Archive for the ‘Archive’ Tag

Civil War Hartford

I would have to say that the hardest part of creating a digital archive is composing a well thought out introductory essay.  It is not that I have trouble writing or that I don’t know the content enough to write about Hartford in the Civil War.  I would have to say that the difficulty is creating a piece of writing that is interesting and sets forth the scope and importance of my exhibit.

In the future, if this exhibit turns into something more than a class project, the introductory essay may be what people (in my case teachers) use to determine if the archive is worth while.  Essentially, it may determine if my archive is relevant and credible.  Of course, I am probably putting too much emphasis on the importance of this piece…that is typically my shortcoming.  I am always striving to change the world or make some sort of break through.  I think my wife puts it best when she tells me to “Keep it Simple Stupid.”  Honestly, this is great advice, but it hurts every time.

When it comes right down to it in this essay I have to determine why people should care about this archive.  Why is the archive relevant?  To answer this question, my archive is relevant because Hartford is like a microcosm of what might have happened if the South did not secede from the Union.  Essentially, in Hartford, there was a large number of Democrats and Republicans.  The climate of Civil War Hartford was very explosive.  There were Democrats who supported the war, known as War Democrats.  There were anti-War Democrats who, in many cases, supported the Confederacy.  As for Republicans, there were basically two types.  There were what would be considered today fiscal Republicans, whom supported the war effort because they were at the forefront of business innovation and wanted protection from a strong central government for their business adventures.  Finally, there were radical Republicans that pushed to end slavery.

Although I think that this information is all extremely interesting it is not the material that would be typically covered in a Middle or High School setting.  For my essay, I have to focus on how local history reflects the trends that were occurring nationally.  That is the focus of my collection and exhibit.  Now I just need to put the thoughts to paper in a way that entices people to utilize my materials.

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Folksonomy: Tagging w/o the Mess

There are many people who are worried about the idea of users (visitors to websites) placing tags on items for categorization.  It seems to me that people who are against any person (especially those they deem to be uneducated) creating tags or categories to place internet items are not wholly off base.  There could be a possibility that mis-educated, undereducated, or uneducated people would create a myriad of tags making it impossible for other users to utilize tag features to locate items on the internet.  They complain that it would be some sort of digital anarchy.

Recently, I have been increasingly using tags to organize websites using delicious.  This program allows me to locate a website, store the site, and tag it for future use.  For the most part I try to put as many tags on an item as I can. Basically, when I tag I am trying to forecast any and all keywords that can be associated with the item.  For instance, if I am tagging the website for the Imperial War Museum, I would create tags such as “primary sources, archive, museum, research, UK, war, imperialism” and so on.  This way, in the future, when I want to access the site, I can type in any one of the mentioned tags and be able to locate the source.

Why can’t the same thing be applied to items in a digital archive or a museum’s online collection.  I guess a lot of people will complain that typical, everyday users are not capable of creating meaningful tags.  But, honestly, meaningful to whom?  The purpose of museums (online, digital,or analog) is to store items and create access for the public.  Why would a museum want to spend exorbitant amounts of money to collect and store information, only to hide it.  I say let people tag and see what happens.

The great thing about technology is that museums can monitor tags that people put on items and use add the relevant terms to the items tag database.  This process is identified by the term folksonomy which is where the end-user places their own tags on items and the best or most relevant tags become apart of the colloquial language to identify items.  You know, let the “folks” label items.  They are ultimately the end-user, so why not make it accessible.  I feel that this is just another way of making information accessible and relevant to everyone.  It’s the future, nay it is the present.  Museums: Don’t be left behind.

Digital Misconceptions

This past year I was married to my beautiful and incredibly smart bride, Amanda.  We were lucky enough to to hire a friend of ours as the photographer.   We were lucky for two reasons.  First, we know the ph0tographer and we were very comfortable with her.  Second, after our wedding was over, she went back and digitally touched up the photos.  Just basic alterations, fixing the hue and contrast, maybe taking out some unsightly objects in the background–alterations that can really make or break the shot.  With the advent and acceptance of digital cameras and photography these types of changes can be unobtrusive and undetectable.  I argue this is fine for wedding pictures and art, but when does digitally altering photos become unethical.

Back in 2006, CNET News published an online photo gallery of altered images exposing how seemingly innocent photos can be altered.  I will have to admit some of the alterations are harmless.  For instance, one photo shows a note written by George W. Bush, asking if he can go to the bathroom.  In this photo the contrast was altered so that the handwriting stood out.  In another example, OJ Simpson’s mugshot is featured as it appeared on two national magazine covers.  In this case, Time Magazine darkened the photo for effect.  These are common alterations that may change the mood of a photo, but does not overtly change the content of the image.

Although it may be harmless to use programs such as Photoshop to make slight alterations, it is unethical to alter the content of the photo.  For instance, in the 2004 Presidential campaign, many may remember that a photo of John Kerry was spliced with one of Jane Fonda making it appear as though the two were on stage together at an anti-Vietnam war rally.  Although this may seem harmless enough, it was certainly detrimental to his bid for the Presidency.  In this case, someone maliciously reproduced the picture and used it as propaganda.  In an other instance, a photographer, Adnan Hajj, manipulated images of Israeli air strikes in Lebanon and sold them to Reuters.  Upon discovering the forgeries, Reuters cut ties with the Beirut-based photographer and removed all of his 920 images from their database.

A 2006 article in the Economist details how easy it actually is to make these alterations.  Even though there are efforts to control/monitor alterations to images, the ease in which photos are altered makes this task nearly impossible.  So what does that mean for historians?  Basically, it means that historians have to be diligent in vetting their sources.  It is not enough to Google a topic and take whatever image pops up.  Make sure you are doing your due diligence.  Is the source an authority?  What other type of content is on the page/archive?  Are there any discrepancies or inconsistencies  in the image?  Does the photo seem realistic?  Can you find that same image on other reputable sights?

Here’s the bottom line.  Altering photos is definitely not a new phenomenon.  The USSR and China were notorious for this practice during the Cold War.  Ultimately, it is up to the researcher, in my case, the historian, to analyze any and all images before adding them to your collection of sources or digital archive.  Think about it.  If the historian, who is producing historical work, does not identify and dismiss a falsified image which ends up on a website, do you think that the everyday user of your site will conduct their own analysis to ensure authenticity?  Or, do you think that they will take it at face value?  I bet, more times than not, the latter will occur.  Misconceptions are the worst type of ignorance–they linger.  Diligence is the key to ensure that your research is authentic.  You don’t want to be written off for utilizing bad sources, do you?