Archive for the ‘digital history’ Tag

Semester in Review

Although I am sleep deprived, worn down, and have a headache anytime I look at my computer screen, I can hardly believe that this semester is over.  These past 16 weeks have been a whirlwind and as I look back on my accomplishments and growths from this experience, I cannot help but think that my experience has been successful.  This class has opened my eyes to the endless advantages, and some disadvantages, to digital history.  Many of the theories and skills that I picked up this semester are applicable to my professional life.

One tool that I picked up this semester was the online website manager and social tagging site, delicious.  I use this program on a daily basis and I love it.  Since signing up for an account this past January, I have bookmarked over 100 sites on various social studies topics.  In fact, I got rid of internet explorer and substituted Firefox as my browser because delicious is an add on for Firefox.  Every time I utilize a website for teaching or research and I think that it may be relevant to use in the future, I bookmark the site and set as many tags to the site as possible.  Overall, this site has made organizing important web resources in one efficient place, instead of writing down each url and hopefully remembering where that damned slip of paper disappeared to.

Another benefit of the digital history course is the utilization of a blog.  I have always been a person who valued reflection as an important means for internalizing learned material.  I often incorporate reflections into the classroom because it is a higher order thinking skill.  Through this blog I have been able to pose questions and formulate opinions on topics in class.  Utilizing a blog on a regular basis also gave me the confidence needed to build and manage a website on Google.  This site is a place where students can check homework assignments and announcement related to my class.

Overall, I intend to maintain this blog, although maybe not as frequently as I have over the past several weeks.  I believe that utilizing a blog as a learning, growth, and development tool is important to my progression as a professional.

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.

Digital Champion

This past week I have been engulfed in trying to design a class website for my social studies classes.  I figured this would be easy enough since I have been studying digital history for the past semester.  Of course, it was not as easy as I expected.  I thought I could jump on to Google sites and wham, bam it would be done.  That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Although the site editor for Google is pretty straight forward, learning how to use it was like learning another language.  It was full of trial, error (mostly error) and frustration.  The first major headache after I chose which template I wanted was figuring out how to organize information on the site.  I knew that I wanted an area where announcements for each class could be viewed quickly and easily, but I definitely didn’t know how to do that.  Luckily, I was able to contact another teacher who instructed me on how to tweak the site so the information fit together nicely.

The next major problem, which I have yet to conquer, is figuring out what I want to put on the site for text.  I don’t want all text in your face because that is boring.  Essentially, I want to explain each of the classes on their own subpage.  But really, who is this explanation for?  I am willing to bet that most students who visit the site are not interested in my definition of Sociology or Civics or US History.  In actuality, this information is for the parents.  I have some parents ask me when and if I was going to post a website.  I bet that any parent actually interested enough to visit the site will probably read this information.

Overall, this has been a great learning experience.  I am now at least semi-proficient in creating a website on Google.  The great thing about this site is that if I go to another school, the site comes with me.  I am also able to put the address for this site on my resume, which I am sure many administrators will find impressive for job interviews.  So far, my work in Hist 511: Digital History has transformed me from a digital idiot to a Digital Champion.

History Web Reviews

This week I have decided to examine a few websites and evaluate their format and layouts using the guidelines laid out by Cohen and Rosenzweig.  I googled the term Civil War and chose two sites at the top of the results list because I figured that is what most internet users typically do.

Also I have provided a link to some interesting comments made on an earlier post discussing the use of the internet and its affects on learning.

History Web Review 1

Overall I think this is a pretty good website.  It is easily navigable and the layout is simple.  Unfortunately there are all kinds of advertisements on the page, but hey, you gotta eat.  In some areas, I felt that the text was too close to images or border and instead of gray text they should have used black.  I really like the integration of primary sources, links to discussion pages, and an interactive map.  One thing that was a little distracting was the bookmark and share box that kept popping up in my face when I was trying to read.  At a closer look you see that you can link to delicious, facebook, twitter, and about 225 other programs.

After some extra thought, I realized that I did not see an author page or any credits for this site.  I believe it affects the sites credibility.

History Web Review 2

Although this website has a good amount of information and images, overall this site has some design issues.  First and foremost is the use of text on the page.  This site is a timeline of events of the US Civil War from 1861-1865.  The site is mostly texts, which is fine, but the formatting of the text is poor.  The lines run completely across the page and the font is serif, effecting the readability.  I like how the web designer utilized thumbnails of images, which link to a larger file.  What I do not like is how the thumbnails are placed in an “in-line” format with the text making variations between the spacing of events on the timeline.

The navigation of this website could use some work.  There are links at the top of the page to get to certain time periods of the information, but there is not a link to the top of the page.  Also there links to images of the Gettysburg address written in Lincoln’s handwriting in the timeline, but these gems should be highlighted at the top of the page, a person researching the topic would want to know they are available on the sight before moving on. Overall, good info, poor format.

Web History Scavenger Hunt

I found 6 of the required 9 in 30 minutes.  With a little extra time I found the 1998 home page for CHNM.  I was not able to find an online debate on Cuban Crisis, but I did find a lot of primary source information on the topic.  I was not able to find Janet Murray in a picture with the Sims.  Here are the websites that I found:

1. Recording of Leon Trotsky speaking English.

2. 1915 Suffrage Poem with the line: “When all the Women wanted it”

3. A letter from George Washington to Timothy Pickering complaining about “Certain Forged Letters”

4. 18th century Willie Lynch speech in VA. See also: Wikipedia

5. Did not find the online debate on the 1962 Cuban Crisis.  Here is a primary source UN debate

6. Complete version of “Annual Review of Information Technology Developments for Economic and Social Historians, 1993.”  also in JStor

7. Four Syllabi including Hamlet on the Holodeck 1, 2, 3, 4

8. 1998 home page for CHNM

9. Could not find Janet Murray with the Sims

It’s Not Bad, It’s Different

I am one of the many that believes that the migration towards over-dependence on computers is terrible for society.  I further believe that the idea that humans are uploading their brains to the internet so that we are not burdened with unnecessary trivial knowledge is absurd.  However so much I believe that living a wholly digital existence is unpalatable for me, there are many advantages to the evolving digital scholarship.

In her blog post “Doing Digital Scholarship” Lisa Spiro examines several questions discussing digital scholarship.  A few of these questions look into what digital scholarship is, what it takes to produce digital scholarship, and the types of resources and tools included.  This article also discusses the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)  Commission on Cyberinfrastructure’s report discussing five manifestations of digital scholarship including collection building, the tools necessary to collect analyze and produce intellectual products, as well as authoring tools.

As more and more digital resources become available, the necessity for a sound, encompassing, and open Cyberinfrastructure is increasingly necessary.   Many historians may scoff at this idea, but the truth is that most sources in the US today are “born digital.”  Although historians may have to utilize many different types of resources when constructing a display (digital or otherwise) or writing, we must realize that digital scholarship is not bad, it’s different.

Of course, with the new many new types of materials available (e.g. videos, websites, and emails), there is also a need for collecting and organizing this new data at an ever-increasing rate. Dan Cohen’s piece From Babel to Knowledge describes this necessity, laying out initial lessons in the realm of digital collections.  Basically Cohen is advocating for creating means of digital collection, relying on keeping many of these collections free and open, as well as collecting as much as possible, focusing on quantity over quality.

Of all the readings from this week, Chris Anderson’s The Long Tail, was the most interesting.  This was probably due to the fact that this author had a much different approach to discussing digital media.  It was interesting to read about the freedom that the internet provides for finding a niche market.  Although the article discussed mostly entertainment media, the principles are obviously applicable to digital scholarship.

Anderson remarkably points out that aside from freedom of space restrictions overhead is greatly reduced.  So we can take scholarship that we are already doing in public history, make it more dynamic with integration of different and exciting types of data, occupy space for a fraction of the cost, tailor our product to a niche market, and reach more people.  Digital scholarship is not bad; it is just different from what people are used to. Just because historians engage in digital scholarship, does that mean that the essential core of history is changed?  I believe not.

Past’s Digital Presence

Hat’s off to the folks at Yale for putting on a very nice conference this past weekend.  I thought that the presentations that I saw were very thoughtful, interesting, and current.  As a new Public History grad student, I was excited to receive reenforcement of several of the concepts discovered thus far in my studies.  I heard familiar names such as Rosenzweig and listened to dissertations about the evolution of media, importance of digital archives, and controversies in the field such as Enola Gay.  My one criticism of the event is that it was extremely warm on the second floor.  A combination of a packed room and closed windows almost made it unbearable. 

Of course, this could also have been due to the four slices of pizza that I had at lunch before the third session.  The pizza, however, was amazing at Wall Street Pizza; located just about a block away from were the conference was held.  This is traditional Naples style pizza: thin crust.  Not that Greek pizza with all the extra dough.  I had 3 broccoli and tomato slices and a cheese.  Coupled with a Harpoon IPA, man that was good eaten’.

Overall, it was a nice Saturday.  Who would have thought?

Blogging in General

In an effort to make my blogging more bearable to the sparsely populated following that I may or may not have, I will attempt to make future posts less long-winded.

The reason for this two-fold. First because I realize that people reading on the internet are typically in need for a quick fix of information. Our worlds are speeding up day by day. The constraints of deadlines and the ever-ticking clock forces people to spend less time reading on and on about a topic and also should prompt writers (in this case bloggers) to write in a more concise fashion.

The second reason is that the requirements of my Hist 511 blogging assignment states that “posts need not be long essays but rather one or two paragraphs (300-400 words).”

My past posts have definitely exceeded this criteria. Please forgive me for the narcisism.

Embracing the Wiki

Increasingly people utilize sites such as Wikipedia.  If experts don’t take this medium seriously, countless hours will have to be spent to confront a misinformed public.

Most people in America today use sites such as Wikipedia as their first and only source.  And why not?  It’s quick, efficient, accessible, free, and typically accurate.  Of course, there are some people, I was one of them, who believe that Wikipedia is not a good source because of the possibility of any person to create content or edit published material on the site.  Although these concerns are legitimate, I believe that the benefits of wiki software greatly out weigh the detriments.

The controversy surrounding Wikipedia is its openness.  As Cohen discusses, Wikipedia creates the “Wild Wild West” of publishing.  This medium also offers an innovative way to collect, organize, and distribute knowledge.  Cohen is right that Wiki is the wild west of information, but similar to the American West, there is opportunity.  The opportunity in this case is to spread responsible information to educate the public.

Larry Sanger is known to bash Wikipedia for its dabblerism.  He says that dabblerism leads to amateurish results.  He is probably right.  There certainly is a need for experts to engage sites such as Wikipedia or Sangers newer creation Citizendium to ensure that the good information is available on a consistent basis.  It is important to pay attention to Wikipedia because our students—and most other people—do.

Why is this important to experts?  The answer is simple.  A misinformed public can lead to disastrous events.  How many people still actually believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11?  I know from working with students in grades 7-12 that many young people do. And, I would bet that many of their parents think the same thing.  Is this their fault?  Yes and no.  Is it Wikipedia’s fault?  Probably not.  Whose responsibility is it to correct this problem and others stemming from misinformation?  Experts and educators.

There is, however, a bright side.  The issues that people have with open source sites like Wikipedia are addressable.  Experts and educators are able to contribute to informational sites like Wikipedia, Thomas Jefferson Wiki, and the AHA’s  Archive Wiki. Of course, this does not mean that the everyday person cannot and should not contribute.  They definitely should.  People add perspective.  The beauty of Wiki software is that all people are able to participate in the evolving nature of social consciousness.

Another way for historians to combat the prevalence of misinformation is to teach our students how to determine the credibility of a source.  This includes checking multiple primary and secondary sources for relevant information.  Too often people go to one place to get all of their information and are not able to determine between good and bad information.

Unfortunately, without a little guidance the public may become misconstrued by the megaphone effect of bad information.  An example of bad information is the presentist perspective that is prevalent on Wikipedia.  People without proper training in interpreting the past tend to hold past events up to present standards and judge them accordingly.

Fortunately, the technology is new and is always open for improvement.  Sites such as Citizendium, Thomas Jefferson Wiki, and Wikimapia attempt to use the wiki format to provide better information to the public.  Historians need to actively engage these sites ensuring that the common information is the correct information.  Or, do they fear the Wiki?

If You Can’t Beat ’em: Blogs as a resource for education

Before I started a class on digital history if someone were to ask me to look at a blog, read a blog, spend time thinking about a blog, I would have laughed. Just the thought of logging my thoughts, ideas, dreams, and/or whatever else seemed utterly pointless. Honestly, unless I had something interesting to report on and an actual audience, what would be the point? Why would someone want to read about my ramblings, especially if they don’t have to. I’m sure that there are a few (if not many) people that know me and have to listen to my complaints, rants, and absurdities on a regular basis wished that I would blog and get out of their face.

Although this may seem silly, I am not the type of person that wants to put my ideas out on the web for fear of big brother tracking my thoughts, likes, and dislikes. Why put out a record of ideology and ramblings that someone could use against you some day. I never knew where that Orwellian paranoia stemmed from until one summer when my grandmother suggested that I read one of her favorite books, 1984. Although I had already read the book, her comments gave me a little insight to the root of my apprehension. I bet that I was raised up with some good ole American suspicion of an overly intrusive government. Interestingly, the more that I type and put this idea out onto the screen the faster that feeling goes away. I guess, overall, I don’t want to become one of these people that are constantly on their computer, smart phone, ipod, or whatever other device that divides our time from what matters most, direct interpersonal human interaction.

I will admit, however, that Cohen does provide some valid points in his post Professors, Start Your Blogs. In this piece, Cohen stresses the positive aspects for using blogs as an educational tool. And even though it pained me at first, I do agree with him. As Cohen points out there are numerous benefits to utilizing a blog. Primarily he discusses that a blog is a great medium for writing on a subject and “provides a platform to frame discussions on a topic and point to resources of value.” He also discusses that the internet provides an opportunity to reach an enormous audience outside of academia. So instead of kicking around ideas with those in the ivory tower, a writer in any field (professional or otherwise) can add to the conversation at a very low cost.

Does this mean that the walls are broken down and there is no longer a divide between professionals and non-professionals? I would say not. Blogging, however, along with the increasing accessibility of resources on the net, fosters democratic access to information. If professors are as smart as they claim to be, they will exploit this medium for all it is worth. They could lead the way to unfettered access to good information. The exchange of information will be accessible, accurate, and most importantly, FREE.

Not only do blogs provide a medium for expressing ideas or discussing research, but blogs can and are used as a teaching tool as well. In response to the Cohen post, None are so deaf as those that won’t listen said the following: “Blogs can of course be used for teaching as well as personal reflection. One of the great strengths of them is the number of ways in which they can be used. I feel that they are particularly useful for the research process, and can be used as a good tool in research supervision…” As a grad student, I identify with this point more than any thing that Cohen posted in his original article. This maybe due to the fact that I really don’t have any significant research to post, but, moreover, I really think that I am aware of the importance of reflection to education.

Given a chance to read about, think about, respond to, and edit ideas about study (in my case Public History), a student becomes more involved and invested in their work. Although I may never blog about my troubles at the grocery store; my thoughts on laced vs. slip-on shoes; or the obligatory what I had for breakfast (scrambled eggs, if you must know); I could certainly see myself use blogs as an educational tool to further my or my students engagement in a subject. Hell, computers are going to take over one day anyway. If you can’t beat ‘em…