Voyant Tools

I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that our class would be using the Voyant web app.  I have used the web app last year in IASC 2P02 Solving Problems Through Interactive Arts and Science, and during my time using the tool I found it interesting to experiment with and discover interesting qualitative data. What I really liked about the Voyant was how I could use a variety of its tools to visualize relationships between different words and phrases within a select text. These visualizations make digesting the analysed data much easier.

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Voyant Analysis of Beowulf  in Old English

When it comes to using Voyant and similar tools to analyse texts in large bodies for Historical research, I believe they do more help than harm. Sure, there are a variety of pitfalls that come with an analysis tool like Voyant. Some of the analysis data discovered through Voyant could be taken out of context, which may result in a user drawing false conclusions. With that said, this can be avoided simply by being conscious of what you discover from the tool and not to rely on the tool heavily. Furthermore, I found while using Voyant that there is often the problem of having some words like “the” or surnames pollute the most numerous words in a text. Unfortunate there is no way to filter out these words. What would be even more ideal would be if one could filter through types of words, this could give greatly help a user find data which could demonstrate an author’s writing style. What Voyant can be strong at is studying language of the past. Voyant can analyse text of a vast number of languages if the letters of a language are digitized.  Therefore, Voyant can examine dead languages and can give researchers greater insight on how that language was spoken and written. In addition, Voyant gives historians the ability to draw information to massive documents in a fraction of the time. Where once historians were required to read a 2000-page text page by page, Voyant provides a new way to consume historical texts.

Although its not perfect, Voyant is a tool that demonstrates how important the digital history is and the potential future text analysis tools have.

20/20 Bomb Sight

As I scanned through the list of HGIS projects on the GeoSpatial Historian website, there were many I found interesting and of which utilized their maps to communicate its historic topic. The one which intrigued me the greatest was Bomb Sight.

Bomb Sight is a HGIS project which maps all the recorded bombs dropped on London during the Blitz from Nazi Germany’s Luftwaffe.  When the map is zoomed out to fit the entirety of London, the copious number of pins representing bombs dropped communicates just how large the scope of the attack was. In addition, when I zoomed in to be able to see the specific locations of each pin, I discovered that many of the pins represent multiple bombs dropped on the location. The website itself is well designed and very easy to use. The default data set represented is the aggregate bomb census from the 7th of October 1940 to the 6th of June 1941, however it also gives users the option to display bombs dropped on the first night or the first week of the Blitz.bombsight-org-660x440

As for the map, there are may options to customize to portray different data sets. The default map is a street map view however it can be changed to a satellite image as well as a georeferenced bomb map from the 1940s. This provides a user with many experiences with the maps data as viewed through to street view to make it easy to digest each bomb’s location as well as having the historical map which gives insight on what London looked like at the time and perhaps answer questions of why some bombs were dropped in their specific location. The website makes it easy to locate any area within London through its “Explore London” section, as well as having a search tool within the map. The project uses geographic and time data.

The project also offers an Android version of the maps. This Android version offers an augmented reality mode where a user can use their phone’s camera and GPS to display all the bombs which dropped within their vicinity.

I found it difficult to find any noticeable issues with the project. The only thing I could see them improve is their “Weekly Bomb Census” which only gave me access to the first week of the Blitz bombings despite my attempts to access other weeks. Overall, Bomb Sight is a fantastic project which I found both fascinating and informative and encouraged me to go beyond the project and do more research bombing within the Second World War.

Delving into Digital Archives

Digital archives are an amazing advancement in historical research and education since its advent. Once upon a time, historians were required to rummage around in physical archives where they would spend a great amount of time, money, and energy to find desired documents. However, with today’s digital archives like the Darwin Correspondence Project, I can search in an instant through thousands of historical documents to find letters pertaining to initial scientific research on early humans by Darwin and his contacts. Not only would this have been impossible to find through physical archives in a comparable time frame, but access to such documents would be mostly limited to research professionals. The outlined digital archives among others provide access to primary source materials to anyone connected to the internet promotes the spread of historical knowledge and understanding as well as spreads detailed evidence of historical events and timelines.

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The German History in Documents and Images (GHDI) archive, contains countless documents and images which contribute to significant instances within important German historical events since 1500 CE. Within my short time sifting through the archive I found several interesting artifacts such as Hitler’s “Scorched Earth” Degree, where Hitler ordered the annihilation of German infrastructure. Historians could find a great deal of research from the documents found within this archive. However, this digital archive is far from perfect. The web interface is atrocious, as the website only takes up have of the webpage and the design seemingly has not been updated since 2009. When any website has a poor user interface, especially digital archives, the user will have difficulty finding their desired content. So, although the GHDI has some useful documents, the outdated interface and lack of a search function makes its longevity questionable.

 

As the digital archive describes itself, “The Dartmouth Dante Project (DDP) is a searchable full-text database containing more than seventy commentaries on Dante’s Divine Comedy – the Commedia”. The archive contains these 75 commentaries span across almost 700 years. The archive is definitely very useful for any historian studying the Commedia and looks to collect research from these commentaries. Unlike GHDI’s digital archive, the DDP archive has a search function. This greatly helps narrow desired content much easier for a user. Despite this the DDP is still outdated, however this is not a huge burden on the users of the archive as the search has additional tools to find the exact line, translation, version of any commentary. The DDP also features the Dante Lab Reader, a web application, which improves the reading experience when compared to the format of the homepages of the DDP.

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The Darwin Correspondence Project has the most up-to-date web design by far. This is unsurprising considering the archive is served through the University of Cambridge. The DCP digital archive does a fantastic job at appealing to a wide range of users. The main search tools make it easy for students and historians to quickly access and narrow searches relating to Charles Darwin’s letters. The DCP archive also provides education for 2 groups aged 7-11 and 11-14. Furthermore, the archive features a timeline of Darwin’s life, which might not be of great help to historians, but it does help students consume historical knowledge easier.  Of the three digital archives, the DCP is easily the best at providing the best experience for any of its users.

 

Since their advent, digital archives have and continue to improve public historic knowledge. However, the experience a digital archive should create for their users, whether historians or children, should be considered.

Introductions

Hello everyone, my name is Kevin Pendergast. I am an Interactive Arts and Science student entering my third year. If you have not heard of the Interactive Arts and Science program, or “IASC” for short,  it is a small program which focuses on digital design. The type of work I learn includes web design, graphic design, animation, 3D modelling, sound design, and VFX. I am from Mississauga, and went to high school at Mentor College. After I graduated I took two years off where I spent most of my time working at The Beer Store Distribution Centre delivering beer throughout the GTA. As for my hobbies I am a causal gamer, I also enjoy playing and watching sports with soccer and hockey being my favorites. Since working at The Beer Store, I have become a craft beer enthusiast. 11123884175_2b4a2c2b4c_z

I have had an affinity for computers since I was young and in high school I picked up Adobe Photoshop and began learning to create space scenes through the internet. Brock’s IASC program seemed like the best fit for a post-secondary program as I knew I wanted to do something within the digital design industry, however I had no idea what that was.

Now that I am in my third year in the IASC program, I feel like I am gravitating towards digital special effects and web design. Unfortunately, I am still lacking a significant amount of experience with special effects, however this year will give me many opportunities to not only learn, but to also apply special effects in multiple courses.

Early on starting to read the Introduction to Digital History chapter, I immediately noticed Gertrude Himmelfarb’s comments made back in 1996 on the internet where she said, “the Internet does not distinguish between the true and the false, the important and the trivial, the enduring and the ephemeral. . . . Every source appearing on the screen has the same weight and credibility as every other; no authority is ‘privileged’ over any other.” Himmelfarb’s words made me think of two current issues: fake news and net neutrality. These are two topics in the within digital humanities which I follow and have an interest in. Some of the ‘promises’ of digital history include the new storage capabilities where a terabyte hard drive can store a ridiculous amount of documents in a variety of different file formats. Furthermore, the digital revolution has drastically increased accessibility of historical documents which could only be accessed through physical copies prior to the advent of the internet. The ‘perils’ of the digital history include the manipulation of online content which is especially true with photographs with programs like Adobe Photoshop. In addition, new digital capabilities foster a culture of laziness in some. This is evident in the rise of multiple choice testing where a computer can mark thousands of test scores without an educator’s assistance. I am excited for this course as I love working with digital media in new and interesting ways. HIST 2P26 will give me an opportunity to discover history in a way I greatly prefer.