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!,-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  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!