Digital Archives and Digital Histories

First I would like to start off by saying that Alfred Kazin, the gentleman mentioned at the beginning of the article in the New Yorker, taught at Black Mountain College. No matter where I go, what I read, where I turn, BMC follows me everywhere. I can no longer seem to get away.

The readings definitely gave me plenty to think about, especially in regards to how I am representing the collection I am using, especially in terms of digital images. Some of the pros that I saw in digital archives is the expansion of knowledge. Even though computer and internet access does not reach every individual equally, it most certainly expands the reach of knowledge that was previously unattainable for some. For instance, I have the ability to look at documents housed in Europe although I may find myself unable to leave the country. Sure the quality of these documents may suffer from poorer quality images, but if I am looking to include the contents of a specific document in my research I don’t really need to know how the document looks or feels. Yes Optical Character Recognition programs may make mistakes but it can be equally hard to decipher words if you are holding the physical document in your hands. One of the greatest cons of digital archiving, as I see it, is the breakdown of important structures, procedures, and practices that go into archiving. As an aspiring archivist it can be somewhat painful to see my (hopefully) future field of work misrepresented, to see something called a “digital archive” created by an amateur influence the way others think about archives. Despite this I still feel that the good outweighs the bad. It is more important, in the end, to get as much information as possible out to as many people as possible.

In looking at the various websites provided, I felt that my project differed greatly from most of the websites—such as the Internet Archive—but most closely resembles the Famous Trials website in how it was set up (or rather how the subjects were broken down). My project is most definitely less of an archive and more of an educational experience that makes use of as many primary sources as I can squeeze in. At most it is a very small digital archive for people who are interested specifically in documents relating BMC to WWII. It doesn’t even contain a large percentage of the BMC documents that deal with the college and the war. Of course I wish I could include and archive in my project… I have come across so many wonderful documents of people talking about the war, of the college sending and receiving letters to various government institutions like the War Production Board, of the countless community bulletins, newsletters, and catalogs talking about the school’s reaction to the war and the faculty and students who were away fighting and the many speeches given by professors stressing the importance of protecting democracy and through democracy educational institutions like BMC. I would dearly love to have all of these as I feel they are one of the most important parts of interpreting history. Since I cannot have a digital archive, I do feel like my digital history is as complimentary to the primary sources as I can possibly make it in the short span of a semester. Although I cannot include the entirety of Robert Wunsch’s speech on supporting the war, I can pull excerpts out of it to strengthen and support my digital history. The proper use of digital archives, be they proper archives or simply a gathering of information made available to the public, in a digital history project not only strengthens the history, it brings attention to the existence of the archive so that others may use it for more digital histories. As a history major and an aspiring MLS major I feel like it’s really hard to have one without the other.

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Meeting with the Games Programming Teams

Today’s meeting with our games programming teams were EXTREMELY productive. There wasn’t many of us present (I was the only one from my team and both of the games programming teams were missing one or more members), but we got a very good idea of exactly what we wanted to do with the interactives. I actually went into the meeting with two interactives in mind since the two groups had to have separate projects. The projects were going to be a “building the Studies Building” game and an interactive map for the refugees that would go on Kiera’s part of the website. The second interactive wasn’t ideal since it took away one of the only chances we had to use another digital tool (StoryMaps or Timeline JS). However, the games groups had a great idea to split up building project into two separate parts so that they could collaborated on a single interactive but it still be two separate projects. I absolutely loved this idea! One group will work on the “mechanics” of the game (whatever that means) and the other group will work on the visual side of things. This frees up the interactive map so we can use another digital tool!

There is still plenty that needs to be done, but at this point we made as many decisions as possible. I told the groups I will get as many images of the building—inside and out—as possible and see if there are blueprints of the building at the archive. We tried to figure out what view I wanted the game to be presented from. The groups had plenty of ideas about how do go about this. They discussed using the blueprint as the main focus, having the player click on different parts of the blueprint to “build” the building or having the player kind of sample each stage of building—digging part of a ditch, laying cement, putting up part of the frame, etc. It’s a little confusing to put in writing, especially since I don’t really have the terminology for such things, but they left me with lots of things to consider. Overall, I am relieved after talking to them and working some things out. There are still lots of decisions to make and plenty of things to do, but we definitely got a good start.

Work Over Spring Break

Research this week has been beyond productive. It appears that I have opened the flood gates of information this past week! I have completed two of my three “historical interpretations” that will go up on my section of the website and I believe I almost have enough information to do the third. These first drafts will of course require editing and revision, but I am nevertheless relieved to have the first drafts completed. They are up on the website if anyone is interested in checking them out. The “historical interpretation” aspect isn’t very difficult for me (once I have put in the time to find the primary sources), so most of my time for here on out will be spent either working on or learning how to work on the website. Aesthetically it is not the best at the moment, so I will need to make some decisions about what primary sources I wish to have digitized and put up on the website and how exactly I would like these sources to be laid out. I am eternally grateful that Heather has been so extremely helpful both in locating primary sources to build a narrative and in taking the initiative to scan high resolution images of documents that she thinks may be useful or attractive on the website. Heather has also been locating materials that will help both of my teammates. Since I have worked with and under her for a year now, this wasn’t exactly unexpected for me. However, I would still like to mention how amazing she is at what she does. As I type I have a whole packet of primary sources and images in my backpack to peruse through for information. There are also a couple of cool images mixed in there that I am considering using for one of the interactive components on the website.

Beyond that I don’t really have much more to report.  I expect to visit the archives again on Wednesday to make some decisions regarding images on the website.

This Week’s Readings, Progress Update

 

Our readings this week gave me plenty to think about. “13 Right Now: This is What it’s Like to Grow Up in the Age of Likes, LOLs, and Longing” was shocking on many different levels. Of course I am aware of how life-consuming technology and social media can be, but looking at this world from the perspective of a 13 year old girl whose life and self-worth is determined by things like “likes” is kind of eye opening. It was also really sad, especially at the end. However, it does reinforce the ever-growing importance of technology, social media, and making your presence known. The other reading wasn’t quite as captivating, but it was interesting in a different way. The different parts of digital identity is certainly something to consider, especially as technology is becoming more and more important (even to historians). How we present ourselves online, how we brand ourselves, and how the digital world views us based on our searches, likes, shares, and friends is baffling. To be honest, it’s a little hard for me to understand! I have spent the last 29 years of life building and shaping who I am, and now I am apparently doing it all over again. This is both fun and uncomfortable.

For an update on progress: I haven’t been back to the archives in over a week as my car is refusing to run. However, I have typed up the first draft of my “Supporting the War” subcategory and put it up on our website. I have decided not to pursue “Gender in a Time of War.” I look forward to visiting the archives again this week and working on “Building in a Time of War” and “Education in a Time of War.” I already have a goodly amount of information on both, so I do not foresee either of these categories requiring an extensive amount of research beyond what I have already done. I do, however, need to consider what primary sources I will be digitizing. I also need to jazz up my main page of “Those Who Stayed.”