Defense of Contract

Photo by Leigh Williams, 2014.

This semester has gone by incredibly fast, but, as they say, time flies when you’re having fun. The Century America project was so much fun for me to be a part of, and I had the best group members that I could have asked for. Together Julia, Jack, Candice, and I created a digital history website that successfully fulfills our contract.

We stated that our mission was to research and exhibit the narrative of the World War I homefront experience at the State Normal School and in the Fredericksburg area and create an exhibition-like website to showcase this research. We spent many hours going through archival materials to learn about the homefront experience, and our 8 different pages on the site provide many diverse, intriguing narratives that showcase Fredericksburg’s and UMW’s history: Community and War Timeline, Knox Family, Urbane Bass, Josiah P. Rowe, Faculty and Staff, Academics, Student Life, and Influenza Epidemic.

The homepage for the UMW Century America site is not as visually complex as we had originally imagined (images, quotes, other media, map, interactive elements), but I believe that the landing page we currently have is an effective but simple introduction that captures the visitor’s attention without overwhelming him/her. As originally planned, we split the site’s narrative into 2 main sections: Fredericksburg (town/community) and Fredericksburg State Normal School. Though the site is split in such a way, many of the narratives demonstrate the intimate connection between the town and school experience.

The homepage for each subcategory has the image links to navigate to the 4 subsections, and we also decided to add some introductory text with basic information about Fredericksburg and FSNS, as well as a brief summary/preview of what visitors can find within the sections. For the Fredericksburg section we decided to do away with the Influenza page, due to a lack of resources, and instead create a “Community and War Timeline” page based on the extensive Virginia War History Commission materials and the William F. Liebenow diaries (mistakenly referred to in our contract as the Mary Eastburn diaries—there was some miscommunication with different CRHC staff as to the creator and name). This combination of materials and the lack of an Influenza page left us with one slot to fill, which we decided would be for Dr. Urbane Bass. Jack found much material at the CRHC and is fascinated with Dr. Bass’s story of service and sacrifice, so it was only natural to add it to the Fredericksburg section. It also gives a unique look into a small part of the African American experience in Fredericksburg during WWI. No changes were made to the categories for the FSNS section of the website. Some elements that were not mentioned in our contract, but not foreseen by us until actually creating the site, are side navigation links, “Voices of the Great War” stories, and the placement of citations (the bottom of each page).

We also have the “About” and “Resources” page, as listed in our contract, as well as a “Sponsors” page. The main menu is a consistent element on every page of our site. The Resources page includes our bibliography, and as stated in our contract, the page also lists the most important archival collections to our research with links to the collections’ home institutions/organizations.

For the main Century America site, we successfully created a website that introduces all of the Century America projects and captures visitors’ attention with an interesting headline. After many struggles with MapsAlive, we (mainly Candice and Julia) were finally able to create an interactive map embedded in the homepage that links to the other schools. We were also able to create an engaging interactive timeline for the main site. We added “About” and “Credits” pages to the main site in order to give viewers more information and direct them to places that might answer their questions (individual projects, official school websites, digital portfolios, etc.). This site fulfills its mission of introducing and explaining the Century America project and that schools involved in it.

We successfully met our milestones with only a few minor snags that were really out of our control—digitized materials from the CRHC were received a couple days past our deadline, and the Century America homepage/interactive map was not complete due to embedding issues and lack of response from our virtual classmates. Our division of labor was as listed in the contract, and we each made excellent contributions to the project. We also helped each other as much as possible. As far as advertising goes, we have been tweeting a lot about the project and a news story will be released very soon about our project. After final approvals and changes from Dr. McClurken and Dr. Pearson, we will blitz the internet with advertising for our awesome site.

It was such a great experience to work on the Century America project and be part of a groundbreaking digital history experiment. Dr. McClurken and Dr. Pearson, thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity.

Close to the Finish Line!

This week Julia, Jack, Candice, and I have been working on the UMW and overarching CA websites, mostly just making tweaks to existing content. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for Candice, Candice now has a real-life job at the Virginia Historical Society! It’s really awesome, but we never get to see her anymore. :(

For the CA site, I finally got the timeline to order the categories correctly, thanks to the wonderful Ryan Brazell from DTLT! Ryan informed me that the categories structure themselves based on chronology–so the “International” events appeared before the “National” events because the first International event occurred in 1914, whereas our first National event occurred in 1916. For simplicity’s sake, we decided the easiest event to add would be Woodrow Wilson’s election to the presidency in 1912. We also added his re-election in 1916, especially because his primary platform was neutrality. I also decided to add a link on the home CA page to the timeline within the widget, so that there is something on the home page (besides a menu option) that prompts viewers to explore the timeline. We made the minor changes to our wording that Dr. Pearson suggested. The only other change is on the “About” page. I change the links for each school (within the main content–not the widget) to go to those institutions, rather than the CA websites. Additionally, I thought it would be nice to link to our digital portfolios. Aside from our group, only Dara has told me that she is working on a digital portfolio that we can link to. If anyone else has one, please let me know! The only huge thing we have left to do for the CA site is to add a bibliography with the full citations for images from the timeline.

As far as the UMW site goes, we are currently experimenting with drop caps (inspired by the lovely Jenn!) and footnote placement. For the drop caps, sadly the plugin is not totally compatible with our pages because the first letter of our page content is often not the first letter of the paragraph. I added CSS myself for the drop caps and will have to put them individually on each page, but it really doesn’t take that long. For the footnotes, we ultimately decided that having them on the page will be much better than having them all lumped together on a separate page. We liked the idea of having drop-down citations, and once again, DTLT came to our rescue! Timmy sent Jack some code so that our citations can exist at the bottom of the page, but are essentially hidden until visitors choose to view them. We need to go over each of the pages with a fine-toothed grammar comb. Otherwise, the only huge thing we have to do for the UMW site is to add a comprehensive bibliography.

Since most of what we have been doing is making tweaks to the two websites, our in-class update in Dr. McClurken’s Digital History seminar was an exciting game of jeopardy! If you all are curious, our jeopardy game can be found here. At Julia’s extremely clever suggestion, we rewarded the winning team with Smarties and the losing teams with Dum Dums.

We’re really excited to be so close to finishing our project! (But also sad because we want to research more and add even more to the site!)

Finishing up the Site!

I realized that I haven’t blogged a progress report here for a couple weeks–we have split up the progress reports for our group so that each week, one person will post. This process is hopefully making it easier for our virtual CA classmates to keep up with us. I’ll link here to our progress reports from the past two weeks:

Post-Draft Update: UMW and Homepage (April 5, 2014)

Look how far we’ve come! (March 30, 2014)

Essentially, we have made great progress, and the polished first versions of both of are sites are complete. We definitely still have some playing around to do with formatting and aesthetics, citations (still figuring out the footnote placement), etc. Our biggest news for this week is that thanks to the awesome Ryan Brazell, we have been able to embed our interactive map into a WP page! Other than that, we just have some kinks to work out and editing to do. I’m really happy with how everything has come out so far!

Impact of Digital History 2.0

I previously made a post about today’s readings for the COPLAC portion of this class, which can be found here.

However, I did also skim Sherman Dorn’s article, as Dr. McClurken suggested, and I am quite fascinated with what he has to say, and I think Dorn makes some intriguing points about digital history. I really like how he frames digital history as yet another historiographical development that contributes to the development of the field–an astute observation, and one that I had not considered. Digital history has definitely added a new dimension to the field, especially because the question still remains about reliability, source citations, etc. I also like how he points out the breadth and depth of various digital history projects, especially the extent to which they make an argument. This point rings particularly relevant to me because it is something that I have encountered in the COPLAC portion of this class. Some of my virtual classmates are going for creating an online archive, while others like Julia, Candice, Jack, and I are creating an exhibit. It’s interesting to see how each of us interpreted the Century America project and what we have done with it. And even then, the “exhibits” that we are creating are more along the lines of narrative history, rather than history that makes an explicit academic argument like you might find in a monograph.