Reflection on the James Monroe Museum Project

While our group experienced some setbacks and had to change our contract, we achieved our objectives in the website we ultimately produced. Our original goal had been to create an Omeka website that contained 3D laser scans of a minimum of five objects at the James Monroe Museum, video interviews with the curator or director about each object, photographs of the objects, and a paragraph description about the history of each object. Overall, we met our goal by successfully creating a 3D laser scan, video interview, photographs, and object information for six objects.

However, we had to change our contract because we found that a WordPress website worked better for our project than an Omeka website. We had originally wanted to use an Omeka website because it uses a Dublin Core metadata system to organize and present information on the webpage about archival material or objects, such as the item’s maker, date, and description. Omeka websites also allow for the object webpages to be organized into online exhibits and collections, so we thought it would be perfect for our project. We realized that we needed to change to a WordPress website when we found out that the Dublin Core metadata system did not closely match the curatorial information system used by the museum and that there was no Omeka plugin to embed 3D laser scans.

Overall, the WordPress website worked much better than the Omeka website because we could embed both the 3D laser scans and the video interviews into each object’s page. Although WordPress did not have a plugin for a museum curatorial system that worked with the one used by the James Monroe Museum, I developed a standardized format for presenting select information from the object files on our website. While the WordPress website ultimately worked better because it allowed us to have the greatest control over the information we presented, I think an Omeka website would have had a better user interface because of the way Omeka websites can create galleries. We created a “Collections” page on our WordPress website, but it was clunky and confusing because the photographs of each objects are not a standard size. We ultimately chose to locate one object photograph per line to create greater clarity, but now users have to scroll more.

The other major issue our group encountered was having to go through a trial-and-error process to figure out which laser scanner we could use. We originally thought we had four options: a portable turntable scanner, an Xbox Kinect scanner, a stationary scanner on campus, and a Structure Sensor scanner for iPads. Ultimately, only the Structure Sensor scanner worked because the portable turntable scanner and the stationary scanner did not include the color of the objects, making them look like lumpy blobs. The stationary scanner was also too difficult to schedule to use and it was too small to handle most of our objects. The Xbox Kinect scanner would have probably worked well for some of the larger objects, but Jonathan was unable to get the software to work on his laptop. The Structure Sensor scanner was not the most ideal because it could not knit two or more scans together like some of the other scanners, resulting in holes in some of the objects where they touched the floor or in their deep crevices. In many ways, the quality of the scans was to be expected given that it was a relatively inexpensive scanner.

The trial-and-error process to learn about the laser scanners resulted in our group falling nearly three weeks behind our schedule, so we decided not to follow the schedule or divisions of labor in our group contract because we could not have gotten the project done in time. Instead of scanning, video recording, and photographing one object per week and having one person be responsible for that object, Jonathan scanned all of the objects and Lila and I did the video recording and photography over the course of several weeks. We did not have to do additional research on the objects or write up information on them because the museum let us use the information from the object files. Jonathan was originally supposed to lead in the video editing, but we did not realize that the 3D scans would also require editing, so Jonathan showed Lila and I how to do the video editing and close captions while he edited the scans and upload them to our SketchFab account. All three of us were still present for the laser scanning and video recordings. We also worked together to create the website. The only other aspect of the contract that we did not complete was linking our website to the James Monroe Museum’s website and using their connections to publicize our project. We did not complete these steps because the museum was too busy to review and approve our project before our deadline. However, the director is interested in linking the websites and taking control of our project at the end of the semester.

In conclusion, we were ultimately successful in creating an online space where people can learn about and interact with objects that were important to James Monroe. Even though our 3D laser scans and video interviews have only been publicly accessible for about a week, people are already viewing them.

James Monroe Video Interview Update

Over the past week, my group members and I edited all of the video interviews with the James Monroe Museum’s curator and director using iMovie. We initially wanted to use freeze-frames to show the details on the objects, but found it too difficult to match the video with the audio. The most time-consuming and difficult part of the video editing was adding the closed captions. Sometimes we would save our work only to later find that our most recent version had not been saved. However, we finally finished the video editing and uploaded the interviews to YouTube. We also embedded them in our website. Our website is almost complete except for the “About” page and the “Musket” page.

The Impact of Digital History

The idea that struck me the most from this week’s readings was the idea of forming online groups of historians and archivists. I find it surprising that given the ways in which the internet has increased the accessibility of primary sources, and the ways it has connected people, that internet crowd-sourcing and social media groups of historians and like-minded people have not come to play a large role in how history is practiced. I believe that much better scholarship could take place if as many scholars participated as possible. I also think that the relative lack publicity of places for scholars to form groups online has slowed the development of the active engagement of historians on the internet. I was surprised to learn that Zotero was not only a tool for managing digital sources and citations, but also a place where groups could form for people to remotely collaborate. After searching the groups, I found several that would have been incredibly useful as places to find ideas and sources for my theses. In addition to the lack of publicity, is digital history being slowed by a fundamental wariness to share research among scholars?