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Archive for the ‘Creating Digital History course’ Category

I’ve spent the last two years in library school, but somehow it still never occurred to me to use note-taking and information management software for my own purposes until I took this class.  I’ve used the same system for note-taking and information storage since my freshman year of college.  Though for the most part it has served me well, I have noticed that as projects got larger, I tended to spend much more time skimming frantically through multiple documents searching for one thing I vaguely remembered reading somewhere.  Evernote’s full-text indexing and searching, as well as its tagging feature, have helped me synthesize my research and complete my assignments more efficiently.

I typically take notes in an outline format using word processing software.  It’s not a very sophisticated system, and it transferred almost seamlessly into Evernote.  The one incredibly small issue I had with it is that when taking notes, I tend to have the active document on the left side of the screen, and other documents (for reference, etc.) to the right side of the screen.  I think this is a holdover from when I took notes on paper:  since I’m left handed, my paper was always on the left, and my book was always on the right.  Evernote’s layout (as far as I know) can’t be switched around, so it took a little practice to get used to referring to the right side of my screen for the active document.  I wonder if Ned Flanders’ Leftorium has expanded into software yet….

Tagging was probably the feature of Evernote that I enjoyed the most.  (Full-text searching across the entirety of the documents in the database was a close second, but it doesn’t save that much more time than searching OCR-ed PDFs individually.)  Being able to supply my own more detailed and granular metadata made it much easier and faster to retrieve information.  My previous storage system used hierarchies of folders to mimic a very rough tagging system, but it doesn’t allow me to associate multiple tags with the same object, and tends to involve a lot of clicking.  It also requires me to remember where in the multi-folder hierarchy I saved a document:  since I couldn’t associate multiple categories with objects, if an object applied to more than one folder category, I would save it on the same level as both folder categories.  I thought this was ingenious when I “invented” it in college, but now I realize that it was NOT the best way to do things.  Rather than relying on the OS X directory structure to organize my research, I should have investigated third party software sooner.  It would have made my senior thesis much less frustrating.

I wish that the tagging functionality in Evernote did allow for some hierarchical organization, if only for the sake of having a neater-looking and more navigable tag page.   I can imagine that for projects longer and larger than this one, the tag page in Evernote gets very messy, very fast.  I also wish that I had spent a little more time developing my tagging system.  Some tags ended up referring to too many notes to be of much use, and I wasn’t always consistent about applying both subject- and format-related tags to notes.  (This is another example of how hierarchical tagging in Evernote would be useful:  I could tag notes related to people or places as “visual” or “non-visual,” depending upon whether they included illustrations that I could use in my archive or exhibit.)  I’ll keep that lesson in mind when I begin organizing my capstone research.

I did not end up using Evernote to draft my blog posts or exhibit text.  I need a visually “quiet” desktop environment for writing, and Evernote just has too many things going on that catch my attention and distract me.  I also did not use Evernote to store most of the items I used in my digital archive, since the free version only permits a ludicrously small amount of data to be imported every month, and I’m pretty sure a single TIFF would exceed that allowance.  Even the relatively low resolution JPEG photographs of archival materials that I took on my phone were too large to import in a single month.  At least the Web Clipper can download PDFs directly into Evernote without using the imported data allowance!  I would probably have stopped using Evernote if that function didn’t exist.

One other slight roadblock to using Evernote as the one database to rule them all was the fact that I ended up needing to use several books in my research.  It would be really great if Evernote had a mobile application similar to the Web Clipper, which provided document scanning and OCR functionality through smartphone cameras.  The fact that this doesn’t exist yet makes me think that it’s because of (everyone’s favorite!) copyright law.  The Web Clipper can download PDFs exported by academic publishers’ databases, but it doesn’t work even for single (full) pages of books in ebrary or other access platforms for e-books which are still under copyright.  Evernote’s Web Clipper is only one of many content-scraping web tools which have various legitimate and nefarious applications, and which publishers’ digital rights management software is built to block.  Print books don’t have the same DRM software built in, but Evernote’s developers could still be sued by publishers for facilitating users’ copyright infringement if they did provide a document-scanning app like the one I described above.

Evernote is not a perfect solution, but no software ever is.  Furthermore, most of my frustration with the software was the result of my being too cheap to upgrade to a paid version, and I recognize that it’s not entirely fair to blame the product itself for the business model which supports it.  It would be nice to have a free, open-source platform with similar functionality to Evernote.  After my experience using Evernote for this class, I plan to investigate those options further before I begin the research for my capstone project next semester.  However, if that search is unsuccessful, I’ll probably pony up the $50 for a yearlong Evernote subscription.

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I’m Celeste Brewer, and I love a good story, especially if it happens to be true.

Stories are what drew me to study history and archives.  I am fascinated by the layers of narrative and counter-narrative that can be constructed around the narrowest frames of primary evidence, then deconstructed and rebuilt.  I love a sweeping historical saga as much as anyone, but I think more than that, I love the strange small anecdotes that get mentioned in footnotes, or not at all.  When I get the chance to create the narrative, those are the types of stories I like to tell.

I divided my time in college between classes in early modern British and twentieth century American history, with a senior seminar on nineteenth century Charleston, South Carolina thrown in for good measure.  These days, I’m equally likely to be seen on the subway reading Blacks in Gold Rush California or The Grand Strategy of Philip II.  (Or I might be dozing.  Full disclosure.)

I could certainly be accused of dilettantism, but the balance of (relatively) new and old history works for me right now.  Sometimes the recent past is just too raw, while other times the distant past is too foreign.  If I continue to pursue academic history I suppose I’ll have to choose.  However, for now, it makes me a more versatile librarian and archivist-in-training.

Celeste at SAA

Me in professional mode, presenting a poster at the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting in August 2015.

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2012-01-05_19-42-58_250Despite growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania that’s rarely ever included on maps, where there’s nothing to do for miles, and whose residents don’t travel too far from home, stay away for too long, or concern themselves with art or fashion, I firmly believed a move to New York City would change my life for the better. Even before graduating from high school, I recognized my undergraduate education at The Pennsylvania State University was a stepping stone to even higher education, initially believing medical school was the next logical step after college. Like many incoming freshmen, I was under the impression only a curriculum in science could ever result in a successful career. However, everything changed with a single art history elective and a trip to New York City to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since then, more classes in the humanities have followed and have stimulated my thinking and creativity in ways science never could. Half way through my undergraduate education, I decided to change my major from premedicine to art history and even interned as a curatorial assistant for the university’s Palmer Museum of Art where I initially fell in love with working with primary documents and original artwork firsthand.

I moved to New York City soon after graduating from Penn State in order to attend the new MA Fashion Studies program at Parsons The New School for Design. Outside of the classroom I wrote concise, critical reviews on contemporary art exhibitions in and around the city for the blog M Daily, volunteered for Karen Augusta of Augusta Auctions, a rare dealer of historical textiles and antique clothing, as well as interned for the Special Collections and Archives of the Fashion Institute of Technology. Although I enjoyed learning more about experimental fashion and other instances of how art and fashion intersect, I truly missed learning about fine art and decided to finish my graduate education at Christie’s Education New York. In 2013, after finishing an internship with the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department of Christie’s Auction House, I graduated with an M.A. in The History of Art and the Art Market from Christie’s and began working as a freelance archival assistant.

My freelance positions made me realize I need to continue to strengthen my research and archival skills if I want to advance in the competitive field of modern and contemporary art and ultimately work for a museum or university collection. I’m excited to be a first-year student of NYU’s Archives and Public History graduate program, as well as a new graduate assistant at Fales Library. For this course I am looking forward to building upon my pre-existing skills, as well as learning more about digital humanities as I research the relocation of the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts to Greenwich Village in the late 1930s. This is certainly an exciting time to research Hofmann since a comprehensive catalogue raisonné on the artist, Hans Hofmann: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings by Suzi Villiger, was only recently published in 2014.

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The day I visited the Nuyorican Poets Cafe the front door was being replaced. The door was old and for security purposes had to go. Still, staff were adamant that they wouldn’t be getting rid of the old one, after all “there’s a lot of history in that door”. For an institution as notorious and embedded as the Nuyorican, even seemingly irrelevant parts of architecture have stories to tell. However, if there’s a lot of history in the front door that is nothing compared to what can be found inside.

 

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe in  1976

The Nuyorican Poets Cafe in 1976, New York Times

The Nuyorican has not always been at its current location on East 3rd Street. It was initially set up in 1974 on East 6th Street in the apartment of Miguel Algarín, one of the cafe’s founding members. Popularity soon forced it to expand into an Irish Pub on the same street and in 1981 to where it currently stands. The cafe closed a year later but re-opened in 1988 and since then the top three floors of the building have been given over to its archival collections. It was these collections that were the purpose of my visit but I arrived with no concept of their size. Executive Director Daniel Gallant had told me that there was a lot to see; he was not wrong.

What the collections might lack in organization they more than make up for in content. The walls are decorated with banners from previous performances and coat rails are jammed with costumes. There are countless boxes of recorded material as well as signed photographs and DIY posters from the 1980s. The material spans the entire history of the Nuyorican, from the early days of Miguel Piñero, Pedro Pietri, through Amiri Baraka and Rome Neal, and into the current crop of new artists making their name at the cafe. In essence the Nuyorican holds an almost complete cultural and material history of the late 20th Century East Village.

Yet the location of the Nuyorican archives has caused problems of its own. Twice the material has been storm damaged

A selection of the Nuyorican archives

A selection of the Nuyorican archives

and there is always a concern that this could happen again. The Nuyorican is not opposed to the material being archived elsewhere but this is often easier said than done. First this would require one of the many archival sites in New York to come forward to accept the material. However, Daniel Gallant explained to me that in order for the vast collection to be properly understood it would need the input of someone familiar with the history and current work of the cafe and this is constrained by both time and money. I would be surprised if numerous other non-profit institutions in New York do not also encounter the same problem.

I have often found it interesting that we make such clear distinctions between hoarding and collecting, often only allowing the former to become the latter when practiced by someone of notoriety. Yet if there is a distinction to be made it is surely in terms of organization. Any individual or institution may keep hold of material from their past but it is when that is transformed into something accessible and understandable that it becomes a recognizable collection. The case of the Nuyorican shows how difficult this can be. The East 3rd Street building will soon be renovated and the top floors will becomes artistic and theatrical studios. When this happens the material will have to move; it would be a tragedy if it did not find the home it deserves.

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The Hulk passes through Washington Square Park in The Amazing Spider-Man, issue 381, 1993

The Hulk passes through Washington Square Park in The Amazing Spider-Man, issue 381, 1993

Ta-Nehisi Coates hit the nail on the head when he said, “Comics are so often seen as the province of white geeky nerds. But, more broadly, comics are  the literature of outcasts, of pariahs, of Jews, of gays, of blacks. It’s really no mistake that we saw ourselves in Doom, Magneto or Rogue.” Since their inception, comic books have been a place for fantasy, wish fulfillment and political commentary. Much like science fiction, a genre decades old by the time comic books became popular in the United States, comic books often reflected the fringes of American society. They told the stories of outcasts and aliens, people who didn’t step in time with the rest of humanity. It’s unsurprising that someone like William Moulton Marston, psychologist and creator of Wonder Woman, would find himself so drawn to the medium.

This phenomenal development of a national comics addiction puzzles professional educators and leaves the literary critics gasping. Comics scorn finesse, thereby incurring the wrath of linguistic adepts. They defy the limits of accepted fact and convention, thus amortizing to apoplexy the ossified arteries of routine thought. But by these very tokens the picture-story fantasy cuts loose the hampering debris of art and artifice and touches the tender spots of universal human desires and aspirations, hidden customarily beneath long accumulated protective coverings of indirection and disguise. Comics speak, without qualm or sophistication, to the innermost ears of the wishful self.”

Front page to The Sound of Her Wings from Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Issue 8, 1991.

Front page to The Sound of Her Wings from Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes, Issue 8, 1991.

Marston wrote this for a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, a year after Wonder Woman debuted in her first solo book, Sensation Comics. He was a blacklisted psychologist who lived in a polyamorous relationship with two women, Olive Byrne and Elizabeth Holloway. All three worked, wrote and helped raise their four children. A self-identified feminist, Marston infused Wonder Woman with his politics, hoping to create a new feminine ideal. Perhaps, then, it is even less surprising that Marston’s inspiration was found largely in the radical communities of Greenwich Village.
Wonder Woman was not the only superhero to have passed through the Village. Comic book writers and artists have been sending their characters to the quintessential home of radical counterculture for decades. Wonder Woman herself lived in the Village in the sixties and seventies. Madame Xanadu, a sorceress based on the Arthurian legend of Nimue, had her salon on Chrystie Street. Peter Parker, that most relatable of high school geeks and New York native, swung through the Village regularly. Kyle Radnor, one of the iterations of the Green Lantern, was an artist whose studio was in a Greenwich Village loft. It made sense to place these characters here. Like the folk music that permeated the Village in the 1950’s and 60’s, comic books told stories  that were always meant for the common person, but also for those who didn’t quite feel like they were in sync with the rest of the world. People found shelter in the Village, and it was no different on the pages of Spider-Man or Wonder Woman.

A shadowy figure approaches the Sanctum Sanctorum, home of Doctor Stephen Strange, which first appeared in Strange Tales, issue 116, 1951. The Sanctum existed in multiple dimensions, but the front door was on Bleecker Street.

A shadowy figure approaches the Sanctum Sanctorum, home of Doctor Stephen Strange, which first appeared in Strange Tales, issue 116, 1951. The Sanctum existed in multiple dimensions, but the front door was on Bleecker Street.

Outside comic books, Greenwich Village was home to people like socialist writer Max Eastman, who published Child of the Amazons and Other Poems in 1913. Charlotte Perkins Gilman published Herland, a utopian novel about an egalitarian world without men, in her magazine Forerunner in 1915. Clearly Amazonian society had been on the minds of many Village feminists, not just Martson’s.
Because of their format, and their intended audiences, comic book creators had room to do the daring, to challenge social mores. Sometimes they didn’t succeed, and often they ended up just reproducing the same prejudices they were attempting to subvert. Despite the efforts of people like Marston, the comic book industry has been dominated by white men, its path dictated by what they think their audience of white teenage males want to see. But comic books still have their roots in counterculture, and are so identified with bohemian Greenwich Village that author Michael Chabon set much of his novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Claythere. His characters, Joe, Sammy and Rosa, called the Village home, often finding refuge there through a storm of homophobia, sexism and anti-semitism.
Supergirl is sent to the Village to speak to Madame Xanadu in Wonder Woman, issue 292, 1982

Supergirl is sent to the Village to speak to Madame Xanadu in Wonder Woman, issue 292, 1982

Comic books have certainly changed over the years, and so has the Village, but their shared history continues to draw people for similar reasons. They have the ability to show us our fantasies and desires, reflecting them back to us for better or worse. Idealists, radicals, outcasts and sometimes just lonely kids looking for companionship – those are the people who still hold comic books closest, and comic book creators owe much of that to the influence of the Village.

Related Reading:

Gaiman, Neil. Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes. New York: DC Comics, 1991.

Chabon, Michael. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. New York: Random House Publishing, 2000.

Daniels, Les. Wonder Woman: The Life and Times of the Amazon Princess: The Complete Story. San Francisco: Titan Books, 2000.

Schwartz, Judith. Radical Feminists of Heterodoxy: Greenwich Village 1912-1940. Norwich, Vermont: New Victoria Publishers, 1986.

 

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Hi! My name is Laura and I am a second year graduate student in the museum studies program at NYU. I’m currently starting research for my thesis, which will identify and discuss methodologies that museums can use to create more socially conscious exhibitions.

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Laura Williams, Brooklyn Museum

 While my master’s program has helped me better understand museums as a professional field, I’m really interested in researching regional and community subcultures that are found throughout the United States. I earned my undergraduate degree in American studies and history from the University of Maryland, a course of study that made me fall in love with cultural studies, identity formation, and ethnographic research. I think museums can be a powerful medium to share this type of information, and I hope to someday craft the narratives that visitors see.

 I love crowds! And people-watching. And seemingly dull stories of everyday people, both historical and contemporary, that I can relate to. On this blog, I hope to share such stories about the people who lived in Greenwich Village, finding something familiar in a city that always seems to be changing.

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The hard drive to my laptop failed in late September. At that time I had used EverNote two times. Being without a primary computer, and pretty much spending 85% of my waking hours in the library, I tried the online version to see if it could keep up with my hectic, computer hopping lifestyle. It could not. Frequently moving between Mac and PC, laptop to desktop, I found the learning curve to be greater and the extra log-in less convenient than, what has become my absolute stand-by for any and all long-term projects: Google Drive.

GoogleDrive

GoogleDrive

Google Drive is bare bones file storage and basic file creation, but it allows users to create the infrastructure that they are most comfortable with and files that can be transferred and used with any Microsoft Office software.

I wanted to use video to tell the story of murder within Tammany Hall. This requires very specific and expensive software that was on my computer, so I spent most of the semester gathering material and researching the topic. Most of this was in the form of New York Tribune and New York Times articles found via the library’s ProQuest database. A lot of these articles went into Google Drive, however, some of them I just printed out and kept with me for quick reference. I find it much easier to flip through pages than I do to scan through PDFs. When it finally came time to include these in the exhibit, I needed only to do a quick keyword search and download the file in order to access it.

Admittedly, this is not the most centralized or organized approach in the world, but it is how I am accustomed to working and it seems to get the job done for me. It is difficult to find a single program or software that offers you every function and application necessary to do a research project. I think some programs are better suited to some functions than others. Because there are so many programs that do one function really well, I’m not sure it’s necessary, or even more convenient to have one program that does every function only so-so. I use Google Drive because I use many computers, but I also use the library databases as if they were personal hard drives because it’s easier to do a keyword search than it is to go through subfolder after subfolder to find a particular file.

New York Times ProQuest Database

New York Times ProQuest Database

I’m sure EverNote works well for a lot of people, but it didn’t fit with my particular methods for researching and creating a project. I think this is why we have so many different programs available – there is a person for every application and an application for every person. It’s just a matter of finding the one that fits.

 

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