The Old Scholar's Historical Thoughts

October 14, 2009

I have to stop reading Dr. Cohen’s tweets

Filed under: Project — theoldscholar @ 10:07 pm

One thing leads to another and pretty soon I have all my project ideas shot down and have spent another evening/night surfing the web.

Today he posted that he was going to attend a workshop on API’s in digital humanities. Since my project ideas were set around API’s for maps/timelines etc. I thought I would go see what was happening at that conference. One thing led to another and it is now 2 hours later. For people who really want to know about API’s a short little series of posts that explain them and why they are important is at Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

As I was following some of the API sites mentioned I came across one site that is very good in providing historical information, using collaboration with people to gather information, using Google Map API’s, and using Twitter. The site is about the diary of Samuel Pepys. It uses Pepys diary from the 17th century and updates daily what old Pepys is doing that day. For instance today you could read the diary entry  from Sunday Oct 14, 1666 as a blog entry. People can comment/contribute more information about the diary entry.  You can also sign up to get Tweets from Sammy boy. If you go into the Encyclopedia section you can click on a map which uses the Google Map API to show locations that Pepys talks about, information about his houses, where he worked etc. A very good site using many exciting features of the web and web 2.0.

This site uses API’s from other web providers to give an enhanced experience of reading Pepys. But it is missing something – Providing API’s for other sites.If this site provided an API which would allow others to access data based on things like people mentioned, location, date or any of the other things that are given as entries into the encyclopedia think what could be done. This API should be able to collect data from the diary, from the collaboration posts, from an integration with the Google API and current google maps. If this site provided an API with this type of information someone else could gather data and enhance the Flikr interface to not only show photos put in by users of this site, but using the Flikr API,  actively mine the data between the two sites and show current photos of places mentioned, historical photos etc. With a data discovery engine as new sites made London data discoverable the integrated site could continually provide new views of data and link them back to Pepys in the 17th century.

It seems only fair that if you use  API’s to enhance your site you should provide API’s of your data so other web sites/applications can use your data. This site has many contributors whose contributions are not easily found by other researchers because there is no API.

Well now I have to stop daydreaming about all the neat ways web sites can capture information from each other and get back to work on developing a project that hasn’t been done before and writing my historiography for my Britian in the 20th Century class.  I am now saving all my work to my hard drive, sending it to my google group account, and will make a CD of my work each week until the end of the semester. I WILL NOT LOSE MY WORK AGAIN!!!!

However, time lost because of curiosity about Twitter posts is gone forever.



  1. I’m very intrigued regarding the API for maps and timelines since this intersects my “possible” project idea of a digital/online world history atlas.

    As I understand the API, it is the front end user interface that channels the user requests to the underlying data and serves it up for the user’s viewing/consumption. Is that a fair plain-language summary of an API?

    I will definitely check the links you posted.

    Comment by Ruel Eskelsen — October 15, 2009 @ 9:29 am | Reply

    • Actually API’s are interfaces which allows a programmer to set up one web site to access the data on another server through a web page or a web service. The programmer then takes this data and processes the data for a different reason then the original web was using it for. A look at a use for API’s is at

      As far as a tool that hooks up timelines and maps you might want to check the UVA tool

      Comment by theoldscholar — October 15, 2009 @ 11:26 am | Reply

  2. yeah, I know what you mean. google reader, twitter, there is lots of interesting stuff out there to read and ponder. but it is pretty easy to reach the point of overload. I’ve subscribed to quite a few blogs and there is stuff of great interest to me that I’d really like to read, but it is just too much, and will take time away from my research/class work.

    I have reached the point where I’m just resigned to the fact that these tools won’t be of serious use to me until I’m finished with classes and have more time to think and read. I’m glad to have been introduced to them, but they have to be managed carefully so as not to become a distraction.

    Comment by colamaria — October 15, 2009 @ 10:59 am | Reply

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