February 22, 2007

The Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities offers technology support for a variety of different humanities projects. Looking through their list of current research projects, you can see examples of many different types of projects taking advantage of these resources. Many of these projects seem to be image heavy in different ways, which makes using digital media extremely attractive. Works on objects, engravings, or architecture greatly benefit from the ability of new media to allow the reader to really connect with these items. Other projects, which primarily have a very tight theme and focus on compiling a multitude of information in a meaningful and organized fashion also make good use of this potential. The ability to include interactive or searchable maps, or include small videos giving a three-dimensional view of an object allows a different audience of people to find something of interest in the past. It is important though that the technology not become an end to itself. Without scholarly work explaining what these artifacts are and why they are included, a site runs the risk of becoming just another interesting place to be browsed in passing. Its important not to become so involved with the tiny details that everything just becomes trivia.

The Indiana University Digital Library Program offers resources to digitize information and create digital progects. They also provide links to a number of digital resources offered by Indiana University. One resource I found that I had been unaware of was Digital Images Delivered Online from the Department of History of Art. This allowed you to search their collection of images that could be used for teaching or study, as well as information for finding images on the Web and links to other image sites. A quick search for “Degas and Woman” returned 13 thumbnails with citation for the work and a link to the full image. Other types of resources include a number of other colleccts, from film to music to indexes of magazines and articles about specific topics.

IU Scholar Works is a subsection of the Digital Library Program which makes works from IU scholars available online. Submissions include syllabi, lectures and papers. The interface is a little clunky and difficult to browse as someone without a specific item in mind, but the idea is really creative. It seems that right now really niche departments have signed up for this program, mostly in the sciences like Chemistry, the Cyclotron facility, and Informatics. Why haven’t many other deparments signed on to a program like this yet and what can be done to promote this service?


British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries

February 16, 2007

I looked at “British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries”, an archive which includes the immediate experiences of approximately 500 women, as revealed in over 100,000 pages of diaries and letters. It includes more then 100,000 pages written between 1600 and 1950 by women who lived in the British Isles for a significant portion of their lives. This archive, which is incredibly user-friendly, allows a researcher to quickly and easily access a number of different documents from different collections in order to work on various questions. By bringing together so many different collections and making them searchable in so many ways, this database would allow people working on a wide range of projects to quickly and easily see if their question was relevent to these women and how their reactions changed over time, or to do more in depth comparisons.

The database is arranged to be searchable in a number of different fashions. For those browsing very broadly, the database can be viewed by author, source, year, place, person event, or historical event. There is also a search function to find specific categories. Users can look by Author, Editor or Translator, Title, Source Type, Publisher, Year of Publication and Social Headings. For those less familiar with the database, clicking on the terms button by each category opens a second window which has a list of every available term, which can be checked off to be included. Results can be sorted by author, title and year. There is also the option to see the actual SQL query or the Bibliographic record for the results. A third method for using the site is to search the texts. Words or phrases can be entered to be searched for, and users have the option of restricting the search only to certain authors, years, document types or subject headings. The advanced search offers even more options, letting you pick how many marriages a woman had, how many children, her age at childbirth and many more, with 21 filters in all. A quick search for documents written in March by Catholic women between ages 30 and 40 who were married only once, “Bibliographic criteria: docmonth=3 agewriting=30-40 marriagestatus=married religion=catholic nummarriages=1” found 9 documents. For anyone with a very specific project in mind, a tool like this would save a lot of time and energy on finding the documents in the archives, and allow that to be put towards analyzing the evidence and solving problems.

The records are displayed in the following manner.
“Anne of Denmark, Queen of England, 1574-1619, Letter from Anne of Denmark, Queen of England to Arabella Stuart, March 09, 1607 in The Life and Letters of Lady Arabella Stuart; Including Numerous Original and Unpublished Documents, in two volumes, vol. 2. Cooper, Elizabeth. London, England: Hurst & Blackett, 1866, pp. 303. [Bibliographic Details] [View Full Text][3-9-1607] S5145-D026”
This record contains links to the specific letter, the full source and the breakdown of the author.

Author: Anne of Denmark, Queen of England, 1574-1619
All Author Forms: Anne of Denmark, Queen of England, 1574-1619; Anne of Denmark, Queen of England
Age at Writing: 33
Birth Date: 1574
Death Date: 3-4-1619
Place of Birth: Skanderborg, Denmark; Arhus, Denmark; Denmark; Scandinavia; Western Europe; Europe
Place of Death: Hampton Court Palace, England; England; United Kingdom; Western Europe; Europe
Nationality: English; European
Race: White
Religion: Lutheran; Christian; Catholic
Occupation: Head of state
Marital Status When Writing: Married
Age at Marriage: 15
Number of Marriages: 1
Maternal Status When Writing: Mother
Number of Children: 8
Age at First Childbirth: 20
Document Title: Letter from Anne of Denmark, Queen of England to Arabella Stuart, March 09, 1607
Date of Composition: 3-9-1607
Document Type: Letter
Where Written (Setting): Royal courts
Where Written (Geographical): Whitehall, England; England; United Kingdom; Western Europe; Europe
Where Sent (Geographical): Not indicated
Recipient: Stuart, Lady Arabella, 1575-1615; Seymour, Arabella Stuart; Seymour, Mrs. William; Arabella Stuart
Recipient’s Gender: F
Relationship to Author: Other
Subject – Topics: Royal attendants
Subject – Broad: Sociology
Source Title: The Life and Letters of Lady Arabella Stuart; Including Numerous Original and Unpublished Documents, in two volumes, vol. 2.
Editor or Translator: Cooper, Elizabeth
Place of Publication: London, England
Publisher: Hurst & Blackett
Year of Publication: 1866
Source Medium: Text
Source Type: Book
Language: English
Document ID: S5145-D026

This information would help me organize Ann in my own work, or find other writings by her very quickly. Each document has been typed in, not scanned, so the original look and feel of the document have not been preserved. For some projects, using the database to identify important records and where to find hard copies of them in physical archives would also be a valuable use. The showcase button does contain scanned images of items that may be of interest which highlight the many different resources available in the collection.

Social Sciences

February 9, 2007

Databases can contain a variety of data, which can be displayed in different ways. Anytime location is important to your question, one option for displaying this data is in map form. Any number of factors, such as age, sex, employment, and transportation can be displayed as a function of location. Organizing information in different ways, by arranging tables differently, creating charts, or looking at maps, can be a good way to notice an interesting trend or think about a new angle for approaching a question.

Using visual ways to approach information can also be a very effective teaching tool because some people learn better that way. It can spark students to ask questions of their own as well, and can be very effective for group projects.


February 1, 2007

To begin, I looked at a selection from Lynn Festa’s 2006 work Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France. In chapters 2 and 3, she looks at the sentimental item through Sterne’s story A Sentimental Journey and through object narratives, or stories told from the perspective of an object such as a pin or a rupee. Looking at the way the argument was structured, I don’t believe a database was used. She focused primarily on using several major stories to illustrate her points, as opposed to looking for connections between different stories of the genre. The object narrative was a niche type of story which was popular during the 18th century, so perhaps there are few enough examples that Festa could work with them without using a database. A database would have allowed connections between elements of the story to be compared more easily. For example, perhaps all of the objects passed through the same location or met the same types of characters. A database would make those kinds of connections easy to identify. For this type of piece, it would make questions about common elements in these stories much easier to assess.

Jill Lepore’s New York Burning would have been incredibly difficult without using a database. She created records for almost 700 people mentioned in a contemporary book about the trial of New Yorkers accused of conspiring to burn the city. Lepore situated these people within the city, using newspaper records of runaway slaves and tax rolls. She tracked the statements people made during the trial, and the outcome for each accused person. She also was able to use a digital map to place some of the more important people within the city, to see the routes they would take and identify the places and people they might meet on a regular basis. She also included a text version of two of her databases, which would allow readers to see her evidence and perhaps find different questions to ask about the information. Using a database and a digital map, tracking the connections between people became a much easier process, and allowed her to speak with a great deal of authority.

I would like to digitize some newspaper sources. It seems like newspapers have been digitized in varying ways. Some have chosen to type everything in and make it completely searchable, while other sites have chosen to allow only specific keywords to be searchable. Some search engines are more user friendly, searching more broadly, while others are very specific. Some of these do not give you any idea of how the article or advertisement actually looked in the newspaper, completely reducing them to modern font on a white screen.

Historical Narrative

January 23, 2007

Modernity –

In The Birth of the Modern World, C.A. Bayly creates a thematic world history covering 1780-1914. One of the most important questions, then, is what he means by modernity. Bayly lays out a brief historiography of the term, using traditional academic conventions in form and tone. He then lays out his own usage of the term with examples to illustrate his meanings. While the format of Bayly’s writing gives it an authority, it is very difficult to dig deeper into his meanings or quickly find any of his sources for yourself. The footnotes give only traditional bibliographic details, and even an excellent library may not contain all of the works cited. This is situated very much in a reader position, where any further engagement with the text would require action on the part of the reader to find other readers for discussion or other works to place it in dialogue with.

The wikipedia article for modernity is relatively sparce. Although scholarly in tone, the knowledge that anyone can edit this information takes away from the authority of source. However, it also encourages you to engage with the material more actively, and to think very critically about the information being presented. Also, the knowledge that you could edit the article also encourages moer active engagment. The article cites only one source, which, while recent, does not seem to have a great deal to do with the topic. The article spends as much time discussing characteristics or paradoxes of modernity as it does the actual meaning of the term. WHile it contains only 2 footnotes, the text does contain a large number of hyperlinks to other wikipedia article, and in parts strongly encourages the reader to follow them. In this way, the text feels more tightly connected to other pieces of information and a broader number of concepts. It allows you to focus on one particular aspect of the topic very easily, and obtain more specialized responses very quickly, which makes it easier to place the ideas into a number of different contexts. Unlike many other wikipedia articles, this one contained no visuals, and did not take advantage of the graphic elements of the web in any way.

An Encyclopedia Britannica search for modernity turned up 155 hits. I read in depth through the 23 page article on modernization, which in many ways seemed to bridge the gap betwee the first two examples. It contained the authority of a scholarly source, while providing some hyperlinks to other texts, allowing the reader to easily follow up on unfamiliar terms or investigate other areas of the debate. THe Encyclopedia also offers links for additional reading on related topics, and also provided a way to give feedback. Ussing the “Comments or Suggestions” link, the reader is given a form to make changes directly to the text, explain their changes, categorize them, and submit it for approval. This easy to find link encourages the reader to think more critically about what they are reading, with the knowledge that any suggestions made are reviewed by staffers for accuracy and relevance. The article did not contain any images. The Encyclopedia chose to include in-depth many elements of a modern society such as urban lifestyle and the modern family. THese elements were expanded on in various chapters of the book in more detail, and links off of the wikipedia article. However, the sidebar does allow you to select a section of the article in much the same way that a traditional book does.

A google search for “Modernity” turned up 10,500,000 hits, an almost unfathomable number (and one that suggests the search cut itself off at a certain point leading to that nice round number). Clicking on the definition link provided by google took me to Ask.com which gave me a brief one sentence definition from two different sources and provided the same wikipedia article from before. Wikipedia was also the top suggestion in the google search engine. Clicking through the links on the first page sent me to university sites, Project Muse, discussions of art and architecture, and a business offering 20th century Scandinavian design. While Google offers no guidance to get throught his overwhleming litany of answers, it does provide a number of different meanings for the term, which an encourage the reader to think about the different ways it might be used. However, this could also be discouraging for a reader who was unfamiliar with the term. It encourages engaging with the ideas in a different way. A google image search returns 28,600 works with titles or keywords about modernity, which again encourages thinking about other dimensions of the idea. Google Video returns 66 hits, mostly lectures by different academics.

Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica both impose a type of narrative structure on modernity, giving to information in the terms of beginnings and endings. These entries contained the same scholarly tone of the book. However, through the use of hyperlinks, they did encourage the reader to think about elements of modernity in different ways, by allowing easier focus on specific parts and providing forums for feedback and continued engagement with the material. They could have gone even further with forums, images, or other ways to foster discussion. The Google search allows a reader to get a sense of the many different meanings that could be attached to modernity, and come across new ideas which could spark their own thinking. However, without some idea of what the concept already was and which parts interested them, they would have a difficult time getting anything useful from their search. Google provides a number of slices of information, without any structure imposed on them.

Website Evaluation

January 22, 2007

Review –

Do History (http://www.dohistory.org) DoHistory was developed and maintained by the Film Study Center (http://www.filmstudycenter.org/) at Harvard University and is hosted and maintained by the Center for History and New Media (http://chnm.gmu.edu/) George Mason University. Copy write 2000. Reviewed January 16, 2007.

Do History is primarily a website designed to illustrate the process of historical inquiry for people, through Laura Thatcher Ulrich’s work on A Midwife’s Tale. Aimed at non-historians, it hopes to attract people with a wide range of interests, including Martha Ballard, genealogy, midwifery and herbal medicines, diaries, using primary sources, and historical films. It also has suggestions for using this information into a classroom, with some suggested activities and age-appropriate themes.

As such, this website is designed rather simply, with easy to read pages and numerous cross-links between various parts of the site. It balances explanatory text nicely with images, maps, and primary source materials. Thus, it is relatively easy for both people with specific interests and those with little general knowledge to find what interests them.

While the appearance is relatively simple, the creators took a great deal of care in building the site. Every single page of Martha Ballard’s diary was carefully scanned in, with the text enhanced where it was faded, so more serious scholars can engage in their own research. From the diary page, visitors can click on a plain text version of her diary, carefully transcribed for those uninterested in decoding 18th century handwriting. Several activities were included so that more casual visitors could also engage with her diary. A Java Applet called Magic Lens allows visitors to practice reading her handwriting by dragging a box over her writing to reveal the text written beneath. Another section allows visitors to transcribe her writing into text boxes and check their accuracy, while a third goes to a busier page to explain her notation system.

Keeping with their accessible theme, the diary can be browsed by date or searched by keyword. For students or with specific interests, a number of specific stories or themes have been pulled out for easier navigation. Another classroom tailored activity is the presentation of two specific stories using Martha Ballard’s diary and more tradition primary sources such as men’s diaries and town records. Evidence for two distinct stories is presented which can be viewed in sequence or by switching between perspectives. While slightly artificial, this is an excellent example for non-specialists in what historians actually do, and the many challenges and rewards of piecing together historical events.

Do History has sections written to encourage people to investigate their own genealogy or family diaries. These are written at an accessible level, with hints on starting a research project or conducting oral histories that are encouraging and upbeat.

The book by Laura Thatcher Ulrich and the subsequent movie are the subject of another large section of the website. This section, while feeling a bit haphazard, also has some useful information. While the average student or casual visitor would not be interested in reading Ulrich’s grant application for the research project, it is an interesting read for graduate students looking for examples. The interview with the author, however, would have broader appeal, as would the behind the scenes perspective on making a historical movie. Both flow rather like the extra-features on a DVD, and are presented in an engaging, readable manner. Large sections of her A Midwife’s Tale are available from the website, which is an extremely nice feature as well.

Overall, while this is not the flashiest website out there, when technology is used it is useful, not gimmicky. The web designers made accessibility their overarching theme, with easy navigation, clear writing, and numerous opportunities to engage with the primary source. There is plenty of guidance for the more casual user, while historians can dig into the material themselves or find useful models for their own work.