On the Semester’s Readings

I had appreciation for both texts (Cohen & Rosenzweig, and Weller) for different reasons.

I found Cohen & Rosenzweig’s Digital History to be, at least to me, a comprehensive A to Z treatment of this topic. From that perspective, this book is a keeper, in the sense that I can see Public Historians returning to it periodically as their exposure to digital history increases and, hopefully, as it becomes an integral part of their practice and approach.  The book nicely balances the presentation of detail with a broader discussion of why traditional historians need to and should overcome their apprehensions and engage with this topic. From other readings it is also clear that Roy Rosenzweig is viewed by many in the field as a model to be admired and listened to.

I found Weller’s History in the Digital Age helpful in the sense of digging deeper into specific topics. But I don’t think I would have gotten as much out of this book had it not been for reading Digital History at the same time. I found the writing by several of the writers in Weller’s book to be dense and somewhat pretentious. That could be because several articles described digital history issues from a British perspective.

I enjoyed the variety found in the other readings and especially enjoyed the readings from Week 8 on the Collaborative Web. I come away with the opinion that now that Wikipedia has opened the gate for non-professionals, this phenomenon will only grow in the future. As a result, I believe that historians who hunker down and refuse to acknowledge this and deal with it, will eventually be left behind. I believe there is room for professional, peer-reviewed articles, more informal and as a result more frequent writing through blogs, and other digital expressions of history – historical websites and, of course, digital exhibits.







Any of Us Can Be a Citizens Archivist

Go to the National Archives and Records Administration Citizen Archivist website and experiment with one of the tasks.  Blog about your experience and the Citizen Archivist project as a whole.

The National Archives and Records Administration’s Citizen Archivist website provides great examples of several innovations in the evolving field of digital history. The National Archives website in general is well constructed and visually engaging. It is clear that the goal is not simply to house historical documents, but to engage the public, both professionals and the rest of us, in an interactive experience. The Teachers’ Resources section, for example, provides teachers at all levels with tools to utilize historic documents in the classroom, in a variety of ways. The Citizen Archivist section seems to build on the example of Wikipedia, in the sense of inviting anyone to involve themselves in contributing in a variety of ways to the work of the National Archives. Anyone who is up to the challenge of transcribing sometimes difficult-to-decipher handwriting is invited to do just that. And for those of us for whom that task isn’t appealing, but who nevertheless get excited about reading historic documents and particularly historic correspondence, the opportunity to tag documents is attractive.

I reviewed several documents that had already been transcribed and found particularly interesting the almost daily letters from Harry Truman to his wife, Bess, over several decades. It is striking that so much correspondence is available, including long before Truman entered politics. And it is interesting to see how much substantive discussion of current events and issues are addressed in those letters.

Then I looked into the Tagging Missions and tagged several World War II posters. This was a good reminder of the importance of properly describing, and tagging, digital images in order for those descriptions and tags to be of optimal use to researchers.

Tweeting and Online Presence

Compare your digital persona to that of the bloggers and twitterstorians you have been following since the beginning of the semester. How do you present yourself online? How would you attract attention to your digital products? How can you harness the power of Web 2.0 to engage with and use your audience?
I’m wrestling with whether this is a difficult or a simple assignment. It seems difficult because my digital persona is limited to email and Facebook. It’s easy because …. see why it’s difficult! Since I’m not in Public History and don’t anticipate finding myself in the future in a position to that of classmates who either already are or will be “practicing” Public History, I see no real need to develop a more fulsome digital persona.
Frankly, my reaction to history-related tweets, including from twitterstorians (e.g., Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin) and others (e.g., CCSU Historians, CTinWWI, CT Explored), is not enthusiastic. At the risk of an overstatement, my unofficial review suggests that something like 50% of tweets involve notice of recent or upcoming events, 30% involve esoteric or trivial information, and 20% include information I would find of interest and would follow up on by clicking whatever hyperlinks are included. My impression is that some organizations that tweet do so not so much because they value this channel of communication but because they feel they must tweet because their peers/competitors are doing so. Overall, I find getting information via Twitter to be like drinking from a fire hose!

While I believe my online info-gathering time is better spent on websites, all is not dark. I do see considerable potential value in a macro review of tweets, a 20,000 foot perspective of the universe of tweets, including identification and stratification of issues that are the subject of tweets, and what kinds of trends are identified from tweets from public and private organizations; professionals in various disciplines, including the field of history; and from citizens generally.

Examine a Historical GIS Project

Examine in detail at least one historical GIS project (e.g., HyperCities, Digital Harlem, Mapping the Republic of Letters, Virtual Jamestown) On your blog, discuss how this project contributes to historical scholarship

Reviewed: “Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America,” available at https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=11/41.3030/-72.9225&opacity=0.8&city=new-haven-ct&area=B6&adimage=3/35/-120

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a federal agency set up in the 1930s in response to the impact of the Great Depression on home owners and specifically on home mortgages. The goal was to help with refinancing mortgages in default. The agency granted loans under revised terms, but in the process also did an assessment of the perceived level of risk, marked on neighborhood-by-neighborhood maps, in several dozen cities across the country. In Connecticut, they assessed East Hartford, New Haven and Darien/Stamford/New Canaan. Using consistent (but by today’s terms inappropriate) assessment terminology, they labeled neighborhood maps in each city by: Green = “Best”; Blue = “Still Desirable”; Yellow = “Definitely Declining”; and Red = “Hazardous.”

The result was a bias towards refinancing mortgages in the “Best” and “Still Desirable” areas, and shying away from doing so in the Definitely Declining and Hazardous areas. This was one of the first examples of “redlining,” that is, of refusing to assist in “redlined” neighborhoods, based in large part upon the racial and ethnic makeup of the neighborhood community.

This GIS project is an expansion of a similar project that focused only on HOLC activities in Richmond Virginia. The information available at this website, including most importantly the color-coded neighborhood maps, provides a visual perspective on the issue of redlining in home mortgage refinancing during the New Deal.

In New Britain, for example, 19% was labeled Green, 43% was labeled Blue, 30% was labeled Yellow and 8% was labeled Red. And viewing the map shows that the Red neighborhoods were at the core of the city, surrounded by Yellow neighborhoods; the Blue and Green areas were outside of the city core. The New Haven map shows the same relative location of neighborhoods, but with a much larger percentage marked as Yellow (56%) or Red (20%). If you click on the New Haven neighborhoods themselves, you see the completed Area Description. The Red area was inhabited by 90% mixed foreign-born and 5% negroes. The Remarks section says: “Pride of ownership is entirely lacking. Absence of market plus vandalism has resulted in some demolition.”


Week 9 – Learning from Podcasts

Check out one or more of the podcasts listed below or one of your choice. Write a blog post about how podcasting can be used to extend a public history audience.

I listened to “The History of the Republican Party” from Backstory via SoundCloud.

This was my first exposure to podcasts. I’ve shied away from them because I really didn’t understand the concept and was, and am, somewhat overwhelmed by the number of podcasts available and the number of channels through which they may be found.

I found this particular podcast similar to a radio version of Front Line or Ted Talks, a rebroadcast of This American Life, or an oral form of YouTube. I listened while driving in my car, which was very convenient. I didn’t expect to obtain the same level of detail I would find in an academic paper. As a result, I wasn’t disappointed not to “hear” footnotes. At the same time, I enjoyed this more than I believe I would from reading a blog on this topic. There was a lot of information provided and the format was entertaining. There was a “host” who guided the overall presentation, but throughout the podcast, he was joined by several experts who contributed info from their perspectives. Plus, the format was more of a dialog than a lecture, and interspersing brief music transitions was a nice touch.

I learned quite a bit of information from this podcast and it prompted an interest in following up at some point. For example, I found the discussion of the role Mark Hanna played in the election of McKinley in 1896 really interesting. He was described as the first Karl Rove and was credited with expanding the base of support for the party, beyond the traditional party base – reaching out to the general public, and to corporations for financial support.

I see podcasts as an additional teaching tool, one that takes advantage of the current significance of social media, the prevalence of obtaining news and other information from mobile devices, and the need to reinvent ways for sharing information about the humanities.

Comparing Wikipedia Sites

The Wikipedia article “Americanization (immigration)” addresses the process of an immigrant to the United States becoming a person who shares American values, beliefs and customs and is assimilated. The article provides a helpful overview and history, including the importance of the period just before through to just after World War I. It was originally part of a broader entry on “Americanization,” which refers to the influence the United States has on the culture of other countries. “Americanization (immigration) was broken off into a very brief, separate entry in 2006. Since then it has been added to and amended over 500 times. Despite the many changes, there is only one Talk comment, suggesting that the article would be improved by including more of a perspective from people being Americanized. The Talk section indicates that this article is within the scope of WikiProject United States, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of topics relating to the United States on Wikipedia.

“National Security League (NSL)” is mentioned in the “Americanization (immigration)” article as one of the key private organizations involved with Americanization. The article focusing on the NSL indicates that it was an American patriotic, nationalistic, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization which supported a greatly expanded military based, and the naturalization and Americanization of immigrants. The NSL article was first created in 2007 and has been modified approximately 40 times. To date, this article has generated no Talk comments.

“Immigration to the United States,” which is also mentioned in the “Americanization (immigration)” article is by far the longest and most comprehensive article of the three. This article also has been amended over 500 times. The Talk section focuses on suggestions for modification of racist language in the article. This article also leads to a separate discussion of the History of Immigration to the United States.

Making a Website Attractive and Functional

If budgeting limitations were not an issue, I would be a fan of a high-tech approach to digital exhibits, with lots of hyperlinks to supplemental materials and to documents that are internally searchable.

Returning to the planet earth, we know that budgeting is an issue and that the “costs” of digitization are not just measured in IT funding, but also in all the time and human resources that go into a digitization project.

Cohen and Rosenzweig look to designer Edward Tufte for his description of the balance between simple and more advanced approaches to web design: “For Tufte, the elegance and impact of design comes in the resolution of this tension. How do you get your points across without presenting a dizzying array of text and graphics? How can you maximize expression without cluttering a page? How can you juxtapose elements in a way that allows readers to draw their own conclusions rather than bludgeoning them with the obvious?”

So I like the idea of shooting for a middle position, which features a site that is not so simple as to be discounted as second-rate but also not so complex as to be confusing and overwhelming. That site would enhance accessibility both in terms of the types of documents that are accessible (e.g., the rare book that would otherwise only be available to the scholar who travels to the Beineke Library at Yale) and in terms of the number and type of people gaining access. It would be sophisticated enough to attract the person who would bypass a site if it didn’t have color and some frills.  And I’m not sold on the idea that small chunks of text necessarily are better than longer passages. With Cohen and Rosenzweig, I agree with  that “good writing produces willing readers, regardless of the medium.”

I think the California Women for Agrigucture site is a good example a site that meets the middle ground position of being usable and informative.http://cawomenforag.omeka.net/exhibits/show/weareavoiceforthebusyfarmerori

Apples to Apples

Select two websites from the Omeka showcase and write a comparative review.

Comparing two digital exhibits without the benefit if objective standards is a challenge! It’s like comparing two pieces of music. For example, for a comparison of a song from a high school chorus with a piece from the Hartford Chorale to be “apples to apples,” we must consider each piece by itself – the background and experience of the singers, the significance of the song to the group, the intended audience, etc. Comparing physical exhibits at the Granby Historical Society and at the Connecticut Historical Society would require consideration of similar factors..

From this perspective, the New York Art Resources Consortium is the Hartford Chorale and the Connecticut Historical Society. nyarc is made up of the research libraries of three of New York City’s leading art museums. So our expectations of their digital exhibit, “Documenting the Gilded Age: New York City Exhibitions at the Turn of the 20th Century,” should be high. With that in mind, the nyarc exhibit is surprisingly simple. The Introduction provides a clear explanation of the purpose of the project. “The Featured Item,” “Featured Exhibit” and “Recently Added Items” sections invites viewers to start with the areas the creator wants us to focus on. The topical ribbon heading provides clear alternative ways of digging into the material. Each Item is presented in a clear and uniform manner. Having said this, I would have expected more from nyarc. Though I’m not yet aware of all that Omeka has to offer, it seems nyarc chose a very basic format and approach to their exhibit presentation – like we might expect from the Harford Chorale at a Tuesday afternoon rehearsal. .

By comparison, About Deseronto is the high school chorus. (To say that it’s also the Granby Historical Society wouldn’t be fair to the GHS.) This exhibit is simple with a small “s”. But our expectations for this site should be in perspective. This is a “What do you know about our town?” exhibit. While there is some coordination of the material, greatly benefited by using Omeka, this exhibit is a work in progress, from the ground up. They have taken advantage of what Omeka has to offer and used it for their limited purposes. They don’t aspire to be something they are not.

Scholars Wearing Cement Shoes

It may be that academic publishing finds itself wearing cement shoes at the same time that other fields are running in Nikes.

“The American Historical Association has spied itself a Problem with a capital P and it is determined to do something about it. That problem? Too many people are reading history doctoral dissertations on the Internet. This madness must be stopped, the AHA thought to itself. We can’t have all these people reading scholarly works online, for free.”

So said Rebecca Rosen, tongue in cheek, writing in The Atlantic in 2013, She was referring to the AHA’s suggestion that universities adopt a policy that would allow graduate dissertations to be kept off of the internet for six years. Rosen quotes Dan Cohen’s reaction: “Rather than trying to push other levers, or experimenting with other ways to disseminate historical knowledge, the AHA’s default is to gate. ….It’s the passivity in the face of what is the lack of initiative to explore other models as well, that’s disappointing.”


The Atlantic, July 23, 2013

There is an analogy here to the music industry, one that I’m aware of but don’t know enough about to totally understand. Music publishing companies were rocked by upstarts like Napster. For a time, no one could tell whether Napster and its ilk were villains or heroes. Napster was disruptive to the industry. It knocked both publishers and artists on their butts. Some never got up. But the sun still comes up every day, and the music plays on. Records stores may have closed, but streaming was born. Streaming offers artists access to a wider audience and sooner. While musicians have had to adapt, they have and many are better off. And because of YouTube and similar channels, more artists are discovered than would otherwise have been the case.

If the music industry can adapt to the digital age, so can academics and publishers. Rosen says that with its suggestion of a six year embargo on the publication of dissertations, the AHA is saying that history should remain “a book-based discipline.” But Rosen disagrees and goes on to quote Dan Cohen again, who said that this sort of thinking represents “a collective failure by historians who believe — contrary to the lessons of our own research — that today will be like yesterday, and tomorrow like today.”

Impact of the Web on Historical Research

Discuss how the Web impacts the way you do historical research. How does it change the way you think about sources? Are there qualitative differences between using digital archives and more traditional analog sources?  Why or why not?


Sorry, but I’m first compelled to discuss how the Web impacts the way I do legal research. While Web-based research has dramatically changed the way lawyers conduct research, what I find interesting is that the previous book-based approach to legal research oddly seemed to anticipate, and eventually to beg for, web-based tools.

Prior to the 1990s, and to my surprise starting in the 1880s and 1890s, once a lawyer had identified the legal issues arising from a fact situation, the typical legal research project involved a trip to a law library. Were it not for advances in the late 19th century, the lawyer would have been faced a needle-in-a-haystack challenge in trying to find judicial decisions that supported his position. But his task was substantially lightened by the introduction of the National Reporter System, the West Digest and Shepard’s Citations.

The National Reporter System consisted (and still does) of bound volumes of judicial decisions, separated by federal versus state courts, by region and by state. But the key (pun to become apparent) to the system comes from the West Digests, which involve an elaborate classification system, with refined sub-categories, eventually getting to “topics and key numbers.” As a result, a lawyer could approach his research in several ways. If he had identified a useful judicial decision, he could go to the topic and key numbers that appear just before the decision itself, and then he could go to the Digests, to the particular key numbers he had identified, and find other court decisions that addressed the same topic and key number. Or he could start with the digests, look for the topic and key numbers that address his issue, and locate relevant cases.

But the fun didn’t stop there. Using Shepard’s Citations, the lawyer could easily identify the history of any case (lower court opinions, this opinion, appellate opinion), which would tell him whether this opinion had been upheld or overturned. Of even more use, “shepardizing” (yes, that’s what lawyers say!) the case would identify for him all instances in which this decision had subsequently been cited, in other court cases, in law review articles and in legal treatises. Going down that path would help him either refine or expand the scope of his research.

In one sense, the web-based research tools developed in the 1990s – chief among them, Westlaw and LexisNexis – “just” applied web technology to the book-based research methodology. But in a more practical sense, this advance revolutionized legal research and as a result, also revolutionized the approach taken to the practice of law by most lawyers.

Here are links to helpful explanations of the West Key Number System and of Shepard’s Citations as they have evolved from the historical classification and case citation systems to application on the web.

Turning to historical research, I would mention researching newspapers as a way to contrast available methods. Working on an earlier project, I researched the Hartford Courant online, the Hartford Times on microfiche, and the New Haven Register in the original hard copy, by special request at Yale’s Beinecke Library.

  • The relative advantages were:
    • online – speed;
    • microfiche – context; and
    • hard copy – the original look and feel, in addition to context.
  • The relative disadvantages were:
    • online – lack of context, reliance on search terms;
    • microfiche – slow and monotonous; and
    • hard copy – time and effort

Confession: though I am aware of the pluses and minuses, including the qualitative drawback of missing something as a result of the limitations of search terms, my clear preference is for digital research. I am impatient and tend to want to “get-r-done.” This may not be a valid defense, but based upon my limited exposure to historical research, it’s my impression that whatever drawbacks there may be to web-based research have a greater risk of negatively impacting the work product of a Public History project than to an academic paper. I could be totally off base in assuming this. In any event, I am continually aware that there are limitations to each method. Ideally, a research project would involve both traditional and web-based research, with the goal of capitalizing on the advantages of each, while at the same time minimizing the impact of their disadvantages.

My wish list for historical research would be for someone to develop a form of Shepard’s Citations for his historical books and articles. The opportunity to instantly be able to identify how others have utilized a journal article I’m working with would be extremely helpful. I would love to hear that there is such a tool that I haven’t identified.