The Grand Tour and Geocoding

Class started with a ten minute discussion on the reading,“British Travelers in Eighteenth-Century Italy: The Grand Tour and the Profession of Architecture.” Dr. Levy had us try to lead our own discussion. It wasn’t the greatest success. Although, we did raise good questions and we were able to add on to each other’s ideas throughout the talk. Even though the discussions aren’t great, they have improved since the beginning of the semester. Hopefully we’ll keep improving. We also analyzed the different graphics in the article and their meaning. These graphs focused on different aspects of the travelers who participated during the Grand Tour. Using the graphs as a transition, we began learning about geocoding and georeferencing. To get a tangible understanding of what geocoding is, we visited and entered in our address. The algorithm then determined the latitude and longitude of our address, which we then copied over into a spreadsheet which allows for geocoding and georeferencing to be a lot simpler. Plugging in an address isn’t as easy as it sounds. I entered mine with the wrong punctuation and got a coordination that was completely wrong. Eventually, everyone figured it out and now will use this information for our next Task.

Oct. 23 Network Visualization

For Mondays class we discussed network visualization and how we can use graphs on our projects to help present our data and findings. We were also given an introduction to the program Palladio. It is a tool that can allow people to turn data into different graphs, charts etc. This can be very useful for many of our upcoming projects. Finally we had a discussion on Dan Edlestein’s piece, “Historical Research in a Digital Age: Reflections from the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project.” It was a very productive discussion and we covered a lot of ground in twenty minutes. It was interesting to see the opinions that everyone had on the importance of the Republic of Letters. Next class we are looking forward to geocoding, Breve, and another discussion.
Colin Sommers

The Republic of Letters (The Internet Before the Internet)

Class began with a discussion about, Reinventing Knowledge: Chapter 4 “The Republic of letters”. As everyone gathered around in a circle, the look of stress and pure panic filled the room. After reading 40 dense pages of historical research, we all felt beaten down and a little lost. After analyzing questions like: Who was the attended audience? What was the authors’ diction and narrative style?  We were able to get a better understanding of the chapter’s overall meaning. Although my fellow classmates and I were  getting a greater concept of the passage, we still had our reservations about the authors.  The classroom was outraged by the two’s unrealistically high expectations of our historical knowledge and education. I mean really! Who the heck is René Descartes?  If you’re gonna write a book intended for students, at least give a little background! After tensions dyed down, the class broke apart into pairs and explored a Stanford University website, that created a mapping of The Republic Letters. Each couple of students were assigned a case study to analyze. Julia and I observed the movement and evolution of Salons.  Dating back to the 17th and early 18th century, Salons were parties of high-class intellects that discussed their research and findings. And if you were wondering, the parties at Scranton do not fit this definition 😉 .  Next class we will further discuss our proposals and  “Historical Research in a Digital Age: Reflections from the Mapping the Republic of Letters Project.”



Making Word Clouds

The majority of today’s class consisted of talking and making word clouds. We got into this subject by first talking about text mining. Text mining is taking words and changing them into quantitative data and to do this it uses computer algorithms to analyze numerous texts at once. Creating a word cloud helps with visualizing how frequent a word appears in the text. Often, I see word clouds on ads and I usually see some around the campus. Therefore, using a word cloud is a common thing. In class, we were asked to make a word cloud of a topic of our choice. I did the Jesuit mission which wasn’t a large text, but I realized it didn’t need to be because my word cloud seemed full. After playing with the settings, I noticed I can make my word cloud however I wanted it to look, although, the size of the words wouldn’t change. This is because using an algorithm the word cloud has decided that the larger words would represent that they appear the most. A word cloud is a form of topic modeling because both are finding and tracing clusters of words. Also, they both require trial and error before the results are useful. In my opinion, doing the word cloud was interesting, but I do not see historians using this method often because it seems to me that a word cloud may be used for something fun or light hearted. However, topic modeling is a tool used for discovery and proves to be more useful when you know how to use it.

NGrams and Walking

Two aspects that I gathered from the class discussion on October 4th are: 1) The NGram, and 2) Walking. The NGram stood out to me because we got to play around with it during class, and it was actually rather interesting. The NGram is a visual display of Google corpus, Google corpus being a list of information contained in anything that has been digitized in Google Books. We got to put in some words and phrases into the NGram and see how much information in the corpus was what we were searching. I searched for “World War II” and “United States of America.” I saw the “World War II” graph had an incline around 1941, which is when the war started. “United States of America” didn’t have a lot of hits, but was still interesting.
The final thing that caught my attention during class was the discussion about walking. As I mentioned in class, I think that walking isn’t necessarily a “fun” or “exciting” activity, so talking and reading about it wasn’t all that riveting. Once we mentioned the difference between people walking in Scranton and New York City, I became interested because I can relate to both situations.

Sources, Viewpoint, and Mentalite: Historical Context and Mindsets

On October 2nd we began Unit 2, which is concerned with finding sources. We also spent most of the class discussing Arnold Chapters 5 and 6. Chapter 5 was mostly focused on placing our research in a larger historical context, the three contexts being either political, social, and cultural. The political view focuses mainly on the leaders of historical events. This view can be dangerous because the preponderance of importance is placed on the “Great Men of History,” which offers a very limited, narrow point of view. The social view of history focuses on social and economic influences on history. The cultural view is based on a patterns of thought and how they affect history. What do all of these contexts have in common? They affect what sources we use. If one were to write about (as exemplified in class), the American Revolution, the sources used to write a political, social, or cultural view would be very different from one another.  Chapter 6 was mostly concerned with the term “metalité,” or different mindsets. The idea of getting into the mindset of the people from different times gives the historian a difficult task: dissociating presently held ideas to understand those of the past. This is difficult especially when deciphering primary written sources, as language has a tricky tendency to evolve over time, and some words take on different meaning (cf. “cool” or “awful”). We then reflected on what all of this information means to us. What historical context do our papers fall into? How did these contexts affect our choice of sources?