3/21 | Open Source Software & Omeka

3/21: What do you think are the most important advantages and disadvantages of open source software? Do you use any open source software?

I believe that the beauty of open source software is that it can always be edited later. If the open source software is made available for anyone to view, share, or edit it, there is always room for new information to be implemented into it. This is especially important for historical information and timelines, because as time passes and changes are made to major laws, policies, etc., the information is not completely set in stone like other software may be. I believe that open source software doesn’t necessarily have a disadvantage, but I would say one of the potential drawbacks is the fact that the open source software is available to any and everyone. Because of that, you can release software to people and they are able to edit and tweak the software to their specific needs. Although that is an advantage for the person who is accessing the software because they can take out parts they don’t like and add parts they do, it leaves room for someone to completely alter the software that you made available to them and then they can even go as far as to resell the software that you created. They may believe that they have done nothing wrong because they tweaked your software and changed so much of it, but if they used you open source software as a base to create on top of that, they might be using your hard work for a lucrative means without crediting you at all. If you are not into the idea of open source software for the money though, then this is not much of a big deal to you. I don’t personally use any open source software, as I am not well-versed on technology and programming and would probably do more harm than good to the software if I got my hands on it. Although I wish I was good at tweaking certain software because I feel as though some software does not fit my needs as well or it requires more work to use it for the purpose that i want to use it for, and being able to tweak it to my needs would be a lifesaver. Maybe one day i’ll figure out how to be like that.

3/2 | Security, Sustainability & Preservation

 How secure are you online? How concerned are your privacy online? What digital media do you use and what do you back up, and to where?

I try to uphold a very secure presence online, which can be somewhat difficult if you use social media frequently because you don’t know which pages you should keep private and for how long (because some sites are not the same experience if your user profile is private). I find myself always wondering how much of what I post is accessible to everyone. I hear the horror stories of students who have been fired from jobs, suspended from schools, and even had their acceptance letters or scholarships taken away from them because of their social media accounts. That is why I try to keep all extreme obscene and profane postings off of my page. I refrain from falling into the trap of internet trolls and working myself up and saying things that I know I would regret. I don’t post controversial or racist opinions on social media, for one because I don’t normally think those things up, but also because I know it is very easy for people on social media to find those tweets and ring you over the coals for it. Even  if you are just responding to an image or video with your opinion, keep it as clean and free of prejudice or rude words as possible, as you never know who might be looking at your page and find those things offensive. And employers and schools do not want to be saddled with a student who has a high social media presence but for the wrong reasons.

I use a plethora of digital media. If I could put my daily uses into a pie chart, digital media would encompass roughly 65% of it. My favorite digital platforms for social media are Twitter and Instagram. I also use digital software like The Sims, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. for digital business. I use digital media sites like this one, Wix, Youtube. The best way for me to access all the digital media I use is through the applications on my phone. I have apps for all my social media, iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, all of my Adobe Apps. I even have money management apps on my phone to track my spending. Digital media has become a huge part of my daily life, and that is why i always try to back up my apps to my iCloud, and back up anything else through my computer so that way none of my most important files will ever get lost if my phone randomly decides to reset itself. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen anytime soon. Or ever.

2/29 | MetaData

Why does metadata matter?

Metadata in its most simplest definition is ‘data about data’. The data that Metadata is about is literally any kind of informational data. Whether it is a book, article, image, audio, any sort of file that can be classified as data, can be investigated even further. That sub information, is metadata.
Now your first question is probably ‘Why?” right? Why did historians decide to find out more information about the information that is searched daily? It sounds a little like busy work at first, until you understand what they are searching for in this data. The first thing that metadata looks for in data is ‘descriptive information and context’.

Descriptive information and context about the data is crucial in finding the most important parts in a file; metadata looks to find the summation of the file itself. It includes notes about the data, a description of what is in the data, and the subjects discussed in the data. Sometimes it will also have the format of the data, the file’s rights info, and even database where you found the data at.

The way metadata files the data makes it very easy on you when you are looking up a specific file. If you already have an idea of what file you are searching for, lets use a historical document as example: You can search for metadata that comes from the Library of Congress, what date the data might have been filed, if the data is a book or one single piece of information, the author, title, and if you have it, even the publisher.

This is amazing, and metadata matters for historians. It matters for them because with the way our history has evolved into a more digitized system, it becomes increasingly difficult for historians to find the exact files they are looking for.Everything gets clogged up with tags for social media purposes that there ends up being more false data than true. This can make the search for the truth very difficult, and can lead to a lot of extra work for the historian that is doing the particular research.


2/22 | Online Primary Sources in the Civil War

2/22 What primary sources are available on your soldier’s unit? What records did you find by searching?

When looking through my soldier’s file of documents, its safe to say I felt a little in over my head. I had never really took the time to uncover historical documents unless they were excerpts put into my high school history books. Not being a history major meant that I had never written any college papers on history or historical events, and hadn’t the slightest clue what is considered a primary source or not. Looking through my soldier’s file was overwhelming at first, but once I understood what these documents were and what they meant it became much easier. The explanations for my documents were outlined on my course’s website (HIST 390: THE DIGITAL PAST). When reading these documents without the ‘document cheat sheet’, it can be complicated. Because these documents were for military and federal use, they didn’t feel the need to explain what this document meant and why it was being sent to who it was sent to. I had no clue what an Affidavit was, why every document seemed to have a seal from the Pension office, or where these soldier’s even came from. Like I said, in over my head.

One of the best primary sources on my soldier’s unit, in my opinion, is the CMSR (Combined Military Service Record) form. The documents are cards of stored information that are basically the ‘roll call of the unit’. I found this to be of the utmost importance when it pertains to the unit as a whole because its the best indication of how many people were still in the unit as of that particular date, it shows who was the author of it (most likely the General would be the one taking record), and it shows whether or not the soldier’s activity is present or absent. So when a solider is gone on a mission and the newest CMSR is taken, it will show them as absent, so when it comes to knowing where your soldier’s were at that time, you have a good understanding of the type of activity they participated in.

When searching the Valley of the Shadows for records, it was very difficult. Although it portrays itself as a place to search for all soldiers, they only have the soldiers listed in the counties of Franklin and Augusta, and if your soldier and soldier’s unit is not in that county, zero information will come up. Luckily, any information you search for about soldiers that are technically under ‘federal control’ are still usually for public use, and free to use as a primary source.

2/17 | Digital Sources

What are the advantages and disadvantages of digitized documents for researchers? Does your use of digital material reduce your environmental footprint?

There are multiple pros and cons to getting information from digitized documents. The obvious pro would be accessibility and convenience. It’s very easy for you to go into your Google search bar and look up a document or name of a historical figure and get bombarded with 450,000 search matches. The con of this is weeding out which one is actually the information you need, and which ones are just fluff. The reason why so many searches seem to create more unwanted information than wanted is because of ‘tags’. Tags are specific to online searches only, so if you want to avoid them, its best to stick to books and written documents.

Tags are used to help you find information through things like Google and Bing easier. For example, if I make a Tumblr blog post about Beyonce, I would add tags to the post like ‘Beyonce’, ‘Destinys Child’, ‘Jay Z’, ‘Rocafeller’, etc. You get the idea. Many times, people will add tags to their blogs and pictures that have absolutely nothing to do with the post, but they know that this is a popular internet search and that adding this tag will potentially lead to more viewers. What does this mean for researchers? It means that a plethora of their searches done online will warrant more fluff than actual info. And for someone who is not well-versed in research, especially not historical research, I could easily search for an image of a historical figure and choose the wrong person because SO many searches that do not fit what I have typed in, will pop up.

Honestly, I am unsure if my use of digital material truly reduces my environmental footprint. I usually do most of my research and homework on my computer, but I have just recently started doing all of my note taking on my computer so I feel like my technology usage has increased ten fold, and I don’t think that using this much electricity everyday is a good reduction of my carbon footprint. But if we had to compare the amount of paper that I used in my previous college years just due to note taking and studying alone, using my computer more has definitely saved the environment in my eyes.

2/10 | Historians and Civil War Soldiers

2/10 | What are the challenges of telling stories about ordinary soldiers? Why have those stories changed over time? How much attention do you think should be given to the ‘dark side’ of the Civil War?

There are many difficulties to telling stories about ordinary soldiers.

For one, they’re just that in the eyes of some historians: ‘ordinary’. Because they did not explicitly win, or lose, the battle for their side, their stories are washed away in a sea of ‘General this’ and ‘General that’. Even harder for some historians is the way they have to go about telling these stories of such soldiers. Because of where you are born, whatever country you are in, you are taught immediately as a child in grade school who fought for your country, who fought against who, and who threatened the safety of the American people. Even when the war is dirty on both sides, you are still taught to show somewhat of a sympathy for those American soldiers.

Let’s take slavery and the Civil War for example. Once the south seceded from the rest of the colonies, there was an all out war between them and the North. Many history books will paint the picture of the South’s secession as a story of their fight to protect the Union. As nice and justified as this sounds, it’s absolutely false. Yes, there may have been a push for the Union to stay together, but the real and true reason that the South seceded was because they wanted to keep their slaves. Their idea of preserving the Union was to keep their ways of life and their ideals, and that meant continuing to own slaves and keep slave labor so that their lives would be easier. We were taught this idea of preserving the Union in the history book, and the idea of slavery was more of a back thought. That is the difficulty for historians because the stories continue to evolve over time as more diaries and notes of soldiers are found. I believe also, that the dark side of the Civil War is just as important, as in any war. We cannot celebrate the triumphant moments in our history without acknowledging the unpleasant moments. They continue to bring us back down to reality and also to humble ourselves as a world power. That we are not all a perfect union as the Constitution says, but continuously striving towards that as history continues.


2/3 | What do you think is the biggest change that digital technology has made to how historians do history?

In my opinion, history has taken the biggest hit when it comes to the growth of technology. It used to be somewhat impossible for people to tamper with and defile historical documents because there were multiple copies and records of them in libraries in several books, museums, and in our school’s history books. You couldn’t argue with history because once it was printed in a book, it seemed to be the final voice. Nowadays, it seems like that has changed somewhat.

With our new-age world being completely centered around everything being smaller, more compact, and ‘easier’ on the user, simple things like books aren’t even the same. Yes, libraries, Barnes and Nobles, and various other bookstores still have a steady flow of customers, but it is not the same as it once was. Many authors now provide e-book versions of their publications, and even Google has their own book site called Google Books where you can buy almost any book you can think of in an e-book version. Those of us who are avid book readers and lovers of the atmosphere that is your local bookstore, still find comfort in hard backs, the flipping of scratchy thick pages, and the occasional printing typos that come along with actual books. But for those who don’t have the space, nor ‘time’ (in their opinion), to read and purchase actual books, e-readers have become their saving grace. E-Readers like Nook, Apple Books, Amazon Fire Tablet Books, etc. is like your local bookstore on crack. These tiny tablets and software hold THOUSANDS on THOUSANDS of books at your convenience, all neatly filed into folders that make it easier for you to search for.

This would, I assume, make it very difficult for historians to continue to record history the way they always have because whatever book they decide to create, it will most likely need an e-book version. And if they are historians who record history for our country, where do they keep records of what goes on in the world? Wikipedia? If that is the only viable option for historians, we’re in for a wild ride.