Category: Crafting Digital History

Digital Archive Project: Declassified BW Report June 1945

As I have previously mentioned, I am currently researching, analyzing, and annotating documents for ALPHA Education’s Digital Archive Project as a volunteer. For this project, I was asked to discuss the content and broader historical context of each document.  Annotations are also expected to connect documents to APLHA Education’s mission, which is to foster awareness of Asia’s World War II history to further the values of justice, reconciliation, and peace. The following is a copy of my annotation for a declassified Biological Warfare (BW) Report written 28 June 1945 that investigates the Japanese use of BW in Changteh, Hunan Province, China. The attack, which took place on 4 November 1941, occured when a low flying Japanese bomber plane dropped plague infected grains of rice and particles under the veil of heavy fog.  This document was declassified by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) on 14 August 2009.

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More Than Just A Meme: How To Make Animated GIFs

I came across a tweet by The Archivist that displays a time lapse GIF made from layered historical photographs of Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver. I found it very  interesting to watch as GIFs are typically used as memes to provide humour. However, as “flip books of the Internet,” GIFs can, and have, functioned beyond memes to illustrate tutorial directions, animate data to provide context, market products and ideas to consumers, or layer images to show movement or change. This GIF in particular constructs and deconstructs layers of cityscape images to engage viewers and encourage interest in the historical development of Vancouver.

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“Internet History Is Fragile”: Archiving and Preserving The Web

“Once it’s on the internet, it’s there forever.” That is the popular sentiment. But what happens when web data has been altered or deleted, how do we access the original data? Recently, there was public outcry in response to the removal of several pages from the official White House website by the Trump administration. Pages on LGBTQ, civil rights, and climate changes were removed within moments of President Trump’s inauguration. This erasure was particularly alarming for many people because it indicated the new administration’s sentiment towards minorities and the environment. Many people also believed these pages were perminately deleted and its data could never be accessed again. However, these web pages were in fact migrated to an archived version of Obama’s administration website.  Even though the web data was migrated, its swift removal from the White House website reminded me that valuable information can easily be removed from public access. As users have the ability to alter and delete web data, data itself is rather fragile and transient.

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Annotating History: ALPHA Education’s Digital Archive Project

I recently started an important volunteer opportunity with an educational non-governmental organization (NGO) called ALPHA Education. ALPHA Education works to promote awareness of the events of World War II in Asia to foster reconciliation, dialogue, and cross-cultural understanding. In part, this is achieved through providing educational resources and lesson guides that can be used by teachers and students. To add to these resources, ALPHA Education recently launched their Digital Archive Project to transcribe and digitize a large collection of primary sources related to World War II atrocities in Asia. These sources take the form of documentary images, videos, official correspondences, interrogations, and personal testimonies. As a volunteer for this project, I have been tasked with researching, contextualizing, and annotating primary sources in the collection. This will serve as a general summary for the digital collection, which will provide an educational resource for individuals investigating the experiences of civilians, soldiers, and prisoners of war in World War II in Asia.

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Rethinking Social Media Use As Personal Archiving

I came across an article that made me rethink social media as merely a platform for sharing and searching information. Published by Cornell University, The Many Faces of Facebook: Experiencing Social Media as Performance, Exhibition, and Personal Archive argues that people experience Facebook through performing and reflecting on their life experiences and identity. It was found that users curating their personal collection of data on Facebook correspond to three different “regions” or goals: “performance region for managing recent data and impression management, an exhibition region for longer term presentation of self-image, and a personal region for archiving meaningful facets of life.”

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Describing The Archive: Multicultural History Society Of Ontario

I am currently volunteering for the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) as an archival assistant. The MHSO archives is currently going through their collection to create in depth archival descriptions to provide researchers with a broader selection of keywords when searching for areas of interest. As a volunteer, I was asked to asist in the development of archival descriptions by summarizing collections of ethnic publications in microfilm, which will then be used as the basis of for their final discriptions. I was instructed to arrange each summary into subject matters ranging from political events and notable people, to cultural events and religions. As of now, I have summarized the African Speaks and Black Liberation News publications which were dated between the 1960s-1970s. As these publications were directed towards the African Canadian community, I was interested in going through them to see how important events and individuals were being discussed within the Black community at that time.

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Crowdsourcing History: Smithsonian Transcription Center

Increasingly, historical documents and resources have been digitalized, making massive amounts of data available online. In turn, this historical data has become an important source for public historians and researchers looking to uncover historical narratives and voices. Crowdsourcing labour is an important means for public historians and institutions to effectively produce access to historical data online. Crowdsourcing, which can be defined as  an “online, distributed problem-solving and production model,” is a way for institutions and public historians to harness the collective knowledge of online communities to serve specific project goals. Amongst many successful crowdsourcing projects, Wikipedia demonstrates what collaborative knowledge can accomplish. As Jason A. Heppler and Gabriel K. Wolfenstein explained, Wikipedia is a platform where “the project leaders are providing the space, but it is the community which defines both scope and content.”

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Transcribing The Collection: The Bytown Museum

This summer, I was fortunate enough to volunteer for the Bytown Museum in their collections department. There, I was tasked with numbering and transcribing a collection of 600 post cards which were sent as correspondence between the Lockmasters of the Rideau Canal locks, and the Superintending Engineer of the Rideau Canal Office in Ottawa. These post cards, which were dated from 1879 to 1963, provided valuable insight into the day-to-day operation and maintenance of the Rideau Canal locks. As the city of Ottawa relied on these locks for settlement and economic development during this time, the Lockmasters focused their correspondence on highlighting their lock station’s suitability for navigation.

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R. Luke DuBois: Visualizing Data As Art

For Digital Historians, data visualization is an important means for understanding and interpreting data. When analyzing large datasets, visualization tools can be used to reveal patterns, see connections, and find holes within research. Visualization also offers an effective way to present complex data in a clear and visually appealing manner. For artist R. Luke DuBois, data visualization goes even further, as it can be presented as art. DuBois is a multidisciplinary artist with experience as a composer and a programmer. As a programmer, DuBois co-authored Jitter, which is a software suite which allows real-time manipulation of video and 3D imagery. As an artist, DuBouis focuses on using digital technology to visualize and expose the narratives within data. As technology can be used to express both our voices and our cultures, DuBouis visualizes data to capture how we communicate and understand our selves, and each other, in the 21st century. I recently came across his TED talk “Insightful Human Portraits made from Data,” and I found his data visualizations very interesting and thought provoking.

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Open Access Please: The Importance of “Open” Notes & Research Data

Why Is “Openness” Useful?

Historians are not accustomed to sharing research notes and data with the public. Traditionally, research publications are shared for the education of the public, while the research process is left outside of the public’s view. More recently however, historians have began to create “openness” in research through producing open notebooks, and providing open access to research data. Creating an open notebook is the process of releasing free research notes to the public online.  With the rise of digital technology, blogging platforms and code hosting sites, such as  GitHub, allow historians to easily share their research notes with other researchers and document the progress of their projects. This allows other researchers to learn from the methods, failures, and results which moved a research project forward. Likewise, providing the public with open access to one’s research data grants other researchers access to information which otherwise would have been more difficult, or time consuming, to access.

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