Become A Digital Explorer of the Online World of History
By Mark Ciotola
First published on February 27, 2019
Digital history allows you to become a digital explorer of the online world of history.
- Existing online historical sites and tools will be explored.
- Students will apply what they have learned in other history courses to critique the validity and relevance of online historical materials.
Searching For Online Information
Perform a web search on most historical terms will provide you with plenty of information. Some online sources are better than others. As a history student, you should know how to evaluate sources. Who provided the information? Is it claimed to be fact, opinion or speculation? What is the authority of the source? How would they know? Are they biased? Is the document by whom it purports to be? (Forged documents and fake sources still exist, as they always have.)
Wikipedia requires special mention. It is a great way to become introduced to historical topics and see related topics. However, you don’t know who wrote it or whether is it true. Also, key information might be omitted. So while Wikipedia might be your first stop to find out about a historical subject, it certainly should not be your last stop. It is better to have a source whose author is identified and who takes responsibility for the information proffered.
Google Maps is sometimes a good way to investigate what historical sites look like recently. There weren’t satellites before 1957, so there can’t have been any satellite imagery before then. Many historical sites do not have Google Street View coverage. However, there were aerial views and street level photos taken since the 1800s, and some of those may be found online. A Google image search can sometimes be more efficient than a text search.
Computer Security and Data Protection
Before going further, now is a good time to mention that it is a dangerous world out there! (And sometimes inside as well.)
You should ensure that you are maintaining good practices when it come to your computer and its data.
- You should regularly up your entire computer. What this means it to copy your hard drive onto external medium such as a back-up drive. There are specific utilities for this. Ideally, you will periodically back up the back-up drive and place it in a separate safe location. (Or at least make copied of especially valuable files and keep them in a separate safe place). There are utilities that make this easier. Don’t forget about files on your phone or pad.
- You should use difficult-to-guess passwords. You should keep those passwords recorded in a safe place. There are password utilities that can help. Do not use the same password for everything.
- Hackers even go after routers. If you use a router, make certain that the password has been changed from a standard password such as “password”.
- If creating a website or web application, follow safety protocols for your language or framework.
- Don’t collect personal data from your users unless you absolutely need it, and be extra careful with it all. Read about the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
- Students will try out online tools such Clio to retrieve information of historical interest.
Clio Online Web Tool
- Choose a place of historical interest in the United States (because the tool only has USA locations; you will have to opportunity to examine other countries in future activities.)
- Open up the Clio website in a browser window.
- Enter a location. You will (hopefully) be presented with items of historical interest, or resources for historical investigations.
- Write a paragraph on three locations, describing what they are, and why they are of particular interest, and they type of information you might expect to gain if visiting there.
- Students will create their own web page using either simple HTML and CSS.
- Students will set up their own online web site using either a university account, WordPress, Wix or another tool.
- Students will try out more advanced text editors.
Setting Up A Website
- Open up a text editor. Notepad or TextEdit can work, but make certain that you use plain text mode.
2. Type the following into your editor:
<title>My My Clio Results></title>
<h>My My Clio Result></h1>
I found several fascinating items in Clio.
3. Save the the file and name it “your_surname_firstname_clio_results.html”.
4. Open the file in a web browser. See a page with “Rome” as a large headline and then your factoid beneath.
5. After reading the information below, enter your write-up of your Clio results into the html page (and turn it into your instructor if requested).
What is this all about? HTML stands for HyperTest Markup Language which is the standard way to express web pages. The extension HTML tells the browser that the file should be interpreted as HTML language.
The page has various layers inside of other layers. The highest layer is the html layer, hence the html tags at the beginning and end of the document. They enclose and apply to everything in this document.
Then there is the head part. We use it to enclose the page title, which may show up in browser tabs. The head can also be used to contain information which is useful for the rest of the document, such as scripts and styles.
Next is the body part. This contains the content that you wish people to view in the web page. h1 tells the browser to format this text as the largest standard heading size. There are also h2, h3, h4, h5 and h6 sizes. The p tells the browser to format the enclosed text as a separate paragraph.
Remember that most tags require the content to be terminated with an enclosing tag, which is typically the beginning tag preceded by a “/”, such as:
<p>I found several fascinating items in Clio.</p>
More Advanced Text Editors
Leveling up activities are optional for their section, but they can involve skills and tools that can help you get ahead of the game, or do things (once learned) better or faster.
There are text editors created specifically for editing computer programs and code. They offer a lot of helpful features, but each one has different capabilities and look and feel. You should try out a few and pick the one you like best. Some of these are free, while others cost money.
Some coders prefer command line utilities, but only try these if you feel comfortable with the Unix/Linux command line. Examples include Vi, Vim, Pico, Emacs. (This author sometimes still uses Pico. It can be useful in a pinch.)
- Ancient History Encyclopedia (a general history site with some emphasis on the ancient)
- Omeka showcase of digital exhibits
- WorldCat (combines metadata from many libraries to make it easier to find sources)
- Professor Google. If you get serious about coding, you will have to start doing what serious coders do to learn how to use things or troubleshoot. They do Google searches. There is a lot of good and bad stuff out there and at different levels of relevancy and difficulty. You will eventually get a feel for what sources will work best for you, but a lot will remain trial and error. So before you try things, always make a back-up of your work!
- W3 Schools provide useful tutorials and reference information.
- H-Net Digital History site
- Article regarding various text editors