Digitization

October 30, 2006

This week’s readings were among the most readily applicable of those I’ve seen to date.  The information regarding image resolution I was able to put into practice immediately, with the result being some high-quality images embedded in one of my presentations at work.  I’ve been a casual user of MS Paint and other similar programs before to modify images for presentations, but I didn’t know much of the theory behind bitmaps, jpegs and tiffs.  The second chapter on preserving digital history was less readily applicable.  The object lesson on the My History Is America’s History website seem to me to be one of carelessness or even negligence on the part of the webmasters, not a lesson about the fragility of digital records.  Like most people who work on computers, I have lost files in mid-stride and have had to recreate, restore and salvage, so the concept of digital fragility and the need for frequent backups isn’t new.  I did like the phrase regarding the possibility of saving all information as “destroy[ing] one of the pillars of archiving—that some things are worth saving due to a perceived importance, whereas other things can be lost to time with few repercussions.”  We as historians are at a crossroads.  In the past there were not enough resources to archive everything that needed to be preserved, so certain valuable items were lost.  Now, there are more than enough resources to archive and the danger is losing the valuable items behind terabytes of junk.  Either way, items are lost.

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The Kam ZeroThis prospectus describes a digital history project that can be viewed as an electronic scholarly essay, a GIS or data mining project, an exhibit, or a discussion area.  The genesis of this project was an attempt to answer a simple question, but over time it has developed into a full-fledged investigation that leverages multiple online resources.  Because of this, it is an excellent candidate for a digital history to illustrate one or all of the following aspects:
• A microhistory of various aspects of WWII
• An example of “digital forensics,” or how different online sources can be investigated and cross-referenced for evidence
• A subject for web-enabled presentation, using different digital methods to present the investigation and its results.
During the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7th, 1941, a Japanese Mitsubishi Type O (“Zero”) aircraft crashed on the site of what was then part of the US Army Coast Artillery post of Fort Kamehameha.  A US Navy photograph of the crashed plane has appeared in many hard copy books and online documents.  Some of these sources identified the crash site as “Building 52” or a machine shop.  Today, many of the original buildings on the site of the fort have been demolished and the only structures remaining are the old officer’s quarters, which are still in use.  During the mid-1970’s, my family lived at Fort Kamehameha (“Fort Kam” as it was known) in Quarters #4.  These houses began at the east end of the Fort and were numbered sequentially along Worchester Road, the main street.  Curiously, the first house on this street was Quarters #2.  Legend among the residents was that Quarters #1 had been destroyed on December 7th.  The above-mentioned photo of the Kam Zero, with buildings in the background that looked much like the officers quarters, lent credence to this legend.  Using mostly online resources, I decided to determine where the Kam Zero crashed, and whether or not it crashed into Quarters #1.
While the story of the Kam Zero can be told through a simple PowerPoint presentation, a much more useful medium would be a website. This site will merge period and contemporary maps, period photographs, eyewitness accounts, and contemporary satellite imagery.  These will be introduced in chronological order; pertinent evidence will be extracted and cross-referenced with the evidence gleaned from the other sources.
The web site structure will take the viewer through a series of “rooms” that are set up by a combination of time period, historical subject and scope such as “Maps, prewar, Ft Kamehameha.”  Graphical user interfaces through maps and large scale images could, for example, link a 1922 map to images of the Kam Zero and other landmarks taken from various perspectives.  This map interface is similar to “The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War” website (http://valley.vcdh.virginia.edu/).  This site features unit histories, letters, maps and photographs that are cross-referenced. The spatially displayed, “floor plan” site map of this website is the model for the proposed Kam Zero website.  The connection of text to images is similar to the methodology employed in the “History Wired: A Few of Our Favorite Things” (http://historywired.si.edu/index.html) site developed by the Museum of American History.  The text explaining each artifact on that site is very brief and somewhat superficial and does not provide any other links, however.
The National Geographic site “Remembering Pearl Harbor” (http://plasma.nationalgeographic.com/pearlharbor/) is a close parallel to the proposed Kam Zero site, though the Pearl Harbor site is targeted towards a younger audience and accordingly sacrifices detail for special effects such as audio links and videos.  The proposed Kam Zero site, targeted toward historians and those having a more specific interest in the subjects, would provide the level of detail and the interconnections that the National geographic site lacks.
Collection of the material to support this project should not require a great deal of resources, since most of the materials are already identified and captured.  On the other hand, developing the video files of the maps and the interfaces between the various “rooms” in the virtual museum would take some financial and technical resources. Possible sources of funding or sponsorship for this site could include:
•  Naval Historical Foundation
•  Pearl Harbor Memorial
•  US Army Museum of Hawaii
•  Hawaii Air National Guard (which occupies the site of the crash)
•  University of Hawaii
The following resources have already been surveyed and “mined” for information and images to support this project.
• Naval History Foundation Photo Archives.  Database online.  Available from  www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/pearlhbr
• American Seacoast Defenses Database: Military Reservations and Concrete Gun Batteries 1890-1945. Documents online. Available from www.cdsg.org
• Pearl Harbor History Associates. Documents online. Available from www.ibiblio.org/phha.
• Historic Military Quarters Handbook; Document online.  Available from www.denix.osd.mil/denix/Public/ES-Programs/Conservation/Quarters
• MapQuest.com
• GoogleEarth.com
• The Todd Pederson Collection of Original Hickam AFB Photo Laboratory Records of the Pearl Harbor Attack, Documents online.  Available from http://www.j-aircraft.com/research/jimlansdale/pearl/jimlpearl.htm.
• “Jacques Fuselier,” article in World War II Stories – In Their Own Words.  Database online.  Available from  http://carol_fus.tripod.com/wwiistart
• Dorrance William Henry, Fort Kamehameha: The Story of the Harbor Defenses of Pearl Harbor (Shippensburg PA, White Mane Publishing Co., 1993)

The Educational Conundrum

October 22, 2006

This week’s interesting and thought-provoking readings get right to the heart of a very is the complex question – what is the current and future state of education in this computer age.  The Pace article on professionalism and applying similar standards to education as are applied to historical scholarship will probably provide the most grist for the discussion mill.  The question raised is why is there not such a standard already for educators?  The answer is implicit – Pace never states what the criteria and standards should be, he only says that they should be developed. He admits that “the precise definition of scholarship of teaching and learning has been contested” and that there is research to be done.  Part of the reason for this unfinished condition must certainly be that education possesses one major attribute that historical or scientific research does not.  Education is a two-way, active process requiring effort and success on both the side of the sender and receiver.  Scientific and historical research is more one-way, with a passive subject that is inanimate.  The interesting quote toward the end of the article about having children taught by amateurs rather than experts is telling.  Pace provides a counterpoint of pediatricians, but there is less subjectivity in how the pediatrician’s treatment or ministrations are applied to the patient.  But there are a multitude of different learning styles for these children. Some are auditory learners, visual, or kinesthetic. There are few diagnostic tests that can determine this, especially because the children don’t typically fall 100% into one category.  There are different types of intelligence as well.

The Cohen and Rosenweig article about the ability of computer searches to answer multiple choice questions seems to be more of an indictment of that testing style than a demonstration of computer potential.  If a question about history can be distilled to a “when was” or “who was” question, the ability of a computer to find the answer is an interesting parlor trick.  It’s the subjects that don’t already have a vast amount of material about them already posted on the web that pose the biggest challenge.  The question about filtering information on the web being handled by the textual equivalent of the Law of Large Numbers depends on the presence of the large amount.  Where does this leave the facts on the fringe of scholarship?  The idea of putting legions of mathematicians to work reducing the rest of on-line material into algorithms seems a poor use of those mathematical resources.

Of the three articles, the best in terms of provoking thought is the Kelly article on the use of the web in the classroom.  Instead of posing unanswered questions, Kelly documents the methodology and results of a study that attempts to determine how the web use affects classroom performance.  The results and accompanying discussion were interesting, but seem to point not so much at the web as an enabler of additional insight but simply making sources easier to access.  If insight is enabled by accessibility, then the web should have a permanent place in the classroom.  If it’s just a shortcut or a substitute for the library, then it hasn’t earned its way into the classroom yet.

I have always told my own children that the reason they have to go through the tedious required courses in secondary school is that they are learning how to learn.  The world will not adapt to them as often as they must adapt to the world, so they must learn how to process information that come to them in numbers, pictures, words that they understand, words they don’t understand, and many other formats.  Teachers of math, art, English and foreign languages must try to get this information across to a room full of students who all process information differently, and these teachers must rely on subjective feedback to determine how they are doing. It’s a monumental challenge, and trying to establish standards for education is akin to setting standards for a minister of religion.  Come to think of it, are the two processes that different?

This is a Drill…

October 11, 2006

The attached PowerPoint file is one I was trying to upload earlier in the course, just as a way to experiment with some of the WordPress features.  Josh helped me load it, so I’m leaving it as a template.  It is a graphic that I created out of Rand McNally’s atlas program to accompany my thesis.

plan-orange.ppt

API Is Good…

October 2, 2006

Knowledge is Good...This weeks readings were, frankly, some of the least satisfying of the course so far.  I’m sure this wasn’t helped by my absence last week when the subject of APIs was first brought up, but this week’s extension of the same subject left me a little confused.  The argument in the Cohen article is that the use of APIs should be spread to the Digital Humanities, because “they encourage the kind of energetic and creative grass-roots and third-party development that in the long run…maximize[s] the value and utility of a digital resource…”.  So here’s the source of my confusion – if APIs are such a good idea for humanities projects, what’s stopping their incorporation?  Is the onus on project programmers, or the project users?  Could the no-ones-in charge “grass-roots and third party” character of the benefit also be its Achillies Heel?

The second reading raises this question again.  By characterizing self-interest inspired data gathering as “anarchic” (a good thing) the author points to the dichotomy of digital humanities – how to engender organization without overlaying discipline.  The author points to Wikipedia as a more accurate representation of knowledge than traditional top-down methods.  This is the first time I have heard of Wikipedia described as a superior – perhaps this is in reference to the purpose of “knowledge representation” as opposed to information repository.  But is there a difference?  Who would the scholar go to for authoritative information – Wikipedia or sources developed through the old tried and true top-down method?

To make this discussion even more contradictory, I’ve just posted my first Wikipedia article on the Battle of Niihau, 1941.  A link to it is on my Blogroll.  My main source is Gordon Prange, one of the most respected of Pearl Harbor writers.