Module 4 and Module 5 Reflection

In the maze of metadata, labels, collections, exhibits, oral history and interfaces, I found a pleasant comfort in Suzanne Fischer’s “Developing Your Synthetic Powers” article. Just as I thought that I was drowning in too much information attached to multitudes of images without a vision of how they might appear to an audience, Fischer’s take on synthesizing it all calmed the waters. “Absorption is the keyword. Don’t sweat it too much but read for argument and citation, so you start to map the field in your mind–what ideas and what people are important to understanding the topic” (Fischer).  Stepping back and letting the material settle and form its own story finally started to happen. The following points were also helpful in gauging my direction in the project:

  • “Need to have a sense of how many of the things you’ve learned will fit in the project and where.”
  • “An important caveat: an artifact can be a small detail, and artifacts may be the heart of your project. This means that you need to constantly test your high-level ideas interactively against the artifacts.”
  • “Either you go too far and lose the fascinating particularities that attracted you to the topic in the first place or you don’t go far enough and end up with a list of facts.”

As I was reading through, “Telling an Old Story in a New Way: Raid on Deerfield, The Many Stories of 1704,” it made me reconsider the purpose of my project. How am I engaging my audience? Are my collections organized with the aim to educate or simply inform? What sort of historical, social, or cultural questions am I posing? Are there new perspectives I can present or solicit? Surprisingly, some of the simplest answer emerged as I began working on the metadata and fussed over attempting to describe the items. I kept thinking – what would my persona want to see  or know – and changed many of the metadata elements. Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition presented a wonderful reminder that within the project we are also creating a narrative. My responsibility is to engage and interpret, but also tell a certain kind of truth about the life of the pilots at Mesa del Rey in my project. By collecting images, anecdotes, and gauging the responses of my personas, I am enthralled and unnerved to know that all that gathering, reading, and viewing has so much meaning to others and they are awaiting patiently to see what will this project become.

The Curator Rules and Exhibit Labels reminded me of times browsing in museums and passing on reading the labels for the very same reasons this presentation explained. I appreciated Steven Lubar’s  candid opinion regarding the rules, “They’re not natural laws: they are customs we have accepted.” Thus we must learn them and break them, just like great writers who know grammar, so they may break the rules at will. Modules Four and Five emphasized what building blocks are needed to create a strong digital project. This foundational work is crucial in defining a good solid plan for a digital history project that includes a clear purpose, attainable goals and specific audience in mind. Creating the personas seemed almost silly at first, especially because I had talked to a good number of real people during the course of my research. However, taking the time to think through the project from the perspective of these people and writing their profiles out extended my vision and goals for the project. I kept adding more and more details to the personas as I combined the different people I had met.

Storyboarding gave me the push to reshuffle my items, the collections, and truly begin to build and develop the project. However, in the same time, Shawn Medero’s “Paper Prototyping” slowed me down once more to reflect on colors, arrangements, images, layers, and how it all fits together. The pages and connections started evolving more and pointing in directions that led to new layers.

Overall, this project is really just beginning. I am still maneuvering to figure out better ways to describe metadata, or just be able to keep up with describing the items accumulating. Contemplate how to include maps or how many and what kind and learn to work the plugins. There is so much more information I haven’t gathered that people are offering – most of the human elements (personal anecdotes, photos, and handwritten notes ) of this project are non-existent on the few available websites. As Richard Rabinowitz tells, the way an exhibit (site) is created will “shape the conditions of how visitors encounter and make meanings,” and while “visitors themselves bring the most potent mediating devices—their own experiences, expectations, and habits of mind,” we have the opportunity to provide the platform on which they may embark to read, connect and discover.


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