Week 14: Reading Reflections

This semester, the most useful readings for me were the set that outlined the history of Wikipedia. Prior to reading them, I had been a bit fuzzy on the origins of the website and why it was set up the way it was. But reading the Marshall Poe’s article on the History of Wikipedia opened up my perspective on the origins of Wikipedia and of the history of collaborative web in general. Rosenzweig’s article on the merits of collaborative web colored my previously held perspective on Wikipedia and its role as a tool in historians lives. The class discussions on the readings also brought up really good questions. The issue of historians interacting with members of the public on Wikipedia about historical experiences and the positives and negatives of the moderating and editing policies speak to much larger questions about ownership of narrative and whether or not an objective viewpoint of history really can be achieved.

 

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Week 13: Citizen Archives

My citizen archive experience turned out to be two parts interesting and one part frustrating. The website itself proved well-organized, withe clearly delineated sections and a plethora of subjects that you could gather metadata for. I chose to transcribe an Enemy Alien Registration form from World War I, one of the featured projects in commemoration of the United States entrance into the war.

First, the transcription software allowed for tagging and comments as well as the transcribing process. I really appreciated how welcoming it was. You could work on all three things at once and read from other’s comments and suggestions. The forms I chose didn’t have any tags save one, and no comments or transcriptions. I appreciated the ease of transcribing with the Citizen Archives tools, I ran into several minor problems.

One problem I ran into was the images of the forms. While the software allowed for zooming in, it wasn’t as controlled as I wished it could be. I’d go to scroll down or up to review my transcription or fix an error, and accidentally zoom out of the image! The controls weren’t too clear. Also, the transcription word box did not allow for formatting of the text, or for adjusting the layout of the body of text. This does highlight the difficulty of trying to transfer the experience of reading the paper forms with reading a transcription. Without the formatting, the experience is fundamentally altered.

One beneficial thing to the crowd sourcing nature of this Archival Project is the comments section. It allows for discussion about the transcription and the tagging. It allows others to interpret certain things differently and discuss them. For instance, I had a bit of trouble deciphering the handwriting on the forms for the transcription. To me the cursive scribble could be an “e”, but to someone else it could be an “a” or an “o”. I may have made an error while transcribing and would benefit from the comments that bring attention to my error or even just go in and edit it.

While I only focused on the transcribing projects for now, I am excited to further explore the Citizens Archive and hope to spend some more time on it in the future.

Week 10: Virtual Jamestown

Glad to be back after an extended break. This week, I examined the Virtual Jamestown Project. Virtual Jamestown is a website put together by several Virginian universities that was funded back in 1999 by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Virtual Jamestown is a resource for any who wish to conduct a further in depth study of the beginnings of the Jamestown colony in Virginia.

Virtual Jamestown consolidates many primary sources that date to the colony’s founding; such as transcriptions of court records from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The website also hosts a database of indentured servant records and two labor contracts for two individuals. Also included on the site are interpretive essays, first hand accounts, and a public records section.

Virtual Jamestown also provides educational resources specifically for teachers and several interactive maps. One maps out the spread of settlement and the other traces John Smith’s voyages. The educational resources include pages that detail roleplay scenarios that teachers can moderate with their students, incorporating profiles of historical figures from Jamestown. Other educational resources are sections dedicated to identifying the economic relationships, learning about runaway indentured servants, jobs in Jamestown, the Jamestown Fort etc.

Through interactive maps and the wealth of primary sources transcribed and archived to the website, Virtual Jamestown fleshes out the experiences of the Jamestown colony, utilizing multiple perspectives and 3d sources.

Week 8: Digitization

This week’s readings for class dealt with the advantages and pitfalls of digitizing and preservation of historical collections. My first impression is that there is much to think about when digitizing historical collections for preservation, more so for digital preservation, as well as its own set of distinct problems. However, the readings also caused me to think about web design as a historian, something I’ve never thought of before.

When I think of elements that make a website attractive and functional, I think of a website that has its sections clearly outlined and well organized. The website for the Tate Gallery’s Art Terms thesaurus springs to mind. I can find what term I need and click on it fairly easily to get to the individual sections that are all alphabetically organized. Another element of a website is one that will work and look virtually the same across all operating systems or even devices, such as what Rosenzweig and Cohen wrote. For me that means a website that works for both a desktop computer and on a mobile phone browser.¬† A website that bridges the transition well was the website for Mount Holyoke, which despite some speed bumps, had well organized sections and looked well and functioned well on both a desktop, a mobile device, and multiple operating systems.

Another element I believe makes a good website is a design that has complimentary colors, and a nice balance between text and images. For example, the website that has Cohen and Rosenzweig’s book has a color scheme that is not garish or clashing. The balance between text and image is off, obviously, yet the size and spacing of the font makes the long paragraphs easier to read and digest.

Yet another element of a good and functional website encompasses Cohen and Rosenzweig’s section on accessibility. Unfortunately, what accessibility looks like may be different depending on the person. Those with visual impairments may need a website to function with software that enhances text readability while not detracting from the site design. Website accessibility must be one of the many priorities that a historian must take into account when looking into preserving history via digitization.

Week 7 Blog Post: Wikipedia and the Armenian Genocide

Depressing topic I know, but I was fascinated by the structure of the discussion on Wikipedia’s articles on the Armenian Genocide. Specifically, I looked at articles on the genocide itself, Armenian genocide recognition, and Armenian genocide denial. Let’s start with the mammoth talk page on the general Armenian genocide article.

One of the first things about the page I noticed was the red sections detailing the articles placement in the context of Wikipedia in general. The article was nominated as a “good article” on Wikipedia. It was also listed as a source of interest in numerous WikiProjects, and finally the page lists the three peer reviews the article received. While reading the discussions, I noticed several main themes. First, many discussions started by editors focus on trimming information down or moving it into separate sub articles because of length. A major point of contention in the article revolved around the placement of genocide denials, whether they should remain in the main article or be moved to a separate article and the section trimmed down. Also, the discussion of whether US states should be included in the recognition of genocide section took up a good sized section of the page. While the moderators warn that the talk page is about the structure and not the content, the arguments about what to trim and what to remove are always charged with the emotion that comes with discussing sensitive topics such as genocide.

The second page, “Armenian Genocide Recognition”, has almost no discussion of it’s structure at all. There are only four sections each with short statements about the nation-states that have or have not recognized the Armenian Genocide. Part of the first articles discussion about including US states in Armenian Genocide recognition is partially resolved. Individual states are included, some even updated to reflect their recognition of the genocide on the map included in the article. While a short talk page, it was illuminating how the talk page can be used to point out mistakes or update information, reflecting Wikipedia’s community-based structure.

Finally, the last talk page is also the most contentious. Of all three pages, Armenian Genocide denial has the most arbitration that moderate and restrict access and content. One arbitration requires editors to obtain consensus before making the edit. It implies that the subsequent discussions will be difficult. Following that, Wikipedia reminds new editors of the Neutral POV policy that affects the article itself, detailing a common objection by editors that the article unfairly demonizes the Ottoman/Turkish claims, thus violating the policy. That should give you an idea of the contentious nature of these discussions. What follows is a few changes of external links, routine cleaning up, and a challenge that the academic consensus of the status of the Armenian Genocide as a genocide are false. Tensions run high on this page. The next discussion section debates on whether the inclusion of the quotes of an Israeli official is reliable and what about it’s sourcing makes it reliable/unreliable.

At face value, the discussions above seem nit-picky. There were times that I got irritated and just muttered, ‘why does this even matter’ to myself. But I understand now, that it reflects the intention of Wikipedia as a whole. The site’s founding principles is on the pipe dream of “objectivity,” an encyclopedia devoted to a perception of neutrality that sparks discussions like the ones above, offering a chance at communal participation in the gathering and dissemination of information. It also sparks discussion of how that information is presented that pushes its editors to engage analytically with the material, even if the discussions end up pedantic and irritating.

Week 5: Omeka Showcase Websites

So for this week, I browsed the websites featured in the Omeka showcase. While I was impressed by all of them, two websites piqued my interest and I spent time browsing their contents. The two websites differed from each other in many ways, especially in the types of digitized items, the quantity of their collections and exhibitions, and in the amount of resources and contributors to each website. I’ll focus on each website individually before going into the comparison.

The first website is Stark and Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston, created by UMass Boston’s History and American Studies departments. From their About page, the project started back in 2015 and utilized the archives of the City of Boston as well as from colleges and universities in the Boston area. This project was a class effort, and mostly done by graduate students. The website features over 500 digitized items, a total of 15 collections, 12 exhibits, and a plethora of additional resources for further information. A unique feature of Stark and Subtle Divisions is a map that features the locations of 300 items in the collections. For instance, you can select an item like a letter from a list and the map details its location. Stark and Subtle Divisions offers a highly diverse collections and features that add a better understanding of the realities of segregation in the Boston area.

Now, I’ll move on to the second website, The Latina History Project. This is a faculty-student collaborative research project at that aims to enhance education and understanding of Latino/a and Chicano/a history. Their website has 126 digitized items, 12 collections, and 5 digital exhibits. The website also includes 8 additional resources. The Latino History project is unique in that the majority of the digitized items are oral histories given by past and present members of the Southwestern community, and activists. The Latina History Project displays a glimpse into the history of Latino activism in the Central Texas community.

What contrasts the Latina History Project and Stark and Subtle Divisions is the sheer quantity of content. Stark and Subtle has a lot more items featured on its site than the Latina history project. It has more items, more collections, and more additional resources overall. Most of Stark and Subtle resources are in print, while the Latina History Project’s are oral histories, rather than print. Also, far fewer people contributed to the Latina History Project than to Stark and Subtle Divisions, an entire class as compared to five people in a department. The addition of the map to Stark and Subtle Divisions added a lot more to my experience of the website. It added extra context to the documents presented in the collections and the exhibitions.

As a whole, I enjoyed the Stark and Subtle Divisions website more for its content and for the quality of its organization of the content. While the Latina History Project had interesting topics and I enjoyed their inclusion of oral history interviews, I wasn’t too impressed with their organization of their items and I wish they could do more to place their items into the context of their message.

Week 4 Reading Reflections

It’s no surprise that copyright law is one of the most complicated and opaque branches of law to study. I really appreciated Rosenzweig’s articles and book chapters attempting to clarify it where historians are concerned, especially digital historians. Each article about copyright addressed more or less the same issues: how do copyright laws affect digital historians? Do we own copyright? How? What are the drawbacks to being overly cautious? What constitutes “fair use”? I have dealt with many of these same issues in my workplace. The Art Museum definitely falls under the umbrella of “erring on the side of caution” when it comes to copyright issues. When I make posts for social media, my boss makes it clear that the images I use have to come from the museum collections; I can’t use images pulled from the web, even those covered under Creative Commons.¬† The article “Pushing Back Against Legal Threats By Putting Fair Use Forward” brought up an interesting point about how the legal risks are overstated. The two professors mention their frustration that the concerns over copyright actually stifles creativity as well as saying that most scholars are not aware of many of the rights they do actually have.¬†Jennifer Howard’s article makes a wonderful companion to the previously mentioned article. It clearly and succinctly gives advice that falls in line with enriching the knowledge of professors and historians about copyright issues that do not resort to the age-old fear of being sued.

Roy Rosenzweig also does a good job of explaining current US copyright laws and it ties in very well to the other readings and especially to his article on whether all scholarship should be free. I wonder what the copyright implications would arise for both the publisher and the author if academic scholarship were made free. Would there be any effect at all? As to his question on if scholarship should be free, I’m inclined to agree with him. A freer access to scholarship would fully realize the principles of scholarly societies and make the knowledge more accessible, especially to those who could not afford to otherwise.