The concepts of digital history have developed my understanding and appreciation for how the subject of history can be conducted in partnership with scientific and technical knowledge using modern resources such as computer programs and electronic devices. This has been a new method of history that I intend on incorporating later in my life.
My experience with digital history before this course was an educational webpage created in place of a research paper in the History and Culture of American Cities class with Prof. Parker. Using Weebly as the host, I created three separate pages documenting the importance of the murals in Chicano Park (Barrio Logan), in San Diego, underneath the Coronado Bridge. There were no tutorials necessary due to the simplicity of the drag and drop design, leading to a fully accessible and free site in less than a few hours. Being a military history nerd and inspired by the simplicity and ease of control, I created a personal archive/blog for military combat footage from around the world. I have come to enjoy the administrative control over a webpages organization, content, and accessibility. After working in depth with Omeka and WordPress while posting to the class blog and building the surf archive, I have greatly expanded my skills without getting too technical into the coding world.
Coding is the only aspect of the digital world I have yet to grasp. It would have been nice spending a few weeks getting a thorough introduction on how to work with CSS because it still appears a foreign language to me. I would like to have learned how to manipulate the code in a site to show things how I want them to appear, but at least I have a beginner’s knowledge after the semester. Many of my technical problems regarding the class project could have been answered after some guidance on the foundations of CSS.
A few of the tools I learned and have used recently in research for other classes are the Google NGrams viewer and the timeline mapper. I was particularly fond of learning how to treat big data and creating analytics to organize the numbers down to a point where a narrative can be constructed. Nathan Yau in Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics (2011), explains the importance of drawing conclusions from big data, “Apply sorts and categorization through the interface to see how these seemingly random vignettes connect. Click on an individual bubble to see a single story. It’s poetic and revealing at the same time.” (7-9) Yau’s statement is a framework for the majority of the final projects for this class including my own. Surf culture is broad but now there is an exhibit documenting a particular surfer and his personal views on surfing. When viewed together with tens or hundreds of other surfers, a narrative will begin to appear.
Many of Google’s archival tools such as the NGrams and Scholar have helped me locate and list every available related source for further examination. I have used these tools in my research process for secondary sources in my history 499 class. The digital history class has taught me to properly explore the web for solutions to my educational questions, not to mention a lesson on web privacy that I use everyday in my leisure time. This web privacy extends into the discussion over fair use and creative commons media, which if not adhered to, can lead to austere measures. Despite working in the non-profit academic field, the favor from copyright holders is not known to extend to everyone.
The California Surf Archive has become the footprint from my collegiate experience at CSULB. As I am graduating at the end of the semester, I wanted to have something to look back on and showcase my acquired skills to potential employers and friends. I have always favored combining assignments whenever possible, therefore creating an oral history exhibit for ordinary surfers after interviewing a retired surfer became an enjoyable priority when doing homework.The narrative juxtaposes clips from the interview and interpretive analysis of signifiant symbols of surf culture to foster a necessary dialogue on the ordinary surfers role in supplementing California culture. This work-in-progress template has infinite potential and after contributions from subsequent classes, could be used to educate millions interested in California cultural history with regards to surfing.
The focus on ordinary surfers will encourage outside contributions from other ordinary surfers. I intend to have the archive be open to users who can, after moderation, comment on the items in order to facilitate the surf history narrative. The site will create significance in capturing others experiences with surf memorabilia and while it will not be the focus of the archive, it will foster awareness and participation.
At the beginning of the semester, the class contributed to the archive by adding items conducive with the framework for the exhibit. During a group assignment, Kathryn and I constructed a map, spreadsheet, and timeline for one of the pioneers of surfing in California, George Freeth. This introduction to digital surf history and culture was an influence on the decision to follow through with the choice to work on the archive as the final project. I had no previous knowledge of George Freeth therefore it was amazing to discover the roots of a culture through analysis of its founders. By highlighting figures such as Freeth and Bill Kent, California surf culture begins to take shape.
As discussed previously, the site can be expanded with additional surfers, including females, while incorporating oral history interviews in partnership with Dr. Igmen’s class. Furthermore, all administrative issues aside, the VOAHA oral history website needs work on its design. The material vestiges of these histories have no significance if not accessible in a cohesive digital archive. It was unfortunate that the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer tool was not able to be incorporated into the site as it is a very beneficial digital tool for making oral histories responsive to the virtual world. Hopefully another such platform will come along to satisfy this issue.
Throughout the semester I have posted numerous comments to the class blog ranging from upcoming historical video games to lists of related links and African American G.I. videos for a classmate and his project. I visited every students project page that had commenting available and left a supportive statement such as SPAM and the Elizabeth Murray projects. I often gave advice or critiqued other classmates on their websites, with the best intentions of only making them more appealing and usable to a wide audience. I recommended resourceful books for Spanish fantasy project research, websites for redlining maps, and showed support on project progress blog updates.
There is no hiding the fact that the class was not only extremely small but also extremely quiet, therefore the failure of the blog participation could be attributed to that. Being a new class, structure was admittedly loose. Subsequent classes will assuredly be adjusted with more bureaucracy and a determined direction. Notwithstanding the fact that the direction was clear to me from the beginning, as no major changes to the course outlines took place. I am alluding to the final project intentions that were displayed in the syllabus from the first day of the semester.
Several students, I felt, did not understand why they had chosen this class and wished they had not taken it, despite it being interesting and intellectually engaging at times. This was reflected through procrastination and complete lack of participation in class and online. Perhaps, with such a small number of students we should have moved to a smaller room, one where everyone has to face each other and left no choice but to engage with their fellow students. The so-called “smart room” was nice but large and did not encourage much discussion, leaving one to hear their own voice echo off all the walls. If I were not graduating, I would attempt to enroll in the course again just to see the transformations in the classroom engagement and prospect of the final projects.
Thanks for making this a memorable final semester for me. Go Beach!