Throughout the duration of this course, I found Toni Weller’s book History in the Digital Age to be quite helpful. Funnily enough for a digital history class, it is a print book. However, it is a good resource for digital history. The book provides an introduction to digital history and then is broken up into sections: Re-conceptualizing history in the digital age, studying history in the digital age, Teaching history in the digital age, and the future of history in the digital age. I found myself coming to this book a few times during the semester to provide extra insight in the things we were learning.
Another good source was Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s book Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. While the book is a little dated, the information is still helpful and can be accessed online.
Three topics that I found particularly interesting were about copyright, Omeka, and social media.
- Before this class, I never really put much thought into copyright laws or how they worked. I mean, I knew that you couldn’t just take stuff that wasn’t yours (I’ve read enough plagiarism sections in syllabi to know that). But I did not know things like once you write something, it technically has a copyright, you don’t need to file anything. So it is something that I will be paying closer attention to in the future, especially in digital work.
- Omeka is an interesting site where people make online exhibits. I didn’t know that an open-source platform existed for something as specific as creating digital exhibits. Going through and looking at some sites made by other groups was interesting and I think knowing about all the things that go into creating a digital exhibit will be helpful to me in the future- like Dublin Core and metadata and simply designing an exhibit in a different format.
- A professional social media presence is something I do not have, nor am I aiming to have. However, I think that looking at social media accounts that are professional can help. I think it is particularly important because I can see that as something I would have to do in the future, not personally but for an organization. I have experience with social media and I am comfortable on different platforms so I can apply that knowledge and what I have learned from talking about and following other accounts to any organization I work for in the future.
The National Archives and Records Administration runs the Citizen Archivist project. Using volunteers who register on the website, they are increasing online access to historical records. They crowdsource metadata and information through tagging, transcribing, and adding comments.
Registration is super easy. You just need to create a username and password and they email you a confirmation link and you can immediately start contributing.
They have a section called Citizen Archivist Missions that allow you to click a topic you’re interested in and it gives you a list of records pertaining to that subject for you to transcribe or tag. They have categories like: Marine Corps Activities in World War II and Korea, US Coast Guard Logbooks, Lists, Registered Product Labels, Records Relating to Property Releases, 1949-1951, Pentagon Papers, 1970s America, and Watergate. They also allow you to complete unfinished transcribed documents and provide featured records.
I went into the Registered Product Label section and transcribed a box of Treesweet Canned Lemon Juice, a Letter from the Examiner to the attorneys of Townsent, Loftus, and Abbett, and Mornings Tea Refreshing as the Dawn.
The lemon juice and tea were both product labels and the letter, was well, a letter. It was pretty easy to figure out how to add a transcription or tags but if you can’t figure out they provide a “how to” section.
I think this project is great. It allows for people to get involved in history and making it more accessible to the public. People who are kind of interested in history, or who work in the field, can work with documents they would not always have access too. I’d like to look at more of the written documents because I think that it can be used as good practice for reading older documents. They have a list of rules that need to be followed in order to contribute, so I am assuming that they have people monitoring transcriptions and comment sections making sure everything is running smoothly. Plus, the National Archives gets free labor!
Last week I talked about having a social media presence and how that can relate to history. But besides the popular avenues like Twitter or blogging, how else can historians reach the public? PODCASTS!
I’m very excited about this week. I love podcasts! If you see me out walking around and I have headphones in, there is a good chance I’m listening to a podcast. As a medium, they are great because they are handsfree. I used to have a job cleaning residence hall rooms and to keep myself from going insane while scraping walls for 8 hours a day I would listen to podcasts. I tend to listen to comedy podcasts, but I have also listened quite a bit to ones that tell myths and legends and I am about to start listening to some about true crime.
I realize that I am probably in a minority of people who frequently (and sometimes binge) listen to podcasts. For some people its just not their thing, and for others it may be that they just don’t know where to find them. The other day I was scrolling through podcasts on Spotify looking for a history podcast to listen to and I compiled some pros and cons:
- It makes history accessible to almost anyone. Most podcasts are free and are set up to be easily understandable. So whether or not you have background in a certain event/time period you will be able to learn without feeling alienated.
- It is handsfree. You don’t have to read a book. I listen to podcasts when I’m just sitting around, but also if I’m out walking or driving (which are times I probably should not be reading).
- You can find podcasts on TONS of topics: WWI, WWII, Rome, Ireland, American history, certain objects, etc. Any topic you choose, you’re bound to find someone who is interested in it.
- History podcasts generally are not presented in a serial way, meaning that you can pick and choose episodes that you want to listen too.
- Something I know about myself is that I’m very picky. So sometimes, no matter how great or informative a podcast could be, I will not listen to it if the person talks too slow or has a voice that I don’t want to listen to. So as a podcaster, some people might not give it a chance because of something like that. I guess it’s like the whole “don’t judge a book by its cover” but for an aural medium.
- There are a lot of podcasts (and I know I put this in the pros too but hear me out). With such a large number of podcasts available, some with huge backlogs, it can be overwhelming. If you don’t know where to start to find a podcast you’re interested in, or if you’re like me who likes to listen in order, it can be a daunting task to even start.
- A lot of people don’t listen to podcasts. They tend to be a forgotten medium and not a place that people first turn to for history. The task of public historians would be to start pushing podcasts, to let people know that they are out there.
Overall, I think this would be a great medium for public historians to start taking advantage of, but there is a way to go before it will become part of the mainstream. So its something to keep an eye (or rather ear?) out for and if we as historians start talking about podcasts and recommending them to people, in the future it may just become another part of history.
How you present yourself online can have as much of an effect as how you present yourself in real life, which can be good or bad depending on who you are. The big “threat” that people use is that everything you post is out there forever. While that is true, how many people are actually going to be looking that closely at the stuff you are posting?
People use social media for different reasons and therefore their digital personas differ. There are a group of people known as “twitterstorians” who are basically historians on twitter. They run their accounts on a professional level, posting news articles and facts. Generally they are not very personal accounts, unless they are posting opinions on current news or even historical events. What makes them different from me is that they have a professional account and I run personal accounts. For the most part, my goal is not to appeal to professionals and strangers, it is to talk to people I know. I run this blog for class, which is 98% professional and academic and 2% bad jokes and references. I also have started a site for my photography in order to keep my works in an easily accessible place. However, I have many other accounts on different platforms and I don’t see a need to run them in a professional way. That’s not to say I am unprofessional, I try to keep most of the stuff I post appropriate for a general audience because my name is attached to it, but I don’t see a need right now for me to run professional accounts. For example, my twitter currently consists of tweets about podcasts, movies, music, and my terrible sleeping habits.
I do not really have a lot of followers, nor is that my goal. I have accounts because I enjoy the platform (or got sucked in and I can’t leave) and I want to share my thoughts and art with people who want to see them. If you are trying to get followers, I would first start with friends. The support at the beginning of people you know will kickstart your account. From there you can try branching out, replying to similar accounts with your ideas and thoughts and utilizing search tools, like hashtags. Not everyone or every topic is going to be successful so it involves trial and error, but just because your following is small it doesn’t make it worthless so stick with it. An institution has the ability to promote their social media on their website and in the institution on fliers or even activities. For example, I was recently at the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) where, in their exhibit, they prompted visitors to take pictures and use a specific hashtag when they posted in on Instagram. Other places do contests in a similar fashion. So an institution is going to have an easier time with promotions than a personal account. Just don’t be that person who comments on everything and says “check out my _____” because nobody likes that person and it is a guaranteed way to for me, at least, not to click on it.
Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system that captures, stores, manages, displays, and analyzes information linked to a location on earth. It is often displayed in the way of an intelligent or interactive map that allows users to see results visualized and provides a set of tools that allow data to be analyzed spatially. It has the ability to relate different types of data (quantitative, textual, image, audio) to each other based on a shared location. However, GIS suggests the world is flat, because by presenting a view of the physical environment it is stripping it of the culture.
Historians aim to bridge that gap by attempting to use GIS and spatial history. One project that is working on this is the Republic of Letters which looks at networks. It takes the correspondences by scientific academics and looks at how the letters and ideas travelled through a mapping of exchanges.
The Republic of Letters is made up of case studies, from people like Voltaire, Galileo, and Locke, and are strategic in geographic range and time period. With the range of study, it demonstrates places of intersection.
In mapping Galileo, for example, they followed his social and intellectual networks. During the mapping of his networks a challenge that arose that there was deliberate destruction of Galileo’s sensitive letters because of his trial and condemnation for his advocacy of Copernicus and an accidental loss of letters by heirs who did not preserve them. But there is still information to be gathered. The site provides a number of charts, graphing:
- Number of letters sent by Galileo per year
- Galileo’s recipients
- Calendar of letters sent to destination city
Overall this site seems helpful and is much easier to navigate than other historical GIS sites. It allows for researchers, or those curious, to look at letters and correspondence in a different way. The most common way would just be to read the letters for content, but there is so much more information that can be gathered. With mapping them out this way, historians now have a better idea of how ideas were spread and the networks connecting history. And sometimes the answer can be found by looking at things from a different viewpoint.
With the rapid technological advancements, the fear of being left behind pushed many people (especially those in the history field) to digitize. But while digitizing seems like a simple and good idea, it brought up a lot of underlying issues, which are brought up in Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History. One issue is the idea of “density of data.” This looks at how much and how frequently the original source is being sampled and the breadth and depth of the information gathered in each sample. It also asks the question “should digitized text capture just the letters and words or should it take into account information about spacing, paragraphing, headings, etc?” This reminded me of a story told in Weller’s History in the Digital Age where she mentions a historian in a Portuguese archive who “read barely a word, instead, he picked out bundles of letters and… ran each letter beneath his nose and took a deep breath…” He was a medical historian studying outbreaks of cholera and the letters were disinfected with vinegar, so he was looking at the dates on the letters to chart the progress of the outbreak. So the text could be reproduced, but the scent is lost in digitization, so how can we account for that when digitizing sources?
Digitized sources have to go somewhere, and often that is a website. While that can be a good thing, you have to be very careful because what is thought to be good intentions and a nice design can be a nightmare for someone else. In my opinion, to make a site functional and aesthetically pleasing, it has to be easy to navigate. There should be a clear header and table of contents so that it is self-explanatory to find information. This generally means there’s a home section explaining what the site is for, specific sections for written posts or photographic posts or video posts, etc. If it belongs to an organization, it should have an easily accessible contact page, with emails and/or phone numbers of people who work there. The design should also be simple. Not too many colors or other visual things going on and a clean and easy to read font. When designing a website you want people to:
- Not be overwhelmed by too many things or too much information all at once
- Be able to navigate the site and find what they are looking for. If I click on a site and I can’t find what I am looking for almost immediately, I don’t stay on the site.
- Come back. If you are putting information out there, you want it to be user friendly so people keep coming back to access the information and see updates.
Two sites that I find well put together (not having to do with history) are:
- A24 : this site for the movie studio A24 is very easy to navigate. The homepage consists of trailers for upcoming movies and the headings include Films, Television, About, Contact, Notes, Shop and then provides links to all of their social media accounts. Everything a person could be looking for is easily accessible and found under simple categories. The site is vertical list form and has a simple black and white color scheme.
- McElroy Shows: I’m a huge fan of podcasts, and my favorite podcasters have so many projects that it is hard to keep up so this site fixes that problem. The main page has a grid of all of the podcasts that they are apart of and the heading provides information on Tours, Release schedule, social media, representation and cancelled podcasts. Depending on the page, there is either a list or a grid. The site is simple and clean, being a basic white, however, each show in the grid has its own “album cover” design that not only makes it easy to find shows, it adds some color without being too much.
Just for fun I’d like to include the worst site I’ve been to recently:
- Warrens: This is the site for the Warren’s Occult Museum, which is no longer open, and is home to the Annabelle doll. The site has too much going on, with articles that slide onto the page, early 2000s word art, weird fonts, colored fonts on a black background… the whole thing is just a mess. HOWEVER, I have to give them some credit, because they did update. On the old website (October 2017), each heading took you to a page that would automatically play a YouTube video, providing background music whether you wanted it or not. But if you want a good way to waste 20 minutes on “haunted” stuff, this is a pretty fun, yet awfully designed site.
The YMCA, YWCA, and YWHA/JCC on Wikipedia
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and the Jewish Community Center (JCC, formerly the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, YMHA) are all recreational, social, and leadership organizations aimed at specific groups.
When looking at the Wikipedia pages for these three different organizations, it is easy to determine their popularity and where people’s interests lie by looking at the contents. The contents for the YMCA is comprised of 13 sections, each with 1 to 4 subsections including History, organizational model, logo, activities, Europe, North America, Central America, Africa, Asia, and Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The YWCA is less researched, with only 9 sections and a few subcategories, including Advocacy, Programs, World YWCA Councils, History, and YWCAs around the world. The JCC has the least information containing 8 sections with no subcategories: History, services, locations, incidents and security, and notable members. All three pages contain a list of references and external links and due to the sections, the articles are split into it is very easy to access any information you could want on the page. It is also worth mentioning that the YMCA and JCC provide photos.
Here are some observations on the “talk” section of Wikipedia (which until looking into this, I did not know existed):
- YMCA : The contents provided in the talk section has 42 topics people are addressing. Starting with a question about how much Christianity is tied to the YMCA (asked in 2004) where the answers basically say it varies. One section where people are in a lengthy conversation revolves around the heading “Gay Subculture.” The question posed was “From what I can gather, everyone in mainstream culture perceives YMCA as a front for gay activities. Why is there so little mention of this?” which sparked a series of answers about people’s perceived views on the YMCA and whether or not that idea comes from the song of the same name. Other people provide sources in case it wants to be included in the actual article. The conversations occurred from 2006-2011.
- YWCA : There are only 5 sections in the talk section of the YWCA: Boys in the YWCA, Platform 51 change, Controversy section, Waldegrave vs Weldgrave, and World YWCA edits. It is not even close to being as extensive as the YMCA article. At one point, in 2011, the controversy section was questioned with a statement that said “This section needs sources to back up its claims; if they can’t be found, it should be removed” to which many people agreed due to both a lack of evidence and incorrect grammar.
- JCC : There are only two sections in the talk section for the JCC which are, Wikimedia is not a promotional site and external links modified. The person posting in the first section stated that using the words “exceptional quality” is in violation of neutral point of view policies.