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Category: historical research

Epidemiological Research and Archival Records: Source of Records Used for Research Fails to Make the News

Typist wearing mask, New York City, October 16, 1918 (NARA record 165-WW-269B-16)In early April, Reuters ran an article that was picked up by YahooNews titled Closing Schools reduced flu deaths in 1918. I was immediately convinced that archival records must have supported this research – even though no mention of that was included in the article. The article did tell me that it was Dr. Richard Hatchett of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) who led the research. ... 

Considering Historians, Archivists and Born Digital Records

I think I renamed this post at least 12 times. My original intention was was to consider the impact of born digital records on the skills needed for the historian/researchers of the future. In addition I found myself exploring the dividing lines among a number of possible roles in ensuring access to the information written in the 1s and 0s of our born digital records.

After my last post about the impact of anonymization of Google Logs, a friend directed me to the work of Dr. Latanya Sweeney. Reading through the information about her research I found Trail Re-identification: Learning Who You are From Where You Have Been. Given enough data to work with, algorithms can be written that often can re-identify the individuals who performed the original searches. Carnegie Mellon University‘s Data Privacy Lab includes the Trails Learning Project with the goal of answering the question “How can people be identified to the trail of seemingly innocent and anonymous data they leave behind at different locations?”. So it seems that there may be a lot of born digital records that start out anonymous but that may permit ‘re-identification’ – given the application of the right tools or techniques. That is fine – historians have often needed to become detectives. They have spent years developing techniques for the analysis of paper documents to support ‘re-identification’. Who wrote this letter? Is this document real or a forgery? Who is the ‘Mildred’ referenced in this record? ... 

Google, Privacy, Records Managment and Archives

BoingBoing.net posted on March 14 and March 15 about Google’s announcement of a plan to change their log retention policy . Their new plan is to strip parts of IP data from records in order to protect privacy. Read more in the AP article covering the announcement.

For those who are not familiar with them – IP addresses are made up of sets of numbers and look something like 192.39.288.3. To see how good a job they can do figuring out the location you are in right now – go to IP Address or IP Address Guide (click on ‘Find City’). ... 

The Archives and Archivists Listserv: hoping for a stay of execution

There has been a lot of discussion (both on the Archives & Archivists (A&A) Listserv and in blog posts) about the SAA‘s recent decision to not preserve the A&A listserv posts from 1996 through 2006 when they are removed from the listserv’s old hosting location at Miami University of Ohio.

Most of the outcry against this decision has fallen into two camps:

  • Those who don’t understand how the SAA task force assigned to appraise the listserv archives could decide it does not have informational value – lots of discussion about how the listserv reflects the move of archivists into the digital age as well as it’s usefulness for students
  • Those who just wish it wouldn’t go away because they still use it to find old posts. Some mentioned that there are scholarly papers that reference posts in the listserv archives as their primary sources.

I added this suggestion on the listserv: ... 

Understanding Born Digital Records: Journalists and Archivists with Parallel Challenges

My most recent Archival Access class had a great guest speaker from the Journalism department. Professor Ira Chinoy is currently teaching a course on Computer-Assisted Reporting. In the first half of the session, he spoke about ways that archival records can fuel and support reporting. He encouraged the class to brainstorm about what might make archival records newsworthy. How do old records that have been stashed away for so long become news? It took a bit of time, but we got into the swing of it and came up with a decent list. He then went through his own list and gave examples of published news stories that fit each of the scenarios. ... 

Spring 2007:Access and Information Visualization

I don’t often post explicitly about my experiences as a graduate student – but I want to let everyone know about the focus of my studies for the next four months. I am taking two courses that I hope will complement one another. One course is on Archival Access (description, MARC, DACS, EAD and theory). The other is on Information Visualization over in the Computer Science department.

My original hope was that in my big Information Visualization final project I might get the opportunity to work with some aspect of archives and/or digital records. I want to understand how to improve access and understanding of the rich resources in the structured digital records repositories in archives around the world. What has already happened just one week into the term is that I find myself cycling through multiple points of view as I do my readings. ... 

Book Review: Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History

Past Time, Past Place: GIS for History consists mainly of 11 case studies of geographic information systems being applied to the study of history. It includes a nice sprinkling of full color maps and images and a 20 page glossary of GIS terms. Each case study includes a list of articles and other resources for further reading.

The book begins with an introduction by the editor, Anne Kelly Knowles. This chapter explains the basics of using GIS to study history, as well as giving an overview of how the book is organized. ... 

Footnote.com and US National Archives records

Thanks to Digitization 101‘s recent post “Footnote launches and announces partnership with National Archives” I was made aware of the big news about the digitization of the US National Archives’ records. Footnote.com has gone live with the first of apparently many planned installments of digitized NARA records. My first instinct was one of suspicion. In the shadow of recent historian alarm about the Smithsonian/Showtime deal, I think its valid to be concerned about new agreements between government agencies and private companies. ... 

OBR: Optical Braille Recognition

In the interest of talking about new topics – I opened my little moleskine notebook and found a note to myself wondering if it is possible to scan Braille with the equivalent of OCR.

Enter Optical Braille Recognition or OBR. Created by a company called Neovision, this software will permit anyone with a scanner and a Windows platform computer to ‘read’ Braille documents.

Why was this in my notebook? I was thinking about unusual records that must be out in the world and wondering about how to improve access to the information within them. So if there are Braille records out there – how does the sighted person who can’t read Braille get at that information? Here is an answer. Not only does the OBR permit reading of Braille documents – but it would permit recreation of these same documents in Braille from any computer that has the right technology. ... 

129th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s Invention of the Phonograph

Edison's Patent Drawing for a Phonograph, 05/18/1880

In honor of today’s 129th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s announcement of his invention of the phonograph, I thought I would share an idea that came to me this past summer. I had the pleasure of taking a course on Visual and Sound Materials taught by Tom Connors, the curator of the National Public Broadcasting Archives. This course explored the history of audio recording, photography, film and broadcasting technology. ...