I’m all finished with my first semester in the PhD program at George Mason University. Below is a reflection on the time the Digital History Fellows have spent in the Public Projects Division at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. My first semester here has been deeply rewarding and I think the Digital History Fellowship has allowed me to really develop a deeper understanding of Digital History and the goals for both public history, education, and particularly the potential of digital tools for historical research. Next semester we begin Clio Wired II, a required course for PhD students, where we will build a website completely from html and css. (The following was originally posted on the Digital History Fellows Blog.)
Our first semester at the Center for History and New Media has flown by. We spent the second half of the semester in the Public Projects Division which was a diverse and rewarding experience.
During this rotation we were able to tour the entire division and spend some time working with many of the division’s projects. We spent a large chunk of time working with Omeka, testing plugins, themes, and other items that are in development. One thing I took away from working with the Omeka team and attending the Sprint Planning meetings is how collaborative this division, and the center as a whole, is. Between programmers, designers, testers, and content development– Omeka really is a team project that seeks to make collecting easier for museums and archives. Through working with the software we also got some hands on experience with the amount of work it takes to build an archive and what kinds of issues come up when doing so. We discussed and experienced issues such as the naming of pages and areas on a site, creating a strict vocabulary to make searching consistent, and developing content first hand.
We also spend time developing content for projects such as The Histories of the National Mall and Papers of the War Department. The National Mall project allowed us to think about how the public utilizes mobile history sites when at a museum or a national park such as the Mall. We spent a wonderful afternoon down on the mall testing the mobile first site (and enjoyed some excellent tacos from the local food truck tacos!).
Papers of the War Department was a different experience and we spent time both transcribing documents and tagging meta data for documents. Using the Scripto plugin for Omeka, we first tagged revisit documents with key words, names, places, and topics. This element of the project required some knowledge and required a deeper engagement with the documents than transcribing did. Transcribing the documents was challenging (seventeenth century handwriting is interesting) but we could all see the immense benefit to having the documents both transcribed and tagged on the site.
I think we are starting to really begin to understand the inner workings of the center and the projects and goals of each division. Public Projects does several different things from software development to content based projects and I think we all benefited greatly from our tour around the division. Coincidently, the first year fellows were also taking Clio Wired I this semester and often what we did at the center overlapped with what we did in class making the experience even more valuable for us. I think we all came away from this semester having learned a great deal and I feel much more aware of many of the issues facing scholars in Digital History centers as well as in academia in general.