Digital Public History Course Blog

How can digital tools and methods inform our public history work? Join graduate and undergraduate history students at Armstrong State University here as they work with Dr. Ella Howard in Spring 2015 to explore this question.

In the blog posts below we discuss our readings, explorations of digital tools, and progress on our course projects. The Exhibits area linked here will house student work on two local history research projects. One set of exhibits will document Albion’s Voice, a 1970 local underground newspaper. The other will trace themes in Savannah history drawing on materials from the City of Savannah Municipal Archives.

We invite you to follow our progress and join in the conversation.

Wait for it….

My tool analysis of Viewshare is long overdue, but with good reason.  I was waiting until the last moment to, hopefully, use it with my project on Grayson Stadium.  The deadline for this project is approaching and viewshare is still having its problems.

What is viewshare?

Viewshare is an application from the Library of Congress that allows the user to create dynamic charts, maps, and image galleries in digital collections. With Omeka, that we all used for our first project, Viewshare can be used for creating a narrative of online exhibitions based on a collection of objects.

By creating a view, you can import data through simple spreadsheets like Excel, XMLMODS, or JSON.  You would label everything as you would a recipe card, i.e. Artist: Homer, Winslow – Date:1909 – Image : .jpg – Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – Tags: Civil War or African American Reconstruction.  As you continue to add views, you can create maps (plot locations), pie charts, scatters, timelines, and galleries.

When you peruse the “getting started” area of the website there is a list of latest collections. There are few that are true standouts.  Fantastic Fest Films showcases all of what Viewshare can do, but the database itself is weak.  The Fulton Street Trade Cards is touted on the internet as one of the best examples, but, in my opinion, there has been better work completed by some of our graduate students than this one illustrated.

My main interest in this application was the ability to use large volumes of data files.  With baseball statistics from 1886 to present, this program would have allowed me to import massive amounts of comparative data to the Grayson project.  Alas, even as of May 3, 2015, the link to “latest data files” is still a dead link.

The positives, in theory, is that with extremely large blocks of data – art galleries, census reports, etc. – the audience can streamline the data they are researching with great ease and a wide variety of specifics.

The negatives are immensely great.  In working with Omeka, you will have to update both Omeka and Viewshare.  Your Viewshare will not automatically update from Omeka’s Atom Feeds.  In other words, when Omeka updates your data it will not be usable.  You will have to pull your entry and update from Viewshare and replace it – if its available.

Collaboration are only for U.S. OSs and barely one half of British OSs.  There are also clashes between Mac & PC users.  All material must be used from the same source.  Also, the system requirements for using and viewing Viewshare are a bit hit and miss.  Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, and Google Chrome all work with the application, but not every version.  This can cause multiple problems along with each new JavaScript update.

As for permission to download the application, the Library of Congress would like to know why you want to use the program.  I honestly stated that it was for a presentation for a Digital History class.  I have yet to receive permission, but as I have been told by customer service in each email…..they are working on the problem.

In conclusion, I am disappointed.  This would have been a great application for my project if it were accessible.  In my opinion, I would only use this program in the future if I had an enormous amount of data to exhibit (such as 100+ years of baseball statistics) and was planning on daily/weekly maintenance of the site.  I would also recommend only using Excel due to its stability in the marketplace, assuming Viewshare would cater to this type of simple spreadsheet.

Reflection on Teaching Digital History

Typically, professors reflect on their teaching for themselves and their colleagues, but it seems in the spirit of DH and of our course for me to share a few of those thoughts here.

Intro to Digital History has been the best upper-level class I have ever taught. I was worried that the technology would pose too many problems and hurdles, but no major ones emerged, and those that did were powered through by the wonderful group of students I had the honor of leading. I was surprised by the ability of the students to find new tools, master them, and teach them to each other. In the end, my greatest challenge seemed to be keeping up with the group as they raced ahead. The word that comes to mind to describe this class and their approach to the material is “fearless.”

Going forward, I am excited to master more tools in order to share them with future groups. In particular, I want to learn GIS in order to teach students how to work with maps in a more sophisticated way. I also want to work on digital projects of my own, such as the lynching project I am developing, so that I can better model the ways in which historians negotiate the scholarly and the teaching sides of the field. I also hope to build on the work we have done here to create a real Digital History Initiative at Armstrong that will allow interested students and faculty to acquire digital skills while they engage with local history and public history work.

Everyone at Armstrong works hard, and we are often tired. When my confidence in these plans flags, I will think back to this class, and draw inspiration from the energy and courage this group demonstrated (including a willingness to fail, and laugh it off, and try again).

Course Reflection

During this spring semester I greatly increased my knowledge of technology and website work. Ever since I was a child I have had a great interest in everything technology based, from the internet to all kinds of video games. I was ecstatic when I discovered a digital history course would be offered. To be honest, in the early weeks of the course, I felt the course turned out to be particularly dull and hard to grasp and interest in.

When the class got around to working on our Albion’s Voice projects for the midterm, I finally realized that this class was for me. Learning tools to build by own website was incredibly interesting, as well as borderline addicting. I learned the simple tools of web design, and found real pride in my work, more so than the traditional practice’s of writing research papers.

When the class began working on our final projects for the municipal archives, my interest only intensified. After multiple trips to the archives, as well as hours upon hours of research on the internet and Lane library as well, I was finally able to forge a website together that I was proud of. I spent so much time polishing all the minor details of my site to make it appealing as possible.

 

At the research symposium in mid April I decided to present my midterm project because my final project was not finished enough to be presentable.  While showing everyone my Albion’s Voice project, I felt almost embarrassed at how basic it was. In the short few weeks between our midterm and final project I had learn skills to make a superior website compared to my piece on the Bacon Park peace festival.

In the end, I found the digital history class to be incredibly interesting and fun. I will most  definitely use the skills I learned in this course, whether it be for work or personal use, and I will always recommend this course to students who are looking for a fun and intuitive history course.

Wild Card: Historical Understanding in the Quantum Age

For an American Historical Association roundtable about Digital Historiography and Archives, Joshua Sternfeld, Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities Division of Preservation and Access, in Historical Understanding in the Quantum Agetheorizes the growing challenge for historians and archivists  to preserve and interpret digital historical material given the immense amounts of it being produced daily. He uses Twitter as his primary example. In 2010 the Library of Congress signed an agreement to preserve the billions of tweets created since 2006 and all tweets to be created moving forward. This volume of stuff thus presents a conundrum. Traditional historical methods just are not equipped to manage this categorically different set of information.

In order to conceptualize how best to tackle this gap in feasibility he proposes to think about history through a quantum framework, Newtonian laws in this case serving as the ultimate paradigmatic metaphor. This framework is best understood for trying to explain levels of scale and how to approach historicizing them. At the micro level of say single tweets (subatomic particles) certain dynamics exist that require a certain set of rules through which to appraise their qualities. However, at the macro level, full national and international narratives of events (planets, suns, and galaxies) warrant drastically different modes of computation and analysis. Digital history and specifically this broad spectrum Sternfeld proposes for digital historiography thus represent the field’s would be frontier for a Theory of Everything.

Who new History could mesh with String Theory so poignantly? Though, I cannot help but wonder if he might have lost some in the audience with his Ngram-Hadron Collider analogy. Anyways, his point is that digital technology and historical practice need to be approached with bigger thinking that can dissolve interdisciplinary divides. I enjoyed Sternfeld’s clever use of astro- and quantum physics to gauge the immense scale and significance of his theory. No, the interpretation of masses of tweets do not map directly onto the mysteries of the cosmos, but for historians and archivists I agree that theories shaping the digital humanities portend unavoidable consequences for the mysteries operating at the human scale.

Reflection

Our digital history class has equipped me with relevant skills for not only the practice of history, but for use of technology and in general academia as well. What is even better is that our projects lend themselves to our individual pursuits outside of class for self-teaching, experimentation, and exploration. I personally cannot wait to get my own digital history project off the ground. The biggest thrill for me is the radically democratic nature and openness of this type of scholarship. The ever-present opportunity to publicly present one’s work is simultaneously daunting but empowering. Hopefully I remain enough of a turtle to critically question and anticipate the potential risks associated with digital humanities at each turn.

Speaking of pace, these projects were so easy to become immersed in that I consistently found myself losing track of time in order to tinker and fiddle with this and that. There is just no way to comprehend the landscape of tedium that one has to power through until one simply attacks, hacks, and yacks one’s way to a seemingly finished result. I now sincerely respect the incredible work DHers are doing and contributing to the world’s knowledge. The sheer force of will required to invent something from nothing so-to-speak is truly brave and rewarding. I recommend and hope more people learn about digital humanities. The cross-disciplinary applications make such an endeavor stupidly practical, but additionally, injecting user-oriented objectives into the communication and dissemination of quality research is an important intellectual exercise for historians that I believe will set the next generation of scholars apart from others.

Reflection

This whole course was the most practical class I have ever taken, and I loved it. It was great learning to use the Internet for making timelines and websites all for free and to be a part of making what exists on the Internet. All the articles and texts we had to read were packed with information that was actually worth knowing.

Posting our reviews of the required texts and reviews of other sites and tool was a great way of interacting with one another and with the Internet. I always see things about how the Internet and new technology helps us better connect with one another across the world, but being part of this course let me see it. Seeing how Dr. Howard and some of the other students communicate with the creators of some of the programs and tools we were using was great. I also really like that while we were taught a lot of things, we were also given the opportunity to find things for ourselves and by hands on.

Every time I was taught something new, I tried to apply it to my future working in cultural centers. A lot of what we learned is applicable to our futures. This course also let me see that I can find programs and tools if I look. This course was not just about what we were given and shown, but about what we can do for ourselves and others.

Critical Discourse in Digital History

Fred Gibs writes in Critical Discourse in Digital History on the critical side of digital humanities. Although the article was written on 2012, Gibbs mentions criticism and peer review concerning digital humanities, history involved as well, is virtually non-existent or lacks the basic fundamentals. In order to do a project online that grabs ahold of the humanities is not an easy task, the researcher or writer of any article in this field needs substantial data and research material to cover one of the basic and most controversial element even today, credibility. “One major way in which digital humanities is in fact separate from the humanities is that it requires new ways of evaluating very complex work in terms that are often unfamiliar to most humanists.” A professor could have spent hours, perhaps years working on a thesis or a dissertation that not only does not have the support of fellow humanitarians of the field, but is not actively criticized in a good way nor looked upon, even less made it to the eyes of the public.

Every article, project, work, and paper to be published online must have peer criticism and constantly commented upon otherwise it loses its essence with time, perhaps days after being published and becomes a phantom publishing online. Good criticism addresses issues regarding legitimacy and most important of all credibility. Gibbs mentions that “On the whole, a critical discourse will provide crucial services for an interested audience: establish utility and value, question blemishes and flaws, and identifies sources, commonalities, and missed opportunities.” Criticism and peer reviews is what brings innovation and interest in any article published, especially online. Gibbs mentions that sometime we visualizations that make no sense or are questioned intensively. Especially today, on 2015, with major pictures and “articles” posted on social media that raises the question of whether or not is real, fake, or a well elaborated plan to draw attention. Criticism has to be original and not dogmatic. The problem lies that not everyone in the departments of any major at the universities yield to the concept of digitizing any sort of research, and stay with the methodology that was imprinted back in their college days.

We live in the twenty-first century, technology, blogging, social media, and sharing information online is no longer a luxury, but a necessity and especially a most in any professional’s way of work. I few put aside criticism and no peer review, we cannot expect positive feedback on any work’s behalf. Gibbs mentions a list of techniques and procedures that can give digital humanities credibility and legitimacy in every aspect. At the same time he stresses that those techniques are not mandatory, for they belong in the “old school” of pushing forward criticizing and evaluating any work being published. More people need to sit down and evaluate each others work and make the best out of it giving constant feedback to the publisher. Criticism and peer review most be the two elements to keep in mind when it comes to digitizing humanities today

Reflections On Digital History

When I first came to hear about this class offering, I was a bit intimidated by its nature.  As an undergraduate in a room filled with graduate students, I knew the bar was going to be raised much higher.  The level of computer training that I have received in my lifetime has been little to none.  The great concept of the class was the inclusion element.  Although we had our own focus of history and styles, the synthesis of the group in learning so many different ways to present material became a motivating point in making our creative projects.

Learning about the variety of programs that are available for purchase or open source was a great plus.  The vast majority of them were very new to me, but by being exposed to them I learned many ways to showcase my work, not just for this class, but for further experiments and projects down the road.  I really enjoyed Dr. Howard’s zeal in pushing the envelope for entertainment value as well as the academic.  This allowed a bit of my creative side to come out, as opposed to the sometimes stringent ways that we accomplish our goals in academia.

I am hoping that the success of our work will bring about more classes like this at Armstrong.  I truly believe that this type of research and presentation is the way of the future for us a historians.  There is still the danger in getting false representations of the truth that must be sifted through, but, as in any advancement, there is the good and the bad.

It is my hope that our endeavors will provoke other students to get involved.  I would like to see how our first steps are showcased in a class twenty years from now.

Reflection Post

The course gave me so much knowledge and a new method to look and research history. It gave me a new perspective at how to research, teach, and look effectively at history. Never in a million years the thought that digital humanities is the future and is already in motion. Our projects and constant learning of new software to make history appealing intrigued me. Working with a motivated group of students whose interpretations and points of view helped everyone to work together and reach a common goal. The mere philosophy that technology has turned into a necessary evil to justify the means draws my attention every lecture and page development with both projects. When the course started, I had no idea of the outcome that I am seeing now. For a minute I thought it was going to be pure theory and perhaps at the end apply the learned knowledge for a class project. The course from day one has been motivating and inspirational to search, read, research, and learn history. To spread what we learned and share with the world what we found and our interpretations of events that took place not only in Savannah but worldwide.

Learning the history of Savannah was a unique experience and this class gave me the opportunity to feel part of the community and the future of this marvelous city. Considering that we live and study in the first city founded in Georgia, it was an honor to be part of the City Archives project and learn a topic of many chosen of the legacy that Savannah has. I will never look at Savannah and feel like one more in a bunch, I am a student/citizen who contributes to its history even if it’s a small topic as the one we all had for the final project. It made learning history fun and using technology to push it forward and find new ways to integrate it into teaching and how we interpret history. The use of blogs, like the one we have for our class, is a way to get feedback and points of view in new ways that reaches every corner of the world. What used to be a high cost trip to research and get the opinion of a professional, today is so fast, virtually at the speed of light.

Digital History gave a whole new set of skills, knowledge, and perspectives to take in consideration when studying and applying history. The learning process and acquired knowledge gave me the opportunity to keep in constant communication with all classmates and Dr. Howard and receive feedback fast and efficient. Digital history evolves every day with students, professors, and researchers worldwide contributing new data every day and sharing it online using every aspect of media available to make it appealing and interesting. If it was me, I would not change a thing of this course, both projects were astounding and gave me the opportunity to learn in depth the history and legacy of Savannah. With a class that constantly engaged and contributed so many ideas, it is an experience I will not forget. At first I thought my biggest challenge and obstacle was going to be no knowledge of this field, it turned out to be completely the opposite. Very fun, innovative, and engaging. Highly recommend to any student whose curiosity aims beyond the sky.

Reflection

This course was a great introduction into the digital history field. We all worked independently on our own projects but the “we’ll learn this together” class style, I feel,  worked well for us. While still being a novice, I think we learned a lot in a short period of time. I am shocked by how much I enjoy the work. Before the class, I had an interest in digital history. I knew of some of the cool projects that were out there, but the process of making history digital seemed more of a means to an end, not something to be enjoyed itself. I feel the best way to break into the field is by doing, so I’m glad we jumped right in with our first project.

The biggest challenge throughout both projects was for me to gather my research, envision the outcome for my project and build that vision in a short turn around. I learned that during the first project, had that knowledge going into the second project and still ran into that dilemma. But that issue can be resolved in number of ways going forward with any other projects when not confined to a single semester.

What I realized through this second project with the city archives was how local history is a great source for digital projects. Here in Savannah with over 300 years of rich history, we were placed at an advantage, but I still believe local history can used almost anywhere. We have thirteen separate topics through the city archives project, and there were still so many other great topics that were not chosen.