- Created a WordPress (WP) site for the archive. Decided on the domain name (web address).
- Chose a free available theme: Twenty Seventeen.
- Set the customizable options for having a static homepage. Added pages in a top menu for each of the archive sections: Exploring Artifacts, Search and Finding aid, Appraisal and Selection, Community, Archival Log
- Chose and set header image, subtitle, and font. Changing font color for header image unavailable.
- Added thumbnail images and captions to the Exploring Artifacts page. Attempted to place in a grid but efforts unsuccessful. A “stacked” top to bottom layout only is supported in the free WP site. Researched column plug-ins to apply later to achieve a grid layout with purchase of upgraded site.
- Added content to the Appraisal and Selection page. Added an introduction describing the purpose for the section.
- Created a page for the Literature Review and embedded a link at the top of the Appraisal and Selection page. Researched adding anchor plug-ins once upgraded to allow users to jump to specific sections of the review from a list at the top of the page.
This working session marked the first steps toward completing the digital exhibit of the archival materials collected and organized thus far, or, if not completing it, bringing the vision to fruition in a way that feels fulfilled even if not finished. The decisions made in this session were significant in shaping the overall look and feel of the online experience of the archive, and although the design will likely continue to evolve as progress is made, the exhibit needed to begin somewhere. It is both daunting and exciting to take real steps from an intangible imagined site to an actual site that users can find on the web and experience.
As discussed in the Institutional Influence chapter, I selected the WCMS WordPress, chose a domain name, selected a theme, and pages for the different sections to build a sample page for my committee as part of the prospectus to give them a sense of the archive as I was envisioning it. At that time, I had selected the Dyad theme, but since it had been a while since the prospectus and I needed to strip the content out since it was only functioning as a placeholder for the permanent content, I decided to reselect the theme.
Like the domain name, theme selection is another critical decision. While I do not want this reflection to delve into the granular details of building a WP site, which is information covered elsewhere and in different contexts far more extensively and with far more authority than I could, it is important to note the significance of the theme selection. The benefit of WP themes is that it instantly provides a formatted site with headers, menus, coordinated fonts and colors, and layouts. Again, this decision represented a moment of tension between what is perfect and what is possible. In using a pre-set WP theme, I am immediately limited in terms of the design; the theme’s visual appearance and functionality are pre-determined and thus decrease the designer’s agency in significant ways. It is a trade-off between getting a site up and running quickly with a professional feel and without extensive training in programming and having the ability to start with a blank slate and design according to the ideal vision. The themes can be changed later, but that does disrupt already embedded content and navigation. I felt it would be better to try to make the best theme choice from the beginning. WP offered some guidance in theme selection by describing themes and offering previews, which was especially useful in broadly conceptualizing how one theme would be more effective in showcasing images versus those that would provide a platform for text like blog posts. There is also a consideration for whether the theme selected is provided at no cost versus premium themes that require payment for use.
Ultimately, the theme I selected is called Twenty Seventeen. I was drawn to the theme for the striking, highly visual nature of the layout. From the beginning, I envisioned an image-centric site that featured compelling photographs of the artifacts, so this theme fit that idea well. It allows a “static home page” that essentially keeps certain content on the site so it functions like a website as opposed to a blog-like appearance that constantly updates with new posts. An important feature of this theme, especially given the structure with a static home page, is the header image and text.
The interface for working the header is shown below, which controls two important functions. The first image users see when navigating to the exhibit and the text featured as the title of the site.
One area of compromise between an idealized version of the site and what is practical in the context of time and skills is represented by the selection of the header image. This theme has the option of setting a video as the header, which was intriguing to me. It seems that if users encountered a more dynamic experience than a static image, it could be more engaging and give a deeper look into the archive than what is offered by the still image, although I feel the quality of the video and the content would need to be professionally executed to convey authority. If I had the time and skills to work more with the programming for the site, I would love to have something like a scrolling photo gallery that rolls through various archival images and perhaps even plays Portuguese Fado music while on the home page. Perhaps as I get further into the project and start exploring the technology options available to me, I can develop this kind of video for the header. However, in the end, I decided to choose an important image to me, which is the First Communion photograph featuring my grandmother and her siblings.
This design interface option also has a pencil icon that when selected allows me to change the text that is featured over the header. I set the title as Around Her Table, but I had to spend some time working out what to place for the subtitle. I felt some obligation to use the same subtitle given in my IRB application, which was “A Digital Archive of Azorean-American Women’s Cultural Artifacts;” however, this does not capture for me the oral history elements of the project. The original title in the prospectus was “A Digital Cultural Archive of Azorean-American Women in Bristol County Rhode Island,” but that is problematic too as Dr. Phelps pointed out since the archive does not contain women, rather their material culture and oral histories. I toyed with adding the reference to histories and keepsakes back into the title, and decided that I might not want to exclude other areas in New England as the archive grows by limiting the scope to one county in RI. I eventually decided to add “Digital Cultural Archive featuring Azorean-American Women in New England,” but I imagine that may be something I continue to visit and tweak before really going live. I was frustrated that although I could change the text, I could not change the font size, color, or relative placement on the image. The title is white and more centered than I might like. I think I will need to play with more images to find one that is the best “face” for the archive that also works best with the fixed font color and location.
After determining the titles, selecting the header image is one of the first things that the theme asked me to set. My favorite image, which I used on another panel and is discussed in more detail below, is an old black and white photograph with women of all ages sitting around a kitchen table. I selected that image first because it truly captures the essence of the archive; however, the picture is slightly blurry and would not set a strong first impression. The theme also has a predetermined size for the image to occupy, so it forces an image crop to fit the header space. Even if the image was not blurry, the force crop would cut out the majority of the women in the photo. I tried several photos after that—my Aunt Elsie’s bowl of Portuguese soup was one I played with for awhile. Again, the force crop would not allow for the full bowl to be visible. I eventually landed on the photo of my grandmother and her siblings on the occasion of her brother’s First Communion. The image below shows the force crop screen after selecting the image from my media uploads.
Another point of frustration I encountered was with the appearance of the image in the crop and in the production stage pictured in the two images above. In both, it is clear that there is open space above my Aunt Mary’s head and the top of the image, noted with the red arrow above. However, once the page is published, the crops seems to zoom in even further to where the top of her head cut off. Attempts to adjust the crop, too numerous to count, were futile. Adjusting the crop further above Mary’s head means that little Elsie in the bottom right is virtually eliminated and the title text runs over John’s face entirely. The best version I could accept is here:
It became clear after spending almost an hour selecting, cropping, saving, publishing, and checking images over and over again, that it would be necessary to move on. It may not be the perfect image, but it does set a tone I find favorable—evoking something of history and family that I think works for now. If I belabor this one point, the work for the remainder of the exhibit won’t get off the ground. I decided to start a list of things that I would like to develop further, but that are perhaps more lower order concerns to address, once I have put higher priority items into place.
I then moved on to the next major built-in feature of the theme, which is the “panel” feature. As users scroll down the page, the menu bar slides up to reveal another image associated with an “About” section. Additional sections can be added to lengthen the page and add additional panels, but I don’t want to add sections here that would be redundant to content found in the menu. This sliding and revealing has a very appealing look (see below) and makes the site feel well-produced and current. I am pleased with this functionality being an embedded function, and as I continue to think about placement for the archive sections, I may think about moving some of the menu links (particularly the Community page) to one of the sliding panels.
I want to think more about the text and image in this revealed panel section. I also need to think about adding captions and alt-text to these images to explain more about them. Each time I upload an image, no matter where I ultimately choose to place it, I encounter the following interface:
I can edit the photo title, add a caption, alt-text, and a description. This equates to four decisions to make for each image added. I am tabling this issue for now, but I think I would ultimately like to have each images embedded text to match with the accession number and description assigned to the artifact in the Accession Log. This will help to keep things far more organized in terms of the metadata and would make any eventual transfer of the archive into another system a more seamless transition—so more work to do down the road.
The “About” section text is also something I need to keep thinking about. I initially wanted a brief description, a kind of meta-summary, but I wonder if I should add some suggestions here about how to interact with the site, perhaps single-sentence summaries of each section. I am also unhappy with the resolution of the image. The original photograph is blurry, so there is only so much sharpening I can do with photo editing software. I chose it though because it is such an inspiration for me for this archive. It is a large group of women sitting around a table; it is exactly the kind of experience I want to share with users. However, the lack of sharpness in the image may convey a kind of amateurishness that I desperately want to avoid. I do not want to do anything that detracts from the professional treatment of the participants’ artifacts, lessens a sense of authority, or poorly represents the community that has trusted me. I know I will probably reselect an image going forward, perhaps still including the photo in the artifacts sections where I can discuss the photo clarity in the description, but I need some time to adjust to the disappointment of not featuring what is such an (almost) perfect image. I think in the end, weighing my own preferences against user perceptions, the users must be prioritized.
The theme also has a “top menu” feature that allows users to easily navigate between “pages” that then function like separate sections of the site where posts can be organized through categorization. The menu functions embedded here help organize the content and allow me to control where on the home page the pages appear and even what order I want to arrange them. The pages I added are Exploring Artifacts, Search and Finding Aid, Appraisal and Selection, Community, and Archival Log, in that order from left to right. Of course, how these sections are named and in what order they appear are rhetorical decisions of arrangement and organization. I intentionally placed Exploring Artifacts as the first page in the horizontal menu.
Since English is read left to right, English speakers and readers naturally look at text on the left hand side first, and anything placed in this “first” position is likely to send a message that it is more important or significant than content placed further away. In this case, I do want users to go to this section of the archive before other sections because it contains the visual and audio artifacts that I want users to experience. Search and Finding Aid is also important and placed next so users can find artifacts with greater control by using keywords and categories and to access the more thorough finding aid. Again, accessing artifacts is of paramount importance, and the first two sections will prioritize exploration. From there, I want to emphasize community and participation. The next page will contain the curated links to other cultural content as well as information about contributing to the archive and provide ways to interact with the archivist and other community members through social media. The last two sections are really about transparency in the archive design and provide access to the traditional academic genres of methodology and literature review, as well as the archival log autoethnographic data, to interested users, perhaps those with more of a scholarly interest in rhetorical archive studies. I see these sections as more “about me;” they consist of my own writing far more than the other sections. I want this archive to be about the participants and the artifacts, not as much about the scholarly contributions, be what they may. I placed these last in an attempt to steer users toward the artifacts, leaving the academic work for those more deliberately seeking it.
I then went on to play with the exploring artifacts page’s structure, but again, I don’t want to go too far here until I get records management software in place to appropriately title and describe each artifact. I also realize that the images and recordings I have require selection, as I have multiple images for each artifact and I want to pull relevant clips from the voice recordings as opposed to uploading complete unedited files, and I also want to take the raw images and crop and adjust them to showcase the artifacts to their best appearances.
My vision for this section is to have one thumbnail image on the Artifacts page that represents each contributing family—Areia, Alves, Castro, Coute, Furtado, and Sousa. To explore that family’s artifacts, users would click the thumbnail and be taken to that family collection. In an ideal world, I would like to have these images arranged in a grid, with three images per row. I first tried to use the gallery media feature that is offered when I select the “insert media” button.
It lets me select multiple images at one time to insert into the page, and it makes a perfectly aligned grid of the selected images. Unfortunately, by using this feature, the page then essentially treats all images in the gallery as one. When I went to add a link to the individual images that would then take users to the family collection page, I realized that when I use the gallery option, adding a hyperlink will make the whole gallery one clickable image – the same destination no matter which image in the gallery you click.
I would have to add the images individually, which places them into a single list from top to bottom. I feel like this will discourage people from looking at the collections toward the bottom, or even assume there is a prioritization of the images at the top as more important and the ones at the bottom as less so. I really want them aligned in a grid to create a more equitable relationship between the collections for the users, and to keep more thumbnails in the field of vision at the same time.
I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to place these images onto the page in this order. It is difficult for me to put into words the utter frustration and futility of these attempts. In a blur of setting image size for each thumbnail (insert image, click and select edit, select edit image again, select crop, and select “square”) and using the left/center/right alignment settings for each image (which is maddening for how it will compress or displace other images), I was finally able to produce this in the production stage:
It was still not perfect because I wanted the images to be be arranged alphabetically, but again, it was a question of time and progress versus perfection. However, upon publishing this perfectly arranged grid of thumbnails, I was faced with this outcome:
I tried several more times to configure the images in a grid, but was never able to see a published page that maintained the arrangement as is appeared in the production screens. I eventually decided to use a “stacked” top to bottom layout. From previous experience, I knew that there is a way to establish “columns,” which allow pages to have these kinds of organized divisions. This feature is only available as a “plug-in,” which is an additional block of code that can downloaded and integrated into the WP site for added functions. The columns plug-in is available, but in order to have plug-ins run on a WP site, there is a required upgrade that will run just under $300 annually. This also comes with unlimited storage, which is a significant advantage for the archive’s growth to not be limited by space when it comes to adding artifacts and audiovisual content. It also includes a dedicated domain name that does not include any WP branding, making the site appear like an independent construction as opposed to a fancy blog. This is certainly something I will need to do to make the site look and work the way I want, but it will have to wait until I have access to more funding which is pending receipt.
After taking a break, I thought about playing with some of the other sections that are more text-heavy and maybe less challenging in terms of arrangement. I added content to the Appraisal and Selection page in the form of an introduction to the purpose for this section of the archive. At the top, as I was encouraged to do after my prospectus hearing, I included a place to link out to a traditional literature review. I do not have any objections to offering readers interested in these theoretical foundations the opportunity to explore them, but I did feel a small pang here of a tension between making the archive about me and my activities related to scholarly production and the archive as a place for community representation and identity building. It is sufficiently out of the way though that I think it won’t interfere with those goals, and it is important to me as a rhetorical archivist to offer as much transparency for how I am working as possible, The literature review does some of this important work in establishing the framework from which I approach my work.
I started a draft of the Literature Review, but did not publish that just yet. I need to figure out how to publish the post without it appearing on the archive, making it available only by clicking on the link at the top of the Appraisal and Selection page. However, as I was working on the Literature Review, I was weighed down by the length of text. Simply posting 10,000 words of straight text would fail to take advantage of the digital form. While the review does have some embedded links already, I decided that I wanted to have the ability to create a sort of Table of Contents at the tops of the Literature Review with each of the section titles listed. Users would be able to click on the section title to be taken automatically to this part of the review. It requires the use of “anchors” to be able to link to specific sections; however, this is also a plug-in feature. I can certainly add the un-anchored review and add these jumps in once the upgraded WP site has been purchased, but for now I still need to add a section to the review on feminist material culture, so I will not need to make that decision immediately.
This reminds me of some concepts I studied with Dr. Phelps: accomplishing and reaccomplishing. I could (or did), as discussed at several points throughout this entry, add something to the archive that would later need to be readdressed as new functions are added or new data is located to replace or supplement what I have already done. I think that with this project, there needs to be an acceptance of the concept that something “done” will seldom be a static, fixed, finished object. I think it will hinder progress to get too caught up in these considerations for future conditions. It will be important to do the work that can be done, and understand that reaccomplishing something is an inevitable and unavoidable fact of doing digital work. No amount of waiting for perfected conditions will change the need to rework aspects of the archive, so accomplish what is possible without concern for how it might be ideal to wait for some change in conditions.
- Work on the Appraisal and Selection content. There are sections I plan to add that discuss the Archive Concept, Participation, Data Collection and Selection, Funding, Technology and Institutional Constraints. I also have an introduction for the Archival Log section to finish and post before adding these individual accounts.
- I want to make plans to visit and work in the (Advanced Media Production) AMP Lab on the FAU campus where I work to help me edit the images and audio files to prepare them for archival inclusion.
- Research more about PastPerfect software and what version makes the most sense to purchase—also consider the benefits and disadvantages of learning and applying the pre-digital system of accession numbering.
- Archival work is constrained by costs, and balancing an archival vision with the financial constraints will be a constant tension that will shape the design. Archival work is also fundraising work, for both start-up and long-term maintenance.
- Past experiences with technology and familiar programs are likely to influence decisions.
- There is a lot of thinking in terms of what is perfect versus what is possible (right now).
- Many critical and foundational decisions are made in the first steps.
- User considerations shape the project’s title.
- Arrangement and order of content on the page in positions of importance, at the top of a page with vertical arrangement or on the left side with horizontal arrangement, may send users a message about the significance of the information.
- Digital design is a process of accomplishing and reaccomplishing.
- In the interest of making forward progress, some “not quite right” decisions need to be left in place.
- There is a natural tension between wanting to make progress and waiting for better conditions, like purchasing a program or upgrade. There is a fear that too much time will be spent redoing something that has already been added to accommodate the new feature. It reminds me of how people say if you wait for the perfect time to have a bay, you’ll never have one. Conditions will likely never be perfect in terms of funding or technology, but if there is an exigency that the archive seeks to mediate, then an urgency to create is there and a greater purpose that requires action.