Defense of Contract

When my group first wrote our contract at the beginning of the semester, I viewed it as something to be strictly followed, but now that we have completed everything on the document, I see it as a general guide that kept us on track.  To me, our contract seems to be a plan that was written with the best-case scenario for the creation of the website in mind, when we were unaware of the multitude of problems to come.  Of the two major areas on our contract, division of labor and milestones, we seemed to stick to our project as contracted with greater fidelity in regards to the former.

We divided work to be done by each individual member as well as the group as a whole.  As far as individual assignments, we stuck to this part exactly.  We were all individually responsible for things such as scanning the letters, creating PDF versions of the letter transcriptions, uploading the letters to the website, writing biographies of Slaughter and Murray, creating audio recordings of some of the letters, and citing sources.  On the other hand, every group member was supposed to research Slaughter and Murray, work on the introductory video, and create the StoryMapJS for George Murray’s page.  However, some of these tasks, although they were originally intended to be whole groups assignments, ended up being completed by two people each instead of all four.  For example, Kim and Breck, who were responsible for writing the biographies of Murray and Slaughter respectively, did all the research on these two men.  Also, Breck and I put the StoryMap together.  Even though the entire group was supposed to help with these two things, it seemed to be better that this was not the case.  With the research, there were so few sources of information that we all would have ended up with the same thing, so Kim and Breck easily managed it.  With the StoryMap, each location leads into the next, so it was easier to have one person (me) look at all the letters and figure out Murray’s movements from one place to another so it flowed well, and another (Breck) go through and contextualize the battles Murray fought in.

The part of our contract that we did not follow very closely was the milestones section.  We had ten milestones total and were able to meet five of them on time, completed three of them a few days behind schedule, and were two to three weeks late with the remaining two.  Looking back, many of the dates we set for ourselves seem unrealistic because we were unfamiliar with our website’s platform, Omeka, and various other software we used, such as Audacity and Final Cut Pro.  We were able to make five deadlines on time, which included scanning the letters, creating PDFs of the transcriptions, taking photos of Slaughter’s grave and Murray’s uniform, reading the letters to check the transcriptions for typos, creating exhibits for the letters, and turning in the site to Dr. McClurken.  However, due to our unfamiliarity with Omeka, some confusion with our “Item Order” plugin, and the upload time for each individual tiff file (10-15 minutes), it took us a few weeks past our deadline to get all the letters uploaded.  We had originally thought the Murray letters needed to be uploaded first, but once we figured out they did not, we were already very behind by the time Slaughter’s were published.  Because digitizing the letters and putting them on the site was the bare minimum, we wanted to get this done first, which set us back as far as completing other tasks, such as the StoryMap and introductory video.  The StoryMap was also completed a few weeks late because it involved looking at all sixty-four letters, but the video, although it took more time than we thought, was up about six days after the original milestone.  The audio recordings were also completed about six days after the original date because we had some communication problems about which letters to record.  Lastly, the bibliography had grown so much after we completed the video that we were about four days late in finishing it.  Overall, the problem with missing our milestones was that once we missed one due to technical problems, it became difficult to make up the lost time while also continuing with the other tasks, as we had other classes to complete work for, so it snowballed.  But, we were able to successfully complete everything with plenty of time and I am very pleased with the way the site turned out!

Slaughter-Murray Group Update

We are in the home stretch for our project now, and will be finished with everything after the weekend so we can give the website one final look through before it is due on Tuesday.  There are only a few things we have left to accomplish.  Firstly, we must complete the StoryMapJS to trace the movements of Private George Murray during the war.  We are about 3/4 of the way done with this, and only three to four more locations need to be added.  Secondly, we must finish putting together the introductory video for the front page of the website.  Kim and I did a voice-over for it last week, and we are now in the process of adding in pictures and music in appropriate locations to match the narration.  We worked on this for about 5 hours on Tuesday, and now that we have the software figured out (we had to switch to using Final Cut Pro, which is more straightforward, from iMovie so our contract will likely need to be tweaked a bit to accommodate this), it should be a much faster process.  We completely finished 45 to 50 seconds of the video, have pictures plugged into other places, and have a folder full of more images in our Google drive folder, so it will just be a lot of importing to finish it up on Thursday afternoon.  Lastly, Breck and I need to finish the bibliography, which, now that we have accumulated many pictures for the video, has grown considerably.  Between the two of us, however, we should be able to work through this quickly.

Impact of Digital History on Historians and on the Practice of History

           The first article I read was “The Digital History Reader: Teaching Resources for United States and European History” by E. Thomas Ewing and Robert P. Stephens.  After I saw “teaching resources” in the title, I knew I needed to read this piece.  The reader itself is a group effort, which historians, secondary educators, and education technologists collaborated on in order to help universities teach students historical critical thinking skills, even in large classroom settings.  The book is inquiry-based, and each section focuses on a central question that can be answered by analyzing the attached set of primary sources.  These sources reprint copies of things such as photographs and speeches, but also include links to other information such as songs and video clips.  There is also a resource section, which provides students with more sources to look at to learn more about a given topic.  After reading this article, I felt disappointed I had never used this in my college classes.  As a future teacher, it would have been beneficial to receive additional training with primary sources before I have to teach it to my students.  But, I can still get a copy of this reader to add to my teaching repertoire, and this book mirrors an emerging trend in the field of education, which is the Inquiry Design Model (IDM), so I think it is still relevant for my purposes, even though this article was published in 2007.  Another reason I like this reader is because it already provides the sources so educators do not have to go hunting for things.  In Dr. McClurken’s article, he said that many times educators and students will spend hours searching for appropriate, accurate, and reliable primary source material online, so this reader will help decrease the time spent searching and increase the time spent actually working with the documents.

 

            The second article I read was “Is (Digital) History More than an Argument about the Past?” by Sherman Dorn.  Dorn states that digital history has challenged traditional history in the sense that research as well as publication norms have changed.  Physically visiting a library is no longer the primary way that historians do research because there are plentiful electronic resources, such as those housed in online databases.  Furthermore, because many people, not just professional historians, can publish their work online, the prestige of university presses has somewhat eroded.  However, digital history also has its advantages.  The one that stood out most to me was the ability to engage the public in the process of history.  As Dorn points out, history is messy and even though an author may finish with an argument, that argument is never truly complete and is always changeable as new evidence is uncovered.  By publicizing this process, historians can show how subjective the discipline is.  To accomplish this task and to make historical projects more accessible, Dorn lists several resources historians can use.  Is there a place to find historical works in progress as examples for my future students?  I think this would be beneficial to share with them because before I began taking classes for my history major, I never realized how extensive a research project could be, and as such did not have as much appreciation for the subject as I do now.  I suppose a somewhat acceptable variation of an actual historical research project could be Wikipedia because the pages are constantly being written and revised.

Civil War Letters Update

Since our last presentation, my group has accomplished several things.  Firstly, we have just about uploaded all of Murray’s letters to our website.  Once Murray has been completed, we can then upload the Slaughter letters.  The StoryMapJS based on Murray’s letters is over halfway done and we were able to fix the zooming problem.  Murray was actually more specific with his locations, other than just giving “Washington, D.C.” as a general area, than I originally thought, so it looks much better now.  Secondly, we have our letters chosen for the audio recordings for both sets of letters.  Matthew and Breck will be going this afternoon to get these completed.  Thirdly, the introductory video has been started.  Last class, Breck and I went through and chose clips from reenactment videos he had found.  I then extracted the clips for our video.  Also for the video, I have begun photoshopping the best images of Murray’s uniform as they have glare.  I have never used Photoshop before, so another group member who is more familiar than I will likely have to make more tweaks.  I also started a group Google doc so we can begin mapping out exactly what our video will include.  We anticipate it will be 2-3 minutes long and will include general information about the Battle of Fredericksburg, Slaughter, and Murray.  Fourthly, Kim has finished the home page website design, which looks wonderful.

Text Mining and Site Traffic

I had never heard of text mining before, so the reading this week was particularly interesting to me.  When I first read about topic modeling, I thought this would be an interesting thing to do with Slaughter and Murray’s letters, but then I saw that to do this, you need one hundred items at the very least, and we fall short.  But, other ways of text mining seem to be useful for our purposes and may be potential methods to increase traffic to our site.  In William Turkel’s article “Searching for History,” he talks about AOL’s release of search data in August 2006 and how information like this is useful for historians to see what kinds of things people are searching for in relation to history.  Although this could be beneficial in that historians could include key words on their sites that match up with popular search terms, where would one find the information to mine?  AOL released data, but soon took it down because people had used things like credit card numbers in their searches.  Do other search engines, such as Google, release search data that excludes sensitive information like this?

I Googled “Google search data” and one of the first things that came up was “Google Trends—Think with Google” (https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/tools/google-trends.html).  I clicked on it and the basic description that popped up was “The Rundown:  How do people search for your brand? When do searches spike? What about your competitors? The Google Trends tool uses real-time search data to help you gauge consumer search behaviors over time.”  You can search for certain terms and Google Trends will give you a graph that shows you interest in a topic over time.  I need to play with it some more, but given the description of this tool given by Google, it seems to be more geared towards businesses, but could prove to be useful to increase traffic to our site.

Group Update

At the moment, I am not concerned about my group being on track with our project.  We have successfully completed our first two big goals, which were (1) to finish digitizing the letters and their transcriptions and (2) to visit the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center and Confederate Cemetery to collect photos for our introductory video.  Currently, our next task is to upload all the letters and transcriptions to the site, but we are slightly behind on this for a few reasons.  Firstly, we are having to correct typos in the transcriptions of Murray’s letters.  Secondly, we have not yet decided on a file format to place the letter scans on the site.  Lastly, Slaughter’s letters have to be uploaded after Murray’s or else the collections will mix when site users click “next item.”  So, we have to finish uploading Murray’s letters before Slaughter can be completed, so this fact has set us back a bit.  We will also be beginning to work on the StoryMapJS to trace George Murray’s movements with the 114th PA during the war.  My main concern with this is whether we are able to work on it as you would a Google doc, with one group member creating the map and then sharing it so others are able to work on it when they have time.  If this is not possible, we may have to get together as a group and complete it.

Resume

I put my resume on my blog under the “Resume” tab.  I have never put this document online before, nor really spent much time with it period, so I am anxious about getting feedback and suggestions for improvement.  After I have a more polished resume, I would like to create an account on LinkedIn to make it easier for potential employers to find me.  My faculty mentor in the College of Education strongly suggests that I create an account, so I am looking forward to finishing my resume and networking with him as well as with my other professors.  The one area that I need some direction with is the “Highlights” section where I list all of my skills.  I am never sure what to put here.

Digital Identity

After looking at http://mcclurken.org/, http://hirehassan.com/, and http://jessicareingold.com/ (http://caitlinpringlemurphy.com/ was not working), as well as Footprints in the Digital Age (Will Richardson), Personal branding in the age of Google (Seth Godin), and Digital Tattoo, five lessons relating to digital identity emerged:

1. Having a digital identity is almost a necessity.  With so much networking (both for recreation and job searching) going on, it can put you at a disadvantage if you do not have a sufficient online presence.  Disadvantages can include a wide range of things, such as not being up-to-date with news stories or with friends, but also not being found if a potential employer is searching for people like you online.

2. Your digital identity should have an air of professionalism.  On any website or social media account, the inclusion of professional achievements and affiliations looks impressive and adds credibility to you.  This credibility is further enhanced by the elimination of personal details.  How you present yourself online should be welcoming, but not to the point that you share information that is irrelevant.

3.  The way you present yourself online should be organized and clear, as visitors to your website as well as social media and networking accounts are likely to associate this with strong communication skills, which are much sought after by employers.  Showing that you have a purpose for being online (perhaps networking to find a job) and organizing yourself to achieve that objective also shows professionalism (as mentioned in lesson #1) and will work in your favor.

4.  Creating a digital identity is something that should be taught to all.  As the new literacy of networking becomes more prevalent, it becomes increasingly important to educate online users about the advantages and disadvantages their digital identity can create for them.  There is a fine balance between using the digital world to network and in using it for recreation.  This becomes especially important when it comes time to find a job.  If a potential employer sees you doing something idiotic online this could hurt you tremendously.

5.  Although the formation of a digital identity should be taught and guided, it is the responsibility of each individual person to determine how he or she will present himself or herself online and that person ultimately will have to answer for a poorly presented image.  This tremendous responsibility that accompanies the formation of a digital identity gives more significance to education about this topic.

First Milestone

Our first group milestone fell on Tuesday (2/23) of this week and it stated that we would have all the Slaughter and Murray letters as well as their transcriptions scanned.  We successfully completed all the scanning, but we do still have 3-4 of Murray’s letters left to transcribe because we thought the transcriptions of all the documents had been provided by the National Park Service (NPS).  This issue just recently came up and I emailed Luisa Dispenzirie.  It was not known until this morning that a few letters had actually not been transcribed.  Nonetheless, this can easily be corrected and the transcriptions completed quickly as the letters themselves are fairly short.  Another issue with the letters and transcriptions is that 2-3 of them seem to have catalog numbers penciled on them that do not match the spreadsheet we received from the NPS.  But Suzanne Chase said not to worry about this because cataloging errors are always common and usually an easy fix.  The next task with the letters is to read through them all, but this milestone does not come for a couple weeks yet.

The next milestone falls on March 4, which is next Friday.  By that day, Breck and I will have visited and filmed Slaughter’s grave in the Confederate Cemetery downtown as well as Murray’s belongings on display at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center for the introductory video to be placed on our website.

Wikipedia and Creative Commons

(1)  Look at the History and Discussion tabs of several Wikipedia history entries and write about what you see.

I looked at three Wikipedia pages for topics related to my HIST 485 thesis this semester.  The articles were titled “July 20,” “Operation Valkyrie,” and “Henning von Tresckow.”  The “History” tab just appears to reveal a list of recent and older changes that have been made to the article since its creation.  I think it is interesting that you are able to click on a change, see who made the change, and see a comparison of what the article looks like currently and how it appeared prior to the update.  I did think the comparative information was a bit confusing in that I was not entirely sure what I was looking at.  When I saw that you could click to compare the changes, I thought it would give you a section of the article and then show in red where the changes were, or something along those lines.  The other tab, “Discussion,” includes comments users have made that suggest improvements to the article and also appears to be where users ask for help in editing.  In this section, people will usually focus on a certain passage of the article and then describe why they think it should be removed or altered.  This section alarmed me because people want to change information, and they state what they believe should be said, but they do not seem to offer any credible citation to support their views.  If Wikipedia is all about making quality information available to everyone on earth, as Jimmy Wales stated, then they should make sure to use appropriate source material.

(2)  Consider what Creative Commons License you might use for your own site.  What role does copyright play in the resources you are working with this semester?

Being that our site with Murray and Slaughter’s letters is being created for and is consequently affiliated with the National Park Service (NPS), I do not know how much say we have in deciding what type of Creative Commons License to use.  But, if we can choose one, I would say we would most likely use either “Attribution-NoDerivatives” or “Attribution.”  Both options allow commercial uses of the work, while the first does not allow adaptations of the work to be shared while the second does.  I do not like the idea of the work being changed, so I would most likely be in favor of “Attribution-NoDerivatives.”  Since these two men are not very well known, if known at all, by the larger historical community, any parts of their letters or the content my group includes on the site should be taken as is because they are so unique.  As far as copyright, I do not think my group will run into any issues.  Most of our resources include the letters, biographical information on Murray that the NPS sent with his letters, Murray’s possessions at the Chancellorsville Battlefield Museum, Slaughter’s grave in the Confederate Cemetery downtown, and any additional information we learn about these two men from Luisa Dispenzirie, the museum curator at Chancellorsville.  The Confederate Cemetery is open to the public and the Murray family gave the NPS George’s letters and things.  The only area we will likely have to tread carefully is on using pictures and other information we find online.  We will have to search on our own for information on Slaughter and Murray and so anything we find on other sites needs to be evaluated for use in our project.