Saturday, August 8, 2015

Unit 16: The Project Presentation

For the last eight weeks, I have explored the ever-expanding world of digital history and new media. I have looked at: the local digital history scene, blogging, the evolution of the digital web, design standards, copyrights and fair use, the process of digitization, information reliability, using online archives, creating visualizations of data, crowd-sourcing, and a plethora of online tools.

So, it seems a shame to have worked so hard to complete all of the assignments in this course and not share my final project in one last post.

The John Philip Sousa Project

I built my project on the Omeka platform. I do not know if the product features were limited due to using the "basic" free plan. The themes were limited at this level, so I hope that extends to other features as well. I used several plug-ins to add areas and features to the project: Simple Page, COinS, Docs Viewers, and LC Suggest.

As a graphic designer, I probably know just enough to cause difficulties with the control panel, which is clearly built for the novice. I was able to work around many of the limitations by using html. But even with mark-up, I was still unable to place <divs> such as <iframe> for my animated timeline sequence. Also, Omeka does not allow audio or video files anywhere on the site. I did not want to omit the audio and video files I found so I used external links.

Please take a moment to view my JPS Project. I would appreciate your comments.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Unit 15: Tools and Timelines

In this unit,  I have been looking at a few online tools for digital authorship. There are a few great tools currently available and even more are in an up-and-coming beta stage. It is an exciting time to be a digital historian.

Timeline Tools

For an assignment this week, I created a  timeline of the Watergate Scandal. I used the Timeline 3D for Mac software for OS X - Yosemite from Beedocs - available in the App Store. I chose this software for the output capabilities. It claims that I can create a 3D timeline with zoom and video. Since I wanted to add the television broadcasts of President Nixon's national media event, I thought this would be perfect. Plus, I liked the slick professional look and "traveling through time" feel of the finished product. (What I did not realize at the time, this version was in beta - a pre-release, work out the bugs phase. I was surprised by this because it was already in the App Store.)

After purchasing the full version of Timeline 3D ($25 to activate all the export functions including movie and WebGL), my Watergate Timeline is complete. While I was pleased with most features of the software, I was unable to discover how to place video in my project, and the zoom feature does not yet exist in this version. Another bust for me: I could place citation information in the "item entry window," but it does not display in the timeline itself - let alone create an active link. Not to be overlooked, I wanted more control over the look of each "time-tile" entry. I wanted to enlarge the media images, move them around, or perhaps create special effects.

I have provided my analysis to the good folks at Beedocs. It is my hope that they continue to improve their software as it could be a gem - unlike any other - available online. I would say it is a nice entry-level application and would recommend this as more than adequate for the casual user. I, myself, have higher expectations as a professional.

Citation Tools

After experiencing frustration with NoodleBib Tools for citations, I found Zotero. Created by the folks at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, it has been the true blessing of my undergrad "history research" life.

Along the way, I discovered another great item, an iPhone app, called myBib. One of this little app's most handy features allows me to scan a book's ISBN barcode (or enter it manually) to retrieve the citation information and email the citation to myself. Wow! Nothing like collecting information on the move for later retrieval.

John Philip Sousa Project Update

I believe the project is starting to take shape. I have taken a different route in preparing for this project. Since I was unfamiliar with the Omeka platform, I spent a little time watching their tutorial videos and reading the FAQs. However, my project is gaining momentum.  Since I have finished the wire diagrams and set-up dummy pages, I am beginning to place content and am populating my collections. This is fun on a small scale. I wonder what it would be like to do this everyday. I feel that it is a great opportunity to work in a field that uses both my creativity and knowledge of history and web design skills. Hmm... Did I just consider a career change?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Unit 14: User Participation Projects: Crowdsourcing

In this unit, I have been examining big picture projects that utilize user participation - otherwise known as crowdsourcing. 


Merriam-Webster defines crowdsourcing as the process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community, rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

The idea that everyone can participate in a working project knows no boundaries. People want to be involved, make a difference, or pursue an interest. Now everyone, both internal employees and external enthusiasts, can work together to find solutions to problems and foster innovation. This also applies to the world of academia.

Interestingly, I found a large list of crowdsourcing projects in one of the world's largest crowsourcing projects: Wikipedia.

Recently,  I've noticed an trend toward advancing crowd-sourcing in order to fund projects, scholarships, and business innovations. Crowdfunding can be sourced through several websites: Chuffed and Fundable are two of the more popular sites. Chuffed handles social idea funding like refugees, save the building campaigns, and medical treatments. Fundable is business-centric.

User Participation

Most frequently, history (or a version of it) is written by academics - the professional researchers and writers. As user participation unfolds, the opportunity for the public to add their voice to American (or world) memory increases. I also think it would help decrease the disconnect between academia and the public "dry" perception of history.

As an historian, I find the collection of public and/or personal history compelling. Usually history is thought of in terms of broad themes. How awesome would it be to have the rich personal memory of a specific event? Instead of trying to reconstruct the past, we can use personal recollections to better understand why events took place. I will continue to watch the possibilities unfold and to get involved myself.

John Philip Sousa Project Update

My final project is very slowly coming together. I have created several pages, but I have not yet made them active. I continue to collect and organize my resources.

Resources for More Information on Involvement in Crowd-Sourcing

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Unit 13: Data Visualization

For this entry I have been "looking" at the visualization of data. I thought about this subject as I sat next to my mother's hospital bed (she had a heart procedure) yesterday. I found it interesting that vital signs are no longer just a range of numbers. On the small monitor, these numbers were also presented in a graphical format. Each beat of her heart and the rhythm of her breaths were registered and represented by a small tick on the rolling screen. I had not realized how much easier it was to read and understand that data until that moment.

The Future of Digital History and Online Data

Recently, I read an article by the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) in which they discuss the Semantic Web. It describes their vision of a "web of data" where databases are linked throughout the web. In many ways, the information I used for my Data Visualization assignment is a small part of this "future." In my assignment, I used published statistics by the Department of Labor to create a presentation in a visually stimulating format. Isn't that the idea - to make the mountains of published data more useful? I believe this advancement will be a great advantage to historians as well. It will be much easier for historians to make use of data for teaching or research purposes.

John Philips Sousa Project Update

I have been slowed temporarily because of my mother's illness; however, I continue to research and organize the materials I have already located. I have decided to use the Omeka software and their site hosting services for the publication of my final project. I have created a few simple pages in my organizing process. As I familiarize myself with the software, I will begin uploading to my collection. If time permits, I hope to customize the look and feel of the site.... if only there was enough time.

Resources for More Information Regarding History and Online Data


Monday, July 27, 2015

Unit 12: Digital Online Archives

This week I have been exploring the world of online databases in the history realm. Most notably the Omeka tools developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.

An Ongoing History Archival Project

I also spent time exploring the ongoing archival project, Northern Virginia Digital History Archive, created by my professor. Publishing images of the Northern Virginia region in order to see the changes that have taken place over the years is a great idea. I wished to contribute several images to the archives, but I found difficulties with the upload process. The form was simple enough. I even appreciate the Captcha bug - to ensure "human" entry and not a meta computer entry. However, when trying to upload my second image, the site refused to accept it stating, "Something went wrong with image creation. Please notify an administrator." I will continue to attempt uploads to the project as I find it to be a admirable project.

A Project Update

I believe that the use of Omeka, various plugins, and its FAQ documents to be impressive and helpful. I am seriously considering its use for the construction of my final project. I plan to further explore the customization options in the coming week. While I am still in the process of researching and collecting items for my project, I am looking forward to organizing the content and designing the presentation.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Unit 10: What Is Real and Not Real in the Digital and Real Worlds

In this unit, I have been exploring reality in the digital world. I appreciate the knowledgeable computer renderings of bygone buildings - those of Ancient Egypt come to mind. Having been built by people of a different era, I would need specific knowledge of their culture and an expansive imagination to envision its original form. This helps enhance my understanding of their society, architecture, and culture. But I wonder, can the same be said for modern objects and documents?

I have been considering the following questions:
  • Does digitizing lessen or increase the value of an object?
  • Does digitization change the experience of the user?
  • How does the user determine the authenticity of the digitized object when the text has been removed from its source? 

To answer these questions, lets consider the following version of the same document: an original document, an original scanned document, and the extraction of the information from an original source through, say, a character reading program (OCR). Now if we consider the original source as the first generation, the scanned document as the second generation, and finally the extraction of the information from the source document as the third generation, we can make observations based on the accessibility, availability, usability, and value of each generation. For this exercise, lets use a fictious nineteenth century newspaper.

The Original Document (Generation 1)

Since the original document is more than a 100 years old, we can assume that the paper has yellowed, the print has faded and/or smugged, and it is potentially very fragile. In this format, physically touching the pages and browsing the articles was the only way to gather information. Here, the user not only experiences the visceral qualities of the newpaper but has the ability to extract information from the original reporting source.

The Scanned Document (Generation 2)

Now, lets imagine that the newspaper page has been scanned into a digital format. In the beginning, there were only three common formats: microfilm (reels), microfiche (flat sheets of film), and microcards (like microfiche but printed on cardboard rather than film). In this form, the user must still travel to the library and pull the editions from the "shelves" in order to be viewed. She can still experience the visual quality by viewing the entire page, but the sense of touch is lost. No longer can the user feel the "age" of the newpaper.

Content Extraction (Generation 3)

Along with computer accessibility and availability, anyone can now scan documents and/or newspapers. However, OCR sofware (see previous entry) can now recognize the text as individual characters - not as just a single image. Through this process, the content is extracted from its source and is placed in an editable format such as a word processor. Once imported, the words can be searched, catagorized, and edited. This is wonderful for the researcher. The ability to use keyword searches to find subject matter make research much more efficient... But, hold it! Did I say the document can be altered? Yes, I said that words could be edited, rearranged, revised, or omitted. In this configuration, the only way the user can know the document's origin is IF the work is properly cited.

But I'm still wondering if or how the user can experience the original intent of the writers. She can no longer feel the texture of the page. Nor can she see the placement of the article on the page - headline or footnote. Here, she has only the words. And again, has the text be altered - or even "translated" into a modern language?

I suggest that the further the document is transformed from its original (generational digitization), the more likely a user is to experience "disconnect" from the original material. And further, the greater the ability and susceptibility to have the contents altered without realization of the user.  

Putting it in Perspective

Several examples to put things in perspective: looking at a digital image of a painting and viewing the cover of a beauty magazine.

It is wonderfully convenient to see the classic works by the masters on your home computer screen. Sure, the user can see the subject matter - perhaps even pick out a few background items. But in this digital presentation, the user is unable to appreciate the brushwork and skill of an artist. In order to fully enjoy the mastery of a painting, it  MUST be viewed in person (the original). Each dab of paint creates a 3D presentation that can not be seen in the digital representation.

Lets also examine the cover image of a beauty magazine.  The photograph has been so altered -  "photoshopped" -  that the product is no longer representative of the actual model. Graphic designers regularly enhance a woman's shape, eye and breast size, length of legs, and girth of waist and hips to the point that it looks nothing like the model who was photographed. Over time, this editing has completely changed the perception of beauty, and it has created unobtainable standards for the average woman.

But why discuss cultural changes in a histoy blog about the reality of the digital world? The answer is simple. If our cultural regularly alters images to fit the perception of modern beauty, how much easier is it to alter a document to support a new revisionist version of history - especially when the original is no longer circulated having been filed away in a drawer?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Unit 9: The Project Proposal

The Topic

For the subject of my digital history project, I have chosen to pursue the life, musical works, and influence of the March King: John Philip Sousa. A Washington, D.C. native, Sousa was a premier American composer and conductor. He was know for his many compositions and lively military marches including "Stars and Stripes Forever," "Semper Fidelis," and "The Washington Post" marches. He also invented a low brass instrument called the sousaphone.

The Research

I am hoping to include images of John Philip Sousa, the "President's Own" United States Marine Band, as well as digitized sheet music. Thanks to the efforts of the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, digitally preserved audio files of his original wax recordings are available. There are also several websites that stream his many compositions. Luckily, preliminary online research, through sources like WorldCat, ProQuest, and multiple university library archives, have yielded digitized scores and a couple of historical videos of Sousa actually conducting the band. What an awesome addition!

The Technology

The technology to produce my project is still undetermined. I have the necessary hardware, software, and skills (see my previous entry) to complete the digitization and manipulation of resources. I am still exploring the many online tools available to make timelines and websites. I am considering the possibility of crafting my own site; however, the scope of my discoveries will ultimately determine whether I proceed with building a timeline, a collection, or a combination of the two.