Categories
Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

The Masses Rise Up

The story of Digital History has to cover the relutance with which some other academics in the history discipline have, or have not, accepted the field. Some historians fail to see how the field progresses the work of historians, or simply if the field is needed at all. So it is important to not only answer the question “how are digital tools reshaping the field of history?” but also to ask “why is it important to change it?” Fortunaley, the answer for both is the same. We need to change the field of history to bring the public in to challenge previous conceptions; and digital tools are the way to do this. 

In the 1960s, a wave of historians began to study previously overlooked narratives like that of the enslaved and minorities of society. This was proclaimed to be the “new social history.” This supposedly revealed past misconceptions within historical narratives. However, I think we are still correcting our older, prejudiced views within history. Each and every day, with the help of historical tools, historians are finding previously hidden details or presenting history in a different manner in which the public can see the full picture. For example, digital tools were the basis of filmaker Errol Morris’s discovery of which photo of “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” came first by photographer Roger Fenton in 1855. One photo of the Crimena battlefield captures a scene of hundreds of cannonballs covering the landscape. However, another photo of the exact same landscape shows far less cannonballs, with many of them in a ditch. Many historains have concluded that Fenton initially moved cannonballs onto the road to create a more dramatic image. However, Morris is less quick to accept this psychological analysis and resorts to digital tools and experts in order to find which photo came first. 

Even though the photo with the cannonballs on the road was in fact the second picture, Morris discovered that this was due to the law of physics that had forced the cannonballs to roll on the road.1 Therefore, utilizing digital tools and digital history strategies of sharing data and visualizations of the past with professional colleagues provide more of a buffer to falling victim of the human tendency to go with the obvious explanation based on preconceived notions. What seems obvious to us now would not seem obvious to actors of the past – and vice versa. We as historians must provide the tools and insight in order to overcome our own biases through lived experience. Even presenting historical research in just a different format, like Anne Sarah Rubin’s Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory interactive map will challenge everyone’s preconceived notions of a famous moment in history.2 

The second half of how digital tools are reshaping the field of history incorporates the common man, meaning everyday people. Traditional academic history still remains unreachable for many members of our society. With academic journals and books only available through costly platforms like JSTOR that are only accessible to students or professors of a university, the so called “break throughs” of historians remains within our inner circle. Institutions like the University of Michigan are making steps towards making history more accessible for everyday people by making their publications public on the Internet. However, this academic focused historical rhetoric still proves to be inaccessible for people who did not receive a higher education degree in history.  Simply publishing an ebook does not equate to the work of a digital historian. Products can be outside the realm of traditional books and articles. Reconfiguring how we present history is the key to making history personal for everyone, and then truly succeeding in the mission of new social history to bring light to forgotten narratives of the past. Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall’s historical game “Tecumseh Lies Here” is an excellent example of utilizing digital tools to engage people of all backgrounds. The game incorporates inquiry-based learning skills with primary sources that allow students to truly be their own historian.3

Historical games are far more accessible than academic journals that are predominantly read just within inner academic circles and exclude other members of society. Augmented reality apps like Niagara 1812 and Queenston 1812 appeal to a generation that cannot escape the digital age. Almost every person is connected to society through a digital manner and has been socialized to engage with others and our past through a digital platform.4 Instead of remaining stubbornly in the past by just publishing articles and books, historians should embrace this tide of digitalization. The same scholarly work applies – the same research, the same reading, the same corporation. However, digital tools can make our valuable work far more impactful on society through apps, engaging websites, and games rather than a book. Instead of only discovering a new historical conclusion through a book review released through JSTOR, digital history could result with these exciting new developments going viral on Twitter.

“Digital History should be taken seriously meme.” From “Reflecting on Digital History (Pandemic Edition) through Memes” by JMCCLURKEN, April 28, 2020. http://techist.mcclurken.org/digital-history/reflecting-on-digital-history-pandemic-edition-through-memes/

NOTES

  1. Morris, Errol. “Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg? (Parts One to Three).” Opinionator: The New York Times (blog), September 25, 2007. https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-part-one 
  2. Rubin, Anne Sarah. “About.” Sherman’s March and America: Mapping Memory. http://shermansmarch.org/about 
  3. 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. https://www.fulcrum.org/epubs/5q47rq179?locale=en#/6/34[Kee-0017]!/4/2[ch10]/2/2[p176]/1:0 
  4. Kee, Kevin, Eric Poitras, and Timothy Compeau. “History All Around Us: Toward Best Practices for Augmented Reality for History.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, edited by Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau, Online., Chapter 11. Digital Humanities: Digital Culture Books. Ann Abor: University of Michigan Press, 2019. https://www.fulcrum.org/concern/monographs/70795899c 
Categories
Project: Visualization

Timeline – From Bradwell to the Notorious RBG: The Fight For Legal Equality

I first began my long and tirelessly effort on Myra Bradwell in the spring of 2018. I was searching for a research topic that I could write my honors thesis on, so I turned to my History of Women and Law professor, Dr. Phipps for help. When I told her that I wanted to research women’s history but I also really enjoyed learning about United States Supreme Court cases, she suggested that I find a landmark Supreme Court case on women’s rights. Thus, I discovered Bradwell v. Illinois (1873). In 1869, Myra Bradwell passed the Illinois Bar exam with high honors. When she applied for her law license with the State Supreme Court, they refused on the grounds of “her married condition.” During the Victorian era, a common law doctrine called coverture applied to women once they married. Becoming a femme covert upon marriage, a wife’s legal identity was absorbed under the identity of her husband. Thus, married women could not hold property, earnings, or enter contracts under their name. The Illinois State Supreme Court argued that since Bradwell could not even make a contract under her own name, she could not defend someone in the court of law. After this decision, Bradwell appealed her case to the United States Supreme Court under the claim that the state of Illinois violated her privileges and immunities as a citizen, as defined in the newly ratified Fourteenth Amendment. The United States Supreme Court ruled that employment was not protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, thus denying Myra Bradwell the right to practice law. 

Bradwell v. Illinois was the first United States Supreme Court case where a person challenged his or her perscribed gender roles and is often cited as the case that paved a path for the major victories that would later result in the Women’s Rights Movement. Wait – so this loss, an outright defeat to the legal rights of women- supposedly resulted in more women gaining their rights? This just did not make sense to me, especially in the ways in which I learned about her case. In the episode “Sex Appeal” from Radiolab’s podcast More Perfect, the episode casts Bradwell v. Illinois as the first “greatest hit…for the Court’s ridiculous distinction between the roles of men and women.” Therefore, I set out on my research with this simple question in mind: what did Bradwell V. Illinois do for the legal rights of women? I wanted to see the good and the bad. The victories that came or the setbacks that women experienced because of Bradwell’s challenege to the United States Supreme Court. 

Categories
Making History Personal

Choose Your Avatar

As I have grown in my professional and personal life, I have become an advocate for inquiry based learning. The key to inquiry based learning is that it makes the education process personal for everyone. Learning, education, and class material has the reputation of being a burden, or just not fun. I’m sure we all remember as students in school, no matter what grade, being told to read something and us dragging our feet the entire way through. We may have actually enjoyed the book, but being told what to read and what to get from it took all joy away from us. The projects and activities that have the most success in schools are the ones where students ask their own questions and find the answers for themselves. Students normally put much more effort into this because the learning is from their own desire and personal imagination. Going further into the 21st century, we can further serve our students’ educational growth by combining their imagination with technology and digital tools. This concept doesn’t just stop in the classroom, though: it can be implemented throughout all field of history. 

“We are not limited by the technology, only by our imaginations.”

Kee, Kevin, Eric Poitras, and Timothy Compeau. “History All Around Us: Toward Best Practices for Augmented Reality for History.” In Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History.

I have been fortunate enough to travel in the United States and globally to visit many historical sites. Out of all of these travels, my favorite experiences have been the ones that put me in the middle of the history and let me choose my own experience. The museum and educational center of Mount Vernon has a digital program for viewers called Be Washington: It’s Your Turn to Lead. My friend and I listened to historical actors like Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson give us their opinion based on primary sources and then made our own decisions on situations like aiding France in the French Revolution before seeing how Washington’s decision played out in real life. Like Timothy Compeau and Robert MacDougall noted about their own historical game, this “inculcates historical thinking skills, such as grasping different perspectives and recognizing the biases inherent in primary sources.” Games like Be Washington and Tecumseh Lies Here are the key to bridging students to history because it allows them to make history a personal learning experience. 

If inquiry-based learning is the key to making history enjoyable for younger audiences, what’s to stop us from applying this same logic to other platforms of history, especially public history? Just like students, visitors to historic sites often complain that the historical material seems impersonal and frankly, non engaging. In Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, the authors encourage these sites to go against the traditional structure of herding a mass of quiet and unengaged visitors from room to room listening to a script. The most successful sites offer ways for visitors to chart their own visit, going from room to room and examining things of their own interest. Augmented reality apps like Niagara 1812 and Queenston 1812 serve as a similar gateway to making history personal. I can say from experience that these programs really do enhance a visit. During my visit to Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, I was given a small set of headphones and a tablet. After I decided which room engaged me most, the tablet offered historical explanations on certain artifacts, or even allowed me to “erase” the modern enhancements of the room so I could see what it would have looked like when Queen Victoria resided there.  Of course, these programs, experiences, and games take an incredible amount of time and funding. The creators of Tecumseh Lies Here even changed their program into an “untextbook” because they recognized the amount of work required was not applicable for public school teachers. However, history can easily blend to inquiry-based learning with the help of technology. Many history teachers are creating digital escape rooms for their students to complete. Other sites are creating small scale versions of Niagara 1812 and Queenston 1812. The connection? All of these professionals know that the way to reach people in the field of history is to make it accessible and engaging – characteristics easily achieved with digital tools.

Categories
Ethical Concerns

Creativity and Collaboration ™

A major theme that appears when studying the copyright laws and trademarking is intellectual property rights. Throughout the readings for this week, each author states how copyright laws originates from our free culture which “supports and protects creators and innovators.” Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig point to how the Founding Fathers intended for copyright law to promote learning, rather than hinder creativity. Copyright, most would argue, protects your intellectual property and what you create. However, it can be easily argued that it also prohibits that same creative process in an indirect manner. T. Mills Kelly cites a young German author Helene Hengemann, who commits numerous copyright law infractions in her book Axolotl Roadkill. But the author defends her work by claiming “there’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” Though this may seem like a clever way to get around fraud, I think this brings up a key point when dealing with copyright law and digital history. While copyright law helps to keep in place of system of ethics around our work, it can lead to some pitfalls that hold our work back. We need to protect and ensure credit is given when due, but also ensure that we can continue to foster an environment for creativity to foster and grow.

‘”There were 14 sentences that I took from a blogger and modified,” she says. “Suddenly they were rubbishing the entire book. Critics who had feted me were suddenly distancing themselves completely. But I think they were looking for a way to neutralize me and debilitate me as an author, and the plagiarism claims were the approach path for allowing them to do that.”’

Interview of Helene Hegemann: ‘There’s no such thing as originality, just authenticity’. Conducted By Kate Connolly

I want to stress, I am not encouraging for students to left even just 14 sentences from a historians’ work and not cite the work. However, I do think Mills Kelly makes a compelling point when she says “history as a discipline has become a bit too stodgy for its own good. It seems to me that we are taking ourselves a little too seriously of late…” We have become obsessed with minute details that turn people away from our work. Historiographies are the best example of this. When we ask undergraduates to research a history of a historical topic, citing all different arguments and approaches to the proper scholar, it is no wonder we are considered to boring elitists. Again, this is an extremely important tool for a historian to have, to see how historians have interpreted an event, but I think we become bogged down in comparing historians’ work rather than noting the development of the topic. I think the point of our work as historians should be collaborating to find the best means of historical interpretation, instead of just reciting past attempts. 


This leads to another important point that Kelly brings up: collaboration. Kelly notes that in their class Lying About the Past, “the students also learned that the creation of history is a collaborative endeavor.” In creating their believable fake narrative about a pirate, students had to work with each other in a variety of ways. I think copyright laws, trademarks, and policies on manipulation have weakened our ability and even desire to collaborate. Though these laws seemingly originated to promote learning and creativity, it really has spurred an idea of wholly original and independent work that is not beneficial to the field of history. As Kelly‘s class demonstrates, the best and most convincing work derives from collaboration. In fact, two of our history professors at Appalachian State, Dr. Silver and Dr. Browning, just released a collaborative environmental and military history on the American Civil War. By utilizing each other, our past work, and current ideas, we as historians can produce the most efficient history. I think Digital History provides a pathway for this. As Cohen and Rosenzweig show, it can be difficult to cover all of our bases with copyright law. But, the malleability and collaborative nature of the field make this easy to correct and continue safely producing work.

Categories
Establishing Your Digital Identity

Advocating Your Identity

A constant argument you will hear in the world of education at any level is how to grade or assess students. Should we measure a student’s intellect from a standardized test produced from a major corporation or from a project that allows more creativity? While these arguments seem to center around a disagreement on what captures intellect, I think it touches on something different and more fundamental wrong with our education system: we do not care about a student’s identity. Schools and institutions struggle to separate from standardized testing because we operate on the fundamental belief that students should be defined in graphs and charts, not their own growth. 

This is why I think that programs like “Domain of One’s Own” are essential but face huge structural obstacles. The creators of “Domain of One’s Own” wished to allow students to create their own digital space and truly express their own identity and creativity for free. Domains like Facebook essentially control the digital identities of their customers, so if Facebook dies, so does their digital identity. However, with “Domain of One’s Own”, students can control and define their digital identity after a class is done or once they have finished their education. This is an exciting development, but I think this program will face many of the same problems that other developments in education have faced: “well, that doesn’t really count to show capability.” 

New and emerging historians can relate to this problem. We feel discouraged to invest our time and energy into projects that express our interests and ideas through different platforms because our tenured peers do not recognize them as actual pieces of work. I am not sure how to combat this in an effective manner besides actively working to promote our identities and present how this can aid our fields. Kathleen Fitzpatrick stated in her article “Voices: Twitter at Conferences” that platforms like Twitter “have the potential to demonstrate what it is that we as scholars do, and why the broader culture should care about it.” Engaging online with Twitter, creating new domains, and advocating for ourselves as our own historians is the best way we can maintain our digital identity in the face of academic oppression. 

In the face of social distancing and the mandate to work from home during a pandemic, I think the older faculty in our field will realize that digital platforms do matter, and not just for our work, but for our own mental health. There are many reasons to be scared right now, but the thing that disorients me the most is my daily routine of engaging with peers on academic discussion is gone. My intellectual productivity is about to look very different in the face of COVID-19. Therefore, I think it is valuable for all teachers, professors, and administrators to take into account how we express our academic identities, rather than limiting our success to a previous model that no longer applies. We are all trying to do our best during this time, and I hope this shows how our system needs to move towards one based on identity and success rather than meeting goals. 

Categories
Data/Visualizing the Past

“Nothing is so obvious that it’s obvious”

As historians, we are taught to utilize primary sources. In fact, our work is only possible through accounts, whether written or visual, of past events. However, our whole field of work becomes unhinged if the very primary sources we study are doctored. I don’t just mean relying on a diary that has a biased perspective, but basing historical work on a source that is fabricated or changed to create a different meaning. This becomes particularly disheartening when photos, the seemingly most truthful depiction of history, is the product of political objective.

Some photographs have now been identified and discredited for their edits. Yevgeny Khaldei’s “Raising a Flag Over the Reichstag” taken in May 1945, seems to capture the triumphant moment Soviet forces freed Eastern Europe from the grips of Nazi control in the capital city of Berlin. Much like Joe Rosenthal’s photo of soldiers raising an American flag over Iwo Jima, Khaldei’s photo depicted the moment good seemingly won over evil. Perhaps this is due to some crucial edits and staging of the photo. Though Khaldei took great care to make a Soviet flag big enough to recreate the patriotism of Rosenthal’s photo, he failed to realize that one of the soldiers in the picture was wearing a watch on each wrist – physical proof of the rampant looting Soviet troops committed in military occupations. Soviet censors order him to remove one of the watches before it was to be printed in major newspapers. Only with the confession of Khaldei, vast knowledge of the propaganda strategies of the Soviet regime, and original prints can historians definitively mark this photo as evidence of the corporation in the Soviet Union’s totalitarian regime.

One the left, the original photo Khaldei took in May of 1945. The right image is after taking out the watch as well as adding more shadows and smoke in the background. Photo from https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/soviet-flag-reichstag-berlin-1945/

However, is this photo really just the product of totalitarianism? Quick to prove political intentions, we can forget the photographer himself. Nazi forces killed most of Khaldei’s family and he witnessed the atrocities German forces committed in Eastern Europe throughout his own life. So while Khaldei had government orders to doctor the photo, he had his own reason to make the Soviets look like heroes over the evil of Germany. In fact, he would deflect questions about the photo with answers like “it is a good photograph and historically significant. Next question please.” Both groups wished to elevate the Soviet image, but different reasons.

So, does it matter that the historical record gets the right intention? Filmmaker Errol Morris thinks so. In his New York Times article covering his efforts to discover which photo of “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” came first by Roger Fenton, he criticizes the psychological analysis experts revert to in order to prove that Fenton initially moved cannonballs onto the road to create more dramatic image. Many cited that it was “obvious” Fenton moved the cannonballs back on the road for a better shot. Even though Morris was wrong and the cannonballs on the road was in fact the second picture, the intention was not as obvious as others believed.

Therefore, sharing data and visualizations of the past cannot fall victim to the human tendency to go with the obvious explanation. What seems obvious to us now would not seem obvious to actors of the past – and vice versa. We as historians must provide the tools and insight in order to overcome our own biases through lived experience. Programs like Georeferencer v4 let people compare modern understandings of the world around us versus the understandings of those before us. Looking at a current map over top a historical map from the 16th century could enhance our interpretation of Early Modern navigation and worldview. Tools like this will allow us to view visualizations of the past in their own time, rather than creating a historical narrative based on what we perceive to be obvious.

An example of the Georeferencer/Compare tool using a historic map of the western United States. Photo courtesy of https://www.davidrumsey.com/view/georeferencer

Viewing visual primary sources in their own time does not mean we have to adopt the prejudice or ignorance of a previous society. Rather, it means in order to gauge the most truthful depiction of the past, how society was perceived in its own time, we must set aside what we assume is obvious to what those before us were just experiencing.