Vicky Rex: a digital proposal

1. Description of the Project

I am going to create a short series of video blogs that chronicle the ascension of Queen Victoria, using her diaries and letters to gain insight into her thoughts on the matters at hand. While the information will be factual, I intend to update the language and costumes to be accessible to a contemporary audience. The first step will be to read and transcribe/transfigure diary entries and letters to build a definable character and a plot for the arch of the series. Step Two is to write out scripts. Step Three is to shoot. The episodes will be less than five minutes each and I intend to shoot between five and ten (enough to tell the story effectively and no more). Step Four will be to edit and polish the videos. Step five will be to upload to site, as yet to be determined; YouTube is a top contender due to its high traffic, but I need to do further research regarding copyright and the logistics of eventually removing the videos.

2. Comparison to existing projects

This project was inspired by four things: two previous Digital Public History projects, Leaving Arlington and the Supreme Justice podcast and two DFTBA-funded enterprises: Crash Course History and the Lizzie Bennett Diaries. I also see a similarity to the YouTube series Adult Wednesday Addams, in which writer/actress Melissa Hunter explores how the famously dour Ms. Addams would handle certain situations like one night stands and being sexually harassed. While there are many documentaries and several feature films of varying historical accuracy about my chosen topic, there is, to my knowledge, no other project like this about this monarch; on the flip side, there have been an increasing number of high-budget re-imaginings of famous monarchs: The Tudors, The White Queen, The Borgia’s, Reign; but these all sacrifice accuracy to be sexy, high-rating dramas.

3. Description of the audience

The audience for this project is, I hope, vast. Anyone who has a mild interest in history and uses YouTube to find non-traditional content, like Crash Course, would be part of my target audience. I also would hope to create something factually sound to provide a free resource to teachers – much as one of my literature professors used Black Adder to teach us about the writing of the Dictionary.

4. Plan for Outreach and Publicity

Since the project was partially inspired by The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Crash Course History, I would hope to connect with the DFTBA team and ask them very nicely for a spot of free publicity.  Having access to an iSchool, I would work with the School Library specialists to publicize in their home institutions. There is also social media to leverage.

5. Plan for Evaluation

The primary evaluation will be simply if anyone likes it via a comments section and, should the platform be YouTube, the Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down buttons. On a larger scale, for example if the project was expanded, it would be useful to coordinate the instructional material with the Common Core (or, since I’m focusing on a foreign head of state, possibly the GCSE  or IBO standards).

Obsessive Nostalgia and the World Market: a project proposal

In this paper, I am going to examine the how a global marketplace of internet consignment retailers is redefining, manipulating, and exploiting the idea of “vintage.”

Fashion has long been a window into the values of an age (see Drew’s blog last week about the costumer) and the new niche market of internet consignment – especially in vintage fashion – is affecting every brand from the finest couturiers to Target’s house brands. And, like the gamut of haute couture to pret-a-porter, the various sites have their specific niches: some specializing in mid-range off the rack all the way up to hundred thousand dollar Birkin bags (on sale for only $75K).

Beginning with The Past is a Foreign Country, David Lowenthal argues that nostalgia is the perfect vacation because we already know all the bad things that can happen, we have “taken the measure of it” (4). We know how to secure happily ever after in the past because it’s already done. Especially, I think for women who have been working toward greater rights, it is safe to go back because we approve of the forward movement. The past become a theme park (371-372) and the trappings of the past – the Vintage – becomes dress-up.

To bring in Anthony Giddens and his work Runaway World, the argument is made that we are nostalgic because by controlling the past “we can shape history for our own purposes” (20). He brings up the fascinating argument that the Enlightenment has betrayed us: “the influences that were supposed to make life more certain and predictable for us, including the progress of science and technology, often have quite the opposite effect … Science and technology are inevitably involved in our attempts to counter such risks, but they have also contributed to creating them in the first place” (20-21).

Giddens continues with the argument that traditions are something we make up as we go along, that “the idea of tradition, then, is itself a creation of modernity” (57), a sentiment backed up by Ben Schmidt’s discussion of anachronistic speech in Downton Abbey: “historians know that the ‘invention of tradition was rampant in Victorian England; the practice of happily talking abuot ‘more traditional’ and ‘less traditional’ outcomes is even more recent.”

So where do these ideas leave “Vintage?” Is it, as Giddens would ask, “heritage or kitch” (62)? And what signs of manipulation and exploitation are evident in the many layers of internet vintage resale?



word cloud

The word cloud above, produced by Voyant, shows what happens if you search “Vintage” in Tradesy and then sort by price high to low (and remove some articles: by, listed, of, the, and). Want is the biggest word because it appears in every post because that’s how you the purchaser indicate your interest in something, by clicking the “want” button.

It is my intention to crawl through both the supporting literature that bridges the gap between The Past is a Foreign Country and Runaway World and then to crawl through three websites to track trends at all levels of the market. I have chosen Tradesy for couture and high end pret-a-porter, Threadflip for the middle of the range, and Ebay, where you can buy anything. In addition to dissecting how each platform works, I am going to use Voyant analytic tools, especially word clouds, as above, to show how they define and describe “vintage” merchandise, and how they brand themselves as part of the trip to the theme park, I am going to attempt to find a few items that appear on all three sites to compare and contrast the way the item is pitched to the buying public by playing on and redefining what vintage is.

Some Thoughts on Visualization in the Humanities or the worst blog post title ever (sorry)

This week’s readings expressed a wide and deeply conflicted range of attitudes regarding the assorted uses of computers, computer modeling and the data-ization of the humanities. The authors were all for it, but some of the arguments against the idea they discussed were interesting – and valid. This validity is incredibly important; having been discussing diversity and cultural inclusion on LBSC 631 this week, I found myself hyper-aware of the attitudes some of the authors were displaying to their techno-tentative brethren. However, this is a blog and I’m am going to make some grand and sweeping statements – which I will then try to back up… hopefully using memes.

Grand Statement #1: Let’s not be that guy.

You know the guy I mean.

Grand Statement #2: “Computers allow you to go further.”

If there is to be a rallying cry for the Digital Humanities, this might well be it. Yesterday, I was whining to a mechanical engineer of my acquaintance about Underwood’s observations of the reluctance in the Academy to embrace digital technologies, how they fear a total seismic shift* in their world.

I would like to assuage those fears. According to my mechanical engineer, “Computers allow you to go further. They don’t take away the work.” I was scrambling for a pen here so the next bit is a paraphrase: computers make more work and they make what you’ve got more accessible.

Take the work done with MALLET, Blevins describes how computer modeling validates itself. The Ballard diary, chosen in part one assumes for its completeness, shows how well the computer can model. Blevins even relates how surprised he was that it initially worked so well. But it worked. The tool did the thing it was designed to do. That’s great! And now there’s all this data to play with. If you wanted to only focus on the number of babies born when the crocuses were in bloom, then it’s a simple matter of correlating your data. If you want to take up the argument discussed in Graphs, Maps, and Trees, that there is no such thing as a “gothic novel” and dissolve that grouping from his chart of genres to see what the effects are, you can do so. Vistas abound, new peaks arise to be surmounted.


The problem, I think, is that Humanists see things like “correlating data” and “data manipulation” and they freak out because these are STEM things. That they are not scientists, but humanists. Theirs is a world of logic and rhetoric. Well, yes, fine, but notice how scientists get all the grants?

Science vs. Humanities… ›› See... and my family thought I was crazy for being a Humanities major.

We don’t need to spend years waiting on graduate students to count everything by hand. We can load that puppy, or important literary work, into a computer and run analysis, any analysis, all analyses. And then tomorrow, we can do it again, go further and deeper. Instead of relying on grad students, you can partner with other academics on the other side of the world as easily as in the next building over a la Graham, Milligan, and Weingart. Where privacy and exclusivity are a concern, there is no need to make work public as they did, but this opens a work up to more input, catching mistakes earlier, and examining multiple points of view since no one publishes the book to make money anyway. You publish the book to get tenure.

Grand Statement #3: This is not the Singularity.

Technology is moving at a brisk clip, but we’re not in any danger of be replaced by robots today or tomorrow or the next day. For whatever reason, and I’m going to guess it has a lot to do with not being good with computers 10+ years ago, some humanists aren’t on board with putting the digital into their work. This is a massive disappointment for the rest of us because the kind of work that they’re doing, work like breaking down the linguistic anachronisms in Downton Abbey (a point of much personal vindication for me) and examining the Ballard diary, is really interesting. And doing it with graphs means that people who don’t have PhDs can understand it too. Perhaps therein lies the fear; that if outsiders can see – and understand – what we’re doing, we’ll all revert to the seventh grade and get made fun of by the popular kids for liking to evaluate complexly and dig a little deeper. So how do we embrace our intelligence, how do we share the fruits of our enthusiasm in the best possible way? I would argue that charts and graphs – visualizations of complex data – are the way forward.




*To be fair, the idea of a seismic shift as representative of a complete overhaul of any working system was no doubt active before Mr. M. Watkins published his article “How Managers become Leaders,” but it is from him that I got the idea so I have linked to it in Google Scholar: Michael D. Watkins, “How Managers Become Leaders,” Harvard Business Review 90 (June 2012), 65-72.


Embracing the Gerund: A Definition of Digital Historian

Being new to the world of the digital humanities in general and digital history in specific, I surveyed these first course readings with an eye to a better understanding of what I was getting myself into. It all just seems so exciting and action verbs abound. Weible talks about “enhancing understanding;” Onion of “kindling a fire” [for knowledge]. Cecire discusses as “hackers,” those who learn by making or doing. Spiro’s recommendations are all active: join, learn, discuss, and make. With all these options, what precisely is it that we do?

Cohen and Rosenzweig’s discussion of the history of digital history in relation to the history of the digital and seeks to align us as “techno-realists,” the people who look at the opportunities provided by unlimited storage and recognize that they are counterbalanced by the complexities of access. Sure, you can keep anything and everything you want, but you’ll never be able to find it. This, in my opinion, is the line in the sand: appraisal. An enthusiastic amateur grasps the capabilities of unlimited storage and starts trying to cram everything in. The “neo-Luddite” camp see the problem and wash their hands of it; we were, after all, warned. The Techno-Realist, in contrast to both, steps back, defines the need, identifies the resources, and then develops a plan.

The Digital Historian as Techno-Realist, from what I can determine, is the one who understand the balance between what the consumer wants and what they need. Spiro defines the optimal qualifications for the role of digital historian as ‘open-minded, experimental, and playful” and the chief characteristics of the professional body are “energy, creativity, and collegiality.” To summarize: fun, friendly, and ready to give it a go.

Onion’s discussion of a dedicated professional who decried a lack of scholarly citation being branded as “against fun” brings to the forefront a paradox. Digital Historians, as Spiro points out, are largely self-taught and yet, as my colleague Jamie will discuss, there remains a dedication to scholarly integrity. Weible calls it, “a discipline of practitioners,” and to my mind, the key word for building a definition of Digital Historian is “practitioner” because it defines the discipline as something that is practiced, something you can get better at, and to return to Spiro, something that is experimental.

So what does this make the Digital Historian? I would like to put forth the argument that we are the missing link. There is a gap, illuminated by Onion, between the information that is available about many and varied historical topics and what is being presented to the public to maintain easily digestible nuggets; between what the public want (fun) and what they need (correct information and context). Weible, citing Franco, discusses the greater digital history forum as being, ideally, “a safe place for disagreement.” The paradox in this is that the public hasn’t changed: interests are narrow, time and attention are limited. Not everyone wants to expend the energy to do the research themselves and the abundance of the history picture Twitter Feeds alone suggests how the public wants the information: pithy and easily digestible.

To my mind, this is where the Digital Historian can come in: with experimentation and fun, embracing the action verbs and doing. Establishing not a second ivory tower of the Academy nor fast-food education, but something in between: I quite like the summer camp analogy, but I would also put forward the comparison of a Children’s Museum. It might be simple, but everything in a Children’s Museum is both fun and educational, proof that the dichotomy can work. The challenge becomes figuring out how to connect the wants and needs of the data consumer external to the confines of a formal academic setting. The definition of the digital historian would seem to be someone who goes out and does.

How would others define Digital Historian?