Questions to Consider for Self-Reflection:
- What did you learn?
- What did you enjoy the most about your internship? The least?
- How will this experience be useful as you move forward with your own professional development?
- How did you apply what you learned in your coursework during the internship?
- How has the internship increased your understanding of digital public humanities work?
- How well prepared did you feel the coursework prepared you for your internship?
- Please include other comments about challenges you faced, unexpected fun discoveries.
For both Fall and Spring semesters, I interned for the Smithsonian Institution Cultural Rescue Initiative. Their mission is to “protect cultural heritage threatened or impacted by disasters and to help U.S. and international communities preserve their identities and history” (Mission Statement). While their primary charge is to aid in the preservation of cultural heritage sites during disasters, they are also tracking museum and other cultural institutions around the world.
This second task is the one we were focused on during our internship. We were each assigned countries or regions to focus on in order to inventory the cultural institutions in these locations. We built on the work of previous interns and added new information. We used Museum of the World, produced by the academic publisher De Gruyter, as our starting point for locating museums.
During fall semester, the George Mason interns worked together to focus on museums in the Caribbean. This area was a high priority because of hurricane damage from Irma and Maria. The following semester, we worked on our assigned countries in a more solitary fashion since we did not share regions. I was assigned the country of Denmark. While there was the benefit of working at our own pace, I missed the collegial nature of working together even in an online environment. We primarily focused on Western and Eastern Europe.
As part of this internship, I reported to Brian Daniels, the Director of Research and Programs for the Penn Cultural Heritage Center at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and a research associate with the Smithsonian Institution Archives, and to Gracie Golden, the Administrative Coordinator. Throughout both semesters, Gracie took the lead with our phone meetings. However, Brian would join the discussions as needed and answer questions by email or through Gracie when he was unable to attend. These regular meetings helped to keep me focused on the assigned tasks. It was also an opportunity to connect with the group.
In addition to data collection, we wrote two blog posts per semester for the SCRI blog. I was pleased to see that my submission“Using Librarian Research Skills to Track Down Museums” was posted on the blog. This post focused on the research skills needed to track down museums and other cultural organizations that were not listed in established sources like Museums of the World. This search required a discerning eye when evaluating Google search results in the effort to establish the veracity and legitimacy of museums on small Caribbean islands like St. Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. This task also incorporated lessons we learned in our classes about historical thinking. The assignment required that I carefully evaluate the sources and think critically about them. As a result, additional museums were added to the list while other ones were vetted out.
Near the end of the second semester, Brian tasked us with creating a map of the museums. He said that he wanted us to analyze which mapping tools would best serve the project’s needs. This led to a larger discussion of the goals for this kind of data visualization, and I believe our class readings and projects made this discussion possible. As we discussed in our classes, there needs to be defined goals when choosing and utilizing digital humanities tools. In fact, this step comes after deciding if these tools will enhance the project in a meaningful way and will not just be a superficial addition. As a group, we discussed the possible mapping platforms that we could use. A spreadsheet was set up to list the possibilities along with the pros and cons of each one, along with any noteworthy details. We considered the following categories:
- Cost, if any
- Number of data points supported
- Primary features
- Mobile capabilities
- Any restrictions
We considered CartoDB because of class experience along with GeoDjango, ArcGIS, Open Street Maps, Tableau, Simply Analytics, Google Maps, and Google Fusion Tables. We strongly considered Carto because of our experience using it in class assignments. Its website has excellent and extensive guides to help users create and customize maps. Despite the lower threshold for entry, users still need some prior knowledge in dealing with GIS data. However, we ultimately decided that Google Fusion Tables was the best fit for our needs and goals. The benefits included: ability to merge multiple tables, cloud storage space, real-time collaboration between multiple users, ability to upload massive amounts of datasets, and data visualization through mapping. As with our classes, the Slack app was useful when collaborating with the other Mason interns. We were able to further our discussions about which mapping platform to use and then worked through any issues we came across. It was a supportive environment for asking questions and tackling technical problems. Since our classmates Andris and Hannah were at a stopping point with the data collection, they delved further into the mapping project. They were able to set up the account with Gracie and then refine the tables and mapping component. In order to add greater customization, Andris uploaded the information from the Google Fusion Table to his website. This version allows us to show which museums have completed information (including descriptions), which ones have partial data, and which ones only have verified geographic coordinates. It provides a snapshot of where the project is in its list of museums. After looking at mapping projects like Digital Harlem and Histories of the Mall in our classes, this mapping project definitely has great potential for the future. This map shows how digital humanities tools can be used to enhance projects in a meaningful way. Down the road, it would be possible to add an image (with the consideration of copyright) to each museum using Google Fusion Tables.
This part of the internship was valuable to our digital humanities experience, and I wish we could have started on this portion sooner in the semester. However, we were able to set the foundation for this part of the project. We were also able to make some suggestions about the mapping component which could be utilized as the project continues to grow. According to the code book for entering data, we listed the name of the town and the name of the museum in the same spreadsheet cell. It was suggested that this information should be separated for cleaner data and to improve data visualizations. I also suggested that the type of museum, which was listed in the description cell, should be separated out into its own cell. This would allow for more in-depth analysis. For example, the project coordinators could see which type of museums (e.g. history, art, science) dominated certain countries. For a previous work project, I used Google Fusion Tables to analyze the artists’ books collection in the library. The chart feature in Fusion Tables allowed us to look a the relationships between cities and artists and between the artists themselves. As I was filling in the dataset for museums in Denmark, I noticed a high number of Viking history museums including ones that were open-air, living history museums. I think it would enhance the data analysis to be able to pull out this information and represent it visually.
A primary take away from our class readings is that digital humanities, while difficult to define, is more than just incorporating some kind of digital component into your project. It is about enhancing that project through digital tools–tools that allow us to see that information in new ways and make new connections. The mapping and charts created through Google Fusion Tables have the potential to make these connections.
Overall, I think the coursework prepared me for the internship. The readings and projects forced me to think about how the work I create will be seen and utilized by the public. I was already somewhat familiar with this perspective while working in instruction and research assistance in an academic library. However, the readings helped expand my perspective about what is needed for a broader public audience. While researching additional interpretations of public history (during the Digital Public History class), I came across the article “From Private Story to Public History: Irene Rathbone Revises the War in the Thirties” by Genevieve Brassard. She pointed to the need for multiple voices in telling history. By complimenting our museum list from De Gruyter with research through Google, we opened up the previously closed-off and heavily restricted list. Hopefully, this will help bring multiple perspectives to the project since we included museums and other cultural institutions that would have been overlooked. This approach helps to fill in the gaps with populations that may be otherwise overlooked. Public history and public humanities address issues like “whose history” and “whose public.” These fields are naturally interdisciplinary just like museum studies. They see events and objects within a larger context and include fields like politics, economics, arts, and culture.
One of the main things I learned during this internship is that any project, especially such as large-scale project as SCRI, needs clear directions and procedures. In part, this clarity is needed because there is a large amount of data involved. The other reason is that this information is being created and edited by multiple people, including a constant turnover of interns. I was grateful that SCRI provided a thorough code book to guide us through entering data into the assigned spreadsheets. Of course, we still had questions and needed clarifications regarding the data entry. However, Gracie was very responsive in regards to these questions.
Another lesson learned during the internship was the need to create clean, tidy data. This lesson reinforced what we learned throughout our coursework. In addition to group suggestions already mentioned, I also corrected some spelling errors. Although it was a simple edit to correct the spellings of Ireland and Poland, the errors meant that some museums were not included when filtering the data for those countries. It is essential to have clean spreadsheets in order to covert files to a CSV format and upload these files to various platforms. This approach will alleviate any issues when transferring information to another platform or even an updated version of the existing platform (since Google Fusion Tables currently has a more elaborate beta version).
In addition, the internship reinforced class readings about copyright and fair use. Dealing with copyright is already a complicated issue, but addressing this issue with digital materials makes it even more complicated. This is one of the reasons that we were required to only include copyright-free or our own images with our SCRI blog posts. In order to find viable images, I utilized resources discussed in earlier classes as well as a personal photograph.
Overall, both the courses and internship will influence my professional work. It has already impacted my work with the artists’ books collection that I started for Atkins Library at UNC-Charlotte. I am more cognizant of making sure the metadata describing the books is written in clean, clear spreadsheets that can be easily adapted for a variety of digital humanities tools such as mapping and networking. Along with a colleague in our Digital Strategies department, I will also be supervising a library science graduate student this summer. The fellowship focuses on the digital humanities through the lens of special collections and modeling. The class readings have prepared me to guide our fellow to the core/meaningful texts and projects (e.g. projects created through the Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media) and key scholars in the field (e.g. Miriam Posner and Johanna Drucker). Even though my internship was virtual, continual communication was critical to the success of the internship. I will also take this lesson and apply it to the fellowship.