The End (or is it?)

It was a wild ride of a semester, and ultimately, things just didn’t go the way I had planned or hoped. I was so excited for this course, so excited to learn something completely new in the context of my history degree program that I’ve become so disenchanted with. I was hopeful that this, this would be the thing that would help me find my place, and decide to stick it out to finish out my degree.

I learned a lot. About being a historian, about digital humanities, about what I was capable of accomplishing. I never would have thought that I could have possibly learned so much while still feeling like I failed so completely.

Thank you, Dr. Graham; for having faith, for pushing me, for checking in when you knew I was struggling. I appreciate it beyond words, and I deeply regret not asking for help sooner. You’ve hands down been my favourite professor of my undergraduate, and more than anything; you’ve shown me that I don’t want to be a historian, at least in the traditional sense.

I say this is the end, because I’ve dropped the course. But should I stay on my path at Carleton, I’ll be back. This course challenged me more than anything I’ve ever possibly done before, and that alone warrants a better conclusion than this.

So hopefully, this isn’t a goodbye; it’s just an “I’ll see ya later.”

Kathryn Greenan

Assessing How Far We’ve Come (And If We’ve Gone Anywhere at All!)

Well, the time has come: exercise assessment time. The time at which I reflect on how I’ve grown as a historian over the semester. And so I sat, pondering that question, as I stared at an all too common sight:


In case that doesn’t paint a clear enough picture for you, how about this?

Last contribution: A month ago.

Where, oh where, is Kathryn Greenan?

She shows up to class (most of the time), sits in her seat nodding while eating breakfast because she was running late. This was the Monday and Wednesday ritual all semester.

Every semester, somehow, April comes, and I am caught with my pants on the ground – scrambling to recover. This time, this time, I promised myself; things will be different. And yet here we are.

This is late. This is probably completely undeserving of being graded because not only is this one assignment that is late, but this is somehow an entire semester of saying, “there will be time tomorrow.”

I went to class (even if it meant showing up half an hour late) and fell further and further behind. Yet still I did not get moving.

Why’d I do it? Because I was scared. Because I’ve been scared since last July when I registered for this class. It was so far out of my element, so far from anything I’ve done… I was terrified that I’d mess up. Following HIST3812, I was even more nervous. My group did not do well. I’d felt out of my depth, and the warning that ‘next semester will be code heavy’ (paraphrased) had me shaking in my boots.

So instead of going to study sessions, instead of doing the work on schedule so that if I ran into problems I could get help – I did nothing.

Suddenly, it was March 29th and I was in a panic. And so I duly present: How I’ve Grown.

Module 1: Baby Steps.

Module 1 dawned, all bright and shiny and hopeful.

Module 1 Exercise 3 asked us to set up our open notebooks. (pretty well a combination of a blog, our github repo, and Notational Velocity) I was so excited, I’d been trying to get into using Notational Velocity since first year, but I’ve always found myself frustrated with how bland it looks, the lack of spell check, and feeling like it was too cluttered. Little did I know, that all I needed was markdown to make everything right.


Notational Velocity became instrumental in this course, and really in general for me. (if only because its compact size makes it work very well with the way that I prefer to work – with twelve different windows open and the ability to access them all without doing the fun slide thing on my Mac, but I did come to love and appreciate that feature when working on later modules)


This open notebook concept was thrilling, and as much as I adore Notational Velocity’s ease of handling; my new-found love of markdown sullied our relationship a bit. See, try as I might, and this was actually one of the few things I did ask others for help with, I couldn’t figure out how to get Notational Velocity to save my notes in a format that I could upload onto Github in markdown. That and it doesn’t play nicely with my habit of organizing files after I’m done with them.

Frustration abound.

And so, I begrudgingly committed myself to transferring all my notes over from Notational Velocity to Dillinger.

It is beautiful and I am content

Module 2: or How I Almost Lost My Mind and A Major Part of the Reason Why This Entire Thing is Extremely Late.

Oh, module 2. You finicky beast. See, module 2 is where the train derailed. I did exercise 1, the Dream Case, and then never really picked up things again.


I don’t really know what else to say that I didn’t in my notes, so I’m going to just insert those here.

Hist3907B Module 2 Exercise 3: APIs

Day 1

Well. This was… a thing.

To start, the prompt given in the Programming Historian’s instructions for installing HomeBrew didn’t work, which led to my panicking, and then further panicking, and research into whether I actually wanted to deal with sudo. Apparently I did.

I read through the instructions, I read through Steve Marti’s post “Canadiana in Context”; Ian Milligan’s original post on JSON; and attempted to learn how shell script works.

Going through all of these things, I thought I understood what was going on. I thought that all I needed to do to make everything work was to substitute my JSON URL in for the one given in the example. I couldnt’ imagine that given my illiteracy in all things related to coding, that I would be expected to change anything else. I continued to follow the instuctions.

And then I proceeded to enter the command given: sudo chmod 700 … This is one of the biggest areas where I’ve had difficulty – understanding that some of the instructions are simply guidlines for what I actually need to input. So after all was said and done, and a lot of trial and error, I discovered that the only command that gave me something was: sudo chmod

Was this something what I wanted it to be? To be honest, I’m not really sure. I don’t think so. I’ve included a screen shot in my notebook of my terminal after entering the above command, as well as the one that was supposedly supposed to ‘run’ the program: ./

From the looks of things, it seems I might be close? I’ve quadruple checked to make sure that I have all the programs installed that I’m supposed to. I’m leaning towards the issue maybe being that I’ve goofed a bit on how to properly input my URL into where the example one was.

For good measure, this was the search URL I was working with:

Aaaaaand then. I went back, re-read some things. Decided to play around some more. I may now be stuck in an endless cycle of downloading all 56,249 results from the non-JSON URL…

Aaaaand, we got to learnt he fun new command: pkill -9 wget
Managed to stop the downloading of what apparently is not helpful data. Sorry Canadiana!

Final exercise:

Followed the EXACT directions from

Result: “No URLs found in ../itemlist.txt”.

On an altered runthrough, in which I copied the list from the original, save as from .cvs file into a brand new text file, I got a scramble of stuff that ultimately ended in: Imgur

Excited by something different, I tried again, for science…

“No URLs found in ./itemlist.txt.”

I’m done for the day. I’ve been at this all evening. I can’t do the next module until I actually manage to ‘wrangle’ some data.


Day 2:

Well, after yesterday’s epic fail and having a meltdown for most of the morning over how I am handing my assessment in late because, ya know, I didn’t do anything for the entirety of the course. We’re back.

I was mighty panicked, as I had no idea how I was supposed to figure out what I did wrong. I thought I’d gone through everything!

I looked at the JSON Response Document. I hoped it would tell me what I’d done wrong. Or at least give me some idea. No such luck.

I scrolled through the instructions again, including those for Windows. I found the conversation between Pickering and Dr. Graham. This finally did help me a bit. In previous attempts, I’d been inputting my own URL into line 28 of the code. Reading Dr. Graham’s explanation, I realized that it was only lines 9 and 20 that I needed to change.

Full of joy and hopes that I had not, in fact, completely screwed myself over; I looked through my notes from yesterday again, as well as looking through the instructions again.

I noticed that I had used the command sudo chmod This had yielded me a weird mishmash of information that didn’t really make sense. But the instructions say sudo chmod **700** I did try to search the command to see what this means, but ultimately, I have no idea, but crossed my fingers, prayed to the technology gods; and typed:

sudo chmod 700

Pause. Breathe.


I’ll admit, I screamed a little bit. And then shook my head at how overthinking things had led to me wasting hours on trying to figure things out.

And now I wait. For this to stop:


(Side note: It kind of never stopped. I think I forgot that it was still running after a certain point and accidentally closed my laptop. This was also when I realized that I was hooped, because these things take time, and I had none)

So, in summary. This was the exercise that shook me down to the core. It’s the one that made me throw my laptop down in frustration and pace around my room alternately questioning what I could have possibly done wrong and berating myself for not doing things before the deadline.

To be completely honest, I’m considering printing out the notes from this exercise and poster-ing them to my ceiling as a constant reminder to never leave things to such a thin wire again. This was the “you better buckle down, and do it fast, kid” moment. So I did. And even more than that, I learned that I am going to make mistakes. lots of them. So I needed to be prepared. I spent so much time (hours, I’m telling you, far more hours than ever should have been committed to such a thing) freaking out over something that was solved by calmly reading through the instructions and reviewing my own work. I learned how to use wget, expanded my knowledge of navigating via the command line, can now add the skill of “able to scrape data” to the resume… and yet what I learned was far more valuable: Things won’t always work. Leaving time to take a break so you can return to things with fresh eyes and a calm mentality is key.

Module 3: Accepting ‘Failure’ and Thus Moving Forward

I’m going to be looking at Exercise 1: Close Reading with TEI for this one. I’m pretty sure that Exercise 2: Regex, is significantly more applicable to my project, however, I’m generally trying to focus on the exercises that challenged me.

Overall, compared to the struggle I had with APIs, XML was a cakewalk. I did, however, run into the same type of error with this exercise: I made a silly mistake by reading through instructions too quickly. I thought I had to create my own .xsl, and it was only after reviewing the files in the folder that I discovered my error. Overall, I was pretty happy with this exercise. It was tedious – very tedious. This was probably the one exercise that I had to take the most breaks during. You never really think about it, because you look at screens all the time. However, there’s a very big difference between casual serving and actively working on a machine, it’s tiring! I did get a little frustrated as well; but through all that, I feel accomplished. I’d barely even heard of XML before doing this exercise, so to actually be able to produce a decent looking product is pretty cool!

The key here I think, is that the attitude I learned to adapt from module 2 – that is, that I will make mistakes – kept it almost… fun? It’s been very hard for me to accept that just because things don’t work out perfectly the first time I try them, that I haven’t failed. Such a mentality is what kept me frozen in fear in regards to starting my exercises, so it’s felt like a massive leap to be okay with just sitting back and saying “I’m done for right now.” I knew that I would eventually figure out what I’d done wrong, it wasn’t like I was just some anomaly that all these things just wouldn’t work for. It may have meant that I “lost” half an hour of work time to eat dinner and chat with my roommates; but ultimately I probably saved myself an hour of hangry, (yes, anger brought on by hunger) blurry-eyed unproductivity. It’s the acceptance that sometimes ‘losing’ time, is actually saving time.

XML transitioned into something pretty in browser

Module 4: Whomp Whomp?

I don’t have any real proofs or anything from this module. Heck, I’m pretty sure my Gephi file somehow corrupted itself, so I’m about to go re-do that exercise right now.

It exists, I swear!

I’m not really sure what I learned from this module. Well, obviously I learned some ways of visualizing data. I didn’t get too far into this one, and I think it really should be re-visited, as I currently am feeling pretty “ehhh” about the visualizing data portion of things. I’m hoping that it’s because my Texan Correspondence Data didn’t clean up the greatest, but overall, the network graph formed from my data didn’t really tell me anything at all – it was mainly a blob.

Out of fear that my file isn’t going to upload correctly, I present my completed graph:

This has been the one exercise where I realized that I have absolutely no connection to any of the data I’ve collected or dealt with. I don’t know what’s going on in it, I don’t know who’s being talked about – I’m basically in the dark. And surprisingly, that’s okay. Because this was the first one that asked me to visualize it, and it was only then that I realized I can’t really appropriately visualize this data, because I don’t know anything about it. And that’s okay too. Because this was just practice. Nobody is going to come flying in screaming that I didn’t have academic integrity when working on these exercises. (Well, maybe they will, but that’s a whole different story)

Point is, there’s a learning curve. And while things may not seem like they’re the most relevant, sometimes it’s just about having the skills and knowledge for down the road.

Lesson taken away: sometimes you do things and they seem like they aren’t useful to you because you don’t quite understand what’s going on. That’s okay. It’ll probably be handy later. (i.e. your final project)

Module 5: In Which We Prett-ify and Think About Accessibility.

The amount of time I spent playing Type Connection while doing this module was a little excessive. I deeply enjoyed it, I don’t think I’d ever thought about how big of an impact fonts had. That, as a whole, was probably the biggest takeaway I had from this module. In addition, thinking about accessibility, not only for the average purveyor of my data, but one who has disabilities as well. But that’s enough about my excitement over fonts and colours. The exercise we’re looking at is the 4th, on Layout.

In case it hasn’t been clear up until now, I like things to look ‘nice.’ In this situation, it meant using one of the templates made by Ugo Sangiorgi – because who doesn’t want to make a poster that’s basically a circle.

In all seriousness, I really liked the components of Sangiorgi’s template. It is completely different from any other conference poster I’ve seen before, it was interesting without sacrificing information. The circular format made it easy to see where one should start reading from; as well as leaving the inner circle mostly free for images and what-not.

And then I tried to manipulate it.

As I sat there, staring at this:

I re-thought my stance on having a visualization that actually looked nice. And then I kept trying to make it work, trying to come up with a way in which I could feasibly use the template (given my limited knowledge of Inkscape) without destroying it. After a few more minutes, I stopped, looked at the whole thing, and just said, “screw it.”

It seems like a harsh thing to say, and maybe it is. But I already knew I wasn’t going to presenting this assessment in the form of a poster. It didn’t mean that I wasn’t going to go into the exercise full-steam – it just means that I finally understand that it’s okay to put an effort into something, and if it doesn’t work, that’s okay. I can move on.

So I present the glory that is my poster:

Conclusion: Are We There Yet?

Oh, but where are we going, friend? If you mean the end of term, then why yes, we are quite nearly there. Do you mean our adventures in digital history? Goodness, I hope not.

I started this term terrified of failure, scared to even dive into the world of data mining for fear of disappointing or embarrassing myself in front of my peers and instructor.

And quite frankly, I stayed there until about a week ago – paralyzed.

To be quite cheesy, now I stand, quite nearly on the other side of this adventure – and I can see the light. Was I challenged by this course? Goodness, yes. Did I make it approximately 20X more challenging and stressful for myself by managing my time horribly? YES.

The running themes of my exercise review were pretty well: “You’re going to make mistakes, it’s okay.” and “Good golly, this stuff takes a long time!”

Digital history takes time and patience. I’ve never really considered patience a strong suit of mine, but this was finally the thing that managed to give me some semblance of it.

Regardless of how ‘quick’ my journey was, I truly believe I came out of this course with a solid set of skills that will continue to serve me long after I’m done my undergrad.


Why are we here?

What the heck have I gotten myself into?

alt text

I took HIST 3812A with Dr. Graham last semester; to say that I struggled with aspects of that course is an understatement. I went in with limited knowledge of all things technical, and had no idea how to use Minecraft – a key component of the final project. One of the biggest things that came out of 3812A for me was an increased knowledge of issues in games. (and not just in regards to history, though that was quite clearly the intent) See: Depression Quest and a non-geek’s guide to #Gamergate. (Fair warning, that last link is bound to be full of some very well informed opinions. /s)

Another key thing I learned in the course was how to use Twine. Even more importantly, I learned that most of my frustrations with Twine stemmed from my lack of knowledge with a variety of different programs and skills. My extremely limited repertoire of HTML knowledge frustrated me, as I had so many ideas for my midterm and other challenges that I was unable to carry out due to the combination of that and my persistent commitment to procrastinating to the point of panic.

Now that I’ve babbled on about that, back to the real question – what the heck am I doing here? If you asked anyone else, the answer would probably be “I have no idea, for a digital course, girl’s got nothing online.” I know, I know. It doesn’t look good. But ultimately, I came to the realization in the past six months that I wasn’t going to be happy graduating from Carleton with your textbook ‘I can research and write lengthy papers about obscure things most people don’t care about’ set of skills. No, while I still may end up graduating with a plain Jane BA; by challenging myself with these digital based courses, I’m building up a skill set that I hope will be valuable in the future.

So that’s me. A little all over the place, but I have hopes that I can turn this boat around. For reading through all that, have a kitten: alt text