During October, we completed our first Rapid Development Challenge of the year. This first project consists of developing a two page project vision document and then transforming that document into a website. Brainstorming a new project with new collaborators was exciting–despite having the same options of heritage institutions to choose from as last year, my group was able to come up with something that never even crossed our minds last year. My collaborators Eric Kesse, Emma Creamer, and I came up with the idea for the Robben Island Forum–a discussion based website dedicated to connecting community members with each other and with archival materials related to the Robben Island Museum’s collections.

While it was incredibly exciting to come up with this idea, I want to focus this reflection on my experiences working on the second component of this challenge. Last year, when we began building our website for our London Wall Walk project idea, I had no web development experience. I had completed the required tutorials for fellowship participation and I have previously worked with content management systems such as WordPress or Omeka, but I had never before had to be so involved in working with the actual code of a website. This was both a frustrating and rewarding experience. I learned a lot, but often only by making many errors first. However, by the end of the project I knew how to organize HTML, modify CSS, and work in GitHub. The senior fellows in my group were incredibly patient and helpful, and it helped prepare me for building my final project.

This year, I was the senior fellow in my group. At first, I was afraid this would be daunting. Despite my experiences in the CHI fellowship last year, I relied heavily on the senior fellows in my group for the set up of the project and walking me through the more difficult tasks. I was unsure how I would be able to act in this role in my own group, but I ended up surprising myself. I was able to set up the repository with our preferred Bootstrap template on GitHub and demonstrate for my group members the process of using GitHub desktop (something I failed at last year which resulted in some accidental pushes to the wrong repo–sorry again, Ethan!). I was able to easily edit individual pages for content and theming in a way that was unimaginable during the same challenge last year. I was also able to help my collaborators add images, insert hyperlinks that would open in a new tab, and reorganize the website’s navigation. Although this may sound simple to more experienced developers, realizing I was able to show others even the smallest elements of web development was very fulfilling. 

Of course, this was all by (Ethan’s) design, but I didn’t realize how impactful this would be on my understanding of myself as a digital humanities scholar. This week, we begin our second rapid development challenge for the year on Mapping Memory. Since my final project from last year was dependent on what I learned from this challenge in 2021, I’m curious to see what new realizations I will come to this time around.