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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. 

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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 

By nature, humans are social beings. And an integral part of socializing is telling stories. For centuries, we have been using speech and oral history as the primary way of telling stories. This changed with the invention of the printing press and the standardization of languages. The printing press also made communication and education more accessible. This new technology caused us to change the methods in which we told stories to be able to interact with the new technology. Such is the case now with the advent of the World Wide Web. Websites, online databases, Facebook pages, and even blog posts are just adapted methods of storytelling.

Personally, I like the idea of citizen history and the idea of everyone being able to contribute to the preservation of history via these online databases. History is simply more than just what is written in textbooks by scholars, academics, and teaching ‘authorities’. As the name implies, history involves an exchange of stories. Archives such as the 9/11 archive allows every Tom, Dick or Harry to tell their stories. I also believe that these databases are valuable not only for the contributors, but also for the readers. They provide a fairly accurate description of the events that is far more relatable to the common person than say a textbook.

I also found it interesting that the databases covered events that occurred within the past decade. When most people think of history, usually there is a time span of about 20 years before an event can be considered historic. However, I believe that his method of recording recent events is important as it can capture an event more accurately and provide more in-depth insight to an event.

Interestingly, it is these databases that have inspired my final project for this course. After reading the databases, and thinking about the importance of citizen histories, I’ve decided to create a database dedicated to the volunteers from the Vancouver 2010 Games. The games were an important event in Canadian Society, and I believe, is cause for preservation. I know that there are just hundreds, if not thousands of amazing stories that are just waiting to be told, and hopefully I can compile these stories and do their storytellers justice.

Howdy everyone. Unfortunately, due to compiling technical difficulties, I haven’t been able to post my blot posts over the past couple of weeks which means that I’m going to be posting entries from weeks ago. Mea Culpa :s

“Kulia I Ka Nu’u – Strive for the Highest”

Hawaiian Proverb
Howdy!
I’m Tim a first year arts student. At the moment I have yet to declare my major, but it seems as though I’m leaning towards English Literature and Professional Writing. It’s funny, whenever I tell people about my prospective major, the first thing I hear is “So you want to be a teacher?” I guess generally speaking, most people see teaching as the only viable career option for English Majors. My goals and ambitions, however, lead to a different goal. Ideally, I would like to one day become the President of the International Olympic Committee.
Since I was young, I’ve always had a burning passion for the Olympic Games, be it Summer or Winter Games. There’s something about the Olympic Movement that is very attractive. I think it’s the perfect mix of sports fanaticism and patriotism. I find nothing more relaxing than yelling at the television at 4AM, catching the live telecast from London. The Olympic Movement also brings an air of magic to a host city. As a volunteer at the Vancouver 2010 games, I got a chance to witness the energy in the air.
Going on my experiences and passion for the Olympics, I became interested in International Relation and Modern Olympic History. It’s absolutely fascinating to see how much influence these games have had throughout the past century.

I took this digital history course first out of interest. Professor Milligan had given a fascinating lecture on Yorkdale and the Toronto Hippie Movement of the 1960s. I enjoyed the lecture and found the content to be very interesting. When selecting my second term courses, I took into consideration Prof. Milligan’s Youth History and Digital History courses. Originally I wanted to take the youth history course, but I ended up in the digital history one instead. In anycase, I had no idea quite what to expect going into the course. I mean the words Digital History could almost be seen as an oxymoron. One associates the word digital with technology and the future; and the word history with the study of the past. I was half-expecting a class on the topic of technology, and the history of the internet. I didn’t think we’d be learning how to use the internet to ‘digitize’ history.

I’m almost excited to learn more about putting history online… Almost.