Week 12 – Citizen Archivist

“Citizen Archivist” is my new hobby and I can’t believe I didn’t know about it until now. It was a brilliant idea – but who would have guessed that people would be willing to transcribe documents, etc., in their free time? I guess it was worth a shot. If it worked for Wikipedia, why not for primary sources? From what I’ve read, a lot of people have become Citizen Archivists.
I transcribed a document titled “Petition of Henry E. Michael in the Fugitive Slave Petition Book.” The document was carefully handwritten and not very difficult to read. However, I wondered what to do when I came across a word that I couldn’t make out. There was a “help” link, but it only offered FAQs about tagging items. Nevertheless, I’ve seen a number of transcribed documents and followed the conventions that I remembered as well as I could. It felt good that I contributed my time and talent to such a project. Having my name on it as a contributor appealed to some sense of vanity and made me want to do a good job. I think the experience was even more exciting than seeing the document in person, because in person, I might not have engaged with it.
Therefore, I can see how crowdsourcing history increases engagement, site traffic, and donors, as Trevor Owens mentioned. From an educator’s perspective, I know that multiple parts of the brain are at work when transcribing a document; I start my lesson planning with sources, and only when I transcribe, excerpt, or even just re-type documents for my students, I get ideas for the lesson activities and assessments. Once, I had an idea for a project – to have students choose documents and make their own Document Based Questions – but I second-guessed its educational value and never followed through with it. I think this year, my students will become Citizen Archivists!

Week 11 – Twitter

As someone new to Twitter and most social media, I have a lot to learn about reaching an audience digitally. However, when I am online, I try to present myself in ways that are consistent with how I present myself in real life. Of course, there are some differences – I am clearer in writing than in speaking, for example – but whatever my purpose online, I acknowledge that a community exists and that it might even have a better “memory” of my online actions than people have of real life. I have developed opinions and expectations about people (strangers) with whom I interact frequently online, so they have regarding me, as well. Additionally, now I am conscious of what future historians might make of my online records! With this in mind, I am careful to protect my online reputation. This will help me engage my audience effectively when (if) I use social media for professional purposes.
I analyzed the Tweets of several organizations to determine how they conduct themselves online in order to reach their audiences. National History Day, CT History, and Gilder Lehrman all present consistent and timely messages; they do not put random things out there to see what “sticks”. National History Day stays very focused on this year’s theme that every project must incorporate. The theme is “Taking a Stand in History” (#TakingAStand) and it is mentioned in nearly every Tweet. This theme and publicizing it on Twitter is sure to inspire students to undertake a project this year. National History day also Tweets about primary sources and teaching resources in order to help students investigate history. CT History and Gilder Lehrman also focus their Tweets to a few topics at once. CT History seems to Tweet relative to whatever is timely – the presidential election, Halloween, and lectures and other programs happening around the state. Recently, Gilder Lehrman has been focusing on its Hamilton program (#eduham) and the national history teacher of the year. From someone who is sort of overwhelmed by Twitter, I find that consistent messages from these organizations serve as good reminders of what they are doing and what they have to offer me. In contrast, History in Pictures Tweets random historical photographs with no context whatsoever. I don’t find it engaging.
I’ll keep these lessons in mind for my digital exhibit. To engage my audience, I’ll provide context and stay focused on my theme.

Week 10 – GIS Projects

Geographic Information Science contributes to historical scholarship, as it can reveal aspects of the past that written documents do not. For public historians, GIS can engage audiences that are unlikely to be interested in reading journals and monographs.
Virtual Jamestown” appears a bit outdated – it was created in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown – but it reflects the scholarship of several disciplines and provides a more complete understanding of events than would be possible otherwise. For example, historians have long known that evidence of cannibalism exists in the written record. “Virtual Jamestown” includes an interpretive essay on women in Jamestown by Kathleen M. Brown based on research done in the 1990s; she cites John Smith’s history of Virginia, which reveals several instances of cannibalism, including the case of the man who killed, salted, and ate his wife during the starving time. More recently, archaeologists corroborated this historical evidence with the discovery of “Jane” in a garbage pile. It was not a random discovery; surely, the garbage pile was the subject of an official dig whose location was determined by GIS. For those who had doubts about the written record, her bones prove that she was eaten. “Virtual Jamestown” links to this more recent discovery. The work of geographers, historians, archaeologists, forensic anthropologists, and others contributed to this discovery that was deemed interesting enough to make national news and reach wider audiences.
A project like “Virtual Jamestown,” with original maps and historical accounts as well as blogs, modern maps, teaching resources, and Google Earth investigations of Indian villages, offers a variety of ways for individuals to draw their own conclusions about the past or discover the research of academics and GIS professionals in an interactive and engaging format.

Week 9 – Podcasts

One does not need to do much to engage me in history. Just reading an article about doing history (Kimberly Mangun, “Driving the Discussion from Relevance to Resonance”) is enough to get me excited. The parts I remember most clearly a week after reading it are those that I established a connection with – because I have been the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Kelly Ingram Park, and felt that same tingling that she described, when you just know that your brain is understanding something amazing as it is being revealed to you.
And, by chance, in every class I have at least a few students who have a similar intrinsic interest in history and who enjoy (almost!) every story I tell and everything I assign. However, as riveting as those few students might find my PowerPoint presentation on the Erie Canal, I would have to consider myself a bad teacher if I did not inspire a passion for history in many of the other students, too.
It didn’t take me long to realize that simply reading, talking, or writing about history, no matter how exciting I found a topic, did not inspire most students. Those kids grow up and become adults who won’t all of a sudden become engaged in history without some kind of intervention; therefore, such reading, talking, and writing doesn’t reach most adults, either. In an age of shrinking budgets, that leaves public historians of all kinds looking for ways to engage people who do not get that feeling about history all on their own.
Fortunately, history is exciting for many people if offered in various ways. Not everybody learns the same way; some need to see, others need to hear, still others need to touch. Most need to feel like part of the process and have some control over what they do. Podcasts can offer some of these experiences and reach an audience that maybe didn’t like history in school or maybe had trouble reading or maybe found traditional history topics boring. That’s why I chose to listen to a podcast from “Stuff You Missed In History Class” on ghost ships. Although I can’t say I’ve listened to many podcasts, I thought this was a good example of how podcasts engage a diverse audience. Of course, a listener of podcasts chooses which to download and which to skip; that provides the feeling of control. Someone interested by ghost ships might not have ever heard of them before, and most certainly didn’t study them in school. The “hosts” of the podcast framed ghost ships as a mystery, which draws in listeners who want to solve the puzzle. They further drew listeners in, making them feel part of the conversation, by interacting with each other, making jokes, and reading some “listener mail.” The vibe was such that I pictured them in a living room, not a lecture hall. Finally, the length is manageable for most; at about 25 minutes, one can listen to a podcast while commuting, working out, eating lunch, or grocery shopping (are the people with earbuds all listening to podcasts?!?). Of course, since history’s mysteries can’t be solved in 25 minutes, I was motivated to learn more! So, if there was a museum exhibit on ghost ships, such a podcast can be used to attract people to the institution. In the 21st century, public history is digital history.

Week 8 – Wikipedia

I’m a fan of Wikipedia, but I’ve never been motivated to contribute to it. I wonder why not?
I probably use Wikipedia daily. I know that Wikipedia is as accurate as any print encyclopedia, which is a great argument for shared authority. I don’t cite Wikipedia or let my students cite Wikipedia because we rarely use any encyclopedia for research, but I direct them to it to gather ideas or check out the references. However, I had no idea how Wikipedia began or how it is sustained, and I found this week’s readings fascinating.
United States home front during World War I and 369th Infantry Regiment (United States) are decently long articles, but shorter than expected. There is no article on African Americans during WWI, which is why I looked at the one on the 369th. American women in World War I is short! Is this a reflection of the Wikipedia community’s bias?
I expected long logs of debates in the “talk” pages of these three Wikipedia articles, but that’s not what I found. The home front article and the women article each had only one notice from the same user who updated one link in each. The 369th article has more commentary, mostly about grammar, organization, and references. There is also some discussion on including information about the 369th after WWI until the present. (Was I missing something? Even the article on World War I does not have a long “talk” section).
I’m sure I could get the hang of editing Wikipedia pages, but the strange computer code language is difficult to follow and probably enough of a deterrent for most people. However, I appreciate Wikipedia’s “bazaar” theory of accessible knowledge!

Week 7 – Attractive and Functional Websites

Among many first world problems is a website that isn’t intuitive. Even though I am no master of technology, I have avoided restaurants that don’t have websites and stores that don’t have easily navigable ones. Creating a website is an art, which is why people get paid a lot of money to produce good ones. For public historians (and educators), communicating effectively with others on the web, using proper grammar and a little artistic skill, is necessary. Fortunately, Cohen and Rosenzweig have some tips and they modeled all of them on their website, “Digital History.”
Website creators should follow the principles of contrast, proximity, alignment, and repetition. Contrasting text, appropriate margins, and space between text boxes and objects make the site easy to read. History websites might need to include long passages of text and still maintain the reader’s attention. The site that publishes Howard Zinn’s A People’s History does a good job of this. Unlike in the printed book, quotes are bolded and blocked. The reader can go through a chapter quickly and without losing interest as a result. Click here for an example. Proximity involves images that correspond to text, with captions that obviously go with the appropriate pictures. Alignment communicates relationships between different parts or subordination of certain parts. Repetition (on the web, of font, color, etc) is a basic design principle used to create consistency and distinguish different parts. The website of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello follows these principles. On the home page, the fonts make sense; the logo of Jefferson’s signature appears on every page, sans-serif fonts are easy to read, and different fonts distinguish the parts of the site in a row at the top. Anyone, whether a prospective visitor or a student doing research, can find where to go after a second of scanning this home page. Under research and collections, the website designers anticipated different research needs and offer the encyclopedia and quote search in one column, followed by the database of various types of sources organized in a row for more serious scholars.
I think that (some?) human brains work in such a way as to remember the aesthetics of a page and the information presented on it. For ex, if every page of a site had the exact same layout with only different words, it would be extremely boring and difficult to follow, like a PowerPoint presentation with all bulleted text and no graphics, charts, maps, etc. A site with pages that are designed consistently, with the same colors, logos, font, etc, but with different layouts of individual pages, would be easier to follow and remember. The Monticello site is a good example of this as well.
A good website can be navigated effortlessly; the user does not often consciously notice or appreciate the work that went into producing it. Good websites are so expected and taken for granted now that a bad one is immediately recognized as a source of frustration. Luckily, public historians and educators on small or nonexistent budgets can follow a few design principles and create decent sites!

Week 5 – Omeka

Select two websites from the Omeka showcase and write a comparative review.
The Omeka showcase offers impressive examples of the kind of digital history that is possible using Omeka. Although I do not have experience with using any of Omeka’s “peers,” after seeing these projects, I trust Tom Scheinfeldt when he says that Omeka has no competition. I looked closely at “Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection” and “California Women for Agriculture.” While both present unique documents in ways that are easily accessible, I found “Ann Lewis” a bit more user-friendly than “California Women.”
Both sites welcome the viewer, but I found “Ann Lewis” more engaging. Immediately upon seeing the title, I wondered who Ann Lewis was, and upon clicking on it, I saw the explanation that it is “a privately owned collection amassed over twenty years.” This pulled me in further, if only to discover the person who clearly has a passion for women’s suffrage. Conveniently, the first tab is “About the Collector,” and it reveals a fascinating individual at the highest level of politics with a personal connection to (second wave) feminism. “California Women” has a welcome page with text and an introductory video, but I was confused about who created the site, since its title and the name of the organization it is about is one and the same. It states that ten CWA scrapbooks were donated to the Women’s Museum of California, but it wasn’t clear to me that the Museum sponsored the site until I looked at the copyright information at the bottom of the page and saw that a museum employee created it. The welcome page reads more like a school project description; it is kind of dry, for example, when it states, “These artifacts are the property of the Women’s Museum of California and are accessible onsite for research and general interest. Additionally, this website serves to extend access to visitors unable to travel to the museum.” Also, the purpose of the site, “shedding light on the history of the California Women for Agriculture,” is too vague, as it offers no interpretation. I learned when the organization was founded and that it intended to promote agricultural interests, but I did not understand why it was significant. In contrast, “Ann Lewis” connected suffrage to our lives today and clearly indicated the significance of the topic.
“California Women” includes exhibits, while “Ann Lewis” does not. However, “California Women” assumes a high level of background knowledge on the topic that I do not have. For example, Exhibit #3 has five parts, including one on Proposition 14 and one on Proposition 65. The narrative states the names of these proposed laws, but it includes little else for context. It also states that the UFW supported them and the CWA opposed them, but again, with little context. After digging for a while on the site, I was confident that I could eventually find answers to my questions (What were the situations that resulted in Propositions 14 and 65? Why were the UFW and CWA at odds?), but I wished the narratives simply clarified these topics. “Ann Lewis” does not include exhibits, but I was not lost on her site, probably because women’s suffrage is a more widely known topic than California Women for Agriculture and I did not need more context. As a result, “Ann Lewis” was more enjoyable for me, and I spent more time looking at the items in the collections instead of trying to figure out the basics.
Both sites utilized Omeka’s platform to guide viewers successfully through the collections. “Ann Lewis” has a convenient “browse by search tag” feature, while “California Women” has a “scrapbook finding aid” and “research guide.” “Ann Lewis” offers links of further resources that are, again, very convenient. After viewing these two sites, it appears to me that Omeka is a dynamic platform that allows custom layout designs in order to present each unique collection well.

Week 4 – Copyright

Should historical scholarship be free?

I think it was about five years ago when I learned about “Google News Archive”. With an advanced Google search, my students were able to do original research like never before possible. And then the next school year, it was gone. And then there was the time that I assigned a research project as a final exam. I encouraged my students to use the Hartford Courant because they had access through iconn.org (researchitct.org)… except that they chose topics after 1922. On the other hand, I was thrilled when doing some local history research to learn that my hometown library had recently digitized the town’s newspaper to 1975, and made it searchable! And I’ve spent hours on the free version of Ancestry and on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints census records. Despite enjoying access to some materials and being frustrated by the lack of access to others, I have never questioned the status quo before this week.

Rosenzweig suggested that public funding of almost all scholarship should mean public access to that scholarship; Cohen and Rosenzweig wrote about the “teacher exception” to copyright laws, in which instructors, not the institutions, own their work. We discussed “fair use” for educational purposes in class. I’ve never thought twice about using copyrighted materials for class. All of my lesson plans are posted online (self-archived?) and I would be flattered if I knew other teachers found and used them. Teachers are better when they share with each other. I’m a town employee… I don’t really think that I should have exclusive rights to the work that the town pays me to do. If I ever moved to a new district, I would leave my materials for my replacement but I would use my materials in the new district, too. My actions suggest that I’m (subconsciously) in favor of open scholarship. But… how would historians make any money if they didn’t own their work? Although Rosenzweig offered six approaches to increasing access to scholarly work, I can’t help but think that it would require an uphill battle of a revolution.


Week 3

Discuss how the Web impacts the way you do historical research. How does it change the way you think about sources? Are there qualitative differences between using digital archives and more traditional analog sources?  Why or why not?

Computer technology and change are two things that make me nervous. It follows that just the first page of Turkel, Kee, and Roberts in Weller and Erickson’s title gave me heart palpitations. I definitely need a little push to try something new on a computer. I suppose it’s a good thing that I am (might be?) considered a digital native.

I remember typing my first school paper in 5th grade, but well into high school, word processing essays and researching on the web was still optional. So, computers became widely used just as I was starting to do some serious academic work, and I struggled with lost files and broken printers at the worst times. It wasn’t possible to Google a tutorial or even ask someone for help, so I figured out solutions to these problems myself. I caught on quickly and in college I didn’t even need to go to the library for research until my senior year because I used databases from my dorm room. Having grown up with this technology, I guess I am a digital native, but I didn’t want anything to change because I had already mastered technology circa 2001.

I started my teaching career in 2006. The principal gave me the textbooks at the start of the year and that’s it. Then I learned from my Social Studies colleagues about thematic curricula and how to really teach, and I quit the textbooks in my second year. No textbook means the teacher does a lot of research to find primary documents, and that is only possible with the Web. I don’t need to budget for any materials that those education magazines try to sell; I only need the Web. Where I once thought my “source” was a textbook, I now think my sources are primary and available on the Internet. Sometimes I use digital sources from a historical society or other organization from which I receive professional development, but they are not sources I found myself in an archive. However, I think that when I use digital sources, I am not as connected to them as I am when I use non-digital sources. I always tell my students about the time I looked in a H.B. Stowe folder at the Sterling Library. As I held and read a letter to her brother, it hit me: first, that she was an activist, not a random woman who happened to write the most influential book in U.S. History; and second, that when women do amazing things in history, they are often taken as accidents. I don’t think I would have gotten those same revelations if that letter was in digital form, largely because I could have passed it by so easily.

When I started the MA in Public History, it had been almost a decade since taking my last history class. Luckily, the professor taught how to do primary document research using databases, Hathitrust, etc., and how to cite with Zotero. Now I can’t see myself – or anyone – doing history without such tools. And I learned how to do real historical research – the method that Turkel, Kee, and Roberts identified on page 61. To be honest, I don’t think they gave much of an alternative to that order of things, but they gave some great tips for incorporating Digital History. So far, I do #1 (make everything digital) because almost everything I ever researched is digital. I’m terrible at #2 (keep everything in the cloud), but I do save copies of files periodically in case of disaster. Thanks to Zotero, I do #3 (manage citations in a database) with pleasure. Then I’m terrible at #4-7.

“Reflections on 10,000 Digital Notecards” made me nervous because it told me that my method of using Word to take notes, then copy and paste those notes into an outline, then write drafts of papers is ineffective. Which means that how I’m teaching students to do research is ineffective. Secondly, it made me realize that I have never tackled a project so large as to need a better organizational method. Sigh. However, now I am at least inspired to find a program to organize my research. Or, since I am at the end of my Master’s program, to organize my lesson plans. And I definitely want to find a good program to teach students to use to organize research. It has to prompt students to save electronic copies of research, take notes on those sources, and cite them in-text or in footnotes; then it has to provide a platform for moving that research into an outline and be compatible with Word and/or Google docs. Evernote seems to save the research but doesn’t meet the other requirements. Anyone have any ideas?

Week 2

How does the medium of the World Wide Web change the practice of doing history? Is Digital History qualitatively different from History? Explain.

This week’s assigned readings by Cohen & Rosenzweig, Weller, and Turkel brought up some basic concerns regarding digital history. As quickly as the Internet became part of the fabric of life, professional and amateur historians both embraced its advantages and rejected it for its limitations. Although the authors of this week’s readings acknowledge that some aspects of digital history are not different from traditional history, they urge us to maximize the potential of the World Wide Web to preserve records, reach larger audiences, and in general, “allow us to do our work as historians better” (Cohen & Rosenzweig). Cohen & Rosenzweig’s purpose of digital history – to “allow us to do our work as historians better” – implies that digital history is both similar to and different from traditional history. The same type of work is being done, but with different tools or media.

This week’s authors identify some of the same issues in digital history as have always existed in traditional history. For example, Weller acknowledges that preservation has always been a challenge that has resulted in an incomplete historical record. One difference in the digital age is the problem of too many sources and no sustainable way of preserving them when the popular format changes (p. 4). Weller points out that context is lost in digital collections (p. 7); I would argue that context is lost in a printed collection as well. Cohen & Rosenzweig discuss the problems of inaccuracy and inaccessibility, which existed before the digital age and continue to exist. When mainly professional historians produced history, it was, perhaps, more controllable in the sense that only wealthier scholars wrote history that other scholars read. Today, many amateurs contribute to the History Web, but the problems of inaccuracy and inaccessibility remain in varying degrees.

All of the readings urge the use of new media to change the practice of doing history. Weller urges preservation, while Cohen & Rosenzweig and Turkel encourage creation of open, useful, and responsible sites on the History Web. Digital history can bring scholars together to discuss and share resources; it can be interactive in ways that are impossible with just publishing monographs; it allows museums and educational institutions to reach new audiences. As a teacher, I can see that the Internet has made possible ways of teaching and learning that were impossible before the digital age. Perhaps one of the most drastic changes has been in education. Once upon a time, teachers lectured on textbook reading and students memorized “facts”. Now, the best teachers utilize the Web to get students to use primary documents and do history like little historians. Teachers and students use the World Wide Web, but it is to replicate the intellectual process that historians have been following since well before the Internet. Therefore, the World Wide Web changed the practice of doing history, but digital history is not qualitatively different from history.