The Spirits that Linger: A Haunted History Tour of Lafayette Square!

Well folks, we’ve made it to the end of the semester, and therefore the end of my History and New Media course. In this post, I want to talk a bit about what I have learned throughout my time in this class, and I also want to introduce you to the final project produced by my partner Maria Eipert and myself.

Perhaps you’ll remember an earlier post of mine in which I talk about our plans for the final project. Well, over the course of the semester, while some ideas and objectives changed slightly, the final product is exactly what we had hoped it would be: a fun way of getting people interested in history.

The original inspiration for the creation of this app was based on work Maria and I did for another class we took part in this semester. In our Public History Practicum class, we worked with the White House Historical Association to create a guided walking ghost tour of Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. This tour takes people around the Square, stopping along the way to point out various places where ghosts are said to haunt the hallowed halls of what was once the social center of Washington, DC. This tour, unlike some others you might find in the area, is based upon historical facts uncovered in our extensive research of both primary (newspapers, etc.) and secondary (books, websites, etc.) resources. While telling ghost stories was the main attraction of this tour, the goal was to make tour attendees realize the history behind the tales we were telling. We did not want to frighten people; rather we wanted these scandalous and sometimes shocking stories to connect people to the past in a new and exciting way.

For our History and New Media class, we were then given the opportunity to  supplement this physical walking tour experience with an app for personal mobile devices. As public historians, it is important for us to think about not only those who have direct access to our resources and events, but also to reach out to those who perhaps are too far away to take advantage of what we can offer. Thus having an app for personal mobile devices allows those outside of the Washington, D.C. metro area to experience and learn about the history of a neighborhood in their nation’s capital.

In our New Media class, we learned a lot this semester about the current shift taking place in academic institutions from libraries, to museums, to schools. Everyone is aware of the impact that new technologies and social media have had on how people find, interpret, and interact with information. While there were many options open to us for this project, including creating a podcast or website rather than an app, we felt that an app would really give us the reach that we were hoping for with this project. Think about it: just about everyone, everywhere is on their smartphones almost all the time. And as an additional bonus, this would be perfect for people who live in the D.C. area but who do not  like going on guided tours. With this app, users could go on their own self-guided tour, following any route they wanted, skipping areas or stories that interested them less, and stopping or starting whenever and whereever they liked. It was clear that an app was the best way for us to go.

Before I show you the wireframes we created for the final project, let me show you how it all started. Many books and articles I read about designing an app explained that the first step was to create a concept flowchart which would guide the design aspects of the app. Here is the flowchart we came up with:

AppFlowchart

After having a firm understanding of how we wanted our content to be organized within the app, we were able to set about designing individual wireframes for our client. Below are some early sketches Maria and I created to give us guidance in our app design.

Sketches1 Sketches2

Sketches3

Once we had our ideas sketched out, it was time to try to do some actual design work. Now I have never designed anything like an app before in my life, so I did a Google search looking for some tips and guides that might help me. What I found (aside from hundreds of blogs and web guides to app building for beginners) was a program called Prototyper, which provided me with a choice of templates and tools to use in creating a prototype for a phone, tablet, or web app. One aspect of this program that I found particularly interesting was that it gave you the ability to “simulate” your design. This feature opened up a web browser displaying what your design would look on the device you had chosen. This was really helpful, and I highly recommend this program for anyone trying to figure out app design.

So, without further ado, I’d like to share with you the official wireframes representing the culmination of all our hard work this semester. The wireframes are presented here in the order in which our flowchart was oriented. Each picture below contains two parts: on the left is the actual screen which would appear on the user’s device; on the right side is a description of that screen and instructions on how we envision a user interacting with the app physically (ie- tapping, pinching, swiping with one or two fingers etc.).

1. Loading Screen

1.LoadingPage

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Home Page

2.MapHomePage

3. Location Home Page

3.LocationHomePage

4. Architectural History Page

4.Arch.Hist.Page

5. Biographies Home Page

5.BioHome

6. Selected Biography Page

6.ExampleBio

7. Images Page

7.ImagesPage

8. Ghost Stories

8.GhostStories

This app is more than just an extension of our guided walking ghost tour; it is a new resource that will engage users of all ages, accessible from almost anywhere! The content of this app represents a way of mingling historical fact with folklore, and of revealing the incredible past of a neighborhood in the nation’s capital.

So, what do you think? I’d love to get some feedback on my very first attempt at designing a historical resource using new technologies. As we progress further into the 21st century, it is important for those in cultural and intellectual institutions to understand that our users/visitors/patrons no longer interact with information in the ways they used to. We can no longer simply wait for people to seek us and our institutions out; we must meet people on their own turf, whether that be through social media, on the web through digitized collections, or through new apps and other programs. These new technologies provide us with exciting new ways to reach our publics, and I am looking forward to seeing what the future will bring!

 

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Meeting the Mobile Museum

Image

In June 2010, the Smithsonian produced a report which was the result of their investigation into what the public’s preferences and needs would be for a Smithsonian mobile app/service. Two forms of information were received: 24 interviews were conducted with on-site visitors with mobile devices, and 142 messages were received through Facebook and Twitter. The results were pretty interesting.

The findings reveal the variety and breadth of perceived needs and preferences for an SI application/service. Interviewees’ familiarity with the capabilities of current mobile devices ranged the spectrum from new, amateur users to seasoned, visionary professionals. Similarly, opinions about what a SI application/service might include varied across individuals. Nevertheless, a set of perceived needs and preferences emerged from the data as a whole.

In general, people felt that the app should provide basic information for planning their visits (e.g., maps and prices), and specific information/listings of Smithsonian offerings (e.g., special events). But more than that, people were interested in an app that could provide more specific content information related to Smithsonian collections and other matters (e.g., tours, items on display, behind the scenes looks, biographical information, databases, interviews with experts, music and other performances, published materials, and educational materials) all of which should ideally be made more relevant by a particular visitor’s ability to select their age, interests, or language of preferences. People also thought that it would be useful for the app to provide games related to the topics they see on their visits.

Visitors also had some suggestions for ways to meet the needs specified above: The ability to have electronic searching, browsing, linking, and hyperlinking, and through augmented reality/time travel, access to real-time information, access to multiple formats of material (reading-docs, listening-audio, talking-audio, playing-games, seeing-video, and interacting with experts), and up-to-date technology which would be updatable, provide alerts to any recent changes, and would work with various operating systems.

One particular aspect of the study that I really liked (found on page 22) is the idea that a mobile app gives you far more tour options than have previously been offered to museum visitors. These tours can be either pre-organized or “build your own.” And they can range from being specific to one topic or exhibit, or can be as expansive as a “must-see” tour for those who are visiting and may have limited time to stay at the museum. This is one place where I feel that a mobile app can far surpass anything that is being currently offered in museums.

Another interesting option for the app would be the “behind the scenes information.” When I was a kid in a museum, I often noticed the “Staff Only” doors, and I always wanted to know what went on back there. Giving visitors this kind of information not only provides a new perspective on how the museum operates, but it also brings the visitor into the museum community. Through this kind of information, we are closing the gap that many people feel exists between visitors and those working at the museum.

I think that there is a lot to be said for having a mobile app for a museum. Aside from the basic information about the museum (hours open, prices, etc.) the apps give us the opportunity to expand the amount of information our visitors come away with. It allows visitors to adjust the information according to their age-level, specific area of interest, or language. Thus, visitors are taking an active part in their museum experience, and will come away with more that was of interest and use to them. It is impossible for museums to reach every single one of their visitors, but with an app that makes use of the suggestions of those in this report, there is a much better chance of visitors enjoying their visits, and of coming back to visit again.

I’d be interested to know what other suggestions people might have for a museum’s mobile app. Can you forsee any drawbacks from the suggestions made in the Smithsonian’s report?

 

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Review3 : New Media Visualization and Interaction

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This week, I want to discuss an article that touches upon a fundamental issue with presenting history through new media. The article is called “History and the Web, From the Illustrated Newspaper to Cyberspace: Visual Technologies and Interaction in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries,” by Joshua Brown. Through analysis of historical projects he has worked on, Brown explores  the way that, “different forms of visual media admit and frustrate public expression and education.”

People have the ability to make connections between words and images, making conclusions based on the evidence provided to them. New media technologies can make use of this ability to present information in astounding new ways. The problem is that these programs have not yet found the best way to do this. Brown explains that, “rather than coherent works, [new media programs] operate as ‘multimedia scrapbooks’ composed of a compendium of linked older forms (whether text, image, film or audio).”

As an example, Brown discusses the Who Built America? CD-ROM project that he worked on with the American Social History Project in 1990. While the CD was surprisingly successful, and the amount of text, images, and other media far surpassed what could be fit into a physical text, Who Built America? looks and acts remarkably like a book (including chapters and index). Because the CD allowed a user to click on links to more information such as primary documents and images, there was a “scrapbook” feeling to the program’s organization, while still maintaining a narrative structure. In 1990, this was really exciting.

By the 1990s, when the World Wide Web really began taking shape, Brown worked on a website called History Matters, which shed the book-like formula used in the past. Designed to help users (mainly educators and students) navigate the vast amount of history links provided on the internet, the site no longer followed a predetermined narrative; rather the site took the form of an easily searchable database. The problem with this was that while people could access information, there was very little possibility for multimedia options.

The Lost Museum project tried to use a narrative as a way of more fully integrating multimedia into a narrative structure, but the problem here was that users were following the story rather than taking the information and making their own informed conclusions. Users figured out how to get to the end of the story, but had little recollection or understanding of the context for their conclusions. Another issue was that because the narrative being told was predetermined, the program did not allow users to come up with their own explanations out of the historical information they were provided with.

For Brown, this problem still exists today. He states, “multimedia has failed to coalesce into a new form and still operates as a fragmented collection of different types of information.” According to Janet Murray (of Georgia Tech’s Graduate Program in Information Design and Technology), “two properties help to make digital creations seem as explorable and extensive as the actual world, making up much of what we mean when we say that cyberspace is immersive.” The first aspect is what Brown calls the encyclopedic–the database-like access to information. The other aspect, “is embedded in the very concept of navigation and has been enacted in the creation of believable three-dimensional virtual environments: digital media’s unique ability to represent and explore the dimension of space.” The challenge for today’s new media designers is to, “maintain a visual narrative and yet also allow users to intervene in that narrative, to create their own pedagogical pathways and intellectual connections.”

As we continue experimenting with new media, we must also continue in our efforts to find an organizational method that is fluid, easily navigable, and suits the particular benefits of web-based technology. In other words, how can we leave behind our old notions of integrating the visual and the textual while still telling a cohesive story? In addition, how can use of these tools allow a wide range of users to investigate the past and start thinking about history in new ways?

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Don’t Hate; Curate!

One of the hottest topics these days for museums, libraries, and archives is digital technology. What are the benefits of new technologies for us and the publics we aim to serve? What are the challenges that arise from trying to use these new forms of technology? There are so many facets to this topic, that it is hard to reduce a discussion about it to the size of a reasonable blog post. In past posts on this blog, I have talked a bit about how scholars and museum and library professionals have been facing some of these issues. But this week, after reading Erika Dicker’s, “The Impact of Blogs and Other Social Media on the Life of a Curator,” I would like to take some time here to discuss how the role of the curator has changed with this onslaught of new technologies and methodologies.

Traditionally, the curator is a subject specialist who is responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of that institution’s material. As a Curatorial Assistant in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, a large part of my job was to organize, research, and give presentations about items from various collections for visitors, scholars, and colleagues. What they saw and heard in these presentations was based on my interests, my research, and my selection of which specific items to present. The rest of the collection was invisible to them.

While curators continue to do this kind of work, new technologies are changing the way institutions function, and so must the work of the curator change to match the goals of the institutions they work for. With the onslaught of interest in digitization, online exhibits and institutional blogs, curators must now embrace a new skillset and add it to their already large toolkit.

How has digital technology, including social media, changed how we see the role of the curator?

not a curator

The public is more aware than ever of their own power in communicating, collecting, and curating the information that is of interest to them. Thanks to sites such as Flikr, Pinterest, and Flipboard (for more content curation sites check this out) people everywhere are now becomming their own curators. As far as the professionals are concerned, their jobs have taken on a new dimension; one which can be shared with the publics they aim to serve, thus allowing for more collaboration in a realm that was once thought to be reserved for the specialist. Professional curators can now seek out the help of their communities both before and after they produce some product for the public, and can perhaps provide material that is more suited to what people want to hear about. Indeed, through digital technology, the information curators are sharing is now accessible to more people than ever through the internet. This shared authority can be both inspiring and anciety-inducing to the professional curator.

What are your thoughts on shared authority for curating exhibits and providing interesting information for the public? Where (if anywhere) should we draw the line? Does having a Flikr or Pinterest account make you a curator in a sense?

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Stop, Collaborate and Listen!

Some of you might remember an earlier post of mine, in which I explained that my final project for my History and New Media course was going to be the designing of a mobile app which allows users to take a tour of the Haunted History of Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Working on creating this tour (both in real-life and as an app) has been an entirely new experience for me, and has given me the opportunity to collaborate with my partner for the project, as well as our client, the White House Historical Association.

shakehands

Collaboration is a big part of any Public Historian’s life and work, and being able to handle the ups and downs of this process is a crucial skill to develop. A big part of being able to collaborate well is being able to communicate your ideas in a clear and concise manner, allowing the many different people who hear your ideas (whether they are educators, deasigners, board members, etc.) to understand what you are trying to do or get across through your project or design.

While the creation of a physical tour has taught me many things about this process of collaboration and communication, I found myself having a harder time clarifying my thoughts on how the mobile app will be formatted.

I am completely new to the design world. I have no experience in planning, explaining, or executing this kind of product. Enter Dan Brown and his book, Communicating Design, Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning.

danbrown

 In this book, Dan Brown helps to explore the various kinds of documentation that are required throughout the process of creating digital products. But more important for me was his explanation of why these “deliverables” (ie-flowcharts, diagrams, concept models, site maps, etc.) are important, and how to present these documents to others who will be involved in the process of product development. For Brown, a big part of the web designer’s job these days consists in helping “everyone contribute to the design process, to establish a vision and help a multidisciplinary team realize it.” With workplaces becomming less and less linear in structure, it is important for all people involved in a project (regardless of their particular skill set) to be on the same page. Brown’s book helps to find ways of communicating your ideas to those who may have less familiarity with the design process.

This book has already been, and will continue to be helpful in the production of this tour and the mobile app that will accompany it. I look forward to my future meetings with our client for this project, now that I have a bit more confidence in how to present my ideas to them more clearly, making for more useful meetings and more meaningful collaboration.

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Seeing is Understanding

OrteliusWorldMap

For centuries, humans have been using maps to help them understand their relationship to the world around them. And boy, have they come a long way. From the first maps which helped explorers navigate the high seas, we can now create maps that are more than simply records of what exists. Maps can show movement, relationships, causality, and progression.

John Corbett, in his article  “Charles Joseph Minard: Mapping Napoleon’s March, 1861,” and Edward Tufte in his article, “The Fundamental Principles of Analytical Design,” have identified an early effort in analytical design with the work of Charles Joseph Minard.

Minard, an engineer by profession, began to see that maps could be used to show more than the way things are at a given point in time. They could show movement and causality. His map of Napoleon’s March in 1861 (see below) used various techniques to create  a more complex, layered map which portrayed relationships and showed progression over time and space.

Minard

I found a really great slideshow online here in which Nicolas Garcia Belmonte explains Tufte’s Principles of Analytical design and gives examples of various maps and visualizations which help to explain how maps can do more than represent the reality of a moment. Some of the more important points I would like to point out about analytical maps and design are that, 1. these maps need to show comparisons, 2. they need to show causality and structure, 3. they need to make use of more than one or two variables, and 4. they need to completely integrate all the evidence (including words, numbers, images, and diagrams) in order to fully make their point. Indeed, the principles put forth by Tufte about analytical design are worth keeping in mind for any kind of scholarly work one may be doing. You need to search for all kinds of evidence, and only through correctly displaying that evidence can we make our conclusions understood.

I wonder however, in this world of 3-D technology, how might we find new ways of expressing and trying to understand the past? Minard made good use of layering techniques, choosing colors and text that could be easily read over one another; how will the 3rd dimension allow us to add even more to these designs? Will 3-D make things even clearer?

 

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What Were They Writing?

Douris_Man_with_wax_tablet

Man versus Machine?

In many of my posts on this blog, I have often discussed the conversation going on in the scholarly arena about whether or not new digital tools are useful, and whether or not this means the end of “old school” historical inquiry. What I have garnered from my reading on the subject, is that while many scholars stand strongly either for or against new technologies, there are quite a lot of people who think that to follow the middle path is the best course. I agree with them.

Digital technology is both opening up new lines of inquiry, and allowing scholars to hand over to computers some of the grunt work we used to spend hours laboring over. However, these tools in no way eliminate the importance of human reasoning to detect and understand some of the more complex issues resulting from our research. In my hopes to get a better understanding of this argument, I decided to put one of these new tools to the test. My choice in this case, is Google’s Ngram Viewer.

This tool allows you to search for specific terms in the massive amount of data that is Google Books. This allows the researcher to get astonishing results in a matter of seconds which would normally take months, maybe years, of research to complete by hand. In order to test this tool, I had to make some decisions before I began.

I decided that I would focus on the 19th Century, so I set my limits from 1800-1900 and limited the search to “American English” as I was only interested in looking at American works published during that time. Then I had to decide what information I would be interested in knowing about books published then. I decided that I would search for “Education of the *” which would find for me the most popular of the phrases in American works published between 1800 and 1900 beginning with this phrase. Below are my results:

Ngram

Results can also be viewed here.

I found these results to be really quite interesting. In fact, the results I got were not at all what I would have guessed they would be. One thing that struck me immediately upon looking at these results, was that at the beginning of the century, there was a huge spike in writings about education of the blind and the poor. Yet it was not until much later in the century that one sees a spike in writings about education of the deaf. But what I immediately realized, is that while this data was interesting in and of itself, the inferences to be made from the findings would require some serious “old school” historical inquiry.

This small experiment made it very clear that digital tools can make us aware of trends and patterns that perhaps we were not originally aware of, but they cannot say more on their own. It is the scholar that then needs to dig deeper to make connections and explain the findings. Indeed, it is important to be aware of the limitations of any tool you are using. Google’s Ngram Viewer for example, is searching only through those books that they have digitized. There are scores of books that have not been included, so that data is missing from your results. In addition, for older books in particular, if words were spelled differently (or think of the s/f problem we often have in reading older texts) your results may not include certain data. If we base our conclusions solely on this data, we will probably be making some seriously wrong assumptions. Scholars begin and end the process of research, but digital tools can certainly help us get where we’re going and can reveal new paths of inquiry along the way.

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Review: Book Was There

“I can imagine a world without books. I cannot imagine one without reading.” -Andrew Piper

Welcome back to Back to the Future! This is my first post after being “away” on Spring Break, and I’d like to start with a review of Andrew Piper’s book: Book was There, Reading in Electronic Times.

bookwasthere

Piper’s text provides an engaging and entertaining path to understanding (and coping with) the book vs. e-book world in which we find ourselves today. His method is to explore how the act of reading and of interacting with words and texts has morphed and advanced over time, and continues to change in this age of digital texts in which we find ourselves. The overall message is one at which bibliophiles the world over should breathe a sigh of relief: the digital text is not a replacement for the physical book. Both the digital and the analog provide access to information in different, but equally useful ways, and both should be embraced for the qualitites that they can bring to the table. Indeed, Piper identifies a renewed interest in the book that has arisen out of this digital age; as Piper explains, “There is nothing like a sense of demise to spur our attention.” In Piper’s view, it is not necessarily the format of what we read that should be so debated and argued today, but rather how we read should guide us towards a better future of interaction with texts.

The chapters of the book are organized thematically rather than chronologically, which was an inspired choice for this material. In making this choice, Piper uses each chapter as a space in which he can explore each of the various ways humans have historically interacted with texts (holding texts, looking at texts, sharing texts, etc.) and how each of these individual interactions have had an effect on how we read, but perhaps more importantly, how we think and interact with the world around us. While I highly recommend reading this whole book, the two chapters of this work that I found most interesting (and thus would like to briefly touch upon here) were the first and the fourth.

In the first chapter, called Take It and Read, Piper explores the handiness of the physical book, explaining that because we can hold onto it, it is perceived as reliable and stable, as always being available in this particular form. Piper also explains that the materiality of the book creates a sort of time-capsule through which we can glimpse times and people of the past. While the physical book invites us in, the digital screen has a way of keeping us out. We do not have the same feeling of being taken to another time (our senses can no longer detect that beloved smell of old paper or hear the crackling of the old spine as it is opened), nor do we have the same feeling of a digital text being as stable and reliable. Digital texts, on the other hand, are by nature far less stable. Piper notes that, “…digital texts are both notoriously difficult to preserve and incredibly hard to delete.” This instability can be problematic, but this does not mean that the world of digital texts should not be taken seriously. The fact that digital texts create more open access than a physical book is important and cannot be overlooked.

The fourth chapter, called Of Note, explores how note-taking in and around texts has historically been an important part of the way we use texts and transform them, making use of them for our own lives and experiences. Piper is thinking largely of marginalia, dedications, signatures, and the like. While he explains that there are many programs that now allow us to take digital notes, we still lose one important aspect: handwriting. But how important is handwriting really? Piper explains that, “Difficulty with either the manual challenges of handwriting or the temporal disjunction between thought and expression can negatively impact students’ future interest in the practice of writing.” Here, the digital world has created a more level playing field for students. For Piper, typing is simply fairer and faster than writing things out by hand. However, Piper also explains that perhaps faster does not necessarily mean better. Historically, the time it took to copy out the words of those who came before you was an important part of the learning process. Piper states, “…true creation also begins with the time of copying, with the experience of incorporation, what Erasmus calls “digestion.” Here, and indeed for many of the issues brought up in this work, we must ask ourselves not is one way better than another, but rather can both the material text and the digital world work together to create a more balanced, and perhaps even an advanced readership?

This is where Piper’s work is really refreshing. Rather than taking a side in this argument over which is better, the book or the digital text, he explores how historically, using the “new” technology of the book throughout the ages, in all its permutations has created the readers that we are today. The digital world is not a signal for the death of the book, but is rather a new way of interacting with these same texts, providing possibly new insights and interpretations. This work gave me hope for the future (as someone who is interested in Rare Books and Special Collections Librarianship) and gave me pause to remember that many of the issues we are dealing with today with the transition to the digital have been dealt with in the past, as new technologies are always presumed at first to be the harbinger of death for technologies that came before it.

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Data Mining for Meaning

data

Let me introduce you to Lieutenant Commander Data. On the hit show Star Trek, Data is constantly navigating between his computer self and his human self. On the Wikipedia page about Data, it states, “His positronic brain allows him impressive computational capabilities. Data experienced ongoing difficulties during the early years of his life with understanding various aspects of human behavior and was unable to feel emotion or understand certain human idiosyncrasies, inspiring him to strive for his own humanity.” This, I think, is a great way of thinking about the use of digital tools for research.

In thinking for the past few weeks about the possibilities of utilizing digital tools for research (particularly in the humanities), I have learned quite a bit about the benefits and problems that arise from using such techniques. For example, using digital tools allows us to cover more ground in a shorter amount of time and can limit the amount of time a historian has to spend on certain simple inquiries, leaving them to focus on more complex issues in their research.  In addition, and more importantly to my mind, using these tools allows us to uncover new perspectives for our research, and allows us to follow new inquiries in new directions. For these same reasons Data was a very useful being to have aboard the Enterprise. His computational abilities gave him immediate access to vast amounts of information saving the other crew members time, and often saving their lives!

But while Data was very useful, he did have his limitations. The same goes for digital tools and the data they produce. The human element is missing here. Much like Data, who, “was unable to feel emotion or understand certain human idiosyncrasies,” the same goes for the computer program helping us with our research. It is important that the human element remain closely involved with these digital projects, as meaningful interpretation is (at least for now) beyond the capabilities of digital tools. In Trevor Owen’s article, “Defining Data for Humanists: Text, Artifact, Information or Evidence?” this view is clarified even more. Owens explains that the data produced by these digital tools become artifacts in and of themselves, which then need to be interpreted by human researchers. When we think of data in this way, it can be really liberating for humanists (as Owens notes), freeing them from fear that digital tools and new technologies will eliminate the methodologies and the work that they have been taught to do. Owens states, “In the end, the kinds of questions humanists ask about texts and artifacts are just as relevant to ask of data.” So, we can rest easy, knowing that we are still relevant, and we should be excited to see what new artifacts and evidence we can produce that might shed new light on how we view the past.

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Rise of the Robot Scholar

All over the world, scholars are delving into the new research possibilities created by digital tools and the world wide web. While some traditional scholars might fear the press of technology into their work, others are embracing technology and trying to figure out how we can use these tools to supplement and (occasionally) ease our workload. There are a number of benefits that have been identified thus far, including wider accessability to primary documents and opportunities for worldwide collaboration. But perhaps the most exciting part of these new digital tools are the new questions we are able to ask of these primary documents and the data therein.

The video below provides an interesting look into how virtual research environments enable researchers to make use of networked research and how they open up new possibilities for inquiry.

Patrick Leary provides an excellent case study in his essay “Googling the Victorians.” Not only do people have greater access to 19th century material than ever before, but the kind of searches we are able to conduct through the internet can provide us with useful information from places we may never have thought to search in the first place. Leary explains that, “the very randomness with which much online material has been placed there, and the undiscriminating quality of the search procedure itself, gives it an advantage denied to more focused research.” Does this mean we should be able to conduct scholarly research entirely online and without much human interference? NO!

While many scholars are trying to harness the power of digital technology in their research, they all agree that the human element is not something that can be discarded or replaced so easily. We will still require the power of humans to make more abstract connections that the literal-minded search engines would not see. Leary explains that because new research will depend so heavily on how we structure our searching, “learning to refine searches using Boolean logic and other technoques is an art in which all online researchers are obliged to acquire some proficiency.” Enter your local librarian! As Leary states, “the advice of librarians and information scientists remains indespensible to devising the most appropriate and successful search strategies.” But we must go further than that. Toni Weller, in her book History in the Digital Age, highlights the importance of educating students in the best ways of utilizing these digital tools in combination with the methodologies and skills used by traditional scholars. While digital tools may be opening new doors and aiding in our traditional scholarly inquiries, they cannot replicate the experience of holding a manuscript in your hands, or discovering an item forgotten in a library or archive. Perhaps, as more and more scholarly work goes online, we can imagine a future in which scholars return to the archive, in search of that which is not online; perhaps there will be a renewed interest in the materiality of historical items! How do you forsee the future of historical scholarly research?

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