The Impact of Digital History

The idea that struck me the most from this week’s readings was the idea of forming online groups of historians and archivists. I find it surprising that given the ways in which the internet has increased the accessibility of primary sources, and the ways it has connected people, that internet crowd-sourcing and social media groups of historians and like-minded people have not come to play a large role in how history is practiced. I believe that much better scholarship could take place if as many scholars participated as possible. I also think that the relative lack publicity of places for scholars to form groups online has slowed the development of the active engagement of historians on the internet. I was surprised to learn that Zotero was not only a tool for managing digital sources and citations, but also a place where groups could form for people to remotely collaborate. After searching the groups, I found several that would have been incredibly useful as places to find ideas and sources for my theses. In addition to the lack of publicity, is digital history being slowed by a fundamental wariness to share research among scholars?

Wrapping up the Laser Scanning

This week my group finished 3D laser scanning, photographing, and recording video footage of the objects. We also had the added surprise of the James Monroe Museum asking us to include a sixth object, the James Monroe musket. The Director wanted to include the musket because it illustrates a common problem in museums. According to Monroe family lore, James Monroe used the musket for hunting, took it to college at William and Mary, and fought with it in the American Revolution. However, the lack of supporting documents and the fact that the musket is an amalgamation of other muskets makes the story difficult to prove. I think it is a good object to include in the digital collection because it highlights the issues with interpreting poorly documented objects. Posting a 3D scan and photographs online may also eventually lead to viewers offering new information about that musket or muskets of the same time period that could help the museum.

Latest on the Laser Scanning

Over the course of the past two weeks, my group has scanned the bicorne hat, Elizabeth Monroe’s wedding shoe, the pistols, and James Monroe’s outfit. We hope to scan the White House chair next week. Additionally, we also recorded footage and two interviews with the curator about the pistols and the chair. We would have continued to interview the curator this week, but we were unable to check out a video recorder. Instead, we compiled and edited information from the object files to include with the 3D laser scans and interviews on the website.

Five Lessons About Digital Identity

After looking at a number student’s Domain of One’s Own websites, Dr. McClurken’s website, and several of the articles, I was drawn to several themes or concepts:

  1. It is important to list your educational and professional experiences on your website, as well as samples of your work to favorably portray yourself to potential employers. While LinkedIn can help build your identity as a professional, using your own website can give you greater control over the presentation of information about yourself, your contributions, and your collaborations.
  2. Be thoughtful about what information you share on the internet. Even if you carefully construct a professional identity, your reputation can still be compromised by information you post on social media.
  3. Building on the observation above, information posted on the internet is difficult to remove. Begin to build your digital identity from a young age.
  4. If you don’t work to create a digital identity for yourself, Google will for you. People who are interested in learning more about you will search your name and form opinions about you from the search results. You can shape their opinions of you by creating your own website where you have more control over how you present yourself.
  5. Your digital identity will help you connect with others with shared interests. However, you should also try to engage with a broader audience to attract people with different perspectives who can challenge your thinking. I believe that criticism is a powerful tool for refining arguments or developing a well-thought opinion.

Limitations of the UMW 3D Laser Scanners

So far the process of 3D laser scanning has been one of my group’s greatest challenges. We met with our technical support a couple of times to learn about the different laser scanners and how to use them. Feeling confident that we could successfully scan the objects, we arranged for the museum curator to bring the bicorne hat and the wedding shoe to UMW for us to scan last week. We tried to scan the shoe first and found that the laser scanner could not distinguish between the black heel and the black rotating platform of the scanner. Then we tried to raise the height of shoe by setting it  on a book covered with a piece of paper. The scan successfully captured the form of the shoe, but it did not apply color, resulting in a lumpy gray object. We found out that neither of the rotating scanners apply color, despite that being one of the requirements we listed when we were learning about the scanners.

Yesterday we decided to try to scan the hat at the James Monroe Museum. Initially, we were going to try to use the Xbox Kinect laser scanner. However, first we had problems connecting to the museum’s internet, and then we were unable to get the computer program to recognize the scanner. We ultimately decided to place the hat and its mount on top of a stool to enable us to scan it with the Structure Sensor scanner on the iPad. The base of the hat’s mount reflected light, so the scanner was unable to focus on the hat. Fortunately, we were able to cover the base with paper, allowing us to scan the hat. We found that the Structure Sensor was able to capture the hat’s form and overall color pattern. However, it was not able to scan a deep crevice created by the brim, resulting in a hole in the 3D image. The Structure Sensor was limited in that the image must be scanned at once and cannot be edited or stitched together with another image. Finally, we also had problems getting the file from the iPad because it had to be emailed and the iPad was not connected to the internet.

Hopefully we will be able to find out how to successfully use the Xbox Kinect scanner or be able to check out the school’s laptop since internet access is problematic for the iPad at the museum. We could also try to bring the objects to UMW where we could use either scanner, although it is difficult to find times that work for both the curator and the scanning expert when the room the scanners are in is not occupied.

Wikipedia and Creative Commons

Wikipedia: I decided to look at the history and discussion tabs for extensive subjects like the American Civil War and Thomas Jefferson. Curiosity also drove me to look at a controversial topic, so I looked at the history  and discussion tab for the 2012 Benghazi attacks. There actually seemed to be very little debate on each of these topics. Similarly, most of the editors seemed to be standardizing the format of the content and fixing grammar and punctuation problems. Occasionally, people responded to requests for additional citations by adding links to new sources. I was expecting there to be more content changes for the 2012 Benghazi attacks page. However, there was only one instance of someone deleting content without justification in the page’s recent revision history. Consistent with Jimmy Wales’s description of how Wikipedia works, someone who was watching the page fixed the deletion within minutes.

Creative Commons: Although my group would have to consult with the James Monroe Museum about which Creative Commons license they believe is most appropriate, I think the Attribution-Noncommercial license would probably work best. Since the objects are owned by a nonprofit, I do not see the museum wanting someone to use the 3D laser scans and videos for commercial purposes. However, the Attribution-Noncommercial license would allow people to improve or build on these resources for research and educational purposes. Not requiring users to license their new creations under the same terms as us would give them greater flexibility and encourage the use of our material.

3D Laser Scanning Project Updates

This week we searched for  plugins to allow us to embed the  3D laser scans in our Omeka website. The only plugin we found required  the browser to be able to support it, so we’re going to continue to search for plugins and use the SketchFab website to host the  scans if necessary. Fortunately, SketchFab is free and the scans would remain the propert of the James Monroe Museum.

Dr. McClurken also asked our group to consider ways to expand the scope of our project. After consulting with the museum, we decided to make short videos of the curator talking about the objects we scan. We plan on keeping the videos basic with a very brief introduction to the museum, object, and curator before cutting to the curator discussing the object. The video will end with links to the museum’s website and our project website.


Progress and Thoughts on the Laser Scanning Project

My group members and I have held several meetings to learn about UMW’s 3D laser scanners, objects at the James Monroe Museum, and digital tools to make our website. We learned that UMW has a variety of laser scanners including a portable scanner that attaches to an iPad, a portable scanner with a turntable for small objects, and a larger scanner capable of scanning a person. In our consultation with the James Monroe Museum, we decided that we are going to try to scan five objects including one of Monroe’s outfits, his hat, dueling pistols, a shoe, and a chair associated with Lafayette.

At the moment, one of our greatest concerns is finding ways to present the scans of the objects online. Because the museum prefers the Dublin Core system, we plan on creating a website for the project using Omeka. However, Omeka does not have a plugin for displaying 3D files. After consulting with the DKC, we think we might create a SketchFab account to host the 3D files, linking the pages to our Omeka website. Using SketchFab would also present new opportunities for attracting an audience. Our descriptions of the objects on SketchFab would be aimed at educating a broader audience and encouraging them to visit the James Monroe Museum, while our Omeka site would have a scholarly research orientation.

Using StoryMapJS and TimelineJS

I decided to have a little bit of fun with these tools by using information from my historic preservation thesis on gender and Virginia’s equine landscape. While I don’t think StoryMapJS and TimelineJS are the best tools for analyzing and sharing my research, I enjoyed experimenting.

I liked several aspects of StoryMapJS, including its ability to show locations in relation to each other and its integration of media with text and maps. However, I found the tool to be limited in arranging information about a concept as abstract as gender. Since it organizes the locations in a chronology, I think it would work better as a timeline. I ultimately ended up organizing my information about the horse farms in a manner that shows the male-run farms before the female-run ones. Conveniently, this method forms a clean loop on the map. Had I tried to arrange the farms chronologically, the map would have been more confusing, especially if I added more farms. I also don’t like how the map appears on my blog.

I found TimelineJS to be a better tool for creating a history of some of the women in my study’s racing accomplishments. However, I would have had to add considerably more information about men in racing, U.S. history, and gender roles to develop a meaningful context for these seemingly isolated events. I like the aesthetics of TimelineJS because they are clean, straightforward, and the colors, backgrounds, and media can be manipulated more than in StoryMapJS. However, I wish the images used in the timeline could be enlarged.

Ultimately, I don’t think my group will likely use these tool for our 3D laser scanning project for the James Monroe Museum. However, we could possibly use StoryMapJS to map out the origins of the objects we scan to provide visuals. We could also use TimelineJS to create a map of when the objects were made or when they were acquired by James Monroe, although this information could be broad and defeat the purpose of making a timeline.

Although I find Feedly a little bit difficult to navigate, I hope that it will make it easier to keep up with new blog posts by my classmates and members of the DH Compendium.

Digital Tools and Digital History Websites

I think that both WordPress and Omeka could be useful for digital history projects. Although we have not yet learned much about WordPress beyond using it as a blog, it could also be used as a website for a digital history project. WordPress makes it easy to create multiple pages and sub-pages that could be used to make navigating and organizing the project straightforward. The search bar could pull up blog posts or pages featuring specific tags. Additionally, pages could be created that link to media like images, videos, or downloadable documents, although the media could also be embedded in a page with text. While I think WordPress might be a better tool for organizing online history projects that involve large amounts of text, I currently think that Omeka works better for archival or collections-based projects. Since Omeka uses Dublin Core, it standardizes and professionalizes the information about each item. Omeka also allows the users to group items into collections and exhibits for online displays, which seems to give it more flexibility than WordPress.

Of the websites I reviewed, I liked The Emancipation Project the least because it was disorganized, only provided snippets of information, did not provide information about the graphic or source on the same page as the source, and did not contextualize the graphics or sources. I found the graphics interesting and they helped me visualize the subject, but they still did not mean much to me without background information. I also found Valley of the Shadow difficult to navigate and not visually appealing. However, I liked that all of the documents have been transcribed and are searchable, which partially mitigates the difficulties of navigating the site.  Exploring the French Revolution was also problematic because it used icons to link to sources instead of a small image of the source. I think this hampers conducting research using the primary documents. I also believe that copies of the sources should be scanned so users can look at an image of the original as well as the transcribed version. However, I thought the essays provided useful information despite being unwieldy because the content is on several pages. I also liked how it is possible to search for a specific term across all of the source types to find documents both containing tags or the specific phrase.

I liked Gilded Age Murder the best because it provided extensive background information about both the subject and historical interpretation, the sources had images helping make it easy to navigate, and it was visually appealing. However, the documents have not been transcribed and they are not searchable. While I also liked the extensive amounts of information, timelines, and bibliographies presented in Imagining the Past, I found it difficult to navigate and sometimes repetitive. I also found the lack of standardization distracting. One example was the website’s use of “works cited,” “bibliography,” “further reading,” and “resources” as page names for the bibliography. I also enjoyed Avery’s Architectural Ephemera Collections because the navigation was straightforward and the content was not overwhelming. The website listed each of the categories of ephemera. The category provided a description of the items in the collection,  images of a sampling of items, and a link or description of where all the items in the collection could be searched.

Reviewing these digital history websites has made me realize how difficult it is to create one. I like how Omeka can organize items into a collection and provide the information associated with the object because it is easier to navigate. I also think that it is important to consider font legibility and visual appeal.