Category Archives: Weekly Updates


We are almost there!

As we said once again the project sites (to borrow John’s word) are beautiful. They each reflect significant intellectual work. As we enter the final weeks of the semester here is what you need to do:

  1. Before Thursday December 1: immerse yourself in the work of your peer’s project sites. Take notes. Then send your notes, in the form of a letter, to Mark, no later than 8 AM on Thursday. Mark will compile the notes and forward them to each project site team
  2. Work on your site. This work may pick up a bit once you have more written feedback from your readers
  3. Compose and post on your course blog a final “Research Reflection” by Tuesday the 6th at noon.

Public presentations of projects begin next week. The presentations may be “attended” by faculty and administrators from other COPLAC institutions:

Tuesday December 6 Presentation by Abby Shepherd, Keene State College, “The Women of Keene State: An Exploration through Personal Narratives”

Thursday December 8 Presentation by Emily Buckley-Crist and John Panus, SUNY Geneseo, “Foundations of Knowledge at SUNY Geneseo: Narrating the Public Liberal Arts: An Exploration of General Education and the Humanities Sequence”

Tuesday December 13 Presentation by Casey Brown and Julia Bone, UNC Asheville, “An Educational Narrative on the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the Liberal Arts”

On Thursday this week we will talk about preparing for and the logistics of the presentations. Please be in touch if you have any questions.


We have reached the penultimate moment in our work together this semester. Over the next ten days you have the time and space to build out your project sites. We hope that you enjoy the process. As Cole encouraged us to remember last week, “Building things is fun.”

In addition to building we will be sharing—most immediately, sharing our work with members of the greater COPLAC community. Sharing your course blogs, and this NAPLA course blog, will foreground the power of teaching and learning in the open: That is, your research process and our collaboration on a public storytelling project will demonstrate to others the potential of narrative to capture and convey the experience of the public liberal arts. Your course blogs are beautiful chronicles of your research process—the Recent Posts list exemplifying an arc of accomplishment.

Your work in the next few weeks is to make the most of this penultimate moment. Here is how you should be spending your time:

  • As Mark explained in class this week, during the next ten days you would do well to undertake a self assessment and review. Make sure that you have 9 Research Reflections so that we are able to give you full credit for your work on the course blog. Then, before class next week, open the NAPLA category archive “Weekly Updates,” and read each of the updates from the bottom, starting with the September 19th Create Manage License. Each of the posts includes the steps you have taken (or need to take!), most often in the form of a bullet list of tasks. Together the weekly updates function as a general rubric to assess your own progress and help you fill in any missing parts. In addition, reading over these updates will remind you that what you have learned about digital tools you are using on your course blogs is transferable to the work you are now doing on your project sites.
  • The Schedule page on this site has been updated and meeting deadlines is imperative as we move into the third and final phase of the course. The updated schedule, outlined below, will help you make the most of your time before the holiday as well as make sufficient progress in preparation for the final weeks of the term:

Tuesday November 15: Project team meetings: 2:00-2:30 Casey and Julia(UNC Asheville); 2:30-3:00 Emily and John(SUNY Geneseo); 3:00-3:30(Keene State College)

Thursday November 17 Preview Institutional Project Sites. Each team will have twenty minutes to showcase the Project Site

Tuesday November 22: Cole and Mark will conference with project teams: 2:00 Casey and Julia 2:30-3:00 and 3:00-3:30 Abby. Emily and John TBA

The due date for the Project Sites is Tuesday November 29th. Please enjoy your holiday break. But please give yourself time and space between November 22 and November 29th to complete the Project Sites. Mark and Cole will be available by email should you need assistance.

  • Public presentations of projects will take place during the last two weeks of classes. The presentations may be “attended” by faculty and administrators from other COPLAC institutions. OnTuesday November 29th, when we return from the holiday break the Final Projects are due. We will then follow the schedule: OnThursday December 1 Casey and Julia (UNC Asheville) will present. OnTuesday December 6 Abby (Keene State College) will present. And on Thursday December 8 Emily and John (SUNY Geneseo) will present. We are happy to reconsider this schedule based on other commitments. If you would like to suggest a change, please let us know as soon as possible.

We are looking forward to our project team conversations next Tuesday. Your job is to get as much done as possible between now and then so that we can best use our time together.

Finish as Complete. Finish as Polish

One of the topics we talked about in last week’s class was working with “focus” and what “done” might mean in a Digital Humanities project.

Digital Humanists Matthew G. Kirschenbaum and Bill Kretzschmar have written about “finishing” a digital project.  They comment that “the verb ‘to finish’ can mean to complete or something more like to polish or perfect.”  Kirschenbaum goes on to point out what meanings “finish” can have in a discipline that celebrates a visible, ongoing process and being open-ended, being changeable: “We partake in what Julia Flanders has aptly called the culture of the perpetual prototype: the demo, the proof-of-concept, the alpha and beta version. Building things is fun….”  Fun, yes, but how do we recognize when we’re approaching a finished project.   When we just stop?  When we run out of time and data?  When we conclude, that is, when we evolve to a different understanding of the data?  When the data inspires us to ask new questions?  When the data brings us to a point that we become aware of an alternative audience or to a changed purpose for telling a narrative?

Your thoughtful weekly posts show this process of curating understanding and of working with “knowing”.   You’ve noted “tangible progress”, “warm, fuzzy feelings”, “disjointed research”, “dramatic twists”, “insights”, “thoughts”, etc.  Mark has wisely referred to your websites before as a “process portfolio”.

Week 10 Checklist

As we approach the end of the semester and this iteration of NAPLA, we’d like you to continue to “finish” by having these items polished by class on Thursday (see the note after the list):

  • Convert all URLs in your blog posts to links as well as those on your course project website.
  • Research should be approaching completion.
  • Scanned images should be approaching completion (scanned please, not shot from a 45 degree angle with a cell phone and uncropped).
  • Drafts of text for webpages should be approaching completion and be upload to course project websites.
  • Oral interviews should be approaching completion.
  • Upload the digital files of interviews to Soundcloud or Audacity and edit the files.
  • Post the audio file on your blog by Thursday morning.
  • Post ‘documentation” for your audio files in a consistent place (e.g., in the bibliography, in a smaller font under the posted audio file, etc.).  Who’s being interviewed, who conducted the interview, city/state for the interview, date/time, etc.  You’re creating an archive.
  • Audio file headers: what are your titles?  are you displaying selected quotes from the interviews?
  • Audio file images: what do you want your audience to look at as they listen to the file?  Head shot? Image of your college?  Sliding scanned images from a related yearbook?
  • Listen to some of the team’s interviews and take notes in preparation for debriefing and discussion of how the websites are taking shape.

Note after the list:  Okay, yes we usually ask that you have these posted by Thursday morning.  On the one hand, that’s great if you’ve got them there by Thursday morning at the latest.  On the other hand, I’ll be “in transit” (read: in airports) during Thursday’s class and it’s not likely that I’ll be joining you from 30,000 feet up in the air.  If you could have the better part of this week’s checklist done by Wednesday midnight (11.59 pm), that would be appreciated.  I can review your pages and have comments prepared for Mark to share with you during Thursday’s class.

As always, Mark and I are available to meet with you on Tuesday between 2 to 4 pm to discuss any aspects of your projects or the upcoming presentation of your NAPLA websites.

Work Cited

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G.  “Done: Finishing Projects in the Digital Humanities”.  DHQ (2009) 3:2.

The Real Work

The checklists below are designed to help you complete the work on your course blog during the two weeks before we break for Thanksgiving. Your course blog is a process portfolio that Cole and Mark will use to help determine your final grade in the course. We highly recommend that you compete this work using the checklists below so that you will be able to direct all of your attention to your project sites in the final four weeks we will be working together.

Week 9 October 31-November 4

Tuesday November 1: Cole and Mark are available to meet with project teams by appointment

Thursday November 3: Project Charrette

Checklist for Week 9:

1. Course Blog

  • Complete your 8th Research Reflection by Sunday evening
  • Add the Category “Research Reflections” to each of your blog posts
  • Add any tags to each of the posts in your collection of Research Reflections
  • Convert all URLs in your posts to links
  • Consider the title of each of your Research Reflections. Make concise but make descriptive
  • Add relevant links (Your College, your Library Archive, a story on the College web site, COPLAC, etc.) to your Links or Blogroll

Add Categories to your Links Widget. (For example, you might have links under “Geneseo” and you might have links under “External links”

2. Project Site

  • Add a License to your Project Site using Creative Commons Attribution International License. To recall the reasons and protocols for doing this, see the Weekly Update Create Manage License on the NAPLA blog
  • Consider adding social media icons to your site. This will require you to go to your WP Dashboard > Plugins > Add New > Search Plugins
  • Make a list of design features of your site. We have encouraged you to look at “exemplar” sites that allow the designer to organize and present information. Then browse or search WP themes
  • Use the list of design features of your site to search WP plugins Then browse options for what you are looking for. For example, you might be looking for an image scroll, slider, or carousel; an image or a video gallery; a video embed and thumbnail generator

For planning purposes, please check in on the Schedule page. This page has been updated. Please check your calendars and let Cole and Mark know if you have any conflicts so that we may adjust the schedule accordingly.

Listening and Making

In our class meeting this past Thursday John and Casey described the arc of their research. With Abby unable to make class due to sickness, Mark reported on her first interview. We look forward to hearing from Julia, who had technical problems accessing the network while away from campus.

The Research Reflections continue to be an important dimension of your work. We all benefit from your thoughtful and timely reflections on what you are doing as you move along your research timeline. In our class meeting we asked everyone to look over the reminder in the post Good Housekeeping.


With three weeks before we gather for a preview of the project sites (November 15 and 17) we talked about interviews and interviewing. Mark described Abby’s “test” or pilot interview and the value of doing a lower-stakes interview. Both technical and methodological questions will come up and we want to work through these questions together. In addition, the Resources page now has links to materials that will prove useful over the next few weeks. Please make use of them.

We agreed in class that next week we will debrief our first interviews or a test interview. So here is what you need to do:

  • Conduct an oral interview
  • upload the digital file to Soundcloud or Audacity and, if necessary, edit the file
  • Post the audio file on your blog by Thursday morning
  • listen to the interviews and take notes in preparation for debriefing and discussion

Our class session on Thursday October 20 will begin with the interviews.  You will share your thoughts on the interview, the questions you have about recording, the digital tools you are using, and/or your methodological questions about conducting an effective interview. We will then debrief as a group as you look ahead to a couple of weeks of interviewing.


Over the next few weeks you will be working on your project sites as well. The sites are now live and listed in the sidebar of the NAPLA site. These sites are “under construction” and we look forward to seeing you on the job site and to the progress you are making. One of the questions is how you plan to present the interviews on the site. There are many options and we need everyone to be thinking about these kinds of questions as you go about the interviewing process.

At any time please be in touch with Cole and Mark if you have questions. We are available on Tuesdays between 2-4 for individual or team conferences.


Telling Stories

In her 1942 autobiography, Dust Tracks on A Road, the American anthropologist and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston writes, “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.”

Our growing archive of Research Reflections on this NAPLA course blog is an example of curiosity finding a shape. Your poking around in course catalogs and yearbooks is fascinating; and is it not interesting to pry open the at times rough-and-tumble curricular histories of your college! Liberal learning and the liberal arts, we are documenting here, is deeply and intimately bound up in the histories of the educational institutions at which we are all at work.

As we embark on the second part of the course, and you each move through the stages outlined in your self-designed project timeline, your purpose is shifting to stories, specifically personal narratives: to the work of collecting and publishing the stories that capture the identities, cultures, histories, and environments related to a public liberal arts education. The personal narratives you are gathering will use stories as a way of knowing the world—of making sense of history through lived experience and memory.


So here we are. It is week seven of the semester. You have constructed a course blog that is documenting your research process. You have learned to navigate Word Press and are experimenting with tools to customize your site and organize the content. You are thinking about data and design and audience. You have sought out permission to do your interviews following IRB protocols. You have identified interviewees, begun to experiment with the technology you will be using to record oral interviews, and you most likely have in hand a release form for your subjects and drafted the questions for the interviews.

On Thursday this week we will devote our project charrette to the practical questions you have about the process of conducting oral interviews. As you continue to go about your work, we are asking you to be reflective practitioners—that is, you will be doing your research and also writing your weekly reflections on what you are doing, and what you are learning to do. To help with both the practice and the reflection on that practice, we offer some readings for you to situate your work in the methodology, theory, and practice of oral history. This material will help you with your work and will give you thoughts and ideas to incorporate into your weekly research reflections.

Oral History Reading List and Resources from a one-week advanced institute on the methodology, theory, and practice of oral/video history at the Regional Oral History Office (ROHO) of The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley

A couple of excerpts should suggest the value of these readings. In his essay “Four Paradigm Transformations in Oral History” (The Oral History Review 2007 34: 49-70) Alistair Thomson captures the major shifts in oral history in words that are already dated by emergent technological tools:

We are in the middle of a fourth, dizzying digital revolution in oral history, and its outcomes are impossible to predict. E-mail and the Internet are certainly fostering oral history’s international dialogue. But, more than that, new digital technologies are transforming the ways in which we record, preserve, catalogue, interpret, share and present oral histories. Very soon we will all be recording interviews on computers, and we can already use web-cams to conduct virtual interviews with people on the other side of the world. Audio-visual digital recordings will be readily accessible in their entirety via the Internet, and sophisticated digital indexing and cataloguing tools—perhaps assisted in large projects by artificial intelligence—will enable anyone, anywhere to make extraordinary and unexpected creative connections within and across oral history collections, using sound and image as well as text. Computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software can already be used to support, extend and refine the interpretation of large sets of oral history interviews, and will, inevitably, become more sophisticated and powerful.

Michael Frisch argues that the digitization of sound and image will challenge the current dominance of transcription and return aurality to oral history, as digital technology makes it easier to navigate audio (and video) material, and as we extend our text-based literacy to new forms of literacy with sound and image. Furthermore, non-text-reliant digital index and search mechanisms will enable users to find and hear the extracts they are looking for in their own interviews—and across countless interviews from other projects—and will enable imaginative, unforeseen interpretations.

And Valerie Yow, in her “Introduction to the In-Depth Interview,” Recording Oral History (Altamira Press, 2005: 1-34) offers insight into what she calls “The Use of Narrative as a Research Strategy”:

But even before the narrative form of research became acceptable, many oral historians and humanist psychologists and sociologists sought in the individual life story a specificity and a richness of experience that general accounts did not offer. Anthropologist Ruth Behar says that life histories give us the information that general studies, supposed to be typical accounts, obscure: “Rather than looking at social and cultural systems solely as they impinge on a life, shape it, and tum it into an object, a life history should allow one to see how an actor makes culturally meaningful history, how history is produced in action and in the actor’s retrospective reflections on that action.” Even if scholars in the past regarded work based on narrative as simple, many believe now that narratives are not simple and they are not innocent either because there is always an agenda. Bruner asks, “Why do we naturally portray ourselves through story, so naturally indeed that selfhood itself seems like a product of our own story making?” He argues that narrative expresses our deepest reasonings about ourselves and our experience.

Oral history is inevitably subjective: its subjectivity is at once inescapable and crucial to an understanding of the meanings we give our past and present. To reveal the meanings of lived experience is the great task of qualitative research and specifically oral history interviews. The in-depth interview offers the benefit of seeing in its full complexity the world of another. And in collating in-depth interviews and using the insights to be gained from them as well as different kinds of information from other kinds of records, we can come to some understanding of the process by which we got to be the way we are.

Yow’s reference to the work of the psychologist Jerome Bruner is worth elaboration. For over the next few weeks you will be doing what Bruner calls the Narrative Construction of Reality. Surely professors and students of literature will recognize the correlations between the stories we tell to make sense of our lives and the stories that are handed down over time that fall under the term literature, perhaps by having read the work of the sociolinguist William Labov (Language in the Inner City 1972), the linguist and literary critic Mary Louise Pratt (A Speech-Act Theory of Literary Discourse 1975), or Bruner (Actual Minds, Possible Worlds 1985) or, more recently, Mark Turner’s The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Turner’s book, in particular, reminds us that stories are a basic principle of mind. “Most of our experience, our knowledge, and our thinking is organized as stories.” And, indeed, stories help us make sense of other stories, including codified or accepted stories, including institutional histories.

Please have a look at the Resources page for links to oral history resources on the web that will most likely be useful for your work.

Good Housekeeping

Project Web Sites are Live!

Our amazing COPLAC program associate, Leah Tams, has set up your web sites:,

You should have received an email yesterday from WordPress about their your status (same usernames as on your blog and we recommend the same password). You can login to your subdomain by adding /wp-admin to the end of the URL.

Design and Customize: Plugins, Themes, Widgets

The Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies at the University of Mary Washington is a useful site to explore. In particular, have a look at Jess Reingold’s recent Jess’s Quick Guide to Plugins, Widgets, and Themes. Her post includes a list of best practices for choosing themes and plugins. Mark and Cole are available at any point to troubleshoot, or answer questions about themes and blogs.

 Class Schedule: Part Two of the Course

We have designed the course to give you ample time to do independent work on your projects. We will therefore meet once per week, on Thursdays, during the next four weeks. Our weekly project charrettes will give everyone a chance to ask questions, resolve challenges or problems, and learn from one another.

We will meet twice during week 10, before we break for Thanksgiving. Your project timelines should align with the expectation that our meetings on Tuesday November 15th and Thursday November 17th will be dedicated to previewing your institutional sites. It is imperative that the sites be developed and refined at this point. For when we return from the holiday break we will only have one class before the Project Presentations begin on Thursday December 1.

Research Reflections

There are nine “Research Reflections” required in the course. The first three Research Reflections were the product of writing prompts: 1) on September 11th “What’s the Story?; on September 25th “Reading and Writing,” about higher education in the US and your local institution; and on October 2nd, “For Me and For Someone Else,” about the digital humanities and your projects.

From your fourth Research Reflection last week to your final reflection due on Sunday November 20th your Research Reflections will be a product of the intellectual work you are doing—reflecting on the process of research, interviewing, and building a digital home for your work.

Each of your blog posts should make visible what you are doing, how you are learning, or what you are discovering in your research. Our expectation is that you will produce engaging and professionally presented writing. We want to give you the opportunity to “curate” your Research Reflections. And so at any time you may revise and/or update what you have written.

Nota bene: Because this “Monday Update” is posted on Thursday, and we are moving into Part Two of our course, I am going to change the Category on our NAPLA blog to “Weekly Updates.”


Create Manage License

One of the objectives we have during the first half of the course is for you to create and manage content using Word Press.


Below is a checklist to get everyone caught up managing content on your course blog. The checklist is also designed to develop your skills (such as adding images and links) and establish habits, or protocols, (such as including categories and tags when you publish a post. Finally, we are introducing below a conversation we will have together about rights and responsibilities for creating and sharing content in the digital commons.

Here is your checklist:

Manage Your Blog

  • Add an Image to your About page (See example on Julia’s About page for an example). Consider Justifying image left or right and wrapping text using image editor. If fo rany reason you do not want to use an image of yourself, please choose an appropriate image that you would like your readers to associate with your blog
  • Add or Modify the Blog Header You don’t have to have a header. And what you can do with a header is in some cases determined by the functional capacity of the theme you have chosen. Still, headers are attractive and can serve to reinforce or echo the blog theme. Julia’s Liberal Art in the Land of the Sky is a good example. We might consider whether Emily’s fabulous image on Geneseo’s Educational Evolution is too large. On most screens, the reader will need to scroll before getting any information. John’s Liberal Arts in the Beautiful Valley is also large. This image is a bit grainy as well, and it may be that the resolution of the image may not support the size
  • Add a Links or Blogroll Widget (if you do not already have one). Delete any default WP links that do not seem relevant or necessary. Add your College home page (Title of the link should be the name of the College!). Add COPLAC. Add any other relevant links. Make a note to add relevant links as you continue in the course

License your Content

  • Add a License to your Blog As authors creating and publishing content on the web, we need talk about copyright and the commons, digital communities, collaboration and sharing. First, go to the bottow of the NAPLA course page and have a look at the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License icon. Next, visit Creative Commons and watch the three-minute Creative Commons Remix on Vimeo. Read About Our Licenses and What They Do. You will learn how the licenses for your work are designed to address legal, human, and software considerations. Then, choose a license. The NAPLA course blog uses the least restrictive license. The 4.0 License lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon our work, even commercially, as long as users credit us for the original creation. You retain copyright while allowing others to copy, distribute, and make non-commercial uses of your work. Once you have chosen a license (we recommend the one above), add a Text Widget to your Blog. Put the text widget at the bottom of the widget sidebar. Paste into the Text Widget Window the following code:

<a rel=”license” href=””><img alt=”Creative Commons License” style=”border-width:0;” src=”×31.png” /></a><br />This work is licensed under a <a rel=”license” href=””>Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License</a>.

Save and close the widget window. Voila! Welcome to the digital commons!

Revisit and Revise Your First Post

  • Add a Category Open edit for your first blog post and add the category “Research Reflections.” Make a note to add this category to all of your subsequent weekly writing posts
  • Add Another Category Add your first and last name as a Category to your post. This way the NAPLA course blog (where your posts also appear) will list your name under categories. Then you (or another reader like you mom or your uncle) will be able to click on that category and read a digest of your posts on the course blog. Make a note to add this category to all of your subsequent weekly writing posts
  • Add Tags Go through your first blog post and identify key words and concepts, people, place names. Add three or more Tags to the post
  • Add one or more Links Highlight text > add a URL > save (or command + K on a Mac). Casey’s Blog Post, for example, at the bottom under “Sources,” can embed the URL on the list by using the link tool. And Julia’s Blog Post can take existing text and add a link to COPLAC and a link to the UNCA Fact Book.

Complete the steps below by the end of the week. If you have any questions please let us know. We will troubleshoot and field questions during class or by email. Have fun!