A Ten Minute Look Back

1) Top three things you liked about the class structure.

  • The use of class time to collaborate with groups
  • The weekly presentations and how they alternated times
  • The set up weeks where we were introduced to possible tools to use in constructing our sites. I thought this was very helpful

2) Top three things you would change about the class structure.

  • More in class meetings with DTLT–It was hard to hunt them down outside of class.
  • This should be a speaking intensive class. We had to give weekly presentations, hold class discussions, meet with people outside of class to collaborate and discuss items, and give a presentation at the symposium.
  • That you asked for three things when I can only think of two. Seriously, I liked the overall structure of the class.

3) One or two projects/topics that you think might be good for future iterations of this class to do.

  • Something about the women behind UMW (i.e., why are the buildings named after those women?)
  • Obviously something on Dr. Crawley   :)

4) What advice would you give to future students who take this class?

  • Keep up with the blogs and notice the problems of other groups (could help in the future).

Beyond Adventures

Adventures in Digital History is different from any other history course I have taken at the University of Mary Washington. It is through this course and the successful development and implementation of the website on the life and legacy of Mary Ball Washington that I have gained substantial skills that go beyond the typical classroom setting or any research paper.

At the beginning of the semester, my group members and I set out to develop a website on the life and legacy of Mary Ball Washington. After conducting a survey and coming to a consensus that members of the University of Mary Washington (students, faculty, and staff), and members of the Fredericksburg community know little to nothing about the significance of Mary Washington, my group members and I set forth to develop a website that would follow the life of the mother of George Washington and discuss topics such as her personality, her relationships, and her legacy. To produce this website, we agreed to do extensive research and develop pages that would follow her life and legacy as well as have citations so our audience could conduct further research. In addition, we planned to enhance the website with a five to ten minute video, a map, a timeline, and a reference page that would have links to primary documents and other websites that provide information on Mary Ball Washington and her legacy. Finally, we planned to use an array of technical tools such as Youtube, GoogleDocs, GoogleWave, Facebook, and WordPress to create the website that would educate the UMW audience and the Fredericksburg community.

Now that the website is open to the public and finished, I feel that my group members and I have successfully met all the goals we set forth to develop the website. We all worked creatively and diligently to meet milestone dates to produce a well organized site on Mary Washington. Through the semester, we did face challenges. Some uphill battles included technological problems, such as the timeline not showing details of an events, and non-technological, such as meeting with researchers of Mary Washington (both within the university and the Fredericksburg community) to conduct interviews to gain more knowledge and information to provide our audience. However, I feel that we creatively tackled these challenges as we developed new ideas and opted for new ways to overcome the obstacles. In the end, the website does provide information and educates the UMW and Fredericksburg communities, as well as others that may be interested, on the life and legacy of Mary Washington.

Even though we worked together in a group, it is through our individual work to develop the website that my group members and I gained substantial skills that will definitely be used in the future. Personally, I have gained communication, creative, and technological skills. I have come out of my introverted shell and have approached people, some total strangers, to understand how people perceive Mary Washington, or to learn where to get information or conduct research on Mary Washington. In designing the website, I have gained creative skills to present information to engage and gain an audience (after all, a boring website typically means clicking the “back” button and never returning to the website). Finally, I have significantly gained technological skills. Had I not taken this class and agreed to develop the website, I don’t think I would ever have been exposed to using tools such as GoogleDocs, GoogleWave, WordPress, or Creately. These tools and the skills I have gained using them to communicate and creatively present information are definitely a part of my resume; I can definitely see these tools being used in my future workplace. In the end, not only did I produce a website on the life and legacy of Mary Ball Washington, and contributed to the realm of digital history with my group members, but I have also gained substantial skills and knowledge that will go beyond this class.

Smacking Myself on the Forehead

Today, I go to blog about the progress on the Mary Washington site and notice I did not post my blog last week! So after smacking my forehead a few times here’s what I meant to blog about last week:

The May 2007 American Historical Associations’ Perspectives discusses topics on how history is changing with the use of technology. Initially looking at the date it was published (2007), I will admit I was skeptical about what these articles had to say. Let’s be real: technology changes in a blink of an eye nowadays. However, after reading some of the articles, the topics do relate three years after publication.

One article I read was Chris Miller’s “Strange Facts in the Classroom: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Wiki(pedia).” I thought this article related a lot to what we have previously discussed about wikipedia in class. The author mentioned everything we had discussed, including vandalism, the ability to see the history of the wiki page, and whether or not to trust wikipedia as a reliable source. However, I feel Miller raised an interesting point about wikipedia and history, that is, that wikipedia shows the way people think or perceive history. Thus, wikipedia becomes a history in itself as a timeline of the way people perceive an event or person changes over time (some, more radically than others). I never really thought about that aspect as history until I read this article. Perhaps this aspect will raise more interest in the field of history that follows the way people perceive events, people, and issues. I think a great idea for a research project/paper would be to follow how people perceive one topic and whether factors such as majority political viewpoints or some major event affected the way people perceived that topic.

The other article I read was David Voelker’s “Blogging for Your Students.” I thought this article would be interesting to read since I’ve notice over the past year that more professors are using blackboard less and blog more. The article was more of a how-to blog and provided ideas about what to blog about and the benefits of blogging for students. I can agree that blogging is useful and does create outside discussion and help for the class, however, it only works if both students and professors blog simultaneously. To clarify, I don’t know if everyone in my generation (the students) are accepting of blogging. I mean take me, for example, I sometimes forget to blog! I also feel like it’s never something to look forward to for a class. My friends, and myself included, have made comments like “Oh man I have to blog!” I think what contributes to this lack of motivation/interest is the fact that blogs can have a negative connotation, that is, blogs are what nerds or people with time do, not active young people. What also contributes to the lack of wanting to blog is the fact that everything is public. People worry about whether or not what they blog about is accurate or worthy. I don’t know if professors worry about this, but I can assure you members of my generation do. It may take forty years for blogging to truly catch on among all people (professors and students), and not those just trying to create a living or gain fame from their blog (ahem Julie and Julia anyone?)

Speaking of the whole Julie and Julia phenomenon, I read in an article last week about how blogging is becoming a money making career choice. I believe the article was in the Washington Post. The article discussed how more and more people are trying to make careers out of blogging on different topics/interests in lieu of a standard 9 to 5 job (as the job market isn’t exactly welcoming right now). I will definitely have to try to find that article and post it to my blog. Perhaps instances where people gain fame and become wealthy from blogging will make the people of my generation want to blog more (even if it is for the classroom).

Quiet Before the Storm?

This week seems to be pretty laid back compared to the previous weeks as far as the Mary Washington site goes. That’s not to say that there is not work to be done. It’s just that none of it seems very big and exciting, like interviewing people downtown. Perhaps this is the quiet before the storm of editing, running into problems, and stressing to get things done by deadlines?

The work for this week is more along the lines of waiting on people in order to upload pages such as the timeline, the survey, and the map. For example, we are waiting to here back from Jim Groom about how to upload the timeline. In addition to waiting, we are also adding more information and editing the pages. Personally, I want to edit the site aesthetically. I will edit the  family tree I uploaded earlier this week. It looks very plain. I think some color could be nice, maybe some borders, etc.; something to catch the viewer’s eye. I also will go downtown and around the Fredericksburg community and take pictures of all things Mary Washington (her house, the monument, the hospital, the school, maybe some colonial actors, etc.) to use for the site and the video. This will be a great way to take advantage of the awesome weather we’ll have this weekend! Finally, I will keep on adding and editing the legacy page. It’s pretty weak right now, with just information on her house. It’s time to up my game and type up the rest!

Norviggin’ it up

After watching the youtube of Peter Norvig at the 2007 Google Developers Day I was really overwhelmed and a bit confused. He talked and talked, and well sometimes I have an attention span of a third grader and kept getting distracted by his shirt. Nevertheless, I did learn a lot. I mean I couldn’t relate to all the algorithms and mathematics, but I could relate to the idea of data. To sum up, Peter Norvig, who went to work for Google because “that’s where the data is,” said that from massive amounts of data we can begin to determine patterns and from those patterns we can develop relations. He showed how Google developers were able to create their massive search engine and how, with data, they were able to make suggestions or refine queries based on what users entered. I’ve always wondered how when I typed in “what” or “who” a list of ten items already pop up. Or if I decide to type in something more specific, such as “weather” by the time I get to “wea,” suggestion for weather pops up with the weather in my local area. Amazing. So why is this important to digital history? I mean what does a website about Mary Washington is trying to be the next Google by any means. I finally got that answer from Norvig 33 minutes 20 seconds into his speech: It’s about creating the page you want. By knowing what patterns people use in searching for Mary Washington, we can create relations, and from those relations we can decide what to include in our site. So to put it more simply, and not try to sound too much like Norvig, we can determine what words keep repeating when people search for Mary Washington. For example words like “mother”, “Fredericksburg”, or “George.” Then, from those words, we can create sentences or phrases and build relations to our website. So, “Mother of George Washington” would be one search option for our users. We would also include tags and more phrases such as these in our website so that Google and other search engines pick up our website and becomes more available to the world. Thus, we build a site that displays what we want and what our users were searching for. Everyone is satisfied!

That’s not to say that it’ll be easy. Another huge component I learned from Dan Cohen’s “From Babel to Knowledge,” was how to think differently in order to maximize the gains for both the builders and the users of the Mary Washington site. For example, instead of thinking of every component about Mary Washington, think about each component and what it relates to. Cohen used the example of a cocktail. For a cocktail, you have a set of  ingredients. Most recipe books name the cocktail first then the ingredients. However, what if the recipe book named the ingredients then listed the cocktails that can be made with that ingredient? So for the Mary Washington site, we could name George Washington or colonial life as ingredients that makes the history of Mary Washington. Thus, we could include some tags that say “George Washington” or “colonial life”, or maybe a few links relating to those subjects for further research. I think this will get those who are just interested in George or colonial life to become interested in his mother. Again, it will spread the awareness and everyone is satisfied!

Progress #3: Busy, Busy, Busy

It certainly feels like we’re finally making strides in building our website! This past Tuesday my group members and I were able to meet with WordPress guru, Jim Groom. The meeting went really well as he showed us ways to creatively organize and enhance our site. We now have better knowledge with uploading pictures (mainly for the introduction header), and uploading the family tree. He also gave us some creative suggestions. For example, the pages display quotes from the survey that are incredibly inaccurate. This highlight further shows to our audience that there is a need for our website. Jim Groom not only gave us information on how to enhance our site, but he also provided some comic relief. Possibly the best thing he suggested was for the title of our video be “There’s Something About Mary.” I think this would be the best title hands-down, so thanks Jim!

In addition to meeting with Jim, we also conducted our video interviews of people in community. On Thursday, Steph and I went and asked students of UMW who Mary Washington was and why she was significant. We conducted these interviews at the fountain from 12:30 to 1:30. In that time we were able to get 19 responses. Only a couple of students could identify Mary Washington and her significance. However, the majority had no clue, or gave the wrong answer. On Saturday, Kari and I walked around downtown (Caroline St., William St., and at Mary Washington’s house on Charles St.) from 3 to 4:30 to conduct interviews beyond the UMW community. We were able to get 19 interviews. Again, we found the majority did not know who she was or her significance. The whole time Kari and I were thinking this is great! Now, I have all of the 48 interview videos uploaded to my computer and am working on editing them into one video to show in class on Thursday during our 15 minute presentation. I’m definitely looking forward to present these videos on Thursday as I think the class will find them enjoyable and hilarious!

Although I feel like we got enough interviews for the first 2 minutes of our introduction “There’s Something About Mary” video, I did notice that most people didn’t want to be recorded, especially elder members of the community and girls who worried about their looks. I expected this, but I didn’t think I would get so frustrated. Some of the “non-camera” participants still answered the question and gave excellent responses, such as “She was his sister,” or “Some woman who established that school.” It’s times like those that I wished I had a hidden camera in my sunglasses, or was just holding up my camera in some sort of discreet way. O well, at least I can say I gained some experience on how to overcome “not talking to strangers” and how to approach different audiences. Good resume builder, for sure.

Very Cool Way to Display Photos

While I was doing research on the bicentennial of the Mexican Independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution, I came across this site. It displays photos in a cool way that I think will draw a lot of visitors. It totally drew me in! I think this tool would be useful for the Alumni Photos group, and possibly the Civil War Hospital group if they decide to use before and after photos. Check out the link below!


The Work Doesn’t Stop For Spring Break…

So over spring break, I continued to work on the site. Mainly I researched, but even this proved to be difficult as again our sources were not up to par. I literally had one book about the building of the Mary Washington Monument on Kenmore hill that had forty pages missing! After discovering this, and throwing my hands up in the air, I decided to contact Jack Bales, the reference librarian at UMW. We are meeting this week to discuss sources. He also gave me a few starting points, but we have already been there. For example, he mentioned the spread in the Free-Lance Star. We already have read and gained information from that spread, as well as have been in contact with the writer and editor of the spread. Still, we feel there is more out there about Mary Washington.

One idea that could be interesting to include on our site is a page about the difficulty of finding sources which, to me, leads to the inaccurate or various stories about the life of Mary Washington. For example, we’ve come across a lot of different ideas about how many places she lived during her life. One source will tell you four, another will tell you seven. Our site could potentially have a page about the historiography too. I’m finding that most researchers became interested in Mary Washington during the early 1900s. I wonder why. Was there some event or anniversary that sparked it? Could it be because of the women’s suffrage? Perhaps women wanted to put the woman as the forefront in the country and decided to point out that George Washington’s success was because of his mother. Then, I find that there is research during the 1960s. Perhaps by focusing on Mary Washington, women were conservatively bringing about the women’s movement. I’m definitely going to have to discuss this idea with my group members.

Digital Glitches and Setbacks

It seems like we’ve only just begun with creating our website and there are already setbacks and glitches to our milestones.

The first setback I’d like to discuss are the interviews for the introduction video. My group members agreed a few weeks ago agreed that the video needed one particular  professor’s input as he seems to be very knowledgeable on the legacy of Mary Washington, especially regarding the University of Mary Washington. Last week, I contacted him. He replied and gave me a few dates we could meet for the interview. I was very excited because this would keep my group members and I on schedule. However, he contacted me again and backed out of the interview, feeling that he was not the right person to interview. A c’est la vie. I guess if he isn’t even confident in providing a good interview, then it may not be the best thing for the website. I’d ideally like someone who can confidently answer the questions and really give some intellectual input.

There has also been another setback with the interviews. Mainly it’s just residents and professors not responding to our inquiries of meeting with them. However, there are also scheduling conflicts with the interviewees. I guess that’s to be expected. Nevertheless, we’re still working on meeting with people to get their input on the significance of Mary Washington. If worse comes to worse, we’ll just do voice overs during the video and display images of Mary Washington, Ferry Farm, her house on Charles St., and so on. Still, I think it’d be cooler and more professional looking to have a historian’s face to it.

The third glitch has been with (of all things) the website itself! No literally. Jenn created a basic wordpress for the site. She made all of the group members administrators. However, the site does not recognize me as an administrator! It must be a glitch with wordpress itself, because it says that I have already been added as an administrator, yet I can’t get to webpage and edit it! So once again, it’s like we started but we just can’t go.

The final glitch, and maybe this is not so much related to the project or class, is that apparently e-mails forwarded from our student accounts to our gmail don’t always go through. I’ve been forwarding my emails for over a year now. I haven’t run into a problems. The only thing I can think of is having  few hours (if even an hour!) of delay. Here’s the irony though: I received an email from the school today about it all…in my gmail account!!! So I think I’m going to say it’s a UMW glitch, not so much a gmail glitch (who has the larger network and revenue? I’m going to say google).

Even though we experience the glitches and setbacks, they do make us think critically to develop alternatives. I think that is a huge lesson I’m getting out of this class: Always have backups.

To look towards the future, my group members and I are presenting a 5 minute progress report. I hope to talk about the framework for the family tree and timeline somewhere in there (just in case an interview is pushed back again). Perhaps I will blog about the tools I find that could be useful for those two items tomorrow…

Wikipedia…Yeah I’ll Give It Another Shot.

Well, I can honestly say I’ve never had an assignment that required me to go onto wikipedia.org. Although I am quite skeptical about using wikipedia, I will say it’s a good starting place. It is an encyclopedia, just not a traditional one. Like an encyclopedia, wikipedia allows you to get a quick glance or basic overview of a person, event, or topic. What brings it into the 21st century is the fact that it links to other related articles, allows users to update pages, and have discussions on the page. (I did not know about the discussions until this assignment…just out of lack of interest in navigating through wikipedia).

I will say that I am less skeptical about wikipedia and it’s credibility. The discussion and history pages have shown me that some people do care about editing and posting accurate information. This is comforting because if anyone can update it, then there is room for “vandalism” or postings of inaccurate and completely off-the-wall information. To see that users actually go and edit information to make it more accurate gives the page some credibility. What also gives wikipedia credibility is the fact that the pages include links to where the information was found. Nevertheless, as it is an encyclopedia, I will never cite it in my research and papers.

One wikipedia page that I explored was the one on wikipedia itself. I looked at the discussion and one of the topics was the most edited wikipedia page, which happens to be on George W. Bush. So, naturally I had to check out that page’s history. There were so many pages of editing. The earliest one was from October 2001. If you click on that link, the page for George W. Bush is very small and has only two categories/subtopics. Today’s page has 10 categories and 8 subtopics under some of those categories. That just shows you the massive amount of additions there have been since the page was first posted. Upon reading some of the revisions, I was surprised to see that the revisionist had to include what type of editing they did. For example, whether the revision was for punctuation, awkward wording, or a correction to some inaccurate information. I think the most interesting thing to look for is vandalism on a page. On the page on George W. Bush, vandalism was everywhere, especially in 2004, the election year. Some things were funny and amusing, others were just foul and disrespectful. I’m glad that there are people out there that recognize vandalism and edit the information to make it accurate for other users.

So to sum up, I guess I like wikipedia and will use it more in the future. It’s a good starting point in gaining basic information for research. And now that I know people edit it and have decent discussions on topics, I will give the free online encyclopedia more credibility.