Final Paper and Reflection

Hello Hello,

Attached you’ll find my final version of my paper.

I’ll admit at the beginning of the semester I was totally lost on what project or paper I would produce for this class. But after we had that week where we read and learned about Wikipedia early on in, it totally clicked with me that Wikipedia could be used as source to learn about public memory.

I have been studying Jasenovac commemorations, narratives, and memory for over three years now. Considering its contested position in Serbian and Croatian society, it seemed like the perfect case study to examine how Wikipedia could be treated as a primary source and what we can learn about its public memory in both states by doing so.

I think this case study works as a perfect example of what we can learn by treating Wikipedia as a primary source. This project revealed the two contrasting narratives of Jasenovac found on the Serbian and Croatian Wikipedia pages, the points of debate among users, the Serbian and Croatian public’s understanding of Jasenovac in relation to the Holocaust and wars of Yugoslavia’s dissolution, and user’s understandings of national identity based on narratives of Jasenovac among other things.

My plan is to share this paper with other AU faculty members and prepare it for submission to an academic journal this summer. I will also be presenting this research at the International Public History Summer School in Wroclaw this July which I hope will give me additional ideas in how to expand this project going forward. I already have my own ideas but hearing from other scholars will be really beneficial and likely enrich my perspective and approach.

I’m not sure yet what I will do for my dissertation, but its likely that this project could figure into it. This is a methodological approach I never anticipated taking, but I am so pleased that this class brought me to it. As a public historian pursuing a doctoral degree in traditional history it’s an ongoing priority of mine to not only study public memory accessed through public history spaces but engage with the public as well. I think that this project and its potential for further development is a unique and exciting way I can do so.

Glitching can give us deeper understandings of digital objects

Back in 2012, our fearless leader Professor Owens wrote this cool blog post explaining why glitching digital objects can give us a deeper understanding of their value and how to break them down.

As he observed, digital objects are encoded bits of information on some sort of medium designed for a software that can read it. But, if we play with those bits of information and break those digital objects down a bit, we can grasp a better understanding of the objects internal structure, how the computer understands it, and what the original object was meant for.

There are three ways to break down and alter digital files to give us a more multidimensional, ‘non-essentialist’ read of digital objects.

First you can alter an mp3. or wav. file that you either previously had on your computer or downloaded online and alter its file extension to .txt. I did this with both a mp3. of an Oral History audio I have from a few years back and then I tried it with the track “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” from Hamilton the Musical.

This is from the Oral History interview I conducted with a woman involved in a student led campaign at Duquesne University to save the school from financial collapse in the 1970s. The text is pretty unintelligible. This audio was created on a recorder and downloaded into Audacity so its format might not be super advanced.
This one is the track from Hamilton, still pretty unintelligible but here if we zoom in we can see text that says: (Original Broadway Cast Record):soar2data0Oringinal Broadway Cast of Hamilton and other tidbits of information. This is a professional recording so it kind of makes more sense that some of the metadata is recognizable here.

You can then try and alter the same file from a .txt to a .raw file which should give you a pixelated image of what the audio looks like. If you do this for .wav and mp3 files you should see a noticeable difference and get a feel for patterns in the data. However, my Macbook for some unexplainable reason can not read these files once I change them to the .raw format. No matter what files I altered to this format I got the same error notice.

Boo you Macbook
Sad face 🙁

I used both the Preview application and IPhoto apps on my Mac and got the same notice both times. I’m not sure if it’s just an issue with my Mac or Mac in general, but I’m hoping one of my co-practicum bloggers can give you a better idea of what this looks like. If not you can get a glimpse of it in Prof. Owens blog here.

My Mac did however allow me to try out the third glitching technique, which is to take a digital image in .jpg format and change its file extension to .txt remove some of the info, revert it back to .jpg and open it back up to see how your changes altered the image.

The images below are the original and two glitched versions of a photo of the narrator I interviewed a few years ago.

the original

The first level of damage which has made the image darker and kind of duplicates it?
In this third level of damage the image now has a magenta tone and we can see how it’s been duplicated and zoomed out? Cool stuff honestly.

By looking at these glitched files we can see how the original file was damaged by removing or altering its original data. We can also see how the image was intended to be viewed and how the data works to produce it and what happens when some of it is taken away.

In conclusion, glitching is really cool because it helps us read objects “against the grain” if you will– to see the digital object from multiple dimensions and perspectives to better understand it. It’s also just kind of fun and has led to some new pathways in the creation of digital art.

But to all my digital humanitarians out there, what do you think we can stand to learn from glitching digital artifacts and how might we use this technique in our work?

Sound Studies in the Digital Age

This week’s readings help us dive deep into the world of digital Audio. First, Doug Boyd gives us a run down on everything we should consider when designing an Oral History project. Then, Michael Frisch pushes us to reconsider how we use and organize the audio and video we collect. Finally, Wendy F. Hsu challenges us to think about sound differently to conceptualize a new methodological framework of augmented empiricism through Digital Ethnography.

 As Boyd points out, conducting Oral History is a great privilege and the work required to prepare, conduct, transcribe, disseminate, and relate the oral histories we collect to larger historical narratives is no small feat. But as they say, with great privilege comes great responsibility. The choices made in the design of a project influence the its overall success and development. Boyd thus encourages us to consider the following:

Why are you doing this project and what’s the desired outcome?

Think of a project mission statement and write it down (consulting and communicating with project partners where applicable.) This helps oral history project designers stay focused and on task. A mission statement works as a reminder of why the project was initiated in the first place. Along with that, will these interviews be used for broadcast or production? Will they be hosted online or adapted into another format? Figuring out the answers to these questions will influence choice made on the equipment purchased and used for the project.

What recording equipment works best for you and what are your budgetary needs?

What microphone, audio, or video equipment is best for your project? How familiar are you with these technologies and software? Do you have access to the necessary trainings? Another way of thinking about this question is to ask who the intended audience of this project is? Thinking about these questions will point oral historians to the direction of their most suited technology.

If the project will later be used for production, professional quality equipment will be necessary and this can add up quickly. Consumer equipment can work just as well, but this hinges on the project’s needs. You also have to consider how and where audio or video files will be stored. External drives and servers are also costly and if a transcription service is hired out to work on these files that’s another cost to consider as well. You also have to think about project dissemination, web space, and software

Next, you’ll need to consider your level of expertise.

If you’re unfamiliar with current audio, video, or computer technologies, you’re going to want to learn, attend workshops, read manuals, and practice. You’ll want to know how to use your equipment properly before the interview takes place. There’s nothing worse than completing an interview and realizing the recorder was off the whole time.

Your digital storage and archival strategy should also be thought out.

Digital records create massive files and you’ll want to be prepared and have pre-planned strategy for storage. Consulting your archive partner can help with this. They should have the means necessary to undertake the expensive and complex digital preservation and curation of audio and video materials. You’ll also want to ask them about the work flows, protocols, and release  policies they follow.

One of the biggest questions you’ll want to consider as a part of your project design are the legal and ethical issues you might encounter over the course of your project and how you plan to confront them. As Boyd points out, oral history can be incredibly intimate and the life stories that interviewees share can have wider implications after project disseminations. This is something that should be thoroughly contemplated by the project staff before making interviews publicly accessible with informed consent.

Boyd’s point about the end product of an oral history project is something Michael Frisch has many thoughts on. Frisch encourages users to think about the life of an oral history interview once the recorder is turned off. In many cases, interviews are transcribed, and its meaning and interpretation is derived from the transcript. The layers of meaning found within the context and setting of an interview and the interviewees gesture, tone, body language, expression, pauses, and movements that enrich and fully contextualize an interview are lost. Text has become the go to mode for the life of an oral history due to ease of use and sharing, but Frisch shows that with the digital revolution, we can put the oral back in oral history.

In the digital age, all data is relatively the same and can be expressed as digital information that can be organized, searched, extracted, and equally integrated and instantly and non-linearly accessible Because of this Frisch calls for a “post-documentary sensibility” for oral history, where digital audio and video are annotated, cross-reference, and organized by other types of descriptive or analytic meta-data linked to specific passages of interview content. In doing so the audio or video itself is the source that is searched, studied, and referenced by researchers and users, returning the actual voice and embodied meanings to oral history.

While these projects have been approached differently due to scale, Boyd provides several examples of what this can look like. You can look at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and work done by the Randforce Associates to compare.  These projects, and those Frisch hopes to see in the future, can provide accessible, meaningful, fluid, and non-privileged access to the content of oral history.

Wendy F. Hsu steps out of the oral history framework and thinks about sound a little differently than our friends Boyd and Hirsh. Hsu is an ethnographer who wants to further develop the methodologies of digital ethnography and expand the term’s definition. She looks at digital technology as a platform for collecting, exploring, and expressing ethnographic materials. Her project on Asian American Musicians and independent rock music shows how digital technology can provide new empirical perspectives on space and place to develop new methods of inquiry and visualization.

Hsu found that the Asian American musicians she studied spent much of their time on Myspace networking and promoting their music, rather than performing. She then built a webscraper bot to extract information on the location of users engaged with these bands. The bot was able to crawl through the information of more than 2,500 “friends” of the band which enabled her to physically map their location and thus the digital environment that these users exist in. This visualization allowed Hsu to uncover patterns of social behavior and cultural meaning that would otherwise be inaccessible. Her quantitative findings answered how and what questions while her ethnographic training helped her figure out the why.

Hsu was also able to look to the music of these bands directly to uncover new insights as well. Hsu used digital audio software DAW and Audacity to learn more about a group of nakashi musicians entitled The Wandering Blind Singers.[1] Hsu was able to identify that the recordings she had access to were recorded in mono, a form that was typical to the Taiwan music scene in the 1970s. She realized that these recordings likely took place in a tv studio which shed light on the fringe position of these musicians in the music industry and their lower-class status in society in general.

These are but some of the conclusions and observations that Hsu was able to make using close and distant listening, digital visualization, and other digital technologies. Her work shows that new methodological frameworks are necessary to expand the breadth of digital ethnography and its changing landscapes.

Boyd, Frisch, and Hsu gave us a lot of unpack. There are so many ways to think about and work with sound in the digital age. Share your thoughts about these readings on sound and the digital world below.

[1] Nakashi is a postcolonial itinerant music-culture in Taiwan.