Category Archives: Clio2

Design Rationale: Playing History

This week in Clio Wired: Creating History With New Media each of my classmatees has been diligently working on composing a design rationale for each of our projects. Below is my rationalization. You can also view it as this PDF.

Related to this I thought folks might be interested in the slides for the presentation I gave on Playing History at the American Association of History and Computing’s conference over the weekend.

Strategy and Scope: Readings In Digital Humanities Project Management

One of the first steps in constructing a digital humanities project is to define your strategy and project scope. This week in our creating history and new media class we had a great discussion about a topic most of the class had not really considered, what I would call project management in the digital humanities. Our discussion centered on two books, Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning and The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web. Both books tell roughly the same sort of story, Communicating Design focusing more on working as part of a team and Elements focusing more on the conceptual layers involved in a digital project. Both proved to be invaluable assets to our conversation.

[openbook booknumber=”0321392353″]

The books hit home two central points for digital humanists. First, although both books are effectively about making websites the first two thirds of each book has nothing to do with (what I sense most folks think web design is about) laying out content on pages. This brings us to the second crucial point in both the books. That part of the books that isn’t about laying out content is all about users, your hypothetical users; What do they need/want? Why would they come to you instead of some other project? And a slew of other fundamental questions.

The class assignment for this week dovetails quite nicely with this set of readings. Each group’s goal was to set out their projects strategy and scope, a document fundamentally grounded in the first two thirds of these books. I have posted our groups scope and timeline below. Jim Safley and I drafted it through a Google doc. I posted some language left over from a grant application I had worked on last semester and edited it down a bit to something I thought would better fit our time constraints (little) and our funding (none). Over the last week or two Jim and went back and forth editing the doc and the timeline to refnie our conception of the project.

Strategy and Scope: Playing History

A flurry of interest has arisen around the potential of digital games, simulations and interactives to promote humanities learning, spurred in part by a growing body of research on the value of educational games. Foundations and universities have invested millions of dollars into developing these games, yet many are built, tested, and promptly shelved, played by only a handful of students during the pilot testing phase.

There is no comprehensive directory to connect teachers with these resources. If high quality educational games, grounded in current academic knowledge and at the forefront of the digital technologies, are to reach teachers and their students, there is a clear need to build a collaborative directory for sharing information.

Playing History offers a chance for the humanities to take the lead in integrating educational games in the classroom. The project team will aggregate information on approximately 30 games that are currently available online. We will make these resources available to teachers and students through Omeka, a standards based, open-source web publishing platform.

The resulting website will allow teachers to search by time period and historical keywords, helping them to integrate the games into their lesson plans. Together, these efforts will lay the foundation for a communal directory, offering teachers a place to review games, attach lesson ideas, and eventually add additional games.

Through development of this collaborative directory the project will begin to shed light on the best approaches for developing future education web community projects as well as insight into the state of historical games and simulations available to educators.

It is unfortunate that so much money is invested toward developing educational games but they are largely unknown to the teachers who could put them directly into use. With a comparatively small investment in Playing History, we can create a single place for teachers, historians, and educational researchers to find, evaluate, and use the highest quality games.

Playing History Work Plan

2/09, Create “game” data schema (see Appendix)
3/02, Install and modify omeka, map schema to Dublin Core, create “game” item type
3/11, 10 game sample set added
3/23, Sitemap and wireframes
4/06, Design rationale
4/20, XHTML/CSS mockups
4/27, GuestLogin plugin and RateReview plugin
5/03, Additional 20 games added to repository
5/04, Final Project

A Few More Site Ideas For Playing History: This Time From Mega Man

One more round of site theme ideas. I think I might really like this round. Do folks like these more or less then the last batch? I did not fill in all the content for these, just a few boxes and headings to give a sense of the concept. Each of them would take a bit more work. These are generated out of cut up shots from mega man, so I would be mushing and chewing on those original images a bit, but I thought I would share these.



Darwin, History, and Visualizations

Two weeks ago our Creating History in New Media class had a great chance to chat with historian David Staley about his book Computers Visualization and History and Scott McCloud‘s book Understanding Comics. New media provides some exciting places to take conversations about visualizations in history, but one of my other take-a-ways from the conversation was that there are a lot of places to talk about historical visualizations in old media.

I know that I said it’s not about pictures, but for those of you interested in pictures there are some neat projects that you can look to. To (quite literally) illustrate the point, here are a few examples of some of some dead tree picture based visualizations.

Children’s Picture Books

Below is a shot from Peter Sis’ The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin. Each page of the book places the primary content of the story in the center circle and frames. The picture below isn’t the best example but it does a good job demonstrating the way the side stories leaf into the center image to express different parts of a related story. Over the last thirty years or so critics and artists have developed several different works that explore how picture books work. Folks interested visually communicating history might do well to borrow from their work.

Science Comics

The Sandwalk Adventures

As I mentioned, alongside Computers Visualization and History our class also read Understanding Comics. It is worth mentioning that comics themselves are becoming a compelling medium for visually communicating history. In my own area of interest, the History of Science, Jim Ottaviani and Jay Hosler have developed some fantastic examples of what you can do with comics. Below is a page from a great book about Darwin’s ear ticks by Hosler. 

Photos of Legos With Currency

Ok it doesn’t really fit, but it’s awesome-ness outweighed its misfit-ness, so here it is.

So, why have I pulled together these images? To demonstrate that there are already communities of comic and picture book artists interested in presenting historical information to young and old alike, many of who are doing a bang up job. There is enough material out there to just focus in on a single figure like darwin and see different examples from these fields. If historians want to think more about developing picture based visualizations they would do well to try folding in insights form these different communities.

Visualization and History: Hint, It's Not About Pictures

If your into history and computers, and looking for a mildly trippy read, break open a bottle of wine and spend three of four hours reading through David Staley’s Computers Visualization and History. Staley’s central, somewhat provocative, contention is that there is nothing natural or automatic about historians choice to communicate through writing. Like some scientists, historians could assemble evidence and communicate through visualizations. I think he is largely right about the value visualizations offer to historians, but I don’t think the most useful visualizations are going to be pictures or 3D models. In my opinion, the most promising places for visualization is visualizing texts.

[openbook booknumber=”0765610949″]

In the introduction Staley argues that “the impact of the computer has been as a graphics tool more than as a processor of words.” I think the real issue here is not about processing words or creating graphics. As far as I’m concerned the fundamental power of new media, computers first and foremost, is the manipulative leverage provided by databases. I don’t claim to take credit for this notion, at the moment I am thinking primarily of Lev Manovich’s book The Language of New Media.

If you have a chance to read both Manovich and Staley against each other I think you’ll see some interesting parallels in what they are excited about. Where Staley sees the liberating power of visualization,  Manovich sees the liberating potential of the database. Both graphic representation and databases offers a chance to escape the linearity of texts.

You don’t need to go much further than Wordle to see how powerful basic visualizations of texts can be. If your looking for something a bit more juicy and substantive take a look at Franco Moretti’s Graphs, Maps, and Trees. Once you’ve seen Moretti graph the rise and fall of literary genres, and map out locations in stories to demonstrate megatrends in the history of British Literature, I am sure that you’ll be convinced of the largely untapped potential for these sorts of visualizations of texts. If you want to experiemnt yourself try doing some searches through Mark Davies Time Magizine Courpus and make some visualizations of them with Swivel.

Information technology allows us to manipulate linear texts, to search them, to parse them, to count frequency and relationships between words. In short, to take the linearity out of the text and stretch and visualize it for any number of reasons. At least at this point, that search and indexical stuff is something that really only works on texts.  I think Staly is right about visualization, but the funny part is that the most exciting vistas that historical visualization are probably going to be texts.

13 Free Online History Games

This is a quick smattering from the hundreds of different free online history games and interactives I have come across. This slice of the history games web underscores a few key points behind building the Playing History collaborative directory.

First, the list gives a quick sense of the different diversity of groups making history games. Each of these places have their own silos of content, making it nearly impossible for teachers to get a quick sense of what sorts of games are out there on a given topic.

If you get a chance to click through some of the links you will get a clear sense of the other need Playing History can address. The quality of these games and interactives varies widely. By allowing educators to rate and review these games in one central location Playing History can ensure educators can find both topical an high quality games.

If you get a chance to take a look at some of these post your reactions and thoughts about them in the comments.

From NOVA via WGBH Boston

Escape from Antarctica– Students relive Ernest Shackleton’s voyage from Antarctica’a Elephant Island to South Georgia island using a sextant and a chart.
Galileo’s Experiments– Students conduct virtual versions of Galileo’s thought experiments, including those using an inclined plane and a pendulum.
Map of the Maya World– Students explore 15 Mayan cities in an interactive map.

From the National Museum of American History

You Be the Historian– Students examine objects left behind by the Springer family, who lived in Delaware more than 200 years ago.

From Colonial Williamsburg

Williamsburg Coins: Students examine the diverse types of money jingling in the pockets and purses of colonial ancestors.

From the British Broadcasting Service

Viking Quest – Students explore Viking life by building a ship and looting monasteries.
Who Wants to Be a Cotton Millionaire? – Students run a cotton company in Victorian Brittan

From the Discovery Channel

Attack on Pearl Harbor– Students explore the virtual battleground through an interactive map
The Emperor’s Tomb– Students enter the mysterious tomb of the first emperor of China.

From the History Channel

Explore Shermans March– Students trace this historic civil war event

From the National Portrait Gallery

A Brush with History – Students explore famous portraits.

From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Holocaust era in Croatia- Students explore daily life in holocaust era Croatia

From PBS Kids Go

Day in the life of a Native American Boy (ca.1855) -Students learn about daily life of Native American children in the mid 19th century.

Creating History In New Media

Word cloud for the Creating History With New Media course website

I am excited to taking Jeremy Boggs course “Creating History In New Media” to round out my MA in American History. The syllabus is pretty exciting, if a bit overwhelming, mix of tech skills (HTML, CSS and using WordPress and Omeka) with readings in project management and process for web design. If your into this sort of thing take a look at his syllabus.

Over the course of the semester each class member, ideally working in groups, will work a digital history site from bar napkin sketch to launch. I am lucky to have teamed up with Jim Safley, CHNM’s Web Programmer and Digital Archivist,  to work on putting together a smaller scope version of the Playing History project. (If you don’t feel like clicking the link Playing History will be a collaborative directory for educators to find, review, and post lesson plans relating to freely available history games they can use in their classrooms.) Jim and I will be using Omeka as our CMS.

Blogging is a big part of this course. Most of my classmates will be putting together class specific blogs that assume a considerable amount of shared classroom experience. That’s great.  I plan to take a slightly different tack.

While I will be participating in that community, I also want this blog to continue to serve a more general audience of folks interested in my particular take on digital history/humanities stuff. I have two primary reasons for doing this, the first of which is altruistic, and the second of which is a bit more self serving.

(1) I don’t think many history programs offer this kind of course. So if anyone wants to virtually audit it: grab a copy of the syllabus, and subscribe my RSS feed to follow along as we work through it together. I intend to post general class reactions to projects and readings alongside my own reactions, as well as, general information about how our class sessions worked. I think this, in conjunction with the course site, should also provide fruitful food for thought for educators interested in developing similar kinds of courses.

(2) I really think the Playing History project Jim and I are working on is a valuable endeavor and the more folks we can get to react to our planing documents (sitemaps, wireframes, photoshop mockups, HTML mockups, and final product) the more likely we will be able to launch a compelling first iteration of the Playing History idea.