Understanding the Digital Divide

maxresdefaultGee in What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy says “three things are involved in active learning: experiencing the world in new ways, forming new affiliations, and preparation for future learning.”

To me digital history encompassed all of these aspects, and it seems up to all historians to actively seek out new historical experiences on the open web. As Causer and Wallace clarify, it is “vital to have a visible and interactive online presence,” or in the words of another academic, “be online or be irrelevant.”

In that regard, I have been opened to a variety of means to both explore historical resources and experience/conceptualize history in new ways. On the one hand, digital history means presenting traditional historical ideas, concepts, or collections in an interactive, online format or via an app. These new formats of disseminating information provide unparalleled access to a wider audience, making data or documents easier to locate, while processing and presenting vast amounts of digital data.

On the other hand, digital history includes making online space to organize and present particular research findings or museum artifacts.http://people.static.pnop.com/76/67/75/7675bdd9b54a9282da4a476a5a90e9d5_1000.jpg

Next, digital history provides for never before possibilities for new affiliations in regards to how academics and can interact with users, whether students in a classroom or patrons in a museum. The web allows one to explore practically any niche interest and express their opinion no matter how mundane, confrontational, or outright wrong.

People form connections based on these outlets and some even let their virtual identity leak into the material world. New ways of connecting – video game communities, dating sites and apps, or concepts such as reddit meetups (some of Michael Edson’s relevant Dark Matter of the web). It provides an outlet where users can feed into the question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” (WWIC) as it gives everyone a platform to voice their opinions and be “heard,” even if that means in a sense of being one lone voice in the crowd.

The concept of WWIC is present daily with companies and organizations mining for consumer feedback – sending out email surveys, holding focus groups, and offering free gifts or trials to test a product. This is all to improve or be able to provide the right aesthetic and usability features, whether it be of a new product or a website redesign. To be able to become successful in the marketplace, these companies must cater to the consumer and provide the ultimate customer service.

Digital historian muinternet-argumentst learn to harness these same principles if they are going provide effective historical learning to the future generations of digital natives. While I certainly agree that digital technology has drastically increased both the user base for archives, and the access to historical sources and data, it does not necessarily lead to a more knowledgeable user. I would again stress that the skills of a historian become doubly important when it comes to providing interpretive nuance, as well as, discovering, evaluating, and contextualizing digital sources.

As Kate Theimer clarified, the web has changed the ways archivists (and historians) work, “among the most significant of those ways is in the increased workload to create descriptions and digital copies to post online, find ways to collect and preserve digital materials, and of course, actively connect with the public via the ever widening world of digital tools and social media.”

Here historians must make better use of all the digital tools available, whether that’s through open source collections (see the impressive lists for history crowdsourcing projects here and here), apps, or just updated websites that cater to the patron’s experience whether they set foot within our walls or not. All of this comes down to what you refer to what a classmate referred to as “an environment of action and experience.” This is the key to interactivity and only when we can harness that will someone be both interested and invested in history.

The third, and perhaps most important aspect deals with prospects for future learning. Here, the tools we used throughout the course, to me were new, innovative, and educational.

I agree with several aspects of Roy Rosenzweig’s analysis. First, that those who write history for a living should join popular history makers in contributing a better type of history. In his case he refers to Wikipedia, but it seems historians have a similar obligation when it comes to doing history on the web. Enhancing the popular historical literacy through the web should be a primary focus, which could eventually allow teachers to spend “more time teaching about the limitations of all information sources…and emphasizing the skills of critical analysis of primary and secondary sources.”

In that regard, historians should probably be thankful that Wikipedia has done a good job at managing the masses of voices while pulling/gathering crowdsourced information, but not giving in to the complainers/trolls (allowing for the WWIC without just being a comment section).

Omeka was a different tool I was completely unfamiliar with, and the ease of creating and sharing online collections seems an effective way of sharing research. While it does not necessarily reduce the digital workload, it offers a usable and consistent way to organize and catalog items. I am particularly interested in how the platform could provide new avenues for users to experience and interact with primary documents. The casual can go beyond a passive reading of history text, and connect and explore the sources themselves, in effect “doing history.” As Sheila Brennan stresses, this provides limitless possibilities for making historical material more “disc60710692overable, open, or extractable.”

While somewhat less relevant to me directly, the Historypin website essentially ties into Tebeau’s discussion about apps and their ability to transform “the landscape into a living museum,” allowing users to follow right along literally in one’s historical path on a virtual walking tour. Or as Guldi describes, it allows the user to go “beyond the academy, to turn implies retrospection, a process of stopping in the road and glancing backwards at the way by which one has come.”

Innovative apps and interactive technologies allow the museum curator and historian to tell a narrative in a new way, while also providing an exploration of before and after that museums, organizations, and public historians must implement to make a compelling case for their collections.

If we have been living in the Information Age since 1962, it is only now, with the research and interpretive capabilities of the internet that historians can contribute to an Age of Understanding.

“What is better, to be born good or to overcome your evil nature through great effort”


Scene from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim one of my favorite open-world fantasy role playing video games.

I have always played video games to some extent. I would not exactly call myself a “hard core” gamer, but have never doubted that the connections or associations I developed playing video games provided a foundational experience that was are crucial to learning, thinking, and problem solving. Thus, I completely agree with Gee’s argument from What Video Games have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy that “when young people are interacting with video games-and other popular cultural practices-they are learning, and learning in deep ways.” In other words, what people “are doing when they are playing good video games is often good learning.”

Gamers use both their imagination and moral judgement to make choices and see what outcomes may occur. The feel of accomplishment a gamer experiences when they get the gold coin or to the next level enforces correct behaviors and development for growth of both the character and the player. “Good games offer players a set of challenging problems and then let them practice these until they have routinized their mastery. This cycle of consolidation and challenge is the basis of the development of expertise in any domain.”

I feel that people who do not play video games do not get a chance to experience this new platform of learning and perhaps do get the same type of practice at certain skills, whether basic hand-eye coordination, critical thinking and problem solving, or basic patience and perseverance. All these principles can be taught through video games and applied to the world in which we live.

Here Gee’s Probing Principle struck a particular cord with me. That is Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis.

In a different way, I likely would not be as interested in computers if were not for my early interest in PC gaming. For example, learning how to load, install, and manipulate MS-DOS games of the early 1990s gave me a solid foundation for the basic computer language, and certainly gave me early skills at trouble-shooting computers that continues through to my current job. Or as Gee says, “The child, through action and reflection, becomes a “self-teacher,” “training” his or her own mental networks of associations (the patterns the mind stores).”

Video Games are Work

“Because people will not put in effort if they are not even willing to try in a domain; success without effort is not rewarding; and effort with little success is equally unrewarding.” — The learner needs to be sucked in to the non-reality of the situation, even more so than one might in a movie or book. People spend hours working to become better gamers or practicing (or probing in Gee’s terms) to beat a game.

Take the example of Eve Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), “where thousands of people from all around the globe are waging a huge conflict that will have real repercussions on the politics, economy and social structures of a virtual universe,” says Ned Corker for the games developers, CCP games.

The space role-playing game has a fully functioning in-game economy, with leads to a uniquely organic virtual universe unlike any other game on the market. Several years ago a team of players spent an entire year infiltrating and in-game corporation and ended looting the equivalent of $16,500 of game items. Even more recently, a gigantic space battle broke out, largely due to the lapse of an unpaid in-game bill, and resulted players losing an estimated $300,000 (yes, that’s real world money).

Here players have fully embraced Gee’s Identity Principle. Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones.

“The worst thing a kid can say about homework is that it is too hard. The worst thing a kid can say about a game is it’s too easy.” –Henry Jenkins

In a different fashion, Players are projecting an identity onto their virtual character based both on their own values and on what the game has taught them about what such a character should or might be and become.”

Yet, any sane person can tell the difference between video game violence and real-world violence. As Gee states, “None of the current research even remotely suggests video games lead to real-life violence in any predicable way.” Moreover, the large prevalence of violence in video games today, has in no perceptible way directly led to an increase in violence overall. In some ways, this is why I think it dubious to label a game like Civilization offensive. Perhaps on an academic level we can criticize the ahistorical nature of the game, but as Mir and Owens suggest, “if there is something regrettable about the game in its current state, it is that it is not offensive enough.”

In fact, perhaps this is the most fundamental aspect a child can learn from video games, to be able to disassociate yourself from the character in the game and the real world outside. Though is you are in for some real meta-gaming like experience of life take a look at the game commentary “Is reality real?”, the Life as an NPC subreddit, or Outside, a free-to-play MMORPG developed by Deity Games and the most popular game, with 7 billion+ active players.

All the old places look different now.

In exploring the Historypin site, I chose to feature a few pictures of U St. in Washington, DC around 1991 from the local blog popville. At that time, the U St. corridor was still several years from revival, and the construction visible in the pictures was from the building of the U St.-Cardozo metro stop and open in December 1991. As the blog’s author states,”The street was so desolate, even the drug dealers and the homeless didn’t hang there, and you almost felt safer there than in the populated parts of the neighborhood.”

The website itself was straightforward, and the integration with Google maps made it a breeze to use. This is not surprising considering Google was a technical and financial facilitator for the project. It was the ability to go back and forth between the past picture and current location that is probably the most innovative feature.

The website essentially ties into Tebeau’s discussion about apps and their ability to transform “the landscape into a living museum,” allowing users to follow right along literally in one’ s historical path on a virtual walk]ing tour. Or as Guldi describes, it allows the user to go “beyond the academy, to turn implies retrospection, a process of stopping in the road and glancing backwards at the way by which one has come.”

Innovative apps and interactive technologies allow the museum curator and historian to tell a narrative in a new way, while also providing an exploration of before and after that museums, organizations, and public historians must implement to make a compelling case for their collections.

In another way, the site provides an answer to “the impulse to position these new tools against old questions.” It allows for a new context for framing spatial questions about boundaries, surveillance, private property, and the perception of landscape.

The only real problem I ran into was that I could not find locations for one of the pictures I pinned. The locations had changed so much just in the last 24 years that the places were not recognizable from Google street view. It was somewhat like detective work, finding the images and matching them to the new locations and buildings, especially when some images were not labeled. John Russick said “Everything came from someplace,” but when that place and time no longer exist, they can no longer be experienced in context.

The APPlication of Artifacts in the Digital Age

“Everything came from someplace,” John Russick muses on his son’s observation as the curator struggles to find a role for himself and his collection. From this simple statement, you could also say that ‘Everything has a history or a story to tell,’ from a small scrap of document to an ancient artifact or ruins. It is the task placed upon the curator or historian to tell the public why they should care, why it is relevant or important. To do this, the curator must provide a compelling story to make the public interested.

Russick continues, “What is the role of the artifact when learning increasingly occurs in a digital form? More fundamentally, is it our job to make our collections compelling? Or are our collections just tools for us to use to help people learn, share, and understand the subject to which our museums are dedicated? If we can’t make objects compelling, perhaps we don’t need to use them. But if we don’t or can’t use them, perhaps they have no role in the twenty-first-century museum?”

Curators perhaps need to think more like content marketers

Besides the historical and inherent value of artifacts, they correspond closely with the function of apps that Sam Colling and Matthew Durington describe. In their understanding, “apps offer a coherent, purposeful ideological structuring of space, narrative and practice. They facilitate embodied ideologies, and they mark the exact point of interpellation where structure and symbol meet practice and bodily nexis. Apps show how institutions and other powerful agents are trying to structure the meaning of cities by combining mobile media and social media through organizing embodied narrative experiences.”

This is where one’s interest in a niche subject comes into play – I would think that the curator would be so interested in the subject matter that they would want to make a compelling case and therefore the collection would show its “narrative experience” and importance of these artifacts.

“We may not be technophiles, but we aren’t necessarily technophobes either.” As Brennan discusses, this usually leads to mobile projects that concentrate on in-gallery experiences, leading to “projects that resemble audio tours with additional multimedia, with some notable exceptions.”

While seeing these artifacts or documents in a digital form can provide context/its history and provide a new way of learning, it cannot completely take the place or experience of seeing them in person, standing in a museum or among ancient ruins. I would suggest that the digital form provides a new, but complementary way to disseminate the information or the story. These niche apps, mobile websites, and digital interactive experiences enhance that story to try and make the patron or reader feel as though they are a part of that history/provide a connection/make them want to know more.

Museums must engage visitors in a meaningful way.

Through mobile applications and browsing, “tourists, new visitors, and dedicated patrons with new ways to experience museum content by capitalizing on place, artist, theme, and time as organizing principles for content delivery.”

Such projects applied to museums not only allows their collections and exhibits to move beyond the confines of physical space, but also provides new avenues for users to experience and interact with the museum. Fulfilling the all important aspect of connecting with people beyond passive observation in the museum, and as Sheila Brennan stressed in an earlier article, provides limitless possibilities for makes museums more “discoverable, open, or extractable.”

Just as Guldi decribes the spatial turn as representing “the impulse to position these new tools against old questions, Tabeau continues, “the openness of the digital revolution has made knowledge production more democratic, challenging traditional power relations between scholars and their audiences.” Perhaps it is a through the new democratic relations that the power of the Internet can allow everyone to provide their mark on the Why wasn’t I consulted?? (WWIC) concept—thereby providing a fuller “social” history. “Just as the mobile revolution has fractured further the power relationships that have long guarded information, today’s new historians can be inspired by the promise of social history and the radical ways that oral history can restructure power relations, moving toward curating an exhibit or collection in collaboration with the community, rather than curating it for the city’s many constituencies.”

“A victory of process over substance…”

I had actually anonymously edited 2-3 Wikipedia pages in the past, but the thing is I just cannot remember the exact pages I edited. One had something to do with the historiography of World War I, and I know another dealt with some past figure in the government of Afghanistan. The funny thing is that that in itself is kind of the simplistic beauty of the site itself.

My process usually goes like this: I am reading a book, and I run across a particular person or event that I either do not recognize or want to know more about. After looking it up on Wikipedia, the book might provide some other bit of information the site it lacking, so I quickly add a sentence or two regarding that particular item.

Even in those rare past instances of editing, the ease of manipulating articles always struck me as unique. In other words, it’s probably more amazing that people do not abuse editing process more than they do, and the number of volunteer editors that remove instances of deliberate sabotage is admirable. In that sense, I was rather surprised when Rosenzweig remarked on the relative accuracy on factual, if not interpretive information. At the same time, it felt good to think that I was maybe adding a small piece of new information to the open web for public consumption, but I never thought twice about desiring acknowledgement.

I had never even bothered to start a wiki account until this assignment. In typical crowdsourcing fashion, I edited some pages on topics I was both knowledgeable and interested in. I provided some factual details to a few names of Germans I was recently reading about: Otto Bräutigam, Eberhard Taubert, and Franz Rademacher.

As Rosensweig mentions, “a historical work without owners and with multiple, anonymous authors is thus almost unimaginable” in the historical professional culture. So it is hard to see the task as anything more than a hobby, however, perhaps I had taken for granted the ease with which I might be able to add facts to the historical narrative, even in the Wikipedia sense. It is even great that the freedom to edit pages “includes not just the ability of anyone to read it (a freedom denied by the scholarly journals in, say, jstor, which requires an expensive institutional subscription) but also—more remarkably—their freedom to use it.”

For an amazing look at Wikipedia during its first six weeks, or first 10,000 contributions.

Ultimately, having seen how far the site has advanced into common usage, I agree with Rosenzweig that “this extraordinary freedom and cooperation make Wikipedia the most important application of the principles of the free and open-source software movement to the world of cultural production.”

“The project is far from perfect — it’s incomplete, inaccurate in places, subject to the systemic biases that come from participation of some authors and not others. But it’s also one of the wonders of the world, and something anyone who studies sociology, politics, or organizational theory should look upon with utter fascination.” –Ethan Zuckerman

Yakety Yak to Clickity Clack

Whenever I hear a person speak about their dislike of history, the criticism often lies in that it was boring, or just a bunch of facts and dates. This kind of statement makes it somewhat apparent that often times how we are “doing” or presenting history is not that relevant to much of the general public. In these cases, is it that the historian/curator is generalizing or “dumbing down” information into what he thinks his audience needs to know– the very basics, the facts and figures—or not considering what the consumer/patron would like to know?

As Roy Rosenzweig clarifies in his articles, “Wikipedia‘s view of history is not only more anecdotal and colorful than professional history, it is also—again like much popular history—more factualist. From the perspective of professional historians, the problem of Wikipedian history is not that it disregards the facts but that it elevates them above everything else and spends too much time and energy (in the manner of many collectors) on organizing those facts into categories and lists.” Also unlike professional academic history, it is hard “to discern any overall interpretive stance in Wikipedia.”


Today’s traditional historian?

This disconnect between “boring” history and “anecdotal” history on the web lies at the center of the many issues facing the contemporary historian. How can professional academics reconcile the “deeply individualistic craft” and “possessive individualism” of history with the open and collaborative nature of the web?

“Wikipedia has created a working community, but has it created a good historical resource? Are Wikipedians good historians?”

I agree with several aspects of Rosenzweig’s analysis. First, that those who write history for a living should join popular history makers in contributing a better type of history to Wikipedia. Moreover, “historians probably have a professional obligation to make it as good as possible. And if every member of the Organization of American Historians devoted just one day to improving the entries in her or his areas of expertise, it would not only significantly raise the quality of Wikipedia, it would also enhance popular historical literacy.” This could allow teachers to spend “more time teaching about the limitations of all information sources…and emphasizing the skills of critical analysis of primary and secondary sources.”

The great thing is that this is happening now! A quick Google search for crowdsourced history reveals a variety of projects. The best lists crowdsourcing projects I found appear here and here.

I think the real problem is what Edson talks about when he says everyone on the Internet “would automatically be granted the right to both consume and produce—to read, and write—on equal footing with everyone else.” Herein lies the ultimate Catch 22 of the Internet. It has supplied an unrivaled platform for people to express often anonymous opinions, pursue any interest, and become lost amongst the crowd.

Yet, while the Internet is full of moderators, it has no filter, or rather only those we apply. It is up to us as individuals to learn—much as historians—to moderate the types of information we receive and know the difference between real, usable information and the abundance of repeated garbage that often comes through the form of either ill-informed opinions (YouTube comments or Amazon reviews, anyone?) or worse, outright Internet trolls.



I think of the young child repeatedly asking the question “why?” in a juvenile effort to test a parent’s patience and discover unending questions of life.

Now the “why” is at our fingertips

Historians should probably be thankful that Wikipedia has done as good job as it has at managing the masses of voices while gathering crowdsourced information. Even though these Wikipedians have not been asked to provide this information, they are fulfilling what Ford describes as “a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able to tap into that as effectively.” —Why wasn’t I consulted?? (WWIC)

This aspect perhaps allows Wikipedia to maintain its encyclopedic integrity without becoming just a comment section for history or giving n to the complainers and trolls.

“The web was surprisingly good at emulating a TV, a newspaper, a book, or a radio. But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It’s its own thing. The days of the web as all-purpose media emulator are numbered. Apps provide niche experiences. People apparently like niche experiences enough to pay for them.”


Satisfied user

If anything, as Rosenzweig suggests, historians need to “emulate the great democratic triumph of Wikipedia—its demonstration that people are eager for free and accessible information resources,” and “have a responsibility to make better information sources available online.”

Doing history with Omeka

In creating my Omeka exhibit this week I really gained a better feel for both navigating the online platform, and understanding its usefulness as a historical tool. Upon further use, I think perhaps the most ambiguous aspect about the platform was the number of organizational categories and the differences they place between adding items, creating collections, and exhibits. Otherwise, creating an exhibit was practically easier than adding and collating items.

My exhibit explores a series of particular documents to get a sense of how a specific historical narrative developed. Taken as a whole the mix of newspaper articles, government documents, and letters highlight the importance of historical interpretation, and show how certain primary sources gain historical meaning in the context of other documents.

I am particularly interested in how the Omeka platform provides new avenues for users to experience and interact with primary documents. This allows the casual user to go beyond a passive reading of a history text, and to connect with and explore the sources themselves, in effect “doing history.” As Sheila Brennan stresses, this provides limitless possibilities for making historical material more “discoverable, open, or extractable.”

On the one hand, in dealing with the actual interpretation of documents, the simplicity of access allows even the most amateur researcher to follow a string of logic and decode meaning from the material. In that sense, I think my small exhibition provides a cursory example of what it means to “do history,” at least in a more traditional academic sense. The Omeka platform has basically allowed for a way to turn an academic paper into an interactive digital format. One could follow right along with a text, and simultaneously delve directly into the sources if they were added as items in a collection.

What sets this apart is the way in which it allows the user to get a sense of the interpretative narrative while simultaneously being able to read and relate with the source material. It essentially provides an interactive platform where a user can examine, evaluate, and formulate their own opinion of the documents as they fit into the greater story/narrative.

Despite not belonging to the same aggregation of records in the sense of Jefferson Bailey’s discussion of the “archival bond,” my exhibit provides an example of how evidential relationship is of fundamental importance for the historian. It is important to utilize a document in a way that furthers the historical narrative without perpetuating falsehoods.