History is Always About Context (or why a history degree equips you to understand the context of a tweet)

A BOMARC missile (public domain image)

It would be “fantastic news,” wrote the New Leftist leader in 1962, if the nuclear-tipped Bomarc missiles – potentially housed in Canada– could be re-directed by the Soviet Union after launch to destroy their own bases. I read these documents in the McMaster University archives while writing an MA course paper in 2006 (which would later grow into my first book).

This nuclear-missile letter helped me to understand the context of the New Left, as well as the cultural divide that was manifesting itself between New Leftists and mainstream Canadian progressive politics.

What if that missile quip had been a tweet? A college student tweeting something like that today could quickly become the focus of an outrage campaign. But how could a historian make sense of something like that in the future?

Generated using PrankMeNot.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this during the latest “dig-up-old-tweets-to-take-them-out-of-context” scandal, where The Verge’s (soon to be part of the New York Times editorial board) Sarah Jeong saw tweets from 2013 and 2014 used as part of an alt-right campaign to discredit her. I’m probably not the only person to have thought about the hidden treasures sitting in my own Twitter timeline, and wondered about how they might be misinterpreted by others – say, a historian in the future, using social media as a historical source. Continue reading “History is Always About Context (or why a history degree equips you to understand the context of a tweet)”

New Article: “If These Crawls Could Talk: Studying and Documenting Web Archives Provenance”

I’m part of a team that’s just published a new article, “If These Crawls Could Talk: Studying and Documenting Web Archives Provenance” in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. If your institution subscribes, you can find the article here. Alternatively, we have a preprint here.

Our abstract does a hopefully good job of explaining what the article is about. Read on if you’re curious: Continue reading “New Article: “If These Crawls Could Talk: Studying and Documenting Web Archives Provenance””

New Grant: “Continuing Education to Advance Web Archiving”

logoWe heard some exciting news yesterday! I’m part of an interdisciplinary team, led by Virginia Tech Libraries and Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science, and in collaboration with Los Alamos, Old Dominion University, Internet Archive, and George Washington University Libraries, that will be exploring “Continuing Education to Advance Web Archiving.” This was funded as part of the Institute of Museum and Library ServicesLaura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.

The overall grant is valued at $248,451.00 USD, and here at the University of Waterloo we’ll be using $20,000 USD to support our efforts on the grant. In particular, this will help support a PhD Candidate and also some knowledge mobilization activities.

I can’t wait to see our grant vision be realized and to help assemble “a collection of educational resources, cyberinfrastructure for deploying tools to support the curriculum (including source code), and other related resources.”

Ethics and the Archived Web Presentation: “The Ethics of Studying GeoCities”

I had the great pleasure to be a speaker at the Ethics and Archiving the Web conference at the New Museum in New York City. My own contribution to the conference was a piece on the “Ethics of Studying GeoCities.”

The livestream of the whole conference is available here.

Hi everybody and thanks so much for coming to my talk today. What I want to do is discuss the “ethics of studying GeoCities,” which to me gets at both the potential but also the risks of doing a lot of this web archival research. Continue reading “Ethics and the Archived Web Presentation: “The Ethics of Studying GeoCities””

New Article: “Ten Simple Rules for Collaborative Lesson Development”

Screen Shot 2018-03-11 at 2.16.01 PMI’m part of a great team that’s just published a new article: “Ten Simple Rules for Collaborative Lesson Development.” It’s part of the “Ten Simple Rules” series at PLOS Computational Biology.

The first paragraph of our introduction sets the stage:

Lessons take significant effort to build and even more to maintain. Most academics do this work on their own, but leveraging a community approach can make educational resource development more sustainable, robust, and responsive. Treating lessons as a community resource to be updated, adapted, and improved incrementally can free up valuable time while increasing quality.

If you’re curious, read on! The article can be found here. You can find a nicely-laid out PDF here as well.

Web Archive Analysis Workshop

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 9.33.56 AM
You can follow along through the links in this presentation

I was recently out at Simon Fraser University with Nick Ruest, where we ran a “Twitter and Web Analysis at Scale” workshop. We had a great and hardy band of students (including librarians, graduate students, and faculty) who braved the uncharacteristic snow atop Burnaby Mountain to learn about all things web archives and social media. My sincerest thanks again to SFU for being such amazing hosts, and for their fantastic “Data Love-In” programming.


My role in the workshop primarily focused on how to use web archives: I introduced students to the Wayback Machine (from doing searches in it to learning about temporal violations and provenance), WebRecorder.io, and of course, the Archives Unleashed Toolkit. We ended up taking data from WebRecorder.io and running analysis with it in AUT which worked for the most part. The workshop then concluded with work in Gephi.

As part of this, I made an interactive presentation: feel free to explore it, click on the many, many hyperlinks that are part of it, and you can learn a bit about web archives. I hope I get the opportunity to run this workshop a few more times: it’s always nice to have some dividends from the amount of work putting these things together can be. Continue reading “Web Archive Analysis Workshop”

We’ve Been Busy! The Archives Unleashed Project in 2017

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 12.55.26 PMHappy 2018!

Last year (2017) was a busy year on many fronts (from my own personal parental leave to launching our Archives Unleashed project!). Our project manager, Samantha Fritz, has a great write-up on the project’s activities to date. Please check it out!

We have many more exciting things planned, from our Toronto datathon in April 2018 and the Archives Unleashed Cloud, so please stay tuned and subscribe to our Medium blog or e-mail list if you’re curious!