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.

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