Reflection

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I would like to use this final post for reflection on the wider issues around digital history. Throughout the paper, we have covered concepts on time, narratives, authourship, preservation, digital modes and their reliability, design and accessibility. Rosenweigs book has provided excellent insights into the positive and negative impacts digital technologies have had on history. The readings as part of the course have also examined ways in which technology can become intertwined with objects.

There have been many sites that have demonstrated excellent digital archive collections.  Most of these reside with the major libraries and museums around the world.  When these kinds of institutions have archives, it gives the records much more credibility and reliability i believe for most people.  There are others that appear less official, like Internet Archive.org.  Here is a link to a digitised book from 1460.  The University of Canterbury is creating a digital archive of earthquake stories related to the Christchurch earthquake.  Our own government is looking to archive their collections to ensure material is available for future generations, see here.

Looking back on all this information, it is easy to see the complexity of this issue. Arguments for both positive and negatives are very valid and real. However, I do believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. Having accessibility has increased knowledge worldwide.  When we have questions, we are able to find answers almost immediately.  This is because the information is available online.  My stance on this was very confused in the beginning, and now i believe it is great.  My confusion about the subject has decreased as i began to understood the positives (accessibility, durability, capacity, diversity, manipulability, interactivity and hypertextuality) better.  These positives mean more people can access and interact with information and records, that still keeps the original texts safe from wear or getting lost.  I also understand the negatives (quality, durability, readability, passivity and inaccessibility) much better and can now see a source and tell the difference between a good one and bad.  I understand that the nature of web documents is so much more dynamic and requires constant updating and review.  The web in general is a dynamic place – making things on the web living documents that need regular review.  This process can be quite expensive.  For this reason, i don’t think private contributors can make a truly effective archive.  Institutions and government funded archives are better suited for this.

Overall, i am really happy i took this paper and feel much more aware of what is out there digitally and confident that i recognise quality archive sources.

Our digital history project

I wanted to share the experiences i have had while working on our digital history project entitled, Shall we dance?

Given the brief of the topic, our topic knew we had to choose something that was relevant to Hamilton and something that could relate to everyone.  We chose dance mainly because it was the key event that covered a wide range of other topics, like relationships, moral values, fashion, music, social culture to name a few.  I came across a reading titled Ethnography: Anthropology, Narrative and New Media that had so many relative ideas to this topic.  This created a link between celebration of social culture and the use of digital/new media.  It stated that “ethnography is both process and product; and culture itself is more than being or thinking; it is also a matter of feeling and sensory engagement.”  When thinking about a topic that seeks to give the community a voice, you need to think about more than facts, records and figures.  Creators need to transfer the emotions and feelings of participants.  This makes the topic perfect to incorporate digital media.

We also felt that when we digitise the oral histories, photographs, images and clothing images, it enhances accessibility, allowing more people to engage with it.  This also allows for a smoother transition between museum and digital archiving on Hamilton library website.  Oral histories are becoming more easier to do with the advances in camera and microphone  technologies, making it affordable – allowing historians to gather interviews independently without the need for a pricey camera man.  One website that has tons of info on how to perform these are DigitalOmnium.

This project gave me the opportunity to really think how digital media can enhance historical research.  The background topics we have covered allowed me to think about the impacts of technology on the information, making me cautious about establishing a balance between physical and virtual objects.  I also realised that i do like digital storytelling because it promotes a democratised form of history.  I have had other history papers where it is normally asked what majority of people actually thought about things, and the reply is often, ‘well, we can never know for sure.’  Yet, today, when people want to do something about social culture and peoples experiences, we wonder how it is relevant to the ‘bigger picture’.  Well, its all a matter of interpretation and values i suppose.  But everything covered in the past post as well has played a part on my understanding of digital histories.

Ready, set…oh, its already happening!

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This week i read the article Technology Becomes the Object and really enjoyed it.  What i liked most was the way that it analysed the values and messages of technology and how they relate to the transmission of knowledge.  It went on to explain that in the exhibition about the Native Americans, kiosks were supposed to enhance the objects and provide greater interaction with them, when the kiosks themselves were in fact competing with the objects.  In a picture of the display you actually see the kiosks before you see the objects, almost as if preventing spectators from engaging with the objects before technology.  To me, it looked like some kind of barrier.  They also mentioned that children or younger audiences would go directly to the kiosks before objects.  While adults would go straight to the objects, they complained about a lack of coherent cohesion between the two. 

On a side tangent, my husband owns a media company (that produces films, websites, music, etc) and was approached by a company to digitise their video collection of historical significance.  In total there are 30 legal VHS tapes.  I was asking my husband questions like, “What format are they going to be stored in?  Do you think that format is suitable for withstanding time?  How are you going to label each file?” You get the gist..i was annoying him.  But i asked how the company wanted it catalogued and he replied, “They don’t care, they just want it digitised.”  Museums around the world have made commitments to digitise their entire collects, like the Fitchburg Museum in Massachusetts.  That got me thinking about how society views technology and its impact on storing information.  Many people want it, but they lack the real understanding on how it should be treated.  Much like the NMAI exhibition, where multimedia was used, but in a way that actually made the exhibit confusing, as it mixed old traditions with new.  When looking at the picture above, it made me think about how people have taken technology and are running away with it.  There is no way to stop it, but it does allow future creators to think about the impact of technology and the relationship it can have with the intended knowledge before spending money and time on it.

I am not saying that technology is not effective.  On the contrary, when used correctly and thoughtfully, it can take learning to exciting and fascinating heights.  For example, the travelling exhibition about the Etruscans in Europe provides a rich technology driven display. They have incorporated virtual 3D reconstructions of archaeological sites, animations, audio, and video.  They wanted visitors to feel as if they had been to these historic sites through their multimedia exhibition.  In this case, i believe technology has enhanced the experience rather than competed with it.  This gave me hope that technology is beneficial.  It just appears that some people are not putting enough thought into the impacts it has on the information.

Storytelling..

I have to say, the more i look into digital history, the more confused i am getting about where i stand on it.  Reading the Digital History book by Cohen & Rosenzweig has been really helpful to define what the positives and negatives are about it, but when i browse around, there is just SO many sites, its a bit overwhelming and a bit annoying when you are bombarded with bad, invalid, outdated, suspicious looking, poorly designed sites when all you want is some reliable information about a topic.  But, i will stay positive and hope to find my viewpoint soon – but first, lets talk about storytelling.  I found two websites and compared below.

The website from the British Library was the first one i found that offered some really cool primary sources and allows viewers to interact virtually with these texts as it displays each page.  You are able to zoom and move around the page.  When you go into one of the online exhibitions, the items are listed and you chose one and it comes up with info on that item alone.  There is no over-arching narrative, just the sources.  To me, this is aimed at academics or researchers because unless you were interested or looking in something specific it gets really boring, really quickly.  This is an example of having no narrative/story.

The second website i found after searching the word ‘Vikings’ (click here to view it).  This provided a brief historical narrative about the vikings, which was so much easier to engage with and i actually read the thing from top to bottom.  What i liked is that it had a creation date on the top along with the author – giving it some authorship and traceability.  It also allows for comments at the bottom.  It was good to see people disputing the article or presenting alternative facts with links to other sites, backing up their points.  This is what i believe is positive about digital history – when people can interact with it.

When comparing these two sites, i found the one with an overarching story so much better.  Now the creator was relatively unknown, and the facts perhaps a bit sketchy (according to the comments of contributors) i still found it a more enjoyable experience.  Yet the other from the British Library was much more credible and the sources were exponentially more valuable, it was hard to engage.  We have been talking about narrative in the last few lectures and this confirmed why i love narrative.  I like stories like the next Jane Austen fan, but here i could see that having a narrative allows greater engagement for viewers.  My brain likes to have beginning (context), middle (juicy facts) and end (summary) and I’m sure I’m not alone.

But one also needs to keep in mind the intended audience.  Wouldn’t most narrative style websites be for the public, and the non-linear be for the more selective researcher?  Each has benefits for different audiences.  However, for the interests of the wide audience, narrative style is so much better.  The great thing about digital history is that it is not limited to what can be read, but what videos we can enjoy and audio we can hear.

 

Co-creation: Helpful or hinderance?

Hello again world,

Well this week i have focused my attention to the reading by Burgess, Kalebe and McWilliam to discuss ‘Mediatisation and Institutions of Public Memory: Digital Storytelling…’  This one really got me thinking about the positive side of digitisation and the advantages this gives to historians.  We have been dealing with some very skeptical views in the past few weeks about it and i found it refreshing to hear some positive views.

The first thing that stood out was the point made about how communities have come to expect some for of ‘interaction’ with content available.  I absolutely agree.  Even i expect it.  On a kind of side tangent, i have a giant wasp phobia and have been plagued by a wasp nest on my fence at home.  I jumped straight onto Google and expected to find a detailed explanation of why they chose my fence, how i can get rid of them, how long their life cycle is, how big the nest could grow to…you get the point right?  I wanted to know everything in that moment, from the history of their species, to a detailed diagram of their anatomy.  Or maybe just a diagram that illustrates my feelings, like this:

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Back to the point, this is how many members of our modern world feel about everything.  We want details, interactive media, we want multiple sources and we want it to look pretty.  This is the effect digitisation of information has on the world.  People expect it.  So, if we are to preserve history and keep it active, we must jump on board.

Secondly, i love the idea of the ‘co-creative’ process of digital storytelling. The example they gave about the “Apology” speech from Australian government to the people of Australia was really good.  It was great hearing perspectives from different people, both positive and negative.  So this inspired me to have a browse around the internet to find something similar, and i found this awesome website (see link below)

http://somewereneighbors.ushmm.org/#/exhibitions

This is a website for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and it is great!  They have used the ‘co-creative’ method to create a well rounded picture of the effects the holocaust had on a variety of people, including workers, teachers, policemen, teenagers, and neighbours.  What stands out most for me is how much more powerful and meaningful the online exhibition becomes when it attempts to incorporate multiple perspectives and gives the community a voice.  I believe it even becomes more accessible – meaning, people of all ages can find something that they can relate to and is more engaging.  As an aspiring teacher of history, this kind of thing would go really well with school aged children getting interested and involved in history.

It does warn at the end of the reading how this process of co-creation has not established any protocols about how to ‘adequately represent and account for the multiple voices…who contribute’.  However, i believe we would be foolish, as historians, not to utilise this method of co-creation to develop more meaningful and fair representation of history for the future.

Digitisation

Hello world!!

My first ever post and I’m pretty excited.  I have never had a blog..heck i hardly ever update my Facebook so this is a new experience for me.

Well, i want to first talk about the subject of ‘time’ as discussed the week before last.  It’s a pretty big topic but in summary i think the earth exists on a circular concept of time while we as humans operate on linear, because in my view we are born and eventually die and thats it.  Maybe the human species is circular because new ones are born and old ones die and the great big ‘circle of life’ carries on.  Ultimately, when i think of philosophical stuff like this i end up in a spiral of self-doubt and paranoia..kinda looks like this..

oh-no-ive-gone-cross-eyed

So i pick something more concrete and go with the discussion on digitisation.  This weeks reading was pretty interesting.  It doesn’t really help me to pick a side, i feel kinda stuck in the middle about it.  There are some great strengths to digitisation (easy access for scholars, mobile, time-saving, more variety, etc) but i just can’t help but be super suspicious of anyone on the internet.  We have a long way to go to get authentic, credible sources out there.  Like ‘library of congress’ credible.

However, i wanted to share with you an experience i had with online help with my own family research.  Yes, i admit to being a family history lover, which is why i chose this paper actually.  Well, i have subscribed to ancestry.com in the past and have found it incredibly helpful for this kind of research.  I got some photographs from my grandmother about her family from a big ol’ album that looks legit!  You know, big and thick, soiled pages, smelling of mothballs and dampness.  Well, from this book i took a copy of a photograph of my ancestors who originally moved from then ‘Bohemia’ and settled the town of Puhoi, north of Auckland.

Pankratz family

I found out there names as they were written in the book and happily posted online to show off to fellow family historian enthusiasts how awesome and thorough i was, only to be told by another member that those people were not the Pankrats family, because they never had any sons, only girls and the Pankrats name is lost.  This is actually one of their daughters family and this was of the ‘Lee’ family.

SHAME!

So wiping the egg of my face i quickly investigated ready to tell this lady that she was full of crap, and i am actually a historian-in-training only to discover she was right.  They didn’t have any sons and there are clearly boys in this family picture.  (Damn it)  Why share this story?  Well, it goes to show that primary sources, like the photo album are still unreliable.  Digitisation of this record helped me to share knowledge with others and get instant feedback.  Some people have given me wrong information, but its another source i can tap if i get stuck.

Overall, i believe digitisation will take over. We just have to figure out a way to protect authenticity, and promote longevity of this new method of research and preservation.