Somehow 10 weeks of CURI concludes tomorrow! Time flies when you’re in an ongoing battle with WordPress. This summer has been very eye-opening in many ways, but I think I have grown the most in the visual design aspect of the project. One of the unique things about this summer was that we spent much less time doing the groundwork of primary source research, and more time reading up on map design, website design, and WordPress design. Our job was to make the data we already had, and some that we collected in DC, more accessible and argument based. Overall, I think we did a really great job, even though I’m sure there are things we would do differently in hindsight.
I have lots of seemingly random pieces of advice for the next CURI team. It will probably be a while until before there’s another Musical Geography team, so I hope these tidbits of information are especially helpful in filling the gap time wise.
The first few things are related to WordPress. Thea and I had the goal of revamping the website because it looked pretty dated. The way the website currently stands will probably look dated once again in 2-3 years, but that is exactly the point. In terms of “keeping up to date” with website styles of the time, I would ask someone in DiSCO, or someone with a digital design background how to design a website that doesn’t go out of fashion every year. How do we make something somewhat timeless? Is that even possible with website design? Another piece of advice is to sit down during the first week of research, lay out your design goals (ArcGIS, WordPress, or otherwise), and talk with someone who knows these platforms about whether what you want to do is possible or not. I definitely think there is benefit in messing with the software on your own to see if you can get something to work, but that is only productive for a few hours before you feel like you’ve wasted valuable time. Often times, someone in DiSCO will be able to tell you right away if something is possible, and if they can’t, they have faster ways of understanding if it’s possible. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Another area I’d like to touch on is research and research methods. Both over the summer, and during January, we seemed to work with data first and then arguments second. We were focused on collecting everything there was out there on Burleigh, no matter how it related to the last piece of data collected. While I believe this might be a more honest/unbiased way of collecting data, it also creates more obstacles in creating argument-based maps. I would advise the next group to do a mixture of half and half. Even if the argument seems far-fetched, there can be discussion around what went wrong, how you would improve next time, etc. Even though Thea and I produced argument-based maps by the end of the summer (as opposed to maps like “Burleigh’s Life and Legacy”), we were mostly working with data that had already been recovered. I wish we had more opportunities to research Burleigh with fresh eyes again, this time with arguments in mind first, and then see what we could come up with. Another research methods-type piece of advice is to read about the context you’re researching in when you want a change of pace. I was lucky enough to start the summer by reading lots of scholars like Daphne Brooks, Jennifer Stoever, Brittney Cooper, and so many more. Even though I was looking at old data that I’d already spent quite a bit of time with, I was able to see it in a new way after reading the works of scholars who specialize in the time period or subject.
My final piece of advice is to travel if possible! We uncovered so much more than we thought we would in DC, and it was such a rewarding experience overall. I keep saying this, but it goes to show that if you are looking for data in a specific place, you should go to that place. Before the summer, I believed that we had a comprehensive-ish understanding of Burleigh’s renown during his lifetime. But after this trip, I don’t think we have even half of the data we could. Cities like New York City and DC have incredible resources, but given the opportunity, going somewhere like Boston or Chicago would be provide a wealth of information on Burleigh or his contemporaries.
All in all, I’m very pleased with everything we were able to accomplish this summer. This always seems to happen, but I feel like I found my most productive work flow/schedule in the last three weeks of the summer. Even though we only get one opportunity for CURI, I can’t wait to pursue more research experiences like the one we had at St. Olaf this summer.