“Our mission, at the behest of the National Park Service, is to digitize a collection of letters from Montgomery Slaughter, the wartime mayor of Fredericksburg, and from George Murray, a Union soldier from Pennsylvania.” This was the first sentence of our Mission Statement when we first received the project. It has been about four months since then and as I have said in many updates since then, we have come a long way. We have completed a digital archive in the form of a website that displays all of the letters written by George Murray and Montgomery Slaughter. Looking over our statement however, we have not contacted any local organizations as we first intended. This is because after spending so much time making the actual site, we have forgotten to spread the word about it. In terms of tools, we have successfully used Omeka to make our site making use of its collections and items aspects. The only tool we did not use to make our project is iMovie as we switched to Final Cut Pro to edit our video together and we never changed our contract to reflect this. We have completed all of the jobs outlined in our contract though we had to change one job (recording for every single letter) simply because there was not enough time to record for all of them. We all did a fair share in terms of labor though I personally feel I could have done more to help edit the video or set up the site. We all did our individual tasks though, uploading all of the letters and metadata and setting up the site to begin with. The schedule of milestones helped a lot as we constantly knew what we had to do and what the next step was after that.
Creating the site was not a difficult process though Omeka took a bit of getting used to. Once we had the proper plugins, we were able to upload all of our letters and then rearrange them in the proper order. I was concerned about this for a while because our letters were organized by date and needed to be kept in this order and Omeka initially only allowed us to organize our items alphabetically or by date uploaded. Nothing in this project was particularly difficult; everything was more meticulous than anything. We had most of the letters and transcriptions to begin with so putting them on the site was not hard, recording audio was done in three sittings and was fairly straight forward once everyone knew the process for recording, and editing and exporting all of the audio was incredibly simple. My only regret was not preparing more for the presentation as I was too nervous and we opened a Google Slide presentation in Powerpoint and the layout was completely messed up when we presented our final project. Other than that, I would like to think we did a good job making the site with all of the letters. We still need to go back and fix a couple of things here and there (mainly adding citations) but other than that, I hope users have a good experience checking out our site.
So this is it… the website is done and looking good so far. Final comments do not appear to have gone up yet (or at least, I did not see any when I was checking the site) so while I am waiting for that, I cannot help but feel that it has been such a short time since we began four months ago. We got a lot done in that short time though, from the uploaded letters, to the videos, to the voice overs. I’ll talk more about that in the final final post though. For now, all that’s left is the final presentation on Friday; while I am not looking forward to the formal aspect of it, the presentation itself should not be difficult. I just need to rehearse and make sure I know what I am saying. We have gotten this far, I am sure we can see this through to the end on Friday.
Well, this is it. With the project due Tuesday, we need to look over: the letters (which are all up on the site), the recorded letters (recordings are done, we just need to put them on the site), the StoryMapJS (mostly done, only a couple sites left), the intro video (recordings are done for that, it is currently in the editing stage on Final Cut Pro), and the bibliography (which has grown with the pictures in the intro video but is not too harrowing). The bulk of the project which was simply uploading all the letters is done so we have completed the bare minimum. At this point, we just need to complete all of the supplementary material and the bibliography to give credit where credit is due. It’s been a long semester but it all comes to an end soon. We’ll be ready by then, we just have a bit more to go…
When looking up articles that had to do with digital history and technology, the first article I looked at was “Enhancing Internet Use for History by Categorizing Online Resources” which talked about how easy it is to categorize and find various points in history. Everything can be found with a quick search (provided there is proper use of keywords) and by using indexes, catalogs, and databases; users can easily look up whatever they need to. If the user is looking for something printed, they can look up where a printed copy is; be it at a library or a museum, something will come up on the internet. That said, the article also explains that libraries holding certain items are irrelevant if there are full-text databases that hold everything given that there is no need to visit a library since the information is already right in front of the user. Ultimately, this article makes a point that technology makes looking up any information easier and that historians should try to learn this technology to make information gathering easier in the future.
The second article I looked at was Visualizations and Historical Arguments which talked about how images and videos can be used to help show relations or dramatizations of certain events. Simple visual aids like graphs or maps can show comparisons between two or more different categories or how far some group has moved over a certain period of time. Dramatizations of various events can show how certain events (like a bomb dropping for example) may have looked from different angles. They can also be used in the future to show how events will look depending on whether or not certain actions are taken (to try to explain it better, Y depends on X which has not happened yet; visualizations of Y can be made to prove which X should take place). Small parts of visualizations such as color, lines, bars, etc. can make a large difference in the visualizations that are made. In the end, historians should learn to make these visualizations (or know someone who can make them) and learn how to read them.
Both of these articles drive the point that while technology is moving forward, historians need to grow accustomed to the changes that are being made. While technology is making processes easier as a whole, it is up to the people using technology to know how to use them in order to easily find what they are looking for. Technology is somewhat a middle-man for how historians find what they may want but it is faster than any alternative. As technology gets better, that middle-man will get faster and faster.
There’s not much to report this week, the group is mainly finishing up loose ends at this point. All of our Murray letters are on the site, I just need to put up the tif files on all of my letters. At this point, we just need to record readings of each of the letters, finish the “About Us” page, get the Slaughter letters up, and tweak the site so that it looks good. We are in the stage that we are just tying up loose ends and wrapping everything else up. I imagine it will not be long before we are completely done with the project.
It’s been a while since I looked at the front end of the site; after having a new theme installed and messing around with the layout, the new site looks very good. There are a lot of placeholders right now and I want to change the look of at least one menu but it looks very good. On my end, I have just finished uploading all of my letters and pdfs in the collection but I may need to go through them again and look for spelling errors. I also need to add tifs to pretty much all of the items and that may take a while depending on the internet speed I currently have (which is not good). Other than that, there is not much going on. The team is working on a StoryMap and the letters to be recorded for Slaughter have been chosen. At this point, the webiste is mainly tying up loose ends and various miscellaneous tasks.
In writing a brief update to Professor McClurken, I figured I could do the same for the weekly blog post. The letters are currently being uploaded to the site and once this is done, the letters will be “digitized” and we will have finished the bare minimum required from us. It has taken us longer than expected to get this far mainly because of the plugins (both implementation and testing) but we have been working on various other tasks that we have made for ourselves in the meantime. To repeat what we covered last Tuesday, the bios are going well, transcriptions look good but may need to be looked at a second time for formatting or spelling, and the main concern I have now is creating two front pages for the collections and one front page for the site as a whole but that should not be too difficult.
Though it has been a while since I used my site this way, it was made to be a digital resume showcasing some of my work. After about a year and many blog posts later, my site more or less switched purposes from a resume to just a blog that I post to semi-regularly. Looking back, my site is a victim to lack of maintenance as I hardly touch it anymore unless I am making a post. In the future, I will have to start using this site more as my resume as well as a blog site so viewers will be able to see what I have recently done as well as my thoughts and opinions on varying subjects. Of course, I will have to make various changes to how the site looks, throw in some pictures (of myself and my work), embed some videos or anything else I have been working on, etc. I’ll need to take care of this site like I take care of my regular resume, with more attention and updating with everything I am doing/have done.
I’m not one for posting Buzzfeed-esque posts so I’ll just get to it. These are five things I learned/found important when looking at sites detailing one’s digital identity.
1) If I want people to consistently know what you’ve done, I should maintain my site. I need to make sure the site or any parts of it have not expired in order to not give any errors when checking the site and I need to keep posting to it to maintain a professional appearance.
2) Everything on the internet lasts forever. If someone posts anything with my name on it, it will come up in a Google search, I will have to make sure these posts are generally good or the consequences will be bad.
3) With a bit of help, some blogs can quickly become famous around the world. At this point, writers can ask their audiences for suggestions on what they should work on.4) Keep the front page simple. Most people are impatient and do not like reading, if there is something I want the readers to know, make it clear in the beginning.
5) Organize the site. If there are multiple talents I want people to know about, I will have to separate them on the site so viewers can find what they are looking for easily.
It is the halfway point in the semester and it is time to talk about where the group is with the letters. Everything seems to be going well right now; we have a website, the letters have been scanned and transcribed (as best as they can be, some words are difficult to make out) and the group is well on schedule to being done. At this point, all that is left is to actually put the letters on the website and anything extra we may want to do. Before uploading the letters though, we are waiting on approval to use the Omeka plugins we requested which would make formatting a lot easier. Without these plugins, it is possible that a single uploaded item in the wrong order could mess up the entire site later on so the sooner we get permission, the sooner we can upload everything with confidence.
Our future plans, aside from the letters themselves, are to create a front page, put up pictures of Slaughter and Murray’s belongings and Slaughter’s gravestone, and record readings of Slaughter’s letters. Recording Murray’s letters may be difficult as many of his letters are missing various words. Moving forward, our group plans to continue to do our best and we should have everything finished by May/late April.