This week, with the (hopeful) submission of all our essays behind us, the task that lies at the forefront of our colossal mound of work is that of the creation of our website. We have our content, now it’s time to focus on the building blocks of this entire project; the actual physical website.
First off, we need to obtain (through conducting) the audio interviews that will encompass the “the People” part of the website. This task will progress as fast as the Ethics board of at the University will let it; approval would ensure our ability to start conducting the actual interviews. In the mean time however, making sure we maintain constant interaction with the contacts that we have already established regarding our project is crucial. This is to ensure that the interviewees understand that they will be conducted in the near future.
The purpose of the site is not only to be one that is extremely informative regarding historical information about Toronto’s Regent Park, but to also serve as a visually appealing multimedia preservation initiative. To do this, we first need to find old (preferably black and white for effect) pictures from the local archives, and contrast them to pictures that we have taken ourselves. This involves frequent travel to and from the Park, which I see as a gift in disguise; the more time we spent on location, the tighter our grasp on knowledge (whether it be cultural, historical, architectural) of Regent Park.
Progress is good, more progress is better.
I find that one of the hardest times to actually be productive in the school year is over reading week. it really should be called “eye before the storm” week, because its the moment of calm before the craziness of the final sprint starts.
That being said, I’ve been so bogged down with interviews and other courses of the past week and a half I really haven’t had much time to focus on our project. Fortunately, it gets better after Tuesday next week, when I won’t have another assignment to do for at least 2 weeks, so I’m planning on buckling down and really catching up then.
Nevertheless, I was able to review Matt’s feedback of my writing. Much of my own concerns that I had before I turned it in were qualified, I ended a bit too abruptly and could use a bit more elaboration. But his comments also gave some good ideas for perhaps some comparative work on Jews in New York to enhance my overview of Kensington Market in the 1910s and 1920s. Also, when I was writing the essay, I was worried that I would go off and focus on outside Toronto history too much, but I think Matt actually was encouraging me to locate Jewish settlement in Toronto in larger Toronto settlement trends, which is a good place to pick up my research again.
So, I seem to write these things every other week.
I didn’t end up writing this blog post on time because I was so engrossed in the actual writing of the content. I remember not wanting to break my focus in order to critique the experience.
Now that I’m not in the middle of it, I can say that I really enjoyed writing the content for our website. It is a very different exercise than writing an essay and I really felt a sense of power, but also of responsibility: I am in control of writing the narrative. On one hand, that was really liberating: I got to make the decision about how to tell the story and what elements to include. On the other hand, I felt worried about accidentally leaving out important details: I have a very full and detailed perspective on what I’m writing since I did the research but my audience will not. For much of the website’s audience, who have not and likely will not do research of their own or be critical of sources, what I write will be read as complete: the whole picture.
A big part of making this content accessible is the language. I am really interested in language and the nuances of word choice. Writing the content for the Kensington Market website, I found myself really focusing on trying to find the balance between sophisticated academic writing and a simpler style that is more accessible. As my degree has advanced, I think I’ve had the tendency to get much more complex in my writing style. I always strive to be as clear and concise as possible but I realize that I have come to use much longer sentences and complex sentence structures than I used to. Whenever I am writing something intended for a broad public audience outside of academia, I always think of this experience my roommate had a few years ago. Applying for a communications position through the government of Canada, part of the application process involved a short exercise where she had to rewrite a short informative paragraph in simpler language to ensure that as many Canadians as possible could read it. Afterwards, she received a little pamphlet with a list of complex words and a simpler alternative to be used instead. My roommate was shocked that a lot of words that she would have used to be simple were in the complex column. This practice, of course, is related to levels of illiteracy or low literacy which seem surprisingly high for those of us submerged in academia. On one hand, I think a history website is going to attract a relatively educated, literate audience but I don’t think we should expect or limit ourselves to only that. I certainly did not feel like I was trying to “dumb down” my content or be condescendingly simplistic but I do think that is important to remember that we are part of a very select demographic bubble. The audience for our websites will likely include a considerable proportion of people outside of the academic, university experience. This bubble experience certainly affects the way we express ourselves and being aware of that helps me remember to “open” my use of language to invite wider participation.
This week, my group and I made back-to-back archive visits, trying to delve deeper into the material than previously before. Because our visits this time around were aimed at producing some content for the site (and not just for our general background reading), I ran into a couple of problems problems that I want to share with the class, in the hope that some of you will give it some thought or offer some advice:
Working with primary sources makes it much more difficult to determine the parameters of your study, because there’s really no way to look at the entirety of the material at once. In a matter of days, our group was able to digest and synthesize the academic literature on Regent Park’s history. This means that we’re able to determine what’s salient and what is beyond the remit of our study. When working through the archives, though, a new document can throw you for a loop. Because you don’t know what the next document might say, you have no sense of how to treat the first one. For instance, there are a few different “proposals” for the initial development of the neighbourhood. If I had just located one and not the second, I wouldn’t have known to do some background research on which one of the two was the approved proposal.
Makes you think about the way we privilege archival material. If in 90 years, the only remnant from your belongings is a copy of an essay you wrote as an undergraduate, do you trust that it can give someone a clue or two about the way you lived your life? Isn’t it troubling that, just by virtue of its endurance, someone is going to endow it with some kind of definitive authority?
(Also, I realized that there is A LOT to cover. I always kind of knew this, but once you really open up a document and start writing, it occurs to you that you may need multiple essays to get your point across. I ended up writing on Regent Park’s pre-history (ending at about 1950), despite having planned to write about the early development up to the 70s. Its a very, very important bit of context that I think the rest of the historical work relies on, so I’m glad I was able to discover such a wealth of information on it).
Now that the research/writing component of the project has begun to wind down, we can shift our focus to over to the much more exciting task of creating a digital face for the KMHS. Below is a basic profile our client has provided us with that we will be reworked into an “about us” section on the main page of our site.
About the Kensington Market Historical Society:
- To gather, study and disseminate knowledge pertaining to the Kensington Market area of Toronto.
- To accumulate local records, artifacts, and built structures that might otherwise be lost.
- To develop documentary literature that will include new primary research exploring cultural, historical and art- historical topics specific to the Kensington Market area.
Meeting the needs of the community agency we are partnering with is a major priority for our group. The goal now is to focus on representing the KMHS well.
As of this week, our project is in its finishing stages of acquiring all the information and content needed to move forward with our website. Once this is all done, we will be able to put it online and continue stylizing the layout.
Moving forward with our plan to incorporate oral histories in our sites content, I recently switched my person of interest that included much more in depth/ interesting coverage than the previous chosen person.
The person of interest’s name is Nestor Peczniuk, who was born in Western Ukraine and came to Canada a decade after the Second World War to successfully establish himself in Sudbury as a president of a business co-op and credit union. I was surprised to hear how thorough a memory he had of his past and experiences, and overall I was able to get a good idea of how he became incorporated and aided the Ukrainian community in that city within a Canadian context. I have summarized his interview and made it available to other group members for review, with hopes that his information will be online, with interview passages, recordings, etc., alongside other interviews as well.
Moving forward I now have to finish my paper, which I had to change my topic as well given difficulties finding sources and information. Building off of the this interview, I wish to focus on how Ukrainians established themselves from a business point of view in Ontario, and look at the opportunities and challenges faced by this ethnic group upon arrival.
Before I start my blog for this week I have two things to say:
1. Happy Valentines Day everyone!
2. I apologize for the lateness of this blog post, I was unsure what I wanted to write about. Did I want to discuss the ethical issue I found or did I want to talk about my research? I have decided to spend the next blogs talking about the ethical issue, and this one be a simple status report.
My paper is on Ukrainian immigration to Canada, with a small focus on the movement of displaced people after World War Two. Yet I found that my paper was not detached from my historical issue. It is these people who were in Ukraine during the war, and I kept on thinking back to good old Stanley, Maria (my interview) and my own grandfather, that spurred this. The dynamic relationship that they all had to the war.
Paul and Anesty did some work on our website which is great! It is exiting to see it up. There is more work to be done, somehow I do not think a Doctor Who clip will impress MHSO.
So things are moving along.