Jenny Reeder


mormonwomenhistory.org
October 31, 2006, 8:36 am
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I have many ideas for a website that will surely change the way that Mormon women’s history is done. Well, at least I hope to pull together various resources and people to create an online meeting point for both scholars and the general public in understanding the rich complexities of the history of this specific group. I have communicated with Connie Lamb, the women’s history librarian at the Brigham Young University library; Sheree Bench, a research historian and lecturer at BYU; and Jill Derr, the director of exhibitions and publications for the LDS Church’s Family and Church History Department, all members of the Mormon Women’s History Initiative, and all eager to pool our different resources.

Here are some key aspects of my proposal:

  • A wiki of biographies. I hope to allow different people to create entries–I think this way the number and extent of biographies will reach a much higher number and audience, and I hope, like wikipedia, web users will edit. Hopefully we’ll get the basic well-known women as well as the random lesser-known women.
  • A timeline-chronology of basic events.
  • Primary documents. This would be a great place to partner with BYU’s special collections. They are making huge efforts to digitze the Woman’s Exponent, the Young Woman’s Journal, and the Relief Society Magazine, all important and valuable women’s magazines/newspapers with important historic references. They have also made special efforts to digitize important journals and reminiscences.
  • Secondary literature. I’ll have to talk with my contacts at BYU Studies and the Journal of Mormon History to see about the possibility of PDF files of articles on the topic. Connie Lamb at BYU has been working on a bibliography that would be extremely helpful.
  • Links to important websites: the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, the Utah State Historical Society, the LDS Church Archive, Utah State University Archive, and the University of Utah Archive.
  • A forum where people can post their latest research topics and announcements. I’d love to include a list of scholars and contact information–and I want people to add in their information as well. I want this portion to be searchable.
  • A location for images would be great.

These are all ideas–I feel like it’s probably a little too ambitious, certainly for my abilities. But these are my ideas tonight and I will certainly continue to talk and explore and take any and all comments I receive. Bless you.



The Realities of Digital Preservation
October 30, 2006, 6:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, Minutes, 1842-1844This is an image from the first page of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society Minutes, an organization of Mormon women dating from 17 March 1842. This minutebook belongs to the LDS Church and has restricted access due to its historic nature and value. Fortunately, the book has been digitized and published in a large DVD collection by the LDS Church and BYU Studies and is available to the general public.  This digitizing effort has provided access to hundreds of valuable historical documents. The DVD collection, however, is not a preservation format.

Last year I had the privilege of taking a Preservation and Reformatting course at New York University in the archival management program from Paula DeStefano.  Paula raised the same questions in class that she raises in our readings as cited by Cohen & Rosenzweig in Digital History. How realistic is it to assume that digitized material and websites will last? She said, “The digital landscape looks bleak for preservation purposes.”

While I am exited by the possibilities of digital history and new media, I fear for its future. I worry about the difficulty of migration of hardware and software and I am concerned about lost materials in preservation. In particular, I am concerned about the incredible amount of work in putting together such potentially valuable websites and I worry about their preservation. What will happen when I graduate and am unable to use my Mason webspace? What happens when something goes down; will all our material be lost? I recognize the importance of backing up, but what about the importance of preserving access?

As a student of digital history, I love learning about different media with which to present and analyze history. As an archivist, however, I remain skeptical about the long-term value of such work. How can I guarantee that my work will endure through the next ten years of technological development? I am extremely grateful for a digital copy of the Relief Society Minutes. It makes my research much easier from the other side of the country. But how can I ensure that my reserach will be preserved as long?



Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk: Teaching History
October 24, 2006, 2:57 am
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I remember sitting in a graduate seminar in my master’s program as we discussed and criticized some early American history scholar. While the discussion was fascinating, I yearned to know how to really do early American history. I began to wonder if my whole graduate career would be spent criticizing rather than doing.

There seems to be a great divide between pedagogy and practice. I wonder if the gap has anything to do with the divide between the academic ivory tower and public history. I’m delighted to learn about Mills Kelly’s study on the value of digital history in secondary ed, and I’m hopeful that that success transfers smoothly and easily to repositories, museums, and historical institutions. Ideally this success will in fact alter the way we view education and the way we are trained to be educators as well as historians.

A couple of points I found especially interesting in the readings:

  • Students seemed to interact more often and more effectively with primary materials when they were digital (Kelly). I believe this is a matter of access. I wonder if it will change the way that students interact with documents first hand. Will they go to repositories and experience the delight of discovering some uncatalogued letter or diary? Will they make the same personal connections online with the past?
  • David Pace makes some great points about the importance of teaching students to think critically. “We recognize that history can potentially teach students to evaluate claims critically, to see complex questions from more than one perspective, to understand how different groups can view the same situation in different ways, to recognize the long-term consequences of actions, and to master dozens of other subtle mental operations that are absolutely necessary for their success as individuals and for the very survival of our society.” I think Mills Kelly gives some great insight into how to do this with digital history courses.
  • I absolutely agree with Cohen & Rosenzweig in their discussion of teaching students how to deal with volume and how to discern. I think these are the most applicable skills and that these skills do indeed cross disciplines.

I tried to find a picture of my old stodgy high school history teacher to post. She used to sit on a desk in the front of the classroom and read from her onion-skin typewritten notes, then test us on rote memorization of American History. She was the quintessential old-school history teacher, and yet there is a dear space in my heart for her. How strangely appropriate that I couldn’t find anywhere a digital image of her… she remains in the annals of the past…



Free STAR classes…
October 18, 2006, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In the interest of learning hands-on skills that we haven’t had time for in class, Misha and I have signed up for a few free STAR classes. The schedule is located here: http://media.gmu.edu/. The classes are two hours each at the Johnson Center, and there are various levels. For example, we are taking Photoshop I on Friday and Dreamweaver I on Monday. I think they rotate their schedule so you should be able to continue on with the II and III levels within a week or two. I’ll let you know how it goes…



Historical Landscape through Digital Maps
October 17, 2006, 6:29 am
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 This past summer I worked as a research assistant on a book project about the Mountain Meadows Massacre tragedy in Southern Utah. At the beginning of the summer, the lead author took me, the editor, and another researcher on a trip through the different sites of the book. Many towns and roads no longer exist. We turned off the interstate to catch a breathtaking view described by the pioneer fort but not visible from the freeway. We trekked along dirt roads and non-roads, through sage brush, junipers, and hills, searching for a culvert where the emigration party had camped. We even hiked to a mountain lookout and saw the wagon road below where Paiute Indians had scouted out the event. The massacre site was impressive; the lay of the land had clearly determined the order of the week’s events, from a dangerous canyon to the south, to a small, marshy creek, to a gentle slope. It was clear that the settlers and Indians had used geography to accomplish their needs. I had seen the maps of the area previously but the geographical contours jumped out at me in person. Unfortunately, the book will contain only one-dimensional maps of the area with perhaps typewritten descriptions of the land, without the benefit of rich 2- or 3-dimensional images and views. The richness of time and space will be lost.

 I am intrigued by the concept of mapping and the valuable historical analysis that can occur through the visualization of maps. As a research assistant a few years ago, I assisted a professor working on the travels of a woman to southern Utah in 1880-81. Eliza R. Snow traveled from Salt Lake City to St. George, stopping at several settlements along the way. During the months she spent in St. George, Snow went on three smaller trips to various southern settlements. I created maps to trace these trips, and using PhotoShop, I put the maps together in different layers with different colors onto one map. It was a great visual help to see the bredth of her travels.

Robert M. Schwarts explains the value in understanding a sense of place as social history. Although I am not inherently interested in railways and population growth in England, I became fascinated by the way different maps uncovered different trends over time. Digital maps provide valuable juxtaposition of time and space, allowing for a new dimension of analysis.

To apply this brand of historical methodology to my own field, I would love to map out the development of Relief Society organizations throughout Utah Territory. I would do it similarly to Schwartz: I would examine geographic patterns through settlement (rather than migration), and I would trace numbers of growth, perhaps with the arrival of the train. I imagine that I would find a cluster of growth beginning in Salt Lake City and moving out, particularly along the Wasatch Front, a significant North-South mountain range in Utah. If possible, I would love to take this study a step further and examine the travels of women among these settlements. I would love to compare who took what trips where and when, and how big the settlements were. Digital maps would be an excellent way to measure change through time. Even then, there must be some way to capture the mountain height, the flow of water, and the impact on people and subsequent events.



Patchwork Quilts and Digital History
October 3, 2006, 3:53 am
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Friendship Quilt   I love to quilt. Piecing together fabrics, colors, textures, shapes; cutting, piecing, connecting; creating a larger textile by cutting up smaller pieces. It’s quite a bit like doing history, as both Kelly and Bill pointed out, and it’s a very visual and time-old example of remixing.

In bridging the worlds of domestic textile, scholarly history, and new media, I have a couple of questions. I agree with Raymond Yee’s citation of Lawrence Lessig: our society values derivitive works. The mashing and meshing of ideas and voices lends itself to a very postmodern perspective. I believe that the open access and sharing of so many authors proves to be the living example of multiplicity and dimensionality. With the advent and progression of digital technology, we become immersed in a rich world.

The quilt pictured here was created by the Salt Lake City 20th Ward LDS Relief Society. Each square was made individually by a member of this female religious group. Each square is designed differently and created from different materials. While each square could be examined separately in several different historical perspectives, much of their value occurs collectively. Information can be culled regarding religious, social, and even economic implications from such a remix of individual voices.

The plethora of information and databases available digitally requires additional scrutiny and accountability, both on the side of the user and the creator. We must make databases accessible and usable. As users, we must recognize the constraints of such accessible information.

Dan Cohen raises an important question about the separation between tech and humanities with the lack of API advances in humanities databases. He is right and his statement begs that the issue be discussed. I wonder, however, about the greater divide between technology and history. Perhaps I am a pessimist in thinking that not everything will go digital. Certainly some branches of history will readily transfer digitally, but the future of history, in my opinion, is not entirely and only digital. Cohen is right on in stating that we as historians and public historians and professionals must find a way to bridge the gap, to maintain the personable, intimate connection in history.

Just as I mix my quilt pieces, or my diaries, correspondence, and newspaper articles, the advent of digital history adds another dimension. It is vital that pieces fit together evenly, or, as with my first quilt, the shapes wrinkle and pucker and pull. We must correlate between users and sources.