Final reflection & contract defense

The Farmer at Mary Washington project is up; while there’s still edits to complete, all of its core structures and materials are in place. I’ve deeply appreciated working on this project. Our original goal was to provide a very wide variety of resources: a space to collect and display Farmer materials, some previously available and some not; a space to link back to previous Farmer materials completed by UMW students, a space that honored and emphasized the impact and legacy Farmer had at UMW, and a digital history site that used exhibits to guide visitors through these materials.

Despite the fact that our normal semester was cut-off midway through by the COVID-19 outbreak, our group managed to keep to the details of that original contract to an impressive degree. Our interviews were exclusively online now, our timeline got moved around, and, most significantly, we had to switch digitizing his awards to compiling and displaying already-digitized materials from Special Collections.

I’ve been awed by my group’s dedication to working with one another. Under circumstances we couldn’t have imagined a semester ago, we’ve come up with a project that fulfils our original goal. Our three exhibits cover all of the major themes we wanted to emphasize, our materials are diverse and well-chosen, and our site pays homage to those that have come before it. I applaud our dedication to biweekly meetings, our willingness to help one other, and our dedication to challenging each other’s assumptions and ideas, so as not to settle for easy options at the expense of our collective pride in the project.  

For my end of the project, my failing was a delay on the designated upload times for the Farmer lectures; while I finished the subtitles on time, I decided on the post-COVID upload date without a real plan in mind for how I’d adjust to lacking access to the HCC’s video editing software. With that said, I got it done and I didn’t let these delays get in the way of the other parts of the project I completed. It’s also been a valuable lesson for digital projects in the future: don’t underestimate the degree to which technological resources impact your plans. 

As a collective, one part of our contract that I think we can’t currently argue to have kept is advertising. Our original plan – factoring in other classes’ projects, the Multicultural Center, and the Farmer Legacy project – was entirely caught off-guard by the fact that nobody operates from campus anymore. The back-up plan – departmental social media – was a weaker approach in the first place, and was never actualized. My hope is that there might be space for us to brainstorm some form of outreach while we revise our site throughout May.

As I’ve said before, immersing myself in this material for a semester has made me fully, permanently internalize the amount of impact and importance that Dr. Farmer had for our school and for our country. This is, how I’ve come to understand the importance of digital history as a whole. To access historical documents is to understand history in more than an abstract sense; to display them digitally is to broaden access to them, and to use new kinds of tools to create new kinds of historical narratives. I hope that, with our coming revisions, the project will have the same effect for past, present, and future UMW students that it did for me.

Revisiting the final touches

It’s submitted! As of this morning’s last-minute overview and discussion, we’ve completed the Farmer Educational Legacy site. In terms of my end of the finishing touches, I’ll look back on what my last contributions to the website were over the weekend:

  • I wrote part of our Acknowledgements section, which was a collaboration between our group members in deciding
  • I transcribed the scans of Dr. Farmer’s , and in the process a) was wowed by the difficulty of imagining writing exam questions about yourself and people you knew, and b) discovered he was
  • I suggested some clips from the lectures for Eilise to use in the highlights video she made (at this point I have the lectures more-or-less memorized)
  • I finally sorted out Lecture 038 by splitting it in half, though I’m not sure I’m happy with my solution in hindsight; when we revise our website, depending on whether captions on the website/consistency or having the lecture in one piece is more important, I might just change it to an embedded YouTube video.
  • And finally, I made one of our three exhibits, the Years at UMW Timeline. The goal of this exhibit was to a) build a general narrative of some of Farmer’s impacts at UMW, while b) try to make it as multifaceted as possible, using it to plug the variety of Collections we’ve built up around Farmer’s legacy at UMW. The idea was to use Items to tell a story, and to link back to these Items in the hope that visitors will browse Collections as a result.

Anyway, I’m excited to improve on our website and to present it! These last weeks of working on it have taken on a new fast pace, but I think they’ve been some of my favorite moments of working on this project. Much appreciation for all of my group members, and for all of the other groups, whose work I’m excited to hear about.

Final progress report

Bit by bit, the individual ends of our projects are winding to a close. Though I still need to figure out an upload strategy for the last lecture (I’m probably going to talk to the DKC this week, and if all else fails, split the lecture in half), I’ve got transcriptions and descriptions formatted for all the lectures, and I’ve input their metadata on our Omeka site. I’ve detailed the process of the final phases of captioning in my two previous posts.

Aside from working on our own individual ends of these projects, we’re helping each other where possible. This week, every member of our group is helping Megan input metadata for the Bullet articles she’s collected. Aside from that, it’s a question of finishing up our websites and looking into what kind of forward-facing exhibit we can build. We’re also finishing up other aspects of our site, such as biographies and acknowledgements pages.

Lecture update, part two

Since this has been the Weekend Of Farmer Uploads for me, I’m posting two days in a row. This morning I went through Lecture 038 to make sure I was still happy with my transcription work; an interesting aspect of this process is that it feels like, no matter how many times I rewatch them, I come across a new bit of formatting to fix, or a small alteration in wording from what I’d written down.

So in the process of doing that, first, a positive. I was going through it with the new possession of the metadata files Carolyn Parsons from Special Collections had sent over, which placed the recording of this lecture at ‘198?’. Halfway through, though, I realized that part of the research I’d done while captioning the video narrowed that range down by half. Farmer discusses the (unfair) conviction for voter fraud of Spiver Gordon, a former fellow CORE member, a case that took place in fall of 1985. Furthermore, since Farmer mentions that Spiver has appealed but that he doesn’t know how the appeal will turn out, which means that the lecture probably takes place within a year of the event. That kind of new information has given me a lot of appreciation for how different branches of history and historical research work together.

And really, a big thank you is due to both the New York Times archives and to the online work of various historians and organizations, which have been an enormous help to me in the Googling of various niche politicians and weirdly-difficult-to-spell Southern towns.

The negative is that, upon trying to upload the video and captions to the site, and then upon some frantic searching through Omeka’s forums, I discovered that 038 (the longest of the three, at an hour and eight minutes) just slightly exceeds the maximum upload limit for our site. This can be changed, but I’m awaiting advice from Angie on how, as it might involve some fairly hands-on editing that I want to verify we’re doing right.

In the meantime, though, I can continue writing summaries and formatting transcriptions for the lectures, as well as working with my group on the project’s other branches.

April 10th update: Uploads! At last!

My James Farmer Caption Journey is coming to a close at last. I want to look over the subtitle file for 038 one last time, as that’s the one I transcribed entirely by hand rather than using autocaptioning, and therefore the one I’m most suspicious of errors in. That one will be up tomorrow. With that said, 039 and 040 are up.

Angie Kemp came through as she always does, and with her help I ended up using the HTML5 Media Viewer plugin for Omeka to install a viewing platform for the videos. The alternative was Youtube Import, which wouldn’t have imported the CC options that Youtube gives. In HTML4 Media Viewer, an srt caption file and an mp4 video file are uploaded under the same name and automatically associated. I had a moment of panic when uploading these when Omeka told me that the .srt file type was disallowed, but this was fixed by going into Omeka’s security settings and adding it to the list of allowed extensions. This is, I think, a good example of Omeka’s peculiarities for those who are used to WordPress – everything’s a lot more hands-on, which is both good – it necessitates control and awareness of the aspects of a site that we don’t usually think about – and sometimes inconvenient.

From here on out, the rest of us are helping Megan with metadata for Bullet articles, we’re going towards working on a unifying exhibit for our videos, and I’ll have to go back and deliver on the metadata for the three lectures, which will include providing summaries of the topics he discusses in the videos.

I’ve greatly enjoyed doing this part of the project, even through sometimes wondering just how people could cough loudly enough to block out a man saying an entire word. I’ve also accidentally become a lot more knowledgeable about the Civil Rights movement – and about the lived experience of organizing mass political change – than I was before. I’ve gone from admiring Farmer in the abstract to being sincerely invested in him as a historical figure and as a part of UMW history. My hope is that our finished site allows others to do the same.

Farmer Update April 2nd – lecture videos

I’ve been criminally bad at blogging in this class, so here’s a review: my part of the project is captioning three lecture videos by James Farmer, ranging from half an hour to just over an hour. I spent February and the first week of March using the Youtube auto-captioning tool and then correcting them (or just transcribing from scratch in the case of the video for which auto-captioning refused to work.) These are poorer quality recordings than the Reflections lectures, and no current captions or transcriptions exist, which means both that captioning is more necessary, and that it is far more difficult.

Where the coronavirus got in the way (less so than for my other group members, but still) is that the original plan was to download the subtitles as .srt files and insert them into Premier Pro. Originally, I thought I might be able to do a version of this in iMovie, the only video editing software I currently have access to, but that quickly hit a barrier.

The back-up plan was always to embed the YouTube videos as they are, but I also discovered that Omeka’s Universal Viewer plugin won’t necessarily support the captions if they’re not burned in. As of yesterday, I’ve reached out to Angie Kemp about next steps, and we’ll be coordinating on which Omeka resources will be most effective; it turns out there’s a specific Youtube Embed plugin that might work better than just Universal Viewer.

The good news is that I’ve finished filling in gaps, correcting mistakes, and making sure subtitles are readable and grammatical for all three videos! It was a much easier process than I’d initially assumed it would be. Over the month I spent transcribing these videos, I hadn’t realized I’d grown much more accustomed to hearing Farmer’s intonations and turns of phrase, and phrases that I’d had to relisten to ten times became immediately evident. That’s a pro of transcribing several videos of the same person, as opposed to videos of different people, which we are about to undertake. With that said, this has been a hugely rewarding experience, and I look forward to finally visiting it.

I might make a blog post next week about the more emotional, less technical aspects of doing this section of the project.

Digital Identity Lessons

“Digital identity” is a central focus point of the digital studies curriculum here at UMW, but many of these readings introduce a new perspective specifically focused on academia. Here are five takeaways I had from these readings that I think were most helpful to my own outlook on it.

  1. Digital identity is contextual. There are hardly ever hard-and-fast rules that apply to every facet of your digital life with regards to what kind of content you share, the degree of formality your language has, how much private information you share, etc. That depends entirely on the purpose of your platform, the field you’re in, your audience, and a variety of other interconnected factors.
  2. The more present your digital identity is, the better. Being a non-entity on the Internet is only slightly better than being a maligned figure; it’s necessary not only to be aware of what you put out into the world, but to make sure you’re putting something out in the first place.
  3. The more you control your own voice, the better. This is why blogging is such a good tool, especially in academic fields.
  4. The flow of information about you should be some level of ongoing. This means that your audience is aware of your continued presence and activity, but it also means that your digital identity is defined by the you of right now, not by the you of five years ago.
  5. An important and underrated part of digital identity is protecting your information. Digital identity isn’t just blogs, domains, and social media; it’s ad preferences, private data, and other things that we could be letting digital tools pick up from us without our knowledge and awareness. To the extent that we can curtail this process, we should.

The Impact of Digital History on History

Among the biggest impacts of digital history on history is a renegotiation of the dynamic between them and the degree to which both adhere to more traditional ideas of what each field should look like. In terms of access and approach, should history be taking more inspiration from the rules of digital history? (I’m thinking of the crowdsourced peer-reviewing article we read earlier this semester.) Alternatively, as Cameron Blevins argues, should digital history be aiming to be in some ways closer to traditional history?

In terms of digital history – which is public, collaborative, and often makes an underlying, implied argument rather than a direct argument the way a traditional history paper would – one of the most evident enumerations of the way it is changing history as a whole is the American Historical Association’s guidelines for digital history projects. In the “Responsibilities of Departments” section, several new, distinctive characteristics of digital history are highlighted in the form of guidelines for new standards: for instance, “Departments need to consider how they will deal with work in a digital medium that exists in a process of continual revision, and therefore never exists as a “finished” product” or the emphasis on developing evaluations for collaborative work.

At the very least, then, digital history requires new standards for how historical texts are evaluated. It also creates new kinds of historical research with new conventions and new practices. That in itself is a change in the field of history, but digital history creates further questions as well. There’s the question of an academic historical text that is by default accessible to the public and what this does for evaluations of credibility, or the question of whether collaboration and consistent renewal of content should become more standard outside the realm of what is directly thought of as digital history.