Monthly Archives: June 2015

Looking Back

In only six short weeks I learned how to make my own HistoryPin tour, curated my own online exhibit, and kept up a blog!  But most importantly, I learned that there are so many different ways history can be presented digitally.  Before starting this course, I only thought of digital history as websites for historic sites or social media pages for museums.  Now, when I see that a museum only has a brochure-like website or a Facebook page, I am disappointed because they are missing out on so many other digital opportunities.  The different platforms we learned and discussed during this course are all simple and cost-effective.  There is really no excuse to not be doing digital history.

Omeka has the most potential for the type of public history I am interested in doing in the future.  I was astonished that I had never encountered this platform before, considering Omeka’s usefulness.  I created Nile Blue, a collection of glass items from Ancient Egypt (see my blog post for more information).  This platform is free and user-friendly, making it a great option for institutions with a limited budget.  It is a way to have collections online and open to the public – even archaeological collections!  Omeka can be adjusted with different plug-ins (some free, all affordable) which makes the website customizable and accommodating for different online exhibits. It is certainly a versatile platform and one that I can see myself using in the future for an institution.

I found the HistoryPin assignment the most enjoyable.  We each created a tour using historical images placed on a map at the location the image was taken, which I discussed in Inconvenient Camels.  I created Ancient Egypt in Black and White and used historic images of Cairo and Ancient Egyptian monuments.  It worked well for popular tourist destinations in Egypt, but HistoryPIn uses Google Street View, which lacks street images for non-Western countries.  I can see HistoryPin working very well for historical societies as an alternative or supplement to online collections, especially for photos that are difficult to display and nearly meaningless without context.

HistoryPin Blog commented on my blog!  I am a real public digital historian.

HistoryPin Blog commented on my blog! It is reassuring to note that my work is being noticed.  I am a real public digital (aspiring) Egyptology historian!  

In additional to learning different digital platforms, we also learned about and discussed the major debates in the field.  We were introduced to the world of digital history through Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzwieg’s pivotal work, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, which covered everything from entering the field to issues of ownership and preservation for digital history. We discussed the current debates in the field, like digital archives vs. traditional archives.  Turns out, there are many different meanings for ‘archive,’ as summarized by Trevor Owens in, What Do you Mean by Archive?  Genres of Usage for Digital Preservers, from ‘archiving’ our emails, to the papers of an individual, to crowd-sourced collections of materials online.  We also learned from a traditional archivist the perspective on digital archives as ‘digital historical representations’ from Kate Theimer.

The digital world allows for collaborative work that is far more expansive and encompassing than an in-person project.  Wikipedia is an excellent example of the power of collaborative work.  Rosenzweig in Can History be Open Source?  Wikipedia and the Future of the Past discusses the use of crowd-sourcing and concerns over the validity of historical information on Wikipedia.  Spoiler Alert:  Wikipedia is less incorrect and has more information than other major online encyclopedias.

We found that there are many examples of successful collaborative history online and that apps are also another way of combining the expertise of many people to produce and share knowledge to a diverse audience.  HistoryPin, Will to Adorn, and StoryCorps are all examples of apps using crowd-sourcing to document history and the human experience in new ways.

As we discovered this semester, it is easy to have a digital presence, but for us emerging public and digital historians, it is not smooth sailing from here.  Large institutions are riddled with red-tape and smaller institutions still tote the “that is just how we have always done it” mentality (I generalize, of course).  As we enter the ‘real’ world, we will need to do so with a strong sense of commitment and a persuasive (and insistent) argument of support for practicing digital history.

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Sid Meier’s Colonization and Creating Counterfactuals?

Rebecca Mir and Trevor Owens dissect the historical interpretation presented in the computer game, Sid Meier’s Civilization IV:  Colonization, in Modeling Indigenous Peoples:  Unpacking Ideology in Sid Meier’s Colonization.  This strategy game allows players to act as an European colonial power attempting to colonize the New World and the players work to build up their colonial power and spark a rebellion for independence from their mother country.  The game was criticized for being offensive in its treatment over an appalling moment in history, whereas others, like Steve Martin, Firaxis Games’ president, argued that, “the game does not endorse any particular position or strategy – players can and should make their own moral judgement.”  Mir and Owens disagree with both of these perspectives and instead present evidence on Colonization‘s model and historical interpretation that they argue show the game to be not offensive enough.

Screenshot of "Colonization"

Screenshot of “Colonization”

Native Americans in Colonization are portrayed in terms of what resources/benefits they can provide to the colonial powers.  Some cultures, like the Aztecs and Incas provide gold bonuses when their settlements are taken-over.  Native Americans and European powers in the game encounter one another frequently and can trade goods, but the cross-cultural exchange only works in one direction: Europeans influencing Native Americans.  Mir and Owens explain how Native American’s are illustrated as ‘becoming white’ in the game as they are assimilated by European powers.  Because of this, Colonization is offensive, but not offensive enough, according to the authors, because it leaves out two major factors of colonization that would make the game more realistic, and uglier, as well.  The game leaves out slavery and the spread of European disease all-together from the colonization history of the Americas.

Theoretically, Colonization gives the player agency to make their own decisions and therefore the possibility to create alternative history scenarios.  If true, counterfactual colonization models could make for a better understanding of how and why the New World colonized in the manner that it did.  Colonization does not allow for much variation from the colonization history in the Americas as we know it.  Mir and Owens explain how the game can be changed so the user plays as the Native Americans, but the Native Americans lack all power in this flipped version of Colonization.  From the position as a colonizer in the game, the player can do pretty horrific things, like wipe-out whole cultures.  However, because all moves are made in terms of strategy and gaining resources, the game forces the player to see the ‘game-board’ from the perspective of a state, as if sitting in a bureaucratic office, far removed from horrors of the ‘war front.’

As someone who plays Civilizations, I also argue that the Civilizations game format strips away all sense of moral judgement; you move your players in the most strategic manner and evaluate all opposition in terms of potential resources.  There is no sense of guilt after removing a whole culture from the ‘board,’ in fact, it is an achievement because it moves you closer to winning the game.  Moral judgement is not a factor.  Therefore, I strongly disagree with Steve Martin’s assessment of the game.  I am not familiar with Colonization and it would be interesting to read how the different European powers interact, although I understand that was not the focus of Mir and Owens’ article.

Like Mir and Owens argue, this game has much potential as a way to discuss and understand colonial history, but is seriously lacking in historic accuracy.  The game lacks two major components in colonization – disease and slavery.  The game cannot produce alternative histories because the fundamental historical interpretation of colonization it presents is inaccurate.  The authors, and I as well, would like to see a revised version of this game that incorporates slavery and the spread of European disease, and properly represents the power and influence of the Native Americans.

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Inconvenient Camels

Black and white photograph of the Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. Photograph was likely taken by Noelle Ora Sandwith in the 1920s and is now held in the British Museum collections.  Museum Number: Oc,160.26

Black and white photograph of the Great Sphinx in Giza, Egypt. Photograph was likely taken by Noelle Ora Sandwith in the 1920s and is now held in the British Museum collections.
Museum Number: Oc,160.26

This week our assignment was to create an account on HistoryPin, a site crowdsourcing platform where users can place historical images on a map and create tours using the images.  I initially wanted my tour to be of historical images from 1890s – 1920s showing major archaeological excavations in Egypt.  However, I struggled to find images.  I searched in museum collections, museums and institutions I knew funded digs during that time period, and yet I only found one excavation image.  I think some of this problem could be the metadata for the online collections, or the excavation images may not be digitized.  In the end, I pulled my images from the British Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  My tour, “Ancient Egypt in Black and White,” can be found here.

It was simple to create an account with HistoryPin and very straight-forward and intuitive to pin images.  I only ran into a few issues pinning my pictures to the street view and lining up the historical image with the modern-day view.  Take a look at this camel and its rider blocking a perfect line-up of the Great Sphinx.

A group of rides on a camel (and a horse?) inconveniencing my history pin.

A group of riders on a camel (and a horse?) inconveniencing my history pin.

Another problem I faced was that historical sites are no longer in the same location…or even marked on a map.  A few of my pins are just floating above the desert…or they are underwater.  The Aswan High Dam, constructed in the 1960s, raised the water level of the Nile and subsequently there were several ancient monuments moved to higher ground, the most famous being Abu Simbel.  One of the images I chose for my tour was of Temple de Deboud, a site that used to be located about 9 miles south of Aswan in Southern Egypt.  It is now in Madrid, Spain.  Where to pin the image?  I wanted to show the image in the same spot as the photographer saw it, but there is nothing there besides water to compare to the historical image.  I decided to pin the Temple de Deboud to the reconstructed temple in Spain.  The pin on my tour seems out of place at first glance, but it presents an interesting moment in history.

Salted paper print from paper negative photograph by John Beasley Greene (American, active France, 1832-1856) circa 1853-54. The photograph is now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Temple de Deboud [Debod] was an Egyptian site in Nubia and used to be located about 9 miles south of Aswan. After the construction of the Aswan Dam, the temple was moved to Madrid, Spain.  Accession Number: 2005.100.76

Salted paper print from paper negative photograph by John Beasley Greene (American, active France, 1832-1856) circa 1853-54. The photograph is now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Temple de Deboud [Debod] was an Egyptian site in Nubia and used to be located about 9 miles south of Aswan. After the construction of the Aswan Dam, the temple was moved to Madrid, Spain.
Accession Number: 2005.100.76

    I also had some very successful match-ups!  These are both images from the Luxor Temple complex.  Doesn’t appear too much has changed over the decades!

Gelatin silver print photograph of ruined temple complex at Luxor of a row of columns with cross-bars and large statues. Photograph taken by Clifford Hunt in circa 1917 in the collections at the British Museum.  Museum Number: Af,A52,92

Gelatin silver print photograph of ruined temple complex at Luxor of a row of columns with cross-bars and large statues. Photograph taken by Clifford Hunt in circa 1917 in the collections at the British Museum.
Museum Number: Af,A52,92

Gelatin silver print process photograph taken by Clifford Hunt circa 1917 held in the British Museum collections. Ramesses statue standing between two stone columns at ruined temple site in Luxor.  Museum Number: Af,A52.94

Gelatin silver print process photograph taken by Clifford Hunt circa 1917 held in the British Museum collections. Ramesses statue standing between two stone columns at ruined temple site in Luxor.
Museum Number: Af,A52.94

I was surprised to see that HistoryPin only has 419,732 pins as of today – I was expecting a much larger collection.  Because of some of the issues I encountered with the map and street view portion of the application, I see HistoryPin as more useful for Western historical societies, although it would be interesting to see others use the platform to place their image collections.

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Where are we?

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media Mobile for Media project by Sharon Leon, Shelia Brennan, Dave Lester, and Andrea Odiorne, assessed mobile app usage in museums and encouraged museums to look outside of the in-gallery experience to use apps.  One way to leave the four walls of a museum is to combine the ingenuity of technology with the power of place and create apps and other digital experiences that layer history and location.

Geography intersects the big questions asked by many humanities, as explained by Jo Guldi in What is the Spacial Turn?  ‘Spacial turn’ refers to looking back, “the process of retrospection,” in physical space, and is usually meant as a way to explain neogeography and GIS.  Humanities are looking back to review how space has influenced different disciplines, such as history, over time.  From 1880 – 1960, the humanities concerned themselves with questions on how humans situated themselves in space.  Following the 1970s, ideas of space, territory, and power became intertwined.  Guldi summarizes,

“We remember that every discipline in the humanities and social sciences has been stamped with the imprint of spatial questions about nations and their boundaries, states and surveillance, private property, and the perception of landscape, all of which fell into contestation during the nineteenth century.”

Guldi shows that history and the means to study history (such as archaeology) and closely linked and dependent on ideas of space, location, and time.  How can museums use this approach in ways that are practical and engaging?

Mobile for Media provided some examples of apps for museums, as well as the steps to design and implement such projects in ways that are affordable and practical.  A Place for Everything:  Museum Collection, Technology, and the Power of Place by John Russick, Director of Curatorial Affairs at the Chicago History Museum, talked about making Chicago oo.  This augmented reality app laid out Chicago History Museum’s historical images over a map of Chicago.  Russick discusses how museum’s are focused on preservation and how that priority means that accessibility and access take a back-seat.  Apps can help move a museum’s collection – especially things like images that are hard to display – out into the public’s grasp.  His Chicago oo project reminded me of Philaplace, a website that places images of historical Philadelphia on a map.

Romans brings the sites and objects of Roman Cirencester or Corinium Dobunorum together in a way that has never been possible before.” This app uses archaeological remains and physical remains to guide a visitor through Cirencester. There is a tour through town, a museum tour, and a learning app for teachers. See? Apps can be used for more than teaching modern US history!!

This augmented reality, spacial context concepts have so much potential!  Think about how this could be used for an archaeology site.  It is hard to show what an ancient site may have looked like and it is also difficult to show what objects were found where at a site.  As we have discussed many times before, without context objects are meaningless, for both archaeologists and historians.  Like the Chongno Alleys, an anthropology project that uses GPS to show Seoul visitors off-the-beaten-path places, an archaeology app could also benefit from a GPS component.  An app for an archaeology site could follow this same model and use GPS to help a visitor find important locations at an archaeology site.  Chongno Alleys users receive a stamp when they visit a site, a rewards-system almost like a game, that encourages users to find all of the sites.  I found this an interesting way to motivate users to continue using the app.  I can think of several augmented reality apps designed for science, and I would like to see more augmented reality apps used to tell history.  There are so many opportunities and use this technology and ways that are affordable, like open-source Aris, a platform to create interactive experiences, like games and tours.  What about an augmented reality/virtual tour through the Valley of the Kings?  No long plane ride to Egypt required!

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Wikipedia & History

Our assignment this week was to edit or create a Wikipedia entry.  I found this task to be easier said-than-done.  Firstly, I struggled to find an entry I felt confident expanding. I recently did some research on the Egypt Exploration Fund, a British organization founded in 1882 by Amelia Edwards and Reginald Stuart Poole.  This society hired Egyptologists to excavate in Egypt and it afforded opportunities to train students in Egyptology, many of which went on to have well-known careers in Egyptology.  I browsed through Wikipedia looking for an entry relating to the Egypt Exploration Society that could be expanded.  I found Francis Llewellyn Griffith, a student who trained under Egyptologist Flinders Petrie while working for the Egypt Exploration Fund.

Wikipedia entry before I started editing.

Francis Llewellyn Griffith Wikipedia entry before I started editing.

While I was expanding this article, I could not stop thinking that some high school student working on a history project could someday copy and paste my work.  It wasn’t so much that my efforts would go without credit, as it was the idea that I was writing potentially quotable “facts.”  In a way, I was creating new knowledge, or at least, I was creating a new way to obtain this knowledge.  Is this how publishing an article in an academic journal feels?  I worried that my biography on Griffith would not be adequate for public consumption because, unlike my research paper, I had not spent months preparing and researching this entry.  What if I misread my source and now my mistakes would be spread throughout the internet?  I hadn’t expected editing Wikipedia would give me such an unshakable sense of responsibility to history and knowledge.

What editing a Wikipedia pages looks like...this format made me panic!

What editing a Wikipedia pages looks like…this format made me panic!

I created an account with Wikipedia to edit Griffith’s entry.  Creating an account was simple and there was a brief pop-up tutorial that explained how to edit.  I panicked when the editing screen opened and I saw that I needed to use basic html (that might not be the proper term I am looking for…) to write my changes.  It took me a few trial and errors to figure out how to cite my sources with < ref > < / ref > codes.  I based my citation format from the two citations that were in the original post, although I am not clear if Wikipedia has a standardized citation format.  There no biographical works on Griffith, so I relied on a few primary sources and a biography of Flinders Petrie written by Margaret S Drower.  I took a screenshot of my edited post.  Let us see how long it takes before someone comes along and edits my work!

Wikipedia entry after editing.

Francis Llewellyn Griffith Wikipedia entry after editing.

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Stop Complaining and Do Something!

Our readings for this week discussed collaboration online and all of the possibilities the internet offers in terms of information sharing and all of the (unused) potential for historians to share their knowledge.  By this point in the course, I feel I have read enough long-winded diatribes on what historians should be doing and not enough about how to solve these problems in a way that is constructive and not discussed in abstract terms.  This week we begin to move out of the abstract and into some practical applications.  So, what does collaboration online bring to the production of knowledge?  Paul Ford in “The Web is a Customer Service Media“, explains why collaboration is such a powerful component of the internet.  He notes

“Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.”

This conversation brought flashbacks of a certain Foucault discussion, but I digress.  What is so important about Ford’s statement here, is that as humans we want to feel like we have the power of opinion in what we consume.  This need to be consulted is what drives collaborative websites like Wikipedia, YouTube, and MetaFilter.  This is excellent insight, but how can we use this to help history?

One such project that relied on the power of collaboration, was a manuscript transcription project called Transcribe Bentham, discussed in “Building a Volunteer Community: Results and Findings from Transcribe Bentham” by Tim Causer and Valerie Wallace.  The project used both irregularly and regularly contributing volunteers and worked to reach volunteer transcribers from the general public and those with academic background.  Based on this article, the project successfully raised awareness to Transcribe Bentham, and as of August 3, 2012, 94% of the manuscripts were transcribed.  After reading this article, I felt that more institutions should take advantage of crowdsourcing.  There are so many other potential projects that could apply this method.  Last week we talked about why so many museums do not have a digital presence and although we attributed this to many factors, both constraints of time and money could be partially remedied by crowdsourcing

Roy Rosenzweig purposed one project that uses the power of collaboration and the internet to design an open-access, open-source US history textbook in his article, “Can History be Open Source?  Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.”  Such a textbook could be designed like Wikipedia and let many contributors add and edit the history presented in the textbook.  Rosenzweig argues that Wikipedia, when compared to other encyclopedia sources like Encarta and American National Biography Online, proves to be quite favorable in terms of errors and content.  Where Wikipedia falls short is in its prose, certainly a result of its collaborative construction.  Rosenzweig’s study shows that much of Wikipedia’s criticism for being inaccurate is not well-founded.  However, historians still worry about the information presented on Wikipedia.  This piece pointed out several Wikipedia articles that needed expanding and others that contained perhaps too much information.  Rather than complain about Wikipedia, why don’t historians work on editing and adding to the articles?  Like Rosenzweig pointed out,

“If Wikipedia is becoming the family encyclopedia for the twenty-first century, historians probably have a professional obligation to make it as good as possible.”

So, let’s get to work historians!

This T-shirt sums up so perfectly why historians have trouble accepting crowdsourcing and collaboration as viable options to producing history online.  Rather than complain, how about we help out, my fellow historians, and write some Wikipedia history?  Stay tuned!

This T-shirt sums up so perfectly why historians have trouble accepting crowdsourcing and collaboration as viable options to producing history online. Rather than complain, how about we help out, my fellow historians, and write some Wikipedia history? Stay tuned!

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Nile Blue: An Experiment on Omeka

It is official, I have curated an online exhibit and if I can do it, anyone can.  There are no more excuses for any kind museums to lack a digital presence.

This week I transformed my Omeka collection of Egyptian items into an exhibit entitled Nile Blue in honor of the dazzling and distinctive Egyptian blue glass and glass-look-a-likes.  I broke my exhibit into several categories:  Glass Production, Glass Uses, Mimicry, and More Than Just a Pretty Thing.  I followed the advice of Trevor Owens in, “A Draft Style Guide for Digital Collection Hypertexts” and Exhibit Labels:  An Interpretive Approach by Beverly Serrell.   Although my pages move the reader through the exhibit in a logical order, I also wanted each page to stand-alone so that if someone came upon my Omeka exhibit, no matter which page they entered through, the exhibit would still make sense.  I also linked-in external content so the viewer could learn more information outside of my Omeka collection, if they were interested.  My favorite source was this video from the Getty Museum showing how core-formed glass was likely made by the ancient Egyptians and other Near Eastern societies.

Screenshot of Nile Blue exhibit on Omeka.

Screenshot of Nile Blue exhibit on Omeka.

In this exhibit I showcased different pieces of Egyptian glass and discussed how they were made, their uses, and symbols.  Egyptian glass is opaque and archaeologists think that was because the Egyptians wanted to mimic lapis lazuli, an expensive precious stone imported from Afghanistan.  The Egyptians didn’t make glass until the New Kingdom period, but they were already proficient producers of Egyptian faience, a blue or blue-green glazed, non-clay ceramic that was made from similar raw materials as glass.  Archaeologists think the Egyptians first created faience to imitate lapis lazuli, and then learned how to produce glass.  Evidence of glass-making is found at palace complexes and was probably controlled by the royal government.  Glass was a luxury item and it was used to create decorative or ornamental pieces.  I wanted to show that a study of Egyptian glass has more context than viewing it solely as art.  Creating this exhibit also gave  me the opportunity to do some research on an ancient Egypt topic which I was unfamiliar.

There were a few aspects I found challenging and a bit frustrating when it came to creating this exhibit.  I never intended my audience to be a general audience; I planned this exhibit with an amateur researcher in mind, someone with a basic knowledge of ancient Egypt’s history.  I struggled at times when it came to my content, how much explaining was too much?  Too little?  I hope I found a balance in this exhibit.

Omeka is simple to use, perhaps too simple.  I was expecting more from their exhibit-builder plug-in. I chose the ‘Berlin’ theme, as I liked its clear lines and its blue color scheme – the perfect background for blue glass.  I thought there was going to be more design options for the exhibit.  I was looking for lines, boxes, etc. to make the exhibit a little more visually interesting.  I was also hoping I could manipulate the images more.  This could have been because of the theme I chose, or because I am operating on the free Omeka.  Overall, the exhibit and the Okema platform provides images and content in a way that is easy to consume.  I look forward to using this platform in the future.

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