Print Proposal: YouTube History Channels

Two of the most popular history YouTube Channels are Crash Course and Ask a Slave. Several history classes have recommended these videos as to students as a way to get them excited about history. As a result, these channels have gained national attention for the entertaining way they make students think about history. These videos also make viewers question popular misconceptions about history like George Washington being a “good slave mater”. However, they both have a unique way in which they present their information. The question that lingers is which method is the most effective in educating students about history.

CashCourse takes a more traditional approach to teaching history by doing ten to fifteen minute long lectures. The host of these lectures is literary author John Green who also employs a staff of historians and researchers for the videos. These videos deal with a wide range of topics like Slavery and Women’s Suffrage. The appeal of these educational videos comes from the host as he engages viewers through humor and animated segments. Other channels have tried to replicate the style of the channel with various degrees of success. CashCourse is extremely popular, but it is not the only YouTube Channel that has managed to explore complex issues. 

 Ask a Slave was a YouTube channel that looked at the experiences of a woman who did living interpretation at a well-known historic. The actress took on the role of an enslaved person and had several interesting interactions with visitors. The “enslaved” woman is the host of the show and answers questions the actress had to deal with in real life. The questions highlight the lack of knowledge about the system of slavery during the colonial era. This style relies on the ignorance of others to encourage viewers to further their understanding of the founding fathers and slavery. Other interpreters make appearances in the web series to have a wide range of perspectives. 

These YouTube Channels have gained national media attention, but they both do not have the same educational value. They are both useful in highlighting different aspects of history, but which type of video can be a resource for students? Another question that needs to be addressed is what trained historians are saying about the content. More importantly, what do history teachers say about their students using as a study tool? It would be interesting to do a more in-depth analysis of the negative and positive effects of these videos.

Macroanalysis

Instead of doing a close reading of over five hundred books dealing with the immigrant experience in the 19th-century to learn about specific themes, you can use a database to do it for you. Sounds like a time-saver, right? Yet this methodology is not widely used by historians in the field, but why? These are some of the questions that Matthew Jockers attempts to answer in his book Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History

The practice of macroanalysis is when a scholar does a “distant reading” of a large number of books at the same time through a database like Google Ngram. The example that Jockers gives in his book is when he researched Irish American literature in the western United States. He took a set of about eight hundred books and was able to make a searchable bibliography. Jocker was able to chronicle Irish American fiction by reign, gender, and setting within his database. The Western Institute of Irish Studies used his database for some years as a research tool for others to use. This method has revolutionized the way researchers can attain information and how to present it. 

Macroanalysis allows researchers to chart different things from a text. For example, the database can determine how many times the word “and” or “for” comes up in a sample of documents. Knowing this information is essential for those trying to analyze a text to figure out the similarities between writers. These databases can also create word clouds that can highlight what topics are more prevalent with a sample of books. Jocker praises the benefits of this methodology but warns researchers about the drawbacks. 

One of the main concerns that come up is the fact that this methodology is not always accurate. The database can confuse categories together because they can seem similar to each other. As a result, informational graphs and tables can be misleading to scholars that wish to expand on the work. Along with this, a database has a hard time picking up on subtle phrasing that a human could. 

Another drawback is copyright laws that prevent researchers from accessing literature. Jockers notes that when talking to a group of students, he “watched this same group move from excitement to despair” (175). This feeling came as a result of the students not being able to go passed copyright laws that force them to pay to use the material. Historians also have to face similar barriers when researching things like government documents that are under red tape. These drawbacks then beg the question, should this method be used?

The macroanalysis method is not a replacement for close reading analysis. A computer can miss many things that a person can pick up on like a double meaning of a passage. However, this is not to say that this methodology should not be used at all. On the contrary, this technique should serve as a research aid for those trying to dig through a large number of books. Perhaps one day we can have a database sophisticated enough to compute the most accurate information, but until then, this is another tool in our research kit. 

The World of Wordle.

Diana’s favorite things as a word cloud.

Word clouds are useful graphics that display visitor responses to a museum and or activity. Many museums post their beautiful word clouds on their social media accounts in order to emphasize how much they engage with visitors. However, this can be very difficult to create for those that are technologically inept like me. Fortunately, there are word cloud generators online that make the process easy. Wordle is a helpful word cloud generator with a range of different options for users. One of the best things about Wordle is that getting started is quite easy. 

Users can go to Wordle.net to use the online version of the program or download it to their computer. Downloading the program is recommended for the best possible experience as even the website states that their online version is not accessible to everyone. The creators of Wordle stress that the download version is equally as good as the online version. One key thing to note is that the website alerts users that security warnings will pop-up when trying to install it. These security warnings can be frighting for users. Still, this reviewer took the plunge for the sake of being fully informed before reporting on this software. Thankfully, the download did not include any viruses.

Super scary security warning.

Once installed, the program is nothing flashy but is extremely easy to use. The first step is to either type or paste the list of words you want to use in your word cloud. Once the words are in the text box, the next step will be to press the “Go” button located in the lower right-hand corner.

The program will automatically give the user a random pattern and color for the word cloud, but this can be customized. Wordle‘s toolbar allows users to choose what colors, orientation, and font they want. The background can also be changed to different colors, which adds more possibilities.

Wordle is a simple program that can help users create pretty word clouds, but it is not without its flaws. One of the things the users will find most annoying is that they can not change the layout manually. Unfortunately, it is not possible to change the angle of one word without changing the entire layout. Along with this, it is not possible to pick what color a word can be. The only option that users have is to keep hitting the “re-color” button until the desired color appears on a specific word.

Whether Wordle is a good word cloud generator for you depends on the type of person you are. It is because of these minor shortcomings that it would not be recommended for those that enjoy having full creative control of their word cloud. If you are a person that does not mind having a limited say in the design process for the sake of saving time, then Wordle is a solid choice.


Nonetheless, Wordle is very straightforward to navigate for those that cannot create a word cloud for themselves on programs like photoshop. I personally enjoyed the experience I had and will use the program in the future.

Diana, yes just like Wonder Woman.

Hello everyone! My name is Diana Chicas, and I am a part-time Public History student. I was born and raised in D.C., so the museums in the area inspired me to work in the field.

I went to undergrad here in D.C. and got my Bachelor’s degree in History from Trinity Washington University. I was lucky enough to have so many amazing professors that pushed me to pursue my goals. One of my professors helped me get an education department internship at the National Archives. I will always be thankful for the experience and knowledge I gained from that internship.

After graduating from Trinity, I decided to look for a part-time job like any other debt-ridden millennial. I was lucky enough to start working as a Museum Program Associate at President Lincoln’s Cottage a couple of months before graduating. My work there consists of leading tours and educational groups about the Civil War.