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Final Blog Post

It has been around nine months since I began my internship with the Smithsonian. It’s hard to believe that it’s almost over!

Overall, this was the perfect internship for me. While I don’t necessarily believe that this internship taught me much about Digital Humanities, it was a great opportunity to work with an organization like the Smithsonian on such an important project.

The mission of the  Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative is to “protect cultural heritage threatened or impacted by disasters and to help U.S. and international communities preserve their identities and history” (SCRI Website). A goal of the group is to collect information on museums from around the world. Ultimately, this data would be used to create a global list of all museums in the world. With this list, any site at risk of destruction would have a better chance to be saved. Once this list had been compiled, the idea was to create a map of all of these sites for public use. It would be the first time a list of all museums from the entire world had been created.

The SCRI has been working on compiling this list for only a couple of years. So far, the SCRI has compiled museum and cultural heritage data on around eighty-one countries. Not all of the datasets for these countries have been completed, but various interns have been working on the data.

The George Mason interns first worked on Caribbean datasets, since the many hurricanes from last summer/fall had done much destruction to this region. Organizations tasked with aiding in hurricane recovery needed information on the museums of the Caribbean as quickly as possible. Then, in the second semester of this internship, we were each assigned the dataset of a country of our choice. I received the Poland dataset, which was around eighty percent complete at that moment.

To complete the dataset, we needed to fill in the following information about each museum or cultural heritage site: longitude and latitude, whether the site is known locally, nationally, or internationally, whether the site is affiliated with the state, whether the site had a military function, as well as a description of the site. To compile this information, I had to do a lot of internet searches. All of the searching meant that, in the end, I really had learned a lot about the sites we were researching.

I am happy to have been able to work on this internship. I feel proud to have worked with the SCRI, to have worked on a project like this. Even before this internship, I had a strong passion for cultural heritage. With this internship, I could learn more about organizations that are working to save cultural heritage around the world, while learning about museums in various countries.

Towards the end of the internship, we were tasked with finding a way to map all of the data that had been collected up until that point. As a group, we tried to find the best platform for such a map. It was decided that we would use Google Fusion Tables for the map. Before this, I had never used Google Fusion Tables, so it was a good experience for me to be able to experiment with this program. We ran into some issues with the program, and ultimately I’m not sure if it was the best program to use. I was glad that I had some previous mapping experience from the GMU Digital Public Humanities program. This previous knowledge helped me figure out this new website and work through the issues that I had run into along the way. Ultimately, we were able to map all of the sites and figure out some ways to manipulate the program to function better for us. In this way, I did gain some digital humanities experience in using a new-to-me program and working with others to map this data.

In the end, this really was the perfect internship for me. Concurrently with the internship, I was working on finishing up my Masters degree. This internship’s style and type of work was therefore perfect for the hectic nature of my life this past year. Not only was it a virtual internship, so I could work on it on my own time, but it was very peaceful, tedious work. I do wish that they had given us more time to work on the map portion of the project. Despite that, it was still a very enjoyable internship and I feel as though I learned a lot about the Smithsonian’s work around the world.

 

 

Last Month with the SCRI

Up until this point in the semester, the George Mason interns have been working on the individual countries we had been assigned in January. I have been working on the Polish dataset, which has been really exciting for me since I have a personal and academic interest in Poland and Polish cultural heritage.

When I first received the Poland dataset, it seemed to be about eighty percent complete. However, after comparing the museums listed on the Polish dataset to the museums in the book, “1,000 Museums of Poland,” I realized that many of the museums in the book were not included in the dataset. The first edit I made of the dataset was to put the entries into alphabetical order. This made it so the museums were listed alphabetically by town name, which would allow me to discover which museums were missing from the original dataset.

Starting from the “A’s,” I began comparing the museums in the “1,000 Museums of Poland” book to the museums on the dataset. Though I haven’t kept track of how many museums I’ve added along the way, it has been a substantial amount. This process has also allowed me to find duplicates that were in the original spreadsheet. In this way, I’ve been able to streamline the dataset and make it more accurate.  I am nowhere near finishing the Poland dataset. I have made it halfway through the alphabet in comparing the dataset to the museums in the book, while also completing entries that had previously been left blank.

With only one month left of this internship, the George Mason interns have been given one final assignment. A main goal of the SCRI is to find a way to share the information they’ve gathered on museums around the world. The leaders of the SCRI have imagined this as a map. Knowing that we have learned skills in the digital humanities, they have asked the George Mason interns for help in determining the best mapping program to use for this project.

As a group, we did some basic internet searches on programs that we have either used in the past, or know could potentially be used for this project. Together, we put various information on these programs into a Google Sheet so we could get an accurate image on which program would work best for us. Ultimately, the group concluded that Google Fusion Tables would be a good option, probably the best for our use.

This program is new to me. So far, I’ve tried messing with the program to see how it works before we figure out the best way to start importing data. I have a spreadsheet that I’ve used for a previous mapping project that I imported into Google Fusion Tables as a test. It worked quickly and easily. So now, the next step is to figure out the best way to go about importing the data. There are still some aspects of the program that we need to figure out. But hopefully, soon, we’ll have a map of the SCRI data.

Internship Update #5: Poland

Now that we have finished working on the Caribbean database, we have been given the opportunity to work on the museum database of a region of our choice. Since my research has been focused on Polish history, I asked to work on Poland’s dataset or any other dataset from Eastern Europe. I was given the Poland database to clean up and finish. When I first received the database, it was around eighty percent complete. An intern, I believe from the summer of 2017, had already worked on Poland’s dataset and had completed much of it. Now, my task is to clean up the work has been done previously, and finish cataloguing the remaining museums.

This has been really wonderful so far, as I have such an interest in Polish history. I have been to many of the museums in this database, which makes writing about these museums much easier. I  also get to learn about other museums in a country that I have been to many times. As I’m planning a trip there this summer, I am keeping track of some museums in this dataset that I might want to visit!

Some of the staff of the SCRI suggested I purchase a book called 1,000 Museums of Poland to help with working on the dataset. When first going through the book, I noticed a few museums in this book that were not previously included in the Poland dataset. I double-checked the internet, to make sure these museums were still open, and then added them to the dataset.

One of these was of particular interest to me because it’s a museum I have been to and is an incredibly important museum in Poland. The Bełżec Memorial Site and Museum is the site of the Bełżec extermination camp from World War II. Besides containing a large memorial to Holocaust victims, the site also contains an excellent and informational museum. On my most recent trip to Poland I got to visit this site and explore the museum.  It was one of the most incredible places I visited on that trip. I’m glad I recognized that this site was not on the Poland database yet. While all the museums on this list are important, Bełżec Memorial Site and Museum is internationally-known and recognized.

Because I have noticed that there are some museums missing from the dataset, I have decided to go alphabetically by town and try to catch any other missing sites. So far I have caught about twenty museums that were not previously on the dataset. It has slowed my progress a bit, but now I can be more confident that the dataset is as complete as possible.

 

Internship Update #4: Spring Semester

I recently began the second semester of my internship with the Smithsonian’s Conflict Culture Research Network. Last semester, the George Mason interns worked on archiving museums and cultural repositories in the Caribbean. This project was particularly important at the time due to the multiple major hurricanes that hit the Caribbean around last September. The CCRN had no information on Caribbean museums cataloged, so this region was designated as a priority. I worked on cataloguing museums in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Our work on the Caribbean finished up in December.

Starting in January, the GMU interns began working on finalizing lists from other countries around the world that are not finished yet. I specifically asked to work on the Poland list because my research focuses on Polish history. I am very grateful to be able to work on this list and am thankful to the Smithsonian staff for allowing me the opportunity to work with data that interests me.

When I first received the Poland list, about eighty percent of the list had already been mostly completed. However, it was difficult to work on the rest of the list because the list was in no specific order. This became an issue for me when I started to work on one museum but had difficulty finding it on Google. I wanted to look at the other museums listed in that same town to help distinguish which specific museum I was looking for on Google. However, it was really difficult to find the other sites because the list was in no order. Because of this, I reorganized the list so it would be alphabetical by town name. In this way, I can view all the museums in the same town easily which can make discovering other museum sites much simpler.

This work is slightly different than the work we were doing last semester. Last semester, we had small lists of sites in the regions we were assigned. It was then up to us to discover all the information we could on them and also find other museums that were not already on the list. This semester, we are working primarily on finalizing museum lists. The lists we are working on are nearly finished, it is just up to us to finish them.

I am not sure yet what we will be assigned after we have finished these sites. The Smithsonian wants to create a digital platform for the data we are compiling and we talked at one point about helping them think of the best way to share this information. Hopefully we will get to work on that component of the project. It would be exciting to help them establish this data on a digital site.

This internship was the perfect experience for me. I am still working on my master’s degree which takes most of my time. Working on the spreadsheets can be calming, especially when compared with my work for school. I also find this internship interesting, as I love museums and cultural heritage. Finally, I enjoy working on a project that resonates with me, as some of my research focuses on the preservation of material culture and memory.

Internship Update #3

As of now, I have been working on the SCRI’s Culture Conflict project for nearly three months. Not much has changed since my last post, so I will briefly go over what I’ve done since and where our projects will go from here on out.

Since the beginning of the internship, I had been tasked with compiling a list of museums that are located in Puerto Rice and the US Virgin Islands. It was not always easy finding these museums. For Puerto Rico in particular, the sheer amount of museums in this small island was somewhat overwhelming. Adding to that, the lack of power that Puerto Rico is STILL experiencing due to the hurricanes that hit months prior, it was difficult to find information on museums as their internet servers were down.

In the end, I was unable to fully complete the Puerto Rico dataset. The last remaining areas that need to be completed are the descriptions of the museums, which I had trouble finding due to websites not working. But I checked with our internship coordinators and they were satisfied with the progress and understood that there would be issues because of Puerto Ricos’s lack of power.

The US Virgin Island list was easier to complete. For the most part, I didn’t run into the same server issues as I did with Puerto Rico. Though it was more difficult to distinguish between museums that were real cultural heritage institutions versus those that were made for tourists, I was able to track down and record information on around thirty museums in the US Virgin Islands.

Since we have hit a stopping point with the Caribbean museum lists, the GMU interns will be starting work on different museum sets in the next few weeks. I am excited to start working on the Polish museum list, as this is the country that I spend most of my time researching.

A future component of this project will be a discussion about how to create a digital space for the cultural heritage repository lists. Though our coordinators have mentioned that this is an end goal for our internships, we have not had much of a chance to discuss this yet. It will most likely be a project for the next semester. I am looking forward to these discussions. It will be interesting to see how we can use our digital humanities skills to help the Smithsonian with this project.

Two Months into Virtual Internship

It’s hard to believe that it has already been two months of working on the SCRI project. For two months now, I have been working on cataloging and documenting museums and cultural repositories in the Caribbean.

To reiterate, the general goal of the SCRI project is to create a list that includes all cultural heritage sites in the world so that in case of some form of disaster, people would be aware of what cultural repository sites exist in that region so that they could help save the cultural heritage within them. The George Mason interns (there are now four of us) started out tasked with documenting sites in the Caribbean. But when multiple large hurricanes hit the Caribbean, our task became amplified. We suddenly needed to work as hard as possible to immediately document the museums in the Caribbean. Our work would potentially help FEMA and other agencies determine where to send help.

I have been working specifically on discovering and documenting museums in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). So far, I have documented 133 sites in Puerto Rico and 29 sites in the USVI. There has been some difficulty in documenting and recording information about these sites that were unforeseen. The main issue I have run into is the fact that many servers in Puerto Rico and the USVI are down due to the loss of power that is still ongoing after Hurricane Maria. It seems that the longer the power is out, the more servers go down and therefore the more difficult it has become to find information on these sites. Of course, this problem seems minute when considering that power loss is still impacting over fifty percent of Puerto Rico. Much of this work has been humbling to say the least.

This next week will probably be my last week working on the Puerto Rico and USVI datasets. I will be finishing up the spreadsheets, working on finalizing the description sections and general “cleaning up” of the data. After this, the George Mason interns will be tasked with other countries. Because of my research interests in Poland and Eastern Europe, I have been told that I will start there. I am very excited to work on these lists, as so much of my studies and research are focused on these regions.

We have also been told in a recent conference call, that next semester’s work will be more focused on how to create a digital site that will incorporate all of the cultural repository data. This will probably be a very difficult task, but I look forward to the conversations and work that will go into it.

Beginning of DPH Internship

For the next two semesters, I will be interning with the Smithsonian Institution, specifically through their Smithsonian Cultural Rescue Initiative. While this group is multi-facetated, I will be working on one of their projects in particular, the Conflict Culture Research Network. To sum it up as briefly as possible, the goal of this project is to document all of the cultural heritage sites throughout the world. Currently, no single list exists that compiles such sites. Our efforts will work to fix this. With such a list, we would be able to better locate sites of cultural heritage in events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding, or even human destructions to sites were to occur. In these cases, a list of sites within a damaged nation, would help us assist these sites and save whatever culture heritage we could.

As our work with the Smithsonian began, the US and Caribbean got hit with three major hurricanes within a week. Suddenly, our project became imperative. The three George Mason interns were told to immediately focus on documenting museums in the Caribbean. As we got to work on this, I was tasked with focusing solely on Puerto Rico, as so much damage occurred to this island with Hurricane Maria.

My main project, currently, is to work on a spreadsheet that contains a list of museums in Puerto Rico. We need to record their latitude and longitude, along with other information about their cultural affiliations and holdings. While working on this spreadsheet, we received a spreadsheet from FEMA, listing the museums they believe exist in Puerto Rico. I was then tasked with comparing our list with theirs, and adding any sites that were missing from the FEMA list. This is the most recent task in the project that I have been working on.

So far, I am enjoying this internship. It is important work that has a very clear purpose, especially now with the recent massive hurricanes hitting the US and Caribbean. I also enjoy the simplicity of the task, though that doesn’t mean it is easy. Sometimes it is incredibly difficult to discern aspects of the museums, which museum is which, and also specificities of the museums. This is especially true for the smaller, local museums.

I also feel very connected to the Smithsonian, even as a “virtual intern.” I was able to go to the Smithsonian for our initial meeting and meet some of the people working on this initiative. I may also get the chance to go into the Smithsonian more often later on in the semester.

I am very excited to continue working on this project and delve deeper into other components of the project.

Fifth Update: Text for Project

I’ve been searching for information on a specific memorial that I would love to use in my project. But it’s been more difficult to find this information than I had previously expected.

This week’s project update asks for a textual piece of information that we would like to use in our project in some way. A very important law, when discussing Polish memory, is the law of Commemoration of the Suffering of the Polish People, which was enacted on July 2, 1947 in Poland. I want to have a portion of this law on my project site because this law played an important role in the transmission of memory in Poland, specifically at sites of death camps.

 

One site I want to discuss in this project is the Majdanek State Museum. The museum is at the site of the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland and today provides valuable education on the Holocaust in Poland. What’s really interesting about the Majdanek State Museum is that it was set up in 1944, as the camp was liquidated by the Red Army, and became the state monument of martyrology for Poland. However, what that information doesn’t tell you, is that the museum (in its formative years) did not accurately portray the intent of the camp as well as the primary victims of the camp. Most information portrayed at Majdanek in the initial years of the museum did not mention Jews as the primary victims.

The Law of Commemoration of the Suffering of the Polish People played a crucial role in shaping the remembrance of the Polish people. In it’s initial years as a museum, Majdanek State Museum focused on its Polish victims, rather than its Jewish victims. This had incredible repercussions for the Polish understanding of the Holocaust.

I have a copy of a piece of the law that is specifically about Majdanek that I will incorporate into the project. I will also provide a translation since it is in Polish.

Project Update: 6/23/17

The following image is one of my favorite photographs that I’ve come across in my research and one I want to use in my project:

(Photo by Hank Walker/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

This image shows the Rapoport Monument to Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland in 1948. I love this image for quite a few reasons. The ruins are what is most evident in this photo. But someone with no background to this monument or this image might assume that it withstood whatever caused the rubble around it. It is not obvious from a first glance what this monument symbolizes or what it was built for.

This monument was actually built immediately after the end of the World War II by Nathan Rapoport, in honor of the Jewish men and women that were a part of and died in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The area where this memorial was built is called Muranow, a neighborhood where many Warsaw Jews lived before the war and where the Warsaw Ghetto was established during the war. This region was completely destroyed during World War II, leaving nearly thirty feet of rubble covering the entire region.

For this reason, this monument is even more remarkable. It is one of the first monuments to the Holocaust that I know of that was built in Poland after the war. It was built and established before Warsaw could even be repaired. This region did not have homes, or theaters, or restaurants, but it did have this memorial.

Today, the site is unrecognizable, except for this monument. Muranow has been built around this monument ever since the end of the war.

This monument is really a unique example of post-war monuments in Poland. When used in comparison with other monuments built in Poland post-World-War-II, this monument could be a fascinating way to understand memory in the post-war period. It shows a complicated aspect of memory…the new memorial in stark contrast to the ruins of Jewish life in Poland. I am excited to use in my project!

Film and Teaching History

I have always found film to be fascinating. I love seeing movies, and I particularly love historical films or historical fiction. Film provides opportunities for us to “look into” the past, in a way that is unique and cannot be replicated. However, it is important to remember that films are not always historically accurate. They, too, provide a specific narrative on the past. The important thing is to be aware of the narrative that the film suggests and to approach the film critically, as we would any other historical document.

I have only taken one film class, but it was a fascinating course. It was titled “Russian and Soviet Cinema” and it was taught by one of the best professor at my undergraduate institution. At the time, I knew almost nothing about film and only slightly more about Russian history. For most of the class, I had to play catch up, learning the basics of film and media studies along with a timeline of modern Russian history. It was a lot. BUT…it was amazing. I thought of this class when reading the “Feature Films?” article because of its suggestion to teach students film concepts and vocabulary so that they can become more thoughtful observers and commentators on films. I am so in love with this suggestion. We so often show films in classrooms, but never teach our students how to comment on these films, or what to look for. Discussions on films would be so much more beneficial if students had a background that they could use to approach the films.

Two years later, I took a course on Historiography at the same undergraduate institution. We had an entire week on film in this course and I took a lot from it. In particular, I loved the notion that film presents a narrative, just as historians present narratives of history in their articles and books. For this reason, I believe that films should definitely be used in someway in the classroom. But films need to be actively used in the classroom, rather than just shown.

Though I am not yet an educator, I would love to use films in any future class I might take. I would want to use them actively, so that students could really understand all that films can show us and tell us about history.