Tag Archives: smithsonian

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

References:

“De Valera Museum & Bruree Heritage Centre” Visit Ballyhoura  (Ballyhoura Failte: Ballyhoura County, Ireland), 2018, http://visitballyhoura.com/index.php/2015/07/22/de-valera-museum-bruree-heritage-centre/.

“Eamonn De Valera, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front,” Library of Congress (LOC Prints and Photographs Division: Washington, D.C.), 1922, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/00652544/.

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

Reading Response

Module Four’s main topic was “Collections.” The readings and activities were thoughtful and engaging. Review readings about the many different meanings and definitions related to the concept of an “archive” and metadata were both great reminders of the importance of building content grounded in a clear purpose. Interfaces and collections are also essential elements that must be developed carefully with both short-term and long-term goals in mind. Readings that shed light on these issues and collection /content organization included:

Smithsonian Team Flickr
Generous Interfaces

It’s All About the Stuff

These articles helped me to brainstorm when thinking about nashvillesites.org. For me, the readings in Module Four stressed the solid building blocks needed at the outset of any digital project. This Module’s readings emphasized the need to thoughtfully define, outline, and plan digital history projects with a clear audience, purpose, and goal. In writing and revising two personas I am much more focused on the types of people I hope to engage through my project and this will guide the project’s development going forward. In gathering and posting 15 items and organizing them into a collection via Omeka was done with these factors (audience, data, sources, interface) in mind.

It is important to remember that without a general audience, public history is limited to a small group of creators and scholars. In order to attract a general audience, a digital project must have a compelling narrative. This was the focus of Module Five. As Steven Lubar writes in “Curator Rules,” project creators and managers should also remember that users are “thinking beings.” As a digital humanist creating a digital story, I will need to carefully balance content with curation; information that is as entertaining as it is educational. This can be accomplished through a deliberate and consistent effort to synthesize content and create a narrative interpretation of historical markers in the downtown Nashville area.

As Suzanne Fischer notes in “Developing your Synthetic Powers,” synthesis is key to a successful project that engages a wide audience. Fischer writes, “In your source-gathering, seek patterns. . . read and reach out widely and know your constraints.” Fischer concludes that what is of interest to the historian creating the project is likely of interest to the project’s potential audience. She concludes, “Latch onto what interests you. . . .If you can’t stop thinking about a story you heard, it probably belongs in the project.” In Eavesdropping at the Well, Richard Rabinowitz reminds us that as historians we must move from exhibits to narratives and from narratives to experiences. His and other articles focus on the importance of storyboarding, prototyping, visual/spatial design.

Activities and readings in this module forced me to move beyond the data/content and to consider how best to use the selected interface in a way that can provide a narrative and cross-references to other site features. The ways in which I design and organize the site’s features will be a major part of whether or not this project is a success in terms of 1- attracting and engaging a general audience and 2- providing an exhibit/narrative experience 3- building content that meets scholarly standards.

This is where I have run into a bit of a wall. I have worked to implement the National Mall Theme, developed by our very own Dr. Sharon Leon and initially installed the Exhibit Builder. The box for exhibits was visible and operating fine until last night when I was adding my last item. I’ve uninstalled and reinstalled, tried different versions, and nothing is working. I’m perplexed because it was there, and it seems as if there was a problem it would not have installed and shown on the homepage to begin with. I really like the theme and layout and want to keep it, so I hope I can find a work around. I don’t have the technical skills to rebuild the custom theme in Omeka 3.0. I wonder if I could just revert to an older version of Omeka? I hope I can figure this out by March 20 when the activity for building an exhibit is due.