Going “Bananas” in Digital Archives

This week we are taking a look at different digital archives and thinking about what they might offer over traditional print archives, how they are structured, and how their design/functionality might be improved.

After clicking around a few of the archives I was intrigued by the Prelinger Archives. This archive represents a collection of “ephemeral” films initially collected by Rick Prelinger. While a physical location and collection still exists, most of the archive is now available online through the Internet Archive. A majority of the items in the collection are a part of the public domain and can be used in whatever manner the user chooses. (It should be noted, however, that the Internet Archive will not give written permission for any particular film or clip to be used, rather, Getty Images serves as the collections “stock footage sales representative.” This means that, for a fee, Getty will give you a license to use clips from the films in the Prelinger collection that will protect you against any copyright infringement claims.)

This collection strikes me as especially useful in a digital form because of the nature of the items; that is to say, films ranging from the turn of the twentieth century through to the present day. On a digital platform, these films can be presented to researchers in a number of formats that do not require the use of a wide range of hardware, no physical travel is required, and the large physical space necessary to store so many films can also be minimized. Another benefit is that the digital format presented online allows for the videos to be cleaned up and and any damage repaired.

Home page of ther Prelinger Archives (Screenshot 11/8/2014)

Home page of the Prelinger Archives (Screenshot 11/8/2014)

Let’s turn to the interface of the Prelinger’s online home. The design is fairly simple; bordered areas of text contain information about rights, the history of the archive, and a forum section for user interaction. There are various routes to accessing the materials themselves; there is a list of items alphabetically, there are sub-collections, lists of “Staff Picks,” “Most Downloaded Items Last Week,” and “Most Downloaded Items.”

This last list, “Most Downloaded Items,” goes a long way to show the impact and traffic the site has. The most downloaded film is  About Bananas. This is a 1935 film, commissioned by the United Fruit Company, to inform people about the process of growing and shipping bananas. About Bananas has been downloaded nearly 27 million times.

(The clip above is the same film uploaded to YouTube, where it only has 171 views.)

Clearly, with that many downloads, About Bananas appeals to a variety of users of the archive. A historically-based research and writing project could easily use About Bananas as a central piece of primary evidence. For instance, a project considering the impact of Western owned agricultural firms on the environment and culture of Central American countries during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Because the film is silent, it could be creatively used alongside music of narration in a documentary on the banana industry or Central American-United States relations.

Alternatively, a comparative approach might use About Bananas along side another film from the Prelinger Archives, the 1945 US Government produced Emergency in Honduras.

While About Bananas is basically an ad for Americans to buy bananas, Emergency in Honduras shows the perils of dependence on the banana  when war interrupts shipment of the fruit. Both films, however, portray an image of money and intelligence from the United States swooping in to save Central Americans through labor jobs, first in the banana fields and then through public works projects that speed the production and export of war-time goods instead of bananas.

Using these two films together creates a unique view of Central American-United States relations through two specific moments in time. By using keyword tagging, the user can easily see a link between the two films that might otherwise be in different sections because of their age, their creators, etc.

I like the tagging and the other forms of navigation through the Prelinger archive. The only thing that confused me was the “Related Collections” section of the home page. I wasn’t sure if these items were other sub-collections within the Prelinger or whether they were totally separate. Thinking they were a part of the Prelinger archive, I spent quite awhile looking at drive-in movie theatre intermission ads; but, after a second look, I don’t believe that collection is a part of the Perlinger so I moved on to other items.

A means of improving the value of the online archive, to academics at least, would be to add more detailed information about the films. The downloadable metadata does not include year, location, or any sort of Dublin Core level data. The metadata does, however, contain information like keywords, description, rights, date uploaded, and title.


THATcamp Piedmont 2014

This Saturday I attended my first THATcamp and it was amazing! The inaugural 2012 THATcamp Piedmont was hosted at Davidson College, in Davidson, North Carolina, and the 2013 event as held at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This year THATcamp headed back to Davidson.

Before the actual morning, there were several known workshops, a Hackathon that would go throughout the day, and one suggested session. As promised, on Saturday morning a diverse group of impromptu sessions filled out the schedule further.

One way THATcamps remain similar to traditional conferences is the inevitably difficult decision of which session/workshop/event to attend. THATcamps overcome this difficulty in a way that traditional conferences have not. A page has been created for a large portion of the day’s sessions and linked to the primary schedule on GoogleDocs. (Schedule can be found at tinyurl.com/thatcamppmt) Through this connection of files I can see not only notes, sites, and cites for the sessions I attended, but also notes for those I wasn’t able to hear.

The sessions/workshops I attended in the flesh were informative, inspiring, and fun. In the first session I learned about using Neatline in Omeka to create multi-layered maps. Anelise H Shrout shared Neatline examples with us, then got us going on Omeka.

Next I attended a session guided by Mark Sample and Kristen Eshleman on the “Domain of One’s Own” project. While the session definitely provoked some feelings of jealousy directed at the students who are given a domain name of their own through their universities, it also inspired me to look into Reclaim Hosting and sign up for my own domain! (You can expect this blog to eventually make the move to a new address once I figure out how everything works)

After a delicious lunch I got to play around with Snap!, the programming language/tool from UC Berkeley that allows you to build code using blocks that snap together. Raghu Ramanujan was a great instructor through our experiments with Snap! and we managed to get our “sprites” to draw shapes and play tag by the time the workshop was over.

The final session I attended was led by Fuji Lozada and focused on social networking. Fuji asked us all to put our name on a piece of paper and list the three people in the room we talk to the most, he then entered that data into an Excel sheet that was plugged into the UCINET program. Voila! A simple and small social network emerged from our answers. We also looked at several different sites like WolframAlpha, Immersion, and TagsExplorer which offer different types of networking analysis.

In this short recounting I’m leaving out lots of other info that was shared, discussed, and pondered over. The long and short of it for me is that I was exposed to many different tools, resources, and methods that I was not familiar with. The day especially made me rethink the potential for my own thesis. Tools like the DH Press WordPress plug-in made me see the potential for creating a visually inspired narrative about some of the Antebellum Charlotte women I study. (DH Press was also another reason I decided to go ahead and sign up with Reclaim, as I want to play around with this very cool tool to better understand the possibilities.) I left the beautiful Davidson campus feeling inspired and energized and for that, I think the organizers of this years THATcamp Piedmont!

Check out the day’s tweets at #THATCamp #pmt

Place, Space, Memories: City Lore

BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Examine the City Lore website, focusing on the “Place Matters” section, which includes several walking tours and a census of places. Post your response to the site, considering how, through the census of places and walking tours, these projects contribute to fostering a sense of place and memory on the urban landscape through digital media. Consider it in light of other projects we’ve examined during the semester.

According to their “About” page, City Lore‘s mission is “to foster New York City – and America’s – living cultural heritage through education and public programs.” As an activist organization interested in preserving the urban landscape in an effort to preserve the memory and history of New York, City Lore has turned to a digital platform to engage with the communities they seek to work with. Their site is also meant to serve as a “living archive” of the city’s history and has received funding from NEH to fulfill these goals. The following quote particularly struck me. 



A quote from the City Lore organization describing part of their mission.


One of the primary features of Place Matters is the Census of Places that Matter. The Census features an extensive list of locations with descriptions and pictures. The descriptions explain what the place is, where it is, and why it is uniquely important. The places listed have been “nominated by the public because they connect us to the past, host longstanding community and cultural traditions, or make the city distinctive.”


(From screenshot on 10/16/2014)

(From screenshot on 10/16/2014)


Community members can easily nominate places through a form on the site. The form requires the name of the place, a description, and the first and last name of the user. There are a number of other pieces of information that can be filled out as well such as the physical details of the place and plans or threats to a location. Users can also make comments on places that have already been nominated by others.

The ability of the public to contribute to the list of places that matter is vital to the mission of the organization to engage and work with the community. Judging by the hundreds of places listed on the Census, the project is extremely expansive and successfully engages people to contribute.

The Place Matters site also features a selection of “virtual tours.” These tours are in the form of a slideshow or booklet. Some are quite short, while others features dozens of “pages” of information and images. While the project, as we are examining it, is within a digital space, it encourages the user to explore the physical space as well. The tours do not attempt to use a street-view style tour of the locations, that would potentially replicate a tour in the real world. In fact, the site provides a detailed page of information on different tours and tour guides in the city.


(From screenshot 10/16/2014)

(From screenshot 10/16/2014)


The virtual tours featured on the site, six in total, explain how the story of relatively small geographical spaces can be representative of the history of the city as a whole. The “Seeing East 4th Street: Vernacular Architecture in New York City,” for instance, follows the history of the street early projects of speculators to create row houses for the from merchant class to the wave of immigrants and the Panic of 1837 that inspired landlords to repurpose single-family homes into multi-family housing.

These changes are representative of the history of New York as a whole as it expanded in the early part of the nineteenth century and then boomed as large numbers of diverse immigrant groups moved in. Other tours follow artistic movements in different neighborhoods, creating connections between old and new residents and art forms.

The guides use relatively short blocks of text along with large images to give both a visual and intellectual understanding of the evolution of each space. Through historic images, the site provides a visual representation of the memory of a location. The images serve to further reinforce the lesson that each piece of the urban landscape has a history to impart to us in the present.

The tours not only offer a better understanding and sense of history of the physical space they focus on, but also give the reader the tools to interpret the meaning of other spaces. Reading through one of these before going on a physical tour of the location would help someone know what to look for and how to interpret it.

For someone (like myself) with no training in interpreting urban landscapes, providing this information is vital for a fuller appreciation of what a physical space can tell us. “Seeing East 4th Street: Vernacular Architecture in New York City,” in particular, teaches the reader how to see the history represented by the architecture and geography of one block.

City Lore effectively uses digital tools to convey the meaning behind the historic urban landscape, connect memory with space, and create a connection between the community and an organization determined to preserve the past. I very much enjoyed exploring the site and I can see using it as a visitor to New York for AHA 2015.

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.



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.



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!