Question for David Bodenhamer – spatial humanities

Based on our readings, the most interesting aspect of the spatial turn, in regards to historical analysis, is there appears to be no desire to eliminate traditional methodologies but instead heighten them.  Clearly, this differs from most “turns” seen within the academe.  

Dr. Bodenhamer, you articulate both the potential and weaknesses of GIS within humanities clearly.  I guess my only curiosity lies in the reliability of a mathematically based model accurately representing human behavior. As I believe a group is more than a sum of its parts.  In your opinion, what is the chance of a reality slipping through the cracks of a mathematical function?  In other words, where GIS operates on patterns, what about those who do not fit within these parameters?  How might we, as historians of the digital age, counter this shortcoming (if one indeed exists)?

Published in: on March 24, 2010 at 12:10 am  Leave a Comment  

Status of Project

Carly, Allison, and I are working on a client-based project in which it is her desires we aim to materialize in digital form.  While I feel it is a worthy project, I also feel doing work for others is more complicated than working on something in which you are already knowledgeable and vested.

None of our group knows much about our subject in particular – my main concern is content for the site.  What I find significant in the topic of Mary Clark and what Eunice (client) feels is vital might vary drastically.  As a group, we discussed that the client should construct the content ensuring she has expressed what she wants on her site.  For obvious reasons, I do not feel we are experts enough to build an educational site on a person with which we are unfamiliar. 

I initially thought we were going to do the basics of the site and that our grade would be based on the written statement or proposal to demonstrate our familiarity with the forming a digital history project.  We divided the basic site construction out as follows: I was in charge of locating and compiling pedagogical sources on both Indiana’s state educational requirements and where/how to insert more African American history into the curriculum (which would include Mary Clark). Allison and Carly were given more “techy” jobs as they are more familiar with that end of things – Carly built the wiki and Allision got the domain established and chose Omeka for the site construction.

At the poster session, I thought we were going to display the basic site but ultimately that our focus would be how we had learned from creating a digital history project and the strengths and weaknesses we saw based on our experience. 

While we work out the kinks – be those in our own understanding of the assignment or in the methodologies we have chosen- I think we are all learning that these projects are more complicated than they appear at first glance.

Published in: on March 12, 2010 at 2:36 am  Comments (2)  

Digital History – Pedagogical Site Construction

In thinking about the project I’m contributing to for this class several concerns come to mind…

How does one know that they are effectively communicating their message when the site is not interactive? When you use another online model to help format your own creative work, how do you know that site is effectively made? Since our top priority is a site that a wide range of educators (K-12) can utilize how does one ensure that we reach each target audience without over crowding or cluttering the web space?

I stumbled across a lesson plan design I saw on the Indiana Magazine of History site.  The primary goal on their site seems (to me) to directly communicate with educators by creating lesson plans on the topic of interest, include in those plans the specific state education requirements that lesson helps achieve, and give historical context and activities to help teachers maximize learning potential.

We have also discussed enabling  educators and students to create their own reenactment..thus we need a typed script, and if possible, an embedded video of the historical reenactment for them to follow.

However, ideally the site will be more than just a print and go resource…Dr. Sword pointed us toward once particular project “Who Killed William Robinson” that I feel can also provide guidance for both site design and pedagogical outcomes.

How do you engage the audience enough to know that all the digitized primary sources or archives included are actually utilized? How do you know that all the depth to your site was not done in vain?

Clearly, cost is an issue with our project.  While interactive tools and forums would be a wonderful addition to the attractive nature and even educational success of the site, is that cost-effective given the nature of the site? Maintenance costs are something I’m unfamiliar with…

Overall, we might still have more questions than answers, but I feel we are on the right track in constructing a site that will do what it’s supposed to (it’s not our baby after all) and represent a piece of digital history we, as graduate students, are proud of.

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 2:46 pm  Comments (1)  

QUESTIONS for Feb 19th (Digitization)

Please forgive my late submission-

Pertaining to pedagogical concerns or goals – how often is “updating” necessary? How do you know whether or not your current digital collection/site is effective? Are comments/suggestions on sites useful, and if so how often do visitors actually contribute to these selections?

Published in: on February 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm  Leave a Comment  


Digital Libraries & Easier Research

In thinking about digital archives and libraries impact on research I decided to look at Aquifer American Social History Online ,which proved easy to navigate and search.  With resources as accessible as these  a researcher could easily (easier than with print only resources) locate valuable sources for any relevant project.  Specifically one could look across decades or even across centuries for a comparative research idea.

On of the first projects that came to mind when looking at the Aquifer American Social History Online (because it’s part of a project I’ve already done) is a comparative study of media portrayal of the klan in American history.

The sources Aquifer American Social History Online has on the klan consist primarily of photographs. However, they also have a few articles, songs, and leaflets.

A simple search within the decade of 1920s for “klan” resulted in 36 relevant sources as well as an easy access guide (on the left side of the screen) referring me to other online sources with relevant materials (exactly 1290 sources). One song that caught my eye entitled “Ku-Ku: Klucking of the Ku Klux Klan ” produced in 1922. This song, unlike most of the media sources from the 1920s, is not in favor of the klan.  In fact, it seems to mock them with lyrics like, “they call round in their nighties and if you’re not your best –they’ll dress you like a chicken put feathers on your chest.” 1 For each one against the klan, I am sure many exist in favor of them.  For example, I also found one entitled “Why I am a Klansman.”

Click Image to go to source site

The most striking aspect of the sources in Aquifer American Social History Online is that since they do not have extensive newspapers, the positive spin on klan behavior (seen in many early twentieth century papers) is not as evident.  So, while accessing these sources is much quicker and easier – the hard work of scanning microfilm was actually more beneficial in my research.

I think a combination of this source, the other digital sources they point you to in the side menu, and printed media would make a strong project. However, it was in delving into these sources that I realized many of the papers (currently on microfilm), which articulate a social acceptance of the klan are not available digitally. Now, that’s not to say there are no digital sources, just that reliance on solely one digital library or resource (as with any printed media) would be costly to the thoroughness of the project.

Published in: on February 12, 2010 at 1:32 am  Comments (1)  

Database Utility in Klan Research

While the graphic is humorous the concept, in reality, is not – Klan research, specifically the WKKK, is a difficult subject for finding great sources.  It’s not that they do not exist so much as most are isolated in small archive collections around the country.  Thus, without a travel/research grant (or a money wad out of your own pocket) it is hard to make your conceptual idea materialize into printed scholarship.

A database would be one solution (or a step toward a solution).  If the private or small collections were digitized and linked in a database with the already digitized media sources (newspapers, etc) suddenly women of the Klan research would come to life.

Kathleen Blee’s work Women of the Klan – Racism and Gender in the 1920s examines the WKKK and its affiliates more thoroughly than any other scholarly work.  While there might be many scholars who would like to follow in her footsteps (me included) the inaccessibility and disorganization of sources hinders the way.  From what I have gathered in her work, it was about a lot of travel and a love of tiny, quiet spaces.  However, digitized sources are available – just not everything is (or probably will ever be) digitized.

Thus, even in a topic as backwoods as the Klan, the need for modern technology rears its head…historians need knowledge of and ability to move through these new media forms.  For my research on the Klan a database would have been instrumental to me not abandoning the topic (which I did) as my dissertation research.

Published in: on February 5, 2010 at 3:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Gabba Gabba…what? Mothering – A mixed bag

What IS a mother, anyway? And why do we care? Historically, American mothers do not get much attention despite the public’s’ overwhelming hypersensitive nature  regarding American racialized single-motherhood.  This topic, unlike many, is probably not any better represented within printed or academic work than it is online.

Rogue or Fad monger, single mothers would have a hard time NOT being affected by society’s perception of them.  Sadly, academics have neglected single mothers.  However, there are sources it out there, the question is how helpful are they really?

How useful these sites are depends on what you are seeking.  Clearly, some people just want to blog about diapers and formula – Others  want to understand social implications to current thought patterns, or perhaps how we (Americans) ever adopted those patterns in the first place.  The later group might be out of luck.

Internet resources are becoming the new answer to public questions.  From health concerns to pets (and yes, even children) raising the internet is the go to source.  Thus, it makes sense for academics, whose desire is to capture broad audiences, to adapt their methods to the new technology.  In the case of mothering, online academic sources are hard to find.

Don’t misunderstand – There are endless sources on “studies” – drug addiction in children from single-parent homes, the age of sexual intercourse in homes without fathers, from welfare to work – single mothers’ journey out of poverty…..EH.  These are relevant issues, but they are skewed by the simple fact that historical context is made secondary (if not completely ignored) to statistical numbers.

For those seeking knowledge on mothering, who do not have access to printed journals (or who do not where to look) the expansive search capabilities found online make the internet a probable source.

A simple Wikipedia search for “mothering” turns up an interesting combination of biological definitions and social role analysis.  The most interesting section of Wiki’s article on mothers is the Social Role of Mothers – where stereotypical statements are asserted as rational fact.  For example, “Mothers are more likely than fathers to acknowledge their children’s contributions in conversation.”1 While referred to as the “sociology of motherhood” statements like this actually tell us NOTHING about mothers.

Far from perfect, information sources’ utility should not be disregarded due to its weaknesses.  A strength found within this article is the structural guidance, one can easily skim through and seek out the type of information they desire – i.e. Where did the term mother come from? Famous mother figures in history, or statistical information associated with mothering.  Sources such as this allow readers to make directional choices.

Another method for info searching is the classic Google attempt.  All the sites it pulls up are pretty useless.  However, it does seem a new subculture is arising, dare I say “natural mothers” might attempt a social takeover soon? One example is Their focus is on the natural family, the daily tasks mothers encounter and basically selling the idea that their definition of mothering (breast-feeding, diaper free babies, and sharing their bed with their kids).  It is hard to argue that these are relevant “mothering” issues, but again, for those seeking real knowledge, we need academics to step up and produce material which will add meat to the soup, if you will.

Missing from the mix is the impact societal perceptions of single mothers have had on not only the mothers but their offspring.   This counter-stereotype information is more likely discussed by scholars of family or social history.  Expansion is needed on in-depth historical analysis pertaining to mothering (single-motherhood particularly).

Academics have scrutinized  the internet (and everything online)  because it does not undergo the same canonical peer-review process.  However, there are way it is reviewed, criticized and critiqued that are advantages.  For instance, the comment feature found on many blogs and forums gives the audience an opportunity to express concern if topics are not supported with source material, or if the author has neglected a side of the argument.  It goes without saying you can do this in printed media (book reviews, etc), however, the process is longer.

All of this said just to say – the internet has potential to house both academic and “domestic” aspects of motherhood.  Hopefully, with digital history expanding, soon answers to 19th century social implications of rearing children outside of wedlock will be just as accessible as  how to make your own cloth diapers.

Published in: on January 28, 2010 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Site Review –

DoHistory,  Created by Film Study Center, Harvard University and hosted by Center for History and New Media, George Mason University.  Reviewed January 20, 2010.

The Journal of American History and History Matters guidelines for reviewing websites is very useful as it enables historians to do what they know best – scholarly work criticism – while keeping the new media context in the forefront.  For DoHistory a simple categorical placement within the confines of archive, exhibit, or teaching resource is insufficient as this site deliberately acts as all three.

DoHistory engages its audience immediately with the creator’s primary intent – an interactive teaching resource geared toward demonstrating historians’ job – piecing together primary sources to understand an aspect of the past.  Through adopting Martha Ballard as a case study, DoHistory opens historical research to a larger audience. Her diary is present, including an enticing tool, which demonstrates what Martha wrote on this day in her contemporary time. Interactive activities include opportunities to decode and transcribe the diary yourself, as well as a “Magic Lens” activity in which the audience can move a lens around the diary pages and see the transcription bit by bit.

Perhaps not as explicitly stated as its intent, DoHistory also acts as an archive.  Resources provided include the primary sources themselves – her diary in her writing, available for viewing and browsing.  Also included is the source materials utilized in the creation of the site, a clear bibliographical trail for those interested in further research or checking sources.  The creator went beyond a simple list or page of interesting links, developing an entire archival database in which the audience can search under multiple headings: author, document type, thumbnail, topic, and title.

Conveniently, for those learning aspects of historiographical research, informative glimpses depicting other work completed on Martha Ballard including the book (A Midwife’s Tale, 1990), the movie, and historian Laura Thatcher Ulrich are also easily accessible from the homepage.  This aspect of DoHisotry has an electronic exhibit form, allowing the audience to go behind the scenes in the process of creating a historical book or movie.

Cohen and Rosenweig criticize (what they term) discussion and organizational websites as sometimes lacking focus or becoming a “hodgepodge of materials.”1  Specifically mentioning DoHistory previously, one might conclude the authors feel  their proclaimed “weakest history websites” category includes DoHistory.  While I can get onboard that a site can attempt too much I do not feel DoHistory steps outside either their talents or their resources.  In fact, I feel DoHistory successfully accomplishes “max storage” without cluttering their page and with simple (and easy to follow) navigation.  (Cohen and Rosenzweig’s point pertaining to digital media advantages of storage capacity becomes relevant.2 ) This site allows scholars to reach a large audience with compacted, abudanct information. Without tools such as DoHistory it would be hard for student’s project idea inspiration to be led in so many creative directions.

Obviously, I feel DoHistory is both a success and useful tool for historical practice.  While no site is flaw-free this one at least accomplishes its purpose.  Most importantly, to me, DoHistory unfetters student learning from the chalkboard and allows a broader audience to not only learn from but partake in historical research.

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 6:58 pm  Leave a Comment