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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