After HIST 291 I still agree with my belief that the digitization of history would further connect individuals to the study apart from learning about it in a school setting. I feel that all of the areas touched upon in this course are ways that can possibly improve the study of history and at the very least should be considered.

Throughout this course I’ve acquired skills that have improved my understanding of history through textual analysis, visual aid from maps, coding as well as both the physical and online access of archives to list a few. As I said on my first post I wished that the skills I’ll be learning could be incorporated into my teaching career in the future and fortunately I could see all of the topics covered in our class being used for that purpose. I truly believe the integration of digital history into high school would be inevitable especially when most teachers are moving towards the use of Powerpoint and other technologies into their classrooms. Rather than stopping there, lessons revolving around Google Sketchup and the access of online archives could replace boring summaries from the textbook which has become the expected in school.

Apart from my initial goal to better prepare myself as a high school teacher I’ve also derived a strong appreciation for 3-D printing from this course. The limitless possibilities to reproduce models would improve upon learning and further engage students and I found the presentation set up for our class was a great example of it. An example of a technology that would surpass the high school setting would be the incorporation of Python and coding to history since the only time when such huge quantities of information is necessary is at the university level. I was fortunate enough to have Audacity introduced to me here since I needed to transcribe a lengthy interview for another course over the semester and the simple function to slow the audio file down was very helpful.

To sum up I thoroughly enjoyed my first official experience as a digital historian from HIST 291, but as we’ve learned we all most likely have encountered it already from our strong reliance upon technology. I feel a very important lesson that I took away from this course is that even though as historians we study the past, we don’t need to settle for the same outdated methods used back then.

I have always had a slight interest for programming since high school but after taking CS 100 in my first year I grew to hate it. I developed a basic understanding of HTML but I never found it necessary to apply any of my knowledge as most of my computer usage is simply for surfing the web and gaming. From that point I chose to stay within the humanities since I much preferred this style of learning but was very excited when this course introduced me to the field of digital humanities.

I found the nature of writing code to be tedious and boring until HIST 291 introduced me to ways my codes could help with studying history. Being able to locate the desired keywords from documents within seconds and manipulating the text would expand the possibilities for historians as more information could be processed within a significantly shorter period of time. I was able to write lines of code which would leave out my desired stop words throughout the text as well as computing the frequency of certain words. These processes would greatly help modern day historians with the vastness of information that is now being deposited on the internet and the practicality of coding would be irrefutable if one successfully learns the ins and outs of Python.

The Programming Historian was an interactive introduction to python and the fact that it’s offered for free online makes it a great way for anyone to dip their toes into the field of Computer Science. In the end of the day I still don’t feel this approach would become the dominant one in the near future since history is still a study dominated by older individuals but only time could tell. It could be argued that to learn a new subject as Python in order for the desired effects would be difficult for some hence the value would be unique to each individual. Unfortunately I don’t feel I will utilize this method in my study of history since I prefer the traditional approach. These new methods might one day make trips to actual archives obsolete especially when information is so easily stored and accessed through the internet but I feel the experience at an archive is part of studying history, hence why you brought us earlier in the year.

A computer may compute information at a much quicker pace but the saved time might be when the best ideas may come to a historian.

When I first signed up for Digital History last fall, it wasn’t very clear what the course would be about. Fortunately, since I was already taking a course with the instructor of the course I was able to ask him about it and it sounded like it would be interesting for me and so I took it hoping to expand my knowledge of technology and how it can be applied to the humanities; something that I am hoping to find useful as a teacher, the career I aspire to. While taking the course, I learned about so many thing I had never even heard of before such as the Google Ngram Viewer, Python, Google Sketchup and even WordPress, all of which I found very useful and have used since. One of my favourite parts of the course was our visit to the school’s archives and seeing how these important and irreplaceable documents are being preserved and digitized for better access. Having completed this course, it has become clear to me the importance of making sure the Historical discipline embraces rather than resist technology and make use of modern technology to make History more accessible and to preserve those things which can never be replaced. If Historians do not embrace technology, the discipline could fall into irrelevancy.

Looking back to the beginning of the course, I thought of Digital History as a course about the history of digital technologies and programs, things such as that. As it turns out, it was so much more then that. Not only did we learn interesting things such as the origin of the internet, we got an in depth look into many programs that are relevant, not only in History, but also in so many different disciplines. Google Sketchup, for example, is a great program for creating 3D images. While rather rudimentary compared to programs such as CAD, Sketchup would allow an inexperienced user to quickly and easily design things in 3D such a room they’d like to decorate or perhaps even an idea for landscaping their yard, the possibilities are nearly endless really. The Google Ngram Viewer, yes Google has quite a foothold in programs relating to Digital History as they do in many areas, is a great tool to quickly and easily determine the relevance of certain topics at any given time by typing in the keywords you’d like to compare which it will then cross reference with published material from any given time period in order to see how much that word was used at any given time. Our trip to the school’s archives and rare book room was also very interesting and it was great to see the resources the school has available for our use, resources that I was completely unaware of previously. It was also great to see the efforts that archives are taking to try to make the information they contain more accessible and to ensure that it is preserved for future use.

Overall, Digital History was a great course. It opened my eyes to so many great things that are out there for the History discipline and for conducting research. I hope to be able to use some of what I’ve learned in my own classroom one day and I hope that Historians learn to embrace technology better going forward as it’s a great asset for the profession. This course has definitely spurred a new interest for me and this is an area I’d like to look further into. If you asked me what Digital History is now, my answer would be “the study of digital technology and how it applies to and benefits the discipline of History.”

The study of History has remained relatively static, with very few changes in how Historians conduct their research. Even with the advent of online databases for scholarly articles, research methods have remained more or less the same for years. As time goes on and more historical information is ending up online, it is becoming more and more necessary for historians to understand how to conduct their research digitally, analyzing online databases of information such as statistics or digitized documents. However, this kind of research can be absolutely painstaking, trying to look for a specific piece of information or finding trends in the information by searching page after page, document after document , it can take hours only to find what you’re looking for, or find out that what you’re looking for isn’t there in the first place.

Textual Analysis and Topic Modeling tools such as Mallet can be helpful for analyzing large amounts of information to find trends such as the frequency with which a word is used and the words which appear around this word, in order to define trends in the data. This can be really useful in, for example, taking the entire text from a digitized book and by analyzing it, figuring out what the book is about. By looking at the use of language, one can easily determine if the author had any kind of bias with regards to what they are writing about, and in which direction that bias leans.

While this is an incredibly useful way for analyzing digital texts such as electronically published books or journal articles, trying to apply this to something like an online database, such as the Old Bailey Online, an online database of London, England’s central criminal court from 1674 to 1913, would take days to do. Luckily, the Programming Historian website offers free tutorial-based lessons for teaching basic computer programming, using Python script, to write a simple program which will allow Historians to analyze the text from an entire website, finding trends in the information.

When I first encountered the Programming Historian, I had a difficult time wrapping my head around why a Historian would need to know this kind of programming skill. As the lessons progressed and I learned how to copy all of the text from the Old Bailey Online, and strip it down to its most basic level, and applying textual analysis and topic modeling tools to it, it started to make a lot more sense.

Presently, there are relatively few databases like the Old Bailey Online, which store massive amounts of historical information. However, as we move further and further into the Digital Age, more and more historical records are being digitized and stored in online databases, and this is fundamentally changing how Historians will conduct research in the future. The image of a Historian in an archive in the basement of a library, poring over boxes of archived documents is slowly being intermingled with that of someone looking through pages and pages of online information. In order to process these massive amounts of information, Historians will need programs like the ones presented by the Programming Historian to conduct their research.

On a personal note, I think that in a world that is increasingly dependent on computers and digital technology, we as a whole should have at least a basic know-how of how computer programming works. Otherwise, we’re simply using a computer as a blunt instrument, blindly swinging it around until we get it to do what we want, when what we should be doing is using it like a finely crafted instrument, carving the information we need out of the shapeless mass that is the Internet and all its resources.

Looking back at the course now, I’m glad that I took it. I was able to experience things that I would not have otherwise been able to see or experience. From 3D printers, to ancient (er well really old) Euclidian texts, I was able to expose myself to a new area of study. Through this class, I’ve been able to find a new appreciation for technology. I’ve even come to almost cherish my computer… Almost.

I remember looking at the different databases covering events in recent history (i.e. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the Occupy Movement) and being inspired to create a Vancouver 2010 Volunteer experience database (www.bluejacketmemories.ca). I realized that history is not just for the professors or students of higher education, but rather for everyone. I’ve come to realize the value of citizen histories and the individual stories that add value to historical events. Reading a textbook about an event is one thing. It is still another to be able receive information first-hand and being able to vicariously share their experience.

This course has also exposed me to new resources, both online and on-campus, that I will be able to use throughout my academic career (which is only at the beginning). I remember passing by the Rare Book Room and collections in the basement of the Dana Porter Library, only imagining what cool and awesome artifacts lay there. Now I know that there are not only valuable documents and archives, but also valuable equipment (i.e. the Book-to-Net Scanner) that are located there. I also now know about the N-Gram Viewer, a valuable tool when it comes to textual analysis. I have a feeling that the N-Gram Viewer will be a very useful resource, not only for history courses, but for any other social science or humanities course.

I’ve also come to appreciate working online and programming. Working on my final project sparked an interest in web design that I didn’t know I had. The successes, and more importantly, the failures that I encountered while putting this project together were, dare I say, fun. I remember at the beginning of the term, I was quite skeptical about working with computers and the internet. Now, I find that the things that once turned me off about working with computers (tedious work, configuration, technical crap), are some of the things I most enjoy about working online.

More importantly, I’ve come to learn more about myself. I realized that I’m more resourceful than I originally gave myself credit for. While working on my final project, I used various tools and found work-around solutions for problems that I encountered (despite having to call the GoDaddy helpline 5 times).  I’ve also come to realize that a site is never truly “complete” as there will always be something new to add, something different to modify, or something that you just want to try to see how it looks on the site. I think one of the most valuable parts of working on this project was coming to the realization that nothing is ever perfect, nor should it be. There should always be something to improve upon. 

After reading my original blog post, I find that my view on digital history has changed. Originally, I thought of Digital History as something far-fetched and ‘out there’. It was one of those specialty courses with no actual practical application to the real world. After taking the course however, I found that this was further from the truth. Many of the skills that I learned in the class are actually applicable to the real world.

 Now I feel confident moving forward on my quest to become a “digital person”… Almost. 

My number one reservation about this class was programming. I have a very basic understanding of HTML, but that is the limit of my programming knowledge. Up until the first day of HIST 291, I had no idea what Python was, or what programming even was. I always associated it with white, geeky, teenage boys from mid-to-upper class families. Even when I had the opportunity to learn some basic computer programming in high school, I decided to forego CS classes in favour of history and humanities courses.

I guess you could imagine my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) when I saw the words ‘programming’ and ‘python’ on the class syllabus. There were a few reasons I did not want to do any programming, including:

  • I hate computers
  • I have no idea how to do anything beyond the basics
  • Programming has always been for the “geeks” and “nerds”
  • My computer is old, slow, and generally crappy
  • And did I mention I HATE computers?

Needless to say, I was less than enthusiastic to start programming. My fears and frustrations were only validated after the first day. As I mentioned earlier, I have a really slow and crappy computer. I found that on the first day of programming, I fell way behind the rest of the class if only because of the sheer time it took my computer to follow the commands I would give it. However, by the second day, I had caught up and was actually beginning to enjoy programming. Well, maybe not enjoy actually programming, but I did enjoy the almost euphoric feeling when my lines of code worked. I never thought that the words “Hello World” would ever bring me so much joy.  

To be completely honest, I still don’t enjoy programming, and seeing lines of code still make me cringe on the inside, but it’s nice to know enough about programming to be able to have a discussion about it. I don’t think I will be getting into programming any time soon. However, I may not be as reluctant to try and resolve an error message before I hand my computer off to someone more ‘tech-savvy’.

When it comes to the merits of programming and historians, I find that my views have changed. At the beginning of the course, I thought that programming and history were two completely separate facets that should not mix. I also thought Professor Ian Milligan was absolutely insane for trying to teach me programming. However, with the advent of the computer age, I’ve come to realize that understanding computers is necessary to not only history, but to almost every subject and discipline out there. Especially with new tools out there such as the google N-Gram Viewer, historians have to be able to adapt and move forward with technology, or risk being left behind. 

Whenever I think of resources like Mining the Dispatch and the Google N-Gram­ viewer, I can’t help but remember a resource from the 90s; AOL Keyword Search. The google of the early internet, many companies, organizations, and facets of popular culture had AOL Keywords. Nowadays, AOL keywords have been banished to the online netherworld along with Friendster, MySpace, and other obsolete online phenomena.

 However, the idea of emphasizing key words and phrases and analyzing their use and prevalence is a fascinating field that has only been fairly recently that we’ve been able to do in-depth textual analysis of various media and literature. The article Quantative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books talks about tools such as the N-Gram viewer and how because of tools like it, we can now study “culturomics” (the study of linguistic and cultural phenomena reflected in the English language,) in greater depth. The article goes on to discuss how culturomics extends into the boundaries of the social sciences and humanities.

To explore the N-gram Viewer, I looked at a database of the top 100 song lyrics from every year during the 1960s. With nearly 1000 songs, I found a few interesting things;

  • The words “baby”, and “love” came up a lot throughout the decade
  • The word “peace” began to appear more and more towards the end of the sixties. This is most likely due to the growing conflict in Vietnam and the fear of conscription, and the fear of a nuclear holocaust from the Cold War
  • Another prevalent theme was the civil rights movement, although there was no single word that embodied the movement.

I thought it was really interesting to see the correlation between song lyrics and social, cultural, and political events at the time. It was also really cool being able to access thousands of song lyrics at the push of a button.

Mining the Dispatch, the practical application of the N-Gram Viewer technology, looked at key words in the local newspaper, The Daily Dispatch, during Civil War Richmond. It again was interesting to see what the recurring themes were in the newspaper. The site offers yet another new and innovative way of looking at the Civil War.

Moving forward, it would be interesting to see what new information and observations we, as historians, will find when re-analyzing documents. Perhaps there’s something we overlooked in war-time news articles from Canada. Textual analysis through the N-Gram viewer will also be useful in other disciplines, such as media studies. 

Whoops… i made a mistake….

I was under the impression that I was posting my blog reflections on the HIST 291 blog. This wasn’t the case. I was actually posting them on a different blog that I haven’t looked at in a while.  

So pardon my back posts, as it does throw the chronology of the posts into whack. 

Sorry again guys  :s 

I started this course not knowing what I was getting myself into. I just heard the title of digital history and thought it might be an interesting course to take. Taking this course ended up being

In this course I have learned about a lot of things which I might not have considered to be part of history.  Starting off with digital archives on the web, the course also thought me about blogging, podcast, programming and 3D modeling. If I was asked if these could be used for historical purpose before the course, I would have been highly sceptical.  It helped me understand that history does not have to all essays, books and sometimes video. There are other means of transferring the knowledge and it could be made interesting for other people to look at.

Before this course, I was not aware other ways of searching for information aside from Googling it or going to library to find the book. I was not aware that our library had extensive archives of historical documents or that we had geospatial centre. It opened my eyes evolution of research techniques that came with rapid development of technology.

I leave this course taking a lot more than I anticipated. This course helped me understand that history is constantly evolving and that it is happening right now. Someone can make a site or create blog or video, and these would eventually be considered part of history.

Overall, I enjoyed this course very much and further motivates me to pursue History.

I had exposure to Python language prior to this class. Initially a math student, I was forced into taking computer science courses in first year and learned Python. It was actually very interesting going over the python language using the lessons.  Although I have already learned python language once, looking at it again in history class showed me that there is many different ways to use it.

Programming Historian site is a tutorial site which tries to teach people programming for more practical needs. The tutorial begins with simple string function such as creating “Hello World”.  The lessons quickly advance to something of more practical use of finding frequency of the words on the website.  The site was made to be very friendly to people who might not know any coding.  By going through the lesson, the tutorial shows the glimpse of potential that programming has. Python could be used create a program made specifically to fit the needs of the research and it could cut down significant amount of time. I was able to look at all the lessons provided on the site. Lessons were quite challenging to understand at first and looked intimidating. But once I look it line by line and understood what each line did, it was actually very easy to understand what was going on.

As always with the code, I found it very tedious and frustrating when it came to checking for errors. Since the code would not work properly if there was a single letter that is different, if the coding gets really long and complicated, it is very difficult to fix. The debugging sometimes cannot pinpoint the error as well and this could be a nightmare situation if the program written is hundreds of lines long. The frustration with the error lessens with more study on the python and its structure since eventually you will be able to figure out why it does not work and where it is causing problems.

I believe programming can be very useful for historians to learn. Although it is useful it is still very difficult to learn. One might wonder why not just hire someone who can program and get them to build you a program? Although this can be done, hiring programmer who do not have the knowledge on the field of research might not be able to deliver the same quality of worked that might have been done by who knew exactly what to build. Learning programming is like learning a second language. Although it could definitely prove to be useful, it is hard to master. However, by learning it, it opens up another door for person to communicate their idea to the world.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 505 other followers