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Doing it ourselves…

Dr. McClurken said in class today that he didn’t think this project should or could be done by one person alone, but I really disagree the more I think about it.

I really think a lot of the problems we had as a whole group wouldn’t have happened. Even if there were only two people in the group, we wouldn’t have had as much confusion about who was doing what when. And yes, I think it would have been miserable scanning 400 documents, but that would have been 4 afternoons for me. I did all the uploading and more than half the metadata. I know I could have done it all, but I would have been working a lot harder than I did in 485. Just saying, it could have been done…not that it would have been fun, but it could have been done.

On the flip side, for all the constructive criticism we provided in class today, the bottom line we need to keep in mind is how amazing our class was. We did some really impressive work, and we learned things we never could have learned from anyone else that I know we’ll all be able to use again in our futures. So, bottom line is it was a productive class and I finally have some thoughts to blog about because I’m not just doing mindless repetitive work!

            The James Monroe group created two separate websites. The first site, the James Monroe Papers website, was created using Contribute following Dr. Preston’s specifications. We did meet with Jerry to learn how to use Contribute, and following his suggestion, most of the actually uploading through Contribute was completed by Kelly, who had Contribute on her computer. We completed the site by the specified deadline, although there were several items Dr. Preston asked us to tweak or changed his mind about later. Most of his later corrections could not actually be accomplished.

            As a group, we did not always maintain our status updates using Google Document work breakdowns, contrary to the contract. However, we worked to keep everyone up to date through blog posts and emails. We found we had problems with the work breakdowns because they were so similarly titled and people were often confused about which document was which. We also had problems with the work breakdowns because they did not allow for items that were finished but being tweaked or had stages beyond “not finished” or “finished” even with the comments section.

            By February 15, we did have some direction for what we wanted to accomplish with our website, the James Monroe website. We were able to stick to our deadline of March 20 to complete all of our scanning of the National Archives microfilm of Monroe’s Ministry to France. We also completed our timeline on schedule, although Kelly continued to work with the HTML after the data entry and basic timeline was completed to improve the basic outline. We did not complete the Omeka uploads until April 3rd, which was rather behind schedule, largely because we did not finish converting the files until March 31st.  This delay was largely because we ran into problems converting the files. Apple Photoshop (which was on the Macs in the Theater Department) did not have a clear “Batch Conversion” option. It was only after talking to DTLT and using the Microsoft Photoshop that we could figure out how to convert the scans from TIFF to JPEG files. The descriptive pages on Monroe that I had control over, being “Monroe’s Ministry to France,” were up before April 4, but we were still adding citations and working on the video after April 4 to pages I did not work on or have any control over.

I completed the file conversions, uploaded to Omeka, and completed three-fifths of the Omeka metadata on my own. I also helped with the corrections to the problems in the Omeka exhibits and metadata. I really wish we began the scanning process slightly earlier and started the metadata much earlier, with more people working on it. Because the metadata was so integral to the website, it was not something that should have been left to the last minute. However, most of the metadata required images to be uploaded, so it could only have been completed sooner if we began by partially uploading items as they were scanned. This might have been a better approach.

            As contracted, we used WordPress to create our site, Omeka to upload our documents, and Moviemaker to create a mashup on Monroe’s life. We created our required timeline using a Google Spreadsheet placed into Simile. We did not use Voicethread for our transcriptions, but we did use Dr. Preston’s guidelines which were provided much later than we expected. The contract was never changed to reflect this delay, as with many of the other delays.

            Overall, our group did not do a good job of keeping the contract and work breakdowns up to date with the problems we ran into.

Friday’s presentations were a good review/practice for Symposium, although they’ve raised some concerns for me. I felt like our group did a good well-organized presentation, but I was really bothered because I felt like we’ve all been presenting to each other repetitively, and I really hope that won’t happen at Symposium. I feel like our projects will be much more meaningful and interesting when we present them in the broader context of history–for example, if I were to present about James Monroe’s papers in a session on 19th century/Jeffersonian America, or the James Farmer group presented their work in relation to civil rights or African-American history, etc. I feel like we’ve been isolated into just “digital history” which is fine, but it continues a pattern we’ve commented on throughout the semester about the disconnection between historians and technology.

Of course, this wasn’t so well thought out Friday afternoon when all I could think of was how exhausted I was and how much I need a nap (or how unhappy I was with Dr. McClurken for no justifiable reason except that he and my Museum Lab class stood between me and finally going home).

So today we realized we had a problem with finding a bunch of the documents, which completely slowed down the metadata process.

I realized yesterday how much fast everything was going when I copied and pasted and I finally made sense of which numbers I was supposed to be working on.

Just when things were starting to get a little better, we seem to have run into a snag!

I really wish there were better search options in Omeka, because even the advanced search doesn’t let us search for the details we know are in the wrong entries. For example, the Bibliographic citation in all the problems have “Inclosure” spelled the British way instead of “enclosure” but a search of the category  “Bibliography” doesn’t return any results.  Very frustrating! There’s also no way to search the entire metadata of all posted material.

For my first article, I read about History and the Archival Profession, which hit very close to home. I worked at the State Archives for my first two summers of college, and they were perfectly happy with my academic history-based background. When I went to work at a local library’s archives, the archivist there refused to hire me because I “didn’t have an MLS.” She was very concerned with training in XML and EAD. This divide over background is particularly frustrating for students not sure where to go. I’m pursuing graduate programs that are all dual-degree MA History, MLS programs, because there’s such divide over what background is needed to be an archivist.

Unfortunately, history programs rarely focus on technological skills, the skills we’re really going to need. Half the students in our history program probably don’t know how to use a microfilm machine (a major requirement of archival work). Students don’t even know how to read historical handwriting half the time, they’re so used to reading typed transcriptions. How many history majors can identify historical photos by type? These are skills that we need to work with history.

Because of this, it’s really true that the “library science degree is now “the degree of choice over those from history departments.”” And this is a fairly recent change, meaning that it’s hard to get clear advice about which degree to pursue.

I really wish I had seen this article before I started applying to graduate schools, because I think it would have opened up some more options for me. I had looked at the Public History organization’s website, but I hadn’t found their archival concentrations, and I think that would have really helped me (maybe Dr. McClurken will have another advisee pursuing archival work who will benefit from this article?). The Society of American Archivists also publishes their own list of “approved” archival programs, which is pretty select.

The second article I read was Daniel J. Cohen’s Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical Scholarship. Zotero really excited me, far more than Del.icio.us. I don’t change computers often, but I loved the idea of organizing and annotating just academic sources in one place. (Del.icio.us seemed too disorganized for this).

The opening of this article really caught my attention, discussing dissertations. I really feel like we waste the information available in theses and dissertations, because they’re not readily findable or accessible. I’ve found a lot of dissertations that have looked interesting or I’ve wanted to read, but I frequently find them hard or impossible to access. When I asked about using dissertations I found cited in a bibliography for my thesis, I was told it was “too hard” and “not worth it.” It would be really neat if they could be posted somewhere online, like voluntarily through the LOC or something.

to-do list

At this point, I think my to-do list for this class is as follows:

  • finish gathering my sources (read: checking Turabian for complicated citations with multiple authors)
  • finish uploading files to Omeka–>We are now done converting files!
  • do my transcription

Things we need to take care of still, that I will probably be working on, too…

  • Omeka metadata for the batch uploads–>Is there any way to do some of the metadata in bulk? I thought there was, but it could just be a wishful memory
  • Go through the files to find and correct duplicates

uploading to omeka

So I feel like we’re finally making some progress with the uploads… Talya and I individually converted 50 files in Adobe Friday, we couldn’t figure out how to batch convert them. Hopefully we’ll be able to batch convert the rest. We finally got the batch uploading in Omeka squared away. Apparently no one else realized that they needed to use FTP, so when I was talking about how I couldn’t put anything in the dropbox (I thought I needed to download the dropbox plugin) with Kelly, she put two and two together. So, I got ftp going and I managed to upload all the files we’d converted (it took awhile to figure out where the files were supposed to go, but Kelly patiently kept troubleshooting/talking me through it). And then afte rthe files appeared in the dropbox, we hit upload!They still need to be checked for Lisa’s list of the duplicates, and probably reordered, but at least we have 50 images on our Omeka!

This is really exciting!


I copied our scans to my external hard drive today. It’s about 10 GB. I’m really glad it worked. I didn’t really have a good sense of how big it was going to be, but the file sizes scared me quite a bit. The only thing I had been sure of was Dr. McClurken thought they would definitely fit on a 280 GB hard drive. I had no idea how long it was going to take, I figured 3 hours was excessive, but I didn’t have much of a sense beyond an hour being a reasonable amount of time to plan for copying.

Yay for things working properly!

P.S. I don’t think I posted it here, but there’s a draft of Monroe’s Mission to France up in article form on the non-official website. Also very exciting! I need to do some more editing, but I managed to condense it all into a manageable web-appropriate summary (after a couple hundred pages of reading!)


Project wise: The computer/scanning room was locked by the time I got there today, so I’m bringing the external tomorrow to try to copy the TIFF files. I’m still not sure where our mass conversion will occur which has made me rather hesitant to save things to my external HD.

I’m one of those people having a hard time figuring out what to blog about. So, because of that I’m going to talk about the assignments for today.

For some reason, the youtube video seems to only be loading/playing 1:41 minutes of the 52 some minutes. I think the speaker’s point about going to Google as the source of data, and data as the source of progress makes sense, but that’s all I’ve gotten out of the video after several tries.

I really enjoyed Cohen’s article on  Babel to Knowledge and Data Mining, having worked on the archival end of keeping track of stuff, I understand how important indexes and databases are (and I’m really excited that Lisa was able to make so much progress with our index to the Monroe documents!). I really liked some of the tools Cohen developed. H-Bot looked like something I could actually see myself using (especially in light of all the times I check Wikipedia for a date I know but I can’t remember). The syllabus finder was also sort of fun, comparing what I had done in classes to other similar classes.

Cohen is right that digital collection search engines are generally very rudimentary (in fact, I hate searching collections like the LOC if I don’t have a date or something specific to help me find something).

I was interested in seeing how collecting data was a good thing for once instead of just a ploy by companies to market better to consumers or sell personal information, which was my first thought when i saw data mining.

We keep talking about how big these files are going to be with our finished scans, so while I was working on our presentation tonight I went in to the Hist Dept Suite and looked at the computer. Most of the scanned docs are 20, 000 KB. Figure 436 documents that big…Yeah. I don’t really understand all of the computer sized stuff, but it seemed like time to start the calculations…

Wonder if that will fit on my external hard drive… wonder if it’ll overwhelm Omeka…

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