As this year is slowly coming to a close and the NEH seminar is next week, I’ve thought a lot about the workflow and the meandering path I have taken to finish up this project. I began with very ambitious goals, and then had to winnow them down as I encountered challenges and learned new information. Through this process, I’ve learned that when done properly, digital project workflow is bumpy and each step in the process requires reflection and introspection. I struggled with obsessing over design (aka “design creep!”), which involved playing with wireframes many times over, toying with photos and logos kindly designed by the Bowers Laboratory’s talented Dr. Leah Evans-Janke, and figuring out what I could realistically do with code. I’m glad I’ve had nearly a year to work on this project, because frankly this could not have happened in a month or even 6 months with my workload and the learning curve. I’ve been actively thinking about the lab’s website, and have gone through several iterations (and failures) before settling on the design below.
I initially set out to put all of our collections online, and then narrowed it down to descriptions of our collections. I thought that Muse (an Adobe product) might be a good way to design our mobile-friendly website, but after designing it in Muse and taking an Adobe Exchange Course on it, I realized that future employees in my position would need to be able to manipulate the code, and that Muse made this somewhat difficult (especially if the software is discontinued). I wrote the code myself, and learned Bootstrap via books and online instruction. I will be putting the code up on GitHub for preservation and open source’s sake once the institute is over.
In the process of coding this project, I realized that not all of our collections are suited for one platform. We have a myriad of holdings belonging to different agencies and tribes, some of whom actively utilize the collections for a variety of reasons: some private, some public. I realized that making these collections accessible meant that I need to work together with the agency/tribe/associated stakeholders before even considering or talking about making them “live.” This process is slow, and requires working and meeting with people one-on-one. It also means going through university administrative processes.
Thus, I put the Gerald McKee Collection online first, as it was gifted to the University of Idaho and meant to be shared with the public. I took in-person training on Mukurtu with my Collections Manager, Dr. Leah Evans-Janke, at Washington State University, and we hope to eventually incorporate our repository’s archaeological data into the Plateau Peoples’ Web Portal hosted at Washington State University if local tribes want the information there. I received a competitive grant from the Idaho Humanities Council to develop an online database associated with my long term archaeological project at a WWII Japanese American internment camp. I initiated a collaboration between a local tribe and park and potentially developing an exhibit associated with some of our holdings. I am working on a grant that will allow us to share archaeological data in a confidential manner through Mukurtu. Therefore, while all of our holdings are not going “live” anytime soon due to working with agencies and tribes, I am happy that we have a framework in place that can be used in the coming years if Mukurtu or other platforms are not suitable. My plan is to use the coming years to obtain funding to make our collections live, since we operate on a miniscule annual budget.
I still have some hesitations about using digital technologies to share and disseminate archaeological data. As someone who preserves data for a living, I worry the most about maintaining, updating, and archiving the projects we create. Will Mukurtu be around for the long haul? Will the person who eventually takes over my position be able to update my code and website? Will we continue to have the funds to maintain my online database of archaeological information from the Kooskia Internment Camp? I worry about maintaining my access to software needed to do design work, as I currently pay for my Adobe Pro Suite out of my own pocket. I am also concerned how this scholarship is viewed in terms of promotion, as I would like to come up for full professor in 4 years and I am not confident that this work will be perceived as a publication. Finally, keeping up with coding projects is akin to memorizing and maintaining fluency in a foreign language. If you don’t write code, you easily forget it. My daily workload does not involve code, so this project required carving out large chunks of my time on a regular basis to know where I left off on the website and how to properly code it.
This project has led my own research in a number of unexpected directions. I’ve developed my own personal website as a result of the project where I plan to put course syllabi and other information on my projects. I’ve gone after three different grants that will support “born digital” projects associated with our holdings, and I feel like I am starting to grasp some of the jargon associated with the digital humanities and social sciences. I’ve thought about how I can incorporate new digital tools and technologies into my class assignments, and recently ran a brief graduate seminar on digital archaeology. I developed a Trello account dedicated to organizing information on digital technologies and tools for faculty at the University of Idaho. I’ve attended trainings at Washington State University’s Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation, which will definitely be incorporated into my classes in the future. This past year, I worked on a team of interdisciplinary scholars at my university to form the University of Idaho’s Center for Digital Inquiry and Learning. Our team was awarded a highly competitive grant from the University of Idaho to seed the center, and I am excited to see where that takes my scholarship and teaching pedagogy in the coming years.