Archive for the ‘Digital History’ Category

Digital History And All That Chaos

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

One of the articles I read was “Strange Facts in the History Classroom: Or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Wiki(pedia)” by Christopher Miller. Wikipedia has been a hot topic in every academic department since it became a popular resource. I think Miller’s approach to the subject is the most even keeled way to look at the matter. One major point he hits on is that it is not necessarily about Wikipedia or online sources, but the skills that the researcher has when evaluating and analyzing them that are most important. Just as with every source that a historian uses they must compare it to others and check its sources. I think the root of the problem lies in people’s fear of the internet as a whole and anonymity and ever changing face of it. Anyone can post online and say anything and this scares a lot of people and it raises many questions, e.g. who and what defines an expert or a scholar in a certain field?

            An important aspect of Wikipedia is that it is community moderated and as stated in the article Wikipedia tends to have just as many errors as any encyclopedia, which, is impressive given everyone’s fears about how it is not a trustworthy resource. I believe Miller’s approach to teaching his students about sources is a step in the right direction. We are no longer in an age where scholars are in charge of history and the way it is interpreted. Miller’s point was not just to discuss Wikipedia, but the changing face of scholarship in the twenty first century. Like I said before what is most important in all of this is the students develop a sort of digital fluency in dealing with this relatively new way of researching. Even more basic than that students need the fundamental skills of critical thinking and analysis, skills that are apparently just supposed to happen while you are a college. Some people can pick up skills like this intuitively and from lots of experimenting and practice, but I think we are doing students a great disservice by not addressing these issues head on and more than one class a semester.


While reading Barbara Weinstein’s “Doing History in the Digital Age” it was interesting to see some of the problems we read about in our book and some of the problems we actually faced while doing these project she too also faced. The digital age has made process more transparent. Questions of how and where do we store things especially for long term.

            Like Miller she also addresses the fact that it is not just about being digital and while this important we need to make sure we are not going with technology for technologies sake. When discussing money distribution for projects in the humanities she notes the unfair advantage projects that met certain digital guidelines had over those that did not, she states:

“In a classic case of putting the cart before the horse, they would have to reduce the time and resources devoted to the crucial processes of transcription and tracking down references in order to ensure digital accessibility. The result would be a devaluing of an artisanal/scholarly process in favor of an industrial/technological mandate, with the likelihood that quality would be sacrificed.”

            This brings to mind the whole industrial knowledge of education and the standardized tests that plague the schools of our nation. In the abstract it looks like a good idea, but put into practice and in the long run it is helping very few people and probably hurting the overall cause. So, sometimes the question is raised, what is more important technological standards or quality? Now this doesn’t always hold true and it would be a false assumption to see these two on opposite sides of the spectrum, but this case shows us that we are not done answering all the questions the digital age has for us and it will be by thoughtful thinking, analysis and bit of trial and error that we determine answers for the digital age.


While reading this article I also thought about copyright issues and so this is a bit of a tangent. While ideally everyone would have access to everything published freely and easily the truth is money makes the world go round and when publishers already make small profits there isn’t much incentive to make items electronically available. So where is the balance and how can we get all this information that should be available to the public with little cost, but still maintain the systems that produces these books that we want to read? Personally, I think a lot of the issues come from the length of the copyright period. Right now copyright laws are skewed in favor of the copyright holders while the public has to wait a lifetime (and then some) to have open access to these sources. One of the most obvious solutions would be to limit the copyright term to something reasonable in which the copyright holder still can make money off of it, but people also aren’t at a disadvantage because of the wait period. This seems obvious to me (and probably to you) but we have that whole silly government that seems to not want to agree with popular opinion, its not like we are in a democracy or anything…oh wait. Well, like I said money makes the world go around and to quote one of the major corporations who has helped extend the copyright, “It’s a small world after all”.

Tech and Junk

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

This has been a hectic week and I’ve had a lot going on and have been busy with lots of stuff so I wanted to do a bit of an overview just so I can get it all down on digital paper.

Instead of keeping our blog on umwblogs our group decided to do a separate install on umwhistory. BUT after talking to the WP Master Jim Groom, who just made his return this week, we decided it would be just as easy to keep it on umwblogs and the burden of updates wouldn’t be on Dr.McClurken in the future to maintain the install of WP. So Jim and I (but mostly Jim) have been hacking away at the site on umwhistory, so I will probably be showing that one at our groups the presentation tomorrow. But moving the theme files will be easily done with the help of Jim’s backend assistance.

Jim and I also discovered there is a WP plugin that works with Simile timelines and so Jim is going to be kind enough to install the plugin and see if works. It would be much easier than creating our own navigation bar.

I’m working on another post detailing exactly what Jim has done for the site to take it from blog appearance to site appearance and all the possibilities that we have for categories and tags. Having the amount of markers we do it is helpful to have several ways to filter and search through them and the tag and category feeds will help us do just that. The possibilities are exciting.

Also Jim (did I mention how awesome he is?) recommended that we should grab the pictures from the VA site. I’m assuming since they are government property they are under public domain? Someone correct me if I am wrong. Jim also showed me a really easy way to get the google maps to work on the site so for each page we could possibly have a map for it. In addition another possibility is having a large google map that would cover all our markers and it wouldn’t be too hard at all.

There is still work to be done and I will eventually blog about the finer details and also how awesome the K2 theme for WP is, but that is for another time.

Now for a bit of randomness. After a conversation online last night I did a little photoshop this morning and created a Che Guevara-esque photo of Dr.McClurken.
So for your viewing pleasure:
jmguevara01.jpg jmguevara02.jpg

My question for you fellow Digital History students, what kind of caption do you see with this picture? Do you have a color preference? Oh and should there be t-shirts? Maybe a sort of I survived McClurken’s Digital History Seminar deal haha.

So I’m A Bad Blogger

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Haven’t been to good at keeping on top of blogging over here. But my group mates have been doing a good job of talking about how the Historical Markers project is going.

We are being pretty ambitious with getting the main research done right away, which I think will help motivate us to get stuff done early.

I’ve been working a bit on the Simile timeline changing the code around to get things to come through right or even get the timeline to show up at all. Once you start tinkering around you begin to see how these things work and who doesn’t love the magic of when things start to work? If anyone else needs help I’ll be glad to help with my little bit of knowledge. Or if someone has done something really cool with their timeline, please do share the wealth!

Now on to WordPress. We have created a site on umwblogs, the URL is There isn’t anything there right now, but I’ve been playing around with the setup and looking at themes.
I’ve got a WordPress tip for you guys (just in case you are using it). Say you don’t want the blog posts to be first thing that pops up when you put in the URL, but rather an about page. As it turns out you can change it so it is a static front page. In the backend of the blog:

– Go to the Options tab > then the Reading subtab
– You will see the option to change front page display from posts to a static page.
– Just click on the page you want to make the front page and save the changes.

That simple! Hope that is helpful to anyone tinkering around with WP for their project.

Tools, Tools, So Many Tools

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

There were a lot of interesting tools on the ehub site, but I had trouble finding something I thought might be useful for our project.

Amy pointed out an interesting site that could be useful for our project at That would let us create a virtual tour.

In class we talked about SIMILE, I definitely am very interested in using this for the timeline. It has a nice clean and clear look.

I did find an interesting site called that gives you access to a lot of primary source documents. A fair amount of them are available for free and the rest are behind a gate. But it might be something to look at.

I think for our project we already have an idea of what direction we are headed in because we are working off of what the state has already created. I’m just throwing out ideas, but I think for our project I don’t want too many separate pieces going on. A lot of the sites on the ehub page would be another piece out there floating around. I’m certainly not against something that could be beneficial to making our site better. Perhaps I better do a search around the Internet to see what I can find outside the ehub site.

Two Tools to Rule Them All…or not.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

In response to the post, for Thursday I’d like to take a closer look at Omeka and possibly mash-up technology.

I’ve been playing around with Omeka a little bit and I have had a problem with a file size and I can’t seem to find file size limits indicated on the site, if anyone knows kindly point me in the right direction. I also had a weird error going on when I tried to create an exhibit, maybe a temporary thing? In any case I want to play around more with it.

I like mashups because they leave room for a lot of creativity (and fun?) so I’d like play around with that technology a little and do some imagining.

Also someone (can’t remember who) mentioned xtimeline and considering my group needs to make one that is an application I will be looking further into. Right now as far as I can tell you can embed the timelines into a blog so that is a nice feature.

Using Tools

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

I’ve seen RSS used in lots of ways to pull information from all sorts of areas and aggregating it in multiple ways. I recently worked on a course website for an Econ 488 class that when a student tags their post with a certain category (pre-determined by the prof) that it will get pulled to a specific page on the course site. Each week they are doing a different topic, so each week a different tag. This easily organizes for the students all the papers on each topic instead of having to go searching through everything.

I’m also using WordPress as a home for a website that holds transcripts, website reviews, and links done by McClurken’s History 328: U.S. Women’s History Since 1870. So creating a site that doesn’t necessarily look like a blog but uses WordPress is possible.

I’ve also seen used as a way to suggest resources. For example for the 2008 Horizon Report people who weren’t directly involved could tag something HZ08” on their feed and the Horizon Board would be aware of it. This allows the people who put together the report to be aware of possibly pertinent material and it lets the “little guy” of having a chance to get a say in.

So nothing really creative from me here, just what I’ve seen. Still contemplating Omeka though.

Chronicle is Right…Sort of

Monday, January 21st, 2008

In the article McClurken posted there are some points I agree with and disagree with (and not just because I believe the Chronicle doesn’t know anything about technology). Like Kelly said, students are digitally fluent in some ways. I’d say in general that students of my generation see the internet and computers as a source of entertainment more than they use it for academics or learning.

I wouldn’t say that this is entirely the students fault though. Since the internet is relatively new most students were left to their own devices on the computer. There was no real integration of these new tools into learning when we were younger. So, I would argue many students just don’t know because they have never been taught. There is a bad assumption that just because my generation are “digital natives” (vs digital immigrants) that we know how to use the web or how to use digital tools any better.

The Chronicle suggests that we look a little closer at the money we are investing in technology, which I agree with, technology is not a magic bullet. But I believe the problem runs much deeper and I could go on a rant about student academic culture. I’ll save it for another post.

Almost Forgot To Do An Introduction

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

Well my name is Shannon and I am sophomore. As you may probably have guessed I am familiar with a fair amount of the tools we will be learning in class, but I’m really not as geeky as that makes it seem. I didn’t know any of this stuff until the fall of ’06 when I took a FSEM on globalization and we were introduced to a lot of these tools. I also somehow tricked the Division of Teaching and Learning Techonolgies (DTLT), the place where Martha and Jerry work (and some other people who I think are coming for some digital workshops), into thinking I know what I am talking about so I currently have a job there as a student aide.

I took this course because McClurken had mentioned it to me and considering I am a history major with a strange obsession for these new technologies, how could I say no? I’m looking forward to getting a lot out of this course because I am still relatively new to the history major and so on that front I am still learning. I also looking forward to producing something in this class that can be useful to other people outside myself and that hopefully a wider audience of people will be able to benefit from it. This class has little structure (in a good way) so there is a lot of room for creativity and dare I say fun? So in short, I am excited.

I’ll also put it out there that I blog on another blog that I first created during the FSEM so if you are for whatever reason extremely bored with nothing else to do you could check it out over here. And if he doesn’t mind me calling him out I believe that a certain professor we all know and love has a blog too and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t mind if you checked it out. Maybe it would inspire him to blog more. But I am addicted to this stuff so what do I know?

Because I Am Feeling A Little Dorky

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

If I was feeling slightly more dorky I would have probably tried to create an OPML file, but I am inherently lazy. So this isn’t the most helpful thing I could possibly do but I thought, hey why not? I compiled a list of everyone’s blog feed along with comment feeds too. I think everyone’s blog is posted on the blogroll, so I don’t think I missed anyone. Hope this is helpful to people so they don’t have to go to every site back and forth. Sorry if there are any mistakes, if you point them out I’ll be sure to correct them. Also I recommend just creating a folder in your RSS reader so you don’t have to look at the long list of feeds.

Amy Benjamin
Blog Feed:
Comments Feed:

Andrea Meyer
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Austin Cobb
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Colin Biddle
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Elle Weaver
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Jennifer Feldhaus
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Kelly Wuyscik
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Kellye Sorber
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Laura Gumkowski
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Lisa Meissner
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Mary Hester
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Matthew Downs
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Nikole Wellman
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Roxanne Ibinson
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Shannon Hauser
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Talya Halpern
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Whitney Holcomb
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Hope that helps some!

Virginia is Historical Marker Obsessed

Monday, January 14th, 2008

I’ll be working on the Historical Markers Project this semester and I’ve been taking a look around the Historical Markers site that our group will be working off and I counted 62 markers for the Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, and Stafford area. It seems like quite a bit, but compared to the 2,200 that apparently exist Virginia it seems like a very small number.

I’m interested to see what our group will come up with and hopefully we will make whatever we build interesting, nobody likes a dull project.