Although I signed on to Wikipedia earlier in the semester, this was my first time modifying an entry. It was incredibly easy. I chose to add some information to the site on heavyweight prizefight champion Jack Johnson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_Johnson_%28boxer%29). I was actually impressed at how in-depth the information already was. There was information about his personal life, boxing career, legal troubles, and legacy. Much of the information came from Ken Burns’s Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Although I am not always a fan of Ken Burns’s work, I think this documentary is one of his better ones. There is certainly room for improvement in many areas of the entry, but for the most part I thought that it gave a good, brief overview.

Since Wikipedia uses commands and symbols similar to Windows, it is easy to follow. It really isn’t even necessary to read instructions—users can figure things out quickly by trial and error. Just like WordPress, Wikipedia allows you to preview your entry before posting it so you can recognize any errors. I can imagine updating other sites in the future while writing a paper for a class, or just adding a few sentences to give a more inclusive perspective to particular entries.

It was great to explore the Traditions and Cultures of IU site. I found out a lot of information that I did not know about our campus. I can see how students enjoy the course, and especially how useful it is to teach students about traditions. It gives students a common language with which to approach their experience on campus.

People seem to be fascinated with the real life tales of other people. Films frequently draw audiences by announcing that they are “based on a true story.” In order to connect with a general audience, historians can use the “real” stories of individuals to convey historical processes and issues. But what happens when we can’t find the real story (and do we ever recover the “real” story anyway)? Should historians use stories to share a message even when the stories don’t really exist?

            I really enjoyed exploring the site, “Raid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704.” Sponsored by the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, the website tells about the Indian and French raid on the English settlement of Deerfield. The site offers film clips, sketches, narratives, artifact images, and analysis of the competing cultures. The website creators attempt to tell the stories of all participants, not just the English or French who left written sources. In order to do this, the authors created many “composite characters” to tell the stories of those who did not leave a written record. Crossing many different fields of expertise, historians compiled sources to tell a larger story of U.S. history than just the story of Deerfield. This website utilized the best of current scholarship, but also challenged me to think about the purpose and dangers of creating stories for a general audience.

            I will use the story of Frank, John Williams’s African slave, as an example. Williams recorded that Frank was taken in the raid and killed on the march to Canada. He also noted that Frank was married to Parthena, another slave. Yet the website creators use Frank to tell the story of life in Africa, the slave trade and capture, the Middle Passage, life in the West Indies (including Frank’s first wife, birth of four children, and death of three children), then his subsequent sale to New England. Although the story is not written in the first person, the reader really feels like they can understand Frank’s fears and anguish. Yet it is not until the end of the narrative that the reader realizes that only three facts are really known about Frank’s existence. Does the reader feel like she or he learned something, or that the reader was betrayed into thinking that this invented story was actually true?

            Just as films often use composite characters to tell a larger story, the narratives on the
Deerfield website can do the same. The story of Frank takes the best of recent historical scholarship—Atlantic world, African, Caribbean, colonial, Native American—to convey historical “truth” as best we know it. Although it is somewhat unsettling to realize that Frank’s story was virtually invented, the tale is useful to think about what enslaved African Americans in the Deerfield settlement may have experienced before their arrival in New England.

The greatest concern is that the website’s stories are so compelling that people may take them to be true rather than suppositions. The creators of the website were careful to explain their process and why they chose to combine multiple stories into one. In all, I think that the risk of the “composite characters” is worth it in order to make people think about all the characters and perspectives. As historian Barry O’Connell writes on the site, “The end to be sought is not to get something ‘absolutely right’ but to make it come alive in all of its uncertainties. The more we can multiply perspectives from many different kinds of people the better able we are to ask useful and specific questions out of which can come the fullest sense both of what did happen in the past and how we might understand and judge it….It is our task, as students and teachers, writers and citizens, to bring everyone and everything out of the mist so we might hear their voices, follow their actions, and respect each person, past and present, as a maker as well as a subject of history.”

            I always like to check out the online exhibits at the Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon History Project (http://www.ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/index.cfm). I like the lesson plans, historical viewers, and abundance of public domain images for classroom use. I can imagine using the site to develop classes on the West, industrialization, etc. Although not necessarily “historical,” another site that I love is “I Predict a Riot” (http://www.bravo.co.uk/IPAR/home.html). Based on a British documentary series, the site has many film clips and background on collective violence in the
UK.

 

I am not much of a gamer. When I was in high school my best friend’s five-year-old sister would always beat me when we played any video game. Since I never practiced much, my hand-eye coordination is not that great. I am not the best gaming shooter, golfer, or navigator. So this exercise was new terrain for me.

I enjoyed reading about the concepts, theory, and debates regarding video games. I had never thought about many of the issues, such as the perspective of the player vs. non-player character or the emotions that the player feels as he or she engages with the game. Does the player relate to their character and feel love, anger, fear? Are they sad when they realize it is only a game, or do they get an amazing sense of satisfaction? How are films and gaming related, including editing or segues between scenes?

In terms of historical usefulness, games provide great possibilities. Some games require players to use clues to solve puzzles, just as historians use evidence to “solve” questions. Characters display agency and make choices, just as historical actors had to make daily choices. I liked Salen and Zimmerman’s description of a “game as a space of possible action that players activate, manipulate, explore, and transform.” Historians do the same thing as they assemble and analyze evidence. Games can either lead players through a crafted narrative to experience a specific historical situation, or players can construct their own narrative through their choices. Both options can provide valuable insights and educational entertainment.

I was a bit disappointed in many of the “historical games” I found online.  I certainly didn’t explore the entire offerings of historical online gaming, but I found many simple games. Yet even these games might be useful in the classroom. For example, “Fling the Teacher” (http://www.schoolhistory.co.uk/games/fling/) could be a fun way for students to test their knowledge of British history, but it is not very interactive and there are no characters. It is basically an online quiz. I went in search of a good old fashioned game of
Oregon Trail, and instead found a nice map (
http://www.historyglobe.com/ot/otmap1.htm). I could not find a copy of the game that did not require many extra downloads.

            The History Globe website offered another more interactive game—the Jamestown Online Adventure (http://www.historyglobe.com/jamestown/). Students have the option to choose the landing location for the ship, the type of shelter to build, the settlers’ attitudes toward the Powhatan Indians, who is responsible for working, and the types of crops to grow. Although this is not an earth-shattering game, I believe younger students would have fun using this as an extracurricular activity. They can see how each choice impacts the next, and why the priority for a certain type of shelter could have both positive and negative effects.

            Again, I know I didn’t explore the biggest and best historical games the internet has to offer (primarily because my computer was having trouble with some of the downloads). But I do think games have tremendous pedagogical possibilities, as well as the ability to reach a wider audience. I must admit that I spent most of my time playing Midway 1943, a classic 1980s game (http://www.1980-games.com/us/old-games/java-games/1943-arcade.php). Not great for history or pedagogical use, but still a good time!

The addition of sound or video can greatly enhance any class lecture, presentation, or website. It is exciting to think about the ease, accessibility, and possibilities of sound and video files. The Washington
State oral history site was really fascinating. It was nice to be able to read a general transcript of what people discussed, but the reality of their voices added a whole new dimension. Since these oral histories were collected in the 1970s, they serve as primary sources in more than one way. I can imagine using these sound clips in class, or developing an assignment where students use the recorded stories as sources paired with other primary and secondary materials. Oral histories seem to be good candidates to distribute through websites. They are manageable file sizes and, as Trevor Bond explains, the technology is not prohibitively expensive. It is good that the university has resources dedicated to maintaining their files.  

            Although I am not planning to create a website, I enjoyed reading Cohen and Rosenzweig’s chapter on building an audience. It is useful to know as much as possible about how search engines work. Not only does it matter to website creators, but it greatly matters when we do online searches. Understanding how we receive results can help us tailor our searches to be as accurate as possible. In light of YouTube’s popularity, it would be interesting to see their server logs or to understand who visits their site.

            The most thrilling part of my browsing this week was finding YouTube footage from the 1910 Jack Johnson-Jeff Jeffries prizefight. When I was working on my master’s thesis (on the riots following the prizefight) in 2004 I tried many different sources to find the fight footage—interlibrary loan, ESPN archives, state and university archives. When Ken Burns released his 2005 Jack Johnson documentary, I was envious of the great footage he located. Of course, his resources were much more vast than mine. Yet there on YouTube is footage of many of Johnson’s famous fights, including great knockout scenes from 1910 and Jim Jeffries training footage. I’m sure I will use the films in future presentations or lectures. I don’t know how these people located this information, but I am so glad they did. Some fight fans even created their own Jack Johnson tribute montages of still photos and fight footage.

            Sites like YouTube certainly raise questions of copyright. Although the Johnson-Jeffries footage should be considered in the public domain, it is possible that people who re-released the footage secured copyright. As long as I just want to use the footage for my own viewing or leave it on YouTube, then I don’t encounter issues. It seems difficult to track down complete details on some of the footage I viewed, although I didn’t directly contact any of the users who posted the video. For example, I wanted to know who originally developed some of the fight films. A news company? Were the films broadcast in movie theaters? Did they use the original narration/narrator? It is exciting to think about sources that will be available to researchers years from now, and how important online preservation is today.

            Websites offer an endless variety of possible uses for teaching and classroom activities. They are fun to explore, they offer outstanding visual images and film clips, and they allow students to put information together in creative ways. Gone is the linear progression of books and articles or the teleological conclusion (or at least, sites don’t have to present info in this way). But do websites allow us to reach course objectives that we otherwise might fail to achieve? Based on the group of websites we explored this week, the answer is clear—absolutely. These websites provide the means to explore topics that are of interest to students using images and evidence that would otherwise be daunting to assemble. Websites provide assembled units that would take years for professors to develop.

            Who Killed William Robinson? is an intriguing site. In an era of crime scene investigations and courtroom television dramas, few methods could be more appealing to students. Students get to read the opinions of people who were there and hear how people presented their arguments. In many ways, conversations and newspaper articles about crimes have not changed that much since the nineteenth century. Although the “past is a foreign country,” students can learn that people were not so different from them. The maps were interesting, although the number and detail could have been overwhelming for students.

            My favorite part of the website was the student comments. It was amazing to see how students assembled and evaluated evidence to form a conclusion, and then offered arguments about their position. It was easy to see what learning objectives this website can help fulfill—technical skills like navigating websites, historical knowledge about a particular place, time, and people, and historical skills like interpreting primary sources and thinking about author motives. The most illuminating part of their comments was the assumptions that they brought to the evidence. Some students felt that simply asking the question of guilt meant that Tom’s conviction was wrong. Others assumed that racism or greed motivated the killing and the conviction. Some simply stated that no one could ever really know the truth and it was too hard to deal with the evidence. They focused on goods, race, place, and characters. The students demonstrated a wide range of historical thinking and also the challenging presumptions that students bring into the classroom. The site allowed students to navigate images and documents that would have been time-, resource-, and cost-prohibitive in paper form.

            I really loved the curriculum modules on the Women in World History site. Not only did the site provide interesting primary documents and good interpretive questions, but it also made these somewhat remote topics more accessible to students. In the unit on Western Views of Chinese Women, the authors used gender as a way to help students connect with the daily lives of people who observed the Chinese women, as well as speculate about what the lives of the Chinese women may have actually been like. This unit took familiar concepts and used them to let students meet unknown people. Bridging World History added sound and other images to the mix. Not only were the learning objectives clear, but they could fit usefully into a world history class. Students could not only learn how to evaluate evidence, but could exhibit historical thinking. More than anything, these sites made teaching such subjects easier for the professor and more interesting for the students.

In our discussions regarding copyright laws, I have been overwhelmed at the details involved in determining “fair use.” For example, documentary filmmakers must be aware of posters, music, and television programs in the background of their shots. They must pay proper attribution to these cultural artifacts, even if the objects did not play an integral role in the message of the film. Filmmakers must continually look at their work with fresh eyes to catch the unintended messages at work on the screen. In the course of producing their work, documentarians must understand and confront copyright laws.

            Although the details of fair use laws can be daunting, it seems like fair use is one area where the intent of the act matters more than the act itself. I find the checklists used by IU librarians immensely helpful in considering the intention of the teacher, researcher, or author. The same goes for documentary filmmakers. In order to preserve the authenticity of their craft, they must utilize fair use laws in regard to background music and images. Any efforts to curtail the use of copyrighted material would seriously hinder their ability to tell their story.

            Since copyright laws are shaped by the people who use it, I am pleased at the number of articles which encourage researchers and professors to push the boundaries of fair use laws. The documentary filmmakers demand that they have the same access to copyrighted material as critics and news broadcasters. In a similar fashion, Rosenzweig and Cohen argue that historians must actively use materials available through fair use so the rights of scholars are not undermined. The filmmakers’ Statement of Best Practices brings up interesting points about other occupations that benefit from fair use laws. Who else does what historians do? Who else uses our source materials? Historians must actively know and shape copyright laws by demanding the same rights as historical filmmakers, popular writers, and others academics. While copyright laws often seem intimidating, “fair use” and proper intentions greatly ease our abilities to use sources.

 

Prospectus for my Final Project

            I plan to create a newspaper database that I will use for my dissertation research. I anticipate using FileMaker Pro to help me keep track of news stories relating to riots. I have previously attempted to organize newspapers using Microsoft Excel, which was cumbersome for the number of fields I needed. Although Excel provided the necessary searchability, it was faster for me to manually perform some of the summations/calculations I needed (i.e. according to multiple sources, how many people died in a particular place?). I was also unable to pull entries with particular keywords. I basically had to remember and search by the location or the phrase I wanted. A FileMaker database will not only allow me heightened grouping and searchability, but this digital format will help me manage much more information more quickly than I could with notecards, file folders, or other traditional methods.

            I plan to preserve the citation information in one table (newspaper name, city, section number, page number, date, article title, author). I also plan to label the type of article (editorial, letter to the editor, feature, AP release, advertisement). I will key in relevant passages and quotations to make sure I can search for them. Eventually I will probably add some tags for keywords. In another table, each riot will include the name by which it is popularly known, the date, the initiating incident, and list who was involved. From there, the “who” will include indicators of occupation, race, sex, age, and actual names if available. I hope to follow this up with action taken (police, military, corporate, legal) and against whom. By keeping each of these themes as a separate table, I hope to connect newspaper citations to the particular riot they describe so I can search by location, riot name, participants, or newspaper.

 

Questions—

-How should my proposal for a personal database differ from the prescribed proposal format? For example, do I still need to argue why an organization might fund it?

-How should I handle review of sites/projects that are similar to my proposed project? Since I cannot necessarily see the actual databases behind some of the research, should I just focus on models that produce the type of research I plan to do?

-Is a homepage necessary?

 

I know that I will come up with many questions and problems as I am implementing this database, so I will continue to try to think through my guiding questions and goals as I draw out my fields and tables. I hope to save a lot of time and energy in the future by setting up this database now.

      We have spent several weeks exploring websites, databases, and archives that form the backbone of “new media” historical scholarship. Over the course of the semester, we have expressed both excitement and skepticism about the promised opportunities these digital sources provide for our work. In light of new technology, how different is our work? Are we really able to accomplish new things and come to new conclusions? Or can we just do larger, deeper projects and present them in different ways? Are we reaching a new audience, or just communicating with historians in cool, technically-skilled, and visually-pleasing ways?

            After exploring several of this week’s assigned sites, I have a slightly ridiculous answer to these questions—Who cares? Now, I certainly do not mean any disrespect to historians, new media advocates, or even digital history skeptics. But does it matter if we are truly doing something “new”? I believe that the “newness” of our projects is less important than what they teach us. As long as we are creating high-quality historical scholarship and presenting it in accessible and user-friendly ways, we will continue to contribute to the larger historical discussion. For some people, a printed article is sufficient for learning. For many others, digital media allow them to make new insights and learn more information in a short amount of time.

            To illustrate my point, I will turn to William Thomas and Edward Ayers’s website, “The Differences Slavery Made.” In a relatively brief format, Thomas and Ayers present a vast amount of historical information, a broad range of sources, and many important maps and visual resources. The user can easily compare factors that influenced the towns and quickly explore statistics and historiography. They present a coherent argument, yet provide accessible “footnotes” so the user can come to their own conclusions.

            I believe that this technology does not necessarily change the outcomes of historical scholarship. However, new media allow researchers to achieve a greater scope in their work than ever before, and make it possible to present the information in more accessible ways. Thomas and Ayers could have created similar maps without GIS tracking, but it would have been an arduous and overwhelming process. They could have slowly and carefully marked each slaveholding and non-slaveholding household, but they could never have completed the same number of maps without the assistance of technology. Curious readers could always track down their sources in the library to recreate their argument, but hypertext makes it possible to jump directly to the source. The sheer cost of printing color images would undermine any such project in book form. The transparency of the argument is new, but the argument itself is not that different. Ayers and Thomas would have needed an entire lifetime to complete the same research without technological innovations, but they could have eventually reached the same conclusions.

            The ability to format an argument in new ways not only allows historians to reach a wider audience, but also caters to people who do not learn best through the printed article. As scholars, we have all grown accustomed to reading and judging a linear argument. However, auditory or visual learners will find great insights using new media. The website can present information in non-linear ways, allowing researchers to learn in the manner best suited for their own style. Best of all, the site is not just for academics. “History buffs” will also learn something new by exploring the site, which provides avenues for getting cutting-edge scholarship out to the wider public.

            Returning to my original question—Who cares if this form of scholarship is new? I do not think that the arguments are that out-of-the-ordinary, but the ability to convey complex thoughts in transparent and accessible ways is quite exciting. We still need to press the limits of scholarship and experiment with new ways of presenting information, but our need to evaluate sources and form a coherent argument will remain unchanged. The breadth and depth of this scholarship creates daunting tasks for historians, but digital media also hold tremendous opportunities for us to connect with our colleagues and the general public.

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