Blogpost 4; Text Analysis using Voyant Tools.

The analysis of large bodies of text through the use of digital tools such as Voyant Tools is a new and largely unknown method of analysis to many historians. Integrating technology such as this into historical study would allow researchers to find patterns in their documents that they would have previously never noticed. For example in my own text analysis of two primary sources, the diaries of two men who witnessed the great fire of London, it was clear that references to the titles of other people such as Lord or Sir were the most common words used. Without doing a text analysis I would have never noted that those were used so frequently, as they are easy to ignore in order to get to the narrative of the event being described. Yet, with the text analysis, I was able to note the amount of importance that the men writing placed on the titles of people. If further text analysis was performed on more works of this period and similar repetitions of words were displayed then the results could indicate a larger linguistic pattern of that time and show the importance of titles and social standing to the society of that time and place overall.

Likewise, similar findings could be identified within other historical texts that would add a new context and understanding to the study of that time period. If one knew that titles of individuals were highly important to a society, the omitting of a title for an individual could then indicate a lower standing or show that the author was not in favour of that person.  References to specific places and people can be identified within seconds using Voyant Tools and thus saves the historian large amounts of time searching for specific connections between different words.

If however, the historian relies solely on text analysis tools to find patterns in their sources, they will never accomplish much research at all. Text analysis tools do not provide context to the words of a source and thus cannot tell the reader the importance of a word used at a certain part of a source. Text analysis tools are also not very useful on short sources, as they look for repetition and pattern amongst a text, the meaning of a small text with little repetition may be lost in text analysis when it could be important information.

Text analysis tools are useful to historians as a supplementary tool to research in order to identify important trends in linguistic patterns. Besides identifying trends in text otherwise being studied, I would not recommend text analysis tools to be used by historians. The traditional method of reading primary sources is best for understanding the content of the source and as such text analysis tools should only be used along with in-depth readings of sources to add to the understanding of the text.

Witches and Trolls; Examining the Danish Folklore Storymap

The Witchhunter and Trollfinder HGIS map is an interactive map that displays the folklore collections of Evald Tang Kristensen on an interactive georeferenced map of Denmark. The purpose  of this map is to display the instances of folklore sightings recorded in the writings of Kristensen for the specific creatures mentioned on the map. As well this map includes the accompanying story of the creatures sighted in the stories with the place in order to create a sense of the mythical world  Denmark was portrayed as in these tales. This map has no direct instructions but rather the user is left to figure out how to use it on their own. On the side of the map are several layers with creature names and instances of mythical behaviours such as ” Witches and their Sport” and “Water Spirits”.  When one of the layers is turned on the map will indicate with varying sizes of bar graphs for symbology where the instance took place, and if a specific point is selected the accompanying folklore story will appear in Danish below the map. of this map is to display the instances of folklore sightings recorded in the writings of Kristensen for the specific creatures mentioned on the map. As well this map includes the accompanying story of the creatures sighted in the stories with the place in order to create a sense of the mythical world  Denmark was portrayed as in these tales. This map has no direct instructions but rather the user is left to figure out how to use it on their own. On the side of the map are several layers with creature names and instances of mythical behaviours such as ” Witches and their Sport” and “Water Spirits”.  When one of the layers is turned on the map will indicate with varying sizes of bar graphs for symbology where the instance took place, and if a specific point is selected the accompanying folklore story will appear in Danish below the map.

The Witch Hunter and Troll Finder map is excellent for visualizing  danish folklore and provides ample background information for each individual story on the map which is well georeferenced and layered upon modern topology. However, the symbology and layout of the map are confusing for the user; the symbols for each layer are all the same, meaning that one could not combine multiple sightings of creatures to see where they overlapped. As well, the stories are only provided in their original Danish as primary sources rather than having a translation into English available even though the map legend is in English. There is no coherent narrative present, rather all of the stories are left to be explored individually rather than as a whole collection. The only people to which this map could be of any use would be those who could read both English and Danish and who have an interest in the spatial world of Kristensen’s folklore. Overall this map falls short of the potential capabilities it contains; if the symbologies differed and if translations into a more commonly used language were available this map could be a useful and interesting tool for many people to explore and learn from.

Analyzing Historical Archives

Historical archives are a necessary and valuable source for anyone doing research in historical topics. As such the creation of digital archives has in recent years become a valuable source to historians allowing them to access what would have been difficult to find primary documents. Many documents are well preserved through online databases as the information on the primary sources can be accessed without damaging the physical object. There are various types of historical archives and numerous ways to display the resources they hold. The following websites are examples of a few of the different ways in which digital information can be portrayed and the pros and cons of these forms of curation.

Ancestry.ca is a website designed for the general person to find very specific information for price. Ancestry.ca is a historical archive that digitizes records for people to sort through and find. The website is not well designed for anyone who is looking for more than one specific record about a relative. For historical research the process of finding multiple records of people from the past is rather difficult as the records are categorized by specific names. This website however is good for general records as it does not focus on the life of one person or group but rather many people from all over. For the average person looking for a relative or for a researcher looking for the history of a specific family group, it would be helpful in finding primary sources through the transcribed census records and does offer valuable information on the demographics, careers, and languages of the people of the past. Having used this website for historical research in a previous course, I have noticed that the transcription of census records by ancestry.ca is not always accurate and therefore could result in misinformation. Overall this is a very useful source for both historians and the average person but it difficult for many to access and use due to a poor layout for searching and charging for use.

The Darwin Correspondence is a useful and well laid out historical archive that is free access to anyone with an Internet connection. This resource gives historical context to the primary sources that they have available and clearly categorizes their information so it is easy to search thematically and by person rather than sorting through letters individually. The Darwin correspondence uses a good mix between text and media in order to capture the user’s attention to specific resources but maintains a profession look for the website overall as it stays informative amongst the many images present. This resource is for a very specific topic of research and as such would be useful for primary and supporting documentation for arguments but would require anyone doing historical research to find more contextual information to back up the information in the primary sources.

The Medici Archive Project is a very informative source that covers a specific topic, the Medici family over a long period of time. This website is free to access and as such makes it available to anyone who may need to use these primary documents for historical research. The website offers background information on several of the documents and is arranged easily to sort through the archive. But this website is laid out in a way that the abundance of images makes the historical information being used seem small in comparison and may draw the users attention away from relevant information with the distracting overuse of media. The sources are well archived and organized but their presentation needs to include more text so that users can have an easier time finding what they are looking for. As well this website does appear to still be updating itself, they offer a variety of further learning opportunities in their courses section and even include metadata on the archives as to how the project was compiled which increases their legitimacy as a source.

As demonstrated above there are a variety of methods for curating historical resources through online databases all with their pros and cons. It is important for the historian to keep in mind the ways the information they are accessing is curated in their research as the forms of organization can have a large effect on the outcome of their research.

Introductory Post

Hi, my name is Rebecca I am a third year combined history and geography major focusing on geomatics and British/urban history. In essence, I spend a lot of time staring at an obscene amount of map layers hoping something that makes sense will eventually appear. This gif summarizes the entirety of my last semester.

map layers.gif

As well I can be found lamenting over the lack of material discussing seventeenth-century British widows. During the school year I am pretty involved in the Brock University Historical Society, mostly arranging the academic events for the club (ie. Latte Lectures and exam prep). I am also involved in the Brock Eco club where we try to arrange events focused on community change and sustainability. Over the summer I work for Niagara Parks Heritage as a historical tour guide, so I can tell you a lot about the history of daredevils at Niagara falls and I lead the occasional Ghost tour at Old Fort Erie. Besides all that I just watch a lot of Netflix. In the future I am hoping to go into further studies in historical GIS; whether it be college, a masters, or a PhD, I have no idea yet.

The introductory chapter on Digital History brought light to some pretty important applications and issues for the discipline. Particularly some of the “pros” for digital history that I noticed was the fact that digital history offers a more open platform to access a wide variety of data that historians have not had access to in previous decades. Digital history also offers several new ways to organize data; computer folders and websites are a lot easier to sort through than boxes of paper. Audio sources such as music or speeches can now be listened to by a researcher first hand instead of having to rely on accounts of witnesses that would introduce potential misinformation or bias. Visual sources such as maps can be viewed in detail and overlayed on modern maps to see differences in landscapes over time. These sources, when accessed through the internet, are also available to more than one person at a time which would allow people to go through their research at a much faster pace. Open communication between researchers and community members was also mentioned in the introduction, which offers new perspectives on the research being done and allows a wider audience to learn from it. One of the disadvantages to digital history mentioned in the introduction is the fact that internet search engines do not perform fact checks, and as a result misinformation can be taken as fact by many simply due to the fact that it showed up on the first page of Google, whereas credible sources can be buried beneath irrelevant information. There is also an excessive volume of information available through digital resources which may make it difficult for the researcher to sort through to find relevant information. Copy-write laws and companies that own the rights to journals also introduce difficulties to research since they can create accessibility issues; only those who can afford to pay the company can access the relevant information.

Overall I think that digital history is a growing new way to study the past that I am excited to be getting involved in. It has its advantages and disadvantages as does every other area of study. This new form of historical research opens up opportunities to study the past in perspectives never seen before.