Public Humanities Collaborative Students Use Digital Tools for Hartford and Faculty Projects
Since mid-May, Trinity students in the Public Humanities Collaborative (PHC) have been working diligently at sites across Hartford to complete humanities projects with community organizations and with Trinity faculty members. They have been delving into archives at the Watkinson, Connecticut Historical Society, and the Jewish Historical Society; interviewing members of the LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities of Hartford; transcribing, analyzing, and creating data visualizations on urban displacement in New York and the global wine trade; and so much more. Throughout these projects, students have been gaining skills and experience across work in the humanities and beyond.
In addition to their work on these projects, students attend a weekly lunch and learn session, and for the past several weeks, the students have been our presenters. Each group of students has created a short workshop on the tools and ideas they have been learning: helping others understand what their projects are and how they’ve been completing them. Most importantly, each presentation includes a short discussion of how everyone could use these tools moving forward–whether on academic, professional, or personal projects.
A frequent feature of these presentations was giving credit to those who helped them along the way, particularly Dr. Mary Mahoney and Fanny Julissa García. Mahoney, the Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at Trinity, sat down with many of the groups and helped them think through what tools would be most useful for their projects and answered many questions for them about the specifics of the tools they chose. She also gave an introductory workshop on the KnightLab suite of tools, including StoryMap and TimeLine, to the entire PHC group. Garcia offered a workshop on “Oral History for Social Change” that many PHC students attended, and students presenting on their interview work frequently pointed back to this workshop as key for helping them think through ethical and logistical issues of how to conduct and use interview research. Because students were willing to talk about who helped them achieve their goals in these projects, we were all able to see that public-facing humanities projects are inherently collaborative efforts; they require teams of people to iteratively conceptualize, think through, execute, and revise as projects come together.
In these presentations, we get to see past the glossy one sentence version of the goals of a project into the messiness of what it means to get this work done. Professor Chris Hager pointed out that these projects showcase the kind of work that is key to both a liberal arts education and the humanities writ large – work that must be done by people, not robots. The transcription, interviewing, exhibit creation, and other humanities work that these students are doing requires thoughtful, inquisitive people who are willing to consider the historical and contemporary contexts of their projects. This work also necessitates deliberate perspective taking as students consider how to engage audiences so they too can deeply consider the many different stories of the human experience portrayed in these projects.
Kaytlin Ernske ’20 and Sophia Lopez ’22 used data visualization platforms Cytoscape and Palladio in their work on Seneca Village with Professor Alex Manevitz. They were mapping relationships to better tell the story of this primarily African-American community who were displaced during the creation of Central Park. Through relational mapping, Kaytlin explained that the names she saw on paper while transcribing became real, and she started seeing the families, the stories, and the real lives of these people. For Sophia, learning about “urban renewal” through this and their project with Connecticut Fair Housing has been exciting, and she’s seeing connections between these projects, other work she’s done in Hartford, and her community back home in LA. You can view their video reflection and read more about their projects here.
PHC 2019 Yisbell and Kaylen – Excel Explained
Yisbell Marrero ’20 and Kaylen Jackson ’21 shared how they used Excel to create a Transatlantic food database that compares food regulations and norms between the US and EU, working with Professor Thomas Lefebvre. Because the goal of the project is to make this work public on a website (http://whobannedit.com), they need to consider issues of user experience and how to make this database easily accessible. Organization and attention to detail were key for getting this done! In the picture above, Yisbell and Kaylen stand outside the Church of the Good Shepherd in Hartford, a site for their project with the Coltsville National Park where they are conducting research for an interactive website documenting the changes and development of the Coltsville site from its inception in 1855 to today as it evolves into a National Historical Park.
Emma Sternberg ’21 and Carlson Given ’20 created their own guide for transcribing historical documents, using the knowledge they gained while transcribing sermons from Mohegan preacher Joseph Johnson at the Connecticut Historical Society. In this guide, they attend not only to the obvious concerns of reading handwriting, figuring out hard to read letters, and double-checking your work, but also embodied concerns like when to know to take a break. Emma and Carlson noted that guides like the one they created will only become more necessary as fewer and fewer schools in the US teach cursive and, thus, historical documents become even more complicated to read.Carlson and Emma – A Guide to Transcribing
Josselyn Zaldivar ’20, Brenda Piedras ’21 and Stephanie Cerda-Ocampo ’21 discussed their approach to oral history collecting and archiving. In their work with Professor Aidali Aponte Aviles, Dr. Christina Bleyer, and the Hartford History Center, they have been conducting oral history interviews with Latinx leaders in Hartford to learn more about their experiences in the city. Key topics of the presentation were forming and maintaining relationships with narrators, checking for consent throughout the interview process, and setting up the interview site correctly. Josselyn, Brenda, and Stephanie exemplified the sorts of thoughtfulness and consideration required for oral history interviewing on complex topics.
Tanuja Budraj ’21 and Federico Cedolini ’22 showed us how they used Airtable as a database for archival research on the international wine trade with Professor Jennifer Regan-Lefebvre. After trying out several other tools, they chose Airtable because it works efficiently to store and organize archival material; is customisable for a variety of projects; and is particularly easy for multiple users to use at once. This database will be especially useful for Professor Regan-Lefebvre because it allows multiple filters to sort through the 3,600 photos of archival documents the students entered. In the pictures above, you can see Tanuja and Fede working on their second project with the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford, an exhibit about Jewish women in Hartford who made a difference in the city.Tanuja and Fede – PHC Presentation- British Wine Empire
Manny Rodriguez ’20 and Hendrick Xiong-Calmes ’22 discussed their process and the equipment they used while interviewing LGBTQ Hartford residents with Professor Nick Marino. Tips and tricks include breakfast questions to help people warm up to interviewing, setting room tone to make the audio easier to edit later, and handing people a stress ball so they have something quiet to do with their hands. Using these interviews, Professor Marino is creating a podcast that will serve as an oral history podcast capturing the narratives of LGBTQ+ senior citizens in Hartford. The Chez Est, the oldest LGBTQ+ bar in Hartford, will host the podcast on their website, which will help establish the Chez as a historic site in Hartford.Hendrick+Manny PHC Group Presentation
Remi Tupper ‘20 and Kyre William-Smith ‘21 shared how they have used Timeline and WordPress in their work archiving and making public the Watkinson Library’s new science fiction collection with Professor Chloe Wheatley. Both tools required trial and error and some messing around as they figured out how to create a website and visual aids that are easy to navigate and help visitors understand the collection. In their work with the Wadsworth Atheneum and Amistad Center on their new Afro-Cosmologies exhibit, Remi and Kyre talked about how to approach daunting tasks–like writing up information about almost a hundred artists involved in the exhibit. One key takeaway for both projects was how to manage their time and the realities of how long this kind of work really takes as well as how to make sure the content they create is accessible to other people.small wadsworth watkinson presentation
Esther and Ali – PHC Presentation 2019.pptx
Esther Appiah ‘21 and Ali Kara ‘20 talked about the process of wading through the array of tools they’ve used for their projects with Dr. Fiona Vernal and the West Indian Social Club and with Professor Maurice Wade. For the West Indian Social Club’s project on “Settlement and Housing in Post-War Hartford, CT”, students have used Tableau for data collection and visualization, iPhone voice recorders for interviews, and Temi for transcriptions. With Professor Wade, they have conducted primary source research on anti-colonialism to add to the Caribbean Anti-Colonial Thought Archive and used Timeline and WordPress to add information and resources to the website itself. Esther and Ali show us how on humanities projects, one tool generally isn’t enough–projects about the human experience require complex, multilayered approaches that include many tools!
The Public Humanities Collaborative (PHC) is a summer research opportunity that brings together students, faculty, and individuals and organizations in Hartford to work on public humanities: the study of how people interpret stories of our human experience. PHC is a component of Trinity College’s Summer Research Program that is funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. To learn more, visit http://cher.trincoll.edu/phc or contact Director of Community Learning Megan.Hartline@trincoll.edu.