Categories
Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

A Bright Future in Digital History

Before this semester, my experience with digital history was mostly limited to unreliable social media posts, Wikipedia binges, and vaguely informative YouTube videos. Every now and then, usually when frantically hunting for research paper sources at 2:00 in the morning, I would stumble across someone’s blog filled with useful, but tragically uncited, history. And, for one weird month when I was nineteen, I was oddly obsessed with a map game that recreated historical cartography and asked the player to memorize the locations.  Otherwise, when I thought of history, my mind went to peer-reviewed journal articles, libraries filled with students, and fragile documents. My experiences this semester have definitely expanded my view beyond this.  

The first topic that really made me sit up and pay attention catered to my continuing adoration of maps. Following a very pleasing look at David Rumsey’s Map Collection, I was directed to Georeferencer, an online tool that allows its user to create and manipulate interactive maps. At the time, I had no particular use for the program, but the fact that I could make a map if I wanted to thrilled me. Another link let me see how scholars were using such tools to further our understanding of history and geography. The Spatial History Project is a collaborative project spearheaded by Standford University. Using maps, charts, and pictures, they are creating images that will cross language and education barriers and allow learners to see beyond the text describing the event. This spoke to me. Between my ADHD making it difficult to focus on walls of text and my closest friend’s dyslexia, I know how useful images can be. The fact some are interactive is the icing on the cake.

A Spatial History Project Creation: Aaron Koblin’s Flight Patterns

Now, with my respect earned through the power of pretty maps, I began to consider digital history through new eyes. “How is this field a gamechanger?,” I asked myself. “How can I use the digital medium to teach and grow?” As the semester progressed, I learned that George Mason University is implementing digital dissertations for their history students, so that they can incorporate their findings through “linear and non-linear narratives, as well as in multiple non-narrative formats such as code, data visualization, and image annotation.”1 I discovered that the Domain of One’s Initiative is working with educators to develop cyberinfrastructure for students. This will allow kids to have a safe online domain where their data can’t be stolen and they can have a say in their education.  Finally, as someone who has an internship at my local archives and used to work at a museum, I excited by the initiative to create digital archives. I know first hand how long the process takes, but digital museums and archives are easier for the public to navigate and learn from. 

Stuck at Home? These Twelve Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

Neat, right? Allowing visitors to tour museums from home will encourage an appreciation for art and history. The museums share their findings online, providing a much more reliable source for students writing 2:00 am research papers. This lets historians have a voice in what people learn and helps keep misinformation from spreading.

Of course, not everything is sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. After all, not everyone has access to the technology or the internet connection necessary to use these resources. These people tend to not have very much money or live far out in the country away from urban developments; which means that some might not live near a local library and might not be able to afford college. Unfortunately, if these people have no internet access, then the digital platforms that historians are creating won’t reach those who most deserve it. There are also people, typically of an older generation, who simply aren’t computer literate, making it very difficult to navigate online resources. Even so, as digital technology slowly becomes ubiquitous throughout the world, there will be fewer situations where people simply cannot use the internet. Digital tools will steadily become more important in the classroom, workplace, and daily life. Historians need to be prepared to adjust to the changing world and make use of the many tools that are available.

At the very least, I know that these tools were incredibly helpful for me as I worked on my project this semester. The above image is of New Orleans directly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. Throughout these past few months, I created maps and gathered images, charts, and videos about the catastrophe. I compiled them together using the ArcGIS StroyMaps digital storytelling platform. It follows New Orleans’ response to the hurricane from a few days before it hit until the present day. Through my work, I hoped to educate people about Katrina, honor those who suffered through the tragedy, and address the gentrification that’s been sweeping the city in the subsequent years. All of my sources are linked at the bottom of the story, and many of the pictures I used are archived in my Omeka site. By the time I finished, I had learned SO much. Not just about Katrina, but also how to create interactive maps, how to use pictures to tell a story, and how to aesthetically organize an online story. It was a pretty great experience even if the topic was very sad. If historians and teachers use platforms like StoryMaps and Omeka to teach and archive information, I think that digital history will have a bright future.

Notes

Klokan Technologies GmbH. “Images to Interactive Maps.” Georeferencer, n.d. https://www.georeferencer.com/.

PAMA Archives. “Why Don’t Archivists Digitize Everything?” Peel Art Gallery: Museum and Archives, June 1, 2017. https://peelarchivesblog.com/2017/05/31/why-dont-archivists-digitize-everything/.

Romano, Andrea. “Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch.” Travel Leisure, March 12, 2020. https://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/museums-galleries/museums-with-virtual-tours.

Rumsey, David. “David Rumsey Map Collection.” David Rumsey Historical Map Collection | The Collection, n.d. https://www.davidrumsey.com/home.

“Seterra Geography – The Ultimate Map Quiz Site.” Seterra Geography – Free Map Quiz Games, n.d. https://online.seterra.com/en.

(1) Sharpe, Celeste Tường Vy. “Digital Dissertations and the Changing Nature of Doctoral Work.” Perspectives on History. American Historical Association, April 23, 2019. https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/april-2019/digital-dissertations-and-the-changing-nature-of-doctoral-work.

“Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows.” Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows. Lesley Gore, July 31, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atY7ymXAcRQ.

Watters, Audrey. “The Web We Need To Give Students.” Medium. BRIGHT Magazine, June 25, 2019. https://brightthemag.com/the-web-we-need-to-give-students-311d97713713.

White, Richard. “What Is Spatial History?” Spatial History Project. Stanford University, February 1, 2010. http://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=29.

Categories
Project: Visualization

Lest We Forget: Surviving Katrina

Images of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago

During late August and early September of 2005, Hurricane Katrina passed over New Orleans and wreaked devastation on the city. About a quarter of the residents could not or chose not to evacuate. For days they were stranded in poorly prepared federal shelters or within their homes. They watched as the canals winding through the city were destroyed and the water began to rise. Soon 80% of New Orleans was flooded and entire neighborhoods were destroyed. By the time the catastrophe was under control, 1,145 people had perished. In the aftermath, the city’s population was halved, and years passed before portions were rebuilt. Unfortunately, the reconstruction has led to gentrification and further inequality

I first chose to pursue this project after listening to a podcast sponsored by the Linguistics Society of America, Subtitle. A recent episode, Did Katrina Kill the New Orleans Accent?, made me consider the ongoing impact of the hurricane and how the tragedy was used to change a historically black city. Initially, I went into the project with guns blazing, furious at how the tragedy was handled. Now, after seeing so many images of floating corpses and weeping people, I’m both angry and very sad. I kept my information truthful and tried not to be gratuitously negative, but, I must admit, my site might be more biased than most of my scholarly work.     

Although I originally focused specifically on gentrification in New Orleans rather than the events during the hurricane, but that changed for two reasons. First, scholarly work on the matter is minimal at best. Many experts studied New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina and came to intelligent conclusions regarding the impact of race in the response to the tragedy. However, not much research can be done on gentrification until the 2020 Census information is available. The 2010 Census was less than five years after the storm and, while trends were evident, it was not enough data to form firm conclusions. Most of the information I discovered was through a few newspaper articles and videos made by unhappy New Orleanians. It’s worthwhile information, and I believe their arguments and conclusions, but it’s not enough to create an entire visualization project and Omeka portfolio.

Categories
Making History Personal

Teacher’s Creed

For a game that includes magical apples, secret world controlling cults, and time-traveling pseudo-science, the Assassin’s Creed games are aesthetically very accurate. The digital recreations of ancient cities, outfits, and buildings are shockingly authentic and detailed. Although the historical figures and events in the game differ from their real-world counterparts, the setting has been commended by many for its historical accuracy. Assassin’s Creed Unity, for instance, recreated the layout of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre Dame. According to The Verge, Caroline Miousse, an artist for Ubisoft, spent two years recreating the cathedral and modeling it down to the brick. It isn’t a perfect reconstruction, but it’s very close. Soon, Ubisoft plans to release a VR tour of the game and teased it in the video below.

Games, even games that are closer to science fiction than historical fiction, can be a great teacher. Many who play the Assassin’s Creed games walk away with a little more knowledge about history. If they paid attention to their surroundings as they played, they saw the beauty of a place they might never have a chance to visit. If that’s true for a video game about saving the world from the Knights Templar, then how much more success would a game like Tecumseh Lies Here have?

Tecumseh Lies Here (TLH) was designed to teach and help a student learn about a historical event and how to research that event. Part digital, part tabletop roleplaying, and part travel and exploration, TLH is an immersive experience that encourages the student to reason and learn in ways they otherwise wouldn’t. Frankly, if the educator has the time and means, it is the perfect game for teaching. Compeau and his associates were able to adapt the game to the different groups of students and the situations in which they found themselves. Incorporating Twitter, YouTube, and texting into museum visits and hunting through archives, allowed the student to learn history and how to be a historian. If it wasn’t for the sheer difficulty and amount of work that goes into setting up the game, it would be worth allowing all students to participate.

The unfortunate fact is that augmented reality games of that complexity and magnitude are unfeasible for most schools. However, at the speed that technology is advancing and its usefulness in the teaching process, teachers need to find ways to incorporate digital media into their classrooms in ways that are fun and memorable. Although assigning Assassin’s Creed might not work, there are plenty of other historical games. Teachers might be able to use games like these to introduce or supplement a lesson. Youtube videos like the one above and VR tours like the on Ubisoft is planning on making will allow students close looks at historically important locations. There’s even the possibility that teachers can create miniture TLHs for their classroom by having the students play a game, create videos, post on a class forum, and research in the school library.

Categories
The Problem of Abundance

Overwhelmingly Biased

This was written for April 14. Unfortunately, I couldn’t post it until now due to computer issues.

Partisanism has been a common theme in American politics for centuries. People are always taking sides on the decisions that the government made and arguing about the direction the current president and his party are leading the country. The party system can be useful and can help keep one group from starting a regime. However, it is far from perfect. One of the many major problems with a two-party system is that news sources seem to inevitably take sides.

As often as the major news networks boast about how unbiased they are, in truth, every station has an agenda. That agenda is, of course, to make money, keep up viewership, and remain employed. They need to keep their audience engaged and interested, and if they need to put the right spin on the facts to make that happen, many of them will. This is understandable as they are, in every way that counts, a business.

Unfortunately for the viewer, this means that they are receiving their information about the world through a filter, and I think a decent number of college students realize that. Although Donald Trump uses the term “Fake News” to lambast networks that disagree with him, the phrase caught on for a reason. In part, people use it against those with whom they disagree on political issues, however, the popularity of the term is also due to a concern that many share. People don’t want to be misled.

Everyone is inundated with news. It’s on our televisions, our radios, our social media, and our memes. In some ways, people are more informed than they ever have been. On the other hand, with so much news coming from so many sources, it is very difficult to confirm what is true. People realize that a lot of the information they are given is outright lies or, at least, incredibly biased. And unfortunately, when one turns to the major networks hoping to find out the facts, they are very likely to be given a one-sided answer.

In 2017, a Harvard-Harris Poll revealed some interesting results in a survey questioning people’s views on the mainstream media. They shared with The Hill, “65 percent of voters believe there is a lot of fake news in the mainstream media. That number includes 80 percent of Republicans, 60 percent of independents and 53 percent of Democrats. 84 percent of voters said it is hard to know what news to believe online.”

Out of curiosity, I searched the words CNN lies, Fox News lies, and NBC lies. Unsurprisingly, Google responded with many results. It is possible, even likely, that the majority of those webpages are created by people whose political views differ from those they are attempting to discredit, but the sheer number of results indicate that people are scared about being lied to.

I think that Dan Cohen is right, students are interested in the news. As young adults, many students are just beginning to form their own opinions on international affairs, politics, and the world, unfortunately, I’m not sure many of them know where to begin. With so many competing voices, it’s intimidating to try to find a news course that you can trust.

Categories
Establishing Your Digital Identity

Will National Online Education Succeed

The next few weeks are going to be a tremendous learning curve for schools around the nation. Although teachers have already begun incorporating digital technology into their lessons in recent years, many have not been trained to create online lessons until this past week. Of course it will be tough, for the teachers, the schools, the parents, and the students. However, I suspect that, given the proper support and resources, many of the schools will be successful in their attempts to continue teaching their students.

People have, in little ways, been preparing themselves to learn online. Between various educational apps, informative videos, and many easily accessible articles, many have taken to the internet to learn for both necessity and for the simple joy of learning. For instance, Duolingo, the popular language-learning app, has 30 million users regularly completing exercises. Websites like Khan Academy provides free educational resources, servicing approximately 18 million. Many people have already taken online classes. I, myself, have taken two online classes in high school and one in college. It’s different, certainly, but an appropriately structured class can be just as successful as the typical classroom setting.

In the upcoming weeks, students will be expected to engage with their education through a digital medium, and there are going to be so many problems. There will be schools that fail to create and follow through with a plan to alter their style of teaching, parents who do not ensure that their child does their schoolwork, and homes without access to computers or the internet. It will not be pretty or easy, and some students will suffer for it. Even so, I believe that people have been training themselves to learn online and many of the efforts for national online education will succeed because of it.

Categories
Content Management & Exhibits

Omeka in the Workplace

Recently, I was hired to work as a summer intern at Tufts Archives and Given Memorial Library. It’s a small, but very pretty, little library in Pinehurst, North Carolina. For the most part, the Archives only keeps artifacts and documents related to their hometown, which mostly means that archivists save an absurd amount of information about retired white folks golfing away their golden years at the historic Pinehurst Resort. During the interview, my future boss explained to me that hours of their day are spent scanning and digitally archiving pictures and documents. Their backlog is insane. Tufts was opened during the 1960s, but they didn’t begin digital storage until 2015. This leaves the workers with about 70,000 papers to digitize and more coming in every day. Needless to say, I know what one of my major responsibilities will be this summer.  

Thankfully, Tufts is making use of Omeka and PastPerfect to keep their information safe and accessible. Since its original release in 2008, Omeka has proven invaluable for many historical societies, teachers, and museums. It is a software that allows users to manage and display images, text, and even sound and video files. Without programs like Omeka, small archives like Tufts would honestly not be able to enter the digital age, much less allow their workers easy access to the information they want. Best of all, it’s really reasonably priced. The basic application is free to all users, and even the premium application is only $1549. Tufts, and organizations like it, need those cheap prices because so many of them are funded through donations. It’s clear that the team that created Omeka care about preserving history and furthering their user experience.

My future boss explained to me that although they used Omeka for about three years, Tufts is working on transitioning their digital storage to the PastPerfect Museum Software. She didn’t explain the reasons for this change, and simply stated that it fits their needs better. However, when I mentioned that I had heard of the programs through my digital history class, she was incredibly complimentary towards both softwares. Despite the effort that goes into managing the book store, library, and archives all while digitizing a ton of information, she definitely believes that it would have been impossible without Omeka and PastPerfect. If you are interested in the Tufts website, it can be found HERE. If you wish to check out their digital archives, you can find it HERE.