The class project, which will occupy most of the class’s second semester and some of the first, is always a substantial collaboration between some or all of the students in the course, and a community organization. In most years, we work with one or more local history groups. This year we will be working exclusively with the Khangchendzonga Conservation Committee (KCC), a local NGO in the Indian Himalayan State of Sikkim. This is a very exciting change for Hacking History, and also represents the first phase of a broad collaborative project involving a number of other scholars. The project is an opportunity to offer a substantial service to an incredible organization, while rapidly learning about an enormously interesting and diverse region, rich in cultural and ecological heritage.

Unusually for this class, some of the parameters for this class have already been laid out in a Memorandum of Understanding between the KCC and the leaders of the broader project. Here are some highlights of that document, plus some further constraints:

  • The website we’re building will serve two functions:
    • a general purpose website to serve as the KCC’s public presence (their current website dates from 2004 and has very little information)
    • a historical section which will provide context for the KCC’s current work and an archive of some of their most important documents, e.g. the training manuals from their education programs
  • Website content will be based in part on student term papers, and will draw upon an already-existing archive of digitized material from the KCC.
  • The website will run the Wordpress software, a user-friendly, open-source content management system.
  • Students will design the website by modifying an existing Wordpress theme, probably one based on the Bootstrap web framework.
  • Students will write most of the content, but images will be drawn from a large archive belonging to the broader project and the KCC
  • KCC is a small, under-resourced NGO located in a remote village in a developing country. As a result, particular attention needs to be paid to code quality & accessibility. We will also need to build an excellent online help system as part of our project.
  • Sikkim is a multilingual state. For the first time, Hacking History students will need to pay attention to internationalization and multilingual content.
  • After the academic year has finished, there may be an opportunity to travel to Sikkim and present the website to the KCC. More information on this possibility will follow late in the Fall semester.

A primary goal of this class is to create something of lasting value to yourself, the KCC, and the community it serves, so that your work endures beyond the temporal scope of the class. The project is worth 45% of your final mark, but this percentage is distributed between various parts of the project. A high premium will be placed on timely, regular progress made towards intermediate goals, to help make sure that these complex and difficult projects come to fruition. The class is a large working group; as a result, you will specialize quite a bit and it may be difficult to co-ordinate work effectively. We’ll discuss tools and strategies for project management along the way.

Collaboration and Service

We should perhaps distinguish between two kinds of working together for this project. On the one hand, you will be working closely with your peers. As a result, you have an additional responsibility to your working group – your lapses affect them too. You’ll also need to be sure to communicate clearly and effectively with each other, both electronically and in person. Be sure that you know what each of you bring to & get out of the project; and how will you hand the project over.

You will also be working together with an organization that will be depending on you. In this respect, you act as emissaries of the University and of the course. You are expected to be respectful, courteous, and responsive.

General Project Parameters

The finished product should be a polished website which is directly of use to the partnering organization; it should also be an intellectually honest endeavour which takes seriously the historian’s responsibility to tell truths about the past. Your work will, then, be held to a relatively high standard – I’m asking a lot of you. Do not put anything off till the last minute. In a complex project like this you will be surprised at the number of tasks there are to accomplish. In particular, you’ll gain a lot by attacking your organizational tasks as early as possible.

Examples

Previous years’ projects are mostly linked to from that year’s course website. You may be particularly interested in the project from 2015. They are all great, so look there for some inspiration. Please note that these sites were made by students with no prior technical experience; if you’re in that category they may look daunting right now, but don’t be discouraged, you’ll learn what you need to in time to make something really cool. (But: this year’s project is for sure the most ambitious we’ve ever attempted. Yay!)

Technical Parameters

If you have no technical background, this may not make much sense to you in the first class, but as the semester progresses you’ll understand more. Here are some of the technical skills you will be using in your project:

  • Web hosting: I will provide hosting for class websites at hackinghistory.ca.
  • Theme Development: each of these websites will come equipped with a starter theme with which I have some familiarity. Over the course of the project, you will adapt that theme to serve your purposes. This means you will work directly with:
    • Style: changing CSS files to give the site a new look-and-feel
    • Structure: modifying HTML templates to change the arrangement of elements on various web pages
    • Functionality: installing Wordpress plugins, and tinkering with PHP and Javascript code, to get the functionality you and your partner need
  • Text editing: in order to do all of the above, you should become at least a little familiar with a text editor. Ad described in “Tools”, the Atom editor is the best choice. Later in the term we will also go over various ways to edit code directly from the Wordpress administrative interface.

Human Subjects Ethics Review

Our project will make use of interviews conducted under a protocol approved by the Unviersity’s Ethics Review Board. You are advised to familiarize yourselves with the University’s Ethics Review process, and we will discuss general guidelines for oral history research in the early part of the Fall semester.

Grading

The final project will be evaluated based on its success in meeting the goals outlined in the proposal, on the integrity of historical analysis, on the aesthetics of the presentation, and on the satisfaction of the community partners with your work.

Component Due Date Group/Indiv % of Course Grade
Proposal & Presentation 12/05 Group 10
Interim Report 02/07 Group 10
Final Product 04/04 Group 20
Partner Response Group 5

Components

Proposal

The proposal is a substantial group effort which involves the submission of a formal document to me and to your partner, as well as a presentation component. Read more about it on its own page.

Interim Report

The Interim Report is a report back to me and to your partner on the progress you’re making. It will be about 8-10 pages long, and indicate :

  • how much of the website content you’ve completed, and whether there are any serious problems that might require you to change your focus.
  • how much of the website design is complete, and where you expect further challenges
  • in what ways you find yourself departing from the plan agreed upon, and why.

Final Product

The Final Product is a fantastically intricate and rich historical website, with lots of exciting bits of information presented in a vigourous, interesting, and visually appealing manner.

Partner Response

I’ll ask the KCC for feedback on your work, and take that into account in my final grade.