Side Stairwell of Main Hall

A Website Was Born, or How It All Began to Feel Very Real

This week, as I was writing my Century America contract, I began to realize that a different portion of the project is about to begin. Over the past several weeks that I’ve spent in the archives, all of my ideas and hopes for my Century America project have remained somewhat abstract. However, as I was writing the milestone dates for my project, I realized how “real” and tangible the project is beginning to feel. The prospect of actually working on the website is one that I am very much excited about. I am looking forward to sharing all of the work that I have done and all of the unique and unpublished documents that I have found over the last few weeks. I think the story of A.G.T.I. and Montevallo in the WWI-context is a very interesting one, and I am glad to have the opportunity to share this story with such a (potentially) large audience. However, I’ve also never shared my work on such a large scale, and being something of a perfectionist, I am having to learn to not be a stumbling block in my own path. That’s why I’m glad I have other people to hold me accountable!

So far, this week has turned up a few promising leads and a few dead ends. I spoke with the president of the Shelby County Museum and Archives earlier in the week, and he indicated that much of the material that they have in their holdings can also be found in the archives located on my university’s campus. Because of this, I do not know whether I will attempt to make a trip to their facilities. They do have a few items that my university does not, such as marriage records, census information, and death records. Because of the angle that I am taking with my site, however, I do not believe this information will be particularly beneficial in constructing my site’s narrative. I was informed today by my university’s archivist that the Shelby County Museum and Archives may have some images that may be of interest, so I may attempt to reestablish communication with the president and inquire about these images. In addition to contacting the county archives, I also spoke with someone from the Alabama Department of Archives and History earlier in the week, and it appears that all of the files of interest in the WWI Gold Star Database are downloadable. At this point, I need to speak with someone about appropriate attribution and the necessary permissions to publish, if any exist.

I also spent a few hours in Montevallo’s archives today and on Tuesday. I have prepared a list of materials that I would like digitized for my project, and this information has been furnished to the university’s archivist. I have also provided him with a list of the milestone dates in my Century America contract, and I have offered to help with the process of scanning the requested items. I am emailing the university’s official photographer shortly to speak with him about viewing some representative images of Montevallo from within the last several years to provide for the overarching site. I will have these modern images, as well as images from 1914-1919, to Jack by the specified date. At this point, I am trying to finish going through the newspapers from the period, and I am placing additional scanning requests for newspaper articles. I am also requesting digitized versions of poems, writings, and images from the yearbooks. I will be doing the same for the academic bulletins tomorrow and Saturday.

I have started to experiment with my Century America website. Let me know what you think about the theme, concept, and layout! All feedback is welcome! My site can be found here.

Source: Annie Crawford Milner Archives and Special Collections, University of Montevallo

Interesting Finds: Squid, Explosives, and Purina Cow Chow

I found a lot of interesting institutional documents this week as I was digging through the archives here at the University of Montevallo. While perusing the administrative files, I found a file box containing freight records from 1919-1922. These documents provide insight into the types of items the university purchased during the period. The following items were freighted to Montevallo in the above mentioned years:

  • syrup
  • laundry machines
  • pipes
  • coffee
  • flour
  • brooms
  • ink
  • twine
  • stationary
  • sugar
  • diary feed
  • grits
  • books from the Democrat Printing Company
  • various fruits, including apples, oranges, bananas, cranberries, and lemons
  • bacon
  • cheese
  • sulfuric acid…
  • Purina cow chow

I could continue the list for several pages, but I think the above listed items are representative of the purchases made during the period. Information such as this could be valuable in helping me to understand how the university functioned and met its needs during the period. I also found quite a bit of useful information in The Peoples Advocate, a local newspaper from the period. Within the 1918 run of this periodical, I found the names of numerous (upwards of 30 so far) Montevallo men who were drafted. Within this same periodical, I also found a list of some of the individuals in Montevallo who purchased Liberty Bonds. I plan to search for information on these individuals to provide my project with the “human element” that I have been trying so desperately to find. Thanks to my university archivist, Carey Heatherly, I also managed to locate the Alabama Department of Archives and History WWI Gold Star Database. This site lists the names of five Montevallo men who died in WWI. Even more importantly, this site has images, biographies, and bioforms of some of these men. I will be in contact with the state archives about using this material, and any additional materials they have, on my Century America site.

I also received a number of scanned images this week, including the featured image for this blog post. This image, taken from the Annie Crawford Milner Archives and Special Collections at the University of Montevallo, is one of Main Hall Library in 1910. While it was taken somewhat before the period we are interested in, I have decided to take a broader approach in depicting my town and university during the WWI period.

Peace Day

Navigating an Uncertain Path: Questions of Conceptualization

This week has been a challenge for me in terms of deciding just exactly what I would like to do with my project. Based on the kinds of sources that I have been locating, I think that a chronological narrative would be the best overarching format for my site. Many of the sources (yearbooks, bulletins, institutional minutes) that I have been reading are divided chronologically, so I think organizing my website along similar lines would make sense.

However, while the sources that I have been finding provide marvelous information about the Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute, I am also finding that most of the surviving documents are institutional, not personal, records. Because of this, I feel that I am missing a human element in my project so far. One of the main challenges I will have to face will be transforming dry, institutional records into an exciting, “human” narrative. I know we discussed several ways of doing this during one of our class sessions, so I am not “paralyzed” by having to compensate for this particular challenge. I just need to be mindful of my potential audience as I write my narrative. However, this prospect is proving to be somewhat problematic, as I haven’t really decided exactly who is or will be the primary audience for my Century America website. I am assuming that most of the individuals who will access my website will be affiliated with the University of Montevallo or the surrounding community, but because this is not a particularly homogeneous audience, I am uncertain of the tone, depth and breadth of information, and style of narrative that I should employ to best serve this audience. Given that some of my site’s viewers will not be members of the academy, I do not want to exclude them by adopting an overly-academic writing style. However, I also want the website to be a thorough, analytical, and meaningful depiction of Montevallo in the period of the Great War, and I want the research that I’ve done in preparation for the project to be highlighted.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I also haven’t found as much material related to the community of Montevallo as I would like to have found by this time. Perhaps, at least in part, this is because Montevallo lacks some of the local, historical societies that some of my colleagues have been able to utilize. I will continue searching for these types of resources; at this stage of my search, I may reach out to local officials for help in exploring community resources.

Another research matter I have been contemplating is one of scope. Should I only be focusing on things related directly to the war, or should I be painting a broader picture of the school and town during the war period? In my opinion, the sources that I am finding are more suited to a broad narrative, dealing with war-related and non-war-related information. I certainly want to focus on how the war impacted the Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute and the community, but I would like to touch on other aspects, as well. As I am conceptualizing my website now, I am thinking of it as a holistic portrayal of the school and community rather than simply as an examination of how Montevallo was directly impacted by the war.

Feedback, anyone?

 

Featured Image: “Peace Day” (1919). Technala. Annie Crawford Milner Archives and Special Collections, University of Montevallo.

Ebenezer Swamp and Ecological Preserve

Brainstorming About My Century America Website

I have spent quite a bit of time this week thinking about how I would like to design and develop my Century America website, and I have come up with a few ideas and tools that I would like to utilize in my project.

Concept:

The evidence that I have gathered so far seems to support a narrative format, in my opinion. That being said, I have decided that I can either approach this narrative in a traditional, chronological format, or in a thematically-oriented format. If I were to organize the site chronologically, I would probably divide it in this way:

  • Pre-WWI Period
  • 1914-16
  • 1917-1918
  • The Spanish Influenza and the End of the War
  • The Post-War Context

Each of the aforementioned sections would have a narrative flow, with supporting images and a timeline (probably from TimelineJS). If I wanted to organize the site more thematically, I would probably break it apart in the following way:

  • Montevallo at the Eve of the War
  • The Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute in Wartime: Challenges and Responses (Labor Crises, Food Conservation, etc.)
  • Montevallo: Portrait of a Community During the War Years
  • Montevallo and the Spanish Influenza
  • Montevallo in the Post-War Context

I am open to pursuing other, non-narrative formats for my website, but I believe that this approach will be the most logical and well-suited way by which to convey the material that I have discovered.

Site Layout:

Having viewed several digital history websites during the course of this project, I have seen a number of features that I think enhance the aesthetics and accessibility of a website. The homepage of my website will serve primarily as an introduction to the project and an explanation of how to navigate and utilize the materials within the various pages of my website. “Search-ability” and accessibility are very important characteristics to me, so I would like to construct this introductory page as a clear “road map” and access-point for all of the pages and content on the site. I would also like to have a “Guestbook” of sorts on this homepage, so that individuals who visit my site can “sign their names” and leave comments about their experiences with my Century America site. Most importantly, I want the homepage well-labeled, well-organized, interesting, and visually appealing, so that readers feel compelled to continue further exploration of my site.

Depending upon which narrative format I select, the pages of my site will be laid out in that manner. I would like to design the site so that each page has at least a few images and at least one interactive component (timeline, map, etc.). I intend to include a page dedicated solely to a “visual narrative” (one focused on telling the story of A.G.T.I. in the WWI period through images alone). If possible, I would also very much like to digitize some of the local newspapers that I have been viewing throughout the research process. I think they are wonderful resources in helping to understand community life during the wartime period.

The last page that I would like to have on my site is one for external links and further reading, so that individuals who find my site interesting or useful might be able to continue their exploration of the topic on their own time.

Research Progress:

My research project slowed somewhat last week with the snowstorm that affected Montevallo and the surrounding area. The university closed on Tuesday, and classes did not resume again until Monday of this week, so I was unable to access the archives to continue my research. However, I feel that I have made solid progress in my hunt for documentary evidence. I will be back in the archive tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon, and I plan to spend Friday morning there, as well. I have been pleased with the amount of relevant material on the World War I period held within the Annie Crawford Milner Archives and Special Collections. While this archive has an abundance of resources, I will continue exploring local and county-level opportunities by which to gain additional sources.

Primary Sources (So Far):

  • Academic Bulletins: I have examined academic bulletins from the following dates: 4/1912; 1/1914; 4/1914; 7/1914; 10/1914; 1/1915; 7/1915; 10/1915; 7/1916; 7/1917; 10/1917; 4/1918; and 7/1918. While these are the only dates I have viewed, the archives have available every bulletin between 1912 and 1920. These bulletins are extremely useful in helping to understand the mission and “goings-on” of the university during the wartime period. One of these (a Food Conservation Bulletin) will be of particular importance to my project. All of these items have been digitized are are readily accessible.
  • Yearbooks: All of the yearbooks from 1907-present are available and have been digitized. I have viewed the yearbook from 1917, and there are several pieces of information within this publication that are relevant to the war.
  • Board of Trustees Minutes: I have read all of the Board of Trustees minutes for the period of interest (1912-1920). These minutes provide an exceptional amount of information related to the challenges the university faced during this period. They also give insight into the administration’s decision-making processes and the running of the university. Both the war and the Spanish Influenza are explicitly mentioned.
  • Presidential Papers: The papers of President Palmer will be useful in understanding general trends about the student population, information about the university’s farm and dairy, and other important information related to the state of the university. I have examined these for the time period between 1913 and 1917.
  • Local newspapers, including The Peoples Advocate and The Shelby County Sun: These two local periodicals provide an amazing level of information about Montevallo and other surrounding communities. The Alabama Girls’ Technical Institute is mentioned quite frequently (more in some years than in others). Some of the other topics/items that are frequently mentioned include the war, crop issues, debt problems, President Wilson, Tuberculosis problems, lynchings, and economic considerations. I would jump at the opportunity to digitize some of these newspapers and include them on my website.
  • Images

Research tools:

I feel comfortable using TimelineJS, Google Maps, and Omeka. I would very much like to use TimelineJS in my project, but I do not think, as of this writing, that I will utilize either Google Maps or Omeka. I will continue searching for additional tools that will help to make my project more dynamic and interactive. If possible, I would really like to have a tool that would allow for the creation of an attractive, interactive photo gallery. If I am able to digitize some of the local newspapers that I have found, I would be very interested in a tool that allows for the sensation of “turning the pages.”