Maps Get People Talking

This post isn’t meant to be groundbreaking by any means, but just a short time ago I viewed a map of the U.S. with the state boundaries redrawn so that each state had an equal number of residents.  The map was just a hypothetical reorganization of the states.  It was not intended to be a call for an actual reorganization.  However, I noticed in the comments below that the map got a number of people talking.  Some were angry about the idea, some thought it funny, some chose to pick it apart discussing why it would never work.  It appeared that most of those who commented never paused to take in to account that the map was for fun.  I myself thought it amusing that so many people thought it necessary to vent over an innocent little map.  

A bit later, while reading some of the comments I noticed a link to another map.  One that illustrates the increase in obesity in America over the past 25 years.  I know that people on average are fatter than they were a several decades ago, but this map really puts things into perspective.  I decided to look at the comments below, and was somewhat shocked to see that there were only half as many comments as there were for the population reorganization map, and many of those comments were brief.  Why do so many people get upset over a hypothetical map, and have very little to say on the increasing epidemic of obesity?  Anyway, that’s my rant for the day.  Happy Thanksgiving!  

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Boom 2053

Recently, Adam M. Sowards, a historian and environmental interdisciplinarian, posted a link to his Twitter account that showcased every nuclear explosion on the planet from 1945 to 1998.  The video itself is cinematically underwhelming–sometimes feeling like a mixture between a bad techno beat and an Atari game from 1983.  Yet, if the viewer spends the time to watch the clip in its entirety, I would expect that they would walk away feeling somewhat nauseated having realized that most of the world’s superpowers–namely the U.S.–have unleashed such a destructive force on Mother Earth 2053 times.  What really makes this clip hit home is when it is paired with actual footage of nuclear explosions like that compiled by Atom Central.  The negative environmental impact created by these explosions must be staggering.  The realization of the detrimental effects of radiation has steadily increased since 1945, but more responsible testing methods do not negate the long-term impacts of tests from years-ago.  The CTBTO has a number of reports and educational resources that better illustrate the negative side-effects of nuclear testing.  In addition to the environmental impact of nuclear weapon testing, their financial impact must be considered as well.  Brookings Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project lists 50 facts about U.S. nuclear testing.  Number 50 tells that over 35 trillion dollars have been spent on nuclear related activities in the U.S alone between 1940 to 1998.  Of course there are a number of potential benefits like propulsion systems and energy that the nuclear age has engendered, but can we justify killing our planet and mankind along with it in the hopes that one day we might be able to responsibly control the atom.    

 

Dissertation Reviews

It is always nice when a new resource becomes available that scholars and graduate students can use when trying to conduct research for their dissertations or when needing feedback on their dissertations before publication.  Dissertationreviews.org is one such resource.  The aim of the site, “is to offer readers a glimpse of each discipline’s immediate present by focusing on the window of time between dissertation defense and first book publication.”  In addition, the “Fresh from the Archives” section of the site gives viewers the opportunity to peruse a number of reviews of archives and institutes around the world.  These reviews not only highlight what materials are contained in the archives, but also the protocols and paperwork needed to gain access to the collections.  Since these reviews are written by graduate students and scholars who have conducted research at the archives they are reviewing, they offer further advice and tips that are meant to help those researching in unfamiliar destinations better acclimate to their surroundings and those they will be working with.  The tips they offer such as “bring small gifts,” and don’t bother the staff during their lunch breaks may sound silly, but this kind of advice will most definitely help those wishing to conduct research in the future to have an enjoyable and productive experience.

The dissertation reviewers come from many backgrounds, but the many of the reviewer categories at present are geared towards eastern studies like Asian Archaeology, China, Chinese Literature, Japan, Korea, and Russia.  They also have a number of categories centered around the Middle-East and Islamic studies.  Unfortunately, at the moment, they do not have any reviewers who focus on the classical Mediterranean and medieval worlds, Byzantium, the Renaissance, and related fields.  Because they do not focus on these areas of study, the site does not offer much insight into archives and institutions that contain related materials.  Much of this can be attributed to the relative newness of the site.  Dissertation Reviews is currently seeking reviewers so it should only be a matter of time before these fields are offered as reviewer categories.  Even though the site does not cover all areas of study it still provides students and scholars in many fields with a valuable tool.  

Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves Oh My!

As some of us don our favorite costumes on this night of mischief and mayhem in search of cavities and a slightly expanded wasteline lets pause for a moment to reflect on the mythical stories that have inspired Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves.

Gary-Oldman-Count-Dracula

The word vampire is a relatively recent name given to those who lust for blood, but there are many references to similar creatures.  In ancient Greece, the goddess Hera killed the children of a beautiful Libyan woman named Lamia.  Her loss and rage led to her taking on a monstrous appearance and thereafter she sought to seize and kill other children [1].  The famous vampire we have come to love by the name of Dracula is also based on a real character.  Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler as he is sometimes called was ruled Wallachia in Romania during the mid-fifteenth century AD.  He is well know for inviting his enemies to dinner and subsequently having them impaled while he ate.  The name Dracula is derived from dracul (Order of the Dragon), a society that Vlad belonged to.  As far as the evidence goes, a number of skeletons have been uncovered recently that have shed light upon the burial practices of suspected vampires.  In Bulgaria a 700 year-old skeleton was found that had been stabbed in the chest and had had its teeth extracted [2].  The precaution of placing a brick in the mouth of those believed to be undead has also been observed [3].

Both the Greek historian Herodotus and the Roman author Petronius mention werewolves.  Herodotus mentions that there was a people called the Neuri who transformed into wolves each year for a few days and then changed back again [4}.  Petronius tells a different tale in his work the Satyricon;

We came to a graveyard, and this pal of mine went off to the tombstones to take a pis while I say a spell or two to keep off evil and count how many stones there are.  But when I turned back to him, he’d taken off all his clothes and put’em in a pile beside the road .  .  . He pissed around his clothes, and then all of the sudden he turned into a wolf .  .  . once he was a wolf he started howling and ran off to the woods [5].

Tales of the undead predate those of werewolves and vampires.  In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the goddess Ishtar, lamenting her recent rebuff by Gilgamesh to her father states, “I’ll raise up the dead to devour the living, the dead shall outnumber the living” [6].  The credit for the creation of zombies goes to Ishtar not George Romero.  All of these myths do not prove the existence of these creatures, however, they do show that there were people who did and still do believe that vampires, zombies and werewolves are real.

By the way, remember that there are always more frightening creatures out there lurking in the night besides vampires, zombies and werewolves.  Oh wait, that’s just a Kardashian.

kardah

 

1.  Simon Price and Emily Kearns, Classical Myth and Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003) 312.

2.  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/pictures/120724-vampire-skeleton-toothless-bulgaria-science/?rptregcta=reg_free_np&rptregcampaign=20131016_rw_membership_r1p_us_se_w#/new-vampire-skeletons-found-bulgaria-box_57053_600x450.jpg3.

3.  http://archive.archaeology.org/online/features/halloween/plague.html4.  

4.  Herodotus.  Histories trans. A.D. Godley. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1920) 4, 105.2.

5.Petronius, Satyricon trans. Sarah Rudin (Indianapolis: Hacket Publishing Company, 2000) 46.

6.  Benjamin R. Foster, The Epic of Gilgamesh (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001) 49.

Seeing is Believing . . . Isn’t It?

For the most part, as a historian who focuses on the Roman world I do not have the luxury of viewing ancient structures as they appeared 1500 to 2000 years-ago.  Of course there are ruins of civic and religious structures that can still be seen all over Rome, but up until recently, accurate representations of their former grandeur could only be imagined by tourists or scholars walking about the eternal city.  Luckily that is about to change because AG (augmented reality) technology has given us the ability to experience the past while still living in the present.  Current technologies that most of us already own like our mobile phones can be used to download programs that give us a glimpse as to how AG works.

http://vimeo.com/66671176

The use of a mobile phone or tablet to view images or objects is great, but this type of AG is rudimentary when compared with that being developed using Google Glass.  Contact lenses are also in development that will have the same functionality as wearable computer glasses.

What does this mean for historians?  Well, besides being really cool technology, it allows historians to view natural or manufactured spaces as they appeared at differing points in time.  This is important because historians can then experience history in a way not previously possible allowing them formulate new ideas and make connections.  Literary accounts and archaeological evidence has allowed for the recreation of buildings or events on paper, but these recreations typically lack the immersive qualities that AG brings about.  Historians will have the opportunity to see things through the eyes of ancient Romans or Civil War soldiers.  Perception creates the new reality and seeing is believing.  There are a couple of obstacles  like the challenge of fixing computer generated objects to the real world or creating an environment that is visually plausible to viewers, but these issues aren’t anything that can’t be overcome.  AG will be a fantastic tool for historians.

For a glimpse of AG being utilized in cultural heritage see,

Portalés, Cristina, José L. Lerma, and Carmen Pérez. 2009. “Photogrammetry and augmented reality for cultural heritage applications”. The Photogrammetric Record. 24 (128): 316-331.

My Best Most Super Fantastic Professional WebSite

Ha!  Why would I need a personal professional website.  Well it turns out that a professional website can help a virtual nobody in the business world become a somebody by allowing them to showcase their skills, talents, etc., to potential employers.  According to Careerealism.com, the five top reasons for creating a professional website are;

1.  Professional websites improve your chances of being found.

2.  Most first impressions happen online.

3.  They give your content more exposure.

4.  They send a strong professional impression.

5.  Your personality can be displayed.

 

My own website would be rather simple in design.  It would have a light-colored background with a dark font.  I would include a photoshopped picture of me receiving the nobel prize, the key to the city, or the gold medal in figure skating (just kidding).  I don’t think a flashy site is what gets a persons attention.  Instead, it is the content that speaks to those that view it.  Therefore it would highlight things like my personality, bio, previous and current research, publications, and accomplishments.  My basic contact information and a photo of myself would be included as well.  It might have links to my other business relate profiles on networking websites such as LinkedIn.  I haven’t any need for fancy functions.  Therefore traffic monitoring would be one of the only other functions it would have.  At the moment I do not have a professional website.  So, I guess I better stop speaking in hypotheticals and get started building one.

Digital Recreation of Historical Spaces for Educational Puroposes

As pointed out by Daniel Soucier, digital metaverses like the immersive 3D game Second Life provide educators with software that can allow them to recreate historical spaces lost to time.  Games/programs like this could be extremely valuable tools in the classroom.  Historical natural landscapes and man-made structures can be created for students to view along with their texts.  As a result, history is not confined to the pages of text books and students are given the opportunity to learn using both analog and digital materials.  Yet, despite the myriad possibilities for learning generated by programs and games like Second Life, several issues must be taken into consideration.  If anyone can recreate a historical space in Second Life for all players to view and explore, how can we be sure that what is being displayed has been created through proper scholarly research?  This might not matter if a player just wants to create a space roughly based on a previously existing one, however, if someone has created Thoreau’s cabin and is advertising it as such, how can we be sure that it is an accurate model?  Should games give players the ability to create historical spaces while also providing them with some sort of method for citing sources?  Or, should programs be created for historians and related professions where scholars and students can create landscapes that are subject to a peer review process?  At the moment, these questions and many others need addressed, but one cannot deny the potential utility of technologies that allow for the creation of digital renderings of history.     

Transforming Historical Research Via Google Earth/Maps

As Google Earth and Maps gets upgraded from time-to-time, so does the historians ability to transform historical data into geospatial renderings.  Three dimensional capabilities not only allow for existing structures and natural landscapes to be depicted, but structures that no longer exist can be rebuilt using ancient literary, epigraphical, and iconographic descriptions.  With traditional maps three dimensional landscapes could not be depicted.  Google Maps and Earth are not bound by this limitation.  With enough time, three dimensional structures can be created of buildings both past and present allowing viewers to witness the changing skyline of a city over the past decade or even the past few centuries.  For historians, these applications can be utilize in a number of ways.  For example, a military historian who, in book format, would have only been able to explain troop movements verbally, and represent them in fragments, can now portray them in their entirety in one fluid progression.  Time can be stopped and terrain can be analyzed to illustrate specific obstacles.  Another example could be the display of military actions that have taken place in locations like Tripoli or the Hellespont over the past 2000 years.  In the future, you might be able to use 3D renditions of ancient cities to link you with primary documents associated with certain buildings or locations.  Since Google Earth already offers 3D models of ancient Rome, it would not be too difficult to create a database of Roman scholarship that could be accessed through clicking on desired landmarks.  If someone wished to find out what sources there are available on the ancient Roman senate house, then all they would have to do would be to click on the senate house model.    

Unfortunately, at the moment, these programs do have their limitations.  Although Goole Earth can be amazing from a visual perspective, and Google Maps can be useful for navigation, neither of them are able to provide much insight through the written word.  Literary analysis is sacrificed for graphic illustrations.  This isn’t necessarily reflective of any fault by these programs developers.  Instead, it is that these programs are still relatively young.  Hopefully in the near future, developers will realize that literary sources–both primary and secondary–would compliment the original visual nature of Google Earth/Maps.  

Digital History Site Reviews

Evaluate sites for how they represent transformative historical practice.

The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame- http://www.ballgame.org/main.asp?section=5

The “Sport of Life and Death” does a great job providing information about an ancient sport that little is know.  Although it can appear aesthetically juvenile, the looks do not take away from its purpose, which is to teach viewers about the ancient mesoamerican ballgame.  The site is configured in a logical fashion that separates the game into its various parts.  It encourages viewer participation via activites like playing the actual ballgame.  Becuase of the scarcity of mesoamerican sources about the game there aren’t any links to primary documents, however, the few iconographic representations of the game depicted on stone are displayed on the site.  The topic of the site is quite specific, but it successfully accomplishes its goal of teaching people about the mesoamerican ball game.

Perseus Digital Library- http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/

The purpose of the “Perseus Digital Library” is to “make the full record for humanity as intellectually accessible as possible to every human being, . . .”  Making the full record of humanity available for all may be a tall order, yet, the Perseus project has made a significant contribution to the digital humanities.  The site itself is not flashy by any means, but the utility of it is not its appearance.  There are seven different collections comprised of poetry, classical, Rich. Times, Arabic, Germanic, 19th c. American, and Renaissance texts.  There are both original and translated works and sometimes if the user runs a search for a particular topic, if there are images related to their search, they will appear next to the text.  Keywords can also be searched for within any given text.  The site itself is extremely helpful, especially for those interested in the classics since the bulk of the texts in the collection are Latin and Greek.

Best of History Websites- http://www.besthistorysites.net/index.php/early-modern-europe/reformation-discovery 

This particular site is not dedicated to one particular subject.  Instead, it is a resource for anyone looking for digital history sites.  The site was created by Tom Daccord, a history teacher who also specializes in educational technologies.  The site is easy to use, just pick a time period and a number of related historical sites are displayed.  Although the site itself is not revolutionary in the way it represents history, it serves as a great starting point for those seeking new digital humanities resources.      

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Turrets

Before I get started let me state that I am not trying to offend anyone.  I am using this opportunity to do a little bit of ranting myself while also reflecting upon the required readings.  Tim Hitchcock, in his article “Academic History Writings and its Disconnects” spends a bit of time describing how he wrote it.  He states that it was originally written in a ranting voice with a slightly adolescent tone.  He goes on to tell that the articles reviewers flagged it as a text “intended for personal, verbal presentation.”  Well done reviewers! I believe that many blogs, tweets, etc. should be reserved for personal and verbal conversations.  Although I do not have a problem with Hitchcock’s article, it did just reenforce my current stance that certain things should be saved for personal conversations.  Or, if a person really desires to blog or post something, what they intend to say needs to be of some value, and formatted in a responsible and logical way.  Because so many people across the globe continue to post things that have not business being on the Internet, I have coined the phrase “digital turrets.”  Digital turrets is the condition where random blogs, videos and related materials are posted without the authors ability to control what they are doing.  Here are a few examples; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYF9bImkOL4https://www.facebook.com/WSOTDhttp://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2012/12/50-dumbest-tweets-2012.html.  Not everyone posts such garbage.  However, if traditional scholarly works are dying out in favor of digital scholarship and being made accessible to the masses including people like those in the links above, does future scholarship have to take on a more conversational tone in order to become appealing?  Will the vernacular of non-academeics become the medium that scholars must use in order to make their works accessible?  Even Hitchcock finishes his article by stating, “. . . I have suddenly moved into blog mode – and it is simply more fun than academic writing.”  I hope that the “fun” of blogging doesn’t cause academic writing to completely regress into conversational prose.  

 

By the way, watching that lady eat the pepper cracks me up every time.  I guess nonsensical postings do have a purpose!