Archive for September, 2006

Readings for 9/26

September 25, 2006

Ok, there was a lot of data to mine for class this week: Cohen’s piece on data mining “From Babel to Knowledge” discusses his adventures with an Application Programming Interface (API) he developed to test the power of such tools in searching through large databases and pulling together relevant results. He would conclude that it is best to tap into all sources when developing such tools; quantity being actually better than quality, since algorithms can be developed to weed out the junk.

 “30 Search Tips in 40 Minutes” is oriented to the professional researcher, maximizing time-for-dollar value for the client. I like tip number 30; sometimes you can’t use the web for your search. Its good to remind people that not everything is online. (yet)

 Turkel’s articles proved a refreshing break from some of the acronym- and techno-laced readings. Comforting to hear that he feels we need archivists, librarians, and curators now more than ever (“Methodology for the Infinite Archive”), while encouraging us to build our skills in order to use this new environment effectively. He envisions more of a partnership, rather than the cart (gee-whiz technology) driving the horse (us historo-folks).

 Turkel’s discussion of “spidering” (in “Teaching Young Historians to Search, Spider, and Scrape”) touches on what I said in an earlier post about moving forward. Spidering is arguably not a “linear” process,  since it is randomized by how the entries are arrayed in the piece, but it does move the viewer forward toward the desired clarity (“I’m not interested in that, but I am interested in this”).  



Thoughts on Class Discussion 9/19

September 21, 2006

As we were discussing the book vs. the web and the idea of hypertext, I formulated the thought that a book generally has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Literally. Regardless of where you open the book. The footnotes provide more content and context, but they all point backward, to earlier works.

 On the web, hypertext points the viewer many times to concurrent information and sources. So its not so much linear vs. nonlinear, as its about moving laterally or forward.

Does this make the web more useful? Depends on the quality and veracity of that concurrent info, but it certainly can lead you through more keyholes. And the idea that hypertext is only as valuable or relevant as the person who initiates it: valid. But, if we’re writing history for the web, there are rules to follow as you would for a book or article; document your sources, flesh out the discussion with notes, etc. All are ripe hypertext moments. And that’s just the foundation; after those bases are covered, indulge in all of the wonderful multimedia and hypertext you can stand !  

Now, a request: can we limit the big words, i.e. teliogical, diachronous, etc.? Makes my brain hurt, and I don’t want to appear to be an idiot if I stop the discussion to ask what it means…  Thank you. 

Thoughts on “Wikipedia and the Future of the Past”

September 12, 2006

I had heard of Wikipedia as a “write-it-yourself” kind of online encyclopedia, but had never visited it or frankly, given it another thought until hearing the term “wiki” being tossed about on the night of our first class. What’s a wiki? I felt so out of it…  Okay, so now I know a bit more about this online phenomenon called Wikipedia, and Roy Rosensweig’s deconstruction and analysis of it has filled another gap in my ever-evolving knowledge about all things cyber.

Rosensweig’s is a call for the historical community to sit up and take notice of this site and others of its ilk, wherein virtual communities are populating the Internet with knowledge (along with bias, ignorance, and venom) which has the potential to reach and influence how people regard their world and how things came to be.

 Acknowledging the difficulty historians have in contributing on the web (the “trolls” inhabiting Wikiland, for example), Rosensweig nevertheless exhorts academics to find ways to present history online such that it does not invalidate the contributions of amateurs and non-historians, but amplifies and clarifies the historical record. To this end, historical societies, archives and associations must seriously reconsider their long-standing practice of “charging admission” to their online resources. Such practices seem to say “If you want the facts, you have to pay for them. If you want it free, then you get what you pay for.”

What the free online encyclopedias need to do is to remind the reader that an encyclopedia entry is but the first step in one’s research; for the student doing a term paper, the entry should have sufficient references to primary and secondary works. And in the case of secondary works, these should be as recent as possible. By its very nature, this is where the professional historian can make an entry more useful and relevant.

The example of Wikipedia shows that the Internet is blooming with more and more resources, and while the tending of these blooms requires time and money, the result can be breathtaking.  

Thus endeth this post. Unfortunately, I’ll miss class tonight, so by my absence you will probably figure out who I am !   

Evaluation of Reginald Fessenden Site

September 7, 2006

1906 marks the 100th anniversary of Reginald Fessenden’s voice radio transmission across the Atlantic, the first voice transmission by radio (Marconi only sent Morse code). He sent his message from Brant Rock, Massachusetts (my wife’s hometown), which will be having a gala celebration and reenactment of the moment in December. 

To that end, I thought it fitting to explore some web sites devoted to Fessenden and his achievements as a radio pioneer. I looked at, “Reginald Aubrey Fessenden web page”, created by “ raf.nesco, Box 686
Brant Rock, Massachusetts  02020

This is a good example of an enthusiast web site, put together by an amateur historian.  It is replete with links to other sites (whether for a single picture or passage, or more in-depth information). It does offer an encapsulated account of Fessenden’s life, with occasional links embeddeed in the text. There is no “multimedia” aspect to the site, in terms of animations, sound files, etc. There are many color images of vintage postcards, along with black and white photos which enlarge when you click on them.  

As far as layout, there is no real order to things; this is one of those sites where you just “jump in.” As you scroll down, you come across segments of links to other sites, then the narrative of Fessenden’s life, then a cluster of more links.  

Viewing the source code doesn’t seem to indicate that a CSS was used; there are the standard /p tags, along with dropped-in URLs. As far as a database backend, I don’t know how to look for that. The code indicates that Microsoft FrontPage 4.0 and Meta Tag Builder were used.  

All in all, this is not a sophisticated site, but is chock-full of useful links and images, and serves capably as a gateway for further online exploration of Fessenden’s life.