When I registered for this course, I imagined we would spend lots of time digitizing primary sources and making them accessible online. My understanding of digital history was vague and mainly concerned digital conservation. While we (sadly) didn’t get to pull on white archival gloves this semester, this course expanded my understanding of digital tools and made me realize the potential in digital history.
One hesitation I had upon entering this class was my computer skills. I am happy to report that I now feel more confident in my digital literacy and, perhaps more importantly, I am enthusiastic to continue to develop my skills in this area. One (reluctant) realization I’ve had this semester is that I should utilize/ embrace my online presence instead of shying away from it. Our class blog allowed me to dip my toe in the water but I know I was not very active on other platforms. This is another area I’ll work on in the future.
Digital history matters for multiple reasons but one benefit that I feel most passionate about is the potential for the democratization of information. I think this has two main aspects: one, that there is the ability to freely access information and two, there is the possibility to contribute to fields of knowledge. The democratization of information is exemplified in digital history projects like the September 11 Digital Archive and Wikipedia.
Seeing other digital history projects (both early on in the class and from my classmates) made an impression in how I approach and how I form historical questions. I believe digital history allows for greater creativity and flexibility than traditional history and it can help historians approach questions with fresh perspectives. One project that I was really impressed with is Stanford University’s The Republic of Letters. I appreciate how this project presents primary sources and data but goes a step further in interpreting and visualizing what the information means. When I planned my project I hoped to achieve the same level of analysis of mission revival architecture in southern California. I was curious about who was building these sites and when. I do not think I managed to collect enough information to begin to make interpretations and then start to visualize those interpretations, but my project is a start.
One thing I value about digital history is its reflexivity: digital historians are constantly reflecting on and improving their work. In some ways it seems that a digital history project is never completed. I experienced this myself with my project this semester – not only will there always be ways to expand and add to my project but it can also be improved and updated as tools change and evolve.
I wanted to design a project that fully utilized the digital tools at my disposal rather than a project that was supplemental to a traditional history paper. I believe I achieved this because while historians have written about mission revival architecture, I could not find a collection or even a listing of mission revival buildings online. Additionally, articles and books that include photos of mission revival buildings contain lots of examples that have been demolished.
I used Omeka for my project; I enjoyed how user-friendly it was and I am pleased with how my project turned out. The only hiccup I had using Omeka was some of the photos on my items are displayed sideways or upside-down. While it looks a little “untidy” I don’t think it interferes with the user-experience.
Throughout the semester I had to constantly remind myself of my thesis statement/ the aim of my project. For example, I had originally intended to include photos of the original missions in my archive but I decided not to because they aren’t examples of mission revival architecture but of actual mission architecture. Also, I toyed with the idea of including cultural ephemera in my project to elaborate on the way we interact with the legacy of the mission system. This would have included things like mission imagery on orange crate labels, the San Diego Padres, and Mission Foods. While I believe these are important aspects of how we remember the mission system, they are not part of the built environment so I did not include them in my project.
My project is a collection of currently standing iterations of mission revival architecture – a snapshot of how the mission revival style affects our present-day built environment. At least one building I photographed will likely be torn down soon. In this case, I felt a deeper significance for “recording” it and including it in my archive. This does raise questions about the future of my project: if this building no longer exists should it be included in the project or should it be moved to a different collection of past mission revival buildings? Ultimately, while I feel a sense of ownership over it, I would be happy for future digital methods students to engage with, add to, and improve this project.
Overall, this class has given me more confidence with digital tools and a greater awareness of the possibilities in the digital humanities. As I mentioned in class, I feel like this course has been very “marketable”. This summer I have an internship at the Getty Research Institute. I will be working in their special collections department with the archives of southern Californian architects. Additionally, I will be writing and adding to Wikipedia articles to promote awareness for subjects in the Getty’s collections. I know that my digital methods project made me stand out as a candidate for the position and I think this class has given me skills that I will use during the internship. Also, I’m pretty sure I’ll finally get to use some white archival gloves.