Archive for the Category »W6: Final Project Topic «

Saving Buckland

My final project is going to focus on the conflict between progress and remembrance/historic preservation as it relates to the village of Buckland, a collection of 18th and 19th century homes 3 miles west of Gainesville that was also the site of a civil war cavalry engagement in 1863.

I began to think more about historic preservation in Northern Virginia when, after a few months in this area, my girlfriend and I settled into a wonderful Saturday morning routine involving breakfast at a little deli called Chutzpah in Fairfax Town Center.  Perhaps my brain was addled by corned beef hash, but it took several trips to our favorite haunt before I realized that a small portion of  a battlefield was preserved right across the street.  The Battle of Ox Hill was fought in the wake of the Second Battle of Manassas, and resulted in over 2,000 casualties that fell right where I kick off my weekend.  Now, several monuments, and a small park littered with beer bottles, are all that is left to remind us of this battle.  This discovery made me realize that Northern Virginia is littered with historic sites that are in a seemingly constant state of danger from suburban sprawl and expanding transportation networks.

This digital story will focus on the fight to preserve one of these threatened sites, the aforementioned village of Buckland.  Buckland is not unique in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.  Countless towns developed around gristmills in Virginia’s Piedmont as wheat production grew in importance.  Yet this collection of buildings has survived relatively intact, where others have been swallowed by condo developments and strip malls.  Buckland is in the process of being increasingly preserved, rehabilitated, and interpreted for public education, but it is now being threatened by the growth of both Gainesville and Warrenton in addition to the expansion of Rt. 29.  This story will recount the way I discovered Buckland after unknowingly driving past it numerous times on my way to outings in Shenandoah National Park, the actions that are currently being taken to save the site by the Buckland Preservation Society, and the ways in which the threats to Buckland represent a larger conflict between progress and historic preservation/education.

WWII Experiences and Communication Technology

The overarching topic for my video will be the individual experience in World War II and the power of communication technology. I’m going to approach this by telling the connected stories of my grandfather and step-grandfather, interweaving their time in childhood, college, World War II, and after the war. The main focus of the video will be their World War II experiences but will end in current time.

Most of the story will be told with my grandfather, Roland, as the primary character. I will start with his childhood in rural upstate South Carolina during the Depression, going off to college in Indiana, and meeting his roommate, Kenneth, who he identified with because they were both from the South. I will then flash back to Kenneth’s childhood in rural western North Carolina and what brought him to Indiana. I’ll then show the beginning of World War II and how each was drafted and dropped out of college, Roland to join the Army and Kenneth to join the Marine Corps. I’ll then follow Roland through his Army career, interweaving what Kenneth was doing at the same time. This will take Roland through several training schools (including one in Manhattan), to Italy, and finally to Japan, and will take Kenneth through basic training, into the Battle of Okinawa, and finally to China. During this section, I’m going to highlight how they kept in communication with each other the entire time and were even able to visit each other right before Kenneth was shipped off to the South Pacific. Even though they never saw each other again, they stayed in contact after the war, as well. Roland is still going to be the main character, and I’m going to briefly show how he moved back home to South Carolina, finished school to become an engineer, got married, and had five children.

I’m then going to switch the story to Kenneth’s perspective. I’m going to put in that he went back home, got a job working as a civil engineer for the NC Highway Dept, got married, and had one daughter. His wife died in the early 1960s, and in May 1963 he got a letter from Selma, Roland’s wife. She had found his address in Roland’s papers and wanted to let him know that Roland had died of cancer that spring. He wrote back, and they soon began corresponding. They got married 12 months later and had a daughter together in 1965. I’m then going to have a brief montage of snapshots of my family from 1964 until now, ending with the most current images of the entire family taken at Kenneth’s 84th birthday. Then, I’m going to jump back to the two men as college roommates, and pointing out how they never could have guessed that one day their children would share a sister and their grandchildren would be related.

My historical arguments are going to be related to the evolution of communication technology and its power to bring people and families together, both figuratively and literally. I’m going to highlight the ongoing written communication between Roland and Kenneth, and between Kenneth and Selma, pointing out that had they not stayed in touch, my family would not be around. During the photo montage at the end, I’m going to show how my mom and her sisters, who are spread across two states, keep in touch through many hours on the phone, and how my cousins and I, who are spread around the world, keep in touch using modern communication technology: texting, email, facebook, and blogs. I’m going to show how, using the three generations of my family, that technology is only enabling communication, not creating it and how there has always been a human desire to connect with each other across distances, regardless of the means available.

I’m planning on using a number of different elements to tell this story. The main one will be through photographs, including personal family snapshots, official military photography, and other World War II images. I’m going to get the images not owned by my family from the Marine Corps History Division and the U.S. Army Signal Corps photographic collection held at the National Archives and Library of Congress. For the World War II section, I’m going to tell Roland’s story using excerpts from letters he wrote to his father chronicling his time in the Army and I’m going to tell Kenneth’s story using excerpts from the official USMC command chronologies in the US Marine Corps Archives. For the section which takes place after the war, I’m going use interviews with Kenneth, my mother, and her siblings. Throughout the entire piece, I’m going to have period music playing in the background. Right now, I don’t think I want to have voice-over narration, relying instead on text to tell the story, but I might change my mind.

Idea pitch for my (hopefully) exciting final project.

I wanted to do something for my final project that relates to what I study, which is World War II.  I am particularly interested in the Eastern Front, the war between Germany and the Soviet Union.  This particular part of the conflict is not something that many Americans know very much about, however, taken by itself without the larger backdrop of the rest of the war, this conflict would still be the largest war ever fought throughout all of recorded history.  Because of this, I want to create an overview of the Eastern Front, something which will give viewers a broad outline and some insight into the conflict.

The video will cover the main events and broad trajectory of the war, with some time to go into a few specific examples and give a flavor for the nature of the conflict which was so different from the war in Western Europe.  There are a bunch of different things I want to bring into the video, there is archival footage that I can use and photos as well.  The Battle of Kursk in particular, considered the greatest tank battle ever, has limited footage, but some will be useful.  I’m going to see if I can find some interviews at the LOC, but I am not hopeful that they exist.   I have a series of podcasts that deal specifically with this portion of the war that will give some scene, color and great sound bytes.  There are documentaries I will try to take scenes from and even a Hollywood movie, Enemy at the Gates which depicts the Battle of Stalingrad, I want to use the beginning battle sequence which is a pretty decent depiction of urban warfare, and also depicts the Soviet soldiers shooting their own from behind, something which was a big part of this war.  I hope to create some graphics to use that will underscore some of the statistics in a visual way.  My group last week suggested making some c comparisons to help illustrate some points and allow viewers to absorb the story, making in personal.  Another thing that was a great suggestion from my group was to pose an alternate ending, as in, what if some particular thing had (or hadn’t) happened, how would that have shaped the outcome of the war, of the post-war.  I’ll use some generic pictures of the Russian winter to give an idea of that aspect of the conflict, and underscore it with some patriotic Russian and German music.

Another aspect that I want to try to add if I have the time, which given the scope of what I’m already trying to accomplish will be a tall order, but I would like to try and highlight the lack of awareness about this theatre of war in the US.  There was a book published soon after the war by Life Magazine that is a pictorial history of the war, only they didn’t have any pictures of the Eastern Front, so Life used a series of paintings, which is revealing about the level of interest from the US.  My group last week gave me the idea of looking through a series of US history text books and having a graphic that shows how little each talks about this part of the war.

At any rate, I have a lot of ideas for what to add into the video, and in my mind it looks great, I hope that I can tell a coherent story with the short format.  And I’m also hopeful that I can figure out the technology to put this together….  For the script in a few weeks I want to challenge myself to do at least part of it in a storyboard format which is something that I am unfamiliar with and will be difficult for me to figure out.

Final Project Topic – Sunday Morning in Paradise

My final project is going to feature interviews with both American and Japanese servicemen (and women, if possible), relating their experiences at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 7 December 1941. I have a long(ish) digital rendering of the flight path followed by the first wave of Japanese dive bombers that I created using digital mapping tools. It’s a smooth, seemingly peaceful flight through the central valley of Oahu, with a wide sweeping turn into the morning sun around Honolulu, a quick twist and dive that ends with a close-up of the USS Arizona memorial followed by a violent set of maneuvers to egress, then a leisurely flight back up the valley. Over top of this animation, I intend to display pictures and videos as available. The soundtrack will include first-person interviews as well as third-person readings of written interviews.

The historical points covered will include the state of affairs in the Pacific in the late 1930s, including the heightening tensions between Japan and the U.S. that presaged to the Japanese attack, short anecdotes about the “great men” of the Pacific theater, and a discussion of the decision-making process that led to the Japanese decision to attack.

I will search the National Archives and LOC for interviews with American and Japanese servicemen and women relating to the months before the start of hostilities and interviews with American airmen and sailors about how their day began on Dec 7, 1941. The crown jewels of the primary sources would be interviews with Japanese airmen about their impressions of Pearl Harbor in the moments before the attack and their thoughts and feelings following the attack. The point of all of this will be to frame the attack from the point of view of the participants, stripping away “great moment in history” veneer in favor of the visceral, in-the-moment gut reaction of those who were there at the time.

Final Project Idea

            I started a project two years ago about a decommissioned army base in Massachusetts.  I want to make a documentary film about it and decided to use this project to create a pitch tool to try to get funding.  So this project will be a teaser and include a bit of everything.  That will be the most difficult part for me as I have so much information.

            Dr. Schrum suggested I use my personal story in the piece.  When I was telling her about it she said she felt ghosts all over the place.  And that is how I feel when I am there.  Not in a creepy or bad way but there are so many clues, feelings and things left over from the base that exude this feeling of a bustling life that is no longer there.  It does have business and some residential dwellings now but it is not what it was before.

            I have about an hour of film footage and tons of photographs.  I do not have any interviews, although I would like to.  I have a guy in MA who agreed to an interview but I am not sure I have the funding to go.  I will probably have to make do with that I have.

            The project centers on how the base brought diversity to a primarily white community.  I focus on the years 1917-WWII as that was the most interesting time of the base.  As I did research, it also became a story about civil rights for African Americans and women.  Here is a breakdown of what I can present:


Immigrants living in Boston help build the base

Immigrants serve in the Army

African Americans

German POWs

Between War Years:

A powerful Congresswoman in the 1930s turns the base into a permanent fixture and fights for women to serve in the armed forces.


African American men

African American women (including en “experiment” that paved the way for African American nurses to take care of white soldiers and also a court-martial)

German and a few Italian POWs (this is a big part of the story) Fort Devens was one of the largest non-Nazi POW camps in the U.S.

Project Paperclip which brought over German scientists to the U.S.

            My personal story is I worked as a bartender on a course in Devens.  One day I was the beverage cart driver and I saw a bunch of buildings in disarray.  I drove the cart down there and start thinking about the life that used to be there.  I thought it would make a great story.  Obviously I have more details about the base but that is how I thought of the idea.  Everywhere you look there are remnants of the base, from buildings to small plaques or downed utility wires.

            I located some film footage at the Archives.  I need to find out if this is something I can get a copy of.  Since I will be showing this to potential grantors, I need to be careful about copyright. I have a bunch of images and shots in my head already.  I thought about showing before and after pictures but in an interesting context.  My biggest drawback is not having an interview.  If I can get some old film footage I think that will help but still a problem.  I could hit some VFW’s or whatever they have around here to see if anyone served at Devens around that time.  Might be a long shot but it might be worth it.  Skype will be a tough option as the man is in his 80s and legally blind.  And I just feel I should be there for something that personal. 

          My group pointed out my biggest dilemma is going for breadth or depth.  If I go for breath, I will highlight one main story from each category of people or time period.  If I go for depth, I will do the German POW camp as it is the lesser known story.

Final Project Topic- Matewan

My proposed project is a comparative look at the differences between a Hollywood rendering of history and a historical event through careful analysis of primary resource materials that still exist. Specifically, I plan to investigate the events surrounding the Matewan Massacre in 1921 and the 1987 film “Matewan” directed by John Sayles.

My intention is to focus on Sid Hatfield’s role as a character in the film and the actual event as a narrative thread between the film and event. But I want to avoid delving into a single character analysis and compare and contrast the event. I plan to approach this project in much the same way I would approach any research project. Though the medium is different, I plan to evaluate the this event through an analysis of the film, archival research in Charleston, West Virginia and The National Archives.

I also plan to include primary source materials such as new paper articles and the audio archives housed in Charleston  with over 100 known audio interviews. I am working to gain access to Sid Hatfield’s family records and contacts through his family members. I’m also consdering doing some research  and /or interviews in Matewan, WV as well.
I hope to investigate the these differences and whether the memory of this event changed or effected after the film was released in Matewan.

Final Project Pitch – Construction of the World Trade Center

The planning and construction of the World Trade Center was controversial, inciting both positive and negative reactions. The scheme to build the world’s two largest buildings – and the final products themselves – provoked both New Yorkers and outsiders to express their reactions in public and in photography.  Together, these public actions and prints reveal that the World Trade Center has been a contested site arousing competing interpretations of public space.

This film will document public demonstrations by small business owners, construction workers, and stuntmen, as well as images by Danny Lyon and Environmental Protection Agency photographers during the 1960s and 1970s.

Small business owners publicly rallied against the Port Authority’s plans to seize and demolish their commercial property.  Construction unions demonstrated in support of the building project and the job opportunities they represented.  Environmentalists documented and criticized the buildings’ waste management and energy consumption.  After construction was completed, fantastic stunts performed on and between the Twin Towers revealed that World Trade Center had finally been accepted and even cherished by the general public.

My documentary will be presented in expository form, employing third-person narration, and primary sources including film footage, photographs, and scanned documents.

Category: W6: Final Project Topic  Comments off
Botticelli’s Primavera

For my DST, I was trying to decide between two ideas. One had stronger visual resources, while the other had a stronger narrative. I decided to go with the idea that had the stronger narrative and take on the challenge of finding creative ways to address the narrow scope of visual resources. Here is my final project concept:

Late in the fifteenth century, Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli painted a sizable work which depicted nine figures in a lush orchard. This scene would be the catalyst for a wide spectrum of conflicting interpretation throughout the painting’s history. My DST will present a historiography of the interpretations associated with Sandro Botticelli’s painting, the Primavera, addressing the more influential interpretations occurring from the late 19th century to modern day. This will include art historians such as Aby Warburg, E.H. Gombrich, Edgar Wind, and Charles Dempsey. The DST will analyze the changing interpretations of the painting, along with the literary sources that support each interpretation. The goal will be to present the information in a non-biased manner and let the viewers decide for themselves which interpretations seem most viable.

The biggest challenge faced with this concept is the lack of visual imagery to fill the time span of the DST since it focuses on one specific painting. Due to the date of the painting, there aren’t a lot of images of the artist, or the authors of the literary sources. Therefore, the DST would be primarily close ups and text. The concept of reenactments was suggested, but I’m not sure how this may work. Therefore, I think I may approach the DST as more of a mystery, and make it less academic and more educational in nature.

Final Project Topic: a shift in direction

Thinking that our final project ideas was supposed to be blogged last week, I briefly posted my final project before realizing that it was not due until this week. I then, thankfully, removed it (ahh, the power of the digital medium: you can take your words back). Here was my original idea for the final project:

“I’m shooting for the stars here, but I wanted to make a 5 minute concise history of Latin American History that can serve as a ‘previewing’ activity for teachers before they formally introduce it in class…Breakdown: 1 min. Intro, 5 minute video (with a 30 second intermission), and a 30 second conclusion for a total of 7 minutes…The heart of the project would be the 5 minute history of Latin America…I will also talk very fast as the pace will be in the frenetic style, as we saw in our first class with the video by Doug Walls (minus the sarcasm, but with occasional humor). The reason for this style is that I counted at least 62 topics (that’s about 5 seconds per topic).”

So why change it? In our in-class peer conversation, Andrea and Susan brought up 2 excellent points.

  • One, movies work better when you diversify the length of each section. In order for me to pull off the entire history of Latin America, each section would have flashed by too quickly without too many chances for reflection.
  • Two, although the idea was to produce a useful tool for educators, the sheer effort at trying to cover too much might end up producing a video that says too little? What’s the story? What is the emotional punch? Isn’t it simply a lecture?

That last question made me realize that my original idea embodies all that is wrong in the typical approach of high school and undergrad-survey History instructors: covering too much! Our history curriculum is typically a mile-wide and an inch thick, but efforts at producing a a more-focused curriculum 100 yards wide and 10 feet thick yields a more engaged learning environment and better evidence of meaningful results. So, here is my revised final project idea… more…

Category: W6: Final Project Topic  Tags: , ,  Comments off