I’m sure many of you have encountered NITLE’s prediction markets, but a recent presentation at CNI by NITLE’s Director of Research Bryan Alexander reminded me I haven’t blogged it yet. As I told Bryan recently, the prediction markets are a great example of form (crowdsourcing educational technology intelligence) fitting function (NITLE’s mission to advise member schools on emergent practices) in the digital humanities.
Sadly, The Times of London recently reported a raid on the offices of Memorial, a human rights and educational organization that seeks to document the abuses of the Soviet Gulag prison camp system. Memorial was a key partner on CHNM’s Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives, and its generous research assistance and loan of documents, images, and other artifacts was essential to our successful completion of the project. It is very sad to see this brave and worthy organization suffering the same abuses in Putin’s Russia that it has worked so hard to expose in Stalin’s.
Jeremy Boggs at Clioweb continues his must-read series on design process for digital humanities with some notes (and code) for Front End Development.
Again on front ends and again via Clioweb, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has unveiled a new “dashboard” user interface, a numerical, widgetized overview of how IMA’s online collections, programs, and social networks are being used.
The National History Coalition reports the welcome launch of the Federal Agencies Digitization Guidelines Initiative, a collaborative effort by a dozen federal agencies “to define common guidelines, methods, and practices to digitize historical content in a sustainable manner.” Anyone thinking of applying for federal funding in the next few cycles would be wise to keep an eye on this initiative. The standards established by this group are sure to turn up shortly in NEH, IMLS, NHPRC and other grant program guidelines.
It would be great if we had artists, titles, and dates to go along with the music and images, but even without them the video provides an incredibly rich visualization of how both painting and perceptions of women have changed since the Renaissance. Professional digital historians could take a lesson from this slick amateur effort.
Yesterday software engineer Matthew Gray from Inside Google Book Search posted a mashup/geo-visualization demonstrating how place name frequency changed over the course of 19th century publishing history. Gray’s four maps—one each from the 1800s, 1830s, 1860s, and 1890s—clearly point to a growing publishing industry and broader shifts in center of gravity from Europe to North America and from East Coast to West Coast.
While Gray’s results are convincing and the whole project a good example of how digital tools are creating new avenues for amateur historical inquiry, we should also admit that it reinforces Dan Cohen’s recent point that “too many visualizations … merely use computational methods to reveal the obvious in fancy ways.” The question Dan wants us to ask is whether these visualizations teach us anything new. It’s a good question. Are we surprised that Denver is mentioned more frequently in print in 1890 than in 1830? Probably not. But another question we should ask is whether these visualizations can teach our students and publics anything new. I wonder if the obvious truths told by these maps, charts, and diagrams aren’t so obvious to people who don’t identify themselves as historians. I’m struck by the fact that both this example and the one Dan points to were both produced by and for non-professionals. I suspect the answer to Dan’s concern is that the best place for these things is not in research, but in teaching and public understanding.
The tech blogs are buzzing about Geni, a new genealogy application launched by former Paypal executive David Sacks (see Valleywag and TechCrunch for example). Billing itself as “a unique approach to solving the problem of genealogy,” Geni “lets you create a family tree through [its] fun simple interface”:
When you add a relative’s email address, he or she will be invited to join your tree. That relative can then add other relatives, and so on. Your tree will continue to grow as relatives invite other relatives … Each family member has a profile which can be viewed by clicking their name in the tree. This helps family members learn more about each other and stay in touch. Family members can also share information and work together to build profiles for common ancestors.
I suppose it was only a matter of time until the web 2.0 crowd realized that genealogists were playing the social networking game long before Rupert Murdoch ever heard of MySpace.
Late Update (3/6/07): Just two months after it first grabbed the headlines, TechCrunch is now reporting that Geni is worth $100 million and boasts more than 100,000 registered users.
This is huge, or potentially so. Yahoo! has launched what they are calling an “electronic anthropology project”—a digital time capsule of images, stories, video, audio, and artwork, all submitted by Yahoo! users. As of this posting, the project has collected more than 4000 objects from nearly 3000 people in just over a day. When the capsule closes on November 8th, the collection will be transfered for long term preservation with the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings project. Until then you can explore it through a very cool Flash interface. By any measure this a very welcome expansion of the practice of online collecting … even if Yahoo!’s claim that “this is the first time that digital data will be gathered and preserved for historical purposes” is patently and outrageously false.
If you ever have eight or ten hours to kill, check out CoverPop.com, a new mashup site and a goldmine of found history. According to the site’s operators,
Each coverpop is an interactive mosaic, made of tiny images, such as magazine covers. These are called “micro thumbnails”. As you drag the mouse over each micro thumbnail, it pops up to a full-sized thumbnail image, and provides some information about the item. For some coverpops, you can click again to produce either a full-sized image, or to go to another website to learn more information about the item.
Each time you arrive at the site or click on “more coverpops” at the top right corner of the screen, CoverPop will present you with a new, randomly selected mosaic. For example, when I first arrived I was shown CoverPop’s collection of “a few thousand science fiction magazines”.
If you haven’t done so already, visit Yahoo’s TagLines now. A rolling timeline of the eight most popular Flickr tags for each day since 2004, TagLines is the most exciting piece of historical work—amateur or otherwise—I’ve seen a while. It is a provocative preview of what will be possible when historians manage fully to wrap their heads around born-digital sources.