The best way I can describe the process of creating this project is to break it down into sections. 1) Ill describe the initial idea and purpose of the project. 2) The challenges that I experienced through the creation process. 3) The rewards of the process. 4) What I’ve learned and what are the major takeaways.
My initial idea for a digital history project was to create a hardcopy, “Conducting Oral Histories” handbook for UNC Charlotte students. I was going to spin it to be a “digital project” by designing it on Canva, a digital platform for creation, and create a PDF version that could link to the UNCC History Department website, and I figured that would be good enough. I would take some pictures, create some logos on a photoshop website, and call it a day. That idea quickly fell to the wayside when I began blogging on WordPress for my History in the Digital Age class. I realized that blogging wasn’t as scary as I thought, and working my own personal website was actually pretty fun once I got the hang of it. So then I quickly realized that I could expand that idea of a hardcopy manual to an entire website. Although the platform has shifted, the primary purpose for creating this project has remained steadfast throughout the entirety of the semester. I want to create a platform that would provide UNC Charlotte students with the resources needed to begin their own oral interview projects. I want to create a project that can be adapted by all UNCC students who wish to conduct oral interviews, in hopes that one day UNC Charlotte can be recognized for its oral history program.
The challenges. Oh boy, the challenges. First off, blogging and creating a website are completely different, and I really had to rethink the structure of how I was wording site pages, how I was structuring the layout, the images used, etc. For my blogs (like this one) I can be a bit more personal and speak to my reader just as if I would when having a conversation. The tone of the website, however, is personal yet professional, so I spend more time wording and re-wording entire site pages. I make sure to cite everything and include references for future users, which takes up more time than I anticipated. I don’t feel like I can say, “well to learn this use exhibit A that I created,” without giving the user the possibility to see the original source that I constructed it from, in case they want to do something different than what I suggested. Other challenges I encountered included being slower to learn about how WordPress works. I had to really spend time figuring out tags, categories, site pages, parent pages, embedded links, page layout, texts, blocks (the list goes on) to create a site that I was proud to showcase and felt like it reflected my personality and vision for the overall project. I also struggled because I am using multiple sites to create this project, so Canva to design the hardcopy manual, plus all logos designed by me, WordPress for the actual design, videos taken and edited on my personal computer, as well as the print references I read to create the foundation for the project. I felt like I had my hands in 10 other pots while trying to to make one really nice project. Keeping up with every little part of the project from various platforms has been one of the major challenges as well. I feel like I have also been challenged by time. I don’t have every page on my website finished, because this semester I have also been working on a thesis, Digital History classwork, and another graduate level class. I only include time as a challenge, because of having to learn the new steps involved in creating a digital project. If I had the prior knowledge of website design and graphic design, I feel as if I would be so much farther along than I currently am in terms of website production.
But, as someone who can always see the silver lining, all of these challenges have also provided rewards! The process of creation of “Unheard History: A UNC Charlotte Guide to Conducting Oral Interviews” has taught me skills I never thought I would be able to master. I know feel fairly confident is basic website design and blogging skills. This process has taught me that I have the ability to learn new skills that I can add to my personal and professional resume, which I am really excited about! I now feel more confident in being able to say that I have created a website as well as a blog. This process was also really rewarding because I have created a tangible project that I am really proud of. For public history majors, I think that one of the challenges we face is that when we leave UNCC, we have very few tangible projects in our professional portfolio. Sure we’ve done some group projects and we’ve done TONS of work on that dang thesis, but for those of us looking to work in a public history setting rather than an academic setting (and by this I mean museum/park/heritage site over the traditional classroom) this project has provided us the opportunity to create something we can show future employers, and it shows them that we have skills beyond fantastic writing and proofreading, and that we are adaptable to the changing digital world. I think it’s also been incredibly rewarding to see my hard work online and it makes it feel more concrete in a way.
The final takeaways from the process of creating this project, as well as the overall project, is that I have learned that I am capable of teaching myself new skills, I have created a tangible product to show future employers, and I have had a lot of fun along the way. Once I got the hang of designing Unheard History, I would catch myself spending half an hour to an hour playing with layouts, finding images, changing colors and the time would just fly by. I wouldn’t even be creating content, really I was just fiddling with my website. And it was fun! I also learned so so so much from this class about the possibilities of the history and the digital age, and I can see myself taking the things that I have learned and applying them to my next website, whatever that may be.