In Todays day and age it is hard to think about teaching without using the Digital Humanities. I have a family member who is a freshman in high school and has difficulty hand writing papers or even using a book for research. The only time she uses the library is for the computers. Everything is done digitally.
As technology advances we become more reliant on those new advances to complete our research and teach our students. I am aware that my introduction to this post makes it seem that I am against using the digital humanities in teaching but that can’t be further from the truth. It is my belief that the the digital humanities should be used as a teaching supplement.
I had read the article for class by Jeff McClurken titled Teaching and Learning with Omeka: Discomfort, Play, and Creating Public, Online, Digital Collections and it had explained to me that there are people out there that, unlike me, are uncomfortable with using the digital world to complete research or even submitting a paper. It adds a level of discomfort by opening up the student to a new realm of presenting their research. They have the freedom to choose how to present their findings. They can be imaginative; something that is not very common in History.
That is partially a reason for the discomfort of the public. There is a set way in the field of history and most of the time that is because the discipline has a strict way of completing research and presenting that work to the public. Historians are easily spooked when you take them out of their comfort zone and that is just what the digital revolution has done. The Web 2.0 has advanced the field of study much to the dismay of many people in the field because they are not used to the accessibility that the internet has created.
It is our duty to teach the forthcoming historians how to use those tools to their advantage because without them there is a chance that their abilities as a researcher will suffer. If they want to be a teacher themselves they need to learn the tools offered in the digital realm because without that knowledge there is a disconnect between the teacher, their material, and the students. There are students in high school that don’t know how to write neatly because a majority of the writing that they do is by typing on a keyboard. I have a cousin who is a freshman in high school who relies on the instant gratification from the internet to gather in formation and create a historical understanding of the past. She does not realize that my generation is the first to have limited access to the tools she has on an iPad during class. The differences between todays ideas of history and technology is vastly different because the two are so interwoven now.
The Digital Humanities are something that teachers need to embrace and teach to the coming generations because it promotes individuality in a field filled with a direct path but also it opens up the doors for different way of understanding the world. Digital humanities allow for a world to connect and understand the past.
There has never been a topic more frightening to me than Big Data. I had gone to the Digital History Workshop at the American Historical Associations annual meeting and attended a session on Big Data. I had known nothing on the topic and information was being shoved down my throat. That session filled me with dread when it came to this weeks discussion.
It wasn’t until this week though that I began to truly understand the benefits of Big Data and how it works. Maybe it was the way the session was held (with me already having an understanding of what Big Data is), that hindered my interest in the topic but now I can see the fun in understanding and using big data. I’ll admit that I sat in class looking at the websites we were discussing on my laptop and played around with the Google-NGram Viewer and used works that I found interesting and even some that dealt with topics from my two other classes. The site is fun to play with because of its simplicity and its purpose. I remember sitting in the workshop session and discussing the importance in seeing when a term begins to be used but also understanding that the term can change meaning over time and that you need to be aware of those changes because the algorithm that picks out the words from the texts is not. It just states when the word is used, with no formal understanding of the texts.
I then moved on to Wordle. The site was interesting, but I could not get the program to function. I began to perceive the site and its purposes as being a simple form of text identification: It was a simple word cloud creation application. I had seen sites similar to Wordle in the past but this site seems to be the creation of people who knew the importance of text mining and tagging. My only issue with the site was that it would not run the program on my macbook. I don’t know if it was a simple glitch on my computer alone, but it hindered my experience on the site.
Big Data is a big topic in History and it is one that should not be ignored because every field of study uses text-mining in some form at some point. Historians need to learn to use the digital revolution to their benefit because it has already made our field more interesting. Big Data allows us to look at trends throughout the world and see the effects of a word in a certain period of time. This is an extremely interesting premise to look at and interpret. The digital revolution has helped the field of historical research get more in-depth and more complex. We need to embrace sites like Google-NGram Viewer and Wordle to help us in our research and findings.
When we study certain topics in history there is a feeling of disconnect. There are points at which we have a difficult time understanding the past because we are not connected to certain events that we try to look at. We look for ways to bring that connection back and one way that is able to happen is through the internet. This blog has talked in lengths about the benefits and disadvantages that the internet has in learning about the past but the different formats of presenting the information on the web allows for an insightful experience.
Looking at different Digital History websites and seeing what they offer, it is evident that there will be a wave in interest in the field of history because the internet offers new and insightful ways of looking at the past. For one, there is the Digital Harlem project. The project is a great tool for people interested in New York’s history, specifically Harlem. The site allows for an individual to put their pasts online for everyone to see. People look at those experiences and are able to look at places and see how things have changed or even just recall their youth. This brings interest to the topic and people are able to relate personally to the past.
The Digitizing Mount Vernon website is another great site for the modern digital historian. The site is a part of the historical site in Virginia, and uses this digitalization of the estate to reach the public that cannot visit the historical site physically. The site renders the plantation into a 3D model that simulate the feeling of being inside the house that the first president had lived in. Through this platform the model is displayed in a format that is pleasing to the eye of the younger generation. The kids that are in high school today are learning to type more so than write their own notes. They spend their lives on a computer and looking at information on the web 2.0. Sites like Digitizing Mount Vernon attracts students of all ages to the site because it is fun and interactive, as well as pleasing to the eyes, and while looking at the site it is hard to see that you are learning while fiddling with the site.
A site that holds a different experience but instigates the same interest into historical inquiry is the Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, The purpose of the project is to produce a “digital re-creation of John Donne’s gunpowder day sermon”. This site was first shown to me at the American Historical Association’s conference in a pre-conference workshop on Digital History. The project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is one of the best digital history sites to be produced. The site is full of some of the best virtual recreations that can be found online. If anyone has a few minutes to check out the site it is evident that the site can consume your time because an hour or two later, you can still be looking at the site fascinated by what it holds. The information is invaluable, and recreates a moment in seventeenth-century British History that I had never studied.
Sites like those listed above allow for an expansion of interest in history. They produce more information that is vital to the academic historian but more importantly the information that they feed to the public is absorbed (most of the time with out realization) and create an interest in a topic because of the new and innovative ways that they portray the history. Digital History is an ever changing field an the sites listed above show how those changes have helped create more interested parties.
My digital history course is working in conjunction with the Connecticut State Library in an effort to unearth facts about the state and its World War I involvement. There are many different projects that the individuals in class could choose to be apart of. I had a very difficult time choosing which piece of the project I would like to work on. I am a fanatic about digital history and World War I which made it hard to choose.
The class was given numerous project choices including but not limited to working with the Historypin channel for the state initiative, solider/citizen profiles, community profiles, metadata creation, outreach and Digitization events, and lastly memorials. My choice was a difficult one to make but I decided to do two aspects of the project: taking an inventory of memorial in New Haven and gathering their history and metadata creation.
I started on my research for the memorials in New Haven and my findings have been good. I will say that I am a little behind in my research but this week I hope to make strides in the topic. So far I have done basic internet research and sent out an email to the New Haven Museum and Historical Society for any information they may have on the various memorials they have in the city. I am I still have to find a way to get information on the memorial at Yale. I have to contact Yale archives for information on the memorial.
I would also like to do a solider profile. I would like to do one from my home town or New Haven but I want it to be a name of someone lost to the war lifted off of one of the memorials I have inspected. This project will be an excellent look into the local life during the War and how it impacted the community.
This project is going to need a lot of time to work on in a very limited time frame but it is a challenge I am willing to accept not just because it is a class assignment but because it brings to light information on a war that is generally ignored by the public. The First World War is the most significant war of the modern age, because it bought about many of the advances in warfare.