Category Archives: Reviews

Film and Teaching History

I have always found film to be fascinating. I love seeing movies, and I particularly love historical films or historical fiction. Film provides opportunities for us to “look into” the past, in a way that is unique and cannot be replicated. However, it is important to remember that films are not always historically accurate. They, too, provide a specific narrative on the past. The important thing is to be aware of the narrative that the film suggests and to approach the film critically, as we would any other historical document.

I have only taken one film class, but it was a fascinating course. It was titled “Russian and Soviet Cinema” and it was taught by one of the best professor at my undergraduate institution. At the time, I knew almost nothing about film and only slightly more about Russian history. For most of the class, I had to play catch up, learning the basics of film and media studies along with a timeline of modern Russian history. It was a lot. BUT…it was amazing. I thought of this class when reading the “Feature Films?” article because of its suggestion to teach students film concepts and vocabulary so that they can become more thoughtful observers and commentators on films. I am so in love with this suggestion. We so often show films in classrooms, but never teach our students how to comment on these films, or what to look for. Discussions on films would be so much more beneficial if students had a background that they could use to approach the films.

Two years later, I took a course on Historiography at the same undergraduate institution. We had an entire week on film in this course and I took a lot from it. In particular, I loved the notion that film presents a narrative, just as historians present narratives of history in their articles and books. For this reason, I believe that films should definitely be used in someway in the classroom. But films need to be actively used in the classroom, rather than just shown.

Though I am not yet an educator, I would love to use films in any future class I might take. I would want to use them actively, so that students could really understand all that films can show us and tell us about history.

Mobile Digital Public History

Explore Baltimore Heritage Mobile Application

For this class, I discovered the Explore Baltimore Heritage application, a mobile phone app that allows you to explore pieces of Baltimore history through your phone. The creator of the site is Baltimore Heritage, a nonprofit historic and architectural preservation organization that aims to “preserve and promote” Baltimore’s history.

There are four main components to the application. First, you can view the “Stories” page, which seems to show specific historic sites viewable through the app. When you click on the site, you can find descriptive information about it.

Another main page on the application is the “Tours” page. Here, you can find walking tours laid out by themes. The “Tours” section of this application is probably the most useful part. I decided to try out the “Jewish East Baltimore” tour while I was in Baltimore one day recently. While it is one of the shorter tours (only 6 sites, compared to other tours which have around 20 sites), the sites were somewhat spread out in East Baltimore. While it is not entirely clear where to start and the application does not give you precise directions from one site to another, it does provide you with a map of the sites. You can also view each site from the tour page and find specific photos and information on each site. Overall, I really enjoyed this tour and I would absolutely go back and do other tours using this app!

Another page of this site is the map. The map provides a map of Baltimore with “pins” of the historic sites that Baltimore Heritage has provided information on. The user of the application can then click on each pin to see specific historic information and pictures of the sites. I was in Baltimore on a different day than my tour of Jewish East Baltimore and decided to pull the application up while there.  While in the Harbor East neighborhood, through the map, I was able to find historic sites in that area.

It seems that a goal of this type of public history is provide an immediate and direct connection with history to the public. It is one thing to view a website about a location’s history when you are sitting at home in your living room. It is entirely different when you are standing at the site of history, viewing on your cell phone information on what makes that place historic and seeing pictures or videos of that site in history. It allows for a more genuine connection with history that is also specifically for the public.

Doing Local History

Doing local history can be challenging in many ways. While focusing on one area, region, or town, it may seem easier to do this type of historical work. In a local history project, any information one might need to complete a history project will most likely be located within one area. This makes a historians job easier: less travel and less searching endless archives for information.

However, there are many challenges to doing local history work. Often the historical work is focused on nostalgia and memory. While these topics are important, it can be difficult to complete historical work with a local population because of their memory of specific events. Often local history projects might have to defer to the local community. This could make expansion of the project more difficult.

Digital history provides a platform for local history projects. The goal of digital local history is to share the history of a town, region, area, or people, with a greater audience. Since digital platforms allow for greater expansion of history projects, it can be difficult for a digital local history project to stay within the bounds of “local.”

This module’s readings helped me when thinking about my own project, as my project is a digital local history project. After going through this module, I want my project to:

  • Stay within the bounds of Warsaw history
  • Be as encompassing as possible with Warsaw history, without going outside of the project’s goals
  • Have balance in terms of resources and data and the ways they are interpreted
  • Engage in some way with the current Warsaw community

 

Historic St. Mary’s City: Site Review

Review of Historic St. Mary’s City, MD.

I attended St. Mary’s College of Maryland for my undergraduate education. This school was not only a wonderful institution with a focus on tolerance and the liberal arts, but the school itself was surrounded by history. St. Mary’s College of Maryland is located in the vicinity of St. Mary’s City, the first capital of the state of Maryland. Along the banks of the St. Mary’s River, intermixed with the boundaries of the college, lies Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC), a living history site and museum. I might have a bit of a bias when it comes to Historic St. Mary’s City, as I grew to love this place as an extension of my own beloved institution. But I have visited “Historic,” as St. Mary’s College students like to call it, many times. As a student of history and anthropology, I feel as though I can make thoughtful judgments about this site and its purpose as a public history institution.

Historical Background

St. Mary’s City was the location of the landing of settlers, under the direction of Leonard Calvert, on the Ark and the Dove in 1634. These settlers founded the first successful non-native settlement in Maryland, a town that would come to be the first capital of Maryland.

Physical Site

In total, the land of HSMC takes up about 800 acres but it feels intimate, with many various small “sites” on HSMC property. As a living public history museum, HSMC attempts to recreate the first capital of Maryland. The center of the historic town has been “rebuilt” as it might have looked in the past. Other vestiges from the original town remain as well. The first statehouse of Maryland has also been rebuilt and stands on this site as a symbol of the importance of justice and what has become the United States of America’s judicial system. In stark contrast, directly across from the Statehouse, is the Brick Chapel, also a reconstruction, that stands as a symbol of the importance of religion and religious freedom. These two sites that lie on the same road yet stand hundreds of yards apart, were meant to symbolize the separation of religion and the state and the balance between the two that the settlers sought after.

Brick Chapel (Image 1)

Within this narrative lies the argument this site attempts to communicate to those that visit: St. Mary’s City was the beginning of the great American ideals we honor today. The fights for religious freedom, separation of church and state, and equal rights all began in St. Mary’s City. This is what the site tries to communicate to its visitors.

Anyone can visit this site and not only learn much about Maryland history but they will also enjoy the site. As is, this site is aimed for the general population. When walking the grounds, you are likely to run into families, large student groups, and locals that use the site to walk their dogs or exercise.

As a visitor, one can take part in a group tour of the site or check out the site on your own. Either way works, however, I believe you get the most out of this site by taking a tour of it. It is not so easy to figure out your way around the site without some guidance. There is not one clear path that one should take and it would be easy to miss important sites or features of HSMC. However, along your journey at HSMC you will find a few interpreters, dressed in period costumes, that tell the stories of St. Mary’s City residents. There are very few actual interpreters at the site, though. So when walking through the site, it is likely that you may not run into any interpreters at all. The interpreters can provide fascinating information about the history of St. Mary’s City, though their use seems to be directed towards children and school groups.

Interpreters at the Dove (Image 2)

Though HSMC is situated on a lot of land, the land remains mostly empty. Archaeological digs, which have been ongoing at the site for the past forty years or more, have proven the location of many original buildings from the first capital city. HSMC has taken information from archaeological digs to “rebuild” the town, most notably by using “ghost” houses. These houses are merely the outlines of structures, but mark where actual houses or buildings from the original town once stood and what they might have looked like.

Ghost houses (Image 3)

You can also take a trip down to the waterfront, where the reconstructed ship from the settling voyage, the Dove, sits today. Visitors to HSMC can get a tour of the reconstructed ship, which to me is one of the most interesting parts of the entire site. Also featured at HSMC is an Indian Hamlet, somewhat hidden in the woods, that attempts to portray what the site might have looked like before settlers from Europe arrived. Here, you can learn about Indian modes of subsistence, how they built their own canoes, and how to make an arrowhead. Another interesting part of HSMC is the St. John’s Site Museum. This museum is situated on the grounds of the college, where archaeologists uncovered the foundation of an early English home along with a wealth of archaeological finds. This museum is worth the trip to HSMC over any of the other aspects of this site. The museum is one of the most interesting archaeological museums that I have ever been to. Unfortunately, this museum is “off the beaten path” of HSMC, so many visitors may not make it over to this part of the site.

Overall, HSMC is a great example of a living public history museum. The archaeological work that has allowed for the site’s existence has successfully articulated the history and the lives of the various types of individuals that used to call St. Mary’s City home. Though there is not one path to follow throughout the site, visitors can either take a tour of the site or follow the maps to find each educational experience at HSMC. However, having clearer signage and more directive maps would help visitors get the best experience from HSMC.

Digital Site

The digital site for HSMC is www.hsmcdigshistory.org. The opening page reads, “Experience life in 17th century Maryland!” At first glance, visitors to the digital site understand that HSMC aims to be a recreation of life from seventeenth century St. Mary’s City. The opening page also discusses St. Mary’s City’s “legacy of democracy and toleration,” hinting at the site’s argument that HSMC was a building block for modern America.

This website is aimed for those interested in visiting the site. There are many tabs on the page for users to view, but the first two tabs include information about visiting the site and the various programs and tours the site offers. Other tabs on the HSMC website include, “Support,” “Private Events,” “The Shop,” and “The Inn.” Besides being aimed at potential visitors, the HSMC website is aimed at those interested in financially supporting the institution. Finally, the site is geared towards those interested in the history of the site and the various research opportunities that are ongoing at HSMC. This website gives out a lot of information about HSMC. In this way, I think they cover a variety of information that anyone visiting their website might in search of.

Home page of HSMC’s digital site (Image 4)

The most interesting component of the website is a Museum Map, an interactive digital map of HSMC. By including this map on the website, potential visitors can not only get a grasp of the site before they go, but they might be able to gain any information they are looking for on the site without needing to physically visit. The interactive map works by the website user clicking on the various buildings or monuments on the map. Small windows will appear with a picture of the building and some brief historical information. The only downside to the map is that it seems to be a work in progress. Each of the small information windows that pop up include a link for visitors to “Dig Deeper,” suggesting that a new window will appear with even more information on the site. But when clicked on, the page brought up has an error message. Despite this, the interactive map on HSMC’s website a great tool for visitors to use and brings the website into a more interactive sphere.

HSMC’s Interactive Map (Image 5)

Overall, the digital site for HSMC has a simple layout, yet contains a large amount of information on this site. There is only one interactive aspect of the website, the museum map. Though it is the sole interactive element, it is visually engaging and could be very helpful to visitors to the page. The website could be improved by streamlining much of the information on the site and ensuring that various links on the site work.

Conclusion

The physical site and digital site make similar arguments about the history of St. Mary’s City. However, the visitor to the digital site might gain more information on the formation of the site and the archaeology that preceded the site’s creation. It might be beneficial for those that aim to visit the physical site, to take time to visit the digital site beforehand. The digital site would help visitors make sense of the site, even before their actual visit.

 

Image Citations:

Image 1: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5b/St_Marys_City_Historic_District_Catholic_Church_Jul_09.JPG/250px-St_Marys_City_Historic_District_Catholic_Church_Jul_09.JPG

Image 2: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/photos/77370

Image 3: http://www.hsmcdigshistory.org/map/#Priests_House_Ghost_Frame

Image 4: Screenshot, www.hsmcdigshistory.org

Image 5: Screenshot, http://www.hsmcdigshistory.org/map/

The History of Digital Public History

The genre of Digital Public History seems to have changed much over time, especially as digital technologies became better and as audience engagement became more important.

Early digital public history projects were focused mostly on presenting historical information. These projects were usually some sort of collection or grouping of historical sources/information portrayed through a website page. One very early site on the infamous blackouts of NYC aimed to be a collection of audience memory of these blackouts, and therefore was an early example of a future goal of digital public history: audience assistance and engagement. These early projects were limited in design and content (the internet was still quite limited in the late 1990s/early 2000s).

By the second phase of digital public history, the presentation of historical information became the most important feature of these sites. The audience could interact minimally with these sites, usually just to move to the next section of information or view a different section of the page. These sites highly valued education, seemingly hoping to educate the general public about more extensive issues in history, often lesser-known historical events, such as the Holocaust in Croatia and slavery in NYC.

The third and most recent phase of digital public history attempted to balance the need to present historical knowledge and the want to engage the public. Most sites of this more recent time period (2010s) focused on portraying history for the masses, but one site asked the audience for help indexing pages of war diaries from WWI. These sites show the increase in technology that occurred in more recent years and how these improvements also improve the audience experience with the sites. Now, users can truly interact with history and help digital projects make historic documents useful to a wider audience.

I feel as though this is where digital humanities, and in particular, digital public history is heading – towards the balance of presenting the public with historical information and getting the public involved in the study of history. As technology gets better and better, the types of actions and assistance the audience can provide to history projects will increase and become more sophisticated and easier to use.

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a way of obtaining information by enlisting the help of others, specifically Internet users.

Many digital humanities groups or organizations use crowdsourcing to aid in their projects. Oftentimes, these groups find themselves with limited resources – rather that be money or physical hands to work on the project. In these cases, they reach out to the public for help.

The most well-known example of crowdsourcing is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia on which users can contribute to the entries on their own accord. Wikipedia has become a top search site, a place that people around the world can use and also contribute to. It has a reputation in the academic world, as students have turned towards Wikipedia as a source for research but since it’s a user-contributed platform, teachers do not consider Wikipedia to be a satisfactory research source. Regardless, Wikipedia is an important crowdsourcing project, which has proven that crowdsourcing can work.

Wikipedia isn’t the only crowdsourcing project out there – in fact, there are many digital humanities projects running that utilize crowdsourcing. These projects utilize the public in a variety of ways. Transcribe Bentham is a crowdsourcing platform for transcribing the papers of Jeremy Bentham. The public can log on to the site, view digitized documents from the Bentham papers and then transcribe the papers for the project. Transcription is one tool which crowdsourcing is useful for.

An interesting and unique type of crowdsourcing project is the New York Public Library’s Building Inspector. The public can inspect the maps and let the NYPL know whether their map inspection software has worked. This project is very cool – it works like a puzzle and gets the users captivated in the work. Below is a screenshot from the project: users view the computer-projected outline and then tell the software whether it has correctly outlined the building or not. Contributors can also add descriptions to maps that will identify different types of buildings.

screen-shot-2016-11-30-at-9-11-28-pm

In order to attract contributors, projects need to be engaging – their interface and design need to be user-friendly and the subject matter needs to appeal. An interesting example of a recent crowdsourcing project is from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum has asked people around the United States to search for information on how America reacted to news of the Holocaust by searching the headlines of newspapers from their town. Schools around the United States are picking up this project and encouraging their students to aid in the newspaper search. This is a unique project, but other digital humanities projects could learn from this project and other well-attended projects.

Crowdsourcing projects can run into trouble if they are not user-friendly or their subject matter does not appeal to the public. Digital humanists need to be wary of this and understand the limits of their projects. Crowdsourcing projects are reliant on the public and therefore need to understand the public.

 

 

 

Comparing Tools

In this post, I will compare three tools we learned during this session: Voyant, CartoDB, and Palladio.

Voyant was a text analysis tool, which allows users to analyze word and word usage from documents in a variety of ways. There are some bugs in this program which made it difficult to use. Despite these bugs, it allows for very careful text analysis and a variety of methods with which to analyze documents.

CartoDB is a mapping software that is incredibly easy to use. Not only is it easy to use, but it allows for many different ways to visualize your data. This tool visualizes geographic relationships in data.

Finally, there is Palladio, a tool which allows users to visualize relationships and correlations within data through a network. Unlike CartoDB, Palladio allows for visualizing relationships other than geographic relationships. You can pick specific aspects of your data and Palladio will show you the relationships between them.

All of these tools are useful but for a variety of reasons. While all three are used for visualizing relationships, they are used for different purposes. For those interested in understanding language in their data, Voyant would be the better tool. Those that want to understand geographic or spatial relationships should use CartoDB. And those that want to visualize relationships beyond the spatial should use Palladio.

But no one says you have to pick just one! All three tools are incredibly useful for humanities studies. Put together, you could come to understand your data from many different aspects, creating a holistic view of your data.

Metadata Review

Metadata Review of the Antique Map Resource Database (oldmaps.com)

The metadata on this site describes the following about the maps:

  • Creator
  • Subject
  • Period
  • Size
  • Condition
  • Source
  • References
  • Pricing Information

The metadata allows for questions on its creation, value, and location. It does not allow for questions on the recent history of the map, where it resided and who used it since its creation.

Database Review

This post is a review of a database in the George Mason Library system.

Antique Map Price Record

Overview: The Antique Map Price Record is a collection of around 200,000 maps with the purpose of serving as an encompassing survey of antique maps. There is even a plan to create yet another guidebook of this database and redesign the website to have more advanced search features and many other new features.

Search: Searching this site is possible through many means. One can search by title words, mapmaker, subject, descriptions, company, regions, dates, and even map dimensions.

Facts:

  • Date Range: c.1200-1979
  • Publisher: Originally published by David Jolly in 1983. Published on the web by Curt and Marti of Old Maps, LLC.
  • Publisher About Page: http://www.oldmaps.com.mutex.gmu.edu/ampr.asp
  • Object Type: Maps
  • Full-Type Searchable: No, but searchable by subject matter, title and cartographer

History/Provenance: This database was first created as a guide for antique map collectors in 1983. In 2002 this guide was converted into from the guide to a digital CD-rom format. Today, this database is on the web, searchable in many formats.

  • Original Catalog: Antique Maps, Sea Charts, City Views, Celestial Charts & Battle Plans – Price Guide and Collectors’ Handbook by David C. Jolly (1983)

Access: Check libraries for their subscription to this database. The book format can also be purchased for $75.00.