Digital History Project up and runnin

I wanted to share the link to the blog I started today for the Digital project. My proposal mentioned how I wanted to start a blog for the penny pinching, history loving, travel loving  visitors to DC and students. I wanted to give some history of the things I am profiling along with what you can expect to see as well as other background information. The blog can be found at: http://dctravelandhistory.wordpress.com/.  I plan on updating this with new places to see at least once a week, if not more.

Search Engine Scholarship: Leary’s “Googling the Victorians”

As illustrated by his charming “L.E.L.” example, Patrick Leary makes an argument that the widespread adoption of Internet Communication Technologies (ICT) has had a profound effect on the mundane labor of his academic subfield, meaning historians focused on the Victorian Age. While the idea of using cutting-edge (by early-millennial standards) tools like Google for the study of a period that seems even more distant if measured in iterations of time between iPad models appears paradoxical, his point about the revolutionary new horizons of fortuitous discovery of once-inaccessible information made possible by the Internet is one that is easily generalized to all areas of scholarly work. I can personally attest to the immeasurable value of web-based tools like Twitter for supporting my own research, whether through constant exposure to news and current events relevant to my projects, enriching exchanges with distant scholars of similar interest, or managing practical matters like knowing when proposal deadlines and conferences are approaching.

Leary also clarifies an important paradox of ICT-assisted scholarship. On one hand, much of the time we have spent in class discussing online archiving and other formal digital humanities initiatives has centered around pondering questions of how best to standardize formats, ensure file compatibility, organize labor and resources, etc. What Leary reminds us—the flip side of that coin—is that the work that produced the rich stores of content that have already benefited his research projects (as well as our own) was produced haphazardly, for unrelated or unexpected purposes, and that even these “corrupt” or uncorrected sources provide important information that would otherwise be inaccessible. Furthermore, I would argue that the randomness of these resources belies their lasting impact on the shape of an increasing percentage of scholastic enterprise.

As an example, when I was developing my Master’s thesis, which included a historiographical approach to contextualizing a series of films noir from the 40s and 50s, I struggle to imagine the outcome without resources like Google’s digital collection of Time and Life magazines. These texts were essential to establishing a sense of what major political and social events were covered popularly immediately surrounding the release of each film and often included coverage of the films themselves. Similarly, the scattered archives of digitized film reviews, both from major papers like The New York Times and smaller regional or local outlets, made it possible to explore whether these controversial films were received differently by critics in urban areas than their rural counterparts. The availability of these resources, for whatever reason (perhaps explained by Google’s unspoken “We did it because we can!” mantra and pre-paywall NYT decision-makers thinking “Content, we need content! Put the old stuff online!”), definitely shaped the course of that project—and being able to do the “legwork” while sitting on my couch in pajamas didn’t hurt either.

Leary’s enthusiasm, like mine, is tempered by important questions about how search engine protocols reshape the processes of reading and citation and whether the absence of those familiar faculties strips out essential context. He is also critical of what he describes as a growing inability to acknowledge or even identify the limitations of Internet research, a lack of critical interpretation of information found online, and a decline in general respect, particularly among students, for the still-necessary skills required to work with analog resources (somehow it always comes down to “Kids these days!”). Leary imagines the impending terminus of this shift as a phenomenon he calls “offline penumbra,” where the assumption that everything of value is or should be online effectively negates the existence of anything that isn’t.

Can you think of specific examples of how Googling has radically altered your research? Has it ever failed you in an expected or unexpected way? Has the impact of ICT and search engines in particular remained constant since this article was published in 2005? Are there any digital media tools that have evolved more recently that you think will have a similarly broad impact? Any thoughts on the “offline penumbra”?

WordPress Blog Question

Hi everyone, I was wondering if anyone could help me solve a problem with pages for my digital project.

I was wondering if it was possible to create a new page, but not have it show up on the actual site… What I’m trying to do is create sub-pages that are linked to from another page. For example, I have a page called “Patient Profiles” and on this page there is a list of names. I want to link each name to a separate profile page, but I do not actually want these profile pages to appear in a drop down menu of any sort…. just sort of be only accessible through clicking the link on the “Patient Profiles” page.

Is there any way to do this? I tried making the page “private”, but don’t seem to be able to link to it then…

Thanks for any advice you can offer!

Digital Projects in Special Collections Presentation

I hope you all enjoyed Susan McElrath’s presentation on Digital Projects in Special Collections at American University. I thought her presentation did a great job at addressing how the work we have been looking at and engaging in fits into the institutional objectives of the University.

She has generously offered to share her slides with us. I thought the best way forward would be to share them here with everyone.

Show and Tell: Salem Witchcraft Trials

For my show and tell, I know it’s a few weeks before we demonstrate the other historical games, but I wanted to share one on the Salem Witch Trials. I took an undergraduate course, Witchcraft and Sorcery in the Medieval Ages, and my professor had us play this National Geographic game just for fun. However, it is very historically accurate and I think captures a good representation of the experiences of accused witches.

From a historical standpoint, the game is very accurate and well-research. Books cited in the Bibliography page include Devil in the Shape of a Woman and Salem Possessed. As you go along in the “experience”, NatGeo has included mini-biographies for many of the main characters, a who’s-who for those who haven’t seen The Crucible.

The game’s website construction is pretty eerie, which captures the feelings and dread of the witch trials in general. The only thing that maybe could have added to the font colors, dark background, and creepy creepy pictures is some haunting music in the background…. other than that, the website offers a good introduction, prologue, and epilogue, in addition to a bibliography. Another neat component in the “TravelWise” page that gives resources and directions to those who want to visit Salem and other relevant museums/sites nearby.

What I like best about this game, and it speaks a little to my own project this semester, is the point of view it’s played from. The game player is the accused witch. The assumed sex, which is not overt but becomes more identifiable later in the game, of the accused is a woman. This historically is representative of the Salem Witch Trials, but it would have been interesting for NatGeo to have a “male or female” choice and maybe take “men” down the path of Giles Corey or Daniel Day Lewis. (joking, John Procter)

Each page sets up where you are “the inn, the country road, the courthouse”. While there is the one main choice of the game “will you confess or not?”, in reality once you play the game you realize this choice is the only one, and it’s not much of a choice at that. While some could criticize this game for only allowing users to click the red words to go to the next page, I find this captures the actual experiences of accused witches immensely. In trials such as these, there were not many choices, and when you made a choice (such as to confess or not) you pretty much went down a predetermined path. Not much room to save yourself.

One thing also I think this game could do better is elaborate on what accused witches had in common. On one page, it discusses how what those who died had in common was their professed innocence, but many works, including those cited in the bibliography, also emphasize gender, class, and politics as important to accusations.

And lastly, on a personal note, when you claim to be innocent and then it lists who hangs and “Procter hangs”…. well, personally that’s just creepy to see!

 

Quick Sidenote: The set up of the game, not sure if it’s an Adobe Flash thing, is somewhat problematic for me in Safari, the scrollbar showed up better in Firefox (in gray instead of black so you can actually see it!)