Reflections and Contract Defense

It sounds like I’m trying to valiantly defend our contract against ferocious attackers. Contract Combat!

This Then & Now project came with a lot of artistic freedom since there weren’t any rigid guidelines, so a lot of choices had to be made at the beginning of the process. We had so many ideas and visions for the site that it was hard to choose! Ultimately, we ended up with a nice blend of everyone’s ideas. We decided to cut out the greater Fredericksburg area and focus on UMW, which turned out to be a great choice as this was a rather time consuming project! Our goal was to have around 60 pictures (120 including their “Now” counterparts), and ended up with 60 posts on our site and over 120 images! As much as we loved the idea of blending, it wasn’t possible with all of the photos and would have taken too much time, so we incorporated only a small number of blended photos, focusing more on just gathering all the necessary pictures. We split up the labor as evenly as we could, according to each member’s strengths: Jess the technology queen built most of the site, Carly created the fancy interactive map, Meaghan was the supreme keeper of the master list of tasks and responsibilities, Connor created our awesome intro video, and I was in charge of things relating to photography. On the topic of photography, I really wish that we could have taken pictures later because campus is gorgeous right now! But we did the best we could :) Everyone shared the task of creating posts and everything to do with them: gathering and uploading photos, creating captions, writing descriptions, and doing citations. Since we all were doing our own separate thing as far as the posts go, doing a cleanup  of the site at the end was a bit messy. We tried very diligently to stay on the same page and do things the same way, but our citations and caption formatting tended to vary from person to person. Before the final turn in we each had a “clean-up” task: Jess did fancy coding things, making sure the tables and such were all aligned, Carly made sure our tags were uniformed, Meaghan went through the photo citations, Conner checked the text citations, and I proofread and edited all of the photo descriptions.

The Then & Now group did a pretty stellar job of sticking to our contract. We met all of our milestones except for one- we didn’t have all of our descriptions done by April 6th. That task proved timelier than we expected, but we got everything done before the project was due! There were a few resources that we didn’t end up using, like a scanner, and some that we used a lot more than we thought we would, like the Crawley book (I feel like collectively we must have read the entire thing by now). The division of labor was the same as we planned, other than I got more help with the photo-taking than I expected which was grand, and everyone pitched in on the advertising. Our advertising techniques and connection seemed to really work out, as our site has gotten over 500 hits since Tuesday! The fact that people are actually taking an interest in our work is very exciting, and I am proud of all that Then & Now has accomplished this semester. Our group worked very well together and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to be a part of such a great project. I hope that this site is something that will last and possibly be built upon by future students, as there is much room for expansion!

Then and Now- The Time Has Come!

Progress!
…for without progress there will be stagnation and decay.
Ah, the wise words of the worst kind of antagonist, Delores Jane Umbridge.

Finally, my progress is complete! I have done all the things! I did have a period of stagnation where, whenever I went to do my additions on the site, I would get overwhelmed with the large quantity of things to be done and the ever-increasing number of tasks I did not know how to do (tables and fancy citations, I’m looking at you). All it took was making a lovely list of every page I was responsible for and each thing left to be completed on them. I figured out how to do the fancy stuff and got everything done! Organization is always the key! I know that, I just choose to conveniently forget it when I actually need it.

My task for today (and Connor’s as well, I do believe) is going through all 59 of our posts and checking all of the descriptions and citations. Everything is looking good so far! It is a wonderful feeling to see that our site has come together so nicely. We are so close to having this whole project wrapped up, it is very exciting!

 

Impact of Digital History

I read a number or articles for class this week (this week being last week, when I actually wrote this post), including
Writing History in the Digital Age (Dorn)- Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?
Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical Scholarship (Cohen)
and Dr. McClurken’s Archives 2.0 Article

My thoughts from the readings and class discussion are as follows:

The digital age has supplied students of the present unparalleled access to digital archives and resources. Students now have more and more primary source material to research and utilize. Digital scholarships are becoming increasingly easier to publish and to locate. These works of scholarship are setting a new standard as far as researching goes, and are not being utilized to their full potential. Scholarly publishing in print is absurdly slow, even after approval. Publishing a digital work is much easier and faster, and provides infinitely more opportunities to make an impact on researchers in your chosen field.
Mary Washington is way more open to digital studies than many other universities- I was surprised today by Dr. McClurken’s story about the 2 monograph rule at another school. I didn’t realize that we were so fancy and ‘cutting edge’- I thought this was just the norm. I was not aware that there are schools that are significantly behind where we are as an institution. Go Mary Wash!

Before I even read the articles for class, the titles alone had me selfishly thinking of parallels to the subject of art history, and how it could cross between disciplines. The current accessibility of images is a big deal. Today, professors use PowerPoints in their lectures filled with high-quality images gathered from digital repositories such as ArtStor. These give students a good idea of what a piece looks like without having to rely on descriptions or seeing the work in person. Digital publications also allow for easily accessible high-quality color images, a great alternative to the expensive nature of printing color images in physical publications.

I got really excited during our discussion about whether a placeholder object is a good replacement educationally for learning…I was on the edge of my seat and super attentive even though I hadn’t slept in 2 days. Not literally, it had only been 28 hours. But I digress. A placeholder is great for objects for teaching purposes, but as far as art goes, it isn’t quite the same. You don’t get the same amount detail in a replication that you get seeing a work in person. An integral part of the overall mood of the piece is misses. Even going to a museum and seeing the object isn’t the same as seeing the object in its original context. There are layers of understanding that you don’t get from just a replica or a reproduction.

Dr. McClurken started talking about seeing a Picasso painting in person, in all of its 30 foot glory, and how it moved him in ways that seeing a reproduction just couldn’t do. I wanted to say something really badly. This was my shot to actually contribute to the conversation! Sorry I missed it. I’ve never been very good at participating in class discussions, I’m more of a “listen and absorb information” kind of person. Sponges are great and all, but aren’t particularly active or exciting… But secretly I actually had some solid thoughts for this discussion!

Digital resources really are changing the way that history, as well as other subjects, are taught.

The bigger picture: The world is changing, information is changing, and history will have to change with it. Opportunities need to be provided for development and support as far as the changing and integrating of technology goes. Leaps and bounds have been made, but there is always more to be done.

The Gathering of Digital Information

Nicholas Carr’s article was the first one that I read when preparing for our class today. It got me thinking about how much technology and the internet has really affected me.One of Carr’s points that especially resonated with me was his claim that he could no longer successfully read long passages of text. If I know I absolutely have to read a long text, either for class, research, what have you, I usually skim and stumble my way through it (his article especially, just because I saw the the scroll bar on the side was so long. Luckily it was shorter than I anticipated, and I made it through alright). My problem with reading long pieces of text mainly only applies to the internet- If the work is in physical print, I usually don’t have an issue with it. People today have become quite accustomed to short, concise strings of words, thanks to avenues like twitter or texting. I especially enjoyed this passage from the article, and wanted to include it:

“The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.”

So, from this I gather that the adaptions of our brains to new technology is not a new thing. And we shouldn’t be too terribly alarmed about our “brains getting rewired,” as long as we are aware of these changes.

Now for the other topics up for discussion: text mining, N-Grams, and topic Modeling. Honestly, I was very confused at first. I had never heard of such things before these readings were assigned. I grasped the concept of text mining and topic modeling but, even after reading the article twice and after hearing what others had to say about them, I still don’t really understand N-Grams completely. In light of my ignorance of these subjects, I feel like more awareness of these sorts of tools is necessary for students today. These tools, while useful for historians (and art historians!), can be applied to a broad spectrum of disciplines in the academic world, and can greatly benefit researchers in any field.

Roof-Hopping

On Friday, the Then and Now group got to go on our rooftop adventure! Finally! And it was a blast. We climbed atop GW, Virginia, Monroe, and Jepson! Between the four buildings we could see just about every part of campus! It got a little tiring by the end, but was overall a wonderful and rewarding experience. Our tour guide told us a lot of interesting stories and factoids while we were exploring, and he also doubled as our photographer for group shots- we got a picture of ourselves on every roof! Plus a bonus picture that Dr. McClurken took from the ground (thanks again for that)!

Now we have a ton of super-cool pictures to use on our site, plus eternal bragging rights. How many students can say they’ve been on the roof of the buildings on campus?!

BallThis is one of the pictures that we aspired to take in order to compare it to one of our “then” photos. Who would have thought that we’d actually be able to get up on the roof to capture it?!

DSC_0063

Above is one of my favorite photos that I took. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it captures one of the rare moments that the sun decided to pok its head out of the clouds for us!

We will talk more about our adventures during our presentation this Thursday, but I just wanted to throw this out there for now :)

Digital Identities

The articles I read for class last week were very eye-opening. I read the article on Evan Ratliffe, Footprints in the Digital Age, Personal Branding in the Age of Google, and viewed Caitlin Murphy’s digital portfolio.

First of all, I very much enjoyed that Evan Ratliffe chose the last name Gatz when he created a new identity for himself and tried to disappear entirely. Gatz like James Gatz from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby! Lots of interesting parallels there…but I digress. It was amazing the lengths that Ratliffe had to go to to disappear completely from society… and despite all his efforts he was still discovered. He was discovered by two people in real life though, not the people hunting on the internet. I believe that it is possible to disappear completely if you try hard enough, but not if you strive to have a presence in the real world. Evan became caught up in the challenges presented to him. He tried to attend a book reading and created a twitter account for his new identity, both things leading to his ultimate downfall.

The concept of being Googled well brought up by Richardson is not a concept that I had really thought about before. I know that things on the internet never really go away- Google never forgets! – but I never entertained the idea of purposefully creating a positive persona on the internet. I always just kind of thought that if nothing showed up when you Googled your name, it was a good thing! You can’t really get by in today’s world without some kind of social networking. This was a somewhat sad realization for me because, honestly, I find Facebook, Twitter, and all of those things to be somewhat of a hassle. I got sucked in by my friends and by my desire to stay connected to my peers, but really I wouldn’t mind deleting them and not worrying about it ever again! Even in creating my digital portfolio for class this week, I thought “I really don’t want anyone to ever see this…” I don’t like having a digital presence. But it is such a useful tool that it has become necessary and rather unavoidable today.

When I investigated the persona that Caitlin Murphy created for myself, my opinion on having a digital presence was somewhat swayed. Her site was really creative and visually appealing, and showed all of the sides that a potential employer would want to see. She organized her different skills and had examples of all she could do. I would love to have a site like that, I just don’t really have enough content to fill it with! But I have time still to work on that.

Bottom line: in having a digital presence, you really need to be careful what you put out about yourself. I stated earlier that Google never forgets- it can find a ridiculous amount of information on you. On Seth’s Blog, he was able to eliminate potential applicants based on what came up in a Google search. Even personal statements on Twitter that seem harmless, could end up as a result.

Finally, I have created my own Digital Resume… It’s still a work in progress, but it’s something, anyway! Upon creating it I realized that I really don’t have a picture of myself to put up, so that is something I will work on, along with gathering some actual first-hand experience with museum work (hopefully this summer!).

Some Catching-Up

So, good job me for never publishing my last blog post. It wasn’t until I went to write my new one that I found it, so let’s get that out of the way:

On Exploring Wikipedia

I am writing a paper for my Asian art class on a series of Chola bronzes depicting the Hindu goddess Parvati, so when looking up Wikipedia articles, I chose to investigate the one I already had up- a page on Parvati. Firstly, the article itself had a lot more information than I thought it would, giving thorough background and analysis of the goddess. She is one of the main deities of the religion, but not really one of the more popular for worshiping, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. There was a lot of action under the history tab, which i was also not anticipating, seeing as this probably not that popular of a page. There were at least a handful of updates almost every week, and the most recent edit was made only yesterday! The talk page was the most interesting to me. There was a rousing debate as to whether or not the lead image of Parvati was fit for display. Some argued that it was obscene because she was too exposed. The counterargument was that Wikipedia is not censored, and images should not be removed simply because some people find them offensive. Honestly, I thought the image was perfectly acceptable. One of the first things I learned my freshman year of high school art history was to get used to nudity, because it’s everywhere. This depiction of Parvati was simply an artistic expression and a traditional religious image, and there is nothing wrong with that. It was a very interesting argument to read though!

Another Wikipedia page I visited is the page on Simon Vouet, one of the followers of Baroque artist Caravaggio. While the page on the Caravaggisti group as a whole was well-stocked with information, Vouet’s page was fairly sparse. There was basic information on his life and work, but very few citations or sources listed. The page has been edited recently, but before that only a time or two monthly, sometimes less often than that. The only item on the discussion page was a notice that more sources were needed for the article.

Even with its shortcomings, I think Wikipedia a really great system. IT has evolved into a credible source for most popular and well-known topics, but for those less-frequented items, I’m not sure if it is always an accurate source of information. The less used a page is, the less information and the less accuracy it has. That being said, for the most part, the site itself has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

On Then-and-Now

As far as our project goes, things are going great! We are right on or ahead of schedule for most things, so progress is rolling right along! Now that we have been approved to go roof-hopping around campus, we will have to schedule a time with some people and then we can go take those pictures! It’s going to be loads of fun and I can’t wait!

On a Somewhat Unrelated Note

Over break, I had a great Digital History moment.  I went to visit a lot of family, one of those visits being to my great aunt Hilda. Hilda is a huge history buff. HUGE. Every time i visit she spends hours telling me about our family’s history and about “the war between the states” (If you call it the Civil War she will get very upset, and tell you for the hundredth time why you cannot call it that). She is very southern and has strong opinions of all things relating to the Civil War. She does a lot of work on her computer, riddling out thousands of years of family history, keeping track of each member’s involvement/awards received in various wars, and keeping straight her records for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, of which she is the treasurer. All of this she does on a PC system from 2002. That may not seem like that long ago, but I sat there for a while and watched her work as she showed me where she kept all her files and how she does what she does. She has a dial-up internet connection, is running on a version of Windows XP from 2007, and stores most of her information on floppy disks. She can’t even open files sent to her computer anymore, like doc.x files. Windows doesn’t upgrade that system anymore, so there’s nothing she can do until she breaks down and buys a new computer.

Seeing all this made me realize how important it is to maintain digital history. Upgrades are necessary! They are necessary not only to maintain the history itself, but the ease of access and workability is a huge benefit.  I told aunt Hilda that I would come back and visit soon. We will be purchasing a new computer system and I am going to teach her about the wonderful storage capabilities of flash drives!

Contract Complete! (And pending approval)

Our Then and Now group contract is done! Well, it was done on Friday actually, but I never got around to writing about it…

It feels good to have a plan of action! All of our work is basically laid out for us now. A lot of things we are going to work on together, but each group member will have a few specific tasks according to their particular set of skills or interests. Along with other various jobs, I volunteered myself for the task of handling the photography aspect of the project. I’ve taken a few studio art and photography classes, I have a nice camera, and my major is basically looking at and analyzing pictures. That qualifies me, right?
Hopefully so. I think the hardest part will be setting up the pictures to be at the same angles and viewpoints as the “then” photographs we have already gathered. I personally collected all the photographs of residence halls, and I remember looking at the pictures of Westmoreland and wondering how in the world I am going to manage to get a good shot of it. You basically can’t even see the front facade today without being right on the front porch, since there’s a huge annex blocking the view, and the only photos I found in the archives show the front of the building in its entirety.
Despite the future challenges, I am greatly looking forward to photographing all of these aspects of Mary Wash! With the help of my trusty groupmates, I’m sure we can manage to overcome obstacles and come up with some really great work.

Troubles with Timeline and Map Construction

This was an exercise in frustration. A lot of it is my fault because I just couldn’t figure out how to do things… I was a bit nervous after reading and hearing about all of my classmates attempts at making their timelines and maps, and was quite convinced that I couldn’t pull this off- which is probably why I procrastinated so much.
Once I really took the time to not panic, sit down and look at the things, the timeline seemed easy enough, just fill in the spreadsheet! Okay! So I thought I’d chuck some dates in there but the spreadsheet was rather finicky… I couldn’t enter just the year for the dates without changing some settings, and my image links only worked half of the time (I fixed them I think), and I couldn’t figure out for a very long time how to embed the darn thing to see it in all of its timeline-y glory! Eventually I riddled it out. I hope.

Ta-Da! A small collection of sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, a fabulous and important Baroque sculptor whom I admire! I wanted to add more works (like the baldaccino! Or St. Peter’s Square! and sculpture!) but sadly I was not patient enough.

And then came the map…

I thought things were going smoothly, but then all of my map information conveniently disappeared. So I started over, and I finished! And all was lovely. I couldn’t think of anything exciting to map, so it’s just a few art museums I’ve visited.


View Larger Map

UPDATE: Thanks Dr. McClurken. Got it everything to show up! That was rough.

Well that was an embarrassing endeavor. But I did it!

Archives, Art, and an Awesome Alliteration

Yesterday I visited the library’s archives to go through the unpublished photographs in their collection. I found a lot of really cool images that I am very excited to use for our Then and Now project! I also very much look forward to recreating them for the “now” portion of the project.I think it will present somewhat of a fun challenge!
Though I did find a lot of useful images, I was a little frustrated with the metadata associated with those images. Since these photos aren’t published, there is no way to “grab” the data and have it saved with the image. I made a huge word document with all of the data that I just copied and pasted. This data will later have to be added individually with each entry in our project’s website. It would have been great if there was an easier way to get that information.
I will have to continue looking at published images on the archive’s website to fill in the few gaps I have in my research, but for the most part I was quite pleased with my findings!

Virginia Hall< A photo of Virginia Hall from the UMW Archives

My group has also been discussing the web design element of the project- what we want our site to look like, how it will run, what digital tools we will incorporate, all that good stuff. That along with our discussion in class about the websites we had previously investigated had got me thinking more about website design in general. There are a lot of decisions that go into designing a site that you wouldn’t always think about when you’re just casually browsing the interwebs. The colors, overall design, layout, etc all have been chosen specifically by its creator, and they all have a reason as to their inclusion. Do the colors reflect the feel and purpose of the site? Do they make it seem more legitimate, or do they overwhelm the viewer? Is the layout presented in a way to make it easy to find information, or is it presented in an interactive way in order to engage the visitor? These are the same kind of decisions that an artist makes in creating a work of art. It’s all of those little details that have been carefully thought out and selected that show the artist’s true intention and the meaning of the piece. Why is the composition arranged in a pyramidal format? Why did the artist choose to only use dark, earthy colors? Why these materials? Why is this particular item a recurring theme in this artist’s works? This connection between the similarity of the creators of the digital and art worlds has made the prospect of building a website for our project infinitely more exciting in my mind.

Will I attempt to connect everything in this blog to art? I’m not sure, but there’s a good chance, so you should probably get used to it.