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?

Class September 25th

To begin our digital history class on September 25th, we talked about tweets by the media team.  Our media team consisted of four digital history students. The Great 78 Project is a digital community project for the preservation, research and discovery of 78 rpm records from the time period of about 1898 to the 1950s.  We then discussed how The Great 78 Project is giving history digital life (Chestnut Hill). We talked about a reading by Lara Putnam called “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast.” We further reviewed the pertinent key terms that seemed important. Some of these key terms we deemed to be important included: digitized turn, contextualization, and transnational. In addition, we researched and determined that Lara Putnam is a Latin American specialist, as well as a distinctive transnational historian. Several key reading strategies we utilized was listing key terms and scanning for main concepts. Furthermore, we examined and further explored information on transnational history and how the expansion of the internet affects history. This article “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast” by Laura Putnam consists of learning about digitizing terms and it’s processes. Then the article delved a little deeper analyzing and tackling the effects of the digitized turn.

Research paper presentations on 9/27

The whole of class on Wednesday, September 27, was dedicated to our first graded oral presentation. The presentations were summaries of our experiences with the University of Scranton research paper we have been working on for a few weeks. Fellow students and Dr. Levy were those who graded the presentations with scorecards. On the scorecard, the grading was broken down into four parts; the (1) content and (2) organization of the presentation along with the (3) delivery and (4) language used by the presenter. The topics of each research paper varied from the history of the mascot to the impact Jason Miller, an actor and screenwriter, had on the University. At the end of class, we discussed what students thought others did well during the presentation and what could be worked on. The class agreed everyone had great delivery, organization within their topics, and a large focus on descriptions of the primary sources. What we can all work on is making sure our content is enough to sufficiently supply information throughout our recommended time limit. This time, the limit was three minutes but some of us went over and some went far below. Today was only our first presentations though, so as a class overall, we did a respectable job.

Class on 9/20

In class on Wednesday September 20th, we started by reviewing Monday’s session with Michael Knies, and how aspects of history are lost when it becomes digitized, such as its feel, or the smell it might have. In addition, we learned that digital history will eventually dissolve, losing parts of history. After this discussion, we went over the guidelines for the Scranton paper due Friday the 29th, as well as smart ways to approach writing the paper. This includes using Zotero, which organizes sources and allows for an easier way to include citations. In relation to sources, we did an activity to learn how to differentiate sources based on their citation. These sources include primary sources, which are a first hand account of a person or event, secondary, which is a reflection of the primary, and tertiary sources, which include both primary and secondary sources in order to make an overview of an event. Lastly, in class we talked about our upcoming presentations and what needs to be done to prepare for this, and how it will be graded.

Class Visit to the WML Special Collections Library

This past Monday, the HIST 190 Digital History class met for a lecture on the fourth floor of the Weinberg Memorial Library, where we met with the University’s Special Collections Librarian, Michael Knies. In our hour with him, we learned much about the University’s special collections, which includes a Medieval manuscript from the 1300s and art from the master penman P.W. Costello. Associate Professor Knies explained to our class the process of having works – especially books – digitized, and elaborated on the pros and cons and drawbacks of digitizing certain books. One of the biggest drawbacks in trying to digitize the Library’s collections is the vast amount of works in the collection: there simply isn’t enough time or manpower to digitize and catalogue it all! There are many pros to digitizing works in general, but one of the cons as it was explained to us is that book pages are torn from the spine to be scanned, which ruins the book in its original form. Associate Professor Knies also told the class about the U of S’s correspondences with famous celebrities, most of which were possible arrangements for the celebrities to visit the University. Overall, the University of Scranton’s Special Collections is quite interesting and varied, and is a valuable resource for research within the community of Scranton!


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