Today is the second anniversary of my mom’s death from cancer. She fought it over the course of more than a decade using almost every weapon in the oncology arsenal.
I remember the first time I heard the word(?) NaNoWriMo. First I thought: What in the world does that word(?) mean? It sounds a bit like an alien planet. Once I found out what it was, I thought: You people are insane. Write a novel in a month? That’s crazy.
I still think NaNoWriMo is crazy. But it has spurred several other WriMos that seem a little more useful to my current life: DigiWriMo and AcWriMo. Both of these challenges begin in about a week on November 1. And I’m going to try to do them both. I feel pretty certain that I won’t make it to 50,000 words, but you never know.
The cool thing about AcWriMo and DigiWriMo is that they work in tandem. I intend to do a large portion of my academic writing for the month online, thereby fulfilling the requirements for both challenges. (Is that cheating? If it is, oh well. I’m doing it anyway.)
Both WriMos have challenged participants to set outlandish goals and make them public. So here’s my plan for the month.
The overall goal: Populate Preble’s Boys with bios of each officer and ship.
1. Write one officer bio every day for the first 17 days, taking off Sundays.
2. Write one or two ship bios for the remaining days. (Take Thanksgiving Day and Sundays off.)
3. Blog about the progress and challenges of the site at least twice during the month.
1. Language exam, Nov. 16.
2. A live-in toddler.
3. Need for more research. (My intention is to write the bios using secondary sources for now and when I have the chance to travel to archives, then flesh them out with primary sources if needed.)
1. Research: I need to build up my Zotero library about each of these officers so that I don’t have to do a lot of reading when it’s writing time.
2. Organization: I need to set up a good system for keeping myself organized. I’ve been working in a sort of piecemeal fashion up to this point. I need to get it together.
And that’s the plan. We shall see whether my site is text-heavy by the end of the month!
I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone else is doing for DigiWriMo and AcWriMo!
On Saturday, I went to THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) New England at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. I’ve known of THATCamps for several years, but this was my first chance to actually attend one. I went to four sessions: Libraries, Archives, and Museums; Customizing Omeka; Doing Digital History with Non-Digital Sources (link to notes); and Network Analysis.
This post isn’t a comprehensive record of everything that went on, but rather just a few things that I found interesting or valuable about the experience.
1. The value of collaboration. In at least two of the sessions I went to, collaboration was explicitly discussed: between colleagues in the same discipline, colleagues in similar disciplines, colleagues in totally different disciplines (historians and computer scientists!), and even professors and grad students.
The bottom line: the best DH work is collaborative.
The challenge: Collaborating is risky. Working with people who know nothing about your subject matter can make communication difficult (but remember that your collaborator has equal difficulty communicating with you).
Best practices: Communicate, communicate, communicate! And in the final outcome, be sure to give credit where credit is due–the Fair Cite initiative can help humanists correctly and fairly give collaboration credit to all people involved in the project, academic or alt-ac.
2. New tools (for me) of digital humanities: I was introduced to several tools and resources that I never knew existed and I can’t wait to explore further. The two big ones are these:
Quantum GIS: This open-source mapping software may be the answer to my mega-problems with Neatline. Trying to use the institutional copy of ArcMap through the remote desktop was a complete disaster, besides my surprise that anything from CHNM/Scholars’ Lab types would require proprietary software. Turns out–it doesn’t! My life is revolutionized!
SNAC (Social Networks and Archival Context): This is a site where Linked Open Data is used to provide access to an aggregate of archives. To be truthful, even after half a session’s worth of discussion about LOD, I still don’t really understand what it is, but the value of an aggregate of archives, including rudimentary network graphs based on the metadata in the archival records, is only going to increase as more archives get linked to this database.
What were the major takeaways from the conference for me?
1. I need to go to more THATCamps now that I’ve got a little more lingo in my vocabulary.
2. I personally have opportunities for collaboration. The sessions weren’t the only places I learned about collaboration: interaction with the other campers opened up a staggering array of potential opportunities for me. It was remarkable how many people there were doing something related to naval history or the early republic. And many of them are working with things that I can either help with or be helped by. I’m excited about the new contacts I’ve made. In fact, this week a new friend and I are going to be customizing our Omeka sites based on what we learned at THATCamp. And now I’m thinking I would like a collaborator to help me make some maps for my site as well. (Digital cartographers, I’d like to chat if you’re into drawing oceans and battle diagrams.)
If you’re interested in digital humanities, I’d recommend you try to find a THATCamp in your area to attend. Since THATCamps have proliferated like rabbits over the past few years, you should be able to find one (for instance, another THATCamp, Hybrid Pedagogy, occurred simultaneously with THATCamp New England, and before the end of 2012, there are nine more THATCamps across the globe).
In their book Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig advocate that digital historians should have a well-defined plan for their websites before they start. So I thought I’d share my ideas about Preble’s Boys here, and perhaps get some feedback from others about the plan.
First off, the inspiration. I was inspired to do this project by thinking about how naval officers of the nineteenth century acted, specifically to what extent they acted in concert with their official orders or whether they tended to be influenced by each other. One pressing question was this: How much did they really interact with each other? I don’t have the primary sources to do this sort of investigation at this point (tracking down all the officers’ papers is going to be quite an undertaking). When I looked for secondary sources that might address the question, I remembered Fletcher Pratt’s 1950 book Preble’s Boys.
Preble’s Boys is an entertaining read, written very much in an old-school narrative style that has a certain charm. But the stories Pratt tells are often speculative or at least unverified (he explicitly states that he doesn’t think bibliographies belong in books), so his conclusions about the cohesion of this group of naval officers are open to dispute. In addition, the maps and diagrams in the book, though charmingly drawn, are not that helpful in explaining ship movement (since they are static).
Second, the purpose. My purpose with this project, then, is to essentially reinvigorate Pratt’s book using interactive web technology. I don’t plan to use Pratt’s actual words, but I’m going to use his framework to create a digital exhibit about these men.
Third, the goals.
I have several goals, which take the form of phases of the project.
1. Create a digital exhibition that provides an introduction to the group Preble’s Boys, their ships, and the battles they were in. (That’s the phase I’m working on right now.) This introduction isn’t intended as a scholarly treatment of any of these men or their activities, though it is intended to be a little more scholarly than Pratt’s original (cited sources and all that). It’s merely for basic education. However, even this basic treatment benefits from the web medium. I’d like to use Neatline to recast battle maps and ship diagrams as interactive rather than static. Even this small change will enhance existing scholarship about the 19th-c. navy. This phase’s audience is primarily the general public. (I’d love to do animations of the battle diagrams, too, but I’m not an animator. If anyone would like to collaborate, give me a shout-out.)
2. Document the connections between Preble’s Boys using network analysis. This phase will help to interrogate Pratt’s claims of connections between the men linked to Edward Preble. This phase will take some time, as I will have to build the network from the ground up. In other words, I’ll have to track down the primary sources. I’m also not quite sure how to measure connections here. (I’m sure I’ll write more about this later.) Once I get the network going, I’ll publish it to the website. This phase will help historians like me see just how influential Edward Preble was in shaping the early navy. (Or maybe it will show that someone else was influential. I don’t know.)
3. Provide digital copies of the papers of these men, as well as other relevant primary sources. The work of getting digital copies of the sources will hopefully occur in concert with phase 2. Getting permission to post them online and creating a decent archive framework may be the bigger issue (Omeka’s going to help with the framework). But in the end, I would like Preble’s Boys to be a sort of compendium of information about these officers.
So that’s the plan. Comments, questions, suggestions, prohibitions, exhortations welcome!
Today I installed WordPress on this site, my very own site, and made this blog. I also installed Omeka. Hooray!