All posts by dthies

Midterm: Technologies of History

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).


Lucy Marr & Dylan Thies

Writing Assignment 2: Cultural Analytics and Phototrails

Social media apps like Instagram have transformed the realm of possibilities for large scale visual data analysis.  As a result, digital humanities projects like Phototrails have the ability to parse through millions of photos uploaded to Instagram in order to gain deeper insights into the cultures of various cities.  Nearly 20 billion of photos have been uploaded to Instagram.  These images are produced by everyday people interacting with the world around them.  By isolating photos from specific regions and time periods, cultural analytics can be applied to large scale data sets.  By analyzing the hue and frequency of images that are uploaded, researchers are able to use regression analysis and visual analysis to recognize patterns and unique features.  Using metadata (location, filters, tags, ect.) from Instagram, researchers were able to implement cultural analytic procedures to better understand “cultural practices on a local and global scale.” (Hochman and Schwartz 2012)

In their paper “Visualizing Instagram: Tracing Cultural Visual Rhythms,” Hochman and Schwartz demonstrate the importance digital humanities techniques for delving deeper into cultural analysis of an increasingly digital world.  Using over half a million photos, the two researchers were able to discovery some interesting insights into cultural differences between regions.  For example, in a montage visualization of images over four days in NYC and Tokyo, it is easy to recognize that weekend uploads are more frequent than weekday uploads.  The images taken at night appear darker and a distinct difference in color balance between the two regions is apparent.  Using regression analysis, it was found with significant results that NYC uploads were characterized by a blue-grey color, while Tokyo uploads contained more red and yellow.

Findings like those from Hochman and Schwartz tell us that “temporal changes in number of shared photos, their locations, and visual characteristics can uncover social, cultural and political insights about people’s activity around the world.” (Phototrails 2013) Phototrails makes use of various visualization tools (Radial, Montage, PhotoPlot, Point and Lines), each one offering unique insights into the lives of people across various regions and time periods.  Each display stands as a work of art in itself, being displayed in galleries and exhibits in New York.  Through collections of visual routines, individual user’s travel routes during a three-month period in Tel Aviv, Isreal can be mapped out and analyzed to find patterns and rhythm in user’s activities.

This project shows us the potential for cultural analytics to give us insights into image data, which would never have been possible only a decade ago.  Since its inception in 2010, Instagram has grown to 600 million users.  The ability to conduct analysis on this data is a powerful tool for digital humanists, which will continue to evolve as cultural analytic techniques progress.



“Exploring Big Visual Data” (2013).

Hochman N., Schwartz R. (2012) Visualizing Instagram: Tracing Cultural Visual Rhythms. The Workshop on Social Media Visualization (SocMedVis) in conjunction with The Sixth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM-12). Dublin, Ireland, June 2012.

Manovich, Lev. (2014) “How and why study big cultural data.”

Digital Humanities Evaluation: Bracero Archive

What is the difference between a website and a digital humanities project?

Website is a broad term used to identify any location on the Internet with pages that are connected to the World Wide Web.  A digital humanities project takes many forms, but is commonly displayed on a website which acts as a virtual archive, allowing researchers, students, and other interested parties to browse through collections of books, manuscripts, oral histories, videos, documents, and other documents concerning a particular topic, person, or historical event. Digital humanities projects make use of computing technology and analysis tools in order to delve deeper into various research questions in the humanities. In this way, a digital humanities project seeks to answer a research question and display the findings in an accessible and interactive manner.


We chose to evaluate the Bracero project to better understand what makes a successful digital humanities project.  

What is the research question of the project?

The Bracero Archive seeks to preserve and better understand the Bracero program in which millions of Mexican agricultural workers traveled to the U.S. The goal is to preserve the images, documents, and oral histories of those who were impacted by the program.  The project has also served as a platform for individuals to reach out to the community in order to learn more about their relatives.


The Bracero Archive is the top search result out of 88,000 webpages. The structure of the site is user-friendly and gives researchers easy access to thousands of images and documents.  The oral histories are offered as downloadable mp3 files, giving users the opportunity to explore the voices of those who were directly affected by the Bracero program.


The project offers teaching programs to help give students a better understanding of this labor program. These features are an interactive and creative way to help teachers and students.  The archive contains a “contributed content” section, where users can tell their stories and seek out information from others who might be able to offer insight into the lives of their relatives. The site also offers a url for people looking to parse through the archive’s metadata.


The clarity of the information and the wealth of knowledge captured by the project evokes a strong emotional response. Seeing images of laborers and hearing their voices is much more powerful than reading old documents on the subject. The interactivity of the site’s “contributed content” section is also an incredible way for people to find answers to their questions.  By allowing for an ongoing discussion and constant updates to their archives the project is never truly complete.


The Bracero Archive offers thorough citations and bibliographies of its sources. Images and documents credit the photographers and contributors appropriately, and oral histories give the names of the interviewees. While authors and contributors are named for nearly all pieces in the collection, dates are missing from most images and documents.


Dylan Thies, Nick Chkonia

Writing Assignment 1: What is Digital Humanities?

What is Digital Humanities?

Digital Humanities is a complex and dynamic field that is constantly adapting to meet the evolving needs of researchers and teachers in the humanities discipline.  Digital Humanities involves the use of digital technology to supplement, enhance, and redefine how research and pedagogy in the humanities is performed.  From visualizations to text analysis, Digital Humanities incorporates computing tools and methodologies with existing humanities processes in an effort to explore the humanities at a deeper level.  Collaboration and an interdisciplinary reach makes Digital Humanities a powerful and effective field for the advancement of research, teaching, and scholarship in the humanities.  In an increasingly digitized world, this discipline—found at the intersection between rapidly improving computing technology and classical humanities work—allows researchers, teachers, and students across disciplines to combine their brain power to find new and innovative methods and processes to analyze, organize, display, and interpret data related to the humanities.  The work that is now achievable in humanities is forever enhanced and changed as new modes of technology make traditional work easier and more efficient, while opening up various disciplines to a new range of possibilities in research and education.  New questions, research, analysis, and computing methods continually transform Digital Humanities, which makes its definition more fluid than static.

Thinking about “Digital Humanities as a spectrum” that encompasses all scholarly research involving “digital methods and concepts” (Mullen 2010) is perhaps the most apt way to look at this field, though there is plenty of disagreement.  The best way to understand Digital Humanities is to explore projects made by scholars and researchers.  In examining the sample projects posted with this assignment, it is clear that Digital Humanities involves both preserving information and making that data accessible.  Archives of images, documents, oral histories, newspaper clippings, videos, interviews, and virtual tours—collected, logged, and displayed in a user-friendly way— allow students, teachers, and researchers to analyze, collaborate, and contribute to an ongoing project/discussion about historical events.  While it may be difficult to define, the value of Digital Humanities to make information more meaningful for analysis and more accessible to the masses is undeniable.


Work Cited:

Mullen, Lincoln. “Digital Humanities Is a Spectrum; or, We’re All Digital Humanists Now.”, (2010).