Posts Tagged digital history

A Rookie’s Review of the “Marxists Internet Archive: History Archive”

What the Marxists Internet Archive lacks in aesthetics it more than makes up for in the quantity of information it makes accessible to the public. This site offers a tremendous amount of primary documents organized several ways including by country, time period, or worker’s organization, and a tiny bit of narrative. All the categories are clearly laid out on the home page and with the click of a mouse a visitor to the site can browse through government documents from the Soviet Union, letters to Juan Peron through the Argentina link, historical resources about Capitalism or a number of other data and information. This site is in every way, shape, and form an archive, with the exception of that tiny little complaint from professional archivists that Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig point out in their website, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, about provenance.

Provenance is “a firm history of the custody of a coherent body of materials since their origin.” (Daniel Cohen, Digital History) When a person, group, or entity wants to make information accessible to the public on the web, provenance can be an issue since, the person, group, or entity does not actually have to have the document in custody to be able to make it accessible to the public. What an internet archive provides is access to the document, with the proper permissions and citations, of course, and not necessarily a historical line of succession. The Marxists Internet Archive does just that in a simple to read and easy to access format.

In keeping with the practicality of Marxism this website keeps it, well, practical. The home page lists out all the categories which have been hyper-linked to their own respective archives. For example, when one clicks on the U.S.A.  category, one is taken to a site with a similar setup where categories are hyper-linked either to documents or entire archives on that topic. Different categories offer different types of information, mostly consisting of primary documents, but some categories, such as Algeria, for example, offer a bit of narrative to fill in the gaps and provide context. For added ease, this site provides on its home page a Google search engine that can search through the archives contained within it for certain terms or phrases. This archive certainly takes advantage of the digital platform by offering what Cohen and Rosenzweig call the “two intrinsic advantages of the digital medium: accessibility and searchability.” (Daniel Cohen, Digital History)

This site has already amassed such a great quantity of information it is difficult to perceive that there should be any limitations at all, but there are. Although this is an online archive, there must be a human at the back-end of it to find, research, transcribe, format, organize, digitize, upload, and maintain all of the information that is so readily accessible at my fingertips. The evidence for this somewhat minor detail is at the bottom of the home page of this site where the administrator is calling for volunteers to help with the research and upkeep of the site. On the positive side, this archive may survive several generations of volunteers without the worry of documents being physically destroyed or a fire consuming the entire collection. On the negative side, there is always that pesky delete button to worry about.

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Twitter = Potential Resources

Twitter these days seems to be useful for more than just tweeting status updates. As a digital historian it is in my best interest to investigate all the available technological resources–this includes social media like Twitter. Can Twitter be a useful technological resource for a historian? I believe so.

You can find big organizations like the U.S. Holocaust Museum or the Harriet Tubman National Museum. Both are museums that use Twitter to give potential visitors updates as well as to tweet about historical events or facts. They sometimes post videos or photos or newspaper clips to entice the public, I’m sure, but it offers historians like me an additional resource to exploit when doing research. Smaller organizations or institutions include the UMKC History Department and Digital History UMBC. These are academic institutions that use Twitter to share information among colleagues. But anyone can follow on Twitter and have yet another potential resource for research.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that Twitter offers potential resources. In the week or so I had to scour Twitter for other historians to follow (as per our assignment) I came across networks of historians, scholars, techies, geeks, nerds, and just all-together wonderful people, networks, and organizations that offered some kind of potential resource, either for research or inspiration. Yes, inspiration is important. For example, History in Pictures posts awesome historical pictures all day long like this one that was used on a PowerPoint in class recently. Imagenes Historicas is a Twitter group I found in Spanish that also posts historical pictures like this one of a Soviet soldier during WWII forcing a German soldier to march. I love pictures. They offer so many possibilities and if nothing else I can spend hours just looking through all of them for my own entertainment, but, as a historian, they offer inspiration.

These last two Twitter groups I found interesting because they do something so very creative to promote history to the public. WW2 Tweets from 1942 and Tweeting from WW2 tweet the happenings and events from WWII as they happened, as if Twitter were around back then. I think that is so very clever and cool. And, along with the tweets they also post awesome pictures and articles.

I’ve already found inspiration on Twitter, as you can see from the post just before this one. I think, if nothing else, it’s a creative outlet, but definitely not something to be overlooked. I understand that Twitter can be a powerful tool for connecting people and that is priceless.

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What is Digital History?

According to The Journal of American History, digital history is “anything (research method, journal article, monograph, blog, classroom exercise) that uses digital technologies in creating, enhancing, or distributing historical research and scholarship.” (pp. 453) Digital history appears to be new enough that its range is pretty vast. Almost anything that was produced or distributed with the aid of any technology can fall into this up and coming field. William G. Thomas III’s definition of digital history is also vague, but I like where it’s going: “To do digital history, then, is to create a framework, an ontology, through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a historical problem.” (pp. 454)

By the time I finally got around to going to college pretty much everything was either already or on its way to being digitized. As my favorite Latin American history instructor would always tell her students, we have it easy. Most of us don’t know what it is like to have to look for a journal article by using a card catalog. An incalculable quantity of information is available to us at the click of a mouse. And any information we, as historians, put out there can be read, viewed, and experienced, just as fast.

Best of Both Worlds highlights the other side of the coin. Digital history is not only about making it easier for historians to create and distribute their research, it’s about seeing the transfer of knowledge through from origin to recipient. Historians don’t just want to share information with other historians. That would make for a very short conversation. The goal of historians is to convey their findings to the public and get them to engage. I like to think about it like T.V. show or movie or book that I am really into at the moment. All I want to do is share my passion with others. It wouldn’t be any fun, though, if I was the only one talking. Museums in particular have a huge task in getting people to engage. Most museum visitors go to look, not to ask questions. This is where digital history is crucial. I agree with Matthew K. Gould who finds that “digital humanities is not just ‘the next big thing’…but simply ‘the Thing’…” Welcome to the twenty-first century.

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