Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Future of this Blog

I am a graduate student in the History Department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. I started this blog because--well--I had to.  I enrolled in a digital history course and this blog was one of the course requirements.  I was also required to work in a small group to create an online exhibit.   The semester has drawn to a close and I have successfully completed this required digital history course.  I earned an A in the class, and while I'm quite proud of that, I now find myself in a pickle. What do I do with this blog?

Do I delete the blog?  Do I leave it up indefinitely and let the internet gods determine what happens to it?  Do I keep blogging?  If I choose to keep blogging then what should I blog about?  I already have a personal blog where I talk about my daily life, politics, parenting, and all kinds of other stuff.  So what do I do here? 

I've actually spent the past several days bouncing these questions around in my head and not coming up with too many clear answers.  The bottom line is I'm a writer, and as such I am deeply inclined to keep this blog up and running. 

I do, however, believe a name change is in order.  I enjoy writing about social media and digital history. But I can't write about digital history all the time.  Well, I could.  I just don't want to.  I'd like to write about historic preservation, museum education, and artifact conservation too.  Sometimes I just want to write about an interesting fact I've stumbled across. But I still want to write....

I think I'm going to keep this blog.  I like blogging about history.  I think some of you like reading what I have to say too.  So look for some major changes coming soon, and a few new history-related articles that have nothing to do with the "digital" side of things because I'm all "digital history-ed " out!

Monday, December 10, 2012

End of Semester Reflections Post

Warning:  This is the final paper for my Digital History course, and as such it is much longer than my typical blog entry.  



I was actually accepted into all three graduate programs in Public History that I applied for, and the digital history component of UNC Charlotte’s program was one of the major deciding factors that led me to select the program I am now a part of.  I had high expectations for the digital history class, and now that I am nearly finished with the course I must say I am not disappointed.  The entire class was structured around one major outcome:  designing an online exhibit.  We were divided into groups and each group was required to draft a group contract for their assigned exhibit topic.  My group adhered to our contract the entire semester, and we learned a great deal along the way to our (now nearly completed) online exhibit.
            Our professor maintained a Moodle page for the class and we were able to view a list of pre-approved exhibit topics before we even went to our first class.  As soon as I saw the available topics I knew exactly what I wanted to do.  One of the topics was the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood.  My mother has resided just outside the Plaza-Midwood neighborhood for the majority of my life, and I’ve always been enamored with the beautiful, historic homes that dot the streets there.  I immediately emailed some students I knew I would work well with to see if they were interested in working with me and much to my delight all three agreed they’d like to work with me on the Plaza-Midwood project.  I then sent an email to Dr. Cox who informed me that it just wasn’t fair for us to pick first, and I spent most of the first class biting my nails and hoping we’d all be able to work together on the Plaza-Midwood topic anyway.  As luck would have it, it all worked out and the “From Miracle Mile to Plaza-Midwood” online exhibition was born.
            Our groups were required to draft a group contract before any of the real work could begin.  Ali, Susan, Sean, and I tend to be verbose and very detailed, and so our contract was probably much longer and more complicated than it actually needed to be.  It was four pages long and incredibly specific. I wrote the mission statement portion of the contract.  Our group believes that Plaza-Midwood is the epitome of the cultural and economic diversity Charlotte strives to embody.  Our mission, therefore, was to make the history of this incredible neighborhood available to the public online.  The exhibit will be completed and available to the public online Thursday, December 13th.  Our mission is thus complete.
            The next step in our contract, and also in the process of building an online exhibit, was to decide what information we should seek out and put into the exhibit. We visited the library together to get a feel for our subject. Each member of the group selected a specific topic to research and agreed to locate ten artifacts related to that topic.  My topic was building community.  Having spent a great deal of time in Plaza-Midwood myself, I was very interested in showing the rest of the world just how tightly knit and caring this community is (and always has been).  I knew the best place to unearth information about how Plaza-Midwood became the caring community it is now was the Special Collections Room at J. Murray Atkins Library.  Marilyn Schuster is the local documents librarian and she pulled UNC Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood Collection for me.  I spent hours sitting quietly at a desk in Special Collections, sifting quietly and carefully through every single document that had been so painstakingly filed away on the history of Plaza-Midwood.  I made a note of the more interesting items, and then I spent hours staring at each of those items so I could narrow it down to the ten I thought best embodied the spirit of the community. 
I decided to focus upon the Midwood Park Project and the numerous annual neighborhood events sponsored by the Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood Association.  The park was important to highlight because some of the earliest members of what is now Plaza-Midwood were so concerned that their children did not have a park to play in that they took it upon themselves to raise the funds for and build a neighborhood park.  The Midwood Park Project perfectly demonstrates the amazing community spirit inherent in this neighborhood.   It also shows that people who live in Plaza-Midwood are movers and shakers—they make things happen.  The events were equally important to my topic because these events really cement the bond that makes Plaza-Midwood residents such good neighbors.  This community has events nearly every single month—from festivals to parades, they’ve got it covered.
As a group we agreed that we should seek to document Plaza-Midwood’s significance utilizing a wide variety of sources and artifacts.   I selected a range of Plaza-Midwood Neighborhood Association newsletters to best display the diversity of events present in Plaza-Midwood. The Midwood Park Project includes legal documents and newspaper clippings. Each of our group members located, scanned, and uploaded a wide variety of artifacts documenting Plaza-Midwood’s unique history.  These artifacts illustrate the transformation of Plaza-Midwood from a small streetcar suburb to the cultural hub it has now become.  Each artifact had to be properly scanned and uploaded to the Omeka website.  Then we had to enter metadata into Dublin Core for each object.  Dublin Core was something each of us struggled with in different ways.  I was fortunate in that I had utilized Dublin Core previously, but I had forgotten a great deal and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to remember how to use it.  Dr. Cox arranged an Omeka workshop with Heather McCollough, one of our university’s brilliant librarians, and I felt much better about the whole thing.
Our group then decided that each of us should be responsible for ensuring the success of a particular portion of the exhibit building process.  Sean Whittaker is very tech savvy and so he was selected to serve as the website administrator, and he was to be contacted with any technical issues that arose.  Susan Mayer was the most familiar with Dublin Core and so she was made responsible for item processing and ensuring we were all using the same tags for our metadata.  Ali Weidrich is incredibly organized and serves as editor’s assistant for one of UNC Charlotte’s scholarly journals, thus she was the logical choice to supervise the input of our bibliographical information.  I attended UNC Charlotte as an undergraduate as well as a graduate student, and I am nearly finished with two graduate degrees so I was placed in charge of research and research related questions were directed at me.  Each of us has different strengths and we utilized those strengths in our various roles to ensure the success of this exhibit. Finally, we created a schedule with deadlines for our group.  I am proud to say each and every one of us adhered to that schedule. 
We were each able to locate ten pertinent artifacts, scan and upload those items onto the Omeka website, and troubleshoot most of our own issues without outside assistance.  Our exhibit was very much an experience in trial and error.  I learned more by what I did wrong and then had to correct than I learned by anything I did right.   For instance, I had always listed myself as “Creator” in Dublin Core and I learned during this class that I am not the creator because I did not actually create the object in question.
Further, while I have always known the value of having a great group of people on your team this semester that lesson was really driven home.  I’ve had a lot of personal issues to deal with and I have only had access to my own transportation sporadically the last few months.  My fellow group members have been amazing in working with my schedule to ensure that we can all meet and get things done.  We’ve also communicated really well throughout this process, and managed to always keep one another abreast of any issues that arose.  Our project went very smoothly and I credit the talented and intelligent individuals on my team for the successful completion of this project.
 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Meta-Whata?

In his blog article "Searching for History" William J. Turkel uses AOL's famously leaked search data to discuss history-related internet search trends. Turkel discusses a variety of trends, including limiting searches by geography (i.e. searching for "American History" or "European History") and even searches for deleting one's own browsing history. 

The most interesting aspect of the article for me, however, was his discussion of limiting searches by date range.  As a historian, I often find myself attempting to limit internet searches by date ranges.  It's par for the course in my line of work.  Apparently lots of other people are trying to limit their history-related searches by date range too, but as Turkel points out this kind of internet search is tricky.  Turkel writes, "Unfortunately, searcing for '1400s' won't yield dates in the range of 1400-1499, it will merely match the literal string '1400s.'"  Likewise, if you googled "1400-1499" you'd only match the literal string "1400-1499."  It won't give you a real range unless the source contains the exact numbers "1400-1499."  That leaves a lot to be desired, doesn't it? 

This article was written in 2006, and as far as I can tell search engines stil haven't caught on to the historians' need to search the internet for sources by historic date ranges.  You can limit searches by date published (i.e. the date something appeared on the internet), but that doesn't help us much when we're trying to search for information on a home built sometime between 1850 and 1875, now does it? 

It would be nice if a standard language for limiting searches by date ranges existed, but the truth is it doesn't.  Metadata or meta tags that are supposed to help standardize internet language to aid users in searching the vast internet for data do exist, but they're only as good as the person inputting them and many times these tags are vague. 

I am the first to admit that while I do know how to edit my HTML to include meta tags, it is often a big game of trial and error to get it right.  I always test my tags by googling something related to my post to see what pops up, and sometimes my tags work and sometimes they don't.  When they don't work I have to try again. 

So where does that leave historians trying to google U.S. Halloween customs in the 1940s? *shrug*  I suppose it leaves us performing multiple google searches using tons of different date ranges (1940s, 1940-1949, 1941, etc)  to try to ensure we hit on every viable source about our topic. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Before/After Painting Photos!

I didn't forget (okay, yes I did)!  Here are the before and after photos of the great room in my historic bungalow.  I think the new paint looks pretty awesome. 

Before
After


Before

After    

Thursday, October 18, 2012

(Public) Social Media & (Public) History

As a social media consultant for a variety of not-for-profit organizations I spend a great deal of my time talking about Twitter.  In fact, I've blogged about Twitter twice. The first article I posted discusses how historians can best use twitter.  The second outlines Tweetchats for historians.  If you read those articles it should become readily apparent that Twitter can be a very important and very useful tool for historians, particularly public historians.

I recently stumbled across this fascinating article by Jessica Clark of the Center for Social Media about public media for the public historian. Clark not only discusses how social media tools, like Twitter, "can be used to spur conversation and storytelling about historical moments," she also points out what she calls the "fragility" of social media.  In other words, a lot of the digital data we have isn't being archived by the people who technically own it which means its being lost. 

Apparently Twitter, in particular, had weak archiving practices but has recently announced it will be "donating its public archives to the Library of Congress."  This is a huge win for public historians who may want to research social media.  But what about Facebook or Myspace or Pinterest?  Who owns those sites and how can we get access to the information stored there?  I simply don't know how to answer that question, and this will definitely be a problem for future historians.

For now, though, I will continue utilizing Twitter for the amazing networking tool it is.  I think Twitter's largest and most far reaching impact on public history is its ability to connect such a diverse range of history professionals from across the globe to one another and to history organizations all over the world. 

If you decide you want to join the twitterverse, don't forget to follow me @JennWelborn. I look forward to tweeting with you soon!