A New and Different Direction: Week One of ADH on Online

The outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States has resulted in many changes for many different people. One of the major changes for the faculty and students at the University of Mary Washington is that in-person classes have been canceled for the rest of the semester. For most of my classes, this was an easy change, however, the class that I was most nervous about was this one Adventures in Digital History. My nervousness for this course stemmed from the fact that my part for the project relied on collecting and digitizing awards on campus. Before the University announced that it was going to close I had started the scanning process. Even though I had started this process I was nowhere near complete because UMW has a lot, Dr. James Farmers awards and achievements. With that being said I had to go back to the drawing board and think of alternative ways that I could contribute to the James Farmer project.

Since I am in Professor Devlin’s Introduction to Public History Course I had some of Dr. Farmer’s Classroom materials digitized. The materials that I had saved included a copy of one of Dr. Farmer’s syllabus and class bibliography, an exam, an exam answer key, and classroom rules that Dr. Blakemore created when he was Department Chair. Based on the materials that I had previously gathered I determined that my new direction was going to focus on “Dr. Farmer in the Classroom.”

In addition, to the materials that I already mentioned, I plan on using the photographs on Special Collection’s Digital Collections to make an online “scrapbook.” In addition, to the photographs, I will use his digitized lectures that are also in the digital collection to make some sort of playlist or timeline of the lectures. Another thing that I am going to do is use Eagle Explorer to find other Dr. James Farmer related materials. Hopefully, I will find Bullet newspaper articles on him and other Mary Washington related materials.

Even though the Coronavirus has currently changed my life and other people’s lives it has led me in a new and different direction.

Wikipedia and Creative Commons

Today’s Digital Historians prefer to view the web as a shared storehouse where people can share their creations. This ultimately leads to the notion of creative commons, meaning that the web is a place where people can create and share information. With the growth of the world wide web, the legal landscape for historians has since been reconfigured to ensure that a person’s work is protected.

An example of a creative common site is Wikipedia because it allows others to build upon another person’s work. It functions as a space for people to collaborate and share information. To see this in action, I looked at the revision history on three Wikipedia pages and decided to document what I saw. The three pages that I visited were on Lee Miller, World War II, and War Correspondents. Common edits made were concerning grammar, format, and correcting information. 

I’m not entirely sure if we will use a creative commons license for our James Farmer site as it will be more of an exhibit that we are presenting information on. However, it would be interesting to have a comments page that people could interact with as they would in a museum. Additionally, copyright is going to play a major role in our project due to our usage of pictures and videos that we didn’t create. All of the materials that we will be using are housed in Special Collections and University Archives, a vast majority being owned by the library, allowing us access as students.

Farmer’s Award Scavenger Hunt!

A major part of the project that I am in charge of, is conducting an inventory and digitizing the various James Farmer awards found across campus. In a video one my group members created a few weeks ago, they described this process as a “campus-wide scavenger hunt,” which has definitely been an accurate statement. The three places that I have decided to focus my part of the project on our Special Collections, The James Farmer Multicultural Center, and the Rappahanic/James Farmer Scholars office. In each of these places, there are numerous artifacts and awards. Due to the fact that there are so many different things around campus, the next thing that my group needs to do is to define what we believe to be an award. This is so we do not find ourselves wasting time digitizing things that do not fit into our online collection. In my next post, I hope to elaborate more on what the definition of a James Farmer award is. For the time being, what do you think we should include in our definition of awards? Would it be fitting to include certificates or plaques? Would it be more appropriate to include both? If you have any opinions on the matter, feel free to comment down below!

The Development of Our Interview Process

Since I last posted on here, the James Farmer Group has been working hard to develop a plan of action for the rest of the semester. As mentioned in the video that I made, we will be conducting interviews with former students of James Farmer. In preparation for these interviews, I have decided to research the best practices for conducting Oral Histories.

One of the best resources for discovering information on this topic is the Principles and Best Practices Guide, created by the Oral History Association. In my Intro to Public History class, we spent an extensive amount of time looking at this document. In this document, it suggests that prior to conducting an interview, a student should do extensive research into the subjects that the oral history will address. In preparing for this, I have spent some time looking at the James Farmer Collection, housed in Special Collections. In one of the boxes, there are multiple copies of his syllabus and exams from when he was teaching his Intro to the Civil Rights course. The guide also talks about developing a list of questions to be asked during the interview. In order to come up with strong, open-ended questions, my Intro to Public History class conducted practice interviews concerning people’s opinions of Valentine’s Day. Another thing the guide advises is to make sure one is listening attentively. This is important as it allows the interviewer to develop follow up remarks or questions to the interviewee’s responses.

Upon completion of the interview, it is essential that the interviewer gets the interviewee to sign a release form. This ensures that the interviewer is protected from potential legal issues that could follow. After the transcription is complete, another release form is needed in order to prevent any further legal issues. These are a few things that I look forward to incorporating into our interviews. I hope to consult Professor Devlin, an oral historian, on other practices and mannerisms that are beneficial to the interview process.

Reviews on Digital History Projects

For a digital history project that started in 2005, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank still has working links and is very easy to navigate. I really like how the website was laid out. I especially enjoyed their “Add to Memory Bank” feature, though I wish that they had not ended the contribution phase. This could be an interesting thing to include on our James Farmer website.

The September 11 Digital Archive is another really interesting website. Its design is simplistic and the links to the different sections are very clear. I like how on the homepage it specifically states the website’s mission, which is to “collect, preserve, and present the history of September 11, 2001, and its aftermath.” Two additional things that I liked about this website are the Collections and FAQ pages. These are really useful in displaying information and providing links to different sources.

The Famous Trials website fulfilled its purpose, but the design was overwhelming with a lot of things cluttering the homepage. If these were categorized into different sections, the homepage would not have been as overwhelming. However, this homepage may be the way it is because the website was originally designed in 1995. This website is similar to the older James Farmer websites, which is why my group would like to update them so that they are still accessible and easy to navigate. 

A fourth digital history project that I looked at was, Lost and Found a section of The Center for the Humanities. In my opinion, this section of the website was confusing. I was not really sure what the website was trying to accomplish. Something I liked about this website was the vertical menu bar instead of the traditional horizontal one.

The final digital history project that I reviewed was the Hull House website. I really liked the layout of this website because it felt like a museum exhibit. Unfortunately, a lot of the features on this website were disabled. I believe this was most likely because of how the website itself aged.

Project Reviews

In order to better understand what makes a Digital History project useful and worth reading, I decided to visit some more Digital History websites. For this review, I explored “Virtual Angkor”, “Gilded Age Plains City”, and “The Spread of Slavery.” While all three websites were different in content and design I still managed to walk from this assignment with some ideas and things to avoid in my own project.

The website that I visited first was “Virtual Angkor.” In my opinion, this was a bad website to start off with because no other Digital History project can compare to this one. The overall website design was simple but what made this site incredible was the 3D simulation of the Cambodian metropolis called Angkor. I really enjoy seeing projects like this because there was a great deal of collaboration that took place to create this website. In fact, on the homepage, the creators described it as “groundbreaking” because of the collaboration of different fields of history. Another reason why I liked this website was that the creators especially say that they designed this website for students. This is apparent when looking at the teaching modules “Power and Place,” “Water and Climate,” and “Trade and Diplomacy.” By having these teaching modules it breaks the web site’s content into categories which makes the information easier for students to digest. Additionally, at the end of each theme within a module, there is a link at the bottom to the next section. I really like this because it dictates how a student or user moves through the site. Unfortunately, I do not think that my team will be able to make a 3D simulation for James Farmer, however, a takeaway from this website is the design of the module section. This is something I can see my group implementing for our project.

Like I said before visiting the “Virtual Angkor” website first was a bad idea because the next two websites could not compare to it. The second website that I looked at was “Gilded Age Plains City.” Compared to the first website and websites that I have reviewed for this course this website was not as easy to navigate. As a result, I had issues moving between the web pages and was overwhelmed by the amount of text in each section. If the creators had broken the information up into sections it would not have been as overwhelming. One thing that I did enjoy about this website is an interactive map, which is something that I can foresee my project group wanting to do. While “Gilded Age Plains City” was not as good as other Digital History Projects it was helpful to look at to get an idea of things to avoid for my group’s own website.

The third and final website that I reviewed for this post was “The Spread of Slavery.” Compared to “Gilded Age Plains City” this website was even more simplistic. This website only appears to have one webpage with an interactive map. In my opinion, this website lacks information and design which resulted in me being underwhelmed and unimpressed. While the map was really cool and interesting I felt as if I were missing important context and information that went along with it. I believe that this was a good website to look at because my group wants to include some sort of map on our website. So from this website, I learned that when including an interactive map it is important to still have some design elements and text on the map page to ensure that visitors are not leaving our website unimpressed and confused. 

Omeka Website Reviews

In order to better familiarize myself with websites built by Omeka, for Adventures in Digital History I decided to review two websites built by this platform. To do this I utilized the Omeka Classic User Manual which is designed to educate students on how to navigate and read through Omeka Classic websites. The first website that I explored for this course was Histories of the National Mall and the second was Goin’ North.

The website dedicated to the history of the National Mall was easy to navigate and the organization of the information made it easy to digest. I really liked the way in which the homepage is designed. In my opinion, the design of the homepage is essential to creating a good website. The color scheme is eye-catching and the site logo is really impressive. Additionally, the design of the front page is really clear as to what this website has to offer. Under the “Discover” section there are four main sections for visitors of the website to choose from. The first one is the “Map” section, which is really well done. This map is a modern-day map of the National Mall with over 300 map pins marking various events in history. It is easy to navigate and when one wants to learn more about an event they just need to click the map pin to explore the information. When the user is done it very easy to return to the map page. When a person is done using the map page it easy to go to the next sections of the website. The next three sections of the website are titled “Explorations”, “People,” and “Past Events.” I really liked how each section of the website had a different layout, which helps to keep a person’s interest in the website. In terms of my own use of Omeka, I really liked the theme that this person used and the interactive map feature. I can definitely see my own group using a theme like this to organize and present information about James Farmer.

Compared to the first website Goin’ North is more simplistic in design, however, it still does a great job in educating users about the First Great Migration of African-Americans to Philadelphia. On the main page, they offer a brief description of the Great Migration which helps familiarize users with this topic. The site then goes to explain where they got the oral histories that are featured on this site. Additionally, the designers tell the users about the awards that this project has received. By including it lets users know that this is a credible site with information sponsored by the Oral History Association and the American Historical Association. Moving away from the homepage, there are three main sections that a person can navigate to get information about this topic. In the “Biographies” section, there are twenty-six different biographies of African-Americans who migrated north during this time period. The next section of this website features “Oral History Interviews”. This section is also very easy to navigate. When a user comes across an interview that they would like to listen to all they have to do is select the person’s image and they are then taken to audio stored on this site. The last section of this website is titled “Stories.” The design of this section is very similar to that of the “Exploration” section on the National Mall site. While I feel as though this website’s design is bland compared to the first one this website is still incredibly useful. I can definitely see my group having sections on our website similar to the ones featured on this site, especially since we have access to various footage and audio related to James Farmer.