Week 12: Digital Assignment Proposal for a Hypothetical Class

For this week, we were supposed to design a project incorporating digital humanities/online resources to be assigned in an ideal course that we would be teaching. Given my interest in memory and its construction, the ideal class I conceptualized for this post is an upper-level undergraduate course on comparative memory. The goal of the course would be to investigate how memory is constructed and challenge the common misconception that it is a monolithic concept/narrative. The course would be divided into three sections, each centered around a different event with which all students should be at least vaguely familiar: the American Civil War, the Pacific theater of World War II, and the Iraq War. Each of these events will serve as the foundation through which students will be able to engage with several of the mediums by which memory is constructed and perpetuated. The Civil War unit would focus primarily on the role that statues and physical sites of remembrance, the WWII unit would focus on personal testimony, and the Iraq War unit would investigate the impact of news and reporting. The underlying goal of the course would (hopefully) force students to confront the flexibility and plurality of memory and allow them to understand that memory is a complex construct that is not locked into a binary of “right” and “wrong.”

Assignment Sample from the WWII Unit

This particular assignment would be part of the World War II unit spanning four weeks, specifically focusing on the testimony of those directly impacted by the conflict between the United States and Japan. For this unit’s first week, I would have my students investigate a number of testimonies by various American participants in the war, which would most likely align (at least roughly) with the greater American master narrative with which many students would be familiar using two online digital archives that offer a wide variety of testimony for the Pacific Theater:

Witness to War – World War II Memoirs
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veteran’s History Project

This would provide students with a mnemonic baseline and should also start introducing the idea that individual memory does not always align perfectly, even when the experiences are roughly similar.

During the second week, students would have to engage with Japanese testimonials from a number of sources that may challenge the American narrative. First, they would read several testimonies of kamikaze pilots:

Kamikaze Images – Letters, Poems, Diaries, and Other Writings

In conjunction with these memoirs, students would also read hibakusha testimony about the atomic bomb:

Atomic Archive – The Voice of Hibakusha

Having read both examples of Japanese and American testimony about the war, students would then be asked to engage with testimony from three other sources that further complicate the construction of memory by introducing often marginalized experiences:

Comfort Women
Survivors of the Nanjing Massacre
Japanese-Americans Interned During World War II

Week four of the unit would see a class-wide debate organized around small groups, each trying to offer and defend a “proper” or “correct” memory of the war to their classmates to hammer home the plurality, multiplicity, and complexity of memory construction, even about something as frequently referenced and commonly understood as World War II.

Sprint for the Finish! Project Planning Outline

As the clock continues to count down for this semester, I have been been steadily making progress on my project. At this point in the process, I can comfortably state that I have firmly decided on a direction and methodology for my map of Japanese war memory. While I had to scale back on my overall scope given the difficulty of acquiring general information regarding local sites of war memory/war memorials (let alone the geospatial data!) as per my initial plan, I have decided to focus primarily on well-known and well advertised sites of war memory, beginning with those of national prestige, such as Yasukuni Shrine and the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorials. I will then work my way down through the more prefectural sites as best I can with the remaining time that I have. My new goal is to have at least 20 locations plotted on my map, which will be hosted on a separate page in this very blog!

After careful consideration of the ethical concerns raised by Ethan Watrall, I have decided to use Leaflet as the primary vehicle for plotting sites of war memory in Japan, with my map tiles/panes acquired from Openstreetmap. This will allow me ample flexibility to address any number of issues that might arise without having to worry about solutions being locked behind an expensive pay-wall. Also, Leaflet has a number of add-ons that allow me to further enhance my map. Although the geospatial plotting of sites of war memory is the crux of my project, given that I will only be plotting a relatively small number of points during this semester, if possible, I would like to add detailed information (including pictures and perhaps web links to relevant websites) that will hopefully enhance the experience of those who engage with my map.

I believe that, while small now, this project has the potential to actually impact the study of war memory in Japan and perhaps has further implications for studies of memory in general. I hope to help establish a sense of the “memory networks” in place in Japan in a way that builds on earlier scholarship (digital and otherwise) that does the same in other parts of the world. Additionally, this visual representation of the geospatial relationships between sites of war memory should prove invaluable to my own research and may actually become a dimension of/supplement to my dissertation. Perhaps I’m being overly ambitious and overstating the impact of my humble work, but a boy can dream, right?

Also, please find a current bibliography to be updated with more primary source material as my project progresses here: War Memory Mapping Bibliography (First Draft) This list as it stands represents examples to be built upon and readings that have informed my theoretical/structural approach to my project.

Mahalo for reading this whole thing, yet again!

Adam Coldren

Week 9: Digital Humanities in 3D!!

I am very excited for this week in our digital humanities course, as 3D scanning/printing has been a fascination of mine every since I discovered it. The possibilities for creation and replication seem endless, with the latter resonating strongly with me as an historian for several reasons. First, it seems an incredible benefit to scholarship to be able to replicate obscure artifacts that can then be distributed across the globe, allowing scholars everywhere increased access to items essential to their research. Second, it seems to be a perfect way to “preserve” (through duplication) these artifacts for future generations without having to worry about their preservation in the same ways as we might the original. It seems like the perfect solution, right?

However, as my childhood (and current) moral compass has famously said (in his oft misquoted line), “with great power there must also come great responsibility.” Just because we have the power to replicate and distribute these artifacts, doesn’t mean that we should. This caution is urged both by Sara Bond in her article debating the ethics of 3D-printing Syria’s cultural heritage in the wake of the 3D-printing of the famous Palmyra Arch and by Claire Voon’s coverage of the event. One of the principle problems with 3D-printing is the question of ownership. How do copyrights function for the reproduced product, especially if the scan is identical in appearance to the original? Even if one does not own the artifact in question, is it appropriation/theft of cultural property for it to be 3D-printed? Bond’s references to notions of colonialism in the practice brings to mind the notorious acquisition and display habits of British museums during the heyday of the British empire. Are the two all that fundamentally different? I know that I don’t have explicit answers to these questions, but I am certainly more aware of the question now than I was and can hopefully avoid any missteps in the future.


With regard to my project, I have been continuing to increase my familiarity with the digital tools necessary for mapping and feel much more confident in utilizing many of them. This project is finally starting to seem a bit less daunting than it did just a week ago! However, my priority has definitely been on accumulating sources, as per the recommendation on the syllabus and my own project plan. The grinding of the process can be boring at times, but slow and steady wins the race (and hopefully submits a quality project!)



(Belated) Week 8: Images and Them Movin’ Pictures

I had initially thought that I had uploaded this post almost two weeks ago, but apparently I either forgot to finalize it or forgot completely!

In any case, the reading/viewing materials for Week 8 were short and sweet, discussing Imageplot and its uses along with audio-visual tools and techniques (dare I say that a picture is worth a thousand words?). While completely unrelated to my own priorities in terms of my project, I find Imageplot to be one of the more interesting tools to which we have been exposed in this course. The ability to map individual frames of a film over time allows for some really interesting analysis, especially for those interesting in cinematography, as one could track subtle changes in lighting, character placement/attire, or even facial expressions in ways that allow for a nuanced reading of the director’s/actor’s intentions. I imagine that running a movie (even those embarrassing home videos) would really allow you to see them in an entirely new light!

I also found that all of the technical aspects of the audio recording reading were helpful, if a bit dry. Having been around musicians my entire life, I had thought myself a bit more knowledgeable of the equipment necessary to record audio, but Doug Boyd’s articles definitely clarified plenty! Additionally, I found the actual proces of recording and shaping audio fascinating although I confess I was quickly lost amidst the sea of technical terminology Boyd throws at the reader. Informative nonetheless!

Lastly, in terms of my progress on my own project, I really took to heart the debate expressed by our speaker regarding mapping and the ethics inherent in choosing your tools. After some deliberation, I felt that I wanted to go with the non-Google/corporate route and explore several of the other options he listed for most, if not all, dimensions of my project. However, his talk also illustrated to me how much more complex my project would be than my initial assumptions, so I took the remainder of the week and a good bit of spring break to peruse the optional readings provided for Week 7 and familiarize myself with some of the tools that Ethan showed us. I have also started collecting sources and hopefully will have enough to jump right in plotting my data in the near future. I was unsure how much “fun” this project would be after looking through some of the more technical aspects of the process, but as it stands, I’m definitely enjoying myself!