Reflections on “Digital History”

As I am sure other people in the James Farmer Group will reiterate, the theme at the beginning of this semester was copyright. I remember sitting down as a group after reading Lay Bare the Heart and talking about where to start gathering information. We wanted to do something incredibly broad and rope in Farmer’s entire life. After all, the James Farmer Project should be a tribute to James Farmer. As we began hammering out our contract, we suddenly realized the predicament that we faced. Those images/videos/speeches we each individually found in places like the Library of Congress, in the UMW Archives, at the Free-Lance Star and on the internet were not yet compiled in one place for a very frustrating reason: different people already owned the rights to all of it.

I know that other groups had some scary moments this semester, but our scariest came at the very beginning. As we started compiling information on the copyrights, I honestly wondered if this project was even possible. All of the material that we hoped to use already had a copyright stamped to it, so for a few days we all hung our heads low and got ready to send out literally dozens of permission letters. Our first contract called for us to scramble to get the permission letters out with help from Dr. McClurken and the Provost of the University, but fortunately, we reassessed and reevaluated our contract. Scope became the central issue tied to our copyright obstacles, so we ultimately revised the contract with a much smaller scope that focused on materials we could easily obtain copyright permission for.

Once we became realistic about our goals, the project took off with only a few minor bumps. The simile timeline grew quickly as we added dates from our individual research. I did some raw coding and we had the James Farmer Timeline. We all collectively had a finished version of the timeline ready days before the deadline on our contract. The quotes page also grew rapidly with help from the entire group, and photos came from the UMW Archives and Laura and Nikole’s own photos. The one thing I was disappointed about was audio, which I feel was out of our control. I discovered several long recordings of James Farmer speaking in the Library of Congress, but discovered a new obstacle: cost. To obtain copies required sound technicians priced at hundreds of dollars. However, our work with Andy Rush and Carolyn Parsons to digitize UMW copies of speeches by Farmer made up for this. It was a great experience and gave us some great videos. We also decided in the middle of the semester not to use Omeka. We simply did not need it because the material that we collected fit in to the WordPress installation flawlessly.

What amazed me was how closely our group worked together. We followed a policy where each person “managed” an aspect of the finished project, so everyone helped work on everyone else’s main focus. Laura, Nikole and Mary helped me add dates to the timeline in our GoogleDoc, while I took over from Nikole after she worked out the exchange of videos between the DTLT and the UMW Archives. Together, we edited them with Mary’s help. Nikole did a great job doing a lot of our background research. Mary was a huge help with the website and kept us going with Tim O’Donnell. I was happy to go along with the group to the James Farmer Multicultural Center and suggest photographs and help compile interesting quotes on the quotes page, which Laura manged. I liked how we always discussed things as a group and came to a decision about our course of action.

Therefore, all in all, I think that we fulfilled the overall goals of our contract. Omeka was not necessary because WordPress worked so well, and we all collaborated very efficiently.

One Response to “Reflections on “Digital History””

  1. Colin Says:

    btw, Dr. McClurken, this is exactly 650 words. 😀