Project Update Undergraduate Fellows

In the Words of Jay-Z, “Allow me to reintroduce myself”

Dear internet,

It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, but hopefully we can get right back into the swing of things.

I joined the team in the Winter of 2016, working on a project called Lions, Jungles, and Natives. My project uses special collections materials to curate an online exhibit centered around a discussion of the misrepresentations of Africa. Click here for past blog posts.

My project was cut short by my decision to study abroad. I spent my fall term in England, studying in a small town about an hour and a half from London called Bath. The experience was super rewarding. I learned a lot about British culture and literature, and I also got to visit a total of nine European cities.

Here’s a photo of me in my favorite city, Madrid, AKA the home of my colonizers:

Oddly enough, my project hiatus was super helpful. It gave me a lot of clarity about what I want and how I want to execute it.

The biggest conclusion I’ve come to relates to theme and purpose. I want my website to be centered around the idea of tropes–how we think of Africa through images and themes, and how these tropes may contain inaccuracies. Moreover, I want this website to be an instructive tool. Largely inspired by my work with History professor TJ Tallie, I want this website to function as a teaching tool for classes like HIST 279 – Africa in the Western Imaginationt. Something that could be used to encourage students and others to think more about tropes snd how they affect our understandings.

With this in mind, one of the changes I’ve made to my project plan is a shift away from transcription and toward annotation. The website will house the pages of two diaries, one belonging to Thomas Hills’ wife and the other, his daughter. Originally, my plan was to use the Scripto plug-in to crowdsource transcriptions for the diaries. However, because of my shifting vision and the plug-in’s limited functionality, I’ve decided to transcribe the diaries myself and incorporate an annotation tool to allow others to identify the tropes at place.

Some of my original plans are staying in place. I’d still like to map the photos to provide a visual of the Hills family’s journey. I’d also want to construct an interactive spiderweb map that lets the user see the relationships between photos and tropes.

Nevertheless, all these ideas are secondary goals directed at constructing exhibits. The primary goal at the moment is to make the collections. To upload onto the website all the photos, diary pages, videos, and their corresponding transcriptions and metadata.

My hope is to have all these materials uploaded by the end of Winter or Spring term, while also spending some time to work on the website’s design and layout. By the end of my senior year, I would ideally like to have a completed website and a paper in the process of being co-written with Professor Tallie.

For a more detailed version of my project, visit my project plan page on github.

Maybe I’ll be able to get all of this done–then again, maybe not. Still, a girl can dream.

Hov Arlette

Undergraduate Fellows

“What’s a ‘Digital Humanities’?”

If you would have told me a couple months ago that I would be building a website, I would’ve probably laughed. I have the utmost respect for people who work in computer programming, software, web-design, etc., but I also know my place as a scholar and that’s as an essay-writing, theory-reading, English major whose most creative project was a non-fiction short story about her mom’s best friend.  A few months ago I would’ve probably asked you, “What’s a ‘digital humanities’?”

All this is to say, my experience on this project has definitely opened my eyes. While I still love traditional humanities methodology, there is something really compelling about the Digital Humanities–for me, probably the idea of projects rather than papers, and the possibility of sharing ideas at a level beyond you and your professor or you and your classmates.

My project is nowhere near being done, but considering what I started with–an empty page painted by a theme I didn’t really care for–I’ve come a long way. My main focus so far has been on appearance and functionality, involving heavy manipulation of codes I had never even heard of before. I’ve been working closely with my supervisors to change a lot of the elements that make me unhappy and I’ve learned a lot about what elements work for web design and which don’t. I’ve also been picking up on the coding language. Now, things that would’ve taken me several days to accomplish only take a couple of hours.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 12.10.29 PM

This is an example of a page I’ve been working on. A few months ago, I wouldn’t have put much thought into what it takes to achieve this. I would have taken it for granted. To get to this point took hours of digitizing files, cropping and straightening images, transcribing captions, fiddling with the CSS, playing around with the PHP, and countless trials and errors. And then of course there was the occasional aggressive sip of water and the $1.50 investment in stress-relief chocolate from the library vending machine.

I think the biggest take away has been the realization that it’s one thing to want something for your website, but it’s another thing to actually get it; and getting it involves some frustration, but even more importantly, determination. Almost anything is possible so long as you’re put the work in.

For the next couple of weeks, I’ll be working on getting the website looking and functioning the way I want. I think the goal is to get the general container looking as good as possible, then once that’s finished, I can focus on actually filling it up. Another goal is to start building the map. As I upload more and more photos onto my website, I’m going to start connecting them to different points and locations so that by the end, I’ll have at least one exhibit completed.

DH Undergraduate Fellows

Construction, Digitization, and Future Plans

A lot has happened since my last blog post. All of it progress, though some of it slow.

So far I have a developed a general appearance for my website, a semi-completed home page, a completely digitized diary, and a digitized photo album.

Before experimenting with the CSS, I drew sketches of how I wanted certain pages to look. In general, I wanted the website to follow a minimalist design that was also functional. I wanted the homepage to have a floating navigation bar with the title underneath in bold letters, a banner image, a short description of the project, and then boxes lining the bottom of the page which would take you to central parts of the website. The idea of the boxes was partially inspired by the Prism website developed by the Praxis team at the University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab.

Currently, I am using a simple black and white color scheme with shades of gray and navy. I think this structure sets up the color scheme for the photo albums and ensures viewability. Yet, as I continued to edit, I realized that while I got my colors right, other pieces of the puzzle were not quite falling into place. The specific layout I wanted for my homepage hindered the user experience of the rest of the website. Part of this is because I want a banner image on the top of the page that gives the user a sample of the collection. But when navigating the rest of the website, this image often gets in the way.

We fixed this problem by creating a separate HTML page that would house the homepage while the rest of the website would work with the same Omeka appearance, sans banner. Here is what the top of the page looks like so far.


Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 3.21.48 AM

Our next goal is to add an efficient navigation bar that lines the top of the page throughout the entire website.

Regarding the collection materials, I have scanned all 50 pages of the mother’s diary and cropped the photos. I have also scanned, straightened, and cropped the first photo album which consists of 96 black and white images.

The next step is to begin uploading the materials as items to Omeka. The individual photos will fall into their own collection and the same goes for the diary pages. However, thanks to a plugin called Scripto, the website will also give users the option to interact by transcribing the pages.

Moving forward, we plan to edit the webpage’s layout for the diary pages because the default Scripto structure is confusing. The ultimate goal is to produce a set-up similar to that of DIY History.
Furthermore, I am halfway done scanning the photos in the second album and should be able to upload those photos very soon.

Undergraduate Fellows

Piecing Together the Puzzle

Let me begin by announcing we have finally received the Hills family diaries that accompany the photograph albums! The father, Professor Hills, did not keep a journal, but his wife and daughter both kept diaries.

Moreover, since my last post, I’ve been working on sharpening my understanding of how I want my project to take shape. Particularly, I’ve been focused on a guiding argument and type of interface.

Colonialism still plays a huge role in my project, but I’ve also been considering ideas of regulation, objectification, voyeurism, and what Curtis Keim likes to refer to in his book Mistaking Africa: Curiosities and Inventions of the American Mind, the “Real Africa.” Specifically, I’m looking at the ways photography, film, and words, regulate our ideas of what we envision as the “Real Africa.” This Real Africa is a space rampant with tropes and stereotypes that make a spectacle of difference and deny Africans agency through practices of objectification. I want to show that even this collection of family vacation materials is not neutral. Rather, there is a particular function it serves in a broader social and historical context.

To articulate this point, there are several projects I want to incorporate into a larger exhibit. The webpage I am constructing uses Omeka as an interface, allowing me to separate my materials into a neutral collection with raw materials and a processed collection with an analysis of my findings. These are some of the main projects I aim to achieve:

  1. Digitization of materials (scanned photos, transcribed diary pages, mp4 files)
  2. An interactive map of the journey, tying the materials into a singular, cohesive, and visual narrative
  3. Trope mapping (which may take several shapes)
    1. Trope frequency through a word cloud
    2. The relationships between tropes with the inclusion of examples (picture a spider web map)
    3. Historical tracing of tropes and connections to hierarchy (how a history of colonialism has constructed Africa as a continent of different and singular representation)
  4. A virtual reconstruction of Africa as imagined by the Western eye

The fourth project I listed is very tentative and largely dependent on time constraints. However, I’m going to try to be as thorough as possible. I also want to make a point of demonstrating why exactly my project is important, so I will have a section discussing the consequences of misrepresentation.

I’m really excited about using Omeka, I think the layout will help streamline variation, pull everything together, and section it off in an accessible way. One of the Omeka based projects I’ve been admiring is Swarthmore College’s Black Liberation 1969 Archive. Finally, some of the software programs I’m looking at to help me create the individual projects are Neatline and Bocoup data visualization.