Introducing: Austin Bailey

Hi everyone!

My name is Austin Bailey and I am a second year MA student in the public history program here at American University. I am originally from southern Ohio, however to help people understand what that means I usually just say I am from Kentucky and West Virginia as well. I have much more in common with someone from Lexington than someone from Cleveland. I completed my undergrad at Marshall University in Huntington West Virginia with a BA in history and a minor in anthropology. I finished my degree in May and by June 1st I was packed up and moving to D.C!

For this class, I hope to better understand how to use technology to connect with the public outside of traditional methods. Full transparency, when it comes to museum work, nothing can replicate the feeling of walking into a building and knowing you are sharing a space with authentic artifacts and actual pieces of the past. But I hope to get a greater appreciation for what the digital world can do to help bridge the gap between those who can enter the space and those who can only visit virtually.

Outside of my professional bubble I do try and be social, I play dungeon and dragons with members of my cohort when we can all find the time. I also enjoy snowboarding when we aren’t in the midst of the hottest winter I can remember and I have become a local D.C tour guide when friends and family come to visit. I am looking forward to getting to know all the new faces in this class and if you have any questions I am an open book!

I insist on using a film camera when friends come to visit.

Practicum Wikipedia Talk Pages

Wikipedia, a bastion of support to struggling freshman everywhere, but Wikipedia has much more to offer than proving a friend wrong regarding an obscure fact, or writing the worlds most cookie cutter report on some vague founding father. Talk pages offer a fascinating view into how Wikipedia both keeps articles accurate, who is making the edits to these articles, and how articles are prioritized.

To locate the talk page all you have to do is click the link on the top left of the page, highlighted in the example below. For my example I have chosen everyone’s favorite crime solving dog, Scooby-Doo.

Looking at the article we can see that it is rated as a B-Class article that ranged from mid to high importance for Wikipedia.

You can see what all that entails below. 

Jumping from Scooby-Doo to Saturday Morning cartoons we can see that this is defined as a “start class” article. Meaning “An article that is developing but still quite incomplete. It may or may not cite adequate reliable sources.” What this is stating is that the article provides as a way to learn more about the topic, but is not a complete source for the history of Saturday Morning cartoons and mainly works as a good starting point.

Finally we can also look at who has edited the article previously using talk pages. Looking at the producer of my personal favorite Scooby-Doo series A Pup Named a Scooby-Doo we can see that Tom Ruegger has edited his own Wiki page, noted by the staff. Noting these connections is important to building the credibility and trust that Wikipedia has cultivated.

With the talk page also comes the page history. You can find this tab located on the talk pages right hand side.

If we use my now good friend Tom as an example we can see some interesting things about the history of his page. For instance we can see who the top editors are from his page.

So at least we know that Tom is not obsessing over his Wikipedia page. But more importantly you can use this tool to see who is making edits to the page and to track who those people are. Biases are can be difficult to see, especially in a faceless entity like Wikipedia. But being aware of who is making edits can help cut through that anonymity.

Overall Wikipedia is a useful tool in the right hands, and exploring how it functions and the human force behind the knowledge giant can not only teach us more about how history exists in the digital world, but also who is curating that information.

Practicum By the People

Library of Congress’s By the People program allows the public to work with the LOC’s archival documents to provide a more accessible database to both researchers and the general public. By the People was launched in October of 2018 as a pilot program from the LOC’s digital innovation unit. Since this initial launch they have released 831,000+ pages for transcription across 35 campaigns. With the who and what out of the way how does this resource actually work? 

To begin here is the basic guide provided by the LOC.

  1. Read the instructions on transcribing and reviewing transcriptions by other volunteers. You can get back to this guide and all instructions at any time by clicking “Help” at the top of any page. See abbreviated instructions while transcribing by clicking “Quick Tips” below the page image.
  2. Create an account (if you want!) Anyone can transcribe, you don’t need an account, but registered volunteers can also review and tag pages. Make your account here.
  3. Choose what to transcribe. Explore our campaigns featuring many different Library of Congress collections. When you find a group of documents that looks interesting, click through to a page. To transcribe, look for one labeled “Not Started” or “In Progress”. Use the colored status filters to narrow down to just those pages.
  4. Once you’ve chosen a page, transcribe what you can into the box on the right. Transcribe lines in the order they appear and preserve line breaks. If you see multiple pages, transcribe all of the content in the order it appears. Have questions about transcribing something tricky? Revisit the instructions.
  5. Click “Save” as you go to save work in progress. If you decide a page isn’t for you, that’s ok! You can move on, just make sure you click “Save” before moving on. Other volunteers will be able to help out with a page you started.
  6. Click “Save” and “Submit for review” if you have transcribed a whole page and think it is ready to be reviewed. If you are transcribing anonymously (without being logged into an account) you will be prompted to verify you are not a bot.
  7. After you’ve transcribed a few pages, try out review! Review is the crucial final step before transcriptions are marked ready for publication. All registered volunteers can review other people’s transcriptions. Learn more by reading our How to review instructions.
  8. Try out tagging. Tagging is an experimental feature. Read our tagging instructions then try it out on any page!

While this will get you started with the tool, it is not the whole story. To demonstrate what this process looks like I looked into one of the more recent campaigns “”To Be Preserved”: The Correspondence of James A. Garfield” You can find where to start under the campaigns tab on the top right tool bar. There are three different ways to use the We the People resource. You can start something brand new, pick up where someone else has left off, or review another completed transcript. Here is an example of what an in progress transcription looks like.

You can edit what has been typed or add to the document. Now I can’t read a lick of cursive, it’s truly my greatest weakness as a historian, so I won’t butcher any of these historic documents. But luckily the LOC also has resources on conducting transcribing activities for communities such as transcribe-a-thon so I don’t have to pull my weight. This event has a local community, school, or historical association work as a group to transcribe documents relating to a theme or campaign.

If you need extra help or more resources there are active forums to discuss issues and ask for assistance, a very detailed how-to guide, and a contact-us page to assist with any questions one might have. This can be found under the “discuss” tab on the main page.

Practicum: Word Clouds

What is a word cloud? In essence it is a way to visualize data, a word cloud works by analyzing text and displaying the most often used words in a “cloud” of text. The more frequently a word appears, the larger the word. Now that the concept is out of the way, how can digital historians use a word cloud to effectively. One of the more interesting ways that historians have used a word cloud is to compare similar text documents for this example I will be using 3 different museums “about us” page to demonstrate different values across institutions.

To begin clear your word cloud by hitting “new wordcloud” in the dropdown menu highlighted below. This same menu will allow you to import your text in numerous different ways.  (also avoid the large “start here” it’s a scam to catch people who have never pirated content before)

The first way to create a wordcloud is to simply copy and paste whatever text document you are using. This was the method used for the Cincinnati Museum Center, the word cloud it created is posted below.

You can also upload straight from URLs if your text has a linkable webpage. This was the method used for the Atomic Museum.

If you have a PDF of your document, for instance if you had scanned an archival document and wanted to generate a word cloud for it, you would simply upload that PDF to the website, while a bit of a roundabout way to create this last cloud for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, it is useful to know all of the methods of creating a word cloud.

Finally some helpful tips and tricks to getting the most out of the wordcloud generator. The task bar at the top of the screen allows you to edit the wordclouds in multiple ways. Firstly, under word list, you can edit the cloud to not include common words such as “and” and “the” as you can see on the examples without this edit the cloud can become cluttered with less than useful text. Secondly the scale icon allows you to adjust how the size of the words, when active the scale will adjust words like “and” and “the” to be present but not dominate the cloud. With it deactivated you can see the true scale of the document as exampled here.

Finally there are many aesthetic changes one can make in order to create a compelling visual example. Changing the font, color, design, and scale of the cloud can all be done to create a more unique and stylized cloud for whatever purposes you could need. Looking at the examples you can see the usefulness in comparing similar documents, we can see how each museum stresses its local communities, the nature of the museum such as Denver stressing science while the Atomic Museum focuses on more “explosive” aspects of their history. Yet they all share common words such as community and education. If you have any other questions or concerns the website has a useful FAQ and a forum for asking questions! Now go explore the wide world of word clouds!

Practicum: History Pins

History Pins are a fascinating way for the general public to share local history and connect with their communities. History Pin allows users to upload photos and documents and “pin” those images to either the location the picture was taken, or the location in which the document holds significance.

To begin you have to create an account for History Pin, I imagine this is to deter ne’er-do-wells from creating digital graffiti on their website. I simply linked my google account, this took less than an minute and allowed me to get started creating pins! The first thing you have to do is click on your now created profile and select “add a pin” for my example I choose an old picture of a salt well I had left on my phone from a pervious project, but any historic documentation will work. It could be an old photo, a deed from a building, or a family document highlighting something in the area.

After selecting your photo you are then prompted to fill in all the relevant information. This includes a title and a brief description, as well as dropping your pin. You can use the pin to locate and exact location, or a rough estimate, by adjusting the radius of your pin. Since I only know my photo is from the Kanawha Valley I adjusted mine to encompass that geographical location. You can then add tags such as “salt” or “industry” to make it easy for people looking for similar items to find. After that all that is left is to save your pin and get to creating more! 

You can also use History Pins to create a tour, this feature allows you to string multiple pins together in order to allow users to explore them back to back. You can find this functionality in your user profile as well. After naming and describing your tour at the bottom of the page you are then prompted to pick a geographic location to house your tour. This in theory should be the location of your pins. Using the tour mode creatively can allow you to link multiple pins in the same location and give an in-depth look at the history of an area!

Small organizations such as the British Deaf Association are using this tool in order to “make Deaf heritage accessible, so that everyone can enjoy and learn from our rich and beautiful history.” They’ve created a group which highlights distinct landmarks in the deaf community and putting them all in one accessible place. Linking videos, photos, and articles all showing the rich history of the deaf community, to visit that collection you can follow this link! https://www.historypin.org/en/share-the-deaf-visual-archive/geo/51.506506,-0.069711,7/bounds/49.725707,-2.288949,53.220328,2.149527/paging/1

If you have any other questions or concerns you can find numerous helpful videos in the “getting started” tab at the top of the webpage. I would also be remiss to not mention my alma mater Marshall University has a similar application called The Clio https://www.theclio.com/  which works similarly to History Pins. Both applications work wonders for allowing the public to connect with local history. So go out there and get to work creating collections and tours of your own local community!