By Ray Van Huizen and Ella Martin-Gachot, Smith College
Check out Ray and Ella’s project site at https://lesclefsdechezmoi.5colldh.org/.
I learned a lot while working on the Five College Digital Humanities Undergraduate Fellowship. I learned about new software, about website design, about geographic information systems (GIS). I learned about knowing when to ask for help and advice. But most of all, I learned about teamwork.
I’ll start at the beginning, though. Ella and I had been working on our documentary for more than year—we were set to screen our 30 minute documentary in January or February of 2019, and it was November of 2018. I’m not sure about Ella, but I was feeling several things about the impending end of our project. It had quickly become our baby and I was feeling like we could have done so much more with it. It wasn’t quite finished, and I was feeling fairly uncertain. What would I do with my life following the end of what would be the most important project of my undergrad career? How do you organize your life when such a project no longer takes up time, energy, and effort?
Ella happened across a short blurb describing the 5CDH fellowship, and she asked if I was interested. I immediately said yes. It felt like the perfect solution to all of my worries about the end of the project. After we were offered the fellowship, everything felt like a blur. One moment we were finishing our second to last semester of our undergraduate degrees, the next we were screening our finished documentary to rooms filled with our mentors and professors and with our dearest friends and peers. The next moment we were learning to work with ArcGIS and StoryMaps, editing nearly 3 times the amount of footage than that of our documentary, and figuring out the logistics of creating a community generated map.
None of this could have ever been finished without the help of Jon, Tracy, and Stephanie from the Smith Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL). That is one thing I know for a fact. The help we received from the good people of the SAL was not only instrumental in this project but absolutely necessary. We asked them for help, and the SAL came through in every way. Working with them taught me that it was okay to ask for help, to not immediately be perfect at something new, that often the only way to learn is to fail dreadfully at first.
Neither of us is a coder, and yet we learned to make a website. Neither of us was a Film Studies major, and yet we made a beautiful film. We made a website mapping out the experiences of our participants. We created 5-20 minute clips of each of our interviews. We learned how to do so much.
However, I can say with a lot of confidence that the most important lesson I learned was not the software I worked with nor my newfound ability to ask for help, rather, I learned how to be a part of a team, and a good one at that.
Ella and I have worked on this project for nearly two years. It started as a documentary we filmed while we were abroad, we continued it as a Special Studies course under Ann Leone, and then as this fellowship. It is not finished though, Ella and I have worked exceptionally hard to make sure that it outlasts any festival the documentary is sent to, and any work we do on it. And that couldn’t have happened if Ella and I didn’t learn how to be a team. I won’t lie, we can both be pretty stubborn, but somehow we figured out how to collaborate and make sure we both pulled our weight, both made sure our opinions were heard, and both finished this project proud of the work we had done, all while staying friends and effective teammates in the process. I can easily say that communication and learning how to really collaborate are the biggest things this project taught me. Our friendship and collaboration could have easily ended with this project, or even before, luckily, it didn’t. The fact that I have made a life-long friend in the process is perhaps what I am most proud of.
After almost two years working on what became the “Les clefs de chez moi” project, I am happy to know that the final steps of our project took place under the umbrella of 5 College Digital Humanities. This fellowship let us expand our project beyond what we thought was possible, gave us the tools to understand the technology we were using, and surrounded us with eager and stimulating colleagues and mentors.
For someone like myself who has always viewed technology and software with a wary and distant eye, the thought of incorporating digital components to our project was daunting. However, with the help of the Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL) at Smith and their brilliant staff, Ray and I learned to not be intimidated by software like ArcGIS. We discovered that hours of tedious and sometimes inefficient clicking away at a computer could turn into StoryMap applications that give our content new life.
As we move on from college and the project in its iterations during our time there, I’ll keep in mind all the skills we learned during this process but especially the people that helped us along the way. From the hours spent editing footage with Kate Lee of the Smith Media Studios to the patient GIS tutorials from Stephanie Long, we have been lucky to have been supported by people who cared about the advancement of the project. Ray and I started this project as just the two of us but have expanded it into something that incorporates people in two countries, giving us their expertise and skills but also their advice and own stories. This project now belongs to all of us.
Watch the recording of their Symposium presentation here: