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The biggest challenge with technology is always learning to use it. Until digital tools become second nature we always find fault with the UX, complain about the process and eventually abandon it in search of something better. Good design creates a memorable user experience and keeps us coming back for more. It must look interesting and appealing and feel natural, not forced. Evernote doesn’t really feel natural, nor does it look great. But one could argue technology is also only as good as the user.

As most of my classmates have listed in their reviews, there are great aspects to Evernote. It helps gather information quickly and easily, clipping items or whole pages as you research. It allows for easy organization and recalling your notes but only if you put in the time to organize and create tabs. You have to want to make it work. You have to have found some kind of spark and want to use it everyday. Oddly, my program (Costume Studies) does not allow technology in classrooms of any kind—no computers, phones, etc. All notes must be written using pen and paper. If I could use Evernote ongoing, from class to class, it might make navigating and exploiting all its benefits that much easier. Using it in Creating Digital History has proven to make note taking a hundred times easier and the quality is infinitely better than using a pen and paper or trying to organize a notebook.

We want digital tools and technology to conform to our practices and preferences and function exactly as we do. We also want it to happen immediately, with little effort. As history has proven, mass-adopted technological developments are few and far between. Many have tried to create new ways to gather and share information but not many have succeeded for the long term. But they keep on trying. On the other hand, there are those platforms or devices that have changed our lives forever. These are the tools have helped change the way we learn, communicate, and think. Think iPhone (yay!) vs. Apple watch (boo!). Yet, every digital platform created is a small advancement and opportunity to create something better. It just takes time and practice.

In short, I am going to keep on working with Evernote and see where it goes. Would upgrading make it better? Perhaps. A very good friend of mine swears by Evernote for all aspects of her life. She uses it for recipes, personal organization and work. It gives a 360-degree view of her life, all of which she can access via her phone. That makes her happy and I find it inspiring. Evernote might, given some more time and patience,  help me to become the great note taker I have always wanted to be, or at least become a little bit better. I remain hopeful!

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When the semester began, I really wanted to commit to Evernote. I created a notebook for my Creating Digital History class notes, as well as created a separate notebook for my initial digital archive and Omeka exhibition topic: The Hans Hofmann School. In my Hans Hofmann notebook, I attempted to use Evernote’s web clipping tool and tagging features. However, I deleted this notebook when I changed my final project topic to The Subject of the Artist School, and by that time I had already started to feel a major disconnect between how I naturally organized my thoughts and how Evernote’s layout and features help organize material. I probably could have committed more by using Evernote for my other classes or by downloading the app to my phone. It is possible with more use, tagging all of my notes would not have felt like such a chore. It is also possible I would not have been so confused as to which items should be notes and which items are better off as entire notebooks.
Despite not readily taking to Evernote, I appreciate learning about new digital tools through the course readings and during our class discussions. Learning about Evernote resulted in my decision to explore other digital tools that could possibly be a better fit. Recently I looked at online tutorials for Evernote’s competitor,  Microsoft OneNote, which has a hierarchical setup that might better suit my organizational needs. While I recognize tagging can help with the issue of items that do not fit into one category versus another, I do not prefer to rely on tagging alone as a means to sort and find information. This preference may mean OneNote has a place in my future. I certainly enjoyed learning about the program’s other features, including its ability to read text embedded in images and its ability to record and embed audio files into notes. While the character recognition feature is ideal for someone like me interested in taking notes on the visual arts, the audio feature would also be incredibly helpful for the French tutoring sessions I began this semester, especially since they focus on pronunciation.
For me, actively having to use Evernote opened up a conversation about other tools scholars are using to manage the abundance of sources that have become available during the Digital Age. In addition to actively trying OneNote for the notes I create, I will likely also explore citation management devices like Zotero and Mendeley for information I take from the web. This semester I learned both Zotero and Mendeley can extract information from online sources and PDFs to create a running bibliography. Such tools would have been incredibly helpful when I wrote my graduate thesis for Christie’s Education on contemporary artist Berlinde de Bruyckere.
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Berlinde de Bruyckere, Marthe, 2008, Courtesy of Christie’s New York
Many of the sources about the artist were web sources, and many articles repeated the same information. By the end of the manuscript, I felt much of my time had been focused on searching through an endless stack of printouts and binders, re-looking for information. I also devoted too much of my time to the tedious task of creating footnotes and a seven page bibliography from scratch. I am relieved to hear such tools as Zotero and Mendeley exist for scholars in the Digital Age, and I look forward to the launch of other, easy-to-use digital tools designed specifically for academics. I am sure I am not alone when I say other instructors should be promoting these tools so their students are more aware of their existence. While I had classes on different art historical methodologies, I never had a course that focused on research methods or digital tools until now. I think its a worthy question to ask why instructors do not feel obligated to teach research methods. Perhaps this dilemma will sort itself out in time.

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I had heard of Evernote before I took this class, from a friend of mine who swore that it was a lifesaver in terms of helping her keep her life organized. I have even attempted to use it before, but to little effect — I found the setup confusing and, despite having the app on my phone, often forgot I had it available to me and would just continue keeping notes the old-fashioned pen-and-paper way.

This time, my use of Evernote was a little more involved and, therefore, a little more productive. I made a conscious effort to use it instead of just writing it off after a week the way I did the first time I used it, and I made use of the Web Clipper for things like wikipedia articles and random news articles that were clogging up my Bookmarks tab. Again, though, I found myself forgetting to use it, even though I had it on both my phone and my laptop, and even though the little elephant icon for the Web Clipper is always sitting there up on the taskbar of my Google Chrome window.

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A snapshot of my main notebook for this class, which concerns my digital archive.

Part of it may just be reluctance to try something new: I know that even though I have the Web Clipper available to me, I only started using it when my bookmarks were getting too clogged up, simply because the ability to access the page itself — rather than a live version of it hosted on Evernote — felt, strangely, more secure. But part of it is just that, despite my efforts to go into it with an open mind, Evernote’s organizational framework and my own don’t really work together as well as I would have hoped.

About halfway through the semester, I discovered another note-taking software, OneNote. I did not use this one for either class notes or for my digital archive and exhibit; instead, I used it for my fiction writing. However, I found that, despite its many flaws (one of which being how irregular the syncing process can be), it worked better for me as an organizational tool for taking notes than Evernote does. The way the notebooks work in OneNote made organization both easier and more visually appealing. In particular, the fact that the notebooks can be divided into sections made it much easier to separate different aspects of whatever project I was working on into categories, and that in turn made it easier to find things when I needed them.

Granted, OneNote does lack the tagging system which for many people is Evernote’s main appeal. But for me personally, sections and folders are easier to find things in than tag lists, especially when the amount of material you have in one tag starts to pile up. (I know this from my experiences in trying to find specific photos of a certain celebrity on a Tumblr blog whose tag for that person has 15+ pages of posts.)

This sounds like a negative review, but it isn’t. I don’t hate Evernote. I don’t even dislike it, really. I just struggled to adapt it to my own organizational style, and, when that failed, adapt my style to it. It’s obviously a very useful program for notetaking and organizing, and I have to admit that the Web Clipper is pretty amazing even though I didn’t use it much. It’s just not for me — simple as that.

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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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In today’s world, there is an endless supply of digital tools and applications.  These digital tools provide a means of organization and accessibility.  Prior to this class, Creating Digital History, I had never used nor heard of Evernote.  Throughout my entire career as a student, I have created notes the old fashioned way, paper and pencil (well mostly pens).  Overall, I have found Evernote to be easy to use as well as a useful tool for organizing notes and for saving research.  Personally, I do find that I often forget about Evernote outside of class.  This could be due to the fact that I am not completely used to using it just yet.  At the beginning of the semester, I made a conscious effort to use Evernote for all of my note taking, both in class and outside of class time.  I would organize my thoughts about the assigned readings via Evernote and would add to those notes in class during discussion time.

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When I began researching for the digital archive, I used Evernote to brainstorm and save documents for future use.  I have found it useful for working with documents in an archive, because of its search capabilities and features.  When I want to return to an object or note at a later date, I can search for it in Evernote.  Evernote assists with organization and keeping track of previous notes or web clippings.  Unfortunately, I recognize that as a user I have not used Evernote to its complete potential as a resource.  In the future I will make more of an effort to tag my notes.  The tagging feature will make searching in Evernote even more enjoyable.  Tags make notes easily accessible; especially as your notebook continues to grow.

Overall I have dabbled with the web clipper feature.  The web clipper is a way to integrate Evernote into your Internet research.  The web clipper essentially saves information directly to your Evernote notebook.  There are various ways of saving with web clipper (PDF, screenshot, links, etc.).  I also like that there is an Evernote app.  I downloaded it to my iPhone, but to be honest, I have not really used it.  I have found that it is much simpler to use Evernote on my laptop.  If I had a tablet, I might enjoy the application more – due to the screen size, etc.  

Evernote is an useful tool for saving information and its use of “notebooks” creates an accessible space for your research and notes.  I think with continual and consistent use, Evernote could easily become a staple tool in my academic career – potentially as a professional tool.  I will definitely continue to use Evernote for research and gathering Internet search information because of the web clipper feature.  I will also try to be more consistent with the tagging feature as a means to beef up the search ability of my notes.  The app makes it easy to take Evernote on the go!  There is no longer a need to carry around notebooks and pens.  Evernote not only helps organize notes, but it also helps alleviate back pain caused by overly stuffed backpacks.

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Mapping Fever

Odyssey home page

My mom came the United States from Vietnam in 1989. She resettled in San Diego, California, where she worked three jobs on Adams Avenue. During her two-hour bus ride to and from work, my mom studied and memorized her U.S. naturalization guide. It included segments from the Constitution, history and meaning of the flag, and a map of the fifty states and their capitals. To keep me quiet during our commute, she recited and quizzed me on my U.S. state capitals. I remember looking at the map and absorbing where each state fell on the page. I closed my eyes and, for example, saw California’s lazy recline, Louisiana’s boot, Maine the shape of an oven mitt. The map helped me remember not only the states’ locations, but their capitals as well. I didn’t know it then, but maps would be a very important part of my historical training.

Of course we know maps guide us from one place to another. They help us visualize events and feelings. Military strategists plot violent operations on a map. In many public school classrooms, students press pins into states or international countries where they or their families are from or have visited over the years. These places of origin and vacation, as well as battlefields, summon associated emotions and stories about this, that, or the other. Sometimes we walk into a room and map where everything is. We map what’s missing or determine our course through the space, and in that sense, maps also function as catalogues, records, and indexes for the disappeared.

To understood the visible and invisible histories of Greenwich Village, I consulted the Odyssey mapping platform. Odyssey is an open-source tool that “allows [us] to combine maps, narratives, and other multimedia into a beautiful story.” Designed by CartoDB, Odyssey users create “projects” on their webpage. The projects contain “chapters” featuring found or user-created maps that can move across space, time, and themes. In each chapter, users upload their project’s content into what Odyssey calls a “Sandbox.” The Sandbox can include text, images, videos, music, and hyperlinks. Users can make as many chapters as they want. They can make the Sandbox as simple or as sophisticated as they want. Each Sandbox comes with a “markdown.” The markdown contains the necessary information for publication: title, author, presentation option, etc. Each Odyssey map can be viewed in slides, scrolling, or torque form. Users choose the form that best fits their project. Advanced users can incorporate Javascript or other HTML codes to amplify their project. When finished, users can publish their projects directly to their webpages or use the Odyssey iframe code to embed their project elsewhere.

Odyssey publish function

I first used Odyssey in Professor Jack Tchen’s “Chinatown & The American Imagination” undergraduate seminar during Fall 2014. Jack divided the class into five groups. Each group researched a specific block in NYC Chinatown. They created walking tours and in-depth biographies of the block’s known and subaltern histories. To demonstrate changes over time or document fascinating artifacts, each student group created an Odyssey map for their final. The Odyssey map made their subversive walking tours available online and, in fact, simulated the walking tour by taking the viewer on a visual journey. We’re currently culling all the student group maps and publishing them on a course site so interested teachers can implement Odyssey in their classrooms.

The results were quite spectacular. Though some students were hesitant at first, they found Odyssey incredibly easy to use. That, of course, is one of its merits. Odyssey’s clear instructions and visual guides make building projects smooth and troubleshooting streamline. Because it’s still in development, some functions remain rather shaky. For instance, it’s unclear how we can edit or expand Odyssey maps after we publish them. It’s unclear if there are ways other than copying and saving the raw code to another location in order to work on a project in multiple sittings. It’s also unclear if projects can be worked on simultaneously by multiple people on separate devices.

http://bl.ocks.org/anonymous/raw/f7523ccc4a896af9dcd1

Above is an Odyssey example our students made. They examined the history of Chinatown’s Chatham Square. Landmarks, sounds, phantom highways, and political figures make their way into this project. A student even made her own video recording of a poem she wrote inspired by conversations she witnessed in the Square. The group overall really took advantage of the platform and inspired me to do the same on my project about queer Asian American life in Greenwich Village during the turn of the century. The importance of maps is that they present information in another way. While historians and researchers turn quickly to timelines and similar interactive features, maps aren’t widely regarded tools for visualizing, processing, and communication meaning of information. I argue maps can do the work we rely on timelines for. Imagine mapping events across time in the spaces they took place. Imagine showing human movement across space, in addition to time. It certainly takes historical scholarship out of the familiar realm of “past dates” and situates human events firmly within places, informing how we see and interact with them. I, in fact, cannot walk through Chatham Square without seeing, smelling, or hearing what the student group saw, smelled, and heard. My hope is in using Odyssey is to present sights, smells, sounds, and sensory details to people unfamiliar with Greenwich Village’s queer Asian American past and to trouble the ways that past continues to live in the present.

Finally, the nice thing about Odyssey is that its developers welcome suggestions to aid their building the platform. Please feel encouraged to use Odyssey in mapping your next project and send some feedback their way!

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Imagine having access to every textile with a simple click of your mouse.  In today’s, world accessibility is a must – correction, digital accessibility is a must.  Recently, I attended the “Fashion: Now & Then” Conference at LIM College.  During the conference, presenters and academics shared their research findings related to fashion studies and history.  Many of the topics were similar, but one in particular stood out to me based on its relevance to our course.

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When beginning any research assignment an individual usually starts off with a general search.  This search could be in the physical campus library or at home via their laptop. I always begin at my laptop.  I brew a cup of hot tea; throw my hair into a messy bun, fire up my laptop and get down to business.  Unfortunately, some types of research need a hands-on approach. You must go out into the public to find and work with primary sources.  I am a bit of a research romantic.  I enjoy handling treasures from the past. I also find myself appreciating the “non-hassle” research style of the Internet.  I believe that for certain research is it necessary to work with materials in person.

Research data bases and Online Archives such as Textile Hive challenge this ideal.  Many fashion designers and researchers find inspiration from the past or world around them.  Textile Hive is an example of an integrated archival collection.  An integrated archival collection starts as a physical or digital collection and then makes a transition to encompass both the physical and digital collections characteristics.  The Textile Hive boasts that its interface provides clear search, discovery and exploration experiences for its users.  I find it difficult to believe a digital format can provide the same rich experience as visiting a physical archive. I do believe that Textile Hive fills a gap in making more textile collections accessible.  Also, sometimes a physical archive must shut its doors.  A digital archive provides a secondary outlet. It allows an archive or collection to continue.  It is important to keep collections connected to people and to other collections.

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Textile Hive began in 2009 when Caleb Sayan digitized the contents of the Andrea Aranow Textile Design Collection with the hopes to reach a more extensive audience.  Textile Hive’s ultimate goal is “to find a permanent home for the physical and digital collection with an educational institution, cultural organization, or other partnership to ensure that the collection be utilized, built upon, and preserved for future generations” (http://textilehive.com/pages/the-project).  Since I am studying to become an archivist, I appreciate their goal. I appreciate their goal because it focuses both on the physical and digital collection.

One of my favorite features of Textile Hive is their search capabilities.  According to Sayan, there are over 18 different ways an individual can search their site.  As a former teacher, I like that this site caters to various learners and allows for different search techniques.  For example, you can search by: technique, material, condition, pattern, embellishment, and gender, object type, etc.  Another cool feature is that you can compare two searches on the same screen.  This feature would definitely come in handy for anyone pursuing an assignment about cultural studies.

Textile-Hive-Digital-Archive

Besides providing a digitized image, Textile Hive also provides the necessary metadata and various informational videos. The videos explore topics like the historical context of the textile.  I was impressed with the amount of visual exploration tools. Visual archiving will continue to grow as a means to promote the digital nature of today.

Fashion and textile studies can provide powerful insight into culture, gender, political studies and much more.  I found the “Fashion: Now & Then” conference to be inspirational as I continue to gather research about Mid 80s Fashion here in the East Village, NYC.  There is much more to fashion studies than meets the eye.

Please explore Textile Hive to learn more:  http://textilehive.com/

Images are from http://textilehive.com/ and my personal Instagram

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