Blog Post #13: What is Digital History?

What is Digital History?

Ayers, Edward L. “The Pasts and Futures of Digital History.” Virginia Center for Digital History. 1999. http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/PastsFutures.html (accessed April 18, 2016).

In the article from 1999, Ayers encourages historians to take advantage of digital tools to further their work. Ayers points out, “Digital history could be both a catalyst and a tool in the creation of a more literary kind of history.” Ayers challenges historians to develop hypertextual narratives that allow “dynamically interlinked text on an electronic screen.” Ayers explains that, “Such a medium would offer new ways of making arguments and associations, of arraying evidence and documenting our assertions. It would offer layered or branching or interweaving narratives, or deep and dynamic annotation and indexing. It would permit us to embed narratives in shared networks of communication so that references, connections, and commentaries grow and change. It would hold out a new aesthetics of historical narrative.” The article from Ayers was groundbreaking because he anticipated the opportunities offered by digital history before it became prevalent.

Cohen, Daniel J. Michael Frisch, Patrick Gallagher, Steven Mintz, Kirsten Sword, Amy Murrell Taylor, William G. Thomas, III and William J. Turkel. Interchange: The Promise of Digital History. The Journal of American History. Vol. 95, No. 2 (Sept 2008): 452-491.

In the exchange, the various authors attempt to define digital history. William G. Thomas III defines it as “an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the Internet network, and software systems.” William J. Turkel emphasizes that “Digital history makes use of sources in digital form.” Daniel J. Cohen describes digital history  as “the theory and practice of bringing technology to bear on the abundance we now confront.” Meanwhile, Steven Mintz does not openly define digital history. Instead, he describes the different stages of it, from Stage 1.0 to Stage 4.0. Kirsten Sword discusses the “three heads” of digital history-New Archives/New Inquiry, Audience, and Collaboration. Michael Frisch first admits that he does not consider himself to be a digital historian, but he calls himself a “working historian with a tool orientation.” Interestingly, Frisch adds, “I’m skeptical of the lasting value of ‘digital history’ as a term. It either will end up meaning too much or too little and pretty soon will be so inescapable (in twenty years, will anyone do professional work in history without involving what we’re talking about?) as to provide little purchase on anything specific enough for a course, workshop, or blog.” Meanwhile, Amy Murrell Taylor claims that “the most coveted skill is simply thinking: thinking in bold and creative ways about how this technology can serve the interests of history, thinking about how students can create a truly ‘new’ history as a result.” The exchange is intriguing because it indicates the different ways scholars define and understand digital history.

Cohen, Daniel J. and Roy Rosenzweig. “Introduction: Promises and Perils of Digital History.” in Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. 2005. http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/index.php (accessed April 18, 2016).

Cohen and Rosenzweig acquaint readers with the promises and perils of “doing” digital history. In Promises and Perils of Digital History, the authors pinpoint some advantages for historians who choose to take part in the world of digital media. According to Cohen and Rosenzweig, the benefits of such an undertaking pertain to capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, manipulability, interactivity, and hypertextuality. Cohen and Rosenzweig also discuss five dangers digital historians face concerning issues with quality, durability, readability, passivity, and inaccessibility. There are promises and perils in every field. Being overly concerned with the possible pitfalls of digital history might unnecessarily deter historians from embracing innovative approaches or perceiving new ways to explore history.

Seefeldt, Douglas and William G. Thomas III. “What is Digital History?” AHA Perspectives on History. May 2009. https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/may-2009/intersections-history-and-new-media/what-is-digital-history (accessed April 18, 2016).

In an article called “What is Digital History?” Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas III describe digital history as “an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems.” They further explain that digital history is meant to “create a framework through technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a major historical problem.” The article reiterates the ideas of Roy Rosenzweig concerning the present and future of digital history. As Rosenzweig pointed out, digital history invites both students and the public to take part in the process. As the article indicates, digital history entails the integration of research, education, and public outreach.

Thomas III, William G. “What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology.” December 2014. http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=1159 (accessed April 18, 2016).

In “What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology,” William G. Thomas discusses various definitions of digital scholarship and how to categorize digital scholarship. Thomas also suggests a typology for digital scholarship in the humanities. Thomas explains that he is not attempting to “exclude or restrict the definition of digital scholarship. Indeed, I hope these definitions might provoke some further discussion about how to undertake reviews of digital scholarship.” His categories are Interactive Scholarly Works, Digital Projects or Thematic Research Collections, and Digital Narratives. Interactive Scholarly Works are amalgams of archival information and digital tool components. Like Interactive Scholarly Works, Digital Projects or Thematic Research Collections combine digital tools and archival materials and frame them around a “historiographically significant or critical problem.” Digital Narratives are born-digital, and “feature a work of scholarly interpretation or argument embedded within layers of evidence and citation. They do not and presumably cannot exist in analog fashion. They may be multimodal, multi-authored, and user-directed.” The article points out various ways historians can approach digital history.

What is Spatial History?

Thomas III, William G. “Is the Future of Digital History Spatial History?” University of Virginia. Newberry Library Historical GIS Conference. March 2004.

In the 2004 article, Thomas discusses the diversity of expression found on the World Wide Web. He also mentions the work of Janet Murray in which she describes four key criteria for successful digital narrative. According to Murray, the work must be participatory, procedural, encyclopedic, and spatial. Like Murray, Thomas advocates “ever more expressive narrative landscapes.” He discusses such narrative landscapes like the work in spatial history by Paul Carter called The Road to Botany Bay: An Exploration of Landscape and History. The article includes Carter’s definition of Spatial History, “Spatial history, according to Carter, does not go confidently forward. It does not organize its subject matter into a nationalist enterprise. It advances exploratively, even metaphorically, recognizing that the future is invented. Going back, it questions the assumptions that the past has been settled once and for all. It undermines the empirical stability of roads and buildings. It runs the risk of becoming as intangible as distant views. Its objects are intentions and, suggesting the plurality of historical directions, it constantly risks escaping into poetry, biography, or a form of immaterialism positivists might think nihilistic. After all, what can you do with a horizon?” Thomas further claims that, “All space is invented, constituted by the traveler.” According to Thomas, “Spatial history, then, has several characteristics. It seeks most of all to recover contingency in its depiction of the past. It attempts to achieve multiple perspectives in its story and to break down the hegemony of linear narrative. And it has served mostly to advance post-structuralist, and to a lesser degree post-modern, criticism from critical legal studies to post-colonialists. Spatial history rejects the positivism of empirical approaches.” Finally, Thomas asserts that, “The goal of these scholars is to spatialize history not to historicize space.”

White, Richard. “What is Spatial History?” Stanford University Spatial History Lab. February 2010. http://web.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=29 (accessed April 18, 2016).

In an article called “What is Spatial History?” by historian Richard White, the author claims that The Spatial History Project at Stanford is part of a recent spatial turn in history.  White seems to define spatial history as the study of the movement of people and goods across time and space. White discusses the ways in which the Spatial History Lab encourages collaboration between “historians, graduate students and undergraduates, geographers, GIS and visualization specialists, data base architects, and computer scientists.” White goes on to define digital history as simply using computers for historical research. He further defines it by saying digital history “allows the exploitation of kinds of evidence and data bases that would be too opaque or too unwieldy to use without computers.  It is all the stuff that we cannot narrate, or at least narrate without losing our audience.” In this article, White explains the importance of digital history. He claims that a spatial turn in history has developed that focuses on collaborative efforts and digital visualizations. He defines digital history as using computers to further digital research. White asserts that spatial history’s focus on movement and visualizations allow for new ways to explore history.

 

Blog Post #12: Writing & Reviewing History in the Digital Age Bibliography.

On Writing in Public/Peer to Peer Review

Dougherty, Jack and Kristen Nawrotzki, Eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013.

In the volume of essays, various historians address the ways in which the digital revolution has transformed the way they write about, think, teach, and publish history. The essays are in book and electronic forms. The book seeks to explain and embody the promise of digital history. The book’s arguments pertain to “rethinking how we academics create and share knowledge, particularly in history and other humanities fields that have been relatively slow to embrace change in this new era of digital tools and publishing.” The editors also ask, “Could technology help us to create a more intellectually collaborative volume, with a more transparent process, in a relatively shorter period of time? And if so, would it produce a better book?” Dougherty and Nawrotzki calls the open access “born digital” book an experiment to show the radically different ways that historians could approach publishing. The book also underwent an open peer review in order to encourage engagement on the topic concerning what “good writing” means in history. Part Five is particularly relevant to my research due its focus on visualizations and spatial dynamics.

Gold, Matthew K. Ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

The 2012 book is divided into six parts that pertain to defining, theorizing, critiquing, practicing, teaching, and envisioning the digital humanities. The book is valuable as a handbook for anyone who is interested in delving into the world of digital humanities. Throughout the book, the authors attempt to define digital humanities and the role of digital humanists. The book contains at least thirty definitions for digital humanities. In his essay, Matthew Kirschenbaum claims that Wikipedia’s definition of digital humanities is as good as any that he has seen. Wikipedia calls digital humanities “a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities.” Wikipedia goes on to describe it as “methodological” and “interdisciplinary”. While some may scoff at deriving information from Wikipedia, it is interesting to note that the site itself adheres to the goals of digital humanities, which is to engage with the public in a transparent, interdisciplinary, and collaborative way. Kathleen Fitzpatrick defines digital humanities as “a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities.” Meanwhile, Lisa Spiro cautions against attempts to “pigeonhole” digital humanities by defining it. Instead of concentrating on a definition, she focuses on the “values” of digital humanities, such as public involvement, collaboration, and transparency. While the authors seem unable to give a succinct definition for digital humanities, the characteristics are discussed repeatedly. According to several of the essays in the book, collaboration, transparency, interdisciplinarity, experimentation, and public engagement are all essential aspects of digital humanities.  The book depicts digital humanists as the hippies of the humanities world. In such an interdisciplinary and collaborative field, making connections and building a sense of community seems to come naturally. Digital humanists are eager to exchange ideas and they often seek out different skills, projects, and viewpoints.

Graham, Shawn, Ian Milligan, Scott Weingart. The Historian’s Macroscope. Under contract with Imperial College Press. Open Draft Version, Autumn 2013, http://themacroscope.org

The authors Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart are all professors who specialize in the digital humanities. The book explains that while a microscope hones in on the very small, a macroscope is a tool for looking at very large data. While microhistories examine a single story or moment in history, a microhistory analyzes long term trends. For its embrace of the longue duree, the book reminds me of The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage. Graham, Milligan, and Weingart argue that historians must be able to study both the micro and the macro aspects of history. Throughout the book, the authors focus on the opportunities and the implications of being a historian in the “Era of Big Data”. The book is intended for anyone who wants to “turn the macroscope on their own research”. The book is divided into three parts. Chapter One and Chapter Two make up the first section of the book. Chapter One familiarizes the reader with the historical context of the Big Data Era. Chapter Two focuses on defining “Digital Humanities” and providing an overview of key terms. The second section of the book includes Chapter Three and Chapter Four. Chapter Three discusses hands on tools that historians can use in their research. The chapters touch upon data mining, word clouds, and topic modeling. Chapter Four is quite hands on and walks the reader through topic modeling sources. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven make up the third part of the book. The final chapters emphasize network analysis and describes the ways to effectively use interactive visualizations. The structure of the book is effective because it first introduces the reader to the historiography and the historical context of digital humanities before then challenging the reader to use simple tools such as word clouds, and finally the book discusses ways to properly create more complex interactive visualizations.

On Methodological Transparency

Blevins, Cameron. “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston.” an online supplement to “Space, Nation and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World of Houston.” Journal of American History, Volume 101 (June 2014): 122-147.

In the article, Blevins signifies the emergence of the methods essay, or the “metagraph,” as a supplement to print articles with a digital component. The publication of a metagraph promotes transparency because of its focus on methodological accountability. Due to the the increased prominence of digital history, the issue of transparency and openness in historical scholarship only becomes more important as time goes on. The online supplement to the essay, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston,” is included in a Journal of American History series called “Metagraph” that reviews books and original JAH articles with digital components. In the online supplement to his essay, Blevins describes his project’s methodology. Additionally, Blevins uses the metagraph to address his issues, such as working with flawed digital newspapers, sources Blevins describes as “inherently messy”. Blevins further explains in his metagraph that newspapers “often resemble a jumbled bag of mistake-ridden words as much as neatly segmented columns of text.” Alas, drawing meaning from flawed sources is what historians must often do. In the metagraph, Blevins undertakes the sort of “methodological transparency” Gibbs and Owens promote in “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing.” in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age.

Gibbs, Frederick W. and Trevor Owens. “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing.” in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. University of Michigan Press. Trinity College (CT) web-book edition, Spring 2012, http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu

In their 2012 essay, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing,” Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor Owens argue for methodological transparency in historical writing. Gibbs and Owens claim that openness is an ethos of the humanities. For that reason, the methodology must be clearly explained. While humanists are often wary of data manipulation, the authors explain, “One way of reducing hostility to data and its manipulation is to lay bare whatever manipulations have led to some historical insight.”

On Digital History Reviews

Blevins, Cameron. “The New Wave of Reviews.” CameronBlevins.org. March 16, 2016 http://www.cameronblevins.org/posts/the-new-wave-of-review (accessed April 11, 2016).

Blevins claims that there are three different kinds of digital history reviews. Blevins explains that digital history projects fall under pedagogy and public engagement, academic scholarship, and data and design criticism. Most digital history reviews pertain to public engagement and pedagogy. However, Blevins admits to being unsatisfied with the three kinds of digital history reviews as they all have shortcomings. In his blog, Blevins states the reasons for the frustrations. Blevins asks thought provoking questions such as, “Does a digital history project fundamentally change how we understand a particular topic? How does it fit within the existing literature about this subject? What are a project’s methodological strengths or flaws specifically in relation to the project’s historical contributions?” The blog concludes with Blevins stating, “I’m calling for digital historians to seize and shape the current wave of review…we need to more substantively evaluate the work of our peers…and critique each other’s work not just in terms of public engagement and pedagogy or data and design, but in terms of new historical knowledge, insight, and interpretations that these projects contribute to the field.” The blog and the recent review work of Blevins indicates an increased interest in digital history reviews.

Cohen, Deborah, Peter Mandler, Jo Guldi, and David Armitage. “AHR Exchange: The History Manifesto.” The American Historical Review (2015) 120 (2): 527-554. https://www.historians.org/Documents/AHR_Exchange.pdf

In their book, the authors Guldi and Armitage claim that modern historians are currently too enamored with micro-histories to solve long term issues. In their book, Guldi and Armitage evoke the spirit of Braudel with their discussion of time and their embrace of the longue-duree. They argue that the scholarly world is inundated with short term studies that focus on local experiences, race, and class. According to the authors, society is “hungry” for “long term thinking”. The authors reproach historians for their supposed retreat from the longue-duree and they ask that historians return to the study of complex issues such as famine, drought, poverty, and political matters. After the book was written, the American Historical Review included a scholarly exchange about the book’s assertions. In the exchange, Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler take issue with many of Guldi and Armitage’s statements. They question the book’s arguments and lack of evidence pertaining to the retreat of the longue-duree. They challenge the book’s assumptions about the historian’s role as keepers of big data, and they accuse Guldi and Armitage of narrowing the public role of historians. Ultimately, Cohen and Mandler claim that Guldi and Armitage cherry-pick data from doctoral dissertations and other sources to support their arguments about the retreat of the longue-duree. In the American Historical Review exchange, Guldi and Armitage respond to the criticisms of Cohen and Mandler. They defend their assertions and their data. They also explain that The History Manifesto’s central argument concerns the fact that “major institutions that shape most people’s lives, most of the time—governments, corporations, NGOs, international agencies, and the like—often lack a sense of history and do not engage the expertise of historians as they gather information, formulate policy, or make far-reaching decisions.” That is why they challenge historians to shift their focus from short term narratives in order to take on larger topics. They argue that the longue-duree approach can be used by historians to address pressing, long term concerns of our time such as climate change.

Georgini, Sara. “Reviewing Digital History.” The Junto. January 20, 2015. https://earlyamericanists.com/2015/01/20/reviewing-digital-history (accessed April 11, 2016).

In the interview, The Junto discusses reviewing digital history with Dr. Jeffrey W. McClurken, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington. McClurken is Contributing Editor for Digital History Reviews, Journal of American History. McClurken points out the complexities of doing digital history reviews. For one, the work is usually ongoing; it changes and evolves. There is often no “final version”. Also, there is not usually one creator; most works are collaborative. McClurken argues that it important to identify everyone’s role and contribution to a digital project. In the interview, McClurken also helpfully states to digital historians in order to motivate them, “One of the mistakes is not starting at all, because you think it’s going to be too complicated. Some of the technical pieces may be too complicated—at first. But it’s important to dive in, pilot projects, and do digital work in small batches.” He also claims that it is okay to make mistakes as that is part of the learning process.

Lichtenstein, Alex, Joshua Sternfeld, Stephen Robertson, Natalie A. Zacek, and Vincent Brown, “AHR Exchange: Reviewing Digital History.” American Historical Review, Vol. 121, No. 1, (February 2016): 140-187.

In the exchange’s introduction, the editor Alex Lichtenstein discusses the current lack of digital history review sites and explains that the AHR had not included digital history in their review section in the past because they had no “comparable procedure for receiving and combing through digital scholarship for review.” In the exchange, the AHR hopes to remedy that exclusion by reviewing two digital history projects: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915–1930  and Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760–1761: A Cartographic Narrative. In the article, the creators of the digital history projects were also given the chance to respond to the reviews. The responses from the project creators gave the digital editors the chance to defend their methods and to explain their interpretations of their topics. The reviewers evaluated the digital history projects based on presentation, legibility, organization, historiography, research, and interpretation.

In the AHR article, Joshua Sternfeld reviewed Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930. Digital Harlem examines criminal records and places them onto an interactive map of Harlem to reveal the lives of ordinary African Americans in Harlem. Sternfield’s review points out the strengths and weaknesses of Digital Harlem. For one, he states that the site “reinforces a racialized perception of black, predominantly male, criminality.” Instead of exploring everyday life in Harlem, he claims that the site primarily reflects daily criminal activities in the community. Ultimately, Sternfeld concludes, “Trying to be equal parts sociological and historical case study, Digital Harlem winds up doing neither effectively.” In his response, Stephen Robertson attempts to address the weaknesses identified by Sternfeld. Robertson explains that many of the weaknesses stems from decisions he and his team made early in the project’s design stage. He also claims that Sternfeld misreads the site’s maps and misunderstands some of the site’s goals. He also accuses Sternfeld of oversimplifying the sources from Digital Harlem when he asserts that the site is too focused on data related to crime.

The AHR exchange also includes Natalie Zacek’s review of Vincent Brown’s Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative. Zacek recognizes the site for including a plethora of text and images and for making the vast information available to the public. At the same time, Zecek faults the site because “the site does not currently allow a viewer to map the locations from which slaves escaped, or those to which they were believed to have fled; nor does it present an argument about broader patterns in the experiences of fugitive slaves over the century, or at any point therein.” Ultimately, Zacek calls Slave Revolt in Jamaica “essential reading not only for historians who are interested in the Caribbean, slavery, or military strategy, but for anyone who would like to learn more about how digital tools can contribute to the humanities, and about how she or he might engage with a form of inquiry that has much to offer in relation to the advancement of historical understanding.” In Vincent Brown’s response to Zacek’s review, Brown highlights the exciting opportunities that converged media offer to the academic world and the public. He also further explains his site’s purpose and aims. The exchanges in the recent AHR journal indicates just how important reviews of Digital Humanities projects in scholarly journals are to the development of Digital Humanities as a field. Reviews of digital projects not only hold creators accountable for their work, they also allow the project creators to address issues with interpretation, argument, sources, and design. Reviews can also increase traffic to the sites and give the projects scholarly credibility. Reviews of digital history projects are necessary in order for the projects to be taken seriously as academic works.

McClurken Jeffrey W. Organization of American Historians. “OAH/JAH Guidelines for Digital History Reviews.” Journal of American History. http://jah.oah.org/submit/digital-history-reviews (accessed April 11, 2016).

McClurken states that digital history reviews have specific features. The guidelines set forth by the Journal of American History provide specific suggestions for reviewing digital history. While digital history projects share a common medium, they are diverse in their character and their aims. McClurken states that, “Reviewers need to keep that diversity in mind and to evaluate them on their own terms.” Most projects fall under the genre of archives, electronic essay/exhibit, or teaching resource. There are also those that act as tools, gateways, journals, organizations, or virtual communities. McClurken points out that an archival site should be evaluated on the quality of the materials and the care with which they have been organized, the ease of navigation, and its usefulness to teachers, students, and scholars. One must ask, “How comprehensive is the archive? Are there biases in what has been included or excluded? Does the archive, in effect, offer a point of view or interpretation?” As with other types of reviews, the digital reviewer provides information to readers concerning the usefulness of the site in its teaching or scholarship. At the same time, reviewers participate “in a community of critical discourse”. In summary, most reviews will address the following four areas:  Content: Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretation or point of view? Form: Is it clear? Easy to navigate? Does it function effectively? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? Does it have a coherent structure? Audience/Use: Is it directed at a clear audience? Will it serve the needs of that audience? New Media: Does it make effective use of new media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media—print, exhibition, film? As in a scholarly book review, digital reviewers speak both to potential readers and to producers of similar work.

Blog Post #11: History and GIS Bibliography

History and GIS

Cunfer, Geoff. “Scaling the Dustbowl.” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Knowles, Anne Kelly and Amy Hillier. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.

In Chapter 4 of the book, Geoff Cunfer explains how GIS technology enables researchers to answer historical questions concerning the causes of the Dust Bowl by using extensive county by county agricultural data, weather information, personal accounts, and newspaper articles as evidence. Cunfer challenges Donald Worster’s analysis in Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s. Cunfer supports some of Worster’s arguments, but he disagrees with Worster’s assertion that over development of lands for farming was a major cause of the 1930s dust storms. Cunfer uses spatial analysis to indicate that, even though plowing in the 1920s contributed to the Dust Bowl, it was instances of drought that had more of an impact.

Knowles, Anne Kelly. “GIS and History.” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Knowles, Anne Kelly and Amy Hillier. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.

In the first chapter of the book, Anne Kelly Knowles explains the ways that GIS is changing historical research and engagement. She also discusses the advantages and disadvantages of using GIS. She claims that GIS is a “superb tool for mapping and geographically analyzing census data, social surveys, and other kinds of systematically collected information linked to known geographical units and locations.”  However, Knowles also points out that the precision of GIS makes it an “awkward instrument” for historical research. Secondly, Knowles also notes that GIS is problematic for historians because of its visual and mathematical characteristics. Historians do not easily accept visual images as sources of evidence, and they are not overly interested in the quantitative methods that were so heavily featured in the short-lived Cliometrics turn of the 1970s.

Knowles, Anne Kelly. “What Could Lee See at Gettysburg?” In Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Edited by Knowles, Anne Kelly and Amy Hillier. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.

Anne Kelly Knowles has been called a pioneer for her examination of the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg during the Civil War. In the digital project, geographic information and other historical data come together to recreate Robert E. Lee’s point of view during Pickett’s Charge on the last day of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. Knowles uses GIS and historical maps to find out why he made he made crucial mistakes that led to their defeat that day. Scholars have long debated Lee’s frontal assault at Gettysburg. The traditional explanation, favored in particular by Lee admirers, is that his subordinate, General James Longstreet, failed to properly obey orders. Knowles’ digital representation of the battlefield indicates that Lee could not see what Longstreet was doing and he did not have a clear view of Union tactics. Longstreet, meanwhile, saw what Lee could not- Union troops were amassed in clear sight of open terrain he had been ordered to march across. The GIS software, historic maps, and visualizations indicate ways that digital history can be used to investigate and reimagine the past.

Travis, Charles. “GIS and History: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections.” In History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections. Edited by Von Lünen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing, 2012.

In Chapter 12 of History and GIS, Travis gives a sort of in depth historiography of GIS and Spatial history. He compares GIS methodologies to the magic of the telescope and the magnifying glass. He also indicates that GIS can bridge the gap between history and geography. In the essay, he discusses at length the origins of Western geographical practice, Postmodern cartography and geography, and ways in which GIS is being used to “write” spatial history.

Von Lunen, Alexander and and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. “Immobile History: An Interview with Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie.” In History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections. Edited by Von Lünen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing, 2012.

In the interview, Ladurie talks about his influences and interests in history, computation, and geography. At one point, Ladurie says, “I would have loved to do more with computers myself, but when I started my work we didn’t even have programmable computers, just calculating machines. Nowadays all the historians have computers and laptops, but they don’t use them in their research really.” He recounts his early interests in quantitative methods and explains the source of his interest in microhistories. At the same time, he explains the importance of collaboration by pointing out that he relied on a team of researchers, computer professionals, and students throughout his career.

Von Lunen, Alexander and Gunnar Olsson. “‘Thou Shalt Make No Graven Maps!’: An Interview with Gunnar Olsson.’” In History and GIS: Epistemologies, Considerations, and Reflections. Edited by Von Lünen, Alexander and Travis, Charles. Dordrecht: Springer Publishing, 2012.

In the interview, Von Lunen speaks with prominent Swedish geographer Gunnar Olsson about cartography, GIS, and the “power of imagination” in history and geography. Olsson and Von Lunen discuss ways in which art and history are similar. They also discuss how the “quantitative revolution” tried to capture and describe social interaction, but the results really captured spatial distribution.

Blog Post #10: The Metagraph

blevins_second-map

A map from Cameron Blevins’ online supplement to the essay, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston”.

 

This week, my History in the Digital Age class explored the emergence of the methods essay, or the “metagraph,” as a supplement to print articles with a digital component. The publication of a metagraph promotes transparency because of its focus on methodological accountability. Due to the the increased prominence of digital history, the issue of transparency and openness in historical scholarship only becomes more important as time goes on.

In their 2012 article, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing,” Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor Owens argue for methodological transparency in historical writing. Gibbs and Owens claim that openness is an ethos of the humanities. For that reason, the methodology must be clearly explained. While humanists are often wary of data manipulation, the authors explain, “One way of reducing hostility to data and its manipulation is to lay bare whatever manipulations have led to some historical insight.”

Historian Cameron Blevins took on the challenge of Owens and Gibbs to “publicly experiment with ways of presenting their methodologies, procedures, and experiences with historical data”.  In a June 2014 article called “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston,” Blevins indicates how newspapers in Houston, Texas (The Houston Daily Post and the Telegraph and Texas Register) created an imagined geography in Texas and beyond during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. By comparing the two newspapers, Blevins shows how new technologies can help historians understand the historical production of space and place. The online supplement to the essay, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston,” is included in a Journal of American History series called “Metagraph” that reviews books and original JAH articles with digital components. In the online supplement to his essay, Blevins describes his project’s methodology. Additionally, Blevins uses the metagraph to address his issues, such as working with flawed digital newspapers, sources Blevins describes as “inherently messy”. Blevins further explains in his metagraph that newspapers “often resemble a jumbled bag of mistake-ridden words as much as neatly segmented columns of text.” Alas, drawing meaning from flawed sources is what historians must often do. In the metagraph, Blevins undertakes the sort of “methodological transparency” Gibbs and Owens promote.

After pondering the review of the Stephen Robertson’s Digital Harlem by Joshua Sternfeld from the February 2016 volume of the America Historical Review, it seems that a “metagraph” approach could have been a useful addition to the Digital Harlem project. Had Robertson and the Digital Harlem team published an online supplement like Blevins, they could have clarified some of the project’s goals, methods, and outcomes. That transparency might have enabled them to avoid some of the criticisms and misunderstandings concerning the project.

Digital history projects benefit greatly from reviews. The sort of feedback they provide is necessary in order for digital projects to be taken seriously as scholarly works. At the same time, digital historians seek accountability and deserve a chance to either deflect or address critical reviews of their work. The benefits of such an approach outweigh the costs. If reviewers explore the online supplement to an essay or project before submitting a review, they gain a better understanding of a project’s methodology and objectives. That, in turn, enables authors to provide more helpful and accurate feedback in their reviews.

Sources:

Cameron Blevins, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston,” (Links to an external site.) an online supplement to “Space, Nation and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World of Houston,” Journal of American History, Volume 101 (June 2014): 122-147.

Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing,” (Links to an external site.) in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. University of Michigan Press. Trinity College (CT) web-book edition, Spring 2012, http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu

Blog Post #9: AHR Exchange on Reviewing Digital History

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This week, our class was asked to look at the latest issue of the American Historical Review (February 2016) for an AHR exchange about reviewing digital history. In the exchange’s introduction, the editor Alex Lichtenstein discusses the current lack of digital history review sites and explains that the AHR had not included digital history in their review section in the past because they had no “comparable procedure for receiving and combing through digital scholarship for review.” In the exchange, the AHR hopes to remedy that exclusion by reviewing two digital history projects: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915–1930  and Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760–1761: A Cartographic Narrative. In the article, the creators of the digital history projects were also given the chance to respond to the reviews. The responses from the project creators gave the digital editors the chance to defend their methods and to explain their interpretations of their topics. The reviewers evaluated the digital history projects based on presentation, legibility, organization, historiography, research, and interpretation. Additionally, they were asked to “evaluate the effectiveness of the medium as well as the message.”

In the AHR article, Joshua Sternfeld reviewed Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930. Digital Harlem examines criminal records and places them onto an interactive map of Harlem to reveal the lives of ordinary African Americans in Harlem. Sternfield’s review points out the strengths and weaknesses of Digital Harlem. He praises the site’s endless possibilities pertaining to the number of possible searches a user could make on the site. However, Sternfeld finds fault in the “open-ended nature” of Digital Harlem and blames it for limiting the site’s overall effectiveness. He approves of the site’s analysis of parades, beauty parlors, and churches as important features of social life in Harlem, but he points out the limitations of the arguments made by the site’s creators pertaining to the significance of basketball and athletic clubs in Harlem in the 1920s. Because of the scant evidence on the site concerning basketball games, Sternfeld claims that, “Someone searching for all basketball games recorded in Digital Harlem could easily draw the wrong conclusion that the sport was not popular in 1920s Harlem.” Sternfeld finds a number of issues with the site’s method of data entry due to its lack of consistency. Furthermore, he states that the site “reinforces a racialized perception of black, predominantly male, criminality.” Instead of exploring everyday life in Harlem, he claims that the site primarily reflects daily criminal activities in the community. Ultimately, Sternfeld concludes, “Trying to be equal parts sociological and historical case study, Digital Harlem winds up doing neither effectively.” In his response, Stephen Robertson attempts to address the weaknesses identified by Sternfeld. Robertson explains that many of the weaknesses stems from decisions he and his team made early in the project’s design stage. He also claims that Sternfeld misreads the site’s maps and misunderstands some of the site’s goals. He also accuses Sternfeld of oversimplifying the sources from Digital Harlem when he asserts that the site is too focused on data related to crime.

The AHR exchange also includes Natalie Zacek’s review of Vincent Brown’s Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative. Zacek recognizes the site for including a plethora of text and images and for making the vast information available to the public. At the same time, Zecek faults the site because “the site does not currently allow a viewer to map the locations from which slaves escaped, or those to which they were believed to have fled; nor does it present an argument about broader patterns in the experiences of fugitive slaves over the century, or at any point therein.” Zacek calls the site visually appealing and approves of its ability to comprehensively describe complex events, but she expresses disappointment in the lack of the inclusion of a blog, a feature that was promised on the site but had not been implemented two years after the site’s launch. Furthermore, Zacek notes that there is not a way for users to leave questions or comments, which affects the ability to engage in conversation. Ultimately, Zacek calls Slave Revolt in Jamaica “essential reading not only for historians who are interested in the Caribbean, slavery, or military strategy, but for anyone who would like to learn more about how digital tools can contribute to the humanities, and about how she or he might engage with a form of inquiry that has much to offer in relation to the advancement of historical understanding.” In Vincent Brown’s response to Zacek’s review, Brown lengthily highlights the exciting opportunities that converged media offer to the academic world and the public. He also further explains his site’s purpose and aims.

The exchanges in the recent AHR journal indicates just how important reviews of Digital Humanities projects in scholarly journals are to the development of Digital Humanities as a field. Reviews of digital projects not only hold creators accountable for their work, they also allow the project creators to address issues with interpretation, argument, sources, and design. Reviews can also increase traffic to the sites and give the projects scholarly credibility. Reviews of digital history projects are necessary in order for the projects to be taken seriously as academic works.

Source:

Alex Lichtenstein, Joshua Sternfeld, Stephen Robertson, Natalie A. Zacek, and Vincent Brown, “AHR Exchange: Reviewing Digital History,” American Historical Review,  Vol. 121, No. 1, (February 2016): 140-187.

Blog Post #8: The Historian’s Macroscope

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This week, our History in the Digital Age graduate class read a book called Exploring Big Historical Data: The Historian’s Macroscope. The authors Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart are all professors who specialize in the digital humanities. The book explains that while a microscope hones in on the very small, a macroscope is a tool for looking at very large data. While microhistories examine a single story or moment in history, a microhistory analyzes long term trends. For its embrace of the longue duree, the book reminds me of The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage. Graham, Milligan, and Weingart argue that historians must be able to study both the micro and the macro aspects of history. Throughout the book, the authors focus on the opportunities and the implications of being a historian in the “Era of Big Data”. The book is intended for anyone who wants to “turn the macroscope on their own research”.

The book is divided into three parts. Chapter One and Chapter Two make up the first section of the book. Chapter One familiarizes the reader with the historical context of the Big Data Era. Chapter Two focuses on defining “Digital Humanities” and providing an overview of key terms. The second section of the book includes Chapter Three and Chapter Four. Chapter Three discusses hands on tools that historians can use in their research. The chapters touch upon data mining, word clouds, and topic modeling. Chapter Four is quite hands on and walks the reader through topic modeling sources. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven make up the third part of the book. The final chapters emphasize network analysis and describes the ways to effectively use interactive visualizations. The structure of the book is effective because it first introduces the reader to the historiography and the historical context of digital humanities before then challenging the reader to use simple tools such as word clouds, and finally the book discusses ways to properly create more complex interactive visualizations.

I tried one of the recommended exercises in the book. I attempted to create a word cloud with Wordle. I pasted the title to every Bob Dylan song into the box to see which words were used most often. I attempted it several times, but I kept receiving an error code and being instructed to download a plug in. I tried to do that, but I could not get it to work for me. I ran out of time to try another exercise before this blog post was due, but I will definitely check out some others this week.

The book is well written and easy to comprehend. It is filled with footnotes, useful illustrations, and interactive visualizations. At times, the book is so well foot-noted, so informative, so interactive, and so accompanied by illustrations and visualizations that it almost gives one a feeling of information overload, but that is not exactly a weakness.

The Open Draft Version of the book includes the subtitle “An experiment in writing in public, one page at a time.” The subtitle reflects the authors’ desire to share their work with the larger digital history community. The book is for sale for $39, but the authors made it available to the public free of charge. The authors explain that they keep a version of The Historian’s Macroscope online for students who cannot afford to buy it. As a humble college student, I appreciate that the book is available for free. However, I would consider buying it because it is extremely informative and useful for historians like myself who want to delve into the digital humanities.

Furthermore, the authors ask those who can afford it to buy the book in order to prove to their editors that an “open business model” is worth publishing. The authors were aware that free online accessibility would possibly hurt book sales, but it was important to them to make it openly available to the public and to transparently share their work, mistakes and all. I support their efforts and hope that other historians consider supporting and replicating such open access educational endeavors.

The book is intended for undergraduate students who are just learning about big data, graduate students seeking a reliable handbook, researchers who wish to utilize digital tools to exam big data, or even a historical society with vast amounts of material to examine. One of the book’s strengths is that the authors keep the book’s jargon simple enough for lay people. They do not wish to exclude any readers. Indeed, as they explain, the book is meant for anyone who wants to “actively create and interrogate digital data”.

As the authors point out in their online companion essay, Diversity in Digital History, “In the Digital Age, no book, no project, is ever really finished.” Books such as The History Manifesto and The Historian’s Macroscope are now placed online for all to see. They are then reedited to reflect changing data, to correct errors and omissions, or to respond to feedback from peers or the public. For that reason, digital books and projects are living documents.

The authors decided to write the companion essay after receiving feedback that their publication overlooked “feminist values and diverse outlooks”. In the essay, the authors apologize for the omission and vow to include supplementary material in the future to address the book’s perceived shortcomings. Until then, the authors include links to allow readers to explore resources that highlight diversity in digital humanities. The authors conclude their essay by asserting that “more attention must be paid to diversity itself as a creative force for digital techniques.”

Source:
Graham, Shawn, Ian Milligan, Scott Weingart. The Historian’s Macroscope. Under contract with Imperial College Press. Open Draft Version, Autumn 2013, http://themacroscope.org

Blog Post #7: The History Manifesto

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This week, I read an intriguing book by Jo Guldi and David Armitage called The History Manifesto (2015). In the book, the authors Guldi and Armitage claim that modern historians are currently too enamored with micro-histories to solve long term issues. In their book, Guldi and Armitage evoke the spirit of Braudel with their discussion of time and their embrace of the longue-duree. As the authors point out, historians painstakingly ponder the most effective way to portray historical time. Indeed, as Fernand Braudel stated in a 1958 article in which he coined the term “longue-duree”, “In truth, the historian can never get away from the question of time in history: time sticks to his thinking like soil to a gardener’s spade.” While discussing historical time, Guldi and Armitage lament the lack of “long perspective” in our culture. They argue that the scholarly world is inundated with short term studies that focus on local experiences, race, and class. According to the authors, society is “hungry” for “long term thinking”. The authors reproach historians for their supposed retreat from the longue-duree and they ask that historians return to the study of complex issues such as famine, drought, poverty, and political matters.

After the book was written, the American Historical Review included a scholarly exchange about the book’s assertions. In the exchange, Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler take issue with many of Guldi and Armitage’s statements. They question the book’s arguments and lack of evidence pertaining to the retreat of the longue-duree. They challenge the book’s assumptions about the historian’s role as keepers of big data, and they accuse Guldi and Armitage of narrowing the public role of historians. Ultimately, Cohen and Mandler claim that Guldi and Armitage cherry-pick data from doctoral dissertations and other sources to support their arguments about the retreat of the longue-duree.

As someone who is using the micro-history approach in my research, I find myself agreeing more with the criticisms of Cohen and Mandler than with the perspective of Guldi and Armitage. Throughout The History Manifesto, it seems as if the authors are making a case for historians to abandon micro-histories all together. It is as if Guldi and Armitage view micro studies as not being as worthwhile or as meaningful as a long term study. As Cohen and Mandler point out, Guldi and Armitage actually admit in the book’s conclusion that the longue duree approach is not always the right one. Indeed, “The scale of the study depends on the questions to be answered”. Also in the conclusion, the authors call for micro and macro historians to work together, but Cohen and Mandler view the appeal as weak and disingenuous.

I was pleased to see Cohen and Mandler contest Guldi and Armitage’s claims about history’s “retreat from the public realm”. As a public historian, I feel that the opposite is true. Due to the proliferation of the Internet, podcasting, digital exhibits, and digital archives, historians now engage with the public more fully than they ever have before.

In the American Historical Review exchange, Guldi and Armitage respond to the criticisms of Cohen and Mandler. They defend their assertions and their data. They also explain that The History Manifesto’s central argument concerns the fact that “major institutions that shape most people’s lives, most of the time—governments, corporations, NGOs, international agencies, and the like—often lack a sense of history and do not engage the expertise of historians as they gather information, formulate policy, or make far-reaching decisions.” That is why they challenge historians to shift their focus from short term narratives in order to take on larger topics. They argue that the longue-duree approach can be used by historians to address pressing, long term concerns of our time such as climate change.

The History Manifesto spends a whole chapter on the topic of digital tools. The authors indicate that historians should supplement their knowledge, research skills, and archival sensibilities with digital tools in order to uncover patterns of the longue-duree. Guldi and Armitage explain that distant reading, data visualization, and digital tools can be designed to answer complex historical questions. The authors claim that the longue-duree uncovers information that can be used to better understand events of the past. It can also reveal patterns that might prompt society to make better decisions in the future. Digital technology has nurtured the return of the longue-duree approach in recent years through the emergence of “big data” used to analyze large quantities of historical data. Guldi and Armitage believe that historians are particularly well equipped to utilize big data to make sense of the economic, political, and ecological information that is gathered.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book and it made me think about how important longue-duree studies truly are. However, I think that the book could have been a little more balanced concerning highlighting the importance of both micro and macro studies. Surely there is enough room for both approaches.

Sources:
Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 2014). http://historymanifesto.cambridge.org/
Deborah Cohen, Peter Mandler, Jo Guldi, and David Armitage, “AHR Exchange: The History Manifesto,” The American Historical Review (2015) 120 (2): 527-554. https://www.historians.org/Documents/AHR_Exchange.pdf