This slogan was a popular ad campaign marketing progress for women (and cigarettes) in the late 1960s. I’m not a smoker, but that slogan is how I see what this class has done for me and for digital humanities as part of my degree plan, and possibly my future. If you heard the term “digital” in the 1960s, you will see here that it probably referred to numbers or toes. I had no idea what to expect from this class and probably less of an idea of what digital humanities was – or even what humanities was, for that matter. These blog posts have helped shape my definition of digital humanities. What that boils down to is using technology as an avenue for searching through massive amounts of data – big data – and analyzing it in a new way, then sharing that information. In part, the posts have helped to shape me, too. My open posts were all over the board. Some followed the virtual Friday themes, especially the posts relating to Twitter and the election. Some were based on my interests – crafts, jobs, social issues, current trends, education and more. Some were self-explanatory, like the info-graphics. Others, like the post about exit polls required more of an explanation, and even generated some discussion. I’m not entirely new to blogging, we had weekly blog posts for one of Matt’s classes. Most of those didn’t have much depth; his goal was to get us used to writing and responding to other posts. I’ve also followed some blogs relating to my interests. These are some of the things I’ve learned about blogging, websites and ME from A Critical Approach to Digital Humanities.
I’ve used the internet for some time, but had not given much thought to whether a website had a goal, so maybe that is my epiphany for this class – going from glancing over a website to really gaining an understanding of the information on the site, and the purpose for its creation. Analyzing a website as a mature digital humanities project exemplified John Unsworth’s Scholarly Primitves for me, and also helped to point out shortcomings of websites which may not be readily apparent upon first glance. That became very clear when listening to the presentations about other websites. I chose Railroads and the Making of Modern America. I love trains, so this was an easy choice. It is also leading to some research for another of my classes. The site creators are mainly educators and experts in their fields. The site is practical and efficiently provides links to lots of data rather than being flashy. I did find the site somewhat limiting in that it focused primarily on the latter half of the 1800s. When listening to some of the other presentations, it became apparent that the same group of researchers has created other websites relating to the same period in history. That is a striking example of big data and how it can be analyzed for different purposes. Creators stated their goal was to “use digital medium to investigate, represent, analyze and document their findings.” In my opinion, they’ve met their goal and this site is a “strong example of a mature digital humanities website.” In the bigger picture, they have added to the larger bodies of knowledge in the discipline and in digital humanities.
The post I struggled with the most, and which has probably had the biggest impact, was the personal Manifesto, I don’t think I’ve had my epiphany for that yet, it is still a work in progress. This post made me think why I’m doing what I’m doing. Pursuing a bachelor degree is something I’ve always known I wanted to do, and timing was an important factor in choosing the PCEM degree. Am I nuts for doing this at this point in my life? Realistically… This post made me put that goal into written words – I had talked about it – and put it “out there”. That adds a measure of accountability. The manifesto is still pretty general. As I noted, “Bottom line – I don’t have a definite direction.” I am still looking to define that. I’ve never thought of myself as a writer, math always made more sense to me – but who knew that math and history were part of the big picture of digital humanities. (And, I never did see that young maiden standing by the window in the castle watching the river flow serenely by from that literature class.) So this pushes my limits. It makes me re-define creativity and tap into something I always thought I lacked. Writing these posts – both the open posts and the virtual Friday posts – has helped me to analyze and organize (and reorganize) my thoughts so they are more connected and make more sense. In a sense, it is adding to my larger body of knowledge, one of the goals of digital humanities. Success! Oh, and another success is learning linking and embedding – things that without having to learn them would have been very easy to procrastinate about.
So, this class is the End of the Beginning. It is my jumping off point for digital humanities, and who knows where it will lead. I, rather accidentally, have worked in digital humanities for the past couple of years, and I could see that in my future. In a perfect world, I would be able to afford NOT to work and have the time to really delve into what interests me. Meanwhile, back to my blog posts and classes.
I love train travel, so reviewing Railroads and the Making of Modern America for my project was an easy choice. I like the aspect that they are looking beyond records and documents to explore the impact that the train had on the growth and development of this great nation. This site gives us a glimpse of how people’s lives were interwoven through the railroads and how that changed the course of history in many cases. I was a bit disappointed that the historical aspect of this site focuses primarily on the mid to late 1800s and doesn’t explore much in the 20th century. I’m working on a project where the railroads played a vital role during the Great Depression and the years surrounding it. I’ve been in contact with the lead researcher for this website, he is interested in my research (though I’m just a novice at this). I thought it was interesting the the same researchers were instrumental in the creation of several of the sites that were reviewed – and that those all focused on the same time period in history, mainly the Civil War era. You could see the similarity between those sites. One of the presentations noted that when that class was completed, the website updates seemed to stop, which does not reflect well on the ‘sharing’ aspect of digital humanities and limits is usefulness as a research tool.
So, here is my attempt to embed my Prezi into this blog. I’ll post the script, too, so it makes more sense. If I figure out Slideshare, I’ll update it so the audio is part of the presentation.
1. If you follow Highway 14 west from Madison, it soon becomes apparent that small towns are about 7 – 10 miles apart. You pass by a historical marker that tells the story of a once-thriving community. You pass through sleepy villages, clusters of homes and abandoned buildings – remnants of stores and businesses. Those too were once bustling communities. One thing that all of those communities had in common was the railroad. In the early days of rail travel, that is how far steam trains could go before they had to ‘refuel’. And where they had to stop for water and wood, a town sprung up. As people became less dependent on trains for freight and travel, many of those same towns withered and died. Helena (hell ee na) was one of those towns. It was once a thriving community situated where the Wisconsin River and the railroad met – it was a shipping point for lead shot for the Civil War, and for lumber. Helena was seriously considered as a location for the state capital when it was moved from Belmont. It now little more than a memory – all that remains are a few homes and a tavern. Helena’s demise is a direct result of the change in railroad use.
2. Railroads and the Making of Modern America, a website produced by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is exploring phenomena such as this to gain a better understanding of how railroads contributed to social changes in America over time. Their premise is that the railroads “triggered unexpected outcomes in American society”, and “became wedded into the fabric of Modern America”. The website is coordinated by a team of experts in the fields of history, geography, and digital technology, who are actively involved in related research projects. It receives funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities—Digging into Data Competition, The American Council for Learned Societies—Digital Innovation Fellowship, the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK, and from the UNL Office of Research.
3. The website creators noted that historical records are numerous and quite complete. Their goal, according to their website, is to “use digital medium to investigate, represent, analyze and document” their findings, and in particular:
- To capture and represent the social history of the railroad
- To create interpretive visualizations
- To build upon the base of historical geographic information system or, GIS, of the growth of the railroad over time.
They do this through what they call, the ‘assemblages’ of data, and interpretations that should be considered multi-media experiments in the presentation of digital history. As such they define the site as a digital history project. That is reinforced by the partnerships with other universities and libraries in the US and other countries
4. The website is straightforward and is easy to navigate. It uses drop-down menus accessible from each page, as well as lists on the sides of some pages. The home page contains lots of information, including links that define digital history projects, and an About Us page that acquaints readers with the project, and the researchers and their backgrounds. It contains links to information within the site as well as external links to related websites, blogs and projects such as the Aurora project, which provides apps for historical visualizations. It cites pertinent research publications. The site is not static, new information has been added to the collection within the past two weeks. The website goes beyond an overview of the function of railroads to looking at other aspects connected with the railroad such as Native Americans, slavery, politics, war, manufacturing, agriculture, technology – and how those things influenced the development of North America. One of the limitations of the website is that is focuses primarily on the latter half of the 1800s. There is not much information from the 1900s. I’ve actually been in touch with the project leader about information about the role that railroads played in the hobo culture during the early to mid 1900s.
5. This website captures the essence of digital humanities – using technology to look at big data, and in this case big history, in a new way and to share that information. It is defined as a digital history project, and as such incorporates John Unsworth’s Scholarly Primitives of discovering – representing – annotating – comparing – sampling – illustrating and representing. Others are encouraged to submit their research to be included on the website. Graduate student projects are included, with links to those individual websites. The Copyright Statement notes the information is published freely for educational and research use.
6. In keeping with scholarly primitives, the website offers thorough search options with a number of criteria and tools. Those include language analysis tools, an index of topics, data visualizations, and mapping. It provides thorough annotation of all documents.
7. The website is a good example of illustrating information in a number of ways, including animations, charts, graphs, databases, maps and GIS images, copies government documents and reports, and an extensive photo collection. I thought one of the limitations of the site was locating photographs.
8. I see the primary focus of this website as a research and teaching platform, so the main audience is educators, college students and researchers. That is evident in the layout of the information on the website, as well as the links for teaching materials. The information is used mainly in history and geography courses at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The site would be easy to use for students of any age, or for anyone who might be interested. The site also offers opportunities for researchers and students to share their work.
9. So, does the train arrive at the station? I think Railroads and the Making of Modern America is a strong example of a mature digital humanities website. It does add to the larger body of knowledge of the disciplines and to the inter-disciplinary field of digital humanities. The site is designed well, it is straightforward, comprehensive, easy to navigate, and easy to use. It exemplifies digital humanities, especially well in the aspect of sharing information, with links to information within the site as well as external resources. It provides an avenue for researchers and students to share their discoveries including links to their websites, and highlights newly updated information. This website meets the objectives of the creators by providing a digital resource for research and investigation, and by adding to the GIS mapping of historical information.
Well, the election is over and it was an interesting day. After an encounter with law enforcement and clarification on the difference between exit polling and electioneering, I was finally able to start collecting data. The law is very specific in that campaigners must be at least 100 feet from the entrance to the polls. That would have put me across the street in one direction, in the middle of the street in one direction, and at the end of the block in the other direction. But, I was not a campaigner. The police chief insisted my activities fell under that law. The legal department at Edison Research and the Government Accountability Board had to call the election officials to let them know it was legal for me to be there. This is what the Government Accountability Board has to say about it exit polling:
What are the rules regarding exit polls?
Wisconsin’s law regulating the conduct of persons on Election Day is designed to ensure that nothing interferes with the orderly conduct of the election, and that nothing distracts voters from exercising their right to vote at the polls on Election Day. S. 5.35(5), Wis. Stats.
Persons conducting surveys, circulating petitions or engaging in similar activity may not do so inside the polling place, and may not interfere with the orderly conduct of the election. Electioneering is prohibited within 100 feet of the entrance to a polling place on public property on election day. S. 12.03(2), Wis. Stats. The Government Accountability Board staff recommends that surveys and other activities should be conducted outside the 100 ft. area where electioneering is prohibited.
Exit polls are surveys conducted by news organizations and others to determine how electors have voted. Wisconsin law does not prohibit the conduct of exit polls by a news organization. The Government Accountability Board and its staff have taken the position that exit polls may not be conducted within the building containing the polling place. It is recommended that persons conducting exit polls do so outside of the entrance to the building containing the polling place. Exit pollsters do not have to be positioned outside the 100 ft. electioneering area. However, persons conducting exit polls must not block the entrance or interfere with the access of voters entering and leaving the polling place.
Most people have no idea where the exit poll information was, so they were pretty excited to have input. Some people ‘looked the other way’ and kept on going. This polling place had two entrances, so I was only able to approach about half of the voters. My sampling rate was to approach every voter. I had to record misses and refusals categorized by gender, 3 age-group breaks, and whether they were black or non-black. The questionnaires are confidential – no name was required and the surveys were folded and dropped into a box. At my polling place, the vote was heavily Democrat. Most of the voters who refused were in the older age group (50+). Their roster lists about 1050 registered voters, 922 people voted.
There were 3 versions of the questionnaire:
We called in 3 times during the day with the number of voters who had already voted, the counts for Obama and Romney, and the counts for Baldwin and Thompson. We also read the results from a percentage of the surveys. We called in a final vote count at the end of the night. I do want to point out that these surveys were completely voluntary and confidential. Voters were not required to fill them out and answering each question was voluntary.