Internship Reflection #3

Over the past few weeks, the objective of my internship has shifted slightly. Initially, I was tasked with selecting, researching, and contextualizing an object from the collection of one of the five HBCUs at the center of the HCAC project. After consultation with my internship supervisor, I selected a series of documents that converged with my academic interests. As I researched, I was able to consult the original documents that the HBCU had uploaded to the RRCHNM Omeka S sandbox site. In reviewing these files, I realized that I was already familiar with the contents of the papers because I had encountered other digitized versions of them elsewhere online. Unfortunately, since one of the objectives of the HCAC project is to make available HBCU collections that have never been digitized, the decision was made to remove the item at the center of my research from the overall HCAC project.

The experience was an unprecedented one for me, and was very enlightening. While I do feel a twinge of disappointment that my research on the collection objects came to a halt, I believe the larger lesson I learned was incredibly valuable. When working on a digital humanities project, it’s important to begin with foundational questions like: How will this project be different from ones that already exist? What need will this project fill that other projects are not already filling? Will this project duplicate any existing work? What value will this project bring that an in-person experience or a similar digital experience is not able to accomplish? For me, it was even more impactful that this situation took place within a project where the Smithsonian is involved as a primary partner; the fact that a reexamination of these questions was happening at this stage in the game (and in a project of this size) left me with the understanding that no institution is immune to these sorts of challenges.

Once the decision was made to pivot away from the documents at the center of my internship, my supervisor was quick to suggest a new objective for me: the comparison of two oral history platforms. Multiple HBCUs are planning to feature recordings from their oral history collections on the HCAC website. The HBCUs are currently doing the work of transcribing and in some cases digitizing these recordings, but the final product (along with an index) will need to reside on some sort of platform on the HCAC site. As part of an earlier course in the certificate program, I did some work with the OHMS viewer from the University of Kentucky, which will be one of the platforms at the center of my new research project. Additionally, I will be experimenting with TheirStory, a commercial platform that seems to primarily target individuals wanting to preserve the stories and memories of their loved ones. Moving forward with this task, I will need to quickly work on developing skills that allow me to analyze the needs of this aspect of the project, apply that understanding to my experiences with the 2 platforms, then effectively and concisely communicate my findings to a wide range of stakeholders.

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