Tag Archives: PressForward

Global Perspectives on Digital History

Today, my colleagues Peter Haber, Jan Hodel, and I (along with the indispensable help of Dan Ludington) are pleased to announce the launch of Global Perspectives on Digital History, the latest of the PressForward publications from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

Like Digital Humanities Now, Global Perspectives on Digital History aggregates and selects material from our Compendium of the Global Perspectives, drawing from hundreds of venues where high-quality scholarship is likely to appear, including the personal websites of scholars, institutional sites, blogs, and other feeds. It also seeks to discover new material by monitoring Twitter (someone else is going to have to do that for me given my aversion to the whole Twitterverse) and other social media for stories discussed by the community, and by continuously scanning the broader web through generalized and specialized search engines.

Unlike Digital Humanities Now, Global Perspectives on Digital History is focused more on history, rather than on digital humanities in general. This is not to say we won’t be bringing in content from other digital humanities disciplines that seems relevant to our readers’ interests in digital history. But, as much as possible, we will remain more tightly focused on a single discipline. The other big difference in approach with the first of the PressForward publications is that Global Perspectives on Digital History is a multi-lingual publication. Our initial languages are English, German, and French, but we expect to expand soon into other languages. The only thing holding us back at present is a lack of editors to help with the scanning of content in those other languages.

At present we are using the GoogleTranslate plug in for translation. If you have any experience with this plug in you know it is wholly insufficient for what we are about. Over the coming year, we will be exploring other options for machine translation of our content and hope to learn some things worth knowing through that exploration.

Like Digital Humanities Now, we will also be moving toward some traditional publication of content that appears on our site. Whether we use the model currently in use at Digital Humanities Now or something else, still remains to be seen. We are going to watch the development of the open peer review process carefully before deciding on our approach.

At present, we are splitting our coverage of digital history from around the globe between longer “think pieces” that we are tagging as “editor’s choice” content, and briefer entries we are tagging as “short takes.” We suspect we will expand into reviews and other content from around the globe that examines digital history sometime in the near future.

For now, please visit the site and be sure to let us know what you think.


Hello DHNow

On Wednesday, the first of the four forthcoming PressForward publications launched: Digital Humanities Now. This publication is a re-launch of an older attempt to aggregate what digital humanists were discussing in real time…the prior version was focused primarily on Twitter feeds and for a variety of reasons, I wasn’t a huge fan.

My criticism at the time was that there was too much posting of “re-tweets” and so a lot of interesting stuff was getting lost under the weight of the most tweeted items. [You can see an early 2010 version here, but need to realize that the WayBack Machine didn’t capture the page formatting.] The new version of the publication has not only solved that older problem, but has also substantially upgraded what is on offer.

Now there are “editors’ picks,” which are selections from many hundreds of blogs concerned with the digital humanities. There are categorized news items, and a “top ten tweet” list. In addition, you can see the entire “river” of digital humanities information flowing into the site’s back end and can sign up to join the community of digital humanists whose content is being considered for publication. These enhancements, in my view, make Digital Humanities Now a real go to site for anyone interested in the field.

In the interest of full disclosure, it’s more than a little possible that I’m biased in favor of this project for three reasons. First, I work at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, which is home base for the project. Second, I am one of three executive editors of another PressForward publication, Global Perspectives on Digital History. Third, I’ve completely lost control of my RSS feeds of late and so Digital Humanities Now is like a lifeline being thrown to a drowning man.

Here’s what neither Digital Humanities Now nor Global Perspectives on Digital History is going to solve: neither publication is going to eliminate the need for human intervention in the process. Where the original version of Digital Humanities Now was intended, at least in part, to be an algorithm-driven publication requiring little to no human intervention, these new publications will continue to require a fair amount of editorial effort. We still need/want someone to sort through the river of content flowing into the sites to select “editors’ picks” or “top ten tweets” for us, because that means we can be more efficient in our reviewing of the information. It’s possible to imagine an algorithm that will learn from what the editors on the back end are doing, eventually mitigating the need for quite so much human intervention, but (a) we are a ways off from that, and (b) it will be a long time before an algorithm can decide on an editors’ pick. That kind of choosing is much more complex and driven by intangibles that algorithms still aren’t very good at.

Until the machines get smarter, humans will still have an important role to play in the publication of digital content online (good news for me!), but PressForward and other similar projects bode well for a future where the river gets wider and deeper and struggling digital humanists will need platforms like these to help sift through all that content for them.

Multilingual Publishing

Sitting her comfortably in Virginia, I’m quite happy to bathe in an English-only sea of words. So much of the content on the Internet is in English these days that it’s easier and easier to ignore everything interesting taking place on online islands where English either isn’t spoken, or just isn’t used on websites.

As a European historian, I know how bad this is, because it’s hard enough for me to keep up with the literature in my field in English, much less what people are writing in German, Czech, and Slovak, not to mention Hungarian (which I can’t read), or French (which I can sort of read). Some of the best works in my field have never seen the light of day in English and probably never will. This means I have to force myself to be attentive to what’s happening in those other languages and, if we’re being honest, I’ve not been as attentive as I ought to be.

Sadly, I’m sure I’m not alone. How many of us really have the time to keep up on our reading as it is? And unless we are especially diligent, it’s almost always the work published in languages other than English that slips further down on the reading list.

All of this is by way of explaining why it is that as we begin to ramp up Global Perspectives on Digital History, we’re so focused on figuring out how best to publish our “journal” in multiple languages simultaneously. Unfortunately, the auto-translation algorithms aren’t where we need them to be today, so we’re going to have to do a fair amount of working around the short comings in the software.

For instance, I recently ran the introduction to my forthcoming book on teaching history in the digital age through the Google Translate algorithm to covert it from English to German. The resulting German translation was workmanlike and mostly correct in the purest technical sense of the word “correct.” However, virtually all the nuance in what I wrote disappeared–and I’m not a sophisticated enough German speaker to notice everything that was wrong. But even with my more limited skills, I could tell that the resulting translation was a bit like what one could expect a second year student to produce for a class assignment. Almost all the words were correct, but the sense of the sentences was often all wrong.

On the good side, Google Translate produced this translation of a 17 page text in less than five minutes. Now we have to figure out whether it’s easier to begin with such a rough and ready translation and then correct it, or to just start from scratch. My hope is that the former will work, if only because I can imagine the mechanisms under which we might work with such an approach. If we have to start from scratch on each item, the level of human involvement could be prohibitive.

Over the next month or so, we’re going to experiment with some more sophisticated translation software. Once I have samples to show, I’ll report back.

Pressing Forward

I’m very excited about a new project that I’ll be working on at the Center for History and New Media over the next few years: PressForward.

My piece of this larger project is a new digital history “journal” tentatively titled Global Perspectives on Digital History. With my colleagues Peter Haber and Jan Hodel, the long-time editors of Hist.net, we will begin to build a transnational digital history journal that examines developments in the field across multiple languages and, we hope, helps to build a global community of digital historians. At present, too much of the work being done by digital historians is locked away behind language barriers, and often behind national boundaries. For instance, how much do Americans really know about developments in digital history in Canada, the UK, Australia, or New Zealand, even though the vast majority of that work is created in English?

The more difficult challenge we face is what it means to publish a history journal that is truly multilingual. My colleagues in Switzerland and Canada have a leg up on this issue and our hope is to synthesize lessons from both countries (as well as programming cheats) to create a journal that is truly multilingual, i.e., where all the content is available across several (or many) languages. We’re going to press the boundaries of what machine translation can do for us to make this work. But we’re also going to have to think very carefully about what we learn from working in this multilingual environment rather than the more typical monolingual or less common bilingual environment.

We are only in the planning stages right now, but I can say that the framework we are considering sits somewhere between the algorithm driven Digital Humanities Now (also part of PressFoward) and the standard history journal where all the content is curated. We’re leaning more toward a hybrid of the two — some content solicited by the editors, some scraped from the Internet by an algorithm. Because community building is one of our goals, we’re also going to have to think through how we will allow/facilitate our readers to interact with the content.

At this writing, the slate is not blank. We have some ideas for where we are going. But we are also eager to get input from others interested in the project. Please chime in with any suggestions, ideas, caveats, or whatever that you think will help us move the project along.