Technologies of History
Ostensibly, the Technologies of History digital humanities project seems to be merely aimed at examining the different coverage of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But before entering the actual project, there is an introductory piece by the editor and statements by the author and designer, giving guidance and insight into the formation of the project itself and helping to clarify a lot of questions about why their work is novel and important. The idea of a collective memory held by a nation is not a new concept, yet the integration of different visualizations works to explain and highlight the underlying motives and portrayals in media and how the history itself is always tainted by bias and human error and as the author, Steve Anderson, puts it, “reconfigures and undermines the possibility of a single, authoritative history.” Anderson is the founding director of the PhD program in Media Arts and Practice in the USC School of Cinematic Arts and has various publications on the topics of different media forums and historiography, affirming his wealth of knowledge on the given topic. His spearheading of this specific field and the prestige that comes with it, gives the project credibility. The main argument set out by the editor is “about the truth claims of media that is instantiated via media, both through the curated collection of media artifacts assembled here and through their formation into a new interactive experience.” Though the project seems overwhelming initially and perhaps unclear in what they are trying to get across, the existence of this introduction is able to aid user experience and direct attention to the different aspects they considered. This project is significant to humanities scholarship because the visualizations and flow of the project addresses perspectives and techniques unique to their goal. It gives perspective to history scholarship and how we ought to approach the biases and memory failures in media.
Before clicking on specific videos, there is a technology feature of randomized lines resembling static frequencies. This effect gets your attention and appeals to the goals of the project itself because it hinges on the ambiguity and lack of concrete specifics that can be derived from media. Though this is an interesting concept and relates to the project’s content, the sheer distractibility of this function in ways detracts from the experience. When you click on one of the videos, the main technology used is introduced. They employed Adobe AfterEffects’ motion tracking feature, which appears as a visual amplifier so when specific videos are clicked on, the feature is able to analyze the motion present in the video. This technique is able to focus the user’s attention on what is considered important in any given video. This technology is successful because it highlights the media trends in a coherent way. Additionally, text appears to give context and related videos are also suggested. This feature allows one to more easily navigate the website and go through the videos in the desired order of the creators. Overall, the specific technologies used were very well-connected to the idea of the project, but at points could be seen as overwhelming to the user at first. The organization of the site is helpful, however, in guiding a user’s experience. While challenging to grasp at first, the complexity of the site forces the user to engage with the material and develop a better understanding of the events and media surrounding the assassination of JFK.
Where the author of this project succeeds is in finding a novel method of representing information about a historic event. His inclusion of wide variety of media from historical footage to video games, allows the user to gain a much deeper understanding, not necessarily of the event itself (though one can certainly learn a great deal about the assassination of JFK from this project), but about the impact on the nation’s collective consciousness. This project pushes forward the state of knowledge about the process of historical analysis. The author does an excellent job of displaying text, images, videos, and 3d mapping in a way that allows users to form connections between different media sources. This project pushes forward the state of knowledge in digital humanities and historical analysis through a novel method of visualizing information.
Accessibility/navigation: The Technologies of History project is set up in a manner that directs the user’s experience on the site. In order to access certain parts of the project, one must navigate through an introduction that walks the user through the purpose of the project. By constructing the site in this way, the author makes navigating and understanding the project straight forward for the user. The aesthetics of the site are unique and fascinating, making the site interactive and engaging.
Contribution/academic importance: The academic importance of this site comes from the author’s unique methods of visualizing and analyzing historical media. The arguments put forth by the author demonstrate the malleability and plasticity of “historical memory.”
Organization: The site is well structured and organized. This project is composed primarily of historical media, videos, and 3d mapping. Related clips are grouped together and organized into different topics. Text is used to provide background about topics of interest in the project, which helps to connect related clips together.
Extendibility/raising other questions: This project raises many questions about how a nation forms a collective narrative about our history through media and our interpretation of events. There is room for the same methods employed by the author of this project to be used by others to explore any number of other historical events. While the focus of Technologies in History is to examine the JFK assassination, it is not hard to imagine these same techniques being used for other important events of the past.
Overall, this project is both interesting in its content and design and contributes much to the integration of digital humanities into the domain of traditional written history. By highlighting different aspects of media attention in the assassination of JFK, we are able to more holistically analyse the effects of collective memory by media on historical events.
Anderson, Steve. “Technologies of History.” Designed by Erik Loyer (2008). http://vectors.usc.edu/issues/6/techhistory/#
Lucy Marr & Dylan Thies