Final Digital Project – Historypin & the Silver Spring Historical Society

For my digital project, I worked with the Silver Spring Historical Society to upload content to the website Historypin. The SSHS is dedicated to preserving the history of Silver Spring, Maryland. I was excited for the opportunity to increase its presence on the web. As I found out, Historypin offers innovative ways for the public to engage with history in a digital format. Here is the link and a screen shot of the channel I created:

What I like about Historypin is the level of interactivity and engagement the site offers. The way it works, users can “pin” content to a Google map, mostly photos, but also audio and video clips. Museums, Archives, and historical societies create channels where visitors can view all the content pinned by the organization. Each channel can create collections of their pins and walking tours for the public to use. Any person can take repeat photographs to replicate the pinned historical pictures. I experimented with all of these features in the SSHS channel. Historypin also has a mobile application that allows you to see what is pinned wherever you are in the world. The developers of Historypin are actively promoting the site and continuing its development.

A sample streetview overlaid with a historic photograph - Silver Spring Masonic Temple, Georgia Avenue, constructed 1927

I enjoyed working with a local historical society for this project. The Silver Spring Historical Society was very receptive to my project, and scanned the images that I pinned. The SSHS was excited for the opportunity to provide more of its content online to engage the public. In creating the channel, I had contact with the administrators of Historypin who were very helpful in resolving technical difficulties I encountered. Overall I enjoyed the experience of completing the digital project.

The difficulties I encountered mainly involved the site. Historypin works in conjunction with your Gmail account, so I had to create a separate account for the SSHS (which I discovered after I had started the project). Historypin is continuing to improve the features of its site, so aspects I would have liked to have done were not feasible yet, such as having my repeat photographs show up in the streetview.

Still, I think Historypin offers an exciting model for digital history in the future. I believe that the principles of collaboration and public participation that the site encourages will be the future of the digital humanities. And I very much enjoyed digitally documenting the history of the community where I live.

Link to the project:

Show and Tell: Citizen Archivist Dashboard

The National Archives has just launched an exciting new initiative, the Citizen Archivist Dashboard. The Dashboard is a crowdsourcing tool similar to the NYPL’s What’s on the Menu. The Dashboard provides cool ways for the public to interact with and contribute their knowledge and expertise to building digital information about the records in the Archives. The Dashboard consists of various activities that are hosted on external sites, like Flickr and Wikipedia. Some of these activities include:

Tagging: In this feature, you take part in a tagging “mission,” to add tags to items in the Archives online database to help make it more searchable and accessible. The site does require you to create your own log-in. The missions are pretty interesting – they include things like tagging World War II posters, Lewis Hine photographs, and records from the Titanic. The photo below, from a 1973 conference on the electric car, is from a tagging mission on the EPA’s Documerica photo series.

Transcription: The Dashboard has a transcription pilot program to crowdsource the transcription of mostly handwritten documents that would be hard to decipher when viewing on the internet. The interface makes it very easy to use, and no log-in is required. You see the document on the screen and type. The documents are sorted into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Here is an example transcription page for Truman’s diary from July 17, 1945. You see the original document and type the transcription in the box below:

The Archives relies on the public to review and correct the transcriptions. The transcription tool is still in its early phase. A problem I discovered is that it seems unclear whether or not a document has been transcribed. Some documents say they are completed when they are not, and vice versa. Also, it appears at this time nearly all documents have been completed. And the transcriptions are not connected to the documents in the online catalogue – so when you search on the document you wouldn’t know that a transcription exists. Still, this is an excellent tool which hopefully will be improved, with more documents added to be transcribed.

Other Features: It seems the tagging and transcription tools are the most accessible parts of the Dashboard. But other features include tools to help the public contribute to the Archives’ wiki, and upload photos to the Flickr page. The Dashboard also has information about contests to enter and upcoming events involving social media. There is also a page inviting the public to index the 1940 census (which was just released a few weeks ago and is worthy of its own post!)

Altogether, the Citizen Archivist Dashboard offers the public different ways to help contribute to building the online information available at the National Archives, and is definitely worth checking out.

Google Ngram

Google Books has currently digitized 15 million books (and counting), or 12 percent of all books that have been published in history. While impossible to read this vast amount of literature, the tool Google Ngram allows any user with the click of a button to search linguistic trends spanning centuries.

Created by a team of researchers centered at Harvard, Google Ngram uses 5,195,769 books (roughly 4 percent of all that have been published) to conduct quantitative analysis of their contents, referring to this as “culturomics.” The concept and interface of Google Ngram is easy to use.

Below is a search for the word “history” in American English. Ngram allows you to switch between different languages like Russian, Spanish, or Chinese. Ngram also allows for comparisons between American and British English, and regular English and English fiction, which can make for fascinating results. Ngram contains the option “English One Million” which narrows your search to 6000 books per year from 1500 to 2008 for a more focused search. The user has the option of selecting from which years to search. Ngram gives you the option of “smoothing” the yearly results – which streamlines your results by averaging the occurrences of your search in the years immediately before and after each date on the results graph. I found the default smoothing of three to be effective. Perhaps someone with a better grasp of statistics could better explain this to the class?

It seems there’s more interest in “history” in the late 1990s than in the past 200 years!

Ngram also gives the user the opportunity to download the datasets on which it is built. For each language, the datasets for each “gram,” 1-5 terms long may be manipulated for further experiments. Although I had some difficulty doing this, it seems admirable that the creators of Ngram provide this to the public. Currently, the datasets available are from July 15, 2009, when Ngram was first created.

Ngram opens fascinating possibilities of research to historians. As mentioned in the Michel, et al. article, Ngram gives the opportunity to track the usage and evolution of words through printed history, and even government censorship, as in Nazi Germany. Below is another Ngram I ran comparing the use of the terms “USSR,” “Cold War,” and “Nuclear” in American English. It is interesting to see that by 2000, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the term Cold War has surpassed the other two.

After having experimented with this tool, what are your impressions? Are there shortcomings to how Ngram can be of use to historians? Ngram does acknowledge that information before the 1700s can be skewed because few books were published during this time. How do you envision using a tool like Ngram in your projects in the future?

Digital Project Proposal

I live in the community of Silver Spring, Maryland. It is a community that has a unique history, from its founding as an estate of the Blair family in the 1820s, growing as part of the explosion of suburban development in the early to mid twentieth century, to more recently experiencing the demographic and economic changes that are becoming more common in an increasingly diversifying United States. While Silver Spring has a local historical society (Silver Spring Historical Society), it has yet to present much of its collection in a digital format. For my digital project, I would like to create a platform for presenting some of Silver Spring’s history online.

I am interested in presenting the history of Silver Spring in a geographic format such as a virtual tour of Silver Spring. I would strive to make my project as interactive as possible; I like the approach of allowing the public to manipulate the digital content. I am interested in potentially using two tools. I think Viewshare would be suitable to creating a collection of what will likely be mostly photographs and placing them on a map. I like how Viewshare has the capability of integrating a variety of historical materials into a collection.  I am also interested in using the site Historypin. I like how this website uses the Google Street Views to overlay historical photographs with what is currently there. Also, Historypin has a mobile app component which I believe would help increase the visibility and dissemination of the project. While creating a virtual tour of a community has been done before, I think the history of Silver Spring could offer unique opportunities. I envision including this project in my U.S. History high school class I teach when we study suburbanization as a way of making our local history relevant.  

I hope my project could be publicized through the historical society if up to standard. Hopefully if the public is aware, more people could contribute any historical materials they may possess to the site or collection so it could continue to grow. I would like the audience for the project to be as broad as possible, from local historians in the Washington D.C. area to potentially tourists who visit our region. I would evaluate the project from the feedback I receive from users and the level of interest it produces. Ultimately, I feel getting historical material online is always positive, and I hope that presenting the local history of Silver Spring, Maryland digitally will have broad appeal.

NEH & The NYPL – Creating “What’s on the Menu?”

The financial assistance to support the proliferation of digital media has been aided through grants from agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In its Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants guidelines, the NEH provides specific details of how a proposed grant should be written. The NEH provides Level I grants of up to $25,000 for digital media projects that are in development stages, and Level II grants between $25,000-$50,000 for more advanced projects to be immediately launched. The grant application guidelines provide specifics for what each application should comprise. In the Narrative Section IV, institutions applying need to inform the NEH how their project will enhance the humanities through innovation, place their project in the environment of existing programs with similar missions, give historical background to their project, a detailed work plan, staffing requirements, and how the final product will be disseminated to the public.  The New York Public Library’s “What’s on the Menu?” crowdsourcing tool is an example of a successful grant application to the NEH. The NEH provides on its website the narrative portion of the NYPL application to give other institutions a sense of what a successful application contains.

The NYPL’s application follows the guidelines of the NEH as written. The Enhancing the Humanities Through Innovation section highlights the opportunities for cultural history contained in ephemera like a menu. This section explains the difficulty in transcribing a document as unique as a menu and why crowdsourcing it could make it an achievable task. This section also hints at the potential integration of “What’s on the Menu?” with the Library’s “NYC Historical GIS,” a crowdsourcing project using the Library’s collection of maps. In conjunction, these two projects “suggest a radical evolution of the very idea of a public library: a library that is not only used, but built by the public.” The data produced through crowdsourcing has exciting potential for revising the history of New York City through its cuisine. The application emphasizes that the data created by the public would not exist for its own sake, but would be able to be manipulated and used for a wide variety of purposes.

The next section of the application, Environmental Scan, surveys similar crowdsourcing projects across the web. The application explains the advances “What’s on the Menu?” would make, extending crowdsourcing to a new type of document, integrating the data produced into the library infrastructure, and using the appeal of food as a means of tapping into public interest. This section highlights already successful examples of crowdsourcing such as the Jeremy Bentham Transcription Initiative. The History and Duration section explains the origins of the menu collection at the NYPL, dating from 1900, to recent actions taken to digitize and make accessible the collection.

The remaining sections of the application’s Narrative give more concrete details of the project. The Work Plan explains how the NEH funds will be used in developing the website. The Staff section provides the key team members and their roles in the project. And the Final Product and Dissemination section gives a narrative overview of what the beta version of the website will do, and how “What’s on the Menu?” will be publicized. In sum, the NYPL’s application closely follows the guidelines set by the NEH. I feel this is a successful example of a cultural institution articulating its vision for a digital media project to further disseminate and engage the public with its holdings.

Now that we have been exposed to the final “What’s on the Menu?” website as a class practicum, seeing the guidelines and application of the NYPL for funding from the NEH, and from reading Brown on the methodology of communicating website design, how do you now evaluate this website? Do you feel the NYPL achieves the vision it set forth in its application? Did they successfully follow the guidelines given by the NEH? Does it apply the website design principles of Brown and deliver a user-friendly experience? Let me know what you think.