Final Project and Reflection

My goal for this project was to create a webpage that would encourage D.C. visitors to stray a bit from the beaten path and take in the fantastic Masonic Sites of our nation’s capitol.  I wanted the website to appeal to Masons, individuals interested in Freemasonry, as well as people simply visiting the city.

I began crafting this project with the help of Viewshare; however, due to a limitation on the extent of my control, I expanded my project to include an entire website.  I laid out an extensive map and plan, then used Google Sites to build the website.  By working to create a multi-level website, I learned a great deal about the importance of organization, planning ahead, and the basic functions involved with the creation of webpages and websites.

Overall, I believe I created an appealing, helpful, and easy to use website.  I believe that this website is a successful starting point–but there remains work to be done!  I am going to continue expanding and adding to my website and looking for new ways to advetise and spread the word about it.

You can check out the site here!  I would really appreciate any feedback you have to offer!

From the Telegraph to the Internet: Project Reflection

My digital history paper makes use of currently available digital Corpora to explore how people reacted to and interacted with the telegraph as a means of communication and it used these findings to examine the parallels that can be drawn between the introduction of the telegraph and the widespread adoption of email, cellphones, and other modern methods of instant communication. Using digital tools such as the New York Times – Historical, Mike Davies’ Online Corpus of Time Magazine, the Corpus of Historical American English, and Google N-Grams, it is easy to compare public reactions to the introduction of new communications technologies and analyze what concerns and issues weighed on their minds at the time.

The Corpora allowed me to search words and phrases to see when they first appeared, how and when they have increased or decreased in frequency, how they have changed in meaning over time, and how the correlate with other words. Using the corpora allows historians to quickly search, isolate, and identify certain historical trends which has opened up avenues of research that were simply impossible in the past. For this project I used various corpora coupled with the NYT database to show that people had very similar reactions to the introduction of the telegraph as they did to more recent communications technologies.

To give just one interesting example, I discovered that people had uncannily similar reactions to the introduction of the telegraph and the BlackBerry as a work device. The information supplied by the telegraph was like a drug to businessmen, who swiftly became addicted. Despite their information addiction, many complained about the fact that they were always connected and instantly reachable impacted their family life and leisure time. “The merchant goes home after a hard day of work and excitement to a late dinner, trying amid the family circle to forget business, when he is interrupted by a telegram from London… the poor man must dispatch his dinner as hurriedly as possible in order to send his message to California.”  This same information addiction is well-documented in the modern day. One woman commented regarding always being connected to work via email, “I quit smoking 28 years ago, and that was easier than being without my BlackBerry.” Today, we debate whether there is even a distinction anymore between work life and leisure when we are expected to answer emails that arrive long after we have clocked-out of work.

The most important finding, however, has been the demonstration of how new digital methods like the corpora have affected the study of history. Tools like the various corpora examined in this paper have changed the way historians can look at the past. The use of the corpora have opened up avenues of research that were simply impossible in the past, and as  Patrick Leary argues, has allowed us to conceptualize and study history in ways that were simply not possible even a decade ago.

Final reflections

My digital history project was an online archive for a collection of oral histories, including transcripts and photos, created on Omeka.net. I’ll be honest, the final product is not much what I had in mind. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I wish I would have tried it in WordPress instead of Omeka.

I understand the benefits of using Omeka. The metadata, no matter how much of a hassle, is very important and useful. Anything you could possibly want to know is right there. I also really liked the collections grouping. For me, it was very helpful to organize all the materials for one interviewee into one collection.

However, it was hard to make the site very personal. While I added an “About” page, I think a tag line after the site’s title would have been helpful to explain to first-time visitors what the site is all about. I wanted to add a photo to the “About” page, but there was no way to do that, except through HTML. (I’ll discuss that later.)

I also don’t know if the set-up that Omkea provides is the best for my audience – history enthusiasts, students, and the average Joe. When they click on an item to listen to an interview, they probably aren’t going to care so much about all the metadata, and might not go so far as to scroll to the bottom of the page to find the actual audio file. In this sense, all that information just clutters the page.

Would WordPress be a good alternative? I’m not sure. I would have to try out both and see what works best. My thinking is that there would be a way to reproduce what would be lost by switching from Omeka, mainly the metadata.

One thing I’m sure would have made this project easier and cleared up some of the issues I mentioned is better web skills. If anything, this project and class have taught me that just like journalism (my other major), history cannot ignore technology any longer. Historians need to learn the things we’ve been referring to this semester as “getting into the weeds.” There are pros and cons to everything going on the web, but it’s the way the world’s going and we need to adapt to stay relevant.

So here’s my final project, Closing Crucible. Again, it’s not much what I anticipated, but it has me thinking about possibilities for the future and things I still need to learn.

http://closingcrucible.omeka.net/

Show and Tell: Hans Rosling’s Amazing Grraphs

Now I don’t know if it was just me, but graphing was the best part of learning math growing up (I know, I know—it was only me).  If graphs were not your box of juice as a kid, have no fear!  With Hans Rosling’s graph presentation methods you too can wonder at the awe of graphing.

Okay I know that was a cheesy introduction but seriously, you’ve got to check this out!  The video below shows Rosling giving a TED Talk using un-boring data models.  He explains how he was able to use these interesting presentations to engage his students with material on international development over time.

TED Talk: Hans Rosling

The first time I saw one of Rosling’s presentations it was a bit more high-tech than what he was able to do during his TED Talk.  The video below is shorter than the TED Talk, so definitely take a look!  It shows Rosling using historical statistics to create a moving graph showing the changes in average life expectancy rates and average income rates for 200 countries over a long period of time.

200 Countries Over 200 Years in just 4 Minutes

I found these videos to be especially interesting because of the potential they demonstrate for the future engagement of students and audiences.  Was anyone else as awed by them as I was?

Project Reflections

For my final project, I researched how the website for HBO’s “The Pacific” was used as a space for viewers to discuss their thoughts about the show.  What drew me to this idea was my own interest in the show and how this non-traditional space for discussion was used.  What I wanted to know was: what type of comments did people leave? What do they talk about? What is their background in history or the military?  What parts of the show do they have issues with? How many posters are having a dialogue versus leaving a few posts?

In going through the site, I was both reassured and surprised at what types of comments were left and what prompted discussion.  In my paper I argue that history presented on television is a one sided dialogue because viewers cannot ask producers what they were thinking when creating the show.  Unlike museums where a visitor could ask a tour guide or staff member why decisions were made, a viewer can only hope to find answers online.  The other issue with this is that unlike an exhibit, once the show is made there is no going back to make revisions for future viewing.  With these restrictions in place, I was interested to see how people reacted to the particular stories and information the show covered.

For the threads I studied in the “Talk” section on the website, I entered the data into charts to see what the ratio of reactions were to any particular conversation thread.  Using this data I was able to make general conclusions about how people felt about the show and its content.  For the two pages outside of the “Talk” section that I studied, I found that viewers were very attached to parts of history that had personal meaning to them.  One of the comments that had most consistent responses was a post that criticized HBO for inaccurately portraying who burned the Turkish city of Izmir.  Personally, I could not recall this part of the series and since there was a much larger message the show was trying to convey, I did not hold on to that short scene.  However, there were several viewers with Turkish backgrounds who took great offense at HBO’s portrayal of the event and they questioned the integrity of the historians doing the research.  This is the best example of how memory is a powerful tool for influencing what people perceive is the right type of history.

Overall, I really enjoyed writing this paper and learning about how websites like “The Pacific” are used to prompt viewers to post their opinions.  The site was not a traditional blog in that less than five of the 100+ comments I studied were past the year the show came out.  Viewers also tended to leave one, maybe two, comments about the show.  Unlike our class site where comments go back and forth, that was not the usual practice on this site.  This project was useful for studying the role of public memory and the changing media used to teach history.  It will be interesting to see if this will change at all in the future or if the nature of sites like this is such that they will only hold the attention of viewers as long as the series is on the air.