Evaluating Digital History Projects

The argument of the final project:

Monuments and Memorials: University of the Pacific argues that the University of the Pacific’s hidden histories matter and that they can connect current and past students to the campus. Particular spaces are already well-known; many host monuments and memorials. But these monuments and memorials often tell the stories of people with titles and money. Website visitors see the variety of forces that shaped the campus landscape, policies, or values.

Intellectual and Practical Rationale 

Although the University of the Pacific campus is not filled with the Confederate statues that have been the focus of campus activism denouncing problematic racial histories and politics, our monuments and memorials–like all such sites–mark particular histories as more important than others. Names of buildings and structures, geographer Derek Alderman argues, are part of the hidden curriculum – values that “[communicate] powerful, selective messages about who is historically important and hence who, racially speaking, matters most in the present.” They appear to already be “beyond politics” as their histories exist outside current debates and dialogues.[1] Speaking of University of Alabama’s hidden histories, historian Hilary Green explains that silences create burdens; a “festering wound still infects not only the nation but African Americans who matriculate, visit, and work at institutions built by the labor and profits of enslaved African Americans” whose histories are unacknowledged. [2]

On Pacific’s campus, Burns Tower has been called “an ivory tower” by current and past students as well as by members of the Stockton community.  This is both a recognition of the campus’s elite education and an acknowledgment of its privileged exclusivity. But Burns Tower is also a site of collaboration and student action.

Campus spaces, like Burns Tower, can be used for positive place-making. In Space and Place, Yi-Fu Tuan proposes that spaces take on meaning and value over time and become places for individuals. That sense of place brings security and can enhance our well-being.[3] Over the last several decades, historians have explored the formation of communities and connections around specific places.[4] This project extends the study of place-making to campus spaces with the aim of creating ways for diverse members of the Pacific community to connect to the campus’s spaces.

The project relies on several technological tools that will advance this goal:

Omeka: My project uses Omeka Classic, the gold standard for open-source digital history exhibit building.  Guides and material support are robust, and the platform allows for numerous plugins that enhance the exhibit’s performance.  The basic Omeka features allow for aesthetically pleasing mixes of text and images with galleries of primary source documents for the reader who wants to explore in more detail.  Omeka also provides space for the creator to include metadata that makes the project’s sources searchable for future researchers. An added benefit is that as I develop the website with student help over the next year, Omeka is great for teaching how historians preserve information. It incorporates the behind-the-scenes work and decision-making of museum curators, historians, and archivists.

(I may still work with my University Library to migrate the exhibit to Bepress as well, since the University uses the archival features available through Scholarly Commons.  This backend, however, is not available to students. It is likely that we will pick a few of the most meaningful exhibits to host on BePress as well while the site on Omeka will be open for students to build projects.)

Geolocation Plugin: Because I am interested in fostering a sense of place on campus, mapping tools are necessary.  I choose Omeka’s geolocation plugin as a starting point.  Although the user does not use GPS technology to inhabit the map, a map on Omeka provides the campus monuments and memorials. The visitor can click on the popup annotations and go to the stories about particular sites.  I am not yet sure if Omeka has mobile geo-positioning technology.

Oral History: My project uses oral histories so that visitors will connect to the voices of people who inhabited campus spaces. As Mark Tabeau shows, digital history projects can utilize the sights and sounds of a particular site to invoke an understanding of place and community identity. “Sound brings the physical landscape into sharper relief, building a richer sensory and material context for understanding place.”[5] I will conduct new oral histories to ensure that a variety of voices and perspectives are included, but the university archives also has a vast collection of oral histories from emeriti and is currently collecting select alumni interviews.

Project Evaluation

Since my plan is to launch the website in time for the 100-year anniversary of the Stockton campus, my goals and evaluation plan are related to launching and growing the website.

My first outcome goal is increased site traffic.  Specifically, since the website will be brand-new, I aim to bring in 100 visitors within the first month of launching.  Then, through word of mouth, I hope to reach another 100 visitors in the first year.  These goals are modest but then the audience is specific: students, alumni, and faculty and staff at UOP as well as people interested in the history of higher education and people interested in the history of Stockton.

My second outcome goal is 25 positive comments on the site and its stories within the first year.

Activities will include launch events connected to the university anniversary as well as print marketing and social media. History students will place signage and QR codes near sites on campus during anniversary events and Homecoming. I will reach out to university marketers to include the website with anniversary announcements in print (with a QR code) and on social media. 

Long-term Goals:

-visitors can describe a connection to UOP’s history

-visitors gain knowledge about UOP history

Measuring the goals:

-I plan to survey alumni, faculty, and students about their experiences on the site.

-I will build a feedback section on the exhibit pages so that visitors can leave their own comments about their experiences at Pacific.

Other site evaluation plans:

In addition to post-launch evaluation, formative assessments of the website will ensure it is ready for launch. These will include:

-feedback from George Mason University’s HIST 094 students and instructor

-Student user experience (UX) study – Students in HIST 080: Digital Narratives will find students outside the class and test the functionality and content of the site.

-Faculty UX studies – Students in HIST 080: Digital Narratives will find faculty to test the functionality and content of the site.

[1] For recent work on and critiques of monuments (especially Confederate), see monumentsmustfall, “All Monuments Must Fall: A Syllabus” at https://monumentsmustfall.wordpress.com/ accessed on April 13, 2023. On hidden curricula, see Derek Alderman, and and Rose-Redwood Reuben, “The classroom as “toponymic workspace”: towards a critical pedagogy of campus place renaming,” Journal of Geography in Higher Education 44, no. 1 (2020): 126.

[2] Hilary Green, “The Burden of the University of Alabama’s Hallowed Grounds,” The Public Historian 42, no. 4 (November 2020): 30.

[3] Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (United Kingdom: E. Arnold, 1977).

[4] See, for example, Dolores Hayden, The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1997); Harm de Blij, The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny, and Globalization’s Rough Landscape, Reprint (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); John Brinckerhoff Jackson, A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 1st ed. (Wiley-Blackwell, 1992); Michael Hough, Out of Place: Restoring Identity to the Regional Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992); Alison Isenberg, Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).

[5] Mark Tebeau, “Listening to the City: Oral History and Place in the Digital Era.” Oral History Review 40.1 (2013): 29.

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