As one of the resident technophobic fogeys (thanks, David), I admit I’m also daunted by the prospect of writing html. The articles helped allay some of my fears, but I’m still struggling to keep some of the terms and html symbols straight. I now have a greater appreciation for what web masters have actually mastered to deserve the title.
I’ve added a rough c.v. to my TextWrangler document, but I can’t remember how to preview the result before committing to uploading it to the actual web page. I did mostly h3 and h4 subheadings with a list and several paragraphs. So far it’s pretty straight forward, but I can totally see the wheels coming off as it gets more involved.
One thing I definitely don’t know is how to hide the details of the c.v. items in some way till the user wants to see more explanation. Any suggestions from the class or from Ricardo?
So, I too tackled the VUE visual mapping system. I floundered for a while till I mastered the buttons at the top of the document for switching tools.
I began a project to map out Black Confederates on the web. The exercise allowed me to see common sources, themes, and techniques of these neo-Confederate sites masking themselves as some sort of tribute to the Black men in Grey. (Hilariously, I think all the sites I looked at were by white men) VUE let me see in one glance all the sites using certain common books as documentation as well. I think this would be handy as a visual shorthand to trace the common pathways of these revisionist web pages.
I tried to upload my map to this post, but it wouldn’t take it because of “security problems”. Great. Now I’ll be getting a visit from Homeland Security or something.
PS. We now have the visual map uploaded below:
So the other night I dove into the fettered and festering pool that is the subject of Black Confederates on the internets. Background: per my previous post, Lost Causers deny that the Civil War was about slavery. Thus, if one can “prove” that black men voluntarily fought for the Confederacy in significant numbers, it bolsters the argument that, heck, the rebellion couldn’t have been about slavery–look at how many of our own southern Blacks fought for us in the rebellion. It must have been about tariffs, or the transcontinental railroad.
Now there is no historical basis for this claim. Is it possible that a few Black men picked up arms when their owner was gunned down? Of course. And of course many hundreds of thousands dug ditches and drove wagons, but the claims of the neo-Confederates go far beyond this. They claim thousands–perhaps as many as 30,000–Black men fought in organized units against the Yankees throughout the war. This is nonsense, because as late as the spring of 1865–a few months before the end of the war–the Confederate high command was still heatedly debating the wisdom of arming the slaves only a few weeks before Appomattox.
All of this historical background brings me to my foray into the digital realm of Holocaust deni.…um, Black Confederate believers. Google lists 127,000 some odd hits for “black confederates”, and I visited several dozen. They share many common traits: typographical and grammatical errors (there’s the elitist in me!); reliance on a few commonly cited secondary sources for their claims (yes, I saved them to Zotero, Richard); and a hostility to the counter evidence promoted by professional historians. Oh, and at least one of them was a raging anti-Semite, but I digress. Interestingly, there seems to be an entire sub-genre of African-American southerners who also assert that large numbers of their ancestors fought for the South. I haven’t figured out what this is all about, but I’ll get back to you.
If nothing else, this exercise has given me a new appreciation for our quaint rules for handling evidence. Almost all of the bloggers drifted confusingly between discussions of the admittedly numerous African-American laborers, and those they claimed were willing soldiers in arms.
I will continue down this road, but it seems to me that many of these bloggers believe in their history in a way that isn’t open to evidentiary persuasion. Opening a constructive dialogue about history with these bloggers would probably not be fruitful. Nevertheless, onward.
For weeks since I started this course, I have been trying to figure out where I stand on the question of “illegitimate” or non-academically-sanctioned history filtering into our scholarly world. After reading this article in DH Quarterly it occurs to me that I’ve been looking at this backward. I should be asking how digital humanities can infiltrate and move opinion in the realm of popular history.
Let me start at the beginning. My main academic focus area–the U.S. Civil War–has developed over the last several decades a huge divide between popular conceptions of that history and academic output. Shortly after the war ended in 1865, Southern sympathizers began a conscious campaign to soften the blow of having lost the war by constructing an alternate history of the conduct and causes of the war. In this version of the war, the Confederacy never could have militarily beaten the North to gain its independence. Thus, for Southern soldiers fighting against such impossible odds made the effort to fight a more noble enterprise–a Lost Cause. Thus, the mythology of the Lost Cause was born. Facets of this myth include that the war was never about slavery (it was about “states’ rights”), southern armies always won battles, but lost the war, and that the war was unwinnable by the plucky Southerners.
All these assertions have been historically disproven, but in the highly active realm of amateur Civil War history, many of these falsehoods are taken as fact. Recently, for instance, the governor of Virginia got in trouble over a commemoration of the war that forgot to mention slavery. He later corrected this small detail, but the instinct to remember the war as being about something other than slavery is quite widespread.
Which brings me back to the point of this somewhat rambling post. I’ve been thinking about this divide all wrong. I should be considering the ways that I and my fellow historians can infiltrate and guide the chatrooms/reenactments/websites of the amateur historians who dominate this Lost Cause, latter-day neo-Confederate sensibility. More to come.
The process of saving reference material to Zotero was relatively glitch free. I went to the Blais site and got on to Academic Search Premier. I chose the topic of disease and art, located several appropriate citations, and saved them to Zotero using both the symbol in the URL box and the Zotero pop up at the bottom of the frame.
I had no problem creating a new folder for the citations, but I ran into a problem when I tried to drag over new additions that I wanted to add to the existing folder. I synced up the “home” box and the “away” box, but I could not figure out a way to drag new citations to the existing folder. I tried holding down the command key (Mac user) and highlighting the items, but nothing I tried allowed me to drag them to the existing folder. Any ideas? Richard? Bueller? Other than that, it was a pretty straight forward experience.
I want to start this post with a nod to Vannevar Bush. It’s astounding to see how prescient he was on the coming technological revolution. His appreciation for how data storage, photography, and computers would grow geometrically in sophistication is amazing. It is notable as well to point out that his musings on the impact of technology were written a month before the Hiroshima bomb was dropped. One wonders how this knowledge would have changed the obvious awe with which he pondered this revolution in technology.
The Cohen, Hockey, and Rosenzweig articles all deal with the various aspects of the history and future of the digital world. It is telling that Cohen, for instance, points out that the early history websites were initiated by amateur historians, not professionals. Thus, from the beginning, the debate in the historical field has swirled around “credentials” and who is or isn’t a “legitimate” source of information or commentary. Many of us have read Wikipedia entries, for instance, that are frustrating because they are either factually incorrect or thematically bland to avoid controversy. Regarding Cohen’s discussion of digitizing historical resources, however, I have to admit I could not have as quickly completed a master’s thesis based partly on the Official Records of the Civil War without the Making of America site digitizing and indexing this huge work. Susan Hockey also discusses this democratizing of historical resources. I agree with her that the wider dissemination of this vast cultural heritage will have far-reaching consequences.
Finally, the Rosenzweig article must be troubling for anyone interested in the topic of preserving the digital record for future generations. I really had not fully considered the import of not just changing forms of media (magnetic tape, cd’s), but also the loss of machines capable of reading them. I’ve been doing this long enough that essays I wrote on my Mac vintage late 1990s are now inaccessible to me. Granted, most of what I wrote was garbage, but you get the point. Advances in computer technologies give us a false sense of confidence that everything is being preserved, when, as Rosenzweig points out, much of this stored data has a shelf life of not much more than a few years. A sense of almost panic imbues Rosenzweig’s essay and rightly so. The irony that a paper copy of a document might survive centuries in a basement somewhere, whereas my Word document from a few years ago is inaccessible to me should not be lost on the historical community.
The digital humanities are the evolving set of technical and academic issues that swirl around the intersection of the humanities and computers. As we have learned through reading Cohen and Svensson, there are no easy elaborations on that skeletal definition, however. Clearly we are living at a time of significant change in how the academy uses and is effected by technology, but one of the issues that interests me is how much old-fashioned academic infighting and territory protecting is involved.
Cohen and Rosenweig, for instance, do a good job in their article of trying to rein in the excesses of some digital humanities enthusiasts. C&R point out that along with the obvious promise of this field, there are significant pitfalls. For instance, they point out, increased democratization or “accessibility” opens the academy not just to challenges to their fiefdoms, but also to contributors who don’t share the same standards of evidence collection and presentation as professional scholars. One could argue that this openness is an unalloyed good, but as C&R point out, the unevenness of basic assumptions may in some cases lower the “quality” of what gets produced.
Svensson’s first article gives a nice overview of DH history. I am reminded of the idea that soccer (or European football if you like) has been the “sport of the future” in this country for 30 years. DH is clearly an emerging science, but the Svensson article makes clear how very long it has been emerging (early journal was 1966). In some of the quotes he uses about defining DH, one detects the defensiveness of a young academic field. From section 16 of the first Svensson article, “…one easily gets a rough and ready sense of what we are about, and considerable reassurance, if any is needed, that indeed, there is something which we are about.”
Svensson’s second article, “The Landscape” of DH nicely lays out the poles, if that’s the right word, of DH as merely research tool, or entire field unto itself, deserving endowed chairs, separate facilities, and so on. I can easily see how the politics of the academy would color how one defines digital humanities based on how one views its legitimacy. It seems clear to me, however, that defining and exploring the issues surrounding digital humanities is an important pursuit, not just for this class, but also for the academy as well.