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.

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I signed up and took this digital history course because I thought it would help give me new ways to research for other history classes and a better understanding on how to go about doing that research. Through out the term this class has helped me significantly with my research for my other history class that focuses on medieval heresy. I learned about new search engines like the Internet Archive that granted me access to many different kinds of sources that I would never of thought of using like poems on different events that were written during those events.

This class has also helped open my eyes to many new ways of putting information together for presentations. My favorite tool we looked at was the one I used for my final project Neatline this allowed me to creat a map that showed important battles and events in Joan of Arcs short life. I know I haven’t mastered Neatline but I plan on trying to keep using/playing with it to learn more about all its functions so I can benefit more in my future presentations with better, more detailed maps. The other tools we worked with like Omeka and blogging really opened my eyes as well. I thought the classes and tutorial we looked at Omeka were amazing because I never thought I would make a website ever. Through Omeka I made a website with classmates in tutorial that looked like a real website. I learned how to upload pictures of documents off my phone to a computer so that we could put them on the website, which I never even knew I could do.  I never really went on blogs before or knew too much about them but now I know more about them and can actually write one. I also know how to upload old maps on google earth now so that I can compare areas now to what they looked like in the past. I found this really neat and helpful to help picture the changes that happened over time in the areas that I looked at. I do want to become a teacher and now know that if I do I will have a better time keeping students attention, because of some of these great tools I can now use, that I would not have been able to in the past.

I knew at the beginning of the term that technology was becoming a very important part of history not only can we now pull up almost any document we want on the internet but we can now contribute by putting things on the internet as well, like our family history, that can help others doing research. I still believe, like at the beginning of the term, that Digital history is important but now I have actually seen why it is important through all of the programing and hands on learning of the tools that are available to us that we can use.

When I first enrolled in History 291, I really had no idea what I was getting into. As I said in my introductory post, the HIST 291 was only described as “Special Topics in History”. When I learned that it would be a course on Digital History, I was intrigued.

“What is Digital History?”

Even a week after the last class, I’m still unsure of exactly how to answer that question. To me, the study of Digital History is a combination of adaptation, assimilation, and speculation.

Emerging technologies, namely Internet and information technologies are fundamentally changing the academic world, and as has been mentioned over the course of the term, Historians have been somewhat slow to realize this. For example, during the development of the Google N-Gram Viewer, a number of Historians were initially consulted, but had their comments dismissed because of their inability to contribute to some of the more technical aspects of the project. Tools such as the Google N-Gram viewer, which can significantly benefit those studying the Humanities, need to be understood before they can be used. The documents that Historians rely on such as government ledgers, diaries, financial records, are being written and stored digitally, and in order for Historians to be able to study them in the future, we need to be equipped with the tools to access and analyze them. We need to adapt to the immense changed that digital technology is bringing to the field.

And how do we equip ourselves to survive these major changes? In many ways, we need to assimilate these tools from fields which are more adept to dealing with digital information. I know my fellow Star Trek fans might get a little edgy at the mention of assimilation, but I truly believe that resistance to the global shift towards a digital paradigm is futile, and in order to survive, we need to learn from non-humanities disciplines and assimilate their knowledge and tools into our collective disciplinary consciousness. Tools like the Programming Historian, the Google N-Gram Viewer and Topic Modeling programs very well might become essential for the History discipline to survive in an increasingly digital world.
And yes, I do realize that this just might have been one of the geekyist paragraphs I’ve ever written for anything school-related.

Lastly, I think Digital History has a lot to do with speculation. Digital technology is evolving at such a rapid pace that it is near impossible to predict where it’s going. Like the Industrial Revolution, in this Digital Revolution we are now at a point where technology is in many ways evolving on its own and we are all just along for the ride. We need to look at emerging technologies and try and figure out how we might be able to repurpose them to better approach the changes in the world we will be studying. I think a great example of this is the application of 3D Printers. While this technology was originally developed for engineers to be able to easily construct models of various components they were building, it can now be used to reproduce historical artifacts, making aspects of the past much more real. Similarly, programs like Google Earth can be used to create a sort of digital historical atlas by overlaying old maps, recently digitized, onto the surface of Google Earth.

As Historians, we tend to spend most of our time in the past, which for our discipline is a good thing. However, as the world changes around us, we need to be mindful of what will happen in the future with the rise of digital technology. Our present, our future, will one day be the past which Historians, like ourselves, will need to study. When it comes to equipping ourselves with the tools that we will no-doubt need to study our future-past, there is no better time than the present, and courses like HIST 291 are essential to understanding how the discipline will need to change in order to remain relevant.

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“In essence the study of history is essential to the development of the global community, in that it tells the story of the triumphs and mistakes of man. In the study of history one learns of a people, great civilizations, and about the past. Learning history is therefore important because through studying the growth of a people one can acquire many life lessons and valid instruction on actions to avoid.”-Nahila K. Joseph

 Prior to taking History 291 I was  rather sceptical and questioned the importance of digital history and its relevance to the historical word. However, rather than passing judgment I decided to join the course and   I found that my reservations were premature for a number of reasons. For one, we are living in a global world for that reason historical minds from all over the world are able to come together and contribute to the historical community in ways that we have never seen before. Overall, providing a more rounded and unbiased version of historical data. In addition, technology has become central to our day to day lives and for that reason we are evermore dependent on it.  Social networking sites, blogs and audio/ visual devices to name a few have taking over our lives and as historians we need to take advantage of that. How can we expect to keep historical study alive and departments like this one, if we remain oblivious as to what is going on around us. Today, there are approximately 500 million twitter users, which mean that more and more people are on the web and are not visiting places like museums and library’s.  As historians we feel that historical data would lose its credibility if we revert to technology and the internet for our sources however, we have seen through digital archives such as “Occupy” that this has not been the case. Advancements in technology have allowed historians to improve the way in which they document artifacts and keep records. Through the use of digital archives we have seen that historical events have been able to reach a wider audience and thus been able to spark the interests of everyday people as to the study of history. Yes, it is true that we have become very dependent on technology and therefore it has caused us to become very lazy as a society however, we have seen that there have been a lot of positive things that have come out of the study of digital history. This semester has allowed me to expand my knowledge as a historian and given me the tools to compete in today’s technological driven world.  Through the use of various tools like Program Historian, Google Earth, Voyant, Python and Audacity etc I was able to explore a world in which most historians frown upon  and  to afraid to expose themselves to. Nevertheless, if not for this course I would have been completely at a disadvantage in my future. I truly recommend this course for anyone who has any misconceptions about digital history because whether we like to admit it or not, they both go hand in hand and are essential for the future!

 

Looking back at my first post on this blog, I talked a lot more about myself and random personal details than I did about this course and about digital history as a whole. So, there’s not a whole lot to go off of in terms of responding to my first post. There isn’t much to be agreeing or disagreeing with as it was largely a statement of personal facts rather than one of opinions.

Getting to the subject of this post, though, do I still think that digital history is important? Of course I do. I also see that digital history has an uphill battle ahead. I originally thought that copyright and intellectual property were the biggest obstacles facing digital history and, while I still believe those are big problems, there is another issue to face as well. That issue is the stubbornness of historians and of academia as a whole and their unwillingness to change with the times.

Historians study the past, but that doesn’t mean they have to be stuck in the past. Historians are woefully ill equipped to take on the digital age. The training of historians hardly touches any aspect of digital history outside of the use databases like JSTOR. The fact that, when building a hugely valuable historical tool like the Google N-Gram viewer, the historians that were originally brought in on the project were let go because they couldn’t contribute is a huge shame on the entire field of study. A project like that should be our time to shine, not our time to fall flat and not be able to contribute.

With the advent of the digital age, we now have access to so much more information so much easier. I’m not only talking about websites such as the 9/11 archive, but things that you wouldn’t necessarily think to be historical sources at first glance. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Usenet, web forums, blogs and all other manner of sites are all huge collections of primary sources from everyday people. Google Earth overlays allow us to use geographical data for the study of history in ways that we could have never imagined before. 3D printing technology makes us able to recreate physical objects long since lost to time and can bring a level of detail to historical study unlike anything before. Basic computer coding can let us process enormous amounts of data at a rate far beyond any human is capable of doing. But these technologies are constantly expanding, advancing and becoming more and more complex and if we don’t start learning to take advantage of it now, we are going to be forever left behind.

That’s not to say that the classic methods of studying history have to go away. Nothing is quite like having a centuries-old book in your hands or being able to examine an ancient artifact that has been preserved in a museum or looking at old maps from decades ago, if not longer. However, digital history is the way the world is heading and the study of History has to evolve with the times and take advantage and protect the tools and sources we have available to us in the digital age. For if we do not embrace digital history, we, as historians, will soon find ourselves to be an anachronism and completely irrelevant to society and even to our own field.

Every course has, at its heart, the aim of imparting applicable information for future. Therefore, here at the end of Digital History, it seems appropriate to examine what the course has taught me and what value the study has for the discipline of history.

In my first post, I talked about 3 things I hoped to get out of Digital History as a course: interesting new knowledge, a better understanding of technology, and new ways of learning and sharing information. I think Digital History has done an admirable job of not only fulfilling these goals, but also showing how small they were in comparison to the potential benefits of using technology to enhance the study of history. While 3D printing, spatial history, Omeka, and other topics discussed in the course were certainly fascinating and informative, I did not fully appreciate their transformative impact on history, whether it be in adding visual and tactile resources to a primarily written source base or making historical information broadly accessible online. I certainly did not foresee my own creation of the Hungarian Revolution Revisited site, which, using only the tools learned in a single course, allowed me to share previously inaccessible primary documents with a wide and diverse audience.

This is not to suggest that digital history is a simple and straightforward discipline. Indeed, the other major lesson I feel the course Digital History imparted was just how complex the issues of integrating technology with history can be. I am certainly would not consider myself a programmer in any way shape or form, despite it being the subject the course spent the most time on. Other subjects, such as the role of popular media (from internet hoaxes to video games) in the public awareness of history, have the potential for years of study, the depth of which simply cannot be conveyed in a single class or even a single course. Digital history is, in short, a serious element of studying the past that needs consideration, whether or not a historian intends to make use of it directly.

After learning some basic Python, I wrote my fourth post on the value of programming to a historian, but I think that the 3 benefits outlined there can also be applied to all of digital history. First and foremost, digital history has an enormous potential for facilitating communication through mediums as diverse as WordPress, podcasting, or programming. Digital history also makes new aspects of history both possible and practical, including the creation of citizen histories, the study of quantitative historical data, and the visualization of historical artifacts or events. Finally, digital history is a crucial element of studying today’s culture, without which no study could be complete. When taking these advantages of digital history into consideration, it is hard to imagine an aspect of historical study that would not be impacted by its use.

At the end of the day, however, all this high level discussion is useless if it is not put to use. The amazing thing about digital history is that it is all around us. To speak only for myself, I know that this course has made me more aware of the historical elements of many of my daily activities, from listening to overtly historical podcasts (such as Hardcore History) to playing video games with only the framework of the past (hi, Civilization 5!). Hopefully, I can put the lessons learned in Digital History to practical use as well, whether that takes the form of enrolling in a MOOC (Massively Online Open Course) or just improving the material already on the Hungarian Revolution Revisited. Whatever the next step may be, my views of history cannot remain the same in a constantly changing world, so taking the time and energy to consider technology’s role in history is an important part of my development as a historian. By achieving this, Digital History lands solidly among the most important history courses I have taken thus far.

Going into the course, I was optimistic about the merger of history and digital media. I thought that it was a good idea for historians to embrace technology and utilize it to analyze, store, and record data.

After having learned about things like the Digital Archives, the 9/11 Archive, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, programming historian, Audacity, and Sketch-up, amongst many others, I believe my original opinion stays the same. The fact that there are so many different online history resources, proves that history has already taken the first step in going digital. The next step is the spread of this digital knowledge among all historians. Programming Historian is an excellent tool to acquaint even beginners with the versatile programming language Python. So there is really no excuse for historians not to take advantage of these tools.

Another thing I’ve learned from this class, is that history is also happening right now; and because we were born into a digital generation, we have a lot more ways to record our own history. We can make video series on youtube, podcasts, discuss things in open online forums, and store the data we produce digitally and freely available to everyone. By producing content, we leave behind the history of ourselves because once something is uploaded to the internet, it is usually very hard to completely remove it.

Overall, I enjoyed this course. I think one of my favorite things was the 3D Printer presentation. Its a really cool way to bring history into a physical form. I hope old-school historians will overcome their doubt about going digital, and embrace it.

I started HIST 291 with the perception that digital history was about bringing the past into the present using digital tools.

And this is certainly a huge part of it.

Tools and websites like WordPress, Audacity, Omeka, Google Earth and 3D Printing are allowing historians to share the past with a vast audience and in ways they never have been able to before.

Although opportunity for historians lies within using these digital tools, there are also dangers and threats. As Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig point out in their online book, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, the issue of quality is perhaps the most daunting for historians. With so much content on the web, users are not always able to distinguish between reliable and inaccurate information. What’s more, even if information is accurate, if it’s not presented in an appealing way, it won’t be read, listened to, or watched.

Sorry boring text-based history sites, you can't compete with Ancient Aliens. You just can't.

Sorry boring history sites you can’t compete with History Channel’s Ancient Aliens. You just can’t.

If historians want to reach a broad audience with accurate material, they need to be aware of their content’s marketability. They have to distill it, make it accessible and sell it. This means utilizing different mediums in order to tell their stories. Digital tools are making this easier, and easier to accomplish. But in order to use these tools effectively, they must be understood by historians.

Like it or not, we are living through the Third Industrial Revolution. What steam power did for the 19th century, digitization and the World Wide Web are doing for us. In this new world full of computers, digital literacy is critical, not just for historians, but for everyone who uses digital tools. This doesn’t necessarily mean historians need to know the inner workings of twitter, google or programming languages like HTML and Python. But it does mean that they need to start thinking about history’s integration with digital tools.

Because separating history from technology is no longer viable in today’s world.

If historians continue to think that history and technology don’t mix, the discipline is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Google’s n-gram provides a good example of this. Last week, it came to my attention that, although historians were consulted in the initial phases of the tool’s development, they were eventually dismissed because they could not contribute, or help troubleshoot the technological problems the development team was facing.

And so, Google’s n-gram, a phenomenal tool for historical inquiry, was not conceived of, or built by historians.

This is alarming. 

So how do we fix this?

I think it begins by embracing digitization into the discipline and integrating it into our classrooms. Courses like HIST 291 and introductory programming are a great start. Perhaps even an interdisciplinary approach would be beneficial. Geographical tools like GIS are becoming more and more important in historical research. A part of this argument too, is the notion that “digital history” might be too restrictive of a term. Instead, the more encompassing “digital humanities” should be adopted.

But the main objection against embracing the digital humanities, full tilt, is losing that last bit. Technology, although it has served to bring us together, has also driven us apart. Texting, facebooking and tweeting have become the primary means in which we communicate, rather than face-to-face interactions. There is a fear we are becoming socially ill-equipped and even uncomfortable around others.

So the question becomes: How do we use technology to serve humanity, and not lose our humanity in the process?

I think the Invisible Australians project and the Remember Me holocaust memorial, are two historical sites that strike the elusive balance between technology and people. They use digitized primary sources, images in both cases, to tell very heart wrenching, and very human stories.

So what’s next for digital history and the digital humanities?

I think I’ve provided some insight, but in all honesty, I don’t feel qualified to answer that question with absolute certainty.

But I can answer what’s next for digital history and me.

Digital history excites me. Its shown me that history can be applicable in the present and in the future. HIST 291 has opened up the proverbial “can of worms” for me in regards to my interests in history. The integration and use of digital tools within the humanities is something I intend to pursue in future courses, and hopefully, in my future career.

Who are we with being so blessed, to share our stories like this. To speak across centuries. – Ezio Auditore da Firenze, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

I started the course with that quotation. I figured it was appropriate to finish with it because it’s true. As a profession we are blessed to be able to share stories about the past.

The history profession is going through a revolution. Perhaps revolution is a strong word but the profession is trying to rapidly adapt to the digital world that they are currently unequipped to handle. I said it in my blog post about Python but I honestly can’t believe that there isn’t a mandatory computer science course that all humanities majors need to take. There are going to be extremely few jobs in the next 20-30 years, even in the humanities, that won’t require some work with computers or even some form of programming. This course has given me access to tools that I hope I can utilise effectively in my career and has reequipped me with programming, which I’m extremely grateful for because I know I’ll be doing lots more of that in the coming months. I know people really hate coding. I understand better than anyone. It’s frustrating, complicated and until you get into the higher stages of it, it’s really difficult to see how beneficial the rewards can be. However, I still think it’s important.

Other tools we learned are important too. The lesson on video gaming and history inspired me to create The Gaming Historian, which has now become a serious project and something I plan to work on even after the course is finished. That also was a product of working with WordPress extensively, which is a tool I really enjoy working with. Really easy to work with and the ability to give real time stats on visitors and views is awesome.

There were a lot of things that I learned about that I had no experience with in January. The 3D printing lecture provided a rudimentary look at the what the future may hold in recreating lost pieces of the past, which is very exciting. Especially after Google just released the new Google Nose beta, it’s cool to think about what we might be able to recreate someday. Omeka was another tool that hopefully I can use some to put a collection online cause it seems like a really interesting and helpful tool. Podcasting, which I want to use for other things along with history, is another cool tool I learned more about. The Neatline and Google Earth stuff was awesome. I’ve been using it extensively for looking at video game maps based on real life locations. Textual analysis tools like wordle, the ngram viewer and other tools are going to be extremely useful in the future when trying to map out trends in books or games. Very cool stuff.

This course was great. It honed some skills and introduced new ones that I will use when examining the past. It gives me a leg up on my fellow historians. It allows me to study history better and in a more digitally integrated way. I hope this course gets expanded and maybe even becomes mandatory. Our profession needs to move forward if we want to keep up with the rest of the humanities and world.

Cheers to all and have a good summer,

Dave

Going back to our first week, I have come to really appreciate how broad history has become and how broad it will become in the future. Before taking the class, I was not aware of the archives in the basement of the Dana Porter Library nor did I know how much information could be found through programming. This class has taught me a great deal on what being a Historian truly means. There are more avenues to research than just going to the library and delving myself in books. Digital History is strongly on the rise, as is the technological boom. With more historical artifacts and documents becoming available to us over the web, it is up to us to continue to advance our skill set in research so that we can keep up with the ever evolving world that is historical research.

I have become very encouraged by the end of this class, by the vast array of things I have learned. My knowledge of how to research has improved immensely now that I have been introduced to different forms of digital research. In the future, I can cut my research time almost in half if i please, using such programs as programming historian or Python. I can also have more credible sources from the archive situated in the library. There is so much about digital research that students have yet to figure out and it is up to us to spread the word.