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Advancing Through the Digital Age

As the semester comes near, it is easy to see how much this digital history has taught me.  Researching tools that I would have never used before are now part of my routine.  Using websites like Wikipedia and historical blogs as a great starting tool has made researching a much easier task.  These websites, though not always factual, can catapult a research into a plethora of information at once disposal.

I also must admit my prior skepticism to archiving websites like twitter and blogs, but now I do feel slightly different about the topic.  Twitter has revolutionized the way people look at news, especially breaking news.  Even though many of the tweets are not important, they do create a timeline of certain events.  Social media is a huge part of society and allows people to communicate with others around the world. Documenting these conversations could be very important for future researchers to document past events. 

There is no denying the abundance of information that is on the web. It most definitely can be overwhelming for a researcher through thousands of documents, but as my digital history class has taught me, narrowing your search to essential piece of information can make your argument clear and precise.  I know keeping up with the rapidly moving digital age will be a difficult task, but will better my abilities to use the web in the future.  Websites and new technologies are produced every day to make life easier for viewers.  For one to keep up to date on these helpful tools will only make their lives easier and make future tasks quite simple.

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Your Research Matters!

         Teaching through the digital era is not an easy task.  Many old teaching habits are becoming outdated and useless.  Teachers need to update teaching styles that will best prepare students for the real world.   Jeffery W. McClurken’s article, “Learning Through Digital Media Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy” is an amazing response to students and instructors who feel they cannot keep up with the digital age.  Students need to be able to write for a wider audience now a days.  Many projects and assignments that they will have to do in the business world will become public, so being able write to entertain a reader is important. 

            Writing essays for a professor is important, but like McClurken stated, after that paper is handed in and graded, no one will ever read it again.  It seems that all the school work that is done yearly is for no reason.  Being a graduate student, I have realized how important my work is while I attend CCSU.  Two of my classes require my research to be public for a website. This means that my information has to be correct and my writing has to be flawless.  Putting information on websites not only puts your name out there, it also gives a professional feeling to your school work that one usually does not experience. 

            We all know that what we put on the internet can be found by anyone, including possible future employers.  This can be used to ones benefit because if one spends the proper time and research to create something they are proud of, then it could make them a possible candidate for a job.  Writing for the general public is a difficult technique to get used to, but will be beneficial for students.  Arguments that the internet is flooded with too much information can be well backed, but this should not deter possible writers who want their research to be public.  Who knows, maybe someone important will come upon your writing and recommend you for a position.

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A Collection of Collections: Omeka bringing together Museum, Library, and Scholarly Collections

               Omeka is an easy and user friendly way for people to create a webpage that connects scholarly, library, and museum collections.  It has a massive array of digital collections and each showcase is dedicated to a specific time, event, person, or place.  It is extremely helpful for researchers if they have a topic with possible limited primary resources because the sites have helpful digital collections that could be useful. One website that I felt best portrayed this usefulness was the James Monroe Papers showcase.  It is a very simple website and is extremely easy for one to explore and find a letter that they might need.  This website has a limited amount of information, but still informative and straight to the point. There are several letters, maps, and a timeline that all portray James Monroe’s life and his accomplishments.

                To show how different each website can be I also viewed Elvis at 21 which has several photos of Elvis Presley at the age of twenty one. This website is more focused on an Elvis enthusiast and who would want to see photographs of him in his prime. Each photo has a small description of what is occurring in the photo and paints a better picture for the viewer.  With Omeka, these amazing collections are retrievable from the comfort of ones home. 

                These two websites are completely opposite of each other, but no one is better than another.  Omeka allows for the creation of any digital collection which will bring viewers from all across the world.  Even though one person may think a website of Elvis photos is pointless, to some, these photos are priceless and create a great collection of the iconic musician.  Omeka allows for a plethora of information to be documented and shared with millions.  Omeka has created thousands of digital museums that are free to visit and extremely informative.

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The Overabundence of Information on the Web

There will always be a debate between the usefulness of digital history and historical discussions on less scholarly websites like blogs.  There is an excessive amount of information on the web which creates a strenuous process of weeding out the inadequate material.  Many scholars argue that this big data problem creates uneducated scholars and also dilutes certain scholarly fields.  I personally feel that it takes a properly educated researcher to weed out the rubbish that is present in Google searches and use quality sources to articulate an argument.  One should not solely relay on a search engine to retrieve all their research.  Someone who is properly trained to research can use certain website as a foundation to solidify their argument. An example of this is the use of Wikipedia or blog sites to create an argument.  If these websites have justifiable evidence then a researcher can use the sources cited for their argument.  One who is uneducated in a certain field may not know what a scholarly source is, but can easily find out by digging a little deeper into the authors background. 

                There is no doubt that there is an enormous amount of information in digital form and one does not have to read book after book to become well educated in a topic.  Some scholars may feel this is by passing their strenuous path to becoming an expert in the field, but it nearly is using our technological advancements to improve how we learn.  This can be seen in ever field and is seen as an improvement in almost every scenario.  The accounting field has been revolutionized by the creation of Microsoft Excel and it easy to use format.  It has made a painful day of number crunching into a much simpler process, which takes away much of the risk of human error.  This does mean that some accountants are not working nearly as hard as an accountant did several years ago, but we cannot discredit them as an accountant. 

                My argument is not to accept every historical blog or Wikipost as an educated poster, but to nearly see the change in tide, when looking at research.  It is much easier for someone to self-educate themselves if they are driven to do so.  This should be look at as an accomplishment of the future.  There will always be an abundance of information on the internet and it all should be taken into context.  There are some justifiable sites and there are others that are quite useless, but together, they all help to create the historiography of internet.

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Online Historical Mapping

            Online Historical Geographic Information System or GIS is a revolutionary idea and has many benefits to researchers.  It amplifies the magnitude of data and gives the viewer a better understanding of the topic and the problem.  The maps still have a ways to go and there is a plethora of information that could be mapped out.  My personal experience with using a historical GIS was at the website Digital Harlem which depicted a major crime problem in Harlem, New York from 1915 to 1930.  The statistics were startling and the mapping makes one truly realize the magnitude in which people in Harlem had to fear for their lives.  All one has to do is pick a crime and use the subcategories to narrow their search. 

            This website is a great prototype for what can be done in the future.  The website does have a couple problems including failing to load every statistic and needing to restart the webpage.  If this website expands all the way to present day Harlem, I also feel it could be a more useful source of data.  The twenty year timespan is interesting, but definitely only benefits a small amount of people.  If one was to explore the improvement in security in Harlem a great source would be the mapping from 1915 to at least 2000.

            I also took a look at Mapping the Republic of letters which took a different way of portraying history.  The creator of this website has several charts and maps to tell the story of important historical figures.  For example, when looking at Benjamin Franklin, one can see how frequently he sent letters and which month he sent out the most letters.  We can also tell where a majority of letters went and can start to paint a picture of Franklin’s life by only looking at this information.  This can make curious viewers want to read more about Benjamin Franklin and create a new enthusiasm for the topic.

            We should continue building these interactive maps to display history in a new light.  These projects can be very time consuming, but rewarding because the information will help thousands understand history and the extent of an issue.  Both of these websites have different styles to portray historical events, but no one website is better than another.  They both are crucial to keep the interest of viewers for history and gives a new look to information.

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The Flood of Information on the Internet

                    The floodgates have opened in recent years to compile as much information on the web as possible.  Websites like Google are trying to surpass all the competition to hold as much information as possible so they are the superior researching site.  The creation of Google Books is just another step by Google to help researchers find information that once was very difficult to get a hold of. Personally, Google Books has made my life much less stressful.  Just this past week I needed to find a book for class and only had two weeks to read the book and write an essay on it.  This was not going to be possible if I had to wait 5 to 7 days for the book to be delivered by Amazon.  Luckily the book I needed for my essay was published years ago and was made into an Ebook by Google.  This was extremely beneficial and was also easier to read than the terribly copied pdf files of the book by the National Archive. 

                When looking at recent attempts to capture digital history, I feel our society as a whole has done a miraculous job.  With events like September 11th and the Iraq War, many databases have saved vital information that would have been lost if not saved by these archives.  Information is constantly being put up on the web and it is very difficult to decide what information is vital, but so far I feel a majority of the important information has been saved for future generations.

                The next question to address is as a society, where do we go from here?  With an overabundance of information already on the internet, should there be websites documenting every little detail.  Personally, I feel this is obsolete and information from many sites should eventually disappear.  I also feel that the recent attempt to save all tweets is an effort that will require too much time and money and should not be considered as vital as some archives believe the information is. Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, and other social media websites are relevant today, but a majority of the information posted is obsolete and just cluttering the cyber world. 

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The Endless Opportunites of the World Wide Web

Before my Digital history class I have overlooked websites like Wikipedia, Twitter, and blog websites.  I felt that their existence was insignificant to my curiosities and that the flood of inane interpretations would outweigh the intellectual ones.  I now realize that this assumption was baseless and has actually prevented myself from learn an enormous amount of broad information that could that could be crucial in future endeavors.  An amazing example of this is my lack of trust towards Wikipedia.  For years I have felt the website is untrustworthy and held many falsehoods.  While this risk does exist, I have been neglecting to realize that millions of passionate historians and educators put their heart and soul into many of the webpages.  Robert S. Wolff has proven this as he discussed the level of intellectual debates behind the scenes of Wikipedia.  His article, The Historian’s Craft, Popular Memory, and Wikipedia, discusses how one of the most controversial events in our nation’s history is constantly being edited and improvised by hundreds of people, many being scholarly.  The additions have created a site that has around 19,000 words and hundreds of corrections.  The extensive bibliography shows that many have read up on the subject and allows many interested viewers to find quality sources for further research.  Wikipedia is an amazing website for researchers and curious readers to get a great deal of information in a short synopsis and can easily lead a reader to further educating themselves on a topic.

Another underestimated way of further educating oneself, is the use of Twitter in a professional way.  Many could ask how this is possible.  At first one can interpret Twitter as a social media site where many teenagers and young adults express their daily activities and life hitches.  This could become very obnoxious for someone who was just looking for a quick sports update, breaking news alert, or an intriguing discussion between students and professors.  One great example of this is by Nick Sacco, who discussed in his blog Putting Yourself Out There: Tips and Tricks that it is quite possible to make a twitter account for educational and professional purposes.  If one really wanted to inform themselves and have education debates and conversation Twitter can allow this and also connect people from across the globe. 

Personally I have grown very fond of Wikipedia to further my education in history.  The brief descriptions lead me to read other articles and books on the topic.  I have not truly taken off on the Twittersphere, but I do plan on expanding my use on the website and see if Nick Sacco’s points hold true. 

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The Freedom to Self Educate

Nothing is ever free in the world, but the cost of intellectual information is so high that American students are not even allowed to use such important pieces of research until college.  We limit our society to have access to only a small fraction of the import studies done to create educated debates and many citizens only can rely on the information given in newspapers and on the television.  Personally, I knew very little about researching for a paper until my freshman year of college.  The use of JSTOR and other databases was never accessible to me during high school, so I had to limit my searches to newspapers, a few free journals, and books.  This was fine for me in high school, but as soon as I handed in my first college paper I was criticized for my lack of education resources.  I had to change every style of researching I once knew and this was no easy task. 

This information can never be complete free, but it needs to be cheaper than it is now.  Charging a school $50,000 for full access to one website is outrageous and creates problems for researchers after they finish their education to have access to these databases.  As more and more lawsuits are being handed out by major research databases, the public now has to fear how they can use these sources and not to stockpile articles.  In this day in age, we should not limit the amount one can learn.  To limit the nation from only a select amount of information is just another way to keep people divided.  The upper class is able to access this information and stay informed and better them, but people less fortunate cannot access these sites because of financial restrictions.  Many cannot not afford the rising prices of a college degree, but this does not mean they are not driven to learn, but financially cannot accomplish furthering their education.  To keep the lower class uninformed and undereducated is a technique that has been around for years.  To have the lower class revolt against the upper would be like a scene from the Great Revolution in France, but probably unlikely.  We cannot continue dividing the rich and poor and allowing the few to better themselves while others are strategically left out. 

Who knows what would happen if databases like JSTOR become accessible to the public.  It may change nothing what so ever, but at least the information is out there for anyone.  We need to level out the playing field for Americans so if one wants to achieve the “American Dream” they can attempt to do so with the proper tools to success.  

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The Amazing uses of Digital Archiving

Digital archives have revolutionized researching for millions and have given researchers the ability to look up extremely old artifacts in the comfort of their home.  The accessibility of these websites has made primary resources much easier to use and allows professors and students to back up their argument with legitimate primary sources.  Many of these sources have been in museums or library archives and could only be viewed if a researcher traveled to their location.  Now with digital archives, there is no need to travel everywhere.

An amazing example of a user friendly digital archive website is http://wardepartmentpapers.org/. This amazing website makes researching primary sources extremely easy and even helps cut down research time by having an advanced search tool.  This tool allows the researcher to narrow the search to a topic, keyword, author, or even recipient. If one was going to look through an archive of a specific person they would have to read every piece of paper to find if it is useful for their paper.  This is not needed with War Department Papers website because every artifact has a small description that informs the reader what the artifact has to offer.

There can be some problems with digital archiving, like false information being put up, but this is the case for almost anything and it should not stop people from using digital archives.  I know from personal experiences with archives, looking at documents can be extremely stressful and problematic.  Archives usually have a limited period of time being open and many rules and stipulations come with looking at archives.  Worst of all, a researcher could look at a libraries archive for hours and find no useful information during that time.  The process is very time consuming and makes primary resources nearly impossible to find.

Digital archives are popping up every day and updated with new information all the time.  With a majority of these websites being free, the educational resources are making students and professors write amazing papers with great primary sources.

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Is Wikipedia Truly a Useful Webpage?

Wikipedia has been a controversial website since its establishment on the web in 2001.  Since that time, there have been over twenty nine million free articles published and millions of authors and editors who spend their free time making Wikipedia an informative and useful tool for all.  With its unique ability to allow its followers to edit pages as they seem fit, many argue it is not a factual resource and can miss lead millions.  Even with this high risk of illegitimate work, many well educated writers have written well organized and cited articles that can be seen as scholarly and useful.  These articles appear more often than not and in recent pushes by Wikipedia, are making Wikipedia more credible every day.  Multi-billion dollar companies like Google and Yahoo support Wikipedia and it’s “anti-authoritarian” design and give the non-profit website many perks for free.

The design of the website is extremely user friendly and can get any research project started very smoothly.  Researchers can look at citations on the bottom of the page to find quality sources to back their argument.  Even though there could be lies being told on the website, an educated reader could easily determine if the information is factual by researching the sources used to create the publication.  I would not recommend students to every cite Wikipedia, but it is one of the most helpful tools to begin researching. 

The WikiProject could be an extremely useful tool to make the entire website more educational and acceptable by the educated community.  The motive is a solid one, but it seems that with little help and experience needed to become a member, the program is dying off and possibly has too much information to update.  With the constant ability to update the page many problems can come from bias sources on controversial topics.  Even though most pages are correctly updated, there are some that get updated with incorrect information and the information may stay up for some time, misleading the readers.  The video Heavy Metal Umlaut is a great example of a website being updated constantly with a small bits of inaccuracies.  It is good to see that people are constantly updating Wiki pages, but the website can sometimes become a place where ones thoughts are opposing another’s and the two continue to update their bias opinions on a “neutral” website.

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