Over the past year I have been involved in the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative Fellowship as one of the first fellows in the program. I started off the year with the goal of creating a community for bioarchaeologists around the world to share theories and methods known as the Bone Collective. I prepared a Wiki site for my creation, began building the back end of the site, and went off to the annual bioarchaeology meeting ready to share my idea with the discipline. The goal was to create a site that was completely community sourced, where bioarchaeologists freely gave their time for the greater good of the discipline.

Sadly, I quickly found when talking to my peers that while a resource like this would be great, they would not want to be the ones donating their time. Further, I found that students were discrediting the idea that a community sourced site could be accurate, and worth the investment. Moreover, there was an emphasis in many professionals that time would be better spent developing databases rather than creating educational resources. In May, I faced a hard reality of starting over on my project and dealing with failure. With only a summer to complete what should have been a 8 month project, I started on a new idea.

Campus Unearthed is an Omeka powered site which displays the work done by the Campus Archaeology Program at MSU. Artifacts and photos taken from excavations done on campus were combined with the historical and contextual knowledge we know about them. The site not only reveals what we found, but the entire process of archaeology done on campus. Further, the site can serve as a place for future archaeological finds. I’m very pleased with the outcome of the beta launch of the site, and while I know it needs a lot of work to be what I want for now it is a good indicator of what can be done with what we have.

And now I am officially retired as a CHI Fellow.

Image by Flickr user Steven Depolo and used under Creative Commons License

As I leave the fellowship now and continue onto less keyboard smashing tasks I do have some words of advice for the incoming fellows.

1. Struggle, Struggle, Struggle, and then ask for help: I had a rule when I was working with any of the content management systems or other technological beasts we battle. When you hit a snag try to figure it out for yourself first. Try to play around with the settings, look up potential solutions, and ask questions of the technological community via twitter or help forums such as DH Q&A. If you still cannot solve the problem try asking the other fellows for help- they may be dealing with the exact same thing. Do everything you can to fix the problem yourself. Finally, if you’ve tried talking with the Digital Humanities communities and the other relevant groups like Omeka forums, thats when you ask Joe. By the time that its come down to getting Joe or another programmer to fix something for you then at least you have a good idea of what the problem is and how it can be fixed.

2. Celebrate the little wins: You are going to be frustrated, you are going to be in over your head at times, so it helps to celebrate the little victories in the fellowship. Sure it took me an entire month to figure out how to get Omeka running properly on a development server instead of directly on a server, but there were lots of little things going right that kept my spirits up. I learned to FTP files, I mastered the CMS upload, I built great DH contacts, I got to brush up on my HTML language, and I learned a whole new set of technical jargon to confuse my family and friends. So while the larger project seemed to be at a standstill, I was learning a lot just trying to fix the problem.

3. Embrace your inner nerd and bake treats for MATRIX. Sugar fuels the brain, nerds use the brain… its all just simple logic.

All I have left to say… Good Luck!