Archive for November, 2011

Fine Points of Documentary

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

In this blog post I begin with a consideration of the pitfalls and issues with the documentary project. I follow up with a brief exposition on my personal development through this project and ponder suggestions for any future groups taking on this project. A quick note of thanks to Dr. McClurken, I greatly appreciated the opportunities we have this semester to take on unique projects. He risked this course’s success by entrusting us to select viable projects and course readings.

I acquired a number of new skills that I would not have otherwise even begun to think about, yet even this process came with issues. In crafting a documentary I had no idea where one began. You can read first, which may inform your questions, but without doing interviews right away the rest of the documentary feels formless. However, many guides and tutorials suggest building a storyboard of what you would like to tell. While I am certainly not artistic in my storytelling, but how can you create a storyboard without already having the story? I learned how to start building relations with interviewees and set up meetings. My group thoroughly discussed tips and techniques to keep an individual somewhat on subject, namely how to politely steer the conversation back to a relevant direction. The best skill I picked up was how to edit video.

Prior to this project, I had some inkling of how to work out audio issues, but video presented a new mystery to me. Thanks to substantial online tutorials and my project partner’s strong eye for editing, I felt supremely confident in my ability to sniff out bad cuts and how to overlay a good b-roll. There will always be the obstacle of learning a new piece of technology, but consider that the technology is a platform for you to tell a story. If such is the case, despite the difference in buttons and functions, different programs will expect the user to bring the same set of skills to the table. Do you know how to find a problem with video? Do you understand how to keep a viewer mentally engaged with your work? These are a couple of the underlying questions one must ponder. My partner was not familiar with Premiere but felt right at home with Avid. Although these are two different programs, her strong editing skills can shine through in both. I love editing video and adding audio tracks that blow people’s minds.

With any project, the key lesson is knowing how to budget time, however time is again an overarching issue. One should mainly note that in a group project the core issue is dividing workload. I found balancing the work power of four people to be exceedingly difficult, especially given my dearth of skills. Regardless, I should have considered ways to play to each individual’s strengths and time availability. Each member of my group gave this project their full time and attention, but at some moments there was little for them to take care of. Truth be told, video editing can be a solo job and does not require a committee at the very beginning. Given that, how do you divvy out a four person group? Perhaps the lesson here is understanding the nature of the project and potential job roles for each participant. I wouldn’t want to take away from anyone’s learning experience, which can easily happen when individuals only take jobs they are already proficient at. I find this to be a particularly hard balancing act and would love to get other opinions on the matter.

I fell in love with this documentary project and already have ideas rolling through my mind about the next short piece. With only a few weeks left in the semester, I can’t believe it has taken me four years at UMW to realize that I love film work. Better late than never, and there is nothing wrong with pursuing documentary as a hobby, right?

Who Do You Trust?

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

After leading class discussion last week, I began to mull over this question of trust. “Oh,” you say, “why is trust even a question?” As an academic-sort of person, I wonder at little things now. I read through Chuck Zerby’s Devil’s Details as well as Grafton’s Footnotes: A Curious History wherein both of them trace the development of footnotes and methods of trusting scholars findings.

Dr. McClurken added an additional set of readings about an academic hoax a few years back. The comments on this post struck me with the idea of “trust networks.” Dr. McClurken had mentioned this issue that the authority behind the project duped a number of colleagues into believing in the legitimacy of the work. I have to admit that I can appreciate the unsettling of the academic waters. Projects like this kick up a bunch of muck in the water and teach us that trust can sometimes be misleading. Just as scholars could fake early footnotes with sources that were tampered with, we historians and scholars will struggle with these issues. Somehow, we become far too trusting. Yet it is impossible to fact check every footnote or each aspect of a project. Something will slip under our radar, yet the more vigilant the scholar, the better the field.

At times questioning trust causes rifts between groups. How dare you doubt x researcher? Don’t you know that he/she has a degree in such and such a field? But academic work does not necessarily equate with bias-free texts. It might even be a bit depressing to know that the scholarly field is not as trustworthy as it might seem, but aren’t we all better off for having the wool taken off our eyes? Although we should expect that our colleagues will be honest and upright, knowing that the academic career is more than a little cutthroat gives us a better lay of the land. Why yes I am dancing around this issue! If academics will question the validity of primary source materials, should we not question our trust circles even further? Watch your back, things are not as clear as they may seem.

Maybe this whole matter of trust turns academia into a spy game or a thriller of sorts, filled with dangerous scholars toating deadly footnotes meant to lull a colleague into a false sense of security. You can place more mechanisms to ensure trustworthy work, yet in the end anything can eventually be circumvented. Trust at your own risk.

Conducting Interviews and Gaining Skills

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

My work with the documentary process has opened a whole other set of skills to me. I have spent much of my time familiarizing myself with the digital media lab’s copy of adobe premiere. Admittedly, I deserve to write a rather glowing post for, which offers detailed and amazing video tutorials.

Like most of the Info Age’s projects, this one forces one to acquire non-traditional skills. Although the advertisement project might leave a few gaps in understanding how it relates to the historical discipline, the documentary offers very clear-cut, transferable skills. You are still crafting an argument about the ways in which events occurred and, more importantly, why it happened. Where are the differences? Well, primary sources in your typical paper include documents, not actual living people. There is a certain danger in conducting interviews, namely asking leading questions. If questions shape the project, it even more strongly influences the sources for this type of project. Unlike a traditional project, you cannot bully a piece of paper, much less make it answer a question specifically in your favor (perhaps a debatable point). I must warn other students conducting similar projects. Please put thought into your questions. As I understand it, the documentary typically needs a direction and form before interviews even begin, and the temptation is to make sure that interviewees’ statements match with your own interpretation, but such attempts create weak projects. While our main interviewer crafts questions as objectively as possible, I can imagine a scenario where an interviewer pushes interviewees to produce very specific answers. I enjoyed sitting in on an interview to watch my project partner work. Of course, she already brings a great deal of skill to the table, so I had a wonderful learning experience.

Documentary Finished Finally!

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

So the past few weeks in class have been interesting.  Leading discussions with Mike was awesome.  The conversations that were sparked and even built upon this past week was amazing.  Then we had the documentary and man was that difficult.  There were several occasions as editor of the video that I just wanted to throw up my hands and scream.  Nothing seemed to be working and everything just seemed to fail.  However I didn’t quit til I was past the finish line.  Doing a study on tutorials was an interesting choice for this documentary considering we used tutorials a lot to finish this documentary.  I think there were trying to times in our group when we had to redo things to make them work, but in the end we got them to work.

For me personally I think this was a good experience after having gone through it.  I wish that we all had had access to programs like Adobe Premier, but we didn’t.  It looked like it was a lot of fun to create things in it, however Windows Movie Maker was a curve enough for some of us (like me).  I think the most challenging part I found was actually getting the thing to work and be able to reopen it and do what was needed.

Project Blog Post

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

I personally was one of the few people in the class who voted not to do a documentary, just because I was personally nervous about having to deal with video editing.  However, our group hung in and completed the task.  We each spent a good deal of time researching our topic, which was the downfall of the postal system.  We each found plenty of sources and a lot of information that we did not know about.  What made our project great to me is that when we filmed, we told a story.  It was not just interviews.  And the interviews that we did were fascinating and impactful, especially since we had a postal worker talk about the problems that USPS is facing right now.  I would also have to say that the hardest part of this project was setting everything within a specefic time frame.  5 to 10 minutes is not the amount of time that we thought it would be.  The video editing process was very difficult, since the first movie editor program our group chose did not work nearly as well as we thought it would.  Even on the final day, it was not fun posting our project onto youtube.

I think that the part of this project that is not easy to deal with is doing the interviews.  The problem was getting all group members together and finding time when the interviewees were free.  Although our group did not have a problem with this, I know that some groups did, and it is very understandable.  This kind of project may not be my favorite, but it was interesting and fun to try.

Documentary DONE!

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Well this week was a bit hectic to say the least. We had to finish out documentary and we were having tons of problems. First the clips we did film would not work on the iMacs in the Digital Media lab so we had to upload them to a PC and then when we worked with that computer it kept freezing. So we tried to save them on another computer and the files were corrupt. There were a few other problems but we were able to bypass them once we got the clips uploaded. As far as the work load, my main portions were researching for the Introduction to tutorials and the section about YouTube. I also wrote up what to say during those sections and did the voice over for the entire video as well as half of the citations. I used GarageBand on a Mac to make my audio clips. I really liked this project though, I just wish that there were legitimate people that we could have interviewed to make it seem more like a documentary. Overall I am pleased with what our group ended up with.

Documentary Assignment – Card Catalog

Friday, November 18th, 2011

For this documentary project, I was really curious to see how it would go. I’ve worked on similar projects, but never in a group, school setting, so I was curious how that would play out. For this video, I filmed some of the video, and worked on editing with Joe in Premiere, and made the graphics in AfterEffects. I’d never worked with someone to edit a piece before, and I’d never used Premiere, so it was a learning experience on multiple levels (sharing is caring, or something like that). I’m actually very happy with the way the final product turned out, although there are several things I’d probably change if I could. But, given the amount of time we had to complete the assignment, and considering that no one in the group had ever used Premiere before, I felt that it worked really well. Not really one for taking the time to read manuals, I just opened premiere and started messing around, to see if I could get it to do what I wanted it to. Joe actually took the time to watch tutorials on how it worked. Between the two of us, we functioned like someone who could more or less use premiere effectively. I greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to learn this new program, which I otherwise would never had thought to experiment with.

I also was very pleased with the message our documentary conveyed. While I think few people would describe the transition from card to digital catalog as riveting (there aren’t very explosions) I do think we did a good job of making the topic accessible and hopefully at least somewhat interesting. All in all, I am very pleased with this project.

Reflection on Documentary Creation

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary project. It was a nice break from writing papers. Also, I feel that I learned some valuable skills working with iMovie and other digital media software. I can foresee using the skills gained in other projects, other classes, and in other vocational applications. I also found the topic of our documentary to be very interesting. Being a student within higher education, I do not remember a time before the CommonApp or before having a laptop in every single class, but there was a time when these were not in existence or thought to even be possible. This documentary forced me to reevaluate the past, present, and future of higher education. Throughout the interviews, one question continued to come to mind, “What will higher education be like in 30 years?” Will there even be brick and mortar institutions or will everything be available online? I hope there will be, because I have thoroughly enjoyed my four years at the University of Mary Washington. I cannot imagine not actually attending classes, interacting with other students, or knowing my professor personally. It is a more comfortable learning environment to feel accepted and welcome inside of a supportive, academic community. How will students even be motivated to stay taking courses if they just log on every now and then and listen in on a Youtube video for class? They won’t be. In some cases, completely online courses work better for students, adult learners, or casual class takers, but the current model of higher education should satisfy a large majority of students for the coming 30 years. What do you think?

Week 12 – Project Summary

Friday, November 18th, 2011

I thought that this project seemed pretty daunting when we first began it a few weeks ago, but in the end I was satisfied by what we were able to do. Initially, it took some time to nail down a topic that leant itself well to a documentary, given that we would have to do something that went beyond just textual sources. Then came the problem of finding people who were willing to give interviews. It was really through luck that we were able to interview Mr. Brewer, and that interview ended up being vital to the overall credibility of the documantary. Lastly, the technical side of this project was somewhat difficult to grasp, as our intitial attempt at using iMovie was not successful. Also, the audio needed to be adjusted so that it was consistent throughout the documentary. All that being said, there was never a time when the project was actually in danger of failing. Film making may have been a new concept for all of us, but there always seemed to be easy solutions or potential alternatives to pursue. I think that our film did a good job of combining both textual sources and interviews to give a clear depiction of the trouble that the postal service faces.

Documentary Summary

Friday, November 18th, 2011

I really enjoyed making the documentary for our class. I thought it gave everyone a chance to present information about the information age in a creative way. I don’t think very many students at UMW have the opportunity to create a documentary in their classes. Like some people have already mentioned, the only difficult part was that not everyone was familiar with how to edit the documentaries.

For my group’s documentary, we mostly focused on interviews. I think that the interviews provided us with a lot of useful information especially since we chose faculty members from a variety of departments on campus. Each faculty member was able to provide us with information that was specifically related to their area of specialty. We also looked at other online sources in order to get background information and to figure out which questions we wanted to ask the interviewees. I found a lot of articles that related technology and higher education on The Chronicles of Higher Education. Overall, I learned a lot from creating this documentary. I already knew that technology had a major impact on education in general but hearing what the faculty members had to say allowed me to see how technology has affected different aspects of higher education.