How to Fail Gracefully and Enjoy the Process: A Lesson in 3D Reproduction

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For my final project in our Digital History course, I decided to set the bar high and tackle what I saw as the final frontier of the technological learning curve: 3D printing. It was something I’d always wanted to do but had never had access to the right resources,and I was very glad to find that looking into potential objects to reproduce was my biggest challenge (or so I thought). We learned a lot this semester about making copies of museum artifacts that visitors can engage with in more immersive ways than the originals, and I thought it would be nice to create something for my local museum. I ultimately decided to go with a metal maple syrup spigot (pictured above).

In the beginning, I thought I would create a digital 3D model using photogrammetry that I would then magically send to the printer, but the process proved to be much more complicated than that! I was so fortunate to receive some expert advice in an informal workshop in the digital history lab with my colleague Martha, who was also using photogrammetry to create a 3D model. She showed me how to set up the system using a rotating chair as a base with a few empty cardboard boxes stacked on the seat in order to raise the subject and enable us to spin around to get shoot every angle. We made sure the top boxes on which the spigot sat were black so that we could easily remove them from the final shots, and also taped up some black bristol board behind the chair to cover up the lighter wall behind it. Then came the camera setup: we used a Panasonic DMCGX Lumix camera with a 1442 lens on a tripod angled at the subject facing slightly downward in order to include the top of the spigot.

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I took a photo at each turn of the chair, about two centimeters each movement, which totaled thirty-three photos. After doing this and benefitting from seeing Martha’s more developed work in progress, I started to think about how I was going to go about printing the model based on the photos. I wasn’t sure about my access to a printer at Western, but miraculously remembered that the Aylmer Old Town Hall Public Library has a maker space with a 3D printer and scanner. The new mission became a road trip to Aylmer for a crash course in printing, and I decided to base my project on a comparison between the physical print using a 3D scanner and the digital model using photogrammetry. You can view the model here!

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The printer (replicator)
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The scanner (digitizer)
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The scan in progress

Once again, I was so lucky to have help from a fantastic assistant at the library who showed me how to use the MakerBot Digitizer and Replicator. We did a scan of the spigot using cardboard box lids to block out the light from the Digitizer, examined the digital scan to make sure everything was intact, and set the Replicator to its work. The print time was set for three hours, and it cost sixty cents. I decided to leave the printer to its work and had a nice little Elgin County adventure in the meantime.

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The moment I realized disaster had struck (note the ball of congested filament)

When I returned to the library that evening, I noticed that the staff member I had been working with was no longer present, and the printer was at about ninety-five percent complete. The final product looked quite satisfactory and I was intrigued by the sounds the printer was making as well as seeing the process at play. Once the percentage was at about ninety-seven percent, however, I started to notice that something had gone awry. I could see the beginnings of the supports at the top of the spigot, and the printer was moving back and forth as though it was completing each layer of the hook, but no filament was coming out. Since I was unaware of how it was supposed to be completing this unusual part of the print, and my trusty assistant was no longer available, I decided to just wait it out. After a few minutes, there seemed to be a ball of clogged plastic forming, and it eventually began to drip haphazardly onto the partially-formed spigot below. At this point, I sought a library employee to have the printer examined, and was worried that the print would be ruined after so much time had passed. The librarian immediately stopped the print and opened the sides of the printer to take out the replica, and when she did, the entire printer itself collapsed from the top and very nearly missed smashing it on the platform. Slightly disappointed but still glad to have some result from the process, I bid Aylmer farewell.

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The final product

Overall, I’m still quite happy with my first foray into 3D reproduction. I feel that the issues that arose during the printing process could not have been foreseen and weren’t my own fault, so there is hope to try again and hopefully achieve the museum-quality product I was hoping for. The result of the photogrammetry was quite satisfactory, better than I’d expected, and I do think that it is worthwhile to explore printing with that method even though it requires some extra steps. The project caused me to experience two things that haven’t been a part of my academic career up until this point but are equally welcomed and important: asking for help and embracing failure, and I think that I’m a better student for it in this case! Many thanks to Martha, the staff at the Aylmer Public Library, and our professor, Tim Compeau for their assistance and encouragement!

Thanks for reading,
Delany

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Makes Sense: Museum Exhibits that are More than Just Reading

 

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It’s almost just like the real thing, minus the smell! (2013 me at the Canadian Museum of History)

Remember that first post I wrote when everything was exciting and I was so full of energy and vigor for the academic pursuit? Because at the moment, I can’t say that I do. Joking aside, while there might be a bit less wind in my sails at the midterm point, I’m still floating through grad school and weathering the storm! Something that really helped restore my pluck this week was a lively class discussion about material culture and the ways in which museums can harness reproduction to create engaging exhibits.

I’ve been intrigued by the idea of 3D printing ever since the technology came closer to the mainstream while I was beginning my undergrad. I remember hearing that a rural library branch in Aylmer was able to purchase a printer around 2015, and even though I had no idea how it worked or what sorts of things could be accomplished it made me happy to know that people could learn and create there. Fast forward to now, as I prepare to take on my very first printing project, and I can appreciate the technology’s value much more!

In an age when technology is developing at an alarmingly fast rate, and being part of the first generation to supposedly be able to navigate it, it can be easy to feel as though the major advancements have already been made and the future just looks like 280 characters on Twitter and waiting around for the iPhone 100. The world of 3D printing, and digital reproduction in general, however, are still brand new, and they present a vast array of potential for those of us hoping to put them to use in the museum world.

What might 3D printing look like when applied to exhibits? We explored the ways in which it can be used to reproduce artifacts that are fragile, or to allow visitors to interact with pieces that they otherwise would not be allowed to touch. Having witnessed on countless occasions the power of the human nature to want to touch things that look forbidden, this is a very promising prospect. Many museums grapple with the idea of having items behind glass or special replicas designated for tactile interaction, and this medium could help with reconciling conservation and engagement. Of course, the issues of texture and function come into play since the models are made of a plastic that would not allow for a completely authentic replica, but in the right context and for the right project it could still be effective.

One of our readings, “Hacking history, from analogue to digital and back again” by Professor William Turkel, also discusses the idea of recreating smells in order to gain a unique understanding of historical context. He mentions an example where a pile of eighteenth century documents were digitized, but researchers in the archives who consulted the originals noted that they smelled of vinegar because they had been treated in order to prevent the spread of cholera. Someone perusing the scanned versions online would never be able to account for that interesting detail, and their experience with them would thus be different. This reminded me of an exhibit I visited at the Canadian War Museum called Fighting in Flanders: Gas. Mud. Memory. Within a little area that was playing recordings of men screaming in reaction to First World War gas attacks were a series of tubes that contained re-created smells of the gases used against the Canadian soldiers. This was a very moving experience for me, which you can read more about in my original blog (which also somehow happened to be about the senses). However, Turkel also raises the point that smell is such an incredibly subjective sense that is constantly evolving over time, so experiencing a smell exactly as it was a hundred years ago is impossible with our own senses.

In both cases, then, some fairly significant issues come into play that would seriously hamper a great deal of projects to which they could be applied. In this sense, it’s hard not to become discouraged and feel that incorporating technology is too risky or requires too specific an application for widespread use. I think that this is just a challenge for exhibit designers and other museum professionals to think outside the box! We have become so used to the traditional, one-sided exhibit experiences that rely so heavily on visual material, and our ways of presenting information are deeply tied to this format. While it’s bound to cause some trepidation, harnessing reproduction technology to create engaging experiences that are also educational is the museum world’s most exciting and promising challenge, and I can’t wait to start exploring!

Thanks for reading,

Delany

Ignite Talks, or Condensing the Passion into Five Minutes

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This week’s class mission was to prepare and deliver a five minute “Ignite Talk” on any subject to the rest of our peers, who would then provide comments and constructive criticism. Essentially, the speaker has five minutes to speak accompanied by a slideshow of around fifteen slides that change every fifteen seconds. For a lot of us making the transition from traditional academic history, brevity is our worst enemy and this was quite a daunting task! However, I really enjoyed putting mine together and having a chance to practice public speaking, and used the opportunity to highlight one of my favourite subjects. While I’m not able to share the moving slides I made to accompany the text, I really wanted to make my presentation available to other audiences. So, below is the text portion of my speech!

Today I’d like to talk about something that I feel is highly important in my community, and is relevant to others like it across Canada that are home to small regional museums and historical societies: breathing life into ghost towns through public history.

To begin, I’ll introduce the region being discussed so that everyone has a better idea of the geography. The Western Elgin area is composed of two municipalities: Dutton-Dunwich to the east and West Elgin in the west. Towns include Dutton, Wallacetown, Iona, Rodney, and West Lorne.

There are numerous communities within these municipalities, all of various sizes and populations, and included in these are several “ghost towns” that have been incorporated into nearby larger communities over the years. Ghost towns are often thought of as being completely abandoned or created through disasters, but they can also occur as a result of economic and industrial failure or dramatic depopulation.

Cowal is one of the more recent examples, and has been incorporated into Iona. All of its two public buildings were demolished and it is hard to imagine the vibrant rural community it once was. Cowal’s historical records are equally as vibrant, and it is fascinating to read about the annual spring farm swap meet there that became so momentous it was recognized as a local holiday until the 1960s.

Tyrconnell, now part of Wallacetown, has been descending into ghost town status since the 1890s, when the introduction of the railway to the north brought an end to its once-booming port and industrial enterprise. The community was once home to a cheese factory, pier, ice house, and hotel, but there is almost no evidence remaining today.

Crinan, now a part of West Lorne, is another example of a former community which has very few remaining traces of its public life. Crinan is incredibly fortunate to still have a large and dynamic Women’s Institute, which continues to compile its local histories.

Largie is located to the north of Dunwich Township, and is where the area’s Scottish settlers were banished by Colonel Talbot because of its tough clay and remote location. Like the others, it was once home to a school, sports teams, and robust public life, most notably with the annual Campbellton Garden Party, which was an outdoor concert attended by hundreds.

Thanks to recent changes in housing market conditions coupled with an ambitious residential development scheme, the town of Dutton is currently experiencing a dramatic population change. More young, urban families are making the area their home, thus generating a great deal of interest and potential in showcasing our local history.

They’ll be fascinated to hear that the gaping hole in our main street was the former site of a local bar and hotel called the MacIntyre House. Dutton was famous for its annual Highland Games, and the tradition was for the clans to march back to the MacIntyre at day’s end and engage in drunken brawls.

On the other hand, Rodney has been hit hard by recent trends in industrial closures and outmigration, but has also had a long history of fires and misfortune. Local residents who remember its days of prosperity might recall that it is actually the lapel pin capital of the world, and its original school won the architectural award for rural schools at the 1898 Chicago World’s Fair.

Another of Rodney’s more colourful stories is about its local Temperance Society, which formed in the early twentieth century. All of the members were devout pledges, but one day a building caught fire in town and some of them had to help save its contents. The next day, it was discovered that some of those contents were cases of liquor, and that they had not actually been recovered after the helpers pulled them out. After a heated argument, it was decided that the Society would have to disband.

Some of our stories are actually of national importance, like that of Wallacetown native Ellis Wellwood Sifton, who was awarded the Victoria Cross after his death at Vimy Ridge during WWI. He grew up on a farm in Wallacetown to a prominent local family, and we are lucky to have records of both his family and wartime lives.

There are also some stories yet to be told, like the role our area played in the country’s food production during the World Wars. That period actually proved quite prosperous for local farmers, who can be seen here picking up their new $100 Massey-Harris binders in Rodney thanks to their government earnings in 1916.

What, then, is the role of public history in making these stories accessible to both new residents looking to learn and settler descendants looking to remember? I think that it has the potential to bring those groups together and start new conversations between them as we look to the future. Our local museum and historical societies serve as hubs of engagement and programming in order to tell these stories and bring them to life. People don’t often associate rural communities with engaging and vibrant histories, but they’re one of the most significant elements of local life that set us apart and are still very much alive and well.

Thanks for checking this post out, and feel free to share how public history is important to your community!

Thanks for reading,

Delany

One of My Favourite Museum Exhibits, Ever and the Problems of Historical Experiences

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Regular class discussions about museums and their inner workings has been causing me to reflect on some of my favourite exhibits over the years. I was so lucky to have studied in Ottawa for four years and benefited immensely from having some of Canada’s best heritage institutions just a short bus ride away. A recent class discussion made me reflect on one of my most memorable museum experiences below, and the complexities of recreating and presenting tragic historical events.

 Canada’s Titanic- The Empress of Ireland, Canadian Museum of History (in Partnership with the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, Halifax) Gatineau, Quebec May 30, 2014 – April 6, 2015

 

This one comes to mind as the most elaborate and immersive exhibit I’ve seen as of yet, and was one of numerous what I like to call “Beverly Hillbilly moments” over the past few years where I was bewildered and astonished by the big city’s spectacles. Coming from a background of small, local museums, it was amazing to see the ways that large-scale exhibits can incorporate technology and create powerful experiences for visitors, and I’ll always credit this one in particular for blasting the roof off the house museum concept for me. Sadly, it is pretty difficult to replicate the finances and resources available to the CMH, but it’s still a great source of inspiration for creative exhibit designs.

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The entrance to the exhibit, which was located in the large Special Exhibitions gallery, was designed to look like a gangplank with “portholes” lining the hallway that featured significant images from the displays within.

 

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Once inside, the first section is setup like a loading dock where the passengers’ baggage is prepared for the voyage. This established that visitors were reliving the path that actual Empress of Ireland passengers took on that last fateful trip, and the imagery and artifacts were both immersive and engaging. (I’m a huge fan of antique steamer trunks so of course this was a favourite part!)

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The core of the exhibit resembled the hold of the ship itself, with more lighted “portholes” to simulate being inside the vessel. The main nucleus of artifacts was composed of a private collection salvaged from the wreckage of the ship, which made it possible for the curators to recreate vignettes of what actual areas of the Empress would have looked like.

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The final section, of which I unfortunately have no good photos due to the emotional experience it created, was the true climax of the exhibit. Projectors in the ceiling made the floor look as though it was covered in moving seawater (simulating a sinking ship) and a soundtrack played abstract sea noises punctuated by shrieks and screaming. Information about the sudden and dramatic sinking was compounded by vignettes showcasing individuals’ experiences in those fateful moments. It was especially moving to have people to connect with what we were seeing and feeling, after having experienced the ship as fellow “passengers” up until that point. There were also large quotes along the walls of some victims’ last words, recorded in the diaries of surviving friends and family.

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This week in our public history course, we discussed the numerous problems associated with public sites dedicated to wars and tragedies. The topic of re-enactments and simulations was raised, and the general consensus among my colleagues was that we have incredibly mixed feelings on the subject (a rare occasion!) On the one hand, being able to emotionally identify with the experiences of historical victims allows for a more complex understanding of distant events. On the other, these experiences bring about a host of moral issues including the appropriation of tragedies and dramatization of events in which real human lives were lost. This is a dangerous line for museum professionals to walk, especially in an age where the power of cultural institutions to shape public consciousness is perhaps more recognized than ever. In the case of the Empress of Ireland exhibit, I feel as though the exhibit took me on an immersive educational journey that allowed me to connect with the event in meaningful ways. The general tone, in spite of that dramatized final stage, was that of memorializing the victims, and had an overarching theme of situating the sinking within Canadian history as a whole. Yes, there was a gift shop at the very end that was tailored to the exhibit’s nautical theme, but that’s to be expected of a corporate institution. For what it was and what it intended to be, I would conclude that Empress was exceedingly well-executed and a model for other exhibits of similar subject matter, even if it is nearly impossible to replicate the funds and resources required to achieve it.

Read more about the exhibit, my original reflections, and its history here: http://tyrconnellheritagesociety.blogspot.ca/search/label/Empress%20of%20Ireland.%20Tragedy

Thanks for reading,

Delany

Writing Rural Women’s History

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Roseann Kleinjan, Barb Mohan, Corrine Lupsor operate a tobacco tying machine, West Lorne Sun and Rodney Mercury September 11, 1980, Elgin County Archives

I hope you’ll indulge me a little more of an academic history discussion this week as I delve into a topic that regularly perplexes me. Something that I work with on a regular basis is rural historical material; it’s one of my greatest passions to explore and showcase stories of my hometown and its people. I’m always especially interested in the lives of rural and small-town women, but as I’m sure some of my women’s history colleagues can agree, it can be difficult to find good sources. Furthermore, telling women’s stories in general requires a bit more effort on the part of the historian because of the way information was recorded until very recently. In a society that still grapples with how we describe and discuss women, it can be difficult to uncover truly relevant and accurate historical information and ensure their stories are told.

     This is something I found particularly relevant when working with some local cemetery boards to modernize and digitize their records two summers ago. I think it’s fair to say that the majority of the women’s graves from the 19th and 20th centuries were just marked as “Mrs. John so-and-so.” This troubled me deeply: after spending their lives in a society that prioritized their relationships to men, these women’s final resting places were recorded in the same manner, erasing all evidence of their individual lives along with their first names.

This is of course just one of many frustrating examples found in research where women are concerned. Another similar instance is found in newspapers, which often perpetuated that same system and also frequently compounded it with mention of women’s appearances. Even the caption for the photo used in this post, randomly chosen from a quick archives search, is an example: “Three pretty girls operate tobacco tying machine.” While it did happen to include their first names (the original publication was in 1980), this still reinforces that the actual subject matter of the photo is reduced to the appearance of the women within it. How, then, can historians combat these issues and recover the accurate details when working with situations like this?

I would say that it is the responsibility of all historians to go the extra mile when necessary to cease the perpetuation of this problematic narrative. It is simply not feasible for someone to go through and fill in all the blanks with genealogical research of women’s first names, but we should definitely be doing our best to ensure that this is done in all cases that pertain to our research. It’s a difficult matter to navigate, and I welcome all recommendations and experiences!

To end on a more positive note, I’d like to mention what I believe to be among the greatest resources for both rural and women’s histories: the Tweedsmuir histories. These works constitute some of the most exhaustive local material and are told from an exclusively female perspective. It’s amazing to read what those women saw as important, how they went about compiling their material, and in many cases how the Women’s Institutes operated within their communities. These books not only gave rural women voices in recording the stories of their hometowns, but also created a unique format for writing history. They are the single most valuable sources in my own research, and I am grateful every day to have these available and accessible through digitization.

Thanks for reading another week’s worth of historical ramblings! If you have any tips or thoughts on the struggles of women’s history, I would love to hear them.

Thanks for reading,

Delany

 

Historical Weirdness and Mystical Coincidences, Or My Career Thus Far

In his office in Wallacetown           Welcome to my latest post, where things are getting real weird, real fast. For the last three years, I’ve maintained a weekly historical blog called World War Wednesdays, which confines me to a rather narrow field of thematic content. It’s exciting to have free range here to write about some broader historical topics, and I’d like to take the opportunity this week to get a little personal and a little, well, spooky.

I’ll just get right into it. Do you see that man up there, leaning back in his chair with a bit of a smirk? (am I imagining the smirk??) That’s Dr. James Wellington Crane. I first discovered him when I was working as a digitization tech at Elgin County Archives over the summer of 2015. My job there was to scan tiny little envelopes that were part of a local newspaper’s fonds, which were each labelled with a name and contained clippings from every time that person appeared in the paper throughout their life. Being the curious young history student that I was, I’d often read them to get a sense of the area’s prominent citizens, events, and places and how they’ve evolved over the years. When I came across Dr. Crane’s envelope, I was particularly interested to read that he was significant to the village where I grew up and had a medical practice there around the turn of the twentieth century. I read on that he established a telephone company in the area in 1901, owned Wallacetown’s first car and enjoyed taking people for their very first rides, and established a forest getaway for Western medical students to meet and share knowledge at his home, “Kelligrew”. He seems like an interesting character, I thought, and filed him in my mental catalog of interesting information that probably no one else would get excited about.

Here’s where things get spooky: from that moment on, throughout my numerous and varied pursuits, I keep reconnecting with Dr. Crane in the strangest of ways. Being very interested in local history, I often comb through the archives and our trusty volumes of print resources in order to adapt my blogging, academic research, and professional programming through our local museum to showcase local stories that aren’t often shared. Sometimes I would be meandering through a source, scroll back up to the top, and discover that I was reading an article by James Wellington Crane. Sometimes I’d be looking at photographs for a blog post or panel and find “Dr. Crane” in the caption of a group shot. Once, when looking at a photo of a local building, I realized that the good doctor, in his younger years, just happened to have been captured standing in front of it. These coincidences happen on a regular basis! Recently, I grabbed our trusty Tweedsmuir history book at work and the pages just opened to his face, and I finally had to share this madness. Our curator, my coworkers, and some volunteers were quite interested to hear about his story as well as how he seems to be trying to contact me from beyond the grave. Above all, the more I learn about him, the more I believe that he was truly a wonderful and benevolent person, and that’s what I tried to convey when I was describing him. We ultimately decided that his story needs to be told, and I am very excited to be able to answer his calls and showcase his life and legacy in an upcoming exhibit for 2018.

However, this is not proving to be where my Crane encounters end. Just this week, I traveled to Weldon Library at Western, where I am now a graduate student, for an orientation to the archives there in anticipation of upcoming projects. I walked past a hallway display showcasing Western’s medical history through some medical artifacts and photographs, and was reminded of the significant role that Dr. Crane played in the development of the medical school here. Today, in doing research for the exhibit, I came across a clipping describing how he spearheaded the Medical Artifacts Collection at Western, and how interested he was in preserving and highlighting history throughout his life. It seems that the good doctor is following me along my journey, and I look forward to being able to share his story with the public as well as discovering more fascinating facets of his life. I hope the encounters continue, even if they do freak me out!

Thanks for tolerating this ramble! I type with 100% honesty that my brand-new lamp was flickering while I was putting this post together, so I do hope that signifies approval!

Delany

Greener Pastures: Chapter 1 of my Journey in Public History

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As I settle into London life and become more comfortable with the Public History program, apprehension and uncertainty gives way to the sort of puppy-going-for-a-walk excitement that comes from being presented with a set of challenges that will be fulfilling and enjoyable to meet. Time management skills will be of utmost importance as I embark on the precarious balancing act of part-time employment (30 hours a week at Backus-Page House Museum in Tyrconnell, Ontario), an RA placement (10 hours a week at Eldon House Museum), three graduate courses, an online course on Indigenous Canada through the University of Alberta, and my numerous blogging ventures. Since these are all things that inspire, excite, and energize me, I feel lucky to be able to take this on!

One of the courses this year is centered on Digital History, something that I was fortunate enough to have become familiar with during my time at the University of Ottawa. Over the course of two different classes with Professor Jo-Anne McCutcheon (digital history and a seminar in women’s history), I was introduced to a variety of digital historical tools as well as the scholarship surrounding them. One of my favourites, which I luckily learned early on in my undergrad, is Zotero. It allows me to compile bibliographies using a browser extension which automatically saves every last detail of a work and even generates a proper bibliography to complete my research. I’ve used Zotero for numerous papers and digital projects and love how it helps me stay organized!

Another tool to which I was introduced was GIS. In Digital History, we had two guest speakers (one who uses GIS in his own research firm and another who worked in the GIS lab at uOttawa) to help us become comfortable with the technology, demonstrate its capabilities and role within historical study (HGIS), and show us some examples of projects. I was quite interested in the way that HGIS deals with physical spaces, which I thought would fit well with my research, and wanted to try it out for my final project in the course. Fast forward to the frigid day I decided to begin my GIS adventure: I was living in Gatineau, Quebec and had exhausted my internet limit for the month, so I packed up my laptop and headed to the local Tim Horton’s. I downloaded the version of GIS that was recommended to my class, unzipped what seemed like a hundred folders, and began playing around with it. It wasn’t long before I became overwhelmed with the complexity of the program and realized that the learning curve was too steep for the parameters of my assignment. Instead, I put together a StoryMap that showcased my research in a simpler visual manner. GIS and I still aren’t friends, but I’m hoping to change that this year!

Another realm of digital history that I’ve recently become quite comfortable with is Omeka, which is used to develop digital museum exhibitions in a range of formats, from pre-designed templates to specially coded and interactive sites. I created two different exhibits for different courses and really enjoyed being able to build collections of digital media in order to supplement my text-based research. While I only used Omeka in its most basic form, I see a great deal of potential in further experimentation and hope to incorporate that into my time in Digital History at Western.

Overall, when I reflect on my relationship with digital history thus far, I am quite proud of how far I have come since first getting high-speed internet in rural Elgin County in 2013, and am excited to continue that trajectory. Some of the best rewards come from stepping outside one’s comfort zone and embracing the unfamiliar, and I can’t wait to find out what new things will be old hat by this time next year!

Thanks for reading,

Delany