Through my experience with digital media within the realm of history I have learned that technology creates a different way to analyze, distribute, and interpret information. The specific tools that I used this semester to digitally interact with historical content was Omeka which is a website designed for individuals to share historical documents as well as create webpages for groups to access and learn, as well as Google Earth which has the primary tools to help with maps and geography. With the combination of these two different tools, I created a project focused around the placement of maps, created by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation which I overlayed onto Google Maps so that viewers are able to see the maps and their orientation to the current freeway system. I then planned to embed the Google Earth documents onto Omeka so that it is easier to access for captive audiences. In my experience with this project I have come to some conclusions about the strength and weaknesses of digital tools in history.
First, the strengths of new digital tools that help with digital methods of history is that the power of computers is helping with the speed of the filtering data as well as the storage and access of information has become more easily accessible. This boom in technology has opened up a whole new platform in which information can be processed and interpreted more efficiently than ever before. All these things are improvements that help historians and students learn without the archaic filtering and storage of historical documents. The ease and form of information that can be transferred through computers give those in different parts of the world the ability to collaborate and interact with data that used to be too fragile or too sensitive to be transported and shared. Already these has been a shift to these tools in the education system and it is being imbedded into the knowledge framework of new and upcoming historians. In history 301 here at Long Beach we were taught immediately how to use the libraries’ web search for primary and secondary sources which is necessary for historical writings. Unfortunately, with the creation of these new tools there are also some weaknesses. In my experience with third-party systems like Google Maps, the user is held to the dimensions in which are set forth by these companies who help mediate information. For example, the problem that I ran into with my final project is that Google Maps discontinued the application that would display the work I did onto websites. This lead to the fact that I was not able to embed my project on Omeka and had to take screen shots of my work which takes away with the learned ability that the tools of Google Earth would of given users. The process in which companies, like Google, create and discontinue their different applications is something that seems unstable for the long term affects to information that is created and stored on their servers. Another weakness that has been addressed and is important to my stance on using digital technology is that historians usually lack the formal computer skills necessary to write and run some of the software that is involved with these projects. With this lack of knowledge it creates lacking results and is time consuming, fixing this problem may be solved by the integration of computer technology students who work collaboratively with history majors to create both a technologically sound project but also sustaining historical content that would help educate others.
Additionally, through my time in this course I have changed the ways that I think about historical methods. Big data is something that stands out for me as a new type of information that is more readily accessible due to the digital technology aspect and the power and speed that computers can now search through information for words or phrases. Searching through big data can give new insight and a gives a new ways to interpret historical documents and ideas. I also think the ability to overlay maps in digital history is a helpful tool that has opened up through the new technologies that are being introduced. The ability to compare and contrast maps onto current geographical maps gives the historian to present new information as well as with big data, it is a new pallet for historians to analyze and interpret the information that comes out of comparing information in the form of maps. In my project it produced pictures in which overlapped maps created by the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation and were compared to the freeway structures created in California. This gave me the ability to analyze areas in California and to see if the connection between poor graded areas by the HOLC and the location in which were chosen for the creation of the freeway system had similarities in geographic location. The use of these technologies to speed up the process of filtering through data is the most important part for historians. While technology is growing in its importance to history, it seems that it does have limits in the type of help it can bring to historians. What technology has not changed, is that historians still have to research both primary and secondary sources for their work and that the basis of being a historian doesn’t change but yes is just assisted by the tools that technology help support.
The process of the class was different to the type of classes I am used to at CSULB. My knowledge about technology was lacking at the beginning of this semester and I feel that I have come a long way at better understanding the types of historical methods that I can use digitally but also in some of the restraints that can hinder my progress. My confidence in using digital technology to research information has been boosted by the amount of work that was involved with the research and use of digital tools. I also have learned from my issues and have a better understanding of researching the platforms that I will use before I put my work through it so that I know the outcome of my work will be accessible for others to use and learn from. Altogether this class was enjoyable and a definite learning process that has helped me grow as a student.