Guest Speaker

Stephanie Stillo spoke to our class yesterday primarily about recovering information in maps and other old pieces of writing that may have been lost due to ink fading over time.  This is obviously important for historians to learn about the past; by uncovering previously lost information, they can gain access to material never before seen in the academic world.  Stephanie discussed different techniques that they are using to uncover this material, including some that change the color of the entire document, thus highlighting the lost material in a way that is impossible for the human eye naturally. Stephanie also mentioned a technique they can use to view writing that had been scraped off and written over on paper that was rare at the time.  She mentioned the word “metadata,” meaning data that they collect about their data (ink, paper, etc.).  This is important for Stephanie’s work because different techniques can be useful for different chemical combinations. Obviously, Stephanie’s contributions are huge for the academic world and historians in particular.  So much writing has been lost over time due to aging of the paper and ink, and thus much information and data has been lost with it.  By learning how to uncover faded ink, a whole world of new information will be made available.

To me, the most fascinating piece of information in the talk was the writing that had been scraped off that they now know how to recover.  It is one thing to be able to see ink that has faded significantly, but it is a completely different one to have a clear picture of the information that had been physically scraped off of the page.  As far as Stephanie’s presentation style itself, the thing that stood out to me the most was her voice inflections.  She was able to keep her lecture interesting due to the excitement in her voice.  This is definitely something that I would use in my own future presentations.  A question I have after Stephanie’s presentation is what a historian’s specific role in this data recovery is.  I would expect some kind of scientist to be primarily in charge of this project due to the emphasis it places on the chemical makeups of the ink and how to recover that which has been lost.  After hearing Stephanie speak, I would definitely take one of her classes.  Her engaging style of presentation would be appealing to me, especially because I am not particularly interested in history.  I feel like she would keep the class entertaining; the side tidbits that she added to her lecture helped to keep up the pace of the class.  Overall, I felt that Stephanie did a very nice job with her lecture, and I think she would make a nice addition to the W&L history department.