Digital Humanities Internship #4: Bilingual Websites and Long Commutes

Disclaimer: The views and opinion shared in this post reflect the author’s personal thoughts and do not reflect the thoughts or opinions of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

As I near the end of my time with the Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA), I have begun thinking a bit more about what I have learned during this internship, both about Digital Humanities and about myself.

At the time of my last post, I was still in the final stages of migration for the “Smithson to Smithsonian” exhibit. Since then, I have finished migrating that exhibit and have started on a new one, “150 Years of Smithsonian Research in Latin America.”

This project is interesting because it was originally presented in both English and Spanish. It is the goal of SIA to preserve as much of the original content as possible. Therefore, the most difficult but intriguing part of this exhibit so far, has been creatively brainstorming with my supervisor how best to organize the navigation of this site, so that a user can seamlessly go back and forth between seeing the site in English or Spanish.

It has also prompted me to think of new questions that are now applicable to my migration process: When I am creating alternative text (a word or phrase that can be inserted into the HTML to tell web viewers the content of the image if they cannot see it or if it does no load) descriptions for the images, do I write them in English, Spanish, or both? Do the normal image captions need to be in English, Spanish, or both?

My specific questions about this project have also allowed me to think about this situation more broadly: How do you create a good bilingual website? What navigation structure is the best? Should users choose their own language before entering the site and then be directed to a site all in that language? Or, should there be only one site which allows users to toggle between different languages? How do you choose which language come first? Or is there a way to make all languages equal?

Before this internship, I would have simply thought about the need to translate the main exhibit text in order to make the presentation bilingual. But now, I have learned that there is so much additional text necessary for creating a website, and that the website’s creator must be very diligent in making sure that ALL of the text gets translated–not just the main body text that appears on the screen.

Also since my last post, the first exhibit that I migrated into the Drupal interface, “Artists At Work,” has been published and is officially part of the Smithsonian Institution Archives’ website. In addition to migrating the text and images from the original website, I also searched for additional resources that could be used to create “Related Resources” and “Related Collection” sections on the bottom of each page, and then added links to these resources in Drupal. It is quite exciting to see some of my work in action on a highly respected website!

In addition to increasing my DH know-how and causing me to think through larger content and organizational issues, this internship has shown me several things about myself and my potential career in Digital Humanities.

As I mentioned in previous blog, I have been commuting from the Northern Virginia suburbs to the SIA office building in downtown DC once every other week. My aim was to get a sense of what it really might be like to work for the Smithsonian (or another similar organization) doing DH work in Washington, DC. As the semester comes to a close, I can say that I am very happy I made the decision to go into the office and not complete my internship solely as a virtual intern. Sitting in a downtown DC cubicle, interacting with SIA staff, and attending SI staff meeting offered me a very different experience than sitting in my living room, alone, in my home.

I definitely achieved my goal of getting a taste of the Washington, DC commute, and working for a large government agency. After growing up in Indiana where commuter trains do not exist and the traffic was far less congested, commuting to DC was a new experience, and, as I have learned, not one that I would like to repeat on a daily basis. I now have a new admiration for the people who commute to DC via the Metro every day.  It has also been interesting working for a large, governmental organization like the Smithsonian. On one hand, large organizations can be great, because there are always lots of resources (both physical collections and staff) that can be mined and utilized to improve your skills, and your products. But at the same time, in a large organization, it can also be hard to see how your piece of the puzzle (what you are doing on a day to day basis) fits into and improves the organization as a whole. While I would not count myself out from ever doing Digital Humanities as part of a large organization, I think it would be really interesting to see what different challenges would come from working in a smaller company or in an academic environment instead.

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