“I Can Do That”: Digital Scholarship for Undergraduates

For the past year, I have had the pleasure of working with the Musselman Library’s Digital Scholarship initiative. In that time, I have come to realize the importance of digital skills and digital literacy. We are living in an increasingly digital age and as college students, we are expected to understand digital language. The digital literacy assignment grants sponsored by the Johnson Center for Creative Teaching and Learning have been a great way for students and faculty alike to enhance their digital skills and vocabulary.

Throughout the Fall 2017 semester, I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with librarians Clint Baugess and R.C . Miessler, and Professor Stefanie Sobelle. Funded by the JCCTL, we were able to design a comprehensive digital learning plan that would be used for English 308: Writing the Literary Review. The main goal of the class was to create an online literary review magazine. Our plan was not to turn students into digital geniuses overnight, rather we hoped that by the end of the course, students would have a basic understanding of digital tools, copyright issues, and project planning. I personally found great value in organizing lesson plans and talking over project ideas. Collaboration between professor, student, and librarian allowed us to create a project that was realistically manageable for a one-semester course.

Once the school year started, R.C, Clint, and I would meet with the class on a bi-weekly basis to discuss different digital themes that correlated with their digital project. Themes such as copyright issues, wireframing, project management, and writing for the web were some of the topics discussed throughout the course. In addition to our in-class sessions, I would hold office hours to offer extra digital support for both students and faculty alike.

The whole experience has been a rewarding one. I personally have been able to learn and grow as a digital scholar. This experience has enabled me to better understand how to teach other undergraduates about the field of digital humanities. I would encourage anyone who would like to learn more about the field of digital humanities to apply for a digital literacy grant. Not only is understanding how to use digital tools important in today’s society, digital projects allow students to be creative. It enables undergraduates to think critically about the methods, issues, and benefits of the digital age. The Digital Fellows along with the digital working committee would offer extensive support.

So, apply! I know I am a bit biased, but digital scholarship is pretty cool. Learning more about digital tools and digital humanities will help us better understand the digital world we live in today.

Keira Koch is a junior majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and has been a Digital Scholarship Fellow in Musselman Library since 2016.

What We Did Here, One Year Later

About a week and a half ago, Facebook sent me a notification to let me know that I had a memory to look back on. I opened the app, and saw the message I had composed at the end of the We Won’t Stand for Hate movement, a student-led initiative to resist the hate speech on campus that spiked following the 2016 election. My post encouraged people to engage with a digital collection I’d helped to make with Musselman Library called “What We Did Here.” In the post, I encouraged students to “upload written testimony, audio, pictures, or video that reflect[ed their] experience as a Gettysburg student, no matter what [their] identity, political affiliation, or opinion” so that their voices could be “heard, respected, and responded to.” After that day, What We Did Here became an involved part of my life. For the remainder of the fall, I worked with library staff to improve the website as we started to receive submissions. It was encouraging to see that students and staff were contributing to the site, and that media from other movements on campus (such as a demonstration by students of color that had taken place the previous spring) were among the submissions. When I was abroad in the spring, I kept an eye on What We Did Here as another student movement took place: the Muslim Student Solidarity rally, which was held as a counter space to a talk being given at the same time by Robert Spencer. When I was back at the library over the summer, I continued outreach about the project on a number of occasions. I gave a presentation about the site at Keystone DH, a conference held in Philadelphia, PA, and encouraged alumni from the class of 1971 to contribute items over the course of alumni weekend. A small feature on What We Did Here was also featured in the Spring 2017 volume of the Friends of Musselman Library newsletter.

Despite the various contributions people have made on the site, I still feel like there is room for improvement and growth. Our Gettysburg DH cohort often jokes about the “log cabin in the sky” –a less grandiose reality of the “castle in the sky” you initially envision as the outcome of your project. When we initially designed the website, I thought that it would go viral, gain a massive following, and revolutionize Gettysburg all at once. But, something I’ve learned in my research, (and seemingly ignored in this instance), is that social justice initiatives take time, and often operate on a small scale, particularly on a campus such as Gettysburg’s. However, this doesn’t mean that these initiatives aren’t impactful.  At this time, I think future steps and development should be about increasing student awareness so that students are aware that they can engage with the site at any time, and that the items that they contribute have an important place in college history. What We Did Here has the potential to benefit the entire campus community, but only if we rethink and continue our outreach. As the semester comes to an end, I plan on working with the DH cohort and doing my own evaluation on the project to brainstorm new ways we can increase awareness of the site in the spring.

Rooted In Memory: Cataloging the Trees of Gettysburg College

If you take a walk through the campus of Gettysburg College, you will notice that it is filled with plaques. Known as named spaces, they are under trees, on benches, attached to buildings, or put into walkways. While they are clearly visible to those on campus, their history is less well known. To make these spaces more visible and accessible, I have been working with Special Collections and Facilities to gather data about trees on campus. I have compiled coordinates, photos, and other information to be used in a digital map by the college.

This may seem counterintuitive. After all, the trees are directly on campus. People can go read the plaques and see the trees in real life. But through this method, the information available is limited to that on the plaque. Stephen Hoalden Doane has an exhaustively detailed plaque, but the plaque for Grace C. Kenney does not list any identifying information. By using a digital mapping system, I can link out to further information or embed information into the map. For example, in the digital pin for the TC Williams Football team of 1971, I put a trailer for Remember the Titans, a movie based on their amazing season. The team completed their spring training at Gettysburg College, a fact that many students and visitors may not realize. By using digital platforms to connect people and information, the stories behind the trees can be discovered and accessed by more people.  

The sites I have constructed are only samples of what can be made. The initial site I made used Esri Story Maps from ArcGIS. This site functions as more a catalogue of all the trees on campus, giving users the name, location, plaque information, and picture. What they do with this information is up to them. I also used StoryMapJS from Knightlab to make smaller maps focused on patterns I noticed in the trees. For example, a large number of the donated trees had a link to the 1960s, and could be grouped together in a tour, which I made. Other groups can be made with the trees, like maps of all the graduates, faculty, and staff honored with trees. I am currently working on a map of all the trees with fall foliage using pictures I took on campus. This idea can be expanded upon in the future and maps can be made with winter and spring foliage and information about tree species.

While this project has been fun, it has not been easy. The biggest lesson I’ve taken from this project is that your data is only as good as your platform. I’ve spent a lot of time trouble shooting flaws in a platform to make my data presentable. Some of the mapping systems would not take the full coordinates I gathered for the trees. The maps are perfectly serviceable to get locations for larger objects like roads and buildings, but trees are much more precise, and so they are harder to pinpoint. I found a way around this by using satellite images in the mapping systems and landmarks to approximate their exact locations. Another issue with data arose while trying to input images of trees. Some of the photo files were too large for different platforms to utilize. So, even though I had a high quality image that could orient users, I was unable to put it on the actual map. Luckily, this was only a problem with the platform I used to make sample maps. The actual website has superior photo capacity.

Overall, this project is a great boon to the college. It allows the history of the campus to be more discoverable. As a student of this college and of history, I always wondered who the people commemorated on these plaques were, but I never had a chance to research any of this myself. Funding this project brings the history of this campus to the students on a medium that they can readily use. The project can even be expanded or adapted to the other named places on campus. With construction on campus, it is also important to recognize how this place has changed over time and catalogue the history of this place. This project has the potential to engage people with both the history and future of the college. I look forward to continuing work on this project. After all, there is a great deal of history on this campus. I have just only scratched the surface.