Digital Text Analysis: Blog #4 “Voyant Tools”

In the exploration of using a digital program such as Voyant Tools and other digital text analysis tools for work in the Digital Humanities, it is first and foremost imperative to recognize the fact that these are tools. They are helpful tools but they are ultimately just tools. These digital analysis tools and programs do not do the work on behalf of digital historians. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has developed exponentially over recent decades but has not (yet) reached a point for which it can replicate the complex cognitive abilities and human brain functioning required to complete the idea of traditional humanist scholarship. This can only be done by the human mind.

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These text analysis tools allows historians to quickly analyze patterns in large bodies of text. The use of these tools has sparked great debate in the digital humanities as to whether its effects are more helpful or harmful. There is something to be said about the aesthetic and the experience of being immersed in a specific geographical location and physically working through texts (e.g. physical archives). A digital text analysis cannot replicate this effect nor can it guarantee maximum effectiveness. By narrowing the search through specific word identification/recognition, there is the potential for valid, important, and/or beneficial information to be lost/cut from the search. However, some of the benefits of this program can drastically improve the efficiency of historical research and analysis. These tools provide opportunities that eliminates large amounts of time consuming and tedious sorting work but cutting out the fluff (any aspect of the text that is not related to the topic of research). This may be an asset to a historian who favours efficiency but is disliked by a historian who favours experience.

Without digital text analysis tools, many historians would spend much of their valuable research time “sorting”; something easily done through digital programming. These tools also allow historians to access digitized quantifiable (often statistical) comparisons within and between texts. With the quantifiable (objective) work being performed through digital means, historians can focus more of their time and energy on the qualitative (subjective) analysis that is (as it currently exists) outside of the reach of digital programming and artificial intelligence capabilities.

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These types of digital text analysis tools challenges and changes the progression of how information is acquired, processed and used. With respects to traditional historical skills this is not a new phenomenon, just a new type of technology. In more primitive times, before the introduction of print and written documentation, information was acquired processed, used, and transmitted solely through means of oral communications. When print was introduced, this drastically changed the game and information was now able to be read instead of heard. The introduction of written records negatively impacted the human capacity for memory. We see this cycle repeating itself with the introduction to more digital analysis tools and the implications it may have on human capacity for attention. This kind of analysis changes the game with respects to traditional historical reading skills. Just like the skill for hearing and oral communication was not completely lost with the introduction of print, the skill for reading and attention is not completely lost with the introduction of digital analysis. Digital text analysis tools may be a helpful aid, but the paired need for human scholarship helps to support why digital text analysis tools are beneficial to the work of digital historians and the digital humanities as a whole.

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Digital Mapping: Blog #3 “HD GIS WWII Bomb Sight”

Digital Mapping allows for the harmonious co-existance of time, space, and place. Simply put, digital mapping can be thought of as historical imagery that is representing or recreating change over time. Digital Mapping databases and softwares are particularly valuable for historians as it provides analysis and communication in both visual and spatial representations that shows the development of space over time. Digital mapping, when done correctly can effectively tell a narrative and/or convey meaning. In the exploration and review of an HGIS project from GeoSpatial Historian, I explored the city of London during WWII. In particular, this HGIS project focused the specific event of the London Blitz which took place from October 7th, 1940 to June 6th, 1941 as the Germans bombed Britain completely demolishing cities such as Bristol, Liverpool, and Manchester.

This project was far more multi-faceted than what originally meets the eye. Beginning with a rather simplistic map with a few data points in the forms of red icons either with the symbolic icon of a bomb or a number, the map quickly transforms. 

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Further exploration of the project reveals that there is a substantially concentrated cluster of data points.

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Through exploring the reverse effects of this project and zooming in to focus on two or three data points, each datum contained recorded information about that particular bomb and its most proximal location. There is then an option to “read more”. At this point the project redirects viewers to another page with further details such as geographical coordinates, history of the area, and a photo archive of historic images related to that particular area. Digital historians have the opportunity to explore the following information available to them through this particular digital mapping project:

  • Locations of bombs which fell:
    • Between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941
    • Week of 7th to 14th October 1940
    • First 24 hours of the Blitz (7th September)
  • Images from the Imperial War Museum Collections
  • Memories from the BBC WW2 archive
  • Location of different defences built to prevent a German Invasion

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As explained above, digital mapping has the potential to tell a narrative. This particular project uses the visual and spatial components of HGIS to create a rather humanizing account of the London Blitz. Paring the visual representation of the city streets with the almost “address-like” locations of each of the bombs, it creates a tour-like experience and viewers feel connected to the city streets. Deeper than this, as viewers we have the opportunity to connect each point with a potential home that was a destroyed; and with that a potential family that may have been harmed or killed. 

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In additional to creating affect through narrative, this map is visually represented in a way that is aesthetic to the eye and easy to navigate. The instructions are quite clear and viewers have the freedom to explore the project at surface level, or delve into its breadth and depth to explore the potential history of each of the points; essentially the story behind each of the bombs. These factors contribute to its success. 

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This digital map is structured in a way that has so much potential to be an effective story map but falls just short of the opportunity by only visually implying the human narrative. While the map and data points are clear and simple, additional, and fairly tedious, effort must be used to collect information on these points. Being redirected away from the main map and only being able to focus on one singular point at a time can make it challenging for digital historians to analyze the possibility of emerging trends and/or patterns. 

Exploring Digital Archives: Blog #2 “GDHI”

Digital History is not easy history. While digital archives have arguably increased the efficiency of specified searches, expanded accessibility to a larger range of audience members (some of whom are substantially limited by lack of resources such as time and finances), and are exposed to public critique for enhanced validity, the standard for archivists and historians alike have not and cannot be lowered using the ideology of “Digital History being easier” as an excuse.

Simply put, digital archives are commonly known as holdings of information through technological means. This includes but is certainly not limited to photo-digitization, transcription of text and documents (images, maps, etc…) into digital data and corresponding metadata, and digital native/born resources. I spent much of my initial explorations of digital archives navigating a general history site providing archival holdings of German History 1500-2009 (http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/).

This archive offered very surface level resources that allowed viewers, researchers, and historians alike to explore the archive in chronological patterns. This specific archive was multifaceted in its organizational structure of how the resources and the archival holdings were presented. Information was sectioned by year range with a title to indicate the significance of that time period. Each time period was then divided into further subsections of Introductions, Documents, Images, and Maps. The documents themselves were quite few in number for each specific section. As a result, this particular digital archive becomes resourceful to expand research beyond this singular site and to seek additional documents and resources through the references noted from the archive documents present on this site. In many ways, this archive can be seen as a “landing page” or a starting block for digital historians to gather the foundations of their research and be directed to further resources from that point.

Digital Archives have provided aid in addressing many of the constraints placed on physical archives. These constraints include space and resources. Digital storage drives help to combat the issue of limited physical space within archival buildings and libraries.   Digital Archives have also been held in high regard for their accessibility features. While this particular digital archive on German History is open to public access, limitations of any archive (digital or not) is the level of access. This could mean total or partial access to the public but it could also mean complete restricted access only made available to those who achieve special permissions or are able to provide evidence of a certain status of credentials.

Accessibility was not a limitation to this particular archive however a variety of limitations were present. As previously mentioned, this archive provided surface level and basic foundations of German History. It is evident that the focus of this archive is on breadth rather than depth. With that focus comes a highly curated information process. Archivists have made decisions pertaining to this archive about what is deemed important and valuable and therefore must be included and what is not. Taking a more critical approach to the web design and structure of the archival site itself, it was not very user friendly by today’s technological standards. In an age where scrolling is favoured for its versatility across a variety of devices, this site is strongly click based causing viewers to be consistently relocated. The inconsistent sections and subsections also create large barriers and walls making it difficult for readers to draw connections between resources. Finally, the ability to spotlight search for this particular archival site required a substantial amount of preexisting knowledge on the topic. This particular drawback means the site is lacking in one of the most efficient tools of digital archives.

Introduction to Cass: Blog Post #1 “Promises & Perils”

Hello! My name is Cassandra Schultz. While Markham Ontario is my home, Brock’s  Concurrent Education Child and Youth Studies Primary/Junior program brings me to St. Catharines for my second year. I have a burning passion for teaching and empowering young minds. My core as an educator is ground in Special Education and the cognitive powers of individuals with exceptionalities. Alongside my education, I am currently a don in Earp Residence here at Brock University.

Outside of the classroom I enjoy a healthy active lifestyle (stemming from my years of competitive softball in my childhood). I find my most authentic self is when I am immersed in natural environments. I also have a niche for the liberal arts particularly pertaining to Musical Theatre and Stage Production

I have never been much of a traveller despite my love for adventure. I feel studying history provides me with a parallel to the travelling aspect of my life I am lacking. For me, history is travelling; it is exploring time and space not occupied by current reality. The digital world has provided future historians with exponentially growing archives and a limitless capacity (every tweet is a mark of history equivalent to an archival scroll of imprinted parchment). I find it truly fascinating to study the trends of change from stone tablet to android tablet; from cave paintings to this very blog post. The birth of the internet has drastically changed how we experience our world and how we interact with others. 

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rozenweig do a remarkable job introducing digital history to historical novices like myself. Clearly and articulately, all cards are put on the table as this text explores the promises (positives) and perils (negatives) of digital history. With both cases well supported, cyber-enthusiasts share their promises in seven qualities (capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, manipulability, interactivity, and hypertextuality) while techno-skeptics share their perils which are categorized as five digital dangers and history hazards (quality, durability, readability, passivity, and inaccessibility).

Capacity as relates to digital history looks at the limitless potential for storage of archives and data. Tying into this is the global accessibility to resources made available to all through digital development. Media also has the ability to be presented in a multitude of mediums. Its flexibility means it can be experienced through combinations of texts, sounds, and images. The opportunity for anyone to share content opens up wide ranges of historical diversity; lessening the effects of biased tunnel vision or singular Western viewpoints. The power of technology allows for historical evidence to be manipulated, explored and analyzed in ways beyond human ability. Following closely with flexibility, the multitude of digital mediums allows data to be more interactive than ever before. The final promise of digital media looks at the multifaceted capabilities of hypertextualities that allow data to be transferred with little to no limits on its direction. 

A primary peril of digital media is the quality of such archives and data may compromise historical authenticity. Durability of digital data has also been a fear for many as it has negative effects on the ability to preserve records. Coding and other forms of cryptic messaging of digital data also makes readability a challenge. Techno-skeptics argue that digital media is not more interactive but rather more passive as information is simply provided rather than sought for. Lastly, contrary to its promise, there is an element of inaccessibility to be weary about as digital access is a status privilege and not available to a large majority of the world. 

Onwards and upwards fellow future digital historians.