Print Project Proposal: Speeches of World War II

Over the past few weeks, this course has covered many different tools that can be used to study and practice digital history. The most compelling, in my opinion, often included word maps, like Wordle or Voyant. Word maps, like those created by the two platforms just mentioned, can allow scholars to examine well-studied texts with fresh eyes. Analyzing which words appear more frequently can help determine what the true main ideas of speeches were. Looking back on texts with a twenty-first century viewpoint changes their meanings as well, but with context it is possible to get closer to an understanding of what the speech meant at its performance. It is impossible to detach oneself completely from the time period that is currently going on, but maybe by viewing speeches primarily through the common words, some manner of detaching from the current viewpoint can be achieved. 

Historically, there have been many great speeches, but for the sake of this project, World War II stuck out in my memory for broadcasting some of those speeches. Not just because of FDR’s Fireside Chats, or the maybe-never-heard-by-the-public Churchill “We Shall Fight Them On the Beaches,” but also because of the memory that exists around those speeches today. Films like The Darkest Hour make it appear that this speech was broadcast across the nation (even when historians doubt the truth behind this claim), but does that fact take away the power those words still hold? Other historians have dissertated on whether FDR’s chats were as intimate as they were made to seem through analyzing the text itself. Again, whether they were truly as intimate as they claimed can be examined through the text itself—since it’s much harder to replicate sitting by a radio in a time of uncertainty in the country. What is more interesting to me, is just how similar were the messages present in these speeches? Churchill and FDR were both facing similar threats, and oratory was a common way to calm the public’s fears about war– so just how similar were their actual techniques at the same time periods?

For a written paper project, I propose to use Voyant Tools on specific Fireside Chats and speeches given by Churchill. The speeches that will be analyzed must come from at least the same month and year as one another, to get as close as possible to the timeline of World War II and the British and American efforts. Beyond this, other scholars who have studied these speeches in depth will be brought in to test their claims against some of the analysis that Voyant helps with. For example, were the Fireside Chats as “intimate” a look at FDR’s life as they claimed to be at the time? Primarily though, this project seeks to answer the question: What similar messages made it into the speeches, and what could that say about the two leaders themselves? 

WordPress: A Tool to Help Create Your Web Presence

With most of this week’s readings focused on implementing digital history projects, it makes sense that WordPress is one of the practicums. This website is where our course blog is hosted, but also can be used for many other projects. With WordPress you can create a website, an online portfolio,  a blog, and even an online store.

To start working with this I decided to create a site using their platform to see how difficult or easy it would be. The first interesting thing I noticed, is that while they prefer you buy a domain that they host, there is still a free option and it’s not terribly buried in the words on the page.  From there, the screens take you through how to post on your website. To spare the details, it was pretty easy to understand and make a homepage in about ten minutes or so—depending on how in depth you wanted your webpage to be.

More than just creating a webpage to use at will, WordPress also has templates that you can use to change up your webpage and customize it without worrying about coding. There are many themes to choose from for free, and if you pay there are even more available to you.

But, for those intrigued, you can also work from a coding editor on your own page if you so wish.

Anyway, back to WordPress for those of us who cannot code. It’s very easy to create a nice looking page/blog/portfolio and you can do it for free, which is arguably the best part about anything these days.

Working within WordPress a little more for this week especially and regularly for class everyday I can see many benefits for the Digital Humanities field. For non-profits or scholars who have a small budget or a non-existent budget, this provides an option for them to get their work out there. Especially relating to the discussion in class last week about the acceptability of digital work for scholars, WordPress could be a part of a solution to that. Scholars could create a website to showcase their work both in academia and the digital realm. While this does not answer the question of how to encourage the broader community to accept that digital work is becoming more and more relevant, it may make it more accessible. And accessibility is often the start of any solution to the scholarly community, in my experience.

For small institutions or non-profits that are either just getting started, or even larger ones that are trying to switch things up and reach a different demographic than they traditionally have this is a great option. While I was not willing to pay money for a class assignment, there are paid features that allow you to do even more with the site. While there is a slight paywall with these options, for personal use $4/month is not too steep of a price. Other options have a higher cost associated with them, but if an institution or individual had the budget for it—it’s not a bad price to pay to have a web presence in today’s world.

To end this post, I’m impressed with WordPress after looking into the many things you can accomplish using just their free service. I think the availability of resources like this to the Digital Humanities community should not be undervalued and could help many different organizations, if they’re willing to explore a little of what WordPress has to offer.

Crowdsourcing: Useful or Not?

The first two readings for this week’s class focus on crowdsourcing, both the myths that surround its usefulness and an analysis of a project that successfully utilized crowdsourcing. D.C. Brabham uses critical discourse analysis to examine 101 articles that the terms “crowdsourcing” and “amateur” are used in, to wrestle with many of the myths that tie those two terms together. Tim Causer and Valerie Wallace breakdown the results and structure of a crowdsourcing project, Transcribe Bentham, to examine its successes and highlight areas that need improvement. These two readings work together to call attention to popular myths about crowdsourcing’s usefulness and why the myths can be detrimental to future work.

Brabham found that the popular opinion of crowdsourcing does more harm than good to the often valuable work that comes out of crowdsourced projects. By engaging with the various definitions surrounding terms such as “amateur” and “hobbyist,” Brabham is able to unpack many of the biases that underlie popular opinions. For example, he discusses that amateurs are often positioned between professionals and the public in a field while hobbyists are viewed as only having casual interest in their subject. These two positions are viewed as separate, but will often co-exist within the same crowd-sourcing and be beneficial to the project overall. Some professionals who have a vested interest do not have enough free time to give more than a casual interest into a project, while some amateurs have significantly more time and are just entering the field.

 While he does argue that crowdsourcing does conform to many of the actual definitions, he explains that this should not detract from its value. While some who work on crowdsourced projects may not be serious about the subject matter, they are freed from the rigidity that may accompany professional work on a project. By inviting the public and amateurs to have a voice, it can move the field and project forward overall. This argument read very similarly to other popular arguments I have seen about history as a field and its relation to public history as a field.

Causer and Wallace unpack all the work that went into the project to create a new transcription of the works of philosopher Jeremy Bentham (the man behind the idea for the panopticon prison). The project was undertaken in at the University College London, and took place over a six month period between 2010 and 2011. The results of their project determined that the many volunteers who transcribed Bentham did an astonishing amount of good transcription work. What made this project unique was the complexity present in Bentham’s writing, as most transcription projects include texts that are straightforward instead of convoluted. This supports Brabham’s argument that crowdsourcing is not only for simple projects, but can be used for more complicated ideas. 

The two readings complemented one another, because they both appear to champion crowdsourcing as a method to create new work. Both also mentioned pitfalls or ways to improve the work in the future. Brabham focused on the issues with demeaning crowdsourcing and finding a way for scholarly work to be properly credited rather than taken for granted. This concern is valid, and it would be interesting to see how it could be resolved. Causer and Wallace provided a blueprint for other crowdsourcing projects to work from, including where their timeline constrained the success of the project and lack of media attention at the beginning also stunted the project’s growth. It’s important to recognize the cons to crowdsourcing, but overall these readings left me feeling like it should be used by more reputable organizations like the University College London as a way to help deter the negative opinions that surround its credibility.

Hi, I’m Jess!

I am yet another first year Public History MA student at AU. I am originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I grew up thinking that 20 feet of snow between Halloween and May was normal.

Most recently, I have called the Twin Cities of Minnesota home. I graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 2018 with a BA. I majored in History, with a focus on women’s/gender history in the early twentieth century and minored in Theater. My undergraduate thesis was titled “Armed Flapper Moonshiners and Crusading Women” thanks to a clever headline dating to 1928. I focused on different groups of women and their public personas around the time of Prohibition in Minnesota– and if you want to hear more, just ask! My current focus is women during the early twentieth century in the United States.

Most of my professional work has been at county historical societies in Minnesota. I started out giving tours and researching a log cabin built in 1866 with my first internship in undergrad, and moved onto researching local history surrounding World War I and giving tours of the Sibley Historic Site for the last summer before graduation. The most interesting thing I did while working as an intern was definitely building a model aboveground trench with my father for a World War I exhibit.

The trench assembled at the Mall of America last Memorial Day Weekend- we were able to travel with most of the exhibit and give it even more exposure that weekend.

Most recently, I was the Site Supervisor at the Sibley Historic Site and this hammered home the point that I want to work in the public history field for me. I spent countless hours planning events and researching an exhibit that I put together last summer about the women of the site. I have always enjoyed researching, but my experiences at historical societies have also showed me that I enjoy interacting with people and helping them connect with the history that surrounds them everyday. I am excited to be taking this class and look forward to learning how digital history methods can help museums and other historical organizations teach the public about local history, and connect the public to their history.