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Preliminary Project Up!

My final project’s first “draft” is now up in case anyone wants to take a look at I look forward to the comments either tonight or on the blog!

For my site, I worked with Dr. Petrick to map all the bakeries in New York City from 1900-1955. Dr. Petrick provided me with all the bakeries mapped in Manhattan in 1906, 1915, 1920, 1930, 1939, 1945, 1950, and 1955. There is also data available for 1925, but it looks like the student that had done the work for her had not updated the data properly and there are major issues with accuracy, so I decided to leave it out until all the questions we had were resolved. The grunt work done by her students while at NYU was a huge help, but I still had to spend countless hours(with basketball and Madmen on in the background) fixing all the KML files and correcting errors that were messing up the maps.

The focus of the site is on the maps of all the bakeries, and the point is to allow users to be able to use the maps for their own historical work. I am going to loosely frame the maps for the users, but the goal is to encourage the public to engage with the site and perform their own historical analysis using the maps. In addition, we are hoping that users will have stories or information to add to the site. Each bakery site is clickable, and if anyone provides stories, pictures, or oral histories involving the bakeries, then I will incorporate them into the map and highlight that these placemarks have additional information.

One of the coolest aspects of the site was using the NYC public library’s maps from early 20th century, and mapping on top of the contemporary google map of NYC. If you zoom in under central park, you will see “pink”maps pop up. These are the old maps mapped over top of the new maps. They help to give some perspective to how the urban environment has changed. While I won’t be able to map the all of NYC with these old maps by the project’s end, I am going to be working on this site after the class and will hopefully get all of Manhattan mapped. That said, I think I might need to put one map with the pink early 20th century maps and one map with the contemporary map of Manhattan. I wonder what the class thinks of this? Too much or too confusing?

By project’s end, I will have one map in which all available years’ bakeries will be mapped together. There will be a timeline at the top, and when the user scrolls the timer, the map will change to that year’s bakeries. It will be a nice little feature to show us change over time. I am thinking of maybe including some other stats about NYC simultaneously such as the population or other information, but I’m not sure yet.

By tonight I hope to have the Scholarly Works and Other Resources pages complete. The About, Submit Your Story, Main Page, and all but the first Historical Map page are done. The first page under Historical Map is going to be a short little tutorial on the map and some context to frame the project. In addition, the main page is still ongoing and will be changed around. I will be taking out some of the content and condensing the page somewhat, so that is a work in progress.

That said, I know I need to make some font changes still as Geoff pointed out last week. Other than that, if people have suggestions I’d be really happy to hear. I think one thing that troubles me is for each year mapped I start everyone out with all the bakeries mapped, but no names popping out. I have a separate link to a page with the bakery names mapped. The names made the map unreadable from afar, and I am not sure that when I embed the Google Earth map into my webpage I can add the option to turn off place names or not. If so, I wasted a whole bunch of time creating 2x pages for each year. Live and learn!

I commented on Richard’s blog this week.

A Little of this a Little of That

I put in a great amount of time this weekend in starting to get my final project together for next week’s preliminary evaluation. That said, Thursday and Friday I decided to get some practice in and I updated all my assignments at I need to update the design assignment a little more before I put it up, and there are still some formatting issues with my new profile and image assignments, but they should be fixed in the next couple of hours. Any feedback would be great!

One of the biggest issues I’ve been having is getting the formatting of my pages to work across different screen resolutions. We have talked a lot about browsers, and I have worked pretty well in making sure across browsers the page looks the same. So whenever I embed a font, I make sure that I put the IE(eot) version of the font up as well. We talked a lot about padding, and we often used padding to help align things, but that seems to be detrimental when going with different screen resolutions. I was wondering if anyone knew how I could fix this or any ideas that might simplify it? One big problem at first was the Navigation bar was misaligned, but I was able to fix it across resolutions by putting it within the wrapper. However, now the columns are misaligned as well. I am going to work on this a little more and see what happens. My issue was I spent the whole weekend working on my home computer which is at screen resolution 1600 by 1200, so when I looked at the page on my laptop which is at a more conventional resolution, the alignment was way off. Lesson learned: use padding more sparingly.

Going to post a little later on my progress and a couple of other things!


Evaluating Stephanie’s Design Assignment

This was a really useful exercise for myself because it helped me detach from my own work and really evaluate Stephanie’s assignment. That said, now that it is over, I am looking at my design in a new light. I definitely realize now that I need to work on finding a more suitable font. I found some that I had a problem installing, but the more I play with it, the more I realize changing fonts makes a HUGE difference to the feel of one’s sight.  If anyone out there has looked at my design experiment and has any suggestions for a font that would fit the period of 1900-1955, I would love any suggestions. I know that my current font is not sans-serif, which it should be, but it was readable and fit the time period best in my opinion. Anways, here are my comments on Stephanie‘s work:

Right now, Stephanie’s site is down, but I took a look at it last night. I am putting my comments in now based on what I remember, but will update later when it is back online.

1. The fonts were well chosen and did a pretty good job of expressing the time period. I liked the header font a lot, but I also thought it was an opportunity to bring a little more “style” and “creativity” to the site. I’m a fan of headers that grab your attention, so this may just be my bias.

2. The “CARP” principles were pretty well followed. I would say that the main text’s letters were a little close together, so that might be remedied a little. As for contrast, I am not sold necessarily on the color scheme. I think there might be a good opportunity to use a brighter color on the header or background to accentuate the site more.

3.  This is somewhat inconsistent of me, but I really like how the header font works so well with the body’s font. So maybe I take back changing the font of your header and instead adding a brighter picture?

4. I think the color of the background was green, and I am not sure that color fits in so well with the sarcophagi theme. Being an art historian, perhaps you might have some art with the text to work with it in conveying the theme of the site? I think that was one of the biggest things that detracted me from getting the theme. Maybe a textured background or something?

Basically, I think the issue is with the colors/texture of the background but the fonts were well chosen and definitely thought out. The alignment was perfect when I looked at it as well, which is great that you achieved that.

I will be updating this post with more comments, as these were only based on my notes and memory!

Digital Failure

While reading over the article and looking at some of the more successful digital history sites out there, I began to wonder why digital history was not having more of an impact on the field or profession. Are we, as the title of my blog insinuates, Luddites that are inherently conservative and slow to adopt change? Or is there something more to this?

Generally speaking, a large percentage of historians and graduate students are liberal(hence the whole criticism that academia is a bastion for liberal propaganda etc.), so this has troubled me. Why isn’t digital being adopted more widely and being used more effectively. Many people have found ways to reach millions and make millions through the internet because it costs the same amount of money to reach one person as it does 1 million(generally speaking) through a website. Brown says:

“We quickly learned, however, that we had fallen into a pattern that is seemingly intrinsic to the spatial interactive game approach. Instead of expanding the historical imagination of users and promoting their active inquiry, we had actually limited the choices open to them, in particular curtailing their ability to make informational linkages and to draw their own conclusions. In short, the narrative outcomes were preordained, confirming only the predominance of designers over users–as demonstrated by ‘test’ audiences of teachers and students who gleefully clicked on different 3-D exhibits but professed utter bewilderment about the significance of what they found.”

Thus part of the problem seems that we are not thinking through our sites well enough and coming up with creative, expansive, and engaging ways to present content. The Lost Museum is a great concept because it makes the user investigate history as if it were a mystery. However, even a great idea can have flaws and failures which doom it. The analogy to Myst was great, and brought up fond memories playing that as a child. The expansive environment really changed the nature of computer games in many ways, but fell short in many ways. The idea that you are actually controlling the outcome of the user’s experience by the choices they are allowed is a problem that needs to be dealt with more. Though a game or site may seem expansive, the options a user has are stuck within a matrix of possible clicks and choices, and in the end this forces the user into a box. This may or may not be good depending on the nature of the site and the goal of the site.

I think there is a huge problem with digital history because we do not collaborate at all. One of the major promises of digital history is that we should be working together on projects and using our strengths to further a project. In my opinion, we are spreading ourselves to thin by trying to all do individual projects and working on every aspect of creating a website. I understand the rationale for this during our two Clio classes, but I think we need to learn to work together and more importantly to work with designers and graphic artists. Perhaps I have a great eye for design but am poor at coding. Perhaps my colleague is great at the nuts and bolts. Why not work together and play to our strengths?

Let’s make a sports analogy to basketball. No successful basketball team has 5 players that are good at everything. The magic in a team sport like basketball is the combination of different strengths and weaknesses and chemistry that is created when two players work well together. Thus, the Dallas Mavericks won the championship last year because they had a whole bunch of players with certain strengths that were NOT asked to do something they were weak at. Their point guard Jason Kidd does not need to score 25 points a game. That is why you have the scorer Dirk Nowitkzi. Likewise, Dirk needs to concentrate on scoring and facilitating the offense and not have to waste his energy on playing defense and rebounding. That is why their center Tyson Chandler was a huge part of the championship. He focused his attention on all the little things and anchored the defense so that others could concentrate on scoring. Yes, everyone needs to learn to shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, play defense. However, I think it is more important that we all learn what our strengths are. Then we can work together as a team and build a site much like a basketball team plays a championship.

In my opinion, this may be the big issue that is keeping historians from adopting digital. I think we generally accept that we aren’t all going to be able to make sophisticated websites. I think as historians we are also so accustomed to solitary work. Yes we ask questions and brainstorm, but when it comes down to it, we do our research alone, read secondary sources alone, and write alone. I am starting to wonder if it is less the technology of digital or the need to learn a new medium, but rather the idea of having to work together that is one of the major reasons why historians are reluctant to devote more fully to digital history.

Update: I posted comments on Geoff’s blog, Martha’s blog, and Richard’s blog.

The Fate of Creativity and Statistics

Lessig’s video on creativity echoed some of the things we discussed about in Clio I about the fate of creativity and how laws are in many ways prohibiting the growth of creativity. Lessig explains through a great parallel with Sousa that the threat of modern culture is that it is to “Read-Only” and not enough “Read-Write.” Lessig explains that RO culture is one in which it is top-down and people are only consumers of culture. They have little voice or agency in the creation of culture, and this is anti-democratic. Lessig goes on to explain that one of the problems with society today is that there is no “common sense” when it comes to the law. Lessig explains how property rights used to give ownership of the land below the topsoil as well as the air above one’s land. With the creation of airplanes, the idea of one owning the airspace above their land came into question because airplanes led to some chickens inadvertently dying. The Supreme Court ruled that one couldn’t own the airspace indefinitely above their land because all planes would be trespassers across thousands of different properties. This just did not make sense if we were to develop air travel. While some limits should be placed to protect the property owners(say for instance a plane must be 1,000 feet above the ground when passing over private property), common sense was employed to an antiquated law to allow the airline industry to grow. Finally, Lessig uses the example of BMI vs. ASCAP to illustrate how competition can naturally prevent culture being monopolized and controlled in a top down manner. BMI was founded in 1939 in response to ASCAP having a natural monopoly in broadcasting. ASCAP tried to take advantage of this monopoly and continually increased prices. BMI was founded to counter ASCAP, and BMI offered public domain works for free and was more democratic in their broadcasting. Although they did not feature the “best” content that ASCAP had access to, their “second-rate” competition still succeeded in breaking ASCAP’s monopoly.

Lessig argues that common sense and competition are two critical ways in which we can regulate online content and copyrighting. Right now anyone who remixes or re-uses a song is a “trespasser” like the airplane, but that doesn’t seem to make sense. Lessig says we live in a world of prohibitions, but just like Prohibition, this is not stopping anyone. Most people know they are doing something illegal when they break copyright law, but they don’t care because in many ways the law does not make sense, and Lessig seems correct in arguing that the law inhibits creativity and culture from being more democratic. One legal solution Lessig provides is that all content should be free to use if for non-commercial purposes. What interests me is that artists are often against free use of their music online, but from what I understand, most artists get almost nothing from record companies for their record sales. Instead, artists make millions on their tours. We discussed last semester how a museum which opens up a free online exhibit or offers the public free content that is the same as the content they offer in person, actually increases in-person visits. Might this not also be the same with artists? I would guess the more people that gain access and love their music, the more tours or higher prices they could charge, and the more money the ultimately make. Free content thus makes them more money in a counter intuitive way. In a lot of ways this desire to control and limit is negatively impacting a culture which presumes and is based on the idea of being free and democratic, and for Lessig the threat is that we develop a culture that is top-down and consumed not created by people.

However, Lessig mentions at one point the idea that we can create all this culture with a $1500 computer. Yes for middle and upper classes, this is nothing, but what about the millions of people that don’t have the ability to buy a $1500 computer. This is cost prohibitive for a huge section of the population. What’s more, what is internet access like globally? Lessig seems to be arguing in a way for a democratic culture created by elites/middle class that have the money to afford the internet and technology. Moreover, I’m not sure what other types of culture people with computers will create? He shows us 3 examples that are all re-mixed music videos….that is a pretty bleak cultural future in my opinion. Perhaps the future is in creating online art? How much does software cost to create digital art? Youtube? How much for a digital camera that takes videos or a digital camcorder? I guess a lot of this democratic culture relies on the ability to afford technology to produce it. This is not anything new though, for historically culture has been seen through the elite lens because elites were the only ones that could afford technology and time to produce art(if we think of pen/paper, paint, musical instruments, etc. as technologies). I wonder if there is a fundamental change in access to culture with new technology or just the same world different tools? One of my reasons for interest in food in history is the idea of social history and culture through a study of food which all people consume everyday and though again ingredients are prohibitive because of cost, creativity is still employed in creating dishes that are palatable using “lower class” ingredients.

Hans Rosling does a great job of presenting statistics in a palatable way for us as well as illustrating how statistics and data can help communicate things more effectively. However, he uses child mortality as a way of showing that the rest of the world has caught up in many ways to the West. This has traditionally been tracked as a sign of economic prosperity and “modernity” but what one collects data on and the conclusions one reaches based upon it are problematic. The USA has the highest infant mortality of most all the Western, industrialized nations. Does this mean we are not affluent enough or modern enough? What does this mean? He also shows us that incomes are rising and the data show us that poverty worldwide has decline. This seems great, but again, food prices are rising, so just because one person makes 3 dollars more a day doesn’t mean they are doing better off then before if that 3 dollars cannot buy food or supplies that ease their burden. The problem is that these statistics are often presented and they elide some critical things that should be mentioned.

I do agree with Rosling that these publicly funded data projects need to be available to the public to analyze and access. In addition, he makes a great point that we can’t just look at regions alone, nor at even a country alone, but must highly contextualize the data in order to understand the problems. Thus when looking at poverty in America, perhaps the data shows us that rural poor are the main victims of poverty that need help whereas urban poor need support in critical areas but not in the same was as rural poor. Or maybe it is a regional issue in which the American breadbasket makes up the majority of the poverty that we need to combat? Statistics are useful in ways to find a problem that one might not see, but they are also dangerous because Rosling is in many ways arguing we are doing a great job fighting poverty and that within the next decade most people in the world will be solidly middle class. Not sure if this is accurate or not.


Update: I commented on Claire’s Blog, Chris’s blog, and Richard’s blog.

Also, while commenting on Richard’s blog, I began to have more problems with Lessig arguing that what is needed is competition because I am not sure how competition will “unstrangle” creativity. If we are creating culture and content for non-commercial use, why would competition create better content? People aren’t doing it for money. It’s like he is saying capitalist ideas will help culture and user generated content flourish even though the main drive of capitalism(wealth and money) is not at play in the motives of people creating content. Is competition really always good? Isn’t the web more about being collaborative? That is one of promises of digital right? Competition giving way to collaboration? Maybe that’s too “utopian” to work though.

Visual Communication

I found Visual Explanations to be one of the more interesting reads this semester, especially since I work as a data analyst at the Department of Energy. My daily work includes using statistics, analyzing data, and trying to figure out how best to visually display data for the web and in print. One problem to me with data is that people often see it as objective, and they do not realize how often it is manipulated to hide something or back up a certain vantage point. Tufte points out that since we know how to manipulate data for these “negative” purposes, why can’t we also manipulate it visually to more effectively convey the importance of the data. The example of the NASA shuttle was a great illustration of how straight numbers sometimes cannot communicate effectively their importance. The failure to illustrate to the proper people that the data supported not having the launch was not effective, and in my day to day work we look at data in many ways. One strategy we employ is to look at both tables and use other programs to parse out information to get a more clear view of the data we analyze. However, one of the more effective ways we look at data is to visually graph them and take the “numbers” out of the analysis. So I will look at historical line graphs of data by month, and might notice a problem very quickly that looking just at numbers will hide. Diversifying the ways in which I look at my data is a critical way I do a good job at my analysis because sometimes the visual representation of the numbers can very quickly and easily communicate a problem that is difficult to see if I am looking at just numbers. I think a lot of the ideas of visually presenting data links with the idea of digital history and visuals helping to uncover “truths” in the data that are often hidden when looked at traditionally. Many of the visual representations people can create now help look at sources in previously unseen ways, and it has added another layer of interpretation to our work as historians.

On a completely different tangent, I read and commented on Claire’s post, but wanted to expand a little on a question I’ve been thinking about. We discussed previously the idea of the screen or of a “frame” that controls our views being a very consistent theme in history. We also discussed how the computer user’s scrolling down a page vertically is the same concept of reading a scroll in ancient times(obviously the terminology of “scrolling down” backs this up). I wonder if there has been any conceptual work or thoughts given to “reinventing the wheel” and scrolling left to right and how this would alter visual presentation on the web. Since presenting work on the web is a lot about compartmentalizing, I could see scrolling left to right giving more the feel of a slide show and helping to separate information into chunks while interspersing media in between text columns. I’m not sure if presenting a page where you scroll horizontally instead of vertically would be that fundamentally different than a traditional page, but I feel some concepts or sites might work better in that manner then vertically.


I commented on Claire’s post this week.

Force of Willing Photoshop

As I was working on my project last week, I came to realize that there are two ways to work with Photoshop. The ideal way is to be smart about it, understand the tools, and then save yourself time by using the tools effectively and covering large swaths of the picture with different tools. So for part of the picture in which I knew the burn tool could clear up the picture, I was able to save myself time. However, I am quite simply not adept enough at Photoshop yet to do this for most of the picture, so it often came out looking “unnatural” when I would try and apply the tool too widely.

That said, I took a different approach and just force of willed my photoshop job. For a lot of the details, I simply magnified the picture and meticulously changed colors, eliminated specks and so forth. It took a lot longer, but when I would reduce the magnification and view the picture normally, it was clear that I could achieve the desired effects that I wanted. I guess for me it was more frustrating trying to use different tools and not achieving anything then to just slowly work towards my end goal.

Again, one of my biggest issues was with color and trying to restore colors. I find it especially hard to make skin color look natural, so it was frustrating when attempting to achieve a consistent color for this. Does anyone have any suggestions? Perhaps you used different colors for skin tones?

I found this assignment to be really difficult, but one that I want to spend more time perfecting. After learning that for many journals, we have to edit our own pictures, I think this is one of the more important tools to learn to use. Whether us academic historians ever plan on making a site or continuing with our sites is one thing, but as academic historians, the ability to use photoshop to alter our pictures for our publications is a crucial skill to have. Even more important, is using photoshop to bring out details in a picture that our naked eyes cannot see. Thus if lettering is distorted, much like in Richard’s pictures, we can use a program like Photoshop to help figure out what the signs say, and these further adds to information to analyze in our primary sources.

I commented on Richard’s post today.


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