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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?

Wrapping up the Laser Scanning

This week my group finished 3D laser scanning, photographing, and recording video footage of the objects. We also had the added surprise of the James Monroe Museum asking us to include a sixth object, the James Monroe musket. The Director wanted to include the musket because it illustrates a common problem in museums. According to Monroe family lore, James Monroe used the musket for hunting, took it to college at William and Mary, and fought with it in the American Revolution. However, the lack of supporting documents and the fact that the musket is an amalgamation of other muskets makes the story difficult to prove. I think it is a good object to include in the digital collection because it highlights the issues with interpreting poorly documented objects. Posting a 3D scan and photographs online may also eventually lead to viewers offering new information about that musket or muskets of the same time period that could help the museum.

Latest on the Laser Scanning

Over the course of the past two weeks, my group has scanned the bicorne hat, Elizabeth Monroe’s wedding shoe, the pistols, and James Monroe’s outfit. We hope to scan the White House chair next week. Additionally, we also recorded footage and two interviews with the curator about the pistols and the chair. We would have continued to interview the curator this week, but we were unable to check out a video recorder. Instead, we compiled and edited information from the object files to include with the 3D laser scans and interviews on the website.

Five Lessons About Digital Identity

After looking at a number student’s Domain of One’s Own websites, Dr. McClurken’s website, and several of the articles, I was drawn to several themes or concepts:

  1. It is important to list your educational and professional experiences on your website, as well as samples of your work to favorably portray yourself to potential employers. While LinkedIn can help build your identity as a professional, using your own website can give you greater control over the presentation of information about yourself, your contributions, and your collaborations.
  2. Be thoughtful about what information you share on the internet. Even if you carefully construct a professional identity, your reputation can still be compromised by information you post on social media.
  3. Building on the observation above, information posted on the internet is difficult to remove. Begin to build your digital identity from a young age.
  4. If you don’t work to create a digital identity for yourself, Google will for you. People who are interested in learning more about you will search your name and form opinions about you from the search results. You can shape their opinions of you by creating your own website where you have more control over how you present yourself.
  5. Your digital identity will help you connect with others with shared interests. However, you should also try to engage with a broader audience to attract people with different perspectives who can challenge your thinking. I believe that criticism is a powerful tool for refining arguments or developing a well-thought opinion.

Limitations of the UMW 3D Laser Scanners

So far the process of 3D laser scanning has been one of my group’s greatest challenges. We met with our technical support a couple of times to learn about the different laser scanners and how to use them. Feeling confident that we could successfully scan the objects, we arranged for the museum curator to bring the bicorne hat and the wedding shoe to UMW for us to scan last week. We tried to scan the shoe first and found that the laser scanner could not distinguish between the black heel and the black rotating platform of the scanner. Then we tried to raise the height of shoe by setting it  on a book covered with a piece of paper. The scan successfully captured the form of the shoe, but it did not apply color, resulting in a lumpy gray object. We found out that neither of the rotating scanners apply color, despite that being one of the requirements we listed when we were learning about the scanners.

Yesterday we decided to try to scan the hat at the James Monroe Museum. Initially, we were going to try to use the Xbox Kinect laser scanner. However, first we had problems connecting to the museum’s internet, and then we were unable to get the computer program to recognize the scanner. We ultimately decided to place the hat and its mount on top of a stool to enable us to scan it with the Structure Sensor scanner on the iPad. The base of the hat’s mount reflected light, so the scanner was unable to focus on the hat. Fortunately, we were able to cover the base with paper, allowing us to scan the hat. We found that the Structure Sensor was able to capture the hat’s form and overall color pattern. However, it was not able to scan a deep crevice created by the brim, resulting in a hole in the 3D image. The Structure Sensor was limited in that the image must be scanned at once and cannot be edited or stitched together with another image. Finally, we also had problems getting the file from the iPad because it had to be emailed and the iPad was not connected to the internet.

Hopefully we will be able to find out how to successfully use the Xbox Kinect scanner or be able to check out the school’s laptop since internet access is problematic for the iPad at the museum. We could also try to bring the objects to UMW where we could use either scanner, although it is difficult to find times that work for both the curator and the scanning expert when the room the scanners are in is not occupied.

Wikipedia and Creative Commons

Wikipedia: I decided to look at the history and discussion tabs for extensive subjects like the American Civil War and Thomas Jefferson. Curiosity also drove me to look at a controversial topic, so I looked at the history  and discussion tab for the 2012 Benghazi attacks. There actually seemed to be very little debate on each of these topics. Similarly, most of the editors seemed to be standardizing the format of the content and fixing grammar and punctuation problems. Occasionally, people responded to requests for additional citations by adding links to new sources. I was expecting there to be more content changes for the 2012 Benghazi attacks page. However, there was only one instance of someone deleting content without justification in the page’s recent revision history. Consistent with Jimmy Wales’s description of how Wikipedia works, someone who was watching the page fixed the deletion within minutes.

Creative Commons: Although my group would have to consult with the James Monroe Museum about which Creative Commons license they believe is most appropriate, I think the Attribution-Noncommercial license would probably work best. Since the objects are owned by a nonprofit, I do not see the museum wanting someone to use the 3D laser scans and videos for commercial purposes. However, the Attribution-Noncommercial license would allow people to improve or build on these resources for research and educational purposes. Not requiring users to license their new creations under the same terms as us would give them greater flexibility and encourage the use of our material.

3D Laser Scanning Project Updates

This week we searched for  plugins to allow us to embed the  3D laser scans in our Omeka website. The only plugin we found required  the browser to be able to support it, so we’re going to continue to search for plugins and use the SketchFab website to host the  scans if necessary. Fortunately, SketchFab is free and the scans would remain the propert of the James Monroe Museum.

Dr. McClurken also asked our group to consider ways to expand the scope of our project. After consulting with the museum, we decided to make short videos of the curator talking about the objects we scan. We plan on keeping the videos basic with a very brief introduction to the museum, object, and curator before cutting to the curator discussing the object. The video will end with links to the museum’s website and our project website.


Progress and Thoughts on the Laser Scanning Project

My group members and I have held several meetings to learn about UMW’s 3D laser scanners, objects at the James Monroe Museum, and digital tools to make our website. We learned that UMW has a variety of laser scanners including a portable scanner that attaches to an iPad, a portable scanner with a turntable for small objects, and a larger scanner capable of scanning a person. In our consultation with the James Monroe Museum, we decided that we are going to try to scan five objects including one of Monroe’s outfits, his hat, dueling pistols, a shoe, and a chair associated with Lafayette.

At the moment, one of our greatest concerns is finding ways to present the scans of the objects online. Because the museum prefers the Dublin Core system, we plan on creating a website for the project using Omeka. However, Omeka does not have a plugin for displaying 3D files. After consulting with the DKC, we think we might create a SketchFab account to host the 3D files, linking the pages to our Omeka website. Using SketchFab would also present new opportunities for attracting an audience. Our descriptions of the objects on SketchFab would be aimed at educating a broader audience and encouraging them to visit the James Monroe Museum, while our Omeka site would have a scholarly research orientation.