Archives and the Quest for Quality Education

pictured above: a representation of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Courtesy of the Vanderbelt University Center for Teaching).

In the education world, goals of student learning are well-depicted by Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierachal model used to classify learning objectives  . At the top of the pyramid are the highest skills educators are encouraged to utilize: having their students be able to logically and empirically appraise material (evaluation) or ultimately, being able to create something original based on the content (creation or synthesis). These goals are known to educators and layman alike: the ability for students to think critically and originally. The drive for critical and orginal thought in the classroom appears in educational theory and standards nationwide. Many students simply aren’t doing this in their classrooms. This lack of critical thinking is leaving public officials, as well as regular commentators, clamoring for a solution. Critical thinking is as important as ever in an era of alternative facts, cultivated doubt, and a polarizing media. In this vacuum enters the archivist and the archives.

The opportunity for archivists to enter our schools is best addressed in Anne J. Gilliland-Swetland’s “ Am Exploration of K-12 User Needs for Digital Primary Source Materials” , published in The American Archivist in Spring of 1998. While this article is dated, it tackles important issues: the incorrect idea that the archives requires skills and maturity that is reserved for the highest grades, the  incorporation of technology and need for digitalization, and equal access. I would argue that the problem has grown more dire, following the passage of the standardized-testing obsessed No Child Left Behind Act  and its related-replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. Students are over-tested and teachers are teaching to tests that rate student mastery and teacher effectiveness poorly. Worst of all, and arguably related, teachers are tethered to lessons that utilize low-level taxonomy skills.  The archives and archivists are resources that can be used to teach students how to conduct research and most importantly, develop the skills to evaluate arguments and  form unique viewpoints.

The archive is not out of reach of many students; it just requires various levels of scaffolding by the teacher to meet the student’s levels. In some cases, as seen in the “We Connect” program referred to in Swetland’s article, educators can use the archive to create high-level taxonomy exercises that meet student’s developmental ages and skill sets. In other cases, the archive is simply a place that allows egalitarian access to quality materials under the guidance of a local expert; teachers often don’t have the time, skill or resources to vet the sources students utilize or to provide students source material. The local archive is a valuable resource that can serve the needs of many educators and students. While my experience relates to Social Studies, and effective educator can bring critical thinking and creativity into any subject classroom.

Laura Schmidt’s “Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research” is an excellent example of the archive entering the classroom. The well-crafted resource has likely brought classrooms into local archives. It defines what an archive is, an archivist’s terminology, and how to use the archives in a format familiar to high school students and teachers. Bolded terminology, images, and a lack of unnecessary jargon communicate to a layperson how to approach an archive. Social studies teachers in Pennsylvania (and most likely across the nation whether by coincidence or Common Core) are required to include primary source work in their lessons. Also, many other subjects are required to meet literacy objectives during the year or motivated to more actively engage students . Teachers benefit from resources that enhance their classroom at no cost to the district, teachers, or students.

Many educational institutions and archives actively seek to engage  educators with seminars, lesson plans, and resources geared towards pre-prepared research topics. In this way, archives entice teachers to bring the local archive into the classroom and ensure a future group of archives users. Engaging students doesn’t mean just digitalizing content nor does the archivist have to attempt to wear the teacher’s hat. The best an archivist can do is know their community and actively be engaged with the needs of quality educators; a collaborative relationship is essential between experts of the education of archival world. One area which could increase participation among archives and classrooms is to work towards STEM-related (science,technology, engineering and math) materials housed in archives.

As a future educator, working with local archives is a natural choice when aiming for higher level activities or when supplementing my curriculum. Students who can evaluate arguments are more capable of critical thought and given a tool that develops empathy—whether it’s an elementary school class being scaffolded to argue the choices of fairy tale characters amongst each other or the high school level debate over the trial of Thomas Preston following the Boston Massacre. lessons utilizing primary source evaluation and personal engagement lead to the valuable instances of learning. These students, who receive such instruction, often possess the analytical and emotional ability to handle debates many adults shy away from; I would not be afraid to ask these students, trained over many years of schooling before they reach my high school class, to debate for the 2016 presidential candidate opposite to their own personal beliefs.  After completing this level of evaluation, students who create something new show the ultimate mastery of material applied in a more real-world context. But the higher the taxonomy, the more planning and skill is required, these educational goals are best achieved when they aren’t done alone.To meet these goals best, it truly takes a village–the educator, the archivist, and the community at large.

 

Week 3: Opportunity Cost and Productivity: Two Concepts Every Archive Should Consider

“Archivists are not savers of records for their own sake; rather they save so that archival records can be made available and used.”[1] However, according to “More Product, Less Process” by Mark Green and Dennis Meissner, a 2003-2004 study revealed that at least 60% of repositories had at least a third of their collection unprocessed.[2] Roughly 33% of data in these reported archives is therefore, unavailable to the public. Since the publishing date of this article is 2005, one can only imagine the issue has grown exponentially. If methodology for processing archives has yet to widely break from tradition, it must do so soon.

Green and Meissner offer the following logical guidelines: process faster, arrange materials in an “adequate” way to meet user needs with “sufficient” description, and take minimal steps to preserve collection materials. In the eyes of the authors of this article, archives suffer from a lack of productivity. More specifically, a drive towards quality at the price of productivity. Just as standardization and time management increased productivity in the economic sector, it will and must in the archival world.

I agree that archives need to adopt practices and more importantly, the mentality, of productivity. Metrics are important. As a graduate student, I am and continue to learn the importance of my time as I find less of it available. I have learned to roughly gauge my time and the amount of work I can do in a set time frame. Even before grad school, I had to learn the necessity of productivity. My inbox overflowed with time-sensitive e-mails during student teaching; parents demanded instantaneous responses, as did students, advisors, and professors. It seemed unreal and I realized I could no longer craft every email meticulously. I read somewhere to set a timer, to set a maximum time for an email response, then move on. You pull out the important information in an email and respond professionally and to the point. While I attest I never perfected this method and currently revert to my pre-professional days, the lesson was clear. Time is important and quality is decided by the volume of work. An archivist should put volume over quality if the basic purpose of an archive is met: people being able to find items and use them.  What may be most damning comes forth in Jennifer Schaffner’s “The Metadata is the Interface.” “We understand archival standards for description and cataloguing, but our users by and large don’t.”[3] Not only may the current traditions be too time consuming, but they seem to also work against the ease at which archival material can be accessed. We know we must change how we process archival holdings, but the open-ended question is: how do we standardize practices that increase productivity in a cost-effective and adequate manner across all archives?

 

[1] James O’Toole and Richard Cox, Understanding Archives & Manuscripts (Archival Fundamentals Series), Chicago:  Society of American Archivists, 2006, 124.

[2] Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner. “More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing.” American Archivist 68, no. 2 (2005). http://www.archivists.org/prof-education/pre-readings/IMPLP/AA68.2.MeissnerGreene.pdf, 3.

[3] Jennifer Schaffner. “The Metadata Is the Interface: Better Description for Better Discovery of Archives and Special Collections, Synthesized from User Studies.” OCLC Programs and Research, 2009. http://library.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p267701coll27/id/444, 4.

Week 2: We Can’t Save it All: My Thoughts on What makes an Archivist

Living in Bucks County, I’ve heard of many places that claim to have been used, traveled through, or inhabited by George Washington and his men during the American Revolution—in fact, the farmhouse I spent my early childhood in was one such place. Growing up, it appeared many of these places tapped into America’s “founder’s chique’” in order to fight for survival. These places, of doubtful importance, seem to captivate passersby who view the various locations with unquestioned reverence; as though they are the Stations of the National Cross. Some of these places, if they have museums, even contain artifacts one would expect to find of a local saint in remote monastery; a piece of Washington’s wig, a signature, or part of a tent. We, who admire, study, and preserve history, at times have a blindly-strong bond to tangible things related to revered individuals. “But of course, you must save Washington’s correspondence, this has value. His locket of hair, it’s Washington’s after all! And don’t forget a tent he may have used once, it has a  great story behind it.” We venerate objects and attach importance to them, following some deep cultural tradition, without asking why. Does this happen in some archives as well?

The archivist, in professional principle, seems different; he or she acts with logic. The need to preserve history and the strong connection to objects/data are met with the realities of an archive’s purpose. The archivist isn’t a relic holder and every item taken must represent a logical choice. The space and the resources of an institution are finite. Opportunity cost is as important as assuring the items you invest in have utility. In such an environment, you could not save Washington’s signature, or one would even ask “Does this archive need Washington? Or does this archive benefit from an acquisition policy that collects the writings of the Martha Ballards in history (a long overlooked diary of regular events from a midwife that helped Laurel Thatcher Ulrich write her famous book on Frontier Women’s’ lives entitled A Midwife’s Tale).” As Mark Green said in “The Power of Archives: Archivists Values and Value in the Postmodern Age”, Archivists have power. What they save dictates what historians can write and therein by the stories of the past we create.

I am embarrassed to say I’ve always thought of archives as though they were attics of objects and data; a place to store things of “value” for the life of the archives. Instead, I see the archives as a living institution that should change with the times and should work around the evolving interest of researchers. The value of the items within a properly-functioning archive not only have quantifiable value, but that value can shift as administrations or the public’s use changes. A good archive has a deacquisition and reappraisal policy. Just as we cannot save every place every historical “rock-star” was, we cannot save everything a creator creates. Or, in that case, even anything from a famous individual at all. An archivist is not an amateur collector and an archive is not a memorabilia warehouse.

Here is a valuable hypothetical: the archive is a place where the unusually-meticulous records of a historically-forgotten innkeeper — and who may have even housed Washington—becomes more important to history than any possession from the great Washington himself.

 

Week 1, Archives and Manuscripts: Honor a last Wish or Broaden the Archives?

After the death of renowned American playwright Edward Albee on September 16, 2016, the fate of his last known project “Laying an Egg”— a story about a middle-aged woman­ trying to become pregnant—was legally ordered by his own will to be destroyed. A provision in Albee’s will clearly states ““If at the time of my death I shall leave any incomplete manuscripts I hereby direct my executors to destroy such incomplete manuscripts.”[1] Albee later strictly clarifies ““treat the materials herein directed to be destroyed as strictly confidential and to ensure that such materials are not copied, made available for scholarly or critical review or made public in any way.”[2]  Should the executors honor the legality of Albee’s will while looking for a loophole which may allow the unpublished play to be preserved or should the they honor the clear intent of his will and destroy the work?

 

As a student new to the world of archives and manuscripts, I wonder the value an unfinished play may have to a future researcher looking to write about Albee or playwrights from his generation. Albee’s latest work, and one which has not explicitly reached the stage of a final draft, may give future scholars and enthusiasts of Albee’s plays a rare window into his writing process and how recent times have shaped his last known project. This opportunity to view an Albee work that did not receive his final stamp of approval may tell us many things; will it perform differently than a finished Albee play? Do we see an evolving artist overtime? What works did playwrights create in our times?

 

The historian and researcher in me would like to read this unfinished play; the last brilliant story from the mind that created Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? But, the human being in me knows this play must be destroyed.

 

Archival theorist Sir Charles Hillary Jenkinson believed it was solely the creator’s responsibility to destroy material prior to its arrival at an archive. While Jenkinson’s theory seems to speak more against the archivist as an appraiser of value, it acknowledges the control the creator has over what he or she creates. The creator inherently has the ultimate right to control his or her own “archive/ manuscript collection” prior to its arrival at an archive or manuscript repository. Creators have the inherent right to control how narratives of their creations are shaped and what will be available to the public (at least in the terms of what the creator has legal ownership of).

 

Do we honor the wishes of a creator and relinquish control over material? Or do we disregard a creator’s wishes in a legal way for the sake of the public?

 

 

[1] Paulson, Michael. “Edward Albee’s Final Wish: Destroy My Unfinished Work.” New York Times, July 4, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/04/theater/edward-albees-final-wish-destroy-my-unfinished-work.html?mcubz=3.

 

[2] Ibid.

Military History Veterans Podcast

 

For my digital history project, I decided to make a podcast incorporating the interviews of four veteran/service members who discussed modern military service. I decided to do this topic because my generation of veterans and service members aren’t being represented well or in their own words often. West Chester’s Soldiers to Scholars project inspired me to make my own version of a veteran project that kept their project’s positives and negatives in mind.

To gather the data for this project, I assembled veterans who varied in their experiences and had served/continue to serve in the Post-9/11 military. My interviews include a former Enlisted Marine Corps infantryman who spent 4 years in the military, a retired US Army Colonel who was Military Intelligence, an active-duty Army Captain who is Infantry, and an active-duty enlisted Airforce Staff Sergeant who works with fighter aircraft munitions. Privacy was essential to this project, especially since active-duty personnel could get in trouble for contributing. I also had to make sure veterans and service members where not providing secret or sensitive information. To accomplish this task, I had the participants sign a waiver and consent verbally and in written-form.

The audience I had for this project was very broad and included: military history enthusiasts, high school and college students, other veterans, and a wider public who may be interested in hearing what military service was/is like and what it meant/means service members. I assume my audience could access this project via any digital media device (any device that is internet-accessible and can play MP3 files). I chose the MP3 file format since it has been around over 20 years and continues to be a standard for audio files. In regards to my target audience, they must be mature enough to understand the interviewees stories, and to hear the explicit language and content. A caveat about the language and material in the content means it should not be a stand-alone podcast for young adults. However, as a compiled primary source, it provides wide view of military service post-9/11. To appeal to students and military buffs, I asked veterans to recommend one book while also including a list of books relating to Post-9/11 military service. I also tried to frame the content with my introduction and narrations, but I wanted to have minimal impact on the veteran’s stories since their words are the focus of my project. I merely have interpreted their argument via my questions and framing of the finished product

The podcast is the best tool to present a veteran’s stories and experiences because of its accessibility, the fact it presents a veteran’s story in their own words and it can be easily collected, edited, played, and stored. This project is accessible because of the size of my MP3, the file format, and the ease using mp3 recording devices to capture a veteran’s audio. I used Garage band to create, compile and edit the veteran interviews. More importantly, veterans who I could not interview in person I interview and record from Skype. By recording veteran’s interviews verbatim and via Garage band, I could compare veteran’s interviews and edit them to make a sensible podcast theme. My project also seemed to encourage some veterans to speak openly about military service in a way that they may not have in a more formal interview. However, it’s important to mention my relationship with the vets helped and in addition to making their anonymity a key priority.

While I make a point to not inject a concluding interpretation in my podcast, expected differences and striking similarities among the four veterans is presented. For instance, when I asked the two veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom how they felt about Afghani allies, one veteran talked about the positive relationship he had with the people, followed by another vet, who told a story about how his unit was attacked by their Afghani allies and how he did not trust them. The similarities of veterans’ experiences are interesting because they had very different career trajectories. The Army Colonel was a retiree from the Armed forces; the Army Captain, is active duty infantry officer and combat veteran; the Air Force Sergeant is active and enlisted; and the Marine corps veteran was an enlisted infantryman and had a severely negative view of the military. All the veterans agreed on how they wish the public to see them, several veterans agreed on training, and all represented a broad range of military experience. I only regret having not interviewed a Navy veteran.

In the future, I will build upon this project and use it in my classroom. I hope I can incorporate more veteran interviews in order to gain a more nuanced view of the military and military service post-9/11. Future work to this project will allow me to work on the quality of audio by investigating better methods to record individuals over skype. In addition, I will also be mindful of using professional tools (a better microphone, a more controlled audio environment, and a more nuanced interview process). Working on this project has been an incredibly fulfilling.  For the first time, I will say that I’m working on a project that I would continue even after I leave graduate school. It was amazing to see how these service members appreciated my project and how happy they were to see I cared about their experiences. I hope that when I present this project publicly, it will inspire people to listen to service member’s stories, inspire service members to contribute their own stories for posterity, and inspire future historians to start their own projects.

        *  *  *

“Service members Speak:  The Middle East and U.S. Military Service post-9/11” 

Recommended Reading list

Veteran/Active Duty Recommended

Veteran USMC Cpl Aaron– “This book is about a small, fierce fighting force and relates to how marines see themselves… [many Marines I met know this book].”

 Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Stephen Pressfield 

 S. Army CPT Mark:

Platoon Leader: A Memoir of Command in Combat by James R. McDonough

“This book prepared me for what I would experience in Afghanistan [even though this memoir was about Vietnam, many of the lessons rang true].” 

(Retired) U.S. Army COL Paul: 

This Kind of War: A Study in unpreparedness by COL T.R. Fehrenbach 

“[The author, writing about the Korean War,] addresses the costs of shortchanging an Army’s ability to train and fight and what happens when an Army shortchanges itself in terms of decision making. Compelling and thought-provoking, it offers [a myriad of] lessons for junior officers and NCO’s.”

Air Force SSgt. Matt 

( No suggestions offered)

Readings Suggested by the Author

Fiction:

Fobbit by David Abrams

 Redeployment by Phil Klay

Non-Fiction:

Desert Storm (1990-1991):

The Gulf War 1990-91 by William Thomas Allison

The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War by Alex Vernon

The Mother of All Battles: Saddam Hussein’s Strategic Plan for the Persian Gulf War by Kevin M. Woods

Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2011):

  1. Cobra II: The inside story of the invasion and occupation of Iraq by Michael R. Gordon
  1. Baghdad at Sunrise: A Brigade Commander’s War in Iraq by Peter Monsoor

Afghanistan

 (Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2014)/ Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (2015- Present)

Lions of Kandahar: The Story of a Fight Against All Odds by Kevin Maurer

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick

(also deals with Iraq)

 

 Source Citations, Podcast

  • The music utilized for the podcast is titled: “Soldier’s Farewell Fanfare/Montezuma/March of War/Windsor Park” by The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps. The song is in the public domain and came from Freemusicarchive.org.

     * 9/11 statistics gathered from, CNN. “September 11, 2001: Background and timeline of the attacks.” http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/27/us/september-11-anniversary-fast-facts/.

 

 

 

Crowdsourcing Participation, Zooniverse Project: Operation War Diary

https://www.operationwardiary.org/?_ga=1.247795783.1374944772.1490381099#/

For my crowdsourcing participation, I decided to participate in a Zooniverse Project called “Operation War Diary”. In this project, “citizen historians” are asked to review World War I documents related to the British Army. Volunteers are asked to first tag the kind of document they are viewing (from a prepared list of document types) and then asked to tag details in the document. These tag-able details include: times mentions, dates, locations, people, unit activity, army life, unit strength, weather, grid references and “other”. The goal of this project, as stated, is to, “create new ‘Citizen Historians’. Working together…[to] make previously inaccessible information available to academics, researchers and family historians worldwide, [while] leaving a lasting legacy for the centenary of the First World War”. The project is teamed up with the Imperial War Museum’s “Lives of the First World War” project and affiliated with the National Archives (UK).

Participating in this project was relatively easy and straight forward. You are given a quick tutorial of the User interface and how to accomplish your task. The documents are clear and zoom-able and the tagging tool bar is very easy to use. The project clearly informs its volunteers that it is not looking for a word for word transcription, but instead, well tagged documents. This is a very reasonable request to make from volunteers, which is essential to any crowdsourcing project. As a prospective historian, I enjoyed looking at the documents themselves and trying to decode them; the ease of the interface made the work very less daunting. The project However, there are several things I did not enjoy about the project. The project should have a target goal for how many documents it wants its volunteers to help tag and some way to acknowledge or reward/incentivize its volunteers. A Reward could be as simple as delivering a positive message to a volunteer after completing so many documents. People should be incentivized to conduct good volunteer work, even if it is just a small generic pop-up window that positively affirms a participant’s work after so many documents. Another issue I foresee is if documents are poorly or wrongly categorized. However, I can assume once the project is complete, individuals who access the documents can correct them.

This project is crowdsourced because of the number of documents available. The cost for these documents to be categorized by paid professionals would be astronomical.  In addition, it is a way to get amateur historians and students into the field. It Is very fitting that this project is being conducted during the anniversary of the war years (1914-1918). The contributions volunteers have made will be used to categorize these documents for further historical reference by scholars and the public. Crowdsourced document analysis projects, such as Operation War Diary, not only save time and money, but ensure that archived documents are actually viewed by the public. Rather than forgotten in an old storage room or collecting dust on a self, these documents are once again being read by not just professional researchers, but the public.

Mapping Torture: CIA Black Sites during the early War on Terror

For my web map, I decided to chart the locations of eight CIA’s Black Sites that were operational at various points between the years of 2001-2009. These secret sites were used by the CIA and its affiliates to detain, transport and interrogate terror suspects. These sites were disclosed by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s “Committee Study on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program” (2014) resulting from Senate investigations into the methods and outcomes of Enhanced Interrogation policy. Later journalism, including works notated in the Batchgeo.com web map I created, would further decode the locations of sites named in this report. It is unknown how many sites were operational during this time.

Web Map of 8 CIA Black Sites using BatchGeo.com (not Pictured: Sites G,H)

The reason I chose these eight locations is due to their direct reference in news articles and the Senate report; these sites became known due to the disclosure of documents and of individuals who were either aware of operations at various sites, operating at the site or who were being held at the various sites. These sites, stretched over long geographic distance, illustrate a chilling fact. The United States had the ability to detain individuals and make them disappear to various secret sites. In some cases, these sites were overseen by U.S. personnel and theoretically subject to U.S. policy while other sites, notably the Site near Rabat, operated outside of U.S. law with CIA funds (see map for Human Rights Watch reference source). Geography can also tell the role that other nations played in the War on Terror and in U.S. interrogation policy. The citizens of many nations had no idea that CIA facilities were operating within their national borders, nor did the American people know the location of these sites and the nature of the interrogation policy implemented on detainees who were denied legal and human rights by their interrogators. 

As this map illustrates the War on Terror­—also aptly named Global War on Terror—was in fact, truly global. The CIA would spearhead the War on Terror, projecting power onto every corner of the globe in the search for intelligence and the hunt of individuals deemed a threat to American security. The CIA, use to operating in the dark, stretched its power with the use of black sites, where its methods could go on in secrecy. Agencies following the CIA’s lead, tasked with a similar objective, would fall prey to the same methodology. With the Prison Abuses in Abu Ghraib, which also housed CIA personnel, the American public would see the face of torture, bringing the operations of black sites to face the light of day.

My BatchGeo link: https://batchgeo.com/map/2e021fbbe4437a4cbed7d12da6409a77

 

Digital History Project Proposal: Veteran Podcast

For my Digital Project, I would like to create a podcast where I interview several veterans to establish the experience of service members over several historical periods. I will ask veterans a series of questions and later frame the interviews around a narrative. I intend to make the podcast between 30-60 minutes and provide my audience with an outline of the questions, a list of further reading, and an outline of the podcast as reference. I intend compare the service of several veteran’s ranging from 20th to 21st century conflicts. Some themes I would like to address are: the backgrounds of veterans, the reasons veterans decided to serve, their active duty service, their opinions on war and how they adjusted to life after serving. My hope is to discover the ways in which veteran’s experiences remained similar throughout the 20th to 21st century and the ways in which veterans’ experiences are drastically different. Ideally, I will interview at least two to three people and record the interview via a Sony ICD-PX333 audio recorder. I will be sure to have the interviewee’s consent to record their story and utilize their recording. The interviewee can edit their interview and their consent will be recorded. I will archive all my materials in case I decide to post my project publicly.

A podcast will be the perfect tool to use for this project due to the amount assess it provides to an audience, the ease with which I can create it using tools I possess, and the editing and production value I can achieve using this medium. Veteran’s stories, especially those told in the veteran’s own words, are a valuable source not only for current audiences, but also future audiences who may not have the opportunity to interact with these veterans. In terms of archival usage, MP3 (which will likely be the format I will utilize) has been in continual use for 24 years, will likely be accessible for a long time. Also, MP3 can be easily accessed all over the world and via multiple media devices. My project is a primary source since it will utilize veteran’s own accounts of their experience but will also be secondary in its construction and the questions I will ask. The best public history practices are encapsulated in my project; open and easy accessibility (with the permission of my interview subjects), the use of audio and written word to present information, and a project tailored for a wide public audience. I intend to tailor my work towards military buffs, scholar, students and a general audience interested in the U.S. military, veteran’s affairs, and military service. A traditional project, which would either consist of a paper interview or an unedited and recorded interview, fails to capture the attention of a millennial audience wishing to digest quality-produced audio programming from smart phones and laptops. Also, It is important that veterans’ stories are told through their own spoken words; emotions are often lost in the simple transcription of words. The ability to produce a quality edited podcast also allows for the project to be professionally presented and properly tailored to a larger audience. Finally, traditional forms of media around interviewing are not as easy to access or archive digitally. It is my hope to use this veteran podcast not only as a narrative oral history project but also as a tool that may be used as both a primary and secondary source by future students and scholars.

Digital Visualization Project: a Visual Timeline on the Use of Enhanced Interrogation During the War on Terror (2001-2004)

For my Digital Visualization project, I decided to create a TimelineJS timeline of the Use of Enhanced Interrogation Methods during the War on Terror from 2001-2004. For my Digital Visualization project, I decided to create a TimelineJS timeline of the Use of Enhanced Interrogation Methods during the War on Terror from 2001-2004. In addition, the data I’ve complied includes a Word Cloud vie Wordle derived from ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody (depicted below).

The purpose of the timeline is to both portray how quickly torture became legalized and to pinpoint significant moments between the years of 2001-2004. TimelineJS allows for an interactive timeline which serves two purposes; first, it allows for for the user to interactively engage with the basic torture timeline with the intention of further animating difficult to comprehend topics. Second, the timeline allows for the user to be better acquainted at an introductory level with my topic and background information related to my research. The intention of my timeline would be in creating a “hook” for my proposed research. I wanted to attach videos as a way of incorporating various modalities into my presentation while also inserting parts of my proposed argument about the legalization of torture. I kept the text and overall format minimalistic with the intention of provoking the user with my content rather than my layout. At the same time, I find format changes can distract a user if they are too “busy” or overly stylistic at the price of easy readability and user-friendliness.

Courtesy of Wordle and based on the “ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody”, February 2007

For my data visualization, I decided to utilize a Wordle to create a word visualization that displays frequent terms expressed in the ICRC Report. What is compelling about the Wordle is the frequency of words related to torture; the viewer can understand the connotation of the report without reading its entirety. The report typifies the descriptions of many CIA and U.S. Military detainment facilities in which detainees were subjected to torture. While the visualization itself does not offer compelling data that will lend itself to my research, the representation is an excellent way to familiarize a layperson with my topic.  I intend to use both the timeline and the word cloud in my presentation of my research topic following its completion. I believe both tools are excellent in both acclimating laypersons on my research topic and give a window into the research process itself.

* If the hyperlink for the TimelineJS is not functioning, please attempt to view my timeline utilizing the following URL:
(https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1R8KtLJuTrQYvHc1MFIC9Vkf5_73uQzqNQPNltG10XaY&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650)

Soldiers to Scholars: Veteran Relations and Digital History

The days of every American having a family member in the military are over—most of the public have grown further disconnected from the armed forces following a reduction of overall force at the end of World War II and, most importantly, the end of the draft in 1973. Today, less than one percent of the U.S. population serves in the armed forces (according to NPR’s “By the Numbers: Today’s Military”, published on July 3, 2001). Yet, we civilians and our representatives are asked to decide the fate of service members and veterans; should they be asked to put their lives and well-being in harm’s way for a cause? Is the sacrifice we ask of them just? Are we willing to support those have served our nation and its interests? Most importantly, to those who have never served and who don’t know anyone in the military; how has your view of military service been shaped? West Chester University’s Soldiers to Scholars website, a student-run history project in which members interview and document discussions with veterans from America’s 20-21st century conflicts, is a vital effort to connect the stories of veterans to the public. A human face and a story is given to many who served via this project in a way many other media depictions fail to provide.

Soldiers to Scholars is a digital history project by design. It records veteran’s stories and facilitates a connection between veterans, their interviewers, and the online viewer. The most important aspect of the project is its collaborative nature. Online viewers can comment on the project, contribute, and participate at various levels. What this project does well is include a reading list and documentaries to supplement the video interviews. The website also offers a long directory of other webpages to connect individuals to other history initiatives, such as Temple University’s CENFAD. The inclusion of a short blog and the commentary function  on this website allow for interested people to contribute to the project and post commentary about the content.

While the project is exemplary in many ways, it also has weaknesses. The website makes a point to notate the topics veterans discuss, however, it does not connect the viewer to these topics or connect topics to other veteran’s stories. It would also help the project to post the questions they asked veterans to the website directly. In addition, the members should consider making this website more interactive by expressing information via several modalities. The use of varied learning modalities is a point educational theorist Howard Gardner considers in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences; in layman’s terms, Gardner’s theory suggests people learn in different ways, therefore it is good to vary the ways you disseminate information.

To improve the project further, I would also suggest several additional changes. The recommended reading list would be greatly improved by adding readings and documentaries from all the conflicts of the 20-21st century. I would also push the authors involved to incorporate the interviews into a larger collection of primary sources. Links to documents, personal photographs, music, and connections to current depictions of conflicts would help the interactivity of the website and fulfill its greater purpose. The creators of the project should consider if they wish to simply present the information or if they wish to provide a format that inherently interprets of historical events and themes. However, a simpler improvement would be to categorize the interviews of veterans in a meaningful way to make the website more user friendly. Suggestions aside, Soldiers to Scholars is digital history at its best. Collaborative, open access, and a growing experience for all those involved.

*Note: While I speak of the project in the present tense, the project’s website has not been updated since 2011. It appears the organization has switched to using Facebook and YouTube.

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