Readings For 2/16

To begin with I apologize for only posting this the night before class and as there are a number of articles the summaries are going to be brief.

The first article is How OCR Works, the article is about the history and use of Optical Character Recognition which in short is the use of technology (presently computer technology) to read human handwriting. The article goes over the advantages of the technology as well as its limitations notably how for historians specificity software reading an entire document as opposed to single pieces of information such like an address can tax the program.

The next article “Is digitizing Historical Texts a Bad idea” goes over the debate around the use of digital versions of documents. In the article the author puts forward the idea that a digital version can lose the interest of the reader as documents merge together. Additionally the article presents the idea that when presented as a digital document its place as a piece of history is harmed as opposed to a original document that shows its age and antiquated style.

Article number 3 is Digitisation’s most wanted, the article is about the most accessed articles in several digital libraries. What the author found is that the most popular searches were tied to somewhat random outside actions such as news articles and Facebook links.

Fourth on the list is It’s History Not a Viral Feed, this article is much more opinionated than the previous entries with the article attacking the idea of sites specifically @Historyinpics using historical material (in this case photographs) without proper citation and monetizing the images with a minimum of work done on their part.

The article that’s more than four but less than six on the list is the piece A protest Bot So Specific You Can’t Mistake it for Bullshit playing off a statement by singer Phil Ochs. The statement replacing bot with song was a dig at fellow musician Bob Dylan who in the opinion of Ochs was overly broad in his lyrics making his protest songs less impact. The article gives a quick intro to what a bot is which is a automated software program that can have a number of applications, the protest bot proposed in the article would highlight information related to whatever political cause the creator wanted.

Moving on is Slave Sales on Twitter, while shockingly not an online marketplace it is instead an article about an experiment run by a professor to show the frequency of slave sales in the antebellum south. To do this the author created a bot that tweeted every three minutes that a slave had been sold offering students a perspective on the extent of the slave trade. Additionally there is a defense of the bot against the accusation of trivializing history by stating that the experiment reiterates old information with current technology.

Next we have I Never the less am a Historian, the article is about the debate around the idea of black confederate soldiers and what the debate shows about public history in the digital age. The major theme is how individual prejudices are a major component of public history and how in the digital age the ease of posting information has lead to a wider debate in public history about who is a historian.

Second to last is The Historians Craft Popular Memory and Wikipedia about the impact of the worlds most successful online encyclopedia. Like the previous article it deals with the public’s ability to engage in the historical debate and how this spills over into wikipedia articles. Again the debate around formal training leads to the question of what one must do to be considered a historian.

At long last we have the final article Omeka in the Classroom. In the piece the issue shifts from the engagement of the public in history to the participation of historians in the field of digital history. Noting a lack of interest from students and as a result a lack of skill the article brings up how the historian of the future will need to work in the digital space and how the historians of the present have hesitation in joining the online community and how this will become more harmful to the study of history as time goes on.

Discussion Questions

  1. When critiquing digital copies of documents how realistic is it to expect access to original material
  2. What are acceptable practices when it comes to monetizing historical content
  3. What are some more positive examples of monetized history
  4. The value of a protest bot and how to convey information gathered by said bot
  5. Is there an ethical issue with slave sales on twitter
  6. What can twitter offer to the historian
  7. What are the risks of conveying historical opinions over 160 characters
  8. Who is or is not a historian
  9. What role does the institution play in qualifying oneself as a historian
  10. Should the historical community embrace Wikipedia and to what extent
  11. How to attract candidates to digital history
  12. Why is there hesitation toward digital history as a specialty


7 thoughts on “Readings For 2/16

  • February 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Discussion Question Response- Twitter and History

    What can twitter offer to the historian?
    Twitter offers a platform for historians to expand their professional network and engage a much wider audience with their work. They can promote themselves and their institutions by engaging the public and maximizing the uses of the Twitter platform. However, it is important for us to remember that Twitter is a social networking site. Even though this platform is used by historians and other professionals, there will be individuals using historical information incorrectly online. As discussed in the article ‘It’s History, Not a Viral Feed’ the author takes issue with @HistoryInPics for their lack of correct information and credit. But what is @HistoryInPics purpose on Twitter? The author describes them as social media ‘hustlers’, so should we hold them to the same standards we would hold historians that have been formally trained and understand the ethical need for citations? They are not seen as a reliable source for historical data, and if we want to see better history-based twitter feeds we should have more historians and historical institutions posting regularly. We can also engage with these pages encouraging them to hold themselves accountable and cite sources in the way that @SlateVault does. Again, every feed serves a different purpose on Twitter, not all of which are educational.
    An educational Twitter page that was discussed in the readings was Slave Sales on Twitter, which is a great example of connecting information of the past with the technology of the present to describe a historical event (antebellum slavery) in terms that students can understand. It is consistently updated and links to books and images that can deepen a students understanding of the topic.

    What are the risks of conveying historical opinions in 140 characters?
    I think that Twitter is unique in the way it limits text, for historians it can be a ‘teaser’ for their historical opinions used in a way to grab the viewers attention and then direct them to other sites that have more comprehensive information. No Twitter user is trying to find a dissertation in one tweet. And just because the user, and in our case the historian, is limited to 140 characters per tweet does not mean that they are limited to one post, one link, one tag. If you scroll through your twitter feed, most posts have a link that send you off of Twitter and the idea is to engage in conversations with your followers and who you are following, so each historian is given the opportunity to build their own network.

  • February 16, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    I would like to know the class’s opinion on the questions posed in Mill’s “Is Digitizing Historical Texts a Bad Idea?” There are obvious advantages like actually being able to read the text of the document, being able to search a document, and widening the audience that document will reach. But I’m not sure I agree with the idea that if all documents look the same, it becomes difficult, for students especially, to prioritize some sources over others. I’m not entirely sure what the author means by this. If the source is relevant to your topic, then you will look at it. I’ve never been in an archive and chosen what to look at based on the physical appearance of the document. Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but that seems like an inconsequential disadvantage.

    • February 16, 2016 at 7:22 pm

      I agree with your statement at the end of your comment. If I’m looking for something in the archive, it has to be relevant to the topic I’m working on. The format or appearance isn’t going to change that, but I think Mills was trying to make the point that if we reduce these texts down to pixels on a screen, will the students miss out on a connection to the source? However, there is some truth to this. If I had to do research on illuminated manuscripts, it would be easier to read the text if it was digitized, but it would lack the beautiful artwork of these works. I know this is a specialized case, but I think it’s applicable to this article.

  • February 16, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Both the Wolff and Madsen-Brooks articles speak to the issue of who is writing history in the digital age. Each author seems to believe that technology is opening many interesting opportunities for professional historians to engage with the public. Neither discounts writings put up on the internet by people outside of academia. Wolff believes that what the public writes as history on the internet serves a particular world view that is different from professional historians but can tell us a lot about memory. How events are remembered and what that can tell us about history is extremely valuable. He mentions that Wikipedia is generally where the public gets their history and it seems as if Madsen-Brooks agrees with him that it is the professional historians’ responsibility to work with these digital histories if that is what the public and students choose to engage with. Because these two articles are so receptive to the idea of amateur historians engaging with professional historians to write history, I’m wondering if there are professional historians out there who think this is a bad idea and that the writings of enthusiasts are not valuable.

  • February 16, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I took particular interest in the “Every Three Minutes” twitter account and associated article. It brings up a few questions on the effectiveness of the account, though–it has considerably less followers than accounts it is following, and I can’t help but wonder if the people ‘following’ are people like us, who perhaps don’t need help comprehending the persistent slavery sales but are more interested in innovative teaching tools. The account seems a very effective tool for visualization, but what is its reach? Can we say it’s really effective if they only people looking at it are other already-educated, enthusiastic historians?

    I feel like that’s my issue with some of these other articles, as well. It’s important to look at virtual environments from a professional viewpoint, but losing sight of the casual exposure of them feels like it could make the entire ‘effectiveness’ point moot. For example, with the “History not a viral feed,” their point of twitter accounts giving superficial history is valid, because in my opinion the context surrounding a historical fact or document is just important as that historical fact or document. But I’m also a historian, with a huge interest in historical contexts. Is it fair to say that this type of superficial history shouldn’t be circulated at all, even if that means that casual history viewers will have less exposure to fun historical facts? What if people discover an interest in history through these contextless fun facts? What if including all the extra information creatures a “TL;DR” situation on twitter and facebook?

  • February 16, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    In response to question 10, I have mixed feelings about Wikipedia. Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely guilty of using wikipedia when I need to look up general information on certain subjects. If I need to find out when someone died, or when a battle may have occurred, I will use Wikipedia, but that’s the greatest extent to which I will. There are plenty of reasons I wouldn’t use Wikipedia in some cases. One of the biggest reasons is that the information there is subject to change. I remember during the 2008 presidential primary I had to find information on a couple of candidates for a class. When I went to look up Hillary Clinton, her picture was replaced by a walrus, and a lot of the information was rewritten.

    However, Wikipedia has also been pretty helpful in launching some of my research for papers I’ve written in the past. While some of the sources can be dubious at best, others can be quite helpful, and I’ve been able to search through references to find books that I need. I think that using Wikipedia comes down to a choice for historians. Yes, there are problems with the website, and no, it should definitely not be the basis of any scholarly research, but it has its uses.

  • February 16, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    In response to question 8, I am of the opinion that “every man is his own historian.” While professionally trained historians certainly play a major role, amateurs offer a perspective that is decidedly different from those in the academy. The proliferation of digital sources has allowed those who would not normally have the resources to travel to archives to experience primary sources firsthand. Even if the amateur historians are wrong in what they are saying, they forcing professional historians to understand what average person sees. This opens up more questions and ideas for historians to engage with. By opening ourselves up to embracing non-professional historians, the history profession is ensuring that we will have a continuous pool of questions and issues to deal with.

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