Blog Post #4 – Venom of Python




Encountering a Wild Python: First Ever Computer Programming

     My first ever encounter with a computer language was a disaster. As a classmate in History 303 confessed, it was difficult to even grasp an understanding of what python was.

Fig. 1


          From simply “printing” Hello World and creating a html page, the level of difficulty suddenly jumped. The real confusion started from defining functions. While I understood what defining function do and meant, the speed of class progression left me behind despite the long personal reviews after class. But more importantly, personal interest played a bigger part. For example, I was able to completely understand the process of taking the National Basketball Association (NBA) stats online into a html and a textual format.

Fig. 2

2ESPN NBA’s all time MVP (most valuable player) award list in a text format.

Fig. 3

 ESPN NBA’s all time MVP (most valuable player) award list copied and pasted without python.

Comparing fig. 2 and 3 proved that by using python, I can obtain statistical data in a textual format that can easily be modified and posted online unlike fig. 3, where excessive fluffs have to be edited. There are many sites that do not allow copy and pasting. This method will bypass many restrictions. However, the real purpose of the above “exercise” was to categorize the MVP winners in the history of NBA that scored less than 30 points per game in that season. Unfortunately, I did not possess necessary programming knowledge to accomplish that task.

Fig. 4


Fig. 5

Practicing string manipulations.

      The most difficult aspect of python was manipulating python strings. I followed the guide on The Programming Historian and understood what manipulations do. However, I didn’t understand its meaning and importance. Personal interest played a big role, but I failed to apply string manipulation into anything meaningful. Lack of fundamental understanding of programming was clear.



Programming for Historians

     A driver does not need to know the mechanical blueprint of cars to drive them. However, anyone would benefit from knowing how to change a tire and an engine oil. Programming is the same. There is no need to become a master programmer to be entitled a Digital Historian, but it is, nonetheless, beneficial to harness the power of any computer language.

     Indeed, we are living in a digital age.

     One of the biggest challenges in learning a new language is age and familiarity. If students were exposed to programming since elementary school, the programming portion of History 303 would have been easier to understand. Or, too easy, according to a classmate, Shaun.

     Programming is a valuable approach for historians and to the discipline of history. At this moment, millions of records are being digitized. However, programs that historians use to extract digital resources are written by engineers with no historical background. What key words to take out? How should the program categorize and visualize historical content for users? These are all important questions to ask. Simply playing with, neatline, and google maps might not be enough in the future.

      A great advantage for the programming historians is not having to dig into hundreds of books for content. Although reading through The Programming Historian took many hours just to follow the basic instructions, as soon as the language clicks in our brain, the “puzzle” should come together.

     Is computer language merely a culture? No, information technology platforms are extending beyond its original field. More of the world is falling under its dominance and will only continue to grow. Massive demand but short supply of programming knowledge  is inevitable.

     In the near future, to be called a digital historian, one will be “required” to possess a programming background.


Blog Post #2 And Then There Were Three


And Then There Were Three
Three musketeers


What is the best example of public history? One that utilizes crowdsourcing to its full extent to preserve and present history. Three sties below are great public history community that collect, preserve and present history with public contributions.

“The September 11 Digital Archive”
“Hurricane Digital Memory Bank”
“Occupy Archive”

They are not perfect. Crowdsourcing has its flaws; just ask WIKIPEDIA! we will examine each sites and evaluate.


The September 11 Digital Archive

Remember 9/11? If not, check this out. CLICK

Hope that cleared your memory. 9/11 digital archive is the most informative and largest content preserving site out of the three musketeers. Unlike the other two, its’ FAQS connect links to major online news sites, such as, CNN, BBC, and New York Times for chronology and timeline of the attack. It doesn’t assume users’ knowledge of the event. Users are well informed about what the site is about.

Most organized website ever? Probably not. Most organized out of the three? It sure is. Under collection, categories are visibly appealing to help navigation faster. Titles and descriptions are easy to locate and read. Most importantly, diverse metadata is offered for every collection without glaring at the screen to find the appropriate data. Thank goodness the web designers were passive with colouring and underlining. Aesthetics are important.

Featuring function was my personal favourite. I was looking for official government related documents of 9/11. Since crowdsourcing’s major problem is presumed as validity of information and organization, I didn’t know where to start. Featuring became my best friend. FDNY Incident Actions Plans (click title), and Michael Ragsdale Flyer Collection received spotlight on the main page. They were featured for users to better understand the day to day work of various groups, and social and political transitions taking place during and after the event.

However, the site deserves some criticism. It provides diverse metadata terms, but without actual content. Many of them were unknown (click). Lack of effort or lack of data, is not sure.

What about the accuracy of posted contents`? Are they reliable? This is not a big concern. If an anonymous person uploads a fake story, people might question the site’s reliability; 9/11’s tragedy and impact on american people, however, will not change. George Bush ministration conspiracy theory is one thing, but exaggerating a personal story of 9/11 will only develop more empathy for the community. Digital vandalism, some calls it; fake uploads have small chance of ever appearing on such american and patriarchic archive.

Personal account stories, combined with posts about how 9/11 will be remembered personally, transformed the site into a relatable community for Americans. This is crucial to sustain participation. The archive has found a home, representing not only the historical event of 9/11, but the people involved.


Hurricane Digital Memory Bank and Occupy Archive

Allow me to become a poet.


Amazed at 9/11 archive.
So easy and it looks tight.
Hurricane and Occupy, left me to ponder.
And I walked with confidence,
Far away from the stinkers.

     Ok, maybe, stinker was a little harsh. Honestly, I couldn’t find a good rhyme. Anyhow, Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (here on, HDMB) and Occupy Archives (here on, OA) weren’t my favourites. One, they were difficult to navigate. Two, OA’s multiple posts had same red headings but different content; this was confusing. Finally, aesthetics. Is it just me or emphasis on the colour red brings up totalitarian government images in my head. The keyboard warrior within me was uncomfortable.

9/11 Archive felt easy. The main reason was FAQS’s chronological breakdown, catered for those with limited knowledge of the event. However, history online is supposed to be about breaking linear barriers that plagued history for so long. User participation and to “DO” history are key elements in constructing successful public history. In that perspective, HDMB and OA weren’t terrible.

HDMB, the on going archive of hurricane Katrina and Rita, offered a relief vibe. Collections and posts focused on the aftermath and recovery of the victims. For example, reconstructed houses, making a new best friend on evacuation, and opening new businesses for the better. Out of the three, HDMB is the least prone to ever modify its purity. The site is simply about the natural disaster and its victims. No political controversy or activists involved. It’s a place to share and rehab. Most importantly, lot of pictures!

     OA, not just an archive, but an arbiter for the occupy movement, had consistent metadata content compared to 9/11 archive’s unknowns.



No, I’m not talking about you, Unknown

     Although subjects and tags included too many, its controlled vocabulary meant better categorization. Tags were available before clicking into posts; 9/11 archive, on the other hand, required deeper navigation for tags.

     I question OA’s lasting purity. Occupy movements are to influence better economic distribution. In their perspective, the greatest evil is the government. Such phenomenon to occupy has a probability of turning into an institution with specific political intent. We’ve all heard stories of passionate protestors that fought against the government, and entered politics with gained renown. Of course, this is far fetched. THIS PICTURE of Stephanie Keith shows their perspective and story; was she really man handled?

      Overall, I was satisfied with the three musketeers; great public history sites that allow participants to alter and add digital history. Unlike analog history, contributions are constant. Like gravity, we history enthusiasts are pulled in, creating a community platforms that preserve, present, and produce history.

Week of January 12th: Digital Civilization





Welcome to davenmello’s first post for History 303

Click me!! (What Recaptcha is!)


2015, more than ever, history has become digitized. Unlike past historians, modern scholars have access to abundant resource floating around the web. Therefore, we are encouraged to develop and harness easier tools to apply online resources to history. In the midst of digital revolution of our past, multiple notable projects were born that would forever change how we preserve, produce, and present history.

The word, digital, fascinated me to sign up for history 303 at University of Waterloo. Have you ever tried to download an mp3 file and was asked to type in distorted letters? Had to refresh numerous times because you couldn’t recognize them? It is frustrating. However, those 10 seconds of your time were well spent in preserving human history. Recaptcha, it’s called. The story of this remarkable project reshaped my views in looking at digital history.

At first, it was called Captcha. Invented to prevent computers from mass producing meaningless comments, links, and other web garbage. Then, it turned into Recaptcha; you were presented with two distorted words and required to type them correctly. This procedure would take on average, 10 – 15 seconds. Precious time in modern age. Programmers wanted to find a way to use the time more efficiently. Answer was simple; combining the process of typing correct letters and preserving history online.

Preserving historical records were always important. With computers as our tool, it became easier. Scan and upload. However, computers could not recognize all letters and words, urging the bright minds to incorporate the function of stopping spams and preserving records into one. Here came Recaptcha. You would correctly type scanned but non-recognizable letters by computers, and input another word to prevent spams. Also known as, Project Gutenberg, used 10 seconds to its full potential. That is, preserving history online and developing new medium, paradigm, and tools that History 303 will help me to understand.

Duolingo, a free language learning, and translation platform is another example of digital history; In bigger spectrum, part of digital humanity. First, it offers an English grammar, and an answer is given in foreign language. The platform would curate the input data and stack them, increasing the accuracy of translation. In result, far surpassing the accuracy of machines. This is the power of digitized sources and online participation called, crowdsourcing. Easy and accessible, what digital sources are for.

As seen from above, we have contributed greatly in digitizing our records. Ironically, we have yet to fully harness the ability and intent to maximize the new medium. Great tools like Recaptcha has helped to preserve indispensable records. Duolingo produced and presented digital humanity in new light. We, as in students, instructors and digital humanity enthusiasts are big part of this transition. The web is like an open ocean in the age of discovery, vast and unknown. It is however, only matter of time, for that ocean to be conquered with continuous writing of our trace, brightening our paths, in the new age of digital history.