Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Digital History: The Future or A Denied Present

Digital tools, they have the power to change the way historians practice history and the way historians share their findings with the general public. However, digital tools can only do this if they are accepted as a legitimate form of scholarship.

Blogging can be a way for historians to share their work online and get feedback on their work1. Blogging can tell them if the public is interested in their work, or if they would like the historian to research another branch of their research. Blogging can also help historians work out their ideas, as writing down information takes a different part of their brain than just thinking through the idea. Therefore, blogging can help historians thoroughly think through an idea, and view it from multiple perspectives, as they are forced to think about it differently when typing it up. Blogging could also provide a record that they had an idea in the case of who had the idea first and could inspire other historians to research a topic. The blog could also get non-professional historians and young adults interested in history, leading them to become professional historians one day.

Omeka is an online exhibit software useful for museums and archives. It has useful categories for metadata, allowing those who wish to utilize the artifacts displayed online in papers to easily cite them. The private function also enables museums to keep track of collections without the public seeing them. However, there is other collections management software for that. Museums are considering making their collections available to the public for independent research purposes. They could spark interest in people even if they are not able to come to the museum. This semester I created an Omeka exhibit on Poverty and Homelessness. While I had worked with Omeka before, and even made exhibits in Omeka. I had not, however, worked on an Omeka exhibit on my own previously, it was always a group project.

Historians can create websites to make their research available to the public. These websites can have graphs and interactive maps. These websites allow visitors to the site to connect to history in a way they cannot with standard dissertations or e-books. They enable the audience to visualize the information.

Digital dissertations range from just e-books to an interactive way to showcase research and educate the public2. However, even some of the universities most open to merging technology and history have been resistant to digital dissertations3. Digital dissertations are especially essential when they are about the history of minority groups that are left out of the typical high school history course.

Many colleges and universities now use Learning Management Systems or LMS, such as Moodle or at Appalachian State University AsULearn. Not all professors utilize these systems to their full extent, or even at all4. However, this has had to change due to the current crisis. For those not used to entirely teaching online, there was a learning curve, and each professor has a different style for teaching online. Still, there seem to be positive results so far. Beyond LMS’s, there are Google’s tools that can help with creating assignments, teaching, or group work. The collaborative nature of Google’s products makes them ideal for group projects or working as a team in a workplace setting, especially if that workplace is in multiple locations. Zotero, created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, stores data on the sources historian, or other academics, collect for their projects. Zotero can also generate citations and has plug-ins for Microsoft Word and Google docs.

Since Wikipedia’s beginning, students were told that it was not a reliable source, or that they could use only the references listed on the Wikipedia page as a starting point. However, Wikipedia editors work hard to make sure their content is accurate and stays accurate. Marth Saxton discusses in her article the lack of women in Wikipedia’s history pages, editors wanted separate sections for the women who were part of the history or different pages altogether5. This makes it harder to have the story of women be a part of mainstream history and not just women’s history.

Businesses check social media accounts of potential employees before deciding to hire them. This is why it is important to carefully curate your online presence. Only post professional content unless you are sure the account is private. On the other hand, many businesses, including museums, hire young adults to run their social media accounts. The Museum of English Rural Life knows, ordinarily, it would not bring in many visitors. However, their unique online presence on Twitter has created a following which could bring more people to the museum.

The above tweet is an example of The Museum of English Rural Life’s use of Meme Culture to create a fanbase for their museum and content.

Copyright, as it is, restricts the field of history instead of giving credit and compensation to those who created images and published works. People may be afraid to build on the work of others because they are fearful of breaking copyright laws6. However, there is an alternative, creative commons licenses, but it must be said these do not earn the user money. Some licenses allow work to be modified as long as people attribute the work to the original author. Different licenses require different things such as to share alike, attribute work to the original author, and restricts the user to non-commercial use.

Augmented Alternative Reality Gaming was used in a University in Canada to train students in the process of researching and producing historical scholarly work7. Something similar could be done in a museum or school setting to keep visitors or students interested, and motivated, while also helping them learn for themselves. Learning through doing, projects, and gaming is proven to be more effective than lecture-style teachings.

Digital posters are a new way for historians, and other academics, to share their work at conferences. Software programs like Adobe Spark make creating these posters easy. The programs allow historians to share not only their sources and other written work but pictures, videos, and other media content as well. Also, by publishing online, historians can share their work with anyone who has access to the internet, not just people who stop by their table at the conference. This semester I also created an Adobe Spark poster on Poverty and Homelessness, the stigmas around them, and potential solutions to poverty, homelessness, and the stigma around them. It was a new way to share information that I had not tried before. There was a bit of a learning curve using it, but once I figured out where I could import photos from, it was relatively simple.

As Joel McHale’s character on “Community” once said, “The future of the past is now.”8 Digital history has been not only possible but the future of history since the creation of the internet. The change is not only possible, but it’s already happening. If there was less resistance from the boards that decide what counts as scholarly work, there could be significant advances in the fields of history, public history, and digital history. Historians would be able to share their work with more people and use it to shape the public’s understanding of the world, which is the point of studying history, right? If not, then historians need to ask themselves, why are we studying history in the first place?


Project: Visualization

Poverty and Homelessness; Stigma and Relief: Real World Solutions

This semester I researched poverty and homelessness in the United States of America’s history, specifically where the stigma around poverty and homelessness may have originated. I also explored possible effective solutions. For my Omeka Project I focused on the opinion of the public on poverty contemporary to Jane Addams, her creation of Hull house, and on aid the Works Progress Administration provided to those unemployed during the Great Depression. This naturally led to questions of: is the stigma still around today, how people are combating the stigma today, and how are cities and countries working to end poverty and homelessness within their borders?

The sources of information I utilized were varied and included historical documents, scholarly research papers, and publicly available videos. In one source a Helsinki, Finland study on the long-term life of homeless people was conducted by a group that checking in with participants a decade after they used a shelter where they were doing their study. This type of long-term study has not been done before as homeless people move from place to place, die, or find permanent housing. Additionally, I found that Jane Addams had written and given speeches tying crime to moral deficiency and implying those who needed social reform were morally deficient. Other reading revealed the Works Progress Administration was ended during World War II because of the societal stigma around poverty. I found a project in Finland called the Y-Foundation which gives homes to homeless people which may be model for possible solutions in the United States of America. Further toward possible American solutions the Salvation Army in La Crosse, Wisconsin is working to reduce the stigma around poverty and homelessness. Lastly, I found a Youtube channel called Invisible People that tells the story of the homeless people the founder meets. The lingering question I have as a result of my research is: what is the best way to inform the public and legislatures that more solutions to poverty and homelessness need implemented, including possibly theY-Foundation model?

The Problem of Abundance

Bias: The Current and Terrible Solution to Abundance

Bias is inevitable, but should we at least try to avoid it. Some of it is not the consumer’s fault; YouTube and Facebook create bias in your feeds. Dan Cohen’s article “What We Learned from Studying the News Consumption Habits of College Students,” discusses how students want to have unbiased, factually correct news sources. Cohen goes on to state students feel they do not have the time to look for them, or do not trust any of them. The student’s lack of time and distrust in sources leads them to get their information from less than reliable sources or their peers and professors. It is interesting to note that they do find reputable sources for their academic projects, but are not willing to do the same for their daily news. If all news sources are biased, would it be better to use a combination of news sources with opposing biases to find the overlapping truth?

Bias also happens in the history classroom; there is so much history to teach, that inevitably some, well most of it, gets left out. There are countries I know little to nothing about because the curriculum did not cover them in my world history class in grade school. Taking our history from the internet is also automatically biased, as the internet has only existed for a small portion of the earth’s existence. Also, not everyone has the internet or the ability to use technology to add their story to the worldwide web. Therefore, their stories will be left out of the record like the masses before the 1960s. In Ian Milligan’s chapter of Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, “Learning to See the Past as Scale: Exploring Web Archives through Hundreds of Thousands of Images,” the author did a study of different websites of a handful of first world countries. There is a lot of content on the internet, so some inevitably were excluded. Still, the data set Milligan chose was biased as there were no third world countries in the mix. Although the third world countries would be outliers, they still need to be included to portray an accurate picture of the world wide web.

Bias is inevitable, especially as information is abundant, and there is an abundance of perspectives in the world. Therefore, admitting your prejudice and trying to include as much information and as many views, may be the best route forward.

Digital and Public History

Public History: Blending Academia and Social Reform Through Access on Digital Platforms

In the first sentence of the chapter “Pedagogies of Race: Digital Humanities in the Age of Ferguson,” in the book Debates in the Digital Humanities, written in 2016, the authors of the chapter, Amy Earhart and Toniesha Taylor reference a 2013 essay by Alexis Lothian and Amanda Phillips. The essay is entitled “Can Digital Humanities Mean Transformative Critique?” Lothian and Phillips pose the questions, “What would digital scholarship and the humanities disciplines be like if they centered around processes and possibilities of social and cultural transformation as well as institutional preservation? If they centered around questions of labor, race, gender, and justice at personal, local, and global scales?” Since the essay was published seven years ago, there has been surprisingly little change in the museum, public history, and history field. It is essential that museums, and others attempting to educate the public, connect the past to the present, and it is most impactful for them to focus on controversial issues that persist today, some of them remain unnoticed. However, they may need to be more blatant about the problems that are presently occurring as there has not been significant social change for the better. The type of public history work Lothian and Phillips are suggesting is similar to the original form of public history called applied history. There will always be those who hate in the world, but perhaps those who perpetuate the hate and prejudice unknowingly can be educated to understand the forces working against their neighbors.

The chapter “Pedagogies of Race: Digital Humanities in the Age of Ferguson” also mentions that the authors, Earhart and Taylor, want to have the communities involved help make the exhibits and tell their own stories. This goal is made more attainable by online open-source technology. This kind of public digital history can keep the public engaged, and will make it easier for historians in the future because the stories of people who did not live their lives in the public eye will already be recorded, in their own words.

Digital History, and open source technology, creates an opportunity for historians to share their research with the general public. Also, it is known that it is difficult to obtain jobs in academia, which may make digital history, public history, or public digital history a viable alternative to a career in academia. Part of the reason that historians started working in museums, initially owned, operated, and curated by the general public, was because they could not find work at colleges and universities. For those who oppose this new method of employment for historians who originally intended to join academia, this is a form of academia. While it is not the way that historians have practiced scholarship for centuries, this does not mean historians have put any less work and research into the final product. There is an East Asian philosophy, legalism, which states that we should not follow tradition for the sake of following tradition. One example of this is that our ancestors used to have a tradition of living in caves, but we do not do this anymore because we have houses.

Teaching About the Past

Teaching History with Technology: Useful, Controversial, and Revealing

Learning with technology is a component of nearly all higher education now. Professors and Students access online content through applications such as Moodle, Blackboard, or Chamilo; even in-person classes use an online site for assignments, readings, and contacting professors. These online sites are labeled Learning Management Systems (LMS). Although some professors choose not to use LMS for a variety of reasons, they may use some other form of technology in their classes. Professors display google maps of the countries they are discussing or use Youtube videos, for example. LMS are ideal for online courses and are a useful safety net for in-person classes when they cannot meet due to weather or other situations.

However, while most professors use technology in class, it is less likely that students use technology in class, except for note-taking and pulling up the readings for that day’s lesson. According to Joseph D. Galanek, Dana C. Gierdowski, and D. Christopher Brooks, and their article  “Experiences with Instructors and Technology,” this is not a unique occurrence in higher education. Technology has the potential to allow professors and students to dispense with the lecture format and move to a hands-on/project-based format. This education format will prepare students for their future work environment where they will have to collaborate with their co-workers. Project-based learning gives students practical experiences and skills they will use in their intended field rather than students receiving only theoretical knowledge of the subject matter.

Google has created several tools that are useful for teachers and professors in their classrooms and online. Some of these tools replace the tools that already exist in LMS. Zotero, created by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, was intended to be used by scholars as a place to collect their sources, generate citations and notes for them. Zotero also includes a collaborative feature, which makes it ideal for use in the classroom. Chad Iwertz’s Article Teaching with Zotero: Citation Management for Feedback and Peer Review discusses using Zotero in school with students just learning to research.

Wikipedia is controversial in the education field. Some teachers are against it, as it is inaccurate and not always written by scholars with advanced degrees. Supporters of Wikipedia use, argue that reviewers moderate the pages, edit, and research content; so it is up to standard and not blatantly incorrect. Martha Saxton’s article Wikipedia and Women’s History: A Classroom Experience, outlines another issue with Wikipedia, namely the lack of diversity in its pages. In the article, Saxton discusses how there are separate pages for women in history. Still, women are generally excluded or added only minimally in other pages on general topics within US history. She goes on to say that the primary purpose of the project is to have women throughout US history. Women’s history should not be studied because it is essential to women’s history or to satisfy those demanding teachers present a more diverse history. Instead the project and study of women’s history should occur because women were essential to history, critical to how the US was formed and shaped the path to the present. It is also important to note that Wikipedia has a policy that their informational pages be unbiased. Saxton’s article mentions that some content about women in history is being blocked by other users because it portrays men in an unflattering light and therefore is biased for women. It is likely this is also occurring in pages that attempt or do not attempt to discuss other minority groups. An important question is, how can Wikipedia pages remain neutral if history was not? How can readers of Wikipedia confront the biases that are still present today if Wikipedia does not present the bias in history that lead to the prejudices of today?

Information presented via technology used by historians, teachers, and professors, contains bias. The presence of bias in information has existed since the beginning of print media. The need for the guidance in acknowledging the bias and its affect on understanding has long existed. Therefore, even with more modern content, when presenting information to the public and to students, the presenter must be aware of the bias in order to counteract it, or explain why it is there. Technology is useful for bringing education into the twenty-first century, however, those using technology must remember and account for the persistent and inherent bias in the content to utilize the technologies highest potential.

Content Management & Exhibits

Omeka Online Exhibits: Better Than Museums?

Omeka is a free online exhibit space for museums, archives, libraries, and other organizations. There are different versions for different organizations, who have different uses for the software. Omeka also has plugins, which makes customizing the online exhibit to your company’s needs as easy as a download. It is possible to create timelines and attach information to a map. Professional historians prefer Omeka because it enables them to provide correct metadata for their evidence of which traditional websites are not capable. Omeka combines a digital archive with an online museum exhibit.

Omeka seems like a public historian’s dream because they can cite their sources and share their information with the public. Public historians need websites like Omeka because there are citizens that cannot travel to the museum, do not have time to come to the museum, believe they are not welcome at the museum or think they would not enjoy their visit. Omeka can bring the exhibits of the museum to the public that is unwilling or unable to come to the museum and could convince others that they are welcome at the museum or pique their interest and bring others to the museum who may not otherwise visit the museum. Museums in China are now digitizing their exhibits because people are no longer visiting them because of the Corona Virus that is rapidly spreading through their country.

However, Omeka cannot replace traditional museum exhibits. The interactive elements on the Omeka website cannot compare to those found in a conventional museum. Also, museum patrons who view the online display lose the benefit of going to a museum with other people; they cannot strike up a conversation about the exhibit with a total stranger. Museum patrons utilizing the online exhibition also cannot discuss the content with docents and curators. This discussion could be geared more toward their interest, and they would leave the traditional museum exhibit with information personalized to their interests. This additional information would not be found in an online Omeka exhibit because there is not enough space to put every piece of information and evidence related to a topic in an online exhibition. There is also no substitute for seeing historical artifacts in person. While digitizing the content and historical objects of the museum, so those who do not have access to the museum or its records, is important, digitization, and online exhibits, at least for now, cannot replace the traditional physical museum exhibits.