All posts by Digital Scrapbook Project

Week 12 Readings

Sherman Dorn’s article “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?” presented several important facets of the debate about digital history’s place in scholarship. I was particularly intrigued by his comments about the work of historians who are creating projects that do not put forth an argument, which seems, in my opinion, to lead into a discussion of what exactly counts as historic scholarship. Dorn contrasts the idea of a historian with a published but barely-known monograph with that of another historian who has not published a book, but has contributed to software that is widely used by museums and archives, asking, if these are not equal contributions to the field of history, which should be more valued. In my mind, it comes down to what the scholarly community decides about the nature of the work produced by its members. Is an argument necessary for a work to be “historical”? Should a historian who creates software be counted as a scholar or an IT professional? Are we ready to accept this historian as both, even if that means shifting way we evaluate historical works? I think that collecting historical resources and making them available is a wildly important portion of the field of history. While I don’t condone rushing headlong into the latest technological advancement, I believe that conscientiously using the available technology to lay the foundation for future historical work is just as important as anything else going on in the field.

Martha Hodes’ article “Experimental History in the Classroom” was very exciting for me to read, because I love creative approaches to history. I grew up with a very project-oriented history program, and spend a lot of time in historic costumes, etc. Today, as an English major I study novels as a sort of historic record, and bemoan the lack of linguistic artistry across the field of history. That’s not to say that scholarship does not meet high standards of writing, but there is a definite power in form following/assisting function, which is frequently missing in historic texts. This is absolutely a place where digital history can help to round out the field, as online projects offer many more creative opportunities than monographs which are, almost by nature, interacted with in one set way. The use of experimental approaches to history encourages students to ask a wider range of questions about the texts they interact with- not just “Was this a well reasoned and strongly supported argument?”, but also “How useful is this argument, however strong, if no one wants to read this unpleasant prose?” The question can be turned around, of course, and an approach that is too far off the beaten path will probably not reach a large audience. Overall however, I think that history is often given a bad name by people who don’t enjoy the standard presentation of the subject, while art, poetry, plays, etc that express the same arguments might provide a wider appeal.



We have a BookReader!

Today I met with Katherine and Ryan at DTLT and we figured out the BookReader problem! This is the embarrassing part- I never asked Ryan to upload the actual plugin, because I have absolutely no memory of doing that myself for the test version. So apparently I’m blacking out while working on this project. Or maybe I just can’t keep track of things that aren’t written down. Whatever, the plugin works!

I also had trouble with FileZilla yesterday, which is currently not fixed. For some reason, I couldn’t connect to the umwhistory server, and Ryan couldn’t connect either, despite trying several different options. So, he’s working on that, but until it’s figured out I can’t get the next collections of images uploaded to our site, which means that we’ve missed one of this week’s milestones.

Finally, I talked to Ryan about changing some of the aesthetics of our site, such as font and metadata order. That’s just a matter of changing around some of the css code, so hopefully I’ll be able to take care of that soon, as well as the citation page stuff from the Century America group.

Update on the BookReader Saga

The BookReader plugin which worked so well on my test site, is not working on the real site. I don’t know why. I sent the files to Ryan at DTLT and asked him to upload them for me, but the plugin won’t show up. Since I can’t get to the back end, and barely understand the directions that Katherine has given me, I’m going to ask them to try to figure out the issue, because it doesn’t really make sense for me to middleman here. Hopefully this will get ironed out soon, because that plugin is pretty important to our site.

During class time, Dr. McClurken tried to shuffle things around for us, but that didn’t end up working, so I’m going to leave things up to Katherine and Ryan.

Is Google making us stupid? No, be we might be doing it ourselves.

This weeks readings brought up some good points about multi-tasking, shrinking attention spans, and TLDR.

I absolutely feel the effects of these- definitely have trouble concentrating on long texts, particularly online, and I feel almost slighted if there are no visuals. I routinely scan articles instead of carefully reading them. All this contributes to the idea of “pancake” understanding- broad but shallow. I don’t want to fall into that trap.

I think we are still very capable of reading carefully, even long texts, and memorizing large amounts of information. People do the former all the time for work, education, and fun (granted this is more complicated on a screen), and I think the memorization issue is absurd. Actors learn lines, vocalists learn lyrics, and lots of people memorize large portions of religious texts as part of their worship. I personally have memorized sections of the Bible ranging from a few verses to a whole (albeit short) book. It’s hard, but like anything it gets easier with practice. The world we live in naturally teaches us to process only very small pieces of information at a time, but that just requires us to make a conscious effort to develop the skills that come less easily.

In the spirit of TLDR, I’ll end here.

This Is Looking Good, Guys: March 20 Update

I am currently very conflicted about digital history. I really like it and am sort of starting to wish that I was going to get a Masters in the field. I guess that’s still an option if I want it to be. But I’m also still really frustrated by this project. It’s been a great educational experience (my desperate mantra when things go wrong is “I’m learning things!”), despite many of those educational moments coming from bumps in the road.

That being said, things are currently looking up. Ellen and I went to Special Collections today to see Katherine Purdue and Suzanne Huffman, who were extremely helpful. Katherine helped us get an idea of how to use a book viewer and got me ready to do the back end work to make that possible, and Suzanne had a wonderful suggestion that we prioritize CSV over dropbox as we use plugins to upload our content.

Basically, the dropbox plugin (confusingly, not related to the that many of the groups are using) allows you to batch upload photos while the CSV (Comma Separated Values) plugin allows you to batch upload metadata. Obviously, it’s better to batch upload the metadata since there are multiple lines of data for each image. I tested both and had mixed results- dropbox let me batch upload some of our scans, but it took a long time and when I got tired of waiting and reloaded the page they had been put up as items, but the images took a little longer to show up. Don’t ask me why. The CSV let me get everything set up but then ran into a problem uploading and kicked back an internal server error. I haven’t had a chance yet to explore why that might have happened, but that’s definitely the plugin we want to use if I can get it to work.

I think this is actually going to come together, and yes, my excitement may have alarmed my roommate.

Digital Resume/Portfolio

View my digital portfolio here.

For my digital portfolio, I used the website I set up at the beginning of class. I stuck with my current theme because I chose it a while ago hoping that it would work well for something professional-ish. I also didn’t want something too formal, so I like open feel of the theme.

I added two tabs to my main navigation menu- one for experience and one for academic work and then uploaded content. The experience content came from my resume,  and the academic work is of course from various classes. I uploaded the academic work as .pdfs, which you do by hitting the “add media” button and then proceeding as if you were inserting a picture. Interestingly, when it gives you all the info before posting the item, however, it says that it will link the content to a name it generates, but then once it’s inserted, it shows up as the file name.

I’m not entirely satisfied with what I have up now, but I think it’s a pretty good start, and I’m looking forward to tweaking it a little bit.

Digital Identity

First of all, a lot of the articles were behind a login page, which meant that I couldn’t read them. Anyone else have this problem?

I did get to read some of them. Many of the ideas presented in these articles were not new to me, mostly because my 299 class with Dr. Moon was pretty web-heavy. I had already read the article about Even Ratliff and browsed the Digital Tattoo site. Rereading these, though, sparked different reactions that the first time had.

I am always intrigued by the idea of going off the grid and disappearing. I’m sure I would fail miserably, but I still think it would be fun to make an attempt. It is interesting that the particular challenge posed by Wired required a physical confrontation and photographic evidence to count Ratliff as “found.” Hunters tracked his digital presence fairly accurately, but it came down to two men, on foot, looking him in the face. It seems like his downfall was that he tried to pick up a new life. He vanished pretty successfully, but wasn’t content to stay holed up. If he had gone out less, not opened up his J. Gatz twitter account, etc., I think he stood a very good chance of winning the challenge. It’s intriguing to know that this was not a hopeless venture.

I had not really thought about the idea of being Googled well, although I had certainly thought about not being Googled well. It had never occurred to me that I should be actively creating and publishing positive content associated with myself in order to heighten the percentage of “good” google hits for my name. I have definitely considered that my name is pretty rare, although I have found one or two other “Laura Michal”s who don’t use a hyphen. My ideas about being googled all fell into a sort of vaguely scary category and had not been at all connected with things I had control of outside of my general rule to never put anything online that I wouldn’t be comfortable with my parents, employers, etc. seeing.

I have though a little about the digital identity of children who are present on the web long before they are aware that the web exists. Most of my thoughts in this direction tended towards the “wow, all of their embarrassing years will be online” direction. (I am infinitely grateful that my mom didn’t immortalize my middle school years on Facebook, because it didn’t exist.) Now, though, I wonder how these kids will transition into owning their own digital identities, when so much content has been published for them. My three month old nephew will have to publish hundreds, thousands, of pieces of content to achieve a favorable balance over the naptime pictures his mom posts regularly. Granted, she has entirely loving goals, but the question needs to be asked- Am I being responsible with others’ digital identities, as well as my own?

As we look at the complexities of these issues, it is tempting to question whether all this is worth it. Who among us hasn’t at least considered deactivating his or her Facebook/Twitter/etc. to get away from it all for a while? Even a cursory glance at the internet shows it be fraught with peril, despite its gleaming promise. We could all boycott, but that isn’t going to happen, nor should it. Obviously, there are many benefits to using the media, etc that we do, and the best way to proceed is carefully, but not in fear. Typing is an important skill, but let’s make sure that we’re teaching kids how to check privacy settings. Let’s talk to them about the dangers of befriending online strangers, and making an “anonymous” Tumblr account. Let’s model responsible online practices, not just for kids, but for our peers as well.And let’s be active in the ongoing innovation of the digital realm, helping to shape it into something less riddled with problems.

Wikipedia, etc.

In class two weeks ago, Dr. McClurken showed a video chronicling the evolution of the Wikipedia page Metal Umlaut. While I was familiar with the basic concept of Wikipedia’s crowd sourced information gathering process, it was interesting to see this process in a sort of time lapse. The growth of the page, from one short paragraph to seven sections of content demonstrates a surprising amount of interest in two little dots that don’t even affect the pronunciation of the terms they’re applied to.

Obviously Wikipedia is not a source that can be used for scholarly work, even when the information in question cited to an academically acceptable source. It is a good place to start though, and I sometimes use it when trying to nail down a research topic. I have definitely used Wikipedia for general introductory information and the references section has been invaluable in the past. I also turn to Wikipedia a lot to find images, particularly portraits and paintings. To be honest though, most of my Wikipedia usage falls into the category of late-night-on-break interest such as Megalodon and Titanoboa. Admirable pursuits, to be sure.

Making OCR Do Your Transcriptions (Or At Least Parts of Them)

For our project we put Jess in charge of transcribing the scrapbook data, which is made up of both handwritten information and print materials such as newspaper clippings. We don’t want to make Jess re-type the already typed material, so she’s going to use OCR to grab that text and incorporate it into her manual transcriptions. Some of the typed stuff is really short and probably not worth using this process, but a few pages are almost entirely printed, making this a good option. Here’s how to make Adobe do some work for you.


Convert your image into a PDF. In our case we converted a copy of the image, since we still need the image to upload later.

Select the “Tools” button from the upper right corner of the viewing window.

Select the “Recognize Text” button from the Tools drop down menu, then the “In This File” button.

A window will open asking about sample size and language- these settings should be fine in their default positions, so just click the OK button.

The program will run, and then you need to save the file again to make sure you capture this info.

In the Recognize Text menu, select the “Find First Suspect” button and from the window that pops up select the text sample offered to you.

This will allow you to edit the printed text in the pdf file. You can’t see this data normally, because it’s hidden, but here you can make changes. The main purpose of this tool is to allow you to correct any errors that the OCR program made in reading the text, but here you want to copy the whole text and simply paste it into a word document or wherever you want to use this text.

Check for errors, because the OCR program isn’t infallible, but for the most part, the text should be pretty accurate.


On Tuesday, I met Ellen in the library and we uploaded the first item to our Omeka test site. We both grabbed an image from our group dropbox and tried to get them up online. Part way through, we got error messages saying “Internal Server error” and then the site wasn’t available for a while, even in the other subdomains. We thought it might be because we had tried to upload two images at once, one from my laptop and one from Ellen’s, but the site was up again later that afternoon and the image that Ellen uploaded was in our collection online. Mine wasn’t up because I had stopped the upload part way through when we started having trouble. We were told though that it shouldn’t be a problem to work from several computers at the same time.

Yesterday, Ellen and I went to visit DTLT to ask questions about setting up our Omeka site. As usual, they made all our issues look pretty simple, which is what I love about them. Tim shared the following info with us:

  • The PDF Text plugin will read the OCR data from a PDF file on the site
  • Changing the setup of the Simple Pages is done under the Navigation tab, not under the Simple Pages edit
  • There is a plugin that will suggest Library of Congress terms for the metadata you enter to help get the right terms
  • Items within a collection can be batch edited on the collection overview page
  • You can edit the image type to include new fields, such as transcription

Overall, I think our project is going pretty well. Ellen and I still need to play around with the test site, but I’m confident that we will soon be ready to move to the real thing.