Overwhelmed

As I shift through my (seemingly endless) articles, I, like Sam, am finding myself a bit frustrated with my research. Initially, I had wanted to focus on the physical space of Regent Park itself, and the reasons for wanting to incorporate the design/structure/architecture they eventually ended up using, post-WWII. However, I’m finding myself divulged more into the political aspect of things, which I’m not entirely sure I want to do, since I’m afraid that in doing so, a less comprehensive view will be given. On the other hand, perhaps I may need to rethink my initial goals of focusing strictly on just the one aspect.

The layout for the site is probably the closest mockup for what I think our group had envisioned. And since I plan to nerd out over Reading Week and get some actual reading done (no sunny destinations in my future), I’m hoping that our group will be able to get something going. It’s exciting that things seem to be coming together, yet a tad bit scary that it feels as if there’s not going to be enough time for everything.

Regent Park Revisited

Since I don’t currently have the interwobs at my place yet (blasphemy, given the nature of this course), I’m currently writing this on my phone. Ah yes, the wonders of technology.

As Will noted, we headed last week to the Archives. I’ve been there before, so I’m no stranger to the process of having to request and wait for information. What I haven’t experienced before is having so many potential viable sources red taped. There are so many sources that have been marked as not ready for public viewing that on the one hand, it’s ridiculous, and on the other, it’s frustrating. This makes me wonder just how much of the recent redevelopment going on in Regent Park has to do with such information not being accessible to the public, or whether it’s a matter of having such materials be properly archived versus how much sensitive material there is that: a) we’re missing out on; and b) we’re deliberately not allowed to have access to. Even though there are some great resources and visuals that are already available to us, I’m wondering if the politics surrounding Regent Park today will, in a way, prevent us from being able to tell a comprehensive narrative/history.

That’s just the research aspect of things. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

As far as technical issues go, we have yet to really tinker around on the site. Honestly, this is probably what I’m looking forward to the most, since I like to dabble around in graphic design when I can (though much to my dismay, I am nowhere close to being even remotely competent in such a field). However, this is something that I’m hoping to at the very least have looked at by next week, since we have a lot of great ideas. Here’s hoping that our ideas will pan out the way we want them to.

Blog #1, v2.0

I’m not exactly too sure what the format of the new blogs are supposed to be, so I think I might keep it brief (so says the word nerd).

Since social housing initiatives is quite the broad subject, especially in a city like Toronto, our group has decided to focus on Regent Park specifically. A couple of years ago, I was doing a project over at Ryerson that was looking at the urban landscape of our fair city, with regards to Ryerson and its presence on Yonge Street, since, at the time, Sam’s was in the early stages of being torn down to create the student centre. In relation to this, our seminar group took a field trip to Regent Park to talk to some of the people who were involved in the planning of the area’s development. I recently got in touch with my former professor, and was able to get the two main contacts from him, so I’ll be able to get in contact with them (hopefully) this week. Since it’s been two years since I was in this course, I’m hoping that these people are still going to be reachable.

Also, if anyone’s interested, a great place to get some archival information is (surprise, surprise) the Toronto Archives, which is located at 255 Spadina (near Dupont). I think there’s something to be said about the tangibility of objects, and you’ll be able to find a lot of stuff here. The archivists who are here are also really helpful, so maybe something to keep in mind?

Blog #10: That Which We Call a Game by Any Other Name

…could still be considered a useful educational tool? (Grammatically incorrect, I know, but I was going for something poetic. Original credit goes to Shakespeare, of course)

One thing that was made blatantly clear to me in this week’s readings lay in the perception of the word ‘game.’ It seems that ‘game’ has a sort of negative quality ascribed to it, as far as academia is concerned. Games are meant for children, are almost insulting to the intelligence of adults. Games are fun, maybe too much fun, and thus cannot possibly be used outside the realm of ‘kid and play.’

But why is it the case that the two worlds seemingly can’t come together?

Maybe one of the problems lies in the fact that, in the case of computer games (which will be my point of reference), there is a limited number of algorithms that lead to a limited number of possibilities. Sure, even in the case of Kee’s ‘post-modern, paidial’ game situation (433), there’s a greater element of autonomy in being able to ‘choose your own adventure,’ but even this is finite – a developer would have to take all possible known outcomes into consideration, but who’s to say whether there are omissions, intentional or not?

Another point to think about is whether a game’s intended educational purpose needs to be stated, or put into a specific learning context, in order to really enhance one’s understanding of a historical topic. Rockwell and Lee argue, ‘If properly designed players will form conclusions about the system of the world – the constraints, the values, and the interactive possibilities (‘Simulation and Imitation’).’ However, in using the September 12 game example, it seems that in certain cases, one has to be debriefed to really gain any meaningful perspective. Reading the description of the game horrified me personally, and had I not known what the developer’s intention was, I would’ve been outraged.

But one of the most glaring points, and really a theme I found throughout this semester, is that of the area of expertise, and the sort of ‘prestige’ we ascribe to those who are leaders in their particular fields. Perhaps one of the reasons why the use of games as a tool hasn’t caught on has to do with a lack of consultation on the part of the developer, as well as the lack of technological know-how on the part of the historian. However, it’s also clear that the new generation of historians are willing to, or at the very least are open to the possibility of learning how to integrate such different tools of learning into the practice. As Niall Ferguson suggests, ‘Gaming history…[is] an attempt to revitalize history with the kind of technology that kids have pioneered (quoted in Kee et al., 304).’ While I don’t believe games themselves will ever displace the professor/teacher/professional historian, their uses shouldn’t be counted out so quickly.

Blog #9: Visual History

This week’s readings focused on the possible use of GIS in the study of history, and personally, I’m probably more confused than ever about the merits versus the pitfalls of being able to integrate such a resource in this discipline.

Much like the digitisation of history itself, there is a lot of talk about how GIS and visual aids generally can enhance learning, but that numerous barriers have thus far prevented this from being the case. Some of these are the more obvious financial and technological concerns. However, Bodenhamer discusses the historian’s MO, namely the narrative, which he suggests allows for ‘the representation of the complexity of the past.’ (221). When working with a historical artifact or text, it is up to the historian to interpret the meaning behind such a source’s existence, but then be able to justify one’s position based on research and evidence; in other words, the source in question isn’t self-explanatory. But opposing viewpoints will naturally emerge, depending on a historian’s area of expertise and personal bias(es), and this in turn leads to a much richer understanding of what the historical source may represent.

And perhaps the hesitation?unwillingness? to embrace the use of GIS is due in part to the seeming finality of doing so. A GIS’s very nature feels more conclusive, and less subject to questioning. I’m not too sure if this has to do with the perception of science as being more precise than the humanities or social sciences, or whether science is believed to be more difficult to disprove. However, if it’s the case that either scenario is true, then this would go against what Knowles believes digital history is about, namely allowing a reader or audience to actively engage with the evidence in one’s own manner, and draw their own conclusions (5).

On the other hand, the use of GIS may just encourage historians to set up their game by having to challenge existing avenues of inquiry, and re-thinking the way we think about the discipline.

Blog #8: Designing Digital History (For the Masses?)

For this week’s readings, the question of the role of design in the digitising of history was first and foremost in my mind. As someone who has always leaned towards creative endeavours, there is no doubt in my mind that design, in part, determines the success of a website – the initial audio/visual impact is what can draw a person into any given work, unless a person is looking for specific information. But I also believe that personal opinions of what constitutes ‘good design’ are dependent on one’s own aesthetics, which is why Cohen and Rosenzweig’s assertion that ‘…good design depends, in part, on the expectations of visitors’ (par. 9) is something that rings true, and I feel will be particularly relevant when the time comes for us to create our own partner sites.

The idea of expectation(s) when it comes to website design – or design of any kind – is something that I attribute to expectation(s) of what a specific medium itself is supposed to be or provide. For example, if I go to the library to research something, I may have a specific topic in mind, but unapologetically will be ‘that person’ who will hoard an entire section of books, find an empty corner/table/desk, and painstakingly leaf through the table of contents, footnotes/endnotes, and index to find something that I can use or investigate further. As labourious as this is, I know that such comes with the territory, and accept this as part of the process, but when trying to look at one of the figures provided by one of the readings, only to come to an ‘error’ page, I gave up, deciding that it wasn’t worth further effort. I would venture that my disappointment and eventual concession to defeat had to do with my expectations of what a website is supposed to provide, namely instantaneous information at my fingertips.

Designs are, for the most part, meant to cater to different groups of people, and the idea of creating personas, as discussed by Brown, is something that will figure prominently in our own designs, since I believe such personas will be largely determined by community partners. However, the course thus far has been looking at finding balance – between academic integrity and story telling, experts and the community at large, even the technical language of the web and prose-like writing. What remains to be seen is how all these seemingly different aspects will come together in a final project that will be of use to a variety of users.

Blog #6: The [Au/O]Rality of History

While looking at this week’s readings, I couldn’t help but think of Thomas King’s 2003 CBC Massey lecture entitled ‘The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative.’ In the first paragraph of the book of the same name, he tells the audience that he knows of a story, and though certain elements of the story differ with each retelling, the underlying message remains the same every time. He then goes on to tell the story, varying the details in each subsequent chapter.

I mention King’s lecture because it seems that oral history is very much the same way in terms of the minute – that is, with the passage of time, it may be the case that finer details may be left behind, but events that are larger in scope, or that leave a profound impact on a person or the participants involved are remembered the most. For example, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I ate for breakfast or was wearing on 9/11, but I’ll never forget where I was, or what I was doing when news broke of what had happened that morning, and I’m sure that most people would also be able to speak to a similar experience.

One of the seeming problems of oral history is the lack of ‘fact’ in the traditional sense, that somehow, if something can’t be traced back to specific times/places/spaces or concrete evidence, then automatically it is subject to speculation and doubt, and that it is ‘incomplete,’ as pointed out by Alessandro Portelli (71). But it’s also easy to say the same of history regardless, especially in the case of written artifacts, since what’s concrete is a matter of interpretation. I would even argue that ‘official’ publications would be even more subject to questioning, since it may be the case that the parties behind such artifacts may have more at stake than others.* Also, to me, the idea of the ‘completeness’ of history is something that can never be feasible, since everyone experiences a given event differently, and personal viewpoints inform not only how one interprets an event, but also what is remembered. However, if there are certain themes that keep emerging amongst different accounts, there has to be something there that surely can be used for further investigation.

In terms of what this means for those who are planning to further explore oral history, what the readings by Kathryn Anderson and Dana Jack do is to encourage the professional historian to humanise the event under investigation. Understandably, the need to gather information or data for specific purposes is important, especially where there are other factors to consider (i.e. deadlines, financial reasons, other members of the community who will be affected, etc.), but in looking solely at achieving the final goal, a greater understanding may be lost.

 

* For the record, I’m thinking of a Soviet Russian publication appropriately titled ‘Soviet Union,’ which was sort of like Life Magazine, and much like its glossy finish, portrayed an idealised version of Soviet life in its pages that had little to do with day-to-day experiences of most people.

Blog #5: Search and Filter [x4]

Oh, how we love the Wiz Khalifa. By ‘we,’ I mean ‘I,’ and by ‘love,’ I mean ‘am annoyed by.’ So much for a catchy blog title.

It was the very last quote of Carr’s article that got to me, namely the idea that ‘as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.’ On the one hand, it’s very easy to make such an argument – how many people can make the claim to having some sort of substantive knowledge of a particular subject after having read Wikipedia, or several articles related to to said subject? Let’s take it outside of the realm of the digital and include other more ‘traditional’ media forms, such as documentaries, all-encompassing programs on Discovery or the History Channel, or books written by people with the ‘doctor’ designation preceding their names, followed by an endless stream of (sometimes undecipherable) letters that indicate a speciality of some sort.

However, I think that it would be very naive to believe that one actually would accept everything on the internet as truth in its entirety. After all, everything we see/read/believe has an element of truth in it – take it with a grain of salt. I personally don’t think that we are necessarily becoming dumber with higher forms of technology, but in order to keep up with such advances, we are starting to change the way we think (which Carr does acknowledge), perhaps not solely for the sake of keeping up to date with the abundance of knowledge that we come across on the regular, but maybe as a coping mechanism for the hyperactive society we live in. Since there are always deadlines to meet, and we can’t simply shrug off responsibilities (try as we might), we become those ‘decoders of information’ (par.8) so as to complete the task at hand.

The idea of information skimming becomes problematic when said information is presented as the definitive truth. However, the same thing can also be said of academia, and the collection and interpretation of data to present one’s case. I suppose that what makes these two scenarios different is the fact that academics are necessarily trained to evaluate the information in such a way that looks at all possible sides, before arguing for one’s own case. And even in the case that an academic presents an outrageous argument, one’s peers will question things like the methodology and research ethics. Accountability isn’t something that’s necessary to have when posting something on the internet, but maybe in order to make a stronger argument for one’s point of view, academic in nature or otherwise, one needs to embrace the possibilities that technology does afford us, as highlighted in part by William J. Turkel, and allow for self-reflection, as well as deeper questioning, whilst using whatever technological advances are available.

 

Remember the War: A Website Review

Like Eva, I found it quite difficult to find a ‘historical’ website, since we are inundated with a plethora to choose from, all of varying qualities and purposes. However, thanks to Liz and her recommendation of StumbleUpon, I came across (or is ‘stumbled upon’ more apropos?) Remember the War, a site that, according to its official Facebook page, allows an audience to ‘experience the history of World War II Britain in a whole new way.’ 

Launched for Remembrance Day of 2011 as a tribute to those who ‘died, suffered, and survived,’ the site is basically a timeline that marks the major events of World War II, while taking special note of British contributions, and one simply navigates seamlessly from one event/page to the next with the click of an arrow. While this hardly seems innovative, its visual appeal and integrated use of archival media footage makes this site particularly interesting. The site itself is nicely and neatly designed for the most part, while the multimedia elements are cleanly integrated into any given page. Each event is clearly noted along with the necessary dates, along with other tidbits of information where necessary, all corresponding to, at the very least, a photograph that depicts the event at hand. The site makes good use of radio recordings and film footage, and coupled with the chosen visual representations, is able to bring history to life. For me, the site does a wonderful job of appealing to the sensory perceptions.

However, there are a number of problems that I encountered when evaluating it from a historical viewpoint. First, there are no external references to any of the events in question, which brings up some questions for me, namely the accuracy of the facts being presented, and, assuming that such facts are sound, how familiar an audience has to be with the events to take the facts as truth – are these events general knowledge, or would they only be general knowledge for someone who has prior or extensive knowledge of British history, or the role that Britain played in WWII?

As well, in looking at the creators of the site, I discovered that they are web designers, which brings to mind the heart of the readings of the past two weeks, namely to whom does authoritative retelling of historical accounts belong to, and specifically Carr’s reading and The Valour and the Horror. As web designers, would their account of history hold the same weight as an account told by a professional historian? Also, in creating a site that is meant as a tribute to those who were involved in some way with the war, how much of this account is a glorification of valiant efforts in a specific way, and with a specific audience in mind?

Finally, although I loved the archival footage, I found myself wanting to know where such sources came from, and was unable to find any credits, which gives rise to the question of copyright and accessibility. It would be great to incorporate archival footage into our final projects, especially any aural or video media. However, if such materials don’t exist in the public domain, are they easily accessible? And even if it were the case that sources came from a private collection, credit has to given where it’s due.

While I doubt that I would be able to create a site that’s nearly as visually appealing or technologically savvy, the site highlighted to me that visual presentation, amongst other factors, is key. In making a clean website, the creators did much to whet my appetite, and further engage me in their project, especially since I had no idea what site to review when I first started. And perhaps, in presenting the historical events as they did, with more emphasis on the presentation of multimedia, the creators allow the audience to let the archives speak for themselves, creating a greater chance for critical evaluation, albiet outside of the scope of the site itself.