Digital Humanities: changing the game

I’m glad I got a chance to finally read the blog post by Chad Black of University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He lays it out very well in his two blog “charting my archive” (that explains how he’s using tools such as text mining to link the historical context of 18th century Latin American court cases then displaying the case purposes seeing if they link with the historical context of the time) and his other blog post “a long form historical narrative framework” (which he explains how going to a web coding class got him to thinking that there are many tools for Digital historians to use for museum curation and archive work, but tools for actually explaining narrative through citing evidence lack and those that do try such as ebooks and blog posts such as this one can become confusing during navigation). He goes into detail about if someone were to create one similar to that of a book to quickly jump around through cited evidence and navigation to where the user was on to back to where they needed to be would be great. One of the sites he mentions that tried to attempt this is my Civil War Professor Dr. Rubin early collaborative work from her days at the University of Virginia, “Valley of the Shadow” project. The way she explained it and walked us through it when she came in to speak to us in class was the narratives and databases that users could interact with one would walk around similarly to a virtual museum. We did not actually get a chance to get into about how was the “Valley of the Shadow” speaks to users in way of narrative. What is the take away when someone finishes looking through the project and does not have access to the accompanying book? How were the cities affected by the Civil War? I have not gotten a chance to fool around on it and as I mention in one of my previous posts you can’t actually access the old CD version. It is funny to think that when that project was first released it was “state of the art”, but as Dr. Rubin is showing with her interactive map project in Digital Humanities ideas are constantly evolving, reshaping, becoming more user friendly and ways of access are becoming more sustainable, such as her map being made on flash and accessible via web browser.

An early digital humanities project from 2003. "That focuses on two towns on opposite sides of the Civil War"

An early digital humanities project from 2003. “That focuses on two towns on opposite sides of the Civil War”

The idea of constantly changing ideas brings me to another great point the idea of the Creative Commons. Instead of no credit where credit is due the idea of the Creative commons with just a quick flash of the logo shows where as they put it on their “about” page a place where creativity can flourish. People can have a visual cue to show they are ok with one using their work, websites, songs, characters (such as “Cholo Mickey Mouse” the example from my Digital History Professor Sibaja. He would not be usable because his likeness is too much of that of Standard Mickey mouse.”) Digital Humanities have come a long way since their infancy and the primitive early interest group websites of the 90’s. As Professor Chad Black shows us digital tools can be used and applied to many areas such as displaying information actual numbers, but when it comes to the narrative element of history digital tools still lack and this is a major element when actually practicing history. The subject matter and when someone needs to barrow content the Creative Commons is there and allows them to use it anxiety free, but still it is up to the user to take the time and go through the Creative Commons process. As we go forward into our era of digital humanities I am hopeful about the possibilities.

Mickey Mouse targeted toward a more urban Latino audiences. An example of what could be if the copy right of Mickey Mouse ever runs out. In a world without Creative Commons. Perhaps a Sony based character.

Mickey Mouse targeted toward more urban Latino audiences. An example of what could be if the copy right of Mickey Mouse ever runs out. In a world without Creative Commons. Perhaps a Sony based character.


“Baltimore Shops” at the Baltimore Museum of Industry

Come to the BMI

Come to the BMI

November 23rd I had a wonderful trip to the Baltimore Museum of Industry with a mini tour from my classmate and co-curator of the “Baltimore Shops” exhibit Ms. Debbie Farthing (Link to her blog). For my first visit I was pleasantly surprised. The museum itself uses many different methods of displaying information. It’s not particularly exhibit plaque heavy. The Museum does a great job of stepping back and letting the items there speak for themselves. From writing a paper, choosing a book or making a blog layout from the moment you step into the museum right outside the Baltimore docks next to the Dominos Sugar building to the Under Amor campus building next door. Old Machinery scatters the outside of the building giving you a sense of what you will be talking about is industry, unmistakable industry. The museum also uses interesting techniques like combing the museum display cases as store fronts.


The museum uses a number of techniques aside from regular display. Museum workers provide demonstrations as well as anecdotes (such as the Baltimore fire of 1904 that wiped out half the city) to accompany the machinery demonstrations and the museum is big on using children’s activities for class groups or regular tour groups for audio learners and those who remember by doing. One section that might make people think “too” hard is the transportation section. I might see what they were trying to do by making the lineup of transport vehicles throughout Baltimore’s industrious past, but some of the accompanying plaques were either nonexistent or in some high off areas and impossible to read. One they were either too far back or the text was too small.

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I had a real treat walking with Debbie and getting into the mind set for the curation of the exhibit. As visitors step into the hall of with her exhibit the wall to their left is show how Baltimore rises and grows up from the markets and industry rises from the earliest markets then transforming into the commercial centers Markets, Department stores and independent merchants. The more she explained it to me the more it reminded me of walking through a paper and with that as the thesis statement. The display of Hess Shoes (which had some interesting displays targeted toward children such as the giraffe which Debbie personally picked herself or the monkeys in their display window that the children could pet while they had haircuts) is like icing atop the cake that makes her exhibit.

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I got a chance to ask Debbie if she would have used any digital tools during the creation. Almost the entire exhibit was done by hand, but Debbie told me if she could use some more digital elements aside from the digitization of the photographs on display she might have also chosen to use perhaps like Omeka to organize her sources digitally rather than the large binder she used. She also told me that it would have been nice to use some electronic picture frames to display pictures more could have been added from the collection she used from the BGE power company archives where most of the pictures came from. One picture for a shop she could not find at the entrance of the exhibit I asked her if she tried crowd sourcing online and asking if someone had a copy. She told me did and checked the commons for a generic one online with no luck, but it is nice for her to have that option. I also asked how she would get feedback using digital tools. Most of the feedback for the museum comes from the guest log book, but reaction wise its reward to for her to walk through exhibit for those of the older generation to walk with their families and saying, “Hey, I remember that!” Check out the display before they change it in March. Great Job! Thanks again Debbie!

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Two other displays that I found interesting that juxtapose each other the wall of fame of Baltimore Industry and the “Video Game Wizards”. The Wall of fame allows visitors to take their time and look at some of the major businesses such as the B&O Railroad or the Oyster factory from where the Museum takes place.  The wall is very well organized information can be decoded easy. The “Video Game Wizards” display is a completely digital exhibit that walks visitors through the steps of video game design by designing games at interactive kiosks as they move through. Both these exhibits show the BMI is constantly changing and I would rank it high up there for a stop when visiting Baltimore and preserving its history. Come on out and see for yourself.

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Digital Story Telling

The Mark Sample and Kelly Schrum piece hits very hard at home. I think my biggest problem with the writing papers at the way of practicing history. I will be very honest as they point out why I should put my full effort into my paper when nobody is going to read it or going to give a crap about it. I put much more effort into a project when there is some kind of visual component or I will be held responsible knowledge wise because I am going to speak about the topic. If this is a one and done deal then the paper might not be that great. At the same time what I’ve learned from my History 201 class is that papers/academia/history is done through writing and papers. I feel like if you try any other method nobody will take you seriously unless it’s presented well such as Dr. Rubin’s Sherman map. Still some of her colleagues frown upon her for taking history out of the traditional realm even that much. Personally, I would like to see a shift. I’ve read great books from her classes specifically such as March and Flush Times and Fever Dreams. March a historical fiction piece that follows the adventures and trials of the Father of the famous Little Women as he attempts to escape war and return to his regular life in the North and then Flush Times and Fever Dreams a very traditional history book that brings up different narratives and themes that all support how racist xenophobic sentiment go hand in hand with the development of slave culture in the expanding Mississippi territory during the 1830’s. In my mind I was thinking that these are both great books. Is it possible that one could perhaps turn these subjects into a game? Would you lose credibility if the information was discerned to me in the fashion with a controller in my hand? Maybe it would be easier to identify with Mr. March if you are in the battles running from the Confederacy alongside him or perhaps in the case in Flush Times someone in the virtual world could walk in and see these atrocities committed before them to gain a greater understanding of the development of slave culture?  I’m looking forward to taking the game design course with her in the Spring to see what she wants us to do.


Laying a ground work. Chapter One T. Mills Kelly Teaching History in the Digital Age

Mills Kelly’s approach to teaching history is actually much of what I learned from my very informative Dr. Ritschel History 201 class. One of the textbooks that he provides explaining that the study of learning history is much like that of providing a light on a jagged road by a cliff when you are driving. Another analogy he was fond of was history being built like that of a house. With your writing and structure making up the frame work of the house and that of your historical evidence the decadence. If your structure was poor then the house would collapse in upon itself not leaving that much left for the furniture or the people who live inside. For some reason this chapter has to speak to those in the field and uses the same language for historians doing just that entering the field. If Mills Kelly began the chapter talking about digital archives or the use the digital tools maybe the people who came to look up what Mills Kelly talks about in the first place would be lost on them. Another element that I enjoy about chapter one and harkens me back to the days of 201 that even impress my brother a fellow History major and scholar is that of the historiography of history. Mills Kelly talks about how innovation in the field goes back to when teaching people of the past becomes a field in the first place. Then of course you move on to the future and how digital tools can help teach about the past and progress the field even further without full reliance or digital tools as a substitute for tried andtrue methods of teaching and keeping the reader engaged and ready to read more.

History on the Carvings at the Supreme Court Building

History on the Carvings at the Supreme Court Building personified along side historical leaders who added to the idea of the “Rule of Law”

Does the process of “Digitizing History” lose its context?

One similar pattern arises in both Sheila A. Brennan, “Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory” and Martha Sandweiss, “Artifacts as Pixels, Pixels as Artifacts: Working with Photographs in the Digital Age,” both post mention. That while many benefits arise from digitizing photographs and museum’s collections other issues arise. Categorization is one of these big issues that separate a digital archive from that of a messy drawer of old photographs. As digital archivist it is up to us to carefully tag as much information to the potential historian who wants to dig into the archive. Another issue is that arises when digitizing a collection one must for the purposes of historical context look into the history of medium. If you can at least know what era of photography the original analog photograph was taken so that the user of the archive can know the source material when they want to use it for historical analysis. This is the same process one would use for a bibliography in a paper. Sometimes altercations could be made to the photograph during the digitalization process and in these instances of historical analysis it is important for the person digging to know before providing misinformation. For both digitizing museum collections and archival photographs the more information you gain from the source whether biographical, subject matter in tagging, or era of which it comes from can all be helpful resources during the digitization process. A good example of museum digitization on a small scale while is still useful for increasing museum traffic is that of the American History Museum’s Facebook page. I enjoy it because it allows users who follow the page to ask questions about a featured piece and the staff is usually quick in replying which users can participate and comment in creating context for the piece.


Internet, History and Willie Lynch speech

An element mentioned in Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History Chapter 6 is this idea of collecting History with the use of the internet. An element discussed in the chapter is the idea that the teens will be too busy playing games and downloading music to bother the internet archivist when it comes to adding their input or adding their voice to the great pool that is the internet to provide issues to digital scholarship. This did remind me of an instance where digital history does take a dark turn. In my High school African American History class my teacher Mr. Smith provided us with a Text by a famous 19th century Plantation owner named Willie Lynch. People in our class read Lynch’s speech and were horrified. We were then asking us to provide a response to Lynch’s words people’s hands shot up. Of course my fellow class mates talked of how they knew these words and that of course this is the name of man from where the term “Lynching” derives. We were all shocked to find that the speech turns out to be from the internet in the 1990’s, but captures the spirit of what times represented so well that it has been taken into American popular 21st myth. So much so that people have started to disseminate the text as fact.

Going back to Digital History the internet as a useful tool to collect parts of the past and let the underrepresented have a voice. This can be done with safe methods as discussed in the chapter. Methods such as finding the information of all contributors as well as going down to where you must understand the kinds of questions you ask to make sure you are getting the most out of the contributors.


Making History come alive in the Digital Age

We have all been there and when people ask you what major are you taking and you reply to them History most will feel sorry for you or some in whatever other field they might be in will start talking to you about whatever they feel is the most Historically important to them be it the English Kings or the American Civil War and (in the back of your mind your like, “Ok I got it, I know I have to read too.” Then they apologize, “Oh I’m just a history buff.”

The reason I entered the field is to emulate my High school Social Studies teacher Mr. Smith whom I believe I took four classes with by the time I graduated. Mr. Smith honestly wanted his students to be well informed about the world around them and he prefaced every class with “I don’t want you to take everything I say as gospel, but I want you to question me.” This was a challenged posed by no other teacher I remember in my High school years.

Mr. Smith did an excellent job I remember because many times I would participate in this in my recent classes and remember them from Mr. Smith such as Brooker T. Washington and his Crab bucket quote. I defiantly feel like through different multimedia shown to me that I’ve been able to interact with in Mr. Smith’s class has had the biggest lasting impact when it comes to retaining what I’ve learned from his class. From what I remember he was not a big PowerPoint user at all. Both from his in class lectures and our homework assignments, Mr. Smith always had a hand out ready and always wanted us to write from Historical figures perspectives. Mr. Smith was always ready with a movie or documentary not as the class “babysitter”, but complemented our in class discussions and his lectures. Now it’s my turn as a disciple of History in the digital age to take what I’ve learned from Mr. Smith and roll with it.

How can these digital tool present data to students to both inform them and not create mindless zombies hoards? Edward Tufte in his article claims power point is part of the problem leading its listeners to become mindless and assume they are stupid. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug tell us that the more tricks we can use to make a site more aesthetically pleasing the better the information will get down to the user such as Dr. Anne Rubin’s Valley of the Shadow project compared to her more recent interactive Sherman’s March map. The Valley of the Shadow while organized as a digital museum is not particularly the most user-friendly while her new Digital Map in 2014 takes the user down a multimedia path right along General Sherman’s march to the sea in a powerful emotion evoking sensory  experience.

With tools like these along with being well informed ascetically pleasing web design students I have hope for the students of tomorrow to be able to learn and retain quicker as well still have the ability to question the world around them.