2 years later….

So.. sup?

I am reviving this blog for the time being perfectly aware of the obnoxious audacity that this has much purpose in the world. Looking back, I was able to process a lot of new information and think out ideas through writing, which is what I do. Speaking? Not so much.. I recently declared myself the Ikea of story tellers. I like using my voice, but not to sketch and color- that I do with words, albeit mediocre-ly.

I really miss long form, to be honest. Long ago, and probably mentioned in the archives here, I read/heard about how communication even beginning with how the brain forms thoughts, is affected by our cute limits on twitter and one-liners. The brain needs to flex like your arms and wings. So, even if this exists in a vacuum it has that assertion of space.

….which brings me to what I’m struggling with now. I’m in a new History MA program, this time at Winthrop University. It is much different than UNCC in that there isn’t a Public History track, but there is apparently an oral history presence. Right now I’m trying to decide whether to return to the Beech Fork project for my course in Oral History or maybe start a new topic- I needed to decide this probably a while ago. One dream is to study Professional Wrestling during Segregation in CLT and surrounding areas. My hypothesis being that it was one “sport” that was integrated, but I would love to speak to any surviving wrestler, promoters or attendees. Too bad I have ABSOLUTELY NO CONTACTS and can’t be the nice white girl going in expecting people to talk to her.

It’ll just be different because everything is different from 2019. Every blessed thing. Change is the only constant, remember? I am not as “pumped” about it, though, because the world being on fire, crippling anxiety and insecurity everywhere, kind of kills the buzz. I can only take one class (a baby step) because I am also working my day job and teaching 4 classes (relax- they’re 8-week classes), raising a pre-teen, and there is only so many hours in a day to function and get my TV/film/reading/music/doomscrolling time in. Self-care is self-care. But the struggle or existential question right now is why? – why do I feel compelled to write this, to take a class? I feel compelled to do some podcasting as well (I know I know.. that’s been in production for ages) – but why?

  • Arrogance? 
    • Neuro-chemical need for broadcasting experience and thought?
  • The nihilistic understanding that nothing matters unless you’ve created evidence?
    • Deep psychological need for attention/validation/relatability (my word)
  • Crippling fears of morality?
    • Natural young-soul curiosity and fascination with living/love of humanity?

All these and a bag of cooler ranch Doritos.

No one has to read this or hear my point of view and I don’t blame them for scrolling or tuning into something far more edifying or entertaining. But, once in a while someone will say that I made them think or laugh- and my god is that electric. To be a light that recognizes the light in others or be the one they discover- that is a simple, but powerful electricity. So maybe I’ll think of myself as a current and if I took physics I could be more eloquent with that analogy.

Here is a spark. This gun’s for hire even if we’re just dancin’ in the (Socratic) dark. No one gets out alive.
cave

Summary of The Beech Fork Project, Phase 1

I end this course in Digital History a little deflated. I’ve learned a great deal, but as I went further in one direction I would find that I need another and then another to the point that I really don’t have much to show, but a clearer vision of what can be achieved.

During a class discussion of this article, which is a panel among prominent historians about the state and nature of digital history, our class debated the use of “architects and plumbers” to describe the creative formation of a digital history interpretation and idea, and then the need to learn technologies to achieve it. I maintain that both functions are performed by digital historians because history is in the artifact and argument and supporting actors in that creation are all contributing to the process. The further I got along on my grand idea of a project, however, the more I realized I had an imbalance of architect and plumber- digital history is indeed a collaborative effort and I did not know how to function or create in that capacity.

I wanted to produce a history project based on the formation of Beech Fork State Park, Dam, and Lake. This occurred in Wayne and Cabell counties in Western West Virginia in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Two communities were affected by the construction and several families were displaced. It was part of a domestic and interior initiative by the US Corp of Engineers to help reshape problematic waterways prone to flooding among other noble preservation goals. Individuals and families that had been in the region for generations would have relocated and the community would no longer exist. I was interested in that process of keeping the social identity and creating a new one due to governmental force, as well as the role of an institution assigned to create new space.

To accomplish this, I initially thought of a comprehensive website which would include before-and-after maps of the region with locations of community buildings and the now-standing park. I wanted to include stories from those affected and with first-hand experience of the transition. Also, I would digitally preserve the graveyard that sits in the part hosting all the community graveyards into one at Bowen Cemetery, listing the gravesites, giving 360 panoramic views and pictures.

After realizing that this was a mammoth undertaking, I consulted with Dr. Shapiro about something doable, which was to be the podcast. I threw a net out expecting volunteers and received a few inquiries, but those interviews still have not happened. I found very little literature on the subject save a newspaper article that is barely legible from the library scan. I know the stories are there, but I am not successful in finding them, let alone ready to have a podcast. And, even with a podcast, where would it go? I planned on hosting it on WordPress because that was familiar to me, but as the course progressed I found other ways of producing this idea and decided most recently on Omeka.net: The Beech Fork Project.  As I collect more (any) interviews, they can be linked here to Soundcloud along with transcripts, pictures, and maps. I know there is a linear argument there but it is inductive. Alone, a podcast would not do much of anything given the extremely narrow audience and lack of definition.

This project would be best found as a website that belongs to a collective examining and showcasing either West Virginia history or Appalachian history. It is the story of social transition in the modern age while the world changed rapidly along with its agendas and the personal change of actors involved. But to produce this digitally is going to take both a broader approach to delivery and a more narrow focus on meaning beyond mear showcase. It will take finding the argument and collaborating with those who carry similar methods of delivery and subjects. I have been invited to include whatever this project becomes to the Clio site, for instance, and as I go further maybe with Oral History collections at West Virginia institutions and libraries. But, a podcast would have only reached very few and did not come to fruition.

In one of our last classes, we discussed digital historical museum experiences, and Public History online. We live in an exciting time in which we can see the reframing and transformation of institutions through emergent technologies. This discussion is very similar to one I’ve participated in for nearly 20 years regarding online learning: Is online learning as good or true as classroom learning? Is an online education valid? Here we have the question if public history institutions can exist without walls. There isn’t an easy answer because institutions serve a social need and as individuals, we shape our concept of their validity based on personalized experience and perspective. The question is not if a website can be Public history, but how the website does public history.

In the end, I want to tell the story of this pivotal time for a small community. I want to make a public, digital, historical argument and have arrived at the end of the semester knowing how my initial grand ideas were flawed and how challenging this goal will be while also informed of the many technological methods there are now to tell such a story, and how vital it will be to collaborate or learn how to lay the pipe.

 

 

BLOG ASSIGNMENT: In addition to submitting the final digital project, write a blog post assessing your project that also reflects on the process of creating it.

Podcasts and DigiHistory

I am an avid fan of History Podcasts, a genre that is broad and varied. Dan Carlin can produce a six-hour episode detailing the pre-history of Persia with analysis and illustration while Stuff You Missed in History Class highlights pivotal contributors to history left out of the Great (white) Man theories. My personal favorites are Our Fake History, which examines myth and reality surrounding historical events and individuals and History on Fire, which takes “deep dives” into historical topics produced and narrated by noted historian Daniele Bolelli. Being such a fan, I was eager to create my own digital project on Beech Fork as a podcast, but in the process, I learned what makes my favorites and others great while mine would be misguided.

Podcasts communicate historical information by using narration, soundbites, and interviews in order to create an episode complete with the introduction of the topic, exploration, and conclusion. These are wrapped up in high-quality files and shared in spaces either on personal web spaces or through apps and programs such as iTunes and Stitcher. The content in these programs packs historical fact and argument into a typically linear narrative. Even without a stated argument, the choice of material and supplemental information assumes a cohesive deliverable point of view through selection. This is different from digital history websites that incorporate games or interaction; podcasts are pre-recorded and consumed without manipulation of choice content by the listener.

We’ve explored many different ways of doing digital history this semester, from participatory sites such as the Emigrant City  or Together We Listen project to the visual illustration of historical change from the Story Map site, and through more comprehensive sites that allow the viewer to discover facts by their own interest and choice and then engage with the material on other levels for expanded understanding. Podcasts serve the latter because they use the oldest means of history telling and usually have companion websites to serve as their bibliographies or further reading suggestions. With this portable format, audial history narrative and discussion can be broadcasted as a stand-alone episode or part of a series based on a theme. This is what I have chosen to accomplish with the episode on Beech Fork, which I will shop to existing programs and collections such as the Clio, while it still can exist as a stand-alone with less strength for a broader audience.

The intimacy level between a podcast and its audience is much higher than one in a readable digital format or even one with gaming or other methods of engagement because the voices and sound provide a simulation of a discussion. There is this famous meme:
Image result for podcast meme

While there are possible limitations for people who are unable to hear, for which there are transcriptions for some programs, podcasts, when hosted by free sites such as Stitcher or on their web domain, are accessible for anyone with a computer or phone, which are ubiquitous in contemporary life. Audiences also should be persuaded to draw their own conclusions or continue with research since an easy broadcasting method limits juried rigor.

While History podcasts are appealing and accessible, they are also difficult to produce and should not clutter the marketplace unless there is a solid argument or woven theme. In my own work this semester, I came to the conclusion that a stand-alone podcast would appeal to too small of an audience to promote beyond a comprehensive multi-media website or united by the theme of West Virginia History, Appalachian history, or the US Corp of Engineers stories. I’ll continue as a fan-girl for my favorites as well.

Playing Fair and Doing Scholarship

I have an admission: My eyes glaze over when I am near “legalese” and this includes copyright law. As a result, I tend to be paranoid and overly cautious about citations, sharing, crediting and linking to borrowed ideas. For me, it’s a way to keep from exploiting other people’s work, my own included.

But, there is no need to be paranoid. Rather, be aware of your credits and sources and what you’re intending to do. With regard to my own digital history project, for the podcast and accompanying site, I need to be mindful, citing and crediting those who own the stories told, the content I am retelling, and any creative material used in the process. To avoid any issues with the latter, I am going to compose my own theme and bed music. Each participant will sign a waiver knowing that their interview may be broadcasted and kept digitally. Each source will be cited through a bibliography or credit in the podcast and website. These are all internal measures to make sure other’s original material is properly credited, but externally, I realize I need to then “gatekeep” what I have collected and created as it becomes public so that the respect and rights carry on into the unknown- perhaps even go so far to register my own copyright of the site or podcast.

An active podcast or website is an informative and creative product in a marketplace that understands currency and sees theft like the traditional forms, but also can be open for free consumption- regulating that, either for profit or to safeguard fair recognition and compensation by contributors makes the already complicated issue of copyright more complex. As we have read, in the United States, copyright law is as old as the country itself.  And as the bubble of protective years grew, laws of fair use were enacted, which was significant for historians in that historical data and material would be easier to review and cite without fear of violation. However, the lifetime plus 50 grew mouse ears and expanded to lifetime plus 75 for corporate material. The evolution of the law is interesting in and of itself, but what are the obligations for the digital historian?’

I found the discussion in this same piece about the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to be relevant to those producing digital material using multimedia sources. I think students and academics creating material from research might be covered under Title IV, but the cost of being wrong might be great enough to seek advice anyway before launching the public access to your project. Siva Vaidhyanathan, in Copyrights and Copywrongs  * refers to this expansion of copyright law as the Four Surrenders:

• The surrender of balance to control.
• The surrender of public interest to private interest.
• The surrender of republican deliberation within the nation-state
to unelected multilateral nongovernmental bodies.
• The surrender of culture to technology.

Also in Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History: a Guide…  is this striking idea: “The manipulability of digital data creates another, less common legal issue. You can edit digital images, sounds, and moving pictures much more easily than their analog counterparts. ” The logo one creates, images they generate, etc. are vulnerable to manipulation and theft due to the latent potential of the technology we use to create them. I myself have shared images protected by java safeguards by hitting “print screen” to copy instead of right-clicking.

As my project grows, I will keep in mind the topics brought up in Gail Drake’s illustrative chapter on Intellectual Property Law in Romano and Potter’s book Doing Recent History On Privacy, Copyright,… . Using the issues that civil rights historians and archivists have faced, I took away the intention to think pro-actively. These are somewhat recent events without the wealth of vetted perspective and distance of personal ownership. With oral histories or images, I am able to collect, I will be open to redacting identity if requested or confirm events contained in the interviews if mentioning someone else by name. I think an advantage academically trained historians have is the common practice of citing sources and being aware of what your content is and isn’t and making that clear.

I also found the Fresh Air interview with Lawrence Lessig interesting because as we understand and share the nuances of what we should protect and keep as free access, it is also a larger discussion of what we value and take for granted. Though Lessig didn’t label it as such, it is also a Marxist view of recognizing the labor in production and compensating (or crediting) fairly. Our projects are in one light our “creation” in that we are curating, gathering, decoding or collecting information and making it into a digital artifact, but we are also taking materials from people, from shelves, from points of view that are the raw materials mined by others.

In conclusion, I am still paranoid but not as much. Knowing that I am protected somewhat by law for my good intentions, I will carefully consider the contents of this or any project and be sure not to just name each voice and cite each source, but carry the weight of their contribution and acknowledge my responsibility to volley them with protection and care.

*While it mostly reinforced what we were learning, I would like to suggest Copyrights and Copywrongs by Siva Vaidhyanathan for a handy guide and exploration of copyright law for the Humanities.

Reviewing the Sound of Diaspora

Musical Passage - A Voyage to 1688 Jamaica

I have been fascinated by ethnomusicology since I was first introduced to the word and able to pronounce it. This study of cultures through this music and vice versa allows you to make connections and follow conclusions that shrink the world while exposing the enormously complex layers of deceptively simple sound expressions. It is also a way to illustrate and understand migration patterns, symbolic interaction, and facets of culture that might have been obscured through time.

This week my assignment for digital history class was to analyze and review the Musical Passage project, and I was thrilled. Created by Laurent Dubois , David K Garner , and Mary Caton Lingold , here is a digital fusion of history, music, and digital application to inform and unwrap the complexity of a musical piece composed to transcribe a piece of African music in the Carribean. A collaboration of scholars presents an interactive story of Hans Sloane’s Voyage to the Islands of Maera, Barbados, Neives and S. Christophers and Jamaica” from 1707. From a contemporary view, there was an English intellectual who traveled to Jamaica during an active era of slave trading from Africa to the region, held slaves and a plantation, and in effect mined the culture and talents of these forces, transplanted people to study their music through his lens.  But, this is African music, acknowledging ethnic diversity there, brought to those in a tragic diaspora, keeping a respect to the meaning and delivery of the music: the melody and instrumentation remaining as authentic as possible given the setting.

Content
This site posts the image of these 2 musical pages of text and offers hypertext to hear the passages or learn about the instruments and language within the piece. The clicks remain on the page in a popup to provide information such as a short biography on Sloane, elaborated definitions of some terms what illustrate life in Jamaica at the time, speculation on who his assistant “Mr. Baptiste” really was. On the music printed, the creators offered the historical background of each movement as it related to the 3 ethnicities represented: Angola, Popo, and Koromanti. They gave the location, some distinctive description of each and what kind of instruments would have come from the region. Along with this pop-out is a sample of the music performed as written.
koro

Form
The site has 3 main sections: Explore, Read, and About. Explore is the aforementioned page with the text and transcription from which one can listen or read more information on the piece. In the “Read” section, the authors provide a detailed history on Sloane and Jamaica at the time, the process of writing this book and Sloane’s efforts with Mr. Baptist in achieving some authenticity. They do this respecting the integrity of the music above all else. The final section discusses the collaboration of scholars, the digital architecture behind the project and platforms, and an extended bibliography. The grace and ease of transition in the site from HTML5 and Fullpage.Js among other newer software for web presentation.

Audience

The creators of Musical Passage clearly state that the audience for Sloane’s book was for his peers: the white, wealthy land-owning, slave-holding class in Jamaica at the time and not for the people who could relate to the material and join the conversation. Those they treated as sub-human were also those who were peculiar, and they held a detached intellectual interest in these rich cultures much as they would a seashell or a chair.

The audience for the website, however, is the public at large and this user-friendly site has the appeal of offering great detail in somewhat common language that can be understood by middle school children interested in the origins of the guitar or banjo or a citizen wanting to find a transcription of music hailing (inspired) from their ancestral land pre-diaspora. It would be useful as a classroom assignment to launch a multi-disciplinary study into Jamaica at the time as a case study in slavery and the Americas. Or, for someone like myself, who loves music and exploring its many manifestations as expressive cultural artifacts.

Musical Passage is both a digital archive and an exhibit. It digitized a rare and important work, perhaps the first transcription of African music into the Americas and annotated it so that we can listen and understand it in the context beyond its initial appeal.  It may inspire others to develop interactive digital sites and exhibits for other pieces, both historical and current which invite the discussion of art and meaning and the things that unite us all or expose stratification.

v

 

Un-earthing Beech Fork; The Digital History Project Proposal

I am producing a digital history project, which will connect the oldest form of information sharing with a contemporary method of delivery. Just as the concept of “home” reaches into our anthropological past as the first connections we make, the oral tradition is that thread which serves as a continuous motion forward carrying the past through experience and perception. While cave paintings may be evidence of our existence, stories are evidence of our humanity. This project will tell the story of rural families and other participants in central Appalachia during the creation of Beech Fork Lake and park by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Description of research

My research pieces together first and second-hand narratives regarding the events and circumstances involved in the creation of Beech Fork Lake and park in Cabell and Wayne country, West Virginia, in 1970. I will research the reasons behind the mandate, which controlled flooding of Twelvepole Creek as part of the response to the Flood Control Act of 1962 and 1965 to “to design and construct any water resource development project, including navigation, flood control, and shore protection”. This was also an intertwined with a larger comprehensive movement by the federal government to protect wildlife and waterways while addressing flood issues and managing such risks, which involved the displacement of residents.  I will focus on the historical importance and reputation of the area, which, according to a rather obscure genealogical book claims it earned the name the “Bean Capital Of The World”. (1)

The main crux of the project comes from conducting oral history interviews with the displaced residents in that developed region, their close associates who know the story of this move well, and members of the Army Corps of Engineers who worked on the project in either planning or execution. I will ask about their experiences with respect to their role and insight they may have in the phenomenon of displacement itself by eminent domain.

Once these interviews are gathered, I will transcribe them and upload them on to a project website while I analyze them further for themes and details. As these emerge and bring to light interwoven experiences of those who were moved and those who worked on the project with the Corps, these experiences and the circumstances that led to the creation of the park will be included in a podcast that will be hosted and available on the website.

 The rationale for the Chosen Design

To work from research idea to artifact, I need to construct a framework and that combines why this is a project worth researching and how it will be digitally produced.  Out of the many forms of digital delivery, podcast production allows the content to have a combination of guided narrative and aural delivery, which is portable and can be entertaining while educational. In contrast to long-form oral history review, this contemporary form of broadcasting allows oral history participants to be heard in the first person through carefully crafted episodic pieces that preserve the thematically significant portions of their interview and deliver it to wide audiences through their chosen devices. Unlike traditional oral history interviews, these are filtered in order to fit into the research framework and to create a cohesive and interesting podcast just as a website or other form of delivery would sharpen its focus to reinforce the theme and encourage participation. This is also a potential drawback of the delivery method since editing lends itself to the bias of the producer. Efforts to achieve value neutrality, a concept coined by Sociologist Max Weber (2), in this case, will be deliberate to identify and minimize such bias.

According to Neilson media ratings, 124 million people in the US had listened to a podcast by 2017. (3) Will 124 million listeners want to hear about a small number of families forced to move for the sake of ecological management in West Virginia? Probably not. However, prior to its existence, the listenership will be zero and from that, the growth of the audience is open to the connected public. Podcasting is a form of digital storytelling as discussed by John Barber:

“The overlay of computer-based media onto storytelling has prompted a range of new approaches: from what noted radio historian Susan Douglas calls a return to orality, “a mode of communication reliant on storytelling, listening, and group memory” (Douglas, 1999, p. 29) to new storytelling experiences that include direct participation by listeners, even co-creation of stories.” (4)
Discussion of Intended Audience

So if not for the millions, who is the intended audience? The core audience would be those podcast subscribers who listen to the genre of “history podcasts”. Expanding the net, the podcast would appeal to regional historians (amateur and professional) from or familiar with this region. I would like to find an association with The Clio.com, which already links to public history sites and projects in that vicinity.  On a large thematic scale, the concept of eminent domain also appeals to some interests regarding personal and political freedom. (5) Also, on this macro level, those who have an interest in exploring the past, who might be interested in the Foxfire series would be interested in seeing a pivotal moment in the transformation of modern Appalachia from the past. Outward migration from the region has been relatively consistent since the 1970’s and this podcast might catch those on the “Hillbilly Highway” who feel a connection to the area and crave points for articulating its past. (6)

Justification of Research

Projects that develop the landscape for a large or mandated cause may move individuals and families from their “homeplace” and the stories of their existence might fade if not preserved. This research is necessary because outside of the time in which it occurred, no published scholarship exists which collects firsthand accounts of those affected or those who worked in the park’s development. Information about the project is found in US Army Corps of Engineer annual reports and newspapers from the era, but there has not been a project, which pieces together the scale and impacts this had on residents and the disruption of their lives and the culture of the region. The justification for the research lay in the absence of existing data and public history record of this event.

Several in-class readings have helped shaped the justification for this project. One discussion in Cohen and Rosenzweig, Digital History chapter entitled “Exploring the History Web” states that of the five main (valid) genres of digital history, the first mentioned is the archive, which this project essentially is.

Timeline and Collaboration

This is a project required for a semester course. Given the deadlines, I have planned the following timeline:

  • Regional and event historical research, on-going
  • Outreach and crowdsourcing for participants October 1  -November 10
  • Interviews October 18-November 10
  • Analysis Completion November 15
  • Podcast recording, editing November 15-December 1
  • Project complete for Presentation December 5

The location of the historical event is six hours north from Charlotte, and I will be doing the majority of research at this distance. I do have contacts at Cabell County Public Library and Marshall University who will assist if needed to expand the call for participation, assist in finding any obscure published material, or other services. They will be acknowledged and are appreciated.

Working Bibliography

As noted in the proposal above:

  1. Sociological Research OnlineVol 22, Issue 1, pp. 1 – 12
  2. Barber, John F. “Critical Essay:Digital storytelling: New opportunities for humanities scholarship and pedagogy” from Margo Berendsen, Jeffrey Hamerlinck, Gerald Webster. (2018) Digital Story Mapping to Advance Educational Atlas Design and Enable Student Engagement. ISPRS International Journal of Geo-Information 7:3, pages 125.
  3. https://www.podcastinsights.com/podcast-statistics/#Podcast_Listener_Stats
  4. Adkins, R. (1990). The Adkins family of Wayne County, West Virginia: also Cabell, Lincoln, and Boone : a genealogical history : the descendants of William and Elizabeth (Parker) Adkins of Henrico County, Virginia, from 1690 to 1990. Montgomery, Ala.: R. Adkins.
  5. Hoyman, M., & Mccall, J. (n.d.). “Not Imminent in My Domain!” County Leaders’ Attitudes toward Eminent Domain Decisions. Public Administration Review, 70(6), 885–893. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2010.02220.x
  6. Alexander, J. (n.d.). Defining the diaspora: Appalachians in the great migration. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, xxxvii(2), 219–247. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/36499626/

Others:

Comments on Peer Projects: Class Blog 3

BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Please review everyone’s prospectus as well as each group’s preliminary plan and post comments/observations to the blog. These can include a direct reference to particular prospectuses and plans, but should also reflect on any potential common themes, issues and concerns that you noticed in reading them together. You are also certainly welcome to relate these issues to your own project and think about how what your colleagues are doing might influence your own work.

One common characteristic among students of the Humanities is that they tend to shy away from superficial research topics. Most hint at the development of the author’s maturity as a scholar by being deliberate, precise, and meaningful. As students of digital history, we’re charged with going further and applying our topics to non-traditional platforms and translating from typical narrative forms into digital forms. The expectations of educators and readers may be high, but those of the researchers themselves seem to exceed.

Digital Project Themes
With stark exceptions – most of the projects relate to translating personal experience, several from Southern, US history, into digital artifacts that are historical arguments or exhibits of alternative points of view. The commonalities of theme end there and branch into educational, military, public health, ethnic, and communications studies with the foundations remaining in historical analysis. As it is my own academic goal to combine social science and humanities in research and public discourse, I am excited to see the progress of each project and the exploration of methods for digital translation which suit the material and benefit the audience.

Public History
Digital History is a form of public history. A counter to this might be a scenario Jo Guldi or others discuss in which the historical research is given digital treatments for display in an online journal or exhibit but hidden behind an exclusive audience or social firewall. But in essence, bringing historical scholarship to digital forms such as interactive web space, elaborating timelines, 360 annotated maps and oral history presentation, or even further, gaming platforms that allow the consumer/viewer/student to manipulate the data for a personalized narrative, is public history at the core. Instead of a tautological relationship of research for publication to be used in future research for publication, academic “civilians” are able to learn general and highly specialized historical information where they are when the works are intentionally displayed digitally. On the web or in spaces dedicated to their exhibition, historians engaged in a digital translation of their work are putting courting non-elites in ways that previous analog generations could not.

Group Projects
Students also came together in small groups to consider a hypothetical digital history project for which they would seek funding. Idealism can have some erosion when faced with the cost of producing a quality site or exhibit, or it can inspire collaboration and the hunt for funds available.

In terms of setting, these small collaborations tended to focus on groups who participated in historical events or explore local and regional historical phenomena.
In other cases, the subject might not be local, but the audience can have an intimate exchange with their experiences and motivations by entering their “world” or actively participating in the digital platform in contrast to consuming.

In all cases, these projects have broad educational value. As I have mentioned before, the onset of interactive “gaming” in which a user and programmer dance to either achieve a goal or build on intelligence is a phenomenon that has entrenched itself in American culture and that of techno-industrialized nations since the late 1980’s.

  • One walking tour of Charlotte idea by Savannah, Gabi, and Rickey educates participants who can virtually walk the streets of Charlotte, noting people, places, and events of the past by location. One student also suggested the possibility of participants being able to create their own walking path, whereas physical tour groups would have a set itinerary and script.
  • Rachel, Nikki, and Tommy Warlick would incorporate gaming techniques to existing slave narratives.
    • “Using Twine, we will create a game that poses questions and dilemmas to the user that slaves faced daily, e.g., a question in the simulation might read “if you were Frederick Douglass, would you fight back against slave-breaker Covey or submit to Covey’s wishes?” The answer choices might include “fight back” or “submit” and each choice would produce a different consequence.”
      Instead of adding a “fun” element, this would allow the participant/student more insight where empathy is not possible. (1))
  • Applying this kind of insight into historical lives, Rachael, Laura, and Brian apply gaming or participant control techniques into a digital presentation on the Jamestown via self- paced navigation and character creation.

According to William G Thomas II  (2) most of these approaches are Digital Narratives by type and apply the digital platform not just to awaken existing historical data to users

In David Parry’s portion of essays on Hacking the Academy, he states one objective for fundamentally changing History as an academic and public discipline should be for historians to “Aspire to be a curator”. I think these projects prove that digital history breaks down barriers of elitism that have prevented researchers from being taken seriously and given a valid or fair opportunity to find an audience.

What I would suggest for each researcher is that they proceed with confidence and not be afraid to brand their projects or be bold. Not only are we in a digital age but in an age of commodification. Historians are producing not just their projects but a pro-duct in a marketplace: website hosting may require ads, libraries fight for funding, schools are never isolated from corporate strings, etc. Our task now is to encourage the scholarship and continue the spirit of collaboration for accountability and the deeper, more relevant dives for truth and a good story.

 

  1. Rachel McManimen, Nikki Oliver, and Tommy Warlick. Grant Project Prospectus.
    UNC Charlotte, Digital History Course HIST-6330. Fall 2018
  2. Thomas, William G. III. What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology.
    http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=1159
  3. Parry, David “Burn the Boats/Books” from Hacking Scholarship: Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps. Jackson, et al.
    https://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/dh/12172434.0001.001/1:2/–hacking-the-academy-new-approaches-to-scholarship?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1

 

Prospectus: Un-earthing Beech Fork

In response to persistent flooding issues and the Flood Control Act of October 23, 1962, the US Army Corps of Engineers, during the 1970’s, reshaped the communities of “Beech Fork”, in Cabell and Wayne County West Virginia, moving residents, earth, and structures to create Beech Fork State Park in 1979.

My Digital History class project will be the debut podcast episode chronicling the first phase of an ambitious goal: to produce a comprehensive website that will house a panoramic annotated map of the region within and affected by the park, oral histories of displaced residents and Corps staff involved in the project, photographs of the region comparing areas before and after the park’s creation, and a detailed mapping and cataloging of the community cemetery located within the park. This first portion of the project will involve the creation of a podcast documenting my progress and broadcasting some of the stories and background that will be included. The podcast, whose working title is “Displaced” will explore the theme of displacement and may continue past the Beech Fork podcasts (Season 1) highlighting other events and experiences.

The first episode will be a culmination of preliminary research and a demonstration of recording and broadcasting tools for digital history research, archiving, and presentation. While this topic is important to me personally since part of my family hails from the affected area, the historical significance of this project comes from its ability to add humanity and highlight cultural consequences to historical events. The creation of the park and construction of Beech Fork Lake  grew out of federal legislation aimed at preserving the wildlife and waterways of the region along with improving the ecosystem therein. This project will illustrate the narratives of those whose lives, identities, and livelihoods were affected by this mandate in this instance. Of the limited resources available on the subject in digital form, all refer to plant and animal species who reside in the area or summarize the creation of the park without including personal narratives of the residents or those working on behalf of the Corps. As noted in the 1996 introduction to an Oral History edition for the The Journal of American History, Linda Shopes and Michael Frisch (1) write that: “the recent efflorescence of oral history is rooted in the social historian’s need for sources that document experiences for which more traditional materials are either unavailable or profoundly distorted by the perspective of the recorder.” It is necessary to examine every opportunity available for a critical analysis of past events, finding truth in the patterns and variety of perspective. Since then, podcasts have emerged as a way to broadcast histories and interviews, releasing them from academic or closed archives, or boosting their reach from web-based digital homes.

Beyond the historiographic purpose of the project, I also want to explore themes such as the social and personal effects of displacement by eminent domain and such effects relating to environmental legislation. I will allow some “organic” reach of topics based on what is sparked in conversation within the interviews. These will be conducted over the phone and recorded via a portable recording device. The podcast will be recorded and edited using Audacity and a careful edit of the interviews. Transcripts of the show and the interviews will be available on the project website and as an experiment, I will try to transcribe using text recognition software. The show’s “home” will be on Soundcloud or a similar audio digital storage site and available.

To prepare to tackle this project effectively and produce a quality product, I am consulting the   Principles and Best Practices from the Oral History Association as well as an expanding list of primary and secondary sources:

Primary:
“Beech Fork” Special Report from Nov. 15, 1970. The Herald-Advertiser
Interviews with:

  • US Army Corps of Engineers representative (to be named, possible Robert Thompson)
  • Angie Maynard Strait (displaced resident)
  • Mary E Adkins (displaced resident)
  • Others tba

Secondary:
Collections of interviews of displaced individuals from various backgrounds as found in Oral History journals and digital collections.

A challenge so far has been to narrow my focus from a large concept to a “bite-size” project which exhibits my topic while also demonstrating my newly acquired knowledge of digital history. I believe the creation of this podcast and accompanying website will be appropriate and fruitful for both criteria.

 

  1. Shopes, L. (n.d.). Oral History. The journal of American history.83(2).

Class Blog 2: Comparing Search Choices

crit

Preface
While the discipline of history is nested in the Humanities rather than Social Science, good research must universally be valid and reliable. The historian’s aim needs to be a core with branches reaching toward available or chartable mines of data. My possible digital history project is one that requires several trajectories and roads, some paved others not; throughout I expect it to illustrate the benefits and limitations of existing digital history and create its own path.

My mother’s family “home place” was an area of Wayne and Cabell county, West Virginia commonly named Beech Fork. In the 1970’s, the Corps of Engineers reshaped the waterways and moved residences to create Beech Fork State Park in 1979. This occurred as a response to flooding but in the process, the residing families were displaced, the Corps having the power and resources to carve the land into a space preserving wildlife and the ecology of the area, as well as relocate the citizens whose homes leveled. One part of this was the creation of Bowen Cemetery, which is located within the park, but which is a public cemetery hosting the remains of the families that resided there. The graves were relocated to this shared spot and arranged by family. At this time, my thesis will include interviews with the displaced and an 360-degree experience of the cemetery. For this course, I will aim and sharpen focus to a narrow piece that won’t make me drive 5 hours up Interstate 77.

Blog 2:

For this blog entry, I’m finding the limitations of online resources for questions like my own, and how far we are from the intellectual utopian visions of the future. The key is keeping a (rational) faith that there is something there to find, and not being thwarted by the dead ends.

  • Searching “Beech Fork State Park” in Wikipedia returned these choices:
    Beech Fork State Park
    Reports the current park with very little mention of its history and more centered on park features and local wildlifeBeech Fork Lake
    Reports on the recreational activities but then a curious segment discussing the experience of the Adkins family in relocation and the area’s historical reputation. The frustrating part being that there is no citation for the quotes. (1)
    Beech Fork
    A page discussing an entirely different area, the Beech Fork River, in Kentucky.
  • Searching “Beech Fork State Park” in the Encyclopedia Britannica yielded no relative results. Nor did “Beech Fork”. When I searched “West Virginia State Parks” I did find a link to an article on the state in general, but I would have to sign up for a trial to research the state parks.(2) Thanks to the assistance of an Atkins Library associate, I was able to search the Enclyopedia via NC Live and a student version, but neither mentioned the creation of this state park which is obscure in context.
  • Using the omnipotent search engine Google with “Beech Fork State Park”, I was able to find these top 3 hits:
    Beech Fork State Park – West Virginia State Parks
    This is managed by the WV State Parks group, a wing of the division of tourism. Under park “history”, it did have a historical summary. (3)
    Beech Fork State Park (Barboursville) – 2018 All You Need to Know
    It was alas, not all I needed to know. This is a page on “Trip Advisor” which is a consumer networking site that rates and reviews traveler experiences.Beech Fork State Park – Wikipedia
    See aboveFrom there, the search results led to recreation sites. When I modified the search criteria to include US Army Corps of Engineers, their site appeared in the results:
    Beech Fork Lake – Huntington District – Army
    The difference here is that it is not the park but the lake that is the central concern. The lake was an extension of domestic caretaking and ecological management while the park was a way to keep the area accessible to the public and supported humbly by their fees. This site also had a brief historical summary. (4)

Digital treatments of my topic are not easy to find, but broadening my search to the digitized elements and presentation methods produced search results that hinted at challenges and opportunities ahead. Bowen Cemetery itself has a spot on Find-A-Grave.com with limited images (too many of just the welcome sign). These are static images taken by community contributors and genealogists that would have limited and select biographical information. Cemeteries found in larger cities with heavy tourism, such as New Orleans,  have video components but more to support the tourism industry. An example of what I would like to do with the cemetery presentation component of my research is in line with sites such as Civil War 360.

There is a remarkable advancement in the work Civil War 360 has done compared to such sites as Arlington Cemetery. The latter uses Google earth and the pace and aim of one’s experience are limited to the segments available in that platform. Civil War 360 is a product of the Civil War Trust and utilizes panoramic photography and mapping from Regal 360.  It is more fluid with multiple perspective choices. I am not familiar with the nuanced differences, this platform “created using HTML elements” and no other description, which might be proprietary. CivilWar.com also features differently animated and photographic mapping and presentation of historical data that is advanced and user-friendly, even a Civil War Battle Maps app which was impressive but not relevant to my project given the limited audience of interest at this point.

To bring these searches together, Google operates on the behavior of other searches and popularity so it can be difficult to find many leads on a more obscure topic or one that has multiple conditions built into the search criteria. Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica are ideally authoritative resources with either user input and update capabilities or juried expert authorship respectively. However, the openness of Wikipedia does not guarantee credible sources (or citation) and may be more reliable with generous endnote links. Encyclopedia Britannica may likewise be more helpful for a quick explanation of an unclear reference or topic, but not beyond the superficial.

There is little comparison between digital representations of similar research ideas and a more scholarly traditional source. Most of what I have found in print regarding Beech Fork State Park and its creation has to do with the ecology in the area and the species that have thrived or are threatened. When I add the second focus of Oral History research, there are comparable projects for displaced communities. The US ACoE has a Public Affairs office but no digital record of this project, only news stories related to their Huntington branch going back to 2014.

This exercise reinforces the idea that Digital History is not a self-contained discipline but rather a specialization of ability to translate material from a variety of sources onto a digital platform. The historian still must be trained to understand the search and creation mechanisms at hand, how criteria is sorted, and how to efficiently and effectively mine the data or discoveries within and then apply it to the historical arguments posed. Our digital age may have simplified simple searches, but it can complicate or add conditions to the endeavors of academic research.

  1. From the Wiki Page: It has also been said that in the last days, “the Jews will go back to Palestine and the Adkinses will go back to Beech Fork.”
  2. Given the number of ads on the site, I felt that I did not want the commercial traffic in my inbox.
  3. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed Beech Fork Lake in the 1970s to control flooding of Twelvepole Creek. The lake also was developed to create recreational and wildlife management including a marina, swimming beach and picnic area. Beech Fork State Park officially opened in 1979. Beech Fork State Park – West Virginia State Parks
  4. Beech Fork Lake (authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1962) is part of the integrated flood reduction system operated by the Corps of Engineers for the entire Ohio River Basin. When these lakes are operated as a vast storage system, flood crests along the Ohio can be significantly reduced. Beech Fork Lake opened for recreational activities in May 1978.
    Beech Fork Lake – Huntington District – Army