Monday, November 27, 2006

 

History Websites

Aurore: The Mystery of the Martyred Child: The site greets the viewer with a cheerful Welcome! and a photo of a church. The border around the photo is very wide and prevents the viewer from being able to see the full photo without scolling down. This seems unecessary, by reducing the picture frame, the full photo would be clearly visible. Upon scrolling down, text appears. The text is broken up into smaller paragraphs which make it much more readable and thought the colour contrast is dull (black text on white background) it is clear. The introduction outlines the topic of the site and provides basic information of the content. The menu for other pages in the site, located at the bottom, could be more user-friendly if it were larger and used a different colour contrast than grey on black.

History Wired: This site is designed for those more familar with web use than me and perhaps this is the reason why I personally find it unappealing. It also took a far while to lad without a very impressive result. The format and colour contrast at first appear welcoming and professional, yet interaction with the site is less rewarding. The small topic icons could be improved and the grid system for locating topics of interest was unpleasant and frustrating. The merest whisper of the mouse sends you flying across the grid, although likely you were nowhere near your intended target in any case. As the mouse moves on the grid lines from the topic boxes at the top go to the arrow indicating that your item on the grid corresponds to that/those topics. While the idea behind this is good it requires development to be more user friendly, even if only to make the lines more visible. The lefthand side of the menu is almost all blank except for a small 'search' box and a drop box with general topics. It remains unclear whether these are intended to be used together. Clicking on an area and selecting 'zoom in' allows the viewer to see the titles for the differnt sections which if helpful if you are already near what you are looking for. If not it can take a far bit of manuvering to cover the grid.

Imagining the French Revolution
: This site was more to my liking. A select few icons represented the content of the site (essays, images, discussion, about). This allowed for a clear overview of the site. Hovering on each brought a larger picture to depict the topic. This allowed the viewer to feel more engaged in the site. Similarly when on accompaning pages, every effort is made to keep the content from requiring scrolling. This allows for a quick and clear survey of the content. The essays are formatted well to make them easy to read and they are broken up into multiple pages. Though this does make the reading less daunting because the viewer doesn't face a deluge of text, it is sometimes annoying to flip back and forth between pages.

National Geographic: Remembering Pearl Harbor: This site opens to a 'collage' first page, full of various materials not all linked to the topic. Moving icons and advertisments fail to create a cohesive feel to the page. Despite this, the site is easy to use. Unpredicted audio content on several pages led to minor embarasment in the computer lab but in a more private environment could add to the experience of the site. When moving through the story of the attack, I was constantly distracted by the ads flashing just below. Although funding for projects can be difficult I can't condone flashing advertisments for trips to Australia and Vonage while depicting the tragic events of Pearl Harbour and World War II.

The Valley of the Shadow: This site opens well, with a visuals, title, and clear icon to enter the site. Going into the site a list of content is presented as well as, perhaps most importantly, a guide to using it which provides a clear description and links to content as well as teacher resources. The site was easy to navigate and provided information in an easy to read format that would allow students to use the site.

Though the content of sites is essential to their usefulness, structure and useability can not be underdeveloped. Basics such as readability and layout are critical to the user's ability to make use of the site. In history we understand that it isn't just the argument that you are making but the manner in which you present it that affects your mark. This premise remains true when establishing history websites. Considering the reluctance of many historians to use web resources and the need for sites accessible to students the composition of a site becomes critically important. Likely the information presented on a site can be found elsewhere, it is in making the information easily accessible and interesting that a site has merit.

 

Flickr Pool

I found it interesting to see how different people interpreted the statement of "personal design solutions for organizing and structuring everyday life and environment.” Personally, being a boring sort of person, I would most likely relate this statement to my home. It is there that I have the most control over structuring my environment and therefore it is the space that I would feel most clearly represents my design of my personal environment.
Fortunately for the creativity of the Flickr pool, contributors showed a variety of other interpretations. Interesting, none depicted their living space but many did show their general environment. Street scenes and photos of, presumably, their local community were more common. Does this reflect a desire for privacy or a self-concsiousness about home environments? This seems unlikely considering the personal nature of much of digital content in general. Could it rather be that contributors found my basic interpretation too boring and sought to explore more diverse ways to meet the task?
What was interesting was the tendency of contributors to post photos clearly from the same area. One posted three different photos from within a bookstore or library while another posted three of snow-filled roads lined by buildings and cars. Perhaps one photo was not enough to express their concept. All show a clearly identifiable sense or presentation of spatial ordering and design. Most were representative of 'positive' organization and design; the presence of a clear plan of design, i.e. shelving books, parked cars, stacked chairs. This seems to indicate that design corresponds for many to intention order.
The few exceptions to this were also interesting. If contributors chose to present a different vision of order it was the reverse; instead of objects carefully laid-out, they were strewn together in no discernable pattern. An example of this was the photo of a heap of fish on a patch of rock. It seems that there are no have measures to interpretation, we either accept or refute, dipicting full order or total chaos. This reminds me to some extent of the programs and websites that we have encountered throughout the class activities. Designers either opt for a clearly defined order or chose to make a radical departure from the norm.
This also ties in to a fundamental issue: how should information be presented? Clearly people have different interpretations. The most basic example of this is search terms; words and sentance composition can dramatically change search results without perhaps the full understanding of the searcher. Other times searches can be remarkably frustrating if you don't know the one or more terms tied to your results. How do we make a system orderly enough that everyone can easily understand and use it, yet flexible enough to incorporate individual perceptions?

 

Web Scavanger Hunt

I've been going over some of the exercises from earlier in the semester to try to evaluate how much progress I've made in the brave new world of technology that we've explored. The results seem to be mixed. I was pleased to see that I improved on the web scavenger hunt, but I still wasn't finding everything.

I think the problem is learning the language that search engines respond to. I find the same problem emerged when I began searching library catelogues, online resources, etc. I think that more effort should be made to educate students in search engine style enqueries. There are maps showing where all the call numbers are listed, and volumes explaining what each Library of Congress designation is; don't electronic resources deserve the same? Sure there's the explaination of boolean search style, but many search engines are different, and what works for one doesn't always give you the same results from another.

 

H-bot

I decided to play around with H-bot a little to see how valuable it would be in answering some of my questions. While I think the concept of H-bot is useful and the project has potential to be a useful learning tool for students, it still does need work. While 'popular' topics in American and Canadian history generally received good, or any, answer to simple questions, ex: When was the American Revolution. How a question was phrased is important to getting the right answer. This is problematic in a tol for students, who might not know the 'right' terms to use. For example H-Bot correctly answers 'when did Newfoundland join Confederation' but could not anwer 'when did Newfoundland join Canada'.

When I moved into more obscure topics, such as the Boer War H-bot could not answer any of my queries, including when the war was, where it was. To my question of who Paul Kruger was, H-bot replied: Stephanus Johannes Paul Kruger (October 10, 1825 - July 14 1904), a.k.a. "Oom" (Uncle) Paul, was born in the Cape Colony into a family of Prussian descent. He was a prominent Boer resistance leader against British rule and became president of the Transvaal Republic on [[30. The brief answer does not really give credit to the role that Kruger played. However a similarly brief entry exists for George Washington. This is understandable given that the project is that of a lone professor rather than a large company. Perhaps to build data, H-bot could allow users to enter data, like Wikipedia.

Monday, November 13, 2006

 

GIS

I browsed the David Rumsey site for this week and really enjoyed it. I would recommend the site to anyine with the least interest in historical maps. A word of warning: do not go to this site if you have other work due soon.

Because of, yet another, foible of my computer (not allowing pop-ups) I could not access the collection using the insight Browser option. After this initially discouraging start, lightly peppered with my cries of 'why won't you work!?', I moved on to the other options. The Collection Ticker was what I settled on. I commend those who structured the layout and operation of this approach.

The collection pans past slowly in a single line from right to left. The speed is sufficiently slow that you can eyeball the maps easily before they pass from the screen; for those who need/want more time to peruse, a pause button is easily accessible. If you would like to know the maps title/content a simple hover of the mouse displays the information clearly. I chose to leave the mouse icon on the middle of the screen, therefore as thumbnails of the maps panned by each title was listed. The reverse option is also very helpful. Also noteworthy is the inclusion of pictures/digital images of the covers of atlases and cartographic documents.

After multiple downloads I was finally looking at the map of New York City that I was interested in. The colour delineation was surprisingly clear; I have sometimes found that seemingly small issues like colour selection are overlooked in such large projects. Tools such as the one for measuring distance were easy to use but others were less applicable, or perhaps I used them improperly. A button or link for a tutorial explaining the possible manipulations and options would have been helpful. I think that perhaps this site is more important as a demonstration of future rather than realized potential for GIS and historical studies.

The site is not universally positive. I was discouraged by the repeated downloads necessary to view the maps -although understandable instructions were generally provided. Also, a search option would dramatically increase the usefulness of the site for research purposes especially.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

 

FindForward, Historical Connections, and Continuity

The FindForward site does take awhile to produce the results. This is understandable as it is sending, receiving, and compiling a vast amount of data. I knew and to some extent understood this and yet I still found myself getting very impatient as I waited. Realisitically the wait was generally less than a minute. I found this interesting in that it shows how accustomed to not only access to information, but speedy access and retrival.

I think this could be disadvantageous to many small businesses, museums, universities, etc. who are trying to compete with larger instituations in the virtual world; 'clients' are gaining a sense of entitlement to faster, more elaborate and well-constructed websites that can entail huge cost and effort to establish and maintain. Is the digital age inherently disadvantageous to smaller operations? Or is it equalizing? After all the McCord Museum, small by most empirical standards, is able to make its presence felt in the digital realm in greater proportion to its physical or financial size.

As per this week's activity specifically, I was looking at FindForward, a search program that searches for terms per year and plots the occurance on a bar graph. This visual representation is ideal for presenting a 'big picture' interpretation and understanding of topics. The activity is also interesting for showing various meanings of words, i.e 'depression '; modern understanding of this term generally relates to the Great Depression but the results inform the viewer that it was drawing a large amount of attention in 1902. This could be used to illustrate ideas of continuity to students; ideas and concerns such as economic downturn date back before modern interpretations.

It also shows the cyclical nature of history and historical interest. Events in the past deemed comparable to occuring or predicted current events often gain renewed attention. An example of this is the FindForward results for 'depression' from 1950-2000. A definite increased attention in marked in the late eighties and nineties, a time when fears of Western economic degeneration were resurging.

I found this noticeable in another way when searching for 'Boer War.' I was surprised to see that the greatest period in the 1950-2000 range was 1956. Though FindForward does not list the relevant information, having identified a year of interest you have only to type the term and year into Google to find the results FindForward is based on. 'Boer War' peaks in 1956 because the is the date commonly given to the commencement of the Vietnam War to which the Boer War is frequently compared. Though I was familiar with this oft-mentioned comparison, it renewed my awareness and highlights the role that linked events can have.

The site is also interesting in that it shows the often complementary relationship between public interest and involvement and the media. Many of the peaks in increased attention correspond with media releases such as movies or books. The peak in attention to 'depression' in the late nineties can also be explained as corresponding to the release of a movie entitled 'The Great Depression' in 1998.

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