Undergraduate Fellows

Reflecting on the Fellowship  

The culmination of my time under the Mellon Digital Humanities Undergraduate Fellowship semester has been my website titled Refugees of Germany. This process has…

Given me space to design something from scratch (i.e. Ruby on Rails and Python). Not having studied computer science formally since high school, it has been incredibly formative to learn about the process of website design, and even get my feet wet in learning some code. In doing so, I was able to collaborate with friends in the computer science department who were extremely helpful in the structuring of the back end. I attribute my basic HTML and CSS familiarity and knowledge to a crash-course provided by Mackenzie and Brandon, and I was able to subsequently take advantage of
Codecademy, which I highly recommend to anyone trying to learn programming.

Allowed me to delve into the Syrian refugee crisis and better understand its history, magnitude, and implications. All of this was accomplished in the research that led to the creation of the digital timeline now featured on my website. Approaching my summer with this perspective is something that I can now reflect on as a crucial step in preparation for my time in Berlin.

Prepared a skeleton that will alleviate my work in Germany: I can wholly focus on conducting interviews, analyzing major themes, and representing these online. The weeks and months spent this semester have allowed me to accomplish the goal I set out for myself at the onset of the semester. I now have a container that I can fill with data I acquire this summer. The website can now serve as a platform for all of my research, and can be easily updated in real time!

Endowed me with respect for the power of images and storytelling via an online media. Reading and learning about the Syrian Civil War and the stories that accompany those who experienced it have had a profound impact on me. It has reinforced my motivation and endeavor to get to know those who have been personally affected by projecting their voices and stories, getting to know them better, and hearing their side of the story.

Humbled me with the recognition of the way the virtual can impact reality, and how we all can have an active part in telling history. Ultimately, what we experience through a website can fundamentally change how we behave and perceive reality. I believe that the information filtered through Western media has been incredibly one-sided and “self”-oriented. Hearing from both refugees and Germans on the ground and portraying those experiences on my website so that they are perceivable to all is a fascinating concept, and one that I believe to be increasingly important. We all have a role in telling our own history and understanding others’ histories as subjective truths.

Due to a technical glitch, the live site is no longer available. I have pasted below some screen shots including a brief glance at my summer’s work. Please feel free to contact me ( if you have any questions or would like to hear more!


Undergraduate Fellows

Wikipedia: telling history in real-time

Wikipedia has always been one of those “off limit” online resources. For years, I have been discouraged in using it as a reputable source. In constructing the timeline of the refugee crisis, however, and understanding that any source is subjected to a bias from the individual who reports the information, I have found Wikipedia to be remarkably helpful and profound in its own unique right.

At the most fundamental level, history is a collection of information. An objective perspective of telling history would be to discover and relay the Truth of events transpired. While information itself certainly exists objectively, it is only through the subjective processes of human interaction and experience that Truth becomes information. At the point of translation from Truth to information, the objectivity of Truth is thus subjected to the unique experience or interaction of its observer. It is thus possible that a number of “true subjective truths” exist. History is the result of assigning information (i.e. subjective truths) meaning through a variety of media, thus compounding the nature of the subjectivity through which information is filtered.

Wikipedia is one of the most effective media in bridging together a vast network of information while simultaneously offering its own narrative with immediacy. In doing so, Wikipedia allows for quick access to information (whether “reputable” or not), and produces a story that accounts for many subjective truths. To me, this seems to be the most powerful tool that history has at its fingertips: a platform connecting a vast array of networks and experiences in real time.

In my research, Wikipedia’s citations have been extremely refreshing. The starting point in understanding a story perhaps starts with a literature search. Where does the non-journalist begin, however, as events transpire around the world? The Internet has allowed for the almost simultaneous transmission and communication of information. Thus, understanding historical events from a variety of perspectives is increasingly important. With a google search of “Syrian Refugee Crisis,” a browser ends up with these options. Selecting the Wikipedia story, one immediately has a variety of hyperlinked options, one of which directs the user to a timeline of the refugee crisis. From here, the course of events is plainly laid out. The short descriptions are layered with citations and hyperlinks connecting a variety of historical accounts.

Consider the day that is largely considered to have sparked protests that led to the Syrian Civil War: March 6, 2011. The Wikipedia page reads:

6 March, in the southern city of Daraa, fifteen[6] teenagers were arrested for writing “the people want the regime to fall”[7][6][8] on walls across the city. Supposedly the military police tortured them,[7][8] or had carried them handcuffed out of their classroom.[6]

Note that each statement is verified and linked to source(s) (6, 7, and/or 8), most of which derive from news agencies in the U.S. (e.g. NY Times or Washington Post) and around the world (e.g. Spiegel or BBC News). In considering Wikipedia’s narrative, one is forced to contemplate the validity of numerous other narratives. In the passage above, three different articles are used which have coinciding accounts of teenagers having been arrested by Syrian authorities and subsequently harmed on March 6, 2011. Ultimately, as I have emphasized in a previous discussion, in constructing my own narrative, I am less concerned with discrepancies in numbers and statistics, and am directing my efforts towards understanding what happened and what did not happen. What is striking to me about this historical account is that it was a group of teenagers standing up for a cause in which they fervently believed who incited an egregious civil war that has witnessed the greatest migration since the end of the second World War. This profound determination may never make its way into a history book.

Finally, while a major component of my experience in Germany will entail reflecting on the current sentiments of refugees and their transition to Germany, I am also interested in mapping the crisis. To do so, I intend to utilize a digital story mapping tool that I will employ on my website. This component of my project will likely be the final of this term before I leave for Germany.

Undergraduate Fellows


Working on my project the past weeks has been eye-opening in many respects. I found that operating within WordPress’s framework, my ideas were reduced and confined to preexisting templates and themes. I have since spent time learning the basics of HTML, CSS, and have collaborated with a good friend and computer science student at W&L, Mitch Olson, to begin the structuring of the website from “scratch.” Thus far, the website has been written in the web application framework Ruby on the Rails, however, we are in the process of transferring this into Python, a programming language with which Mitch and I are both more familiar.

In the meantime, I have begun my investigation of the history of the refugee crisis, focusing my attention primarily on the roots of the Syrian Civil War. The art of telling history is profound, and using the internet as a medium through which to tell history is of particular interest to me. I began my research by reviewing articles written during the start of the uprisings in Syria in March of 2011. By cross-referencing articles from major newspapers, I have begun to uncover events which are of great significance in the history of this crisis.

In piecing together the historical puzzle of the Syrian Civil War and the refugee crisis, I have been prompted to contemplate the purpose of my endeavor in telling this history. What is the purpose of history? In my initial approach, I gravitated towards a history of “truths”, or facts, and of numbers and figures as a means through which one can best tell a convincing story. I have come to realize, however, that objective truth in history is a moot point, in part because I concur that the only truths that exist are subjective and unique to each individual’s experience. Thus, I will tell a history of personal experience, focusing on occurrences rather than numbers, and using the the internet to unify different virtual media through which a viewer can begin to understand the reality of the transpired and transpiring events.

Undergraduate Fellows

Digital Humanities as an Agent of Communication

Having conceived of the idea to investigate the impact of the refugee crisis on German identity, my next and most immediate challenge has been to make rigorous abstractions from this research question. Consequently, I devised two approaches:

  1. Understand the refugee crisis
  2. Devise ways to portray important insights digitally in order to attribute meaning to the research question

The former relates to historical, cultural, political, and social considerations, while the latter has led me to contemplate the platform and communication of the research: Digital Humanities. In my readings over the past few weeks, the single, most emerging facet relating to DH has been its profound enrichment of communicating ideas. Observing data or reading words on a page evokes different emotions and levels of understanding than interacting with a concept, be it data, text, or other. Finding creative ways to communicate can enhance understanding and meaning (this is often accomplished by appealing to the five senses).

Contemplating the above, I have since devised a framework upon which I will structure my project via a digital platform. The five interconnected components will each play a role in the overarching theme:

  1. Overview of project (“I am”: Identity)
  2. History of Refugee Crisis (Timeline)
  3. Mapping (Digital Mapping)
  4. Refugees of Germany (Picture: Story)
  5. Field Research (Data Representation)

Finally, I’d like to bridge the distinction between portraying events versus scientific explanation. Ultimately, the intersection between scientific inquiry and digital humanities rings increasingly important: DH is a vehicle with which science can be effectively communicated to and received by all.