The Future of The Past

I write the next and final blog post from one of the most spectacular cities for Museums in Europe, Munich Germany. The experience of being here this past week has served as eye opener for how history can be taught and preserved in an environment where certain events and topics are sensitive, yet need to be taught out of the necessity of the matter to the country.  From what I have encountered thus far the German museums and government museums have handled this topic very delicately and effectively. By acknowledging the atrocities that have occured within their country, and by former leaders, but also acknowledging the wrong doings and the steps taken to right these wrongs now is helping enlighten visitors on the good side of German history.  

This split in ability to tell two sides to history made me realize just how digital history is creating a similar split, and how it will continue to provide alternative styles of education and historical perspectives to those who employ it’s use. As a museum educator I think of how this split will benefit students in learning about particular paths that may not be followed in the deep forests of public, history education. This is done with the use of several groundbreaking new technologies and methods discussed in this course. Traditionally history is taught to children by having them wearily sit like zombie’s on dopamine in front of teacher that has been forced to spew pointless, heavily monitored and censored facts about American history, or the in the public end by having someone watch or read watered down, vague popular histories. One such is the use of GIS and Interactive digital archives and exhibitions

These collections and GIS now give those who wish to explore history to it’s fullest and will be able to give people access to the sources that tell the real stories, and they can make up their own minds concerning who is right and who is wrong. After all history is about research and drawing your own conclusions is it not? This will continue to greatly shape the way research and the study of history will be used for future generations. For one, school funding for history programs is being cut, and sometimes even eliminated. This means that the children who wish to have their children study history can now use internet archives to learn about the past. For example, if there is no more world history classes, now parents could send their children to such a site as the Thebian Mapping Project to learn about the real Ancient Egypt. This will save our future generations from the horrors of learning about how the pyramids were built by aliens as well.

Of course these new programs will only succeed if they are promoted and advertised to audiences(children, adults, scholars and teachers alike)that will use them. If they are successful in being used they will hold the key to our public learning about real history, and the ability to decipher it for themselves. This will in turn make the citizens of this country more knowledgeable about the events of the past and how they can make changes in government, in society and within themselves to make the future a better place.



Online Exhibits

With the way society is gearing more and more towards internet usage, as well as the unfortunate closings of many amazing museums, many of the incredible artifacts that can be seen in person may now have to be viewed via computer screen. As much as museum guys like myself love the feeling of going to a building and seeing the artifacts, this sadly is become very difficult to do with the amount of closings and costs to travel. But luckily with resources such as Omeka and Curatascape, the exhibits can now come to you. This very well may be the next best thing to seeing that 16th century sword that I have always wanted to see all the way in Spain. With that said I will now highlight to online exhibits studied for this class.

The first form Indiana University is an exhibit on the War of 1812. The exhibit is a very vivd, comprehensive exhibit that uses many sources such as documents and photographs. The entire exhibit is laid out in time line form, from the beginning of the war, divided throughout the various section of the wars, and even at the end of the war. The exhibit does and excellent job in that it details very well the causes, and effects of the war with many primary sources to interpret the major historical events. For example when discussing the impressment of sailors, the viewer can click on a primary source English document describing the conditions of impressment.

The second exhibit is the entitled The Civil War and Art:Teaching and Learning through the Chicago Collection. This exhibition takes a very unique approach in learning about the Civil War because it is teaching through art work of the era. The Civil War is usually credited for being the first war to study through photographs. But what makes this so different is that we can study the events and attitudes of the Civil War through how they were expressed through art, not necessarily the events captured on photograph. One of the most effective and captivating displays was about how the art depicted death and violence on the battlefield. Upon viewing these paintings and drawings, I noticed the vivid detail in the scenes. The blood, the pain, and chaos shown seemed to be so detailed that it convey the devastation better than most photographs that I had seen.

I really enjoyed these sites and cannot wait to go back and explore them more. They were defiantly  a good insight into how I will design my online tour.

Data and History

 Although I hold two degrees, not involving anything related to math. However achieving those degrees have not been easy, mainly in part due to a math disability I have had since childhood. This disability called discalcula. The disability has stinted me since childhood and even held me back a semester from achieving my associate’s degree. So logically when I started to dive deeper into history I was happy to avoid numbers and calculations that have driven me crazy for the run of my school life. I thought I never had to deal with numbers ever again, until I learned of Data mining in the historical field. Like a victim in a horror movie I heard data and wanted to run and hide in the opposite direction as far as I possibly could, it drove me crazy to think of mixing history and numbers…I must ask..WHY?

Then I did a little reading and realized it isn’t all that bad. At first I thought that this was going to be about historians prattling through, and calculating statistics concerning what they have read and the information presented therein. I could see myself painfully sitting in my room monotonously going through a single source, page by page counting how many times phrases like, ” the battle was fought on December 29th” would appear. Then I read the articles for this week’s class that shed some more light on what Data mining is and how it is done. Daniel Cohen’s article from “Babel to Knowledge” helped me see that collecting data concerning history isn’t going to be that bad. Cohen for example uses the Syllabus finder to demonstrate how computer programs can help locate key words and phrases in certain documents, in this case, syllabi and count their frequency. But now thanks to this technology historians can now search any digitized literature to determine specific trends in study, or topics written about in various primary sources. This can all be done now without having historians fry their brains trying to crunch numbers and statistics.

Doing my own testing I typed in Google N-Gram three words; swords, armor, and fireams. Figuring that it is something I was interested in I would actually sit through using technology. I’m glad I did, because now I understand better over the course of time how the study or the literature of arms and armor has changed. Thanks to data mining technology I have uncovered that a bulk of historical literature(in this case on Google Books) pertaining to arms and armor were written in the late 17 and 1800’s. This data mining that I was once afraid of has given me a new insight as to where I can go to find more about arms and armor.



GIS and Historical Scholarship

GIS is a relatively new and now very refined way of telling a richer story about an event, people or past. This combines many aspects of traditional scholarship with newer technologies to make the story richer and more complete. These mapping projects contain documents such as papers, drawing, newspapers, records and other primary sources for the researcher to study, It also however uses a new digital format to place those sources in a larger context of a certain time or place. This combination is what makes GIS a groundbreaking change to historical scholarship. Never before have entire worlds been able to come together with a single source. Now if a researcher is reading about a particular Ghetto in Nazi Germany, they can read about the first hand accounts as well as get a visual image of the world that influenced what those imprisoned experienced.

For example,the Hypercities project allows  a visitor to see a map of  a particular city and see how its cultural landscape has changed over the years.  In addition to this the map is  interactive, allowing the visitor to virtually explore the city geographically as well as culturally. The site also includes archival material such as census records, photographs and maps of the area. This way and historical information collected helps to establish a larger picture of the cities culture and the mapping gives a visual companion to place this information into perspective. Without either part, the larger picture would not be complete. 

If this information was being presented traditionally, yes the scholar would get the information they need with sources alone. However with GIS projects we can now understand place AND history in the same study. They become intertwined and tangible at the same time.  This is what makes GIS different from simply reading the way most traditional scholars have in the past. GIS has taken an historian and placed them as closely as possible in the period or place they are studying.

Exploring New London

New London, Connecticut was a place that I had left relatively unexplored although I have lived in Connecticut my entire life.  Weather it was because I never had a need to go there, or I thought badly of the perception it had on other communities I never stepped foot in the Whaling City. I had always heard of it’s historic value and the multicultural heritages of its residence but it was never enough to get me to go and want to stay. That was until this summer when I got  a job with the Connecticut State Park system at Fort Trumbull in New London. I immediately fell in love with the sites of the water, the history, the feeling of the city and the inhabitants therein. I am building this tour around New London so that others can learn the same exciting things I have.

I have decided to theme this tour on New London’s Naval and Whaling history. The tour hasn’t been the easiest to design thus far, making to New London to find any primary sources has not been possible with my schedule thus far. However the State Library hold many records from the town, specifically concerning economy and whaling, so I will head there seeing that it closer to when I am in Hartford. In addition to this, I am unclear as to what kind of primary sources will help move this tour along and how they should be used. I will need to further explore some pre-existing tours to note how they are used; perhaps some single line, or block quotes to describe the significance of  an area to the Naval and Whaling community. I will also take a ride to the Maritime Museum, that Is almost certain to have many of the sources  I need.

Concerning secondary sources; I have already acquired the NPS sheets for the historic buildings on the tour, I’m an certain those will contain enough historical information about the sites as well as information concerning the surrounding areas of the city. In addition to this, the CCSU library has many books that talk about Whaling and maritime activities and economy of the city.

Now I only need to more thoroughly explore the individual buildings, the city itself and tie it all in together under the context of Whaling and maritime history of this great old city.  This will no doubt be a challenge, but a rewarding one at that. 

Socially Speaking

I live a life of very focused balance; work and play need to be kept in a very important check. Similarly I tend to take some things incredibly seriously. I find that when a serious passionate debate, or presentation is at hand, then all forms of respect and reverence should be held to the presenter and the information. When it is a subject that is commonly studied it is imperative to sustain an amount of professionalism.  However I also hold a very dark, twisted, very non-politically correct sense of humor, in other words when things warrant a laugh I don’t ever hold back, and I try to use that sense of humor to make history fun for others. In addition to this, I am aware that my interests in the macabre, dark and bizarre( totally true about the middle ages) is tough for may people to swallow. I therefore am comparative to a doctor that tries to deliver bad news to his patience in a that will soften the blow. Sometimes you need a little bit of sugar to take down that medicine.

One prime example of a Twitterstorian(or group in this case that I hold may similarities to is Weird History. Weird history highlights the strange, brutal, bizarre and sometimes ugly truths about history that may otherwise go unnoticed.  I have seen themes range from murder and incest to an incident of a man having his daughters corpses exhumed so that his sick family could inhale the fumes for a remedy. Now, if this information were to try to presented to the public in a strictly academic manner, I doubt how well the information would perceived or even taken seriously because of the grim nature. However, the author accompanies the information with silly pictures and bizarre and sometimes(un-intentional) funny illustrated pictures to amuse the reader into the information. Although I do not present any media at this current time, I understand the need to use humor(or in may case) sarcastic cynicism to get people into reading about things they may be uncomfortable with, or into facing things that they may not want to admit

With this said, I (when I have more time and money to focus on my digital presentation)  I believe that using this sense of humor, or even playing off of the shock factor is how I would draw attention to some subjects that others may not be comfortable confronting.  I believe in telling the facts, despite of how someone may think of their “correctness” or appropriateness.  For example, I would capitalize on gifs, memes and merchandise that would commemorate and remind people of the subject at hand. One example of this I encountered when working for the Titanic Artifact Exhibition. Here, we sold a ice cube tray called “Gin and Titanic.” Many thought this was tasteless, but this humorous conversation piece will get others to discuss the story and history behind the great tragedy. In the end telling the story of the past and preserving the memories of those in the story is one of the most important goals of an historian.

Thoughts on Copyright, Fair Use, and Free Access..

The articles read this week concern subjects that are extremely relevant to college students and professors  everywhere. Both financially, ethically and morally students and academics are plagued with the complications and tribulations associated with Copyright, Fair Use and Free Access. All three matters have fallen under their own controversies as well as supporters from many spectrums of the collegiate world.  In my opinion, some of these matters have very complicated layers of issues that must be considered, while other I believe could just be addressed in simple manner. In other words, the easy solution is being overlooked by the debates that have encompassed it.

The first issue, Free Access, is one of the issues that to me at least can be settled more simply than it seems. The biggest contradiction to Free Access seems to be who it benefits and harms. For example many academics fear that allowing anyone to access their work free of charge will eliminate a substantial amount of their income and compromise the integrity of their work. On the other hand, allowing un-paid access to sites containing academic work will enlighten those without financial means to pay for subscription or institutional access. Well to this problem I offer a solution…. those academics who do not want their work to be free should simply just not publish their work to Free Access sites..seems simple enough to me.

The second issue discussed is intertwines directly with the third.So we shall discuss my opinion of copyrights and Fair Use. I agree one hundred percent with the notion that if someone creates, writes, or produces should indeed be automatically the creator’s property. Unfortunately as long as human beings are human beings they will always want to claim something as their own if it benefits them. While it is a nice, quaint thought that people should respect this rule, young graduates need to be very careful about what they sign away and who they sign their work to. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that businesses and journals should be punished for accessing copyrights through contracts, after all it is their right to do so. I however do feel that young historians should however be trained better to not sign their work away so that they do not lose their valuable work to another party.

FInally, concerning Fair Use, I hold a certain amount of dis-trust toward the idea of fair use. Maybe this is because I am a musician and hold a very special connection to other musicians and understand the amount of personal connection that artists have with their work. While I do agree that any music is released should be available for the public to use for academic purposes, I cannot stress enough that I whole wholeheartedly agree with the “fair” part of Fair Use. I were in a band and I put a lot of though and emotion into  a meaningful song, and someone used it to elaborate on a point that the song had nothing to do with, I would be incredibly discouraged because that usage may convey the wrong interpretation of my song.I would hate for a song that is a metaphor about self abuse to be misconstrued as a song about domestic abuse. In that case, all of the work I did to send a message of self expression would be lost to a meaning that was completely untrue.

In the end, academics, writers, historians and students need to make their own choices about what is right and wrong, and be more vigilant about the publication and sharing of their work and the work of others.