By Autumn R. Neal
The semester is over and I am graduating later this week. That doesn’t mean that I am done with the Edgar Snow Project, though. A couple months ago I applied to the History M.A. program here at UMKC and was accepted last week so needless to say I’ll be around for a while. There are a few things other big things going on here in the early spring so I believe that the site will officially launch in March. I have a couple things to finish up before then, like perfecting the video because I am a perfectionist, but can work on those over the winter break. The thing about this site is that since I’ve been working with it for so long I don’t feel like I should walk away just because my internship is over and my grade will be posted. I’m more concerned with completing it and putting out the best product possible. It’s an actual thing I made and pretty much my first “career” experience. I know that I can talk about everything I learned on this project on my resume and in interviews. I’m proud of it. Keep an eye out because I’m sure you’ll hear more about the site very soon.
By Autumn R. Neal
The one thing I love about education is that no matter what subject you are studying you’re learning about other disciplines at the same time. That’s something I have enjoyed most about this project. I don’t feel like I’m only working on something in history. In the last two semesters, I have learned about and worked with Photoshop, various social media platforms, HTML, and video programs. I’ve already talked about how Photoshop and HTML have changed the way I look at my work but now let’s talk about this video. The video is supposed to be like a commercial with a voice over. It is meant to present information in a certain way that will grab the viewer’s attention, hook them, and make them want to go further into the website. I’ve had to think about what a viewer might want to see. So now I feel like I’m working in marketing. It’s difficult trying to imagine something from a prospective viewer’s point of view. I keep trying to think of what I would want to see if I were browsing the Internet and came across a website like this. What would I want to see in an introduction video? What would hook me and make me want to go look at the site? At the same time, I’m also trying to imagine what might bore me and drive me away. It’s like an episode of Mad Men. Maybe I should invest in some cigars.
By Autumn R. Neal
One of the most entertaining parts of put the Edgar Snow Project together was working with HTML. Before the course last semester, I didn’t know anything about HTML and had no idea what all those weird symbols are that show up when you copy text (e.g. Ben & Jerry’s). It seems like it would be really difficult to learn but understanding the basics and learning enough to format some text was a fairly easy and fun process. However, I wouldn’t know the first thing about building a site from scratch so I have a ton of respect for anyone who knows how to do that.
HTML With Slugs (Click Me!)
Text with Highlighted Links (Click Me!)
For the Edgar Snow Project, the main task that involved HTML was linking each exhibit item (or record) with its corresponding word or phrase within the main text. As you move through the site, keywords are highlighted and when you click on them, you’ll be moved to a certain area on the map and a box will open that contains a photo, document, or excerpt. I may be giving away some secrets here but each item has an associated keyword, or slug and this needs to be inserted into the text HTML. The keyword and the select words in the paragraph would look something like this <span data-neatline-slug=”keyword”>words in paragraph</span>. With about 65 items, it got confusing at times trying to keep the map locations and slugs organized but with the power of multiple browser windows I think it turned out well.
By Autumn R. Neal
The introduction video to the Edgar Snow Project was always meant to have narration and I knew from the beginning that I did not want to record the audio myself. It would be awkward hearing your own voice over and over as you’re trying to perfectly edit an audio track. Initially, I thought I’d ask one of my classmates to record it until I had a groundbreaking idea. Actually, it wasn’t groundbreaking and I should have thought of it long before I did. My good friend, Erika Baker, is a theatre actress in local Kansas City theatre so I asked if I could hire her in exchange for some baked goods. I already had some audio editing software and an external microphone so she came over and after a couple practice runs we had a nice audio track.
In reality, we had some technical difficulties and, in the end, recorded one long track full of errors and laughter which I edited out later. I’ve been working on layering the voice and music tracks and attempting to artfully match them up with the scrolling photos. Over the past few weeks, I had tried to have a couple other people record the audio but it didn’t work out. Throughout those attempts though, I learned that a lot of people in their mid-twenties do not know who Mao Zedong is and don’t know how to pronounce his name. Granted, they weren’t history majors, but I think he’s a pretty important historical figure. Is this an example of why we need public history?
By Autumn R. Neal
I thought the Edgar Snow Project intro video would be more interesting with an audio track of traditional or semi-traditional Chinese music so I’ve been looking for some recently. In Digital History last semester we learned that you can’t use just any audio track even if you give the author credit. I’ll try to explain it, but I am not an expert in this area so bear with me. The majority of music, photos, films, and any other created products are under copyright. If you want to use them you have to purchase a license which can cost a ton of money.
However, there is an organization called Creative Commons which allows people to create and share their digital products under their own terms. Some of these items can’t be used for commercial means unless you purchase a license, but some can be used as long as you don’t build upon them (using audio in a video with scrolling images would be considered building upon them) and others can be used, edited, and built upon in any way as long as you credit the original author. There are a lot of sites with CC music, but you’ll have to sort through a lot of tracks in search of the perfect one. If you’re interested in reading more about copyright, check out my blog post “No One Can Do to Disney, Inc. What Walt Disney Did to the Brothers Grimm”.
By Autumn R. Neal
When I submitted the final text for the Edgar Snow Project, I realized that I had not written about the exhibit items and how they would fit within the main text. I mentioned before that each item on the map would be linked to a word within the text. When we began the site last semester, each of us covered different years of Snow’s life so, naturally, there was some overlap between them. One challenge in this was figuring out where to place exhibit items in the rewritten text, especially where the years overlapped. I also wanted to make sure to highlight some of the most important events in Snow’s life which were listed in a pamphlet from the Missouri State Historical Society. If it sounds confusing right now, believe me, it was even more confusing trying to sort it out in my head. My solution to this was to print out the entire, unedited text from all five sections and come up with a system for keeping everything straight.
These are two of the ten pages I worked through.
The blue words represent the significant points in Edgar Snow’s life from the pamphlet mentioned earlier and the pink words represent website links that were in the original sections. I also wrote notes on how to rewrite the text and included some info on the “slugs” for the HTML (which I’ll talk about soon). I know it looks like a confusing mess, but it made perfect sense to me, somehow. In the end, I had over ten printed pages which had multiple colors and notes. This is a perfect example of how something that looks so chaotic could actually be very organized and, if we are going by this article, my messy work habits might have some benefits. Maybe.
By Autumn Neal
In my last two posts I talked about the issues I ran into trying to make a video and navigating Apple products as a PC user. Over the past couple months, though, I have found a lot of things about my iPhone that I love and am so grateful to have discovered. One of those things is the amazing voice to text feature. Sometimes it seems like I can’t type fast enough before the great idea that I had disappears. One day I was messing around with my phone while working on the main text for the Edgar Snow Project and ended up using the voice to text feature to copy some quotes into Google Docs. Then I copied the text from my PC’s browser and pasted it into Word. It made the process so much easier. Let’s be honest though, the technology is not perfect and comes up with some very strange things. In one sentence, it wrote out “where I was” as “Rose”. Maybe I slur. The feature was good for this project because I was copying some quotes from Edgar Snow’s memoir to include in the exhibit. It is pretty difficult to type and hold a book open at the same time, so being able to simply read the passage and then use copy and paste saved me from a lot of frustration. It seems simple but over the past month I have used it for almost all of my writing projects. I just wish I had discovered it sooner than two months before graduation. There’s always Grad School.
By Autumn Neal
I may be late to the party on this one, but it is possible to get iMovie (or any new app) if you are running an older iOS. All you have to do is buy it from a different device and then download the app from “purchased apps”. As I said before, I am a PC user so this information may be common knowledge to Mac users, but I didn’t know this was possible and definitely did not want to update my old iPad to iOS8. As soon as I solved that issue, I was finally able to start some real work on the Edgar Snow Project introduction video. It was surprisingly easy to make a nice looking video and even easier to add and edit an audio track. I’ve never used iMovie and without this internship it may have been a while until I did. I feel more confident now that I have this experience because I think small abilities like this make you more marketable. I follow a lot of institutions on Twitter and Facebook and realize that social media and technology are more important than ever in public history and museum world. The ability to make simple videos goes far beyond this project and can be applied in a variety of career situations.
By Autumn R. Neal
This week I want to talk about the differences between academic writing and writing for a website or exhibit. I feel like this has one of the most difficult parts of this internship. The past four years of my education have given me a habit of writing in a certain way which includes more formal language, quotations, and citations. Writing for this website is different because I’m not riding for a professor to read a paper. Instead, I’m writing for an audience who may not have any scholarly interests on the topic. This means that I had to get rid of all the citations and quotations and use different language that is not so academic and rigid. The text has to read more like a novel instead of an essay and has to be interesting for someone who doesn’t want to sit down and read an academic paper.
Like I said, my education so far has taught me to write in a certain way and this project has challenged me to change how I write. I kept thinking in terms of introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. I really needed to be focusing on a narrative and telling a story. This is especially difficult for the script for a video that’s going to play at the beginning of the website. I need to give an overview of Snow’s life in a matter of minutes in a video that would just grab someone’s interest enough to make them want to go browse the site. It has been challenging trying to decide which things to discuss in the video and how to discuss them. I imagine that this is one of the challenges a lot of people face when they change from academic work to public history work. On the other hand, I am always up for something that is going to make me work so it has been a lot of fun trying to figure out how to speak to a different audience.
By Autumn Neal
The Edgar Snow Symposium was held here in Kansas City the weekend of October 16-18. The initial goal was to launch edgarsnowproject.org at the symposium so I aimed to have it completed by October 16th. I did the final edits the night of the 15th and the site was presented on the 17th. I didn’t attend the symposium so, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see any reactions to it.
That’s where this project is different from anything else that I’ve done in my academic career. The papers that I’ve written have only been seen by the faculty or GTA’s who were in charge of the course or other classmates in cases where you post to a forum. This project isn’t just something that was going to be read, graded, and then put away to be forgotten about. This is a website that is going to be online forever or at least it will be available for people to see a lot longer than, say, a term paper would be. I felt a lot of pressure to create a quality product because I knew that a lot of people were going to be seeing the site and that some of these people were going to know a lot of things about Edgar Snow and his life.
I see this as a positive challenge though, because now I have experience creating something that fits into the bigger picture of my career as opposed to just receiving a grade for a course. I feel like I have a better understanding of what it will be like once I start working in my career. Knowing that other people will be seeing your work forces you to work in a different way. Because of this, I now think that all students should do at least one internship so that they can see what it’s like to know that your work will be seen by a wider audience.