Historically Us

Historical Inquiry in a Digital World

Changing Your Comment Settings On WordPress (Institutional Version)

A short video for my fellow Heritage Tourism classmates on how to make comments available throughout your UNCC CLAS WordPress site.

A Storify from AHA 2015

Winter Break Fun with Tableu

Over the holiday break I have a few things I’m hoping to work on and tinker with. Along with the typical conference paper proposals, thesis research, and attending the AHA for the first time (nerdy squee!), I’ve been playing with Tableu Public.

Going to try hard NOT to do this…

 

Some of the tutorial videos and example projects I saw really convinced me to give Tableu a shot. I love that you can create several different visualizations and add them to a dashboard or create a story with them.

I don’t have any monumental data sets to work with at the moment, rather I have some small sets of data that I’ve used in the past to create more traditional graphs (a la Excel). I’ve been plugging these in and seeing what kind of visualizations I can get. I’ll share the results in a post when I’ve got something of at least mild interest!

I’m also hoping to use the visualizations, along with previous research, as the basis for a paper for our Graduate History Forum in the spring. (You can read the call for papers here. We welcome proposals from across the country and from a variety of fields! ) Especially after this semester’s work and study, I really want to incorporate a digital aspect. Exploring some of my previous research through a few digital lenses will, at the least, be fun and, at the best, spark some new questions as I prepare to build on this research for my thesis.

So, getting back to Tableu, I’d love to hear about other people’s experience and advice on Tableu. Have you used Tableu for historical data analysis? What types of data did you find most useful with Tableu? Do you have any tips for getting the most out of the software? Or do you have other software/methods you would recommend? Leave a comment below or send me a message from the About page, I would love to hear from you!

Digital Project Reflections

In this final blog post for History in the Digital Age we were instructed to discuss and reflect on our digital project. If you recall, my project involved creating a website focused around the art of hairwork.

 

The final iteration of the project can be found at http://hairworkhistory.net/

The final iteration of my project can be found at http://hairworkhistory.net/

 

Many of my colleagues were working with an outside partner or towards a more concrete goal than I. My aim was largely to take a topic and play around with how to present it, how to try to attract/engage viewers, and how to create content aimed at a public audience. I’m going to largely limit this post to reflecting on a few of the parts of the project that I learned from/enjoyed the most.

 

Platforms

I chose to work with WordPress because I had a bit of familiarity with it and because I knew that many academic blogs and projects have used WP. I did, however, want to explore the platform more deeply than I had in just posting weekly assignments and the like; this ended up being one of the most advantageous parts of the project and where I feel that I gained a good bit of really useful knowledge. Throughout the project I hopped from one WordPress platform to another (free WordPress.com, university-hosted, and self-hosted versions) trying to figure out the advantages and disadvantages of each. The long and short of this experimentation is this:

1. I found the university-hosted WordPress was the least flexible and customizable option.

  • Credibility
  • Edit CSS
  • Ability to save and import/export content

  • Inability to add plug-ins/themes
  • Limited pre-installed plug-ins and themes
  • Lack of control
I should mention that another advantage of the school-hosted over the free version was the ability to edit the CSS. I only have enough knowledge to change a few colors here and there though...which didn't help with the layout and design a whole lot.

Note the way images refuse to stay within the bounds of the post’s frame.

 

2. For a majority of small, largely personal, projects or sites WordPress.com provides ample options and customization.

  • FREE and highly accessible
  • Instantly connected into the WP community
  • Fair amount of customization through themes
  • Ability to save and import/export content
  • User controlled, not limited by institutional framework

  • Can’t add plug-ins
  • Must pay for more advanced customization
  • Inability to add (most) html/javascript/flash
With a few clever work arounds, WP.com can provide an attractive and flexible base for most projects. http://hairworkhistory.wordpress.com

With a few clever work-arounds, WP.com can provide an attractive and flexible base for most projects. http://hairworkhistory.wordpress.com

 

3. The biggest adventure of the project was taking it to a self-hosted version. I had never worked with the BACK-back-end of a website before and there was/is a bit of a learning curve. The possibilities that come with being in complete control of the site, however, is definitely worth trekking up and over the learning curve.

  • You’ve got the power! Plug-ins, sub-domains, themes, CSS, html/Java/Flash, customization, embeds, etc. the possibilities are wide open!
  • Price of registering a domain + hosting can be considerably lower through another company versus the equivalent at WP.com

  • Requires slightly more advanced knowledge
  • Not free

You may notice that this blog has made the move to self-hosted as well! The biggest mistake I made during this process was registering hairworkhistory.net first. Instead, I should have registered historicallyus.com and added Sentimental Locks as a section of that larger site.

Content

Another great learning experience was creating the content for the site. My original plan was to focus on reviewing/annotating/sharing a variety of sites, videos, books, and articles that were related to hairwork. I chose this angle because I did not have access/permissions for a specific collection to build a project around. I wanted to create a central location where interested users could find a range of information from both digital and traditional sources.

To these original ends, I created several posts profiling sites and sources. These types of posts quickly felt somewhat limited, however. While exploring for primary sources, I found that each historical item offered the chance to explore not only hairwork but the historical context surrounding the craft. I found the posts that took a few pieces of primary evidence and expanded upon them to be a lot of fun and, I would hope, a lot more interesting for a user.

If I could go back I would start with a much greater focus on these types of posts based on original research.  It was great practice discussing a historical topic with a popular audience in mind. There are also plenty of open access sources focused on this time period that could be utilized and shared in a way that encourages users to continue exploration of source material on their own. In fact, being pointed toward different open access sources and learning about the potentials and limitations of digital sources was another valuable lesson of the class and project as a whole.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed working on this project. It was a great opportunity to play around with ideas, concepts, and tools without the pressure of fully realizing a project by semester’s end. Several things I attempted to do that bordered on the more technical have not been successful, yet. Several of the ideas for the project didn’t pan out either, but then some smaller aspects became more prominent. Though the content of our class was largely more theoretical discussions, rather than hands-on learning/training with technology, the project has provided the chance to develop these skills on our own through experimentation. Of course, the experience has opened up a number of new possibilities and questions that I want to continue exploring well beyond the course’s end.

 

Southern Women’s Historiography Timeline

One of my fellow classmates shared this awesome timeline tool, TimelineJS, with us this week and I wanted to give it a go. The timeline here is intended to help me visualize the periodization of a set of works I’m using in a historiography on the history of Southern women. The historical period that each book covers is charted, but I do wish that the bottom timeline itself could be enlarged to better contextualize this information. Otherwise though, it’s quite a lovely tool!

Podcasts as Public History

This week’s blog assignment included listening to at least one podcast from BackStory Radio, and one episode from either Journal of American History Podcast, BBC’s In Our Time Podcast, Exploring Environmental History Podcast, or Nature’s Past Podcast. After listening to these, we were instructed to reflect on how history is presented differently through these podcasts versus other forms of media we have explored throughout the semester.

Personally, I love a good podcast. Growing up we always had the small radio in the kitchen tuned to NPR, listened to Car Talk on Saturday morning drives, and, once podcasts came around, I listened to the Leaky Cauldron’s PotterCast at my first job at the public library. As an adult, my car radio rarely leaves NPR and I still love a good podcast binge.

As it happens, in the past few weeks I’ve been on a weekend road trip back to my hometown and have been doing some deep winter cleaning; both perfect opportunities for enjoying a podcast or five.

 

You might say these podcasts are nearly purrfect. *ducks*

 

While on the road, I listened to episodes from the JAH podcast, BBC’s Our Time, Exploring Environmental History, and caught up on the latest Digital Campus episodes. Throughout the week I also listened to quite a few different BackStory episodes. These podcasts represent a wide variety of topics, reflective of just as much diversity as any one history department’s list of courses on offer.

Indeed, many have argued that the digital realm provides a better platform for distributing information on subjects, like many of our favorite sub-fields of history, that fall on the long tail. This is an idea we have seen that reflected in the readings we’ve done and the projects we have examined over the semester.

 

An adorable graphic for visualizing the "long tail" potential as it applies to  keyword searches.

An adorable graphic for visualizing the long tail potential as it applies to keyword searches.

 

The wide reach of the internet makes it possible to engage multiple audiences and share good, trustworthy, informative history on a large variety of topics.

For instance, when considering the podcasts we listened to, it seems there are a number of different target audiences for the different programs.

First, of course there are the likely differences in audience that the topics of each podcast might attract. For example, the few episodes I listened to featured guests and stories that cover American, Egyptian, ancient, modern, environmental, Native American,  economic, and educational histories.

Looking a bit deeper though, there seems to be differences between the podcasts produced primarily for an academic audience or for a wider public audience. Podcasts from the Journal of American History and Exploring Environmental History did feel like they had a more academic bent. These programs were longer form with one topic and one guest. They expect that the listener will remain engaged by a deeper understanding of one particular topic or work.

 

I will find the time, Sweet Brown. Still, an hour’s worth of information on one topic, with one speaker, can seem more like a lecture or a keynote speech than a podcast.

 

In contrast, podcasts like BackStory and Our Time follow a more conventional public radio format. Of all the podcasts, BackStory was far and away my favorite, partially because it follows such a familiar structure. This structure consists of several different stories based around a broader topic; reminiscent of popular shows like This American Life, Snap Judgement, and Radio Lab. If the goal is to engage and inform a wider public audience, this format seems to fit the ticket better, in my opinion. The shorter stories allow for a listener to engage for smaller bursts of time; if they don’t find one story as interesting they can simply wait for the next; and, if the show appears on the radio as BackStory does, listeners just tuning can easily enter the program without being lost.

When compared to other forms of digital media we have examined, it seems that the podcasts across these categories are most akin to broad topical blogs. Unlike a digital archive with a wealth of primary materials to dig deeply into or a digital project with an explorable narrative, podcasts offer bite-size jumping off points into history. We’ve also read about the decreased willingness or capability to read long form written narrative; podcasts offer a way to connect with audiences who would be less likely to read long-ish form writing in blogs, articles, or books.

Overall, I think podcasts are yet another great tool in the digital toolbox as it relates to engaging new audiences with historical information. This is especially true with programs like BackStory that appear not only online, as a podcast, but also on the radio.

 

 

 

 

 

Going “Bananas” in Digital Archives

This week we are taking a look at different digital archives and thinking about what they might offer over traditional print archives, how they are structured, and how their design/functionality might be improved.

After clicking around a few of the archives I was intrigued by the Prelinger Archives. This archive represents a collection of “ephemeral” films initially collected by Rick Prelinger. While a physical location and collection still exists, most of the archive is now available online through the Internet Archive. A majority of the items in the collection are a part of the public domain and can be used in whatever manner the user chooses. (It should be noted, however, that the Internet Archive will not give written permission for any particular film or clip to be used, rather, Getty Images serves as the collections “stock footage sales representative.” This means that, for a fee, Getty will give you a license to use clips from the films in the Prelinger collection that will protect you against any copyright infringement claims.)

This collection strikes me as especially useful in a digital form because of the nature of the items; that is to say, films ranging from the turn of the twentieth century through to the present day. On a digital platform, these films can be presented to researchers in a number of formats that do not require the use of a wide range of hardware, no physical travel is required, and the large physical space necessary to store so many films can also be minimized. Another benefit is that the digital format presented online allows for the videos to be cleaned up and and any damage repaired.

Home page of ther Prelinger Archives (Screenshot 11/8/2014)

Home page of the Prelinger Archives (Screenshot 11/8/2014)

Let’s turn to the interface of the Prelinger’s online home. The design is fairly simple; bordered areas of text contain information about rights, the history of the archive, and a forum section for user interaction. There are various routes to accessing the materials themselves; there is a list of items alphabetically, there are sub-collections, lists of “Staff Picks,” “Most Downloaded Items Last Week,” and “Most Downloaded Items.”

This last list, “Most Downloaded Items,” goes a long way to show the impact and traffic the site has. The most downloaded film is  About Bananas. This is a 1935 film, commissioned by the United Fruit Company, to inform people about the process of growing and shipping bananas. About Bananas has been downloaded nearly 27 million times.

(The clip above is the same film uploaded to YouTube, where it only has 171 views.)

Clearly, with that many downloads, About Bananas appeals to a variety of users of the archive. A historically-based research and writing project could easily use About Bananas as a central piece of primary evidence. For instance, a project considering the impact of Western owned agricultural firms on the environment and culture of Central American countries during the first few decades of the twentieth century. Because the film is silent, it could be creatively used alongside music of narration in a documentary on the banana industry or Central American-United States relations.

Alternatively, a comparative approach might use About Bananas along side another film from the Prelinger Archives, the 1945 US Government produced Emergency in Honduras.

While About Bananas is basically an ad for Americans to buy bananas, Emergency in Honduras shows the perils of dependence on the banana  when war interrupts shipment of the fruit. Both films, however, portray an image of money and intelligence from the United States swooping in to save Central Americans through labor jobs, first in the banana fields and then through public works projects that speed the production and export of war-time goods instead of bananas.

Using these two films together creates a unique view of Central American-United States relations through two specific moments in time. By using keyword tagging, the user can easily see a link between the two films that might otherwise be in different sections because of their age, their creators, etc.

I like the tagging and the other forms of navigation through the Prelinger archive. The only thing that confused me was the “Related Collections” section of the home page. I wasn’t sure if these items were other sub-collections within the Prelinger or whether they were totally separate. Thinking they were a part of the Prelinger archive, I spent quite awhile looking at drive-in movie theatre intermission ads; but, after a second look, I don’t believe that collection is a part of the Perlinger so I moved on to other items.

A means of improving the value of the online archive, to academics at least, would be to add more detailed information about the films. The downloadable metadata does not include year, location, or any sort of Dublin Core level data. The metadata does, however, contain information like keywords, description, rights, date uploaded, and title.

Haunting Hoaxes, Frightening Forgeries, and Angsty Alterations

Unfortunately, this isn’t really a Halloween-y post, but the topic can get a bit spooooooky. OK, I’m probably stretching it, but I’m in the Halloween spirit, sorry ’bout it.

 

This week we are considering digitally altered or forged sources. We’ve read a few articles and looked through some galleries of fakes to get a grasp on what can and is being done in the world of digital trickery.

I’m pretty inexperienced when it comes to spotting a Photoshopped image. When it comes to images in popular magazines or advertisements, I assume they have been touched-up, at the least, and probably contain some slimming, tucking, and lifting many times.

For some reason, however, I’m less apt to think about the same types of manipulation when it comes to news photographs and even less so with historical images. As far as images in the news media go, I should definitely be less naive. Luckily for me, there are often internet sleuths who swoop in to debate the integrity of an image.

As for the historian in the digital age, I feel like there isn’t much more to be worried about than in the past. “A search for historic image forgeries” tends to bring up photos of fairies and ghost, some with misleading captions, and even a super creepy looking fake baby Adolf Hitler.

Now THAT’S freaky, y’all.

 

Most of these forgeries were done at the same time the photo was taken, and they are usually easy to spot with the modern eye. But there are historic images that have been edited in our time, like in-a-gadda-da-oswald, though many of these are easy to spot as well.

I don’t really see the evidence of any major modern historical hoaxes or forgeries. That isn’t to say that historians shouldn’t be aware that it could happen, but even in the digital age we generally get our primary material from institutions that we trust. Images from the National Archives or the Library of Congress should be trustworthy, although the historian must still keep an eye out for manipulation contemporary with the image’s creation. The problems will arise for historians of our current time, when they have to sort through all the digital alterations and distinguish between cosmetic, malicious, and playful changes that have been made.

Farid and Conner Get Historical

Did you know Hany Farid and Kevin Conner, of Four and Six, are time travelers?

One of the pioneers of digital photography forensics is Hany Farid. After reading several articles with quotes from Farid and checking out his blog I’ve picked up a few things to keep in mind when examining an image for potential tampering. At the most technical level, Farid uses specialized software he has created to find any digital artifacts that indicate a forgery. However, there are less technical means of spotting giveaways.

For instance, shadows play a major role in authenticating an image. Another potential give away is color consistency; if the colors or the clarity of certain parts of the image seem different than the majority of the image then portions may have been added or parts may have been heavily retouched. This seems especially true in historic photos. In cases where people have been painted out of the image or dancing fairies have been added in, it is clear to see the inconsistency if you look close.

The terrifying tale of Goebbel’s Disembodied Shoulder and the Suspiciously Painted Grass!

In sloppier cases, even modern Photoshoppers will leave the evidence of their changes in plain view, causing us to not only laugh, but also reconsider just how often the images we see have been manipulated to present a specific ideal.

A recent example of Target Photoshop faux pas.

In the modern age, whether we have our historian hats on or not, we have to be mindful of potential tom-foolery. It is encouraging to imagine, however, that historians may have a leg up as we are trained to examine all sources with a critical eye. Undoubtedly, however, there will surely be some altered images that will slip past even the most critical eye.

Tom Hitchcock on Social Media and the Humanities

A rather inspiring post from Tim Hitchcock, Professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex, discussing the usefulness and importance of digital methods of communicating humanities work, research, teaching, etc. Hitchcock also discusses the benefits of early career scholars establishing an online presence that is both professional and true-to-life. Some of my personal favorite excerpts:

“By building blogging, Twitter, flickr, and shared libraries in Zotero, in to our research programmes – into the way we work anyway – we both get more research done, and build a community of engaged readers for the work itself.  We can do what we have always done, but do it better; as a public performance, in dialogue amongst ourselves, and with a wider public.”

and

“Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.”

 

You can read the full post here. (The version of the article I saw shared via Twitter was on the London School of Economics site [located here if you want to go that route] but I’m favoring the link directly to Hitchcock’s website.)

Copyright and Access in the Digital Age

With it being Open Access Week  articles, tweets, and livecasts about issue of access, copyright, and sustainability have been taking place across the web. One of my favorites was the New Yorker article by Louis Menand, “Crooner in Rights Spat: Are copyright laws too strict?.”

Coincidentally (or not, Dr. Shapiro?) we are considering copyright issues in our readings and discussion this week. The first thing that stands out is the similarities between Menand’s 2014 article and the videos, interviews, and articles we’ve been assigned from the aughts (2001-2008 in this case).

Free buttons, cookies, and intellectual stimulation where on offer at the live stream of the opening OA week festivities at our library.

Free buttons, cookies, and intellectual stimulation where on offer at the live stream of the opening OA week festivities at our library.

Just as previous articles have discussed the STEM fields’ early adoption of many digital aspects, we see STEM fields moving forward with more expansive open access than the humanities Indeed, much of the discussion occurring around #OA2014, and open access in general, is focused on the sciences.2 Of course, making scientific findings available as widely and rapidly as possible has potentially life-saving, and more easily measured, implications. On the other hand, the impact of humanist research is a bit more “squishy,” to put it in highly technical terms.3

What I appreciated the most about Siva Vaidhyanathan’s introduction to Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual property and how it Threatens Creativity was the insightful consideration of creative (humanist, I would argue) contributions to an openly accessible world. Vaidhyanathan summarizes John Dewey’s “thin” copyright arguments for encouraging a strong public sphere that ensured “(t)he public should be better educated to be able to distinguish between solid description and mere stereotypes” that were popular in the media of the time.4 Vaidhyanathan argues that copyright restrictions have thickened as time progressed and corporate interest, like those of the movie industry, have secured stronger control of the creative public sphere; he also rejects the idea that creative works should be discussed in terms of “property.”5

“Remix” seems to be quite the buzzword within this discussion. In 2008 Lawrence Lessig discussed the modern remix culture on Terry Gross’s *Fresh Air* following the release of his book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lessig argues that just the act of creating a copy can no longer be the basis for legal restrictions; rather the intent, the extent, and the economic implications should be weighed more heavily. If someone is building on, using, or remixing the creations of others, Lessig believes there should be no legal restrictions. Indeed, many historical examples show how the public creative and intellectual sphere has often been a cultural palimpsest of sorts.

Lessig is well known for founding Creative Commons, a non-profit organization that advocates for copyright reform.

(From a history standpoint, it was a real eye opening moment to hear Lessig discuss the Founding Fathers specifically protecting the freedom of press, despite the fact that the press at that time was often explicitly biased and sketchy at the best of times, and compare that historical form of press to modern blogging.)

In consideration of the academic, specifically historical, realm, Roy Rosenzweig points out the argument that works born out of publicly funded institutions should be available to the public that did the funding.6 Rosenzweig lays out six options for going fully or partially accessible. After considering each option, it is clear that while adapting to a new technological reality requires thoughtful discussion and debate, it is possible to adapt in a positive way that creates cultural or monetary value for companies, academics, and the public. Lessig also discusses the potential for commercial entities to find new ways to get monetary value out of “free sharing activity.”7

I’m personally persuaded by the arguments in favor of “thin” copyright restrictions and more open resources in the academic world specifically. Beyond the statistical facts that open research is cited and viewed more, I prefer the concept of a more open and beneficial exchange of insight and knowledge.8 I prefer the vision of copyright as an incentive for artists to continue creating valuable work. Still, I’m too ignorant of all the changes that have been made between these pieces and the more current developments of copyright and open access and there is plenty more to be learned.

[begin not-strictly-assignment-related-addendum]

While copyright is, sensibly enough, one of the biggest issues up for discussion, I’ve also seen some really interesting posts and comments regarding queer archives and accessibility. Issues that arise in this realm often have more to do with cultural constraints or privacy concerns, as opposed to a strictly legal copyright issue. Whitney Strub published a blog post this week entitled “Queer Sex in the Archives: ‘Canonizing Homophile Sexual Respectability’” that reflects on an Oct. 2 talk from historian Marc Stein. The talk, and the well written article, examine why publications like Drum, a more unapologetically erotic queer publication, are missing from both scholarly works and archives.

Stein’s talk was a preview for his article, “Canonizing Homophile Sexual Respectability: Archives, History, and Memory,” which was published in the Radical History Review‘s special edition “Queering Archives: Historical Unravelings” on October 23, 2014. While the whole issue appears to be full of intriguing articles and could constitute an entirely separate post, I’ll end on one final observation; the *Radical History Review* is behind a pay wall, inaccessible to radicals lacking the proper affiliation.

[/end not-strictly-assignment-related-addendum]

1. For example, at the screening of the opening panel (hosted at Atkins Library ) I was struck by the fact that nearly all of the panelists worked strictly within science related fields.
2. In his Fresh Air interview, Lessig addresses the same issue of priority in having STEM related research open to other researchers.
3. Vaidhyanathan, Siva. Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity. New York: New York University Press, 2001. 7.
4. Ibid. 15.
5. Rosenzweig, Roy. “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?.” Vice President’s Column.  AHA Perspectives. April 2005. Available at http://chnm.gmu.edu/essays-on-history-new-media/essays/?essayid=2
id=”fn6″>6.Gross, Terry. “Lawrence Lessig’s ‘Remix’ For The Hybrid Economy.” Fresh Air. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: WHYY, National Public Radio, December 22, 2008. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98591002.
7. Vaidhyanathan, Copyrights and Copywrongs.

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