Digital Public History Project: An Experience and a Reflection

For this blog post, I want to reflect on this semester and the work I’ve done so far. As is probably the case for many people, our lives were blindsided by a viral pandemic that sweep across the world in a heartbeat and it has disrupted our normal routines. I suppose the convenient thing me and my classmates is that we were already in an online course, so we got to continue with our work, though with some very flexible options given to us.

I suppose my reason for starting out with a statement on the pandemic is that it has given me a lot of time to think as I took extra time to work on my final project and really experience the commitment it takes to creating a piece of digital public history. It was definitely impressed upon my mind why this work is collaborative—if not for the sheer amount of work one tends to ambitiously undertake, then for the sake of creating a well-rounded project that lives up to the values of doing this work and does right by your audiences. This is something I have come to truly value because while much of my life is based around being part of a collective (as it is part of my culture), I have come to realize that much of the structure to our education systems is not necessarily meant to build collaborative practices or an affinity for work that is, generally, collaborative in nature. This makes the transition harder when coming into a course like this. But this is also what makes the course, and this semester in particular, very valuable. This is what brings balance to the academic work fraught with individualism and “putting on airs,” so to speak. This collaborative nature of the field speaks to me and I believe it can be spread. My undergraduate education was done entirely through an interdisciplinary model. Simply knowing how to work with and operate in other fields is key because then we can infuse the qualities that make (digital) public history effective and inviting for our audiences. This seems to have been the biggest takeaway for me during this spring semester.

The Project

I have just finished up my final project, which you can find here. This project started out big, and then narrowed. Then it got pretty big again…and then it narrowed at the eleventh hour. I ended up having to make a couple cuts to make the deadline in a…somewhat…reasonable manner, but I am actually really proud of my work. I think the content is solid, the citations are straight, and the future of the project is clear.

Challenges

Among some of the cuts I had to make was eliminating one of my content pages in the exhibit. The “Magnolia Neighborhood” page was going to briefly capture the historical feel of the neighborhood where the Fort Lawton Takeover took place. However, I realized that through my writing of other pages, this was mostly covered and would have been redundant to write another page. Combined with my shortness of time, I decided to nix it.

I also wanted to utilize more clips from my interviews, but this required additional editing that, while not complicated, was time consuming. So while I certainly plan to revisit this in the very near future to make improvements, I decided to work with the clips I made in the time I had.

The biggest challenge came at the last minute and involved another issue with copyright. As I was compiling and writing my content for the “Demographics” page of the exhibit, I realized that even the digital images of the interactive map I found were copyrighted and I definitely did not have time to try to obtain permission (plus, it was the same dude as before that I’d have to contact and I’m sure he’d shoot me down again). I ended up deleting these images and felt like I was going to have to scrap the whole section. But with an energy drink in hand, I thought quickly. I ended up compiling the necessary statistics (and found some really cool supplemental sources) and just listing them out as text onto the page. The information was concise and I think it actually looks pleasing to the eyes, even if it isn’t a picture.

Successes

Altogether, I believe I created a quality digital project for it being only my second time doing so and on a bigger scale than the last semester. The content is probably my favorite. It not only looks well organized and nuanced, but what I reasoned to myself is that it is a great aggregate content of the various resources and previous work done on this subject. While some of the bigger projects definitely covered it well, more so than I could have ever done at this level, I think my site pulls from a number of quality sources that were also all encompassing in terms of their sources. The added touch of my interviews and interpretation of events, supported by secondary sources, creates enough of a novelty to the site that I believe it would be useful for anyone wanting to conduct research in this area. In retrospect, I think I can improve on the narrative interpretation more as I tended to focus more on triangulated story telling with the source, but that will come at a later date too. I am proud of the content as is.

Of course, I also think my interviews were a success (even if it was fewer than my original goal). They complimented the other content very well by adding a personal touch to the material. Plus, it gave me experience with oral history and it has motivated me to get more involved with it. So I’d call that a success.

Finally, I think this project was a success in the sense that I really felt like I was implementing the thing I had learned during the semester. From understanding the public perception of history to creating a project that is responsive to audience needs to valuing the process of collecting and cataloging material for a project—I learned some very practical skills in addition to the theory behind what we do as public historians. All in all, I am pleased with how this semester went.

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Kyle

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