All posts by Ian Nish

Midterm: Digital Himalaya

To evaluate the quality of the Digital Himalaya (www.digitalhimalaya.com) project created by Alan Macfarlane and Mark Turin, we will break down the projects essential qualities into two broad categories each containing five subgroups. The two general categories are project design and the project’s capacity for engagement of the research question: What is the ethnographic make-up of the Himalayan region? The design section will be divided into the five following subgroups: information presentation, site navigation, information accessibility, interactivity, and aesthetics.  The engagement of research question section will be divided into: site maintenance/ sustainability, contribution to the field of interest, credibility, effectiveness of information in addressing the research question, and presence of bias. All subgroups will be ranked on a 1-5 scale (1: very bad, 2: bad, 3: neutral, 4: good, 5: very good) denoting the project’s effectiveness in each subgroup. Once each subgroup has been ranked, the category will be given an evaluative score composed of the average score across the subgroups. At the end of the project evaluation, we provide a site score, the average score between the Design and Engagement of Question score, denoting the general effectiveness of the Digital Himalaya project.

While other evaluators may see fit to appraise these subgroups differently (these evaluators would thereby determine an averaging of the subgroups as an oversimplification of the general categories’ effectiveness), we have decided to weigh each subgroup as equally important to the Digital Himalaya project’s success as each subgroup makes up an essential component to a high-calibre Digital Humanities’ project. The essential nature and uniqueness of the subgroups requires us to weigh each as equally important aspects of either design or engagement of the question and subsequently diffuse interpersonal subgroup appraisal differences.

 

Design

Information Presentation: The information on Digital Himalaya’s website is presented plainly under different categories including ‘Maps,’ ‘Films,’ ‘Journals,’ and ‘Music.’ By clicking on one of the links to a category on the homepage, the resources of that kind are presented in an alphabetical list. The names of the resources are linked to either another page on the project’s website or another website altogether depending on the file in question. From here, one can view the file and/or download it. The issue with the alphabetical sorting comes into play when there is an abundance of resources for that category. For instance, by clicking on the ‘Journal’ category, one is presented with a list of around 50 journals related to the Himalayan region. It would be okay if a user knew for which journal he or she was looking; however, if one does not know these Himalayan journals, then the act of reading through them to find some specific information becomes overtly tedious and simply a waste of time.  I would suggest either tacking on a descriptive sentence next to each resource or redoing the way in which the information is organized to make it easier for people to find what they are looking for. Perhaps by condensing some resources into subcategories. Other than the organization of categories, the project’s presentation of information is simple and easy-to-understand, but nothing to get excited about. Grade: 3

Site Navigation: Navigating this site is incredibly easy. The site provides hyperlinks with labels that lead users to anything within the project’s domain. All one has to do to navigate between pages is click on the aforementioned links. The site also provides links to the project’s collaborators at the top of the homepage, making it simple to find information about the funding universities and view other projects related to Digital Himalaya. Grade: 5

Information Accessibility: On the project’s homepage, links are found under two columns: ‘Collections’ and ‘About the Project.’ The links under ‘Collections’ provide users with access to maps, music, journals, films, and other archives related to the Himalayan region. The links under ‘About the Project’ provide information related to the inception of Digital Himalaya as well as names of team members and news about the project. This website makes it incredibly easy for Himalaya-enthusiasts to access all the information the project has to offer as all of it is linked to the homepage. By clicking on one of the links under ‘Collections,’ one is presented with a wide array of examples related to the specific topic. For example, when one clicks on the link ‘Journals,’ the site displays a large number of titles of journals, magazines, and publications of Himalayan studies. By clicking on a title, one is directed to the relevant page to download the scanned copy free of charge. Similarly, when one clicks on ‘Maps’ or ‘Films,’ maps and films related to the Himalayan region are displayed and made available for download. In terms of information related to the project itself, the link ‘Project team’ under ‘About the Project’ lists every single member of the project’s team and advisory board as well as the project’s trustees. The link ‘Support’ lists every organization and individual that provided financial and institutional support for the Digital Himalaya Project. In terms of information accessibility, this project is successful as it provides easy-to-find links to all of its resources, which are plainly laid out for pain-free access. Grade: 5

Interactivity: Digital Himalaya does not provide many opportunities to interact with the project’s website. The project appears to focus more on displaying the information rather than allowing users to interact with it. The only instance in which the project allows people to somewhat interact with the information is with the 2001 Nepal census data. This activity allows one to choose a district of Nepal and a class, which includes economic activity, literacy, marital status, religion, population, and school status, and view the census data yielded from that combination. The only other way to interact with the information from this project is to download it and view it on your desktop. The project members should work on improving the interactivity of the website, since some of the sections, especially maps, should contain graphics/activities that involve users. This update would greatly improve the project’s overall success in conveying information to the public. Grade: 2

General Aesthetics: The site’s aesthetics are unprovocative. Clearly, little effort was put into this aspect of the project. Successful DH project sites should convey a level of sophistication via their design. However, this site is quite bland as the site proprietors chose to portray an arbitrary white-viridian green color scheme rather than a color scheme that could contain some connection to the project topic (e.g. Himalayan flag color scheme or Tibetan prayer flag color scheme). Along this line, the site lacks an aesthetic that would capture the interest of an individual that sprung upon the site during an internet excursion. Aesthetics play a vital role in capturing the interest of an individual by touching their artistic fancy. Overall, the general aesthetics of Digital Himalaya is very poor. Grade: 1

Design Score: 3.2

 

Engagement of Research Question

Maintenance/Site Sustainability: This project has been extremely successful at updating its website to fit current standards of online webpages. As noted in the ‘Technologies’ link from the homepage, the site was first coded in simple HTML with compressed QuickTime files embedded in the different pages of the site. Then in 2004, the site was re-coded in PHP and partly redesigned. In 2009, the site was then completely changed to fit the house style of the University of Cambridge and be compliant with other standards such as XHTML. The only problem here is that the project’s site has not been updated since that 2009 renovation, meaning that there have not been any changes in its layout for almost 8 years. This drawback makes one question whether the site will be sustainable in the coming years. Grade: 4   

Academic Contribution to Field of Interest: The Digital Himalaya project provides compiles a significant amount of unique ethnographic data directed toward a more complete understanding of cultural and ethical dynamics in the Himalayan region. Where the project excels is in the wide array of mediums it uses to promote a large information sector within the website providing a well-rounded understanding of cultural, geographical, natural and political characteristics of the region from a historic perspective. However, the project lacks contemporary publications resulting in the absence of an immediate temporal presence. For instance, the census provide on the project site is from 2001; this is outdated by a decade-and-a-half. On the site, there are very few documents published within the last 10 years. Ultimately, the project highly contributes to the study of Himalayan culture in an historical ethnographic vein, however, it lacks a contemporary power that is needed to give site visitors a prevalent understanding of modern Himalayan culture.   Grade: 3  

Credibility: The credibility of the Digital Himalaya project is undisputable. Affiliated with a number of impressive institutions and organizations, the sponsorship of the site highlights its credibility. Furthermore, the Digital Himalaya project makes nice use of primary sources including a 2001 census, film collections, photographs, maps, manuscripts, and more, all of which are extensively cited. The credibility of the project is without a doubt a strong point of the project. Grade: 5

Effectiveness of Information in Addressing the Research Question: The information on Digital Himalaya’s website addresses every aspect of the project’s research question. In short, the project’s goal is to collect, store, and distribute multimedia resources from the Himalayan region. The website not only contains an abundance of information from the Himalayan region; but, that information also comes in several different mediums such as film, music, and literature. This amount of information is impressive, but at the same time not overwhelming, making it perfect for encapsulating everything the region has to offer without scaring away online visitors. The collection and storage parts of the research question are fulfilled, as well as the distribution part since the webpage allows one to download most of the material. If the material is not available for download, the project provides links to view and/or listen to it on its website. The project’s only flaw in addressing its research question arises from the fact that most of its resources appear to be more than a decade old at this point in time. In order to be completely successful in collecting, storing, and distributing resources related to the Himalayan region, at least some of the project’s information should be recent. Grade: 4

Presence of Bias: The Digital Himalaya project site does a great job of limiting bias by providing a parity of foreign (non-Himalayan based e.g. non-Himalayan expert interviews) and native (Himalayan based e.g. primary photographs/film) primary sources. These sources are both qualitative and quantitative in nature; providing a distributive ethnocentric form of documentation. Furthermore, the dearth of information allows one to gain a well-rounded perception of the cultural uniqueness between different tribal/social groups within the Himalayas. In providing this wide variety of documentation from a plethora of sources, the site is able to give the site visitor the leighway to generate their own individualized view of Himalayan cultural diversity without the site promoting its own agenda. Grade: 5

Engagement of Research Question Score: 4.2
Overall Digital Himalaya Site Score: 3.7

 

Charles Feinberg and Ian Nish

 

Lab #3: Personal Post

Reviewing and comparing the spatial DH projects made me realize that successful DH spatial projects should be accessible and interactive with users, as well as useful in their display of information. A project’s creators should also consider the ability of the used-platform to maintain and preserve itself over time. As we learned by looking through the Hypercities projects, some technologies, such as certain plug-ins for viewing virtual maps, become obsolete. Once computers are unable to access a project’s website, that project is no longer relevant and is essentially dead. Although almost all forms of preservation become old and unusable at some point, the Hypercities projects are relatively recent and should be utilizing some other way of displaying their digital worlds. The Neatline projects, on the other hand, are extremely easy to access and explore and are constantly being updated with new and improved ways to display their information. The constant updates make Neatline a sustainable platform, unlike Hypercities.

DH Project Evaluation

The difference between a “website” and a digital humanities project arises from the fact that “website” is an extremely broad term, describing anything with a domain name displayed on the internet. A digital humanities project can often take the form of a website; but, it is more focused in its content and in its nature. DH projects collect data from the past and/or present to display an interactive array of content for the user. They preserve digital and/or physical collections of information in the form of lasting, elegantly-designed databases, from which any amateur or experienced digital humanist can access documents pertaining to the project’s research question. A research question is essential to the understanding of a project. Because it does not contain a mission statement or research question, a typical website may be interpreted in any which way; however, a digital humanities project/site with a research question makes it absolutely clear what it wants to accomplish.

Research Questions:

Walt Whitman Archive: How have the writings and how has the life of Walt Whitman influenced the world? Also, what do some of Walt Whitman’s original writings look like and how were they altered over time?

Roman Forum Project: How did the Roman Forum function in 400 A.D.?

Women Writers Project: How can we make the writings of pre-Victorian women available to the public?

Encyclopedia of Chicago: How can we document the rich history of the city of Chicago and make it accessible online?

Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives: What was life like in the Gulag and how did it influence those who lived there?

Mapping Gothic France: What were the stories associated with the building of Gothic architecture in France? Also, how did France form during the 12th and 13th centuries?

Digital Harlem: What did everyday life consist of in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood from 1915 to 1930?

Redlining Richmond: How did race affect the politics and the landscape of Richmond in the late 1930’s?

Documenting the American South: What are the defining historical events, works of literature, and traditions that make up the American South’s history?

Going to the Show: How did the experience of movies and moviegoing change from the introduction of projected motion pictures to the end of the silent film era?

Bracero History Archive: What was life like as a Mexican agricultural worker participating in the Bracero Program?

The September 11 Digital Archive: How can we preserve information related to the 9/11 attacks in order to establish a lasting record of the devastating event and to remember those who perished?

Unbinding the Atlas: How can we compare old maps of New York City to its current layout?

Black Gotham Archive: How can we create a deeper understanding of 19th-century black New York City? Also, how did African-American elites function in New York City in the 1800’s?

Deena Larson Archive: What were the first creative electronic writing works and how did the world of hypertext influence writers’ creative processes?

We chose to evaluate Digital Harlem, a user-friendly website which transposes Harlem from nearly a century ago onto current day Harlem. In addition to this feature, there is an interactive timeline which further allows for users to experience the changes that took place in Harlem from 1920 to 1930. All the visualization and interactive tools used to enhance the usefulness of this website can be evaluated using the steps provided by Todd Presner in his article, “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship”.

  1. Fundamentals for Initial Review: When first visiting the website http://digitalharlem.org/, you are greeted with an interactive map of New York City which appears to be a modern map sourced from Google Maps. Within this map, Harlem has a historic map of the area transposed on the modern map showing how the area looked a century ago in a more detailed form while surrounded by modern NYC. When looking at the menu bar at the top of the webpage one can go to the map, post on a blog about Harlem, and view the sources used to create the website.
  1. Crediting: As mentioned above there is an option on the top menu bar that is called “SOURCES” which will open a drop down box which lists where documents used for the website were taken from.
  1. Intellectual Rigor: This website can undoubtedly contribute to helping visualize the layout of Harlem from 1920 through 1930. This will aid in understanding the changes that may have occurred during this time period. It uses interactive elements in order to find an interesting point on the map of Harlem to look into and it allows for users to look for documents related to that point of interest and even spark conversations about said topic in the blog section.
  1. Crossing Research, Teaching, and Service: Many scholars are faced with questions which involve change over time and this website allows for users to look at this question over a one decade span. In addition to this it appears that one of the points of this website is to nurture thinking minds and allow them to come up with their own questions based on studying the map of Harlem, finding an intriguing point, and look into that idea. The site therefore provides a great system for research because one can start at the map, spot a change or point that they would like to study, and look through the collection of documentation regarding Harlem through other databases. Also as stated above, the website itself can be considered a problem due to the fact that it nurtures the creation of more and more questions due to its nature of dropping the user into an interactive map of Harlem, providing them with a legend to understand the annotations, and not providing them with any road map of how to look at the map. This leads to different interpretations, different research points, and different conversation seen in the blog portion of the website.
  1. Peer Review: “The February 2016 issue of the American Historical Review includes an extended review of Digital Harlem” (cited from: http://drstephenrobertson.com/article/reviewing-digital-history-digital-harlem-in-the-american-historical-review/) The website was reviewed in a credible journal by Joshua Sternfeild, and then later responded to by the individual writing in the article seen in the link, Dr. Stephen Robertson. This shows that this Digital Humanities source has been looked into by credible sources and has been proven to be a fairly well working Digital Humanities mapping project.
  1. Impact: This project has the ability to reach and impact regular everyday people that are interested in the subject which the primary function of the blog section of the website. In addition to this select group of people there are also the scholars that may use this website. These scholars may include historians, sociologists, architects, and many other different professionals. This large array of scholars that could potentially make use of this website opens up the potential for the blog section of the website to also be used for interdisciplinary collaboration.
  1. Approximating Equivalencies: This project cannot be compared to any book or written source of information that can be created. The interactive implications of this website along with the ability to keep switching to different forms of knowledge would be far less efficient in any type of book, if even possible. In addition to this, being able to find all of the documents on a topic as specific as Harlem from 1920-1930 would be extremely labor intensive and would take hours upon hours of searching through an archive. Therefore finding specific changes in Harlem during this decade would be much more difficult than simply looking at the timeline given on the website.
  1. Development Cycles, Sustainability, and Ethics:It appears that this website is very new and is in the early stages of its life. In the future there may be a wider range of dates covered and more events on the timeline integrated into the map. The website will therefore be getting updates in the future hopefully. This webpage also appears to be a source of knowledge which will not die and the updates which will most likely be coming will just extend the lifespan of this project. In addition to being used as a means of expanding knowledge and contributing to research, this website will have a long life purely because it will be used as a means of preserving the history of an extremely historic area, especially in African American culture.
  1. Experimentation and Risk-Taking: This is a very unique and specific project so the risk of creating a project like this could be that its content would be underappreciated and underused. This is not what you would want to happen to a project one embarks on and pours thousands of man hours of work and resources into.

Jacob Circelli and Ian Nish

Writing Assignment 2: Waze and Crowdsourcing

Waze is a successful crowdsourced app that offers drivers directions for the quickest route based upon traffic, accidents, and tolls. The project is a perfect example of the power of crowdsourcing; it uses the information from its driving users to create better routes for other users about to hit the road. The mobile app measures drivers’ speeds and asks drivers to report road closures and accidents. Unlike other GPS-only navigation software, Waze considers its users as an integral part of the navigation process. This innovation has changed the way people drive and is a good insight into the unlimited potential of crowdsourced projects.

In 2006, Ehud Shabtai founded the community project “FreeMap Israel,” which aimed to develop “a free digital database of the map of Israel in Hebrew” using crowdsourced information from the community of users in Israel (Wikipedia). Shabtai wanted to make the database easy-to-use and free to the public, while also updating it as often as possible to ensure relevancy (Wikipedia). Like many of the digital humanities projects we have studied in class, “FreeMap Israel” aimed to digitally preserve a set of information and make that information easily accessible to its audience. After seeing the project’s potential, Shabtai decided to commercialize the efforts and formed Waze Mobile Ltd in 2009 (Wikipedia). In 2013, Google bought out Waze for $1.1 billion, which immediately pushed the mobile app into the public’s eye (Myers). Since then, the software has found a home on smartphones around the world, using the data from those smartphones to improve traffic patterns and to shorten commutes. The digital project follows along well with Timothy W. Cole’s “Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections,” in which he states that projects must “give high priority to factors such as reusability, persistence, [and] interoperability…” (Cole). Waze is used and reused by people for navigation assistance while driving; people can reuse it endlessly without paying a fee. The app also persistently collects traffic-related data and exchanges information between users’ smartphones. These characteristics indicate a that Waze is a strong digital collection and digital humanities project.

As Todd Presner states, impact can be measured by the “number of viewers or contributors to a site and what they contribute” (Presner). In the case of Waze, the viewers are the contributors and vice versa, and the contributions these users make are essential to the existence of the app. Waze is just one example of the endless number of crowdsourced projects on the web. This approach to a digital humanities project is the most effective in engaging the public and attaining real-time information from people around the globe.

Works Cited

Cole, Timothy W. “Creating a Framework of Guidance for Building Good Digital Collections.” First Monday 7, no. 5 (May 2002). doi:10.5210/fm.v7i5.955.

Myers, Anthony. “How Waze Grew from Startup to Billion Dollar Google Acquisition #demo2013.” CMS Wire. Last modified October 16, 2013. http://www.cmswire.com/cms/customer-experience/how-waze-grew-from-startup-to-billion-dollar-google-acquisition-demo2013-022835.php.

Presner, Todd. “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship.” Journal of Digital Humanities 1, no. 4 (Fall 2012). http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-4/how-to-evaluate-digital-scholarship-by-todd-presner/.

Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. “Waze – Wikipedia.” n.d. Accessed February 12, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waze.

Writing Assignment 1: What is DH?

Digital Humanities is a field in which people use technology and other technological resources to accumulate and to analyze information about humanity and its many endeavors. In other words, Digital Humanists access knowledge about the world through means other than reading physical print. Print is no longer the primary medium in which information is created and consumed. We are moving into an era containing immense online databases with more resources than a physical library can even hold. This advancement is truly the essence of Digital Humanities, and the reason it came about in the first place.

In 1949, Jesuit scholar Roberto Busa undertook the creation of an incredibly vast index. Using IBM’s automated machines, Busa successfully completed his mission quickly and efficiently (1). His use of technology to pursue a humanistic-related project has inspired countless others to commence Digital Humanistic projects of their own, and has also given rise to this complex hard-to-define field/term. One thing is certainly clear: there is no one well-defined definition of Digital Humanities, just numerous ways to describe it. For instance, Lincoln Mullen calls Digital Humanities “a spectrum” (2), while others, such as David M. Berry, use words such as “quantitative” and “computational” (3). I consider these contributions helpful in determining an understanding of Digital Humanities; however, I would also add other characteristics to my definition. Digital Humanities is a spectrum, and has much to do with computational work; but, the field mostly deals with the accessibility of knowledge and the connections between people. For example, Digital Humanistic projects such as the Bracero History Archive (4) or the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (5) allow those seeking information to easily access articles, maps, drawings, etc. through databases and archives on the internet. Connecting people together through these websites also allows the projects to compile extensive amounts of data, with which they can use to further improve their knowledge on the subject.

The beautiful part about projects in the Digital Humanities is that they usually create more questions than they answer. With additional resources being contributed to these databases, there is so much more to process and to understand about the issue at hand. As we develop more advanced technologies and better digital sorting tools, projects will be able to address many of these additional questions; however, there will always be more information to accumulate and analyze, which is the reason Digital Humanities keeps progressing.

– Ian Nish

Links/Work Cited

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roberto_Busa

(2) Mullen, Author Lincoln. “Digital Humanities Is a Spectrum; Or, We’re All Digital Humanists Now.” The Backward Glance. N.p., 14 Jan. 2017. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

(3) Berry, David. “The Computational Turn: Thinking About the Digital Humanities.” Culture Machine (2011): 1-22. 2011. Web. 6 Feb. 2017.

(4) http://braceroarchive.org

(5) http://www.hurricanearchive.org

The London Lives Project

The files being used in the London Lives Project include fully digitized manuscript and printed pages from eight London archives. The project research question: What happened in London from 1690 to 1800? The project is interested in creating a record of crime, poverty, and social policy in London during that period. Another purpose of the project is to link together records of individuals and groups of individuals who lived in London from 1690 to 1800.

The tools being used by the project managers include scanners to place the documents in a digital medium. The internet is also used to display the information obtained by the project. Also, fans of the London Lives project can use the internet to contribute to biographies, keep track of activity, and view corrections on pages to which they have contributed. The methods being used in this project include key-word searching for certain events and policies in old London as well as further filtering through specific years. The database also allows users to search by document type.

By Ian Nish and Jacob Circelli

Link to project