Week 3: Practicums

Hello everyone and welcome to this weeks practicum. In this post I explore three sites, Wikipedia, Flickr, and Beyond Words. Although these sites vary significantly in purpose they each share a major trait, they are comprised entirely of user generated content.


Wikipedia needs no introduction. It is a massive site intended to emulate the encyclopedia as an online resource. Wikipedia contains information on countless topics and is only ever increasing in scope and detail as users create topics or submit revisions to existing topics.

Wikipedia is collaborative in nature, anyone that has knowledge regarding a field or a topic is able to create an account and contribute to a page as long as they conform to Wikipedia’s content policies. First, Submitted information can not be original research. Original research is susceptible to bias and can lead to the propagation of misinterpreted information. Second, All information must be presented from a neutral point of view. This policy is intended to allow users with different beliefs to collaborate and present information without concerns over objective truth. Finally, all submitted information must be verifiable. Verifiability forces contributors to provide sources for any and all information submitted.

The site is intended to be self-correcting. Rather than administrators governing the information submitted users are expected to delete or correct misinformation. Every article has a “view history” page on which users can view submissions, corrections, and explanations for every change made. The “talk” page allows users to view discussions regarding the content of an article.

Wikipedia deserves more credit than it gets. Although it is not a suitable source for an academic paper it is exceptionally useful in establishing basic facts and themes. The verifiability policy also provides a unique resource in that at the bottom of every Wikipedia article there are extensive lists of references that can be value in researching the topic at hand in more depth. Wikipedia’s easy accessibility and general reliability on a wide range of topics has made it a heavily relied upon source of information for many people.


Flickr is a photo sharing and management site. The site has two main goals, to make it easier for people to share photos and to improve the way that people organize their photos.

Flickr offers a range of possibilities. Users can create or join themed groups in which other users share related photos. These groups also contain discussions pages in which members of the group can discuss the theme or any interesting topics. Uploading photos to the site is streamlined and users can easily create and manage galleries of their photos. Users can also comment on or favorite photos, creating their own collections of favorited photos to be revisited later.

The Flickr Commons is a project in collaboration with the Library of Congress to make public-held photography collections more accessible to the public. Through this project Flickr has partnered with a number of institutions including libraries and museums who make their photos available to users to tag. These tags make the photos more accessible for other users.

Flickr does suffer in several respects however. First, creating a Flickr account requires the creation of a Yahoo email account. The site instantly becomes less accessible as soon as users are forced to sign up for other services just to access photo sharing.

Second, Flickr’s emphasis on images over text also means that it is a less than desirable platform for anything history related. Groups that have history as a theme more often suit architectural interest than historical interest. Dominated by heavily saturated photos of old buildings, portraits, and infrastructure without any kind of context there is no information to be learned and no meaningful engagement in history or any topic except for photography.

Beyond Words

Beyond Works is a project by the Library of Congress that seeks to engage the public in contributing to historical collections. The project is focused around the newspaper coverage of World War I and is intended to make the information in the newspapers more accessible to researchers and the public alike.

The work is broken into three separate tasks; marking, transcribing, and verifying. Marking allows users to outline any photographs or illustrations in the papers. The process is as simple as clicking and dragging a square to encompass the image, similar to cropping an image. Once done with the page the user simply clicks “done” and the next newspaper page is brought up. If for any reason though a user is unsure about something on the page they can either skip the page or outline the images they see and submit the page to be reviewed by other users. Transcribing is simply the process copying the presented text into a text box. This task has the same options of skipping and submitting material to be reviewed by other users. The final task, “verify”, is checking that submitted information is correct from several options. Each newspaper page is reviewed by several users to either mark or transcribe allowing for increased accuracy and in order to prevent any one user from incorrectly completing the task. If you stumble upon a particularly interesting page while completing tasks you are also able to view the whole newspaper.

Once the tasks are complete the data is available on the website for any use. There is a gallery of all completed and verified images that have been marked as well as a text search bar to find newspapers covering certain topics.

Beyond Works is only an experimental project but it shows great promise as a crowd-sourced method of transcription and preservation. The project makes the digital preservation of newspapers easy for anyone and it also provides an easy and fun way for people to read and engage with primary sources.

Final Thoughts

Let me know what you think! Have you ever contributed to any of these sites? What role should they play in digital history? Do historians have a responsibility to engage in communities like these as voices of authority or as contributors?

Week 3: Crowdsourcing and the Internet (Abigail Seaver)

Hello class! Welcome back to week two, where we going to be discussing one of my personal favorite topics: crowdsourcing and community building on the internet.

Brabham, “The Myth of Amateur Crowds; A critical discourse analysis of crowdsourcing coverage”

Brabham poses an interesting question in this article – is there really such a thing as an “amateur” being involved in crowdsourcing?

Many of these participants are college education and are involved in the field in one way or another. Even hobbyists have an emotional attachment to the field they are engaged with, and even though they don’t have professional training they usually care enough to be well informed and dedicated.

Brabham points out that many of the crowdsourcing we see today involved people who have access to professional tools – take the two brothers who one the Doritos video contest. As video arts students they had access to professional grade equipment and the advice of many of the professional field.

The way that we talk about “amateur” crowdsources will influence public opinion on the validity of these projects, and we need to be careful with a terminology and language choice.

Causer & Wallace, “Building a Volunteer Community; Results and Findings from Transcribe Bentham,”

In this reading the authors are providing us a case study that showcases a positive crowdsourcing situation for a historic institution. Transcribe Bentham was a project founded in 1958 with the goal of transcribing philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham’s records. In 2012 they still had 40,000 folios remaining to be worked on, so they used online resources to market their campaign and create buzz using different targeted recruitment techniques.

The really important takeaway from this article is the defining of a crowd, and how that differs from a community and where both these terms fit into the digital sphere.

A crowd is often anonymous and sporadic, and it’s pretty simple to know a crowd when you see one.

A community is much more involved and relied on a peer support system.

For Transcribe Bentham the authors found that many of the most dedicated members of the community did this volunteer work because they felt a drive to help provide a service to a larger community. This leads to unconscious collaboration, where people add on to the previous work done by others.

Edson, Dark Matter: The dark matter of the Internet is open, social, peer-to-peer and read/write—and it’s the future of museums

This was, by far, my favorite reading of the week. The internet is something that many of us are still grappling with – what is it really to us? A medium? A platform? Edson argues that, like dark matter in space the potential the internet has is comprised of something similar. It’s so forceful that it impacts our everyday life, yet we often don’t acknowledge or see it.

There are creators out in the wild west of the internet who have created engaging platforms, often by accident, and they have married academics with entertainment in a way that seeps into every aspect of humanity. This includes social movements, politics, health topics, and complicated scientific and historical topics that often don’t get discussed casually.

Institutions can learn a lot from these innovators. If done successfully, “museums, libraries, and archives—heritage, culture, knowledge, and memory institutions—can play a huge role in the story of how Earth’s 7 billion citizens will lead their lives, make and participate in their culture, learn, share, invent, create, cry, laugh, and do in the future.”

Ford, Why Wasn’t I Consulted: The Web as A Customer Service Medium

This article gets to the bottom of a question some of the others have danced around: Is the internet a medium, like television, film, or radio? I can tell you that in the communication world this isn’t even a question. When reaching an audience, you need to understand the medium as much as you understand an audience. What works for radio won’t work for television, and it definitely won’t work on the internet.

Ford argues that the internet is a medium in its own right and needs to be treated as such. What makes it so unique is that it panders to the human desire to be consulted and engaged with others. This is why he claimed that it is a customer service medium, not a publishing medium. You need to be create an experience around what you are trying to publish or sell.

Frankle, More Crowdsourced Scholarship: Citizen History

This author brings up an interesting concept of Citizen History. What happens when institutions trust visitors to bring their own perspectives to research?

Frankle argues that this is beneficial as long as it’s in a controlled environment. The institution should set questions, determine barriers, provide training, and double check the actual results that volunteers provide. This is beneficial because it opens up museum data for the general public, and can lead to more people being engaged in critical historical thought.

Miner, if everything on the internet has to be free, why isn’t my healthcare, too?

This post right here made me remember what I hated about the early internet days. I am all for being engaging, unique, and different. But please TRY and put some effort into your presentation, it’s often just as important as the content itself. If you don’t care about the look of your post, why would I care about your content?

Anyways, Miner makes some interesting points in this post. She is worried about the quality of her profession being on the decline because people just aren’t willing to pay for access anymore to archives. She wonders, how can archival structures exist if no one will pay for them?

The comments were rich on this post, and I agreed with many of them that argues that the dichotomy she presented (you can have free stuff or you can have employment, but not both) was too simplified. Institutions need to be aware of what is worth paying for, and that sometimes you need to high resolution thing for an exhibit, but a photograph of an object works fine on social media.

Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past

This article provides a good background on the creation of Wikipedia. Many people don’t realize it stemmed from the project Nupedia, which failed because of the limitations it put on content uploaders. While this article is long, it really does provide good resources for people who are interested in delving into this crazy online encyclopedia.

Here are important takeaways:

Wikipedia has four major guidelines –

NPOV: everything written on the site should maintain a neutral point of view

V: everything written should be verifiable to another user

RS: only reliable sources can be used – no personal research can be cited

COI: you should avoid creating conflicts of interest

The author also compares 25 Wikipedia articles to their encyclopedia counterparts and found that they were surprisingly accurate. What’s beneficial about the site is the fact that if you encounter an error, you can go through the article’s history to find out when and why it was added to the article.


So, after recapping all of these articles I would like to ask you guys a few questions to start our discussion off (feel free to pick and choose, or to address a completely different point I brought up!):

Do you believe that we are putting too much faith into collaboration? Often during crowdsourced projects institutions will double check any work before allowing it to go public – does this just create double the amount of work?

When are times where you have used Wikipedia, and did you often find it reliable? Did these articles change your opinion on Wikipedia?

In the blogging sphere, does formatting matter? Does sloppiness take away from an author’s argument?

When can crowdsourcing or collaboration have a negative impact on an organization?

Michael Toy–Introductory Post

Hello all,

My name is Michael Toy, I’m 27, and I’m a second-year graduate student in American’s General History 2-year MA program. Prior to coming to AU I attended a small (~1500 student) liberal arts college called Bard College in upstate New York for my undergraduate degree from 2009-2013 where I was actually a literature major. After graduation I took a few years off, during which time I ended up working some odd jobs until I landed an assistant teaching position at my old high school, where I worked for two years as an assistant director for the lower, middle, and high school theater programs and moonlighted as a substitute teacher. I really enjoyed my time teaching and I hope to return to it in a more full-time capacity after I finish this degree. I’m also a big fan of voice-acting—truth be told my dream job would be to be a gainfully-employed, full-time voice actor. I am also an enormous sucker for animals—I have a chinchilla here in D.C. and a miniature Schnauzer back in Connecticut with my parents. In fact I spent several summers during and after college rehabilitating orphaned juvenile wild animals and have worked in a kennel, a pet supply store, and as a freelance dog-walker and sitter for several years.

That aside, I finally decided to come to American to study history for several reasons, numbering among them a declining interest in my previous major in literature (if I’m going to make lengthy academic arguments about people and events, I decided I’d prefer to argue about people and events that actually happened) and a desire to bolster my academic credentials with hopes of finding a teaching position either at the high school or community college level after graduation. Though I’m a history major here, I have a lot of experience in both English/literature as well as theater and drama, so I’d be happy teaching nearly any course in the humanities. I’m also considering various positions in government as I plan on staying in the area, though exactly which positions I’m aiming for are still very much up for discussion.

From this course in particular I’m hoping to brush up on some seriously rusty new media skills. As shocking as it may be to some of my peers (and to those older than I), despite being a Millennial I’m actually not very tech-savvy; my social media presence extends to a Facebook account I occasionally check and what I can only assume is a long-defunct Myspace page frozen in the year 2003 or so floating around the dark recesses of the web. However, I’d very much like to become at least a little bit more familiar with what the most recent technology has to offer, so from this class I’m hoping to play a little catch up and at least somewhat familiarize myself with the apps, websites, and programs that many people my age mastered long ago.

Introduction Post – Chloe Eastwood

When I began to study history as an undergraduate – or perhaps as early as high school – I studied it because I wanted to satisfy a curiosity about people and about the systems and rules by which we live.  I wanted to know what people used to be like, how we had become to be as we are, about what used to matter to people, and how those struggles shaped current ones.  I became fascinated by the history of how people create, live in, and deconstruct ideas like gender and nation, how these ideas define us and how that, too, has changed over time.  This interest led me to read as much as I could on any topic of interest, but what was even more enjoyable were the conversations which came afterwards.  I would chat endlessly about history with other students and with my professors and eventually with visitors to museums and historic sites at which I worked.  They were these conversations which brought me into public history.

The most rewarding part of working in history, for me, is still the satisfaction of having sparked or satisfied someone’s curiosity in a topic, a place, or a story.  These moments would often come by the end of a tour or presentation, when someone had read a newsletter article or walked through an exhibition. Visitors talk amongst themselves, share stories, ask questions of one another, or approach me eager to show off what knowledge they brought to the exhibition or how deeply they understood it.  These conversations have lasted minutes or an evening and in those moments I feel as though I’ve come full circle can enjoy both the process of learning a history story and sharing it so others can satisfy their need to understand their culture, their legacy and themselves.

This is the reason I’ve elected to study public history; I find it immensely satisfying to study and share the past.  More than that I think it’s important to take every opportunity to become the best professional I can become.  People have an innate curiosity and need to know from where they come and from whom they come and they deserve the best experiences our cultural resources can afford them.  Essentially, I am in this program because I enjoy working in history and I want to do a good job both for myself and for others.

The reason I am taking History and New Media is a part of this larger desire.  Understanding digital media and being able to use it are a part of communicating in the modern day and essential to reaching as wide an audience as possible.  One’s access to history ought not be barred by one’s ability to travel, especially when technological work-arounds exist.  Digital media is a powerful tool and it’s best we learn to use it well in order to properly maintain blogs or twitter feeds or newsletters in order to maintain contact with a community and reach out to new potential visitors.  While anyone can start a blog or log into twitter, I hope that through this class I will learn the theory and best practices which  will make my future work benefit from use of the digital media.

Introduction- Christian Pennanen

Greetings All.  I’m Christian Paul Pennanen, a 2nd year general history MA student.  I tend to focus, topically on military history and the public perception of military affairs, and geographically on Europe between the Rhine and Urals.  That said, I’m always happy to push at the edges of those spheres; I’m currently listening to the audiobook version of The Bloody White Baron, which is about a Baltic German officer in the Tsarist Army who, during the Russian Civil War, decided he was Genghis Khan reborn, and took over Mongolia.  AU was also where I got my BA (also in History, with a minor in international relations).  I’m a DC native, and I’d be happy to answer questions or give suggestions to those new to the city, though I make no promises that I’ll be useful; I’m very much the sort of person who’d rather stay home and read, or watch anime or play pen and paper RPGs with friends, rather than going out.

I’d like to think I’ve got more computer skills than the average person, but evidence (and a series of dead laptops) suggests that I know just enough to be dangerous.  This is probably, at least in part, a product of the somewhat slap-dash nature of my education in the field, which has mostly come from attempts to get various video games (and mods) to work properly, supplemented by osmosis from some more technically competent friends and youtube channels.

My exposure to digital history has also been somewhat informal, and focused on hobbyists more than professionals.  For example, I am a regular on AlternateHistory.com, a website focused on historical counterfactuals.  I look forward to seeing how the field is handled by professionals; I think the only thing more important than bringing technology into our lives now, is bringing more of it in tomorrow!  Given that, it will likely not come as much of a surprise to find out that I’m a supporter of the intellectual movements called Transhumanism and Singularitarianism.  My main hope for this course is to bring together my enthusiasm for technology and for history.