Towards the Finish Line!

We have finally put together the Sky Team project and it is up and running on the website! The Sky Team will be meeting one last time with the professors before the presentations and before the website goes live to do one last check of subject matter and to prepare for the presentation. I feel confident that we are ready, though. The Sky Team definitely had some rough patches getting to this point, but we were able to push through and get everything done. It is such a relief to get to this point and be able to step back and just appreciate everything that the whole class has accomplished. It is so exciting to see a semester’s worth of hard work finally come to fruition. I love seeing our page within the context of the whole website and side-by-side with the work of the other three teams. I am so very proud of the whole class’s effort, flexibility, and hard work. Furthermore, I am eager to be able to spend time with the majority of these brilliant individuals on our trip to China in January.
The TAs, professors, and other course instructors are working hard behind the scenes to put together the logistics of the website. Shout out to our wonderful library friend Tierney, who has been helping the class and the TAs with the digital aspects technology stuff all semester, including getting the website in working order. With her guidance, the TAs have created our homepage map that will link to each team’s homepage. Additionally, the TAs have done a lot of editing and putting links within the website and things like that. Now, the teams have to worry about their presentations coming up very soon, and everybody else has to worry about perfecting the website for its official induction into the ever-growing field of Silk Road research! So, here we go!


It's Raining Cats and Blogs! (I ran out of puns)

Well, the project is finished.  It feels really amazing to have built a webpage this semester.
This class was a bit difficult for me, not because of the quantity of work but because of the format.  I work well under pressure and with clear deadlines, so with only a final class deadline I found it difficult to sit down and chip away at my research.  I ended up doing most of the work in the last week.  In the end, I’m the only one that can enforce deadlines for myself, so it was a good learning experience.
I really didn’t keep up with the blog posts.  I think it would have been easy to write a couple hundred words once in a while but that gradual commentary on my own work doesn’t mesh well with my scattered brain.  Again, that’s something to work on in the future.
Travelers on the silk road.  I learned a lot through my research.  I was studying John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck.  My real plan was to look more into the perspectives and biases of these travelers.  I wanted to compare their views to each other and to the Mongols and analyze them.  I didn’t leave myself enough time to do that.
So I just compiled available information about travelers and tried my best to present it all with more concision and eloquence than the sources I got it from.
I’m content with our story map overall.  Everyone knows about Marco Polo and the Mongols but a lot of people don’t know the many interactions the West and the East had, or how close Europe was to being destroyed.  Hopefully our page will be a useful source for our fellow academics.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

This week, the Silkworms have been working with Tierney to add the Google MyMap to the homepage and to proofread and perfect the rest of the site. I am enjoying this phase because I finally feel as if I am digging my hands into the actual project and contributing to its creation.  It has been interesting for me to sit back and supervise throughout this process, and while I have enjoyed that dynamic and have felt that I have made a difference in that way, I am happy to be creating something concrete. I am enjoying focusing on the aesthetics of the website as well. Last week, I got to see Team Tongue’s project come together as a polished product. This week, I am getting to put the finishing touches on elements that connect the four projects into one cohesive, online academic tool. The Silkworms are the ones pulling this project together and I have appreciated being able to be a part of that element of our progress as a class.
At this point, it all feels sort of surreal. This project was ambitious; none of us have ever attempted something like this and it is a foreign concept to Guilford College. Although I came into the process later than many (I was asked to be a Silkworm late this past summer), I feel a deep attachment to this project and its success. It is very fulfilling to watch it coming together so beautifully. I am constantly thinking back to the stages of the project when the students asked us what was going on and we asked the professors and the professors stared back, just as confused as the rest of us. This project has been all about teamwork, from the teaching team to our project teams to our entire class as a team working towards this final project. Every person has had a distinct role in this project’s success and I believe that each of us feels like we own it.


The Process: 9

We’re done! It’s great! Thank goodness… After hundreds* of hours of research, mapping, building, cooking, videoing, and Prezi manipulation, our project is complete. To know that our maps will be forever enshrined in the Guilford Silkroad homepage is quite the honor. With digital humanities, our stories will really last forever and are accessible to all (which is why out of those hundred hours we proofread for hundreds** more).
This will be the first time a piece of work I’ve done has been entirely public facing and available to critique. It’s safe to say that this provided both an added stressor as well as an added piece of motivation to make sure my facts were well-sourced and my research was reliable. I am happy with what our group turned out with our final product and I think we took the ideas we had and used all the digital tools provided to make it a success. Originally we were unsure whether Storymaps were the way to go, given our theme as a meal. However, in the end we have five individual Storymaps linking out from items on the table. Pretty ironic. Even so, I’m proud that we didn’t succumb to re-arranging our unique ideas for the sake of technology, and pushed through with our Prezi and food theme.
Another thing I’m extremely grateful for was our group dynamic. Team projects are difficult. Effort, opinions and ideas for the end product can easily come into conflict with each other. In this case, this wasn’t the case. Once we settled on a theme as a group, each of us had our objectives outlined. Deadlines were met (for the most part). Communication was solid. Friendships were both made and retained. The only casualty was Zach’s forearm hair that was incinerated straight off, during our tandoor experiments along with a few naan bread that were sacrificed to the coals.
I’m excited to see what other groups have come up with and am honored to be part of the class that began this venture in digitally mapping the silk road. It will be interesting to look back and see what this website has become 5 or 10 years from now. It’s been an enlightening journey, and for some of us just the beginning, as we prepare to travel the silk road over January Term. I suppose we’ll find out whether our Xinjiang cuisine can hold a candle to the real deal. Thank you for joining us on our journey. I’m sure that it won’t stop here!
*Probably not an exaggeration
**Probably an exaggeration


On Tuesday, we finished the Storymap.  Or at least, we thought we did.  There is still a lot of work to be done and things to be fixed.  It is mostly aesthetical, but it has added up to a lot to fit into the next few days.  Just a little bit longer and then we are live!
At times like these, I am so grateful for both my teams.  Throughout this project, I have developed not only close relationships with my classmates, but productive one’s, too.  My teammates have my back, whether they are a part of the Silkworm family or a member of my Heart.  I wish that I had the opportunity to engage with my peers on this level in my other courses.  This was an unexpected outcome of this course.  Yes, we had course objectives that targeted content/skill, but we did not even stop to think about the value of student collaboration.  At least I didn’t.
As a silkworm, it has been amazing to see the ups as well as the downs through out this course.  Every person I talk to is having a different experience.  Everyone seems to have focused on one thing or another based on what suites their fancy.  Although the content of this course still strikes me as not particularly cohesive, I do believe that every single person has gotten something out of it.  It is impossible to look at these map’s and think otherwise.
To a degree, because I am a Silkworm, I feel like I’ve almost missed out on the satisfaction of generating a topic and becoming absolutely infatuated with.  Yes, I get to learn totally awesome things from the hard work my classmates put in, but I do not actually have anything to contribute.  It’s weird–although these last few weeks would have been far more stressful had I been writing up the project, it is projects like these that make me feel like I’ve accomplished something.  It’s at the end of a big project that I realize (time after time) why I am in school, and I appreciate it.
That said, although we are so close to being done, the course does not feel complete yet.  I’m missing something, still.   Will I shake this feeling when the website goes live?  Or perhaps when I go to China?
I’ll have to wait and see.  But for now, I am so proud of us all.  Now for the finishing touches…

This is one of my favorite clips from the movie The Illusionist, made by Sylvain Chomet.  Perhaps seemingly irrelevant, but it struck a chord with me.  This is what’s going on back stage; this is TRUE TEAMWORK.

Student Blog Posts

The students in the Digital Silk Road class wrote these blog posts over the course of the semester, to document and reflect upon the process of working in teams, conducting research, collecting artifacts, and using digital tools to create their projects.
The blog posts are in reverse chronological order: the most recent posts appear at the top. You can click on the name of the author of a post to see all posts by that student. You can also use the Categories in the menu at left to see all blog posts by a given team, or all blog posts by the Silkworms, the TAs for the class.

We made it, folks.

On Monday, we finished the bulk of our storymap. There were a few small editing things that were taken care of Tuesday morning (or at least I think that’s what happened – I somehow missed the memo that we were all going to meet), but  Monday was when everything truly came together. Once we got past putting everything in the map and ordering the points, I was no longer stressed and everything felt like it would be fine.
Working on the project has definitely been an interesting experience, especially considering that I’m not a fan of group work. I was a bit apprehensive at the start of the semester because I didn’t know how well our group would work together, but that turned out to be a non-issue. We all got along really well and ended up having a lot of fun, and aside from some brief tensions stemming from the differences in how each person worked, everything went smoothly.
I think a big part of why this project was ultimately more fun than I initially expected is that it’s entirely digital. Projects with physical counterparts are always high-stress because everyone has to be present and working on things simultaneously, but doing everything digitally allows everyone some breathing room and the ability to work at their own pace. From a more personal perspective, I enjoyed it simply because I enjoy working with digital platforms – there’s so much you can do with multimedia and format, and it’s so much easier than working with physical materials because you have the freedom to play around and experiment with what you’re doing without any worry of screwing up to a degree that would require starting over.
In terms of stress and managing work, I don’t think this project has been anything out of the ordinary. For me, the biggest struggle were the blog posts; I realized when I started writing this entry that I had forgotten to post my earlier entries on the website and had them stored away in my computer, so I had to go and put those up before I could forget again. Aside from me being forgetful, it was also kind of hard for me to find things to write about. It felt really redundant trying to write about a lot of the things that came up with our project because I would spend time talking about them to teammates, and I ended up writing less than I should have because of this.
I’m excited to see the project go up now that it’s done. I’ve had a really great time researching the gay community within Uyghur society; it was fun to try and do research on something that had little information available, since I felt like I was actually contributing to academia. All in all, I think this was an incredibly worthwhile project, and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves moving forward.
–Nathan, 11/16

Getting there.

Things are still going pretty well, but it’s a little more challenging now that deadlines are getting closer and closer. It’s not so much that there’s a lot of work left to do – it’s not like there was ever a ton of work for each of us individually to begin with – but just knowing that we need to be done in another week or so has created some slight anxious tension.
At this point, I think the hardest thing has definitely been keeping up with group meetings. For the first portion of the semester, our group was only meeting on Friday mornings, and that wasn’t all that bad; now, we’ve been meeting around twice a week and there’s a good chance we’ll be meeting more than that as we get into the last week. The meetings are helpful, so it’s not an issue of wasting time, but living over half an hour off campus has made meeting something of a challenge. Most of our meetings are in the morning and I have to account for at least 45 minutes of travel, sometimes more if I’m leaving during the morning work/school rush. Between late nights working on assignments for all of my classes and getting up really early to try and get to meetings on time, sleep has become a bit of a luxury and I really can’t wait for this all to be over.

The good news is that we’ve made significant progress on our project in the last week or so. We’ve been working on drafts of our storymap points, and it’s been interesting to see how things are taking shape. I think each of our topics will mesh fairly well in the end – Teiji’s and Elise’s will probably work really well, and I’m sure we can find a way to fit my subtopic of gayness in Uyghur communities in there somewhere. If I had been able to find out more about drag queens in Xinjiang, it would be easier, but I suppose we have to work with what we have.
It’s unfortunate that we’ve hit such a large language barrier in our research. Had one of us been able to speak Chinese, we probably would have been able to pull together something even more cohesive. I’ve been thinking about talking to Zhihong about finding more sources that aren’t available in English, but with everything I have going on right now I don’t think I’ll be able to find any time.
–Nathan, 11/09

The Gays: As elusive as ever.

Our group has been doing pretty well so far, and I think things will continue to go well for us moving forward. We’ve been working on research even as we’ve been pushing forward into the next steps, since my own topic hasn’t been all that generous with sources and Elise changed her topic right before we went on break. I don’t necessarily think this is a setback, though; even though there’s a bit more work to do now, it’ll probably benefit us in the end with a more substantial map and better connections between our topics.
In my case, I haven’t found much since I last wrote about having difficulty finding sources. I’ve yet to find the name or location of the gay bar in Urumqi, and I think I’m ready to accept that I likely won’t be able to find it in the time we have to finish the project. I thought I had found the owner’s name, but looking into him I learned that he was “Mr. Gay China” and lives in Beijing, so I’m not quite sure what to make of his ties to the bar.
While definitely not the most reliable method, I spent some time the other day using Google Translate to search for websites about gay Uyghurs in Chinese, and I ended up stumbling across some rather bizarre things. There was a website with a very short piece of (I’m assuming) creative writing wherein a guy was admiring a Uyghur man, but far more interesting were the comments; they ranged from relatively normal encouragement for the author to some absolutely wild accusations that Islam required Uyghur men to maintain two gay love affairs at any given time. Google Translate isn’t the most reliable translation source, so perhaps something was translated incorrectly, but I’m very much interested in where that idea originated. There were also some sexually explicit stories about Uyghur men nestled in the comments, but it was unclear whether or not the authors of the comments were Uyghur, Han, or another ethnicity. Another thing that I noticed was how most Chinese pages refer to gay guys as “comrades,” and I haven’t been able to find any explanation for this.
I’ve also been having some fun looking into gay culture in China’s eastern cities, Shanghai in particular. Plenty of websites for clubs are accessible, and it’s been interesting to look into all of that and get a sense of what clubs there are like. I’m also having a great time looking at all the posters that clubs have made to advertise their events – I’ve been sifting through page after page of attractive guys to find the perfect poster to use in the storymap. For science, y’know?

HEAVEN Full Moon Party. ANGEL Shanghai, September 2016.
HEAVEN Full Moon Party. ANGEL Shanghai, September 2016.

— Nathan, 10/29

Nearly Skipped a Beat

After hours of planning, meeting, researching, writing, organizing, contemplating, and finally completing, our project is at an end. I’d like to use this post to voice my thoughts on the last days of this process and showcase some of my findings that didn’t quite make it to the team StoryMap.
I found Tengger Cavalry and Hanggai through a music discovery platform, and a few posts from the same platform popped up in my searches throughout the project. A number of these mentioned an individual called Ethnic Zorigoo, a singer who, like many other Mongolian musicians, incorporates elements of throat singing and traditional themes into his work. Unlike many of the other musicians I’ve found, he doesn’t shy away from more modern genres like hip-hop and techno. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any biographical information or news articles about him that also happened to be in English, but I found his music interesting and unconventional enough to merit a mention.

My search for information on Tengger Cavalry actually turned up a second metal band, Nine Treasures, based in Inner Mongolia. I decided not to include them on the story map as I already had a metal band, but I thought I’d include some of their music in this post to showcase another style of Mongolian metal.

The last few weeks of our project have been at once intense and relieving for me. Once we had put everything together, it was just a matter of adding the finishing touches and preparing for our presentation. On one hand, I appreciate having some academic weight lifted off my shoulders. On the other hand, I really enjoyed working with the wonderful people in Team Heart and I feel that I gained quite a bit of knowledge and a number of valuable experiences over the course of this semester. It’s been a wild ride, but I don’t regret it in the least.