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Week 12

We’re still in the early stages of digital history, and I’m optimistic that copyright issues will eventually get worked out for the most part.  Intellectual property has always been protected in some way with each new type of media. 

On the surface, it might seem like plagiarism has become easier, but really it is now infinitely harder- especially as more secondary sources become digitized and more start off in the world as born-digital sources.  Now, with programs such as, searching for plagiarized work is easier.

The tougher area, I believe, is with photographs, which historians use as sources all the time.  With the advent of digital photography, and the almost complete disappearance of original negatives, it is much harder to properly protect photographs.  It’s easy to copy and paste a picture, and use Photoshop to get rid of watermarks or manipulate the work in some way.  Historians of the future may have a difficult time trying to properly cite the original photographer from copies.  And, digital makes it much easier to transform a picture.  How can historians deal with that?  Can the integrity of any digital photograph really be trusted?  Of course, that topic goes a little beyond this week’s discussion.

In regards to secondary literature, some of the same problems exist, but it’s much easier to word-search a document to discover where somebody else may have plagiarized or manipulated an original work.  I’m not an expert in digital stuff, but as far as I know, there aren’t many similar things that can be done with photograph sources- or if there are, they need to get more attention.


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Dublin Core

Well, I guess I should be happy that Omeka uses Dublin Core, rather than one of the other more confusing metadata methods that our guest speaker from the library discussed a few weeks ago.  It seems relatively easy to use, especially after the reading- just basically fill in the blanks.  It’s a nice universal and uniform way to organize information holdings into a collection, and is certainly a much better fit for digital history than the older, traditional methods (like CONSULS, for instance).

However, Dublin Core, and probably most other forms of metadata for that matter, are still designed by librarians, not historians.  Some collections contain mostly books, periodicals, and other more common formats, but what about some of the unusual artifacts and sources that historians often come across?  Maybe some librarians would disagree, but I think it would be kind of difficult to fit some letters, posters, and other non-traditional primary sources into most metadata programs- even Dublin  Core.  Although, to be fair, I suppose no program that tries to be as all-encompassing and universal as Dublin Core could possible be able to properly include every type of source known to historians.  Some things are just odd balls I guess.

Even with some of the sources I have been trying to put into Omeka through Dublin Core (and it seems this might be true for others as well), it feels like I’m trying to force a square peg down a round hole, in terms of information and data.

And, of course, then there’s the other problem which others have identified about the problems with html code and syntax.  Minute mistakes in data transfer can result in major errors with a final product.  Even one character can be off, and the whole source might disappear into the depths of the internet (at least to the average viewer).

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Sources, sources, everywhere

For the traditional historian concerned with big picture political and general history, the internet poses no real threat for research.  Most government and official documents of political leaders and people in power are still saved in physical form and usually digitally.  And born-digital sources are usually always saved somehow.  If anything, digitalization will only make the traditional historians’ craft a little easier.

Yet, what about those studying social history; how will the internet impact how they find their sources?  It’s never been easy to find good sources for social history, specifically with first-hand accounts.  Letters, photos, and interviews are sometimes hard to find or are locked away in family attics.  To get the view and perspective of average people through history, as opposed to the big players, is always difficult, especially the farther back in time you look.

With the internet and its emails, tweets, face book pages, instant messages, personal web pages, blogs, photos, etc, one might think that primary source research for social historians of the future will be exponentially easier, as there will be so many sources.  But this is deceiving, since all of these born-digital sources are fleeting.  Most people, by far, make no effort to save these sources, and even if they do, technical failure or updates may cause them to disappear.

It’s an ironic paradox- so many sources, yet they’ll never be saved.  Many archivists are obviously trying to make an effort to save these born-digital sources, as the September 11 project demonstrates, but the public at large needs to be better educated on the benefits of saving their emails, tweets (well maybe not tweets), and other sources.  Ironically, the generation that has arguably created the largest number of written (or typed) records in the history of the world, may actually leave the least behind!

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Social and Professional Spheres

I’m not really a fan of social tagging.  I suppose the whole phenomena can be compared to a popular-created index, except that complex information and objects tend to get downgraded into overly-simplified, and often wrong, single words.  Tagging has a way of reinforcing and creating stereotypes about things.  So, for example, a complex field such as Civil War causation can become oversimplified by the single word “slavery,” and probably the phrase “states’ rights” if popularly created.  It’s especially true for objects of material culture, which can oftentimes be misidentified by non-historians.  An omnibus might become a trolley, a machete might become a sword, and a tomato might become a vegetable (it’s a fruit!).

It’s true that one of the responsibilities of museums is ease of access, but museums are also supposed to help clear up common misconceptions and stereotypes about the past.  Social tagging is a step in the wrong direction since it is in direct contrast to that important duty.

Yet, even if museum professionals do all the tagging, it still doesn’t ignore the problem of oversimplification.

On another note, I found the Maine Memory Network site to be very nice.  I like how it allows user contributions, but with limitations.  For example, it allows people to comment on a piece in the online collection, or share something they know about it, but those viewer statements are not open for all to see.  Also the fact that you can create your own album on the site seems innovative and helpful.

So, social involvement and professional content on an online museum site are both good, but should be kept in largely separate spheres.  When they interact too much (although a little is fine), the professional side is bound to become diluted and dumb-downed at the expense of knowledge.

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Reflections on Week 8

Like all of you, I’m sure, I’ve used digital archives and libraries often for research.  It’s convenient and amazing, and I certainly can’t wait to see what the future brings.  Michael Jon Jensen brought up a good point, though, when he said “my fundamental error was in thinking that technology was the driver, rather than the human culture using the new technologies,” in describing why everyone wasn’t walking around with e-books in 2000.  People still love books, and many people still prefer the old traditional methods of research.  With that said, I have to admit that no matter how easy a digital library is, I still much prefer going to the physical library when practically possible.  It’s more invigorating and feels much more rewarding- especially when I’m the only one in the stacks, since it feels like I found some long-lost information.

Echoing what some of the other authors said, though, I also have to agree that libraries must adapt and change in the 21st Century.  The cell-phone dependent audience must be understood if traditional libraries are to survive, even when not in a traditional form. 

Yet, many new digital libraries are for-profit enterprises, and like the interviewee in the Cat Kong vs. Googzilla article, I have some worries.  A site like the National Archives one presented as a case study is a good source, and we know its motives.  Like other public institutions, its goal is to present information to the public for knowledge’s sake.  On the other hand, though, sites like Google Books and have wonderful sources, but their motives are different.  The primary goal of those sites is to make a profit.  What does that mean for the future of digital libraries?  For-profit sites still have good material, but is it ethical for any library, public or private, to charge for access?  Doesn’t that go against the traditrional mission statement of libraries?  Of course, digital libraries aren’t traditional.

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Project Proposal

Project Proposal

As an undergraduate at CCSU, I did a research paper for Dr. Prescott’s HIST 490: Disability History, and for this exhibit I plan to expand on my research from that paper and turn it into a worthy exhibit.

The paper was about the use of images of disability during the early 20th Century in regards to industrial safety.  Management promoted safety in factories, but their motives usually went beyond purely humanitarian reasons.  It’s true that accidents which resulted in the disability of workers were horrible and common, but for management it also meant lost time.  As a result, management used images of disability in negative connotations in order to scare workers into being careful, so they won’t get hurt and won’t cause lost time.  It was an effort to maximize production, but at the expense of those who actually were disabled. 

For example, management told workers that if they became permanently physically disabled, they would become ugly, could not support their family, and would be miserable.  Posters on walls and pictures printed in employee magazines were the most effective way to get this message across, and the images were often graphic and offensive.

These actions helped promote negative stereotypes of people with disabilities.  Although I didn’t go this far in the paper, I’m sure that these ideas from the industrial safety movement gave the general populace a negative view of disabled persons, and likely pushed any movement towards equal rights back for decades.

For the paper I concentrated on local manufacturers in New Britain, Hartford, and Waterbury, and I plan to do the same for the exhibit.  National Safety Council posters were also very helpful; and they were printed in the Council’s bulletin, which thankfully is in CCSU’s library.  I’m planning on having local students be my major audience, although anyone with an interest in local factories or disability history would also certainly have an interest in it as well.  It would be beneficial for students, though, because I will also be forced to provide context information on labor history in general, such as the importance of avoiding lost time during WWII.

The many copies of posters and other images will no doubt make up the bulk of the exhibit, and so the final product will be very visual in nature (something students will likely appreciate).  A skill I would thus need to know is how to properly design the site so that the visuals don’t overpower the text.

I’ll have no problem completing the project on time, since thankfully I’ve kept all my research from the original paper.  But I plan on going through some new archives to find more examples, and plan to contact and visit the Dodd Research Center, Hartford Public Library, and Bridgeport Public Library.  I’ll probably also see if East Hartford has any copies of employee magazines from Pratt & Whitney, particularly during WWII.  If I end up having too many sources and pictures, I’ll likely concentrate on the WWII era instead of the entire first half of the 20th Century.

I liked how the Martha Ballard diary exhibit was set up, with assorted media and links to see the primary sources.  I’d like to try something along those lines, although I won’t likely have a video.  Podcasting might be possible, though, and I definitely want something more interactive than just looking at the posters, such as a quiz for students.

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Making people care

I’m guessing that I share a similar lack of computer knowledge with other historians.  I admit that I still only use two fingers to type (although I’m quick enough), and for me to understand html and website codes will probably honestly never happen.  Yet, this is the future, and I guess I’ll have to at least make an attempt, or I’ll be left in the past.  And in today’s modern world, historians ironically cannot be left in that lonely place.  Thankfully sites like Omeka allow people like me to make good online exhibits without having to master the type of stuff which our guest lecturer last week attempted to explain, but that I still don’t get.

Podcasting apparently also looks like a high tech medium using low tech methods.  If it’s as easy as the tutorials suggest it is, then I might feel comfortable trying it, although I think I’d have to hire a professional narrator since my monotone voice can even put me to sleep.  I suppose that is a major issue with podcasting- how to make it interesting.  I guess historians won’t only need the help of computer geeks, but radio announcers as well now.

I know that like all of you I’m a history geek, but I still can’t quite understand why we have to package history into flashy mediums with constant sounds, images, and other stimuli.  Why can’t people just like history for history’s sake like us (sigh)?  Is there possibly a limit to how far historians can go to educate the public about the past before we trivialize and downplay history to an unrecognizable point?  Podcasting, facebook, twitter, YouTube…when should we just call it a day and come to the realization that some people simply don’t give a damn about history, no matter how hard we try?  Maybe the attempt is more important than the results, I suppose.

Cohen & Rosenzweig:

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