Stephen surmounted the vast store of raw video and audio footage at Menokin and created a wonderful collection of video shorts covering topics from Oral Histories to Glass Project Team interviews. Not only did he do what the staff has never had time to accomplish, he did it very well!
Menokin Foundation Internship
As a student of early American history, the opportunity to work on the house of a signer of the Declaration of Independence was exciting – even if most of that work would be done remotely. Fortunately, it has proven to be an educational experience despite the distance. From documenting artifacts to video editing, my work with the Menokin Foundation this summer has provided me with new and practical experiences in historical preservation, archaeology, and digital history.
Before I started work for Menokin at the end of June, Alice French, the outreach and education coordinator, shared a number of readings from the Center for Digital Storytelling. The readings helped to clarify their expectations. I had not done any video creation or any work for a historical foundation. The Digital Storytelling Cookbook from CDS was a useful guide for the purposes and processes for digital storytelling. Much of the text is focused on telling personal stories, but the focus on using objects in videos, finding important moments, and keeping the audience’s attention were directly applicable to the work I would be doing. It also had step-by-step directions for creating storyboards, writing scripts, and using particular video editing software. Alice also shared an article from Edutopia: “How to Use Digital Storytelling in your Classroom” by Jennifer New. As a teacher, I was particularly interested in this article as it applied to both my internship work for Menokin and my full-time teaching. In her article, New gives a number of good tips for creating videos for educational purposes and encouraging students to create their own videos. The readings gave me a frame of reference when beginning the video editing work for the summer.
The main purpose of my internship is to help the Menokin Foundation produce digital history content for their website and museum. The content will be use to demonstrate the progress being made in restoring the site and highlight the many activities and opportunities available through the foundation. To start, it was encouraged that I practice my video editing skills by creating a promotional video for their annual summer camp. There were a number of pictures and video clips from the previous year’s camp, and I was use them to highlight the activities children would participate in this year. It took a couple days to create the final video, mostly because I was still learning to use the WeVideo software that Menokin is using. The process involved sorting through dozens of photos to find appropriate ones for use, editing down video clips, creating a storyboard, then editing it all together into a single video with captions and a musical track. Since that first one, I have become much more adept at creating short video montages of what is happening at Menokin. I have created a couple of videos on 18th century carpentry practices and techniques using recordings of classes Menokin has provided. I also edited a number of recordings of archeologists examining artifacts into short clips that will be used in longer compilation videos.
Menokin also wanted transcriptions of a variety of audio and video files in their database – transcriptions which I later found very useful when making compilation videos. Some of the more straightforward videos, such as the carpentry lessons, were fairly easy to transcribe. There were also interviews with people who had family connections to Menokin, and these were much more difficult. The interviews, which were audio only, were very informal; they were more similar to conversations than the lectures I had already transcribed. I found it challenging to keep track of who was talking and what they were saying. I wanted to record as much accuracy as possible, since the transcriptions would be used by the Foundation in other projects after I had left. The transcriptions were time consuming, but also very interesting. One interview was done when a visitor to Menokin shared that their great-uncle once owned the house, and she would visit the site as a child in the 1930’s. Another, much longer, interview was with two sisters in their 90’s who may have been descended from slaves who worked at Menokin. They had a great deal to share about growing up in the Northern Neck throughout the 20th century. The interviews told a lot about the history of Menokin and the surrounding area. Once I had the transcriptions, it became very easy to find some of the best quotes to use in videos promoting the history of Menokin.
On my first trip down to Menokin since I began the internship work, the was to gather recordings and pictures of the Archaeologists at work on the site and collect older pictures off the Menokin server that were too large to send by e-mail. It was also an opportunity to get to know more of the staff at Menokin and experience their day-to-day work.
The most fascinating part of the trip was getting to watch and interview the archaeologists. I do not have any experience with archaeology, but I could tell that they were experts who loved what they did. The day I was down there, a small group of four contracted archaeologists were carefully sifting through the rubble of a collapsed corner of the house. They were both cleaning the site for reconstruction, and looking for artifacts. The lead archaeologist, Chris, was very personable and allowed me to interview him about his work. He explained the process of sifting through dirt to find artifacts, described his history with the site, and showed me the glass bottles, buttons, and nails that they were preparing for cleaning and cataloging. I also interviewed Hank Handler with Oak Grove Construction, who has been doing reconstruction planning and work for Menokin for several years. He was very excited to discuss the techniques being used to stabilize the structure at Menokin – techniques pioneered by the English Heritage Society that were just being introduced to the US. As much as I wanted to, I was not dressed to jump in the rubble and join them (honestly, it did seem exciting), but I was able to get some great pictures and audio recordings to use in promotional and educational videos for Menokin.
The rest of the day was a chance to familiarize myself with the practical matters of a historical institution like Menokin. The staff is small, and they seem to work together on both day-to-day and long-term tasks. This particular day, they were hosting a genealogy course for the local community college; I was happy to help out when I was not searching their server for pictures and files. I also met with the acting director, Leslie Rennolds, to discuss my work and upcoming projects. The visit was a great opportunity to re-familiarize myself with the site and gather material for future videos.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work at Menokin. The experience so far has been incredibly educational. As I work into the second half of the summer, I plan to use the techniques and information I have gathered to create more digital content for the foundation. Right now, I am planning videos about the archaeology and stabilization work I witnessed Monday. There are also more recordings and material from past events at Menokin to examine and turn into media that can be presented to the public – connecting the public to the history. I am excited to continue the work.
Lambert, Joe. The Digital Storytelling Cookbook. Berkeley: The Center for Digital Storytelling, 2010.
New, Jennifer. “How to Use Digital Storytelling in Your Classroom.” Edutopia: 2005. http://www.edutopia.org/digital-storytelling-classroom