Tag Archives: Final Project

Learning From Other Students

In truth, I looked at these websites and student interviews about a month ago, since I knew I wasn’t going to have time to change much in my project. I have my huge, cumulative Greek grammar exam on Friday, so, I don’t see a ton of changes happening between now and then. Going through these resources, however, did really influence how I put my project together.

I think the interview that most influenced my project was Nate Sleeter’s who modeled the historical research process for his students. At that point, I already knew that I wanted to focus on the Alexamanos Graffito, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. After watching his interview, the idea of walking my students through the steps of an object study came to life.

Jeri Wieringa and Celeste Sharp’s project got me thinking about implementing my project in a class room. When I was first confronted with this assignment, I had no idea what Professor Mills wanted from us. What the heck was a “digital learning opportunity?” At first, I was thinking about creating a project geared at the general public, but Wieringa and Sharp got me thinking about creating something for students. I really wanted to make a syllabus like they did, to accompany my assignments, but I just didn’t have enough time. If I find a spare hour, I will post a list of  dues dates (not specific calendar dates, but the days and weeks of a typical 13 week semester).

The list of projects to check out didn’t really inform my thinking. They were either resources for the general public or k-12 teachers. And they were huge projects, more akin to the type of work I did last semester. In “Digital History” I did first begin to think about what kinds of online assignments are possible and how to integrate primary sources. Really, it was Digital History that first gave me the idea to include a teacher resource about how to use this assignment in a class. I had originally intended to make one for high school and another for post-secondary.  As I worked through the project, however, I found that the content was way too specific to Early Christian archaeology, so I abandoned the teacher’s guide.

Pulling in Text

From William Stearns Davis, ed. Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. II: Rome and the West, p. 289. Accessed 05/23/2017 through Paul Halsall, The Internet Ancient History Sourcebook, Fordham University 1998, <http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/ancient/250sacrificecert.asp>. Certificate of Having Sacrificed to the Gods 250CE:

To the Commissioners of Sacrifice of the Village of Alexander’s Island:

From Aurelius Diogenes, the son of Satabus, of the Village of Alexander’s Island, aged 72 years: —scar on his right eyebrow.

I have always sacrificed regularly to the gods, and now, in your presence, in accordance with the edict, I have done sacrifice, and poured the drink offering, and tasted of the sacrifices, and I request you to certify the same. Farewell.

—–Handed in by me, Aurelius Diogenes.

—–I certify that I saw him sacrificing [signature obliterated].

Done in the first year of the Emperor, Caesar Gaius Messius Quintus Trajanus Decius Pius Felix Augustus, second of the month Epith. [June 26, 250 A.D.]

This text is from a papyrus found in Oxyrhyncus, Egypt. It is an example of a certificate of sacrifice, or libellus, which was a legal document proving the carrier observed Roman religious traditions. These libelli are the physical witnesses to Decius’ 250 persecution of Christians and other non-conforming peoples. They demonstrate the rigor with which Decius enforced his decree, but also that Christians were not the only group targeted by this program.

At this early stage of project development, I imagine showing this text, along with other examples of libelli, to demonstrate the Roman empire’s view of Christians in the 3rd century and how they acted upon those views. I would like to pair these documents with Pliny’s letter to Trajan, about 100 years earlier (in which Pliny isn’t sure how to deal with Christians), to prompt the question: “How did Romans’ attitude towards Christians change? How did it stay the same?” As intermediate questions to answer, “Why were Christians a concern at all?”

Thinking with Images

I have been asked to select an image which I might work with in my final project. My mind immediately leapt to a graffito from the Palatine Hill in Rome known as the Alexamenos Graffito, or graffito blasfemo (blasphemous graffiti):

The image, scratched into a plaster wall, depicts a man standing below a crucified person with a donkey’s head attended by the description “Alexamenos worships [his] god.” Modern Christian viewers  correctly identify this image as a jest against a Christian. This image, however, is much more complex than simply calling Jesus an ass, and implying that Alexamenos is a fool.

The same symbol which renders the image recognizable is the same that leads to misinterpretation: the cross. Today, the cross is the universal ubiquitous symbol of Christianity. This was not so in third century Rome when this image was produced.

In Roman culture, the cross was immediately recognizable as a symbol of criminal  otherness. Only non-Romans were crucified, so by virtue of this alone the artist is making claims about the person of Jesus- he was not a Roman, therefore not authoritative. The artist was not content to let the cross alone speak to this characterization and drew in the horse’s head, the connotation of which persists. Crucifixion was also reserved for severe crimes, such as being a traitor. This artist communicates that Jesus was not a Roman, and also a most deplorable criminal. It would be akin to symbolizing a modern day advocate for peace with a noose.

Selecting an Audience

As I learned last semester, selecting and catering to the needs of an audience is, I think, the most important part of creating a successful product. I want to create a lesson about how early Christians resisted the Decian Persecution. Now I have to think- who would be interested in this subject?

My audience of last semester, Sunday School teachers and retirees, are probably not the ideal audience. The content of this lesson isn’t appropriate for children, nor leads them towards the goal of understanding their faith tradition. Retirees might find it interesting, but from my experience these people want to  find fun, interesting fact, rather than harsh realities.

In light of this, I think my primary audience is hypothetical students in a  Early Christian History college course.  These courses are typically surveys, which would benefit from an exercise in reading primary sources. Additionally, these course tend to be very text heavy, and rely on old clunky translations that make the content difficult to access. College students come with a preexisting set of technology skills that will help them understand my material.

A secondary audience would be Christians in the general public. The idea of Christianity as an oppressed religion in modern America is currently popular among fundamentalist Christians. I hope that the topic will draw them to the site, but that the content will leave them questioning their experience of so-called oppression when confronted with evidence of violent persecution and resistance. I do not, however, intend to cater to this audience. I think their preexisting prejudices are far too ingrained for this project to confront.

Exploring Christians Online

At this point in the semester I’m leaning towards leading students through the question: “How did Christians resist oppression?” I think it can be narrowed down through preliminary research and I already have a corpus of documents and objects to present to the audience. I’m thinking a better formulated question is, “How did Christians resist oppression during the Decian Persecution.”
I think the digital environment will be an essential part of exploring this question. With a compendium of documents, Christian resistance seems like a letter writing campaign. Digital tools will allow me to show that the persecution was more than a flurry of strongly worded letters between gentlemen of differing opinion. It will also allow me to dispel the myth on the other side of the spectrum that masses of Christians were dragged out of their homes by the hair and tossed to the lions. A Digital space allows for a more generous exploration of archaeological material. Images don’t do objects much justice, even with scale bars next to them. I would love to incorporate 3D models and printer files into this project. By showing the graffiti, wall paintings, oil lamps and other objects in more tactile ways, I think students will be able to “read” them better.
The digital landscape also allows for documents and objects to be literally linked together. Clicking through pages of a website is like clicking through a stream of consciousness. I want to show that the persecutions were less about stamping out Jesus Christ, but more about competing identities: what was Roman? Could a Christian be Roman? Christians used the persecution to form negative identities (what we are not).
In this early stage, I envision a lot of primary documents with the interpretation of the documents demonstrated more through hyperlinks than actual accompanying texts. My thinking is that showing students material in a particular order will both encourage them to think for themselves, but towards the understanding I have in mind. It would be really cool if there was something like a digital notepad that went with them from page to page where they could note observations. Perhaps at the end I could provide an activity that utilizes this information.

It’s Functional!

I have completed a fully functional website. All the links work, it’s doesn’t look completely terrible and the content is pretty ok. The current version of Five Baptism Traditions is certainly a first draft, but I’m well on my way to a finished product.

This week, as I promised, I finished writing all my content. Then, after posting that the first draft was complete on Facebook and getting nothing but spelling corrections as feed back, I put everything through a word processor. I learned that I’ve been spelling baptistery wrong the whole time. At least I was consistent! I cheated on the navigation buttons, they’re just JPEG’s with links, so I have to correct the original file, then go back and replace every button with the incorrect “Baptistry.” I also did a bit of revising and rearranging. There are now subheadings and I tried not to repeat information too much. I am toying with the idea of making set subheadings for each tradition such as “History,” “Baptism in the Past,” and “Baptism in Hebron, CT”, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to capture the unique character of each tradition if I do that. And reading will become monotonous.

A few weeks ago I said I’d find baptismal liturgies, but came up short. I have found ancient baptismal hymns and Luther’s baptism booklet, but finding Medieval baptismal liturgies is much more challenging than I had anticipated! I also ran into a space problem when presenting these primary source documents on the proper pages. Liturgies are long, and I don’t want anyone element taking up more than one screen. My first idea was to put the liturgies in expandable/collapsible text boxes, but that requires knowing Java. I did, however, discover text areas! They’re text boxes that have vertical scrolling.  They actually look pretty nice on the webpage. Now I have to figure out how to add historical analysis to the liturgies so they “speak” with the spaces in the exhibit.   Ideally, I’d to provide audio recordings of the liturgies spoken in those spaces, but that might be for a future iteration of the project.

I also spent a lot of time getting commenting up and working the exhibits. I’m not really happy about how the form appears. The title “What Do You Think” is not over the form, but under the right side navigation. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to fix it in the plugin configuration or the root Omeka files. I’m also still struggling to make the homepage look nice. No matter what I do, in configuration or root files, I can’t get the text to fill the homepage. Space is still remains in the right to accommodate “Recent Items,” which is a feature I don’t feel is valuable to my website. So the homepage looks terribly boring and squished together. I’m not sure how to correct this.

So, my remaining to-do list: I’ve got to revisit the Hebron Churches to take photographs of their doors. I’ve made JPEG buttons of the schism church doors, and I like how they look (well, I’d like it better if I could get “previous baptistery” on the far left and “next baptistery” on the far right).  I’ve got to e-mail the local churches my request for Baptism stories to be printed in bulletins, pasted in online newsletters and websites. The public engagement part of this has been really difficult for me. Even though I live in Hebron and grew up here, I don’t actually know any one who goes to church here. My family goes to church in the neighboring town. I scarcely know anyone who still lives here.


Public History on the Ground

Philadelphia is a city filled with colorful, weird, and prominent public art, and when I was a student I often asked myself “Why is this here?” Public history allows questions like this to be asked and answered in new ways. With projects like Phillyhistory.org, I might raise my phone to Claes Oldenburg’s giant clothespin opposite City Hall and see a very different image of construction and row homes. Digital Public Humanities, coupled with new technology, allowed for deeper explorations of space than the human eye can see unaided.

Christopher Tilly in his “Phenomenology of Landscape: Paths, Places and Monuments” (Bloomsberg: 1997) argues that archaeologists (and other humanities scholars) cannot fully understand the past without physically walking through the landscape. I often had this book in mind as I read through the readings assigned for this section of my Digital Public History course. All the readings seem to offer new ways of implementing many of Tilly’s principles. I can’t sit in a library and expect to fully understand the Via Appia, nor can I hope to understand its use in antique without the resources of the library.

This new work in digital public history most facilitates questions about change. How did a landscape change? When did these changes take place? The “why” is easy to ask, but most of the project I’ve seen don’t seem to answer it. Taking Phillyhistory.com as an example again, I can see that the giant clothes pin wasn’t always there, but not why the change took place.  These projects seem to be very good at looking into a landscape’s path, but not a analyzing it.

In regards to my own project, I haven’t gleaned much information from these project. I do find them very exciting, because I absolutely think layering experience with historic information is a part of good historic research. Although my project is place-based, I shy away from either encouraging or requiring users go to those places to use my website. My places are churches. I feel, and many of the parishioners and clergy feel, that a house of worship is not the place for mobile devices. I am thinking of the Pokémon go faux pas, where players were trying to capture virtual Pokémon outside of the Holocaust Museum. It just wasn’t appropriate. Although my website, I hope, respects and honors each place, I wouldn’t want to have clergy discourage people from using it because they’re on their phones during a baptism. I won’t be making my website mobile compatible, but I do hope it is used in the spaces I talk about on laptops during after-service educational programs.


Filling Out the Skeleton: Final Project Update

As I had hoped, I managed to successfully create and link all the image maps. Once my professor, Sharon Leon, told me how to configure the settings to allow for html editing, everything unfolded easily. In addition to getting the image maps up, I also added the Timeline JS timeline and Carta maps. I was also able to draft the launch page for the tour.

I mentioned in my last post that I wanted to collect liturgies from each tradition under study. I was not successful. As much as I’d like to include this information, I think I’ll wait. I still intend to provide the liturgies for the modern churches, but for the predecessors, I’m going to see if I have time after I finish the first draft to add it.

This coming week I’ll be finishing drafting all the text and images of the website. The homepage needs better organization and images. Both the Timeline and Maps pages need explanatory text. The traditions pages all need text. The story pages need forms and entries. Once all that is finished, I’ll work out a banner. This seems like a pretty tall order, but as a substitute teacher I get next week off for Spring Break.

By next week I should have a completed first draft of the website.  Once I have the first draft up, I’ll be considering ways to add public engagement into the rest of the website. My thoughts at this point is to add a questions form for each part of the tour, and a place to leave interpretations in a comment form. Things are coming together!

Oral History in Public History

Last week I learned about new technologies in oral history. Having never used oral history in my own research, I also learned much about how historians use oral histories. Before starting the readings, I had wondered what the difference was between an interview and an oral history interview. Although I have no doubt that definitions are contested within the field, it seems that oral history interviews are structured by the interviewer to solicited particular historic information. In turn, the interviewee is recognized as an active party in the construction of the interview. In contrast, an interview as might appear on the nightly news is structured to get sound bites and interesting anecdotes.  Again, I’m sure there’s much more to an oral history interview than I picked out of the material written for people already familiar with the field, but these observations stood out to me.

My experience annotating an oral history interview with OHMS demonstrated the benefit new technology has had on oral history. Most of my observations have already been articulated by Doug Boyd. I would add that annotating makes the work of oral history accessible to non-specialists. I annotated a pre-existing oral history for my assignment. I felt, as someone who has had no training in the field, that this was the best option for me. I am glad I chose to do this because as I annotated I learned what sort of information particular questions might elicit (the interviewee made reference to the questions).

Although the OHMS annotation interface does make an interview searchable in much less time than transcribing, I can certainly see that the close listening transcribing requires is mitigated in an annotation exercise. A transcriber picks up on word choice, dialect, and syntax much more readily than someone focusing just on content. Additionally, annotation biases the search to the topics the annotator is interested in and familiar with. In cases where the annotator is a different person from both the interviewer and interviewee, the subjects headings might be different than those the interview intended. Also, I don’t have the familiarity of specific terms that the interviewer did. For example, the nun described her habit and referred to a particular cap. She used a kind of slang term for it. People researching changes in habits would probably find this information useful, but I didn’t know the formal name of the article she discussed. On the other hand, OHMS allows for hyperlinking, so I could have linked that section to a diagram of the Sisters of Providence’s habit.

As for the place of oral history in public history, I can certainly see that oral history could be an important part of a robust project.  In the same way that public history should have an open dialog between curators and the public they are serving, oral history quite literally centers around this dialog. The stories people tell in an interview could easily become the entry point of the public’s voice. I think a potential hazard of public history projects is to limit the public’s agency to a presentation of oral histories.

In my project, I see a potential for oral history. I already have a section for visitors to type up their baptism experiences. Audio or video files could certainly strengthen that section. I shy away from that approach, however, because of my topic. When people tell baptism stories, especially Evangelical Christians, they tell it as a witness to Christ. Although those voices are certainly important to understanding modern, and past, baptismal practices, I fear that the website might become a platform for evangelization. For this reason, I have chosen to restrict the person histories to written stories, selected and curated by me.  If I had more training in the collection and use of oral history interviews, I would likely be more open to using them. This may be a point of collaboration and expansion in the future, but to complete the project by the deadline, I think I will stick to my plan.

Making Information into Content

This past week I focused on putting together the skeleton of my website. The most difficult part was learning to use Omeka. The themes all assume I want my users to have a buffet experience on my home page. I want to direct them along certain navigational paths. So, I spent a great deal of time going over themes.  I ultimately ended up keeping the “Thanks, Roy” theme, figuring out through trial and error how to make the pages behave the way I want.

I had originally intended the navigation tabs to be along the top, but I’ve decided that the left hand side is fine. Currently my homepage is the default. The major downside to this configuration is that the page has an empty right-hand side where featured items and exhibits are supposed to go. I don’t like those images to be on the side- I’m thinking of Maggie who is used to a museum experience and Sarah who has particular information she needs to find and doesn’t want to have to rely on featured items.  I will most likely end up creating a Homepage from the Simple Pages plugin, as I have noticed that the Simple Pages fill out the entire screen, which I like.

I also added two more churches- Hebron’s Catholic and Episcopal. I started trying to incorporate interpretation into the item level entries. I’m still playing around with the best way to incorporate historical interpretation. I think once I get the image maps up and working, it’ll be easier for me to figure out.

Now that the bones are up, it’s time to add some muscle. Over the past two months I’ve collected a lot of information about Baptism. I have a virtual pile of material waiting to be turned into something useful.  This week I’m going to get all ten image maps up and running. This is the main element of my website and I’d like to have them all hammered out as soon as possible. The biggest challenge will be incorporating object that are not visible in the image maps. One possible solution is just to have a second view either under or next to the first image map, with some object repeating. I don’t want to just have a gallery of the missing objects, because I feel very strongly that their spatial relationship to one another is an important part of the rituals I’m trying to describe.

The other major task I want to complete by this time next week is collecting a sample of liturgies for each building. I already have modern baptismal liturgies, but finding older liturgies is proving much more difficult. Although Luther published a German liturgy, finding an English translation has thus far been fruitless. There are many digitized version of the first Book of Common Prayer, but the antiquated English is difficult to read. I would like to show images of original documents where possible, but I doubt there are any extant for Dura Europos. This small project will likely take me much longer than creating the ten image maps.