James Farmer Digital Archives: A Reflection

James Farmer Digital Archives: A Reflection

When I signed up for the Spring 2012 Digital History Seminar, I had a choice between four group projects to work on for my last semester at the University of Mary Washington. I am incredibly thankful to have gotten my first project choice: to create James Farmer Digital Archives. Michelle, Kelsey, Caitlin, and I dove headfirst into our project without having a clear sense of what or even where the resources were.  We were not even sure if we had the rights to upload and present James Farmer’s thirteen lectures, filmed by a local news channel WNVT-TV Channel 53 in the early 1980s.  Once we found the lectures in the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies (DTLT) lab and we knew that the University owned the rights to the lectures, we moved them into Monroe’s Digital Media Lab to begin cutting, editing, and transcribing the lectures. Our group contract states that our primary goal is to ultimately present James Farmer in his own words, and I am proud to say my group has truly accomplished that objective.

Although we accomplished our group goal of putting James Farmer into his own words, we had to overcome many obstacles along the way.  First, we had to find the video files that were located somewhere on campus.  Once we found them in the DTLT lab, we discovered that we only had lectures four through thirteen digitized. Once we realized that the first four lectures were missing and in terrible condition, we then ran into our next obstacle: the copyright of the videos.  We emailed around the University staff, and eventually Professor McClurcken discovered that the University had all of the rights for the video recording. Despite these initial hurdles, we were able to complete our goals for hosting our information, creating the transcripts of lectures, as well as creating a trailer (which was only a few days late according to our initial contract.)

I was in charge of designing the website, which is hosted under UMW Blogs WordPress. I had worked with Omeka before, as well as had multiple UMW Blog accounts, but I had never had the opportunity to create a website from the ground up. We chose WordPress as a host not only because DTLT was incredibly knowledgeable about the host’s capabilities, but also because it was user friendly. I was inspired by the University’s website homepage’s slide show feature and my vision went from there. I discovered plugins that would be essential to our site. The What Did They Say?!? Transcript plugin allows for the large blocks of texts to hide and even gives credit to Kelsey under her UMW Blogs username, kmatthews. The Facebook/Twitter buttons are used for promotional purposes. The search engine plugin even allows the user to search within the transcripts themselves to find key words. With a simple website having minimal text, complementary color scheme, and easy dropdown tabs, James Farmer is successfully presented “in his own words.”

Although I put countless hours into trying to create the perfect website archive, I could not have done this without the help of Kelsey, Michelle, and Caitlin. While Kelsey worked hours on transcribing James Farmer’s stories, she also created and embedded a Map tracing James Farmer’s travels. Michelle cut and uploaded video onto the UMW History Vimeo account while still writing and adding summaries to the website. Caitlin cut video, created our trailer, and helped with the aesthetics of the site.  My fellow classmates completed their divisions of labor impeccably, while still helping one another out, allowing our project to be a successful collaboration. Walking away from this project, I understand that I have not only created an excellent resource for students and historians alike, but also that I am capable of creating a project bigger than myself – successfully presenting stories from a pivotal moment in American History.

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