Week 15 Project Presentation

I was able to secure two maps, one of the topographical features of Barnwell county in 1919 and the other an unpublished Sanborn fire insurance map for the town of Dunbarton ca. 1932.  Additionally, I was able to find pictures of homes moved from Dunbarton along with the original owner’s names.  In all about 20 pictures are available and they also include businesses.  Unfortunately the photos did not include the Dunbarton address of where they originally stood so I consulted both the 1930 and 1940 census to no avail.  I was able to locate some cross-referenced names of former citizens of where they once lived and where they currently reside.  To my surprise, some of the names matched up with the photographs of the homes I had found.

Originally, I was going to make an ArcMap and layer historical maps onto a present day one, which I also have completed. But I thought I would rather show the area and look at the Sanborn map, and some of the homes that stood in Dunbarton.  Therefore I created a Prezi slideshow that alternates between the Sanborn map and pictures of homes. Even with my name and address lists I was only able to find two homes that addresses matched with the Sanborn map.  Surely the discrepancy is due to 20 years between the creation of the map and the addresses of where people resided prior to the federal government’s seizing the land.  Looking at the Sanborn and some of the pictures I was able to deduce a third picture that shows a dry goods store and post office and locate it on the map.

I was able to learn a few new skills in this unit.  Perhaps if  I had a better project it may have led to using digital history to raise new questions.  But I have found that digital history is excellent for assisting the research process.  First, it was my first experience with Sanborn maps, an unpublished (hand drawn on graph paper) map nonetheless. The color code and abbreviated information that Sanborns typically use was supplemented with a key provided digitally of course, that I now have and will store for future use.  Second, it was my first experience with census data.  Most importantly, it was census data that was released little over a year ago, and has already been digitized.  Currently, the Census Bureau is working on OCR’ing the data to make it searchable by name, but because I wanted to look at an entire town, I was able to review all the records by hand in a matter of a couple hours.  There was one downside however, some of the scanned quality information was somewhat poor, on some pages of census data there was not an option to zoom into each individual line and because the information is hand written, some names and things were illegible.  Digital history has provided researchers the ability to look at these documents once stored in archives and brought them to the home.


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Week 13-Digital Presentation and Communication

The Brennan and Kelly article raise a few interesting points to consider when presenting or trying to gather user generated content for an online project.  Although some may seem obvious, i.e., making the interface easy to use for the contributor, often for those familiar with the technology simple is not a level playing field.  I think to myself, if I were to build something, would my technophobic Father be able to use it?  Questions like this can reinforce the creator not to “dumb down” the project, but to leave the complicated programming and interface behind the curtain, so to speak, and present the public with a very simple contribution area.

It also raises two additional items: one I have thought about quite frequently, and that is control and editorial power over contributions made by the public.  Second, I hadn’t considered, and that is creating a buzz over a digital history project for outside contributors.  Obviously affiliation with a University would allow the access to resources and the ability to spread the word over a large institution but more importantly, digital humanities need to consider ways to involve the public of projects that seek contributors.  This essentially was one of the “crossroads” issues that was discussed during last Friday’s brown bag presentation.  I agree with the assumption that digital humanists in part have struggled to define themselves in order to transmit that identity to the public at large. In doing so, digital humanists could most likely expect positive reaction to projects and generate more contributors.  Not mentioned in the Brennan and Kelly article were the approach of the project planners to the public, my concerns would be: was the project properly communicated? Were the goals of the project explicit? Not necessarily stated, “we want to hear your story, but rather, up front, honest communication, “We’d like to catalog reaction to events and eyewitness accounts of those events for historical posterity”, or some such explanation.  In a sense, digital humanists struggle with defining themselves which prove to be barriers to sharing with the public writ large.

Of course, through the theoretical writings I always find myself coming back to practical questions. The chief concern that has been established in both readings and discussions are situations of funding and the struggle to define digital humanities. These problems of course could be solved with one giant project, I think that would attract attention both of donors and provide an example of what digital humanities could entail.  Obviously some projects have attracted that sort of attention while others fail to see the importance of digital humanities.  Additionally, the field could be advanced through educators actively engaged with technology that is evolving around them. Dr. Burton’s comment on the student understanding Karl Marx better than the teacher serves as an excellent comparison of the teacher misunderstanding the importance technology will serve in the future classroom.

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Week 12-Spatial History

Spatial history analyzes how people move.  Instead of time being the conceptual focus of historians, spatial studies investigate how people move, use, create, and designate space for different purposes.

While not a new area of study for historians, spatial history in large part takes backseat to the study of temporal, or time based studies.  Commonsensical enough, history is rooted in temporal studies, changes in things over time.  But spatial history continues to be an area of discussion.  Maps, graphs and charts popularized in the twentieth century introduced the spatial analysis and a sense of geographical awareness that was inconsequential to the Rankean, traditional-political narratives of history.

Digital programs provide movement to maps, graphs and charts that more accurately show temporal and spatial change in a region or other geographical location.  Rather than a single, static map, digital technology can create ones that move, fluctuate and become a better visual representation of a concept than a flat, 2-D chart or graph.  Dr. Burton is working on a project with Jonathon Hepworth, a current Master’s student, conducting a study on the migration patterns of Southerners amongst different areas in the South.  The map is largely digital and combines temporal and spatial analysis of the South as a region.  Most important, the project uses new technology to visualize these changes over time and raises questions of why southerners are moving, where they are going, why they choose to stay in the South, amongst others.  The visualization and the project in general, stimulates discussion, interpretation and analysis.

A large component of digital history is visualizing concepts and drawing conclusions among those concepts.  I do agree with Dr. White’s conclusion that digital history is essential in providing a new research methodology to spatial analysis, but I feel he downplays that digital history is not only about making things visual, I believe that the visual element makes it more accessible to non-scholars and opens up the field to new viewpoints, interpretations, and can better communicate information to those unfamiliar with graphs, charts, etc.  In large part it is about redefining or adding more to illustrations to make them more easily communicable.

Programs like HyperCities emphasize region, namely population centers.  These open collaborative tools are valuable to new interpretations by determining distinctive regional characteristics and provide comparison between cities around the world with different economic, political, cultural, social conditions amongst others.  It also allows people to contribute to historical conversation at the local level.  Again, technology aimed to provide more voices to historical conversations.  An interesting aspect are the challenges to sustaining a program such as HyperCities, surprisingly, technological limitations abound with the increase of popularity and the more people use the program present challenges to the sustainability to the program.  Certainly a supercomputing center can address these challenges but I was most taken aback by using a private company, e.g., Google, that after a period of hosting the information is either rolled over to property of Google or lost without a way to back it up.  What it shows is the importance of supercomputing in the future, that large collaborative programs will need to be technologically supported for.  Additionally, any worry of an oversharing, or redundant information due to the open nature of contributors is kept in check by an editorial board.  Certainly this is an organization that caters to the professional historians when it comes to value and quality of information.

The development of programs like ARCGIS and Google Earth have made spatial history a more prominent area for collaboration throughout multiple disciplines.  The 2009 GISHSS brought to light a more critical approach to spatial studies that emphasized cross discipline collaboration and the application of the same technologies to serve several, differing fields.  These different fields can be set to serve not only historical functions, but evidence for current issues of people, place and time, and serve to highlight areas of deficiency.  For example, looking at neighborhood income averages in relation to health care costs and availability.  These types of studies can show present problems and shift government policy to fixing these issues.

Critical spatial thinking is addressed in easily to handle technologies.  Digital advancements to better visualize spatial information can more easily be interpreted by the viewer which then translates to a better application of understanding spatial information in general.  Geographers Goodchild and Janelle highlight the lack of critical spacial thinking by students.  However, some of the issues I think can be placated by more easily accessible geography and spacial analytical tools, e.g., ARCGIS, Google Earth, etc.  While I do acknowledge ARCGIS can be confusing and clunky, these tools can be used to simplify programs and lower level spatial problems to help students begin to understand more spatially.  Certainly I think some of these things are developed in graduate school and in terms of American history, I think regional studies of the United States are even studied at the undergraduate level.  Understanding the U.S. as a nation of regional differences is fundamental to understanding its history.  I certainly agree with Fairchild and Janelle’s conclusion that critical spatial thinking is important, yet I think the way to teach how to think this way is being developed in the programs outlined above.  Additionally, the current and to some extent previous generations’ exposure to visualization of digital technologies assist in thinking more critically, thus, the more technologically savvy generations are picking up on modes of thinking subconsciously while exploring digital-visual-graphic representations of documents, maps, and those forms of learning are being applied to other more traditionally temporal modes of thought.

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Week 11-GIS

It is evident that in all the articles read for this week, that GIS and mapping systems do not stand alone as historical analysis tools but rather as supplements to historical material.  History tour with Google Earth can visualize a war, wide scale migration movements, or other important events.  Engage students by thinking geographically through an interactive map helps critical thinking through exemplifying exactly how big a river is, its difficulty to navigation or other geographical landmarks whose challenges that are ineffectively conveyed on the written page.  The street view feature is probably the closest thing we have to virtual reality, while of course it filters out historical context by providing present day photographs, it still gives us the opportunity to put ourselves in the location and provide a 360 degree view rather than a 2D picture.

GIS provides supplementary map material to integrate with the written work, in the late 1800’s geography and history were separated into two categories and the development of GIS material is working to bring the two together to “reveal historical developments that are otherwise obscure or hidden” (3, Marti-Henneberg).  However, I have one concern about the project outlined in the Marti-Henneberg article. The GIS project that they had put together for that issue seemingly is confirming what historians have written about for years predating the study.  While the approach is interesting, exciting and new, it doesn’t necessarily advance historical debate by re-affirming that the railroad’s expansion was followed by massive migration patterns.  To me, the rise of new forms of transportation affecting the population and movement patterns are common sense.  But, I suppose  in what could be an odd contradiction of myself, the project does serve to exemplify an effective historical question approached by GIS and to showcase its abilities to connect temporal and spatial information.

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Week 10-Project

As of yet, my proposed work on the Savannah River Site Website is nearly nil. I have acquired GIS data for statewide highways, roads and railroads, as well as the hydrography of South Carolina. But have yet to find pre-Savannah River Site project aerial photographs (I’ve found some that border the Savannah River Site from 1961, but don’t actually provide aerial coverage for the plant), or more recent current aerial photographs (the most current being from 1990). I’ve used both EarthExplorer and Glovis, yet they both lack the proper photographs to create a proper before/after map of the Savannah River Site.

I have been able to contact some individuals regarding the project, and are expecting responses from others.  Dr. Jim Farmer at the University of South Carolina-Aiken has provided some materials to research for my thesis.  As well as the name of two of his publications that can be used as source materials.  Additionally, I have the e-mail addresses of some amateur historians of whom I need to contact for SRS information, as well as establishing contact with them in order to try and pull our materials together into one site.  This however can be frustrating, I feel I can not give this project the proper time until I begin more in-depth thesis research, and so I can present them with materials and some sort of direction of the website rather than the vision I have.  I have also been given the name of Dr. Keri Fredrickson of the University of Alabama, she is working on a book project for the Savannah River Site and as of right now is the leading expert on the subject.  This also makes me feel a little weary of writing/creating a project on the same materials, especially with a department chair of a major university working on it.  

At this time, I feel like this project could absorb more time than I can lend to it right now. While I can simultaneously build it and have a place to store primary and secondary source materials while writing my thesis: next year, I feel like right now it could be too much to handle.  While I haven’t given up completely on the idea, with the lack of aerial photography to at least construct the GIS portion I am somewhat struggling to find a piece of this project that is feasible to be completed, or simply started on without doing a great amount of additional research or having to buy/begin learning how to use a website creator to piece this website together.

I am hoping to get work accomplished Spring Break, but with little ideas as to what else I can do now, I must admit is disheartening.  The time will allow me to get some reading done in regards to the Savannah River Site, of which I hope will shed new light on the topic as well as help me find an even more defined perspective that I want to take in regards to the plant and the communities affected.  With a better defined background to the SRS, I would like to contact Dr. Fredrickson, however, I still may feel a little uncomfortable doing so, because I suppose I feel that in a way I wouldn’t want her to think that I’m incapable of doing my own research, or that I’m “piggy-backing” onto what she has already done.

I have had a new idea in the last week however, that will prove to be more time consuming than the Savannah River Website: I would like to see a digital archive of historiographical lists of topics in American history, something intended for students to use. As broad and vague as that may be, it is a resource that I would find most helpful.  Additionally, with Dr. Burton’s Southern Identity word clouds, we have found that the process that the computer science department is doing with the word clouds is exceedingly more difficult than counting the frequency that a word appears in a given document.  As opposed to the generators we used last week, the CS dept, is a using a complex algorithm not only to measure frequency of word use but also where that word appears in the document, which is an interesting way to analyze the importance of words in different patterns.

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Week 9 Reflection-Text Mining

Of all the digital tools discussed this week, I find Google’s H-Bot to be most impressive.  Although it’s format is nearly simple, ask a question-get an answer, and may seem somewhat redundant, because a simple internet search can yield more information about a topic rather than answering a specific question, the technology behind it is very refined.  The ability to like verbs with past, present, and future tenses is still under development.  Text mining in many programs is in large part WYSIWYG.  The word “state” may contain many different meanings and contexts, yet computers have to be trained to recognize the differences between these words.  The H-Bot, and it’s ability to show to link verbs and tenses together as well as associate words like “when” and “where” with quantitative and geographic information is truly a break-through in developing computer programs that can more efficiently scan the millions of sources already available for more accurate information relating to queries.

Of course, I’ve spoke about my experiences in the past with text mining and current projects we are working on that utilizes these digital technologies.  And it is clear that these technologies are certainly imperfect.  As I stated last week, it appears that Google really is the company on the forefront of developing programs like N-Gram viewer and H-Bot. As many programs rely on search algorithms and program platforms popularized and invented by Google.  But even the imperfection of these programs give digital historians a place to continually refine to make large amounts of data more easily searchable.  If there was a theme to tie digital history together, it certainly would be progression.  The technology that has been developed from rudimentary programs have been expanded and more complex programming has taken place to refine the programs to act more human-like.  Simultaneously, the programs may be becoming more complex while the interfaces and ability for the lay person to utilize these searching tools and database software is becoming simpler and more straight forward.  The computer processes are hidden “under the hood” and ensure that more people can utilize these tools for historical research.  Certainly, democratization of these tools goes hand in hand with the progression from simple program that uses simple programming with a sometimes complicated or confusing interface, to complex program that is visually simple for the user to work with.

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Week 8 Reflection–Digital Tools

Price’s article on the use of descriptor words that relate to digital history is interesting.  The connotations of words such as archives and editions and applying them to a digital context has happened in many different areas over time.  Transportation methods from boat to train to automobile have adopted terms such as transmission and interstate have been adopted to fit these new methods of transportation with familiar, older concepts.  Price’s suggestion of “arsenal” conveys the collaborative and multifaceted effort of digital historians to bring together many sources in one place but the context most are familiar with today may confuse the viewer or reader without any historical etymology of the word (I too learned that it was originally conceived as a shipyard term), of course most are familiar with the militaristic connotation of the word.  I think Price does raise some valuable questions and certainly terms like archive and database are often ill-fitting to the content on a website or suggests a vagueness as to what the website is trying to accomplish.  Project, I believe to be a great term because it suggests a historical conversation that is constantly changing, and taking place.  Perhaps new terms will be adopted, but I believe we can alter things like archive and database to have strict digital definitions, rather than re-inventing the wheel, we can re-purpose these already familiar terms to have a digital context.

I am not surprised that a low amount of professional historians interviewed for “Supporting the Changing Research Practices” report have moved onto using automatic citation programs.  But what has really surprised me is the lack of advancement in the technology of the citation programs, namely the varied nature of materials and the ability to define what the material is.  Turabian’s manual does perhaps accomplish this the best but programs like Citation Machine and BibMe are changing to accommodate many more materials.  I think what is most significant about this is that it shows that historians are stressed to retain oversight, and turn from automatic digitization, concerning the all important aspect of originality in writing and honest researching practices.

The issue of tenure remains problematic with digital scholarship.  I think that supplementary materials as with my proposed SRS website will provide a digital aspect of a historical topic but not diminish the importance of the monograph.  The SRS site will be used as a supplement to what will most likely be my thesis topic, and allows for a more interactive reader/writer relationship by providing both an interpretation and access to the primary sources used for that interpretation.  The use of large scale digital projects, or all-encompassing databases and digitization efforts, i.e. Valley of the Shadow, Documenting the American South, I think should be done after the historian or team of historians have achieved some sort of publication.  While the method is traditional, it establishes the reliability of the work of the researcher and gives credence to the historian as a critical thinker and an originator of a significant historical interpretation.  This in turn would prove the reliability of the historian’s digital work and in turn acknowledges the scholarly merit of digital history while assuaging the presumptions of the more traditional historians concerning digital history.

The Ford article grazes on the issue of contextualization in using digital tools for historical research.  I’ve come across this issue recently with a text mining project in which we are analyzing documents written on the American South and creating word clouds based on the results.  What we see is that often things like “states”, “republican”, and even terms like “better” are often times used in many different contexts with many different connotations.  We can use the computer to analyze this quickly and thoroughly but I agree with Ford in saying that the human element needs to be maintained and monitor the computer functions.  The field of text analysis is fairly new, but the more we work with it, we continue to tweek the technology to better pick up on these contexts.  For instance, with words like “better” we can attach a positive connotation to the subject of the sentence the word that “better” is describing.  With this, we can more accurately paint a picture of what the author is trying to say, more importantly, we are training the computer to function as a critical observer.

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