Monday, March 28, 2016

The Metagraph

In their essay, Gibbs and Owens promote their case for historical data and its successful application in the digital world: “At a minimum, historians’ research publications need to reflect new priorities that explicate the process of interfacing with, exploring, and then making sense of historical sources in a fundamentally digital form—that is, the hermeneutics of data.” It is important to see data as computer-processable information which may include various types of historical sources such as census records, etc. They also mention that the use of data in the humanities as very recently attracted a considerable amount of attention and they use the work: “Culturnomics” as a good quantitative study as well as good use of a digital resource (Google Books). Like in several other readings, Gibbs and Owens mentions that just because digital history has only recently gained popularity it doesn’t mean that historians have changed the way there are doing their work. “To some extent, historians have always collected, analyzed, and written about data. But have access to vastly greater quantities of data, markedly different kinds of datasets, and a variety of complex tools and methodologies for exploring it means that the term using signifies a much broader rand of data related activities than it has previously.”
The article asserts that a benefit of working with data is that it can be exploratory. They also mention that many historians and occasionally see digital history through a negative viewpoint because they often associate digital date with mathematics; but, working with data can be exploratory and be used without any mathematical “rigor”. The essay also reminds the reader that we are too focused on trying to use data as evidence only. We must also utilize date to help us frame research questions. “Data in a variety of forms can provoke new questions and explorations, just as visualizations have been recently described as ‘generative and iterative, capable of producing new knowledge through the aesthetic provocation.” The point of this assertion is to remind us that even when we have scholarly research that offers us “negative results” we should not be so quick as to discard them. We should use them perhaps to combine with other datasets and add to our historical knowledge base. The graph shown is used as evidence of this. It does not indicate any answer to any real historical questions; but that does not mean it should be disregarded as a useful tool. Historians can utilize this data and start forming their own research questions using tools such as Ngram.
While discussing his research project and his endeavors to “clean up” messy texts (i.e. newspapers) through a digital (and more visually appealing) metagraph, Blevins asserts that “digital methods are not any more or less valid than traditional approaches, but they do provide a different entry point into the historical archive.” I believe this point made by Blevins’ article asserts the effectiveness of data in the historical archive. Also, as mentioned before in a previous article, digital history gives historians the ability to collaborate which is not so easily done with written projects. Collaboration is important to further promote the ideas laid out by Owens and Gibbs because historians can collaborate and share their work with others regardless of if their project as a whole is successful or not.

In the essay from last week, Sternfeld was quick to criticize the “Digital Harlem” project due to its ineffectiveness to answer any real historical questions. One of the reasons that I enjoyed using this tool and one of the reasons I believe Gibbs and Owens would see the “success” of the tool is that it contains a vast swath of data that can be used in other projects as well as help historians to formulate new historical questions. The main idea that I got from the Gibbs and Owens essay was that we should not be quick to disregard digital history projects as being inferior to written projects. Also we should recognize the benefits that each project brings and not be so quick to shut it down as ineffective. 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

AHA Review

“To do digital history…is to create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read and follow and argument about a major historical problem.” (D. Seefeldt, William Thomas, AHA Perspectives).  The thought that digital history might be becoming the norm for burgeoning historians may seem a little far-fetched; but it seem that as we explore the Internet and conduct our research we are beginning to see more and more digital history projects. Some may be simple timelines and others are giant, complicated archives. These projects serve up a “blend of historiography, narrative, and interpretation” that may be more difficult to accomplish in the written text and the best digital history projects will find new and innovative ways of interpreting data and information that will make the possibilities appear endless. This is a vast difference from the archaic written text that we feel so used to and comforted by. In saying this, I still personally feel more comfortable with the written word and expressing my work that way; but these digital history projects are remarkable and I believe that is what is being emphasized in this review of digital history.
The AHA article review two digital history projects: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930 and Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative. Let’s begin by looking at Harlem. Joshua Sternfeld’s review of this project calls it a successful attempt to “‘overturn the traditionally unilateral relationship between historian and audience’ and bring new life into a crucial period in African American urban life.” The authors of this project proclaim that Sternfeld was not able to grasp what was actually trying to be accomplished. The authors argued that Sternfeld “does not really engage with the spatial visualizations that it produces. He is drawn to maps limited to one category of record and one layer, maps that can be relatively easily interpreted.” The question must be asked: “Why was Sternfeld not able to understand the purpose of the project? Are the researchers at fault for this?”  When looking at the project myself, I was able to see both points of view. First of all, I loved how easily navigable this site was. It was easy to put into context life experienced by African Americans in this urban area over increments of five years. You also have the ability to narrow down which crimes blacks were arrested for (abortion, burglary, beatings, etc.) you also have the opportunity to look at the crimes in a particular section of the city as well as on a particular day. “One advantage of its origins as a research tool was its interactivity: users could search and map whatever data they wanted.” This digital history project accomplishes two tasks: what was life like for African Americans in Harlem as well as serve as a record collection that is visually appealing and easy to manage. The only thing I believe that this project was missing was a comparison to white crime (if there was something, I must have completely overlooked it) I believe that that would serve Sternfeld’s interpretation more appropriately to compare how often blacks and white were arrested and for which crimes.
                Next I will go on to review Slave Revolt in Jamaica which was described as a project which “illustrates something that is difficult to glean from simply reading the textual sources” and which makes the “definitive case” for the strategic and “tactical sophistication of the insurrectionary slaves.”  My favorite component of this project was the animation used to express change and movement over time. Zacek asserts that the animated map makes two scholarly contributions.
 “First she agrees that its spatial analysis allows us to gain better purchase on limited sources…however by extracting locational information from these records and plotting the combatants’ movements in space, the map allows us to view the archival evidence both against the grain…and along the grain….Second, Zacek welcome the way the map convey s a sense of how people experienced the revolt as an unfolding sequence of events.”

 I believe that is definitely something that cannot be accomplished via text.  To compare the two projects, I definitely prefer the Harlem projects because you are allowed to see all the data at once as well as change over time. That is still accomplished a little in Jamaica via the timeline on the bottom (you can see that most of the action took place in July and then you can go on and click on the individual events to find more information). I also didn’t’ find this one to be as visually appealing; but it was a little easier to navigate.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Under the Macroscope

This week’s reading is: The Historian’s Macro scope: Big Digital History. Authors Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan and Scott Weingart use their expertise in the field of history to promote digital history and its importance in our understanding of history. Graham is currently an assistant professor in the History Department at Carleton University where he has been teaching classes on methods in digital history as well as ancient history. He has been a part of the History Department since 2010. Ian Milligan is an assistant professor in the History Department at the University of Waterloo teaching digital history, web archives, and the 20th Century Canadian History. I tried accessing Scott Weingart’s page; but the link was either dead or not functioning properly at the time. Weingart is a doctoral candidate in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University. This is a well put together team, Graham and Milligan will be able to bring the historian point of view pair it with Weingart’s expertise in formations and computing. The authors of this work have constructed it like a blog which I found to be very user friendly. The work will also be easier to read for those viewers who are more comfortable with the digital and informational medium.
I like the fact that the authors have decided to make available a draft of their work online because I believe it will greatly help their work and serve their purpose well. I believe that the authors decided to do this because they wanted to make their work accessible and make a statement about how digital work increases the accessibility of their research. I also believe that this is an effective way of presenting their work to a larger audience. I think the publisher may have agreed to this arrangement because it increases the likelihood that a wider audience will be purchasing the actual book than may have been the case before. The authors know that a digital field is the best way to promote work and reach the widest audience possible.
The tagline: “An experiment in writing in public, one page at a time, by S. Graham, I. Milligan, & S. Weingart” is good introduction for the rest of the work. In addition to this work being accessible to the general public the readers can see that this is a constantly changing piece. As mentioned before, by making their research available to the public for free they are promoting the accessibility of digital works and more specifically digital history. Viewing audiences can also see that it is much easier to obtain the most up to date information possible through a digital medium as opposed to constantly buying new book publications. By making their research free online, the authors are conducting “an experiment” in whether or not the public will embrace this new(ish) digital medium. The authors also mentioned that the digital humanities are flourishing at this moment in our history when digital media is becoming more accessible than it has even been before.  They are hoping that their book will assist historians in embracing big data and combining it with their research.
According to the authors, this work is being constructed for mostly historians and possibly even burgeoning historians. They mention “if historians are to continue as leaders in understanding the social and cultural past, a shift in training and standards is required…using computational approaches like social network analysis and text mining enables new explorations of historical cultures and larger scale synthetic understandings of the past.”
The “book” has been divided into three major parts: a general overview of the field (the era of Big Data and why it matters for historians), an emphasis on hands-on textual analysis tools, and a strong emphasis on networks as a kind of analysis and as a powerful visualization. This is an effective way of constructing this book for those of us who feel uncomfortable with Big Data. For readers like myself it is necessary to begin the book with an introduction and lay out all the complicated logistics for the readers. Then, in section two it will be easier to take a look at some of the examples in digital technology that are provided.
I tried using some of the simple tools that was suggested by the book. This is a Wordle of Franklin Roosevelt’s Address to Congress of Pearl Harbor.

I really enjoy using Wordle. It helps give you the main idea of any written text and it is a great tool for visual learners. I used Voyant tools with the same speech and I couldn’t remember how to omit words like “the”, etc but I really like using it as tool and getting to look at the text word by word. Both of these tools are INCREDIBLY easy and can be utilized by any amateur.