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.