Corey’s Project Ideas

I am currently interning with the Smithsonian Gardens and we are looking for a way to virtually map out various community gardens around the nation. It would be great to model this off a similar open source program (perhaps Ushahidi?), creating an interactive map where the public could share stories of how community gardens preserve their cultural heritage. This outreach platform would allow people to engage in discussions about the relationship between community gardening and history at a national level.

Smithsonian Gardens is also expanding its social media objectives. One possible project I could work on would be to analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of Facebook and Twitter in getting people to the gardens. We are currently designing panels to be placed in the gardens highlighting our newest program, Let’s Move! with Smithsonian Gardens. It may be interesting to see how people are responding to weekly challenges on Facebook and Twitter by having them visit these panels and use a provided text service to respond to the questions.

Project Ideas- O’Connor

Here are some of my ideas for projects this semester:

1. Create a digital exhibit using an annotated Google map where monuments around DC are noted on the map and people can click on these monuments and be led to a description of who/what the monument is and the importance of that person/event.

2. Create a digital exhibit that displays information on historical characters/celebrities that have visited Auburn, NY–home of William Seward and site of many political events in upstate NY.  This exhibit will include information and pictures of this visit.

3. Look at how different local museums are represented on social media websites. Everyone will discuss big museums, such as the Smithsonian, but how much do people discuss smaller, not-as-well-known museums.  This study could reveal why some smaller museums are more represented on social media tools than others.

4. Conduct text analysis on letters written by some American revolutionaries, such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.  This analysis could reveal if certain politicians were more concerned with a certain area of the conflict or if all revolutionaries were using the same language.

5. Create an online exhibit (could even be a walking tour) using an annotated Google map where a person can follow where a president, such as Abraham Lincoln, visited while in DC.  Each place will have a description of what he did there or maybe a picture of what the place looked like when he visited.

An Introduction to “Digital History”

When you try researching history on the web, what is your first step?  Personally, I start out by typing a few words into Google and seeing what pops up.  It’s very basic and may not always lead to the best sources, but it’s somewhere to start.

Modern digital media has provided us with the means to store a large amount of information in small spaces, share the information with individuals across the globe who can also take part in the development of a project, create projects that integrate multiple forms of digital media, and it has allowed us to search for connections within scores of information quickly.  All of these advantages have provided the general public with the opportunity to expand their education and easily access information which may have once been restricted for viewing by only the most elite scholars.  In other words, fourth grade students studying the American Revolution can now build webpages that pull information from institutes such as the Smithsonian with only a few clicks of their mice.

Though researching and sharing history may have been made easier through the expansion of digital media, our society must now also deal with the downfalls of such technological leaps.  We can rarely guarantee the quality of the information we are viewing on the web, making it difficult to gather correct information and avoid the opinions of individuals.  In addition, the vast leaps in the storage and sharing of information which many organizations have spent the last 20 years creating are slowing because we have yet to find the means by which we can preserve our digital present.

Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s text Digital History strives to educate the general populace on the advances and blockades being experienced in the digital media.  They intended to create a book which would teach more people how to create and participate in digital history, perhaps in an effort to draw more attention to the practice and further its creation.  Overall I felt that the introduction and the first chapter of the book were informative and descriptive introductions to digital history.  Were you at all confused by their information?  I was unable to completely understand the importance of some minute details related to the development of digital history.  However, I believe the readings did give me a solid foundation to begin studying this environment.  What did you find most interesting?

YouTube Time Machine

The post from last semester, “Bringing Historical Order to YouTube,” focuses on a website designed to bring together the emotional and nostalgic feelings of a given year through a collection of YouTube videos.  YTTM.tv is a fairly user friendly website that allows a visitor to pick a date, from 1860 to 2012, and the site will generate a playlist of videos (with recent years numbering in the thousands of videos) in the categories of Video Games, Television, Commercials, Sports, Current Events, Movies, and Music. Chronology of the videos is dependent on content rather than upload dates, differing it from YouTube itself.  In the words of site founders, the site was intended to make the user feel like they had traveled back to a certain year, to feel for example “it was 1996…the feeling of being in 1996…the intangibles of that year” without “getting bogged down in the specifics and having to make CHOICES…”  The site promises to give you a flavor of a given year, and for the later half of the twentieth century into the twenty-first century, the site delivers.

The original poster, Tom, commented that as a tool for the collection of public memory YTTM.tv successfully hits the nail on the head.  However, he ends the post with a question: “What other ways could yttm.tv be used as a historic tool?”  The commenters reacted fairly positively to the site, with Ethan Klapper going as far to say that “Quite honestly, a trip to yttm.tv should be required for any historian studying one of the periods covered on the site. Not to look for something specifically, but as a sort of cultural immersion.” Tracie Peterson agreed that “yttm.tv certainly has the potential to become a useful historical tool.”

Personally, I have deep reservations that it should be “required” for historians studying anything from the Civil War forward to visit the site.  Perhaps just an off-handed comment, it fails to understand what I believe is YouTube Time Machine’s proper role in the field of digital history.  As a site for collective memory, I think YTTM.tv is great. I also think it can be very useful for amateur historians, or even more usefully as a teaching tool for middle school and high school students.  Even in a college 101 history course, the website would serve as a great jumping off point for studying the 20th century.  It’s fun, interactive, and transmits information in a method (YouTube videos!) with which most students are already very familiar.   Most importantly, it takes the boring textbook out of history.

That being said, professional level historians, whether on a graduate or post-doctorat level, most likely know more about their given time period that yttm could possibly hope to teach them.  It’s great for nostalgia, and perhaps an individual’s personal interaction with history, but I fail to see any historian genuinely citing the website.  Even if some one did find something of note on here, they would most likely go back to the original source of the video (whatever archive or collection said material came from) to more accurately analyze the source.  Another original commenter brought up the issue of videos that contain content from different periods.  For example, there’s a Charlie Chaplin video that was edited to include music from The Cure.  As the author of the post stated “you’re talking about footage that was shot sometime in the first quarter of the twentieth century, music that was made in the 1980s, and that was edited together sometime in the first decade of the twenty-first.”  Categorization on the website doesn’t appear to be concerned with the potential historical dilemma such a video creates.

Overall the website is fun.  Who wouldn’t marvel at using a 2011 MacBook Air to watch a 1984 Apple commercial for the Apple IIC?  (And the number of stacks of 5 inch floppy disks it could store…)  That alone brought back memories of the giant Apple computer that dominated the back of my second grade classroom!   Hands down it could be utilized in a middle school or high school classroom for a great interactive lesson and/or project.  As a serious analytical tool for history research?  I have too many doubts.  I don’t see what the website could bring to the table that could not be more authoritatively proven via journal articles, books, and the primary source materials from their original collections.    What are your thoughts?

Kirschenbaum’s “What is Digital Humanities . . . “

Out of curiosity, was anyone else disappointed with Kirschenbaum’s article?  I felt like the article left me with more questions than answers, and not in a good way; indeed, I felt more frustrated than intellectually challenged after reading his work.  In a nut shell, Kirschenbaum traces the growth of “digital humanities” as an area of scholarly study since the late ’80s and shows how it has gained credence as a legitimate topic for serious intellectuals to both analyze and participate in themselves.  Ultimately, Kirschenbaum defines “digital humanities” as “. . . a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborative and depend on networks of people and that live an active 24/7 life online.” (p. 60).  I appreciate that his definition is fairly precise, but in the end I think it fails to adequately answer the “so what” question:  why should we study digital humanities in the first place?  What makes it “special” or worthwhile?

To me, at its most basic level, “digital humanities” simply refers to the digitization of scholarship, or the uploading of academic writing, research and evidence onto the world wide web.  The most obvious benefit of such scholarship, as Kirschenbaum aptly notes, is that uploading scholarship onto the Internet allows researchers’ ideas and writings to spread to a much wider audience than could be attained through printed academic journals or other traditional forms of scholarly communication.  In theory, this wider audience can advance scholarship by bringing more people into a certain debate and adding more ideas to the discussion.  However, Kirschenbaum leaves me wondering if there are other benefits to digitizing scholarship.  If so, what are they?  What are the downsides?  What makes digital humanities complex and worthy of debate?  How is it more than the simple uploading of material onto the Internet?  For me, Kirschenbaum failed to adequately answer these questions and his inability to do so is a source of consternation.

I did enjoy how the author detailed the development of different organizations devoted to the study of digital humanities.  It surprised me a little to discover that the digital humanities have been around since the 1980s.  The article also led me to wonder where the study of the digital humanities is headed.  What new questions are scholars debating within the discipline?  How will new technologies continue to change the ways we think and learn?  If nothing else, I think Kirschenbaum did a good job of provoking readers into considering these questions, as well as others.  Hopefully, most other readers were just not as frustrated by this article as I was.