sunnuntai 29. huhtikuuta 2012

Communicating your knowledge

Hello again! The topic for the latest lecture in the Digital culture course evolved around knowledge and how to communicate with it. We talked about which part of the culture is reflected through the books written and how these are later researched for different terms and words important for culture and history study.

In the old times, scientific communication was a lot more archaic and troublesome - the methods were limited and it was difficult to communicate with one and other. Nowadays the internet has eased this prospect immensely, but new problems have simultaneously risen to the surface. One of the problems are scientific articles written in certain  magazines, and whether this should be met as a matter of business or with openness - should these magazines be openly accessible to everyone? With the Open Access movement in 2003the universities started requiring that research done eg. at Helsinki university, among others, should be openly published. The distribution and publishing process it not, however, completely free of charge for the researchers. A big part of publishing in general consists of academic publishing, which also determines the aspects of publishing in general.

A topic that has lately risen to the surface once more, and is quite timeless, is the one considering copyright and to whom the rights belong. According to the official copyright, the creator of the work owns the rights to it and the right to be acknowledged as the creator, not to mention deciding upon how the material could and should be used. There is also always the so called grey publications; ongoing research, unmoderated material - what used to be conference papers back then, is mainly blogs and presentations nowadays. With these the problem of copyright and ownership is a reoccurring problem.

Hello! Here I am again, down with a cold for the 5th fucking time this year. Therefore I must apologise in advance, if the following entry lacks enthusiasm and possible crappy English, because writing while under the influence of a raging fever isn't fun exactly (in any manner, whatsoever -___-). So anyway, we were faced by yet another assignment in the Digital culture course. This time we were supposed to ponder around the subject of computer programs and software as tools and methods of research of history. We were assigned to quite a few web pages and required to observe how the the computer programs these pages resorted to actually worked and if their functions could be used for wider research upon historical topics and agenda.

Digital Research Tools Wiki offered a wide range of useful information around the subject. According to its own words, "this wiki collects information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively." A Wikipedia for digital tools and resources, huh? Sounds pretty promising and useful indeed! Digital Research Tools Wiki clearly had a touch with beginners  too, as it offered a direct ink to a glossary on the front page, which seems helpful enough.

Under the headline "Types of Tools" the front page listed various suitable programs for sections of research methods such as eg. "data analysing", "brainstorming", "data collecting" and "networking" among others. Each and every section opened to a new tab with an explanation upon the topic (eg. "Analyze data"; Definition: "A statistical package is a suite of a computer programs that are specialised for statistical analyses. It enables people to obtain the results of standard statistical procedures and statistical significance tests, without requiring low-level numerical programming. Most statistical packages also provide facilities for data management." (Wikipedia)). This helps the scholar/researcher/whoever, to immediately determine, whether the wide array of computer programs and tools offered in the particular section can be to any help in the task they're working on.

The "Analyze data" section offered in other words software such as Analyse-It: "Powerful and accurate statistical analysis and charting add-in software for Microsoft Excel." (Commercial, Windows) and DataDesk: "brings fast, easy-to-use visual analysis to your desktop. It provides interactive graphical tools for exploring and understanding your data - for finding the patterns, relationships and exceptions." (Commercial, multi-platform) among others. Altogether this sections offered up to 17 different computer programs just for analysing data and all the other sections worked in the same manner. The Digital Research Tools Wiki is in other hands not only a normal Wikipedia, that offers information upon digital research tools, but also offers several computer programs necessary for digital researches to download for free.  
The types of tools the web page offered was initially used for planning and writing work, blogs and research papers, taking notes and organising - in other words software meant to ease the manual labour. Although the page is easy to navigate, it basically requires that you know what kind of method and tools you're looking for.

WraggeLabs Emporium on the other hand stated clearly that it supplied hand-crafted digital tools to the discerning historian, whereas Digital Research Tools Wiki had been generally more directed toward scholars in general. WraggeLabs Emporium pointed out, however, that it was mostly directed toward Australian historians, which could be easily seen in its range of programs offered, mostly to aid the Australian historian's research. The web page offered eg. software and tools for using The Australian National Library's Trove system (a system comparable to the database of the Finnish National Archives and National Library), such as Identity Browser. The RecordSearch tools were also quite reminiscent of the databases offered by he Finnish National Archives and National Library and the web page in general quickly proved to be useless, unless the interest and topic of your research limited to Australian history. As with most of the other similar pages, the software offered on WraggeLabs Emporium remained free of charge to download.

Dipity seemed a pretty easily accessible and usable web page, mainly serving to ease creating timelines of different kinds. Although I found this method rather unfamiliar, it did seem refreshing and fun - at least much more interesting than doing a boring timeline by hand onto paper.  According to the front page "Dipity is a free digital timeline website. Our mission is to organises the web's content by date and time. Users can create, share, embed and collaborate on interactive, visually engaging timelines that integrate video, audio, images, text, links, social media, location and timestamps." Sounds pretty impressive, I'd say! The wide range of digital material usable such as video, images, links and such immediately roused my interest, not to mention the prospect of collaborating and sharing timelines. The software seemed easy enough to use and available for people with interest outside scholarly and historical pursuits.

Text_Diff offered text comparison by using a program solely dedicated to such task called simply Text_Diff. The site offered simply the ability to compare two pieces of text easily online - this by simply copy & pasting the strings of text one wants to compare into the forms provided. This tool can be useful in case of a collaborated text a scholar has written with someone needs to be checked for facts and errors. Easy to use, but not of current interest to myself at the moment. 

Wordle is a toy for generating "world clouds" from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and colour schemes, print them, or save them to Wordle gallery or share with your friends."   I'm sorry, but what the hell? Who uses the word "toy" to describe a software tool? This takes away any credibility the page could have. I must cynically state that I see no whatsoever use for this tool regarding research upon historical topics. This page merely seems to offer "fun" and "creative" ways to make utterly useless clouds of words. What a waste of time...

Dataist claims itself to be a blog about data exploration. "This is a blog about finding, exploring and presenting data online. Or simply data journalism."  The blog did not directly offer any software, but offered methods to using different programs and software in the most effortless manner. Most of the topics aroused little of my interest, and I quite honestly did not show the page much interest at all. A "Tutorial: Using Google Refine to clean mortgage data" did not say me anything and most of the topics in this blog concentrated rather on journalistic, general aspects instead of historical data.

Last but not least in this formidable list of different web pages was Many eyes. The web page did not introduce either its reason for existence or functions on the front page, but after a moment of looking around I came to the conclusion that its main function was to provide a collection of data visualizations. "On Many Eyes you can: 1. View and discuss visualizations, 2. View and discuss data sets, 3. Create visualizations from existing data sets." The tool can be used for creating statistics, apparently, something I'm not manually very acquainted with. I can imagine, however, that this kind of tool can be useful in the future, albeit I'd probably lean towards a site that's more comprehensible, informative and less chaotic than Many Eyes.

The other part of the assignment (don't worry, almost done...), was to contemplate the subject digital history study and research is/could be and compare the outcome with eg. data journalism. Digital history, as a part of the much wider topic of history study, is a perspective or field, that is still quite unexplored and many researchers only tentatively approach it. The digital methods can, according to some, be comparable to the  genuine new methods and dimensions the use of  quantitative methods brought historians in the 1960's and 70's. The intentions of  introducing digital history as a research method are not to overthrow all earlier activity, but to further capacitate and further develop something already contemporary with more vigour. Practically, this would probably result to much more of the actual research, planning and organising done with different digital methods through software, eg. withing education, whereas using multimedia instead of traditional lectures and classes. This might also gain more interest among students bored with the traditional methods of teaching. The scarce resources and  access to technical equipment may however slow down the process, which could be considered revolutionary in some circles.    

The most important part of installing digital history as a method of research in general, is that its intention should rather be to complement the old manners and methods of research rather than  replacing them. Technical enthusiasts also tend to easily focus more upon the technical possibilities instead of discussing pedagogical reflections, which eventually are the actual basis for choices of specific technical solutions and methods. One should not, however, completely abandon the idea of technical spheres, despite the attitude towards it wouldn't be exactly welcoming.   

Wow, that was quite a long entry. Thanks for whatever interest this written piece will or won't arouse in you...

keskiviikko 4. huhtikuuta 2012

More stuff on databases ahead!

Hello again! Decided to be super-duper creative and grace you all with another swift update. Apparently a particular computer class room in Porthania has become the new location for the course in Digital culture for the time being, but there we met up again for the days lecture on Monday 26th of March.

The topic for the lecture in question was presentations on different databases and their qualities. Me, Tomas and Sabina teamed up for the assignment of delving deeper into a particular database and studying it in order to be able to introduce it to the others in the group. Our database, Stockholmskällan, was a database dedicate to different phenomena and ephemera around the region of Stockholm. It offered topics around many interesting contemporary subjects, such as prostitution, the Olympic Games in the city 1912, the citizens and such.

Basically the database was created by several different museums and units to preserve and digitise material such as photographs, maps, archive documents, fiction and prose, movies e.g. depicting the history of Stockholm and its citizens. Through our arduous search and impeccable team work we found there to be around 25643 different records at the time (it keeps continuously growing, at the moment the amount it up to 26805!). Active since 2006 this database is ever growing and seemed quite sustainable compared to a few other databases introduced by the other small groups, one of them depicting a girl's Master's Thesis on details around the topic of the American Civil War.

Stockholmskällan also gave insight on how practical databases such as it are, even if this one in particular was limited to Stockholm as a region only. Because it was established, monitored and supervised by institutions connected within the Swedish state, its sustainability could be considered good. It also had directions meant for younger children and we concluded that it offered not only a good source for chilren's school projects, but also great potential for more academic and scientific work and research. This, especially because it focused on digitizing material, but also colleting born digital material as well. The quick search as well as the advanced search monitor offered help for people with various intentions.

The most important point of the lesson was to critically survey similar databases in the future, especially if using web pages or other born digital material as resources and references in academic work, because they might vanish at some point. Referring to a we page that doesn't exist when the the actual work is handed in works scarcely as a good and convincing resource. I still consider databases a good phenomenon, especially if backed up by the state and put more effort into.

Well then, the Easter Holiday is knocking at the door, and I'm off to Prague. Have a happy Easter, and enjoy the much needed break it offers!

Long time, no see & checking out information on the opponent

Hello boys and girls! A rather unpleasant series of colds, stress and pro-seminar related angst has kept me from updating this blog for way too long. Now that I'm free from the gruelling pro-seminar, I can give you a swift update on things.

The topic on the lecture in the Digital culture course a few weeks ago was to look for information considering the upcoming opposition in the pro-seminar course. Sadly, I was ill and absent this particular lecture, but later on took my time to thoroughly investigate in the matter. I was supposed to oppose Auroras work with the rather catchy titel "Det röda fruntimret och den vita pressen - krigspropagande, kvinnohat eller rädsla?". This pro-seminar debated around the subject of the female soldiers of the "red" socialist troops in the Finnish Civil War and how they were depicted in contemporary media. A very interesting piece of work I may say. Aurora had chosen quite a few books around the topic, and as requested by the lecturer, I decided to check out on information and books on the topic in general.

I first proceeded to look online on Helka for information on the topic, also keeping in mind to browse around for more potentially useful material for the composition. I typed in "suomen sisällissota naiset" in the search engine, and up popped one book that especillay caught my interest; Punaiset naiset ja muita tarinoita vallankumouksen Suomesta by Raija Westergård. When I checked Auroras table of contents of the pro-seminar essay, I couldn't find this particular book there, so I decided the book had potential. Sadly enough the book could only be found at The Library of the Labour Movement in Sörnäinen, and I hadn't the briefest idea where this museum was or felt the slightest inspired, so I decided to do some more research and look into other books on the topic found at libraries more familiar to me.

I also briefly checked online on Google if I could find anything relating to the topic and something I could go and check out in person at some of the university or common libraries. The search on "punaiset naiset 1918" gave quite many results, some which pointed towards the books Aurora had been using in her work as references.

I later on paid a visit to a common library in Roihuvuori, where Raija Westergård's book according to Helmet should have been available and decided to check upon the book in person. On Helka I had noticed that most of the books considering the Finnish Civil war 1918 and the red socialist troops were located in the Library of the Labour Movement, which was good to know if one decided upon a project within those frames of interest in the future. I briefly browsed through the book at the library, which seemed quite interesting indeed - apparently the author had been inspired by letters found in her grandmother's drawer from the time of the Civil war and then decided to weave fact and fiction together. Due to the fictional, but yet well-written parts, I'm not sure this book would work as a purely scientific source for a work like the pro-seminar. I still found the book interesting and captivating even after idle flicking of pages, and decided to maybe look it up at some point for my own amusement.

I also checked online what Google had to offer me, and I encountered quite many articles around the topic of the red socialist females and their life and deeds. Many articles revolved around the many red female prisoners, some no older than teenagers being shot at the prison-of-war camps established by the white non-socialists. Most of the articles were discussing the topic generally, and did not offer much more to Aurora's work in my opinion. Anyhow, it was an interesting experience, and I'm happy her work and topic worked out in the end when I opposed her during the presentations of the pro-seminar works.

Well, that's all - see you soon again :)!