LO – DSLIP – LEAP: My Experience through Livingstone Acronyms

This is the second in a series of posts by LEAP members about how they joined Livingstone Online. Heather Ball, Livingstone Online scholar and official “project closer,” discusses how she wandered into Livingstone Online and how her relationship with the project has changed over time. My relationship with the David Livingstone projects occurred through mere happenstance, as so many things in life. Flash to late 2009: it’s the end of my second master’s degree (this time in library science), and, as a final project, I wanted to work with the Archimedes Palimpsest Project. I wrote to the Program Manager Mike Toth to see if there was any possibility of making something work with my schedule — despite that I was living in a different state than the actual project plus working full-time and going to school at night. I was not able to do an internship, but Mike referred me to a colleague on another project in New York City: Dr. Adrian Wisnicki. Cut to early 2010: I’m a green library school graduate … well, not entirely green (I had already spoken at conferences and published two articles based on my two master’s degrees), but I still felt green. I met Adrian at a café in the CUNY Graduate Center to talk about his project. Okay, I was definitely still green enough to get excited about free coffee, but that excitement was quickly transferred to the project at hand, where one of my best professional relationships began.

Figure 1. Heather Ball and Adrian Wisnicki chat during a break in meetings in Washington DC, 2014. © Angela Aliff, CC BY-NC 3.0.
Figure 1. Heather Ball and Adrian Wisnicki chat during a break in meetings in Washington DC, 2014. © Angela Aliff, CC BY-NC 3.0.

I was immediately intrigued by the project. So what if my specialty was medieval manuscripts with minimal tech background? I obviously could transition to a tech-heavy project based on a nineteenth-century Victorian explorer and missionary, right? Easy. Looking back, I realized that most of my professional confidence came from the enthusiasm generated in this very meeting and, subsequently, from working on this project. But back to the project. The first step after some training from Adrian was to update the Livingstone project website. This meant talking to all of the techs who were spectrally imaging one of Livingstone’s letters at the Walters Art Museum and digesting the data, so I could figure out how to write it all up for the informational sections of the website. I learned a lot from those conversations! I even got to travel down to the Museum with Adrian for the imaging of a letter for our pilot project. On top of the research, I also tried my hand at transcriptions. Our images were created using spectral imaging, where we would bombard a given page with different wavelengths of light, take photographs, then analyze the resulting images. On this front the pilot project went very well, and we soon learned that we’d recevied a grant for a full scale spectral imaging project on David Livingstone’s 1871 Field Diary. This gave me more experience with the transcription/proofing side of the project, and I fell in love.… Adrian had been right, I could do this work! Once I got the swing of not only the actual work, but each stage of the process, I began to manage the workflows for the research assistants doing work on the diary.

Figure 2. Heather Ball views Livingstone manuscripts at the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, Washington DC, 2014. © Angela Aliff, CC BY-NC 3.0.
Figure 2. Heather Ball views Livingstone manuscripts at the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History, Washington DC, 2014. © Angela Aliff, CC BY-NC 3.0.

And now we’re onto new work with our NEH-funded project LEAP (The Livingstone Online Enrichment and Access Project). My title around the virtual Livingstone Online “office” is “project closer.” As well as working on the transcriptions and proofs of both Livingstone’s final field diaries and the Unyanyembe Journal, I review and revise the transcriptions that everyone else on the project is doing. This means that I take each scholar’s transcription of a section of the given diary or journal and integrate it with the rest of the sections of that item into one large file. I then go over the diary or journal as a whole, make sure that coding and transcription practices are consistent across the different transcriptions, and, finally, implement any coding tweaks/refinements needed to finalize the work. Through every phase of the Livingstone timeline that I’ve been a part of, I’ve faced tasks that seemed like a reach for my background or capabilities. But with the amazing support of the project team (not to mention the fantastic camaraderie among us), I’ve been able to rise to the occasion and exceed my own expectations for myself.

Figure 3. Heather Ball lectures on LEAP at the National Endowment for the Humanities, 2014. © Angela Aliff, CC BY-NC 3.0.
Figure 3. Heather Ball lectures on LEAP at the National Endowment for the Humanities, 2014. © Angela Aliff, CC BY-NC 3.0.

Indeed, I spent my formative professional years on this project. I can say in hindsight that the experience had a profound impact on shaping me into the professional I’ve become today. I can’t wait to see what Livingstone project has in store for me next!

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