Over this past semester I have worked in a group of three historians to influence the digital identity of an archival collection through the production of this website. This project has been an eye-opening experience because it required us to investigate the relationship between history and modern digital platforms.
Throughout this process, I encountered several major challenges. We began with choosing a collection, researching that collection, and imaging how it could be portrayed in an interactive component with two other groups from a Games Programming course. My academic and personal schedules did not allow for much extra time this semester. So, I had hoped that we could focus on a collection that resembled one of my other projects. The collection we chose, The Mountain Dance and Folk Festival (MDFF), is similar to my thesis because it is a key piece of Western North Carolina history.
However, research was a challenge due to the massive amount of boxes in the collection. We decided to limit ourselves to documents from the 1960s and 1970s to save time on research but these dates also proved to be challenging. The most coveted aspect of our collection, the music files, were not recorded during that time and so they did not strictly fit in our time frame. We went ahead with the music because MDFF is a historical festival and the music in the recordings was still representative of the collection.
Still, as the project and semester progressed, the amount of research and necessary extra time was significant. As a group, we struggled with time management and procrastination. I believe we recognized this in each other because we shared similar learning styles. We were very compatible and worked incredibly well together. At some point, each of us reminded the rest to stay on task. Our group dynamics were also helpful when it came time to make big decisions such as changing our theme. Once we all looked at our website options, deciding on a layout was very simple. We also initially struggled to collaborate on our contract. Early on in the semester, when we were asked to write out our project in a contract format, I did not have a thorough understanding of what was expected of me. Our contract has changed several times as our understanding of the project has developed. I think that what made our project a successful learning experience was the fact our contract was not permanent, but that it changed and grew with us.
These challenges did not limit our benefits of the project. Though we faced time restraints, a massive amount of data, new technologies, and procrastination, our experience as a group was a positive one. I have come away from this project believing that history can successfully be displayed on multiple digital platforms. By creating these websites we have built digital identities for these collections. We have published imagery, music, and information beyond what a Facebook page or billboard could. Specifically, we have made these collections interactive. If they exist only in Special Collections, these collections are narratives buried in boxes. There is no easy and quick way to uncover them. However, putting them online increases their accessibility to the public. Then the interactive components make them attractive and entertaining. We have essentially organized a lot of information on the festival and presented it to the public in a digestible format. Doing this preserves the information in a more widely visited archive; The internet. While some historians may recoil at the idea of working with technology, the time is coming when we must all adapt to our audience’s digital preferences. I think this project and others like it are important for historians to participate in for both the group experience and the digital insight.