Final Reflection for Smithsonian Internship, May 2018

Having completed my 160-hour internship with Smithsonian Global and the University of Pennsylvania, it is my pleasure to provide a final reflection and tour of my work on the Conflict Culture project.

Our intern cohort, using excel spreadsheets with partial data, were assigned countries such as Morocco, Finland, Poland, Denmark, and Ireland. I was assigned Ireland and worked on this data set throughout the semester.  In addition to research and data entry, our group created a test map component using Google Fusion.

These datasets and maps will be used for multidisciplinary research on cultural heritage in order to prevent intentional destruction, assist in recovery following natural disasters, and generally protect historical sites as well as the collections of museums and archives. At this time, we were unable to create a “clustering” function and so the map appears quite busy when zoomed out.

The final product, however, once the user drills down and clicks on a data point, is a pop-up window with all relevant information for each site (above). Our group selected not to show some of the coding that would not be meaningful to a general audience at this time. For example, we coded each entry to show whether the site was state-sponsored and/or prior military function. We also ranked its significance as 1-international, 2-national, or 3-local. Our group discussed different ways to represent this information and it was determined that, at a later date, the Smithsonian can choose to color code these or build additional layers. We did color code sites based on complete, partial, or coordinate-only data (below).

Uploading the data was fairly simple, the excel was saved as a CSV file. A CSV stands for comma separated values file, which allows data to be saved in a table structured format. CSVs look like an excel spreadsheet but have .csv extension instead of .xlsx. A CSV takes the form of a text file containing “information separated by commas,” for which it is named.

From the file menu, users select import rows, which is followed with the following screen. From here, the user can upload the file from their computer, link a Google spreadsheet, or build a table from scratch (above).

Once uploaded the data sheet could be viewed as rows (below) or cards (above). We used a cultural repository code book and instruction manual provided by Smithsonian Institution. My research focused on Ireland’s sites related to the cultural heritage, which include: historic sites, religious sites, libraries with exhibits, archives, art galleries, museums, and archaeological sites. Historians are rarely short-winded when writing; thus, it required work and discipline to properly code and describe in 25-30 words each site/entry. I gained experience in using scientific methods to integrate qualitative information into a standard frame of variables and data formatting.

This is a great and worthy project. Through this research, I gained a deeper appreciation for the importance and complex interpretations of cultural heritage. I also see this as a way to elevate traditional museum/archive/site indexes so that they are more accessible and visual for scholars, hobbyists, students, national and international bodies, and the larger global community.

My DH skills, gained through George Mason’s post-graduate DH certificate program, came into play on several occasions. I understood the importance of controlled vocabulary, metadata, and DH tools and terms needed to ask and answer questions. As far as digital skills gained, I learned the basics of using and working with Google Fusion.  On a personal level, I learned a great deal about the rich history of Ireland from Dublin Castle to the National Leprechaun Museum. With over 300 cultural heritage sites, I will surely build my next trip itinerary to Ireland around my work on Conflict Culture.


Smithsonian Internship Update, April 2018

Kilkenny Castle

My Smithsonian internship is still going well as I research cultural and heritage sites in Ireland. I have completed 60% of the coding for these sites and will soon be turning my attention to mapping.

Researching the significance of Kilkenny Castle was both challenging and enjoying. Kilkenny Castle has a complex history that involves architecture, politics, history, archaeology, culture, and various military functions. At present, it also serves as an important site for public audiences across multiple disciplines on local, national, and international levels.

This site was part of my research for the Conflict Cultures project, which connected me to the Smithsonian and the University of Pennsylvania as a digital historian and digital humanist. For example, only a handful of entries involve both a prior military function and a current relationship to the state. For these categories I coded them both as “1” that designates it as a site that could be potentially endangered if Ireland ever experiences either a national or man-made disaster (civil war, terrorist attack, hostile occupation). In other words, coding and mapping this site will help future generations protect, preserve, and learn about the important role of Kilkenny Castle in Ireland’s history.  While I have never used Google Fusion Tables as platform for GIS mapping, this entry (along with 318 others) taps into the mapping skills gained through my digital public humanities coursework through George Mason University.

File:Kilkenny Castle 26-09-2015.JPGNormek82, Kilkenny Castle, 2015 (Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0).

It primarily features medieval and baroque architecture. In addition to serving as a residence, the castle also served as a fortress. The buildings have been in the care of the Office of Public Works since 1969. Visits to the Kilkenny Castle feature several types of collections: decorative arts, art, textiles, print materials, military artifacts, and archaeological artifacts. The mission of the Kilkenny Castle and the Office of Public Works includes archaeological excavation, conservation, preservation, and restoration of the buildings as well as the collections.

Sources and Further Reading:

Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (London: Constable Press, 1998).

Bron, Daniel. Kilkenny Castle and Fountain, 2013 (Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0).

Department of the Environment. An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Kilkenny (Government of Ireland, 2006).

Murtagh. Ben. “The Kilkenny Castle Archaeological Project 1990 to 1993,” Old Kilkenny Review (Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1993).

Normek82, Kilkenny Castle, 2015 (Wikimedia Commons, CC 4.0).

Office of Public Works, “An Introduction to Kilkenny Castle,” Kilkenny Castle (Government of Ireland, 2017).

Williams, Jeremy. A Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837– 1921 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994).

Smithsonian Internship Update, March 2018

My internship with the Conflict Culture project has been very interesting thus far. I was assigned Ireland as my country to research with the goal of providing information to be used in the ultimate database. I was faced with some initial challenges as some of the information had already been entered by a previous intern. Checking geographical coordinate proved tedious, and learning to locate precise latitude and longitude was a task with which I had little experience. However, I found that I gained efficiency and speed as I moved through the 319 sites.

I am now finished checking preexisting data and have moved to research and descriptions of my own. I have particularly enjoyed getting to learn about historical and cultural sites in Ireland. Other than some of the well-known sites, such as Dublin Casle, I had/have very little familiarity with Ireland as I have never been there. While I am only 20 percent through the site descriptions and other coding categories, I have already begun a list of sites that I would like to visit when I do travel to Ireland. In fact, I may be making a trip sooner than I thought — inspired in part by this project and assignment.

While my work constitutes a long distance relationship (of sorts) with the Smithsonian, the weekly conference calls have been helpful. In addition, they add a personal component to this virtual internship as our supervisor guides us and answers questions and as we, the interns, talk about our work. The communication with the Smithsonian and the University of Pennsylvania has also been great.

This project utilizes several skills and methodologies connected to the GMU DH certificate program. Specifically, our early lessons on the importance of copyright and metadata have come in very handy. I also have greater confidence in my research skills, understanding of coding categories, and use of controlled vocabulary. George Mason is on spring break next week and so we have a week off as well. I am looking forward to a bit of a break before getting back to work. I am determined to finish the data for Ireland as my contribution to Conflict Cultures.

Georeferenced Cultural Repository Inventory at the Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative

Over the last three weeks I began working in earnest on the Conflict Culture database as an online intern for the Smithsonian Institute and University of Pennsylvania Museum. This internship satisfies the semester requirement for fieldwork in the field of Digital Humanities as part of the post-graduate certificate in Digital Humanities at George Mason University. Although the government shutdown delayed a bit of work at the beginning of the semester, things are now running smoothly. I was given Ireland as my assigned country for the Conflict Culture project. This project is both ambitious as well as exciting and involves collaboration from nearly twenty organizations and institutions. When asked about this project, I often paraphrase the mission as stated on the homepage:

Joined by researchers from around the world, the Conflict Culture Research Network supports rigorous, interdisciplinary research that examines how conflict impacts the culture of communities experiencing violence.

In terms of my own progress, there are 319 sites for Ireland and the excel workbook contained previously entered data mostly related to coordinates and some other basic categories. While it may not seem difficult, the process of verifying and making minor edits to existing content has been tedious and time consuming. That said, the success of this project and the ultimate outward-facing data sets available to the public are dependent on precision and accuracy. For these reasons, I have been very careful in checking and verifying data. I am happy to report that I have nearly completed my work on the existing data for Ireland. I will then shift to researching and collecting new data to complete the documentation for each and every heritage site and site of historical and cultural significance for Ireland.

One cultural heritage site that I found interesting was the De Valera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre, located just south of the city of Limerick.

De Valera Museum & Bruree Heritage Centre

The De Valera Museum and Bruree Heritage Centre is dedicated to Eamon de Valera, former president of Ireland and one of the country’s most famous statesmen.

This image of Eamon de Valera in 1922 is from the National Photo Company collection at the Library of Congress. There are no known copyright restrictions on the use of this work. Click here to access the image file and record.

Eamon de Valera’s political career spanned over half a century, from 1917 to 1973. He served several terms as the head of government and led the efforts to ratify the Constitution of Ireland.

One of de Valera’s most famous speeches was entitled “The Ireland that we dreamed of.” Click here to listen to the audio of the 1943 speech, below is an excerpt sponsored by Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE), Ireland’s National Public Service Broadcaster:

“…The Ireland that we dreamed of would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose fire sides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age. The home, in short, of a people living the life that God desires that me should live…”

The museum houses a collection of his personal belongings, as well as a wide range of articles which record life in Bruree in the early twentieth century. There is also a visitor centre where Eamonn de Valera grew up.  In the village of Bruree, the cottage where he lived has been preserved and the national school he attended houses another museum dedicated to his memory.

I look forward to learning more about Ireland in this process and to contributing to this very important project.

Mary Ellen Pethel, Ph.D.
Harpeth Hall School, History Dept. Chair, Digital Humanities Coordinator
Belmont University, Honors Program Adjunct, Global Leadership Studies Fellow


“De Valera Museum & Bruree Heritage Centre” Visit Ballyhoura  (Ballyhoura Failte: Ballyhoura County, Ireland), 2018,

“Eamonn De Valera, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front,” Library of Congress (LOC Prints and Photographs Division: Washington, D.C.), 1922,

“The Ireland That We Dreamed Of” 1943.” Éamon de Valera (1882-1975). RTÉ Archives. March 1943.

Portfolio Post 7/13

I certainly learned a great deal watching the interviews and examples of student projects from previous semesters. I’ve always believed that the best way to inspire creativity is to show, when possible, a range of examples or models of good work. I particularly enjoyed: Historical Thinking and Writing (to create Digital Projects)
and Erin Bush: Women and Crime.

These two projects were quite different but equally admirable in their scope, purpose, sources, and pedagogy/lesson plan(s). I actually plan to pass along the Historical Thinking project to our librarians and information specialists. In addition, I could see myself using the Women and Crime project in my own US history class.

Other projects that I also found helpful were more specific: Campus Disorder: 1969 and Lighthouse history teachers’ guide. In many ways, these projects mirror my Power of Persuasion project because of a more limited thematic range of sources. However, my project has more components and is designed to be used in history and English classes.

The student examples have changed my thinking about my own final project. I think that I have done an adequate job with the big picture and selecting particular primary sources. But I need to work on more clearly articulating and writing the related assignments and how they will be assessed. I also realized in watching the interviews that good projects can be designed in a relatively short period of time, but great project need continued tweaking, revisions, and additions based on student learning and user feedback.

I will work to finalize my project on Friday and Saturday before heading to visit Michigan State University’s LEADR facility and staff (Lab for the Education and Advancement in Digital Research). I am excited to see a well established digital humanities program in action and to meet with its staff and faculty members.

Portfolio Post

James W. Loewen‘s Lies My Teacher Told Me was first published in 1995, and I had just graduated from high school. I read the book my freshman year of college. In thinking about the malleability of the past, I first think of this book — my first ah-ha moment when realizing that much of the history content I had learned and the narrative in which it was presented was not the iron-clad truth. I learned that history was messy, and yes, malleable. The digital world has both complicated and clarified historical thinking, historiography, and history classrooms.

The digital age has complicated our work as educators because we can not longer rely on a singular authoritative text. This is not a bad thing, but it does make lesson plans and class preps more challenging for teachers. How do we choose which primary sources and secondary sources to use in our classrooms? Are we providing students with the freedom to draw their own conclusions or are we giving the illusion of choice? When I first began teaching in 2000, my school system emphasized having an “essential question” for each lesson. The digital world, with its seemingly infinite resources make the “essential question” exercise even more essential. Students need to know what they are trying to find, and have the intellectual training to recognize and achieve learning objectives. Likewise, teachers need to be able to articulate learning objectives and outcomes.

With digital resources at our fingertips, students and teachers can share in the fluid and ongoing process of historical and critical thinking. In this way, learning in the digital age has clarified the ways in which we learn history. I had to read Loewen’s book to realize that the past was malleable and motivated/shaped by many forces. Students today come in with this knowledge and with the understanding that there are often multiple versions of “truth.” Often while teaching a student will ask a question, or I will pose a question to the class, and before I can say, “I’m not sure.” or “What do you think?” — students check facts, dates, and answer questions in real-time.  They can enter class never having heard of Mother Ann Lee or Henry Clay or Sally Hemmings or Peggy Eaton or Joseph McCarthy, and by the end of class find themselves deep in a rabbit-hole of intellectual intrigue. This is made possible by the devices they hold in their hands or balance on their laps.

Web 2.0 open sources and social media platforms have enabled, and frankly demand, that students ingest information differently and at a different pace than generations before. With this speed and efficiency also comes great responsibility. Teaching students what to do and how to process the malleable past in the digital age — that responsibility is up to us. We, as historians and history educators, are more important that ever.


National Parks for New Audiences

  • In “National Parks for New Audiences,” authors Cosset and Chalana write that “professional interpretation thus remains the agency’s most potentially dynamic instructive tool.” This conclusion reflects a decades-long sentiment, articulated by NPS Director of Research and Education Verne Chatelain in 1936:
There is no more effective way of teaching history to the average American than to take him to the site on which some great historic event has occurred, and there to give him an understanding and feeling of that event through the medium of contact with the site itself, and the story that goes along with it.
  • “Average American” . . . This key phrase in Chatelain’s quote strikes at the heart of the debate on how best to teach historical thinking and present historical narratives. If the target audience is an “average American” then who and what groups of people are considered “average” or “American”? Has the NPS, which is admittedly majority-white both in terms of staff and visitors, created a narrative reinforces a particular point of view.
  • For example, the Whitman massacre site is, as the authors point out, “unabashedly sympathetic to the settlers,” and blames the “horrid butchery” on “remorseless savages.” The choice of words, and loaded words at that,  is particularly interesting. The use of adjectives such as “horrid” and “remorseless” attached to the nouns “butchery” and “savages” paints an unmistakable picture and sends a clear message to readers/visitors. Many times bias is subtle; here it is not. Trained historians can see right through it, and in fact, the blatant bias reflects an overcompensation that makes me question the entire event and circumstances surrounding it. If the NPS hopes to attract a more diverse audience and to present a more authentic version of past events in American history, then they should strive to do the following:
  1.  Inventory, audit, and edit all existing text at historical sites, parks, and locations.
  2.  Avoid assigning blame or credit
  3.  Provide context
  4.  Use neutral language
  5.  Present both sides of any “story” represented at NPS sites
  6.  Provide questions that guide visitors and allow for a more personalized journey
  7.  Create a digital infrastructure that groups NPS sites thematically or geographically — encouraging visitors to not only enjoy one site but to seek out others that are similar (either via topic or location)
  8.  Seek creative common “bonds” between historic events or people with potential present-day audiences (ex. adventure, illness, animals, occupations, family, money). In other words, make history relevant.
  • It appears as though the NPS is striving to do all of the above. In its film and through its website and physical site they have provided context, presented the native side of the story, and have created exhibited that provide a journey-like experience. At the San Juan Island they have also sought to encourage visitor engagement and ownership through crowdsourcing and social media projects to help with identification. Still, Whitman Mission and San Juan State Island site texts often takes a sensationalized tone with not-so-subtle hints of white bias. It is encouraging to see change and the modernization of NPS sites, and we should recognize that change takes time. In many ways, the mere publication of this article is an acknowledgement of the need for change. And that is a good thing.
  • Going forward, government and non-profit sites must continue to seek a balance that encourages digital and physical visitors to their site.  They must seek to engage audiences through programs that entertain but do not abandon scholarship. They must streamline the experience so that audiences are not confused while also complicating existing narratives that exclude or oversimplify. Historians will be key to this movement. History educators will also play a major role in making NPS sites meaningful and relevant to students. All the while, we must keep “average Americans” in mind.