Digital Age

After a review of the four featured articles this week the implications of a digital history and for that matter a digital humanities should become clear to every scholar/researcher: this new way of presenting scholarship is quickly overtaking the whole of every academic discipline. Because so much of our daily information searches, blog posts, and archived records are being uploaded online, scholarship is increasing subjected to the world of the internet. The first article, written by White, The Problem of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory, was written before the age of the internet overtook most people’s everyday activities, but the implications of the narrative are interesting to think about in light of computers that can change the way that history is researched and written. With this time in hindsight White’s article seems to have very predictive of what was to come in the next couple of decades.

In Burton’s Digital American History written in 2005, he provides a list of new and upcoming websites attempting to provide better access to historical information. Some he said have provided an excellent venue for scholarship, while others have not. However, no matter how sloppy the attempt his point was that history is quickly becoming highly accessible in very creative ways. Interestingly he spoke of websites that had been in existence for several years before the writing of his article. The feeling one gets from his point is that if scholars were behind the power curve.

In Cohen’s book The Ivory Tower and the Open Web he expands on this problem six years after Burton’s article. Apparently in the second decade of the 21st century scholars seem to have still been resistant to moving scholarship to an online venue. He gives several reasons for this chief among them was the problems associated with tenure track in universities and the way in which a professor moves up the ranks via publication. Also the resistance that is mounted from the academic community away from scholarly journals that according to Cohen had simply migrated from hardcopy to softcopy with very little change in format or disposition. He seems to believe that scholars would do better to allow for some level of creativity in their adjustment to online formats and interface applications.

Finally, in Cordell’s How Not to Teach Digital Humanities he gives readers an idea of how as recent as 2015 scholars are still pushing back at the idea of teaching and researching in the digital world. His message is seems to be made with an understanding of his new audience of young students. Today’s students have been raised in a world where everything is digital and to even use the word “digital” is to imply that one is already behind the current march into the 21st century. Cordell makes clear that teaching these students is going to require a very new way of understanding how the internet is fully involved in every part of our lives and is showing no signs of changing. Rather it is scholarship that must make the change because the new generation will most certainly embrace a scholarship that has adapted to the new format.

Interestingly, as these articles have shown in the evolution of the internet, the digital age has completely surrounded every aspect of society and those that are not willing to embrace it will be left behind. The quickest way it seems for academics to have their voice heard is to find new and creative ways to present their scholarship online.


The Humanities Made Me a Luddite (Kind of)

In Dan Cohen’s “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Introduction: Burritos, Browsers, and Books [Draft],” one of the things I found the most interesting was the way Cohen is modeling what he is talking about to an extent through publishing a draft of his introduction online. I cringed when I saw that! In the literary world, publishers usually will not accept anything that has been self-published online, i.e., in a blog or whatnot, in too similar a form. My thoughts were that someone was clearly going to steal his introduction or devalue his work. But, as he says in his introduction, Cohen uses the tale of Nate Silver to underline “the principle that good is good, and that the web is extraordinarily proficient at finding and disseminating the best work, often through continual, post-publication, recursive review.” It’s that last part that Cohen demonstrates by posting this chapter online and then responding to everyone’s comments and strengthening his work. It is like a public, completely open peer review that, to some extent, broadens the definition of “peer.” When he later says that the humanities have been slower to adapt to digital stuff, I can attest and admit that I have been part of the problem. While I love the democracy of the internet and how almost anybody can access it, at least sometimes, I have a hard time reconciling this with my desire to be credited and valued for my work, which I think is a hangup I am not alone in having (this seems to be reflected in the amount of time and energy placed into plagiarism policies). So this brings me to Cohen’s statement that I would love to see illustrated more: “We have done far less than we should have by this point in imagining and enacting what academic work and communication might look like if it was digital first.” I cannot even imagine what they would look like; my creativity is limited. I’d be interested to see how a class on digital creations or whatever this would be called would be structured, and how it would try to get people to think beyond our traditional understanding of media/writing/etc.

It was interesting, then, to read in Orville Vernon Burton’s piece that computers and digital history is what cemented history into the humanities department, even if historians still aren’t taking full advantages of the possibilities. He says, “Although many historians use the computer in some fashion to aid their historical work, very few use it to accomplish this task in a way impossible without a computer,” but then acknowledges that “[p]erhaps the refusal by historians to incorporate true digital historical technologies in their work stems, in part, from their lack of familiarity with the relevant technologies.” This feels true for me. If I am not given an incentive to learn a new technology (or a requirement to), then I do not, out of sheer intimidation and fear of looking stupid. And I’m (technically) a millennial. I grew up with technology, but perhaps because I also grew up in the world of liberal arts, humanities, and English, technology has not been stressed enough for me, and thus now I feel behind. More practical workshops in how to use programming would be great. I’m excited that there’s a tutorial on the syllabus for this class, for example.


Not sure how related this is, but I was thinking about it as I was doing the reading. Here’s an awesome example of what digital storytelling, sharing, and creating, can be:


And here’s another article about digital humanities that is tangentially related, though it focuses somewhat on English departments:

A Step Forward or a Step Back?

By Steven R. Garcia

Although this may be the idealist in me talking, I believe the discipline is – slowly but surely – embracing the digital medium. Now 2018, the field has come a long way since the state that was described in our readings. For example, Orville Vernon Burton’s excitement for academic pioneers in laying the foundation for digital history is tempered with an overarching concern for historians and their lack of digital literacy. A similar argument is found in Dan Cohen’s book draft on his personal blog, a concrete example of that ‘erudite writing’ he speaks of when presenting personal websites as equally valuable and creative as the traditional monograph. Cohen shows that same level of enthusiasm for digital history while also outlining his key concern with the discipline, that being history’s tenacity in insisting on its status as academic gatekeeper. These two obstacles, digital literacy and academic traditionalism, are slowly fading away. I speak as a student observer, as someone who has been and is going through the academic learning process in the same university over the course of near six years. Georgia State University, and the Department of History with it, has continued to encourage, albeit slowly, a shift towards diversification of skills and ‘alternate paths’ towards degree completion (i.e. the non-thesis, non-professor historian). From the use of Omeka to create digital archives to WordPress and guiding students to disseminate their studies through online platforms, I continue to experience a great deal of encouragement regarding the development of web-based skills and academic research methods. Do I say this to suggest that we as students have nothing to learn from the history of digital history, as presented from the American perspective by Burton, or Cohen’s proverbial call to arms? No, of course not. In fact, I want to demonstrate now the duality of GSU’s current trajectory as a research university – an institution that has strengthened its digital collections in the last half decade, but perhaps at the cost of its physical ones.

Take, for example, one of GSU’s relatively newer digital collections regarding the visualization of Atlanta’s past. Back in 2012, this project presented the start of a push towards greater digitization of data and collaborative effort between multiple fields and departments. From history to anthropology, traditional written histories to GIS, the ‘Planning Atlanta’ collection was but one step towards this increased collaboration through digital projects. The epitome of this, something no doubt Burton and Cohen would find as an intriguing tool in the historian’s arsenal, was the construction of GSU’s CURVE – a center dedicated to using advanced technologies to encourage research and inquiry on a grand scale. From artifact photogrammetry to data compilation and visualization, CURVE was a project I kept a close eye on as an undergraduate and one that I’ve seen been used by our fellow colleagues in the department, particularly those in Heritage Preservation. However, CURVE is also a precursor of something Burton and Cohen may not have seen coming, that being the threat presented to traditional library spaces. Historians are nothing, I dare say, without their archives – some, necessarily, needing to be physical. In keeping with the examples from GSU, the university recently announced that it would be remodeling a great deal of property near the quad, including the GSU Library. If the plan goes into effect, library shelf space will be minimized, and many texts and materials will be moved to off-site storage facilities, thus lengthening the amount of time researchers must wait before they acquire their needed data. Furthermore, there’s something to be said about shifting away from a ‘collections-based’ library, begging the question as to what exactly that means regarding our basic definition of ‘the library.’ Are we, as students, professors, and faculty, so willing to usher in a new age of academic digitization that we are prepared to fundamentally alter our definitions of ‘libraries’ and ‘research universities’? Perhaps, but historians seem to have a minor voice in the argument. In this sense, I agree with Cohen that historians, and academics general, should not see themselves as final arbiters locked away in an ivory tower, but instead as supporters of creativity and knowledge wherever it may be. However, this necessitates, as Burton states, a need for historians to establish a standard on digital history. As universities fund programs for increased digital collaboration and collection digitization, much like our own GSU, the need for fruitful discussion and an end to trepidation over technologies that will only ever continue to advance in complexity and usage is my greatest take away from these readings. Otherwise, I fear our discipline’s voice will be left out altogether.

Link to the GSU Library master plan. Although not so much an article, the attached .PDF provides some valuable insight into the future ‘vision’ GSU has for the library space and what limits we, as students and academics, are willing to push regarding traditional collection v. digitization:

Digital Narratives

In recent years, there has been more discussions surrounding technology and the role it can play in the humanities. In his essay, Orville Vernon Burton discusses the roles that historians and scholars have played when technologies have changed. When computers started to become more prevalent, many historians started to use them to make quantitative analyses of past events. Over time, they started to create databases and online communities, such as H-NET. He also notes the recent trends in Digital History; one exciting trend has been the development of several Digital History centers around the country, such as the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University and the Center for Digital Humanities at UCLA. Literature on Digital History has also emerged, and in the early years of the field, scholarship was published on CD-ROMs. The emergence of digital history has meant that narratives could be created in new ways. One prominent example Burton highlights is The Valley of the Shadow project, which used primary source documents (as well as census records) to detail different sides of the Civil War.

There have also been ways that statistics could be used to develop a narrative. In Dan Cohen’s book excerpt, he discusses the evolution of the career of Nate Silver, a statistician and writer who started out writing about baseball. His first attempt in using data to tell a story came in the form of burritos. This attempted played out in the form of local reviews and Silver created a “Burrito Bowl” However, the project never “took off”, and Silver decided to embark on a different endeavor. This second endeavor led to the creation of FiveThirtyEight, which discussed both local and national elections. The endeavor became wildly successful, attracting more visitors than some news websites by election day 2008. However, early comments on the website seemed to label it as “just a blog”, and that it, like similar sites, couldn’t be sources of information. However, FiveThirtyEight pushed through the “stereotype” and was eventually acquired by the New York Times through a “licensing deal”, giving Silver a chance to become a journalist through data. Although the future of the website may be questioned by recent news, FiveThirtyEight has remained a steady source of data analysis of recent and upcoming elections. Overall, FiveThirtyEight’s story is an example of the shift of thought on how data can be used online (and by who).

For my article this week, I thought that this article was an interesting addition to the readings. It takes the idea of a digital narrative and places it in the context of an ongoing issue nationwide. Started as a project to track rising rent prices in California, the study has become helpful in tracing the modern history of gentrification and displacement. The article also highlights the ways that GIS has been used by local governments to inform residents:

Finally, a question for fellow bloggers/readers: In what ways have you seen data in action in your local communities/fandoms?

-Frances Noon


From the reading “The Ivory Tower-Cohen”, you see a transition from blogs being considered something used as a hobby and not as something that had any journalistic merit. Nate Silver had obvious journalistic skills that also led to the success of this blog. Silver’s blog was one of several that was a part of a new emerging genre dubbed “quality blogs”. Although this source of information had been around for years at the time this article was written, it was just now being seen as an legitimate source for information. The question now was were these sites potentially “dangerous”. This portion of the essay still remains relevant as to these sites being superficial and can contain false information. This is something that can be true of all “other” news sources, blogs specifically have a stereotype as being a hub for “information” not knowledge. This is due to a blog being open to any and everyone to provide not only information, but opinions. The article then touches on how blogs and the internet in general; academia generated bias against adopting new learning styles (working in the school system it is more the educator not getting adequate training than the later). The article done in “American Digital History-Burton”, they have an area that directly focuses on teaching with american digital history; how history classes have a bad reputation especially at the high school level. This particularly resonates with me as a professional in education digital or “virtual learning”, has become an integral part of education. For example; due to the freak blizzard that affected metro Atlanta recently, we were presented with a few options in how to make up the days we missed. One of these options was virtual learning, (the other options were to extended the school day which is completely pointless in my opinion for 20/30 min). With virtual learning, I think that this is a much better option as the student gets to receive a FULL day of learning , whereas the additional time (which you wouldn’t notice in a day).  As we began discussing in class blogs/computing was not really something that historians used to convey their knowledge. I believe that this should be a partnership that should be embraced by historians; this partnership could ultimately be beneficial to not only people who are in the career field, but people who are interested in this field either way. The partnership between historians and computing first began in the 1960’s and its entanglement; this is a relationship that continued to progress into the 1990’s. Technology became an integral part of researching and documenting history. Over time and the decline of “paper” books/documents, the decline in prices to host/publish findings online became not only the new found way, but also the most financially feasible. Although journals, dissertations, and other educational products still exist in paper form, everything is available in a digital format which overall will/can reach a much broader audience.

Repeat, mediate, repeat

The readings offer a great foundation for an outsider or interloper jumping in, where not yet traversed. The brief history of the computer, historical shifts in media studies, book studies evolution, and some deeper philosophical wandering on the processes of mediation helps chart a path to a middle ground space of digital humanities. I have swum in the humanities pond and the digital flow space, but never combined the two into one formally. I look forward to it, especially with people scoffing at the idea of the digital impeding the humanities space, rather than translating and transmitting (or mediating) it to different parties. There were a number on moments in the Economist piece made clear who much of the ranting throughout time about which way is better to read information goes back worth dependent on the voice. Like Nicola Paverriti who believed all books had ever been written by 1471. Followed by the masses squealing with glee over (in my humble sexological opinion) garbage books like 50 Shades of Grey. Even I cannot help jumping in on ranting about what it better.

Repeatedly the reading struck me with two truths: means of technology repeat themselves if only in effort to continue to exist or get better and most all things are mediated through external sources, as part of a technopsychosocial experience. The first is really useful to think about the context of a history class, because history often repeats itself. It may not be a precise regurgitation of time gone by, but there a deja vu sense spurred from the most obvious and intentional items and modalities of capturing existence. Like watching social movements make gains and their gains echoed in the other movements. Or tyranny usually falling, at least after some have suffered. Or how the discussion of the computer between scientists and engineers sound like a debate that can happen until the end of the time, perhaps never needing to switch the topic (Murray 2003).

I saw repeat in functional ways, as well as in thought. In function, the scroll has come to us again in scrolling through media on our tablets, phones, and computers. The save document image is of a dated floppy disk that most of the undergrads I teach could not identify. This was also indicated in the history of media studies – more of repeat and build more theory into ideas as time passes– but always with a sort of lingering suspicion of the social impact of it. A repetitive thought seems to be that we know media influences us, but not sure to what degree. It does not shift voters, nor make children violent (or impact marriage as the British study offered). Media studies people either know the answers or know they need to keep stringing us along to read the material, I hope for the latter.

The mediating piece was a bit tough. It made my brain think it was on Foucault or something similar. My take-away is that all is mediated, and media serves as one of the vectors that reality gets to come to us through. Media makers contort messages so that they are easier to consume, more interesting, or a morsel leaving us wanting for more. The repetitive function of nature of media is noted in this chapter with the windows by Vermeer and Velasquez, all those windows are like all the all the windows I have open on my computer now. Except they are not as beautiful, nor do they spark the wander of those many hundreds year old paintings. Just as much as this article seemingly touts virtual reality, there is something so goofy about it all. I do not see it as the next great wonder, but I have yet to decide if I am engineer or scientist.

For my link: I offer you a glimpse into my nights without sleep – podcasts! This is Nick Couldry, “The Mediated Construction of Reality: From Berger and Luckmann to Norbert Elias:”  It is important to note: much like the mediation piece, I was not fully aware of the meanings I was listening to but I am really interested in how the social constructs our reality, yet we also have this material component we move around in. Phenomenology is included in this piece, another area that I like to explore but do not fully understand yet (even after taking a class with one of the best scholars on the subject). Alas. – Bethany Stevens @disaBethany

How to adapt to the digial age?

One of the most curious things about the media is that despite the way in which it changes and evolves over time the media is able to continue as a major source of human communication. Regardless of the method or technology venue, media is still driven by the need for people to talk, share ideas, or exert some level of control over others. Sometimes this is done in something as simple as a hardback book and at other times this is accomplished by a video uploaded to the internet. Humanity has always had a desire to communicate and pass information over great distances, but have been in many cases limited in their ability to do so. Technology simply allows for something that people have always wanted in the first place. The challenge seems to be how to properly adapt the media to technological change and innovation.

Media studies were born as a reaction to these rapid changes in the 20th century and has discovered some interesting occurrences involving the media’s influence in our lives. Studies have been conducted that track the ways by which people allow the media into their home or give the media a place in their seemingly quite workout at the gym as they listen to music with earbuds. Interesting also are the ways in which the media has created spaces of immediacy and hypermediacy giving people unique perspectives on the world through art and graphics. This has been done with virtual reality but has also been done in the past with paintings and colors on paper. Finally, and most importantly the media changes over time, inhabiting various formats and venues and showing up in new technology.

The desire to study the media was at least a desire to know how to properly adapt to the new technological environment. Effects studies were attempting to find out what people were watching, listening to, and reading, and then measure, with some room for error, what effect these forms of media were having on people. What seems to have received most of the attention during the past century was the study of the television. The television was a kind of ‘in your face’ media that acted differently from traditional types of media like billboard signs, newspapers, and books. While billboard signs and newspapers, especially in America, have always been a little on the aggressive side, the television represented a whole new aggressive and active way of pushing media onto people. This was largely due to the fact that the television was located inside the home.

Immediacy is also important to adaptation as it gives people the ability to immerse themselves in the media experience. Human beings are by nature relational characters and search for a high volume of communication in an effort to create and explain relationships with others. Virtual reality in the digital age and cabinet paintings of 500 years ago are both attempts at adapting to new media technology and innovation. They are both interesting and new ways at looking at the world and allow for some time away from reality in order to imagine what the world could be or can be.

Media has been around for as long as people have been able to draw pictures on the inside walls of a cave. Whether its format was on a scroll, book, or in a digital form the same purposes applied. Figuring out how to use these new formats was always the challenge. In this day and age the digital venue is that new format and how we use it will determine the effectiveness of our communication.

Josh Curtis

Response 1/22

(I emailed this in because I did it wrong, so sorry this is on the blog late! – Ally Wright)

While reading Introducing Media Studies, published in 2000, I couldn’t help but think how different a discussion of why we need to study the media would be today, given the events of the past 2 years and the ongoing cultural discussion we are having right now about the media. I think the ability of the media to affect who people vote for is no longer as questionable. Perhaps the media still could not change a staunch Democrat into a staunch Republican, or vice versa, as, like the reading states, people do still tend to watch news sources that support their already held beliefs (I am absolutely guilty of this, but I think by being aware that I am guilty of it, I’m a better consumer than people who do not even realize they do this), but the majority of people seem to be somewhere in between the staunch opposing sides, and incredibly susceptible to the media telling them what issues or news items are important. Media now seems clearly to be able to influence peoples’ understanding of the issues that are important to them, warp their sense of priority, and manipulate their emotions to such a degree that they vote for candidates they ordinarily wouldn’t support or avoids candidates who they probably do not realize they agree with more. We do need to learn to be better consumers of media at a young age, as the Sunny D incident demonstrates. I nanny, and if you have ever watched commercials with a child, this seems obvious, but now we need to learn to be better consumers of truth, fact-checking, and media rhetoric in general. These are all things we discuss in English 1101 and 1102 classes that I teach, but college seems late to the game for these discussions in 2018.

In “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation,” I was drawn to what seemed like a description of the transition of art into math, which is a way of thinking about computer programming that I have never thought of before. We teach children linear perspective in elementary school and increasingly they are being taught computer skills (programming, design, etc.), but are they taught the connections? I admittedly think I fall more into the realm of contemporary literary theorists in the sense that I do not think it’s possible “to achieve to ever achieve unmediated presentation” (30), as our actual reality is always mediated in certain ways, and no matter the art, the artist or creator is making choices that affect the outcome. Hypermediacy, where we are aware of the medium, seems the most interesting and achievable to me, where we choose to see through the medium or use it in interesting ways to heighten the experience, such as the Impressionists did with their painting style that explored the surface of the painting in order to draw attention to the artifice, but also to create a new effect that was perfect for capturing the fast-paced nature of the growing industrial world and enhance how people saw the world they lived in.

Here is a link to something I found interesting (it’s a site designed to teach kids about ads): and here is an article that dives into some of the changes in media’s abilities and connects to the growing importance of media studies, I think:

Theory, what is it good for?

By Steven R. Garcia

Going into the first week of readings, I suspected a very theory-heavy introduction. However, what the contours of those theories would be was a complete mystery to me. The only work I could relate to in understanding the effects of new mediums and cultural changes, at least of similar magnitude to that of understanding mass media’s historical impact, is David Harvey’s The Condition of Post-modernity. I refer specifically to that chaotic and ephemeral description of post-modernity that Harvey presents, which I then likened most to Janet H. Murray’s “Inventing the Medium” introductory chapter. That similar language of chaos and ephemerality, as presented by Harvey, is also found in Murray’s presentation of the differing cultural and intellectual camps attempting to make sense of human knowledge adapting to new media. In her explanation of how ‘humanists’ and ‘engineers’ both interpret and explore new means of communication and knowledge-processing, Murray evokes a sense of trepidation for mid-century and turn-of-the-century scholars grappling with the advent of mass media, communications, and most recently the Internet. Media studies, then, is not just understanding the technological medium itself, but rather “the rich interplay” between “cultural practice and technical innovation” (Murray 5). It is the ‘augmentation’ of the human experience of learning and thinking, and how humanity changes to better process the world around us. After reading Murray’s short introduction, though, I asked myself what all this high-minded theory equated to in the practical application of digital history. How does, say, an online exhibit about Atlanta’s growth as a major southern city inform our understanding as scholars about the theoretical nature of using a digital medium to communicate history?

Ziauddin Sardar and Borin Van Loon’s quirky but informative graphic novel (or comic?) provided a two-part explanation to my question: one, a lot of big name historians and institutions have dealt with the question of media and technological innovation; and two, is there even a need for an academic theory on the impact of mass media? To the first point, Sardar’s explanation on the history of media theories, from the functionalist approach to Frankfurt School Marxism and the works of de Saussure, Foucault, and Derrida, is helpful in laying the ground-work for terminology and outlining the ‘who’s who’ of media history. I found the section on semiology vocabulary most helpful, especially the bit-by-bit definition of key terms that I and the rest of the class will no doubt encounter in our future readings. But, after I had finished reading it, I questioned the work’s relevancy today. Besides being a bit grin-worthy and attractive to read, a lot of the content found within seems old and outdated (with good reason, as the piece is from 2002). Rarely today would I hear of semiology being used to examine why CNN chooses to run certain stories or why Netflix decides to fund certain series, even in an academic sense. Perhaps our vocabulary for media and technology has, at least now in 2018, become so deeply ingrained in our everyday understanding of the world that there is no need for a theoretical approach. However, I do argue that media, that link between human understanding and technology, still warrants study. To this end, I found an article from the UK’s The Guardian about the relevance of media studies as a course of study. It echoes my sentiment of ‘why bother?’ when media and technology are so pervasive nowadays. At the middle of the twentieth century, I understand why the field took off as it did. Now, I question whether or not our own academic understanding (and our academic concentrations and fields) evolve fast enough to keep up with technological innovation’s current pace.

Link to The Guardian piece:

Technology and Media

In recent years, there have been more discussions on what it means to connect with media sources, and how these sources are changing. There have also been debates over how traditional books could “keep up” with the rise of e-books. Three of the readings for this week show the evolution of different media types, and what it means to consume them. They also show how thoughts on digital media have evolved.

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