Overall I learned quite a bit from the final project even though I did not get as many responses as I would have liked. There were no big surprises from the information gathered in my survey but it does match up with what my initial research shows. The Digital History class as a whole was pretty interesting. I am still mostly lost when it comes to the technical aspects of a lot of the computer stuff. However the larger takeaway for me was just seeing the interaction between doing in-person physical history work and then moving into the online space. This is especially important for smaller community history projects that would otherwise go unnoticed by the larger historical community.
This digital collection is part of the Library of Congress and it presents a long history of the academic exploration of the Universe. The collection was built on the foundation of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan archive, but by including many other historical works it situates Sagan and others within a historical context. This archive has a wide variety of both physical collection items that have been digitized for easy access, and articles and essays from both Sagan and a variety of other authors.
The starting page of this collection is actually one of the three top tabs used to maneuver through the archive. You start out in the “collection items” area of the archive but you can use these tabs to go to the “articles and essays” section or “about this collection”. However, if you stay in the collection items you can refine your search using the categories on the left. These include the format, date, and location of the item, what collection is the item part of, the contributor, the subject, and the language. Looking through all this I went to Subject and under that I clicked on Extraterrestrial Life. I then scrolled down until I saw a manuscript called “The Evolution of Interstellar Space Flight” by Carl Sagan.
This was made by Carl Sagan in the mid 1940s, when he was around the age of 13. It describes a few of the early developments in space travel including the Nazi V-2 program and the early American and Soviet efforts to get into space.
If you leave collection items and go to articles and essays there are three subject areas to explore, Modeling the Cosmos, Life on Other Worlds, and Carl Sagan and the Tradition of Science. You can move through these sections to read essays about different aspects about the development of science in respect to space exploration. The section on Life on Other Worlds also gives a cultural viewpoint on what people were thinking about space in the past. I uses paintings, maps, and movie posters to show what people have thought about when looking towards the stars.
This digital collection also includes teaching resources and expert resources which can both be found by looking to the left sidebar. These include advice for lesson plans and primary sources while also giving easy links to some of Sagan’s papers. As well as the digitized printed material, this collection also has audio and visual materials that you can search by using the search function at the top of the page.
Overall this collection is somewhat intimidating by its size and scope and it forces visitors to explore the collection in order to figure out all the search tools. I think that the overall layout could be improved to make it more user friendly. For example, instead of just having the start page be the “collection items”, a page giving links about general subject areas would be helpful. Having an opening page with a site map and links to general subject areas like Carl Sagan’s work or the history of astronomy would make the collection much more accessible to visitors.
The first reading for this week was from Michael Frisch, in his piece he is looking at the transition of oral history from old audio devices like cassettes into digital files. This change will be advantageous for historians but will also present some new challenges.
First of all this move will mean that there will be less need for oral histories to be transcribed into print, thus losing certain aspects of the history like voice tone and inflection. The digital revolution means that all data can be stored equally and easily while preserving the original aspects of the oral history being taken, it also allows individuals to access the data much more easily particularly through an online database.
Frisch notes that the challenge that will come with the change in technology and the broader access to historical information is figuring out how to navigate in the digital space. The use of time stamps on sound files is one way to make this easier for people looking through an oral history archive. This is one thing that I have noticed quite recently with some podcasts, the creators have begun putting markers into their own recordings so listeners can jump to sections that they are interested in.
The more difficult issue is sorting out how to search through a potentially huge database of history for information and stories of interest. One can start with the basic search strategies like with words or themes to find items. However, Frisch points towards using a more complex type of search using qualitative analysis and the meaning of a history in order to find it in an archive. As he notes, this may require more development of A.I. to assist the search. Finally Frisch suggests also that the nature of oral history projects will change moving further into the digital age. Instead of being finite, projects and documentaries could become long lasting collaborative efforts that do not follow the standard format of current documentaries.
The most interesting aspect of Frisch’s piece was the question of searching through archival databases. I think that he makes some good suggestions about how to structure this but I think there is still a problem of scale. The amount of data being put into archives, particularly online archives will only get larger and I wonder how searches will be prioritized. In other words, will certain items or topics pop up first from a search and how will this affect researchers? Is there a way to design a search engine for such a database that is “fair” for all the different stories from history.
The Boyd piece on the questions to ask when making an oral history project was pretty strait forward but it did connect with the Frisch article. The questions of why are you doing a project and what is the desired outcome are certainly important. Most of the other questions are technical issues like budget, technology resources, and who is your partner. The only question that I found interesting was the last one about legal and ethical issues. I had not really considered what ethical or legal problems might arise from an oral history project. Beyond the issue of privacy and personal information, what other ethical problems might there be when conducting oral interviews or compiling these stories into a larger oral history project?
I got thinking about this idea after talking with my parents, they wanted me to go with them to Gettysburg national park during spring break this year. Our family took a trip to Gettysburg many years ago and one thing I remember was getting a case of CD-ROMs that could be put into a computer to show different parts of the battle. I don’t think we ever actually got it to work but the basic idea came back to me recently. I think it would be very interesting to move through this space and see the events as they happened.
Trying to picture this in my head I am thinking of something like Google Earth or the Google Maps street view function. I want to give people the ability to zoom in and out and move from one area of the battle to another. By zooming out, viewers could see the movement of large units from a birds eye view. Then by zooming in closer using the street view perspective, one could clearly see the different terrain features in front of the different armies. Since these armies contained regiments from a variety of states, users could search for one particular regiment or other unit and see its progress and other statistics and historical data from the program.
Obviously the basic concept of this idea has already been conceived by the good folks working for the park service but its possible that they could use an update. Also, although I am thinking in terms of the major battlefield sites like Gettysburg, it could be interesting to try and make the tools to build one of these battlefield maps open source. It would allow people who live on or near the sites of different battles to create their own interactive map and submit it to a larger website for visitors to explore.
After the Edson reading from a couple weeks ago on the Youtube channel Crashcourse and how it had succeeded in making educational content popular and digestible, I was interesting in figuring our just how much this channel and others like it are used by teachers. Back in 2009, Youtube set up Youtube EDU for all it educational content, thus giving teachers an easy place to find lessons on a variety of subjects. This is a good new tool for teachers because young students are willing to engage with a modern medium more readily than traditional teaching methods. I am fairly familiar will channels like Crashcourse, Sci show, and TedED, but I am curious if there are other super popular channels that I have not heard of.
For my print project I would like to look at how much these videos are used by teachers as well as if certain channels are particularly popular. Have these replaced older methods like watching stuff on a VHS/DVD like when I was in high school, or have they actually replaced the teacher. If the latter is true, is the prevalence of these videos actually a good thing? Are there teachers or parents who are more reluctant to use these new tools and what is their reasoning. Is there any evidence that teachers who use Youtube EDU in the classroom get better or worse results when it comes to learning outcomes? Although these videos can be very useful for teachers, is it possible that their overuse could create a uniformity of teaching that might not be positive for students? Also, is there a particular distribution across the country of what schools more commonly use these videos? Do schools in higher income areas with private schools use them, or is it the other way around with teachers that may have fewer resources leaning on Youtube to provide lessons for their students. Another area of this that could be its own study would be how has the Covid-19 pandemic changed things? My expectation would be that with learning going on via zoom, the use of digital content to teach students has become more widespread.
I am not certain how I would conduct the research for this analysis. Looking through news articles on the subject could give a general idea about how these videos are used by teachers. It may also be possible to get information from Youtube itself if they have data about the demographic or geographic data breakdown showing where and when these videos are played. Its also possible that PBS or another of the actual content creators may have more feedback information about the results coming from schools that use the videos that they make.