorship

During my first year at RRCHNM, Ben Hurwitz served as a guide and mentor to me. As we have described previously, the first year of our fellowship involved an intensive 6 weeks in each division at the center. Ben and the other second-year fellows, Spencer Roberts and Amanda Morton, provided technical support as we worked on projects in each division and advice as we progressed through the program.

Beginning this year as a second-year fellow, I looked forward to being useful to the first-year cohort as they made their way through the center. In a blog post last fall, I described the experience of mentoring the first-year fellows while I was working in the Education division. We worked together to gather multimedia content for videos for the 100 Leaders project, completed some user-testing on the 100 Leaders website, and developed a guidebook for National History Day. I worked to organize the time we spent on each of these activities so that there was a balance between working collaboratively and working on projects individually. I also tried to talk through the challenges that we faced in each of these contexts. For instance, copyright and image rights was a frequent subject of discussion. The process was useful for me in conceptualizing what it entails to organize collaborative projects with a group of people with different interests and skills.

Across this year, I’ve worked most closely with Jordan Bratt, my mentee. As joint producers of the Digital Campus podcast, we’ve worked to schedule the podcast and to research stories for discussion. We’ve used this opportunity to discuss current issues and to share articles of interest, fostering a broader discussion of DH issues and concerns. Outside of this task, Jordan and I converse regularly with regard to his program of study and larger educational goals. Having completed the required courses Clio I and Clio II), I have been able to discuss and advise him on assignments and advise him with regard to course schedules and requirements. We share research interests and our collaboration has led us to fruitful discussions about coursework and research. Jordan comes to GMU and RRCHNM with considerable knowledge and expertise in the field of geography and geographical computing techniques. He has been able to share some of this with me and I can see opportunities for further collaboration in the future.

The mentorship program is useful in several ways. It provides an initial introduction between cohorts and encourages collaboration between them. It provides a sounding board for both groups and encourages us to work together on projects of interest. Working together, across the cohorts, on the Support Space is also useful in enabling us to interact as peers and scholars. The Support Space, described in previous blog posts, provides guidance on digital projects to students from across the program. As they approach us for help, each member of the fellowship program is able to provide assistance. Problems are often resolved collaboratively and this process encourages us to learn from one another even as we aid others.

My First Year Fellow Experience in the Education Divison

My first semester in the Education Division of RRCHNM has been an interesting and educational experience. Since January, I’ve been lucky enough to work on the 100 Leaders project for National History Day and played a major role in adding up leader votes in different ways and then uploading them to the website.  What made the project so interesting was that (after 100 days of voting) the results were far from what anyone at NHD or RRCHNM expected.  Interestingly, once voting opened in November, social media voters from other countries started pouring in and these votes single handedly knocked down most of the famous western leaders that many people thought would steal the top ten.  Instead of Washington, Lincoln, and Jefferson as the most influential leaders, voting ended with Muhammad taking the number one spot, Mustafa Ataturk in second, followed by Jesus of Nazareth in third.  On the 100 Leaders website, National History Day published a fascinating background story on the findings and how so many votes were cast from outside of the United States.

After working for weeks on the 100 Leaders website, I was also given the opportunity to work on the new Digital Humanities online certificate that will be offered by George Mason University through RRCHNM in Fall 2015.  This exciting new project for the university and the center also comes with a lot of background work.  Everyone in the Education division has been very hands on—from recording interviews from creators of digital humanities projects to transcribing those projects, to outlining assignments.  I’ve had the opportunity to research a lot of the projects that new certificate students will be asked to complete.  As a content provider, I’ve been on the lookout for different types of digital archives, content data bases for mapping and text mining, and open source/copyright free sites so students have the best tools available when learning what exists in the digital world.

Outside of working in the Ed division, the first year fellows and I have had the interesting opportunity of holding Clio II tutoring sessions every Monday between noon and 5pm.  At our table in the center we offer help on the PhD required Clio II projects where all of us have been asked to create a digital history project and build our own websites from scratch.  While I was the first year digital history fellow who came in with the least amount of knowledge in DH, being able to tutor on coding has not only helped with learning HTML, CSS, Java Script, etc, it’s given me a confidence that was severely lacking last semester. I’ve learned through helping others build websites and have become a pro at looking up answers for website building questions and can now quickly solve issues.  Last semester I was nervous and lost.  The Clio II help desk  has helped me retain knowledge of coding and I’m excited that I no longer have to constantly lean of W3 schools for information.  I’m finally retaining how to move an object from point A to point B on my computer screen.

While there is only a month left in my fellowship at RRCHNM I am thankful for how much I’ve learned this semester and look forward to how much more I can cram in my brain in the following months.