Reflection Post

My print project on Watergate proved to be rewarding in a number of ways.  First and foremost, for someone who is extremely fascinated by this particular scandal, examining some of the public’s comments about it on various blogs and news websites challenged me to re-evaluate some of my own ideas about this important moment in U.S. history.  It was really interesting for me to see how the public’s ideas about Watergate compare and contrast to what scholars say about it.  (For instance, the convention wisdom among many scholars is that Watergate continues to affect U.S. politics today, but a large number of people made thoughtful comments online about why they think it doesn’t really matter anymore.)  Before I started this project, I assumed that most Americans agreed with this conventional view because, to me, the numberous ways in which Watergate continues to touch politics are quite obvious.  But the comments that various people made online made me realize areas where I need to strengthen my argument in order to defend my belief, which will be quite helpful for my future research.

Additionally, this project (and this course in general) have made me think about what qualifies as a “legitimate” historical source.  It made me realize that as I continue my research, it is perfectly acceptable (and even beneficial) to count blogs and other digital media as quality sources.  Especially since blogs, Facebook and Twitter have essentially replaced traditional journals and letters as people’s means of self-reflection and communication with others, the Internet can provide a wealth of insights that historians may not otherwise be able to find and utilize. 

As far as my project itself goes, I can’t pinpoint what I would change about it.  It is not a perfect project by any means, but it satisfied my goal of learning a little bit about how public memory compares to scholarly memory.  I don’t think that I’ll carry on with this particular project but, as noted above, it will certainly help me with further research, even if only indirectly.  I do think this project could have been stronger if I figured out how to tighten up my methodology.  To find comments, I did a google search and combed through the top twenty websites that popped up so that I wasn’t simply scouring hundreds of sites, looking for the one or two comments that pertained to my project.  In some ways, this method still seemed inadequate and faulty.  But I still think it was sufficient enough to help me fulfill the goals I had for this project.  Overall, I am happy with my paper and think that if I continued working on it and tightened it up, some of my findings could potentially be useful for digital scholars as well as historians. 


Show & Tell: PBS’ The Video Game Revolution

I came across an interesting site hosted by PBS.  “The Video Game Revolution” offers a lot of neat facts about video games.  The site is apparently a companion to a PBS documentary by the same name.   The site discusses the evolution of video games, how they are made, how video games influence our culture, and much more!  It even includes a “cheat” section that offers clues about how to do well in certain classic games like Pac-Man.

Two of the parts I really like are the “Essays” and “Additional Reading” sections, which are found under the “Impact of Gaming” tab.  Both of these sections offer insightful, thought-provoking readings that often speak about the stereotypes associated with gaming.  For example, Aleah Tierney’s article “What Women Want” describes how women relate to video games, and how they are portrayed in them.  Usually, we think of women as being disassociated from video games; most players, according to the stereotype, are teenage boys.  Tierney admits that most players are indeed young men, but points out that a growing number of women play games too.  Moreover, she says that some female characters are simultaneously depicted as attractive, sexual beings (who fulfill mens’ fantasies) and strong warriors, who represent how women are not always meek individuals who depend on men to rescue them.  (See Tierney’s article.)  Although this article is brief and does not thoroughly flush out a lot of the issues it brings up, it does raise some interesting points that could potentially spark further discussion.

Additionally, Henry Jenkins’ article “Reality Bytes: Eight Myths About Video Games Debunked” seeks to do exactly what the title says.  According to the site, Jenkins is a MIT professor, and he tries to shoot down various myths associated with video games, ranging from the idea that games lead to more violent youth to the idea that kids are the only age group that play these games.  (Like Tiernan, he also rejects the notion that girls do not play video games.)  Again, this article is brief and Jenkins does not fully analyze all of the ideas that brings up, but his ideas do challenge the conventional way that we think about video games.

I think this site provides a nice follow-up to the class discussion we had, as well as to the other “Show & Tell” posts that pertain to gaming.  I encourage anyone who is interested in gaming to check it out!

Digital Project: Butte, Montana Blog

My family is originally from Butte, Montana, a city to this day called the “Richest Hill on Earth.”  In its heyday from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, Butte was a booming mining town.  Workers pulled tons of gold, silver and other metals from the mines, but the city was especially famous for its rich abundance of copper.  In 1920 Butte produced 15% of the world’s copper supply, and beginning in 1941 the city provided the U.S. with 51% of the total copper used for America’s war efforts during WWII (  Butte is also home to famous daredevil “Evel” Knievel!  After being essentially shut down for nearly three decades, Butte’s mining industry has been resurrected and the city continues to be a global supplier of ore and minerals today.

Although I will probably be sticking with my print project, if I were to do a digital one I would like to create a blog dedicated to analyzing and discussing Butte’s rich history.  Butte’s historical significance is fairly well-known even outside of Montana and the western portion of the U.S., but its presence on the web appears to be lacking in several respects.  From what I could tell from a little bit of research, not many people are talking about Butte on blogs or other digital media.  More importantly, I could not find a blog that was dedicated to a scholarly discussion of Butte’s history or legacy.  I think that there is a need for a blog such as the one I am proposing.

I would use WordPress for this project.  I would have several posts devoted to various aspects of the city’s history.  Topics might include:  Butte’s rich and diverse ethnic heritage, the Copper Kings (the men who basically started the mining industry), unionizing efforts, the Anaconda Company (Butte’s largest mining company), the growth of the Berkeley Pit and the destruction of several ethnic towns that it caused, Evel Knievel and his contributions to U.S. culture, open-pit vs. underground mining, and so on and so forth.

My intended audience would be fairly broad, but I would maintain my concentration on offering a scholarly discussion about history.  I would ardently strive to foster a thoughtful dialogue and would try to prevent the blog from becoming a venue for people to simply post small snippets of their own experiences in Butte.  It would most likely appeal to former and current Butte residents and scholars of history, geology, ecology and anthropology, but I can imagine that people who are interested in the western U.S. would also potentially visit my blog.  I personally know people who fall into each of these categories, so I would have them view the blog and evaluate it to see if it met their needs.  I would rely on class readings, discussions and practica  to help me create the blog and mold it into a useful digital tool, and I would utilize a collection of Butte-related historiography to help provide the historical content.  If it evolved as I imagine it, I really think this project could be an effective way of showing this city’s local, regional and national significance.



Project: Watergate in the Public Memory

I am deeply fascinated by the Watergate scandal and I love studying how it continues to affect politics, journalism, and American society in general.  My personal belief is that most Americans generally misunderstand the scandal.  I don’t think that the public has a clear or thorough understanding of what actually happened and, more importantly, why it remains relevant today.  For the print project, I would like to explore what people say about Watergate on digital mediums such as Wikipedia and various blogs.  I will seek to answer some of the following questions:  What are people saying about the scandal?  How do they remember it?  Do their comments suggest that they understand Watergate’s nuances and intricacies, or do they gloss over the story and only focus on the barest details?  Why are they talking about it?  What does it mean to them?  Granted, some of these questions are more complex than others.  It would take multiple projects to adequately answer all of them.  However, my project will serve as my attempt to begin offering insights into some of these questions.

I will be looking mostly at comments on Wikipedia and various blogs that are out there, but I may include a few comments that people have made on Twitter and other social networking sites as well.  To help me explain why these digital sources are worth reading, I’ll rely on texts that we’ve read (or will read) in class.  Of course, I will use Rosenzweig’s Wikipedia article.  I may rely on Cohen & Rosenzweig’s chapters, as well as Kirschenbaum’s article,  to provide some foundations for my analysis too.  I think that all of these pieces will help me explain what we can learn about Watergate from comments that people make on the web.

I also plan on including some of my own ideas about why Watergate remains important today.  I will then analyze if the comments people make online discuss or are in any way similar to my thoughts.  For example, I believe that one of Watergate’s effects was to significantly decrease Americans’ trust in their government.  I will look to see how many comments pertain to Watergate and people’s faith in government, and whether or not people think that Watergate directly led to a decrease in that trust.  There is a fairly large body of literature that discusses the scandal’s wider ramifications, so I will have plenty of sources that help substantiate my claims.  To name but a few, Stanley I. Kutler’s The Wars of Watergate offers a short analysis of some of Watergate’s deeper meanings, and Louis Liebovich’s Richard Nixon, Watergate and the Press specifically explores how it changed the relationship between the media and the presidency.  These sources, as well as others, will help provide a scholarly assessment of why Watergate continues to be something worth talking about.

Based on my preliminary research, average Americans seem to be discussing Watergate more than I originally thought.  The scope and range of their comments surprised me as well.  In a quick review of sites like Wikipedia and a few WordPress blogs, I’ve seen staunch defenses made on Nixon’s behalf, claiming in bold type that “HE WAS INNOCENT,” to characterizations of Nixon as a down-right “evil” man.  My preliminary research has led me to conclude that my topic is one worthy of greater examination.  Hopefully, my project will shed light not only on what Watergate means to people today, but how they understand American political history as well.

What’s on the Menu? Database

The New York Public Library runs a database called “What’s on the Menu?”  The database’s organizers have scoured restaurant menus from the 1840s until the present day to illustrate the kinds of food people ate and how much they paid for their meals.  This website shows that when used as primary sources, menus provide fascinating insights that tie cultural, economic and social history together.

The website breaks down into a few headings, perhaps the most important of which are entitled “Menus,” “Data,” Dishes,” and “Blog.”  By clicking on “Menus,” visitors can see pictures of actual menus from restaurants from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Viewers can click on the images to see them in larger, blown up versions that are easy to read.  I am not entirely certain as to what the “Data” section is supposed to be used for.  The database’s designers encourage viewers to use this section for their own research and projects, but unfortunately the “data” that the website offers is largely unreadable.  There are a few links that open up as Excel documents, but when I looked at them they were largely written in “computer language” that seemed to have no rhyme or reason and appeared to lack significance.  The “Dishes” section allows viewers to explore specific items from various menus.  Clicking on  “Fruit Salad with Whipped Cream,” for instance, takes viewers to the exact menu and page that the dish is found in.  People can then see exactly how the dish was classified (as an “entrée,” “appetizer,” etc.) and how it compares in price to other items.  The “Blog” section brings viewers to the New York Public Library’s main blog.  Unfortunately, there isn’t an abundance of posts related to What’s on the Menu?  However, the blog is useful for highlighting what else the New York Public Library is focusing on at the moment.

The Library admits that the database is a work in progress.  The project began last year and so far, the project seems off to a solid start.  However, it still has a long way to go until it is complete.  As noted above, the “Data” section needs to be re-examined.  Project organizers are also adding more menus and descriptions of items.  They want to include more menus that actually describe what each dish includes and do not simply list what a restaurant offered.  These images will undoubtedly provide even greater details about what people ate and how their food reflected social and economic issues of their time.  As it progresses, I can see how the site can be an interesting and valuable tool for historians and anyone intrigued by the intersections of food and culture.

The one persistent thought that ran through my mind as I explored this site was that it raises the following question:  What exactly can (or should be) considered “historical evidence?”  Prior to seeing this site I had never really thought about how menus can serve as historical evidence that can teach us valuable lessons about an earlier time, but the site makes a convincing argument that menus can indeed do so.  When thinking about what kinds of primary sources to use in my research, I typically think about the traditional evidence that historians use:  letters, journals, speeches, music, etc.  What kinds of “different” sources have any of you used in your research?  For public history students, what does the study of public history tell us about what can be considered a legitimate primary source?