Official Reflections on Digital History

During one of our Thursday presentations, the “Alumni Group” was asked a question about how, on our contract, we divided and set deadlines for the work we had to do on our project.  At the time, I didn’t think that was such a big deal- I assumed that each group member would contribute pretty much all the same amount, work would be done on time, and everything would go smoothly.  Looking back, our contract was probably the biggest problem with our project.  While we laid out what we wanted to do, both the specific tools and the big ideas, we failed to think specifically about how/who/when things needed to be done.  Besides that major problem, we were able to create almost exactly what we wanted to proposed in our contract. 

From my prospective, the Alumni Project is a professional looking website that really displays both the tools we talked about in class as well as the overarching idea of “digital history.”  One of the things that I like most about the site is that it is very much a digital history project instead of a series of individual essays and papers simply placed on the internet.  With videos, rather than simply text, we were able to create something that really takes advantage of the medium (the computer and the internet).

Coming into the class, I felt pretty comfortable with both the “historical” and the “technological” aspects of this course.  In the end, I feel like I was able to use both to help make our project a success.  On the technological  (and artistic- which is something I learned a lot about this semester) side, I created: both the design and the “coding” for our final website,  created the filmstrip on the homepage, created the header logo that’s on every page, created the layout for each profile page, compiled all the information for each profile onto that one page(including links), created the video page, created gmail and youtube accounts for our project, placed us on creative commons,  and created the add yourself page and accompanying email form.  For the content (more “historical”) part of the project, I wrote the homepage introduction, the about page, and the other explanatory paragraphs on the website.  I also scanned, uploaded, and made a list for the timeline of all the Bullet articles between 1940-1950, and 1990-end of the Bullet on microfilm.  I also found and scanned some of the yearbook photographs for the profile pages. Looking back, I wish I had been able to contribute more to the “content” side of the website.

Another aspect of the project that I spent a significant amount of time on was the organization of the project and the group.  Throughout the semester, I felt like some members of the group were very uninvolved with the project.  From the start, one of our biggest problems was that only a couple of group members were throwing out ideas for the vision of the project.  Because others did not formulate ideas, there was little feeling of ownership in the final product.  As a result, the group had a difficult time getting significant contributions from everybody in the group.  It almost seemed as if some where purposely not making an attempt to participate when group meetings were not attended (skipped or otherwise) and deadlines that were set as a group were blatantly passed over. 

Although these problems contributed to some major frustration, our project is complete and looks great.  I really believe the success of these projects (and this class) is important to the history department at Mary Washington.  I’ve been wondering if, sometime in the future, a project like we have created this semester, will replace the traditional thesis paper as the major course/project for history majors at the school.

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