Project Draft: Omeka and the Historical Society of the DC Circuit Court

For the past several weeks I have been working with my public history class to create an online catalog and exhibit for the Historical Society of the District of Columbia Circuit Court. While we still have a long way to go before completing the project, we have made substantial progress on the site and finally have a draft up and running at!

So far the most substantial progress made on the project has been the completion of the online catalog of the historical society’s collection of judicial portraits. If you click on the archives tab you can see an entry for each portrait that includes information about the judge and the painting. While two of my other group members also helped with the catalog, I entered in the information for the judges between Joyce Hen Greene and Joseph C. McGarraghy (these judges are located on pages 6-8 in the archives section).

Now that we have completed the majority of the work on the catalog portion of the site, my group has shifted focus to creating an exhibit and lesson plans. While the majority of the work for these projects has not yet been included in Omeka, we have made substantial progress on writing the exhibit script and gathering information to create K-12 lesson plans. We plan to finish both of these projects by March 30th so that we will have time to make final edits to the site before the final drafts of our project are due.

In addition to the exhibit and lesson plans, we are also considering including a site survey to receive feedback from visitors. This would allow the historical society to track the progress on the site and learn of any problems that visitors experience while using the page. Can you think of anything else that we should include on the site? Are we missing anything that you think would really add to the web page? Please leave feedback here!

Digital Media in Museums: Print Project Proposal

For my print project, I am interested in analyzing how different types of museums use digital media to interact with varying audiences. For example, how do the web sites of larger museums with substantial budgets, compare to the sites of small house museums? In order to further examine this question, I would like to compare and contrast the use of digital media in three museums. While I do my research, I am interested in examining the information each web site contains and see how they use online exhibits, digitized collections, or other forms of interactive media on their site. I am particularly interested in examining the web sites of the National Museum of American History, The Sewall Belmont House, and the Historical Society of Washington DC.  I have chosen these three sites because of their varying sizes and type of museum. By analyzing digital media in a large-scale federal museum, a smaller house museum, and a regional historical society, I hope to gain a better understanding of how museums overall currently use digital media.

Throughout my project, I plan on using the three museum sites as my primary source material. The National Museum of American History site makes use of digital media by offering features such as digitized collections, online exhibits, and a blog. The smaller Sewall Belmont House has a more limited site that predominately focuses on the museum’s events and the history of the National Woman’s Party. Lastly, the Historical Society of Washington DC offers online exhibits and some digitized collections but still maintains a more modest site than that of the American History museum. Analyzing these three sources will allow me to examine how differences in factors such as funding, size, and scope of the institution help to determine how the museum uses digital media to connect to their public audience. In addition to these sources, I will also examine the web sites of other large museums, small house museums, and historical societies, to see if the institutions I am examining have sites comparable to other museums within their field.

During the research process, I also plan to examine articles and books regarding digital media and public history. I plan to first use David Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, as a starting point for a grounding in the history of digital media. I am also interested in revisiting the online discussion article, “The Promise of Digital History,” posted by the Journal of American History to examine how leading historians and public historians view the revolutionizing force of digital media in their own professions. For sources that regard public history more broadly, I hope to examine some of the relevant public history literature to analyze how they discuss digital media and museums. I am interested in using Interpretive Planning: The 5-M Model for Successful Planning Projects, by Lisa Brochu to analyze how these museums use online tools to expand their institutions interpretive efforts and how digital media as a whole has changed these museum’s strategic plans and goals. I would also like to examine Freedman Tilden’s seminal work, Interpreting Our Heritage, to see if any of his insight into interpretation can still apply to museum’s digital interpretations of history. While this set of sources serve as only a preliminary bibliography, throughout my research I plan to consult a wide array of sources regarding digital media, public history, and museum studies, to help me better analyze each of my web sites and to help me reach a better understanding of influence of digital media in the museum profession as a whole.

Voyeur: A Text Analysis Tool

Voyeur is a free online text analysis tool that is being constructed as part of the project. On their site, creators Stefan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell define as a way to “think through some foundations of contemporary text analysis, including issues related to the electronic texts used, the tools and methodologies available, and the various forms that can take the expression of results from text analysis.”

Voyeur works well with the overall mission of the project because it allows users to explore the potential use of text analysis in a free and somewhat user- friendly space. In order to use the program, users simply enter or upload a text into the white box on the main page and then click the reveal button. Once the text has been “revealed” users can learn useful information such as how many times a word has been used, the distribution of the use of that word, the vocabulary density of a document, and the number of distinctive words used. Furthermore, when you click the small arrow at the bottom left of the screen; it will also show you word trends and your keywords in context. One of the more useful components of Voyeur is that it allows researchers to analyze both a corpus of documents or individual sources.

In order to demonstrate the full usefulness of the program, the site contains a helpful article “Now Analyze That” that demonstrates how researchers used Voyeur to analyze speeches made on race by Barack Obama and Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. They used the program to identify each speaker’s political priorities and overall views of race relations. Examples such as this help researchers new to text analysis learn how to effectively use this research tool.

Because the program quickly counts how many times a word is used within a given text, I found Voyeur to have the most potential for historians interested in using quantitative analysis to study rhetoric in texts. For example, as a historian interested in gender, I could use Voyeur to scan a primary source and see how many times and where gendered language appears in a text. I could then use this information to see how gendered language is used in that particular text to create concepts of masculinity and femininity. While historians of gender have long sorted through sources for evidence of gendered language, Voyeur can now allow us to do it in a much quicker and more efficient way. Furthermore, Voyeur’s ability to search multiple documents at a time provides historians with a convenient tool for analyzing specific themes within a group of documents.

While Voyeur is still under construction, I found the site to have much potential for researchers. Although I did have some trouble navigating all the tools of the program at first, the site as whole offered a plentiful (sometimes overwhelming) amount of tutorials and articles that help novices to text analysis find their way. Furthermore, while going through this site, I particularly learned how digital media sites such as this one, can both change how historians look at sources and expose scholars to new forms of research.

If you use text analysis in your research do you find this program helpful? How do programs such as this change the way the historian researches? How can Voyeur be used to help us find new themes within documents?

The Good and Bad of Digital Media

How can historians effectively use the Internet to enhance both their research and how they present that research to a wider audience? Daniel J. Cohen’s and Roy Rosenzweig’s, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web attempts to answer this question by examining the potential possibilities and pitfalls digital media presents to historians. Within their introduction, Cohen and Rosenzweig define the seven major positive aspects of digital media as:

Capacity: Digital media gives historians the ability to exponentially expand storage space for object or archival research. This expanded space also allows archives and museums share collections not on display in their institutions with the public.

Accessibility: By using formats such as online exhibits, web sites, and digitized archives historians can reach larger academic or non-academic audiences than ever before.

Flexibility: Digital media has allowed historians to move beyond the use of text sources to include other forms of media such as sound and moving images.

Diversity: The openness of the web has given beginning, amateur, or hobby historians that may not be able to publish in scholarly journals an outlet to present their work to a broader audience.

Manipulability: The use of search engines lets historians search across broad swaths of sources in a short period of time, this makes the research process much quicker than only using print sources and microfilm.

Interactivity: By creating online sources, historians can directly and conveniently interact with a larger audience.

Hypertextuality: The broad scope of the web provides an expanded ability to move from narrative to narrative quickly.

These seven aspects of digital media remain particularly useful for historians because they expand our research options, broaden our audiences, and give us the opportunity to engage in direct conversation with other academics and the general public. In contrast to these positive aspects of digital media, the authors also warn historians of the more negative aspects of digital history, including:

Quality: Because of the openness of the web anyone can publish low quality or historically inaccurate work.

Durability: As technology rapidly changes, archivists struggle to keep track of and preserve born digital material.

Readability: Online scholarship can reduce the readability of articles by overloading readers with images and sound clips in addition to an already dense argument.

Passivity: Many of the more interactive components in digital history have trouble using the computer to detect “gray” areas.

Inaccessibility: Many scholarly databases only allow access to institutions able to pay the subscription fees. Also, there is a substantial “digital divide” between those who can and cannot access the Internet.

After Cohen and Rosenzweig detail some of the pros and cons of digital media within their introduction, they go on to give a history of the field that uses several links to web pages to illustrate advances made in historically relevant sites. This first chapter not only provides useful information on the history of digital media, but also provides more specific examples of the pros and cons discussed in the introduction.

Throughout the reading, I thought the authors most effectively demonstrated the positive side of digital media by noting the ability to increase public accessibility to history through the use of the Internet. By illustrating how online archives, exhibits, and articles, can provide both historians and the general public with access to historical materials that otherwise may have been unavailable to them, Cohen and Rosenzweig make a very persuasive argument encouraging the use of digital media. In regards to the darker side of digital media, the authors best argue that as corporations become more involved in history on the web, the accessibility praised above becomes limited. This seemed particularly relevant in regards to databases such as JSTOR or Project Muse that offer incredibly useful services, but only to those institutions that can afford to pay the hefty subscription fees. By illustrating both the pros and cons of digital media, and by providing a background of the digital history field, Cohen and Rosenzweig’s work helps technologically inept historians ground themselves in the basics of digital media.

To build on this week’s reading, I have included below three links that illustrate ways in which historians, archives, and museums, have used digital media to reach a broader audience. The first link to the Valley of the Shadow Project discussed in the reading illustrates how historians can use the web to bring their research to the general public. The next link to the National Archives Digital Vaults demonstrates how online programs can help archives reach K-12 teachers. Lastly, the National Museum of American History’s site on their collections illustrates how museums can use the Internet to show the general public larger parts of their collection unable to be displayed in the museum. Happy browsing, and please share a few of your own favorite history sites as well!

Valley of the Shadow Project

National Archives Digital Vaults

National Museum of American History

– Kelsey Fritz