Categories
Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Final Reflection on Digital History

As the world continues to deal with COVID-19, the digital world has become even more populated with new users. As both the classroom and workplace have been forced into a digital format in record time, the path back to “the old ways” of doing things seems to be laid to rest in practice. However, as the global pandemic eventually calms, the crusty Luddites that influence bureaucratic policy will want to return to the ways of old, including history. As historians, we are to look at the past and make rational decisions based on remaining evidence. The cinematic montage of a graduate student sitting in a dimly-lit archive with a mountain of books does not integrate well in a society that has a digital personal assistant with a universal library.
Indeed, as international travel has been halted to a standstill, the normal ways of scholarship have been deeply affected. The ability to see historical artifacts, locations, documents scattered across the world has been in some cases literally shutdown. While the vast majority of public institutions such as museums are closed, too many administrators cannot see the value of online archives and guided tours with live streams. Already prior to COVID-19, simple travel logistics prevented a large majority from visiting learning institutions like the Smithsonian. The economic hardships of flights, hotels, and various travel expenses are simply not available to many families.
With the very minimal initial investment, museums are able to utilize digital publishing platforms such as Omeka to provide a way to provide an exchange of information.1 The ability to create an attractive exhibit is not limited to the physical or digital realm. The ability to create a photo gallery with listed information is well within the means of an amateur. Many commercial businesses have turned to Youtube live streams to generate revenue due to COVID-19, while keeping the public informed of daily routines, along with “backstage” content. Why should the historian not exploit this model? In a world of “clicks are cash” in regards to monetization, museums are able to use views to allow funding while providing the opportunity to see things such as restorations of exhibits, visits to the museum’s archives, and Zoom video conferencing with specialists in the particular field of the exhibit.
The use of open-source software also allows institutions to avoid the pitfalls of paid content. The increasingly corporate-friendly takeover of previously non-profit organizations is one of the most destructive forces in digital history. The constant blast of consumer pop history and sanitization of historical events has led to bland morsels of history stuffed inside a thinly-veiled advertisement. For example, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum has continuously has tried to display the Enola Gay as it is a piece of history. Instead of presenting the historical narrative, curators have folded time and again against perceived pressure on the Enola Gay exhibit. The mere threat of minor public discourse of a historical exhibit was outlandish but nevertheless has prevented a full-time exhibit of historical significance. By integrating digital tools, Smithsonian curators would be able to create a permanent digital installation. High-quality photographs from tail to propeller, video interviews incorporated into the exhibit, and data from the destruction and rebuilding of Hiroshima could be realized without the real threat of deranged protesters who would deny history. The Smithsonian was finally able to put the Enola Gay on permanent display at the Chantilly, VA in 2003 after nearly 70 years of debate2.
While the Smithsonian may represent the behemoth of historical interest, the history classroom represents a large untapped historical well that can benefit from digitization. With typical high school history classes consisting of primary lecture and reading in preparation for standardized testing, why should history teachers settle for the old ways? Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall developed Tecumseh Lies Here as a way to investigate historical research in a historical game3. The interaction of source material provides a much deeper appreciation of the history if one is emotionally invested in the subject. In keeping students engaged with the material on the War of 1812, Tecumseh Lies Here offers revolutionary ways to realize historical data into active learning and visualization. The model offered also allows for easy input of historical scenarios as a game can be tailored to incorporate the learning goals demanded by the institution, but only limited by the imagination and rule sets designed by the creators. The Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium’s The Oregon Trail, for example, highlighted the dangers American pioneers faced in a simple, yet effective way. Offering a way for the learner to experience history by seeing their family die of dysentery is more engaging than stating that waterborne disease was an issue for the pioneers.
The options available to historians today to express their historical scholarship are unlimited as more and more of the developing world are connecting digitally to exchange information and ideas. The numbers of the audience available are now not limited to the seating capacity of the lecture hall or bad weather conditions. Information will still be processed into multiple revision textbooks that adds little to no new information and keeps academic publishers in business. However, the ability to break the chains of privileged information can be fully realized by historians who embrace the digital world as closely as they embrace their field of study.

NOTES:

  • Posner, Miriam, and Megan R. Brett. “Creating an Omeka Exhibit.” Programming Historian 5 (2016)
  • https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/december-2003/historians-protest-new-enola-gay-exhibit
  •  Compeau, Timothy, and Robert MacDougall. “Tecumseh Returns: A History Game in Alternate Reality, Augmented Reality, and Reality.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau, Online., Chapter 10. Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press, 2019.
Categories
Project: Visualization

Roman Public Works and Parasites (Adobe Spark)

My research into the Public Works programs found in the Roman Empire led me to a new discussion on these public works. A couple of studies have been released that focus on the widespread problem of parasites in the Roman Empire. The arguments point out that since no treatment for water existed, water-borne parasites were free to spread like wildfire. There are also side points about garum (the fermented fish sauce) being a vector for food-borne parasites as the fish was not cooked. Additionally, the use of night soil and use of lice combs suggests the Roman’s public works were simply disease vectors.

I roundly reject the notion that the spread of parasites was a Roman issue compounded by Empire. Another study found the same intestinal parasites in a pre-Roman settlement in Switzerland of Celtic ethnicity. The parasites were already established prior to Roman excursion past the Po River Valley in the Republican era. Food-borne and soil-borne parasites that infected Romans were not unique to central Italy, let alone the rest of Europe, Africa, and Asia. My visualization reflects this, and I incorporated it into Adobe Spark.

Categories
Making History Personal

Ready Player One

In this week’s reading, the in depth look at the ARG “Tecumseh Lies Here” reveals how to effectively use gaming as a narrative in history. Unlike a typical video game that tends to take the Hollywood approach by making things exciting instead of historically accurate, the creators took painstaking details in order to build a game that sticks to the history, yet while in a subversive timeline. By partnering with the University of Western Ontario, Compeau and MacDougall was able to integrate the universities’s collections into the game, while not relying on corporate sponsorship that allows editors to revise the game for better sales.

This approach cannot be understated in a world of smart devices and the stereotype of historical knowledge being important dates. Indeed, by focusing on an interactive adventure to engage learning and participation offers a better platform compared to the typical lecture hall setting. Critics may reject these measures, but “edutainment” software like Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium’s “The Oregon Trail” has left a cultural impact along with imparting the knowledge of challenges faced by early American pioneers. Additionally, with computer gaming allowing the use of modding, historically correct games with attention to detail can be realized by developers similar to Compeau and MacDougall. The mod Europa Barbarorum for the historical game Rome: Total War completely engrosses the player by use of historical maps, detailed historical records regarding Roman society, historically correct models, and even as far as translating unit speech into proper Latin and Greek. While “Tecumseh Lies Still” obviously took a straight educational path, the integration of interactive entertainment and history provides exciting opportunities for new pedagogue techniques in the classroom. From a personal perspective, the game “The Ides of March – The Roman Republic Game” is a similar concept to “Tecumseh” except with a subversive timeline set after the assassination of Julius Caesar. I was fortunate to experience this in lieu of a final exam in an undergraduate course at Appalachian. This offered a thoroughly engaging exercise that was able to capture the chaos of Roman politics during the Republic significantly better than typical final exam fodder in forms of essay and multiple choice questions.

Categories
Establishing Your Digital Identity

The New Digital Revolution and Identity

The Domain of One’s Own initiative at University of Mary Washington is a unique way for universities to encourage the ability of students to take control of their digital footprint. Audrey Watters investigated UWM’s movement of students’ information to be held in a central web domain. Unlike most undergraduate work which generally ends up in recycle bins at the end of a semester, UWM is promoting a way for students to keep a digital “hard copy” of academic work for the student to have unlimited visibility for potential higher education or employment. This offers a much better view of student scholarship, along with orienting students to keep their digital identity professional and secure. Indeed, the CORVID-19 pandemic has now forced higher education into the digital arena at an unprecedented rate. With most educational institutions being up and running online within the time-span of a week due to CORVID-19, the future of education is being built by this pandemic. Society will be forever changed by CORVID-19, but not by death rate like Spanish Influenza. The cultural response instead is a revolutionary moment in history with all levels of employment and education being forced into a brave new world of digital identity. It is a prudent investment for educational institutions to follow a model similar to UWM to prepare students for this new era of online information integration.

Categories
Content Management & Exhibits

Omeka: Digital Organization

This week’s readings and examples were on how to effectively use Omeka. Omeka provides an open-source web-publishing platform that is optimized for use by libraries, museums, and archives. In the ever increasing digital world, institutions have learned the importance of digital exhibitions that reaches a worldwide audience instead of patrons who must physically visit an exhibition.

Omeka’s use of open-source software has given an edge over the increasingly commercialized exhibits that can be used as a corporate marketing campaign instead of historical fact. The use of exclusive websites, paywalls, and other virtual forms of gatekeepers of marketable historical content has become much too common in the digital era. Omeka’s functions offer a more standardized way to give the opportunity to learn while allowing access without financial compensation on the so-called information superhighway.

Omeka’s blend of standardization, along with customization allows the creator to reach wide audiences by limiting the superficial, yet allowing a personal touch to the source material. The simple navigation allows either a direct route of a timeline according to a narrative, or a sandbox experience of allowing the audience to view the timeline according to their interpretation of the events. Additionally, the ability to create pages with content that is not overwhelming or a difficult user interface allows seamless transition through the source material. For individuals and historical organizations alike, Omeka provides a digital soapbox free of questionable influences, yet provides a revolutionary way to view history with minimal infrastructure investment in tandem with a traditional physical exhibit.