Final Self Reflection

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For the past several months I have been documenting my work spent on a project with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art. This project has essentially been the beginnings of a born digital documentary edition of the Warren Robbins papers, located in the Smithsonian’s archives. Over the course of this project, I have performed a number of tasks including visiting the archives and photographing many of the materials from the collection, building the digital infrastructure of the site, and adding content to the prototype digital edition – document transcriptions, images of objects of small biographical sketches. Many of these endeavors have been documented in previous blog posts.

While my virtual internship with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art is coming to an end, I think it is important to detail some of the more recent changes to the project, challenges, and things that I have been able to take away.

In December, I discussed a proposed theme and site layout for the project. This idea significantly changed as I worked on various aspects of the project. When writing some of the biographical sketches for individuals like Maya Angelou, Betsy Graves Reyneau, Laura Wheeler Waring, and organizations like the Black Women’s Agenda, the initial site design didn’t seem to fit with the legacy that these individuals left behind. Yes, it is a project centered around Warren Robbins, but it also focuses primarily on the female figures he interacted with. These women were at the forefront of their fields, and were leaders and visionaries. Because of this I wanted to go with a color scheme that stood out more, thus the teal, blue, and purple. I also wanted to integrate a more modern home page that incorporated a dynamic background and made use of Javascript to present the menu. Furthermore, I wanted to include images of the various individuals, especially since they were of a more current era than I normally deal with. However, this posed a problem.

One of the issues with presenting images of the individuals writing to and from Warren Robbins, is the fact that I was simply unable to find munch about them. Several of these individuals are/were prominent figures, but others like Alma M. Golden proved difficult to get a lot of or any information. This also proved to be an issue when writing the biographical sketches and lends to an argument as to why papers editions can be and are so important.

Another major issue was that of copyright. This proved to be an issue with both images but also which transcriptions could actually be presented. In regards to images, after discovering who an individual actually was, I realized that several were still living, or the photographers were still living, or that the image of them had rights associated with the group or organization that had published it. Without written consent, I really couldn’t produce many of the items that I found. Because of these limitations, I chose to use 3 images of silhouettes to illustrate women, men, and organizations. While not ideal, it does allow users to quickly, visually see the contrast of men, women, and organizations identified so far on the site.

Another issue centering around copyright was the reproduction of the text itself. It was one thing to reproduce the text that Robbins himself had written. However, the writer of a document or letter retains the copyright, meaning that in order to digital publish many of these documents would require the permission of the individuals themselves or the executor of their estates. Copyright and fair use was discussed throughout much of the coursework. However, having to put it into detailed practice really makes it stick. Dealing with historical editions from the Colonial period makes the issue of copyright much easier, however it was a good practical reinforcement for some of the future projects I hope to work on.

Many aspects of this project reinforced why digital public humanities as a whole is so important. People need to be able to access and use a variety of resources. Much of the research I attempted to do proved rather difficult because the resources just weren’t available. This project has so much potential to be expanded upon from including GIS coordinates for where the documents were written to and from, and the location of the individuals themselves, adding subject headings and keywords to pull out items thematically, and the inclusion of of exhibits to discuss the artists in more detail.

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