Week 14: The Future of History in the Digital Age

For the last week of class lecture, we discussed how the digital age has changed how we look at, study, and research history. The question we have to answer is how we think digital methods will change how we study and research history. This is a tough question to answer, partly because I have grown up in the digital age, so historical information has always been available to me on the internet. I remember my first major research paper that I wrote back in high school, almost every bit of the information for that paper came from online sources. And in almost everyone of my college courses, we have a class dedicated to learning how to use research databases online for gathering more sources and information. I have never really known a strategy for finding information other than using the internet, so this question is a bit more difficult for me than for some other people who have had to learn research using only hard copy books and libraries. 

Both of my sisters are still in school as well, and when they have papers to write I rarely see them looking at books or journals for their information, all of their sources come from the internet. That does bother me to see them using nothing but online sources, but that is how they have been taught in this digital age to find their information. Before the internet was seen as a reliable source for historical information, I had to use the school libraries and public libraries to find my information, and it did take a lot more time just trying to find a book that had relevant information for my research topic. I find it easier to find information in the hard copy books sometimes because I skim the information faster and not have to worry about the lag on a computer when trying to browse through the pages quickly. Each source has its pros and cons, but it is a good idea to embrace using both.

When writing papers, even today, I find myself reading something online, and then checking a hard copy book used in the class to see if the book claims the same thing, so I make sure to use both methods when writing papers. I see the internet as a way to find several sources that I may be able to use for my paper. While there are many sites out there like Google books and HathiTrust that are digitizing books, they don’t have every book digitized, which is why libraries are still important for research and history. I have come across some amazing and helpful books looking through the library that were not available online in a digital version, so using online sources is not the only way. Unfortunately, students today are taught they only need the internet to find the information they need, but they always risk using sites that are inaccurate and wrong, so the information in their paper is wrong. Not all sites online need to be avoided, some are very helpful for gathering more sources, but students should know that the internet isn’t the only way to get sources and information. Sometimes, going into the old books and getting their fingers dirty is the best way to find historical information.

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Week Thirteen: Teaching History in the Digital Age

This week our reading was about teaching in the digital age, a topic we have been exploring pretty much all semester. Some of the reading we had to do made me pretty angry honestly, while others I read while nodding my head in agreement the entire time. As a child of the digital age, I am probably pretty biased in terms of my opinion on using the digital resources we have now to write research papers, but I see nothing wrong with using the resources we have available to write the best papers I possibly can. The reasons given to the contrary seem very weak to me; none of the reasons I have seen are enough to convince me that all the online sources we have now make history writing weaker compared to how it used to be. 

The first chapter we had to read in the History in the Digital Age book was the article that really made me kind of annoyed and angry. The author of the article seemed to be totally against using the web for historical research, yet the reasons why seemed very weak to me. The biggest reason given was that the “trace-of-the-past” that we get from the original would be lost by looking at it over a computer screen. While I may agree when it comes to paintings and tapestries and artwork, I don’t agree when it comes to written sources. I have used both old hard copies of magazines and their archives, to me they are no different. All we are really looking for is information that helps prove the argument we are trying to make; not seeing what it feels like to hold and look through the original. One thing that was said in the article that I totally disagreed with was when the author claimed the digital age is not the reason why more sources and materials are available to historians. I don’t agree with that statement at all. If we didn’t have the technology of the digital age that we have now, we wouldn’t have access to as many sources as we do. Many historical sites were created because of the technology we now have, so the comment that was made really bothered me.

I liked the next article in the book we had to read, partly because it gave a more positive look on teaching history in the digital age. One reason I totally approve of using the internet for teaching history is that along with learning the history itself, we are taught how to avoid the fake or useless sources and identify the real ones. We are taught how to identify and use these sources to our advantage and to keep from using too many sources and making a paper that would be too long. I have never had a problem finding and using an appropriate amount of primary and secondary sources that helped support my argument, and if it weren’t for the internet, I never would have had them. While I do agree that there are some issues with digital sources, like the possibility of them getting damaged or lost, for the most part it makes the job of being an historian much easier, and because we have so many sources, a way to learn new things we didn’t before and develop new theories.

The final article we had to read online was interesting. Just the first paragraph was interesting when the author mentioned a student said he was struggling with online stuff for his class. I have almost never struggled using the internet for my classes. The only thing I had to learn was surfing through the databases we have access to at CCSU, but once I learned it has been a very valuable resource. One thing that was written in the article was that he would assign his students projects using digital sources and media to push them out of their “comfort zone”. This article was published in 2011, so I assume it was written at the same time, if that is true then I don’t see how assigning students to use these digital materials would be getting them out of their comfort zones. I have been using the internet for history papers back when I was in high school and had to write a 5 page paper for my U.S. History class. I was never uncomfortable using the internet for help finding sources, and I certainly am not uncomfortable now. So while this article was interesting to read, it just seemed a little odd to me.

I am a big believer in the aid that digital sources can provide to us. If I didn’t have some of these archives, the papers I have written in the past wouldn’t have been nearly as good as they were. Yes, sometimes I still struggle finding some sources online and get annoyed when a book is only available in a hard copy and not digital, it is still tremendously helpful to history students and historians. Not just history, but other subjects as well. The digital age should not be something professors and students try to avoid, embracing it can a very useful thing, and I think everyone would be able to get more out of it if they just embrace the sources and resources that are available to us now.

Week Twelve: Designing Exhibits on the Web

This week our assignment was to look at and compare two web sites using the Omeka website. I chose the websites “Heroes and Villains: Silver Age Comics” and “HIV and AIDS 30 Years Ago”. Although these sites don’t have similar content, they are both subjects that interest me; I love the whole community involved with comics, which goes far behind the old comics on this particular site, and I have always had an interest in the medical field, and lately a new-found interest in the history of certain medical conditions such as HIV and AIDS. Although these two topics have nothing in common, the sites have similarities, which is what we are supposed to be looking at.

Because both sites use Omeka, they have a number of similarities, mostly in their site setup. Both sites have an easy to use toolbar on top that links to all the different parts of their website. In addition to that, in terms of their content they both have a section talking about the history of their subject, which I found very interesting to read. The comics website has a timeline of their comics and the HIV site has archives full of information from the first few years of when the disease was appearing. The comics website also has archives as well of old comics and has some of them in collections, such as women of DC comics and Spider-Man. 

Some of the differences are the number of images on the sites. The comics site has a number of images which is to be expected from a site about comics. The HIV site has a few images of some things but nothing of much importance in terms of the content. Not only that, but on the comic site, for each collection or page, there is a pretty good length description of what can be found in the collection, but on the other site, there is barely any written information so to me it seems to be lacking in the amount of information it can actually provide, especially in a historical sense. 

Both sites were very interesting to look at, but not a site that someone would be able to revisit a couple days from now because chances are nothing will be different or new. Also, after look at the site for a short amount of time, I was able to look through everything, so both sites are very simple in design and their amount of content. While both sites have some interesting information and images, they don’t appear to be the kind of site people will be visiting several times a week or month like other sites. They are both just simple projects that give the visitor a short history of a topic that interests them, and then they move on to something different. However, that brings up the idea of these sites being a gateway to the visitor wanting to learn more about the topic, so if that is the case, then I would say the site has served its purpose. 

Week Eleven: Historians and Big Data

This week in class was a bit confusing and headache inducing. It was the topic of big data and data mining. In class we had a presentation on data mining, which honestly, confused me completely. I have never heard of data mining previously, and after the presentation I didn’t know anything more about it. I couldn’t follow anything about the presentation and was questioning what this presentation had to do with digital history. Although the subject of data mining was lost on me, it seemed interesting to some people in the class, and maybe after I do a little more research on it, it will start making sense to me too.

The reading’s for this week were interesting. I have heard of the Tower of Babel. but never the Library of Babel. The short story was very interesting and brings up another topic of this week which was navigating the infinite archive. As historians, we are not strangers to searching through archives for information to prove our theses, and we tend to spend hours just looking for relevant information before we even get the chance to read through it. In the article “From Babel to Knowledge”, the author goes through different kinds of search engines that can make searching for certain things easier. The most interesting one to me was the Syllabus Finder. I never knew someone would think to make a search engine for the purpose of finding a college syllabus. While it may not help someone historically, it may help aid teachers in either starting a new class on a certain subject, or looking for something new to make the class more interesting. As an aspiring teacher myself, it may prove useful and helpful to me in the future. 

I also explored the Time Magazine Corpus this week. It is basically a search engine to help look for certain articles posted in the magazine. I have searched through old editions of Time magazine in the campus library before, but looking through several magazines hoping to find the specific information I am looking for, can be very annoying and time consuming. I wish I had known of this website a long time ago. I have used Time magazine for several history papers, and I am sure I will be using this website in the future. 

As historians, we learn how the use archives to find helpful information to prove our theories and find things that historians may have missed. Luckily we have several types of search engines and new ways coming out to help make searching for this information easier and faster. Because many of us are on time limits when it comes to getting all of our information together, we need ways to make searching for this information faster and easier so we can gather all the information we can to help prove our theories, and luckily many new and improved search engines are coming out all the time to help us with this.

Week Ten: Space, Time, and Place

This week in class, we had readings about GIS projects. Prior to this week, I had a little knowledge about GIS from a history class I had a few semesters ago about local and community history; we had a presentation about GIS one night in class. After that presentation, I quickly came to find out I did not care for local and community history, or GIS projects. Possibly because it looks at minor details or areas that I am not interested in at all. My preference is Asian studies, particularly the culture of Japan, and looking at local history and public history; it doesn’t keep my interest at all. 

However, this week we were asked to look at a GIS online project. The one I chose to look at was Mapping the Republic of Letters, created by Stamford University. I went on it with the preconception of thinking I would be bored and uninterested while clicking through the site. I was surprised to find that I explored this site for awhile, reading through the case studies and finding much of the information very interesting. A lot of the topics and people they studied are famous figures I have heard of before, like Benjamin Franklin and Voltaire. By reading through the case studies I learned a lot about them that I had never learned before, and the visuals included in these studies made it more interesting to look through. Many of the images are things I have never seen before and have graphs and pie charts breaking down some of the information that was found during these case studies. The site also had a page of publications and a blog section, but when I tried looking at them the pages were not available. But just by having these sections on the site provides some interesting information and historical studies that have been done and been made public.

Clearly this project has benefits to historical scholarship. It contains a lot of information students normally don’t learn in class or in textbooks. The visuals are created by the people doing the case study so they are unique and found no where else. One of the most interesting pages is the Spanish Empire study. It has several maps and other primary sources included in it, as do other case studies on the site. It really is a helpful resource for history students. Even if someone just scrolls the pictures and doesn’t read, the information is still informative. Research papers normally don’t have visuals to help with their information, so anything involving numbers or map details don’t do the study justice; but with the visuals added to the studies on this project, it helps those looking through the site get more information out of it. Reading through every case study can teach someone a lot more information about these famous historical figures then they had before. Projects like this may not always interest me, but I fully enjoyed looking through this one, and I hope this project continues to expand and grow and add even more information to the historical community.

Week Eight: Digital Collections and Digital Preservation

This week much of class time was spent talking about Omeka. Prior to this class, I knew nothing about Omeka, never even heard of it. But after doing some reading about it, it seems like a very helpful resource not only for students, but for anyone who wants to visit a museum but doesn’t have the means to actually go there. 

One of the articles labels Omeka as “WordPress for museums” and as we know, WordPress is used for blogs that can be written about anything, a source academics are increasingly getting into. For history students in particular, Omeka can display a museums or library’s archives for students to look through, and these museums and libraries may be the only place these primary sources are located. Because this database is free for users, it provides people with a wealth of information that they wouldn’t be able to access any other way. 

Another one of the readings says Omeka has no competition. Many other sources we use for information such as MediaWiki and a library’s digital archives, such as CCSU’s archives, they don’t have the same ease of use that Omeka has. Not only that, but Omeka is like a combination of all these sites in one. Anyone can create one, but historians and librarians may not be interested in small town historical districts, so students (such as in our class) can go to these places and show others that these small places do exist and they have some interesting sites that may interest people.

The final article talks about something called Dublin Core. After reading it through, even I can’t completely understand it. Discussion of computer codes and metadata is something I have never been able to understand, so much of the article was completely foreign to me. I am sure some people would understand everything that it is talking about, but it has been the one field I can never understand, which is why Omeka seems so much easier to use and comprehend.

Omeka and other sites that are coming out are making finding sources and unknown historical places easier to access for students and regular people who are interested in these kinds of things. By using Omeka, people can even plan trips to go to some of these places and learn something new, even if it is a place in their own town, Omeka makes it known to those who may not know about it otherwise. Because of this class, several new places will be added to Omeka and people will become more aware of these places. For example, for my project I am researching the historical section of the town of Southington, when most people think of this part of town, they instantly think of the annual Apple Harvest Festival, they don’t think of the several war memorials that are located there. By doing this project, people will realize there is more to the center of town than just a festival, it is a place where history has occurred and where we honor the people who were a part of that history, and then they start to see their own hometown in a totally new way. 

Week Seven: Finding, Building, and Using your Audience

The topic for this week has been getting yourself noticed on the internet; building your fanbase and followers by getting your information out there for people to find. I think part of how popular you get on the social networking sites, like WordPress and Twitter, is how you present yourself. Not everyone wants to read research papers filled with words and phrases they don’t understand. They want to read things that interest them, and academia is not something that interest everyone. For example, in addition to my account here on WordPress, I also have an account on a website called Fanfiction.net. On WordPress, my blog is used solely for the digital history class, but my Fanfiction account is where I write fictional stories based on video games, books, anime, whatever I want. Over the years that I have had my fanfiction account, I have built a loyal group of followers, many of whom can’t wait for the next chapter of my stories. If I were to have posted my research papers on the site, I doubt I would have gotten the large audience I have now. What you present is just as important as how you present it. If you are trying to make it deep and complicated, chances are you won’t have many followers. Make it easy to comprehend, and your audience will probably grow, and you may even get people interested in new topics they had never heard of before. 

With the creation of tags, several different search engines, and commands like CtrlF, we can easily find things we are interested in. Using these tools are invaluable for history students as we have all learned. We can find several sources within a few seconds, something that would take hours in a library. These tools are also used by everyday people searching for something they have an interest in. By attaching tags to something you post, like a research paper or something you wrote up for no reason, you can attract a wide range of people when they search for a specific tag. Using just this one tools can attract a much wider audience then you would normally get without it. Not only that, but well-known and popular scholars use social networks like Twitter to get the word out of a new book they wrote or article that was printed in a magazine, so even if they retired or left their field for some reason, they can still continue getting their work out to people who followed their research before they decided to retire or take a break. All these websites and tools have become very helpful in terms of history. Not just history of course, but all branches of academics.

A feature on Fanfiction.net that I love most, is the comment feature. By getting feedback on my stories I can see what people are liking about my stories and what they want me to change. I take all comments into consideration and change my stories accordingly. When I read the positive comments, I feel like I am really doing my job right, and feel accomplished as a writer. By using the audience, I feel I am becoming a better writer, and without the power of Web 2.0, I would always be doubting my writing skills, and one thing a writer should never do is doubt his or her writing skills. Not everyone is going to like what you write or like what you have to say, but as long as you are happy with what you wrote, that is all that matters. However, it is always helpful to have other opinions to make things better; why do you think professors always want to have individual meeting with their students when they have to write a big research paper? The internet is the same way, the audience can give invaluable advice, which is why I am always open to comments and opinions from my readers, I want to make sure I am writing something they enjoy reading but also something I am proud of writing. I have been happy with all my blogs so far on WordPress and even if I get negative comments, I will be happy with what I wrote.