Category Archives: Weekly Post

A Reflection of Then & Now

A lot was taken into account when designing our Then & Now site.  We started out with an overwhelming amount of ideas, and ultimately ended up with a site that incorporated each of them; a site that included side by side comparisons, an introductory video, an interactive map, and blended photographs depicting the evolution of the University of Mary Washington campus, student life, and major events over time.  Initially, we thought that collecting the photos and narrowing them down would take the most time, but we found that it actually took the least amount of time.  We divided out the “then” photos that everyone was responsible for, began collecting the “now” photos as a group—most of which were taken by Alex—and then using the Master List that Meaghan created, we divided up who was responsible for which posts.  Responsibility for posts included everything from locating the photos, citing them, uploading them to the site, writing descriptions for them, and tagging them.  Although we all took part in the creating the posts, Jess was primarily responsible for the creation and “tech support” on the site, so she would make sure that everything was in order and was our “go-to” when we had technical problems with our posts.  I was responsible for double-checking all of the tags and creating the Google Map of campus and the Interactive Map page on the site.  Conner created the introductory video and embedded it into our homepage.  The process itself was simple, but the constant checking, double-checking, triple-checking, and so on for the site was what ended up taking the most time—and I’m sure we’ll still end up finding more errors, but we’re only human.

As for the defense of our contract, I believe we accomplished all that we agreed to, with the exception of one milestone that we did not complete on time.  The division of labor, which was briefly discussed above,   was divided almost exactly how it was laid out in the contract, with the exception of advertising, which we ultimately all pitched in to do because we realized that we all have different connections with different organizations, and I think breaking this aspect of the contract worked to our benefit because just in the two days that our site has “officially” gone live, we have received so much feedback on it from so many groups and organizations—and our Google Analytics app helps in proving that.   We also utilized all of the tools that we listed, with the exception of a scanner.  Finally, as I mentioned above, we failed to reach one of our milestones on time: April 6, 2014.  We were supposed to have all of our pairs upload with their captions and meta data.  While we had all of our pairs uploaded well before April 6, the captions/descriptions proved to be a bit more challenging because of the citation plug-in (we all had to figure out how to use it and, when we did, it sometimes wouldn’t work) and the availability of the Crawley book in the library.  Two are on reserve, one is missing, and then others were checked out, so the group ended up having to split time with the one book that Jess managed to check out, but the descriptions were all completed by the due date.  Overall, we’re all quite happy with the site.  We started out sitting down as a group and expressing our thoughts and feelings about how we wanted our site to look.  We made sure to include everyone’s thoughts about the site so it ultimately ended up looking how everyone in the group wanted it.  I feel the Then & Now group met the goal that they set out to achieve and they managed to do so together.  No matter what anyone else ends up thinking about our site, it’s ours, and I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we’ve come to love it like it was our own cute little web child.

Impact of Digital History

I read a number or articles for class this week (this week being last week, when I actually wrote this post), including
Writing History in the Digital Age (Dorn)- Is (Digital) History More Than an Argument about the Past?
Zotero: Social and Semantic Computing for Historical Scholarship (Cohen)
and Dr. McClurken’s Archives 2.0 Article

My thoughts from the readings and class discussion are as follows:

The digital age has supplied students of the present unparalleled access to digital archives and resources. Students now have more and more primary source material to research and utilize. Digital scholarships are becoming increasingly easier to publish and to locate. These works of scholarship are setting a new standard as far as researching goes, and are not being utilized to their full potential. Scholarly publishing in print is absurdly slow, even after approval. Publishing a digital work is much easier and faster, and provides infinitely more opportunities to make an impact on researchers in your chosen field.
Mary Washington is way more open to digital studies than many other universities- I was surprised today by Dr. McClurken’s story about the 2 monograph rule at another school. I didn’t realize that we were so fancy and ‘cutting edge’- I thought this was just the norm. I was not aware that there are schools that are significantly behind where we are as an institution. Go Mary Wash!

Before I even read the articles for class, the titles alone had me selfishly thinking of parallels to the subject of art history, and how it could cross between disciplines. The current accessibility of images is a big deal. Today, professors use PowerPoints in their lectures filled with high-quality images gathered from digital repositories such as ArtStor. These give students a good idea of what a piece looks like without having to rely on descriptions or seeing the work in person. Digital publications also allow for easily accessible high-quality color images, a great alternative to the expensive nature of printing color images in physical publications.

I got really excited during our discussion about whether a placeholder object is a good replacement educationally for learning…I was on the edge of my seat and super attentive even though I hadn’t slept in 2 days. Not literally, it had only been 28 hours. But I digress. A placeholder is great for objects for teaching purposes, but as far as art goes, it isn’t quite the same. You don’t get the same amount detail in a replication that you get seeing a work in person. An integral part of the overall mood of the piece is misses. Even going to a museum and seeing the object isn’t the same as seeing the object in its original context. There are layers of understanding that you don’t get from just a replica or a reproduction.

Dr. McClurken started talking about seeing a Picasso painting in person, in all of its 30 foot glory, and how it moved him in ways that seeing a reproduction just couldn’t do. I wanted to say something really badly. This was my shot to actually contribute to the conversation! Sorry I missed it. I’ve never been very good at participating in class discussions, I’m more of a “listen and absorb information” kind of person. Sponges are great and all, but aren’t particularly active or exciting… But secretly I actually had some solid thoughts for this discussion!

Digital resources really are changing the way that history, as well as other subjects, are taught.

The bigger picture: The world is changing, information is changing, and history will have to change with it. Opportunities need to be provided for development and support as far as the changing and integrating of technology goes. Leaps and bounds have been made, but there is always more to be done.

Finishing up the Site!

I realized that I haven’t blogged a progress report here for a couple weeks–we have split up the progress reports for our group so that each week, one person will post. This process is hopefully making it easier for our virtual CA classmates to keep up with us. I’ll link here to our progress reports from the past two weeks:

Post-Draft Update: UMW and Homepage (April 5, 2014)

Look how far we’ve come! (March 30, 2014)

Essentially, we have made great progress, and the polished first versions of both of are sites are complete. We definitely still have some playing around to do with formatting and aesthetics, citations (still figuring out the footnote placement), etc. Our biggest news for this week is that thanks to the awesome Ryan Brazell, we have been able to embed our interactive map into a WP page! Other than that, we just have some kinks to work out and editing to do. I’m really happy with how everything has come out so far!

Impact of Digital History 2.0

I previously made a post about today’s readings for the COPLAC portion of this class, which can be found here.

However, I did also skim Sherman Dorn’s article, as Dr. McClurken suggested, and I am quite fascinated with what he has to say, and I think Dorn makes some intriguing points about digital history. I really like how he frames digital history as yet another historiographical development that contributes to the development of the field–an astute observation, and one that I had not considered. Digital history has definitely added a new dimension to the field, especially because the question still remains about reliability, source citations, etc. I also like how he points out the breadth and depth of various digital history projects, especially the extent to which they make an argument. This point rings particularly relevant to me because it is something that I have encountered in the COPLAC portion of this class. Some of my virtual classmates are going for creating an online archive, while others like Julia, Candice, Jack, and I are creating an exhibit. It’s interesting to see how each of us interpreted the Century America project and what we have done with it. And even then, the “exhibits” that we are creating are more along the lines of narrative history, rather than history that makes an explicit academic argument like you might find in a monograph.

Then & Now Update

Well, the Then & Now group has accomplished a lot over the past week.  First of all, we have all of our photos uploaded, which is awesome.  We (i.e., Jess) also found an awesome footnote plug-in that allows us to hide our footnotes until the number is clicked on.  We REALLY like our plug-in, but there was a problem with it–it didn’t work well with our photos.  It would mess up all of the formatting.  So, Jess (always the technical savior) figured out that if we put all of our photos in tables, the formatting wouldn’t get messed up.  Sooooo, now we’re in the process of putting all of our photos into tables, and then inserting the tables into the posts, which is no big deal once you figure it out.  (Again, Jess saved my day by solving a linking issue I was having with my photos through text messages.)  We’re also finishing up writing all of our descriptions for each page by using Dr. Crawley’s history of UMW book and various other sources.  My big project for this week was finishing up the Google Map of campus.  We wanted to include an interactive approach, so I mapped out the entire campus and made categories for the buildings.  I then made it so when the balloon pops up for a pin, it displays the name of the building/location, the category it fits into, and a link to the photos pertaining to it on our site.

Overall, everything is going pretty well, and we’re just in the process of tying up all of our loose ends.

The Gathering of Digital Information

Nicholas Carr’s article was the first one that I read when preparing for our class today. It got me thinking about how much technology and the internet has really affected me.One of Carr’s points that especially resonated with me was his claim that he could no longer successfully read long passages of text. If I know I absolutely have to read a long text, either for class, research, what have you, I usually skim and stumble my way through it (his article especially, just because I saw the the scroll bar on the side was so long. Luckily it was shorter than I anticipated, and I made it through alright). My problem with reading long pieces of text mainly only applies to the internet- If the work is in physical print, I usually don’t have an issue with it. People today have become quite accustomed to short, concise strings of words, thanks to avenues like twitter or texting. I especially enjoyed this passage from the article, and wanted to include it:

“The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.”

So, from this I gather that the adaptions of our brains to new technology is not a new thing. And we shouldn’t be too terribly alarmed about our “brains getting rewired,” as long as we are aware of these changes.

Now for the other topics up for discussion: text mining, N-Grams, and topic Modeling. Honestly, I was very confused at first. I had never heard of such things before these readings were assigned. I grasped the concept of text mining and topic modeling but, even after reading the article twice and after hearing what others had to say about them, I still don’t really understand N-Grams completely. In light of my ignorance of these subjects, I feel like more awareness of these sorts of tools is necessary for students today. These tools, while useful for historians (and art historians!), can be applied to a broad spectrum of disciplines in the academic world, and can greatly benefit researchers in any field.

Commodification of Information

Out of all of the articles for class, two really resonated with me.1 The first was “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. I found it extremely ironic but wildly appropriate that as I was reading, the page was loaded with ads and links to other pages–the same kinds of distractions that he talks about. It was interesting to read about how the Internet is actually changing the way we think because I never thought it would have that much of an impact. I had no idea how malleable our minds could be. That being said, I think part of the problem here goes beyond the fact that it’s changing the way people read and process information: it seems that no one is making an effort to counteract that, for which I think the blame should partially be laid on people–not the Internet. I have always loved reading and been an avid reader. I do spend a lot of time on the Internet now, but I make a concerted effort in my free time (AKA the summer) to read a lot of books, do crossword puzzles, and spend less time on the Internet. If you aren’t doing anything to try and maintain your ability to read normal novels, then of course you are going to lose that ability. (I do realize that people–myself included–are not aware of the profound effect that the Internet has on their way of processing information. This issue is not simply solved; nevertheless, I still maintain that we are part of the problem. The Internet is too.)

Like Carr, I am extremely unsettled by Google’s assertion that we might be greatly improved by artificial intelligence, or if our brains were completely replaced by artificial intelligence. The thought alone is scary. Intelligence is simply not that simple–you can’t replace it in one fell swoop. There are several different kinds of intelligence (8, according to Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory) and I truly believe that no artificial intelligence could completely embody any one of them, let alone multiple ones or a combination of some. It could perhaps come close with the logical-mathematical intelligence, but otherwise, no. Our minds are complex and each one is unique–there is absolutely no way that supplementing or replacing our brains with artificial intelligence could improve the way we think (unless the goal here is to process information like a machine–personally, I would rather not do that). AI would have to be extremely versatile and malleable to be able to adapt to each different person’s mind because, as Carr points out, our minds themselves are malleable, forever changing. I have very strong feelings on this topic, but I will leave my ranting to a minimum and simply end by saying No.

I am also not very comfortable with Google’s view of information as a commodity–I think it takes away much of the value of the information and the work that goes in to creating it. I’m having a difficult time articulating my feelings on this topic, but I will do my best. I suppose I feel so strongly about this because I really value learning, especially the process of learning. I don’t care much for some of the end results of learning (AKA tests), but others I thoroughly enjoy, like books. To think that information is a commodity somehow cheapens it, and it completely eliminates the wonderful learning process, and you miss the rich surrounding context. As a commodity, I suppose information still has value, but it’s a different value. It has a value for people/organizations like Google, because it gives them meaning. But it loses intangible values. (At the same time, I do wonder if one day, when information has become so much of a commodity, that somehow the tidbits of information that are not commodified will be extremely valuable–priceless–much the same way the commodification course has gone with nature.)

All of the above being said, I find some aspects of data mining interesting. The “Mining the Dispatch” site was fascinating, especially for the trends it shows. What makes these results valuable, though, is understanding the context in which they exist, as Dan Cohen alludes to in his piece about Google N-Grams (which, incidentally, I also think are very cool–if you have the context). I think these tools are wonderful ways to discover and visualize trends throughout history and aid us in understanding and representing history to the fullest extent possible, but they should not replace the physical research we do with books and archives, and they definitely should not be pursued or employed without proper context.2

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1. I would like to note that I read all of the articles for class, but am choosing to blog about the ones about which I feel most strongly.

2. Random thoughts about the other readings: I like how sassy–for lack of a better word–Dan Cohen is in his piece about N-Grams. And as per Turkel’s piece, I can’t believe people actually want to know the history of all those topics–shaving legs? Really?

What did I just read?

OK, so after reading this week’s readings I can say that I am extremely excited for class tomorrow because I need a LOT of help understanding what all of this is.  I find this whole N-gram and text mining stuff interesting, but I feel like I can contribute much more to the conversation when I have a better understanding of what I read about it.  So, I’m going to talk about the article I do understand and completely agree with “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”  I think it is.  I think the internet is a wonderful thing, and I think the fact that there is an enormous wealth of information right at our fingertips is great, but I also think that it’s making people, well, stupid.

What Carr discussed in his article is very scary but, in many ways, very real.  I’ve always been an avid reader and even when I don’t have assigned readings you can find me with a good book in hand (or an app for one on my Nook or iPad), but in more recent years I have found it more difficult to read.  I always thought it was because I was getting older or because I have more going on in my life than just high school, but everything Carr described in his article are things that I frequently experience now.  It sometimes takes me 30 minutes to read an article that should take 10-15.  I find myself reading the same page multiple times because I realize I don’t remember anything that I just looked at, and it’s all very scary.

I’m not sure exactly why this is happening, but I definitely think Carr is on to something, even though he admits that people should be skeptical of what he says.  I can’t wait to hear what other people have to say about this.

On another note, even though I’m still confused about the subject, I really like the design of the “Mining the Dispatch” page.  For such a confusing topic, I think the cleanliness of the site is more inviting and makes people more willing (at least for me) to try to read everything they are explaining.  If it had a bunch of graphics and such, I think I would have given up on it much more quickly.

We climb high, no lie, you know this (Rooftops!)

This is a VERY exciting group update because I get to tell you that the Then & Now group has officially completed their rooftop photoshoot! I mean, um, our group research and photo acquisition on the rooftops of various UMW buildings, specifically George Washington Hall, Virginia Hall, Monroe Hall, and Jepson Science Center….

This is one of my favorite photos--we got up close and personal with the Bell Tower.

This is one of my favorite photos–we got up close and personal with the Bell Tower.

OK, so it was kind of a photoshoot/research because let’s be real, we had to take advantage of the opportunity of being on the roofs of campus buildings, and thanks to our chaperone, Mr. Harold Williams, we learned a lot of cool information that we probably never would have learned about if we hadn’t had the opportunity to get on the roofs.  This experience was in the works for a few weeks.  After doing our initial “then” photo research, we realized that a number of the photos that we had were taken from the air or on the roofs of buildings.  Since DTLT doesn’t have a drone or blimp that we can attach a camera to to take aerial shots of campus (come on, Mary Wash, where’s the funding for THAT!) we took a chance and put in a request for access to GW, Virginia, Monroe, and Jepson.  Well, the request was approved, and this past Friday we got to head up to the rooftops.  I don’t want to elaborate a lot on what happened because we plan on discussing it in more detail for our group update on Thursday, but after Thursday, I’ll be posting a recap of that update for those of you who aren’t in our ADH class.

Also, we’ve all uploaded our second set of photos to the website–now equalling a grand total of thirty uploaded photos.  We’ve also completed taking all of our “now” pictures, and we’ve acquired the future rendering of the amphitheater.  Personally, I went ahead and uploaded all of the photos I’m responsible for with their captions and I now need to work on the captions for each of them (still need to get the History of UMW book to reference) and I am going to start working on the map again.  Other than that, we’re mostly on track and keeping up with our schedule.

Roof-Hopping

On Friday, the Then and Now group got to go on our rooftop adventure! Finally! And it was a blast. We climbed atop GW, Virginia, Monroe, and Jepson! Between the four buildings we could see just about every part of campus! It got a little tiring by the end, but was overall a wonderful and rewarding experience. Our tour guide told us a lot of interesting stories and factoids while we were exploring, and he also doubled as our photographer for group shots- we got a picture of ourselves on every roof! Plus a bonus picture that Dr. McClurken took from the ground (thanks again for that)!

Now we have a ton of super-cool pictures to use on our site, plus eternal bragging rights. How many students can say they’ve been on the roof of the buildings on campus?!

BallThis is one of the pictures that we aspired to take in order to compare it to one of our “then” photos. Who would have thought that we’d actually be able to get up on the roof to capture it?!

DSC_0063

Above is one of my favorite photos that I took. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because it captures one of the rare moments that the sun decided to pok its head out of the clouds for us!

We will talk more about our adventures during our presentation this Thursday, but I just wanted to throw this out there for now :)