I can only imagine that what I have experienced the past few days is a microcosm of what digital historians go through for years when working on a digital history project.
First, I struggled to decide on a digital approach (mapping, text mining, etc.). Next, I struggled to find a digital tool that I wanted to work with — Google My Maps, Google Fusion Tables, StoryMap JS, etc. Finally, I kept switching back and forth between topic ideas. What would work best with mapping? What history do I know well enough to convey digitally? What am I really trying to say here? Are my results actually conveying a history, or just plotting points on a map?
Needless to say, the whole process was extremely frustrating, and has me feeling (and I’m just being honest, here) that digital history, for me personally, might be too much of an uphill battle to engage with at this point in my career. All in all, it took me days to make a project that is not nearly as historically communicative as an article on the same topic would be. However, I am very pleased with how interactive it is, and I imagine that an article would not reach or entertain nearly as many people. In the end, I’ll continue to give this course an honest go, trying to learn as much as I can about digital tools in the hope that something, somewhere, will ‘click’ and make sense to me.
Choosing an Approach
Text mining is not my thing. There’s too much data to input, and all of the textual sources I have are PDFs, which don’t always play nicely with text mining software. Timelines are very cool, but I struggled to find timeline tools that seemed easy enough to work with for a first attempt.
Ultimately, mapping made the most sense for me. Maps are fun and cool to look at, and I thought that creating a map would produce a way for users to travel the globe in a click. Furthermore, I find it interesting to trace the journeys of historical actors as they move. Whether athletes from team to team, generals from battle to battle, or animals from habitat to habitat, spatial movement is a cool thing to follow.
Choosing a Specific Tool
Once I set my sights on mapping, I tried to decide between OpenStreetMap, StoryMapJS, or Google’s My Maps. OpenStreet was too confusing for me. I didn’t quite grasp how I could use it effectively, and I quickly gave up on it. StoryMap had some great options, or so it seemed. I loved the idea of making a gigapixel experience. But it seemed like way too much work to figure out in a short time span. The StoryMap mapping option sounded good, but ended up just looking like a powerpoint. I tried and tried and tried, and yet I could not figure out a way to use StoryMap for anything other than a slide presentation:
Due simply to ease of use and understanding, I settled on Google My Maps. The next issue was coming up with a story I could tell.
My research topic at UCF has mostly been geared toward sport — sport and identity, sport and urban dislocation, etc. So naturally, I began this project with the intention of revealing something about sport. The objective this week was to make an honest attempt at engaging with a digital tool, and preferably in the field we work in. I’m hoping to do my project in this class either on sport stadia or UCF history, depending on which archives yield the best returns. However, at this stage in the game, I’m not ready to begin on either of those projects.
So all I tried to do this week was get my hands dirty and see what’s out there. I figured it would be best if I focused on a topic that I already know really well. That way, I wouldn’t need to conduct too much research, and I could focus on the tools themselves by drawing from information I already have.
My first thought was Central Florida sport — I know that, I’ve conducted research on it, so why not? The only issue is that it doesn’t really lend itself to mapping, at least in any way I could think of. Besides, I wanted something that was more global.
I moved on to an idea about MVP’s (Most Valuable Players) in American professional sport history. I wondered if there might be something in pinpointing where MVP’s had their origins. I decided to look at three major American sporting leagues — NBA, NFL, and MLB — to plot where league MVP’s had come from. I guess my hope was that I would see some sort of interesting trend or grouping that could tell me something. I got pretty far in that project:
But then I realized I wasn’t really saying anything, or at least it didn’t feel like it. “Okay,” I thought, “so a lot of football players come from Texas and Florida. Is that supposed to be news?”
I decided to jump ship, but I didn’t know what to. And that’s when I remembered Bob.
Bob Marley and My Reggae Roots
Not a lot of people know this about me, but for a long period of my life I was extremely interested in the career of Reggae musician Bob Marley. In fact, I was certifiably obsessed with Reggae music in general. I collected CDs and albums of every Reggae artist I could. As I got older and more into reading, I read a lot of books on Bob and other Reggae artists, and on the genre itself. When that got too “secondary,” I started reading magazines in my school’s library — original magazines printed in the 1970s and 80s that detailed Reggae and Jamaican culture. That grew into an interest in Jamaican and Caribbean history, which led to an interest in Rastafari religion and history, which in turn grew into an interest in Ethiopian and African history. In fact, when I first came to UCF, I was trying to decide whether to do a project on the Pacific Islands or on the Caribbean islands. Dr. Lester (who was my first professor at UCF) may even remember that my initial meeting with her was about the possibility of doing a history of Afrocentric Caribbean culture for my thesis.
Anyway, the point is that I already know a lot about Bob Marley, and the story of his life leading up to his first studio album seemed like something I could feasibly plot, describe, and incorporate with photos, videos, and text. It seemed like an ideal way, at least at this early stage in my digital history career, to convey a particular history in a spatial, interactive, and mostly non-textual way.
It took quite a while to make — I had to create information boxes, look up exact addresses to be sure of where my pinpoints needed to go, and then find relevant images and videos, but it ultimately was very fun and engaging.
The resulting project is indeed an interactive map. Users can click across the map, or follow the map legend, and read bits about Bob’s childhood, early career, and eventual success as a studio artist. However, fitting the history into small text boxes leaves out so much of the nuance. I often found myself getting frustrated because I know the history, and I know that this project leaves so many of the good parts out. However, with mapping I found it’s more important to convey the spatial and non-textual elements. I was able to create something that is undoubtedly more entertaining than any article could be. As such, perhaps this kind of project could supplement an article, or be used as an introduction to an article that stimulates interest. As a stand-alone, it’s simply a fun and engaging way to explore the first years of Bob’s career and music — and that’s okay.
I hope you all enjoy it! And remember, I’m still learning, so be easy on me here…