Module #4: An Adventure in 3D Scanned Models

Objects: Captain Kirk & Mr. Spock Action Figures by Jo

Date of Creation: Early 2017

Origin Location: Guangzhou, China

Size: 4 inches tall

 

Significance:

At first glance, these figures of Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock may appear unassuming, simplistic— even childish, yet their tiny frames hold a fascinating record of Star Trek fandom.

These figures were handmade by Jo, an artist and Trekkie living in Guangzhou, China. These figures were created in a small-scale, limited edition sale in their online store between late 2016 and early 2017. Both Kirk and Spock come with a total of 3 interchangable faceplates, canvas pouches for carrying, and cardboard storage tubes for protection.

Jo is primarily active on their tumblr blog, LostConner ( http://lostconner.tumblr.com/ ) where they post fanart, photos of their many Kirk and Spock figures (both official and made by themselves), and engage with the modern Star Trek fandom. However, an exploration of their blog reveals that in distant Guangzhou, they are far from the only Trekkie. In fact, Guangzhou seems to be home to a dedicated Star Trek fanbase. These fans appear to be mostly college-age women who are highly active and dedicated in their fandom. They host all sorts of events, including viewing parties for new Star Trek films, birthday parties for their favorite characters, and even larger special events, such as “Star Trek Only in Guangzhou” in January 2017.

Star Trek is unquestionably a global phenomenon, however, it can be difficult to visualize and understand the international fandom. Over its fifty years of existence, the bulk of attention given to Star Trek fandom has been within the United States. The documentary film Trekkies 2 (2004), and the monograph Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth explores the international fandom (largely in Europe), but both only provide small snapshots of the international fandom.

Aside from these two sources, perhaps the best way to gauge the international fandom was through fanzines. However, fanzines no longer exist in their original form. Modern fanzines have lost their open-forum aspect, and now solely focus on fanart and fanfiction. Instead, social media platforms are now the forefront of fandom communication and activity. Blogs like Jo’s are evidence of a highly-active, highly participatory international fandom.

Star Trek fandom has changed in many ways over the last fifty years– fanzines are largely of the past, as are Star Trek-only conventions within the United States (with the exception of the annual Official Star Trek Las Vegas Convention by Creation Entertainment), but there is clear evidence that Star Trek fandom is still highly active across the globe.

These two figures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock may be unassuming, but they are proof of the love and dedication a fan and their cohorts have for Star Trek, going so far as to create their own fanclub within Guangzhou. Arguably, these figures are tangible evidence of a new means of interaction between fans on an international scale. The creation, reproduction, and eventual sale in an online marketplace show the same sort of acknowledgement between international fans as was once present in fanzines. Going further, this is the refinement and evolution of purchasing handmade goods from artists in convention vendor rooms.

Both these figures and the social media blog of their creator indicate the sophistication of Star Trek fandom. Trekkies no longer need to communicate via long-distance letters published intermittently within fanzines; they can communicate instantly through blogs and other social media platforms, share their fanmade goods with other fans, and even more importantly, participate in a truly global fandom, regardless of language or nationality.

Below is a Gallery of Photos taken by Jo at various Star Trek Events in Guangzhou, China. All photos belong to them and are displayed here for educational purposes only.

 

Process:

Though photos could suffice for these 4-inch action figures, I hoped to make 3D models of them to emphasize the care and detail that went into their creation. Kirk and Spock were cast on a small scale, and entirely hand-painted. They have their imperfections, but it only adds to their charm. Spock is particularly interesting in that his skin is a slightly greener tone than Kirk’s, and his blush spots and lips are green-tinted, to emphasize the green in Vulcan blood.

Despite my goals regarding these figures, the reality of the matter is they are frankly awful subjects for 3D modeling, at least through scanning and photogrammetry. The following is a record of my misadventures in attempting to 3D scan these two action figures.

 

Structure Sensor & ItSeez3d App:

This iPad 3D scanner and app combo is the default suggested for this module. During the tutorial we were warned to not scan objects that were too small, however, I had hoped the size limit was something smaller than 4 inches. Turns out two 4-inch figures falls into the “too small to scan” category” At best I was able to capture two blurry chunks of these figures.

This prompted me to explore alternative options for 3D scanning, especially ones I could utilize at home, so as to avoid potential time restrictions with Innovation Services in Carrier.

Trnio App (iOS):

Pronounced “Turn-Knee-O,” Trnio is a photogrammetry 3D scanning app that has been around since about 2014. It is currently 99 cents in the Apple store and features free uploads and exports to SketchFab. Trnio’s operation is similar to ItSeez3D, in that you are required to walk around your object to scan it. It is easy-to-use and a new user can familiarize themselves with most features within a few minutes.

Despite the ease-of-access this app is honestly difficult to use for the level of specificity it requires. Trnio advises users to not scan shiny objects, transparent objects, overly-flat plastic objects, and to ideally scan objects outside on sunny or uniformly cloudy days. Furthermore, the user must keep the object centered in the camera at all times, and maintain uniform distance while walking in a circle around the object, something that, despite making many attempts over many hours, I was never able to master.

Once an object is scanned its added to the queue for processing. Processing can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes to never, depending on your internet connection. Since I live out in the woods and our internet caps at around 300kb/s, I regularly experienced failures in processing, meaning I’d have to start over.

Trnio does feature an alternative to the walk-and-scan method: image merging. Using this option the user can select photos from their phone’s camera roll and Trnio compiles them into a single 3D object. Hopefully. I attempted this once, snapping around 60 images of Kirk and Spock, and let Trnio process them. Then ending result is a completely useless abstract amalgam. I am unsure if this “feature” could ever really be effective.

(see import photo attempt below)

 

Qlone App (iOS):

As a backup for Trnio I also installed a new app in the photogrammetry 3D scanning arena, Qlone. Qlone is free in the app store, but exports cost 99 cents each. Turns out I needed it. Qlone is more technical than Trnio, but is similarly easy-to-se in that a user can install the app and familiarize themselves with it in a matter of minutes. However Qlone does require an extra apparatus for to function, a printable AR checkerbox mat. This is available in the app via air printing, or on their website.

To scan an object the user must print the AR mat and place the object in its center. The bigger the object, the bigger the AR mat required. I assumed an 8.5x11in. standard sheet of printer paper would be large enough, but as it turns out to scan Kirk and Spock I needed to scale up the mat to a larger size to fit them comfortably. The need for the scale up in size is due to Qlone’s 3D scanning method. When scanning an object, Qlone creates a virtual dome over the object. This dome is gridded into sections, which prompts the user to either turn the matt in a circle, or walk around the object to scan all sections of the dome/object. Once completely scanned the user can either make a supplementary scan to get better definition, or move into some basic model editing. The completed object is added to the app’s Collection and can be viewed in AR (mat required), edited, or exported.

 

Conclusions:

After utilizing these three apps and methods of 3D scanning, I can conclude that the iPad Structure Sensor and ItSeez3D app combo is by far the most robust for 3D scanning, so long as your object is of an acceptable size. If its small, its effectively useless.

Trnio and Qlone both have serious limitations. As mentioned before it is next to impossible to hold a phone steady while maintaining uniform distance while walking around an object, which creates problems for both apps. Qlone gives users the option of simply turning the AR mat, but if the object is poorly balanced (Kirk and Spock are both very top-heavy), the object can wiggle, creating a less accurate scan. Though both are easy-to-use, both have large limitations. Trnio has a long list of requirements for getting the “best” scans, but even then, they’re more-or-less required to even get a mediocre scan. A very glaring frustration is the app seems unable to process scans that have more than 30 photos in them, which leads to processing failure. Qlone’s AR dome, while providing a handy guide for getting a scan, also has the potential to sabotage scans. Any object that was more than a couple inches tall can’t be seen properly by the AR camera, and in many cases gets a cone on top (Kirk and Spock both became Coneheads in this app).

It is also worth mentioning that my phone is an original iPhone 6, which I am certain greatly impacted the fidelity of my scans and the apps’ processing power.

Overall, what I learned is the best objects to scan using these phone apps need to be compact. Trnio can handle larger objects, such as busts or plushes, but Qlone seems to favor smaller objects if for no other reason than printing an aligning a large mat is tedious and time-consuming. In either situation, the more compact the object is, the better. A plush with tiny nub arms, or a bust, or a candy bar make ideal subjects for both apps (see example of a wood-carved figure below for an ideal compact form). Kirk and Spock are both tiny figures, and feature very non-compact forms–their legs are apart, their arms stick out to the side, and their massive head’s are supported by tiny necks— all of which make it very difficult for Trnio and Qlone to register the intricacies of both objects, as evidenced by my many failed attempts to scan these figures.

Despite my many gripes and frustrations, there are specific situations in which these apps can and will work, they just didn’t work for my objects in particular. This does prove, however, that 3D scanning via phone app is possible and will hopefully improve to a point where fidelity is less of an issue.

 

Further Reading:

https://tictail.com/lostconner

http://lostconner.tumblr.com/

http://trekkies2.com

https://www.amazon.com/Future-Perfect-Conquered-Planet-Earth/dp/0670873993

https://www.creationent.com/cal/st_lasvegas.html

https://structure.io

https://itseez3d.com

http://www.trnio.com

https://www.qlone.pro

 

Blog Post #10

Digital modeling can do a lot for expanding how professional historians approach the study of history, its presentation, and even its preservation. Personally, it is an approach I feel the field as a whole should absolutely consider more seriously.

Please Feel the Museum is an excellent article for examining and explaining some ways in which digital modeling and 3d printing can aid historic study. I especially appreciate the idea of the “flip-flop” (though I’d love for it to have a somewhat less goofy-sounding term) and feel the Keet Saaxw whale hat in the 3d Smithsonian tours from last week’s readings is a particularly good example of this concept. I do, however, find this article’s example of combining artifacts in a 3d print to be a little silly, when there are so many more profound applications for 3D printing in a museum. For example, I recently read an article (the title of which escapes me) about art museums creating touchable copies of famous artworks, so the blind can feel the paintings. This is simply an incredible step for making art approachable for the visually impaired. I feel 3D printing could absolutely help create more touchable works such as these.

http://blind.tech/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/painting-tacticle-for-the-blind.jpg

(an example of a tactile artwork)

As highlighted in the other article (and also the Sketchfab models), 3D printing and modeling can also so a lot in the field of historic preservation. Modeling and creating a replica of the Arch of Palmyra has proven an invaluable act in the aftermath of its destruction. I find the placement of the replica arch to be a little inappropriate given the destruction, it would probably be better-suited in a museum now, but regardless it is now an important physical replication of a lost antiquity. Similarly, the digital recreation of the arch and other locations in sketchfab can provide a in situ example of otherwise difficult-to-recreate models, and is an excellent learning tool. I recall a documentary that included how another Mesopotamian antiquity was destroyed by terrorists, but a 3d printed replica exists, and in its base there is a memory stick containing information about the antiquity. 3D printing and the inclusion of these information-laden USBs could potentially help preserve the past should a cataclysmic event happen. The potential for long-term preservation via 3D printed replica is pretty exciting.

Further Reading:

Liz Neely and Miriam Langer, “Please Feel the Museum: The Emergence of 3D Printing and Scanning”
Sarah Bond, “The Ethics Of 3D-Printing Syria’s Cultural Heritage”
Explore Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Model of a Damascene Home, and Art at the British Museum

Blog Post #9

The nature and theme of his week’s readings are particularly relevant to my interests. The utilization of virtual spaces and objects is quite natural for me, thanks to a lifelong interest in video games, and now in the recent purchase of a 3D printer. Despite this background, the application of digital technology, 3D printing, and virtual spaces this historical inquiry and preservation is quite a new concept for me (as I’m sure it is for most people, given how the field tends to entrench itself in the physical and tangible). The possibilities are quite thrilling, as evidenced by the content of Pastplay and Death in Motion.

While its simple enough to understand the applications of 3D rendering and printing as a means of recreating and preserving objects, using these technologies in the effort to research skills and cultural practices is incredibly interesting, and one that merits serious thought by the scholarly community. Documentaries often use 3D models to recreate spaces, though often the outcome seems trite (likely do their context in a documentary, which often isn’t taken seriously by academics to begin with). However, both articles prove the validity of using such technologies for serious inquiry.

I also feel the use of digital objects is particularly effective for the creation of digital exhibits. Both the Objects of Faith online exhibit and the various Smithsonian X 3D exhibits (especially the one about the Keet Saaxw hat) maximized on the potential of creation digital objects, and then rendering them with 3D printers and other technologies. The discussion of technologies used is insightful and the final results are impressive. So often digital exhibits fall lack impact due to unimaginative approaches and the reliance on 2d images and text (“putting a textbook on a webpage” similar to the pitfall physical exhibits face of putting too much text on real walls). Through the use of 3D models, however, you create an object the visitor can interact with, and examine at their own leisure. Adding in the printed component suddenly makes the digital tactile, in a way most museums do not allow. I think if applied properly these technologies can create some wonderful digital exhibits.

Each of these articles and websites makes a very valid case for the use of 3D technologies and acts of creation in the pursuit of digital history, one I am quite happy to embrace.

Further Reading:

William J. Turkel and Devon Elliott, “Making and Playing with Models: Using Rapid Prototyping to Explore the History and Technology of Stage Magic”
Diane Favro and Christopher Johanson, “Death in Motion: Funeral Processions in the Roman Forum”
Review Objects of Faith and several of the Smithsonian X 3D Tours
Christopher Johanson, “Making Virtual Worlds”  

Blog Post #8

This week’s readings tackle multiple facets of spatial studies in digital history. The first article by Andrew Wiseman raises awareness of the pitfalls of maps and their data: namely, the bias of the mapmaker. I agree with his statement of the lack of geographic literacy among the general public, and that even in classes which utilize maps (such as history and geography) we are never taught to interrogate the maps as we would any other primary or secondary source. Social media is rife with maps and too often they are accepted as fact. This article was a good reminder for any historian looking at map data.

The second article about movement studies is an interesting look at physical motion as a dataset. It personally reminds me of the earlier article about graphs, in which the author tracked his life using all sorts of apps. It is also a very good example of Henri Lefebvre’s concept of spatial practice, the movement within a space.

Mapping Occupation is an interesting look at the power struggles of the post-Civil War Reconstruction. Oftentimes post-Civil War is treated as if the Confederacy crumbled immediately, but map studies such as this one and Visualizing Emancipation prove otherwise. This study explains itself and its argument well and even allows for visitors to manipulate the dataset on their own. It is an exceptional example of a spatial data study. In fact, my only complaints are purely aesthetic. I find the map should have used a different dot system than the black holes covering the map. Even with the colored rings it can be very difficult to tell things apart. I also wish the size of the circles were more relative to troop presence numbers. Overall, this would make the markers smaller, and in some cases mere pinpoints, but I feel the larger dots skews the sense of presence and area these troops had control over.

Despite its age, Locating London’s Past is an interesting spatial research tool in which the creators built a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque’s 1746 map of London. This involved them overlaying modern London to this old map, and navigating various geographical issues such as warping. The website also provides full essays on the background and methodology for the map, and datasets for visitors to manipulate to a great extent. While the map and website itself aren’t visually impactful, the high degree of transparency in the project and data availability makes it an excellent spatial research tool.

Geography of the Post by contrast, is a spatial study examining the opening and closing of more than 14,000 post offices in the United States west of the 100th Meridian. Its explanations are simple but very forthcoming about its dataset and its shortcomings (such as the inability to geolocate every single post office. The map is visually appealing and simple to understand. While the map itself allows for some user manipulation I do wish it had a simple time-lapse function to play.

Further Reading:

Andrew Wiseman, “When Maps Lie,” CityLab
Nathan Yau, “Explorations of People Movements”
Mapping Occupation

Locating London’s Past

Geography of the Post

Blog Post #7

The meanings and relationships between space and place is atopic oft discussed in the field of Public History. It is particularly relevant for the contextualization of historic sites and memorials, and the events and histories they tell (or don’t tell). This is, however, quite different from the approach to space and place in the digital humanities, though both contextualize history.

All of this week’s readings provide excellent examples of how spatial studies can be applied to history, and how these questions can create their own bodies of research for future historical inquiry. Encountering such variety in approaches to spatial history is as overwhelming as it is fascinating.

Blevins’ examination of the Houston Daily shows how individuals and organizations were able to impact how others perceived America geographically, by focusing on certain cities in their news articles over others. By providing well-executed written research, explanations for the methodology, and also interactive maps, Blevins has created an excellent study with which to set a baseline for any individual engaging in spatial research.

Mapping Inequality is both impressive and terrifying for its datasets. Evidence of racial segregation across the United States aided and abetted by a government organization is frightening indeed. The application of the concentric Zones Theory in conjunction with the HOLC maps is an interesting process of visualization (though a little difficult to understand at first). The written explanations and research for this spatial study provides great context for the overwhelming maps.

Visualizing Emancipation is similarly overwhelming, but sublimely executed. The sheer volume of data collected by the University of Richmond is incredible, and to have successfully compiled it into an understandable, interactive map is very impressive. How the researches approached the categorization of emancipation events, and applied them through visually recognizable icons is particularly interesting, as is the research on the security of the freedom of emancipated slaves. Admittedly, I feel this spatial study could have emphasized the navigation bar a little more, since opening with the map and no context initially is overwhelming. Also the legality of slavery map colors should have been more distinct; four shades of gray is very difficult to tell apart at times, especially when the map animation is in motion.

These spatial studies and their maps effectively show the benefits of approaching historical questions spatially, contextualizing them not only in history but in the related spaces and meaning-laden places in which they happen. Place is defined by events within space, and spatial studies can help us understand the geographic relationships of these events with incredible results.

 

Further Readings:

Cameron Blevins, “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston,” and the digital supplement, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space”
Review Mapping Inequality and Visualizing Emancipation
“British Travelers in Eighteenth Century Italy”

Blog Post #6

Given that all everything and every event in history has occurred in physical space, it would be reasonable to approach history with a spatial awareness in mind. However, in many cases such an approach is new and only recently approached through digital humanities. This week’s readings shed a lot of light on the topic.

“What is Spatial History” provides the best understanding of the topic, by explaining spatial practice (our movement within a space), representations of space (documents), and representational space (symbolism associated with spaces). It’s honestly a lot easier to understand than Lefebvre’s own writing. It is interesting to consider this multi-tiered approach to spatial history, and one I find particularly effective. Presenting the movement of individuals within a space, the visual representation of the space, and the meanings of the space would make any spatial location accessible to research. This idea is put into practice by contextualizing it with GIS mapping and also examples such as the Shaping the West project and maps. By looking at movement across space and asking questions of events occurring in these spaces, a whole new approach to history and human movement is possible. As White emphasizes, it’s more than just maps, it’s a means of doing research.

I personally don’t understand much about GIS, but the idea of creating a well-rounded, multilayered map of an area, to show everything from travel to population, would absolutely contextualize that area in the given time period of study. Even more I find the idea of CAVES fascinating. To fully immerse someone in a recreated location through both visual and no-visual media, sounds like an exhibit curator’s dream. I play a lot of videogames, and have even played a few Virtual Reality games in the past year, and I can support fully the idea of gaming technology aiding in approaches to spatial history. Unquestionably the games I love the most are the ones that immerse you within the space of the game, though sights and sounds and a vibrant sense of that location’s culture, even it it’s a digital recreation of small-town America. Just as videogames bring these fictional realities to life, so too could the same technology immerse and contextualize the spaces of our past. Spatial history can be so much more than simple maps; if done correctly it could be an approach to new understandings about movement in the context of history, and a means to recreate spaces for historical pursuit.

Blog Post #5

Technology both helps and hinders historical research in varied and highly significant ways. Honestly, it should go without saying, but even then it is worth serious reflection.

As Erickson reflects in his article, the utilization of a database for keeping track of notes and findings can be highly useful. I agree with the author fully in believing that information management is a necessity for the field. Even in undergrad classes I recall professors advising we keep citations on index cards; a database is a natural and far more elegant solution. Having extra means of keeping track of notes and such not only prevents filling books with sticky tabs, but also does allow for new organization and perspective. While I am unfamiliar with using a database for note-taking and citations, I use the Notes app across all my apple devices, and in running my local sci-fi/fantasy convention, I’ve made good use of Trello, for keeping track of tasks and keeping notes. These individual notes can be arranged in groups and moved around as needed, so I feel it would be of great use to researchers.

(A screenshot of my  convention Trello)

Similarly, google helps open entire new dimensions of research, and avenues for research, as discussed by both Leary and Ramsay. A single google search reveals myriad sources on any given topic, or clarification for unknown terms. This does however, as Ramsay worries, remove the element of luck from the research process. I would personally suggest a hybrid approach to research, utilizing both online searches and simple wandering of the stacks. Even when I do go to the library to get a specific book, I cannot help but peruse the surrounding shelves for extra texts that could prove useful.

Despite the uses of technology, it does also have its limitations. In the (very technologically dated) article by Bell, he discusses the shortcomings of technology in providing a pleasant reading experience. I agree reading off a computer screen is a highly unpleasant experience, even with the modern high-definition screens of today, and I abhor the thought of trying to mark places in digital text, even in PDFs. I do however, also enjoy reading stories on my iphone. It seems for pleasure reading I don’t mind digital text, but for serious reading I will always prefer a physical book. Though the Librie discussed in the article is out of date, perhaps a NOOK is a better experience? I seem to recall a lot of emphasis for the e-reader being placed on the screen having the lighting and tactile quality of paper.

Technology can and does without a doubt streamline the research and writing process, but it also removes a distinct sense of randomness and whimsy as well. The human element, if you will.

 

Further Reading:

Ansley T. Erickson, “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories”
Patrick Leary, “Googling the Victorians”
William J. Turkel, Kevin Kee and Spencer Roberts, “A Method for Navigating the Infinite Archive”
David A. Bell, “The Bookless Future: What the Internet is doing to Scholarship, New Republic
Stephen Ramsay, “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books”

Blog Post #4

“Graphics reveal data.” This is what Tufte emphasizes in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. Ideally, a graph reveals data easily, which can then be clarified through interpretation. This week’s readings focus on a few examples and methods of how graphs and data sets can be integrated and used for interpretation. The major difference I noticed in the readings was the variation with which the data was interpreted.

The 2014 Feltron Annual Report was an insightful look into how easily an individual can track themselves and break their lives down into datasets. Not only was it appealing to look at, it was possible to create a mosaic of the person’s life through their presented data. It would have likely been improved with some personal insight from the individual, or a reflective piece. There was no interpretation, so even though this person’s life was exquisitely encapsulated through various datasets, it did also transform them from a human being into an amalgam of datasets. Maybe that was the intent; to prove such could be done, but I would have enjoyed a bit more of the presence of the human experience.

Moretti’s piece provided a better hybrid of data and interpretation, as did the Tufte excerpt. Both pieces hybridized raw data with interpretation to back up their points and provide examples. Oftentimes in the humanities it feels datasets are often overlooked for the sake of focusing on the individual human element of the field; history is no different. Even broad histories can ignore data for the sake of the narration, choosing to on small portions of the bigger picture. Yet both of these pieces indicate history and analytical data can be intertwined, and provide a stronger image of what is being interpreted; it can even ask new questions.

Selfiecity by far provides the most advanced example of integrating data and graphs with interpretation (though admittedly I take great issue with their lack of obtaining permission from the thousands of people whos selfies they used for this study). Despite my misgivings, this is an exemplary study. The website is incredibly well-designed. Data is both heavily integrated and interactive, and the analysis and interpretation is readily available, and from multiple individuals who participated in the creation of this study. It is a fascinating look at a very prevalent part of social media culture, and the results are presented in an efficient, easily accessible manner, which is, when working with datasets, as it should be.

 

Further Reading:

The 2014 Feltron Annual Report
Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, and Trees (excerpt)
Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (excerpt)

SelfieCity

Blog Post #3

Data analysis in regards to the study of history poses some interesting ideas and approaches. To begin with, it could address the issues raised by Larry Cebula in his open letter. Using data analysis such as keyword searching a researcher in the hypothetical 22nd century could cut through all the useless data of our digital footprints to find the relevant data they quest for. On that note, Cebula’s article raises a salient issue in the realm of digital history, much in the same way Susan Sontag’s Born-digital Archive did: the digital footprint of a single individual is massive. Even with our individual drive to preserve or delete our own digital pasts as needed, the phrase “the internet is forever” is fairly accurate, depending on the scenario. I recall an article from years ago that claimed there are more videos uploaded to YouTube in a day than a person could watch in their entire lifetime. While digital research into a single individual’s past online may not rival this mass of data, it does at least put things in perspective. According to more recent studies, 300 or more hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute https://www.statista.com/statistics/259477/hours-of-video-uploaded-to-youtube-every-minute/

Much in the way this graph contextualizes the statement, data analysis could similarly help put historical topics in perspective. While I have a poor grasp of coding and programming, I do at least understand that creating algorithms or charts, maps, and graphs could provide a lot of extra information for a historical topic; far beyond what a single book could contextualize. For example, a map indicating where Star Trek fanzines were published could help contextualize the fandom geographically, and also potentially socioeconomically. A graph could indicate the rise of K/S (the acronym for the homoerotic relationship of Kirk and Spock that became popular in the fandom) over time within the fandom. This is theoretical of course, but the potential applications to see historical data sets as a whole, rather than individual components, could be fascinating.

I do also highly agree with the belief that Historians should publicize their research methods beyond simply presenting a complete, finished product. This is why historiography exists, and research approaches should be included in this, beyond simply indicating what sources were used in footnotes and bibliographies (though this is a good start). By highlighting the process and approaching research as a part of the finished product and not solely as means to an end, it would de-mystify the field and potentially make it far more approachable.

Further Reading:

Larry Cebula, “An Open Letter to the Historians of the 22nd Century: Sorry for all the Stuff”
Lincoln Mullen, Computational Historical Thinking (1.1 & 1.3)
Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor J. Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing”
Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Text Analysis and Visualization”

Blog Post #2

Who is a historian, and what authority do they have? Who are the custodians of history? How does the internet change or define these roles? This is the focus of this week’s discussions.

So, who is a historian? There isn’t quite one single answer. Wikipedia defines a historian as a person who researches, studies, and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it. Conversely, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a historian primarily as a student or writer of history and secondarily as ne who produces a scholarly synthesis. In both cases the emphasis is put on the study of history first, and the scholarly pursuit second. By these definitions, a historian could be anyone who shows interest in history enough to study it on their own, be it a hobby or academic reasons. This a very different take on the profession from what is more commonly heard within graduate classrooms, where a historian is described as someone who researches and interprets the past.

This plethora of meanings of a historian bears great influence over how history is treated outside of the classroom. Online a historian can be a hobbyist or an academic authority. Again Wikipedia provides an example of the variety of individuals which proclaim themselves historians. The talk section of wiki pages is often a place of debate and discussion of contributions, though results vary. For example those wishing to add sections on women to various wars (which are often approached with a very masculine mindset), may find themselves at-odds with the rest of the userbase. Similarly, a scholarly authority could have their contribution to a Wikipedia page removed if others feel it is a “minority opinion.” In many cases those policing these contributions are hobbyists, not professionals. It seems online the emphasis is on established “facts” and the status quo over actual historic interpretation.

Do we still call these individuals historians? Do we allow them to continue the curation of online historic resources? Do we allow these individuals to say, as Leslie Madsen-Brooks desires, “I nevertheless am a historian?” I personally am very conflicted on the matter. No one begins as a scholarly historian, with academic training and approach; everyone begins as a hobbyist. The internet is also an excellent place for anyone to begin historic pursuits. However, I take great issue with the custodianship of widely-used resources (such as Wikipedia) being maintained by nonacademics. These individuals likely don’t understand their own bias, or the bias of the historical record, or even the incomplete nature of the historical record. In more practical terms the informal nature of widely-used historic sites online presents a greater problem for those who wish to take an academic interest in history. Without understanding the interpretive nature of history, or the function of historiography and the need for debate, it can provide a difficult learning curve for students within classrooms of all levels. The internet is a wonderful resource for historic research, but the websites maintained by non-academic individuals should be carefully assessed with a very large grain of salt.

Further Reading:

Martha Saxton, “Wikipedia and Women’s History: A Classroom Experience”
Timothy Messer-Kruse, “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia”
Leslie Madsen-Brooks, “I nevertheless am a historian”
Rebecca Onion, “Snapshots of History”