Defending a Semester’s worth…

It’s amazing how fast a semester goes by when you work on such a fun project. In a relatively short amount of time we were able to take raw history and turn into an educational exhibit that everyone can now enjoy and learn from. We started this project  going through several archives to gather all the necessary material and enjoyed each and every unique discovery. Though not all of the information could be used in the project they were still fun to find to say the least. Maybe after we turn in the project we can continue on and expand the project further than originally attended.

After several weeks of gathering primary source material and traveling to different cities we were able to begin brainstorming the exact outcome of the project. Through several discussions we were able to determine what CMS we were to use, the proper tools, and who would be responsible for their portion of the site. After these discussions we wrote out a contract that would be used for the remainder of the semester. With a few minor changes we stuck to our original contract. However, we were not creating just one site, but instead two. One would serve as the overarching site for the COPLAC group, which would link out to the other projects, and one would serve as our own research site.

In the contract itself we laid out every tool, page, and source that was to be used or created throughout the project. We decided to use WordPress to manage our content and we were successful in doing so especially with the help of the Parabola theme. We were able to successfully incorporate both Timeline JS and Mapsalive into both of the sites as originally laid out in the contract. We used Timeline JS for an overarching timeline of all the schools, national events, and international events on the Century America project. Additionally, we used Timeline JS for both the Knox family and Liebenow Diaries on the UMW site. We incorporated Mapsalive into the Century America’s homepage as originally plan, even after several attempts and failures. Overall the tools we chose at the beginning were successfully used in both sites.

We decided on the layout of the project very early in the semester and we stuck with the original plan with only a few minor exceptions. We originally drafted to have Liebenow Diaries to have its own page, but we felt that is would fit best in the Community page. Besides that small change in the layout of the project the rest fell into place as we originally drafted several short months ago with post-it-notes on a chalkboard.

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As for the individual responsibilities for the site…well we never really chose to assign specific task or follow them except to write the individual pages.  We worked tremendously well with one another and as a team we helped each other in every aspect imaginable. Sticking to individually assigned task was just not possible simply because of our academic chemistry. Separating us to do a single task alone would have never been a good idea to begin with. This project was a team effort and our progress shows because of that.

As for the promotion and outreach for the site we have yet to deliver on that part of the project simply because it was not complete. Now that the website is finished we strongly move forward in sharing our semester’s worth of work. By next week Brynn Boyer’s article will be published and hopefully that will boost site visits. From now until our trip to Colorado we plan to share the site extensively through the use of social media and contacting those who can help spread the word about the project.

Overall I am very pleased with the site and the effort put forth by my fellow researchers this semester. It has been a long road traveled fast. Though I wish we could incorporate more into the site, which we more than likely will in the future seeing how we have four more years of WWI’s centennial.

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Additionally, I would like to thank Leah Tams, Julia Wood, and Candice Roland for their efforts and hard work this semester. They were the best group of individuals I have ever worked with and I am proud to have worked with them throughout this semester.

Another helpful WordPress plugin

Over the past couple of weeks after reviewing my fellow students websites a number of you have been having difficulty linking images that are with in an image gallery. Well fear no more there is always a solution (or always a plugin). Many of you are now using easy image gallery for your sites, which is great plugin I might add, but you cannot link these images. Well someone along the way ran into the same problem and came up with a great solution for it called WP Gallery Custom Links. This great plugin allows you to use images as link to different pages or to another image file or basically anywhere you want on the web through the gallery. We have been using this plugin as a great way to navigate our site, which is almost complete after a few minor changes we need to finish.  So there you have a simple way to link images and if you are running into any other issues please feel free to contact me and I will be glad to be of assistance.

The Impact of Digital History in Education

First, I have to say how proud I am of being a student here at Mary Washington because how much the institution embraces the digital age, while teaching the liberal arts.  After reading Sherman Dorn’s “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?” I realized how much success Dr. McClurken’s Adventures in Digital History class has achieved. Through the Century America project we have proven that undergrads can achieve the same success as any other scholar when it comes to digital history. We can move passed the traditional papers that make an just make an argument and create projects that have an argument while also providing interaction with a public audience to have the utmost amount of educational material.

However, after reading both Dorn’s article and Christopher Miller’s “Strange Facts in the History Classroom: Or How I learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)” I realized that many institutions have failed to embrace the digital age. Some schools it seems have yet to admit that the internet exist or is at least a viable tool to use in an academic setting. The digital world is far from just the internet and involves many other tools scholars can use to help in their projects. We must continue to bring the liberal arts into the digital age if we wish for them to survive.

Various Helpful WordPress Plugins

Ok so you guys asked for some good plugins that can help with your project, so I put some together that we are using here at UMW. Additionally, after going through these plugins, if there is additional help you need just DM me on twitter or email me.

1. Disable Comments

Disable Comments is probably one of the most useful plugins we are currently using for our site. It disables all comment fields on your website, so no one can comment. Disabling the comments section on your site will help prevent spam and clean up the aesthetics of your project. One downside to this plugin is that you disable comments. People will no longer be able to comment on your project and you cannot selectively choose where comments are disabled.

2. Easy Image Gallery

Easy Image Gallery is great way to put your images into a gallery and customize it. You can put the gallery in the middle of the text box for a page and can be easily changed. However, if you wish to link images within that gallery you will need another plugin. If you do want to link the images in your gallery then you will need to install the WP Gallery Custom Links plugin.

3. WordPress Page Widgets

If you want to put different sidebar widgets on different pages this is the plugin for you. It allows you to customize the content in each widget on your pages and allows you to choose which pages get a widget. If you need help setting this plugin contact me because it can be a little tricky, but it is definitely helpful.

4. All in One Favicon

If you want to place a favicon for your project in the browser tab All in One Favicon will allow you to do that. However, many themes already come with a feature that allows you use favicons, but if it doesn’t, install this plugin. If you want to use the CA favicon just contact me and I can walk you through the process and I will give you the image.

5. Jetpack 

Jetpack is a simple plugin that comes with many features and if you have not installed this plugin yet, then you need to. Check it out with the link I provided because there is just so much you can actually do with this plugin that there is too much to explain. This is the ultimate all in one free plugin.

Again if you are having issues please feel free to contact me either on twitter of through email. I am more than willing to help because some this plugins maybe difficult for some to set up.

Speed Reading, Using Google, and the Future!!!

It was quite ironic how I was reading Nicholas Carr’s, “Is Google Making Us Stupid” with a speed reading app and he discussed issues with skimming and being able to retain information. Most people would be skeptical of Google and its ability to make us think and retain much more information than we ever had before. I like to think and believe that Google has allowed for those wanting access to material to comprehend, discuss, and disseminate, a place well beyond what a library could ever offer. However, as the article noted we seem to just skim through material rather than actually read and process the information. Maybe it is safer to say that we skim through in such ways to rid of the unnecessary material. Why waste time with things we don’t need. There is way to much information out there to comprehend it all anyways.

The author mentioned Taylor’s System and compared it to today’s practices. Google continues to make the internet more efficient for it users, which allows us to live a much more productive life. However, we can not let Google be a single driving force that turns us into robots consumed with information overload. Perhaps this will not happen for another couple hundred years. Nonetheless, the question remains does technology like Google makes us more stupid? The simple answer is no. Most are quick to dismiss new forms of technology as mentioned in the article. Is it perfect? No. Does it make our lives easier? Yes. Can we collectively collect all the information the universe has to offer and answer all of life’s questions? Maybe. Should we be skeptical of such technology? Absolutely. Should we completely dismiss it because we don’t know all the answers after a couple of years? No. We need to realize that all the answers are not so simple and in the mean time we just need to wait it out and see what happens.

Google brings us the most interesting, relevant, and informative material on the net for us to read. The closer we can get to the material we want the faster we gain intelligence. Google allows us not to waste to much time with irrelevant information. Actually, maybe it just gives us more time for irrelevant information because we have access and can consume the material we want in a relatively short amount of time. If we need to do research on a paper Google helps us locate and consume that information at an extreme rate of productivity. Thus, we would have more time rather than going through the catalogues of a library, finding the material, and then reading and comprehending the right information. Since we have Google we have more time to do other luxurious things like play games or surf through thousands of vines and youtube videos.

Perhaps we have not maximized our productivity like with Taylor’s System.  Maybe we need to spend more time reading and learning after reading and learning, and then read and learn some more. Living in the digital world can be more than confusing at times, and we most certainly should be skeptical. However, we should realize that technology is here to stay and with it we will advance beyond our wildest dreams. Look what the printing press did in 500 years, now imagine what the internet will do in such a long time frame.

It’s Alive: Project Update

Okay so maybe our project/site is not exactly alive yet, but it most certainly is beginning to look and feel that way. We are nearly complete when it comes to digitizing and scanning all the appropriate material with a few exceptions of some images at the CRHC. Recently we have messed around on the website and have made some significant progress when it comes to the layout and aesthetics of the site. We have found some great plugins that have helped us with pictures and creating image galleries. So if you would like to have some awesome picture plugins for your own site please let me know and I will be happy to share them with you!

This past week Leah and I went back to the CRHC to finalize some scanning and for me to take a look at some material on Dr. Urbane Bass.  As you may recall in one of my earlier post we visited the Masonic Lodge downtown and came up short while going through a strange experience of possible recruitment and history of the Masons.  Well as I was researching and looking through the Dr. Bass files one of the first notes that appeared stated, “Bass-See Masons”. Leah and I were quite alarmed upon discovering this note and it reminded us of nightmares past. However, it is quite possible that Dr. Bass was a Mason here in Fredericksburg because those in attendance at his funeral were prominent Masons from the area that were also wealthy white men, which included the mayor. Numerous times did newspapers from the time mention that Bass was well liked amongst the black and white communities. Thus it is strongly possible that Bass was maybe one of the few black members of the Free Masons at the time.  Intriguing to say the least and creepy to think we may have to make an additional trip to the Masonic Lodge downtown.

Nonetheless, I believe we can say the project is ahead of schedule or at least on time. We should make a tremendous amount progress in the following week once we complete all our write-ups for the project allowing us to have a time to mess around with the website more. I can for myself say that I am excited to finish researching all the material and writing the story of Fredericksburg and the State Normal School and start working on the site itself.

Liberal Arts and the Digital Age

Being one of Dr. McClurken’s students I was inclined to read his article  “Waiting for Web 2.0″ about teaching history in the digital age.  His article brings up many different issues involved in using online material. Many of the issues are of access to these online archives and where they are coming from. Dr. McClurken breifly mentions the “digital divide” when it comes to scholarly work for undergraduate students. This is a hot button topic in the academic world and one I seem to face on a regular bases. Accessing digital material as an undergraduate student is difficult and we are severely limited with what we can and can not access. That is suffice to say that we do have greater access to material than generations past. However, as we move forward in this digital age it is important to keep access and give more of it to those will be going to college in the future.

Dr. McClurken additionally brings up the issues of archivist and their future roles in the archival world. He discusses how we must come to realize that there is a potential trend of archivist not having an active role in education. The threat is very real, but I see the potential, as Dr. McClurken pointed out, that archivist can actually have an even greater role than before in education partly because of the digital age. Archivist will not merely disappear because of the use of Web 2.0 tools, but their field will merely expand if not double, if done correctly. This observation and optimistic view is why it is important to embrace the digital world in liberal arts education. The traditional approach to the liberal arts is far from out dated, but does not mean the digital world is a corrupt place where we will lose the confidence we have in academics. Embrace the digital and we can continue to have importance in the new world.

Redrawing the discipline of history and its boundaries. As Dr. McClurken noted in his article, Sherman Dorn also discusses the importance of embracing the digital world in the discipline that is history to keep up with the changing times and keep an interest in the field of study. Dorn’s article, “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?” discusses why and how studying history and sharing it has and will change. It is vital to keep an interest in history to those outside of the field. As Dorn noted it is even more important to keep an interest for those at the elementary to high school level. The simplest way to do so is to embrace the digital as I have repeated several times over. Digital history projects can do so much more than just make an argument like a paper or book does. Instead digital history projects can put history and all it has to offer into the hand of its users. No longer are students simply reading an argument, but they are actually interacting with a piece of history. The digital age will allow us as students and scholars to invite those not generally interested in history to have a fun interactive experience in which they can learn and we can teach. Its kind of like giving your dog medicine by sticking it in between a piece of cheese.

Between these two articles we can see many issues with the digital world, but also many positives as well. It is important that we embrace the digital by bringing parts if not all the traditional approaches of a liberal arts education into Web 2.0. By doing so we are vastly expanding the potential of a greater education. Not by only learning the liberal arts, but that of computer science as well. We get the best of both worlds and we become better students and educators by doing so.

The Greatness that is Wikipedia

One of my favorite daily activities is actually to search through various historical Wikipedia pages and browse the content history. It is amazing to watch how a page truly transforms overtime and matures into a great resource for fast information. I easily use Wikipedia ten times a day, whether it be to look up historical information or what movies Morgan Freeman is currently working on, Wikipedia is a great source for such things. Though many educators will bar you from using Wikipedia do not doubt its great powers. It is the ultimate starting point for any project. You can see how much or how little there is on a topic. The less there is the more original your topic probably will be. Additionally, looking at the history and discussions on a Wikipedia page will allow you to see how the pages came about and who and why people are changing them on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis.

It will be interesting in the future to see a senior ten or twenties years from now do their thesis on how Wikipedia changed the way we gathered, collected, and shared information. We must remember that Wikipedia is not funded privately or through the government, but it is run by the public. People have come together for the greater good to collect and share free information for any eyes to gaze upon and learn from. When you come upon a discussion page on Wikipedia you can see the collectiveness of several individuals trying to make a page more accurate and usable for viewers. They collaborate everyday to find the best and most reliable resources for each page. This collaboration shows how Wikipedia depicts a culture of open information and sharing. Though the occasional troll comes along and ruins a page for a few minutes, there is always someone who responds and correctly fixes the information. These discussion and history pages show how we view information in our culture; it is vital and import to everyday life. Anytime you come across and go on a Wikipedia binge like I always do, I suggest taking a look at the discussions and history to see how that page came to life and how it transformed over time to provide you with the most adequate information.

Advertising the Site and Cool Roles in the Project

Speaking for myself I can say I am actually excited about advertising the website. I believe it will be fun to see the site grow as we work hard trying to establish and audience and gain their attention. We plan on extensively using social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. We also plan on contacting a few news outlets including the Free-Lance Star and the schools multiple outlets. Additionally, we are going to take a more traditional approach by possibly handing out flyers and placing posters around Fredericksburg and the UMW campus. Hopefully these tactics will eventually increase our site views when it comes time to actually market the site.

My main role will be researching various themes, widgets, and plugins for the site that maybe useful for the project. Additionally, with the historical research already performed I will be in charge of the Eastburn diaries and some of the material found at the Library of Virginia. The Eastburn diaries will be contingent on the permission of the CRHC. However, if we are unable to scan and actually use a digital copy of the material hopefully we will be able to include certain dates in a basic timeline without the scans.