Category Archives: Blog

A Whirlwind Semester

It’s strange to think that we started our projects a little over three months ago – although I definitely feel that I have dedicated much of my time to this project, it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long!  I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to learn about Digital History and gain important skills so that I can go forward in a career that might use WordPress, archival research, or digitization.  So before I begin my review of how I’ve fared this semester, I just wanted to thank Dr. McClurken for teaching us so much about the digital world and for letting me be a part of the COPLAC-sponsored project.

I cannot even begin to describe how great it was working with my Century America team; Jack, Candice, Leah, and I worked extremely well together and knew that we could rely on one another as support and critics throughout this process.  This really helped us put together our site since we knew that if the other members didn’t like a formatting or style decision that they would let us know and as a team we could figure out a new solution.  Even through our struggles at the CRHC and trying to frantically decipher edits at 2am, we thoroughly enjoyed working on this project and getting to know one another as colleagues and as friends.

As for the actual research and website creation, though we did encounter some setbacks and obstacles, overall we didn’t have much to worry about and just had to focus on compiling the information and deciding how we wanted to go about creating our site.  In the end we decided it was best to create a narrative of a few key stories to the history of Fredericksburg and the State Normal School during the Great War rather than simply digitizing as many images and documents as we could find and creating a virtual archive.  I think this was a smart decision on our part because we were able to make our research personal and informative, and incorporated some digitized images that really added to the narrative.

We were also in charge of creating the overarching Century America site since we had four people working on our project instead of just one as was the case for the rest of the participating schools.  This was a fair decision, but it was still kind of stressful because we had to make sure our decisions meshed with everyone else’s!  It was also difficult waiting for responses from the other students regarding images, events for the timeline, and citations for both of these, but I guess that’s what happens in a virtual class where we never physically met our classmates and where most of them were unfamiliar with citing in the style of Chicago or Turabian.

Our struggles mainly revolved around communication with others, whether it was the archivists at the CRHC, our virtual classmates through Century America, or simply being baffled about embedding the maps (but luckily DTLT was there to help us!).  We didn’t encounter any issues within the group and were able to fully rely on each other, knowing that we would accomplish what was necessary and at a reasonable time in accordance with our contract, which I am happy to say that we fully met all of our goals and requirements with time to spare.  I know our “weekly updates” might have seemed a bit boring and redundant, but that was only because we were lucky enough to have completed a majority of our site pretty early on so that the rest of our time could be devoted to editing.

I am extremely happy to say that I am proud of our final outcomes for both the UMW Century America and Overarching CA Site during this semester in which all of us were busy but able to keep on top of this project as well as our others.  I thoroughly enjoyed the days spent at the CRHC (it was still fun despite setbacks), in Special Collections, and our goofy group chats.  I’m really going to miss working with a great group of people – thank you Leah, Candice, and Jack for a wonderful semester of teamwork and camaraderie, thanks to our virtual classmates and those in ADH for your feedback and comments, and thank you Dr. McClurken and Dr. Pearson for all of your help, guidance, and advice.  #ADH2014forever #HIST1914always

Let’s Get Digital

First things first, in regards to the digital, I FINALLY have wifi after being in Tampa for two days!  It’s not that I haven’t had it, it’s just been going in and out constantly but (fingers crossed) it’s finally working consistently.  I guess geographers aren’t with the times as much as (ironically) historians are ;)

After reading the articles for this week, my thoughts that the digital component of history teachings is crucial to how we understand and educate others about our studies was confirmed.  Sherman Dorn’s article, Re-Visioning Historical Writing, especially emphasizes that digital history showcases how we can apply our teachings and studies to the present, and that historians shouldn’t be so focused on “the past.”  I think this is vital to helping the next generation of historians find their place in academics and the workplace – I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told “all you do is learn about the past, so all you can do is teach, right?”  If by “teach” they mean “educate” then that is definitely one of the things I will be able to do, and can do so by applying the technological skills that I have learned in this class to reach out to more people and educate them in new and innovative ways and get others thinking about how the past applies to our present and future.  There are many interactive components of digital history that are aimed at exciting a spark of curiosity among those who might visit the site, but Dorn is careful to point out that the use of digital tools needs to be applied intuitively so as not to take away from the historical or academic aspect.  I think what we have done so far in our ADH class exemplifies this, and each of our websites presents the information we want it to without being overly flashy, tacky, or boring.  I definitely think that learning the ways of the digital world is important to being a historian, and I’m a bit jealous of the HIST 297/298 students who have had more opportunities to learn about digital tools, whereas this class is my first look at digital history, and I’m graduating in May.

The other article I read was The Digital History Reader by E. Thomas Ewing and Robert P. Stephens, and this article discussed reaching out to large numbers of history students in order to give them a more personal education and encourage them to think critically about historical events.  I think this concept is intriguing and would be useful at a larger school such as Virginia Tech, but it just makes me happier that I chose to go to UMW and receive a liberal arts education that allowed me an in-person education that achieves the same goals as the Digital History Reader.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the concept of using the digital to reach out to more people is definitely useful and appropriate, and I highly support the use of technological tools to enhance one’s education, I just think that it isn’t quite the same as being in a small class setting and getting to discuss subjects on a more intimate and personal level with one’s peers and professors.  However, I do commend that the Digital History Reader is an excellent example of how to appropriately incorporate digital media to a study of history – rather than just reproducing textual materials in a digital form, this resource actually uses audio, video, and still images to enhance the readers’ learning experiences.  This exemplifies exactly what digital history aims to do, which is create new ways of thinking about the past, and educating a broader group of people through the use of multimedia and other technology.

I think that both of these articles should be proof to the naysayers that Digital History is in fact appropriate, innovative, and useful to teaching the field.  Not only does it reach out to a larger audience, it encourages that audience to think critically about history and why it matters.  I know this class and these articles have changed my way of thinking – even though I will always cherish the printed book over the digital copy, I think I’ve grown accustomed to the use of technology in how I approach and understand the past, present, and future.

Our Time(line) is up!

After hours spent fidgeting with Timeline JS, our overarching Century America site now has a full-functioning timeline complete with pictures, school events, and national/international events as well!  Leah constructed the original timeline, and I created a new one off of hers and added in the national and international events relating to the Great War, along with pictures for each event, including for the universities.  I also learned how to zoom in on the timeline, all on my own!  (I was quite pleased with myself, I might add.)  Anyhow, that’s just a brief update on what I’ve been doing the past few days, and our site is really looking sharp!  Can’t wait to see everything come together!


Internal Conflicts Regarding the Internet

The readings for this week on search engines, text-mining, and data collection were a lot for me to digest at once – for one thing, I’ve only ever used search engines and so these concepts were so new to me!  They also seem like they could have been helpful in past research projects, but it is still good I guess to learn them now rather than even later down the road since I can use this information in the future in my career or higher education.

I have always believed that the ease of the internet has had some detrimental effects on how we think and research, and the article Is Google Making Us Stupid? really confirmed my fears.  Although it does defend that Google and other search engines and tools on the internet are helpful to our understanding of information and improve our access to otherwise unattainable sources, our brains adapt to the ease of the internet and we therefore become reliant on Google and can become less focused on longer pieces of narrative since the internet teaches us to move as quickly as possible.  I like that the author pointed out that we should not fill up the “quiet spaces” of our mind with content, that these spaces help us to think and function on our own and comprehend, not just store, any information we learn.  I think there needs to be a limit to how much research and time that should be spent online so that we can enjoy the world around us and learn first-hand what is out there rather than spending all of our time glued to a computer screen.

I do agree that the new tools that are available allow for better knowledge accessibility, since we can now search broader and more fully and information is quickly obtainable.  I thought the article From Babel to Knowledge was extremely useful in directing me to alternative searches and tools other than the typical search engines like Google and Yahoo!, and I like that these are geared at historians and other students of the digital humanities.  One thing that the author mentioned that I didn’t necessarily agree with was that “quantity may make up for lack of quality” – although I can see how researchers might think this true because of the increased accessibility to information that the internet and search engines provide, I think there is something to say that when it comes down to actually comprehending and learning from this information that it is more important for there to be GOOD information rather than just a lot of it.

In the segment regarding Digital History Hacks, it was interesting to find that the formatting of words often affected the outcome of the search results.  For instance the author points out that “US History” is more commonly used than “History of the US”, influencing the algorithms and computer science that computes each search.  I think we need to learn how to more accurately search in order to more effectively obtain the results that we need and desire.  For instance, I have a professor here at the University who claims that she is an expert “googler”, and it’s true – I’ve tried searching for sources for research papers in her class, and she will conduct the same searches but using alternate words or sequences and find much more helpful information than I could have imagined was possible regarding the little tweaking that occurred.  This article definitely opened my mind to the importance of making sure our searches get us the results that are most helpful!

I had never heard of Ngrams before reading the article Initial Thoughts on the Google Books Ngram Viewer and Datasets, and after reading the article my mind was opened up to an entirely new concept of how digital research can be useful.  First off, I learned that the Ngrams are multilingual, and that they take into consideration popular text-mining patterns in order to find the most useful resources that exist.  What I found most appealing about this program was that it could interpret series of words rather than just individual words, and therefore more accurate results could be found since the searches would be geared toward a particular meaning of the desired word rather than a random explanation.

Perhaps my favorite of the sites that I read in this segment was Mining the Dispatch since it showed the actual application for text-mining and other search tools and processes.  This site really proved that these new ways of applying the digital to the humanities is quite helpful in detecting patterns among texts and discovering categories that are prevalent.  I liked that I was able to view charts of the Confederacy’s newspaper and could view the history of the paper in terms of “distance reading” by looking at categories, charts, and graphs.  I also finally learned what exactly a “topic” was!  It is a group of words likely to appear together in the same document, and this article fully shows the usefulness of using topics and other search tools.

Finally, Topic Modeling: A Basic Introduction was the most helpful article that I read; part of me wished I had read it first since it right off the bat explained topic modeling and text-mining tools.  However, it was probably good to end on this article since it refreshed and fully explained everything that the other articles had previously stated.  It mainly focused on identifying patterns in groups of words, “topics” as mentioned above, and what words make sense to be paired together to create such a topic.  Again, mathematics plays a large role in determining topic modeling programs, and most topic modeling is built for large collections of texts, usually over a thousand.  Although this article is specifically helpful for historians, topic modeling can be useful for the general reader.

I will definitely try to apply all of the text-mining skills that these articles suggest, and to use some of the search engines and tools rather than always depending on Google.  I think this will greatly help me not only in academic research but in how I approach any readings and searches that I perform online.  These articles definitely opened my mind to how useful the digital humanities can be to assisting the field and study of history.

Almost ready for publishing?

I can’t believe we’ve come so far on our project since the beginning of the semester!  This past Friday we completed all of the digitization necessary for our final website, which was a huge step.  Even though we don’t have as many things to digitize as the other groups since we are focusing on more of an exhibit than an archive for the Century America project, we still had to go through a ton of complicated processes to both digitize and publish the images that we will be using.  I myself did not have that much to digitize, since the photos that I am using for the Rowe family page are published and the images I took of President Russell’s Papers are from Special Collections here at UMW.  Still, it is a relief to be done with that part of the project!

In other news, this upcoming Friday our milestone is to have all of the writing for our pages completed.  We are each responsible for two pages of the overall project, mine being the narrative of the Rowe family of Fredericksburg and the Administration segment for the State Normal School.  I am happy to say that despite many a setback from being sick and dealing with some personal things that I have completed both pages!  This does not mean they are fully completed, however, since they still have to be edited by the other members of my group, but at least it is a start and I have a few days to finish necessary changes.  All in all, our project is looking up, and after this week we can start putting the site together!

Creating a Digital Portfolio

Creating my digital portfolio was a lot harder than I at first envisioned.  I thought that I would simply post my resume online and that would be it.  But it involved much more than that!  Not only did it mean creating a website and online portfolio, it meant choosing a theme, finding a way with words, and deciding what to post and how to lay it all out.  This is definitely not a completed portfolio (and probably never will be since we always need to update such things) but it is a start!  I’ll continue editing and updating throughout the semester and beyond.

Julia Wood – Digital Portfolio

Lessons Learned: Digital Identity Edition

Wow…I mean, I knew that we had to be careful about what we post on Facebook, but these articles were really eye-opening about how much we can be traced to anything and everything that we are connected to on the internet.  I guess digital history teaches us more than how to use WordPress!  (Just kidding, Dr. McClurken, I know it’s so much more!)

Lesson #1:  Even kids who participate in online gaming/registration for toys are susceptible (no, completely victim) to being traced and held accountable for the things that they say and do online.  It’s also a lesson to parents to be aware of what their kids are saying not only for the integrity of their children but also their safety from child predators and other such dangerous perpetrators.  (Learned from Footprints in the Digital Age.)

Lesson #2:  Don’t post anything about how you don’t like something (i.e. a university, subject, or job) that you might apply or work with in the future.  Most employers and even some colleges use Google to see where their applicants have been.  (Insight from Personal Branding in the Age of Google.)

Lesson #3:  Although some sites allow you to remove content, and you can “un-tag” photos and “deactivate” your account on Facebook, there is no stopping what other people can re-post and connect to your good name.  This is definitely scary to think about – even if we don’t have an account, our friends/boyfriends/etc. probably do and we could still be connected to things we might not want, even if not directly.  (Gained via Digital Tattoo.)

Lesson #4:  Although there are certainly distinctions to be made between our online selves and our “real” selves, Bonnie Stewart asserts that they should not be so totally different, that our internet versions are enhanced forms that reach out to other people.  I hadn’t thought about this that way, since usually we are more careful about what we post than what we say since it is more easily traced, but this idea also doesn’t mean we need to be boring!  It’s just an admonish that should be followed so that we take care to represent ourselves responsible in-person and online, and that both entities showcase our greatest self.  (Gathered from The Unbearable Lightness of Being Digital.)

Lesson #5:  Check privacy settings.  I know this seems like kind of an obvious one, but on a lot of sites there is no prompt to change settings so that you aren’t publicly searchable, and it might be a good idea to keep that to a minimum.  As Danah Boyd points out, there are such creeps who stalk through your online portfolio and might peruse your profile even if you don’t know who they are.  I will definitely be more aware when I make any new account, even if it’s not something as “public” as Facebook or Twitter.  (Informed by Controlling Your Public Appearance.)

These articles were extremely informative, especially when they pointed out some simple ways to protect our identity that might seem obvious in some cases but not all.  It is definitely important for me, not only as a student of a university or an applicant to grad schools and jobs, but as an individual who wants her identity to be protected and taken seriously in order to prevent any future problems.  Reading articles like these remind me that I’m friends with my mom on Facebook and am followed by Dr. McClurken and other esteemed UMW history professors on Twitter, and that if I’m super upset about something I should probably keep the expletives to a minimum (not that I’d ever use them anyway!).

Meet and Greet (Week 7 Update)

Earlier today, Jack, Leah, Candice, and I met in lieu of our class to discuss our progress so far and to put together our first weekly progress report.  We are pleased to say that we had no trouble at all figuring out what to discuss!  I mean, we did in the sense of exactly what to include and 10 minutes isn’t actually very long, but we had no problem with information, since we have accomplished so much already!  Our progress report might be a little different from the other groups since we’re focusing more on research and narratives than digitization, but we will still be incorporating some digitizing into our final website and project.

We also decided on some pretty FANTABULOUS WordPress themes!  Sorry for the crazy expression, but the themes we found for both our site and the overarching Century America site are pretty awesome!  Both are free (which is a plus) and extremely customizable, which is exactly what we want.  Hopefully it’ll look even more incredible once we add in all of our information and sources.

We also checked today to see where we were in regards to the milestones we had set for ourselves – the good new is, we are right on task!  We have messed around with our site, as well as decided on a theme, and have finalized the information that we are going to include and what sources need to be digitized (with permission) for the final site.  Hopefully we will be able to get permission soon from both the CRHC and the Library of Virginia since our goal is to have all images and documents digitized the week after spring break.

All in all, I would say we had a brilliant brainstorming/organizing/work session today, and are moving along swimmingly in regards to what we need accomplished.  Our next huge goals are to digitize sources and to begin writing blurbs for the individual pages we are responsible since we will need plenty of time to edit these tricky wordings.  Hopefully all will go well, and that we can keep going strong following spring break!

Group Discussion/Meeting: Week 6

In lieu of class today, we were going to go to the CRHC in an attempt to convince them to allow us to digitize some material and images to use on our website.  That did not happen, however, because thankfully Dr. McClurken was able to contact someone at the NPS to discuss our situation with the CRHC.  We haven’t heard back, but decided that it would be best to not overwhelm them with our persistence and determination.  We decided that since that was the most we had to do this week, that we should just continue working on our individual portions of the project, namely organizing the data that we have for the two sections that we are each in charge of, and to begin writing the “about” sections for those specific pages.  We will reconvene next Tuesday and see where we all are individually and figure out what all is happening with permissions from the CRHC.

But I thought scholars were opposed to Wikipedia?

I know we haven’t yet discussed the segment on Wikipedia and I’ll probably have to write another post regarding what we talk about in class tomorrow, but I wanted to get down my initial thoughts on the exploration of the “free encyclopedia” that Jimmy Wales created.  First things first, I thought the Ted talk with Wales was extremely informative in understanding the process for editing/publishing on Wikipedia – even though anyone can create or change an article on the site, there are volunteers who review these articles to ensure that they are valid.  I was also surprised that even though viewers can anonymously edit Wikipedia articles, only 18% of the edits are made by these anonymous users, indicating that a majority of those who contribute to the encyclopedia are part of a tight-knit community.  After listening to Wales, I feel much more comfortable using Wikipedia; I know that we are not supposed to use it as a source, but I’ve had professors suggest Wikipedia as a starting point and using the bibliographies on the pages as references.

As for exploring the history and discussion tabs on several history pages of Wikipedia, I am most amazed at how often and how recently the pages are edited and updated.  Two of the pages I looked at, for President’s Day (Washington’s Birthday) and for the Saint Valentines Day Massacre, were updated excessively since both events/commemorations have just recently passed or are upcoming.  This makes sense since more people will likely view these articles because of the time of the year; however, I was surprised to find that when I searched the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which took place on August 23, that there were edits made as recently as February 8.  Because there is unlikely to be such a high influx of traffic on this page since the anniversary is not upcoming, the fact that the page was recently updated made me feel like Wikipedia is a more reliable source than people give it credit for me.  Again, I know that Wikipedia shouldn’t be used as a source, but it does offer a starting place for research and scholars can use the pages in order to obtain references.  Wikipedia is also successful in providing the public with a free encyclopedia, and by doing so is encouraging learning and the growth of knowledge through the exploration of the internet.