A Resource for Audio Collections: HiPSTAS Audio Toolkit

This week’s readings deal heavily with topics in oral history and the recording and collecting of digital audio. HiPSTAS, or High Performance Sound Technologies for Access and Scholarship, provide a toolkit useful to anyone compiling collections of audio files in creating sets of metadata and identifying speakers.

HiPSTAS has worked on a number of projects with the goal of developing different digital tool kits that can assist researchers in compiling, identifying, and defining segments of audio files. One such program is the Audio Labeler program, designed to label segments of an audio file usually in relation to a single speaker. The website goes into great detail about how you can train the program to identify the speaker you are focusing one by feeding it many small clips of that person speaking with that person, other speakers, other sounds and even silences already labeled. By doing this you can then train the program to apply that algorithm to unlabeled files so that it can label the files for you.

This tool would be very useful for compiling a collection of audio files on specific people, particularly for libraries and archives where there might be many different audio file collections. Identifying speakers and providing these labels is needed so that one who may be conducting research can search for these files. This program is meant to help expedite that process so that librarians or archivists or whoever is compiling these files doesn’t have to listen to every single audio file and individually label each segment.

It is not a system without some flaws though. The process involves feeding the program pre-labeled audio files, sometimes close a thousand of them. This means either someone still needs to individually label those small files or running a different program to do that, but those programs can at times be unreliable.

HiPSTAS’s most recent project has been to develop a formula to upload annotations to the segments of these audio files as well. The project, called AudiAnnotate, would allow researchers to translate their own analyses of the audio files into publishable media annotations. The hope for this project is that it would make audio file collections easier to search through and more accessible to researchers so that they are used more often and therefore preserved more often by libraries and archives.

Overall I found the projects that HiPSTA has and are continuing to develop very interesting. I hadn’t really thought about the problems of trying to search for a specific audio file before but these programs that make it easier to navigate audio files like their any other type of information seems really helpful for maintaining collections. I would be interested to see how AudiAnnotate works as its development progresses and how annotations of these files could be shared among researchers.

Obligatory Baby Yoda

Mapping DC Historic Houses (Digital Project Proposal)

Washington, DC is a city built in and around history. As the city has grown and modernized, pockets of history still remain tucked away, often found in its parks or buildings. One category of historical sites that offers a window into the past of the city is historic houses, building’s that have been preserved through time either because of the people who lived in them, the events that took place in them, or through the efforts of local historical societies. Washington, DC is filled with historic homes from those of well-known Presidents and politicians to the lesser known homes of members of DC’s society. These homes are varied in their topics, time periods, and functions in the city.

            For this Digital Project, I propose creating a site that pins the locations of these historic homes on Google Maps, similar to a site such as PhilaPlace or perhaps using HistoryPin to compile the locations. Similar to PhilaPlace, each pin would have a short summary of the house’s history, including when it was built and who it was built for originally. One would also be able to open up a larger page that would contain a more in-depth history of the home, including when it transitioned from being a functional home to its current purpose. The pins would also provide information about the homes’ current functions, such as whether it operates as a museum or houses a historical society, is it accessible to the public, etc. The pins would also provide information about who currently owns and maintains the house and what their objectives with the building are. The intent would also be to allow users to filter based on time period or what topics of history the original inhabitants may have been involved in. For example, one could filter the map to show the homes of politicians from the 1700s and easily find the well-known Mt. Vernon, while another user could filter the map to show the houses of someone involved in business in the 1800s and find the less known Heurich House Museum.

            The primary audience for such a site would be those in the general public with an interest in history, particularly unique perspectives of history. Again these houses could have been home to a President or just another family whose names don’t often break into the history textbooks. Finding these less talked about historic sites can be of a very real interest to many to broaden their understanding about life in this city throughout its history. This resource could be useful to researchers though who may be looking for specific information perhaps about an individual who lived in one of these homes or about a time period that may be well covered in that house’s collections. Providing the information of the organizations maintaining the house would also provide researchers with further understanding of the operations and collections of the house, the time period it may reflect, and the preservation efforts that have gone into it.

Walking through History: Virtual Reality as an Education Tool (Print Project Proposal)

Visiting a historic location, whether it’s a city full of history or the ruins of an ancient wonder, is a means by which people can truly immerse themselves in the history that lays there. Standing among the preserved ruins of the Colosseum can invoke images of gladiatorial combat and other public spectacles, while walking around sites such as Stonehenge fill visitors with a sense of mystery. Making historical sites accessible to the public serves a similar purpose to displaying collections in a museum. The ability to walk among history and see what was used in the past helps visitors imagine, almost see, what life was like for people living in the past. But there are limitations on this. Preservation of the items and locations is vital, and that sometimes means taking it away from the public. Artifacts can be stowed away for research purposes only, and historic sites can be blocked off to public access to prevent damage. But recent technological innovations and popular mediums could provide potential solutions. An alternative that could help preserve artifacts and locations, while still allowing people to visit and interact with relics of the past could lie in virtual reality.

For this project, I would like to look at how virtual reality and video games could be utilized to recreate historic sites and artifacts and make them more accessible to the public. For this I would have to look at how these mediums have been implemented already. Virtual Reality for example has become a tool utilized in art museums in a number of interesting ways. Some have put their galleries up for viewing in virtual reality, so that one can see the rooms without even being there. Other museums offer experiences within the galleries where virtual reality allows a visitor to go into a painting and explore the works of art from entirely new perspectives. For example, The Louvre launched a virtual reality experience in October 2019 called “Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass” that not only allowed visitors to get a closer than ever look at the details of the painting itself, but also used data available to recreate the setting in which the painting was originally created, allowing viewers to see the “real life” Mona Lisa. This kind of recreation could be expanded upon for more historical works and sites.

            Video games and history don’t often mesh well together. Even in games based in historical settings, game design by its nature tends to take what could be describe as far more than its fair share of artistic liberties. But one innovation that video games have done very well in terms of historical settings is mapping and recreating historical landmarks. Many games have recreated landmarks and locations, but perhaps the most innovative of late has been the work of developer Ubisoft who make the historically-set Assassin’s Creed series. While the history within the games themselves is riddled with inaccuracies, their recreation of historic cities and landmarks has been widely praised. They most recently caught attention for their recreations in April of 2019 when, after the devastating fire to the Notre Dame Cathedral, they volunteered their digital mapping of the cathedral from a previous game to assist with the rebuilding efforts. The company has also tried their hand at making their games more educational with their most recent entries in the series set in Ptolemaic Egypt and Classical Greece. Within these games, Ubisoft added an option called “Discovery Tour” which allowed players to turn off the violence and story and simply explore the recreated ancient world and learn about life and locations during these times and read the information that the developers had access to while creating these games, while also learning about what the developers changed to suit their game.

            For this project I hope to see how this groundbreaking technology could be utilized to offer those interested an opportunity to see not only some of the world’s most famous landmarks and artifacts, but to interact with them in a way that museums and landmarks simply can’t allow one to do. I hope to explore how this technology is currently being used and how it could be expanded to help students and the curious learn more about different topics or how researchers could use this technology to aid in their research while helping to preserve artifacts, documents, and historic sites.

Hi, I’m Connor

Hello everyone! I am a second year MA student in the General History Program here at AU. I am originally from the small town of Ridgefield, Connecticut. It’s an old and classic New England town filled with interesting local history. It was that local history that originally set me down the path of wanting to study American history, particularly in forming my focus on Early America and the New Republic.

I also completed my undergrad here at American University, graduating in 2018 with a BA in History. Through my undergrad experience I was able to explore my interests in early America but also was able to explore many other areas of history that sparked my interests including Ancient Civilizations and particularly the history of the US during the Cold War periods. This school and this city have given me plenty of opportunities to explore these different periods of American history.

Through this class I am hoping to learn about how people can use and are using digital media to engage with history and how historians can use this technology to make history more accessible. We’ve seen debates and discussions in recent years about how the internet has shaped modern political discourse, and the same conversations should be had about how people are learning history and I am hoping that this class will give some insight into what those means of learning are.