Digitizing the Past: My Time as a Digital Cultural Heritage Intern

By Grace Robbins, Office of Digital Research and Scholarship Intern, Fall 2019


During this semester I have been working as the Digital Cultural Heritage Intern in the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship. You might be wondering, what in the world is digital cultural heritage? It seems like a fancy title, but for what? Essentially the concept of digital cultural heritage is defined as preserving anything of cultural significance in a digital medium. Anything we preserve becomes part of a “heritage” to something, whether that be to an individual person or a whole culture. I was interested in working more with the intersection of digital humanities and archaeology after volunteering on the Cosa excavation in Italy directed by FSU. Archaeology is such a material driven, hands-on discipline (and science!), and it proves to be an effective tool to understanding–and interacting with–the past. However it generates so much data. Archaeologist Ethan Watrall writes, “The sheer volume and complexity of archaeological data is often difficult to communicate to non-archaeologists.” Furthermore, many discovered artifacts and architecture remain inaccessible to most of the general public. Thus, the goals in my internship revolved around understanding how digital platforms affect accessibility to these “heritages,” specifically in the contexts of archaeology and the humanities, so that scholarship is furthered for people in academia but also, hopefully, the general public.

I did most of my work with the Digital Cosa Project, which included uploading data from the Cosa hard drive onto DigiNole, FSU’s Digital Repository. My tasks confronted some organizational and technological challenges, however, as the large amount of data to be ingested meant rethinking the best way to organize the digital collection. We ended up switching plans from organizing by excavation year to organizing by type of file (artifacts, plans, maps, stratigraphic unit sheets, etc.). I also practiced coding, which most historians or archaeologists may not be familiar with. It begs the question, should these disciplines incorporate more digital education in the future? How useful would this be?

I also wanted to experiment with visual technology, including 3D applications such as 3D modeling and 3D printing.

3D model of a trench from 2019 excavation season being built in Meshroom, a free and open source photogrammetry program.

I especially enjoyed learning about 3D printing because it ran simultaneous to the FSU Archaeology Club’s “Printing the Past” exhibit in Dirac, which displays one important way digital humanities can further archaeological knowledge: hands-on learning! I couldn’t have learned about ancient Rome better than when I was unearthing ancient material on the dig and providing such artifacts in the form of 3D printing for non-archaeologists to interact with bears pedagogical significance.

Standing with the Cosa poster for the “Printing the Past” exhibit by the FSU Archaeology Club. I helped 3D model and 3D print the 3rd object from the left, an inscription found in the 2019 excavation season.

3D scanning was not as easy of a task, as new technology always comes with a learning curve, but in the future I want to continue working with this practice.

3D scanning the Napoleon Bonaparte death mask in Special Collections.

In my time at the internship, I have broken down my understanding of digital humanities from a broad concept to a web of applications that further humanities and archaeological knowledge. I will continue to work in the internship next semester, and I hope to continue mastering 3D modeling and printing and am looking forward to developments in the Digital Cosa project as we finalize our plans for the Cosa digital collection. Most importantly, I am eager to experiment with more creative ways these digital applications can be used in academia and the general public that will enable us to be more “in touch” with the past.


A Library Intern’s Maiden Voyage through Digital Publication in the Antarctic

This post was authored by Suzanne Raybuck, Intern with the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship in the Fall of 2019. Suzanne recounts her experience working with Special Collections Materials and creating a digital publication interface to display it online. The final version is not yet live, but this post contains previews of the interface.

A Hercules emergency oil lantern from Operation Deep Freeze.

When I originally was brought on as the Digital Publication Intern for the Office of Digital Research and Scholarship, I had virtually no concept of what I would be doing in my new internship position. But, very early on I knew that I wanted to work with the Robert E. Hancock Jr. Collection at FSU Special Collections. The Hancock Jr. Collection is a collection that “contains materials regarding military operations in the Antarctic, primarily focusing on the Operation Deep Freeze II mission.” Based on that description, it’s a safe conclusion to assume it contains lots of important and scholarly documents and artifacts. However, it also contains various memorabilia from Robert E. Hancock Jr.’s time in Antarctica (including many, many, tiny penguin figurines, a drawing of Mickey Mouse shaking a penguin’s hand, model navy destroyer ships, lumps of coal, emergency lanterns, and military rations). This wonderful collection of artifacts is endlessly fascinating because it provides a series of vignettes of life at the South Pole in the form of really fun random objects.

A model of a wind-class ice breaker ship USCGC Southwind which participated in Operation Deep Freeze.

I found this collection while searching through Special Collections for a fun series of documents to use as guinea pigs for a new publication system we were testing. Essentially, I needed a bunch of documents in similar formats that we could transform into digital objects and then use to test out different publication tools. After spending maybe an hour with a variety of fun models and pictures, I found the Operation Deep Freeze Newsletters nestled into a box of other periodicals from Antarctica. The Newsletters were published by the army to send to the families of servicemen who were in Antarctica to let them know the news from the various bases. The Newsletters were mostly written by incredibly bored servicemen just trying to pass the time in their freezing posts. This boredom resulted in the inaugural newsletter detailing the long and involved process of how a band of grizzled soldiers tried to hatch live chicks from commercial eggs for the upcoming Easter Holiday. I had definitely found my guinea pig documents.

The original front page of Volume 1 Issue 1 of the Operation Deep Freeze Newsletter.

After finding the newsletters, I was tasked by our Digital Humanities Librarian, Sarah Stanley, with first encoding these newsletters in a data-rich .xml format called the Text Encoding Initiative, or TEI, and then figuring out how to publish them online. To accomplish this, we had to take into consideration three key factors: maintaining the format of the newsletters, good display functionality (e.g. tables of contents, hyperlinks, page view/scroll view), and how easy it would be to use. With these in mind, I started trying out different publication methods such as eXist-db’s TEI Publisher, which proved to be a challenging introduction into digital publishing.

eXist-db is an XML database tool that can be used to build web applications. We used the TEI Publisher package to create a digital collection that would use our TEI data format and present it in a clean and simple interface. The process of generating an application was intricate and required lots of specialized knowledge of both TEI files and their accompanying customization files. Additionally, we had no idea how the digital edition would look before we generated an application and viewed it, so if some small part of the display of the edition was off, we would have to delete the app, minimally adjust our code and generate a new app from the very beginning. Once we did get a finalized version generated, the overall look and feel of the page was exactly what we had hoped: very clean and easy to read. However, because we were using a program to generate the app for us, we had a very limited capacity to tweak the website interface and design or add our own custom parts to the whole thing. Ultimately, the the functionality of eXist-db did not quite meet our needs, and we tried to find a solution that would let us get a bit more hands-on with our edition.

A screencap of the eXist-db interface we created, its very clean and easy to navigate but at least four iterations of apps went into getting this particular layout.

Another possible publication tool didn’t arrive until the next semester, when I was working on publishing a collection of poetry translations online. Sarah pointed me towards a Jekyll (static website generator) template for minimal editions called “ed”. After looking at the examples, the display was again very clean and easy to interact with, so we decided to give it a shot. After deploying some quick test sites, we found that it was incredibly easy to work with and consistently generated beautifully designed websites that intuitively displayed our editions. It also had a built-in search function and annotation, which we were looking for in our poetry project. The only problem was we had to translate our TEI format into markdown, which caused us to lose huge amounts of metadata and information about textual styling that would be useful to other researchers. We made a judgement call and decided to keep looking for something that would preserve our format while giving us all the functionality and display options that we found with ed.

A screenshot of our test site for ed. Most of the sample texts we used were poems from Wilfred Owen, hence the name. Here you can see that the layout is slightly different since ed automatically creates larger title text. Unfortunately, we had to change all our TEI files to markdown, which got rid of most of our metadata.

The final option we looked at was a JavaScript library called CETEIcean, which takes TEI files and translates it directly into HTML. With a single script added to any existing HTML page, we could take our TEI files and easily publish them. Again, we started making some test pages and playing with the code and quickly ran into a problem. Because CETEIcean is just a JavaScript library, it doesn’t automatically build websites for you like with existdb and ed. If we used CETEIcean, we would have to make every single page on our website from scratch, repeating tons of HTML and JavaScript along the way. Sarah was enthusiastic about using CETEIcean since it did arguably check all our boxes, but I wanted to find a more efficient way.

In the end, we settled on using a combination of CETEIcean and ed along with chunks of original code to create our own web application which we named Pilot: Publishing Interface for Literary Objects in TEI¹. We essentially used the quick and intuitive page generation from ed, the javascript transformation of TEI from CETEIcean and mixed it together all running on a node.js server. Because we made Pilot from scratch, we can include or add all the functionality we want such as annotation, interactivity, and variant readings of the base newsletters.

A screenshot of what the first draft of our Pilot interface looks like. This page was automatically generated by the server file after reading a folder of TEI files, transforming them to HTML, and finally running them through three templates to get the desired display.

Though this project was long and frustrating, it ended up teaching me one of the most important points of digital publishing: digital representation of texts adds to the work, rather than merely representing it. Digital publishing is at a unique intersection where we have to negotiate the appearance of the facsimile, the functionality the editors want, and the demands of a digital medium. With all of these competing agendas, it’s hard to remember that a digital edition is a creative opportunity. With the vast array of tools offered by the web, developers can take advantage of things like interactive elements, user input, and different types of media to create editions that can only exist in digital spaces. In a way, digital editions represent a new kind of edition that acts more like an archive; where researchers can explore a digital space to find artifacts that are curated through organization and interface.

We plan for our iteration of the Newsletters in Pilot to allow for full-text searching, public annotation, different readings, and interactive displays. With these new features, we hope that the Newsletters will be read and understood in entirely different ways than their paper counterparts, and allow readers to interact with such an engaging yet little known collection.


¹ As an homage to CETEIcean (a pun on “cetacean,” which means “of or relating to whales”), we decided to keep with the whale theme and name our project after the pilot whale.

The Pride Student Union Records, 1964-2015

By: Hannah Wiatt Davis

We are excited to announce our most recently processed collection, the Pride Student Union Records, 1964-2015. Now a major fixture in the Student Government Association, the collection documents Pride’s predecessor organizations and their steps towards becoming an official agency, introducing non-discrimination policies on campus, and empowering FSU’s LGBTQ+ population.

In 1969, gay and lesbians in Tallahassee organized the People’s Coalition for Gay Rights, which later became the Alliance for Gay Awareness, as a response to the Stonewall Riots. The group was primarily a political organization active in the gay rights movement of the 1970s. In 1973, staff of the University Mental Health Center (now the Student Counseling Center) formed Gay Peer Counseling to provide support and counseling for gays and lesbian students. It became the most active LGBTQ+ group on campus in the early 1970s. In 1978, the group evolved into the Gay Peer Volunteers (GPV), which provided students opportunities for services in the community outside of the counseling environment. To include all students directly served by this student organization, the Gay Peer Volunteers changed its name to the Gay/Lesbian Student Union (GLSU) in 1989, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual Student Union (LGBSU) in 1994, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Student Union (LGBTSU) in 1998, and finally Pride Student Union in 2005.

There are several other auxiliary groups at FSU that have served the LGBTQ+ population. In 1984, Gay/Lesbian Support Services formed to continue and expand upon the goals and services of the preceding organizations.  In the 1990s, a specialist in student counseling continued the mission of GPV by founding Gay and Lesbian Allies (GALA), which was later absorbed by Tallahassee LGBTQ+ community center, Family Tree. Safe Zone-Tallahassee was founded in 1997 as a response to FSU administration to fund an LGBTQ+ committee or office space. In 2012, Safe Zone was revamped into Seminole Allies & Safe Zones, and provides workshops to students, faculty, and staff.

The collection contains administrative records, promotional materials, artwork and banners, newspapers, and journal and magazine clippings produced and collected by the organization since the late 1960s. Spanning from meeting minutes to posters for drag shows, protest banners and queer literature, the Pride Student Union Records provide a varied look at the voices of the LGBTQ+ community in Tallahassee.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.