The Value of Educational Games

According to Sydney Finkelstein, “People are driven by competition in every walk of life, from babies to the elderly, from Canada to Australia and from my local café to Wall Street. Yes, the intensity varies from person-to-person, in part based on the domains in which they exercise their competitive muscle, but the competitive spirit is central to who we are as human beings.” (BBC, 2014).

If all people are competitive at some level, why not use games as an educational tool? Such games would tap into the competitive nature of people and teach them about a certain topic (even if they have no interest in said topic).

To test out this theory in a highly unscientific way, I played a game focused on a topic that I have little to no interest in: the history of the United States Supreme Court. I played A Day in The Life, an interactive online game hosted by PBS that challenges players to identify which Supreme Court cases impacted occurrences throughout one’s day. The game presents ten scenarios, one at a time, and the player has four cases to choose from.

After I answered the first question correctly, I was excited to keep playing. After I answered the first five questions correctly, I started to read the scenarios more carefully, as a strong desire to answer all ten questions correctly kicked in. I got the seventh question wrong, and read the correct answer very closely. Was I so eager to learn about Vernonia v. Acton specifically? No. I was eager to know why I got the answer wrong and was not going to get a perfect score.

Perhaps I am more competitive than most people, but I think this natural competitive drive presents an opportunity to engage people in a new way in the academic world. To quote Sydney Finkelstein again, “When you are internally motivated to always get better, you end up winning a lot more than you lose.” (BBC, 2014).



A Day In The Life. PBS. PBS, Dec. 2006. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Finkelstein, Sydney. “Harness Your Competitive Drive.” BBC Capital. BBC, 05 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 Apr. 2015.

Digital Storytelling

According to the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, “Digital storytelling is the practice of combining narrative with digital content, including images, sound, and video, to create a short movie, typically with a strong emotional component (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2007).

At first read, I believe that this definition is slightly out of date, as it notes that a digital storytelling project can only be a short movie, when today we know that is not the case. However, what I really like about this definition is the inclusion of the word “emotional.” I believe that while a typical digital history project can accurately relay information without pulling at one’s heart strings, to really tell a story, a digital storytelling project should evoke one’s nostalgia, emotions, and/or memory.

Take for example, a digital storytelling project that tells the life stories of the people found in a collection of mug shots from New Castle, PA from the 1930s-1950s (Mogg, 2009). The project creator, Diarmid Mogg, tells the life story of these individuals. As the reader, I found that these stories add a level of humanity to these individuals that I otherwise would not likely have recognized if just looking at their mug shot and record of their arrest.

Take Herman Robertson, for example. He was arrested for manslaughter on June 15, 1946 (Mogg, 2013):

Herman Robertson (click picture for more information).

What you wouldn’t immediately know from his charge of manslaughter and his mug shot, is that Herman was charged for murdering his friend Jack Boles, who was celebrating his 71st birthday at his apartment. Herman was one of the many friends at the birthday party, and got into an argument with Jack. Herman and Jack scuffled on Jack’s balcony, and Jack fell over the edge, falling 20 stories. He died in the hospital the next day (Mogg, 2013).

Does this background information and story make Herman any less guilty? Maybe not, but it certainly changes the way I look at him. At first glance, when I hear the word “manslaughter,” I jumped to the conclusion that Herman intentionally killed someone. After reading this story,  I’m not so sure. I now see Herman as a real individual, who was celebrating his friend’s birthday, and happened to get into an argument. As I stated before, this example adds a level of humanity to someone I previously would have viewed as “just a criminal.”

I believe that digital storytelling projects like this can help us to learn in a different, and perhaps enhanced way. Being able to emotionally relate to a fact, photograph, or other piece of information can make us feel more invested in what we are learning about.



“7 Things You Should Know About… Digital Storytelling.” 7 Things You Should Know about Digital Storytelling (n.d.): n. pag. 15 Jan. 2007. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Mogg, Diarmid. “Small Town Noir.” Small Town Noir. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Mapping Historic Sites in Beaumont, Texas

Using Google’s My Maps feature, I created an interactive map of historical sites in Beaumont, Texas that were built after 1901 and are still standing. I chose to make this map to further my understanding of what life was like for my grand aunt, Katherine Green Baker, who was born in Beaumont in 1906.

I chose the year of 1901 because Beaumont grew significantly in industry and population after the Spindletop oilfield was discovered on January 10, 1901, essentially marking the birth of the modern petroleum industry (SPINDLETOP 2015). According to the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website, “On January 10, 1901, the Lucas Gusher on Spindletop Hill exploded, shooting oil hundreds of feet in the air. The explosion was so intense that nine days later the oil column was still gushing nearly 200 feet high, producing around 100,000 barrels a day. The Lucas Gusher dramatically displayed the natural resource that lay below Beaumont. Within a few days of the Lucas Gusher explosion, over 40,000 curious sightseers, speculators and job-seekers descended on Beaumont. Restaurants, hotels and retail establishments were overwhelmed as the city’s population grew from 9,000 in January 1901 to 30,000 in March 1901, leading to a Texas-sized building boom.”

I discovered several historic locations using a variety of free online sources, including the National Register of Historic Places databasethe Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau website, and a 2014 article on historic homes in Beaumont. These locations are displayed on the map below (click map to link out to the interactive map):

Interactive map of historical sites of Beaumont, TX.
Interactive map of historical sites of Beaumont, TX.

In addition to the homes and cultural sites, I also noted the location of the house that Katherine grew up in, as well as the location of the Spindletop oilfield. I chose the Satellite option as the basemap to demonstrate that Beaumont is surrounded by rural space. I chose icons provided by google that fit the “type” of historic site. I chose a white star to differentiate Katherine’s house from the other homes, and a red balloon to mark the Spindletop oilfield.

I specifically chose sites that are still standing, because I wanted to have a useful map with existing structures for the next time I visit Beaumont (as well as for my family members who live there to use). This decision led me to observe a few things:

  • Many of the grand homes featured in the 2014 article on historic homes in Beaumont that were built after 1901 are no longer standing. In fact, the three on the map are the only ones that I could confirm.
  • All of the cultural sites built after 1901 that I found are standing (and some are still used for their original purpose).

These observations have me asking the following questions:

  1. Why were so many of these beautiful and grand homes demolished?
  2. Is it typical that so many homes were demolished in a generally short time frame, compared to other American cities?
  3. Did the oil industry in Beaumont slow down, leading to a decrease in population (and possibly homeowners abandoning their homes)?
  4. Could the average homebuyer not afford a house like the ones built during and after the oil boom?

While those questions aren’t answered here, this mapping exercise had me asking questions that I would otherwise not have. If I wasn’t trying to map only existing historical sites, I may have never realized how many of these homes have been demolished, allowing me to think more critically about Beaumont during Katherine’s life.



Mioli, Teresa. “Historic Homes of Southeast Texas.” (2 Sept. 2014): n. pag.Beaumont Museums and Historic Sites. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

“Museums & Historic Sites.” Beaumont Museums and Historic Sites. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

“SPINDLETOP.ORG.” SPINDLETOP.ORG. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

United States. National Park Service. “National Register of Historic Places Database and Research Page — National Register of Historic Places Official Website–Part of the National Park Service.” National Parks Service. U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2015.

Beaumont, Texas in 1903

Katherine Green Baker (the subject of both my Omeka and final projects) was born and raised in Beaumont, Texas. Beaumont, located in Southeast Texas, was the subject of of a 70-page monograph published by the Jones Advertising Co. in 1903 called Souvenier Beaumont, Texas, 1903. This provided details on business and commercial life in Beaumont. On page 9, the monograph boasts, “Beaumont-Queen City of the Neches: Oil Center of the South and Sphere of Business Activity. Coming Railroad Metropolis and Rice Center of the United States. With Unrivalled [sic] Possibilities in the Lumber Industry. Population 28,000.”

I wanted to try to “paint a picture” of what business and commercial life in Beaumont was like when Katherine was born*, and how it may have affected her path in life. Therefore, I uploaded the 45,999 words/5,129 unique words found in the monograph to Voyant. To increase accuracy, I excluded the common English language stop words provided by Voyant, as well as “photograph” as it was often found in captions of pictures throughout the monograph.

The result was the following Cirrus:

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I have made a few observations based on this Cirrus:

  • The following masculine words appeared: “Mr.” (440 mentions), “man” (102 mentions),  “men” (92 mentions), “gentlemen” (39 mentions), and “gentleman” (38 mentions).
    • No feminine words appeared in the Cirrus; the most commonly mentioned feminine word in the text is “Miss” with 11 mentions.
  • Four industries were mentioned: “oil” (109 mentions), “lumber” (80 mentions), “rice” (79 mentions), and “law” (67 mentions).

These observations have me asking the following questions:

  1. Were there no female owned or operated businesses in Beaumont in 1903?
  2. If there were female owned or operated businesses in Beaumont in 1903, were they profiled in this monograph?
  3. Were businesses in the four industries mentioned typically male owned or operated during this time period? Or perhaps in this region? Or both?
  4. Are businesses in the four industries mentioned typically male owned or operated today?
  5. What would a Voyant analysis of Beaumont today look like in terms of masculine vs. feminine words?

While these questions are not answered here today, this exercise has shown me how visualization tools can lead one to think about an area of research in a new way. If I sat down and read all 70 pages, would I have noticed a pattern of masculine-heavy words and male owned or operated businesses? Its likely, but this tool allowed me to easily recognize these patterns in a quick and efficient way, which led to my critical thinking of life in Beaumont in 1903.

*Katherine was born in 1906, not 1903. However, this monograph was the closest one available to her birth year.



Souvenir, Beaumont, Texas, 1903. Dallas, Texas: Jones Advertising, 1903.Tyrrell Historical Library Digital Collections. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.

Final Project: Proposal

For my final project, I propose an expansion of the information on my future Omeka site.

My Omeka site will be an online exhibit of a sampling of my grand aunt’s art work. My grand aunt, Katherine Green Baker, was born in Beaumont, Texas in 1906 and was an artist in the 1930s and 1940s, having studied in Chicago, Paris, and other locations. My father inherited a sizable collection of her “rejected” artwork (approximately 50 pieces). I intend to display 10+ pieces of her art with high quality scans and/or photographs of her sketches, paintings, and sculptures.

For my final project, I will expand upon this information and display all of her artwork (in my father’s possession) in a meaningful way: an interactive timeline displaying the change in her medium, skill level, and style over time.

The goal of the project is not only to digitally display this collection of art that has been hidden away in a closet, but also to study how Katherine’s artwork changed based on the time period and her level of training.

I will use a high quality scanner and camera to capture the pieces of art. I will also employ the use of a time line generator, such as TimelineJS.

The intended audience for this project is my family, as well as members of the public (such as art students, Beaumont residents, etc.) who may be interested in learning more about Katherine and her art.

What is digital history?

What is digital history? Let’s take a look at what the experts have to say:

…the digital humanities today is about a scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible in ways to which we are generally unaccustomed, a scholarship and pedagogy that are bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit then we are generally accustomed to, a scholarship and pedagogy that are collaborate and depend on networks of people and that live an active, 24-7 life online.” – Matthew Kirschenbaum

…’digital humanities’ means both the incorporation of digital technologies into humanities work and the use of humanistic modes of critical thinking to understand the digital world around us.” – Mary Rizzo

Even Wikipedia wants to join in the discussion:

The digital humanities, also known as humanities computing, is a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities.” – Wikipedia

As a citizen historian, I think it’s much more straightforward than the above definitions; in my nonprofessional opinion, digital history is simply the practice of digitizing any historical document, source, or record. Can the practice lead to a discipline? Yes. Can the practice lead to an industry? Yes. Can the practice lead to more citizen historians? Absolutely. However, those attributes do not define it.

Let’s continue with the assumption that digital history is the digitization of any historical document. While it’s easy to remember that this practice gives us the potential advantages sketched out by Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig in their book Digital History (capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, manipulability, interactivity, and hypertextuality), we must also recognize the potential hazards sketched out by the same authors (quality, durability, readability, passivity, and inaccessibility).

So, what’s an applicable example of my definition of digital history? The Temple University Digital Libraries, Yearbook Collection. Temple University Libraries has a Digital Collection which allows free and online access to a wealth of primary resources. Included in this collection are the majority of the university’s yearbooks (both general and specific school/college versions). This collection contains yearbooks that are organized by year, broken down by page, clearly labeled, easily viewed, downloadable, and searchable. These online yearbooks, which are full of photographs, anecdotes, pop cultural references, and more, are simply put, digital history.

Templar Yearbook 1929, Title Page

In conclusion, we must remember that Digital History is a practice, but also an emerging discipline and industry. Whether we are professors, archivists, students, or citizen historians, we should recognize that we all may have different definitions, and to allow ourselves to learn from our peers.




Kirschenbaum, Matthew. “What Is Digital Humanities?” ADE Bulletin150 (2010): 1–7.

Rizzo, Mary. “Every Tool is a Weapon: Why the Digital Humanities Movement Needs Public History.” History @ Work, November 2, 2012.

Cohen, Daniel J., and Roy Rosenzweig. “Introduction: Promises and Perils of Digital History.” Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the past on the Web. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2006. N. pag. Print.