All posts by vercruysse

The Impact of Digital Research

I read “Strange Facts in the History Classroom: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)” by Christopher Miller, “Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument  about the Past? (Spring 2012 version)” by Sherman Dorn, and “Waiting for Web 2.0: Archives and Teaching Undergraduates in a Digital Age” by Jeffery McClurken.

Miller’s article discussed how he taught a class at the undergraduate level based on Wikipedia. He had students look at encyclopedia and Wikipedia articles, write papers and give presentations on them, as well as do outside research to see how accurate both entries were. His goal was to teach his students about the creators of history, as in those who write and contribute to the historical narrative through historical sources. Although his first experiment with this class did not necessarily work out the way he thought it would, Miller did successfully instill within his students that history as a discipline is not entirely the truth, there are different factors that influence it. I liked his idea in theory about teaching his students about history and trying to make it accessible and easily understood, which requires brevity. This project is interesting and does give us a comparison of how Wikipedia compares to encyclopedias, but how both are still not ideal because they cannot provide the larger picture. Although he used digital tools to teach this class, he and his students soon realized that the digital tools were not at the center of the class. Building skills such as critical thinking was what they still focused on, which is a critical part of any history program. This at least helps to prove that digital sources only expand the ways that students think critically, not replace them.

Dorn’s article focused on access to digital archives and resources. He discusses how students now have more and more primary source material to research and utilize. Dorn also discusses how digital history sites can help create a more historically literate society, where children in elementary schools could have a better knowledge about history because their teachers would know more and have more access to the kinds of resources that would make it easier for them to get a full historical picture, rather than limited views that were taught to them in high school or in an intro history class, which is as far as many teachers get unless they majored in the subject.

Professor McClurken’s piece contained one of my new favorite sentences: “The world of teaching archival research in a digital age is not all flowers and sunshine.” I have to say it isn’t flowers and sunshine on the learning end either. Digital archives can be very helpful and amazing, but can also be very frustrating to use. Something I liked that Prof. McClurken addressed was the pay wall, where if your school cannot afford or chooses not to buy access to a particular repository, students suffer. Many of my friends writing their thesis this semester probably will agree when I say we hate this aspect. Going to a small school means limited resources. I had to ask friends at other larger schools to get some of the secondary source literature I needed because their schools have the funds to purchase more access, which means more material. I thought Prof. M did a really great job explaining the complexities of using internet resources in the classroom and where improvements can be made.

Another Day, Another Theme

We had issues with our last theme only letting us have one custom menu and the header image being huge. So this week, Victoria met with DTLT for a personal question and asked us about changing the CSS to allow the header where we wanted it. They told her that it was “too much coding for what it’s worth” and so we just picked our backup theme. Out backup theme is functional and does allow for a lot more structural customization, but is aesthetically boring, in my opinion. But it gets the job done.

Also this week, we finished renaming all of the photos currently online and adding captions and descriptions. We will have to go take a new photo of the front of the Monroe Desk because I have the worst photography skills and they all came out extremely blurry.  I never claimed to be an expert at it anyway. I also just went through all of the photos to make sure everyone used the same format to write them, so that everything looked consistent… and changed about half of them to match or edit titles, spelling of last names (surprisingly everyone spelled mine right), and just making sure everything was correct. There was a lot of confusion about the different scanner names (Skanect= computer softwar, Kinect= 3-D scanner).

Tim is still working on our scans, but we officially have dibs on the 3-D printer for Monday at 11 AM. I cannot wait to see it print! So, next Thursday, we will have a tangible object for you all to see.

The big project for us this week has been writing the exhibit scripts. I had mine written by Friday of last week and edited other’s by Tuesday’s class. Today we have the revisions due and mine are all done, as are Victoria’s (I might have used my newly declared group Dictator powers to make sure she had them done pre-conference). I have also updated all of the object pages for the objects I individually researched, so that they all have the dimensions, date range, and physical description.

Also, today the interviews are due along with the transcripts, so Eric will be posting them so you all can watch them. I think (not entirely sure) that he will post the video that Leah took of us reenacting the scan of the Louisiana bas relief for you all to see. Basically, you will hear all of this in our presentation.

Thanks for reading- Amanda, the Dictator.

The Power of Google

Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid” brings up valid concerns about Google. As I have come to rely more and more on Google, I certainly feel less inclined to read longer articles. I find myself thinking some Wikipedia entries are too long (which started around the time I began using Twitter…). I understand the point he makes about us wanting to skim and read information quickly rather than to read in-depth and slowly. Even reading his article, which wasn’t that long, I looked and the scroll bar and groaned because it would take too long to read (the scroll bar was inaccurate, comments and adds took up most of the space). I think that because we are so invested in knowing less about more than more about less, we are creating these problems through our increasing reliance on Google. Especially because I think people are retaining less information because they Google the source quickly and then forget the information just as quickly because we can always Google it again.

The articles on Data-Mining were really interesting. I never really thought about how search engines and things worked, but in terms of creating one for digital history resources, this was pretty interesting. Based on Turkel’s article, understanding how people search and the phrases that they use are incredibly important to organizing these key phrases for the data-base. A lot of the technology that they use was a bit over my head, but something that I think I want to look into for our site since we have a search option.

I also experimented with Ngrams on the Google Ngram viewer. It was interesting to see how many times a phrase came up during a certain period of time, but I am a little confused as to how you might use these effectively. I know Cohen suggested using them with other data sets, but I am not sure exactly what that would prove. And I also had problems with the Ngrams showing you a graph of the items, but not taking you to any of the items.

End to Scanning

On Friday, we were all able to go to the museum and finish scanning all of the objects that we could. The only object that we could not scan was the Peace Medal, which due to it’s size was just too small for us to scan properly. We attempted to make stands for it, but none of those really worked either. So we finished everything by the milestone due date, which was really exciting because of how slow scanning goes. Leah stopped by and saw how the process works and everything. She even took some photos and videos of us.  And everyone is really excited not to have to scan anymore. It is… tedious, time consuming, and requires some acrobatics. Eric also got all of the interviews done Friday.

On Tuesday, our research was due. I researched the White House Chair, the teapot, and the Betty lamp. I started with the object files on these objects from the James Monroe Museum and from there tried to find out more about them and how they connected to James Monroe. I used online resources to do this and was able to confirm some “family traditions” with academic articles, so that was really great.

Wednesday we met with Tim to talk about editing our scans and combining together some scans that we weren’t able to get smoothly due to space concerns. He taught us how to edit the scans and then told us that he would combine them because he still has to teach himself how to do it, so it would take a really long time to teach us how to do it. We are going to have all of the scans completed and give him a flash drive of the edited scans on Monday.

We also met and discussed all of the objects now that most of the research was completed. We mapped out our website and picked a new theme because the hold one was so difficult to use. Now we are going to start working on our exhibit scripts. Making great strides with our project!

Digital Identity

After reading these articles, I am basically terrified of the Internet. There was a lot I didn’t know about how people could learn everything about you online. I had always assumed people could get the basic stuff (social media), but at least I can control that. I may have made the mistake of reading the Ratliff article first and then immediately going to the Digital Tattoo site and coming across the identity theft part. So, I kinda spiraled. However, I think that these sites gave me a wake-up call to be more aware of what is public and that I cannot control everything that is out there. Luckily,  I at least have a distinctive name, so it is easy to track myself. Fun fact though guys: There is another Amanda Vercruysse in the world, which is really weird since almost no one has my last name.

Each site gave different lessons on digital identity. The five that I thought were most important were:

1) Be Vigilant: From the Digital Tattoo site I learned about how to protect your online identity, and it really comes down to checking what people can find out about you. I went back and checked my Facebook settings to make sure that it was basically locked down.

2) Be Thoughtful: All of the articles touched on personal responsibility in a digital age. We can control (somewhat) our digital identity. Many of the Google searches people do about someone bring up social media sites, but also any other sites that someone’s name might come up on a site that the person might not have known about. The Seth Godin article discussed how in a simple Google search, he was able to eliminate each possible employee based on what their digital records.

3) Have a Plan: Continuing off of Seth Godin and personal branding, it seems really silly to say something like “I don’t like this job and am above it.” I think that stems from a lack of understanding about the depth that Google has to find out about you. Because everything is online now, people need to have a clear sense of what they want to portray to the public. Although this might mess with a sense of authenticity, it is necessary when the whole world is watching.

4) Utilize the Resources: All of these articles and websites offer advice and different perspectives on how to build a digital identity and the importance of being present on the web. Sites like Digital Tattoo provide us with resources to better understand how what we do on the Internet can impact us for the rest of our lives and how to go about digital participation with this in mind. So when building our digital identity, it is useful to take advantage of these resources so that you can plan accordingly.

5) You can’t disappear: Basically, no matter what you do, you cannot get off the digital radar. Evan Ratliff tried, but even with technology like proxy servers and a large budget for evading the searchers, he still couldn’t completely disappear. We have become so reliant on technology that it is impossible to not use it in a single day (depending on your socio-economic status). And we have reached the point with the digital world where it is scarier to not find something about someone than it is to find their spring break photos from 1999.

Belated Wikipedia Post

I have no idea why this post decided it didn’t want to get published, but I blame Willard Hall’s internet. Anyway, sorry it’s late.

I love Wikipedia. I use it as a resource whenever I am not sure what something is or if I want a quick introduction to a subject before exploring it more thoroughly. I especially like to look at their references for sources for a paper or project. It was really interesting to go to several pages and look at the history. The page I looked at was Henry VIII, which was once a featured page on Wikipedia because of it’s acuracy. What I loved most about the history was all of the people removing statements with the comment “Ancestry.com does not count as a reliable resource.” Other comments reminded posters that they needed to site scholarly sources, such as books and articles. We talked about how Wikipedia has an idealistic hope that Wikipedia will be self checked, I think there is some truth to it rather than idealism. People are interested in keeping Wikipedia honest and as truthful as possible. I do disagree that Wikipedia is objective. No matter how you word something, there will be an interpretation.

Even though I am fond of Wikipedia and like that it is free and accessible to a lot of people, I still would not use it as a credible source. It should be read with caution and should only be the starting place for further research.

Group Meeting Today: Feb 25th

Today, my group met and discussed our project. First, we did some emailing for Friday so that we can go scan some objects at the museum. We also are hoping to get some interviews done on Friday as well. After we did that, we talked about our presentation and started working on it. During our conversation, Victoria got the Sketchfab plug-in to work on our site and uploaded some of the scans so that we could demonstrate some of the work we have been doing.

We also had to work on getting the files from the James Monroe Museum so we could have the starting point information for our research. Hopefully Jarod will email those to us soon, but if not we can at least do some research about Monroe and the time frame, but we would like to have more specific information on the objects themselves.

Group Project: My Individual Role

As we have finalized the group contract, aside from talking things over tomorrow in class, my group has divided up the work pretty equally. We are all required to help 3-D scan the objects and document our scanning of these objects. In addition to this, every group member must research three specific objects. I am researching a White House Chair, a Betty lamp, and spurs. To start my research, I will look into the documentation that the James Monroe Museum has on these objects and from there do further outside research as to the significance of these objects.

Roles then become more specialized among my group members. I am responsible for setting up the structure of the WordPress site (James Monroe in 3-D), that is to establish the different pages and to find a theme that will work with the types of files that we have. I will also edit the site to make sure that there is consistency among the different pages. Since everyone is contributing to the site, either with exhibit script or interviews, our group felt like they needed someone to edit for continuity since everyone has different styles of doing things. Because this is a lot to manage, Ike will also be editing the site. It’s going to be “chef and sous chef” kind of set up, making sure that one person is in charge but doesn’t have to do everything by themselves (this analogy is borrowed from Prof. Smith in Historic Pres). I will also write exhibit scripts about the objects that I researched, which will be on the page along with the 3-D scan.

Our group discusses advertising our website, and one of the ways that we hope to get traffic is by linking our site with the James Monroe Museum’s website. They already have people who come to their site that are interested in the history associated with James Monroe, so we think that by connecting our site to theirs that we will get visitors. Following these lines, we are going to ask Scott and Jarod at the Museum to place a story about our project in their newsletter which we hope will draw in some more visitors, especially ones that may not usually go online. We are also going to create a Facebook page advertising our site, since that is the main way to get UMW students interested. By creating a page and inviting all of our friends to like it and share it with their friends, we hope to get a large percentage of interested students to visit the site.