Jenny Reeder

The Digital Lion Hunt
September 26, 2006, 6:12 am
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I remember playing the game “Going on a Lion Hunt” when I was a kid. I loved the simulation of a safari hunter going through different areas of the jungle in search of a lion, making noises like being stuck in the mud, swishing through the savannah grass with my hands, and verbalizing repetitively “I’m not afraid.”

Doing history research in the twenty-first century is a whole new hunt with digital technology and a plethora of resources available. Online resources open new horizons by increasing information in amazing and exciting ways. Lyman’s article, “How Much Information? Executive Summary” recaps the consistent growth of digital information. Turkel’s blog, “Methodology for the Infinite Archive” echoes the explosion of information. Turkel raises an important implication: the importance of new skills needed to deal with available information. Turkel speaks from the tech’s point of view–as a producer rather than a consumer–when he talkes about the need to configure new metadata, to write programs that search, spider, scrape, and mine, and to create bots, agents, and mechanical turks. As well, Cohen lists two ways in particular to disseminate the information, particularly with syllabus finders and similar programs of text extraction, and H-bots to find relevant documents, interpret questions, and analyze text.

As history producers find new and exciting ways to present history, history consumers must find new ways to actually find history. I loved Turkel’s blog, “Teaching Young Historians to Search, Spider and Scrape.” While perhaps history methodologies haven’t changed, research methodologies take us into an entirely different world. Spidering and scraping are things that we must learn how to do and teach others how to do. Mary Ellen Bates makes a good attempt in her search tactics, but we must make consistent efforts to teach students, clients, and web users how to take advantage of new search capabilities. It’s like taking the lion hunt into an entirely different dimension with much more than sounds made by our own mouths and actions by our own hands. We just have to learn how and take others on the hunt.


Choose Your Own Adventure, or The Loss of Specialization and Expertise in Visualization
September 19, 2006, 6:36 am
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Emmeline B. WellsI went through a Choose Your Own Adventure phase when I was I think in the sixth grade. It didn’t last very long; the books were way too easy and even though I could choose how I thought the book should end, I always ended up disappointed in the conclusion. Even though I chose to which page I would turn, I had no control over the outcome, and I would invariably go pack and change my choices to see if I could find a better end.

I am intrigued by David Staley’s ideas of visualization and implications for historians in Computers, Visualization, and History. He makes some strong points about the constraints of linearity and the multidimensional realities of real history. I agree with Staley on some accounts; I am a product of a postmodern world and believe in the importance of post-structuralism. I recognize the multiple dimensions of gender, race, religion, culture, socio-economic class, and historiography. I’m all for the inclusion of images, maps, graphs, diagrams, and charts. They can be extremely helpful.

Staley reminds us that visualization is not a “better” way to produce history, yet his argument against linearity and one-dimensional presentation compels us to believe that traditional written history is boring, pre-postmodern, and formal, not engaging the reader and maintaining a traditional elite culture of specialization and expertise. In his effort to co-partner with the reader and the historical audience, he loses the centuries of traditional historical experience, the power of chronology and linearity in understanding meaning and value, and, most importantly in my opinion, the authentic analysis available in history.

George P. Landow’s discussion of hypertextuality provides a little more insight beyond Staley. I am drawn to his description of immediate connection between footnote and text, between additional text, and between outside resources. In such a circular search, we certainly can choose our own adventure. However, and perhaps this illustrates my hidden structuralist nature, we loose the root of the matter. In such a circular, multidimensional approach to history, we loose the original foundational text.

I find that in all reality, as I experience history, whether in primary or secondary sources, I can choose my own adventure–I become active whether the text is visual or verbal. I put together primary sources and make my own conclusions, or I judge a secondary source as accurate or fair or applicable to my own work. I make my own circuitous adventure as I plunge into the sources. Doing so electronically is certainly easier and quicker, and I want to make that possible for others, but there is something about the process of fitting together the pieces in a linear, ordered way, and sharing that with others in a traditional historical setting.

Eliza R. Snow: My Wickipedia Correction
September 13, 2006, 6:50 am
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Eliza R. Snow Just wanted to report that I made my corrections. There were more than I thought, and I realized that I could spend a lot of time on this. One day I will. I found myself wanting to add more things in and clarify misinformation. I also added a reference and a source. I was curious to see who’s been messing around with this entry, so I checked the page’s history. Unfortunately I couldn’t decipher any of the user names, so I don’t know who has edited and added. I was surprised to see so many edits. Here is the site:

Web Production 101–the other Clio Wired
September 10, 2006, 7:16 am
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So as much as I fear admitting it, I think there’s a secret side of me that really wants to figure out web design. I like to put pieces together and see the result as a sort of mosaic of textures and patterns and colors, much as I find when I quilt with textiles. I recently completed an archives management program at NYU, and I found that amid the isolation and drudgery of archival arrangment and description, I found a secret satisfaction in being responsible for the complete organization of a collection, in deciding how the series would fit together, and then describing it and people actually using the online EAD finding aid. I dabbled a bit in XML description, but not enough to get a good feel for it.

For the past couple of years I’ve done some contract work for Lola Van Wagenen on a website she is producing: Clio–Visualizing History, Now, because I haven’t designed the site, I’ve simply provided textual editing and I’ve retrieved some of the images, I think this would be a great opportunity to really explore the depths of the site according to what we learned in class this week.

The purpose of this site is to illustrate (quite literally) the importance of visual history, particularly women’s history. Clio (the company) has produced one major documentary film on the Miss America pageant and has several others planned on women photographers, bluegrass artists, tennis players, and comedians. As well, the site features an extensive gallery of early women photographers and scholarly writings about them.

The site is static with a lot of images. The photographs are especially appropriate on a website about visual history; it is helpful that they can be opened with source captions. The gallery includes articles written by nineteenth-century women photographers,but these only appear in transcript form. It would be great if they had scans of the original printed articles. The site also includes helpful bibliographies, filmographies, and webographies, with links. The website navigates fairly well with site tags at the top of each page which divide down further under each division. There are no flash options or video files, which is a bit unfortunate especially for the section on Clio’s films. It would be great–and easy–to add Flash video files.

This Clio site is definitely a valid website and a good start. The site will continue to develop and expand and live even more up to its potential.

Soggy Digital History–
September 5, 2006, 1:17 pm
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When I moved to Virginia two weeks ago, I was suprised at the dry grass and trees. I had always thought of Virginia as the lush, green East in stark contrast to the dry West where I had grown up. And certainly different from the concrete jungle of New York City where I have spent the last two years. The past weekend of rain, however, has raised my hopes of fertile growth and a colorful fall season.

The expansion of digital history–and a clear understanding of the Internet benefits and challenges–provides new directions in history. Rosenzweig and Cohen have provided solid, simple insight into the mystical world of the Web. I appreciated their explanation of servers, IP addresses, web design, and political and social commentary. The metamorphosis of history through the Internet raise interesting questions of access.

While the Internet democratizes information, making the Library of Congress available to the non-scholar and additional examples cited by Rosenzweig and Cohen, other implications arise. While the Internet is widely available, there are certainly different levels of access–for some people virtually anywhere from the airport to the backyard patio on a laptop with a wireless connection, and for others at a public library. There are obvious social implications for socioeconomic, race, education, and geography. 

I am intrigued by the comparison of quantity and quality of information. A plethora of sites are readily available, some with more quality information than others. I guess in this respect, it’s sort of like the rain; while moisture is welcomed and needed, excess flooding causes more problems. The lack of access also provides problems. Sites such as JSTOR require membership, accessible to university communities for the most part. The high cost of membership usually prevents individual subscriptions, raising questions of truly open access.

When it comes down to valuable and valid online history, we need to be aware of the implications raised in Digital History. We need to understand the tools of the Internet–to design sites appropriately and to discern sites appropriately. In the same light, I embrace the rain at the same time that I protect myself within it.

History Online–The Beauty of 17th-Century Blogging
September 1, 2006, 4:36 pm
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In the process of creating my blog and joining the online academic community of historian bloggers, I’ve come to understand the Samuel Pepys online diary a little differently. I think the website is basically Pepys’s own post-mortem blog. His seventeenth-century diary serves as a meeting point for historians and interested public to converge in a text. There are both benefits and challenges to such a wireless and paperless medium, particularly in light of other online history projects.

In class we examined several different types of histor websites. Some were quite comprehensive, such as the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, while others were very specific, like the Valley of the Shadow. The Pepys site is even more focused on one person’s daily diary, without many of the bells and whistles of complicated site layout, images, and videos. The power of this website lies in its focus. The daily entries allow for scrutiny and numerous annotation, creating an in-depth network to explore the larger world of Samuel Pepys. Bloggers add maps, newspaper articles, images, and links to additional commentary, providing insight on a larger scale to the basic words on a reprinted page.

The collaborative nature of blogged annotation is both a benefit and a challenge. Users come from varied backgrounds, some adding information, others raising questions or providing critique. The blend of academia and general public may raise some eyebrows; however, the very focused nature of the site on one 17th-century figure in a distinct location filters the interest level. The layers of annotation and linking within each entry allow for valuable cross connection across the entire project. Challenges occur with the scrutiny–or lack of–with such open postings.

I can think of a couple of nineteenth-century diaries that I have worked on that I would love to see pursued in a similar fashion. I would love to have the input in a larger online dialogue, crossing time and place. On the other hand, the digital format of my blog raises questions of my own permanence. Will my words and ideas endure as long as Pepys? Will scholars and others gather around my archived entries to discuss my meanderings?