Follow the Roadmap
One of the most difficult aspects of creating digital history projects (no matter how one labels it), comes down to the process. Where does one begin? How does one begin? What types of software do I need? Who do I need to create contacts with in order to get this off the ground? Particularly, for small, local museums, digital history projects greater adversary due to a lack of resources that includes items such as time and funding. Of course thanks to the web, anyone can do a simple search engine investigation for "digital history" and "small museums." The result? A variety of results will pop up with how-to tips and resources. Out of the many returns, several will undoubtfully be useful to some like Museums and the Web that includes resources and a bibliography of publications about museums and the web. Nevertheless, a larger problem exists.
Although all of these resources are useful, many gaps in the knowledge for not just museums, but local historians and other scholars are still at the for front of these problems. In my own quest in creating this website, I found support and collaboration from many but still found myself navigating a winding if at sometimes uncomfortable road. Now, this is not my first dipping my toes into this pool of the unkown. The difference this time, though, I went head first. This section serves as not just another resource but a proposed basic roadmap of navigating this digital history landscape.
Where to begin?
I think this is the biggest question when starting any project. I knew when I went in to doing this project that I wanted this to be not just an exploration of the historical material but also an exploration of how digital history projects operate and disseminate information. But not every project is going to be as complicated or nuanced as mine. That being said, though, I consulted with a number of sources online to develop a concrete plan. Including through the AASLH (American Association for State and Local History). As one of their staff members graciously helped me in some of the initial progress of my thesis, they were an invaluable source and specifically pointed me to the Digital Engagement Framework created by Jasper Visser. Collaboration has always been a key part of this project. The framework was initially helpful in making me think about the bigger picture and the ultimate goals of that I wanted to see in the project. Even though it is geared to organizations, it is highly adaptable and will make anyone begin to tackle the tough questions.
I spent a great deal of time at looking at other digital history projects. One cannot learn nor understand how they work unless you put yourself in the shoes of your readers. Since I decided to utilize Omeka (more on that later), I explored their large catalog of examples of digital history projects across the globe. I did this for several months. Even if Omeka is not a part of your software in the end, just exploring those projects was informative and eye opening.
Finally, when I reached the point where I felt like I could begin to conceptualize the website, I roughly sketched the entire website on paper. Colors, flow, and markup were all the basics things I tried to cover in those quick sketches.
So you figured out the basic details, now what?
You have a plan? Check. You have a rough idea of how you want the website to look? Check. What else do you need? A lot more. Software and where this digital thing will live will make or break a project. That may sound a little intimidating but you truly do need to figure out what the best software and programming will perform the best for your project. Luckily, you can explore a number of these programs like Wordpress and Omeka and learn which one will utimately serve the purposes that you desire. I spent a number of hours just learning the ins and outs of Omeka. You will likely need a web server to host the project. Luckily, there are number of companies out there to provide this service. My server provider, Reclaim Hosting, has been a useful tool in understanding the various applications that I have attached to Omeka and how to make Omeka a more efficent program. Do not be afraid to talk with the staff support at web server and managed hosting companies. In my experience, they are very open and responsive in helping you in program and software management.
As far as learning about programs and how to use them, I recommend The Programming Historian. The Programming Historian offers lessons on how to use various digital tools and develop techniques. It is truly a global collaborative site that offers anyone the chance to learn about these tools that humanists utilize.
Websites are not passive activities!: Design and Maintenance
Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap that browsing and reading web pages are passive acitivities. This came up quite frequently as I designed the website for the audience I desired to use this the most. From early on, I realized from my experience as a graduate assistant that this website would best be targeted at undergraduates in survey courses. These students often are in large classes together and do not have the opportunity to explore the historian's relationship to primary sources. Combined with my research interests, I was out to find a way to engage with these students. Thus, the design has been very simple, minimal.
The maintenance of the website is ongoing and will continue to be in the near future. If digital history projects are to succeed, then how can they thrive in their environment without understanding their audience? Thus, the website was tested by undergraduates and continues to be updated as I receive feedback.
So where's the roadmap?
Creating a roadmap for digital history is difficult. That being said, though, the digital history community and historians in general need a roadmap to follow to continue to produce scholarship, provide relevancy, and maintain historical continuity. The following points listed below are just the beginnings of cultivating a map for the future term. Currently, digital history researchers and collaborators are examining the developing a roadmap for the digital history in Fineland. The project demonstrates an important step towards developing a greater understanding of digital history and its future. Hopefully, in the near future, researchers in the U.S. and elsewhere will collaborate together to assist in putting together a similar endeavour.
- Collaborate and Consult
- Sketch, Make Mistakes, and Rework
- Understand your Audience
- Understand Technology as an Aid and a Guide
- History at the Center
The success of not necessarily digital history but digital tools within the historical community relies upon good scholarship, collaboration, understanding the next steps for the historical community, and complexity of audiences. Critically, digital history's continued success will rely on helping to create environments taht will provide individuals the tools to gain digital literacy and engage with reliable sources critically.