I’ve been debating about what to focus on for my class project. I considered focusing on a historical view of Shakespeare performances because of a current project at work in which we are trying to collect data about university productions of Shakespeare plays. However, this would require materials and contributions that we do not have yet.
In considering two of my areas of interest (artists’ books and exhibits), I explored possible topics that would related to discussions of history. I have an interested in papermaking and handmade paper and have even taken a couple of classes. Handmade paper is an important, although not required, aspect of artists’ books. I then came across the article “Can a Papermaker Help to Save Civilization?” in the New York Times. The article focuses on Timothy Barrett, a papermaker and former director of the Center for the Book at the University of Iowa. His interests combine current art production and history studies. His current research focuses on European paper made between the 14th and the 19th centuries, and he has also made several artists’ books using handmade paper. According to the article, Barrett “has dedicated his life to unlocking the mysteries of paper, which he regards as both the elemental stuff of civilization and an endangered species in digital culture.” According to the author Mark Levine, “paper’s long role as the repository of cultural memory and accomplishment is being usurped by swift technological change.” I think this focus will present some interesting challenges since it focuses on the tactile but places it in an online environment.
I found it helpful to examine the core elements of historical thinking listed on both the TeachingHistory.org website and the Historical Thinking Standards from the UCLA Department of History’s National Center of History in Schools.
I would like to trace the history of papermaking and highlights its current applications with artists’ books according to these elements of historical thinking. In part, this will require creating empathy (as discussed by Wineberg) for early civilizations that are foreign to us now. I would like to present images and videos of handmade paper and papermaking as primary sources that audiences could examine online. Of course, this automatically presents a conflict since handmade paper is naturally a tactile experience. It will be difficult to convey these unique qualities, such as the feel and scent of handmade paper, in an online environment. One way to meet this challenge will be to include several close-up images of paper and videos of how paper is made. Looking at the entire history of papermaking may prove to be too broad so I may focus specifically on China. The paper that we are more familiar with today dates back to China at the beginning of the first millennium so this provides a familiar entry point into a discussion of the topic. I will then look at examples of artists’ books that are incorporating historical Chinese papermaking techniques.
This is my third class in the Digital Public Humanities certificate program at George Mason. I enjoyed the foundation in digital humanities that the previous two courses created. For me, my foundation was also helped by attending both Rebuilding the Portfolio: DH for Art Historians through the Center for History and New Media with funding from the Getty Foundation and the Digital Humanities Institute for Mid-Career Librarians through the University of Rochester and Council on Library and Information Resources and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
My interest in digital humanities began when I started the artists’ books collection at George Mason University almost seven years ago while working as the Art & Art History Librarian. A creative writing professor asked the library to subscribe to the Journal of Artists’ Books, but the English Librarian was not familiar with the publication and asked me about it. We realized that classes about artists’ books were being taught in both English and Art and decided that the library needed to create a teaching collection for faculty and students as well as the community. The books are held in Special Collections for preservation reasons, and all of the titles are listed in the library catalog. However, the books were still not easy to access so we started talking about digitizing the collection. This actually led to incorporating digital humanities tools. We had started by collecting local artists but expanded to a global focus, which inspired us to looking at mapping tools like Google Fusion, the Geolocation Plugin in Omeka, and StoryMap from the Knights Foundation. The original intention what to show the breadth of the collection, but it actually became a collection development tool by showing gaps that needed to be filled in. These books are often collaborative in nature so we also started looking at social networking tools, again using Google Fusion. We wanted to see the connections that developed in this particular community.
In my new position as the Arts & Architecture Librarian at UNC-Charlotte, I am starting an artists’ books collection focused on North Carolina. I intend to incorporate digital humanities tools into the presentation of this collection as well. In particular, this course will help me to integrate teaching and learning methodologies into this project. In general, digital humanities has become a bigger component of my job as a subject/liaison librarian in the arts and humanities. This is on trend with the growing push for librarians to become more involved in areas like DH, Big Data, data visualization, etc.
My original academic background is in art history (specifically Victorian art and design history), and I have a master’s in art history from Florida State. I then earned a master’s in library science from UNC-Chapel Hill, and I have worked in libraries for over 12 years.
I posted my website to the AMSSH Facebook page yesterday, and I’m excited to say that I received my first contribution this morning. I added a subject heading and tag and uploaded the PDF. You can see the page below:
The assignments and final project, especially, challenged both my understanding of digital humanities and my technical skills. I enjoyed the more specific focus on digital public history because this narrower lens helped me to understand the benefits and difficulties of digital humanities. By examining the topic on a smaller scale, the focus seemed more manageable and clear.
However, I will admit that the focus on public history also took me out of my comfort zone. Even though my undergraduate degree includes history, I have focused more on art history and studio arts. This focus on public history forced me to think about institutions, such as museums, in a different way. I began to concentrate more and more on reaching out to the individual and seeing history museums and websites as part of a storytelling process.
The inclusion of readings about museums and galleries was especially helpful for me coming from the areas of art history and fine arts. This familiar territory helped me to connect to the discussion of public history museums and understand their goals and their “product.”
In the readings, it was interesting to see some of the same terms used to represent ideas and vice versa. As a librarian, I have worked with faculty on information literacy. Even though we all want the students to think more critically about the information they are consuming, I’ve learned that we often use different terms. In turn, the readings showed about the same term can have different meanings such as curation and curate.
Even though I worked with Omeka in the previous class and a little bit in my previous position at George Mason University Libraries, this project allowed me to dive into the tool and see how it can be used to reach an intended audience. On a practical level, this project let me use plugins and other back-end coding to make the website gather and represent the information in the way that I wanted. There was satisfaction when I finally got the Flickr and Zotero plugins to work.
However, it was not simply about the tool. It was also how the tool could be used to accomplish my goals. I had defined the audiences I wanted to reach, and I was able to use the Omeka in a way that could engage these groups. As the project progressed, my audiences became clearer. I knew I wanted to reach about to artists (visual artists and creative writers/poets) who would be interested in the intentions of the Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here project. Part of this focus included artists/writers who are also educators. Omeka allowed me to reach out to this group, potentially engage them in collaboration, and provide historical context. As with similar project, creating the metadata also forced me to think about my audience and my goals for the project.