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!

Digital Fluency

What does it mean to be digitally fluent?  Off the top of my head, before looking up the definition, I would say that a person who is digitally fluent is able to utilize a variety of programs, applications, and digital devices to design and create digitally accessible projects.  These projects could be relatively trivial in scope such as Facebook profiles, or more profound projects like the digitization of the works of Sir Isaac Newton (http://www.newtonproject.sussex.ac.uk/prism.php?id=1).  Also, in order to be considered digitally fluent, a person must not only be able to create projects, but also be able to use various technologies to successfully foster meaningful interactions and conversation with others.  

After doing a little research as to what digital fluency is, it came to my attention that my initial assumption was only partially correct and that there are multiple levels of digital comprehension and understanding–digital fluency being the highest level of proficiency.  Below fluency there is non-literacy and literacy.  The meaning of non-literacy should be evident.  Digital literacy on the other hand lies somewhere between the other two.  Someone who is literate has a command of the tools, but their projects, when completed do no always match their creators original intention.  A digitally fluent individual is able to obtain their desired outcome.  The difference between literacy and fluency being that a fluent person not only possesses the knowledge to utilize digital tools, but they are comfortable using them and understand why the programs they are using “are likely to have the desired outcome” (http://www.socialens.com/blog/2011/02/05/the-difference-between-digital-literacy-and-digital-fluency/).  Boise State’s Mobile Learning Initiative has posted its own definition stating that digital fluency is, “An evolving aptitude that empowers the individual to effectively and ethically interpret information, discover meaning, design content, construct knowledge, and communicate ideas in a digitally connected world” (http://at.boisestate.edu/services/faculty-consultations/digital-fluency-training/).  Taking all of these descriptions into account, it can be said that a digitally fluent person is aware of the digital tools available, knows how to use them and when to use them, is able to analyze and input data, and can effectively communicate ideas and project knowledge using a digital medium.  

When it comes to my own experience, If the digital platforms are limited to the XBOX and iPhone then I would consider myself digitally fluent.  Unfortunately I cannot just restrict my technological exposure to the previously mentioned devices.  My experience is lacking when it comes to the vast number of other electronic devices and technologies available at the moment.  This deficiency of digital knowledge is not the result of a genuine disdain for technology.  On the contrary, I am fascinated by current technologies and the many ways they can be utilized.  Although I do not consider myself digitally fluent, I do have a strong desire to correct this deficiency.

Being digitally fluent gives employees and business owners across almost all industries numerous skills that will allow them to stay relevant and successful in todays rapidly evolving economy.  In the field of history, being fluent will allow students and historians to project historical information in myriad ways across multiple platforms.  In doing so, those connected to the field of history will have access to information and data at a moments notice.  Data that might have taken weeks or months to gather can be obtained in a fraction of the time.  Digitized data can be displayed in countless visual ways allowing historians to interpret data that was once only available as text.  As a result, history can be used in new exciting ways.  For example, businesses financial records could be cross checked with historical data on a local or global scale giving business owners the ability to discover how past historical events like elections, crime, and warfare have influenced their bottom line.  In addition, because history becomes digitally accessible via games, applications, etc., instructors now have the ability to reach out to students and the general public in ways not previously possible.  This exposure to new digital history will promote historical knowledge while hopefully becoming appealing to a new audience that might not ever have picked up or read a historical piece of scholarship in book form.