Category Archives: Research Reflections

Fin (etcetera)

I’ve talked about finding a natural stopping point and conclusion multiple times on this blog and in class, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot as the course comes to a close. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life, and especially this semester, in rehearsals for various instrumental ensembles. Rehearsals are an opportunity to develop and refine the music; moments of perfection can be found in rehearsal if only due to pure repetition. Concerts, however, have little room for perfection, because of energy, nerves, human error, and countless other reasons. This is a kind of imperfection I’ve pretty much learned to live with, if only because there’s still half a program left to play or a completely new program to be performed in a couple weeks.

I think it’s partly because of my acceptance of this imperfection that I’ve allowed my perfectionism to run rampant with this project; WordPress’s seemingly endless customization possibilities have also helped. All of these options make it even more difficult to determine when any aspect of the site is finished, as “completed” or “polished.” Currently most of those decisions are about minor details including image placement, font size, and menu order, but sometimes I look at the site and wonder if the larger design features, like the theme, are actually the best out there, and if there’s not better plugins or images than what we’re using. My hesitance to declare the site “complete” extends to the research side of the project, though I’ve resigned myself to what’s on the site already do to the time constraint. There are relevant sources and topics I was barely able to touch on in the site due to lack of time, and conducting interviews about the public liberal has never seemed more important.

To return (sort of) to my original topic, most music has clear and natural endings marked by double barlines that are frequently telegraphed tens of measures in advance by the harmonic structure. Right now, this project has its own double barline approaching in the form of our presentation on Thursday, and I can already hear the crescendo of the V-I cadence. While I have no doubt that the site will be satisfactorily completed by the presentation, there’s a chance I’ll be changing minute, barely visible details until 1:59 on Thursday.

That being said, I’m astonished at how the site has turned out–I never really thought it could be so coherent and professional. This course has taken me farther out of my comfort zone than anything in my academic career, and I’m incredibly grateful.  While the significance of the work this course is doing increases daily, and I hope more students have the opportunity to participate, I need an intermission.

Thanks to anyone who has been following this blog (and actually made it through this post).


What’s the Story?

“There isn’t anyone you wouldn’t learn to love once you knew their story” –Andrew Stanton

As I’ve grown through my experience with higher education, I’ve become a person deeply invested in the ways that the written and spoken word is used to communicate with other people.  As an English major–or to be more specific, as a person who has learned and studied storytelling through words on a page, rather than through music, painting, architecture, dance, or otherwise–I’m trained to think of stories as a sequence of sounds, a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables, syntactical contraptions, connotations and denotations.  This course immediately interested me with its opportunity to “capture […] identities, cultures, histories, and environments” surrounding public higher education and the liberal arts.  I was drawn to the prospect of telling stories–and terrified when I found out that I would have to create a website in order to showcase these stories.  This course definitely took me out of my comfort zone.  Leaps and bounds out of my comfort zone.  As it happens, my cross country coach often tells the team that this space–leaps and bounds out of your comfort zone–“is where the magic happens.”  And I’d have to agree.

Because of this course, I was confronted with a stark reality:  on the world wide web, a sequence of sounds isn’t always the best way to tell a story.  Because of this course, I started to think about things like “mise-en-page” and visual rhetoric as ways of telling stories; I also began thinking about minuscule details like font size and how this can affect a viewers experience of the story.   How are readers used to viewing a page?  What happens when you present a story in a manner that works against the readers expectations, for instance, what happens if information moves from right to left, bottom to top?  It’s not that any of this necessarily enhances storytelling in any way, but rather that considering these changes allows one to contemplate a realm of possible experiences that you haven’t previously encountered.  As this semester comes to a close and I reflect on all the ways a screen can be manipulated to change the way a person experiences the information, the ways that information can be both transparently and rhetorically presented on a screen, I’m reminded of the “sympathetic research imagination.”  And now, I feel like I’ve come full circle as a storyteller in this course.  Like any story, my work was for me, and for someone else.  And after taking this course, I would argue that contemplating the way information can be organized on a page is an exercise in empathy just as much as reading a novel–the experience is simply articulated differently.

With this said, I think I’m most grateful for the opportunity to write playfully in this course.  I’m grateful for the chance to play with my form, to quote Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, and Pixar animators; to (pathetically) attempt to write like Michael Chabon, utilize epigrams, make silly, half-baked allusions to philosophical ideas I clearly don’t understand; to share things that excite me as if they excite others as well and to express these ideas in ways that traditional college courses don’t allow; to write long sentences with a dozen semicolons; to tell stories.  My posts in this course (including this one) were always long because I loved writing them.

I’ll sign off from this course with a quote from David Zuckerman, mostly because I love his essay and want to share it with people, but also because its (almost) relevant.  In an essay that is at once a love letter to the show and an elegy for its demise, David Zuckerman, executive producer and showrunner of my favorite TV show, Wilfred has this to say about exploring the experience of a man who sees his neighbor’s dog as a man in a fuzzy suit:  “how terrifying and lonely it would be to live with that kind of secret. Such a man might be so afraid of what people would think if they learned the truth that he’d likely become even more isolated and unable to make meaningful connections with others. His only choice would be to pretend he’s normal, to hide his authentic self from the world.”  That part isn’t relevant, but its beautiful.  Here’s the relevant part:  “sadly that’s another thing good shows and good dogs have in common: Neither lives as long as you’d like them to.  Fortunately, both leave you with wonderful memories to cherish. I am grateful I had Wilfred in my life.”

This course has been a wild ride.  This semester has been the most physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting semester of my undergraduate career, and although I wish I could continue with the work of this course, I’m in need of a break.  I’ll return hungry for the digital humanities and its potential for storytelling. Until then, I beat on, boat against the current, excited to return to DH to tell stories for me, and for someone else.


So Long and Thanks for all the Feedback

Well, this is it.  In just over a week, Julia and I will present our final version of the UNCA site.  I know Abby presents tomorrow, so I wish her the best of luck.  I honestly feel invested in not just my own, but everyone’s projects at this point.  After spending so many weeks looking at each other’s sites, I feel a genuine excitement when I see how far they’ve come now, and am excited to see them present this week.  It’ll be a weird feeling after next Tuesday when I won’t be meeting with everyone to discuss changes to all of our sites.  I expressed a lot of this in my previous post, but I am very happy that Julia and I finally got our project into a nice working order, and am hopeful that our work will be apparent when we present.  For some closing thoughts, I just wanted to reflect on the impact our interviews had on me.  Beyond just giving us content for our project, I genuinely learned a substantial amount about our campus and had a rejuvenation in my interest of public history for the first time in a while.  I spoke to a lot of people I otherwise wouldn’t have, and learned so much, and for that, I am very thankful.  I just wanted to give a final “thank you” to Abby, John, and Emily for feedback throughout the life of the project, Mark and Cole for dealing with us for a whole semester, Julia for being contractually obligated to be my groupmate, and anyone out there who has actually kept up with my project blog.  Thanks, everyone.  

A Grand Finale

It’s hard to believe we’re all at the end of the course so soon.  Our blog  is nearly done, our last few interviews are rolling in and being uploaded, and I still feel like there is so much to do.  I’m honestly not too sure after this is all said and done if I’ll be able to get out of the mindset of looking for stories to tell every time I hear something about our campus mentioned in the classroom or community, but perhaps that is a good thing.  This has been a phenomenal experience, one which I can wholeheartedly say has helped me as a student in more ways than I would have initially thought.  WordPress, Timeline JS, and Blue Jeans are all technologies I feel comfortable with now, not even mentioning the enjoyment and learning that these interviews have brought.  I’m very happy with the strides Julia and I have made in these last few weeks.  I felt we may have been floundering initially, but I believe we now have a site that I can show my peers with pride.  I’m excited yet a bit nervous for the looming presentation day, but I’m still taking things one step at a time.

Research Reflection: Insecurity (and lots of crying)

Now that everyone is finishing up their project sites, I’m starting to get nervous. Am I doing a good enough job? Does my project site look okay?

Not only am I the youngest in the course, I am also the only team of one. I’m trying to remind myself of both, especially the latter, as I draw my project to a close. However, I still feel inferior and anxious about being satisfactory in the eyes of those who will see my project. I’m a perfectionist, and it’s hard for me to ever feel like I succeeded at something. I actually started crying in the research technician’s office this morning when she told me that my site looked great.

I want this project to be the best it can possibly be. These stories are so vital to me and this school has an immense handprint on my heart. I have to find a balance between pushing myself to succeed and overexerting myself to the point of exhaustion.

Time for class to start. I’ll continue this later.

Tracking Shots and Uncovering Hidden Work

In Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon wrote a 12-page sentence.  When asked about the sentence, Chabon responded that he wanted to give the readers a tracking shot so readers understood what was going on.  For my readers who want to know where I am, here’s my tracking shot:  

Trump was elected president (I stayed up till the bitter end); Emily and I conducted two interviews and got about an hour’s worth of usable conversation; my cat killed a snake, brought it in the house, and hid it under my housemate’s bed for safekeeping;  Emily and I made some major changes to the blog that should be functional and aesthetic improvements; most of these changes–especially changing our theme–made obsolete all of the work I did last week; I’m annoyed that a lot of my work seems to be for naught, but excited every time I learn a new way of making something accessible, every time I learn a new technology of visual rhetoric; we had really great conversations about the uniqueness and importance of liberal arts, as well as the future of higher education; it turns out my housemate is terrified of snakes, and the snake wasn’t completely dead; incredible dialogues began on campus regarding the importance of liberal arts institutions as enclaves of resistance and protection; I found some great sources that will contribute to our project; Emily’s timeline blew my mind; I didn’t have time to start either of the essays I have due tomorrow (Monday the 14th) until 1Pm today (Sunday the 13th); I’m excited that I get to blog for this course and have the opportunity to take risks like this post; starting at 4Pm on Friday, 50 of my teammates and I drove six hours to New Jersey, slept at the house of the TCNJ tracksters (who we had never met before), woke up and drove to Rowan college to support our top-7 men and women competing at the Atlantic Region cross country championship, painted our bodies and sprinted back and forth through a broccoli field to catch the runners as many times as possible (both teams won handily and qualified for the NCAA championship), we drove six hours home and returned at 4Pm on Saturday; I had serious writer’s block on my senior thesis; I was forced to re-evaluate my plan for the next several years in anticipation of cuts to higher-education spending; while writing a paper about Autism, I was fascinated by the ways other cultures approach the disorder; I continued to transcribe interviews and research SUNY general education requirements; I mapped the route to drive to Louisville, Kentucky to support my teammates at the NCAA championship this Friday–the men are ranked 2nd in the country and the women are ranked 3rd; a swastika with the word “trump” above it was found graffiti’d in a dorm on Geneseo’s campus.

I’m having trouble distinguishing between the difficulties of this project and the rhetoric surrounding the treatment of humans in this country:  most of a person’s labor is hidden from sight, and hidden labor is so often considered a lack of labor.  Which isn’t to say I think the difficulties of this project are equivalent to the plight of so many people in this country, but that this election has consumed all of my thoughts and emotional resources (and I recognize my incredibly privileged status).  So in the spirit of uncovering hidden labor, I’m going to use pictures (and a few words) to illustrate the potentially trivial changes I made to our project website in pursuit of some thing called excellence.  (I can only imagine what Derrida–in all his confounded genius that borders on idiocy–would have to say about this “thing”).  Hopefully, allowing these pictures to “speak” will achieve some symbolic act of removing my voice so that another “voice” can gain access to the conversation.

Screenshot (8)–this was the guiding website.

Screenshot (11) Screenshot (12)–here’s where we started.

Screenshot (20)–after testing some themes, this is what I got.  I think the picture of Geneseo works extraordinarily with this theme, but we’ll have to do some editing with the font, colors, and menu.

Screenshot (29)–here’s a template of how I thought the theme would work.

Screenshot (21)–that didn’t happen.  When you add pictures to the home page, the site works differently.  Obvious issues.

Screenshot (22)–the hover aspect is nice.  But this theme does it automatically–whereas I spent hours working with plugins to get this affect on the other theme.

Screenshot (23)   –and when you click on the site, it takes you to this page (which will later be filled with information).  I had to do some editing to get here, and didn’t take all the picture to prove it.

Screenshot (27)–this small change from the original hover effect is the change I’m most impressed with.  I had to do some SERIOUS coding:

Screenshot (25)–changing font size and color.  Putting in a line break so there’s a primary title (the quote) and a secondary title (the question).

Screenshot (28)–and I seriously appreciate the people who paved the way before me.


More interviews this week.  And I’m hoping to dump a ton of information on the blog.  Ideally, in a coherent manner.


Research Reflections: Finding Reasons

I, as I can imagine many of you are, am dismayed at the results of the election. For the last few days, I’ve been struggling to find reasons to keep trying to work on my schoolwork. Is it worth it? Am I doing any good? It’s hard to feel this way, and I hate falling behind like this.

Mark sent me a supportive email on Thursday, and I appreciated our course discussion the same day. As much as I want to reject this project and hide from the world, these narratives don’t give me that option. I have an interview on Tuesday with a woman who lived in the barracks built by the college to house World War II veterans while they (and the occasional wife) studied at Keene Teacher’s College. That’s the type of story I want and need to tell at this point. I rely on these stories to keep chipping away at my project despite depression.

Donald Trump is going to be President, and I’m scared. I don’t know what will happen to our country. I do know that this is the time for me to be telling stories about tough women and their access to education…now more than ever.

So, if you are reading this months or years from now, know that we are hurting this week. I’m hurting, but I’m not giving up.

Context, Site-Building, and the Fine Arts

This week I’ve mostly been trying to make something coherent out of my research from the past several weeks. On the site, this is most visible in the timeline, which I’m continuing to revise to provide sufficient context for the rest of the content.

Deciding what to include in the timeline has not been an easy process, as there are countless events that be helpful and provide further insight to Geneseo as an institution. I’ve been trying to select events that are interesting and varied but still create a framework for our more detailed discussion of curriculum. Another difficult aspect of creating the timeline is the sources I’ve been relying most heavily on: Mahood’s  SUNY Geneseo: From Normal School to Public Ivy, 1871-2007 and Fisher’s …the stone strength of the past… Both of these histories of the school are incredibly informative and factual, but they are also written by long-time professors at Geneseo with inescapable biases in favor of the institution. While working on the timeline, I’ve had to continually remind myself that the events highlighted in the histories are likely those that were the best for the school. Of course, there are worse problems to be had, and I’m very grateful for Fisher and Mahood’s work. I’ve also added some explanation and analysis to the “General Education and Humanities” page to accompany the booklet containing the developments in general education. I’m planning to pay special attention to the revision of the Common Core in the late ’70s that included the addition of the Humanities sequence, and I haven’t decided if that discussion will be on the same page or treated separately.

As for the site itself, John and I have spent a lot of time this week working on the general organization of content and finding the best theme. The organization will likely stand as it is on the landing page of the site currently, with more content–images that reveal quotes from our interviews that lead to related pages. I think we’ve narrowed it down to two themes, both of which are very customizable and generally clean and minimalist.

During this past week, we had two really insightful and informative interviews with Humanities professors. Our interviews this week will come from different perspectives. We have two definite interviews set, and are attempting to schedule a time with an administrator. One of the interviews is with a student, and I’m expecting that we can use many of the same questions we asked the professors we’ve interviewed with some reframing. The other interview we have this week with Professor Brooke McCorkle of the Music Department is of particular interest to me. Geneseo has not been particularly to kind to the fine arts in recent years (as can likely be said at most public schools), and the most recent blow came just this weekend when President Denise Battles announced (through email) that the college will no longer be funding Finger Lakes Opera (FLO). FLO is a relatively new organization that has provided the college and the surrounding community with access to an art form that is often inaccessible and  considered elitist. To me, this type of access and exposure to the arts is one of the most important aspects of a liberal arts education. This latest cut is particularly discouraging considering the election, the results of which do not bode well for education as whole, and when education suffers, the fine arts usually suffer first. If these are the decisions being made before the effects of a Trump presidency are felt, I greatly fear for the fine arts at Geneseo in the next few years. I am very interested in hearing Professor McCorkle’s thoughts on these events and the state of the fine arts at Geneseo, in addition to our regular questions about general education.

An End In Site (Pun Intended)

The word of the week in the fast-paced world of digital humanities: progress.  We’ve been trimming audio and scheduling new interviews.  Julia seems to have a better handle on things than me, as she has both of her interviews pretty much in stone, whereas I am still being snubbed by candidates.  However, I’m very optimistic I’ll be able to get one for this week with a long-standing administrator on campus, who should be able to fill me in on a lot of campus history.  We’re also working on getting our site in a more presentable order, with more for a viewer to see, even in these building stages.  I really want to dive into TimeLine JS this week, but am a little wary that we don’t have enough new material for it yet that hasn’t already been covered in the original timeline we made for the class.  My goal is to have the site in good order by Tuesday, so we can get some feedback and continue to work towards improving it.

Research Reflection: Warm, Fuzzy Feelings

After a busy week of interviewing, editing, and curating, I’m happy to report that my slump is far behind me. I’m loving exploring new plugins, especially the gallery one I uploaded today (see my new “Archive Gallery” page on the site). I’m sticking to a minimalist theme so I can really embellish my pages without worrying about everything being too intense. Mark and I have decided that I’m going to continue this project into next semester. There are so many dreams and goals I have for this project, and I’m not ready to say goodbye come December.

My interview with Norma Walker is what inspired me the most so far. She graduated in 1951, and is full of stories and ideas. I’m not only creating this project to achieve a sort of academic goal and milestone. I’m working my hardest for Norma, for my grandmothers, and for all the women who contributed to the college’s story which I now get to continue in my own legacy here at Keene State.