Digital Clio


Historical Scholarship in the Digital Age

Tool Review: TokenX and Language Analysis

The proliferation of linguistic tools for analysis has opened new avenues for historians working in the digital realm. Textual analysis is the study of newspaper articles, books, laws, oral histories, and other forms of human communication. Textual analysis digital tools better enable historians to decipher language usage, frequency, and significance in the context of discourse, rhetoric, and ideas. These robust digital tools thereby provide numerous possibilities that can inform historical research and communication strategies that can introduce new thinking into the current historiography. Brian Pytlik Zillig at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH) at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln developed TokenX as a powerful tool for analyzing text. While TokenX continues to undergo revision and further development, tools like this one can help historians integrate textual analysis in their research to analyze connections in language and across several texts.

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Tool Review: Google Earth for Digital Historians

With tools like Google Earth, historians can construct interactive and engaging forms of history. Users can generate graphical representations of events to visually convey events. For instance, Google and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) collaborated to spread awareness of the genocide in Darfur [link]. The overlay they generated includes descriptive HTML that presents users with first-hand testimonies, pictures, the locations of refugee camps, and links to video clips. The Darfur map included an overlay that could be turned on that displayed 3D columns to visually represent the numbers of displaced persons. Teachers may speak of 200,000 displaced individuals, but to visually represent such numbers conveys greater weight to a subject. The same approach could be taken with historical events, such as using columns to display war casualties in World War II or the location and relevant information of Nazi death camps. Additionally, students could get an idea of how early cartographers viewed the planet with the Dave Rumsey historical maps [link] or explore the geographic and historical data related to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake [link].

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Google Earth Election Overlays from the University of Richmond

I’ve neglected to point out that our good friend Andrew Torget and the crew at the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond partnered up with Google Earth and created map overlays to analyze state and county voting results from 1980 through 2004.  The Voting America map also includes demographic information from the U.S. Census that allows users to get a county-level look at how populations voted over time.  The collaboration builds upon the DSL’s Voting America: United States Politics, 1840-2004, which explores the last 164 presidential elections through cinematic and interactive maps.

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Designing Digital History

Our digital history seminar is currently in the midst of designing our digital projects and has gotten me thinking about how to design digital scholarship and the tools that are available for helping in the construction of projects.  Beginners to digital history are somewhat daunted by the design process.  The lingo of web design – HTML, CSS, Javascript, XML, metadata, hypertext – seems like an endless alphabet of ambiguous elements in the digital environment. This post means to highlight some tools and resources digital humanists might find useful in constructing their own projects, as well as impart some of my first-hand experience thus far in the design process.

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Tool Review: MIT’s Citeline

The open source tools created by MIT’s SIMILE project can help historians visualize their data in a variety of ways.  One of the project’s newer tools is Citeline, a WYSIWYG exhibit builder for bibliographies.  Recently, I experimented with this tool in constructing an exhibit with citation data for the digital history project I am undertaking. The  tool offers a simple interface for editing publication lists, bibliographies, and other citation information. This tool requires BibTeX files to run. BibTeX files are created by digital bibliographic services such as EndNote and RefWorks. The Citeline frequently asked questions describes how to import BibTeX files into the tool. On the other hand, one using Zotero can download Zotz, a firefox add-on that extends Zotero, to upload data directly to the Citeline service.

This tool is implemented very easily, requiring almost no HTML knowledge as the tool writes all of the code itself. The Zotero route for importing data into the MIT tool seems much simpler and straightforward, particularly if one is familiar with Zotero.  After downloading Zotz, one must simply click export data to Citeline and within seconds, all of the data in the Zotero library is available and usable. Once imported to Citeline, data is presented in a visual exhibit, downloadable and freely usable as an HTML file. The output is an online, multi-faceted interface in which users can investigate, analyze, and query citation data in lists or on a timeline. See the brief skeletal exhibit I created here. This output seems to combine Simile’s exhibit and timeline tools, by directing them towards citation data. Read the rest of this entry »

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Textual Analysis

In order for digital history to embrace and employ the great potential of the technological age, text encoding becomes necessary. Text encoding is one method of taking original textual materials from analog to digital representations, electronically searchable for scholarly research. XML is an encoding standard that assists in the creation, retrieval, and storage of electronic documents. Through text encoding and XML, researchers can gain a higher level of expertise about original texts and documents in electronic form. Such technology allows for systematic manipulation and analysis of complex historical texts, deciphering their intricacies into a more understandable form while preserving that complexity. Furthermore, Perry Willett asserts in his article “Electronic Texts: Audiences and Purposes,” “Electronic texts give humanists access to works previously difficult to find, both in terms of locating entire works, with the Internet as a distributed interconnected library, and in access to the terms and keywords within the works themselves, as a first step in analysis.” The digital tools available to historians for textual analysis have opened new realms of historical analysis. As a tool for researching, analyzing, and teaching, XML and textual analysis offers avenues of research to describe and analyze the literary and linguistic past.
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