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Final Thoughts for Exam Week

I would like to start off by saying that this was possibly my favorite class thus far at Mary Washington. Considering that I am only here for one more semester, I can’t imagine that I will find another that I enjoy so thoroughly.

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

(In no particular order)

Ienjoyed the autonomy that this class afforded me. Though we had deadlines that we set for ourselves in our contracts, I didn’t feel coddled like I do in other courses.

I really like the fact that our final project was not a stagnant paper, but an actually working website. I feel that this fits more into my view of the future of education and I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of that evolution.

I also appreciated the amount of time we had for group meeting and planning. It was important for the success of our projects. Many of us have busy schedules and it is difficult to meet outside of class on a regular basis, so this planning time was fantastic.

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

(In no particular order)

I think that it would have been beneficial to either have more meetings with DTLT (in class) or have the meetings that we did have spread out through the semester. In our group we had Megan hunt them down and I am extremely grateful for her persistence, but I think that we all would have benefited from further instruction on technology and tools.

I understand why we were required to present so often and it really helped for the presentations at Creativity Day and the History Symposium, but I did feel that we all got a little redundant when we presented every week. I felt it was helpful, but maybe next time you can stretch it out to every other week for 7-10 mins per group.

I have to be honest, I am really having trouble coming up with a third…

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

I have always been interested in the inventories from 18th century homes in Virginia. They really tell a lot about the families life, socio-economic status, and, in my opinion, makes this time in history tangible. Its like peering into a regular citizens life through primary court documents and estates. I am sure that a group could do something interesting with that topic in a digital format.

I think that the Fredericksburg, City Hall has a pretty interesting story. Aside from the beautiful structure, I believe that it was used as a Post Office before it was the City Hall. I gather that there are some pretty interesting primary sources from town hall meetings and what not that talk about it.

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

First of all, I think that it is important to have a laptop, that has really made my life easier! I also think that once you and your group get together you should utilize google docs. It is a great way to communicate with your group. Other than that, have an open mind and think outside of the specifications of your other courses. Digital history is changing, you are making it with every status post (literally, the National Archives are actually…archiving twitter posts). You are using it every time you google a source, look at an online database, etc. This is the evolution of education and the new frontier of the historian so bask in it, because many students do not get the opportunity to be a part of it at the Undergraduate level. This was a fantastic class, I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Finale!

When the Images group received the specifics for our project, we didn’t’ know each other. However we agreed that we would need to approach this task with a unified front, meaning that we felt it was important to agree on our process and on how we wanted to execute this project with efficiency and attention to detail. This line of communication was established from the very beginning of the semester when we set up or google.doc. This document has proved to be the most important component that allowed us to maintain constant communication and organization. Through the google.doc, we immediately began to work on our group contract which turned the concept of our project into more of a reality. I truly feel that we not only met, but in some cases exceeded our proposal.

Our primary goal was to develop an easy, efficient way to collect information from UMW/MWC images throughout the years, while soliciting the help of alumni for identification purposes. We had them all our photos chosen by February 7th as our contract outlined. In the end, we chose 200 photos but were only able to identify 150 of them. This was because they were missing critical date information that we had not run across in our research.  We actively solicited help from Alumni, school administrators, and professors for any information that they could provide in identifying the images.

Our secondary goal, was to create a place where alumni could view the UMW/MWC images in a user friendly, aesthetically pleasing way. We embarked upon that goal pretty early on in the process because we needed to have a mock up site to demo for the Alumni Board meeting on February 20th. We received fantastic feedback from the board about the aesthetics and accessibility of our site, including an offer to place a write up in the alumni newsletter for both March and April.  We continued to build our site for the launch, a goal which we met at 12:01 am on March 15th.  Once we me our major deadline of our site launch, we worked on researching our images through yearbooks, and Dr. Crawley’s and Dr. Alvey’s books. We continued marketing our site by handing out business cards to alumni, professors, and students and posting links on networking sites such as facebook and twitter. Once we found information on our images we updated a spreadsheet which we will send to Carolyn Parsons to update their archive as well. We created an interactive map of alumni contributors and linked a map of Campus MW campus throughout the years to that map page. We also created a “how to” guide on a simple page in the backend as guidance for someone to take our site over.

All in all, I am truly proud of what we have accomplished this semester. We have created an interactive site that documents Mary Washington history, images, experience, and traditions that we hope people will continue to update throughout the years. I know that I will check in on the site from time to time, to admin and simply look at any added images. I would also like to take this time to thank the members of our group, Mary, Megan, and Jonathan. It was really a pleasure working with you; I feel that we created something special here thank you for the experience.

Yay to Creativity Day!!!

Today I feel like we accomplished something special. I am quite proud of the fact that the Mary Washington through the Years site will be saved and archived in the special collections of the school. If my children decide to go to the University of Mary Washington, they will be able to march into the library, and watch a video of our group presenting our project, how neat is that!

As I watched the Mary Ball Washington group present, and after we presented our own site, I couldn’t help but think of our very first presentations of our projects. We all seemed somewhat anxious, questioning how we wanted to approach the topic, how we thought we should tackle the site build and what information we wanted to convey to the audience, and furthermore, who was that audience?  It’s amazing how far we have come in just a few short months. There is such a great sense of accomplishment to completely create something from scratch. I am a huge fan of cooking, every meal I make feels like an adventure of some kind, but once it’s made, and then eaten, it’s gone…it will never be exactly the same meal again. With this site, I think it makes a lasting imprint, in the virtual world, on my academic career, and now, in the Mary Washington Special Collections.

Update 4-14-10

I just wanted to mention that we received a final map!!! I have to say, it was quite an improvement over the first one that we received, however, we did feel that it was very similar to the campus visitor’s map that the UMW website and admissions provided. That being said, after clearing it with Dr. McClurken, we are going to link it to our website through a google page after the map group makes some minor changes. The plan is to embed it into the google page and link it in the “webpage” view on our current alumni map page so that visitors of our site can see if they want to. We did not want to have an uneven number of pages listed at the top bar of our site because, as it turns out, we are all a fan of symmetry and it would just irk us to have an imbalance.

In other news, we have our citation page linked to our acknowledgement page!! We are still searching for a couple of the editors of some of the year books but we have the majority of them completed so adding a couple more won’t take long. We are currently writing our “An Administrator’s Guide to Running the Site” for whoever will pick up where we left off. We really hope that this website will continue throughout the years but, as we discussed with Dr. McClurken yesterday, finding someone to commit to administration may prove to be tough. I know that our group will check in on the site from time to time but in the next few weeks we will have to really brainstorm and decide what we want to do with this site. I for one do not want to let it die, we have worked so hard on it and received some fantastic feedback, that is seems like a real shame to give it up. If anyone has any suggestions, I am all ears!!

Hey all by the way if you want to join the UMW Facebook page, here is the link!! Mary Washington College/Univ. of Mary Washington Alumni

Digital History Teaching tools and Archiving

After reading three of the Articles from the American Historical Association plus Dr. McLurken’s “Observations on Archives and Teaching Undergraduates in the Digital Age”, I am once again reminded how important and  influential the digital age is to the learning and teaching of history. As a student of history and a future teacher of middle school social studies, I really appreciated all of these articles.

Barbara Weinstein’s “Doing History in the Digital Age” expressed many of the issues and concerns that we talked about a few weeks ago with data mining and online databases. Weinstein reminds us that though online journals both archived and posted, are easily accessible, a reader and scholar may loose the context and nuance that is associated with the physical journal itself. The reader is not privy to other articles of interest in the journal, past what they are searching for at the moment, causing them to loose out on potential interesting scholarship. Personally, I agree with Weinstein on this point, as we were talking about a few weeks ago, when searching through online newspapers you only receive the exact article or subject that you were searching for, but you miss out on the advertisments or further editorials help piece together the feeling of the historical period. Its interesting to read about it but I think that we miss out on the particular flavor of the time when we omit the complete journal or newspaper in our search.

I was drawn to Christopher Miller’s article simple because of the title: ” Strange Facts in the History Classroom: or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)”.


Being a Kubrick fan and more so a Peter Sellers fan, I had to read on; I have to say, I found his class assignment/sociological experiment quite intriguing. After our discussion of Wikipedia,  I noticed many of Miller’s finding mirrored the responses from our class when posed the same question.  I felt further challenged by the notion of ” how can we know if anything is true”. This is constantly something I struggle with when researching online…or anywhere for that matter.  When analyzing a thesis or really any scholarly article that means to prove a point, how can we know what is actually true. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that historians are falsifying research or blatantly lying, but I feel that a lot of research is open to interpretation. If your point it to prove a hypothesis, than you will find the evidence to prove it.  In this digital age, it is so much easier to find this evidence to prove your point because you have an overwhelming amount of sources to choose from. Being the skeptic and cynic that I am, I tend to meet many of the articles that prove hypotheses with a critical eye, whether that is the correct approach…I don’t know. What can you trust when researching a subject, what constitutes an expert? Is it years of scholarship or immersion in a particular subject? I don’t mean to offend any experts of course, I am just postulating on the aim of Miller’s project, to actively engage his students in a critical analysis of online information, namely encyclopedias and the information that they produce and provide.

The third article that I read was  E. Thomas Ewing and Robert P. Stephens “The Digital History Reader: Teaching Resources for United States and European History”. I don’t know about anyone else but I totally Geeked out on Digital History Reader. Seriously, how did I not know about this tool, I plan on using this reader for my Middle School students. What I love about it is that its a live site that can be updated, revised and tweaked as information, or more likely sources are updated.

Now for Dr. McClurken’s Article, I enjoyed this piece. In thinking about my thesis, I have decided that some of the research will come from interviews with archivists and ethnomusicologist in New York, Washington, DC., West Virginia, and Virginia. I truly believe that the information that I require regarding folk music can not be a learned from an online archive, I need to speak with actual people. As far as moving towards an interactive 2.0 future in archiving, I couldn’t help but think of the live chats that some sites, mainly retail, provide when dealing with a question or any information for that matter. I know that students today are currently using  social networks such as twitter and facebook  but neither are used for academic purposes.  As we know, setting up these online live chats cost major moolah, but as a student I feel that it would be beneficial to have a live conversation via instant message with an archivist when doing my research.  The challenge that poses, other than the cost, is the archivsits themselves using a technology such as this. If research and archiving are your passion, do you really want to sit in front of a computer all day waiting for a question from and student or historian?  I think the hand held devices such as Smart Phones, netbooks, Iphones, etc. play a role in the answer to that challenge. These are devices that can be used in conjunction with the actual archiving and researching. They are small enough for the archivists to carry around without having to sit in front of a PC all day waiting to answer questions. Just a thought…

To the brave souls that have chosen to read this ridiculously long post, I thank you. Aside from the fact that I felt the need to make up for my lack of post last week and less than coherent comments in class, I was sparked by these articles. Maybe it is my chosen profession, or the fact that I want to incorporate working with archivists through both video and digital voice recorded interviews for a potential podcast component. Either way, I think that it is important to continue to incorporate digital media and teaching tools in both the University, Secondary and Primary classrooms. The current digital generation (Generation D) are highly skilled and somewhat conditioned to learn through digital media. Professors and teachers must evolve their teaching plans to reflect this new type of learning path or the next generation of students will choose to either learn on their own or tune out.

Better Late than Never

So this past week was a bit fuzzy for me. I was rather sick on Monday and Tuesday and I had to get a root canal on Thursday so that was fun. In other words, I spaced a little bit on the blogging so I thought that I would throw this post in here a little late.

The past two weeks in the world of the Alumni Images group were relatively quiet. Quiet, minus the map issue that is, but we have already explained that situation ad nauseum, so I will leave that alone on this blog.

I have been doing a whole heck of a lot of research and have found many images that were in our original pictures that we placed on the site so I have identified those people on the site. I have also found out many interesting things about University history such as class prophecies, other names for buildings and majors and quirky little extras about certain clubs such as the Nightingales whose aim was always to “Out sing the glee club”.

I will update the current blog with more information but I thought that I should at least post a late blog for last week.

Goin’ Googly!

This weeks reading was a whole lot  of google information. I enjoyed reading and watching about a feature that I use at least three times a day! I never really thought about the data set and the lexicon that went along with my innocent google terms such as “flourless chocolate cake” or “the history of Appalachian folk music” (for my thesis). I think that I understand the concept, every time you type something into google, it sends out a query to a database which in turn lists possible sources with the same words. As Peter Norvig reminds us, we have to understand that google and other search engines look for the actual word and not the concept itself so we may not always be happy with the results but generally we will receive what we ask for. I enjoyed the question and answer portion at the end of the talk, especially when Norvig briefly talked about OCR, when he related it to the book scanning project I knew that I had to look it up on, you guessed it, GOOGLE…which brought me to wikipedia…but we’ve already talked about that so…moving on. OCR is Optical Character Recognition, which is basically scanned documents that are cataloged in a database. It also is smart software that reads fonts and words so that these documents can be search-able just like any other term that we google. I immediately thought of the James Monroe group for this one with all of their transcriptions.

Dan Cohen took this idea  little further when he talked about the H-bot tool and how a system like that could analyze and answer a question rather than looking for an actual word. When comparing Norvig to Cohen, I have to say that Cohen seemed to frame his explanation  in a more user friendly way. Illustrating the user interface as well as explaining the process behind that tool.

I also enjoyed “Googling the Victorians”, I too appreciate the speed at which one can recover scholarly articles and periodicals via google. I personally use search the “scholarly article” tab for every research paper that I do, so thank you Patrick Leary for reminding me that I am not alone in this search!

As for group news:

I don’t know what Megan said at the ring ceremony but there are certainly more entries on our guestbook!!! Yay to her and her marketing skills! This weekend, Jonathan looked up faculty alumni and emailed them our introductory letter with the link to our website and I looked up the admission staff alums and emailed them the same information. We are all working on our research so as we plug along everyone should check the site OFTEN for updated information on the Alumni in the images.  I plan on spending all of my free time tomorrow, Tuesday, on the third floor of the library looking through old year books! One of the time periods that I am responsible for is the 1910’s and 1920’s so I am really excited to search the pages of those old books! Other than that, we are still on track and moving forward everyday.

I will leave you with this picture as an homage to “Applying Quantitative Analysis to Classic Lit” in combination with the most unlikely of words to be googled together!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

It’s Launched!!!!

We are so very excited to have launched our website…and on time no less, not that we had a choice after the Alumni Meeting! We worked very hard over the weekend to update the site and tweak the format to make it look professional and what not. Mary Ann made and AMAZING slide show on her Mac as well as the how to language, Jonathan worked on the guestbook, Megan worked on rewording and tweaking, and I learned HTML to reformat and “prettify” (yeah that’s right I made up a word) our site. The fruits of our labor were realized when Megan made the site public at midnightish on Monday March, 15th!

I am really excited about the HTML and I don’t want to brag because honestly folks, it was SUPER EASY!!! So Here is what I have learned thus far: How to make tables – <table></table>, with rows <tr> </tr> and cells <td> </td>.  You can follow this link to see what I have created! Images Glossary

There is a mozilla plugin color picker helped me find the actual colors that our site uses by scrolling over them with your mouse so that I could snaz up the table them into the table. I also learned how to make words and lines of a table blocked in a color!!!

For our how to page, I had originally designed an HTML list with bullets but the sites own code over wrote it so I literally went online to find out how to make bullet/number lists in CSS and copy and pasted the code…I hope that this is ok. Here is the site where I found that: CSS Numbered Lists. From this “lesson” I created this: How To

I also learned how to make things <b>BOLD</b>, <u>UNDERLINED</u>, and <i>ITALICIZED</i> and add hyperlinks into a HTML doc <a> href=”” target=”new”> Hyperlink</a>

I am going to talk about some of this stuff tomorrow, but I am so proud that I was able to write code that I just can’t help myself from posting it on my blog.

In other news, now that our site is launched we are in the serious research phase of our project. For those of you who may have thought that we were finished…I assure you that we are not. The fundemental difference between our site and the others is that most of the projects conduct the research to present in a final site but with ours, the site is the first step in conducting the research. We can’t wait to look through all the year books which you can actually check out of the library (if anyone was wondering).  Beyond year books, we are going to look at the College’s history so that we can add further updates to the exhibits pages.

I think that we are moving at a good pace here, there is still a lot of research ahead and about 50 miscellaneous photos that need to be researches, cataloged, and tagged but we can handle it!

fyi: I totally used HTML to make that last statement bold, underlined and link to our site!

Play time is over!

Sadly spring break has come to an end, and back to the grind we go : (

The Images groups was very productive over the break and we have uploaded all of our classified chosen photos…except for the ones from one of the photographers who did not give us the rights…but what can you do? Our launch date is still on track, which is great since we were mentioned in the Alumni News Letter this month so ready or not here we go! Here is a link for anyone who is interested in checking it out: Alumni News Letter.

We have run into one annoying snag, we can not figure out how to upload photos into the exhibits that we created. We did just fine with the collections, but navigating these exhibits is a doozy! Other than that things are going just fine.

It was great to meet with Dr. Hana’s map class this past Tuesday because Sara and Brandon took an abstract idea that we had and turned it into a reality. We are pretty excited about the map and believe that it will add and extra dimension to our site that the alumni will really enjoy.

I hope that you all enjoy our 3-5 minute update tomorrow because it will sound very similar to this post.

What a Week

To reiterate my title, WHAT A WEEK! I am sure that this week will be no different. On Thursday after we presented our 5 minute update, and after I finished my classes for the day, I traveled to Washington, DC to attend one of the most interesting seminars I have ever seen! It was called Ignite DC, think of a digital soapbox presentation…not like the derby. The premise is this, “Five minutes, 20 slides, what would you say?”. The topics ranged from furthering technology in education to the joy of kickball, there was even one women who waxed poetically about her love of the honey bee. There was one speaker in particular that may help in formatting and designing our final sites. Carl Roose, a web designer spoke about the importance of FONT when thinking about designing a site or even submitting a paper or resume here is a link to his presentation: Beyond the font menu: 7 tips for bettering your lettering.

It didn’t hurt that my friend Denis Bonilla was one of the presenters, hence the reason for attending Ignite DC, but I have to say that I would love to check it out next quarter. The presenters were some of the most brilliant, eloquent people that I had ever heard. It seemed so fitting to attend a digitally advanced educational seminar such as this while taking this Digital History course. I think that clearly shows that history and communication are moving forward in the digital world at exponential rates. Ignite DC was a prime example of how people are choosing to express themselves in the digital age. Since I am studying to become a Middle School teacher, I read about the future of adolescent learning constantly. One of the trends that teachers are concerned about is the attention span of a child. These kids are conditioned, basically from birth to watch a program segmented into 10-15 minute intervals, so after 15-20 minutes of a lesson written in chalk on a blackboard, they get bored, its just reality. I think that as a teacher I can take the fundamentals of the Ignite DC plan and move into the class room, through power point and media files…lets hope that the school will be equipped for the technology I plan to bring in…let alone have to money to reimburse me for bringing that technology into the classroom. But I have gone off on a tangent.

In other news, the Images group presented our site and proposal to the Alumni Board this past Saturday and it was FANTASTIC! The response was overwhelmingly positive and the Board seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of connecting and involving Mary Washington alumni from coast to coast. They enjoyed our presentation so much that our group has been invited to another event on April 21st after the final project has been presented to the class. We are really moving along on this project, it was hard to picture how the site would begin to take form but now it seems like we are not only able to manage but to find some creative latitude to our site. Its nice to know that we are on a good path.

21st Century Encyclopedia

Jimmy Wales is not your mothers door to door encyclopedia salesman; he is the “King” of a rag tag bunch of cyber geniuses who created the powerhouse that is known as Wikipedia.  I did a little research on…you guessed it wikipedia and found out that Wiki software, which in my humble opinion , is one of the most innovative forms of online communication and data collection, was created in 1994 by Ward Cunnigham.

Jimmy Wales’ presentation was quite informative. Personally, I am a huge fan of Wikipedia. I use it as a jumping off point, I also use the sources listed at the bottom of each page to further my research, which is really helpful, that said, I will never place ALL of my trust in the site. Though we should remember that the folks who are editing these wikipedia pages are not your average kids looking to mess with people…there are some of those out there, namely the 18 Neo Nazis that Wales mentioned, but generally the people who are into editing an online encyclopedia are blessed with large medulla oblongatas and a penchant for accuracy. I have, on occasion run into some strange and unreliable information, particularly about musicians that I like, but I gather there are more detrimental mistakes and inaccuracies that cause many a student to be misinformed.

The thing I love about wikipedia is that you can get caught up in an information overload that spirals out of control. An example of this would be my research for this blog. First I googled “Creator of wiki software”, low and behold wikipedia had that answer. On the page I found a link for the creator of wiki software Ward Cunningham who created wikiwikiweb, which was linked to the Cunningham’s wiki page… are you still with me? From there, I found a link the Portland Pattern Repository page which is a repository for computer programming design patterns. On the PPR pages I found a link to Christopher Alexander‘s wiki page. He (with a few others) created pattern language “designed to empower any human being to design and build at any scale.” You see how this can get out of hand.

Needless to say I learned a lot from this video. It was surprising to find out that only one third of Wikipedia activity takes place in English. Naturally in America we think in predominantly English speaking terms, but I appreciate this fact as a reminder that most peoples native language is not english. I also never took the time to look at the discussions page on Wikipedia, its overwhelming but really interesting.  One of the conversations that I looked led to some debate about gates in England and Chicago…I was a little confused. The history section looks like a survey that I have filled out online! I have NEVER looked at that section before and I may never check it out again.

All in all, learning the front and back ends of wikipedia was illuminating. The work that goes into a collection of data such as this is staggering, but there is something really uplifting about a global community working together to create a source of data that surpasses all other without asking for a profit or even recognition. Its like an internet utopia!