Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Final Post?

Well final blog post for the year. This last stretch has been pretty hard. During the last weeks of the semester I have spent working on the website or studying for exams. So I figure I’ll touch on how the website project is wrapping up but also reflect a little on the class in general.
The website is in its final stage and is really just getting its final once over to make sure everything is working. I’ve found that the manner in which Omeka saves can be quite, for lack of a better word, temperamental. It often feels like small changes you make sometimes aren’t saved when you think they are, making for an aggravating editing/ testing process. Despite the few problems I’ve been encountering I think the website is looking pretty good. This last week I have added tags to all of my items. This will hopefully help viewers searching for a particular image or map without having to manually look through each of the exhibits. That I think is one of the more difficult things about designing websites that I’ve learned. Even if you have a huge source of information, data, or even visuals, the effectiveness of the site diminishes greatly if there is only one way to find said material. This is something I’ve experienced myself when using pdf’s.  Despite being very convenient, some pdfs are not fully text searchable and must be combed through manually to find specific information. This is very time consuming especially when the document or source is extremely long and you only need something as simple as a single sentence quote. Hopefully with the implementation of tags I will avoid having anyone try to search through the whole site just to find a picture of Eramosa’s roads or some other simple visual.
Now that class is over I have to say this course was a lot of fun and was very different from the other 4th year seminars I’ve taken. Generally, seminars are the next logical step in the undergrad formula, just more research and writing with some feedback gauging your readiness for the next step in academia. This class however was the first in a long time to make me really think about history differently and apply myself in a totally new way to the tasks. Honestly, I think this class should almost be required for anyone looking to move forward in their schooling. Despite how immersed we are in technology, this course really shows you the amount of work that goes into the simple digital resources we use every day or in our other classes. So that’s my final word on the class, lots of fun but very different from the mainstream histories.

Anyways not sure if I’ll ever update this blog again or even look at it but it has been kind of fun.

Monday, 6 April 2015

China Net Critique

Last week and final week of presentations have come and gone. Before getting into my review of Trevor’s presentation/website, I have to say this week we saw more really interesting projects that are much closer to being done which was neat and gave some last minute inspirations.
On to the review. First off I have to say I was really impressed to hear that Trevor had decided to undertake coding his own website. I know he has some of these skills from before but I know it still isn’t an easy task given other responsibilities and course assignments. Overall the site looks really good and I can’t really nitpick anything in terms of deign or layout other than maybe the dark colour scheme but even then it still looks very professional. I do have to say that the dynamic moving visuals are really neat and make the site seem that much more professional and impressive when compared to other simple text based websites one find when doing on-line research.
As to the content, I was really impressed with the large number of links and resourses provided to viewers interested in the Chinese language. Honestly I think this is where the site and overall purpose of the site really shines. It is awesome to have a resource that helps bridge the viewer with another body of work in another language. I recently completely a project on Chile for another class and would have loved a site like this to help me navigate Spanish sources and point me in the right direction when looking for non-English sources.
Trevor mentioned the unfortunate lack of Chinese characters and although I don’t understand Chinese I do understand that some concepts can only be explained in a native language. Because of this need I would really like to see Trevor find a solution to this problem but given the time constraints and the limited number of options I would understand if one isn’t found in time for submission.
The presentation was nice and short. Despite its interesting nature it was a good call to not dwell on the technobabble that many hear when explaining coding. Additionally, I like how with this presentation Trevor brought forward an additional tool not talked about in class. This program was Sublime Text which is pretty much an enhanced version of Notebook that colours and formats text to help with coding. This tool seems really neat, and notwithstanding the insane price tag, would be a really good tool for those who want to code. I can’t tell you how much a program like this would help; the colouring alone helps with the organization and reading of code and would definitely help with debugging for novice programmers.

All in all, Trevor’s presentation was really good. He presented a nice looking site with real purpose and utility and even was able to share new tools with the class which is always a bonus.  

Presentation Reflection

On March 23rd I presented my online exhibit along with a few other classmates to show what progress we had made, and more importantly, get some feedback and suggestions as to how to move forward.
                 I think the presentation of my Omeka online exhibit was pretty good. My presentation was simple and was meant to give people a good idea of the content of my project but without getting bogged down reading text verbatim to them.  I tried to stress the utility of the site and its simplicity. At the same time I wanted people to see the mapping work, pictures and other visuals I had included to give viewers a better context of the story I was trying to tell. All in all I think the presentation went pretty well.
The feedback I got was actually really useful. First of all, I was reassured that my project did not appear too bland or lacking in visuals. I was worried and had mentioned my concern during the presentation that my project lacked the same visual appeal as other classmate’s projects. In the end many classmates seemed to think the simple esthetic was quite appropriate for my project. Personally, I was quite relieved that its layout, as simple as it was, still came across as professional and well structured.

Another big piece of advice came from Trevor who suggested I make a title page that briefly outlines the content of my exhibit to let people know generally what to expect. I think this is a really good idea especially when I had not yet designed a definitive front or home page. So from that suggestion I think my home page will explain to viewers that the exhibit contains information pertaining to the Suffolk swing riots, British immigration, the  Grosse Isle quarantine, and Upper Canadian farm life just to name a few. This I think will really help people not only discover the site and learn more about the Freure family’s immigration but also other information that ties into the greater Freure story for their own use. Despite its purpose to promote the Freure family story and give context to their immigrant diary, I would also love for people to use the exhibit to find additional sources for their own project. For example I would love for an undergrad student to use this site to locate information on immigrant quarantines even if they have no interest in the rest of the Freure story. All in all, I think my project is coming along really well and has received new inspiration from my classmates. 

Writing for the Public

In addition to taking Digital Humanities this semester, I am also taking Uses of History with Professor Gordon. This class is somewhat similar to Digital Humanities as it looks at how history is applied outside the basic form of academic history with the writing of books and essays. The fundamentals of public history have helped a lot in determining the perspective and voice of my online exhibit. As an online exhibit, it is accessible to everyone and the language should reflect that.

This should not be misunderstood, the Freure family exhibit I am constructing will still be of the highest academic quality I am capable of but I would also like it to be as accessible as possible. For example, this site should be informative to those doing research on any number of topics such as Canadian immigration or farming to name a few but should also be useful to those with a passing interest in the history of Eramosa and Wellington County or those interested in immigration stories and genealogy. This is where structure of the exhibit pages comes into play. In order to be as effective as possible, pages will use short informative titles that nicely sum up the content of the page. As to the content of the pages themselves, I want fairly short blocks of text accompanied by images to give visual reference to the material. Very rarely do I want to resort to longer consecutive blocks of text to get the information across but sometimes that is just a necessary evil. I think these structural choices will help keep readers interested in the content and help them remember what content is found where on the site in general. Too many times, in my own experience have I found myself flipping through pages of online documents and sites, looking for a small snippet of information for long period of time. This I find kills online resources when it simply is more burdensome to use the digital resource than a physical one.

The Omeka Update

I didn't update the blog for a while due other assignments but time to recap what was missed the last few weeks. So the last couple of weeks we have not had class in order to work on the course project. My project focused on the Freure family immigration story and is using the online exhibit tool Omeka and google earth.
So I finally got around to using Omeka in earnest and so far I have to say….meh. Not the most academic vocabulary but that just about sums up my opinion of it. Omeka for those who don’t know is a set of tools that allows anyone to put together their own online exhibit with emphasis on displaying items like you would in a physical museum. This program seems useful in setting up exhibits around the different time periods and events that occur in the Freure family immigrating to Canada and establishing a family farm. So far this has worked out pretty well. However, there are some issues that I want to touch on. First of all, the free basic plan of Omeka has quite a few limitations as to what you can do in terms of building your exhibit. Specifically, there is a limit as to how much data you have to work with in terms of text, pages, and most importantly images and other items you upload to the site. Although this hasn't limited my project, ye,t it is still a problem that constantly looms over as I add more and more items to the site. Another problem with Omeka is the way you upload files and items. Essentially, in order to put something up on the site as simple as a picture you must first add said item to a large repository of items on Omeka. So pretty much you have to upload all your items in advance before building the actual pages because you are unable to simply upload a picture or item from your computer to the page you are working one. This might be a small gripe but it does take up time when you are used to being able to upload images directly from your PC to a web page.
Another downside of basic plan Omeka is the lack of plugins. Plugins are the different types of pages and programs you can have on your Omeka exhibit. These plugins range from simple pages of only text to more advanced tools for recording Meta data something I’m extremely unfamiliar with and won’t attempt to explain. The real problem with Omeka is the fact that with the basic plan you only have access to a small list of these tools while others are only available with the very expensive plans. As a student that is not an option for me to buy an Omeka subscription to get access to these tools.

So that’s my initial reaction to Omeka while making my online exhibit. More critique to come…

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The Grey Ratsnake: Brock Ogilvie Project Proposal Critique (insert clever snake joke here)

Ok so time to tear apart a fellow student’s project proposal.  But before we start, let’s get this out of the way..

 Ok now that that’s been said I can talk about Brock’s project proposal presentation. I don’t think it is necessary for me to describe the different elements of his project or proposal in much detail as you can simply view his proposal write up at his blog at http://historydigitized.blogspot.ca/
 From my first impressions it sounds like a really interesting project. Obviously its content for me is extremely refreshing from the regular history fare I'm used to seeing throughout my undergrad. I think this project as an educational tool is really promising. I can appreciate that little information on grey rat snakes exists online besides the mentioned basic identification information. More to the point, I'm sure that many snake and reptile enthusiast would be very happy to see such a well laid out web site with thoughtful academic information rather than the more shoddy personal sites of random snake owners. Basically i see a real purpose and need for such a site and that i think in part what makes this project seem so interesting.
The idea of promoting the understanding of snakes, as animals that people generally fear, is both interesting and ultimately useful to the general public. I like how this project has a more personal feel to it rather than simply something that needed to get done for a mark and that was reflected in both the previewed website and the presentation itself.
As to the website shown in class, I was really impressed and it really made me think about how to lay out my own project. I especially like the use of drop down tabs and the visuals the menus incorporated. This site looks very professional and I wouldn't think twice about who made it had I not been in class to see the presentation. I would heavily encourage more similar visual aids to spruce up the website making it more inviting and interesting.
Alright enough of the compliments now for some critique. I would really like to see this project expand on the history of the park and the snakes themselves. I think that would really put this project on the next level.  A good historical context for viewers I think would really drive home the message of understanding and conservation.  I think that the visual component mentioned in the presentation is a key element of the site that has not yet been fully implemented. I think that good visuals in tandem with the basic information on the grey rat snake would be an ideal teaching resource for a very wide demographic. I realize that given the limit of ten minute presentation we didn't get to see all information pertaining to the history of the park and snakes but still I would personally like to see that aspect in full in the finished project, so I'm hoping it is in the works.
I found it hard to give much critique or suggestions within this post because in all honestly I think Brock has a very good grip on the information and direction he wants this project to go in and also is well on his way to implementing that into a finished product. All in all, this was a very well done presentation. Clearly Brock is well on his way to producing what could be one of the more interesting or different course projects.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Project Proposal

Over the past month I have been trying to decide what my course project will be about, and more importantly, what I want to do with that topic. After a great deal of brainstorming and consultation with the professor I believe I have finally come to a decision. For my course project I have decided to utilize research and work I had previously done in a research project for Rural Canadian History (HIST*4620) taught by Professor Catharine Wilson. My previous project looked at a farm diary from early 1800's Canada and focused on masculinity and the establishment of an immigrant family in Canada.  Specifically, this research project examined Benjamin Freure, an English immigrant, who traveled to Canada with three of his adult sons to the township of Eramosa in Wellington County, Upper Canada.[i] I thought I would take the story of immigration, settlement, and later life of the Freure family and create an online exhibit or website. This website would be similar to that of the Berlin Wall project made with Omeka that we looked at earlier in course readings.[ii] This project will utilize Benjamin Freure's personal diary that covers his journey from east England to Wellington County, Canada and his families activities and farming exploits. The diary covers the years  1836 to 1842 with varying degrees of detail but all six years are recorded without any major holes or missing sections.
In order to understand how this diary focused project could work, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of the different events and the value of this topic and its primary sources. Ben Freure’s diary has quite a bit of detail especially in the journey from England to Canada. This section alone gives excellent insight into the immigration process and experience of the time. The first section of the diary provides detailed descriptions of traveling to Canada via ship, the subsequent quarantine, and the quest to find additional transportation by both boat and wagon to Upper Canada. The first year of the diary alone gives great insight into the problems and difficult conditions immigrants faced and firsthand reactions to arriving in the new world, something that many may find interesting.  Additionally, this record of Canadian immigration is only a part of the first year of Benjamin Freure’s multi-year diary and the first real chapter of the Freure story as a whole. [iii]
The core of the diary and most of the Freure family's story, however, is focused on their farming exploits.[iv] I find that the combination of Ben's diary, census data, maps, and personal accounts from historical atlases will allow me to adequately tell the story of the Freure family and their farming roots in Canada. Specifically, the Freure family has their story begin with Augustus and Felix Freure, two of Benjamin’s adult sons, working as farmhands for already established farmers in the Wellington County community. From there the Freures becomes tenant farmers renting land, eventually becoming successful landowners in Eramosa. It is from these simple beginnings that we see the Freures take on numerous jobs and roles in the community. Notably, the Freure sons are a key part of the community workforce in Eramosa, assisting in harvesting, plowing, and construction. This reputation transcends Ben's own diary as these events have been recorded in the 1906 Wellington County Atlas citing the family, especially Ben and his three sons, as being ideal settlers and outstanding pillars of the community and whose descendants inherited these traits in great degree.[v] As the diary ends, the story of the Freure family become less self-narrated and instead can be found recorded within the Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Histories, census data, and regional histories. [vi]
I am not entirely sure where I want to end the Freure family history as there is less public documentation in the mid-20th century after R. Bruce Freure who was a member of Guelph City Council and a regional reeve in the community.[vii] Despite the lack of available documentation, when compared to that of Ben’s diary I still believe that Bruce’s life in regional politics is a good note to end on instead of ending prematurely with the conclusion of Ben’s diary. From such humble and well documented beginnings, to successful farming endeavors and even attaining public, I believe office that the story of the Freure family is one worth digitizing and sharing with a wider public. This is especially true as this story also informs the early growth of Guelph and the surrounding region from a simple settlement to a robust regional center and surrounding hinterland. Additionally, I find that this project could possibly help supplement ongoing projects by rural historians like Catharine Wilson who is trying to digitize, transcribe and make available these farm diaries and rural stories to the greater public.[viii]
Now that I have outlined a proposed topic and scope of my project, I can explain how I intend to present this information. From the various in-class presentations, readings, and lectures, I believe that an online exhibit or website would be the best way to present the Freure family story. Upon speaking with the professor, I realized that due to the lack of a large number of primary sources that would be expected of a standard exhibit, this project would not and could not be a typical online exhibit. Instead I found that the type of exhibit I will construct would be similar to that of the Berlin Wall exhibit given as an example of what possible projects and online exhibits could look like. Within this online exhibit the fall of the Berlin Wall and the events leading up to it are laid out in specific sections relating to primary sources and essays regarding specific countries in this wider narrative.[ix] This is in theory what I hope to accomplish with my project. In order to tell and depict the story of the Freure family’s journey from England to Canada and their ensuing life in Wellington County, I find that specific sections related to the different time periods or years, would be effective in organizing the content of this project. For example, all information I have relating to the Freure family before Ben and his family’s departure in 1836 would be within its own section. This section would contain maps and pictures of the area the Fruere’s came from alongside brief explanations of both England and the region they came from to give viewers a brief overview of this time and place. The organization or separation of primary sources and secondary literature or information must be made separate so that it is easy to navigate and allow readers to quickly locate items such as maps of eastern England for reference while going through the greater narrative.
The next section would be the family’s journey to Canada. It would make use of Ben’s diary and again more maps of Upper and Lower Canada so that readers can reference these visual aids while digesting the text and keeping track of Ben and his family while they immigrate. Additionally, I believe this section would expand the overall scope of the project significantly by looking more closely at interesting events of the journey such as the immigrant quarantine upon arrival.
The next section of the proposed exhibit would cover Ben and his family after they arrived in Eramosa and began farming. Again, the diary would be used as a major source of information alongside secondary sources such as historical atlas entries and secondary literature. With this section I would like to utilize the GIS tools used in the course workshop. Using these tools I would like to align old Eramosa Township maps with more modern maps in order to show exactly where the Freures were living and began to buy land.[x] This would be an excellent tool in conveying how people actually bought land and settled the regions around Guelph, something I think many people would find interesting. Additionally, this would allow readers to understand just how much time and effort was involved when Ben or any Freure descendant would travel to places like Fergus as these trips were normally made on foot. A resource such as synchronizing old and new maps brings this history to the present for a better understanding and interest.
The next and possibly final section would conclude the proposed narrative of the Freure family. It is in this section that the later success and information regarding the fate of the Freure family would be presented. This would include members of the family long after Ben’s diary, many of which lived in the twentieth century. Specifically, I hope to draw upon resources of the Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Histories related to the extended family.[xi]
As stated above, I plan on utilizing Omeka as the primary tool in constructing this online project.[xii] It is my intention that Omeka will provide me a balanced tool kit that I can easily and effectively build a website that will fulfill its intended purpose. I have previously attempted to create simple websites from scratch using Notepad and along with the issues of debugging, I find that the basic and uninspired possibilities of my simple coding knowledge would be vastly inadequate and not something I would like to attempt. Additionally, I hope to utilize the GIS tools for this project. I believe that acquiring these skills would not only help give this project the necessary geographic context as stated above but it is also an area of knowledge and skills that I am genuinely interested in acquiring. I believe this project is not only viable, but more importantly, it is a worthwhile project to pursue both for the end result and the skills acquired in its completion.

[i] http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~onwellin/pioneers/freure_benjamin.htm
[ii] Making The history of 1989: The fall of communism in Eastern Europe.  http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/
[iii] Benjamin, Freure. Personal Diary, (1835-1842) 4-23
[iv] Freure, 23-78
[v] Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wellington County, Ontario, Original Toronto: Historical
Atlas Pub., 1906; Reprint: Belleville, Ont: Mika Silk Screening, 1972. 90.
[vi] “History of the Freure Farm,” Wellington County Tweedsmuir Histories, Speedside Women’s Institute, Vol. 1, 52, accessed February 24, 2015.
[vii] “R. Bruce Freure,” Wellington County Tweedsmuir Histories, Riverside Women’s Institute, vol. 2, 85, accessed February 24, 2015.
[viii] http://www.uoguelph.ca/ruralhistory/research/wilson.html
[ix] Making the History of 1989: The fall of communism in Eastern Europe.  http://chnm.gmu.edu/1989/
[x] Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wellington County, Ontario, Original Toronto: Historical
Atlas Pub., 1906; Reprint: Belleville, Ont: Mika Silk Screening, 1972. 44.
[xi] “History of the Freure Farm,” Wellington County Tweedsmuir Histories, Speedside Women’s Institute, Vol. 1, 52, accessed February 24, 2015.
[xii] http://omeka.org/