Collaborative Excitement

Time to sum up the semester.  What I have learned surprises me…my learning disability is an advantage when considering how technology can generally change reading habits and how a mind thinks.  That digital media allows for new forms of mapping information when utilizing it as a medium.  History created under new media allows for a beneficial form of interactive history from connecting readers to key words and footnoted articles which was not before even possible without researching the concrete referenced text.  Extensive funding can almost always ensure an effective website, but simple ideas with a clear focus can generate the most successful ones.  Although digital history can be manipulated, truth is, depending on the bias of the historian that has always been a factor.   So where does this leave me today?

If “life of the mind is a life of play” then this course and digital history is all about play, more specifically about several minds working together to play with ideas collaboratively.  Although I resisted the concept of this course even before I registered, I cannot deny that I have been pleasantly surprised by how digital media can benefit the discipline of history.  Not so much for the technology, but how the premise is all about the power of teamwork.

The last two required texts are an ideal example of the power of collaborative ideas on a large scale.  These texts demonstrate how digital media has sped up the process of recording, debating and fixing issues.  First, collaborative teams include far more than historians, they include other professionals in the field, librarians, and technologists, all with varying levels of expertise in their  separate fields.  Second, it allows the compilation of ideas in a much shorter period of time and for a wider audience with a greater impact.  Third and lastly, that although, Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities, is a published text–which is considered by some a static medium–the notion of a digital humanities is anything but that, because of how it integrates both text and digital technology via a website for present and future readers to engage in an ongoing discussion of the digital issues. (Cohen, 4-5)

On a smaller scale, last week I spent two hours at the Roy Rosenweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) lab working on my website project proposal.  I wanted to learn how to incorporate the Omeka database into my digital art historical dissertation proposal.  What I learned was more than just utilizing the database.   As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by graduate students circling at an oval table happy to assist me. No time was wasted until I was invited to sit in a comfy chair and ushered to the oval table with the students.  I learned immediately the oval table was space for ideas and problem solving.  It was remarkable to sit and listen to the students.  Of course I was taught how the Omeka program runs, what its benefits could be for my proposal and step-by step how to build a database.  But it was the teamwork I witnessed that had the greater impact.  Having been on many committees throughout the years, not many demonstrated the positive energy I encountered last week.  Most committees are comprised with team members who come prepared to present their positions and lead with the attitude of expecting to persuade the others over to their point of view.  This was not the case at CHNM.  After I was ready to proceed on my own, I chose to stay and moved to a different table to work on my project.  While I was working on my proposal, another grad student arrived, presenting another issue.  Again, with the same enthusiasm as with my project, several other students offered different types of solutions.  Each person discussed the pros and cons, then an overall solution was decided upon.  No debate on opinions or bargaining for position. I witnessed a team working towards finding the best solution for the issue presented.   The definition for what teamwork is meant to be about was demonstrated at that simple oval table.  A group of individuals working together to find the most effective solution through inclusive idea building and with positive energy.

The most important thing I have learned this semester is how digital history is about working towards solutions by focusing on the strengths of collaboration.  Teams working together to build a better medium for history and moving past “mere complaints about the state of the academy into more careful diagnoses and potential solutions” (Cohen, 4).  Professionals from various fields collaborating together with past mediums developing present ideas to build a better future is where digital history is headed.  If the energy I witnessed last week and the texts we read the last two weeks are any indication of where digital history is headed, feel free to include me!  Why would historians not want to participate in this type of environment?


Continuing the Debate

A successful team leader always acknowledges their strengths and weaknesses when determining how to assemble an effective team.  As they begin compiling a team for a project, the team leader gathers individuals that enhance their strengths and balance their weaknesses. This week’s text, Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew K. Gold is an ideal example of how digital resources as a collaborative hybrid can be valuable tool in history scholarship.

The text is melding of two strengths and demonstrates how when a team works with their greater assets it can build a stronger resource for future digital users.  First, it utilizes the traditional format of publishing in text and the second, compiled a digital conversation through media.  By combining these two mediums it proves how both mediums can benefit from one another.  I love the notion of a “collaborative conversation” and this text exhibits the outcome. As Gold indicates in his preface, in a year’s time, a text–which had it been created in the traditional format would have taken much longer–is printed and produced for its intended audience.  It allowed for a greater involvement in the conversation by including not only well-known scholars but additional voices like “mid-career scholars, rising scholars, ‘#alt-ac’ digital humanities, and graduate students.”  Gold states that the mixture of experienced and less-experienced voices allows for a mirror effect that mimics the “openness of digital humanities itself and reflects its strong tradition of mentorship and collaboration.”  What a incentive for up and coming students to know the developing discipline is working towards a inclusivity rather than exclusivity.  It appears that mentorship is as much about the building the future as it is about bringing those below upward.

Additionally, the general collaborative discussion compiled in the text is about questioning digital media’s strengths and weaknesses.  By doing so, it allows for a tangible discussion that allows for and understanding and a critique of its faults.  Ultimately, a medium to fix issues while at the same time build upon what is presently working.  The text also demonstrates an effective open peer to peer review works in a collaborative environment.  Gold suggests that its success is because it is more than a gate-keeping mechanism that allows for the review process to build a “sense of cohesion” within the project.  In addition, by incorporating traditional forms a view it provided “opportunities for the kind of unfiltered criticism.”  Which, as an end result, demonstrates how a collaborative hybrid effort proves an effective medium overall.

Adding to 2 Week’s Conversation

The question posed, is digital media a genre or medium?  It is no secret I am spending this semester trying to understand how digital can help enhance my art history degree.  It appears logical, to me, that digital history is a medium.  A type of tool or vehicle to use for retelling or recording history.

Key points revealed in “The Promise of History” open discussion:

  1. For a digital project to be successful it needs to be collaborative.  When viewing a project, from its comprehensive vision to compiling information to finished product, various technical skills are needed.  As the article points out, not all participants need all skills.  And as any team leader knows, when the strengths of team members are utilized, the outcome becomes the most effective result.
  2. University, non-commercial sites allows the most effective digital histories to be developed.  Thomas points out “the right combination of people, resources, space and energy can be transformational and…seems most effective organizing structure is a center.”  Additionally, Mintz argues that when not focusing on commercial endeavors, digital sites can “embody the elements that characterize the best historical scholarship: extraordinary (almost obsessive) depth, idiosyncrasy, and an infectious passion for the past.”
  3. Digital Histories are not effective for all projects.  This applies to the discussion about the differences between museum exhibits and digital histories.  Whether or not, as Frisch argues, “Web presentations…offer a truly different experiential mode of presenting and encountering history.”

If the best collaborative environment for digital histories are at universities, then it seems natural that digital history is a medium that can be utilized by many disciplines because experimenting with different types of histories can help filter which are most effective as digital histories.  The question then becomes which projects would benefit most from a digital history?  This is where my struggle begins.  Linear histories, telling a story from point A to point B, revealing the information one step of the time, has always made sense–of course, it is because of how I was taught and trained.  Opening up data from all angles overwhelms me personally.  However, when I apply this thinking open-ended or mapping informational technique to one of my research projects, benefits begin to reveal themselves.  For example, my research on the Einstein Memorial in Washington, D.C. allowed me the opportunity to spend hours in their archives researching the entire scope of the project, from its conception to dedication.  Telling a singular narrative was very difficult because of the many entities that contributed to the project.  Because of the scope of the assigned project, I focused on the memorial’s public reception.  However, I compiled hundreds of pages of correspondence from the director, legislation for the location, fund-raising, the list goes on and on, that are unusable at this point.  Using digital history as a medium, I believe would have allowed me to incorporate several interesting avenues on the project that would have illuminated many aspects and connections that a narrow linear history did not allow.

The dilemma for me, as I have previously mentioned, is the practical application for this course.  If the resources are available for graduate students to create digital histories, but not all disciplines are willing to incorporate it into their curriculum, how do students really gain the skills to proceed forward?  Although, there is no denying how intimidating the digital course is for me, it keeps me questioning how can I benefit from this new medium?  The course deals with “theoretical” ideas about digital history.  I wonder if it might be beneficial for students to have a “practical” assignment that will help build the digital skills needed to create digital histories.  What I propose only occurs to me as I am composing my response and is by no means a criticism about the course.  Hopefully, it is addition to the general conversation about digital history.   As it is nearing the end of the semester, there might be a practical solution for the semester project.

The current project of creating a proposal for a digital project allows for an infinite, anything goes, type of project, a practical assignment could be just as productive.  Since a course of this type is compiled of graduate students–who are most likely nearing graduation–have several research projects completed and graded in areas that interest them most, a digital assignment that incorporated one of these previous research projects could prove beneficial.  The assignment then would be choose from a previous completed written research project and decide how best to utilize the medium of digital history.  It can include a proposal that needs to be approved half-way through the course then a mock up/or actual project created with digital history medium.  This way it is both a intellectual theoretical exercise of learning how to create digital history and a practical application for the student because it applies personally to their chosen field.

Website Proposal

From the beginning of this course I have found myself asking two simple questions:

1) How can CLIO 696 help me?

2) What can I gain from this course that will enrich my Art History degree?

My questions were answered by a website and weekly reading.  I will be the first to admit that this course has challenged me and my lack of technical skills.  However, as a visual learner, this course has intrigued me because I had no idea there are so many ways to visually organize information.

Preparing for the presentation has been a intellectual exercise teaching me how to organizing information that both interacts and interfaces together.  Two components became immediately apparent, I need a simple idea with a simple format.  The first solution came during the website analysis of the Soviet GULAG website created by Center for History and New Media.  This thesis based website is concise and is in depth about one particular subject.  And second, the a required reading for October 23rd.   This post taught me how a reader can interact with an article by connecting with the information cited and the clarification of key concepts.  With that said, I have chosen to create a WEBSITE that will be a resource organization tool for a PhD dissertation.

“In Every Photograph Something is Absent”

When I think about all the money I spent over the past years on photographers to lessen the aging affect on my face in our family portraits, it is a bit embarrassing.  In today’s digital era, it is easy to assume that photographs are always manipulated.  My need to look younger distorts the truth and a weapon I choose to use for vanity sake.  Even the photo I chose to post on my “ABOUT” page is manipulated for my purposes.

This week’s articles bring up several questions about photography and technology.   Errol Morris goes to great lengths to teach us if you research enough, talk to enough experts in their field, you can find truth through science.  By comparing two photos that Roger Fenton titled “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” he wanted prove Susan Sontag’s claim incorrect that Fenton staged these two photos. (Part One)  Because my first impulse in this course is to  understand how the readings apply to the course, I thought the articles were going to reveal the power of opening the evidence to his general public.  He ends “Part One” with a challenge to the Times’ readership to submit reasons for which photograph Fenton took first and why in that particular order.  But after reading all three parts, that is not the case.  Next, I figured it was how Morris inserts his evidence from the experts in conversational stylistic format, as if the readers are listening in on the conversation.  That if we hear the evidence or debate–and hear Morris’ interjections–we too, in a public format will come to the same conclusions as he does.  Again, that does not seem to fit either.

Instead, when thinking about all four articles, read in the order listed, it is about today’s digital technology and how it is manipulated.  Morris discusses whether or not true reality be revealed through photography.  His conversation with Dennis Purcell states, after spending what must have been hours with the Fenton photographs, “Couldn’t you argue that every photograph is posed because every photograph excludes something?  In every photograph something is absent.  Someone has made a decision about what time-slice to expose.” (Part Three)  He continues to claim that the “meaning of photography is contained in these images.  By thinking about the Fenton photographs we are essentially thinking about some the most vexing issues in photography–about posing, about the intentions of the photographer, about the nature of photographic evidence–about the relationship between photography and reality.” (Part Three)  In other words, that because a photographer makes specific choices as to what to include and exclude there will always be a manipulation of the message in the image.

Then Morris demonstrates how what captions are used with photographs can be used as “information warfare.”  He begins by citing missile photograph that has been manipulated and the dangers of that, then when speaking with Hany Farid discusses how a photograph can be a reality, but the text chosen to talk about the do the “heavy lifting as far as deception is concerned.  The pictures merely provide the window-dressing.” (Photography as a Weapon)  The dissemination of images and text uncontrolled is a frightening tool.  A reader, Google-r, or researcher, need all to always question where the information is originating.  In a world of snippet information gathering, we need to understand what are the author’s biases.  What message are they trying to convey?  These articles, for me, return to the need for informational regulation.  Morris does an evenhanded job of balancing the individuals he uses for evidence or how he reveals his personal conclusions and the articles were interesting, however the message he discusses is a bit depressing.

Returning to my photo in the “ABOUT” section, I cannot deny that I manipulated the image for my personal message.  1. I want to appear as young as possible.  2. My husband helped me manipulate the image by offsetting me and the bridge, in order to, not make me the overall focal point.   3. The time slice is an impromptu snapshot my husband took of me after he made laugh out loud.  What it absent is me moments before exhausted after a day of traipsing all over Florence and visiting several museums, exhausted. and the reason for the trip, the man that made it possible and the fact he spent an entire year planning our anniversary trip and he made me laugh uncontrollably!  My photo choice and caption confirms what Morris argues, it reveals what I want the digital community to see and how I want them to perceive me–happy, youthful, enjoying a trip in a lifetime and doing what I love relishing in the art world.

Score One for the Professor & Technology

Okay…up until this point in this course I have found myself trying to balance between the theoretical and the practical tangible applications of how technology can help me in the field of Art History.  Or even more, how can I apply the CLIO course to my future as an Art Historian.  As each week progresses I found myself trying to intellectually conceptualize the pros of how technology can change the discipline of history for the better and the previous weeks have left me struggling.  Nevertheless, this week the light has come on!

At the risk of being a “kiss up” student, this week’s reading is persuading me towards the technology side.  After reading The Aporetic blog, it appears there are practical applications that are convincing to even a non-believer like me.  There is no doubt that the Internet allows for blogs or websites to encourage interaction.  In the blog’s post dated October 19, 2013 and titled, “Googling Peer Review,” the author reveals in the simplest format the effectiveness of cyberspace.  By employing the links function the author—our professor—connects the reader to the evidence used for support.  For example, when Rob Townsend is referenced, the reader can click the link then locate the article or when “crowd sourcing” is discussed.  These types of examples are nothing new in websites or blogs, nonetheless, they identify a positive use of technology that surpasses printing.

Rather than being footnoted at the bottom of an article, the link for Townsend’s article allows for readers to instantly access the article in a click.  Readers are active participants while reading the article.  Not just to find small informational bites, but gain better understanding about the author’s argument.  Whereas, published articles or texts only list the references and readers then have to do the research on their own to locate and read the texts.  Additionally, the link to “crowd sourcing” was the most impressive to me because my knowledge about the subject is limited, I was happily surprised to click the words and be directed to a Wikipedia page with an overall definition.   When I do not a word or understand a particular concept I am always searching for a definition or clarifying a concept, the author had the foresight to see what might need clarification and prepared the link in advance. (Now, if I were a techno-savy individual I would include links here to connect the reader to my examples within the blog, but alas, I am still too much of a novice to do so….sorry.)

One of the arguments from “Googling Peer Review” is the need to look at technology as a “new frame for a familiar topic” and that evidence can be seen “lying in plain sight in a new way.”   I would argue, that today’s blog posts for our lecture discussion, the link function in the article does exactly that, it creates a framework to teach a topic and allow for evidence to be viewed in a new accessible format.  Technology can surpass the current publishing or writing practices because it allows for evidence from a familiar topic to be seen in a new accessible way.  It allows for readers to be active participants by utilizing functioning footnotes. And it permits an author to clarify a potentially confusing topic or argument point by linking the readers to the subject rather than having to spend more composing space within the article.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets Greased

Strangely enough, just a week ago my family, while playing a card game, were discussing different Disney movies and which were their favorite or least favorite.  One of my least favorite is Pocahontas.  The Disney animators created Pocahontas as a stereotypical heroine with the perfect female figure, tall with long slim legs, voluptuous breasts, small-waisted with long hair constantly blowing in the wind.  Whereas, her sidekick best friend is an androgynous girl with short bobbed hair.  It appears that by Disney standards, only girls with an ideal female image can be a heroine and that my beautiful 5’2″ blond blue-eyed petite daughter does not have chance because she does not fit the mold.

I digress, but there is no doubt, Disney has borrowed from history to create their “own” version of history for years to create a virtually untouchable empire.   Reinforcing the adage “there are no new ideas” only ideas remade ideas.  Lawrence Lessig uses Disney as an example of how a powerhouse corporation has been able to control and protect their creative products in his book Free Culture.  Using Disney as a backdrop, Lessig discusses one of his biggest issues with copyright laws is the current trend for creating legislation is the “who” has the ability to control the laws and how they obtain the control.

As a budding art historian, I am always interested when doing any research about a particular object what evidence an author uses and how they choose to negotiate the evidence to support their argument.  Reading Lessig’s book it is clear he is enlisting assistance from the masses by the examples he chooses to defend his claims, four that stand out to me are Disney, his thesis, blogging and AIDS.

As previously mentioned, Lessig uses Disney as his opening example of how pirating ideas is nothing new.   By using Disney he identifies a corporation that is a household name, has a beloved character and is a company that has the power to control their medium.  Lessig reveals that Mickey’s original character was a purposefully stolen idea. (23) He also reinforces his notion about “commercial creativity” laws were originally focused on the rights of individuals, but now it focuses on a “protectionism” that if to “protect certain forms of business.” (8-9)

Lessig states at his introduction that his book is not about the effect of the Internet, but instead it goes deeper it is about “an effect upon how culture is made.” (7) He continues by asserting, “that the Internet has induced an important and unrecognized change in that process.  That change will radically transform a tradition that is old as the Republic itself.” (7) Lessig is claiming that how copyright laws are being made are counter to how our nation was created.  A few pages later he argues further that “to build upon or critique the culture around us one must ask, Oliver Twist-like, for permission first.  Permission is, of course, often granted—but is not often granted to the critical or the independent.  We have built a kind of cultural nobility, those within the noble class live easily; those outside it don’t.  But it is nobility of any form that is alien to our tradition.” (11) In other words, Lessig is identifying the current trend that lawmakers are catering to a commercial nobility, like the Disney’s or RCA’s, who have the means to manipulate legislation for their corporate needs without regard to the smaller creative companies, that this is counter to how our nation was originally created and this process should be rectified.

Another example Lessig uses are blogs.  Blogs, in his opinion, is a medium that can be a method to create a balanced democracy for the freedom speech.  He argues that it is difficult to blog an opinion on public issues without having a counter opinion.   The counter opinions can assist in creating balanced ideas or reveal an equitable truth.  Because as Lessig claims, it is easy to be “wrong or misguided” in your head, but even more difficult “when the product of your mind can be criticized by others” because you have taken the time to compose your thoughts in an open forum. (45) Continuing he states that it is even harder to for people to ignore if there ideas are proven wrong in writing, that the writing of “ideas, arguments, and criticism” in blogs in the end “improves democracy.” (45)

An underlining theme in Lessig’s book is that to make a difference in the development of copyright laws the ordinary masses need to get involved in the democratic process to create balanced policies.  As of right now, large corporations have control because of their lobbying power.  While reading the book it took me back to the only thing I remember from an undergraduate political science course I took several years ago that outlined how legislation is being created today—it is by the “squeaky” wheel or the lobbyist interest group who is willing to put in the most money and make the most noise to get their needs met.   Lessig gives a compelling argument of how we—the parents, teachers, librarians, creators, authors, musicians, filmmakers, scientists—need to be noisy to make changes. (275) That because copyright laws are currently being created by the “noisiest” individuals or the wealthiest—those that whose power and money can make a difference.

There is no doubt that Lessig is an engaging author.  The examples he uses to support his argument are carefully constructed to engross his readers.  He begins talking about some of the most influential creators in our nation’s history, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.  Then he discusses a fairly unknown inventor the FM radio waves, Edwin Howard Armstrong.  Lessig uses Armstrong to illustrate how a large corporation, RCA, can squelch an individual by its use of power and money. (3-7)  As a reader, I was immediately drawn into the book.  Following Lessig’s argument was engrossing because of how negotiated his examples to support his claims and I found myself the more I read the more I was on his side.  That is, until the very end, where he chose to compare legislation for AIDS medication for Africa to copyright laws.  Every good argument needs to build to a highpoint, but there is a point where it is too much.  It at this point in the book where I wanted to say, “Lawrence, dude, breath!  It will be okay!”

As Lessig spends his book arguing for an equitable use of power in our democratic process, it is just as important to balance an argument to keep it convincing.  Comparing Armstrong and RCA adds to the credibility of Lessig’s argument.  Even his points about Disney’s control and blogging allows for accessible tangible evidence for his thesis, however, unfortunately, his use of the AIDS legislation feels too contrived, too extreme, to agree completely with his argument.  Not that I am an expert in argument development, but there is a point where an author needs to be balanced in their argument.  How can one really compare helping a country get AIDS medication to copyright law making?  Lessig ends the section where he discusses this by stating, “We have lost the critical eye that helps us see the difference between truth and extremism.” (261) It is also important, as an author, not to lose a “critical eye” in an argument if you want to ensure your audience will support all your claims.