Two of the websites I chose for this comparison both have to do with two distinct histories. I felt that it was most fitting considering this comparison is for a Digital History course. The first is Stark & Subtle: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston and the second is the Appalachian Dulcimer Archive. Both were created at universities, with the first being made by history students at UMass and the second being made by the Vanderbilt library.
In general, both websites have a clean design that is easily readable, however Appalachian Dulcimer Archive is the more readable of the two because it doesn’t use as many images or blending colors.
As far as the actual information is concerned, Stark & Subtle: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston uses a wide variety of primary sources over the course of its twelve exhibits. From children’s letters and drawings when discussing desegregating schools, to political cartoons and front page newspaper photos when discussing desegregating Boston’s buses, each source was well documented and explained on the site, and each was there for a purpose.
Unlike the previously mentioned website, Appalachian Dulcimer Archive does not have exhibits. This website only has collections where you can view different pieces. It also has a “Histories” page, which tells the history of the creation and use of the Tennessee Music Box. Though this is still a good website to learn about different pieces of music and musical instruments, there is no analysis as seen with the previous Omeka site.
The lack of analysis on Vanderbilt’s Appalachian Dulcimer Archive website was a purposeful choice by the university library. They were not looking to create a thesis-based project like the students at UMass (the creators of Stark & Subtle: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston) have done. This comparison proves that Omeka can be used for a variety of projects, whether the creator is looking to find a new way of publishing scholarly work or is simply trying to organize a museum collection into an easy to use accessible space.
In today’s world, it is very uncommon to find historical scholarship that isn’t published on the Internet to some degree. To reach a wider audience, many academic journals are going digital, putting copies of their articles up on the web, either on the journal’s website or on a larger research database. Though the law itself has not changed since the world has gone digital, the way copyright law is enforced has changed drastically. With a scholar’s work being posted on multiple websites and databases that reach a global audience, it becomes harder to manage who is using that material and for what purpose. Unlike in previous decades before the invention of the Internet, today anyone can simply print something off of the Internet, remove the original author’s name (if the website it was found on hasn’t done so already), and call it your own work. Thankfully most professional historians don’t do this, and understand that there are proper channels and permissions that need to be gone through in order to use any piece of text or multimedia from another author. These permissions are a part of the “fair use” section of copyright laws, allowing the original authors and creators to make a profit off of their hard work while still allowing that work to be seen and reinterpreted by the masses.
The issue of profit-based scholarship is the premise of Roy Rosenzweig’s article “Should Historical Scholarship Be Free?” Though the article was inspired by the National Institute of Health, Rosenzweig believes many of the same principles can be applied to history, specifically looking at how the American Historical Association (AHA) runs the publishing side of its organization. Having open access to scholarship is beneficial to the general public because it allows more people to gain proper historical knowledge that they wouldn’t typically learn from a generic Google search. The problems begin to come when the issue of money is brought up. As the article states, since the AHA is a publisher, if they give out their articles for free, how are they supposed to pay their bills? The same issue is true of other smaller institutions that publish their own journals. While many of these scholarly societies get donations and government grants, those funds only go so far. Many of these institutions rely on those subscription fees to keep their doors open and to be able to continue to publish.
Rosenzweig offers six different options to try to balance the need for free scholarship while keeping publishers financially stable. Of the six, in my opinion only one has a chance of working, and it is the one feared by most traditional historians. By going completely digital (not having a print version), it cuts the cost of publishing. Though the actual numbers are disputed, the general consensus is about a one-third savings. This would get rid of the need for authors to pay to have their work published (which many young upcoming professional historians don’t have the funds to do), and would also allow publishers to cut costs of subscriptions. While it wouldn’t make the scholarship completely free, it could possibly make it more affordable which could increase the number of subscriptions and viewership.
As stated in the previous blog, using the web as a research tool can be both a blessing and a curse. It is useful in my own personal research because I am able to locate books and articles using different library websites that I would otherwise have no access to. Also, with museums and other history based institutions creating online archives, it allows me to use primary source documents that I also wouldn’t have access to. For example, while writing a paper on the historic context of Hamilton for Dr. Hermes Colonial America course, the majority of the sources I was using came from New York City or Washington DC. Without the Internet and digital archives, I would not have been able to use those sources.
Unfortunately, it becomes a curse when trying to properly cite sources. Because digital history is such a new medium, many of these sources don’t have proper Chicago style citations given to them yet. While many of them can just use the format of their analog counterpart (for example online journals and books), some need a citation all their own.
Though Roy Rozenzweig makes valid points regarding quality of history coming from online versus traditional sources, I personally see no difference. Rozenzweig argues having online sources allows for more selectiveness by the historian. He also states that by creating an online collection or archive, the historian is creating an argument (whether consciously or otherwise). I do not believe this is only an issue with digital collections. Any historian doing research is selective towards things that will help their argument, whether they are reading articles online or reading a hard copy of a book. This is where I disagree with Rozensweig. Not every historian purposely creates an argument when creating a collection, just like not every historian is super selective of sources when writing a paper. It is more about historians controlling their bias than it is about where they get their sources.
From its first inception, the World Wide Web has drastically changed the way all historians, both public and academic, do history. The World Wide Web has allowed historians to access information quicker and more easily than ever before. Without the World Wide Web, history students were stuck studying either their local history, or use whatever materials were available to them at their local library. Rarely did a student have the funds or ability to travel out of town/state to work on a project. By putting primary source documents and other pieces of historical research up on the World Wide Web, it allows students an opportunity to access materials they otherwise couldn’t, and be able to work on projects that have a more national scope. Not only is this good for students, it is also good for professional historians who are looking for new ways of getting their research projects out to the world. Rather than just having the subscribers of one particular journal read your article, with the World Wide Web, that article can now be read by scholars all over the world, greatly contributing to the world knowledge of a particular topic.
However, as history becomes more accessible, sometimes the quality of the work can become affected. With people posting every little idea and project they have, it becomes difficult to choose what is a good academic source and what is just someone’s personal page. All of the readings for this week, including William Turkel’s “Going Digital,” make this notion very clear. As he states, “You won’t be able to read everything.” (Turkel) Because of this, you might miss something that is really useful under the pile of half-done work out on the web. Sometimes it is better to have a limited number of properly vetted sources that you know are acceptable in the academic world than it is to have millions of sources popping up daily that may or may not be of use to you.
I am in my second to last semester of grad school. This is one of the courses I have been looking forward to since the beginning of the program and I can’t wait to see how the world can make history more contemporary and accessible in the digital age.
Keeping with the contemporary history theme, my favorite study areas in History are Post-Modern/Contemporary American, specifically looking at the 1950s-1970s. Other than most scholars, especially in this particular grad program, I like to study popular culture. Specifically this includes music, movies, theater, and more recently sports.
While I have not used every digital tool that is out there, I consider myself pretty well acclimated to the digital world. I use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram fairly regularly. I also have a YouTube account that I mainly use to comment on other videos, but I have posted a few of my own, either of fun events that I’ve gone to or “fan videos” (videos made with different video clips using a favorite song in the background) for different tv shows. Other than different online accounts I also have Photoshop downloaded onto my computer and use it fairly regularly, including using it to create a logo to use on our final project for Museum Studies.
In this course I hope to learn to use some of the digital tools I haven’t tried yet, not only for personal use but also how to incorporate them more into a professional atmosphere.