Sunday, November 23, 2008

Another one bites the dust....or is in the process of it.

I recently stumbled on a random facebook cause called Don't Let Newspapers Die. Apparently we aren't the only ones worried about technology replacing print. I was mainly surprised that there was over nine thousand members for something like this. The page has a little list as to why newspapers should be saved, its nice to see that the first reason is because "newspapers are a very important historic & public resource." However the fact the third reason is "newspapers are cool" makes me a little bit skeptical of the merit of having a facebook page to support print documents.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Saved from the black hole.

Tomorrow is British Columbia's 150th anniversary. As part of the commemoration of this anniversary the Globe and Mail featured an article outlining the history that BC's founding. The article also made mention of a particular digital resource, who's history is somewhat amazing on its own. The site of mention is The Colonial Despatches, which is a digital archive based on the correspondence between British Columbia, Vancouver, and the British Colonial Office. It is a great digital resource, but that's not the main reason I was drawn to the site.

The evolution of the site highlights some of the common problems which occur when digitizing sources. The transcription and digitization process was started by James Hendrickson of the University of Victoria in the 1980s, however all of his work was done in a now obsolete computer language. Thankfully someone realized the importance of these files and has managed to recover them and restore them in an accessible format. The fact that these files were so close to be lost, suggests to me the vulnerability of digitalized files. We often think of print documents of being susceptible to destruction through age but digital files are as vulnerable. This whole article reinforced the preaching of open source software and accessibility that we keep hearing about in digital history class.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

There might be hope for my artistic side yet.

I openly admit that I'm kind of lacking in traditional artistic skills. I think my sister got that gene. She routinely makes homemade birthday cards and scrapbook albums as presents that blow my store bought cards out of the water. That's one of the reasons I was kind of excited by the idea of digital scrapbooking. After some examination of the resources available and some thought digital scrapbooking could easily be useful in other areas than just assisting the artistically challenged.

Digital scrapbooks can easily be applied to various historical projects. Detailed photo collections and traditional scrapbooks have long been a standard feature in archival collections. Digital scrapbooks offer many of the same advantages as the digitization of photographs. They are more accessible, potentially easier to preserve and reflect the increasing emphasis on technology in society. That being said they do of course have some of the same pit falls as photo digitization.

Digital scrapbooks also have the potential to be made into interesting history projects for students. I'm sure everyone at some point or another had to a project on the Vikings, Natives, or Jacques Cartier. From what I remember, these projects were in the early years a mass of construction paper, pictures, combined with some paragraphs of type. Considering the amount of photos, archival material and resources available online it seems ideal that this information be dealt with in the same medium in which it is available. It would also allow students from a change to explore the range of digital sources which they may not be exposed to otherwise. There is a ton of options for personal creativity and a variety of open source "freebie" software out there to help people get started.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

History in the Making.

Following the recent election of Barack Obama, The Smithsonian in conjunction with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, has taken steps to persevere items from Obama's campaign. The museum has suggested that it intends to recreate one of the field offices from the campaign in a future exhibit.

I think that this was a very proactive decision by the Smithsonian. The election of an African American president was both a monumental and historic event in the history of the United States. And the immediate decision by the Smithsonian to create an exhibit around this election suggests an understanding that history was indeed in the making during the Obama campaign. Not only does the immediate collection of potential artifacts suggest an understanding of the historical significance but it suggests a desire to represent the past in a truly authentic way. As the CBC story suggests, the Smithsonian has collected items such as whiteboards, strategy boards election maps etc. All of which could have been reproduced to some degree or perhaps collected after the fact, but the Smithsonian took the immediate initiative to collect all these seemingly insignificant items, which suggests a larger significance of the exhibit and the election itself.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembrance in the Media.

The Globe and Mail in the days leading up to Remembrance Day has included a feature called Dear Sweetheart: Letters Home from a Solider. The letters are from Canadian David K. Hazzard to his wife Audrey, he wrote over a 100 letters in total to her. The letters are very personal, emotional and serve to highlight the trials which numerous soldiers went through. Letters by Hazzard and other soldiers are a valuable way of examining the War and serve as a very emotional type of commemoration.

In addition to the Globe and Mail series, pretty much any media outlet you can think of has done some type of feature on Remembrance Day. History Television is currently airing a Week of Remembrance which focuses on various nationally defining battles and Canadian trials in the war. Similarly the CBC had both television and digital representations of Remembrance Day ceremonies and the CBC Digital Archives has a number of recommended videos on Canada Remembering.

With the amount of accessible information I hope everyone took at least a moment to think about the role which War has had in forging the history of our country and to remember the sacrifice of those who believed in something bigger than themselves.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Consumed by History.

Being a university student who is interested in the digital representations of history has its downfalls. One of the largest being that because there is such a wide range of digital information available online, hours can be spent looking up different historical topics and tools online. Since I have spent so much time looking at different history related digital items I thought I would share some of my favorites:

-The BBC podcast, In Our Time by Melvyn Bragg. This podcast covers everything from science, religion, philosophy, culture and traditional history. A lot of the podcasts focus on the history of a particular idea, person or concept and include guest speakers who are often experts on the topic.

-Making History by Vanessa Collingridge is another BBC podcast. This podcast focuses on the historical quires of listeners and the way in which history is perceived and constructed.

-CBC podcasts could consume my entire day if I let them. They have podcasts of their radio shows, the hour, various TV productions, and numerous regional based podcasts.

-The History section of features numerous podcasts which are historically focused. A good majority require the user to pay, however they do occasionally include include featured podcasts which are often free.

-Alan Cross ' podcast of The Ongoing History of New Music. Okay so this may not be traditional history. But it is definitely well researched and well worth a listen to anyone who is interested in the evolution of a particular band or music genre. As with over 500 episodes produced there is bound to be something that interests you.

Educational Resources:
CBC Digital Archive. The site has numerous video clips and interviews which are easily accessible and search-able. The site also includes an educational section which is designed for teachers, which includes a variety of multimedia learning activities such as "What was Oka About", "What was the October crisis?", "The World of Satellite Technology" etc.

-Canada's National History Society: The Beaver. Like CBC The Beaver's website has a section dedicated to the educational uses of history and includes lesson plans and resources for teaching history.

-Early Canadiana Online, is a digital library which features works published from the time of early settlers, up until 20th century Canada. Its a valuable resource as well as a good example of the use of digital technology to transmit historical information to an increasingly diverse audience.

-The Canadian Encyclopedia. This resource is both Canadian and informative. It also includes a youth Encyclopedia which provides public and high school friendly interpretations of historical events.

-You know those catchy history minutes that are shown on TV? Well they are available online at Historica Minutes Online. The site also features lesson plans based on the history minutes.

-Steve.Museum. A site which is based in applying social tagging principles to museum collections and is based in open software to allow people and institutions from a variety of backgrounds to participate.

-Digital History Online. This site is primarily focused on the history of the United States but includes a ton of resources for making learning interactive. The "For Teachers" section includes interactive modules, handouts and fact sheets, lesson plans and resource guides. Outside of the teacher section the site also includes a ton of digital resources such as maps, music clips, online exhibits, games and newspapers.

Digital Things (That aren't really history geared, but could be)
-Google Sketchup. I'm not quite as addicted as my classmate Meaghan. However I definitely agree with her assessment of the potential of sketchup for creating plans for collection displays and any type of physical project. A social bookmarking tool which is search-able, and if nothing else provides an interesting look at what the general public consider history.

-Google Books. Its raining outside and I have readings to do. Needless to say Google books often wins over trekking to the library.

This list is not nearly exhaustive and isn't close to being a complete list of everything history related I do online. But it does highlight a few of the digital things that I am intrigued by.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Finding Relevance

I have been attempting to legitimize my choice to pursue History (and now Public History) to others for quite sometime now. After enthralling but somewhat abstract class discussions I often find myself wondering if anything we are talking about has relevance to people outside the realm of history. I think this desire to feel relevant is in part why I was first drawn to Public History, as it seems to be more interactive with the public at large.

This weekend while reading the Globe and Mail I stumbled on an article that was essentially a rehashing of a topic which we keep returning to in digital history. In the article Can Hard Drives Replace Archives, Anthony Furey discusses the rise of digital technology and the concerns which many historians have over the way in which technology is changing the way in which history is written. Furey focuses his article mainly on the writing of historical biography, and suggests that email communication and other more informal electronic communication has the potential to greatly enhance a biography. I wish Furey had of mentioned other positive ways that technology can be used by historians in the classroom, in museums, academia and other institutions (as the possibilities seem nearly endless at this point). However the mere fact that this article appeared in the Globe and Mail was some what reassuring in itself. We aren't the only people who care about some of the stuff we are talking about in class and maybe History isn't as irrelevant as some people think after all.