Oral History

Oct. 8

I find the term ‘oral history’ a difficult one to grasp and define. As “The Oral History” suggests, oral history is no longer just stories/history that has been orally passed down to others. Now, it is a compilation of interviews, audiotapes, videotapes, and other methods of that sort. I relate with the fact that oral history helps provide different perspectives on one event. That is what I love most about history in general, is not necessarily to maintain an objective perspective, because I believe that bias is inevitable, but to consult a wide variety of views to reach a conclusion. Furthermore, I, personally, linger on the past and am a very nostalgic person, so discussing events or history with someone versus reading that in a book, is significantly more gratifying and enjoyable. The emotion and particular details remembered are what I am most intrigued by. Does it really matter if something is not ‘fact’ when being translated via oral history? What exactly is fact? In this, I am referring to the British and Northern Ireland folklore stories that might not necessarily be ‘factual’ but they are part of the United Kingdom’s history nonetheless. Thus, I definitely like the legal definition and importance of oral history, in that it is just as reliable of a source as written history, because it should be viewed as that, and I often find that this is overlooked.

Understandably, relying on oral history in the past was more difficult because of the lack of recording materials, but eyewitness testimonies were still of great important in ancient times for example as Paul Thompson suggests in Thomson’s article (Thomson, 51). He outlines the development of oral history, which I find to be a very interesting history in itself, particularly in the amount of creditability it has been given over time. “Words and experiences” as Thomson states, are crucial in understanding events and the development of people (Thomson, 52). It is this historic evolution that is most important – the experiences of the people and their view of it. These various paradigms help shed light on the different ways that oral history has evolved, been defined, and been relied on over time. There is a multitude of different websites that are archives for oral history, the one that I favor is the WPA Slave interviews. The reason being, slavery happened, these people were slaves. Does it matter if their dates were off or they recollect the Civil War differently? I do not think so. I think that the ‘factual’ details need to be overlooked — the emotional attitude and way the stories are narrated is what we should focus on.

We all remember events differently, as Savage nots. For example, the 9/11 interviews are all significantly different. I have a few family friends who were part of that project, because I too lived in New York City at the time of the plane crashes. I remember it differently than most people too. Our various historical recollections are not necessarily factual, but they represent the way each person lived through such an event. Thus, sometimes the facts are not the most important.

Introduction to Websites

Oct. 1

Unlike most, I do not have a personal website, I am not on academia.edu and I do not have a LinkedIn profile. On facebook, my first and last name are both shortened, so I can only be found by people who know me by my nickname. However, after these readings, I definitely see the importance behind creating an academic and networking presence on the Internet. Posting papers, academic interests, and most importantly, a resume, can definitely do more good than harm online. I have always been hesitant because of the uncertainties that there are on the internet in terms of identity manipulation and future employers impression, but having a website could be a very good idea. As Cordell states, it’s a professional presence, and thus a very proper one on the internet. And as an aspiring academic, he states that it is crucial for networking around the world. I do not think I will bring my presence to twitter and ‘tweet’ daily, but I will definitely look into the creation of a LinkedIn profile and definitely an academic websites. Furthermore, the idea of having my papers online is a fantastic one – especially for people who might be doing research in the field I am interested in.

Professor Hacker definitely emphasizes the boundaries that should be adhered to when having an online presence. Articles of interest, historians of my field etc. would be perfect on an academic webpage/profile of mine. Hacker also notes the importance of the professional space that needs to be maintained online. You should present yourself online as you would for an interview – and this is what I have always been taught to do since a young age, even with a facebook profile. Always be careful what you post. I do not however think I would go so far as following Google Alerts of myself. I am not that interesting in what people are looking up when they type in my name. To that extent, I feel as if it’s an invasion of privacy for both myself and the searcher – I would rather not know.

I have always been a fan of websites and web design. Throughout my undergraduate years, I made multiple websites on Wix, one of my favorite tools to create terrific-looking websites. I am very picky about clarity, cohesion, and visualization on websites. I am the first to judge a website based on its appearance and understandability. Particularly with historical websites. They must look professional, reliable, and easy to cite. If there is not enough information for me to properly cite a website (author, date, etc.) then I will not use it or rely on it for information. With these websites such as Wix, you do not have to program at all, and if you choose to, you can Google how to program what you want, and it is very easy to change things to your liking. Thus, web design and creation are very easy tools – and they could be of great use for an academic website of mine, if I decide to create one.

Text Analysis

Sep. 24

It is interesting to think about the fact that search engines and APIs can help make sense of a collection of sources that would have lacked cohesion and understandability otherwise. Digitizing history clearly improves our sense of organization and access to various historical aids, tools, and databases. I had not heard of Syllabus Finder or the H-Bot prior to these readings, so when I looked them up and tried using them myself, I was pleasantly surprised and how much I found. And these are only two of many search tools that allow users to access a wide variety of information pertaining to a specific topic. I am also intrigued by H-Bot because you can ask the engine specific questions, something that not many search engines allow because they rely on specific key phrases versus providing an answer to a question. These tools are instrumental in the progress of digital history, as Daniel J. Cohen says: “ these computational methods, which allow us to find patterns, determine relationships, categorize documents, and extract information from massive corpuses, will form the basis for new tools for research in the humanities and other disciplines in the coming decade.” The patterns and answers resulting from these tools will definitely help us, as historians, further and develop our analysis on specific subjects of interest.

Text mining, and relying on a larger body of work definitely helps historians provide answers to and insight on their questions. However, not enough is digitized to make use of. Obviously, digitizing documents costs money and time, so that is a deterrent, but it is so helpful having digitized primary documents on the web. The library of congress website if by far my favorite due to the wide variety of selection and time period that they’ve digitized. However, I wish more primary sources would be uploaded by archival research centers, especially for areas that are less commonly accessed or accessible by people. Not only does the programming and digitization of documents allow for easier access by the researcher, but it also helps categorize and organize primary documents from various different locations. And with this, the word graphs can be created (such as in Underwood’s article) using multiple sources – drawing relationships between specific terms and time periods. These tools, such as the Google NGram viewer, help show/trace history over time, something that would have been difficult to achieve before. As we see in Writing History in the Digital Age, there are various graphs, tables, maps and diagrams to help relay digitized information into a concise and cohesive visual work. This is fascinating because these visual tools show a multitude of factors in just one image, and they are all based on the works that are digitized so far.

GIS

Sep. 17

I never thought of maps being used as a tool to display a certain perspective of how to present information. They are very similar to history books which, display the truth, but sometimes leave out or emphasize certain aspects to support a claim, bias, point/argument etc. Certain features may be omitted as Fleckenstein suggests because they might not apply directly to the mapmaker. This is interesting though because is there really an accurate map? Even with data maps, how are we supposed to believe everything that the map portrays? Also, too much data is overwhelming on a map, so it is difficult to determine what should be used to effectively display specific information pertaining to a certain idea, cause, issue, event etc. The Google earth tool was something that I had never used before, and I immediately typed in historical events such as WWII battles, Civil Rights movements and other landmarks. While the information that it pulled was definitely part of each of my searches, there was not as much description and detail as ai had hoped. There lacks data on the specific places and events that are (probably) commonly searched for, particularly by historians who, like myself, tend to fully grasp an event with visual aid. If anything else, the Google Earth application furthered my desire to use maps as part of my final project. I am unsure of what exactly I will do, but since I am a fan of the visual aspect of learning, I hope to implement this somehow.

As a Canadian, I am very proud that our government first administered the GIS data, particularly because after looking at the effect GIS has on our society today; it would be very difficult to understand a world without it. GIS has opened a window for the visualization and analysis of history – whether it’s historical quantitative data or events. All of the visual mapping tools of today are based off GIS data and even for everyday use such as Google Maps. This idea of historical geography via GIS mapping is quite applicable to most historians because we can now use more evidence than just images, we can digitally map out specific information, which will only entice the public even more. Although there are still technicality issues regarding GIS and HGIS, as a tool, they are fundamental to the growth and more importantly, preservation of our society in the sense that they collect and maintain past data. They help provide reasoning to unanswered questions – visually displaying data that can be manifested and interpreted by historians in particular. This tool is going to significantly contribute to the success and progress of not only our society, but history.

Spatial History

Sep. 10

I did not have a concrete understanding of what the term ‘spatial history’ meant until I read these articles, particularly Tim Hitchcock’s “Place and the Politics of the Past” in Historyonics. Know I understand how it is the relationship between the very technical aspects of geography and history – “two fields that should be in constant dialogue” according to Hitchcock (Hitchcock, “Place and the Politics of the Past,” Historyonics). Geography does provide a visual, and thus, spatial understand of how history played out. It would be extremely difficult to discuss a war without spatial reference or mapping. These elements are fundamental to history. Furthermore, Aylmer’s structure of the archive helps bring the two subjects together because it collaborates/collects data about the world’s surface and data about historical events. The “rise of the ‘infinite archive’” turned “text into ‘data’ with profound implications for how we read it” – and thus, digitizing resources altered the way in which historical georgraphers interpret the data of history and the world’s surface (Hitchcock, “Place and the Politics of the Past,” Historyonics). Prior to these readings, I had never heard of Google Ngram Viewer, which is an absolutely fascinating tool because the type of data in infinite archives such as this allow for cross-referencing with history.

Clearly, spatial history in itself if fundamental to historical knowledge because it “allows the exploitation of kinds of evidence and data bases that would be too opaque or too unwieldy to use without computers” (Richard White, What is Spatial History?). This information cannot be narrated and thus, it must be reflected on a technological level, interpreted through data.

Visualizations are essential to history, according to White and Goodchild, and these articles gave me some great ideas for my final project in which I think I would like to focus on mapping out historical events. The reason being, the use of GIS mapping and georeferencing not only provide visual representation of history, but also connect the two disciplines of history and geography – a connection that Hitchcock said was crucial in society. The comparison of layers via ArcGIS is a great way to show the past and more recent history through topographical representation. As Presner discusses, these digital resources such as HyperCities bring together different cultural communities through the use of technology. And his discussion about time-layers to show the historical effect of certain events caused me to think about my project again because it would be interesting to mimic his methods and show how various historical events changed society and this can be mapped out.

Digital databases and digital research tools

Sep. 3

This week’s readings definitely showed me just how useful and important digitized historical resources are. I was skeptical at first because I’m so used to having a database be a library, but now I understand how synthesizing information is progressive. It also serves as a visual aid to the public. For example, digitizing maps and other visual resources allow for more comparisons to be drawn, and analytical approaches to be taken in history. Similar to a library, digitizing documents, for example, is a great tool for organizational purposes. The internet is a terrific record keeper – particularly, if I find for primary source documents. When I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Septima Clark, I wanted so badly to go to the College of Charleston and be granted access to her archives, but that is nearly impossible as an eager undergrad. It would have been so helpful if those resources had been digitized and available for the public to look at because it allows for people to connect with a certain place, person, event etc. without actually being at the location. This is the idea that Roger Launius brought forth – that digital history engages the public. And he talks about this in relation to digitizing documents, the use of digital cameras, and scanners as methods of relaying information to people regardless of their geographical locations.

I was really interested in the point that Kenneth Price brought up in that digital history allows for expansion beyond the “Anglophone culture” because it is really an outlet for people around the world to access international resources. I never thought about the impact that digitizing history would have on other cultures and there is significant benefit to this. Digital archives are crucial for our society – especially for non-library goers, and for those who simply do not have access to physical resources, but can locate documents via the internet which today, is very easily accessible. The collection of data really does impact and help historians and history in general because it enables the synthesis of quantitative information in relation to cultural artifacts. However, Sam Ford brings up good points in that we need to make sure that people don’t “start speaking of the technology as if it drives culture and humanity, rather than thinking of technology as a tool” (Sam Ford, Without Human Insight Big Data is Just a Bunch of Numbers). This is my personal fear about digital history because we will always need human insight to synthesize the quantitative information. For example, there is significant flaw in data regarding African-American’s decision at the ballots over the past century or so – considering they only recently received the right to vote, there cannot be data about whom they voted for. For matters such as this, we need historians to take the quantitative into consideration and analyze how it fits or does not fit into society. Human analysis (hopefully) is always going to be essential in history.

What is Digital History?

Aug. 27

Before being introduced to this class, I had no idea what digital history really was and why it was so essential for historians. Now, it is clear to me that over time, historians have adapted to the new technologies of their age and used them to their advantage, such as the Gutenberg printing press, the typewriter, etc. Thus, computers and the digitization of resources such as data or records are crucial for historians today because it is part of our new age. The readings from this week provide a variety of definitions as to what digital history is and its significance in society. I thought that an interesting take on the topic was that “in the past two decades, new media, new technologies have challenged historians to rethink the ways that they research, write, present and teach about the past” (Cohen and Rosenzweig, Introduction). Adaptation also results in reinterpretation of history. Thus, the new digital age has altered the way that history is both taught by teachers, and interpreted by students. As the AHA recognized, H-Net for example, won the prize for being a great teaching tool, as it is a “blend of computers and history” (Orville Vernon Burton, American Digital History). Students need to learn how digital resources can serve as a tool that they/their work can benefit from, but the internet should not just be a method for easy access to unaccredited sources. This is my worry with the digital age, is that students will veer away from the resources that require significant effort, attention, patience, and interest. Instead, a simple Google search will do the work for you. Perhaps I am ‘old school’ in that sense, but there is a humility aspect to taking notes by hand, going to a library, looking through old/new books.

I was not surprised about the various debates that arose in the readings regarding digital history’s impact on society – whether it is positive or negative. I think that relying on the computer, and digital resources too heavily will compromise the methods of historical narrative that have been in effect for centuries. However, used to further historical research is beneficial, such as online archives (Stephen Robertson, The Differences between Digital History and Digital Humanities). Using computers to gather results for quantitative analysis is definitely helpful because it adds numerical depth and evidence in arguments. I do appreciate what Dr. Burton wrote in his article, that “the goal and charge [of digital history] should be to democratize education and the tools necessary for its execution” (Burton, American Digital History) because he focuses on how the digital age can benefit society, and ways for its implementation on a scholastic level.

It is interesting how digital history can be paralleled to public history, given that they are both outlets for relaying information to the public as Jennifer Guiliano writes. The reason being, digital history can be both “history published in digital form or/and history created through digital analysis” (Guiliano, Heating up History at the AHA). Because of this, digital history offers opportunities to students in academia – this is the reason why I took this class, because it will benefit me in the future if I choose to pursue a PhD. As William G. Thomas notes in “Computing and the Historical Imagination” historians don’t entirely trust the computer, similar to my theory. As a result of the digital age, there is a decline in the narrative of history, something that has been a fundamental aspect of history for centuries.