Learning to be a Designing Historian

The Technology:

I’m not ashamed to say that I have experienced moments of great anxiety this week. I hit a wall when I tried to create my FTP using Transmit. It kept asking for my server and I was unsure of what information I needed to supply. Luckily, Pearl saved the day by pointing out we had an FTP built in to Reclaim, the domain hosting service we adopted in Clio 1. I thought I had hit the same brick wall with the server using Reclaim, until I took a deep breath and read the instructions closely. “Deep breath” should always be step one in every technical instruction manual! I’m using the FTP, Cyberduck, which was recommended by Reclaim and, so far, all has gone well transferring files.   Following the videos on Lynda.com, I also am currently creating my Portfolio Website. I used Dreamweaver years ago, but it has really evolved and I’m excited to start playing with the tools it now has.

The Readings:

I thoroughly agree with the advice Golombisky and Hagen offered in the assigned chapters of White Space is Not Your Enemy, as most of my favorite websites are those that chunk the information in discreet bits with plenty of “white space.” I really dislike clicking on a website to find an endless page of text.   In my opinion, websites should not feel like digital books, which is what Golombisky and Hagen are advising us to avoid. The design advice is similar to what we’ve read in Clio 1 and what I’ve learned in the past from NVCC’s Instructional Designers. The most important part in the design phase has to be creating that initial storyboard. This week, I’ve already begun thinking what I want my Individual Project to be and what assets I need to begin gathering. I’m looking forward to our first class to learn more about that project.

Now I know that some of my fellow classmates are big fans of “big data” and will want to include all sorts of charts and graphs in their work, but after reading Knaflic’s, Storytelling with Data, I am more firmly convinced “big data” is not for me. Although I totally understood and agreed with her advice, I also found my brain turning off as I viewed graph after graph. I agree an occasional simple chart or graph is important to support our findings and display data, but I doubt that I’ll be using the more complicated graphs she demonstrated. I totally agree with Knaflic that pie charts are worthless and I hate 3-D graphs!

Donald Norman’s article, Attractive Things Work Better, supported much that Knaflic, Golombisky and Hagen had written. It applied the science behind why we like clean, simple design and highlights how important it is to focus on design. When writing a paper, we don’t worry about design as long as we follow the rules of the Chicago Manual of Style, but Norman explains why we do need to be concerned about the design of our website. A poorly designed website could possibly hinder our message! Suddenly storyboarding takes on as important significance as our research.

As a teacher, I know how important credible websites are for our students. Having created multiple online activities I have spent hours looking for websites where I know I can trust the scholarship. Stanford’s Guidelines should be on every digital historian’s Zotero list. Not only are the 10 guidelines sensible and easy to follow, but the research citations provided are worth perusing as well.

Until I enrolled in Clio 2 I might have argued with Stephen Ramsey that knowing code was a requirement to consider oneself a digital historian. After building a beta-site using Omeka and creating interactive, geo-rectified maps in Clio 1, I considered myself a digital historian, but now that I’m in a course where I will be learning a little code, perhaps I don’t need to start that argument. Seriously, Ramsey’s articles, Who’s in and Who’s Out and On Building, make a strong case for defining what differentiates between a digital historian and a historian who uses digital tools. I’m taking digital history classes, but I don’t plan on being a digital historian. Even after taking Clio 2 I will still define myself as a social historian who uses digital tools (and knows a little code?). My colleagues who are earning a PhD as a Digital Historian have knowledge in tools and technology that I will never have and it would be as incorrect for me to assume the designation of Digital Historian as it would to call myself an Economic Historian.

Having absorbed these first lessons, I’m taking a deep breath, watching more of the videos and continuing my experimenting with Dreamweaver. It will be interesting to see what we all end up creating by the end of the course!

I commented on Pearl’s Blog: Finding History and Danielle’s Blog: Barely A Historian

New Semester

This semester the posts on this site will be supporting my class: HIS 697 – Creating History in New Media at George Mason University.  I am a second semester part-time History PhD student at George Mason.  I also am a full-time History faculty member at NVCC the Manassas Campus.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading my musings on digital history and digital design this semester.