Fireside Nation Reflection

The opportunity this class provided for us to build an entire project based on whatever we wanted to learn is probably the most effective thing a class can do for a student. Not only did we learn to use a digital tool, but in the end we walked away with a tangible deliverable that can be used on a CV or resume, which is exactly young professionals like us need.  I wish all classes were like this; a lot of the time I produce papers that are too specific or too contextual to be used as writing samples. With Fireside Nation, I have something that demonstrates a skill that I have that I rarely get to display.

Regarding Fireside, I really appreciate the feedback that I received at the poster session. I only wish that it was a real conference, and we had more time to discourse. And I’m not entirely sure I’m finished with this project.  I’ve set up meetings for next week to discuss the site with the department head, to receive some possible GIS mapping training, and to also get training in finding funding to continue.  Over the course of the semester, I sort of got attached to this project, and I’d like to see it through if it is at all possible.

But there are of course problems with it.  It would of course need a real server, and not my aging PC.  Additionally, the site as it is needs a UX clean up, as it does not function the way I’d like it to.  And the site could not start off the way it is conceptualized right now.  It would have to be a far more localized site, because a national discussion may be a little too ambitious, and the equipment to handle such a thing would be too expensive. That said, with a serious upgrade to the map, so that it could handle multiple layers of data rather than a simple plot point, this project on a localized scale could tell a beautiful story.  The distinction that I tried to relay at the poster session is that this site’s potential lies in its ability to carry out hundreds of interviews at one time; as I’ve mentioned, it does not follow oral history best-practices, but it does have strengths that can be considered a trade-off. If you’re an interviewer trying to tell a story about a particular space, think of the advantages of crowdsourcing your interview!

But all in all, the experience was fantastic.  I learned a great deal about ColdFusion, but I also became much more fluent with JavaScript in the process, something that I did not anticipate but which will pay huge dividends.  While I was doing my research (and yes, programming a website requires a massive amount of research), an entire new world of programming strategies opened up to me. I feel like I’m on track to become a real programmer in the future, and it is a very gratifying feeling, and it is so much fun! The digital really provides new worlds for historians to practice their craft, and particularly for public historians, the possibilities are endless.

Practicum: Argument Wars and 1066

When I signed up for the video game practicum I did not have high expectations because I knew these games would not have the high caliber graphics and game play of an Assassin’s Creed. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining these games were and found myself playing them for far longer than I had anticipated.

The games I will cover are Argument Wars and 1066.  Argument Wars is a game hosted on and the premise is to argue your case in the context of a famous Supreme Court case.  1066 is a Channel4 production that I had a little trouble finding but ended up playing it on; it has a single player and multiplayer mode, and you can choose to play the story mode or do a simple battle simulation.

Argument Wars

The start screen asks you to pick a case to argue.

The game has you choose and name your character, and it starts with an opening cinematic where each side presents their case; in this case Brown v. Board.

A lot of dialogue ensues, in which the judge asks a series of questions and the attorneys respond. Eventually you get to the main goal: making an argument. The first step is to choose how to argue the case based on what constitutional issue is at stake. For this case, it is the fourteenth amendment, that school segregation prevents equal treatment under the law.

You then draw a series of cards which you play in order to support your argument.

If you correctly support your argument, the judge passes ruling points to you.  The Judge has a certain number of points to distribute, and once they are fully distributed whichever side has the most points wins the case.

My favorite part of the game is when the judge asks you to elaborate on your evidence, and a logical premise constructor pops up:

At the bottom of the screen you create the premise by toggling through a sentence constructor. I don’t play a lot of games that ask you to create a logical premise, but I wish I did. This game is not only a great tool to get kids to learn about real history, but also to learn how logic works in arguing cases!

After you successfully argue your case, the game prompts you with the history of the actual case and presents a series of links to interested players who want to learn more.

All in all, a great tool for education.


This game is about the battle of 1066, the Norman conquest of England. As I mentioned it has a single player and multiplayer mode. If you choose the single player mode you can choose to play the story mode or do a simple battle simulation.

I had a lot of difficulty watching the story mode because my computer couldn’t keep up.  I did get the idea though; it has a narrator talking over graphics and provides the story of the invasion of England by both Vikings and Normans. So because I was having difficulty, I will just cover the battle mode.

You can choose which of three battles you want, Fulford, Stamford or Hastings, and each has a different map with different barriers. You can also choose the size of the battle, and of course I chose the biggest battles each time.

Next you choose which side you want to fight with: Norman, English or Viking. The game gives you detailed strengths and weaknesses for each army, and I assume that this is accurately representing the actual armies that fought in the battles. Your given 26 points (if you chose the large battle) to choose the makeup of your army, and you decide based on the strengths of each unit.

You then choose how to line up your units, and begin the battle.

During the battle you decide where to move your armies, and after you execute your commands your units and your enemies units move turn by turn. It takes a couple of turns for you to move into battle position, but this reflects actual battlefield tactics of moving your armies based on the enemy’s position.

I think the real utility in this game is in its story mode because it actually provides you with interpretive elements of history, but during the battles the player gets an idea of battle field tactics which is also useful for educating young people. It gives a fuller sense of what historical battles were like the decisions made during them.


Digital Project Proposal: Streamlining Crowdsourced Oral Histories

Josh Zampetti

There are many crowdsourced oral histories out there, the most recognized being the Story Corps project. As popular as it may be, I think there are other methods that could be used that might provide more content along with a streamlined process.  Mind you, I’m not proposing that these methods are better, but perhaps simply alternative; something worth trying out to play with potential outcomes.

First, it might be nice if there was a way for people to contribute their stories without the need of an interviewer.  As of now, the process requires two participants, the interviewer and the interviewee, and though the interviewer does not need to be an experienced professional, the process does require a willingness to interview that may not always be present.  What if the interviewer was always experienced, but also always available?  A project that only requires entries from interviewees, while the interviewer is provided by the site itself could streamline the process, in that the only needed participants are people who are willing to talk about themselves through a submitted audio file, answering questions also provided by the site, designed by experienced interviewers with training in history.

Second, in this format, it would be possible for interviewed subjects to add on to existing submitted files, creating an entire archive for only themselves.  This may seem unnecessary, until you consider the crowdsourcing of numerous subjects, each representing their own regions and communities, which would allow for multiple layers of data and a wealthy source of interpretive information.

Additionally, providing the subjects the opportunity to create their own tags in a questionnaire or survey, and allowing them to submit multiple audio files with each entry, the data could be neatly placed into a database.  Essentially, we’re talking about a crowdsourced transcription, tagging, and oral history tool, that allows for multiple entries that build on each other.  Not only would the metadata be provided, the audio files would serve as interpretive elements broken into small pieces for easier consumption and categorization.

A proof of concept is already in the works, but the idea behind this project was formulated during discussions of what could be considered a “history-making process” that involves memory, post-memory, and identity construction.  It is not driven by events, but rather individuals and the mechanisms they use for dealing with their social environment.  The goal is to document this process by designing questions, monthly, that utilize psychoanalytical methods in drawing out formative memory and experience regarding identity construction, to understand the role these mechanisms play in the history-making process.

The design currently in the works involves a website that introduces concepts monthly, usually involving concepts that back the mission of the site: memory, post-memory, region, and identity.  Questions driven by psychoanalytical methods are to be unveiled in a form which will be filled out by the participant, along with audio upload options that accompany each segment of the questionnaire.  The form then pushes the input into tags constructed in the database.  The goal is to have a one-stop procedure in which multiple audio files are uploaded accompanied by all the necessary metadata without any work from the researcher. The data can then be used for interpretive uses, either for mapping, or anything else the researcher might choose.

Database Makes Theory

A New Digital Turn on the Horizon

In late July of last year, Facebook shut down its artificial intelligence robots after they appeared to be developing language in which to speak to each other.  One of the robots had uttered: ‘i can i i everything else… you i i i everything else…’[1] bizarrely echoing an excerpt from Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: ‘i i will never do that nobody knows what i know and he i think youd better go…’

Moving past the awkward shift into some existential state mirroring Quentin Compson’s neurotic self-awareness, we come to the more practical matter of this new digital turn.  It is worth discussing since the last digital turn, the one we still seem to be wrapping our heads around, shook up the world of history so profoundly. What changes are in store this time around?

All our talk thus far has been centered on the fact that computers cannot interpret the data, and that it is still up to us to continue to play with it and make conclusions of our own.  With the introduction of artificial intelligence, however, the new charge that ‘the database is the theory’ may evolve further into ‘the database makes the theories.’

Seem too much like science fiction?  Need I remind you that AI itself was once considered science fiction? If AI can diagnose a medical problem, why not a social upheaval, given its light-speed analysis of all primary (once digitized) and secondary source content? AI can now make music and art, forms of expression that were once considered unique to the human condition, and what does this say of the interpretive abilities of artificial intelligence?

The Proposal

The print project I propose is to investigate this matter. AI is already being programmed to recognize objects and events, and before you ask, “how can it be considered AI if it has to be programmed?” consider that children too must be programmed to recognize their environment to some degree. Once recognition is hard-wired the real learning can take place, and at some point, we should address the fact that this will lead to interpretive, actionable reasoning on the part of the computer.  Whether or not this can be carried over into the abstract is a matter of opinion, or perhaps ‘administrator permission.’ Either way, should any of this become a reality, what then does it mean for the discipline?

There is plenty of room to speculate.  What would it even mean if AI could produce interpretive work?  Doesn’t the nature of interpretation mean that it is always up for debate? Perhaps, but suppose AI presents some airtight logistical analysis of human behavior and tendencies, and can think up data based evidence that no human being could even consider formulating. A computer might know how to manipulate the data in ways humans could never dream of, and it is on this point that AI could process new applications for not just history but any field.  It is likely that once the machine learns to learn, it will far surpass human intellect, but what role does emotion play in the interpretive process? Will AI ever be able to acquire that human capacity? And would it even want to?