Category Archives: Reflections

Historical Inquiry in Films

Robert Brent Toplin discusses in “The Historian and Film: Challenges Ahead” the way films have been viewed as supplemental materials for studying history, but not necessarily counted as a window into better understanding, analyzing, or inspiring historical thinking. He refers to E. O’Connor, who identified four broad ways historians can work with film, “they can study film as a representation of history, use it for insights into the social and cultural values of the past, examine it as a form of historical evidence, and study the history of the film and television industries.” Toplin points out that until recently the focus of utilizing film in teaching history has been  on elements in the plot and visual presentation, it concentrated on the movie. Thus, historians are expecting and demanding greater depth and breadth in the analysis of motion pictures as historical evidence.

In order to dig deeper into creating a broader historical analysis, students need to consider how filmmakers have interpreted the past and how much fictionalizing is acceptable in a given film. Toplin suggests that the production itself must be the subject of analysis examining  the personal background and viewpoints of the producers, directors, and writers. The production experience should also be part of analysis such as the economic and political pressures that might influence historical interpretation. Therefore historians should include scripts, unedited film clips, notes, business correspondence, interviews, and other circumstances that enhance understanding the completed film cannot possibly illuminate.

For instance, I have used The Great Debaters movie for several purposes in my middle school and high school classes. We watched the movie  to gain knowledge of debating techniques and how they may or may not have changed over time. Students have examined the historical context of the debaters, looking at segregation, discrimination, a snapshot of the Jim Crow South, and the determination of the human spirit to prove its greatness as it resonates with peaceful perseverance. To elevate and increase the depth of historical inquiry, in future lessons, I would assign a research aspect to examining the movie. Students would consider the director (Denzel Washington) and his  views on the big themes and issues of the movie. They could watch interviews and reviews of the movie to gauge its reception. In addition, students would consider other collaborators on the movie and their influence. Researching the movie myself, I have found curious details of the production regarding location and characters. Since the movie is based on a real story (some details of that are included in the credits at the end of the film), students would investigate how closely the film stayed to the actual story or how accurately were the characters portrayed. Then, students will need to step back and consider the film in its larger historical context, zooming out from the main story of a small black college overcoming adversity and becoming champion debaters. What other historical events were taking place during the 1930’s? What was left out? Why? How would the film be different if it was made before the events of the Civil Rights Movement?  Finally, students need to then re-examine their initial take on the film and evaluate not only its historical accuracy, but also its place in presenting history, people, and events.

 

History Teaching

How have external expectations constrained teaching and learning in history, and how might the digital turn disrupt those constraints?

The readings in Module 3 directed our attention to the elements of historical thinking in regards to how they have remained at the heart of history teaching over the past decades of the 20th century. They also painted a vivid portrait of a stagnating discipline that is in dire need of change. In Everyman his Own Historian Becker lays out the essence of history and how it has been and should be approached in teaching. As he explains, “that every generation, our own included, will, must inevitably, understand the past and anticipate the future in the light of its own restricted experience, must inevitably play on the dead whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.” Thus, he encourages teachers and professors of history to not only consider the rigid facts, but also allow for the historical thinking process, model and have students practice this thinking, which may yield a variety of interpretations. Furthermore, he alludes to history being  an “imaginative reconstruction of vanished events.” Becker elaborates on how, “It is thus not the undiscriminated fact, but the perceiving mind of the historian that speaks: the special meaning which the facts are made to convey emerges from the substance-form which the historian employs to recreate imaginatively a series of events not present to perception.” Keeping these ideas in mind, external constrains, such as knowing the facts and showing progress in historical thinking based on standardized test greatly undermined the success of teaching history.

Kelly’s article of Teaching History in the Digital Age, points out again that our teaching methods have not changed over the past century. Students’ struggles in the 21st century seem to ironically echo students from the 1917. He quotes Bell saying that “Too many other students take all statements with equal emphasis, keep all parts of the discussion upon the same level, and become hopelessly confused by the multiplicity of details.” Kelly then adds, “If Bell’s description of his students from 1917 sounds much like descriptions we often hear (or purvey) of our own students, at least some blame should lie in the fact that our teaching methods have not changed much since 1917.” The common vein that runs through these readings is the focus on factual understanding, not necessarily the promotion of historical sense, thinking, or practice. Moreover, some general assumptions of teaching history also presented constrains in student learning. As Kelly notes, “factual knowledge is often conflated with correct understanding—we assume that if our children know the facts, they will understand the facts.” In addition, students also assume that they know history whether it is the knowledge of main events in the nation’s history or the understanding of people who played part in it. I agree with Kelly’s recommendation that we should “destabilize their assumptions about the past” not to make it strange, but to force students to grapple with historical evidence on its own terms, “not based on stereotypes they bring to that analysis,” so they can begin to question the broad generalizations and formulate their own views. A dangerously misleading aspect of the same assumption is what James Axtell calls assuming self-knowledge, when students assume that because they are women, blacks, immigrants, or Republicans, they have a unique insight into how these groups of people thought and acted in a certain time in history. Thus, the recent attempts in teaching history guide students in the direction to “alienate the familiar.”

I believe that the digital turn does offer a disruption in the assumptions, stereotypical thinking, and false knowledge and offers a new way to investigate history with an open mind and with a fresh look at people even if things don’t make sense at first. Wineburg, in addition, offers his assessment of the changing scene for teaching history in the future: those who teach it must know it, the “great human interest” of history must translate into the classroom activities, and reconsider the way we assess historical thinking. Teaching history in the digital age allows access to multitudes of information, documents, primary sources, interviews, images, and more at a mouse click away. The abundance that surrounds factual history not only makes it more interesting or makes history come alive, but it also enables students to expand their thinking, the way they experience, compare, or question certain aspects of events or reactions of people.

While Levesque offers a definition: “Historical thinking is, indeed, far more sophisticated and demanding than mastering substantive (content) knowledge, in that it requires the acquisition of such knowledge to understand the procedures employed to investigate its aspects and conflicting meanings …”He also adds that “To think historically is thus to understand how knowledge has been constructed and what it means. Without such sophisticated insight into ideas, peoples, and actions, it becomes impossible to adjudicate between competing versions (and visions) of the past.” Technology aids us in helping students achieve that desired sophisticated insight, as Kelly concludes in his article, “The best way to use digital media to teach them[students] … to create learning opportunities that make it possible for our students to do history—to practice it as we practice it—to help them make history, using their own creative impulses, rather than simply giving us what they hope is the correct answer to a question we have posed.” Although technology is not the sole solution for eradicating teaching problems, it could however offer more resources and a new way of teaching, learning, and assessing historical knowledge that may direct our children to become the kinds of citizens we want and need for the future.

Bibliography

Becker, Carl L. “Everyman His Own Historian.” American Historical Review 37, no. 2. December 29, 1931. p. 221–36.

Kelly, T. Mills. “Teaching History in the Digital Age.” Digital Humanities. 2013.

Wineburg, Sam. “Crazy for History.” The Journal of American History 90, no. 4. March 2004.

Historical Thinking

Questions and tentative answers about teaching history that I hope to answer as the semester proceeds.

Question #1: What is historical proficiency and how is it measured?

Consideration that historical knowledge and historical thinking are the aims of survey courses, I recall Calder’s remark on his impossible final assignment, “impossible tasks call for the utmost one is capable of.” Students in most cases respond to meaningful tasks, even if they are challenging, so restructuring the way history is taught is a hopeful promise that could offer a more contemporary way to think about historical events, people who shaped them, and the results they produced for the generations following.

One of the ways I believe learning happens is by discovering. In my education, I was presented with the “traditional” ways of teaching of history both in high school  and college courses. It was an unending list of disconnected dates, places, and names, presented in textbooks, rarely questioned but soon forgotten. I was not asked to do the impossible, to think critically and analyze historical documents, they were already given meaning and assigned a place in history.  Often they lacked connection to the present. A few years after I graduated from high school and began preparing to study for the entry examinations in History and Literature for my double teaching major at a  Hungarian university, I was notified to discard all that I had learned from my high school textbook after 1945. Our textbooks were being rewritten – more accurately this time. The year was 1991. I can’t help but be skeptical about other’s interpretation of history, whether it is presented in a textbook, during a lecture, or explored in a scholarly journal. Students might feel more comfortable taking the prepared historical thinking in an introductory course and shy away from questioning facts, motives, and implications. Others might feel overly empowered to impart their own views on the rest. It is easy to envision a chaotic and clashing or silent and timid class. This takes us to consider how we feel about history, how were we affected by history in our own experiences. So, can we truly measure the success of Calder’s signature pedagogy? Will it lead to a sort of critical knowledge historians and teachers hope to impart on students of history?

Question #2: How should teachers manipulate primary sources included in survey courses?

I have found an intriguing parallel between teaching literature and historical thinking.  Wineburg, Lévesque, and Calder discuss stepping outside of the factual nature of history, which correlates with teaching literature by stepping outside the text and making connections to author’s biography, historical events, artistic, social, and cultural movements to gain a deeper understanding of the reading. It seems to me that the teaching of history is expending in that direction by examining primary sources the way they were not considered before. Context of history is more than how conflicts developed in a certain period of time, it is the personal and professional critical commentary surrounding them that allows us to see a more complete slice in time and ultimately question what we can learn. Thus, my second question is whether we can safely choose those primary sources to be included in the survey without inadvertently introducing an automatic bias. Students may conduct their own research and  could supplement the sources being considered. In additions, drawing parallels in between other nation’s history and our own could inform students.

Question #3: Could cross-curricular strategy work in promoting historical thinking?

My own experiences of teaching literature, more specifically close reading and critical analysis, using methodologies similar to Calder’s six moves and asking questions that lead us to a discovery of moral self-knowledge and knowledge of life made me wonder about expanding the investigation of history into other disciplines. Just as the interpretations of literary pieces are informed by history and culture, correspondingly, historical events may be viewed, questioned, reexamined through the lens of fiction.  Social, cultural, and political commentaries are frequent, if not a constant fuel for writers. Investigating history as what is included or left out of novels, what is prophesied, satirized,  or written as propaganda could ignite students thinking of history and connect to the humanness of this discipline. In his article “Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts”, Wineburg mentions Schindler’s List and the profound experience he had as the final credits rolled. Literature could provide another piece of the puzzle in the understanding of times before ours and the motivation of people we question. Writings of  Rachel Carson, Mark Twain, and Arthur Miller come to mind. For instance, my juniors have just finished reading The Great Gatsby and in their final essay they were asked to discuss the following questions, “F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in 1925, and here we are reading it so many years later. Why? What makes this book a “classic”? Use specific details from the novel, Fitzgerald’s life,  and from the articles you have read to support your answer.” Although students noted Fitzgerald’s style of writing, the focus of relevance argued moral issues, class, race, and how the author’s own life experience during the Roaring 20’s presented a view, which is hard to capture in textbooks.

Final DH Project Post

Pilot’s Log at Mesa del Rey was inspired by two projects: Bracero History Archives and Operation War Diary.  Although I am still continuing the work on my public history project prototype, I feel that reflecting on the process may help me stop editing and changing Pilot’s Log for now. My experience building this digital project breaks down into four components: investigation, consideration, demonstration, and conclusion.

When I stumbled upon the King’s Logs, my curiosity arose and the investigation began. To uncover the story of this place, to find the pilots from Mesa del Rey became somewhat of an obsession. However, searching on the Internet lead me to a fast halt. I had to go on foot and ask for information, often it seemed for directions. Then the multitude of calls and meetings, and archives seemed to be leading into a maze of confusing data. It seemed that I was deconstructing not one, but several puzzles. I kept wishing I had more time or knew more people or knew more about aviation. Starting from scratch and trying to build a project is a much bigger undertaking than I had perceived it before. To complicate things, it was becoming personal, as if I was investigating my own family history. First, I was simply going to collect a few photos from the logs and digitize pages of the local newspaper, but the more I discovered the less likely it seemed that I could leave out names or events relevant.

The research was  constantly in close proximity to my personas, I did not have to imagine them, they were quite real. Thus the consideration for the audience was present in every move I made. Looking back on this aspect, I believe it guided the outcome of the project a great deal. There were many suggestions, contacts, and inspired interviews. Some leads I still have to follow up on. Being close to submitting the final draft of the project, I realize that the imagined personas, aviation enthusiasts for instance, are probably not going to be well served on this site. Why would they be interested in all the old photos and something so out of place? Unless they have a personal connection, they wont be. In addition, I have included very little about planes because my primary focus was the people at the school. I envisioned the stories growing around each person on those photographs. And, what an amazing experience it was to interview a 95-year-old pilot/instructor. Again, this only became a reality because of the collaboration of my involved personas who helped record and film the interview to which we traveled 4 hours each way.

Then it came to demonstrate the results of all the search and design a site that will enable users to browse, contribute, and learn. Omeka and its plugins have worked smoothly enough and allowed me to organize, build, and feature the evolving history of this place. There were minor setbacks with technology, implementing Neatline seemed more than I could figure out, but Geolocation made it easy to map. Adding in metadata and tags as straightforward as it may be, required much time and effort. That was when I was beginning to wish for a team of knowledgeable cohorts to work with. Looking back on my initial plan of storyboard, I realized that I have developed something entirely different. Getting to this point in the process, I am only beginning to see the full picture and the possible avenues that could be taken or changed to make things more accessible for users. Crowdsourcing will not happen unless the crowd comes and offers input. I am not certain about the attraction to the site just yet. Just days before the publication of this project, I realized that although I am going back through the items and adding tags for more search options, it is not apparent from the home page that users may search via tags. My hopes of adding this feature crumbled as I searched Omeka for a solution. It is a complicated process, as I found out from Dr. Leon, “we can craft a call in php (the programming language that we use to make Omeka), but we’d have to edit the file that produces the simple pages within the plugin. In fact, the shortcodes are the only way you can add this stuff to simple pages without having to edit the code.” Hopefully someone will create a shortcode for a tag cloud.

The conclusion is the difficult part: when and where to stop. I know that the site is not finished since I have more ideas to make the searching of pilots easier and much more data and items to include. Since there is interest in publishing Pilot’s Log as a link in local sites, I will be continuing the building of items and refining metadata. While this project presented challenges, it also offered numerous rewards. When I think about how the site is going to benefit others/users, I hope to see contributors making connections from all around the country the way I saw the local people of King City gain interest and knowledge that will be preserved for some time.

I am looking forward to the next course in Public Digital Humanities with hopes of continuing on Pilot’s Log and expanding it with an educational aspect. I am also greatly inspired by all the other DH projects created in this course. I will consider Nashville Sites as a model for a work with the National Steinbeck Center to develop a walking tour similar to Mary Ellen Pethel’s “Nashville Sites,” but instead of the historical markers in Nashville, I will take John Steinbeck’s East of Eden novel as a guide and map the events and sites appearing in the novel ranging from King City to locations in downtown Salinas.

Project Update #4

After the short few months of working on this project, I would like to say that I am rolling to the finish line, however that is not the case. With each new idea or accomplishment, I find a new challenge. A challenge or a new direction, which means: keep building and expanding.

I finally uploaded more plugins to make the items searchable by metadata, commenting, dropbox, HTML5Media, and the geolocation. I might be over my head because configuring and making these work is going to be a quest to take. For instance, I am still uncertain how the mapping is going to work. Initially, I was hoping to map the different places in the country cadets came from, but I only have time and access to upload the class photos of about half of the ones who attended the school from the years 1943-44 since there were no logs made before. I am not able to trace all cadets (that would require a whole new project). I have to make the map searchable or at least I know it could be done. So, I will be playing with this the next few days, sorting out photos of pilots, their classes, and the places they came from.

The interview with one of the instructors went well, however, I am having difficulty getting the recording from the people who did it because of transferring it to a file that could be used for OHMS and added to mine. It is in the works of being uploaded to YouTube.

In addition, I decided to create a “Contributors” simple page to give credit to all the people who helped me along the way and with their permission, they could be part of the future conversation when/if this site grows and people respond or add information to it. I have also changed the header background, but I am not satisfied with how it looks. Moreover, I am rethinking how the place is introduced, named, and described. So, the “About” page might need to be renamed or rewritten. Am I writing about MDR’s history or am I writing about this project on the home page?

Mobile Landscape Reading Response

Reading through the articles in this module and exploring the sites that offer mobile public history I have come to view the interest for local history from a different angle. Local historians are truly passionate about their place and determined to show how it has changed – whether the change happened for better or worse.

Doing digital public history that is specifically tied to place expands our knowledge of how it “emphasizes active human curation as being vital to understanding place and community identity. In this, it builds on more than two decades of scholarship premised on the argument that “place” matters.” Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era Mark Tebeau.  And so it does. People who reside in that place wish to draw attention to its proud moments in history, curious sites, or famous people who resided there. It seems that some of the projects grew out of the passion local historians showed towards their place. As outsiders, people may ask questions about a place inquiring: Why does this place matter? Why should I care? Why should I visit this place? Digital technologies have enabled the public to find answers to these questions on the spot. The instant history received through a mobile device makes fast connections, opens doors, and sheds light on a place as it is experienced live.

The Spokane Historical Site shows how the city has become what it is today through “Ghost Sign Tours,” invites people to its parks by relating their history, and highlighting the Hillyard Community. These stories not only dig deeper into local history, but also connect small towns to bigger events in the nation’s history. Often towns wish to bring back their history that is lost in the presence, it is hard to find its remains because the landscape of the population has altered the course in which changes take place. A booming mining town might completely disappear from the landscape existing only as a ghost town on the map. Migrant communities bringing their own culture change the needs the city has. People who represented the stories in a place move, but buildings and parks remain. Digital technologies recreate these experiences and bring them back to the present time even if the physical landscape of people, buildings, and spaces have changed.

While these DH technologies enabled public history to come alive in any place and any time, Mark Tebeau points out that “much of this work does not call forth rich historical contexts but picks and chooses which elements to sell to consumers.” Thus the question arises: Are these mobile public history technologies developed to promote history or to increase business or tourism? Academia might also agree with  Tebeau’s observation since stating the facts of history differs from examining them.

In regards to my own project, I gained a finer understanding, I hope, of why telling the story of the flight school could be important for those locals who have no connection to it. My local historian helpers are tireless in providing me with more leads to follow even though they have no family or friend who participated. What seems to drive their passion is to dig up more history of a place that has been nearly wiped off the map, a place that has changed drastically because of the population and its needs. As they are documenting old buildings and streets, they are not only counting the addition to population and business, but also rebuilding a past that does not correlate with the presence. Thus, a mobile tour of King City could make this place blossom and bring back much pride in its generational inhabitants while informing the rapidly growing new locals.

 

Oral History Reading Response

In Oral History in the Video Age, Peter B. Kaufman makes a solid argument that in the digital age where the audience of cultural or social history is highly engaged through audio recordings and video screens “‘the thin soil of antiquarian research’ alone could be a teeming and colorful garden, if its keepers recognized how many essays in the online journals of the field could be pollinated by sound clips from libraries like University of Kentucky’s or UNC-Chapel Hill’s.” On one hand, making a point that oral history must keep up with the age of technology in order to engage the audience. On the other hand, he points out that the audience also is in process of making history by recording their own history, which in turn becomes something they desire as an outcome of telling repositories.

The digitization of history, documents, photos, and other artifacts has transformed how we look at or access and perceive historical documents and history in general. Digital technologies have transformed our experiences, the way we engage with archival material. Doug Boyd in OHMS: Enhancing Access to Oral History for Free discusses the purpose and development of  OHMS in overcoming the challenges posed by oral histories. For example, “They tend to treat the different components of the oral history information package (audio, video, transcript, index, and metadata) as separate entities.” The Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS) proposes to users of archival platforms the access to audio, transcript, and search of the text, all while listening to, or watching, the interview. While developing an infrastructure to accommodate these elements can be costly and difficult to implement, it is possible. OHMS provides a free, open source, web based oral history system. Here users are able to perform word searches and provide time correlated transcripts. They offer video tutorials on how to use the system and OHMS can be integrated with other platforms such as  Omeka, Kora, and Drupal.

Audiovisual information in nature makes us less reliant on text for knowledge, and when even more of us have the ability to express ourselves in audiovisual media, perhaps we will be able to explore new avenues in telling history. For instance, the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project does a comprehensive job on presenting the U.S. Cold War nuclear weapons programs through interviews with a wide range of people associated with the NTS. Along with the videos, they offer a thorough transcript, which in a way backs-up or documents the interviews and makes it available in text in its entirety. The Bracero Archive  provides a huge collection of interviews. The Nevada Test Site project seems to go in more depth of examining the topic, while the Bracero project aims in collecting the stories of an experience. They are both effective in engaging the audience with audio or audiovisual storytelling as they present different perspectives on immigration issues or raise questions about tests and other national security programs.

When conduction oral history, one has to step into a different time zone. The immediacy of the person who was among the people that experienced the events the project attempts to describe requires attention. Oral history cannot be conducted from books or notes, they are alive, they diverge, and they dictate their own path. After I interviewed one of the instructors from Mesa del Rey, I realized how my perspective of this local history was organized from looking in with my studies of WWII history from books. Red Rider recolored that picture quickly by telling vignettes of his experiences as a pilot and instructor by allowing his audience to go to the places he has been. It made me rethink what aspects of this projects should be given priority over others. I had considered including details of the building process of the airport since the city offered documents. Instead, I realized that I need to return my focus to the pilots and the personnel who were part of the school because they had created the legacy, and people interested in learning about this local history will connect to the personal anecdotes first before they would read the detailed description of how the school became possible.

Reading Response – Local History

These readings speak directly to the work I am conducting for my project, Pilot’s Log. When a local historian begins a project, it has an initial goal to portray an aspect of local history. As Tammy Gordon lays out in “Community Exhibition: History, Identity, and Dialogue,”  when the “funding comes from the community, the scope of its mission is to educate people about “this place,” through telling a story from the local perspective. It is the history of that place, people, or an event as it is viewed from within that community, filtered through the eyes and experiences of the people who lived there during a specific time or event. And this presents the first challenge in doing local history; people have different experiences, opinions, and views – even from the local perspective. Thus the local historian may have an agenda with the project, however, it could easily be derailed by other local participants to alter focus or include elements originally not intended.

I ran into similar bumps as I began my flight school project. The true local historians who initially spurred me on to research and collect the history of the flight school in King City have  pushed to extend it to include people, stories, and places from town that I did not intend to do so. They were insistent on accompanying me to meetings with people who could point me in the right direction or give one more bit of information to complete the puzzle. While I appreciated the help, the guiding questions and the direction of the research began to move from what I had envisioned to what they were interested in seeing and hearing. This, of course keeping in mind my audience/personas, made me reconsider and adjust my steps. However, when we co-interviewed (I brought the questions and they asked to film it) one of the pilots, I had to step back and allow for them to be present and realizing their interest, invited them to bring their own questions too. We had different focuses: I was interested in knowing about the daily life of pilots and instructors and the life of the person I was interviewing to better understand the legacy of this place and how it factored into the lives of people who had experienced it. They, on the other hand focused on how it connected to their city, what legacy the city has because of the flight school, and what additional history might be discovered about King City because of this school.The flip-side of the coin is that even though I do not intend to include most of their questions on my site, they helped shape my perception from a local perspective of how important this project is to them, and how much deeper and farther does it reach in their local history than what I (a non-native of the city) could possibly perceive. So, who are we to say that local history is less important to academic historical views? I am not approaching this project with an academic eye, but with a fresh locally attached mind, yet the true residents of the place have many levels and layers of understanding, interest, passion, and inquiry over me.

Surveying the Low Country Digital History Initiative, I realized the many facets of approaches a local history project may present in order to paint a picture that is unique but connected and comprehensive in the same time. A visitor might initially perceive this site as one that focuses on telling stories of the African American experience. However, if they dig deeper, the stories not only turn the corner and begin from new angles with each exhibit, such as religion, slave trade, education, art, or labor and industry, but also include Jewish heritage and connect to similar local experiences. This makes me reflect on what I am leaving out from my own project. Is my perception so narrow that I will misinterpret this piece of local history? Thus, I feel the need to slow down and look around to extend connections of what I have discovered so far.

Besides the thematic, interpreting, and featuring challenges of one’s local history project, I certainly fear the technological aspects the most. Reading through Lauren  Gutterman’s  “OutHistory.org: An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making,”  sharpened my lacking knowledge in this field. They “began to realize OutHistory.org’s mistakes only after it launched.” It made me realize that I have not thought about outlining the crowdsourcing  side of this project. According to them, “Even the simplest tasks—logging in to the site and creating new pages—were confusing and deterred participation. It became clear that users avoided the tools,” and “failed to take advantage of the “Help” pages. It is almost that I will need to set up a persona just to predict and determine the best interface, user-friendly access, and research or browsing interest of visitors. In addition, if and when users discover the site, Pilot’s Log and will have materials to share, I need to think about their wishes to protect the information they added. As  Gutterman noted,    “users have preferred to create their own exhibits, instead of editing existing ones, and the collaboratively written content we envisioned has not yet appeared.” Remaining flexible, asking for help, and working closely with potential users are a few important considerations that local history project builders need to adhere to and follow the trail of the excitement of uncovering and sharing history.

 

 

Project Update – 2

This week’s work on my Pilot’s Log site consisted of behind the scenes work. After my oral history interview with Red Rider, I decided to go back to the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum to follow up on some of the points from the interview and on other sources found at the King City Airport. I was able to locate most of the articles published in the local newspaper chronicling the opening operation and closing of the flight school. In addition, I found all of the columns written by Al Tax titled, “Flight Lines” that reported on the flight school from the inside. While exciting to learn about all this history, the digitization process presented itself with some testicles. Archived newspapers bound in a giant book are difficult to photograph because of where they fall on the page and how they are arranged. Some part are difficult to read because of how the accumulated pages bend, turn, or not turn all the way. Also documenting the date is sometimes harder that it needs to be. Do I get a close-up on the article for better readability or do I zoom out to include the date, or both? My other frustration is that now I have even more items to work with. I am questioning the value of including all of this when the project needs to be completed in 6 weeks. While I am uncovering a lot of history about the school, it is difficult to find and present the pilots as I had intended. Unfortunately, there aren’t many pilots around anymore, so as much as I am interested in featuring them it seems increasingly more difficult to stay with that plan.

Another aspect that has been hanging over my had is working with the plugins and deciding which ones I will implement. My first try to add and activate a new plugin did not work, so I decided to come back to it. The collections and exhibits are developing either on the site or in my head. However, I am still collecting information that requires a lot of reading, editing, and writing. I keep thinking whether my audience/personas would be interested in having all that information at hand. Moreover, I have three additional contacts to follow up in the local community that might lead to more items to be digitized and described, such as diaries, photos, and letters.

Project Update -1

The past week I have worked on getting ready to interview a ninety-five-year-old WWII pilot who was an instructor at Mesa del Rey Flight School in King City during the war. Thus, I have been reading through all the material given to me by various people.  Copies of the History of Mesa del Rey have been given to me by people at the King City Airport from their collection, I received one from a private collection of a local couple, and one from Rava Ranches (currently occupying the old school grounds), however they were all low quality copies and difficult to read. After some additional reading of other articles and notes typed on a typewriter, I have discovered who wrote this history article and where I can find an official copy of it. Ultimately, this article, which was originally published in the local newspaper around 1943, helped me understand more about the construction and start of the flight school, so I could develop more meaningful questions for the interview. It also contained the names of many  officers and instructors, which could provide clues and inspire stories during the interview.

Along with the reading, I was also continuing to digitize the King’s Logs and through working with the content of the logs, I am beginning to see the plan of the website expand in new directions. I am also beginning to realize that I could use an assistant because I am uploading more and more items on the website (currently at 42), putting them in collections or exhibits, but neglecting to complete the metadata for them. So I am having to go back to tediously complete that too. In some cases I am still searching for names, places, or origins of the documents. I have also found out that the first two years there were no logs that document the lives of cadets, officers, and instructors at the school. In the meantime, I reconsidered the name of the site and added the specific name of the school to the original, “Pilot’s Log” title. I though it was too general and in order to attract the target audience, having the name of the place as part of the website’s title could make a difference.

As far as the class activities and readings, I jumped to Module 7, which gives background on oral history projects, OHMS, and in general the importance and application of it. I have found the OHMS interview annotating activity particularly useful, even before I did any practice of my own. Just to be able to listen to examples of collecting oral history helped me formulate my questions and most of all helped me understand the importance of letting the person tell his or her story, whichever story they prefer and the way they want to tell it, even if it does not answer the question I asked or leads into a completely new topic. I watched the interview with Steve Zahn and the skillful way Doug Boyd navigated it. I also peaked at the Irish American oral history because it features an older person and I wondered how else I might need to approach my pilot, Red Rider, who is nearly a hundred years old. The interview was a success, although unnerving since I’ve never attempted anything like this before and I felt that everyone (there were 10 people present during the interview)  looked to me as a professional in this field.

It seems to me at this point that I have an overabundance of material and need to focus my attention on the building of the site. I am still operating with the three basic plugins and need to download more. Also starting to think about maps, which will be another technical challenge. However, before all that, my goal is to have all items digitized, uploaded, and described.