Vance Birthplace : Prologue

I interned at the Vance Birthplace Thursday from 10:00 to 2:00 and Saturday from 11:00 to 4:00. The environment is a relaxed one, and my primary job so far has been to familiarize myself with the site, read some information on giving tours and interpretation, and man the front desk to greet visitors. While this may seem strange for one who has lived most of their life in Madison County, I knew little of Zeb Vance. So I did not get to experience, as many people have, the distinct sorrow and anger of learning he was no moral hero of the age, but simply another corrupt politician willing to send hundreds of African-Americans to their deaths, albeit a talented one. That is one of the reasons I have been able to enjoy learning the ins and outs of Vance’s time as governor and early life, I had very few preconceptions. Preconceptions, I find, are one of the scholar’s greatest foes, regardless of discipline, as they can lead one to ruin while they believe themselves on the path to enlightenment. The information that I have been reading focuses a great deal upon the interaction between the scholars at a historic site, and its visitors. There is of course a practical purpose to it, as it prepares an employee or intern to deal with the public, but there is also a metaphysical side to it that makes one think about the different ways in which we as humans interact with one another on a subconscious level, and how that subconscious interaction affects the information that they share. Thinking so much about how the historic  interpreter must accommodate visitors, maked me nostalgic for a time when visitors  were of secondary importance at museums, which makes me much like the rest of the world, looking backward to a time I never experienced. As a historian, such feelings should make me feel ashamed. Greetings are terrifying, plain and simple, but I am already getting accustomed to them. Earlier today, I greeted a man and wife, who were both excited to be at the Vance Birthplace. The man claimed descent from Vance, and has been in the process of trying to prove or disprove this descent from Governor Vance. He seemed quite proud of his lineage, and the couple was ready to do the guided tour of the main building once they had looked through the exhibit and out buildings in the self-guided tour. After looking through  the exhibit the “descendent” seemed rather unhappy, and left rasping “Jesus Christ!” under his breath. The couple did not stay for the guided tour of the main house. I believe that he had bought the heroic tales of Governor Vance, Champion of the Union and North Carolina, destroyer of slavery and racial injustice, and forgot that Vance was another human, drowning in the darkness of his own soul as most humans do. Kimberly Floyd, the site manager and my mentor, is a phenomenal individual. She is able to make the internship experience into one that is far less frightening than it would be for someone of my demeanor, and has enough experience in the field to offer good advice for my concerns. She has a Bachelor’s in History, and a Master degree in Public History and Museum Studies, and has worked at the Mordecai Historic Park, Stagville Historic Site, and a few others.

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First Impressions

My first impressions on the class are primarily positive. I quite enjoyed the internship selection process, as the worksheet we all filled out was private, thus keeping us from worrying about what internships our fellow students would want. I also feel that the details asked for were well thought out by the instructor, and thus gave her a good idea of what classes would be best for which students. Unfortunately I did not enjoy the readings for the second day of class, nor the discussion, as it seemed to be a rehatching of points made in Historian’s Craft; however, I afterwards remembered that not everyone has been through said class, and that even if they had, it could have been very different depending on the instructor they took it with. Luckily I received my first choice for an intership, the Vance Birthplace. I wanted it for to reasons, one pragmatic, the other less so. The first reason is that I live in Little Laurel, Madison County, thus it is the closest of the choices. The second reason, is that with my internship, I wish to learn a variety of skills that are useful in the world of public history, most notably, how to deal with groups of people. This desired goal is also one of my greatest concerns with this class, for I do not deal well with humans, essentially when they come in large groups. But when one is frightened of something, it is best to find ways to become accustomed to it, rather avoid it.

Reflection and Defense

As I sit here and reflect on the website that my team and I have prepared, I cannot help but think that it was far more simple than I had originally expected it to be. Perhaps I owe it to the fact that we used WordPress, rather than another website creation tool. As I understand it, WordPress takes a great deal of the effort away from the creator, as they rarely are made to write code. Another aspect that made this website easier to build than I originally expected, is without a doubt my teammates, who worked hard upon their pages and helped me when I had difficulty with WordPress. Finally I would be remiss if I did not give proper thanks to Amanda of the Ramsey Library, who helped myself and Haylee learn code.

While the site was easier to build than expected, it was not all simplicity and ease. There a few problems with the process that made us deviate from the original contract. One such problem that I can clearly remember was with the sources. Originally, I had planned on writing, not only the Ministers of the church, but also of the SAC leaders, and the man that helped bring the church into being, that being Lon Ray Call. While there were many documents that referred to the SAC, Social Action Committee, of the church, few spoke of its members. This would be expected for older documents, as many may have not wanted to be implicated in social activism in the 60s, 70s, or even 80s, but it was somewhat surprising for more recent documents. I was also surprised that Lon Ray Call had fewer documents than I originally expected, primarily because he is mentioned on the Special Collection’s page for the Unitarian Universalist manuscript collection, and he has a page on the Dictionary on Unitarian & Universalist Bibliography website. Another change from the contract that I made was the Thinglink image I had originally planned to have. This was not so much a problem as it was simply a change in decision. Originally it was going to be the front page and have links to the church’s main page, an explanation of the significance of the Lantern symbol, and other links that offered general information. The only problem was that I could not think of any other websites that offered the kind of information that would fit the page, so we decided that we did not need the Thinglink on the front page, and that the interactives would fit there better.

Overall I am pleased with our final product of a site, even if there are a few changes that must still be made, and I believe that my team members are pleased with it as well. We had difficulties that we resolved and learned from, and we also learned how building a website can be far simpler than we have originally be led to believe.

Productive Failure

Throughout this class I have had multiple “Productive Failures” in working on my page, hear I shall provide two of them. My first was my trying to use citations. Simply put I could not understand how to do it. I looked through the WordPress plugins with multiple search terms to no avail. I even went so far as to try copying and pasting citation marks from other pages. I had all but lost hope, until I asked Amanda at the Ramsey Library Research desk while she was helping my team with questions regarding picture use. As usual, she had the answer to my question. In the “text editor” one writes code, and Amanda showed me and the others a website that teaches code. We learned the code needed to have a citation number was <sup>1</sup>, with the number one is using in the center. We also learned the way to create a line in html code. My second productive failure was in trying to put a Canva image on the website. each time I created one and uploaded it to the website, it would appear tiny. so first I asked Hayley, who showed me the way to change the image’s size by going into the code, and specifying the exact size I wanted the image. This worked to change the size, but it was blurry, and unreadable. So after trying other ways to change the size, or make it clearer, I soon learned that the original Image size was what the problem was. So I simply created a new Canva image with the same dimensions of the page. It uploaded perfectly after that.

Digital Archives

As with anything in this world, there are pros and cons to digitaizing history, and creating digital archives. First the cons. One problem that chapter 6 touched upon that I find frightening, is the ability for polemics to create false historical records digitally. One way they can do this may be to simply use a digital art tool to create a convincing fake. A less straightforward method, but one that is more likely to be used if for a polemic to create a physical copy of a false record and copy it. While I have no doubt that both of these records can be proven as false, if they were snuck into an archive, they could create false leads and help whatever foolish cause the polemic creator was serving. This is where the con that the New Yorker article wanted to discuss comes into play. That is the changing of one archival system to another, and how this change can be problematic. First there are those who are simply used to a different method of archiving, who are both distrustful of thecnology, and who cannot use it effectively. The ones that I am more afraid for are the secod type, who with accept whatever they find online without question, and will not look for a physical copy.

The New Yorker article writes on how the problems with digitalized archives are not permanent ones, and that throughout history databases have evolved, and that digital is simply another step in this evolution. I would agree, and in my opinion most problems with digital archives will soon be fixed with time. After, the greatest pro that chapter 6 brings up will take place, and that is of course the accessibility that will be brought to historic documents when anyone with access to the internet can view them.

The websites I visited were the Famous Law Trials site and the Hull House and Neighborhoods site. The Trials website has little to nothing in common with our project. From the design of the site itself, to the subject matter, it is disimilar in every way. Our site is similar in sport  to the Hull House site. By that I mean that both sites have to deal with a singal place, that has greater influence beyond its borders. Of course our project has more interactive items in it, even without the Games Programing students future additions.

For me a digital archive for the UU Church would be very similar to the physical one in Special Collections, with the relocation  of a few documents that have to to do with billing and financial matters, into their own category. Most other catagories would be created from the different boxes in the collection. Once inside a category one would have a list of tabs to access, and each one would bring them to a different document in the collection.

Team Meetings

The meeting with the two teams went relatively well. It was wonderful to learn first team has been looking forward to this project, and has already began work upon a 3D model of the church. We were made even happier when the second team started to not only show an interest, but come up with ideas. Currently it seems they are interested in making a top-down game where the player character answers trivia of the church’s history. Also a top-down game is a 2D one where you look down at your player character and move them, like the original Pokemon game or original Zelda game.

Much of the discussion changed for each group. Group one had a goal in sight of what they wanted to do with their plugin, so our discussion was more about what we would need to provide them with to reach it. The discussion with group two was more centered on figuring out what they wanted to do. It was originally their idea to create a trivia game after seeing the timeline Haylee made, and we and group one discussed with them the format that they would want to present this plugin. They decided top-down was the best choice.

While group two has most likely chosen the top-down trivia game, group one wishes to create a 3D model of the church that one can explore and be spoken to in.

For group one a visit to the church and meeting with Mark Ward is necessary. They also need the floor plans that we have given them. Group two will need basic history of the church for them to create their trivia questions, which we plan to provide them with.

Digital Identity

Digital identity (that is the self the one creates in their use of the internet and social networking especially) is something that journalists and others have been investigating in the past few years. In the Washington Post article 13, Right Now, That is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols, and longing. written by Jessica Contrera, the author studies a young girl by the name of Katherine Pommerening to try and see what a child’s life is like in the modern day world. I personally found this article odd and the people it was about even odder. The main girl we read about seems glued to her phone, which has internet capabilities, and only seems to use it for social media, one may even say she has an addiction. She in her family seem to live in a suburban area, and they are rather well off. The article is honestly strange and boring, and adds nothing to my understanding of digital identity. Digital Identities: Six Key Selves of Networking Publics is written by Bonnie Stewart, and unlike tye previous article, it has a purpose. That purpose is to try and categorize the different identities created online. While I can appreciate what they are doing, I cannot claim to understand her completely, and i really only understand the Performative self completely, as it seems to be a way to chreate a character for oneself online.