Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Infomation Junkie and RSS Readers

I will openly admit that I am a bit of an information junkie. Twitter sustains my information addition to a degree. But, I find if I am off-line for any amount of time it's easy to miss complete conversations or ideas. As a result I have a bit of an addition to RSS feeds. They allow me to catch up with all the blogs and sites I follow at my convenience, instead of at the demanding pace of Twitter.

I have been using Bloglines as my RSS reader for ages. Some long built up frustration with bloglines has resulted in me switching over to Google Reader. Below is some of my thoughts on the pros/cons of each particular RSS reader.

One of my main frustrations with Bloglines is that often it does not update promptly.
-Bloglines has a very uncluttered and easy to read user interface, which is simple to navigate.
-Bloglines displays the number of followers to each RSS feed in plain sight. To see this number in Google Reader you have to access the additional details.
-Bloglines has the option of viewing merely titles, summaries, or full entries.

Google Reader:
Unsurprisingly, the search and recommended feeds feature on Google Reader is far superior to the search function on Bloglines.
-Initially I found Google Reader a bit flashy. There are many more additional features on Google Reader which have the potential to be useful, but also clutter the interface a bit.
-The trends feature in Reader allows you to see what in the past month you have read, starred, noted etc. Which is kind of a neat feature.
-I think my current favorite feature of Google Reader is the homepage. Bloglines homepage was not overly interactive or useful. Reader's homepage lists the newest 'stories', highlights anything recently starred, and show recently read items.

Both allow you to use keyboard shortcuts to mark feeds as read, and perform other basic tasks when reading and organizing your RSS feed.
-Both readers have share/like/star options. They vary slightly in their names and display qualities, but essentially serve the same purpose.

Both services do what they are expected to do, and collect feeds in spot neatly. I found the major difference between Bloglines and Google Reader to be Google's inclusion of many supplemental features not available in Bloglines. The improved search feature in Google Reader is also a huge bonus. I'm going to attempt to avoid the temptation of using the familiar Bloglines, and stick with Google Reader for at least awhile longer.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Intersection of Art and Technology

I was recently reminded of the impact which technology has upon art. Art like many things has been drastically impacted by evolving technologies. Since the impact of technology on art is diverse, to begin with I'm only going to attempt to discuss technology and art history.

The work of Dr Maurizio Seracini is one of the most well known examples of the profound impact technology can have upon art history. For over 25 years Seracini has been using technology to learn more about the works of Da Vinci. Seracini adapted technology from medical and military fields to allow for nondestructive analysis of art. One of the more notable efforts by Seracini is the possible discovery "The Battle of Anghiari" mural by da Vinci. Using radar and tomographic imagery Seracini was able to analyze the hall in which the mural was painted, without damaging any of it's current contents. The use of technology to examine original architecture and art has immense possibilities, and could allow for scholars to learn a great deal more about supposedly lost architectural and aesthetic features.

Additionally, technology has also been used to assign dates to pieces of art. For example, a relatively new technology has allowed for the dating of early pictographs. This technology uses a type of carbon dating, previously only used on pottery, bones, and other physical artifacts. This carbon dating was previously not possible due to the lack of high levels of organic materials in most pictographs. As technology has advanced more information has been gained about early rock paintings. This is a triumph for anyone interested in early art history, archeology, and the history of many ancient societies.

As technology has increased so has the ease of creating art forgeries. That being said technology has also allowed for the development of technologies which can easily detect forgeries. For example, laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) has been used to examine paints, and materials used in art. This technology has allowed for unique analysis of art, and for a "chemical fingerprint" to be created for original works of art. By knowing the exact chemical the materials used by artists, exposing forgeries has become much easier. Additionally, knowing more about the materials used by artists allows for the expansion of another dimension of art history.

Technology has allowed for art history to become increasingly scientific. Technology can assist in taking a lot of the 'guess work' out of art history. By combining science and art, a more in depth history of society and culture can be developed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Remembrance Day in a Digital World

Each year it seems that the amount of material available to commemorate remembrance day and Canadian soldiers, grows tenfold. The mass amount of information available makes it easy to get lost while looking for relevant information. Below is a list which compiles some of the more educational and historically relevant sites I have come across.

The Veterans Affairs Canada site includes a wide variety of information on Canadian soldiers and commemoration. Some of the more noteworthy parts of this site include:
  • Heroes Remember--a video archive of personal recollections of various war efforts. This archive is searchable by both name and hometown.
  • The Canadian Virtual War Memorial--a registry of information about the graves and memorials of more than 116,000 Canadians who served. The interesting part of this being that the site also digital images of photographs and personal memorabilia about individual Canadians. Users can also contribute photos or information they may have about family members who served.
  • Diaries, Letters, and Stories--This is a collection of WWI and WWII solider diaries and letters, all of which have been transcribed and made available to the general public online. These first hand account of the potential to be used by students as primary sources.
  • Books of Remembrance--Many community libraries still house traditional books of remembrance. This archive features digital copies of many of the Books of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill, and contains the names of many of those who participated in WWI and WWII.
Library and Archives Canada (LAC) also features a number of online resources relating Canadian presence in various wars. These resources include:
  • A selection of War diaries, featuring excepts from soldiers diaries from WWI.
  • A virtual exhibit on WWII, "Faces of War." The exhibit also allows users to explore photos from both the LAC collection and the collection held by DND.
  • Military Personnel records are also searchable via LAC. These records can be searched via names, location, military medals, war diaries, and war graves.
The Canadian Military History Gateway also features a number of interesting resources and ways of exploring Canada's military history.
  • Canadian Military Reference Book--available in full text online, simple resource for anyone looking to gain a basic background in Canadian military history.
  • A number of lesson plans and educational suggestions relating to Canadian military history.
Lastly, From Colony to Country: A Reader's Guide to Canadian Military History is a great resource for anyone looking for a comprehensive guide to the written material on Canadian military history. The site is divided up by military campaigns, and then each military campaign is divided into thematic subsections. The guide has been compiled by LAC and noteable military historians.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Authorship in an Online World.

Overwhelmed by search results? Struggling to keep up with Tweets? Buried under your RSS feeds? The amount of digital content and digital authorship is constantly growing. Today anyone can digitally publish content. Blogs, personal websites, twitter, and other social media have made it easy for individuals to create an online presence and produce "published" material.

Academics are picking up on the importance of creating an online presence. Granted, many Universities currently do not place the same weight on digital content as traditionally published works. However, this hanging onto traditional journal publishing may fade in nears to come.

The mass amount of online content raises the question of tracking changes in authorship, and the eventual movement towards a universal authorship. Currently, "authorship, including books and new media, is growing nearly tenfold each year...Authors, once a select minority, will soon be a majority." [1]

What does this increased sense of authorship mean? Diversified and increased content for one. Additionally, the much used adage of "quality over quantity" becomes increasingly important in a world in which everyone can publish. However, it also opens a lot of opportunities to intelligent individuals who may not be able to publish in more traditional mediums. I see the growth of authorship as a benefit, but something which requires efficient means of gathering, organizing, and storing information

[1] Denis G. Pelli and Charles Bigelow, "Nearly Universal Literacy is a Defining Characteristic of Today's Modern Civilization; Nearly Universal Authorship Will Shape Tomorrows", SeedMagazine.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Collaborative Photo Encyclopedia

Fotopedia is a collaborative open source photo encyclopedia. The site is an interesting blend of the knowledge of Wikipedia combined with the expansive array of image of flickr. The emphasis is more on the side of the photos, however each collection of photos is accompanied by a brief encyclopedia article. The number of photos and quality of photos for each entry is all dependent on what has been uploaded.

One the more valuable features of Fotopedia is that the site is easily searchable by categories. These categories allow users who are interested in a particular type of photo to easily find the images they desire. The category feature can be particular useful for anyone researching a specific topic. The site is also keyword searchable. However, the keyword search results are not always as neatly organized as the rest of the site.

Fotopedia also hosts a "Fotopedia Community" designed to allow interaction between users. This social media feature allows photos to be commented on, voted on, highlights best contributors, and a variety of other interactive features. This site has great potential for sharing photos, geocaching, and providing context to photos that may otherwise be merely a picture.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Public History Survey

The preliminary results of a 2008 survey of public history professionals was recently released. These results are available via the American Historical Association publication Perspectives on History and in the NCPH newsletter.

This survey was organized in an attempt to provide better understanding of the public history profession, and perhaps create a clearer definition of public history. Almost 4,000 persons were surveyed, in an attempt to gain an understanding of "who is drawn to this area of employment, and what their concerns were."[1]

The results of the survey, reflect the current vagueness of the public history field. Many of those surveyed did not define themselves as public historians, even though they may be involved in history outside of academia. Similarly, some historians working in academia defined themselves as public historians based on what they teach and research.

Can one be a public historian while working in academia? I would say yes, however it is not a common occurrence. There are some professors who write for a larger audience and aim to engage people outside of the ivory tower, however these persons are not the current norm.

Additionally, the most common field associated with public history is currently museum based work. Museums are definitely within the realm of public history. However there are many more ways in which historical work can be turned into public history. One of the great benefits of practicing public history is the diversity of the field, it is not limited to museums. Greater awareness of the different types of public history needs to be created.

[1] "Preliminary Results from the 2008 Survey of Public History Professionals." Perspectives on History, September 2009, http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2009/0909/0909pub1.cfm

Monday, September 21, 2009

Cheap Books on Demand

I have been in favour of the Google Books project for some time, mainly because the project allows for greater accessibility of scholarship. This past week Google announced a new facet to Google Books. Now, more than 2 million books, which are currently featured on Google Books, can be turned into "instant paperbacks."

Google has signed an agreement with On Demand Books, the owner of The Espresso Book Machine. The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) can print and bind a book in the same amount of time it takes to brew an espresso. Espresso book machines are currently located in bookstores in the US, Australia, Britain, Egypt and Canada. The Canadian EBMs are currently only a few in University bookstores. This is great for the impoverished student, but somewhat limits the audience which the EBM currently reaches.

This agreement allows for one of the complaints of many Google Books users to be addressed: many people simply do not enjoy reading a 300 page book online. A retail price has not been set for these instant paperbacks, but estimates have been around the eight dollar mark. Overall it sounds like a cost effective way to make public domain books available. That being said, various governments, privacy groups, Amazon and Microsoft have already filed objections to this new agreement.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Portrait Gallery that never was.

The dream of a Canadian Portrait Gallery has died, possibly for good. Following the creation of the Gallery in 2001, the Gallery has faced a number of challenges including a lack of an institution. However, despite this lack of permanent building the Gallery managed to stage exhibitions at both the Museum of Nature and the Science and Technology Museum this summer.

It was recently announced that the Portrait Gallery of Canada will no longer exist in it's current format. Some of the functions of the Gallery will be taken over by Library and Archives Canada. However, it is unclear what resources will be available for exhibitions, staffing, digitization, and purchasing of new works. What details are available can be seen here. The Gallery's demise is yet another blow to the Canadian art and heritage community. This development may result in the diverse portraiture art and history of Canada being lost to the Canadian public.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Call for Proposals, AAO Conference

I thought this might be of interest to anyone working with digital technology in the heritage sector, particularly those persons who work with archival photos.

Archives Association of Ontario
2010 Annual Conference, Barrie, Ontario
June 16-18, 2010
From Daguerreotypes to Flikr:Grappling with the Archival Image in an Era of Technological Change

The 2010 AAO conference in Barrie aims to explore this theme in a broad and interdisciplinary manner. The Program Committee is seeking proposals from individuals from different disciplines and professions that tackle a wide array of topics dealing with the management and use of archival photographs, both physical and digital, including, but not limited to papers which examine:
* Archival appraisal of photograph collections
* Preservation of photographs
* Arrangement and description of graphic material
* Challenges and opportunities of copyright for photographs
* Use of photographs in outreach initiatives and educational programming
* The priorities and pitfalls of digitization
* Graphic material and reference services
* The impact of new technologies and software on archives today, including Adobe PhotoShop, Flickr and social networking tools like Facebook

Submitting Proposals:
The Program Committee will accept both individual submissions for a paper as well as session proposals consisting of two or three participants and a chairperson. The proposals should include the name of the speaker(s), job title(s), institution(s), title of the paper(s) as well as a description of the paper or session. Submissions should not exceed 300 words in length.

Session proposals and any questions should be directed to the Program Chair:
Ellen Scheinberg, Ph.D.
Director, Ontario Jewish Archives
416-635-2883 ext. 5187

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Summer Whirlwind

After completing the course work portion of the UWO Public History program, I packed all my bags and moved to Ottawa. I spent the summer working as an intern for The History Group and volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature. I enjoyed my time at both organizations, and was able to gain a number of valuable experiences.

The History Group (THG) is a historical research company that focuses on a variety of research topics including: archaeological, first nations, anthropological, and civil litigation. While working with THG I worked on various source identification, and research organization projects. This work was primarily involving collections held by Library and Archives Canada. Working with these collections was both time consuming and interesting. My experience with THG allowed me to gain an understanding of how to organize huge amounts of material effectively, and which research techniques work best for me.

While volunteering at the Canadian Museum of Nature I assisted in the botany collection. Prior to volunteering my knowledge of botany was limited at best. Spending hours mounting various types of grasses from British Columbia, forges a new interest and appreciation for botanists. Additionally, unlike many of my past experiences the Canadian Museum of Nature was not comprised soley of those from the historical field. A large portion of the staff at the Museum of Nature are scientists and researchers. This mix of professionals was interesting and exposed me to a facility which combines history with numerous other fields.

Overall, my summer was filled with diversity. Historical research and museums collection work are drastically different. This diversity is something which speaks to the field of public history and the variety of fields which a public historian can find employment in.

Digital Communications

Historians have often been accused of being behind the times in terms of digital applications. This may be true in some instances, who hasn't seen a historian fumble with a simple PowerPoint presentation. However, there are also a number of historical organizations and professionals who have embraced various forms of technology. Many of these technologies are focused on making tasks easier, including the trouble and cost of long distance communication.

One of the simplest communication focsed applications is Skype. Skype is free software that allows you to "talk" to anyone else who has Skype without a charge. You can also pay a nominal fee to use Skype to call land lines. Providing you have high speed, this is a very economical choice in lieu of long distance calling.

In addition to Skype, Dimdim is a great application for long distance group projects. Having a problem with a program? Want to share ideas? Dimdim allows you to share screens, so you can easily compare work, which ideal for anything involving groups. Dimdim is frequently used for web conferences allowing for a more open sharing of ideas than a mere conference call.

I was also recently exposed to near-time. This application is a file sharing, collaborative workspace. It is very similar to the collaborative nature of a wiki and hosts many similar features. Near-time is a bit more ascetically pleasing than the average wiki. However, the major near-time is not an open source application and may not be a practical application for many smaller organization.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Online Resource: Our Ontario

I recently stumbled across an interesting digitization project. OurOntario.ca is a division of Knowledge Ontario. The project aims to make various cultural collections in Ontario more accessible through digitization. Our Ontario works with community organizations throughout Ontario to establish effective and efficient digitization plans. Additionally, the site is geared toward researchers of all ages and the digitized documents from all across Ontario are easily searchable. The site also features a number of social media initiatives including social tagging.

One of the downfalls of this site however, is that not all documents which appear in the search results are viewable online. In some cases copyright restrictions have limited access to material. Despite this, adequate information is proved to describe material to researchers, and to assist in locating potentially useful sources.

The variety of material available on OurOntario is one of the site's greatest features. The site features sources of a variety of facets including: audio, text, photo, video, and object. The site is also searchable by collection. Additionally, the site features collections from a variety of institutions including: libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, community groups, and government organizations. The variety of content makes this site an increasingly centralized place to conduct a variety of research.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Google Books

My love for Google Books has been grown once again. Earlier this month Google released new features for Google Books. A variety of features were released including; the ability to embed books or book previews in html, better searching within book text, page turn feature, and an improved book overview page.

For historians the improved searching within book text is one of the most valuable new features. Search results now appear with context surrounding the searched word, and can be clicked on directly to easily examine relevant content. This is a huge improvement and has the potential to help researchers easily locate relevant information. The ability to embed books in blogs, or websites with a simple html line is also valuable. It allows users who not overly web savvy to easily share pages of works, which has the possibility to enhance interactivity and accessibility.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

National vs. Community Museums

In many of our public history classes earlier this year we examined some of the pros and cons of working at small and big museums. The point most often brought up was that small museums often lack funding to hire many (or any) full-time employees. Conversely, the bureaucratic structure of many large museums does not appeal to all public historians or museum professionals.

Spending the summer in Ottawa has made me look at this issue from another perspective. Ottawa has numerous national museums and the city of Ottawa is also home to many community based museums. How many tourists to Ottawa visit the smaller local heritage sites and museums over the national museums? Most school or bus trips focus on visiting the large museums. These museums are representing the entire nations history, and are one of the main tourist attractions in Ottawa.

So who do the smaller museums cater to? Many of these smaller museums focus on the unique heritage of various smaller communities within Ottawa. For example the Bytown Museum preserves the history of the original city of Bytown and the early years of the city of Ottawa. Similarly, the Nepean Museum is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Nepean and the former township of Nepean. Most of the community museums in Ottawa strive to interact with visitors and the community at large. Many offer a variety of weekend and summer activities. Until moving to Ottawa the unique combination of national museums and community museums available in the city had not occurred to me. This unique combination is ideal for anyone looking to expore a combination of national history and local history.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Upper Canada Villiage: Historical Tourism or Commericalism?

Should heritage facilities and organizations be restricted to featuring historically correct events? Any reputable museum or similar institution should have a mandate which outlines which historical period the institution focuses on. However, during times of economic hardship can historical institutions be blamed for attempting to attract visitors by reaching outside of their mandate?

This past Saturday Upper Canada Village held a medieval festival, complete with knights and jousting. The justification for this event, that is clearly outside of the historical scope of the Village, is that the park needs to attract more visitors. Many have been critical of this and other moves by the park, suggesting that the park is becoming overly commercialized. On Saturday, members of the Lost Villages Historical Society and other concerned park patrons protested outside the medieval festival. The Lost Villages Society has also raised some concerns over the safety of artifacts inside the Village, as many of them are out of the view of staff and could easily be stolen. One of my concerns is that without the proper context and explanation of why a medieval festival is being held, some visitors may assume that this type of festival actually occurred in Upper Canada in the 1880s.

Who is in the right in this instance? Should the park be allowed to do whatever is necessary to attract visitors? Or does the park have a responsibility to stick to it's mandate? How much commercialism is too much? And when does a historical organization begin to lose it's credibility?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mythic Beasts at the CMC

From May15th to September 20th, 2009 the CMC features an exhibit entitled Mythic Beasts: Dragons, Unicorns, and Mermaids. I took in the exhibit recently during one the CMC's free admission Thursdays. The exhibit was an interesting combination of fantasy and history. The exhibit focuses on the societies which have created mythical creatures, and the cultural heritage which has grown out of myths. For example, the exhibit features a section on sea creatures. This section examines the various societies which have believed in sea creatures, and examines what these creatures really were. Supposed sea creatures are debunked as being squids, large eels, manatees, dolphins, or logs. This exhibit "tricks" kids into learning about the history of various societies, superstitions, and beliefs. Anyone who is interested in culture, the roots of fantasy, or just looking to see some interesting recreations of mythic beasts will enjoy this exhibit.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

General Reflections on the CHA Conference

Overall the conference was an interesting and valuable experience. I listened to a number of interesting papers and talked with various people who are conducting research I am greatly intrigued by. The CHA provided a good environment for grad students as well, there were many students who presented papers and many more who attended sessions and used the conference for networking.

One of the thoughts I had while at the conference was that making the presentations available by podcast or the papers available online would be greatly beneficial. A few younger presenters did record their presentations, and plan to upload them to youtube. However, the CHA as a whole seems behind on current technology and online publishing. Though this is lack of technological advancement is something that plagues the history profession as a whole, not just the CHA.

I was also encouraged by the use of 'unconventional' sources by many researchers. There were papers which were based on oral history, photos, films, cookbooks, songs, and many other non traditional textual documents. Similarly, many papers had an appeal outside of traditional academia and would be interesting to the general public. Perhaps this is a sign of the profession looking outwards more frequently.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Day3: Aboriginal History, the Value of Archives, and Confederation

Session 1: Aboriginal Oral History and Canadian Courts. This session dealt with the ongoing debate about the validity of using oral history in court trials. Christopher Bracken's paper The Judge and the Pharmakon: Oral History and Aboriginal Rights was particularly interesting. Bracken examined the validity of oral history from a philosophical and literary perspective. The debate between writing and the spoken word have been going on since the time of Plato. All of the presenters highlighted the importance of understanding the difference between writing and oral histories and appreciating the uniqueness of each form of communication.

Session2: The First Draft of History: Archives, Archival Selection and the Determination of History. Despite the diverse topics which the papers in this panel covered, they were linked together by their focus on the use of archives. This session drove me to question the impact which filing systems, descriptions, archival organization, archival location, and who is keeping the records have on history. Archival material is a product of a social environment and cannot be viewed in isolation. During the discussion portion of this session a question was raised about the validity of private researchers using archival sources for litigation services. Dara Price of LAC answered this question in a commendable way. She pointed out that conducting research for profit and for a specific purpose is nothing new, and that archives have often been used by private researchers. This session reinforced the importance of being critical of archival material and contextualizing sources.

Session 3: Authority, Aboriginality, and Expertise. The papers in this session were linked by their emphasis on aboriginal agency. All three presenters focused on the relationship between governments and aboriginal peoples. I found Martha Walls' paper on Exploring Federal Culpability in Residential Schooling particularly interesting. Walls examined the relationship of day schools and residential schools in the Maritimes. She suggested that the poor state of day schools, assisted the government in coercing First Nations into the residential school system. Overall, this session highlighted the linked relationship between first nation peoples and government decisions, and the way in which First Nations have frequently adapted to changing circumstances.

Session 4: Constructing Confederation and Constructing the Nation. All three presenters examined a different aspect of confederation. These papers were a combination of traditional political, social, and cultural history. Andrew Smith's paper suggested that technology played a substantial role in the advancement of confederation. Ruth Frost examined Immigration policy following confederation, the role which immigration played in constructing the Nation. Bradley John Miller examined Copyright and the Constitutional Order. This session examined confederation and the the nation from a variety of prospectives, all of which were well presented.

Day 2: Memory and Commemoration

The two sessions which I attended on Tuesday morning both contained an emphasis on commemoration and the act of remembering. Commemoration is something which appeals to both historians and the general public, and is something which public historians can play a role in.

Session 1--Private Voices, Public Display. All three presenters examined history's role in presenting the memory of individuals. Katherine J. Taylor examined "War Bride Commemoration" and the way in which commemorative events impact the way in which people remember. Taylor suggested that memory was greatly impacted by place, people, and that collective memory was often created by the gathering of groups. Similarly, Jennifer Wilhelm examined the NFB film "City of Gold." This film examined the Yukon and created a specific gendered and racialized interpretation of the past. Both Wilhelm's and Susan L. Joudrey's papers highlighted the constructed nature of history. Joudrey examined the Indian Village at the Calgary Stampede and the way in which heritage was used as tourism. The use as history in popular film, or history as tourism is something which is still prevalent in today's society and which public historians play a large role in.

Session 2--Memory and Authority in the North Atlantic World. All of the presenters in this panel examined different aspects of memory. Chris Tait looked at the way in which the 24th of May became a holiday, and the impact of the tensions between imperialism and Independence played on the holiday. Both Lee Slinger and Valeries Deacon examined memory in France. Slinger looked at how the PCF employed the memory of the revolution of 1789 to encourage communism in 1939. Whereas, Deacon examined the act of forgetting in France, and the degree to which people have often forgotten the participants in the French Revolution who belonged to the political right. Overall, this session linked subtantial events in our past to the act of commemoration and memory, it highlighted the impact whcih memory can have on political events and society in general.

Friday, May 29, 2009

CHA Conference. Day 1: From Footnotes to Songs to Cookbooks.

This week I attended the CHA conference at Carleton University. I had originally planned to write about my experience daily, however the busy nature of the conference has resulted in this series of posts being posted a few days following the conference.

The first session I attended was entitled "Indigenous Historical Methodology: Beyond the Footnote." The work of the three presenters focused on the issue of indigenous representation and the interpretation of indigenous history. One of the points that struck me most, in this session, was the constant struggle of maintaining academic integrity while still serving and doing justice to the community. This pull between objectivity and acting for a client is something which plagues most public historians. However using a variety of research techniques can assist in providing a more complete picture of the past.

The second session I attended was "Defining Authority and Identity in World War I." This panel was one of my personal favorites of the entire conference. The presenters in this session looked at WWI from a variety of perspectives, all of which tied in aspects of social, political, and cultural history. In particular, Tim Cook's paper "Oh, What a Lovely War: Canadian Soldiers Singing in the Great War" used songs and music to explore the unique solider culture which developed during the war. This paper also explore the way in which songs allowed soldiers to challenge authority and create a brotherhood of solders. Overall this panel examined the power relationships which existed during WWI in a way which was both insightful and creative.

The last panel which I attended on Monday was "Popular Culture and Social Life." This session featured papers on a variety of topics including hockey, baseball, valentines, and cookbooks. The nature of these papers made the panel enjoyable, and I believe that any of these papers would have been easily appreciated by non academics. Additionally, Craig Greenham's paper "Permission to Play, Sir?: The CEF's Approach to Baseball in the Great War" would have fit nicely with the Defining Authority in WWI panel. Greenham's paper examined the increasing presence of baseball in the military and the use of baseball as a tool for bonding, training, and distraction.

Overall, my experience on the first day of the CHA conference was filled with interesting discussion and insightful papers. All of the sessions I attended placed emphasis on the personal experience and on the social aspects of history. However this may have been due to my choice in sessions.

Friday, May 22, 2009

itunes for books?

Recently Scribd opened an online store which is attempting to become the itunes of books. Up until recently Scribd has been completely open source, this past Monday the service began charging for it's services. Scribd will now keep 20% of each sale, while the remaining 80% will be sent to the owners of the written material. This written material is anything from books, reports, travel guides, and previously unavailable obscure manuscripts (long tail anyone?).

One of the biggest advantages of Scribd is that any document bought can be used on a variety of digital applications, including computers, electronic readers like Kindle, and mobile phones. Scribd will also allow authors to sell individual chapters from their books, similar to itunes selling of individual songs. Additionally, uploading material onto Scribd is relatively simple. Scribd's "iPaper" converts all uploaded PDFs, Word documents, and Powerpoint files, to web documents that can be accessed by users in whatever format they desire.

Despite the fact that this service is not open source, it does provide a refreshing alternative to amazon and chapters, and is something worth looking into.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Looking Back: Public History and Expanding Viewpoints

For more than a week I have been trying to collect my thoughts on the past eight months of the public history program. I initially wanted to summarize what I've learned, discuss the evolution of my views on public history, and the narrowing of my interests. However, when I sat down to actually do this, I realized that my interests have not narrowed, but actually expanded over the past eight months.

I am still interested in digital history and the use of technology to enhance education. I am also still intrigued by local heritage and the use of public institutions to express history to a broader public. In the past eight months I have also become interested in the divide between academic and public history, the unique research challenges which often face a public historian, and the relationship of tourism, public relations, and history. So where do all these interests leave me? At this point I'm not sure. I enjoy research, I enjoy museums, I enjoy playing with technology, and new digital applications. This summer I am doing a combination of things to expand on my interests, I am working as a research intern with The History Group and I am going to be spending some time a the Museum of Nature. Will this help me actually narrow my interests? Maybe...but having a broad range of interests isn't a horrible thing in my mind.

Overall, I think one of the most valuable lessons I learned this year is that public history is constantly expanding. Public history is no longer means just museums and archives. Public history encompasses business history, film, television, historical content on the web, landscapes, the building of parks, monuments, heritage tourism, and many more thing. Public history requires a lot of thinking outside of traditional structures, and approaching history from varying perspectives. The fact that public history can be valuable to so many different groups of people makes me hopeful that the public history field in Canada will one day grow to be as vibrant as public history is in other countries currently.

Trends and Google

Lists of what is most popular, and the most popular searches conducted aren't anything new. However, Google has expanded on people's interests in trends and created Google Trends. This search feature allows users to search anything their heart desires, and receive a chart which highlights current and past trends on the topic.

This feature is also closely related to Google's move to make searching public data such as population more accessible. Currently, if you go to Google.com and type in [unemployment rate] or [population] followed by a place in the U.S, you will see the most recent estimates and an interactive chart. The information used for these charts and is from the U.S Census Bureau's Population Division. Most importantly this is a huge step towards making census information far more searchable and accessible to the general public. This newly organized data has the potential to be a valuable to historians attempting to gauge population changes, the movement of people, employment, and numerous other facets of history.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Going Cross-Eyed From Reading Online?

With so much information online people are used to having to frequently read long articles on their computer screen. Despite this acceptance of reading online, often reading lengthy passages, that aren't clear on your screen, is very frustrating. I stumbled across an application that is supposed to make reading online long chunks of text easier. Readable restyles text and backgrounds to make text clearer, larger, and just generally more readable. Readable currently cannot detect text which is interspersed with pictures, but you can auto select any text to resize it. This application has the potential to make reading those poorly digitized journal articles and historical texts much easier.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Life Photo Archive

Life recently partnered with Getty images to make the Time Life photo collection available online. These images accessible to everyone online, and their private use is being encouraged. Images can freely be used in email, blogs, social networking sites, and anything that is for personal use. The only restriction thus far is that photos cannot be reproduced for commercial ventures (not that this has stopped some sites). The new online photo archive also features sections of prints which can be purchased online. Though, at the price of $99.99 for some prints, that's not something I'm going to be investing in anytime soon.

In addition to the mass number of photos now available online, the photo archive has some neat historical features. For example, the current featured photos on the site are pictures from April 4, 1968, the day that Martin Luther King died. All the photos in this set include captions, describing the night and people's reaction to King's death. These photos provide vivid imagery of the minutes and hours after King's death have the potential to be used as a valuable historical resource.

The slogan of the site "Your World in Pictures" is pretty accurate. The site includes historical photographs, contemporary images, and 3,000 new photos are added daily. Regardless of it your interested in castles, boats, cute animals, celebrities, or history there are photos to suit your interest. Overall, the Life photo archive can be used both for personal interest, enhancing research, and teaching students about both history and current events.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How To Forge Public History From The Land.

There is little doubt that environmental history is in vogue currently. The rise of environmental history has opened up a number of new opportunities for public historians. Research is being done on landscapes, environmental resources, the impact humans have on the world and various other topics. Environmental history has a place for public historians, even if at times they have to create their own niche.

One of the environmental research areas in which public historians have recently devoted attention to is the historical interpretation of landscapes. According to David Glassberg "Landscapes are the product of human interaction with the environment over time."[1]This suggests that landscapes are a valuable resource for learning about cultural, economic, and social trends over time. Learning from the physical past is not something horribly new, anthropologists, geologists, and numerous other fields have been doing this for years. However, with the rise of environmental history the use of landscapes in historical narratives is increasing.

Natural landscapes are altered over time by both nature and humans, these alterations reflect significant adaptations to the environment and larger societal trends. Glassberg discusses the development of water ways, canals, and transportation networks in the United States.[2] These man made alterations of the natural landscape reflect economic and cultural desires. Waterways, bridges, and canals were often created to allow for easier transportation of goods, which reflects a growing emphasis on a material culture. By examining human influence on landscapes it is possible to learn about the interaction of the environment and culture, and how they influenced each other.

Paired with the use of landscape by historians is a growing number of movements concerned with natural landscape. Historic preservationists, environmentalists, and land owners all have agendas when viewing the past. Rebecca Conard notes that often human built landscapes and natural landscapes are intertwined, and that to fully appreciate the environment these landscapes need to be examined together. [3] Human constructs such as roadways, benches, buildings, and numerous other structures are common place in many national parks and green spaces. These buildings have their own history and reflect the human trend of preserving the environment while still catering to the desire to have modern amenities. Removing all human constructs from a landscape destroys valuable history. [4]

The history of landscapes can be seen in parks, cities, rural farming communities, and waterways. By examining the way in which landscapes have changed public historians can learn a lot about the way that society has developed. For example, examining the development of national parks as tourism attractions highlights the commercial nature of society, and the growing emphasis on heritage tourism. The use of heritage tourism in Canadian national parks is particularly evident in the establishment of PEI's national park and it's focus on Anne of Green Gables. In this instance golf courses were created, beaches were included, and "Anne's House" was fixed up to be a tourist attraction.[5] All of these acts changed the natural landscape in PEI and are telling of the economic and cultural motivations of society. By using landscape as a stepping stone it is possible for public historians to expand their interest in environmental history to other fields, and expand their knowledge of a society's history in general.

[1] David Glassberg, "Interpreting Landscapes," Public History and the Environment, ed. Martin V. Melosi and Philip V. Scarpino, (Florida: Kreiger, 2004), 23.
[2] Glassberg, 24-25.
[3] Rebecca Conard, "Spading Common Ground." Public History and the Environment, ed. Martin V. Melosi and Philip V. Scarpino, (Florida: Kreiger, 2004), 8-12.
[4] Conard, 18.
[5] Alan MacEachern, "The Greening of Green Gables: Establishing Prince Edward Island National Park, ca. 1936." Natural Selections: National Parks in Atlantic Canada, 1935-1970, (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001), 75-78.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mapping and Privacy Concerns

I recently wrote on the trade off between convenience and privacy, this issue came to my attention once again while exploring virtual mapping. Most people have used Google earth or Google maps at one point or another. These applications are largely accepted by the general public as tools which make our lives easier. Google recently released the Google Street View application to the United Kingdom. Some controversy has been raised over the appropriateness of showing potentially private images from the street level. The majority of those opposing the application believe that street level pictures violate privacy and that these images are being used without the consent of numerous people. These privacy concerns are particularly valid for those people who have been caught partially nude, entering adult video stores, or doing any activity they may not want the entire world to know about.

Since the launch of UK Street View Google has had hundreds of requests for the removal of images. Earlier Google representatives insisted that "99.99 per cent" of faces featured in Street View were blurred. However, recently Google admitted that this had been a "figure of speech" and that thousands of people can be identified. Google claims that Street View is an important step towards people being able to explore the world from their homes, but has this application crossed line in terms of privacy violations?

Currently Google Street View is not available for any Canadian cities. Tighter restrictions have been placed on the construction of a Canadian application, which include the blurring of all faces, license plates, and numerous other privacy measures.

Despite the controversy surrounding Google Street View in Canada, Canpages.ca a company based in British Columbia has recently released it's own street view program. The program currently includes views of Whistler, Vancouver, and Squamish. Canpages street view allows users to explore residential areas, walking paths, parks, and trails. It also offers detailed pages for retailers in the area, and hopes to expand its views into the interiors of hotels, malls, and restaurants. However, Canpages is also taking additional incentives such as blurring distinctive features to help maintain privacy amongst Canadians.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Coming to a Museum Near You: Digital History in 3D

So this might not be coming to a museum near you in the intimidate future, but it is in Canada already, and seems like something that could benefit many museums. In conjunction with CHIN the McCord Museum of Canadian History in Montreal has created a 3D interactive, "touchless", exhibit which allows users to explore and manipulate the McCord collection without actually touching the objects. Using hand gestures, and without ever touching a screen users can turn, re-size, and explore various artifacts. This manipulation allows users to see details of objects that would not normally be visible while objects are on display. You can see how the program works here.

This innovative exhibit allows objects to be displayed that may be too fragile to be on display for a long period of time, allows increased detail to be examined, and when released as a Virtual Museum of Canada exhibit (Spring 2009) the exhibit will allow many more people to explore the Museum's collection in a unique way. Granted this type of exhibit is far out of the price range of most local museums, but despite this drawback the 3D exhibit has great educational and exhibit potential for those museums which can afford it.

Convenience Over Privacy?

Recently, in my digital history class, we have been discussing the tailoring of ads, search results, and the internet in general, to the particular interests of a user. Some of the more frequently discussed forms of this personalized marketing include: amazon recommending books, itunes recommending music, facebook targeting ads, and Gmail and Google including personalized ads and searches. This marketing provides users with increasingly relevant and 'useful' information, while allowing companies to further expand their advertising and marking techniques. And who wouldn't want their search results to be more relevant?

Similarly, Google recently announced that is going to allow users to select the ads they see while using the internet. Google is launching an "interest-based" advertising on various partner sites, including YouTube. The idea is that interest-based advertising will infer users interests based on the websites they visit, and allow users to create favorite categories, or specify things they do not want to see ads for. No doubt this is one of the more advanced (extreme?) forms of target advertising out there.

The use of internet searches, and user preferences tracked through cookies raises the question of user privacy. It is possible to opt out of the AdSense advertising cookie, which is used for collecting user information to make ads more relevant. Even with this option of opting out, I wonder how much user privacy should be sacrificed for user convenience, especially if it's just convenient advertising? Currently the information collected by AdSense is only being used by those companies who have partnered with Google, but what if this information is released on a larger scale?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Historical Acitivsm In A Digital Age.

As my previous post mentioned we recently had a class on writing for a public audience. We were given the assignment of writing a 400 word newspaper article on any topic of historical relevance. My 'article' was a blog idea I'd been toying with for awhile, and here are the fruits of the assignment:

Your family has been attending the same church for as long as anyone can remember. Your family has celebrated numerous marriages and mourned many deaths in the same church. This memorable and center of much community history is being turned into condos. You have virtually no means of stopping it, but on the plus side the condo will have a very nice pool.

Throughout Toronto and Montreal numerous historic churches over have been sold, are slated for demolition, or are currently being renovated into condominiums. Without active preservation efforts historic churches, like all old buildings, are susceptible to the demands of our changing society.

Over the past decade, more than 150 churches have been sold in Toronto and Montreal. Other churches have been abandoned, with hopes that a potential developer will eventually want to develop the land. What is more shocking is what some churches have been renovated into. Churches have been renovated into rock climbing and fitness facilities, concert halls, factories, and numerous other commercial ventures. Not all churches were lucky enough to merely have their building converted. In 2000, St. Jude’s, Toronto, was sold to developers to be made into condominiums. But, when faced with complaints from heritage groups, costs of renovations, and design complications, the building was torn down without notice.

The issue is not the merely loss of beautifully constructed religious buildings. Rather, irreplaceable community history is being forgotten and at times destroyed. In Montreal, the Church of Saint-Eustache, which features stones damaged by British cannon fire from 1837, and where more than 100 Quebec patriots died, is at risk of being sold or demolished. Many churches have similar historical significance, even if it is just the history of the parish and the community which was once based around the church.

Heritage designation can discourage developers from buying historical churches, as it limits the renovations which can be completed. However, only 75 of Toronto’s many churches are heritage properties. But is heritage designation enough? Often heritage designation only preserves exterior elements, when some of the most historically significant elements are located inside churches. The transformation of churches into commercial spaces can destroy historical interior architecture and eliminate places of rich community heritage. Creative housing and business solutions are essential in an urban world, but historical buildings are far more culturally valuable than another rock climbing facility.

After thinking about this topic a bit more, I began to consider how the internet and digital publishing can be used to support various activists groups. Similar to expanding the range of historical literature, digital technology can be used to spread concern about virtually any cause. With websites, blogs, twitter, facebook groups, and numerous other wide reaching, getting the word out isn't hard. the internet as a forum for activists isn't a new thing, but I think public historians and heritage groups need to continue to expand their online presence through as many different types of technology as they can. In most cases this only presence can be built up with minimal costs, and by anyone who has a rudimentry understanding of the internet.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Academic, Public, and Digital Writing.

On of our recent public history class discussions focused on writing for a popular audience. The ability to write for a larger, non academic audience is a valuable skill for any public historians. Writing text panels, tourism packages, website texts, and blogs all require a different style of writing than the traditional essay. While allowing more freedom of expression, less strict grammatical rules, and fewer guidelines, popular writing has it's own challenges. Years of academic writing practices are hard to break. The use of verbose language, complex sentences, and the format of an essay have been ingrained in the minds of many academics.

That being said, I've actually come to enjoy writing both digital and print text that is intended to reach a wider audience. Writing text panels, and short website text is definitely a challenge that is very different from writing a paper full of elevated language. The idea of writing for a larger audience on the web, via my blog, took some getting used to. The idea of putting my work, ideas, and commentary on the web was a scary thought at first. What do you mean the entire world is able to look at my work? In reality, I'm sure the entire world isn't looking at it, but it is still a drastic change from writing a paper that no one other than a Professor will ever read. I still occasionally have concerns that certain things aren't ready to be put on my blog, and subscribe to self-censorship at times.

But, overall I think that presenting ideas online opens up an entirely different avenue of learning. The ability to create hyperlinks, inter-textual works, and the accessibility of digital writing, makes it a valuable forum. Digital writing can be used to test ideas, gain experience writing, and potentially create an audience for your work, all of which are valuable pursuits and much harder to achieve in the traditional print world.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Blog Statistics

For those of your wondering how many subscribers you have to your blog feed, which information visitors most frequently visit on your blog, and various other blog related statistics, google has an application for this as well. FeedBurner is an application recently purchased by Google, which is relatively user friendly and since it was purchased by google has become free. Currently, users merely have to have a google account to use the service.

FeedBurner claims that it's main benefits include: allowing users to analyze their blog traffic, optimize content format of blogs, allows further blog publicizing, and gives users the option of making money through ads. The FeedBurner service is also available for podcasts and corporate websites.

I am sure there are similar applications to FeedBurner out there. But after searching through various other applications, I found that a good portion of feed analysis tools require subscription or are not overly user friendly.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Historical Gaming

The validity of using video games to educate children is something that is discussed by both public historians and parents almost everywhere. Recently the Globe and Mail featured an article discussing Microsoft's move to exploring the educational resources that potentially exist in video games. Microsoft and New York University have created The Games for Learning Institute. The Institute is designed to see if regular video games can draw students into math, science and technology programs. The idea that some video games can improve problem solving and reaction times is nothing new, however Microsoft is the first to attempt a study on a much larger scale. Microsoft may have ulterior motives to this study (maybe selling video games to schools for educational purposes and profit), but regardless of this understanding how children and youth learn from gaming has the potential to benefit a number of disciplines.

So what does this mean for the public historian? The Institute's study is geared towards developing math, science, and technology skills through video games. However, the popularity of war focused video games seems like perfect forum for learning more about military history. Even board games like Risk have the potential to teach youth about military strategy, political boundaries, and military history in general. If games are constructed in consultation with a historian the educational possibilities multiply, it's just a matter of understanding the best way to reach youth. Perhaps a heritage or historical group needs to create their own institute to discover how youth best absorb historical information....though very few historical organizations have a fraction of the money that Microsoft does, so learning more about the history and gaming might be awhile off.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Government Endorsement of Open Source Alternatives

Open source is finally gaining some governmental approval. From January 20th to February 19th 2009, Public Works and Government Services Canada is accepting submissions of "no-charge licensed software", also known as open source software. Some open source advocates are hoping this new found acceptance of open source software, is a sign of a movement towards a more universal acceptance of open source resources.

Despite some resistance to open source software, apparently the Canadian government already makes use of some open source software. One of the obvious reasons for using open source software is the financial benefits. If the Canadian government, which is one of the best financed institutions in Canada is using open source software, smaller underfunded institutions (such as many museums) should be readily accepting open source alternatives. However, despite the growing use of open source popularity in some fields, many businesses are still wary of using something free, as they fear the quality will be inferior quality. In fact sometimes an open source version is just as good or better than a costly one. Maybe the more publicized use of open source products will encourage more organizations to try some open source software...it is free to try after all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Google Books Excitement....okay, maybe the excitement part is just me.

As my last post may have hinted to, I have a slight obsession with Google and Google applications. I will openly admit I have spent hours looking through Google images, playing with Google Earth, searching Google Books, and numerous other Google related things.

Various debates have arose over the value of things such as Kindle and Google Books. I personally enjoy the searchability, convenience, and accessibility of Google Books, and find myself wishing more books were digitally available. Like many of my classmates I have yet to jump on the Kindle bandwagon, however I do think it creates a new element of accessibility which is never a bad thing.

Similar to some of the ideas behind the portable Kindle, Google Book Search recently became available on cellphones. Initially, the digitization quality of most books was not high enough to be viewed on cellphone screens. This problem has apparently been resolved and you can now access Google Books via your cellphone. Unlike Kindle or Sony Reader Digital Book, you do have to be using your cellphone's internet access to use Google Books. Despite this potential drawback, this new facet of Google Books does open up the large number of digitized books to a large number of users who primary means of accessing the internet is through their cellphone. This is not the first web application google has made available to cellphone users. Currently, cellphone users can use Google Latitude to locate their friends in real time, use Voice Search to look things up, and various other applications depending on the users phone.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Continued Evolution of Google Applications.

The tools provided through google have evolved once again. Recently google launched a new beta version of the google earth application. It is now possible to explore oceans on google earth. This feature allows users to explore the oceans, examine melting ice caps, and use a feature called shipwrecks. The shipwreck feature allows users to explore more than forty shipwrecks, through educational videos. The shipwreck section contains some historical information, and may be a neat way to introduce the more historical side of mapping to the public.

Similarly, google earth now includes a historical imagery feature. This feature lets users explore a variety of satellite images from various periods, which highlight how certain areas have changed over time. The user can also select the time span they want to examine for a particular location. Currently this feature is only available for select locations, but despite this limitation, google earth is moving towards providing more historical context, which is never a bad thing for the history buffs.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Heritage Properties Online

In my public history class, we recently discussed heritage legislation in Canada. A portion of our discussion focused on the ineffectiveness of this legislation, and the extent to which the preservation of heritage properties often depended on how active a municipal community was. We also came to the conclusion that more often then not heritage properties appeal to a niche market, some people simply don't like old houses, while some love them.

Being a history student kind of implies a love or at the least an appreciation for heritage and old buildings. So, after class I explored some municipal websites to see what information was available online about already designated heritage properties. Surprisingly enough not all city or municipality websites actually featured a list of the buildings and properties which had been designated.

However, the city of London, has gone beyond a simple list of properties. The city site includes an interactive map that lets users explore priority rankings of heritage sites, the year they were built, the architectural features of the buildings, and the addressed of all the heritage properties and communities in London. The city of Toronto website does have a Inventory of Heritage Properties. This inventory is searchable by street name, and shows information about the age of each property and the reason it was designated a heritage property. The city of Barrie heritage website does not feature any form of list or database of the city's heritage properties. However, Heritage Barrie has designed a number of walking tours based on the heritage properties in Barrie, the brochures and maps of these walking tours are available online. The walking tour guides are local history rooted and essentially tell the story of the early development of Barrie.

I personally like the idea of the walking tour guide as it provides a non academic way to present heritage information, includes more information than a mere list, and has the potential to interest a wider audience. The fact that some cities have made a list of heritage properties available shows a commitment to informing the public and to heritage itself.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Future of Post-its

Despite the increasing number of digital ways to record information, post-its are still flourishing. Recently, the CBC featured an story on the reasons why the post-it note is still a popular method of not keeping. One of the main reasons post-it notes seem to be everlasting is the convenience, accessibility, and simplicity of them. This desire for an easy, quick, and manageable technology to jot thoughts and simple notes on is nothing new. As a history student, I have often used a pile of post-its while reading and going research, to remind me to look at specific things later on. The Zotero research application does allow highlighting while researching online, which is preferable over writing on a post-it-notes that I will most likely lose.

Additionally, there are some digital applications which play off the idea of post-it-notes. For example, List.it plays off the simplicity of post-its. List.it functions as a sidebar on firefox, where users can type in a short note, which will be displayed in a post-it like manner on the side of the screen. The only problem with this set up being that you have to be using firefox for the program to function, so the speed of start-up still doesn't compare to the speed of using a post-it. Desktop Sticky Notes allows users to post notes anywhere on their monitor, includes a to-do list features, and a note archive. The colour and size of the notes can be manipulated in Desktop Sticky Notes, however the notes themselves do look a bit clunky on the screen. This clunky appearance is overcome in the MoRun.net Sticker Lite application, which allows users to fade notes into the background, and automatically dates every note. Despite all these digital post-it-note applications I'm not entirely convinced that these applications are as convenient as the traditional post-it-note, as no matter which way you look at it you have to be using some form of technology, and can't merely reach for sticky piece of paper.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Photoshop on a budget.

Photoshop has long been used my museum and public history professionals. It is often used to touch up digitized photos, to adjust for glare, colour changes, etc. It is also used to alter images which are to be used online, to make them more visually appealing. However, one of the major problems with photoshop is the price. The newest version of Adobe Photoshop can run upwards of $700, making it a huge investment for museums will small operating budgets.

Recently I stumbled upon some open source, web-based alternatives to the Adobe Photoshop. Pixlr is an online photo editor. Not all of photoshop's features have been recreated, however Pixlr is simple to use, allows for photo manipulation, colour adjustment, layering, and most importantly it is free. Additionally, the Pixlr site actually encourages users to incorporate Pixlr into their own site or service. Picnik is an online photo editing service similar to Pixlar. One of the advantages of Picnik is that it is compatible with flickr, photobucket, picasa, websots, facebook and myspace. This compatibility means if photos are already stored online users do not have to upload everything again. One of the downsides of Picnick is that though the free version does have a number of editing features some of the more advanced features are only available through subscription. FotoFlexer is also compatible with a variety of online photo storage sites. I found the FotoFlexer site a easier to navigate than the Picknick site, as nothing is restricted to non paying users. FotoFlexer houses pretty much all the essential photo manipulation tools and some neat advanced options such as animation and curve manipulation.

These are just a few of the options available for those looking for an open source alternative to photoshop. The majority of online photo editors don't require you to download anything, are user friendly, and work in a variety of browsers, making them ideal for those who need a photo editor but may not be able to afford one.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration in a Digital Age

inauguration has being called the first true Internet inauguration by some. The amount of digital media surrounding yesterday's inauguration is simply staggering. According to the Globe and Mail, during Obama's speech 12 million people were accessing news content a second, Obama's facebook and myspace fan pages drew record numbers, more than 40,000 photos on flickr were tagged with inauguration, and twitter use spiked.

All of these social networking sites allowed for people to be constantly updated on the inauguration, even if they were not able to access a television. Additionally, these sites allowed the average person to comment and reflect on the event. These comments are just as valuable as the speech itself, as it reflects the public opinion of Obama, and public opinion is something historians have been trying to find a reliable way to gauge for decades.

In addition to social networking sites, the Obama youtube channel has become the test channel for a new google feature. The new feature allowed users to actually download content onto their computers. This has never been done on youtube before, primarily due to copyright issues I suspect, so it is unclear if this is a one time thing or a beginning of a new dimension of youtube.

More digital representations of the inauguration can be seen in artistic representations of Obama that people have posted online. The CBC site put together a photo gallery of Obama inspired art, The Obama Art Report features a wide collection of digital art and photographs of physical creations, The Art of Obama features a similar variety of artwork and also includes pictures of the inauguration itself and Obama memorabilia, and google search on Obama art gets 53,000,000 hits.

There is a mass amount of digital material available for anyone even remotely interested in the recent inauguration, its just a matter of sifting through the staggering amount of user photos, reflections, interpretations and memories.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Is three really a crowd?

For our digital history class this week we are discussing mashups and collective intelligence. The article by Jeff Howe focused on a variety of industries which have moved to outsourcing their work to the general public, aka 'crowdsourcing.' Howe mentions iStockphoto which features amateur photography for cheap, ifilm which is no longer in existence, but was fairly similar to youtube and included an archive of viral videos, and InnoCentive which outsources research and development to 'average' people.

In addition to the companies using crowdsourcing mentioned in Howe's work, there are numerous other industries and companies which are based on this technique. One of the most common ones is reCAPTCHA. You know every time a site asks to type in something to prove you aren't a bot? That is reCAPTCHA, and your entry is used to help digitize information. Similarly, wikipedia is sometimes called a crowdsourcing project as it relies primarily on the information of the general public.

A couple of more interesting uses of crowdsourcing include Galaxy Zoo and Zeros 2 Heroes. Galaxy Zoo is an attempt to classify various types of galaxies, and is based primarily in the work of volunteers who interact with the project through the web. Zeros 2 Heroes is a Canadian site that features comic books and graphic novels by aspiring artists, in the hope that these works will eventually be picked up by mainstream media. The site also includes a community section which holds blogs, message boards, and allows for users to use open source tools for users to create their comics in.

The idea behind all these sites is very similar to the open source concept we have been discussing since September. They have the ability to make information more accessible, affordable, and provide exposure to amateur artists or work for 'average' people. The accessibility and affordability is something which we keep on coming back to, and is one of the main advantages of using digital technologies.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The medium makes the history

As part of our public history class we will all be conducting an oral history later in the semester. In preparation for our oral history interviews we recently had a class in which we discussed the benefits, practices and pit falls of doing oral history. The impact of actually hearing an oral history vs. reading the transcript of an oral history was mentioned, and for the large part we decided the keeping an oral history in its audio form allowed for a wider range of emotion and information to be evident.

After class I began wondering about the availability of oral histories online. In class someone mentioned the oral interviews of firefighters from 9-11 being avaliable online. I highly recommend that if you are looking to remember those lost that you listen to some of these oral histories, as they are very emotional and expressive.

Similarly, The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive is particularly moving, and includes oral histories from over 130 Holocaust survivors from a variety of locations. The majority of these interviews have both audio and transcripts avaliable online and are down according to contents, so it is possible to listen or read only particular segments. The site, like the firefighter interviews, provides a good example of the impact a medium can have upon the history. The transcripts of the of the Holocaust survivors are broken into questions, and do not resemble the actual conversation and story that is going on in these interviews. By changing the interviews into a written source the interviews lose some of their impact, but conversely the information is much easier to handle and it is easy to search of specific information.

I also came across the Rutgers Oral History Archives of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War. These archives feature 470 interviews and provide the personal military details of those being interviewed as well as interview transcripts. the archives are also searchable based on military awards, military branch, college class, and alphabetically. The only downside being that none of these histories are in audio format. The interviews are still valuable as they provide an intimate look into various wars, however the lack of audio makes the interviews seem less emotional than those of the Holocaust survivors or firefighters.

The Oral History Museum site is also worth noting. The Oral History Museum was established in connection with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, and contains over 9,000 hours of recorded oral history. The disappointing part being that none of this extensive collection is avaliable online, and the site makes no mention of digitizing these interviews and making them accessible online.