Draft Personas

Below are three examples of the personas that might visit my digital history project.

Persona 1
Name: Whitney Seaborn
Demographic: 51 year old physical therapist
Day in the Life: Whitney is a history buff who enjoys visiting museums and historic sites in her spare time. While looking up her next intended place to visit, she often stumbles across digital history websites and likes to explore some of the topics and artifacts on the site before returning to her task at hand. She is an average web browser and computer user. Most of her internet activity is limited to checking email, posting to and visiting social media sites and browsing various web pages. She likes when web sites are clean looking and include intriguing photographs and video to complement text.
End goal: Whitney is simply looking to learn some new things when she stumbles on history websites.

Persona 2
Name: Victor Bartlett
Demographic: 25 year old junior graduate history student
Day in the Life: Victor typically begins his research for a paper on the Internet, often starting off with Google to see what he can find. As a history undergrad and a first year history graduate student, he is very familiar with digitized sources and online databases. This is where the majority of his research is done. When he finds digital history sites he expects to see contextualized information about the subject, rather than seemingly random artifacts or events. Interpretive essays and credible primary and secondary sources convince him of the site’s scholarly worth. He often will discover book titles from his digital research and consult books after he has exhausted his options on the Internet.
End Goal: Victor is hoping to find detailed and scholarly information on the web. He is also looking for quality bibliographic information that can lead him to further information.

Persona 3
Name: Melissa Craig
Demographic: 31 year old high school teacher
Day in the Life: Melissa teaches 11th grade US history and is constantly moving more of her teaching to the digital world. Melissa is adept at using Google Drive and Google Classroom. She is familiar with online databases and occasionally uses them to support her teaching. She finds that students are more engaged in the lessons if they are able to use a computer to supplement their work. She often looks for digital projects that complement what she is already teaching. Websites that highlight primary sources and lesser known historical events are her favorites. She will often set up her students to explore a website to find information rather than directly lecture. For example, she might point students to a website that contains maps, photos, and documents. Her students will be expected to answer a question like “What did the United States know about the Holocaust prior to and during WWII?” The students are expected to use the sources they found on the website to support their answer.
End Goal: Melissa is looking for websites that are rich in primary sources while also giving detailed but not incredibly lengthy text interpretations. She looks for text that most 10th graders can read.

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My non-born digital collection, not archive

When I began collecting images for my Omeka test site, I assumed it would be pretty easy and would take very little time. After all, the Encylopedia of Virginia has a lot of great pictures that I wanted to use and Google image is amazing and can always lead you to incredible sources, right? Not so fast.

I spent a lot of time looking for quality images that were of the time period that I wanted and one that was not a tiny file that would get only as big as a thumbnail on my site. Additionally, and especially when I began the search, I found images that were credited to a high quality source like Library of Virginia or Library of Congress. I wanted those images! In some ways, the image file seemed less credible if it didn’t get it from a credible source, much like the way historians filter through their research sources. I started going to those sources to try and find the image there in an attempt to find out more information for the meta-data and find a larger picture file. It often felt like a wild goose chase as I tried to navigate each website’s interface and attempt to enter the correct search terms that would result in the picture I wanted. This may all be superfluous work. The jury’s still out. What do you think? Did anyone else take a similar journey?

None of the artifacts I posted on my Omeka site were born digital. Each item is a photograph that has been digitized or an actual object that has been digitally photographed by someone else and uploaded to the web. In this regard, my site is very different from the born digital archives that we explored. Those sites, like the Sept. 11 Digital Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank relied on individual creators to submit their photographs, stories, emails, videos, etc. In some ways, this form of collecting seems easier because the builder of the site can (hopefully) somehow interact with the creator of a photograph and insure quality metadata. I cannot possibly hope to interact with the photographer who captured moments of civil rights activism from 1863 to 1954.

At the same time, I do not have to worry about soliciting items from people and hoping that they upload their contributions. This seemed to be especially a problem for the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, which expected a lot more submissions than originally received. Despite the tediousness of my (possibly flawed) search process, I am able to go and seek out the things I want, provided they exist digitally. Additionally, because the events my site is interpreting are all over sixty years old, there is a much better chance that related photos and objects are digitally available than the items solicited by born digital sites.

When I first began collecting items for this week, I didn’t think much of calling my site an archive. I didn’t really plan on using the term, but also didn’t have qualms about myself or other digital historians loosely using it. Really, who cares if it’s an archive or a collection or a group of stuff? However, especially after reading Kate Theimer’s “Archives in Context and as Context,” I now better understand why there is an issue calling digital collections an archive. Theimer’s reminder that archives preserve the context of a group of letters or other artifacts along with the notion that archivists often do not select or curate specific groupings is in direct opposition with many digital projects. Most digital projects, including my own, curate specific groups of items to make a point. Most of these items, especially ones that are not born digital, are copies of the artifacts, whereas archives typically contain the original versions. I now have more respect for the term “archive” and will think twice about using it myself or when I confront it in works.

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Project Design Briefing: Segregation and Civil Rights in Virginia, 1863-1954

I am proposing to create a website that features an interactive timeline of the racial/segregation laws and civil rights events in Virginia from emancipation (1863) to the Brown v. Board decision (1954). I have chosen this time period because it is one that is often glossed over in the history books and our common understanding of the Civil Rights movement and African-American history. 1863 to 1954 is often presented as a rather static period of history with little activism from the black community and uniform efforts on the part of whites to establish oppressive laws. In fact, there are many instances of activism and the white communities often presented varied opinions on the best way to manage race relations. Virginia provides my setting because it is often overlooked in many popular and scholarly studies due to the lack of violent scenes that occurred more often in the Deep South.

The timeline will highlight laws made by the Virginia General Assembly and local councils along with events of black activism. Some of the highlights include the 1902 Constitution that effectively disenfranchised African-Americans, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and the Public Assemblages Act of 1926. The 1939 sit-in at the Alexandria Public Library led by Samuel Tucker is an example of the activism events that will also be featured on the timeline. I would like to include a bank of primary source letters, newspaper articles, photographs, and government documents to accompany the timeline. The related events on the timeline will be linked to the sources but users will be able to access the sources from a side bar menu as well. I want to present the documents chronologically as well as thematically, though I’m not sure how this will look yet.

Below are some of my answers to questions recommended by Jeremy Boggs’s Digital Humanities Design and Development Process, a guide on building digital humanities projects.

Research/Content Sources

  • Jane Purcell Guild, Black Laws of Virginia: A Summary of Legislative Acts of Virginia Concerning Negroes From Earliest Times to the Present
    (New York: Negro Universities Press, 1969).
  • J. Douglas Smith, Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
  • digitized copies of segregation laws, relevant photographs, letters, diary entries, etc.
  • local ordinances might be harder to find but they are also on my list

What is the purpose of the site and why is it needed?

  • To fill in a content and digital gap. Many people do not know about many of these laws or the early instances of black activism.

Who is my audience?

  • I’m hoping to appeal to a broad audience of students, teachers, and anyone interested in Virginia’s African- American history. I’d like to include an analytical essay of the site in an about page or something similar. My hope is that this will appeal to historians and help guide the thinking of visitors who may be less educated about the topic.

Tech Resources or Tools

  • Neatline, TimeMapper or VisualEyes seem to be tools that I can use to create the timeline. Most of their examples include a timeline and a map. However, I would prefer a set of images as a background to the timeline.
  • a CMS for the primary sources, probably Omeka for its exhibit builder

 

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Digital History does not equal online print.

After reading the materials for this week, I am struck by new heightened expectations for digital scholarship and a feeling of intimidation/excitement as I look forward to creating the final project in this class.

Nearly every author we read this week noted that digital scholarship or digital history should be remarkably different from what is able to be produced in print. Therein, lies both the challenge and the vast potential of doing history in a digital environment. Edward Ayers notes that historians have not kept up with possibilities of digital technologies that would allow for innovative projects. Amy Murrell Taylor argues that the most difficult piece of digital history is “thinking in bold and creative ways about how this technology can serve the interests of history, thinking about how students can create a truly ‘new’ history as a result.”

In order to create a digital history project that fulfills academic history standards but moves away from simply recreating print on a screen, several digital historians advised thinking deeply about the project prior to creating it. Dan Cohen recommends asking similar questions that one might pose in a book review. What is the intent of the project? Who is the intended audience? What already exists in online and print formats that relates to your work? What type of digital resource do you imagine your project to be? These questions help focus the work and move historians away from traditional, linear formats.

Tim Sherrat’s blog post on his use of technology to create the Invisible Australians project was incredibly eye-opening. I was amazed by the idea to take a library australiaor archive’s collections and use a script to extract images from its files. Additionally, Sherrat’s use of web tools to create a website where photos are linked to Australia’s National Archives files is mind boggling to me. My only familiarity with facial detection software is limited to use on Facebook, Instagram, and crime databases (not one I’m personally familiar with, but there’s crime novels!). I had never considered using it for a history related purpose. Projects like Invisible Australians certainly dwarf simpler history projects that resemble wikipedia pages.

After reading about the perspectives of various historians engaged in digital projects, my rubric for reviewing a project looks like this:

Digital Projects should:

  • most importantly, use an innovative way to present work in a digital format. The final product should be something that cannot be produced on paper.
  • include pictures, video, and/or audio files
  • employ a clean and easy to navigate interface
  • contributes to the scholarship of its field (i.e. has a clear argument, digitizes primary sources, etc.)
  • preferably have the ability to be viewed easily as a mobile site
  • include proper citations that link to the source when available

As I think about my research and work, I tried to look for projects that are more than databases. I’m very interested in the Civil Rights movement and also what some historians are now calling the long Civil Rights movement that began in the 1920s/1930s and continued well into the 1970s. My primary research topic of the past year has been the Virginia Public Assemblages Act of 1926. The law came on the heels of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and Virginia was the only state to pass a law that mandated segregation in public spaces. Specifically, I looked into the white and black opposition of the law as it made its way through the Virginia legislature.

Below is a list with a few notes about digital projects that have helped me explore this topic as well as new ones I found while digging around on the Internet for this class. Most of these represent online depositories. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t find many projects that went beyond digitization efforts of things already in print or archives. However, the existence of these types of sites certainly makes research SO much easier!

  • Library of Virginia’s digitized newspaper databases like the one for the Norfolk Journal and Guide. (You have to have a library card to access these databases)
  • Virginia Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Virginia– acts as an in-depth Wikipedia for all topics and people in Virginia’s past
  • Virginia Historical Society’s Linking to Our Past– geared toward Virginia teachers especially to support content related to African-American history. However, its scope is very limited as the curators of the site have already chosen which objects and documents to highlight.
  • Documenting the American South– a database of oral histories and other primary sources. Many focus on civil rights issues. However, much of the geographic focus is on North Carolina or other states further south.
  • Library of Congress’s Voices of Civil Rights– This site is also limited for my topic in that it focuses on events from the Civil Rights movement that garnered national attention. A law passed in the 1920s in Virginia seems to be outside of its scope. This one is also curated by LOC staff.
  • Dynamics of Idealism– archive of questionnaires given to volunteers who helped with voter registration drives in 1965 and then a follow up study from 1982. Users must register in order to download the files. While the scope of the project is after my specific topic, this seems like an exciting trove of files for anyone studying the Civil Rights era.

Dynamic Projects

Some of these are not as related to my line of research, but I think they are incredible examples of the possibilities of digital history projects.

  • Freedom Now Project– uses Flickr photo sharing to digitize a collection of photos from protests in Prince Edward County, VA and asked the public to identify people they recognized in the pictures.
  • Transcribe– a project from the Library of Virginia that allows members of the public to transcribe historic documents. This enables librarians to make documents searchable and more accessible much faster than if they relied simply on library staff.
  • Visualizing Emancipation– a map layering project that combines a map of the US with Union Army locations and Emancipation events. Some events date from before the Civil War.
  • Television News of the Civil Rights Era– a project out of UVA that has compiled news reels related to Civil Rights from 1950-1970 in Virginia. The site includes not only video and oral histories but essays that interpret key events from around the commonwealth.
  • Race and Place– another project out of UVA that combines maps, oral histories, African-American newspapers, and political papers. A very useful component is a hyperlinked timeline that compares state political events with Charlottesville events. This site begins its scope in the 1880s and ends in the mid-1900s, providing a broader look than many Civil Rights related projects.

Additionally, these are some of the tools I am interested in using or at least think are very useful for digital historians.

  • Scripto– online transcription plug-in built (by GMU CHNM) to allow the public to help transcribe.
  • VisualEyes– a tool to weave together maps, charts, pictures and text
  • MyHistro– creates an interactive timeline with maps, pictures, etc.

 

 

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