On the Semester’s Readings

I had appreciation for both texts (Cohen & Rosenzweig, and Weller) for different reasons.

I found Cohen & Rosenzweig’s Digital History to be, at least to me, a comprehensive A to Z treatment of this topic. From that perspective, this book is a keeper, in the sense that I can see Public Historians returning to it periodically as their exposure to digital history increases and, hopefully, as it becomes an integral part of their practice and approach.  The book nicely balances the presentation of detail with a broader discussion of why traditional historians need to and should overcome their apprehensions and engage with this topic. From other readings it is also clear that Roy Rosenzweig is viewed by many in the field as a model to be admired and listened to.

I found Weller’s History in the Digital Age helpful in the sense of digging deeper into specific topics. But I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of this book had it not been for reading Digital History at the same time. I found the writing by several of the writers in Weller’s book to be dense and somewhat pretentious. That could be because several articles described digital history issues from a British perspective.

I enjoyed the variety found in the other readings and especially enjoyed the readings from Week 8 on the Collaborative Web. I come away with the opinion that now that Wikipedia has opened the gate for non-professionals, this phenomenon will only grow in the future. As a result, I believe that historians who hunker down and refuse to acknowledge this and deal with it, will eventually be left behind. I believe there is room for professional, peer-reviewed articles, more informal and as a result more frequent writing through blogs, and other digital expressions of history – historical websites and, of course, digital exhibits.






Any of Us Can Be a Citizens Archivist

Go to the National Archives and Records Administration Citizen Archivist website and experiment with one of the tasks.  Blog about your experience and the Citizen Archivist project as a whole.

The National Archives and Records Administration’s Citizen Archivist website provides great examples of several innovations in the evolving field of digital history. The National Archives website in general is well constructed and visually engaging. It is clear that the goal is not simply to house historical documents, but to engage the public, both professionals and the rest of us, in an interactive experience. The Teachers’ Resources section, for example, provides teachers at all levels with tools to utilize historic documents in the classroom, in a variety of ways. The Citizen Archivist section seems to build on the example of Wikipedia, in the sense of inviting anyone to involve themselves in contributing in a variety of ways to the work of the National Archives. Anyone who is up to the challenge of transcribing sometimes difficult-to-decipher handwriting is invited to do just that. And for those of us for whom that task isn’t appealing, but who nevertheless get excited about reading historic documents and particularly historic correspondence, the opportunity to tag documents is attractive.

I reviewed several documents that had already been transcribed and found particularly interesting the almost daily letters from Harry Truman to his wife, Bess, over several decades. It is striking that so much correspondence is available, including long before Truman entered politics. And it is interesting to see how much substantive discussion of current events and issues are addressed in those letters.

Then I looked into the Tagging Missions and tagged several World War II posters. This was a good reminder of the importance of properly describing, and tagging, digital images in order for those descriptions and tags to be of optimal use to researchers.

Tweeting and Online Presence

Compare your digital persona to that of the bloggers and twitterstorians you have been following since the beginning of the semester. How do you present yourself online? How would you attract attention to your digital products? How can you harness the power of Web 2.0 to engage with and use your audience?
I’m wrestling with whether this is a difficult or a simple assignment. It seems difficult because my digital persona is limited to email and Facebook. It’s easy because …. see why it’s difficult! Since I’m not in Public History and don’t anticipate finding myself in the future in a position to that of classmates who either already are or will be “practicing” Public History, I see no real need to develop a more fulsome digital persona.
Frankly, my reaction to history-related tweets, including from twitterstorians (e.g., Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin) and others (e.g., CCSU Historians, CTinWWI, CT Explored), is not enthusiastic. At the risk of an overstatement, my unofficial review suggests that something like 50% of tweets involve notice of recent or upcoming events, 30% involve esoteric or trivial information, and 20% include information I would find of interest and would follow up on by clicking whatever hyperlinks are included. My impression is that some organizations that tweet do so not so much because they value this channel of communication but because they feel they must tweet because their peers/competitors are doing so. Overall, I find getting information via Twitter to be like drinking from a fire hose!

While I believe my online info-gathering time is better spent on websites, all is not dark. I do see considerable potential value in a macro review of tweets, a 20,000 foot perspective of the universe of tweets, including identification and stratification of issues that are the subject of tweets, and what kinds of trends are identified from tweets from public and private organizations; professionals in various disciplines, including the field of history; and from citizens generally.

Examine a Historical GIS Project

Examine in detail at least one historical GIS project (e.g., HyperCities, Digital Harlem, Mapping the Republic of Letters, Virtual Jamestown) On your blog, discuss how this project contributes to historical scholarship

Reviewed: “Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America,” available at https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=11/41.3030/-72.9225&opacity=0.8&city=new-haven-ct&area=B6&adimage=3/35/-120

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a federal agency set up in the 1930s in response to the impact of the Great Depression on home owners and specifically on home mortgages. The goal was to help with refinancing mortgages in default. The agency granted loans under revised terms, but in the process also did an assessment of the perceived level of risk, marked on neighborhood-by-neighborhood maps, in several dozen cities across the country. In Connecticut, they assessed East Hartford, New Haven and Darien/Stamford/New Canaan. Using consistent (but by today’s terms inappropriate) assessment terminology, they labeled neighborhood maps in each city by: Green = “Best”; Blue = “Still Desirable”; Yellow = “Definitely Declining”; and Red = “Hazardous.”

The result was a bias towards refinancing mortgages in the “Best” and “Still Desirable” areas, and shying away from doing so in the Definitely Declining and Hazardous areas. This was one of the first examples of “redlining,” that is, of refusing to assist in “redlined” neighborhoods, based in large part upon the racial and ethnic makeup of the neighborhood community.

This GIS project is an expansion of a similar project that focused only on HOLC activities in Richmond Virginia. The information available at this website, including most importantly the color-coded neighborhood maps, provides a visual perspective on the issue of redlining in home mortgage refinancing during the New Deal.

In New Britain, for example, 19% was labeled Green, 43% was labeled Blue, 30% was labeled Yellow and 8% was labeled Red. And viewing the map shows that the Red neighborhoods were at the core of the city, surrounded by Yellow neighborhoods; the Blue and Green areas were outside of the city core. The New Haven map shows the same relative location of neighborhoods, but with a much larger percentage marked as Yellow (56%) or Red (20%). If you click on the New Haven neighborhoods themselves, you see the completed Area Description. The Red area was inhabited by 90% mixed foreign-born and 5% negroes. The Remarks section says: “Pride of ownership is entirely lacking. Absence of market plus vandalism has resulted in some demolition.”


Week 9 – Learning from Podcasts

Check out one or more of the podcasts listed below or one of your choice. Write a blog post about how podcasting can be used to extend a public history audience.

I listened to “The History of the Republican Party” from Backstory via SoundCloud.

This was my first exposure to podcasts. I’ve shied away from them because I really didn’t understand the concept and was, and am, somewhat overwhelmed by the number of podcasts available and the number of channels through which they may be found.

I found this particular podcast similar to a radio version of Front Line or Ted Talks, a rebroadcast of This American Life, or an oral form of YouTube. I listened while driving in my car, which was very convenient. I didn’t expect to obtain the same level of detail I would find in an academic paper. As a result, I wasn’t disappointed not to “hear” footnotes. At the same time, I enjoyed this more than I believe I would from reading a blog on this topic. There was a lot of information provided and the format was entertaining. There was a “host” who guided the overall presentation, but throughout the podcast, he was joined by several experts who contributed info from their perspectives. Plus, the format was more of a dialog than a lecture, and interspersing brief music transitions was a nice touch.

I learned quite a bit of information from this podcast and it prompted an interest in following up at some point. For example, I found the discussion of the role Mark Hanna played in the election of McKinley in 1896 really interesting. He was described as the first Karl Rove and was credited with expanding the base of support for the party, beyond the traditional party base – reaching out to the general public, and to corporations for financial support.

I see podcasts as an additional teaching tool, one that takes advantage of the current significance of social media, the prevalence of obtaining news and other information from mobile devices, and the need to reinvent ways for sharing information about the humanities.

Comparing Wikipedia Sites

The Wikipedia article “Americanization (immigration)” addresses the process of an immigrant to the United States becoming a person who shares American values, beliefs and customs and is assimilated. The article provides a helpful overview and history, including the importance of the period just before through to just after World War I. It was originally part of a broader entry on “Americanization,” which refers to the influence the United States has on the culture of other countries. “Americanization (immigration) was broken off into a very brief, separate entry in 2006. Since then it has been added to and amended over 500 times. Despite the many changes, there is only one Talk comment, suggesting that the article would be improved by including more of a perspective from people being Americanized. The Talk section indicates that this article is within the scope of WikiProject United States, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of topics relating to the United States on Wikipedia.

“National Security League (NSL)” is mentioned in the “Americanization (immigration)” article as one of the key private organizations involved with Americanization. The article focusing on the NSL indicates that it was an American patriotic, nationalistic, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which supported a greatly expanded military based, and the naturalization and Americanization of immigrants. The NSL article was first created in 2007 and has been modified approximately 40 times. To date, this article has generated no Talk comments.

“Immigration to the United States,” which is also mentioned in the “Americanization (immigration)” article is by far the longest and most comprehensive article of the three. This article also has been amended over 500 times. The Talk section focuses on suggestions for modification of racist language in the article. This article also leads to a separate discussion of the History of Immigration to the United States.

Making a Website Attractive and Functional

If budgeting limitations were not an issue, I would be a fan of a high-tech approach to digital exhibits, with lots of hyperlinks to supplemental materials and to documents that are internally searchable.

Returning to the planet earth, we know that budgeting is an issue and that the “costs” of digitization are not just measured in IT funding, but also in all the time and human resources that go into a digitization project.

Cohen and Rosenzweig look to designer Edward Tufte for his description of the balance between simple and more advanced approaches to web design: “For Tufte, the elegance and impact of design comes in the resolution of this tension. How do you get your points across without presenting a dizzying array of text and graphics? How can you maximize expression without cluttering a page? How can you juxtapose elements in a way that allows readers to draw their own conclusions rather than bludgeoning them with the obvious?”

So I like the idea of shooting for a middle position, which features a site that is not so simple as to be discounted as second-rate but also not so complex as to be confusing and overwhelming. That site would enhance accessibility both in terms of the types of documents that are accessible (e.g., the rare book that would otherwise only be available to the scholar who travels to the Beineke Library at Yale) and in terms of the number and type of people gaining access. It would be sophisticated enough to attract the person who would bypass a site if it didn’t have color and some frills.  And I’m not sold on the idea that small chunks of text necessarily are better than longer passages. With Cohen and Rosenzweig, I agree with  that “good writing produces willing readers, regardless of the medium.”

I think the California Women for Agrigucture site is a good example a site that meets the middle ground position of being usable and informative.http://cawomenforag.omeka.net/exhibits/show/weareavoiceforthebusyfarmerori