Sunday, October 29, 2006

Photoshopped, and I'm out of cash...The REAL entry

Here is my assignment for the Image Skills. The picture is from a 1907 commentary on the 16th century incanabula titled "The Jena Codex." The original is locked up in the Czech National Museum in Prague, and if you can pay for a ticket, I'll be happy to give you a tour. We had gotten several high quality large format slides of other images from the original, but we needed this one, and so we have to try to match this copy of a copy with those high quality photographs. But we also didn't want to make it too showy--you can loose the sense of a printed work if you take the fix-its too far.

As you can see from the "before" image, I had to rotate the image--turning allows you to take full advantage of the landscape format of the camera. After cropping out my husband's thumbs (thanks honey), I found the camera had not been positioned exactly in the center of the image, and consequently we had some keystoning problems. A little skewing took care of that, but the original illustrator did not make his border quite straight, so it still looks a bit funky. I tried to remove the red border to correct that problem, but the red border lines work as a matte to set the colors off, so I chose art over construction. Several parts of the image-the banner and the man standing on the left (Constantine) were out of focus, so I had to select them separately and use the unsharpen mask. One of the odder cleanup tasks was to fix the blackening caused by the gilding techniques- -what ever the material they used to gild the illustration has started to turn black, but the cloning stamp fixed that right up. We also shot the image with existing light, because the library would not allow us to use flash or instruments. A bit of daylight-balanced light snuck onto the top of the image, turning it a bit bluer than the rest. I did some dodging and playing with hue to balance it out. Hope you like the image--my husband says he has a few hundred more for me to work on!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thoughts on Final Project

So after a couple of weeks kicking this idea around, I think I'm ready to put it into narrative form. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I have given my project the title "History's Prism." This website will be a wiki for historians. Just as a prism divides visible light into its component colors, "History's Prism" can be used to break the narrative of history into separate versions, reflecting particular dogmas or different sets of sources. Where Wikipedia takes submissions from disparate contributors and tries to edit these into a single version of history, "History's Prism" seeks to gather as many different versions of core events and save each as a separate entity. The goal here is not to get one definitive version of history based on the aggregate contributions of many. It is a method of looking at an event through many lenses.
The home page of the website would consist of a search able time line. The entries on the time line would be either "core events" or "core themes." A core event is an event defined by the contributing scholars, and could be as big as the Battle of Hastings, or as small as the publishing of a book. The core themes, also determined by contributors, could cover issues not limited to singular events, such as the migration of African-Americans to the North after Reconstruction. The granularity of the listings is a factor of contribution, but cross-referencing between themes and events is a must. As a wiki, the environment will expand to fill the demand-until it overloads the server, that is.
Once an event is selected or included, the user is directed to a separate page that handles the information. One method of presentation I wish to avoid is the stacking of one element below the other. This smacks of establishing a hierarchy of accuracy, and I want to avoid it. I saw one method of positioning information on the screen that put a single piece of information in the center, and the multiple relevant entries circled and moved around the center, but were tied to it with visible links. It looked very much like a sea urchin that was used as a note spindle. (For those of you born after the invention of Post-it notes, the spindle was a big pin that sat on a desk, and you could impale notes on it as a way of keeping them from spreading around and getting lost. If you are still in doubt, see the Rod Steiger movie "The Pawnbroker.") I do not know what this format is called, or even if it far beyond my lousy computer skills, but if anyone else is familiar with it, please let me know-Josh? I just really love the non-hierarchical nature of the arrangement. Also, the events could be tied to other events, or to themes. So I could follow a link from the theme of "British Colonialism" to "American Revolution" to events like "Cornwallis' Surrender" to "The Battle of Yorktown." From there, I could find contributions on maps, uniforms, weaponry--whatever the contributors chose to link to that core event. I envision the contributions to be anything from articles to scanned primary sources to maps to movie clips to bibliographic essays of books. The contributions need be no more than simple bibliographic information, although a small description would be nice. The main idea is that this site is all-inclusive, and each entry links to the core event. It takes some of the most useful parts of bibliographic index, but unlike the index, it can be expanded. Some editing will be necessary to prevent nuisance additions. This would be a nice mash-up with Zotero, Google Earth, Flikr, etc, and make use of RSS technology. I see it as a good repository for students writing papers, posting the bibliographic info, and exploring links.
One of the main strengths I see is this--for each core event, different viewpoints are linked there for everyone to compare. This site needs to expose Methodology, not Content. In other words, it is an opportunity to explore historiography, not just history. This is why I want to avoid a hierarchical structure. I would like to see Marxist interpretations sharing space with progressive histories. Dr. McGrath, GMU's Byzantine specialist, insists that a thorough review of all the relevant material is the first critical step in creating a long format research project. "History's Prism" can provide a platform for sharing that information.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Changing into our pedagogical hats.

Our Images--to the left, historical figure before Mills Kelly's lecture. To the right, after lecture. Actually, that is fifteenth century priest/reformer Jan Hus, and his hat-the birretta was the preferred headgear of the sartorially salient medieval scholar. Our four-pointed "mortarboards" are based on this design. Clearly, some people (yours truely) should not be allowed anywhere near Photoshop. Frantishek Palacky, the great Czech historian, must be rolling in his grave.

We get so tied up and excited with our research, we forget our main purpose for existence is to pass on our hard-won knowledge. Thank goodness the powers-that-be see a need for teaching history. However, I tend to be pretty cynical about this situation, and while most of us are in this field because we love it, certain entities find history to be a profound tool in the inculcation of proper U. S. Citizens. Morally, it could be worse-no historian will ever be asked to build a bigger and better bomb.
That said, I have found few people that anger me more than a resentful teacher. I have had great teachers, poor teachers, and teachers who were profound thinkers but couldn't organize a ham sandwich. I happen to really adore that last type. But I can recall a few individuals who were angry about having to teach, and these a$$#^%es left scars that may never heal completely. So number one, except for those fortunate few who work in archives and museums (and I realize even those havens have their drawbacks), we must resign ourselves to a life of teaching, and perhaps even learn to like it.
So I heartily applaud David Pace's fine article about real efforts to get historians trained in teaching methods. The institution from which I received my M.A., California State University, Chico, started as a normal school (a school for training teachers) and the Education Department was one of the best funded, best run, and most critical components of that school. However, who wants to study Education when Clio beckons? We were fortunate to have a compulsory semester of teaching history in the classroom. I'm not sure how many others schools enforce that idea. And I have noticed younger professors tend to work harder at course preparation, but I can't necessarily draw a causal relationship between that and more modern, scientific approaches to training teachers. But I will support Pace's contention that there is a difference between helping students better retain the historical facts they will need, and the critical thinking skills necessary to analyze source material. How do we balance these two disparate yet important needs--worse still, how do we teach these skills to huge classes when the requirements for the course call for covering all of Western Civ in two lousy semesters? Had you asked me which skill was more important, retention or analysis, when I first started my study of history, I would have told you the first was most inportant. Now, I am sure the second is more important. Ask me again in five years.
Dr. Kelly's experiment at Texas seem to have been the kind of study Pace was looking for-testing methodologies in teaching, and getting measurable results. I'm pretty sure one of my professors at Chico State took the article to heart, because she asked us to critically examine several Russian-based web sites. We saw first-hand how perilous research trips to the Internet could be, and it was a very valuable lesson.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Maps, I love maps!

I must admit, I find maps sexy. I can look at them all day. Given the opportunity to go into the military, I'd immediately sign up as a navigator in the Navy. Except I get violently sea sick, so that is not really an option. So I thought this assignment would be just ducks-until Schwartz's article on Railroads and Population in England. Now I know why I want to become a cultural historian, not a social historian. I realize this sentiment is anathema at GMU, but no one seems to read this blog, so I figure I'm safe from everyone except Josh. Schwartz created a good primer for the use of statistical data and using maps, but I find this kind of history to be, well, dull. He shows how to choose the proper format of graph or map, and how to set up equations. However, I am currently reading E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class for historiography. This book, written in 1964 covers approximately the same time period. But Thompson's analysis is quite different, because he covers such factors as food prices, wages, religious practices, and political awareness. Schwartz may be using raw data and primary sources, but he covers only a few factors. Thompson uses secondary sources, along with personal annectodes and close readings of the literature reportedly read by the working class and the upper class at the time. Who is more accurate? Don't fall into the trap of --"well, Schwartz can show his findings mathematically." Remember, he is dealing with means and averages. If the average American family has 2.5 children--what does that .5 car seat look like? Seriously, I can appreciate Schwartz's approach, and I can immediately see the value in it. Someday, I just may have to hold my nose and use his methodology.
I'll take my family to Yorktown this coming weekend--its the 225th anniversary of Cornwallis' surrender. Supposed to be great. I'll visit Williamsburg and report on the pod-cast. It is a good idea--but is it meant to take the place of live demonstration, or to be listened to at one's leisure at a later time? We'll see.
I hope David Ramsey will adopt me, and I can move into his house--can you imagine all those maps? His site is terrific-the internet tour will fill an hour of your time, and you won't regret it. I can see so many classroom applications for his software. As I have written in an earlier blog, combining maps with computers allows you to show changes over time--and that can really enhance any lecture. Think westward movement, railroad construction, colonization, sea voyages, and you start to see the myriad of possibilities.
Thank goodness for Google maps. In 1998 we did a project in the Czech Republic that called for demonstrating an army's movement over terrain. Our plan was to get a good quality topo map, and put it in World-Builder. The map store in Prague would not sell Americans topographic maps--seems they were still a bit touchy about the NATO/Warsaw Pact thing. So we had to find a frienly Czech to go in a buy one for us. And yes, we did feel like kids hanging outside a liquor store! Now I can get that free. Gotta love this technology!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Mash-up or fender bender?

Sorry, I was not terribly impressed with this weeks' readings. I guess the concept of Remix comes naturally to me-I used to make properties for plays and films, and we always had to find unusual ways of building something very normal. Yee's page I found almost incipherable-so I watched part of his presentation. Actually, it was his Power point with his talk in voice over. Couldn't even make it into the meat of his talk-did anyone else try to sit through it? What was his big point? The video compression of his slides made them almost illegible. If he had something great to say, he went about it the wrong way.
I also made the mistake of printing out Miller's "Interoperability" paper to read on the bus. After mis-reading the title, I spent several moments wondering why someone would want an "Inoperable" program. I fear "Interoperability" is somewhat less "all-pervasive" term in the circles I run around with.This man loves jargon-the more inscrutable, the better. The meat of that work was in the hyper-text. Either do a better job of explaining what your concept is, or just hand me the articles you so frequently cited. Thirty-six citations in a three page work is too much! This article was too much like the MBA articles from the Harvard Business School my husband used to bring home. All sizzle, no steak, why am I paying so much for this meal, I'm going home now.
At least Semantic Humanities and Dr. Cohen valued the narrative tradition. Now that we have gotten everyone used to playing on the web, let's figure out how to get some real work done! Web 2.0-I can imagine a time when people could fix their own cars, and turn their Model As and Ts into custom vehicles for their work--just like my Great Uncles Cigo and Grazzi did when they installed two five-gallon barrels under the bench seat to smuggle moonshine into town during Prohibition. Anyway, time to get started creating resources on the web-I agree it is no longer enough just to stick stuff up. And I love the idea of getting others to do the work. So really, Dr. Cohen is advocating we clever computer-saavy folk learn to make more powerful frameworks for information, and letting interested parties fill in the blanks. Oh yeah, and let everyone use all the data. Sounds good to me, when do we start...