Ongoing Digital Project Link for ‘Letters In War’

To see the current case studies and project notes for data mining letters in war, go HERE.


Social Media and Listening: Decoding the digital chatter

booksFor class today, we read through the following articles:

Gulliver’s article focused on how to use the Twitter forum and listed 10 “commandments” that she felt enhanced how historians and others could benefit from the Twitter experience. I was particularly swayed by #6: “Learn the hashtags for your subject field or topics of interest, and use them.”

This ‘commandment’ certainly ties into our subject today of ‘listening’ to social media and using this forum for research. Hashtags allow key words to be utilized by Twitterverse and its users can search for any open forum using a specific hashtag to get to it. I think I recently used #Thankfulthisholiday. If you put that hashtag into the search bar, you’ll be taken to a specific feed where you can see everyone’s tweet with that hashtag inserted into it.

In Jessica Clark’s article, she mentioned that Twitter would be donating its public archives to the Library of Congress. Hashtags will be a useful tool in deciphering and shifting through the billions of tweets that will eventually fill the archive. {I think Hotz stated in his article that there is something around 200 million tweets in a day.} I ponder on the possibility, that had we used hashtag in our letters and documents in the past, it would make for easy referencing. I know that transcribing my war letters and putting them into the Voyant-tools program has been helpful in finding the key words I needed to study a word use trend, but had Voyant-tools not been created, all of it would have to be done manually. YIKES! The hashtag was a great invention for modern researchers studying social media forums.

Yet, there is drawbacks to researching Twitterverse. I think Robert Lee Hotz expressed this problem in his article when he stated that Twitter is the “new battlefield for information warfare.” It concerned me to know that the Pentagon Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is throwing out $42 million to develop ‘counter-messaging’ technology. Social Media is a an open forum that could persuaded many users though advertisements and so forth. While I understand that the country guards itself against ‘persuasion campaigns,’ would not this ‘counter-messaging’ technology in some ways be similar to brain-washing techniques? And would future researchers be guaranteed that what they were studying in our social chatter be true voices, or something manipulated by governments?

Hotz ends his article by stating that Twitterverse at this time doesn’t actually represent a true cross section of society. But what I think needs to be understood about Twitter is this is a new social forum. Like any new technology, once users integrate it into their lives, it becomes a part of who they are. When the older generation fades away, and the generation using it now, continues to use as they get older, as well as their children, it will eventually represent society as a whole.

Democratizing History and Shared Historical Authority: How Should this be Approached?

Albert CamusOur readings for today’s class included the following:

The main idea behind these readings appears to be the larger question of how to approach “radical trust” and as digital humanities is extended to incorporate collaborative efforts and contributions from the public at large, who has the knowledge-based historical authority to document and analyze these documents? Is this for the professional historian or the public historian?

I think what I centered on the most was an observation Leslie Madsen-Brooks noted in her article “‘I nevertheless am a historian’: Digital Historical Practice and Malpractice around Black Confederate Soldiers.” (Spring 2012 version) In discussion about the Black Confederate narrative, she stated that before digital tools were made available for historical analysis, discussion of controversies were contained within the academic volumes published by historians, and creative argument may have ensued via email with one another or within an email group. Now that we have digital tools to place analysis and findings  on the internet, there is even more opportunity for people to research their own historical topics especially with the vast array of primary documents that have been digitized. This allows for a more public discussion concerning controversial items, such as the Black Confederate narrative, and it opens this discussion to a wider audience when it is placed on the internet.

Madsen-Brooks also stated that with digital humanities, a history that would otherwise be suppressed, would find a voice. I agree with this. I believe, wholeheartedly that history should be transparent for public and academic discussion. Madsen-Brooks’ article flushes out three questions: 1) What constitutes real historical practice? 2) How are digital research and publishing tools changing that practice? and 3) What should be the role of professional historians in a space where authorship has been democratized?

Rose Sherman’s response in the article “Grappling with the Concept of Radical Trust,” certainly gives a good answer to some of these questions. In discussion about public contribution and collaboration, she mentions that historians need to loosen “reins of control.” Contribution should not be viewed with distaste. Some primary documents may never have been found had it not be given up by the public to be placed on a website as a contribution. The sharing that the public can do at large only widens the document basic structure for research. Why would we not want that? This allows historians to find material that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Sherman also joined that declaration with a statement that historians should not “abandon scholarly curation of our collections and interpretation of history.” Professional historians were trained to do this and add a needed voice to the contributions. I certainly disagree with Jim Gardner’s assertion that we need to resist adding the value of public opinion. Do we reserve history just for the profession historian? No, and those poorly written blog space or web sites that do not research well the topic, would certainly benefit if more professional historians felt comfortable in the digital realm. Should we not want the public to understand and help create their history of who they were and how they got to the point of where they are now? This could only be accomplished if more professional historians teamed up with the amateur public historian in creating a digital collection of contributions from the public. Professional historians should guide understanding and interpretation, this is what they were trained to do.  As Madsen-Brooks states, we historians need to be a “guide on the side” not the “sage on the stage.”

This is certainly a topic that will find discussion for years to come, as we continue building upon Digital Humanities. I am glad that I am here in this sphere. I see the need to merge technology with history, and I see the need to involve the public as we do this merging.

Dealing with Commemoration in Archives and Digital History

Glass WallFor today’s class we are discussing topics from the following readings:

I believe what stuck to me most out of the readings is a small sentence from Hessler’s article: The storyteller inhabits the story. This small bit of wisdom supports the thought behind the article “Commemoration and the Public Historian.” The work of a digital historian as it pertains to the presentation of material in archives or interactive on-line museum modes, carries the weight of responsibility, and does include a sort of moral obligation to the audience that the historian should present, preserve, and record the past as it actually was.

As a storyteller, a historian’s voice is included within the historical narrative of what transpired in the past. Historians narrate all the time. They analysis data and present it to the world with a narrative of events from their perspective. But, a digital historian can go beyond this. Analyzing data  is a just a platform to the next step. Three dimensions are added to the ‘interactiveness’ of  archive material when it is now more than a narrative. Adding the digital component to the commemoration of events, the storyteller gives the audience more than a narrative, as visitors to online sites are able to see and evaluate images, documents, letters, and other tangible artifacts associated with the event.

Hessler is mindful that there is a challenge for public museums who go online to engage “an increasingly diverse” audience. Commemoration involves identification with the victims. I don’t think this could be accomplished as well solely through narrative as identification asks the reader to conjure up sensations and emotions that may have been experienced by those who were actual participants in the event. This identification most likely could only occur when there are tangible details to see, touch, and hear (as in oral histories or interviews). One thing I did learn when I was going through my teaching certification is that there are many types of learners. This type of interactive authenticity hits upon most of these different types of learning behaviors. I see identification as part of future pedagogy. Yet, as Hessler advises, we also need to be mindful of losing a “critical distance” to understanding and studying the event we attempt to commemorate, if we become too involved in fostering that personal identification in teaching.

The Kent State project is an example of how new digital historians attempt to inhabit the story, by re-focusing attention to tangible details, like forensic evidence long forgotten,  to retell a story as it actually happened. The storyteller here seeks to add another perspective to a long established narrative.

I believe that this could be something I could attempt with my letter collections. It would be interesting to add more dimensions to this stories by finding images of the people who wrote them and other tangible artifacts that could be associated with the authors of the letters and those who the letters were addressed to. Perhaps one or two will have a personal story that a visitor to my future site would be able to identify with. I think that the challenge would be to create a narrative, but more than just a narrative, to commemorate these participants in the war.

Digital presentation and communication with research

Mongol InvasionOur topic in class today come from the following readings:

    • Cohen and Rosenzweig ch. 5-7 (Building an Audience, Collection History Online, Owning the Past)
    • Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly, “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5,” Essays on History and New Media,
    • Doug Seefeldt and William G. Thomas, “What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplary Projects.” Perspectives on History 47 (5), May 2009. (make sure to download and read the actual paper.
    • grad students should also read: Orville Vernon Burton and Simon Appleford, “Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences,” in ECAR (Educause Center for Applied Research) Bulletin 9: 1 (January 13, 2009): 2-11.

For me the following statement from Burton and Appleford’s article ties these readings together: (page 8) “Any effort to seed digital humanities centers consequently must focus considerable energy in building relationships…” Cohen and Rosenzweig’s discussions in Chapters 5 – 7, certainly delve towards establishing relationships in research. Building an audience for your work is establishing a relationship, collecting history online, is a collaborative effort and consist of relationships, and gathering like minded collaborators on projects is building working relationships. Great examples of these communication relationships can be found in and the 9-11 archive. These web pages create and foster a public participation as well as research participation, bringing both together in cyberspace.

For my research with the letters from war, I am daunted by Cohen and Rosenweig’s Chapter 6, “Collecting History Online.” A bad candidate for projects, the authors state, are any target topics before WW II. When I read this, I grew somewhat disheartened. But, after reading Brennan and Kelly’s article “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5” I understood my mission. The authors reference the Hurricane archive and the September 11 archive as a place where the public can participate by adding their own memories and images. These two web sites were fascinating to me. I felt that these were just a contemporary version of what letter writing is. While the public participants weren’t actually writing a physical letter, they were still digitally recording an emotion, thought, feeling, which is similar to what soldiers did in their letters home during war before computers were even a part of everyday life. Why can’t those be a part of the digital archive for future generations? People could even become participants and collaborators in recording these letters. Many of what I find on my ebay searches are collections that others have picked up in estate sales. Would there be a way to reach out and have them be able to upload them or help transcribe them?

I also would have to consider who my target audience would be in generating this archive. Brennen and Kelly reference the hurricane site and September 11 site as digital memory banks. Would there be future scholars who would even want to research these letters, or would this just be a passion of mine? Brennan and Kelly’s article certainly support the Cohen and Rosenzweig’s chapter 6, and go further by giving examples of how to market your sites. I was impressed by the Maris Gras cups with the URL on them, as well as the pre-paid postcard for recording handwritten memories. (Of course that’s just me and my letter writing affliction.)

Seefelt and Thomas’ article “What is Digital History? A look at some Exemplary Projects” talk about the communication revolution which transpired in the 1990s. They were right on the money when they stated it changed historical scholarship and teaching. With the GIS interest and new approaches towards spatial history, new insight is brought to research by being able to examine things three-dimensionally. I wonder how I could incorporate that into my letters? I’ve thought about tracking the authors on the journey from home, to camp, to battlefields, and either back home or the gravesites. It would be interesting to me to spatially see the movement of men to specific camps around the US.

Seefelt and Thomas’ article also left me with some thoughts about digital humanities:

Few scholars have engaged in digital medium because: 1)  No well defined examples of digital scholarship, 2) No established best practices, and 3) No clear standards of review for tenure.

This statement makes me focus on just how new all of this is for the humanities. How can we move to make digital history a more prevalent methodological approach than what it currently is? Perhaps it just takes more communication and more relationship building.

Working With Raw Data in a Digital World

Albert CamusThis particular week I am exploring some new ideas with my project. I originally wanted to work with two different sets of letters from soldiers who lived up in the northern area of the United States by data mining the contents of these hand written letters and comparing them to letters, which were published in book form. The outcome would be placed in a series of word clouds and compared for analysis. Since then I’ve reconstructed the project and have chosen a set of letters from a rural farm boy in Berlin, Mass. and a young corporal from Liberty, SC. to compare to the those of the letters published in book form, along with using a storyboard from Google’s Social Explorer to help with some of the analysis. The Social Explorer can be used in similar ways as a Prezi story board. I am creating a map story board to help with analysis of the areas that each young man came from to see if any noticeable difference can be observed in the word cloud which would correlate with the background of the areas they lived in.

I think the difficult part of this project is the transcription of the letters. Currently there is not advanced technology that can recognize hand writing well enough to help with converting the data. Transcription of these letters can be a time consuming process. With the collection I have (just got another 100 or so WWI letters in the mail) it will be a constant job of transcribing. Another difficult aspect is the handwriting itself. Some words are totally illegible, some pages have been eaten by rodents and parts of passages are missing, and sometimes the words are just a scribble and its a guessing game as to what is being written. I couldn’t imagine a computer trying to do what the human element is more capable of, with regard to these problems. The computer output would still need to be reviewed for accuracy though, should this become a viable technology in the future, just to combat these similar problems.

Oral History going digital

Crystal PalaceFor today’s class the assigned reading included:

Before I begin my thoughts about the readings, I would just like to note that because of our experiment with writing html last week, I was able to remove the ‘x-large’ font command from the html that I copied over from the syllabus. I was very proud of myself, and feel somewhat more comfortable about learning the computer language.

Oral history seems to be a subject that is recent in the process of archiving material, but perhaps its not. “The Oral History” article touches upon this fact, by stating the oral traditions have been around for thousands of years. Examples of this would be the Native American stories told through generations. I believe what stopped historians from taking oral histories seriously is that many of these oral traditions were considered myths. Much of what had been handed down through the ages was thought not worth much in value or study. It is only recently that we have given a place to Oral History, because it is told by a living person, not a piece of stone or old parchment. The digital age has certainly helped this along with the invention of recording tape and other devices. Law has established precedent for historians too, as in the 1997 court ruling of the Supreme Court case in Canada of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, whereby the judges concurred that oral histories are just as important as written history.

The transformation of Oral History has led historians to see that history can be a “live subject.” As stated in “Oral History online,” the fact that an individual can hear along with reading a narrative adds a three-dimensional feeling to what is accessed. This brings to mind the re-make of the Orson Well’s movie “The Time Machine,” in the 1990s. In this particular movie, the doctor stops his time machine in the not-to-distant-future where TV screens dot all corners of the streets and we’ve established a base on the moon. The doctor wanders into the New York Library where a three-dimensional hologram man greets people at the door and gives many different oral histories to questions that patrons ask it. It is this same computer hologram that the doctor finds in a cave 800,000 years into the future when he finally is able to stop his time machine. It is this same computer hologram who is able to tell the doctor all that transpired upon Earth during his journey. Could this be where we are headed with digital humanities and oral history? It is certainly a mind stopping concept, and not unthinkable. With all the stories and interviews loaded on the internet, a self thinking computer could one day have access to all of this. If we have taken ourselves out of the equation by some manmade virus or nuclear war, visitors to our planet in the future may be able to access the archives we’ve left behind and actually hear voices of those in the past. It is something to ponder.

Kirk Savage’s article on memory seems to end this thought appropriately. He stated: “It is no surprise that much of the literature on commemoration in the U.S. deals with war and its aftermath.” Will those in the future see our collection of oral interviews and history just as a commemoration to death and destruction? If the doctor traveled in his time machine 800,000 years into the future, what would our computer hologram have to say about us today? I think it imperative that we collect more oral histories about us, not just that of war or commemoration. We need more collections like the Federal Writer’s Projects so that more voices are heard throughout history, and a complete picture can be developed about our past and who we are.

Creating an Online Presence

baseball successOur readings for class tomorrow include the following:

The theme of these readings is  how to create and maintain a viable presence online. I have already tapped into this, (minus building the website) when I began my journey as a children’s author in 2010. Blogging was popular, Twitter had just started and professionals were hurrying to create their LinkedIn profiles. I didn’t sign up as suggested in “Creating Your Web Presence” by author Miriam Posner until 2013. But when I Googled myself as Ryan Cordell requested in his article, much of what I find is other people who have a similar name, and some of my blogs from My academic profile is nil with the exception of my LinkedIn.

This brings me to Cohen and Rosenzweig’s chapters about getting started digitally with historical research. Digital projects are a conclusive way to becoming well known on the web. We can certainly see this in something like the Ellis Island project. I know that I utilized this site during my student teaching days because it was very interactive for the user. The information they offered in Chapters 2-4 has put me on system overload though. Having an interactive web design like the Ellis Island project appears to be massive and require multiple elements in its upkeep.  I was not aware of the many web design tools or hosting programs that are available, and confronted with the options of Windows versus Linux, Dreamweaver versus Front Page, and Oracle versus MySQL is mind boggling. In my past work life in the construction industry I used an Oracle based data collection program. I know that it can be manipulated to collect all sorts of pieces of information and spit out reports or forms. It certainly gives this author “food for thought” when contemplating placing my own research out on the web. I know that my database may be large with the letters, out of print books, pamphlets, images, etc., that will be incorporated later in the design.  Their suggestions regarding connecting with an institution is certainly at the top of my list, for the sole purpose that academic web space is free. Maintaining it and keeping it up to date will be a necessity that could require an adequate supply of money.

I was impressed by the different funding options that Cohen and Rosenzweig presented at the end of chapter two. Seed Grants, the National Endorsement for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation’s Program for Scholarly Communication are possibilities for my future project. It is the designing aspect that I will be struggling with. A long time ago in my youth when I attended the University of Alaska, I thought I wanted to be a computer programmer and took Cobalt and Pascal. Those computer languages scared me and so does html. I am anxious to try the class lessons tomorrow and hopefully some computer skills will return. and

I shall sleep tonight with html language dancing in my head.

What to do when you present a paper to an empty conference room….

Tiffany Glass DomeI read this article from a link in one of our readings for this week’s class. I’ve been here before – presenting a conference paper that I worked so hard on, to an empty room.

Terry Brock, the author said:

A few weeks after the conference was over, I had an idea: I sat down with Keynote, opened up my slide show, hit the “record” button, and gave my paper again. Then, I uploaded it onto Vimeo. A few years later, hundreds of people have watched the presentation, and I’ve created a resource I can use over and over again.

There are a number of reasons why I think you should all consider doing the same thing with your conference papers. The nature of the conference paper is that it is only as useful as the amount of people who hear it. If you’re in a popular session, with some well-known archaeologists, then you may get some exposure. But, as a graduate student, particularly if it’s one of your early papers, this may not happen, and then the hard work you put into that paper feels like wasted time. What good is a piece of research if no one is reading it?

This is so true of a lot of papers presented by graduate students. Disappointment and frustration land many papers in a forgotten notebook in the back of a drawer. There’s a lot of great research out there that needs an outlet. I think Digital options, such as video recording your presentation and placing it out on the web is a wonderful way for more presentations to be seen, and Terry Brock hit it perfectly with this article.

Text Analysis in Digital Humanities

Glass in ScienceToday our assignment contained the following readings, along with specific software we would be learning.

In all three readings, there is a general theme of using text to find patterns that can support, and even highlight, arguments and historical analysis, as well as provide a visualization for the reader of this historic research. I was particularly drawn to a statement in Cohen’s article “From Babel to Knowledge.” He stated “These computational methods, which allow us to find patterns, determine relationships, categorize documents, and extract information from massive corpuses, will form the basis for new tools for research in the humanities and other disciplines in the coming decades.” I know that before taking this class, I had no knowledge of GIS or Google’s Ingram, or even what a word cloud was. I certainly agree with Dr. Burton and Dr. Mack’s statement that graduate students need these introductions to the options in digital history, not only because our world is fast moving in the technology highway, but for the pure reason that using these tools to explore the many dimensional fields of rhetoric can open some interesting possibilities with future research.

Cohen mentions utilizing an API (application programing interface) to search collections of materials to find patterns and also for categorizing by using an index or inverted index. I can see this application important, even in my own research on wartime letters. Being able to understand how to use an API will help in creating a directory of most commonly used words within these collection of letters, or categorizing letters by what words are used most. This would fall in line with Cohen’s comment that as the collection grows, more information will be able to be extracted that wouldn’t necessary be seen in a smaller collection. Guess I have more collecting to do.

Ted Underwood’s article “Where to start with Text Mining” is a great transition from this last statement of Cohen’s article. What can you do with these large collections of material once you have them? Text mining is simply using programs like “Python” to create your own program to search the collections for useful information. Underwood noted that there is a misconception that currently we have a multitude of material that has already be digitized. This is misleading as he states that “page images are not the same as clean, machine-readable text.” This supports Cohen’s assessment that large collections are needed to pull good research from, but it must be text that can be used in programs that can read the words. Underwood uses an example which illustrates how difficult it is sometimes for machines to read text images. The example he uses is  the long ‘S’ in old English, so it becomes distorted in the final product. There are projects like the Brown Women Writers which manually transcribe text. (This is something I’ve started on my letters, but I foresee this to be a daunting task for one person. Dr. Mack was kind enough to send this reference my way. “One way of transcribing letters:” Personal handwritten letters would be just as difficult a task for programs as the long ‘S.’ Perhaps in the future, our advancement in letter recognition will be able to incorporate the many styles of handwriting.

I was particularly impressed by something Underwood mentioned in his article. “Words matter.” He further elaborated on rhetoric by expressing that words “hang together in interesting ways – like individual dabs of paint that together start to form a picture.” What he is referencing here is the concept that words take on different dimensions that can be gleaned from using text mining. Certain phrases are just as important as particular words referenced during certain periods of time. This allows for historical contrasting, finding clusters of statements that can be analyzed by comparison over time and so forth. Within his article he hyperlinks to a PDF download at  Stanford Literary Lab (which I have linked for you). This pamphlet is called “Loudness of Word.” I found this interesting as it mentions the idea of sound mechanics within novels – hearing the voices and diction. This supports the diachronic argument in research, and could most importantly support my own research of letters written during war time. Not only would there be an element of commonly used words, but diction of these words could play into a better understanding of the mentality of the author or authors during this period. Cluster and diction, as argued by Underwood, would group words to create a semantic map for visualization and understanding for the reader. While he notes that text mining may only be an “exploratory technique,” it certainly gives the digital historian food for thought.

The last reading by John Theibault “Visualization ad Historical Argument” follows up nicely. Theibault emphasizes that a reader’s understanding can be “enhanced by close attention to the image.” This image is not necessarily a picture image or painting, but an image provided by programs processing information and placing this information in graphs or maps. He notes that there is a challenge for the new historian – how to align rhetoric with the audiences’ ability to follow it. Visualization is a perfect way to overcome this, and as technology increases, historians will find many different ways to digitally visualization research.

One comment which caught my attention was his statement: “Many explanations have offered for the relative decline of social history since its heyday in the 1970s, but a failure of imagination in the integration of visualization with text based arguments may have contributed to the decline.” My question here would be: would new innovations in today’s digital humanities bring about a renewed interest in social history? I feel that I have popped out of cultural study of my letter collection into a more social viewpoint. (I’m still on the fence about this though). I can see, after reading some academic texts of the 1970s and 1980s, that some of the visualizations used by the authors then, did do exactly what Edward Tufte referenced by creating “chartjunk.” These unnecessary additions of images and information clutter did nothing but confuse me. I would have to read the passage numerous times just to understand what the point was. Theibault’s reference to Isoa Hashimoto’s “2053 nuclear explosions” (which I’ve watched) is pure genius. The reader can really grasp what the creator of this “cinematic map” was expressing and it was simply made, but profoundly understood. I need to remember this when I begin to explore options for the final analysis of my letters.

I am certainly looking forward to diving into some of the programs referenced by these authors. It seems as the weeks go by, I am learning more than I could have ever imagined about the use of technology for research.