Game Plan

The creation of a social housing history website for Regent Park has seen its ups and downs up to this point in the project. With the deadline soon approaching, our teams objective is to create an efficient and effective game plan to come up with the desired outcome as projected in the beginning of this project.

Progress has come in waves and the focus has shifted from content creation to a look to the final project as a whole. With our essays written, focused on content creation for the website, much of Regent Park’s social housing history has been covered, leaving website design, compilation of photographs, and conducting oral history interviews as the major tasks to be completed. As of thursday March 14th, the objective is to have much of the structure of our website created and ready for upload, along with the interviewing of a local shopkeeper in Regent Park with a long history of serving the community. Furthermore, another objective is the compilation of photographs for the ‘Then and Now’ section of the website, which will comprise of photos from its classification as a ‘slum’ pre-1940s into the 1950s, post-construction, highlighting the drastic development of Regent Park. Throughout the decades thereafter, pictures will help illuminate the decaying state of a once bright and hopeful social housing project, to what has today become a development remodeled through the practice of gentrification.

Our group will use the resources of the Toronto Archives and Regent Park’s local library to compile a series of relevant photographs that will depict the development of Regent Park. One option being considered for the display within the ‘Then and Now’ section will be the use of sliders to show the changing nature of Regent Park, while the visitor simply watches. A simple description of each photograph will be provided beneath the changing photos to inform the user.

The final step of this project will be the editing of content to maintain the objectivity, a task that is difficult due to much of the complexity surrounding the implementation of the social housing project. This objectivity is key in maintaining the integrity of our website as a historical resource. Overall, as the deadline approaches our group will implement further organization and delegation of tasks throughout the coming weeks.

Regent Park; A Goal of Objective History

Wading through the pool of primary source data, my research has focused on the period within the 1970s. Post-construction saw the development of Regent Park from a different angle. As a physical construction, the social housing project in Regent Park at first is examined by many of its physical characteristics, such as its isolation, the division of North and South, and the distribution and lack thereof recreational facilities. However, this is the superficial view of Regent Park, where throughout the 1970s, Regent Park’s development or as some have argued, degradation back into a ‘slum’, has been tied to the policies and negative stigmatization of the residents of Regent Park.

The challenge of this historical content thus far has been providing objectivity without getting caught in the arguments over the success/failure of Regent Park. The discourse over Regent Park is continuously complicated by numerous factors such as the media, where as Sean Purdy points out, negatively stigmatized those living in the projects, particularly youth, as rowdy, violent, etc. through the publication of heavily negative news coverage. This representation in the media in conjunction with social assistance policies, trap people in the neighbourhood, as those residents became alienated from the rest of the City of Toronto. Furthermore, one cannot understand the history of Regent Park’s social housing history without understanding the dynamic of public policy rules and regulation. The policies such as Mother’s Allowance, where rents are charged highly disproportionate to the mother’s income due to ineffective application of public policy, have created a trap for residents within Regent Park. These concerns as outlined in the content I have created for the website have heavily impacted the development of Regent Park, turning it back into a slum.

It is arguably impossible to provide objective coverage over a topic such as Regent Park. Being one of the major challenges in the project, the many debates over the success of the social housing project are examples of the struggle between the residents of Regent Park and the rest of Toronto, whereby with the help of media and poor community-police relations, the image of Regent Park has isolated the project from the rest of the city. A goal of our website would be to clear some of the fog of subjectivity and create a narrative that is clear and objective.

Progress

The history of Regent Park’s social housing has been well documented from the beginning of its creation to the present day. What has caught my attention is the high amount of controversy from its very beginning to present day over the creation, maintenance, and effectiveness of the project. In the period of Regent Park’s construction from the mid-1940s up to the early 1950s, costs and implementation of the projects continuously brought about problems. Whether it was building material (a brick shortage at the time) or costs (the extra costs to the City for moving expenses of those displaced from the original settlements), the project took a lot of determination to withhold from the skepticism and become a reality. The narrative of Regent Park’s social housing history is written throughout many primary source materials; newspaper clippings covering from development to the interpretation of politicians and alike over its effectiveness, official city documents outlining costs and concerns, and many other resources such as photography painting a picture of the before and after for the first development of Regent Park.

As noted by Matt is his feedback to our groups proposal, Regent Park’s social housing project was not created in a vacuum but based on much research into the housing projects around the globe such as in London, UK. The creation of Regent Park was not just local news, but news that stretched throughout Canada, covered in the Montreal Gazette and in panel discussions in Vancouver. After a run through of multiple materials on Regent Park’s development in the Toronto archives, the scale of the project in its time period created international awareness of the project.

After visiting the Toronto Archives for the first and definitely not the last time, the task of sorting through the primary sources has become daunting. The Toronto archives alone provides a substantial amount of information on the topic, much of its useless, but in between the piles of useless documents many significant ones can be found. Thankfully there is a group able to work on this project as this is something that would be difficult to properly investigate alone.

Proposing the Study of Social Housing in Regent Park

Our final project in this class presents an opportunity that normal classes lack. The ability to engage in first hand research establishing an online history of social housing in Regent Park. Our group has chosen to focus on Regent Park, as a higher profile social housing community in the City of Toronto. Furthermore, Regent Park represents a direct attempt to use housing infrastructure to affect the lives of lower income groups. This project seeks to uncover its historiography through the creation of a website outlining this historiography.

One of the challenges facing this project will be the gathering of accurate and reliable information. According to data outlined in the Three Cities Within Toronto 2010 report, the average income in Regent Park was approximately $17,000.00 in 2005 dollars. This is a significantly low average, specifically in a city as expensive as Toronto. It may be ambitious but the aim of this project has the potential to go beyond just recording the history of social housing in Regent Park, but may provide information to build a greater understanding of how these social housing projects affect lower income households.

Our brainstorming session led to discussion of creating a website potentially based on primarily oral history, the use of then and now photography, emphasizing information on Nelson Mandela Public Elementary School (one of the first afro-centric schools in Toronto) and the Fire Hall (which is in the center of the gentrification of the area). Furthermore more broadly looking at; the diversity, changing community demographics, and a ‘What’s Next’ section that may outline where the current gentrification is expected to take the area. In order to properly engage in this project and create a historiography of the region will require a strong engagement with the community. Using our groups numerous contacts, we will be engaging in interviews and research at public libraries to implement a comprehensive history of Regent Park and a discussion on it’s future.

Game On!… Not Yet.

I personally found these weeks readings interesting. I would love to see the day when a high school history class involves playing a game for the entire class, that leaves me wanting to play more. I remember when I was in computer class in elementary school, practicing typing on the program All the Right Type. In the field of history however there are not many games as effective. Civilization is an example of one game that involves historical information, taking the users through the stone age to the space age building civilizations. The significance of this should not be understated, the progression of history to digitize has been a gradual process. Thus, Civilization as a use to teach history is a major movement towards more directed and dedicated historical games, such as HistoriCanada. But the question becomes, will games effectively teach history without becoming merely a distraction?

As Geoffrey Rockwell in The Leisure of Serious Games: A Dialogue puts it “…I don’t believe games can be serious.” His point draws on the definition of a game and how this applies to education. Rockwell quotes Caillois stating “a game which one would be forced to play, would at once cease being play.” This argument continues as Kevin Kee and Geoffrey Rockwell argue over the technicalities of how a game is defined. This definition is important, as it distinguishes the purpose of historical video games that could potentially become used in the classroom. However, this sort of use in a high school classroom would change its very definition, as students would be required to play the game, Rockwell’s argument would hold that it would no longer be a game. Rockwell’s doubts that youth will be able to effectively learn from a historical game from concerns of the ‘flow’ of information. Arguing that “because you can’t control the flow. You can’t script the flow of learning…” Kee argues back “…that is what game designers do.” It’s is Rockwell’s concern in the dialogue that such historical games will not teach the user appropriately, potentially misdirecting the user from the intention of the game, which is to teach history. Furthermore, Rockwell does not believe that simulations will be useful in the study of history, at least not as useful as flight simulators are in flight schools.

Geoffrey Rockwell’s arguments are valid, but counter to those arguments Chris Crawford quoted in Towards a Theory of Good History Through Gaming states “game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning.” The basis behind this argument is natural selection, using the example of a mother lioness and her baby cub, the cub learns through the games and examples set by the mother, rather than lectures and books. Thus, Crawford deducts that it is possible and beneficial to use computer games as a learning tool. I personally agree with this statement, as I know many institutions that utilize the use of games; such as the flight schools, the military, and other organizations where simulations and games are appropriate practice due to the tasks of that organization.

So why not game on? Why after a couple of decades watching the digital world, especially the internet, explode, have we not seen more historical games? I would argue that historical games are suffering from the same fate that many businesses suffer from, when entering a market still expanding, those companies that produce World of Warcraft and Diablo have gained significant influence over the industry from their popularity alone. These games are based solely on the addiction of its user to the pleasure derived from playing the games. Thus, the late blooming of historical game creation is due more to the fact that the market has focused more on popular culture and popular history rather than an educational function. The questions that historians and game developers alike will struggle with is how to direct the attention of a user for a portion of their day from those aforementioned games to historically based games. History as a whole has been struggling to gain popularity, another question is, will historical games change the study of history for youths, making it more interesting? I certainly hope so and hopefully when that day comes, I can say game on!

Information Overload

The study of history has not been glorified in a way that the study of medicine or law has been. Those fields have shows based on the conveyed exciting careers of doctors and lawyers, i.e. Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, etc. The study of history to most in popular culture and so forth is seen as a more lucid and boring task, however to those that enjoy it, it provides an excitement. The use of GIS in history is a potential tool to grab the attention of many, in a manner that accurately reflects the tale of history how historians want to tell it. Will maps, charts, and so forth replace the written word as a the prime source for historical knowledge? Most likely not. However, John Theibault in Visualization and Historical Argument argues that the visualization of history (using graphs, maps, charts, and other software to tell history) provides the ability to quickly teach the reader information in a manner much simpler and faster than pages of text can. Theibault uses the example of Minard’s map based chart of Napoleon’s invasion into Russia. Minard’s chart has been praised as an effective use of visualization to convey history, bringing the entire invasion on to one page and still managing to make the information understandable to those who may not have a background knowledge.

With the rise of the internet and computer software development, the game has changed. GIS gives a unique twist to the collection and understanding of history, adding numeracy to a highly literature based field. As argued by Anne Kelly Knowles in Placing History chapter 1, the use of GIS-based historical studies provides the potential to integrate the information historians collect in a more efficient and possibly effective manner. Using GIS technology to  further development historical knowledge can allow for historical argumentation to become more clear, the use of colours to differentiate the different points of view and topics, provide a new experience in the study of history. Yes, you may be thinking, books have visuals, but where the book fails is its ability to be integrated in an efficient manner to the changing interpretations of history. Instead of delving into a historical works for hours on end to find a set of information that is sufficient, GIS allows the user to link sets of information to uncover patterns possibly harder to see throughout the text of a book. Knowles points out that the flaw in GIS however is that sometimes the information in history is rather difficult to convert into a readable display. As the popularity of GIS and visualization in the field of history increases, with history integrating with software and the internet evermore, the obstacles of effectively communicating in the visual history forum will be overcome. However, although I am a proponent of the increasing use of these technologies in history, I do not believe that the field of history will become strictly visual based. This is a rather obvious point, however, I see the use of this technology, increasing the burden on historians.

The use of these technologies requires knowledge and understanding of a field wholly different to the traditional study of history. Minard himself was a civil engineer and not a historian, but is credited with one of the most significant works in the use of visualization in history. In Bodenhamer’s chapter in Placing History, it is argued that for GIS to become a major component in scholarly history than it must adopt the norms of history and understand its philosophy. The use of such technology stretches the requirements of a historian to not only get it right and conveyed in a credible manner, but to effectively use the technology to actually benefit the user. Google maps and ArcGIS are two sites as pointed out by Theibault that greatly benefit the individual and are easy to use. However, the questions remains, without overwhelming the study of history, how do we ‘google map’ the discipline of history?

 

Historical Website Design

This weeks reading of Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s chapter Designing for Web History in Digital History focuses on the principles and understandings of web design. As this class gets closer to the end of the year and we begin to think and learn how to develop our websites, this is a perfect guideline. A significant component in the readings was not the aesthetics which many of us already understand to a certain degree. But the section on accessibility, which discusses the implementation and meaning of US Federal Law Sections 508 and 504. As we’ve discussed in prior classes, the potential for individuals to maintain too much control, particularly the government, is a cause for concern. However, these sections are a step in the right direction for the sort of regulations that should be placed on the internet. The notion of accessibility on the internet is one missed by many of those who do not rely on such services, I admittedly did not think about it, however many individuals such as the blind, epilepsy or those with slow modems rely on multiple tools to aid their use of a site. Cohen and Rosenzweig ask whether it is up to the historian to make his/her sites accessible in this form, specifically when from an educational institution that receives funding from the federal government. As they point out, there is a flawed grey area in the law that allows an element of discretion to the historian as per what sort of accessibility the site will have. They make the argument that it is beneficial to “use the ‘alt’ attribute in…image tags” which not only benefits those with slow connections by allowing them to view a quick caption on what is loading, but also aid search engines in retrieving that site as a result. The use of text to describe videos and audios for the deaf or the use of audio technology for the blind requires extra work for the website, but more information makes it easier for search engines to find the site, thus the more likely web-surfers will end up at this website.

At the end of the day, a historical website plays a similar role as all other websites, as a tool to enhance communication, whether it be informational or social. For instance the ability for scholars to debate online, via such websites, allows for historical debate to be communicated in a manner still developing. The point of this chapter is to outline how to present these communications, focusing on Robin Williams and John Tollett’s design principles. These principles of contrast, proximity, alignment, and repetition are the four main components of their design principles, these basics provide a foundation for the direction towards a basic website framework. The historical website is used for more than just procrastination, but for study and discussion. Historical websites have the potential to be used for more than just a display of information, but an interactive medium with the general public to provide an understanding of particular subjects. No matter how good the resource the website may be, and historical sites do not attract like websites such as Reddit, they must make the site aesthetically appealing to maintain an audience. As an example, law professor Doug Lindner’s website Famous Trials leads to a plethora of useful primary resources elsewhere inaccessible. Had I not read about this website in the readings, its aesthetic lack of appeal would have led me to question the credibility of the site. The primary resources found on this site are highly significant and provide an interesting experience with the topic. Overall, the historian must keep the website simple to convey the important text as the main focus, however the importance of website design should not be underestimated as these readings argue.

 

The Dilemma of Software Ownership

As the popularity of the internet continues to grow, more of our lives become uploaded into this new realm. The question is, who owns this realm? Who gets to decide boundaries between what is and isn’t in the jurisdiction of governments, companies, or individuals to restrict software? Richard Stallman’s decision to make the GNU project completely open for review, additions, and changes, however not allowing anybody to restrict the redistribution, is the best method in these sorts of projects. If someone decides to utilize existing software and transform it to a new function or improved performance, than it should be open. This is the alternative to copyright law, or “copyleft” as Kelty puts it in his article. Copyright law although showing signs of appropriate decisions is based on who owns what bits of software, which has led to numerous law suits over the incorporation of such software in other software programs. One example is the Stallman vs. Gosling trial. This was over a GNU project that Richard Stallman wrote using some of the code from Gosling’s original software. Maintaining the openness of software development may be a worry for some, but the potential that this would give to developers could lead to some amazing advancements.

The ability to license creates the potential for software to be bought out and restricted from access. Having that ability gives too much influence to only a few holders who have the funding. Not all software may be possibly restricted, as exampled by Richard Stallman’s decision for his GNU project, which is a good model to follow, as he does not allow for the restriction of redistribution in his GNU project. The ability to learn what you want, when you want to, is a powerful privilege, internet technology has pushed the boundaries, and governments, legal societies, and courts have to explain terms such as ‘software’ in a manner suitable to the court of law. Overall, Richard Stallman’s approach to these issues has been one that I believe would be a good precedent to follow.

The Complexity of Oral History

In the assigned Oral History Reader, the selected chapters by Paul Thompson, Alessandro Portelli, and Kathryn Anderson and Dana C. Jack discuss the difficulties and significance of oral history. As an undergraduate student finishing a major in history I can say with confidence that typical structure of history coming from the ivory tower does not showcase oral history in any significant manner. As argued by Paul Thompson, the significance of oral history should not be discounted, it speaks to more than mere fact, but personal experience of events. Paul Thompson argues that by bringing attention to the positions of those ignored by historians, by challenging the historians basic assumptions, the oral history approach allows for history to become more democratic. The question becomes whether textbooks, professors, and the personal experiences of the narrator in oral history can mesh together. Wikipedia has effectively harnessed the power of democratically deciphered history, however it leaves little room for the deeper reflection that remains possible.

Alessandro Portelli argues that oral history tells us what people did, wanted to do, were thinking they were doing, and now what they think they did. This is important for the historical narrative, as many times historical arguments come down to the grips and groans over whether something was intentional or unintentional. For instance, many historians to this day are unsure why Hitler invaded Russia in WWII when he did, this is something that plays a more significant part of understanding the history of that war. To understand his decision would require an interview or some sort of explanation on behalf of Hitler. Dana C. Jack points out that it is not just a matter of asking the questions you are concerned with, but allowing the interviewee to speak the full story of what happened according to their own point of view. As is argued, the interviewer plays a very significant role in the process of creating oral history, as those questions suggest and direct the interviewee to discuss what is important to the interviewer and not so much the interviewee. Overall, to implement oral history in a significant manner into the historical record would require an extremely high level of attentive listening on the part of the interviewer, as the smallest of details may alter the direction of the transcript altogether. This level of intricacy within the interview leaves a large margin of error, thus making it difficult to credibly insert oral history into the historical record to the degree that scholars and textbooks have achieved.

Where the internet is taking our minds

In this weeks reading, Nicolas Carr’s article offers an interesting position on the relationship between internet and the mind. He argues that due to the influence of Google on the web and search engine techniques that stream users through multiple links and information, it has become more difficult to become a ‘deep’ reader in the sense that existed in the past. WIth books and printed items in the past, a reader would become far more immersed in the subject than what occurs over the internet today. When reading on the internet, the user is bombarded by continuous advertisements, information from other websites, and the posts are generally shorter and more technical. I believe that Carr is correct in arguing, using the previous examples of  Socrates and Nietzsche whom discussed the human mind and its relation to changing forms of communication in relation to the changes in their period. The examples allow the reader to link their own experience with the internet and I know personally, when I surf the web my concentration level on any particular topic is far less than if I were to pick a book.

The question is whether this is detrimental to society or whether it is an opportunity? As Carr points out, the wealth of knowledge harnessed and open to the public is a major benefit, however Carr on the other hand argues that this amount of information makes it difficult for individuals to really get involved in any particular topic. Carr quotes Foreman stating that “we risk turning into “pancake people””, the idea that basically, we will have a vast area of awareness, but out depth of knowledge of subjects will not go deeper than the thickness of a pancake. I agree that this is a common occurrence amongst the general populace, as the internet may be used more as a tool of pleasure than productivity. However, for those who use the internet in their line of work for research and information gathering, there has never been a more opportunistic time for any individual to really dive into a subject matter to the extent existent on the internet. The concept that the mind is compared to a mechanical machine is bothering and this assumption leaves out creativity, which may sometimes lead to a much more productive answer than a systematical process that is perceived as the best method. Overall, Carr points out an interesting problem with the internet and I happen to agree within reason that individuals thought processes are strongly affected by the way information is presented over the internet. With all major paradigm shifts in history, we could expect nothing less than a fundamental change in the way we live our lives.