Decisions, Decisions, Continue!

Since my last post I have been doing a few things with my digital project. First of all, I spent some time playing with the CSS on the university-hosted version of Sentimental Locks. The university-hosted site only has four potential themes to choose from. Some of the colors can be customized within each theme, but there are only a few color choices per element. So, I found a helpful video showing how to use the Firebug plug-in for Firefox to isolate various elements, see what they would look like in different colors, and then make the necessary additions to the style sheet. The results were minor in the grand scheme of things, but they felt like a victory none the less and I learned a thing or two along the way.

Still, the site was looking quite bland. On the other hand, my WordPress.com version was looking a little empty as well. I had already added several different social media widgets to my WordPress.com site, but I hadn’t set up the necessary accounts to connect it to. I went about doing that and the site started to look much more like I had imagined.

I want the project to serve as a central point connecting disparate resources and pieces of media from around the web, and these social media widgets are a necessary tool to achieve that end.

Unfortunately when I popped back over to the U-hosted version I realized that hardly any social media widgets were available.

Specifically, I wanted Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, and GoodReads widgets. From browsing around the web I know that most people have a visual interest in hairwork; you can find many images on Pinterest and Flickr, and I wanted to tap into these resources to include plenty of visual elements. I wanted to include GoodReads as a way of connecting those who may have seen images of hairwork with traditional print media (both popular and academic) that they can learn more from. Twitter is used simply as a way of connecting with a wider audience; it is probably the least necessary of the social media widgets.

In the images below you can see that Twitter is the only social media widget available through the U-hosted version of the site. I was hoping that I would be able to add plug-ins and themes through the hosted version, but these functions seem limited to the upper level site administrators.

SideBySideWidget1

SideBySideWidget2

I have also highlighted the “Tag Cloud” widget, available in both versions, that I think is useful for organizational purposes. The one thing that was available and automatically included in the U-hosted version was the “Translate” widget which is handy, but not strictly necessary.

(A note on the “sort of” Pinterest widget: There is no Pinterest widget on the free WordPress.com version. I tried embedding the widget codes that Pinterest will generate for you, but, as they use java, they wouldn’t work. Luckily I found a site that tells you how to turn the Flickr widget into a Pinterest widget and a site that provided the html code to add a Pinterest follow button via a Text/Html widet.)

The other side of the decisions between the two versions of the site boiled down to mostly aesthetics. I prefer the themes available through WordPress.com, despite the lack of customization available for free, because they feature better fonts, neater layouts, and better integration of media.

In the images below I have highlighted some of the features that really sway me in the direct of the WordPress.com version. Pure aesthetics wise, the theme fonts are better, the layout feels like there is less wasted space on the tops and sides of the page, the tags on the WordPress.com version are stylized tags, rather than just text, etc.

SideBySideStyle1

SideBySide2Design

The images I attempted to add in the U-hosted version sometimes resized themselves very strangely and skewed the proportions. The image of the diadem in the first screen-cap above had to be resized through the html code because it wanted to be taller than it was wide, opposite of the original proportions of the image.

You can also see that while I was able to directly embed an archive.org book viewer on the WordPress.com version, the same would not work in the U-hosted version. I tried various workarounds, but eventually just settled on providing a link to the book.

The U-hosted version does list the categories each post is filed under at the top of each post, which is nice.[edit: I just noticed the categories are also on the WordPress.com posts so this is basically a moot point.] This isn’t really necessary anyway, because the menu on the WordPress.com version scrolls with the viewer to provide easy navigation to any of the same categories. Indeed, the menu overall in the WordPress.com is much more dynamic.

I’m sorry Zoidberg! It’s not my fault, cut me some slack…

So, that’s where I’m at now. I’ve mostly settled into the WordPress.com platform, but I do plan to cross-post on the university hosted version as well.

Now that I’ve added a few posts and set up all the social media accounts, feel free to stop by and take a look!

WordPress.com – http://hairworkhistory.wordpress.com

University Hosted – http://clas-pages.uncc.edu/hairworkhistory/

Twitter – @hairworkhistory

Pinterest – Sentimental Locks / hairworkhistory@gmail.com

Flickr – Sentimental Locks / hairworkhistory@yahoo.com

Please share your comments/thoughts/suggestions in the comments, I would love to hear them!

Decisions, Decisions

This week’s assignment was a reflection on fellow classmates’ digital project proposals, so I have left that as a Moodle only post. I did want to post here this week, however, as I contemplate a few things in regards to my own project. In fact, I’m hoping someone out there might have some experiences along the same line and could offer a little advice even.

My digital project will be a site, Sentimental Locks, that will highlight the history of hairwork (contrary to how that sounds, it will not significantly incorporate alliteration). Firstly, I want to create historical posts about how hair was used in various crafts throughout history and, more importantly, why people chose to use hair as a crafting material. I believe the why is particularly important when considering a material that, today, can make people intrigued, confuse them a bit, cause internal squeals at the macabre excitement of it all, or provoke outright shivers of disgust. Of course, these posts will be backed by primary and secondary source research.

In addition to these original posts, I also want to create a listing of resources for those interested in seeing hairwork pieces, finding more information about these crafts, or perhaps even making their own pieces of hairwork. This will be accomplished through reviews of sources (both digital and traditional), posts with videos about how to craft items with hair, links to other websites and posts about hairwork, etc.

Now, the decision part comes in as a question of where to build the site. I have already started creating the structure for the site through the free version of WordPress.com. However, I also now have access to a WordPress page hosted through my university. The university’s page would allow me a bit more customization in some areas, would make clear the academic basis of the site, and would be a chance to experience another side of the WordPress platform; benefits to the site itself and to my own experience.

The biggest draw back of using the university backed WordPress site would be the inability to continue maintaining the site beyond my association with the university. Though it is being produced for a class, the project would be more of a personal interest project that I would possibly like to continue updating in the future.

For now, I think I will start fiddling with the university backed version. Even if I end up using WordPress.com instead, I’m curious to see what a hosted WordPress site is like and I think it will be beneficial to me to explore the possibilities. I’m hoping that I could use the export function to migrate information between the two blogs, regardless of which is the “main” one.

If anyone has experience working with university hosted WordPress sites, with exporting/importing WordPress sites between different versions, or just has some advice/suggestions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

An Experiment in Digital Resources

For this blog we were to search a topic pertinent to our upcoming digital history project in a variety of online resources, specifically Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica, and a popular search engine, then compare the results to an academic treatment of the same topic. In my case I have chosen “hairwork” as my search term. Hairwork is a term used to describe artistic items crafted using, historically, human hair. Hairwork was especially popular during the nineteenth century in Europe and America and many examples remain in tact due to hair’s natural durability. So, let’s see what our resources have to say about this historically popular craft.

A stunning bracelet crafted from human hair. This piece is a part of the Leila’s Hair Museum collection. Click the image to visit the gallery portion of the museum’s website.

Wikipedia

We have read much about Wikipedia in the past few weeks, both positive and negative. A search for “hairwork” leads the user to the page “Hair Jewellery.” In regards to Wikipedia, I tend to side with those who wrote responses to Jared Lanier’s “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism”, rather than with Lanier, in thinking that Wikipedia is more a force for good with open and easily understood inner workings. In the case of “Hair Jewellery,” however, Wikipedia is severely lacking. The article focuses primarily on the broad use of hair in various crafts throughout history and its symbolic meaning therein, while briefly discussing the popularity of hairwork during the Victorian era. The article has no sources, is rather poorly written, and has no real organization. A peek at the View History page shows that Wikipedians have been editing the article for seven years and several editors have noted major changes they made regarding everything from the use of first person language, the removal of irrelevant information, and a minor debate about the spelling of “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” Frankly, this makes me a little concerned with what the original article looked like and the page itself warns readers that “(t)his article is written like a personal reflection or opinion essay.” Not a great source for anyone attempting to do academic work on this topic at the moment.

(P.S. The bad thing about learning how to edit Wikipedia is the urge to change poorly done articles of interest and distract oneself from other tasks at hand. Case in point, I just couldn’t resist the urge to edit it, so this particular article now looks slightly improved but still needs further additions in terms of academic sources. I’ll probably edit it again once I get all my research done for this digital project and have a more firm grasp of the literature.)

“A hair brooch in the permanent collection of The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.” From the Wikipedia article “Hair Jewellery.”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Lanier worries in his piece about the loss of an individual authors voice through the use of crowd sourced sites like Wikipedia versus the tried and true reference resources like Encyclopedia Britannica. In this case, however, the Wikipedia article features a bit too much of the primary author’s voice while Encyclopedia Britannica remains entirely silent. A search for “hairwork,” “hair jewelry,” and the like pulls up nothing more than a scientific explanation of what hair is and various insects and animals with “hair” or “hairy” in their common name. This of course speaks to the limitations of older reference sources when it comes to niche topics which may not be popular enough to warrant paying an author to define.

Google

In his article, “Fighting Bad History with Good, or, Why Historians Must Get on the Web Now,” Marshall Poe hopes to convince historians of the need to create academic space on the web for their topics of interest. He states, “Google your own topic of research and review the top results. Likely you will see a Wikipedia entry and a collection of putatively educational sites, all of which are selling something.”1  Indeed, in the case of hairwork, this description of likely Google search results is still spot on five years after Poe’s article was written. The top search result is hairwork.com a largely disorganized looking site dominated by ads for various books, tools, and supplies for the art of hairwork. If you need a forum to find buyers for your own hair, then look no further! Among the ads and sales there are links to other interesting resources; for instance, one can navigate to a section full of collector’s stories. One of these collectors is Leila Cohoon who runs Leila’s Hair Museum. There are also links to a blog post about hairwork, the site of a historical re-enactor who does hairwork, and other similar enthusiast sites. One exception is a Project Gutenburg text of an 1867 instructional hairwork book.

Another piece from the Leila’s Hair Museum collection. This one is a decorative piece meant to be displayed under a glass dome. Click the image to visit the image gallery for Leila’s Hair Museum.

Academic Perspective

Locating an academic article was a bit of a challenge as well. JSTOR offered only reviews of the few books that have written about hairwork and other suggested sites come up with nothing relevant. Eventually through a hit on Google Scholar and then a trip to the library website, I located an intriguingly relevant piece. Helen Sheumaker’s “‘This Lock You See’: Nineteenth-Century Hair Work as the Commodified Self” offers an academic understanding of the use of hair in sentimental crafts of the nineteenth-century. While the enthusiast or “amateur” sites discussed above primarily focus on how hairwork was made and share past and present images of the craft, Sheumaker focuses on the ever-important academic question of “why” various crafts made with human hair took on a special meaning during the Victorian period. Sheumaker states “(i)t was precisely these aspects of hair-its seemingly stable individuality, its fragility wedded with materiality, its transcendence-that nineteenth-century American found so compelling.”2

Conclusion

This exercise leads me to an important conclusion. There is clearly a niche interest on the web for better understanding this type of craft work. Current sites offer how-to information along with stunning examples, but they lack in an academic grounding. If a history teacher or professor wanted to use hairwork as a visually engaging tool to help explain the sentimentality of the nineteenth century, there would be no “one-stop-shop” website to which they could turn. I believe this both highlights the continuing divide between academic and “amateur” sites online, while also making the need for a hybrid site on such a topic clear.

A brooch made of two sisters' hair. Item from the Minnesota Historical Society's collection. Click the image to visit the item's catalog record.

A brooch made of two sisters’ hair. Item from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection. Click the image to visit the item’s catalog record.

Footnotes

1. Marshall Poe, “Fighting Bad History with Good, or, Why Historians Must Get on the Web Now,” Historically Speaking 10, 2 (2009), 22. http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/historically_speaking/v010/10.2.poe.html

2. Helen Sheumaker, “‘This Lock You See’: Nineteenth-Century Hair Work as the Commodified Self,” Fashion Theory 1, 4 (1997), 422.