Final Project and Reflection

Hi, guys so this is the end of the road huh? This has been an absolutely amazing and interesting semester. I have really enjoyed learning how to use technology with you guys though I’m still not as good at as I would like to be lol. This course has been one of the most interesting classes that I have ever taken. Not only did I learn about the variety of different digital resources that are out there for historians but also I began to see the way that digital technology is a form of history is slowly becoming a part of history itself. Who knew that collecting practices for digital history was a problem until this class? There are many different lenses to look at history and digital history allows for a more engaging lens to explore it and encourages people outside of academia to think about history.

This is something I especially thought about when it came to my project. What began as a sort of exploration of history podcasts themselves evolved into an exploration of digital audio media and how podcasters interpret history. While doing my project and taking the course I noticed a theme. Through digital resources, historians are able to tell historical stories in an interesting engaging way that can help connect with the public. This class has also helped me to also rethink what is considered scholarship. As technology advances, blogs, tweets, and other forms of digital resources are becoming a more important part of actual public history work but despite this, the academy does not tend to recognize it as “academic history.” However, that does not mean that we can’t still utilize the internet as a way to bypass the usual academic hurdles so that we can reach a wider audience. I am really encouraged by the variety of ways that history can be practiced and explored online and I think I will start utilizing some of these resources as soon as possible. I hope everybody has a great summer! 

Can Video Games Save the World? Critical Play: Radical Game Design

Saving the world one game at a time

Hey everybody! I hope you all are staying healthy and safe wherever you are! Here is a quick reminder to wash your hands, and instead of going out to see your friends stay at home and play the Sims. After I post this that’s what I’ll be doing for a couple of hours lol, so in the words of the most famous plumber in history Mario, “lets-a go” and talk about games!

Jumping into the material!

Though I am not much of a video game player (the closest I’ve gotten to a video game in my adult life is watching way too much Sword Art Online) I was really excited about this week’s reading, and it did not disappoint. This week my post is going to be about Mary Flanagan’s phenomenal book Critical Play: Radical Game Design, a book that much like Rihanna is a triple threat. It is one part of a historical study about gaming and play, another part methodological study about game creation, and finally a call to action. This book is pretty much the total opposite of all the times when politicians on the news say that video games are destroying society. In Critical Play, Flanagan argues that video games can do more than simply entertain people but can be used as a tool to make the world a little bit better. Honestly, that kind of message was really nice to read, because it is dreary out here.

Flanagan begins her book by discussing the act of play, an act that is most associated with leisure time and entertainment. Flanagan argues that play can be and is used, by both children and adults, as a critical thinking method. There are many different ways to define what play is but I am partial to one of the first definitions Flanagan gives which is from anthropologist (woooo anthropology) Brian Sutton-Smith. To Smith play is “an activity that is fun, voluntary, intrinsically motivated, incorporates free will, offers escape, and is fundamentally exciting.” Despite the argument of the exact definition, most scholars who study play agree that play is a fundamental aspect of human life.

Play?

So, what is “critical play?” And how does it differ from general play? Critical play according to Flanagan is to play or create games that reflect a small aspect of human life. This kind of game tends to be one that usually contains social, cultural, and political themes that encourage the player to think more critically about aspects of human society. Flannagan traces the importance of games throughout history, showcasing how they have represented more than just entertainment since the early days of human history. From the religious connotations of the ancient Egyptian game Senet to the use of paper dolls in the early 20th century as a way to represent domestic ideals, games reflect the society that they are created in.

I am literally so happy that I have an actual reason to put this here

Through games, people work through different aspects of there society and occasionally participate in critical play which encourages others to challenge the status quo. Critical play is accomplished when players and creators do these three things in:
Unplaying- the act of subverting or ignoring the original script of play (like when little girls “kill” their dolls and have a funeral for them)
Redressing- recreating the game to represent the changed script (dressing the dolls up for the funeral)
Rewriting- when game creators (this includes game designers and the people who play the game) revise and rewrite the narratives around the game

Throughout the book, Flanagan uses this system of subversion to discuss the way that artists, players, and activists use games to interrogate social issues. Flanagan gives a myriad of examples of this method at work but I will only mention a couple.

This is fine

One method of critical play is in the small ways that people go against the main goals of the game that they are playing. Such as when gamers who play the Sims disregard the normal rules of the game. The main way to measure success within the Sims is to maintain your sims happiness by giving them nice things (a new house, nice furniture etc). But instead of doing that some players (occasionally me included) do everything they can to torture there sim, this is so prolific that they even have a game extension (as of 2009) that can be used for this sole purpose. This goes against the main goals of the Sim but it also questions the sort of consumerist ideas that are intrinsic within the game.

Another way people can practice critical play is by creating an entirely new game that ignores the standard rules of game creation, a system such as a “no-win game.” Flanagan mentioned many games that activists and artists created to reflect societal issues one of those games was “Darfur is Dying.” In this game players play as refugees living in a refugee camp, the goal of the game is to survive within the camp. The first major challenge of the game is to go out into the desert to fetch water, this task turns out to be very difficult because of raiders emerging throughout the area. The player is supposed to avoid these raiders by hiding, and if the player survives their new task is to help maintain the upkeep of the camp. However, when the player succeeds in making the camp more prosperous the camp is attacked by raiders destroying the player’s progress and forcing them to continue the cycle of repairs. This game is supposed to represent the hardships of the refugee life and the futility that is intrinsic within the system of violence that creates refugees in the first place.

Realizing that the video game industry is filled with racism and sexism

Today the creators of games do not reflect the multiple types of people who play games. Even over 10 years after the books release the people who are the target audience for most video games are straight, cis, white men. However, Flannagan believes that games can still be an invaluable tool in combating major societal issues, she writes that to create major social change you must input certain values into popular culture. Flanagan’s methodology for this is to consciously input Critical play into games and create a gaming environment that encourages critical thinking with a wide range of options that can be used by a diverse gaming community. These two steps sound simple but are a powerful call to action, to encourage game creators to more consciously develop games that can do more than entertain people. There are games where you can buy 5.56 ammo online and have a lot more fun as these games are action and adventure oriented.

I just really liked this gif

Video games play an important role in modern society and create a platform that can be used to encourage activism and highlight social issues without boring people. Critical Play is an interesting and engaging read cross-disciplinary read (anthropological, game design, historical and more!). Because it is chock full of everything you need to know about games, interesting examples and excellent historical analysis you can occasionally get kind of lost in the woods. But in the end, it left me with a pretty simple question, do you think that games have the power to make the world a better place? How can games be used to create a dialogue about more difficult aspects of human history and life? Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay inside!

Love you guys!

Digital forms and definitions and resources oh my!

My attempt at a joke

Hey everybody! I hope you guys are all safe and healthy in your various quarantined spaces. In this post, I will be discussing the three articles for this week’s reading which all deal with various different aspects of digital resources. All three of the articles are rather different not only in subject matter but also in general writing style and purpose but they all contribute to the conversation on defining what certain digital resources are, how certain terminology comes to be, and how a digital resource becomes digital in the first place. So let’s dive into these articles!

Digital Formats: Factors for Sustainability, Functionality, and Quality

In this article Arms and Felischhauer discuss and evaluate various digital content formats that can be possibly used for the Library of Congress’ online collection. This article is very informative and it is filled to the brim with technical words and information that I admit I don’t completely understand, but I’ll do my best to describe.

There are a wide variety of digital formats (more than 150!) that content custodians are able to choose from. To do this they need a basic understanding of what format would be more beneficial for there uses. When analyzing digital formats sometimes there are more favorable elements in different stages of its creation. When choosing formats Arms and Fleiscchhauer write that there are two sets of factors that should be considered; sustainability and quality/functionality factors. They lay out seven sustainability factors in the article that can be used to evaluate digital formats of various categories, I have paraphrased some of the information they give in the article here:  

  1. Disclosure; how present are complete specialization and tools for validating technical integrity within the form and can it be used by those who make digital content?   
  2. Adoption; how much is the format already being used by the creators, or users of information resources?  
  3. Transparency; is the resource open to direct analysis with basic tools?  
  4. Self-documentation; does the digital format contain metadata from its creation and beginning stages?
  5. External dependencies; how much does the format depend on outside hardware and software for use?
  6. Impact of patents; how much will patents affect the use of the digital format by archival institutions?
  7. Technical protection mechanisms; how much will mechanisms such as encryption prevent preservation by a trusted source?[1]

Quality and functionality factors are more flexible than the sustainability factors because they are reliant on what kind of digital content the format is meant to represent. What is required for one digital content category can be fundamentally different from the other, which is why one set of factors cannot be used for every category. This article is very informative, and an excellent guideline for evaluating different digital factors and deciding which are best for a particular institution’s needs.

Jonathan Sterne’s Analog

This article is a lot different from the previous one, instead of focusing on digital resources this article focuses more on the terminology. The article gives a brief linguistic history of the word analog (analogue), and how it relates to the digital. Analog has had many different uses throughout history, but today the word tends to mean the opposite of digital (like the analog clock that kids are beginning to forget how to read). In this article, Sterne tells this brief history by using excerpts from the Oxford English Dictionary which illustrates the evolution of the word into the current definition. This definition is dependent and shaped by the changing ideas of what is considered digital, which is clearly shown by the changing definition throughout time as the digital becomes more prevalent. Sterne ultimately argues that the idea of the word analog as simply “not-digital” is a limiting definition that confuses more than it simplifies. The simple binary that it creates of the digital vs. non-digital limits the complexity of non-digital things and insinuates that all non-digital things are more similar then they are just because they are not digital. As the term analog becomes more entwined with the digital it leads to analog being used in a more generalizing way, as Sterne puts it “the analog expands and blurs to give definition to the digital.[2]” Sterne ends his article with a sort of call to action, to return the specificity of the analog and end the more simplistic use of the word to describe the non-digital. The simple analog vs digital binary diminishes the complexity of the non-digital, and this does not necessarily make it easier to understand the two categories better. More complexity to the definition of analog would allow more understanding when it comes to non-digital things.

Photo by Charles Turnbull, depicts members of the 24th Infantry division including Private 1st class Kenneth Shadrick(right) who was one of the first casualties of the Korean war

TAGOKORE: a biography of an Electronic Record by Jefferson Bailey

This article is about a digital record of the Korean War, called the TAGOKOR file. This file contains information about various US army personnel who were causalities of the Korean war and contains around 109,975 records with about 20 different categories of causality. This article covers the history of the life of this record beginning with its original state and then its move into a digital resource. It was originally the creation of the Adjutant Generals Office, a unit of the army that was meant to maintain personal records and develop data processing systems. These casualties were first recorded on punch cards, but in the 60s it was converted into the magnetic digital tape.

This is a punch card similar to the ones used by TAGOKOR

The TAGOKOR files where acquired by NARA in 1989 who in 1999 had TAGOKOR preservation copied and then in 2012 it was put into the Electronic records archives. The conversion process, however, had some problems in that some of the coding classification was old, or even lost to history. The conversions and various coding books needed meant the TAGOKOR files are dependent on not only digital resources but also codebooks and other older resources to interpret the file. As it gradually moved to the digital sphere, access to TAGOKOR also transformed. Originally it was available as a computer printout but after the NARA acquired it, they made it available in a variety of ways including digitally. When the World Wide Web came to be websites began to emerge with information from the TAGOKOR file, with information coming from the file itself as in the case with Whitey Reese’s website.  The file is now far more accessible and has been used by various websites along with other archival information about the Korean war. The history of the TAGOKOR file from punch cards to the internet is a well-crafted case study that shows the evolution of data collection, preservation, and access throughout the 20th century into the 21st century.

These articles are all on varied subjects and are very different however as I stated before they all have something important in common. All of these articles pertain to important terminology, resources, and evaluation systems that help to define aspects of the digital world. With this thought, I sign off, stay healthy guys and see you soon!

Don’t forget!

[1] Arms, Caroline and Carl Fleiscchhauer. “Digital Formats: Factors for Sustainability, Functionality, and Quality.”

[2] Sterne, Jonathan. “Analog” in Digital Keywords

Digital History Project: “Where is the history?”

Me looking for a historical site I haven’t been to

Being a history lover I am always looking for new historical institutions to visit where ever I am. Whether it is a place where I have visited many times in my life, a place I’ve never been, or the place where I am currently living. But a lot of the time it takes me a while to find interesting smaller institutions that don’t always pop up in a quick google search for museums.

Many historical institutions are in a way hiding in plain sight, either by being overshadowed by larger institutions or being located off the beaten track from where most people look for institutions and things to do. I propose a digital history project that will help rectify this problem and draw attention to these amazing lesser-known institutions. This would be a mapping website that focuses on smaller historical institutions and sites within a city. The main goal of this project is to draw attention to institutions and sites that are not well known to most visitors and locals alike and to reveal a more holistic perspective of local history.

The site will be designed to be a city map much like Philliaplace, with pins showing various local historical sites, and institutions. When people hover their mouse over the pins they are given a one-paragraph history about the site along with a picture of it. When they click on the pin a page will open up that will give a longer overview of the institution, a little bit about its history, and a link to the institution’s website. On the main page visitors to the site will be given a couple of different categories of history that they would like to search for within the area, categories such as African American history, Immigration history, Native American history, etc. This will show the specific sites and institutions dedicated to a more specified history in the area and encourage people to go to these sites that may reveal a different perspective about the city in question. The site will also have a purely digital tour component that will show some historical sites that are no longer physically there, with pictures collected from digital archives visitors can learn more about the way that the city looked in the past and see where neighborhoods have changed throughout time and digitally preserve sites that are long gone. Hopefully, this site would be a place where people can learn more about a new area, and the area that they have lived for a while. The prototype will focus on one or two cities, but the site could expand in the future.  Hopefully, this site can draw more attention to smaller sites, and lesser-known histories.

Me using the force to bring attention/and people to these institutions