All posts by Century America: The Blog

Post-Draft Update: UMW and Homepage

The end it in sight!

First, the Century America homepage is nearly finished, and we’re so excited about how it’s turning out. The formatting of the layout, the timeline, and the text areas have all been completed, as has the MapsAlive interactive map.

The next and (hopefully) final step will be incorporating the complete map into the site. DTLT (Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies) has helped us tremendously in this process. We will be meeting with Ryan of DTLT once more this week, after which we will be able to officially determine how the map will appear on the homepage. Ryan will show us if and how we could embed the full map into the homepage using an iFrame, which would mean visitors would reach the fully interactive version of the map immediately upon reaching the home page of the site.

As of now, however, we are leaning toward the currently displayed format, in which a screen shot of the interactive map is featured below the header image, which is hyperlinked to the full map on a separate page. We like the clean design this allows for, and are confident this format will preserve all of the interactive features of the map, creating the easiest navigability. It also allows for visitors to read about the project before reaching the full interactive map, which will give them a better sense of what they are using by the time they are using the map to navigate to each of the different schools. This seems to the version that you all (my virtual classmates) prefer, but if there are any objections, please let us know!

As for the UMW Century America page, we are also nearly completion. Text has been completed, images uploaded and formatted, and design elements all finalized. This week we were able to get the side widgets added, which feature our Voices of the Great War element. The last piece of the puzzle for us will be citations. Currently, our pages are cited with wordpress-style endnotes than are then included on a separate “References” page accessed through the main menu. We are currently debating how best to improve accessibility to the notes without compromising the appearance and effectiveness of the site as an educational and enjoyable tool. In our digital history class, a colleague brought up a plug-in she has installed that allowed for a collapsible footnote section at the bottom of each page; this is an option we are considering. We are also debating the benefits and downsides of linking each individual note to the separate reference page, so that visitor could click the note number and be taken to the anchored location on our current citations page. While this would increase accessibility and clean up the site, we also fear it might prove distracting to be clicking back and forth while trying to read the longer text passages. Suggestions?

Overall, these are minor decisions and edits to make, and we are so excited to see the final project coming together so nicely. We’ve been busy admiring our site and all the Century America projects all week. It’s actually becoming a problem.

 

 

 

The Making of the Site

It’s been a very productive week for the UMW team. Both the home Century America site and the site for our particular school are up with the skeleton of pages holding form for how we will structure our information. We also have begun to customize both themes and discuss the design elements of the sites. We’re very excited about the degree of freedom we have to customize with the Parabola theme, especially, and we are beginning to get a sense of how the UMW page will look in the end.

This week I wrote the Knox Family page, as well as some introductory blubs for the About and Credits pages. The Knox page is published, though edits are likely still forthcoming, with the pictures Leah and Jack received from the CRHC. We are currently discussing how to incorporate the Century America logo into both sites and how we will format and include the Voices of the Great War element into the UMW site.

My primary focus at this point is the map for the Century America home page. We are (mostly) settled on using Maps Alive to create this, and I am hoping to confirm this by early next week. Assuming we go with this format, which will allow us to make an interactive, custom map through which visitors will navigate to all the Century America sites, I will begin importing data this week. Right now, I have created the map with the correct hotspots for each school and labeled the hotspots with the metadata structure I plan to use. In the end, visitors will be able to hover over a state that is a hotspot and see a popup window with a picture of the school, a small blurb about the institution and town, and a link to their Century America site. I think it will be a visually engaging, original, and user-friendly introduction to the website, and am optimistic about being able to figure all this out.

It’s so rewarding to see all the research and planning begin to take shape. I’ve really enjoyed reading the contracts from my virtual colleagues and seeing how everyone is planning to tell their schools’ and communities’ stories. We’re making progress, and fast!

Digital History in Research and Education

Digital history holds incredible potential for the way historians research and the way students of history learn; however, a host of challenges remain for determining how digital history should best be approached and in what ways it can be most useful.

My professor, Dr. Jeffrey McClurken, has written on this issue and the many opportunities and challenges facing digital history today. Focusing primarily on the digitization of archives, McClurken considered the great benefit to students from having primary source materials accessible online. Where distance from physical archives can be limiting especially in an academic setting, digitization allows students to pursue a wider range of topics and a broader base of primary source material, the foundation for any history student’s training.

But despite the great potential of digital archives, digital history still faces challenges. McClurken points out that not all of the digital history publishing online is up to the standards of scholarship required by publishers of peer-reviewed, printed books. Though the flexibility and mutability of the web can be a great asset, it also presents another great challenge–digital archives can simply move or disappear from the internet in a way physical archives do not. This can be especially problematic for educators, who may depend on a digital archive from one semester to the next and need consistency.

Adrea Lawrence presents another outlook on digital history in education in her article “Learning How to Write Analog and Digital History.” Lawrence focuses on the collaborative benefits of digital history, and the ways digital media can allow students to better learn and work with researchers and each other to understand the process of “doing history.” In her course, Histories in Education, students used both traditional and digital methods to publish their work, even writing and editing Wikipedia pages on their topics. Lawrence argues that the fluid format of Wikipedia, the very aspect of the site that makes scholars most skeptical of its integrity, allows historians to pursue a more collaborative methodology. Because Wikipedia pages are published but then can be edited infinite times by infinite editors, a work of historical research published in this medium will naturally be the result of many different contributions and collect various perspectives along the course of its life on the web.

Lawrence fails to address the many challenges that come with this digital approach however, some of which are discussed above. While Wikipedia certainly could encourage a more collaborative approach, its flexibility also could mean weaker scholarship and an invitation for error. The ease of digital publication is indeed an incredible asset, but brings with it a need for tight monitoring of the quality of that which is published. (Unfortunately, Lawrence’s digital article itself suffers from a few “typos,” despite its strong argument and creative approach.)

Both McClurken and Lawrence agree that digital aspects should be incorporated into the modern historian’s education, and that digitization poses great benefits to the future of the study of history. Recognizing both the benefits and difficulties that come with the versatility of digital media, historians should indeed embrace a digital future while pushing for a high standard of scholarship in digital publications as in print.

Dr. Jeffrey McClurken’s article Waiting for Web 2.0: Archives and Teaching Undergraduates in a Digital Age is published on his website: mcclurken.umwhistory.org.

Adrea Lawrence’s article is published in the Spring 2012 edition of Writing History in the Digital Age, a born-digital journal edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzk and available at writinghistory.trincoll.edu.

Timeline Tool: A Brief History of UMW

I never would have believed using a Google spreadsheet and a simple website could produce such a visually appealing, interactive, and user-friendly digital timeline. The whole process was simple and relatively fast; honestly, it took longer to find all the images on the UMW archives website. While the timeline doesn’t provide many options for customization and all images must be first hosted online, it does allow the creator to add all sorts of media, and the final product is as engaging and interactive as the creator wants it to be. I will definitely look at using this tool in the final Century America project, and have already started creating another one with some of the records from the Central Rappahannock archives.

Coming Soon: Interactive Mapping

At Last! Day One at the Elusive CRHC

Today was the awaited day. As the first Saturday of the month, the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center was open- actually open- from 9am to noon. Leah, Jack, Julia and I made use of every second, and it was the gold mine we had presumed it to be.

Rifle Club (c) CRHC

Rifle Club (c) CRHC

First, we went through all the Battlefield yearbooks from the relevant years of the State Normal School. Project aside, it was entertaining reading to get to know the ladies who first attended my college…there were some personalities. In general, the girls were certainly politically minded and aware of the larger events going on around them. The students seemed particularly interested and participatory in Wilson’s campaign, and even held an impromptu parade across campus and downtown when they got word of his election.

My biggest finds here were from the 1917 edition. The Rifle Club on campus dedicated a page to Professor and Captain Gunyon Harrison, who founded the club. Almost prophetically, their page echoed sentiments about the war abroad, as well: Who can say but in a few weeks there may go forth the cry, ‘Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle?

 

 

Thomas Knox (c) CRHC

Thomas Knox (c) CRHC

My favorite find of the day were the records of the Knox family. Through the family collection donated to the CRHC in 2009, I was able to uncover the story of this family that ties together all the major themes of the Century America project, and which happens to read like a compelling, tragic, drama. Of the Knox brothers, Douglas died at the battle of Belleau Woods in France and Thomas died of the Spanish Influenza four months later back in Virginia.

Their correspondences between each other, their mother, and their sister recount their dramatic story of sacrifice, and give a fascinating glimpse into one experience of the time. Since I was wondering how we would incorporate some of the darker realities of the war and the epidemic into Fredericksburg’s account, the Knox family seems to be the perfect key.

 

 

Other images from today (c) CRHC:

Soliders standing in front of the Fredericksburg Presbyterian Church (c) CRHC A postcard showing soldiers drilling in the field (CRHC) Notice of Doug's death (c) CRHC Cpt. Harrison (c) CRHC

Today was certainly not a comprehensive visit, but I’m excited to go back and get some good scans and images to use in our final project. It’s exciting to see this thing starting to come together!

Week Three

As our research continues, the Century America project is starting to take shape, and it’s exciting to see themes and stories emerge from piles and piles of archives.

In our Skype sessions, the Century America project has been discussing David M. Kennedy’s work Over Here, and it has provided a strong context for understanding the American home front experience during World War I. As I’m working through the themes he discusses, I’m starting to apply some of the national trends locally to Fredericksburg, and I love seeing the connections between names we’ve found at the Central Rappahannock Heritage Center or the UMW Special Collections and the broader historical understanding of World War I. I’m excited to delve more into the specific Fredericksburg experience, now better prepared to place it in a national context.

Dark and Light- Research Continues

One theme in particular I’ve been mulling over: the contrast between darkness and light associated with the war, as first mentioned by Professor Ellen Pearson. On the one hand, American men who went abroad were almost like tourists: their time in Europe was short, and often marked by long period without any action. They experienced the old world, and wrote back home in romantic language about the cathedrals and countrysides they’d touched and seen. At home, the American spirt thrived as communities made joyful sacrifices, like conserving food, to support the war effort. Rallies and campaigns brought people together in patriotic display, and within months, the war was over. But behind the banners and poetry was of course a darker side of war, particularly the modern warfare that World War I has introduced. Soldiers returned home disillusioned, and writings turned to the dark realities they faced. Influenza had gripped the nation, taking more lives than the far-away war.

From our research thus far, it appears the narrative of Fredericksburg and of the State Normal School was dominated by the light. We’ve seen food conservation classes and war effort clubs and patriotic rallies and posters. Though two faculty members served in the war, they were ultimately celebrated, not mourned; in fact the greater loss from the period was certainly the influenza epidemic. How was the State Normal School’s experience different because it was a school for women? I’m curious to see how we will address this theme in our digital project, to communicate the story of the time and place as it was and as the records show, but thinking critically about the sunny glow that seems to radiate from 1914-1918. As we begin the process of organization, these questions of interpretation will be further developed.

Designing the Site

For now, some of the ideas for organization we’re discussing:

  • By place: The State Normal School, Fredericksburg, and national themes
  • By theme: Home front culture, influenza, military, academic experience

Design elements:

  • an interactive map that includes all the schools in the Century America project, with links to their individual projects
  • a comprehensive timeline, including major events in the war nationally and in all the towns and schools of the Century America project
  • short, documentary-style introduction videos at each major section
  • an archive of significant images and scanned documents