Playing Fair and Doing Scholarship

I have an admission: My eyes glaze over when I am near “legalese” and this includes copyright law. As a result, I tend to be paranoid and overly cautious about citations, sharing, crediting and linking to borrowed ideas. For me, it’s a way to keep from exploiting other people’s work, my own included.

But, there is no need to be paranoid. Rather, be aware of your credits and sources and what you’re intending to do. With regard to my own digital history project, for the podcast and accompanying site, I need to be mindful, citing and crediting those who own the stories told, the content I am retelling, and any creative material used in the process. To avoid any issues with the latter, I am going to compose my own theme and bed music. Each participant will sign a waiver knowing that their interview may be broadcasted and kept digitally. Each source will be cited through a bibliography or credit in the podcast and website. These are all internal measures to make sure other’s original material is properly credited, but externally, I realize I need to then “gatekeep” what I have collected and created as it becomes public so that the respect and rights carry on into the unknown- perhaps even go so far to register my own copyright of the site or podcast.

An active podcast or website is an informative and creative product in a marketplace that understands currency and sees theft like the traditional forms, but also can be open for free consumption- regulating that, either for profit or to safeguard fair recognition and compensation by contributors makes the already complicated issue of copyright more complex. As we have read, in the United States, copyright law is as old as the country itself.  And as the bubble of protective years grew, laws of fair use were enacted, which was significant for historians in that historical data and material would be easier to review and cite without fear of violation. However, the lifetime plus 50 grew mouse ears and expanded to lifetime plus 75 for corporate material. The evolution of the law is interesting in and of itself, but what are the obligations for the digital historian?’

I found the discussion in this same piece about the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to be relevant to those producing digital material using multimedia sources. I think students and academics creating material from research might be covered under Title IV, but the cost of being wrong might be great enough to seek advice anyway before launching the public access to your project. Siva Vaidhyanathan, in Copyrights and Copywrongs  * refers to this expansion of copyright law as the Four Surrenders:

• The surrender of balance to control.
• The surrender of public interest to private interest.
• The surrender of republican deliberation within the nation-state
to unelected multilateral nongovernmental bodies.
• The surrender of culture to technology.

Also in Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History: a Guide…  is this striking idea: “The manipulability of digital data creates another, less common legal issue. You can edit digital images, sounds, and moving pictures much more easily than their analog counterparts. ” The logo one creates, images they generate, etc. are vulnerable to manipulation and theft due to the latent potential of the technology we use to create them. I myself have shared images protected by java safeguards by hitting “print screen” to copy instead of right-clicking.

As my project grows, I will keep in mind the topics brought up in Gail Drake’s illustrative chapter on Intellectual Property Law in Romano and Potter’s book Doing Recent History On Privacy, Copyright,… . Using the issues that civil rights historians and archivists have faced, I took away the intention to think pro-actively. These are somewhat recent events without the wealth of vetted perspective and distance of personal ownership. With oral histories or images, I am able to collect, I will be open to redacting identity if requested or confirm events contained in the interviews if mentioning someone else by name. I think an advantage academically trained historians have is the common practice of citing sources and being aware of what your content is and isn’t and making that clear.

I also found the Fresh Air interview with Lawrence Lessig interesting because as we understand and share the nuances of what we should protect and keep as free access, it is also a larger discussion of what we value and take for granted. Though Lessig didn’t label it as such, it is also a Marxist view of recognizing the labor in production and compensating (or crediting) fairly. Our projects are in one light our “creation” in that we are curating, gathering, decoding or collecting information and making it into a digital artifact, but we are also taking materials from people, from shelves, from points of view that are the raw materials mined by others.

In conclusion, I am still paranoid but not as much. Knowing that I am protected somewhat by law for my good intentions, I will carefully consider the contents of this or any project and be sure not to just name each voice and cite each source, but carry the weight of their contribution and acknowledge my responsibility to volley them with protection and care.

*While it mostly reinforced what we were learning, I would like to suggest Copyrights and Copywrongs by Siva Vaidhyanathan for a handy guide and exploration of copyright law for the Humanities.

Comments on Peer Projects: Class Blog 3

BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Please review everyone’s prospectus as well as each group’s preliminary plan and post comments/observations to the blog. These can include a direct reference to particular prospectuses and plans, but should also reflect on any potential common themes, issues and concerns that you noticed in reading them together. You are also certainly welcome to relate these issues to your own project and think about how what your colleagues are doing might influence your own work.

One common characteristic among students of the Humanities is that they tend to shy away from superficial research topics. Most hint at the development of the author’s maturity as a scholar by being deliberate, precise, and meaningful. As students of digital history, we’re charged with going further and applying our topics to non-traditional platforms and translating from typical narrative forms into digital forms. The expectations of educators and readers may be high, but those of the researchers themselves seem to exceed.

Digital Project Themes
With stark exceptions – most of the projects relate to translating personal experience, several from Southern, US history, into digital artifacts that are historical arguments or exhibits of alternative points of view. The commonalities of theme end there and branch into educational, military, public health, ethnic, and communications studies with the foundations remaining in historical analysis. As it is my own academic goal to combine social science and humanities in research and public discourse, I am excited to see the progress of each project and the exploration of methods for digital translation which suit the material and benefit the audience.

Public History
Digital History is a form of public history. A counter to this might be a scenario Jo Guldi or others discuss in which the historical research is given digital treatments for display in an online journal or exhibit but hidden behind an exclusive audience or social firewall. But in essence, bringing historical scholarship to digital forms such as interactive web space, elaborating timelines, 360 annotated maps and oral history presentation, or even further, gaming platforms that allow the consumer/viewer/student to manipulate the data for a personalized narrative, is public history at the core. Instead of a tautological relationship of research for publication to be used in future research for publication, academic “civilians” are able to learn general and highly specialized historical information where they are when the works are intentionally displayed digitally. On the web or in spaces dedicated to their exhibition, historians engaged in a digital translation of their work are putting courting non-elites in ways that previous analog generations could not.

Group Projects
Students also came together in small groups to consider a hypothetical digital history project for which they would seek funding. Idealism can have some erosion when faced with the cost of producing a quality site or exhibit, or it can inspire collaboration and the hunt for funds available.

In terms of setting, these small collaborations tended to focus on groups who participated in historical events or explore local and regional historical phenomena.
In other cases, the subject might not be local, but the audience can have an intimate exchange with their experiences and motivations by entering their “world” or actively participating in the digital platform in contrast to consuming.

In all cases, these projects have broad educational value. As I have mentioned before, the onset of interactive “gaming” in which a user and programmer dance to either achieve a goal or build on intelligence is a phenomenon that has entrenched itself in American culture and that of techno-industrialized nations since the late 1980’s.

  • One walking tour of Charlotte idea by Savannah, Gabi, and Rickey educates participants who can virtually walk the streets of Charlotte, noting people, places, and events of the past by location. One student also suggested the possibility of participants being able to create their own walking path, whereas physical tour groups would have a set itinerary and script.
  • Rachel, Nikki, and Tommy Warlick would incorporate gaming techniques to existing slave narratives.
    • “Using Twine, we will create a game that poses questions and dilemmas to the user that slaves faced daily, e.g., a question in the simulation might read “if you were Frederick Douglass, would you fight back against slave-breaker Covey or submit to Covey’s wishes?” The answer choices might include “fight back” or “submit” and each choice would produce a different consequence.”
      Instead of adding a “fun” element, this would allow the participant/student more insight where empathy is not possible. (1))
  • Applying this kind of insight into historical lives, Rachael, Laura, and Brian apply gaming or participant control techniques into a digital presentation on the Jamestown via self- paced navigation and character creation.

According to William G Thomas II  (2) most of these approaches are Digital Narratives by type and apply the digital platform not just to awaken existing historical data to users

In David Parry’s portion of essays on Hacking the Academy, he states one objective for fundamentally changing History as an academic and public discipline should be for historians to “Aspire to be a curator”. I think these projects prove that digital history breaks down barriers of elitism that have prevented researchers from being taken seriously and given a valid or fair opportunity to find an audience.

What I would suggest for each researcher is that they proceed with confidence and not be afraid to brand their projects or be bold. Not only are we in a digital age but in an age of commodification. Historians are producing not just their projects but a pro-duct in a marketplace: website hosting may require ads, libraries fight for funding, schools are never isolated from corporate strings, etc. Our task now is to encourage the scholarship and continue the spirit of collaboration for accountability and the deeper, more relevant dives for truth and a good story.

 

  1. Rachel McManimen, Nikki Oliver, and Tommy Warlick. Grant Project Prospectus.
    UNC Charlotte, Digital History Course HIST-6330. Fall 2018
  2. Thomas, William G. III. What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology.
    http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=1159
  3. Parry, David “Burn the Boats/Books” from Hacking Scholarship: Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps. Jackson, et al.
    https://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/dh/12172434.0001.001/1:2/–hacking-the-academy-new-approaches-to-scholarship?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1

 

Class Blog 2: Comparing Search Choices

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Preface
While the discipline of history is nested in the Humanities rather than Social Science, good research must universally be valid and reliable. The historian’s aim needs to be a core with branches reaching toward available or chartable mines of data. My possible digital history project is one that requires several trajectories and roads, some paved others not; throughout I expect it to illustrate the benefits and limitations of existing digital history and create its own path.

My mother’s family “home place” was an area of Wayne and Cabell county, West Virginia commonly named Beech Fork. In the 1970’s, the Corps of Engineers reshaped the waterways and moved residences to create Beech Fork State Park in 1979. This occurred as a response to flooding but in the process, the residing families were displaced, the Corps having the power and resources to carve the land into a space preserving wildlife and the ecology of the area, as well as relocate the citizens whose homes leveled. One part of this was the creation of Bowen Cemetery, which is located within the park, but which is a public cemetery hosting the remains of the families that resided there. The graves were relocated to this shared spot and arranged by family. At this time, my thesis will include interviews with the displaced and an 360-degree experience of the cemetery. For this course, I will aim and sharpen focus to a narrow piece that won’t make me drive 5 hours up Interstate 77.

Blog 2:

For this blog entry, I’m finding the limitations of online resources for questions like my own, and how far we are from the intellectual utopian visions of the future. The key is keeping a (rational) faith that there is something there to find, and not being thwarted by the dead ends.

  • Searching “Beech Fork State Park” in Wikipedia returned these choices:
    Beech Fork State Park
    Reports the current park with very little mention of its history and more centered on park features and local wildlifeBeech Fork Lake
    Reports on the recreational activities but then a curious segment discussing the experience of the Adkins family in relocation and the area’s historical reputation. The frustrating part being that there is no citation for the quotes. (1)
    Beech Fork
    A page discussing an entirely different area, the Beech Fork River, in Kentucky.
  • Searching “Beech Fork State Park” in the Encyclopedia Britannica yielded no relative results. Nor did “Beech Fork”. When I searched “West Virginia State Parks” I did find a link to an article on the state in general, but I would have to sign up for a trial to research the state parks.(2) Thanks to the assistance of an Atkins Library associate, I was able to search the Enclyopedia via NC Live and a student version, but neither mentioned the creation of this state park which is obscure in context.
  • Using the omnipotent search engine Google with “Beech Fork State Park”, I was able to find these top 3 hits:
    Beech Fork State Park – West Virginia State Parks
    This is managed by the WV State Parks group, a wing of the division of tourism. Under park “history”, it did have a historical summary. (3)
    Beech Fork State Park (Barboursville) – 2018 All You Need to Know
    It was alas, not all I needed to know. This is a page on “Trip Advisor” which is a consumer networking site that rates and reviews traveler experiences.Beech Fork State Park – Wikipedia
    See aboveFrom there, the search results led to recreation sites. When I modified the search criteria to include US Army Corps of Engineers, their site appeared in the results:
    Beech Fork Lake – Huntington District – Army
    The difference here is that it is not the park but the lake that is the central concern. The lake was an extension of domestic caretaking and ecological management while the park was a way to keep the area accessible to the public and supported humbly by their fees. This site also had a brief historical summary. (4)

Digital treatments of my topic are not easy to find, but broadening my search to the digitized elements and presentation methods produced search results that hinted at challenges and opportunities ahead. Bowen Cemetery itself has a spot on Find-A-Grave.com with limited images (too many of just the welcome sign). These are static images taken by community contributors and genealogists that would have limited and select biographical information. Cemeteries found in larger cities with heavy tourism, such as New Orleans,  have video components but more to support the tourism industry. An example of what I would like to do with the cemetery presentation component of my research is in line with sites such as Civil War 360.

There is a remarkable advancement in the work Civil War 360 has done compared to such sites as Arlington Cemetery. The latter uses Google earth and the pace and aim of one’s experience are limited to the segments available in that platform. Civil War 360 is a product of the Civil War Trust and utilizes panoramic photography and mapping from Regal 360.  It is more fluid with multiple perspective choices. I am not familiar with the nuanced differences, this platform “created using HTML elements” and no other description, which might be proprietary. CivilWar.com also features differently animated and photographic mapping and presentation of historical data that is advanced and user-friendly, even a Civil War Battle Maps app which was impressive but not relevant to my project given the limited audience of interest at this point.

To bring these searches together, Google operates on the behavior of other searches and popularity so it can be difficult to find many leads on a more obscure topic or one that has multiple conditions built into the search criteria. Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica are ideally authoritative resources with either user input and update capabilities or juried expert authorship respectively. However, the openness of Wikipedia does not guarantee credible sources (or citation) and may be more reliable with generous endnote links. Encyclopedia Britannica may likewise be more helpful for a quick explanation of an unclear reference or topic, but not beyond the superficial.

There is little comparison between digital representations of similar research ideas and a more scholarly traditional source. Most of what I have found in print regarding Beech Fork State Park and its creation has to do with the ecology in the area and the species that have thrived or are threatened. When I add the second focus of Oral History research, there are comparable projects for displaced communities. The US ACoE has a Public Affairs office but no digital record of this project, only news stories related to their Huntington branch going back to 2014.

This exercise reinforces the idea that Digital History is not a self-contained discipline but rather a specialization of ability to translate material from a variety of sources onto a digital platform. The historian still must be trained to understand the search and creation mechanisms at hand, how criteria is sorted, and how to efficiently and effectively mine the data or discoveries within and then apply it to the historical arguments posed. Our digital age may have simplified simple searches, but it can complicate or add conditions to the endeavors of academic research.

  1. From the Wiki Page: It has also been said that in the last days, “the Jews will go back to Palestine and the Adkinses will go back to Beech Fork.”
  2. Given the number of ads on the site, I felt that I did not want the commercial traffic in my inbox.
  3. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed Beech Fork Lake in the 1970s to control flooding of Twelvepole Creek. The lake also was developed to create recreational and wildlife management including a marina, swimming beach and picnic area. Beech Fork State Park officially opened in 1979. Beech Fork State Park – West Virginia State Parks
  4. Beech Fork Lake (authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1962) is part of the integrated flood reduction system operated by the Corps of Engineers for the entire Ohio River Basin. When these lakes are operated as a vast storage system, flood crests along the Ohio can be significantly reduced. Beech Fork Lake opened for recreational activities in May 1978.
    Beech Fork Lake – Huntington District – Army

 

 

History as Res Publica

I have been fascinated by history since a young age. In early memories I find myself looking at family photo albums, books of old movie posters, and captivated by the stories of gods and saints. It makes me feel closer to others to know of their experiences and our shared history. But, as early as high school I began to wonder about the losers of the battle, the peasants out of royal frame, my own ancestors who somehow made it to Appalachia via ports and gates.

For some the idea of a “public history”, one that is accessible and speaks of many voices, is a radical idea. Howard Zinn, an academic “saint” to be sure, is sometimes seen as an American threat because he dared to bring the experiences of those who built the country onto the stage of those who own. This is just one example of the mid-20th Century paradigm shift for the discipline of History (big H) that goes from ivory tower lectures on the greatness of white men to the significant contributions of all human groups in creating the world of the present. Public History is a dynamic telling of historical events using their words, and deliberately excavating obscured lives previously deemed marginal or insignificant.

What I’ve discovered in my first class in the new phase of my life studying public history is that it also encompasses he presentation of this information. Just as C Wright Mills and his peers advocated for “public sociology” to go from academia to social change, history underwent a more “res publica” approach- not for historians but for the people. Canon was revisited to include women, non-whites, etc. (forgive the brevity there). The way in which it is collected also expanded for inclusiveness* and more importantly the intended audience is for everyone, increasing access, scope, reach, application, and listening to feedback. This utilizes emerging technology that can reach schools and libraries as well as public spaces and museums which are aimed at educating and revealing more precise and universal experiences and truths.

The first site I’ll review here is the ROY ROSENZWEIG CENTER FOR HISTORY AND NEW MEDIA (RRCHNM). Essentially they are “a multi-disciplinary team that develops online teaching resources, digital collections and exhibits, open-source software, and training in digital literacy and skills.”  Based at George Mason University, the group collects and lists public history exhibits and programs found online and presents a searchable directory. Think of it as a static trade magazine that highlights individuals, engagement opportunities, and news items related to public history in its many forms. The benefit of such a site is that it can bring you to a collection that might be harder to search casually online. As we know, Google tells you what its friends are doing above all else, and those not in the in-crowd might have a goldmine you’ll never see. Beyond this opportunity to find what you seek you can also browse and find the wealth of other points of view and sites that open up complimentary or contrary information to the more mainstream versions of history that remain in traditional education curricula.

For instance, consider the narratives that can come from exploring these two sites:

  • Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution: a lively introduction to the French Revolution presents an extraordinary archive of some of the most important documentary evidence from the Revolution, including 338 texts, 245 images, and a number of maps and songs. Lynn Hunt of UCLA and Jack Censer of George Mason University—both internationally renowned scholars of the Revolution—served as principal authors and editors. The site is a collaboration of CHNM and American Social History Project (City University of New York), and supported by grants from the Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  
  • Children and Youth in Historywebsite was designed to help teachers and students learn about young people throughout history by providing access to information about the lived experiences of children and youth from multiple perspectives as well as changing notions about childhood and adolescence in past cultures and civilizations. 

The RRCHNM, while not being a snappy acronym, it a great example of the new face of public history. The scholars who lead the projects and collect the information invite collaboration and highlight achievements and opportunities to share history, not just their own. Presenting it online and for free allows educators at all levels to search the material and share among students or hobbyists or the unidentified. 

When we think about “net neutrality” or vocation and grade-driven budgeting for educational institutions and libraries, we should consider sites like these and the people behind them. Wealthy endowments can only go so far. Public history would be successful when it is a dialog all can attend to and participate in.

Feel free to share links to other archives or projects along these lines. That’s the point 😀

 

*Inclusiveness has been discussed recently as a term describing a benevolent invitation by those in power. It’s worth looking into.