This semester I received the wonderful opportunity to experience website creation and the emerging field of digital history. With this post, the Carolina Mountain Club digital history site is finished. At the beginning of the year I did not think I would take this class, but something drew me in and I do not regret it. Many times I wanted to pull my hair out because the technology would not cooperate like expected, but after time spent experimenting with the programs and troubleshooting random problems, most of my frustrations were eased. It was particularly difficult because our group lost a member, significantly increasing work responsibility. However, wordpress required some manipulation of given html code and plugins also had their own specific coding. At one point I figured out how to use 3 plugins to achieve one effect on the footnote. Of course I soon realized that a viewer would not think to click on blue footnotes to see a note citation and be able to load the document cited. Instead I went with the wikipedia approach and just made the words clickable and blue. If the monitor on the computer is big enough then gatorpopup creates a little popup within the window; on my laptop it just makes a new tab. I think its incredibly convenient that the document cited popups up directly on the page so the viewer can keep scrolling while having the primary document on the side.
The Carolina Mountain Club site matured for a long time before this final theme was decided upon. Then it took some editing to achieve desired effects such as highlighting which page the viewer is on. Also I want to thank the UNC-Asheville Media Design Lab for helping me. The Lab was an incredible campus resource available to me as a student at UNCA. The systems were powerful enough to quickly adjust the image and the monitors were large enough to maximize the window so the background image would fit every internet window perfectly. Though if you look at the bottom of the page it almost looks like the Carolina Mountain Club produced the site because their name is right next to the copyright. The good news is when you click their name you return to our about page which is clearly us and not them. One thing that disappeared was the sidebar with the blogroll. Actually it is still a sidebar in fact I added a search feature, but no viewer will probably ever find it. You have to click the plus sign in the top right corner of the site. This is just the way the theme presents the widget sidebar so I cannot do anything to make it more known that our blogroll still remains on the side.
This reflection calls for the defending of the project as contracted, but after we lost an entire group member, I disregarded most of the contract. Personally, I worked and did research as I saw fit even though the contract was supposed to guide our action. I creatively incorporated the work of our lost teammate so her information and hard research wasn’t entirely for nothing. Inevitably we did fall short on some goals or did not achieve certain elements, but overall our final historical narrative presents well. Naturally I would have liked to create a timeline for the history of the Carolina Mountain Club, but this did not work out. Despite ignoring large portions of the contract, I am incredibly happy with the presentation of our final product. The Carolina Mountain Club site looks clean. Hopefully the work we have done in this class becomes a foundation for digital history here at UNC-Asheville. One thing our group did not do that I fully regret is interact with the people in the Club. Possibly another group could build upon our site with oral histories from Carolina Mountain Club members.
Today was the 2nd time meeting with the team of fellow students dedicated to creating an interactive game for our website. The group will be completing a walkable trail with information cards on the specific flora and fauna. These cards will pop up after a click on a 3 dimensional object, be it plant or animal. The Shining Rock Wilderness has many different plant and animal species, but my group will highlight 43. This will require individual information for all 43 cards. Also, in order to avoid copyright issues my group must video record sections of the trail. My group explains that animal animation requires many frames and meticulous detail, so the animals in the game will probably just blink their eyes. The movement in-game will use the WASD keys. I can’t wait to see how their project develops over the upcoming weeks.
Other News: The group project site is now officially up. Our research topic has been narrowed to the specific conservation efforts of the Carolina Mountain Club. This site will provide the viewer with conservation tips and also inform them on conservation history. We also hope the site will serve as a building block for the future of conservation history, the future of digital history, and the future of this class as it’s offered at UNC-Asheville. Within the next couple of weeks we will prepare the site by adding our different pages, images, and possibly incorporating our interactive components.
This week’s assignment was for our group to create a a contract for work on our future site. To complete this contract we had to solidify a topic. Many of the sources in UNC-Asheville’s Special Collections illustrated the rich history of the Carolina Mountain Club. We felt certain that our site would focus on the history of the CMC. Much to our disappointment, the Club created a website dedicated entirely to the organization’s history and the mountains they hiked throughout Western North Carolina. We needed to readjust. The nature of digital history is to add something new, so our project directed us to things not found in the Carolina Mountain Club site. While extensive, the CMC does not properly outline the public’s reaction to conservation efforts or a timeline of different conservation projects. The site we build will focus on the presentation of the Club’s efforts compared to other forest protection initiatives. Technology we want to incorporate into our site is an overlapping timeline, better constructing the dueling narrative of separate organization’s forestry conservation campaigns. We also want to scan newspaper headlines into the site to show media reaction both in support and opposition to the logging in contentious areas. We have been promised very soon that we will gain access on separate servers to access more features for our site. Also our topic naturally changed because of the research process and will continue to do so. I was slightly concerned when we discovered the Carolina Mountain Club site, but this discovery simply guided us elsewhere which will gain more definition through more research.
First and foremost technology is frustrating. Everyone has bad experiences with technology whether it be basic email problems or entire system crashes. Our frustration stems from technological inability to recreate the envisioned process. When working within technology, emails will simply not send. The technology does not perfectly recreate our vision. When I began working with Google Maps I quickly became flustered because I couldn’t perfectly manipulate the product to achieve my goal. I didn’t want a simple map with simple place markers, I wanted satellite images that would transition from place to place. In the case of my particular map I wanted the viewer to transition from my birthplace and literally follow my locations as I grew up. I couldn’t produce this so I settled with the simpler design. With more time and with the help of my group members, we might make change over time visible through the use maps. If we cannot afford or work with this kind of technology, then Timeline JS would suffice as a supplement for ordinary maps.
After viewing the tutorial video for Timeline JS I was very confident I could figure out the technology quickly. Timeline JS uses Google spreadsheets which is incredibly similar to Microsoft Excel, a program I have some experience in. Even better, Timeline JS has base templates, so information and the links for images had designated spots to plug into the template. Though as I worked in the program, I became more apprehensive and worried from my unfamiliarity with how the spreadsheet would be transformed into a timeline. Would everything fill in correctly? Sure enough after my first complete spreadsheet, the program was unable to convert it into a timeline. I am fairly certain I undid the capacity for hyperlink so the program was unable to fetch the images and place them within the timeline, so I tried again until eventually reseting the template and redoing all aspects of it. Everything worked perfectly. The embed code worked and I am happy with the final timeline product even though it is not actually embedded in this site. The future group site will have the capacity to embed this timeline program as well as other cool features I will soon learn about.
As part of our class, we visited UNC-Asheville’s Special Collections. I had been to Special Collections before for my other classes and also for my own research so this place was familiar. After the obligatory introduction and a brief overview of the collections presented, my classmates and I were able to dive into the unique primary sources. Everyone immediately rushed to the city of Asheville collections and I decided I could have more freedom looking through the many other collections going untouched. The collections that I glanced through outlined a history of the purchase and conservation of national forest land. A lot of land in Western North Carolina was purchased by the national government to conserve the forest. Some of the early advocates for conservation were graduates of the Biltmore Forestry School located in the Asheville/Hendersonville area. Their sources compiled paint one historical narrative of early conservation efforts in Western North Carolina. It was helpful that my teammates looked through other collections so our search for a topic could connect different collections and bridge different sources. My teammates researched the collection of the Carolina Mountain Club. The sources in this collection provided another account, though with the same historical themes of conserving and protecting Western North Carolina’s mountains. If we pursue presenting these two distinct historical narratives, the future website must focus on presenting these dual narratives creatively. This could prove too ambitious as there are technologies and interface tools we might not master or understand or afford. I will admit I do not know the computer science behind building a site and this class has an all too realistic budget. However if we can buy and effectively run the technologies, it could allow our site to present the different perspectives simultaneously.
There are a few important things I am focusing on for my future digital history site. After time spent viewing digital history sites and browsing their collections, I took notice of the features that made me enjoy the history. Some sites worked well and others had no real organization. Some sites worked successfully and thought outside the box, while many were too ambitious and failed to present their information easily, frustrating me click after click. Taking note of what worked and did not, the site will stress:
1. User accessibility (Ease of Site and of Technology)
2. The Look
3. Presentation of the History
When the user can navigate the site effectively, they are able to access the historical information quickly. The future site will focus heavily on accessibility; it just needs to make sense. Clicks should flow intuitively as you progress through the site’s features and literature. One digital history website used a tab bar that corresponded with pages in a diary. Many sites frustrated me because I could not access the information or documents as fast as I wanted. More in user accessibility, I want to use a simple, clean, and if possible interactive technology somewhere on the site. This technology would be tailored to the topic and might include virtual maps or turning the journal pages. The ability to move throughout the site will be vital in the presentation of
Realistically the look of the site is somewhat dependent on the technology that can be integrated. I want the site to look slick and clean with a good color scheme. The title, text, and tabs on the page should have an appropriate font size and also a color easily read. Paying focus to these seemingly insignificant things makes the whole site look attractive. A beautiful website captivates the audience.
Each digital history site dictates how they present their historical topic. This amount of responsibility should not be taken lightly as presentation is half the history. The sources on the site can be accessed anywhere in the world. When presenting sources the history should be both simple and complex. The site should cater to any junior or amateur historian, but also connect and present more complex ideas for future and seasoned historians. For some sources maybe offer no interpretation, but ask questions for the viewer to create their own ideas.
As I research and build a project, the site will be sure to highlight these three themes. I believe that emphasizing the accessibility and interface of the website and the artistic and historical presentation of the materials will make a successful digital history website.