Wednesday, May 14, 2014

One final project

Most of the students in History 717 opted for final papers and projects that are not available online. But one intrepid student took the opportunity to learn about Neatline. The upshot is "The Milwaukee Crime Map Project," available here:

I hope to make one last post, reflecting on what I will do differently when I next teach this course, currently scheduled for Spring 2015.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Weeks 14 and 15: Presentations

We are winding up the semester. In our last two class sessions, students will present their papers and projects to the class.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Week 13

Readings from Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski, Letting Go: Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World (Philadelphia, PA: Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, 2011).

What we have seen throughout this semester is that historical knowledge roles that used to be fairly distinct (professor/researcher; librarian/archivist; museum professional; journal editor) appear to be getting all mixed up in the 21st century in the context of the web. This week’s readings introduce in an explicit way how the public as consumers can merge into those roles as well. What are the implications of these developments for how we should training graduate students (and the public) and for how you think about your own careers?

  • There is a wealth of opportunities in the digital age to make history meaningful to a wide variety of audiences. How do you pick your focus?
  • You personally, in managing your career and avocation as a historian?
  • A given museum, library, nonprofit organization, for-profit business, or other organization that you might work for/with?


  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of publicly curated museum content? Are there any special considerations for the web that are different from in physical museums?
  • Why do they say that public curation demands more work rather than less from museums? If public content is professionally edited, then how public is it? What parallels with “reality TV” might reasonably be drawn?
  • Ask someone with public history background to talk about Frisch’s idea of “shared authority.”

Nina Simon, “Participatory Design and the Future of Museums”
  • If the web remains an open free-for-all, why shouldn’t museums continue to carefully select and present objects within an interpretive framework?
  • What is a “folksonomy”?
  • What is the difference between gatekeeping and curation?
  • Why isn’t soliciting participation enough? Why must one also use the fruits of that participation?
  • What is the “proximate model”? What are the shortcomings for taking such a business concept and applying it to a museum?
  • The Human Library catalog

Steve Zeitlin, “Where Are the Best Stories? Where Is My Story?—Participation and Curation in the New Media Age”
  • What happens if you invite participation and then don’t post what people share?
  • Do you approve of reviewing and editing public contributions before posting? Should contributors be consulted about the edited version?
  • Does the collector have an obligation to store the originals?
  • What’s the difference between collecting the best stories and getting everyone telling stories (Alan Lomax and Pete Seeger story that ends the essay)? Is there room for both?

Matthew Fisher and Bill Adair, “Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice: A Conversation”
  • What are the practical implications of running an exhibition “that never ends”?
  • What are the strengths and weakness of relying on the wisdom of crowds, for example to recommend books through a “favoriting” system?
  • P. 53: “mini curatorial interventions”: commenting, blogging, bookmarking, and favoriting

Matthew MacArthur, “Get Real! The Role of Objects in the Digital Age”
  • You can’t collect and curate everything, even though everyone might have access. How can we make choices?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Week 12

Writing History in the Digital Age

Fred Gibbs and Trevor Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing”
  • What is the difference between data and evidence?
  • Why don’t historians talk more about their methodologies?
  • 162: what kind of experience with “negative results” do you have?
  • What steps/tools are needed to make data available?

Ansley T. Erickson, “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Note Cards”

  • What solutions do you use for notetaking? For organizing your ideas?
  • How do purposeful systems affect what you can think about your topic? How you can find a specific piece of information in your notes?
  • What role does the writing process itself play in the organization and clarity of your ideas?
  • Is a relational database more than just a shortcut to proper footnotes?
  • 142: what if finding aids were constantly updated? Unit recently most have not even been collectively searchable?
  • How have you used keywords and tags in your own research?

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, “Africa and Africans in the African Diaspora: The Uses of Relational Databases,” American Historical Review 115 (1) (February 2010): 136-150.
  • Are you comfortable with the idea of using data that you did not gather?
  • Why is ethnicity important to Hall’s critique?
  • How does data get into a databse? How does one access it?
  • What is “unquantifiable data”?
  • What can you tell about the original article without having been assigned to read it? What does Hall think the problem with it was?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Week 11: Hacking Scholarship

General questions

  • Why do these questions arise in the context of digital history?
  • Do these calls for change comport nicely with the AHA’s approach to assessing the place of DH?
  • Is DH really a continuity with the past of the profession, or something new?
  • What’s wrong with traditional publishing? What’s right about it?
  • What kind of gatekeeping would you like to have for the stuff you need access to in order to produce your own work?

Alex Galarza, Jason Heppler, and Douglas Seefeldt, “A Call to Redefine Historical Scholarship in the Digital Turn,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012):
  • Are you persuaded that the digital turn in history is a “revolution”?
  • We have talked about obstacles to the acceptance of DH before. What kinds of solutions can you imagine?
  • Do you accept the suggestion that coding and building platforms should count as scholarship for historians?

All of the “Hacking Scholarship” essays in Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities, edited by Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2013):;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1

Jason Baird Jackson, “Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps”
  • What is the criticism of for-profit publishers?
  • If you conduct peer review for them, are you really working for free? Is this bad?
  • How do you know if you are working with a for-profit rather than a non-profit publisher?

David Parry, “Burn the Boats/Books”
  • What’s wrong with the book?
  • What do you think of the phrase “the Gutenberg Parenthesis”?
  • What is “librocentrism”?
  • How is knowledge a commodity?
  • What does he mean by “closed system”?
  • Is a PDF really just a book on the web?
  • What would it mean if scholars were aggregators and curators instead of producers? What would librarians do?
  • Are books locked behind a paywall?

Jo Guldi, “Reinventing the Academic Journal”
  • What does she mean by “Web 2.0”? We haven’t talked about this term so far.
  • What do you think of her recommendations? We will spend all of our time curating our bibliographies or conducting our research?
  • Is she proposing that journals give up publishing and instead become authoritative linkers?
  • Would people really spend a lot of time commenting on other people’s unfinished essays? What was your experience with the times we did that this semester?
  • Would you indefinitely revise a paper?

Michael O’Malley, “Reading and Writing”
  • Is it your experience that the word processor has had little effect on academic writing?

Voices: Blogging
  • How does blogging relate to published writing, in your view? Have any of your ideas about this changed over the course of the semester?

John Unsworth, “The Crisis of Audience and the Open-Access Solution”
  • Is it true that no one is reading the scholarly books? Do you write so you can have an audience?
  • What is open access?
  • Who is going to keep track of all the new publications floating around online?

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Open-Access Publishing”
  • What are the costs of publishing?
  • What is wrong with traditional publishing?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of open-access publishing?
  • Is the claim that the public is not interested in scholarship a straw man or a red herring?

Open Access and Scholarly Values: A Conversation
  • Cohen suggests that failure to publish digitally, for free, is a contradiction for scholars who “champion…the voices of those who are less privileged and powerful.” Do you agree?
  • Is work published in gated journals really invisible?
  • Do scholars actually read their colleagues’ work?
  • “Open access—which is an ethically superior form of dissemination on its face, and a moral obligation for public institutions”: Do you agree?

Voices: Sharing One’s Research

Mills Kelly, “Making Digital Scholarship Count”
  • To what extent are you as graduate students thinking about the prestige hierarchy of scholarly publishing?
  • Definition of scholarship: “In almost any discipline, scholarship has the following characteristics: it is the result of original research; it has an argument of some sort and that argument is situated in a preexisting conversation among scholars; it is public; it is peer-reviewed; and it has an audience response.
  • Is argument essential to counting as scholarship? In Kelly’s Teaching History in the Digital Age, he suggests that mashups make arguments.
  • Why is he skeptical of the value of gatekeeping?

Tom Scheinfeldt, “Theory, Method, and Digital Humanities”
  • What humanities arguments does digital humanities make?
  • “I believe we are at a similar moment of change right now—that we are entering a new phase of scholarship that will be dominated not by ideas, but once again by organizing activities, both in terms of organizing knowledge, and organizing ourselves and our work.”
  • Is it too early for digital humanities to make arguments? Is that why we have spent much of the semester thinking about websites’ “big ideas” rather than their arguments?

Notice this document:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Week 10 Big Data

This week's reading assignment is The Historian's Macroscrope, currently available in draft form on a Word Press platform allowing comments.

Thus our questions this week involve both what it's like to read a work of scholarship on an unfamiliar idea in draft form and the substance of the work.

Process questions:
  • What do they mean by “live writing”?
  • What strategy did you use for reading this project?
  • Would you write in public like this?
  • What is going on behind their scenes?

Substance questions:
  • What is their Big Idea?
  • Can we imagine together the kinds of questions historians will want to ask with Big Data?
  • What do they mean by the “macroscope” metaphor? Why not a telescope?
  • Would you feel comfortable working with an “open notebook”? With live writing?
  • Do you accept the claim that we (as historians) need to understand the search algorithm?
  • What is “big data”? What do you think of their definition?: “If it’s more data that you could conceivably read yourself in a reasonable amount of time, or that requires computational intervention to make new sense of it, it’s big enough!”
  • Who is the audience for this project?
  • What can you learn by working with big data that you can’t without it?
  • What do you need to learn to do to work with big data?
  • How is normalization different from tokenization?
  • What kinds of questions can you imagine yourself asking with big data?
  • Why do they argue that Big Data does not herald an epistemological transformation for historians?
  • What is topic modelling, and what would you use it for? What uses could you put Paper Machine to?
  • What is network analysis and what might you use it for?

 As a bonus, we might watch this video about a doctoral student’s project in “distant reading”:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Week 9: Wikipedia

Wikipedia is like food: everyone has an opinion. Here are some questions based on our reading to help guide the discussion:

  • What attitudes toward Wikipedia have you encountered among historians?
  • What are the major issues about Wikipedia that you should be aware of when you use it?
  • Should students be allowed to use Wikipedia?
  • What kind of change did you make to Wikipedia, and what happened to the change?

Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (2006): 141–46

  • Is collaborating with others on historical work within your comfort zone? Why?
  • Why is authorship and credit so important to historians?
  • Is Wikipedia still as uneven about history as Rosenzweig described in 2006?
  • Does the general accuracy and breadth of coverage that Rosenzweig describes mean that you should trust Wikipedia?
  • Why is so much good historical scholarship locked behind paywalls?
  • Why does Rosenzweig argue that historians should contribute to Wikipedia?

 “Wikipedia: School and University Projects,”

  • What kinds of rules has Wikipedia set up for student projects?

Graham, “The Wikiblitz: A Wikipedia Editing Assignment in a First-Year Undergraduate Class,” Writing History in the Digital Age

  • Is Wikipedia really important enough to structure a major history class assignment around?
  • What did Graham ask his students to do, and why?
  • Why did the history majors not like Graham’s assignment?

Messer-Kruse, “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia,” The Chronicle of Higher Education online, February 12, 2012,

  • What was Messer-Kruse trying to accomplish with his edits?
  • Why was Wikipedia resistant to his changes?
  • Would you try to make changes based on, say, your thesis research?

Saxton, “Wikipedia and Women’s History: A Classroom Experience,” Writing History in the Digital Age

  • How are Wikipedia topics selected?
  • What kind of intellectual balance is represented in Wikipedia? How does that balance affect your view of its utility?
  • How did the structure of Saxton’s assignment compare with Graham’s?
  • How does social history fit into Wikipedia? What does the response to Saxton’s students tell us about the assumptions underpinning Wikipedia?

Seligman, “Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies,” Writing History in the Digital Age

  • What have your professors said to you about using encyclopedias for research?
  • What pedagogical goals do I describe for my undergraduate students?
  • What are the problems with NPOV?
  • Are you persuaded by my claim that argument is a central problem even in a source like Wikipedia?
  • I suggest that historians’ two greatest contributions to knowledge are interpretation and close scrutiny of primary sources, neither of which Wikipedia welcomes. I wonder if this makes our potential contributions to Wikipedia particularly problematic?

Wolff, “The Historian’s Craft, Popular Memory, and Wikipedia,” Writing History in the Digital Age

  • Wolff makes the general point that we have been discussing in class, that the Internet allows non-professionals to be historians. How should historians respond to this development?
  • Wikipedia talk page as a tool for seeing how people debate the significance of history.
  • Conflict of “authoritative secondary sources” vs. NPOV: how would professional historians work this out? Wikipedians? Why does controlling the argument on Wikipedia matter so much?
  • How is the idea of “interpretation” received in the non-professional American audience?
  • Wikipedia serves as a people’s museum of knowledge, a living repository of all that matters, where the exhibits are written by ordinary folk, with nary an academic historian in sight.”

  • Why isn’t the intellectual structure of an encyclopedia a neutral tool?
  • Rare praise for Wikipedia’s standards. Are the standards universally applied?
  • How does Wikipedia’s notability standard work?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Week 8: Credit and Assessment II

  • Should graduate students in a DH class care about tenure and promotion issues in digital humanities as they are relevant to faculty? How might these be relevant considerations even if you are not planning to be a professor?
  • What general principles for evaluating digital scholarship can we extract from these readings? What principles for evaluating quality? For professional promotion purposes?
  • How do the criteria raised in these articles compare to those we have been using to assess websites and tools in this class?

Todd Pressner, “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1(4) (2012):
  • Historians as involved in “the design of the interface,” itself an intellectual contribution at the birth of a new form of conveying ideas. Do you accept this principle? In the digital websites that we have looked at so far, which have contributed new designs that should be credited as new platforms?
  • Is any of the commentary in these articles relevant to public history, and how credit and promotion works in public history?
  • What is the role of “risk taking” in credit and promotion?

Geoffrey Rockwell, “Short Guide to Evaluation of Digital Work,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012):
  • Why is it so important to review work in the medium it was intended to be viewed in? What might this be an obstacle for some history departments?
  • Why is discussion of the merits of design so important for digital projects and so unimportant for consideration with respect to promotion of book and article authors?

James Smithies, “Evaluating Scholarly Digital Outputs: The Six Layers Approach,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012):
  • What is this typology useful for?

Laura Mandell, “Promotion and Tenure for Digital Scholarship,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012):
  • “Most e-books might as well be books. In fact, it would be a lot more convenient if they were: the printed codex never needs to be recharged.”
  • How can you make a decision about whether to push your project through print or digital publication channels? What factors should you take into consideration?
  • What is “curation”? Why are academic scholars taking on this task? Does this tendency help or hurt museum professionals, who are more traditionally curators?
  • “If one defines research in the digital humanities as discovering and creating resources that empower people, direct tasks, and structure information according to articulated and articulable humanities principles.” What do you think research is?

Katherine D. Harris, “Explaining Digital Humanities in Promotion Documents,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4): 2012:
  • Do you know what a tenure and promotion portfolio looks like?
  • She argues for the recognition of her blog as a key piece of her scholarship, including by  counting the number of times links to it were tweeted. What do you think of this line of argument?

AHA, NCPH, OAH, “Tenure, Promotion, and the Publicly Engaged Academic Historian,”
  • What is the significance of a jointly released document?
  • What do these standards have to do with digital history?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Week 7: Peer Review and Credit

Sheila Cavanagh, “Living in a Digital World: Rethinking Peer Review, Collaboration, and Open Access,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4):

  • Addresses contextual problem of failure to recognize digital work
  • What are the reasons for tenured folks not understanding how to give credit for digital work in the academic reward system?
  • Do you accept the suggestion that peer review is as much about marking the status as about determining the quality of a work of scholarship?
  • Do you think of public history projects as scholarship? What distinction, if any, would you offer?
  • What dynamics of power and status does Cavanagh identify as relevant to institutional support for DH projects?
  • If DH projects are inherently collaborative, what should peer review look like? I wonder how scientists conduct peer review when there are hundreds of co-authors on any given article.
  • What problems in grant applications do scholars from underresourced institutions face?
  • Is developing partnerships for digital projects really a form of peer review?
  • Review steps of traditional peer review and compare to what happens in a digital project.
  • What are the consequences of not encouraging junior faculty to publish on the web?
  • What implications for faculty acceptance of non-traditional DH projects are there for graduate students?
  • Are any of these considerations relevant for public history?

Bethany Nowviske, “Evaluating Collaborative Digital Scholarship (Or, Where Credit is Due),” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4):

  • What assumptions about collaboration inform traditional humanities views of promotion and credit?
  • What’s the difference between evaluating output and evaluating process?
  • What are the systems of production and reception that Nowviske describes?
  • What do they mean when they say digital scholarship is rarely done?
  • “technical partners and so-called “non-academic” co-creators”: what ideas are loaded into this phrasing?
  • What is “alt-ac” and how is it relevant to Nowviske’s discussion?
  • What kind of peer review takes place in digital projects? How constant peer review of participants different from traditional peer review?
  • “take pains to avoid implying that collaboration in digital humanities is merely a means of enhancing a privileged faculty member’s ability to make informed decisions or more sophisticated authorial and directorial choices.”
  • What’s the difference between credit through co-authorship and credit through listing on a DH site?

Kristen Nawrotski and Jack Dougherty, “Introduction,” in Writing History in the Digital Age,;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1

  • What differences did they set out to make in the process of creating a collection?
  • How did their approach to peer review differ from traditional peer review? What are the potential up- and downsides of this approach?
  • Would you feel free to write in this way, in public? Would you write some things in public but not others?
  • Why did they use the Creative Commons License?
  • As students, would you prefer to write more publicly?
  • “In practice, faculty members effectively give away journal and book manuscripts to publishers for the privilege of seeing them in print. In turn, publishers sell faculty scholarship back to our academic libraries and charge them a price for the right to lend out print copies or disseminate digital copies on proprietary databases.” What do you think about this claim? How would the academy look different if ideas were literally freely circulated?
  • “Our jaws dropped over a year ago when a major publisher listed a colleague’s hardcover historical monograph at $95. That copyrighted text is effectively locked inside a very expensive box that very few can afford, and the author has no legal recourse to let it out.”
  • What are the reasons many of us continue to prefer books?
  • What are the potential downsides of continuous 2-way communication about our publications? Why isn’t email good enough a medium to permit that?
  • List of criteria that make their web book format desirable: Look Like a Book, Protect Authors’ Attribution Rights While Maximizing Public Access, Integrate Narrative Text and Multimedia Source Materials; Speed Up Distribution While Preserving Archival and Print Formats; Be Findable with Existing Library Search Tools; Promote Peer Review with Two-Way Scholarly Communication
  • What does it matter when peer review takes place?
  • What differences might there be between a multi-author volume like this one and a full-length monograph that went through a layer of public peer review while in process?
  • How might these ideas translate to preparation of museum exhibits?

Jack Dougherty, Kristen Nawrotzki, Charlotte D. Rochez, and Timothy Burke, “Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age,” in writing History in the Digital Age,;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1#10.3

  • What is the significance of having their final version published away from the in-process comments?
  • In what ways does this essay function as a conclusion?
  • What strategies did they use to cultivate participation? Would this work as an ongoing strategy, or was the novelty key?
  • What do you think is the significance of the extent of the public peer review response?
  • Is it plausible that the academy will reward participation in peer review?
  • Why invite “expert” reviewers into the process? Who counts as an expert?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Session 6: transitioning forward

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapters 7, 8, and conclusion
  • What is Creative Commons? What are its implications for scholarship?
  • What is copyright? How does copyright protect you, frustrate you, as a historian? What is fair use?
  • How are sites like Facebook, Instagram, etc., dealing with copyright and images?
  • How do you feel about copyright? Alternatives? Is open access an alternative?
  • Copyright is a big complicated mess. If you were creating a digital history project, for a class, say, what should you do: 1) about copyrighting the project and 2) about any primary sources you wanted to include?
  • What are the takeaways from this chapter for you?
  • Should we seriously worry that historical study will be impossible in the future?

Kelly, chapter 5 and conclusion
  • Do we agree with Kelly’s implicit suggestion that digital history = online history?
  • Do you want your professors to add online components to your classes? What if the cost is reduced skills that are the traditional goals of graduate classes, like close reading, analysis, and understanding of the past?
  • “While historians might be tempted to scoff at such mash-ups and remixes as ahistorical or simply silly, the popularity of such work cannot be denied.” Is this a good argument? Where does “popularity” fit into history professors’ goals?
  • Are we content to do “thought experiments” such as the Tank Man video Kelly discusses?
  • What do you think of the “Lying about the Past” course?
  • Given the intentionality of the hoax, let’s revisit how we know whether to trust online sources.
  • Given how long things last on the internet (long or short?), was it a reasonable assumption that the class could really “take down” the hoax at the end of the class?
  • Idea of “zombie facts”
  • How can you give grades in a course like Lying about the Past?
  • What do you think of the decision of the GMU department that Kelly could not continue to teach the Lying about the past class?

Questions for going forward
  • What do we know now about how to think about digital history that we didn’t know at the start of the semester? What questions do we have now that we did not formerly have?
  • Let’s try to construct the steps you need to build a Digital History project
  • Brainstorm possible projects and paper questions

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Flaw in the course plan

I've figured out one of the things that I should be doing differently in this class. Too much of our talk about digital history is abstracted from real world experience. We need to have more doing of digital history built into the course from the beginning.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Session 5: Matching Historical Goals and Presentation

I have been pulling up the blog in class so that the questions are available during discussion. However, because the question list is too long and we often have other material up on screen, they have not had the effect of spontaneously directing classroom discussion.


Overriding question: The internet offers us so many options for presenting and gaining historical information. How do we know which ones to use? Goal of class discussion: develop criteria for thinking about how to answer this question.

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapter 6
  • What methods can you use to figure out what research collection approaches match your intent?
  • What questions should we be asking about the reliability of witness testimony collected through online sites? Are such questions any different than those we would ask about oral histories or archived documentary history?
  • What are the takeaways in terms of advice about when you build your own digital collecting project?

Tweet Me a Story
  • What did you learn about how Twitter works from this essay? What are the strengths and weaknesses of how Twitter works?
  • Why did one student in the class refer to the essay as a blog? What’s the difference between a blog and an essay?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of Twitter as a platform for telling a longer story?
  • Does carefully organizing tweets into a story, perhaps with posts from other media included, undermine the instant-gratification effects of Twitter?
  • What role might Twitter, and storytelling through Twitter, have in history in particular?
  • What effect does the author gain by invoking the historical practice of serialization of novels in magazines before being sold in book format?

Kelly, chapter 4
  • In this age of so many possibilities for presenting your historical information and ideas, how do you know which one (or sequence) to use?
  • Should we be asking students to write in a variety of forms (such as Tweeting) or should we defend the value of the traditional linear essay? What have you gained from the traditional linear, analytical essay? What are its essential virtues? Can we make a comparison to practicing your scales if you are a piano player—you shouldn’t venture out into these other formats unless you have the basic approach down?
  • Why are/were grades private? Is public feedback on a work in progress more motivating? Is my reluctance to share work in progress born from a perfectionism characteristic of those very people who go on to become professors? Should student projects have a life after the end of a class?
  • Have I made the goals of the class blogs sufficiently clear? What are the pros and cons of the blogging platforms that you have started up your blogs on?

Evaluating Multimodal Work
  • Would you feel comfortable using these criteria to, say, assess the work of students in Mills Kelly’s class?
  • Do all of these criteria seem to apply to student work? What kind of student work is she talking about?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Session 4: A lot of content and a lot of users

 This week we will be talking about the problem of the web: there are so many websites and so many potential audience members. How do we relate to them and each other?

The readings are:
·         Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance: Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.” American Historical Review 108 (3) (2003): 735-762.
·         Alisea Williams McLeod, “Student Digital Research and Writing on Slavery: Problems and Possibilities,” in Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning, edited by Jack Dougherty et al.,

Kelly, chapter 3
  • What does it mean to suggest that documents “read each other”? What are the valences of the word “recombinant”?
  • What are the differences between the HTML and XML markup examples (presidential speeches)? What does Kelly say is the significance of those differences?
  • What kinds of problems does the abundance of digital primary sources create for historians? How can we keep track of all the sources we can find, much less read and analyze them all?
  • Tools like JSTOR as more than just repositories for keeping track of journals, but potentially offering a powerful, new kind of search that will create juxtapositions of sources we could not easily bring together on our own.
  • How much is an “exabyte”?
  • Is this comment overblown: “being able to use machine methods for making sense of this massive database of historical text is no longer a luxury—it is an imperative.” Are our goals as historians and teachers of history about accessing the past through every possible route, or about understanding what we are capable of understanding? Does it matter, if (for example), I can’t use quantitative analysis or read a non-English language? Are these tools simply expanding the range of what some of us can do, or are they placing new imperatives on us for the central tasks of historical understanding?
  • “Software still cannot analyze text in all the ways a historian would, but it can suggest interesting starting points for that analysis, and with each passing year the text mining and analysis algorithms get better and better.” This passage suggests that historians need to learn to skirt back and forth between mining data and reading evidence. Do we need to teach data mining in graduate school? To undergraduate history majors?

Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance?”
  • What are the problems of scarcity and abundance that we face in the digital age?
  • What are the problems involved in preserving the digital record? What are the problems of interpreting in the digital record?
  • What kinds of gaps in historical evidence can you recall having run into in your own research?
  • Are we likely ever to encounter “an essentially complete historical record”?
  • Will the students in the class who are also in SOIS talk about what they know about the preservation of digital records?
  • The problem of ownership of digital records. How does private ownership affect your ability to access sources?
  • What does this comment about the Pitt Project mean: it “broadens the role of archives and archivists through its focus on ‘records as evidence’ rather than ‘information’”? What is the distinction between information and evidence being made here?
  • What would you do if historical research were “disintermediated”? What is the ongoing role of libraries and especially archives?

  • How does this faculty member take advantage of the abundance of digital resources to transform her students’ learning experiences?
  • “I believe that a new infusion of history into American culture—through digitization and social media—may raise an issue of our students’ rights to their own temporality as we increase their exposure to controversial, historical documents.” What might she mean by this? How might her field—Rhetoric and Composition—encourage practitioners to think about time in a different way than historians approach it?
  • Why would the chance to share their research with the public through the internet incentivize students to continue their involvement beyond the period of the semester?
  • “ongoing digitization of historic records like the ROF make it all but inevitable that not only they but the entire world will soon have to confront problems and possibilities that come from widespread re-infusion of the historical.” Given what our other authors suggest about the problem of abundance, is it likely that digitization of historical records will encourage everyone to think about the past more? Or will we be overwhelmed?

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapter 5
  • We have a potentially abundant audience—but how can we find it and let it know about our projects?
  • Do you feel a reluctance to build an audience, or a lack of knowledge about how to do so?
  • What do you think about the ideas for DH website promotion that DC&RR discuss? What opportunities do they omit because they were not available when the book was published in 2006?
  • When should you work on the publicity for your project?
  • How will you know if your site is being well used?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Session 3

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapters 2, 3, and 4
Kelly, chapter 2

Ø  DC&RR open chapter 2 by pointing out the existence of subtle clues in the physical makeup of books that tell us about the history of the project, clues that animate how we think about them as we read them. Let’s enumerate them for:
Ø  Traditional books and articles
Ø  Digital history projects
Ø  53: are DC & RR really opposed to “planning ahead” for DH projects?
Ø  What did you learn from the discussion of “getting started” about particular approaches to solving technical problems? Does this part of the book stand the test of time?
Ø  How does the availability of primary sources on the internet affect the way you conduct research?
Ø  What are the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to digitization of primary sources that you have encountered?
Ø  How does the technology allow new and different historical questions to be asked and answered?
Ø  OCR: example of Joe Austin and ProQuest
Ø  Terms: metadata
Ø  Is it worthwhile trying to distinguish a digital history project and a digital archival project?
Ø  What did you learn about design from DC&RR’s discussion?

Ø  What is “real historical research”?
Ø  What strategies do you use for search? Do you start history paper research differently than daily curiosity research?
Ø  How do you handle the problem of search abundance?
Ø  Terms: Dublin Core
Ø  How do the skills Kelly advocates for teaching search literacy gibe with and diverge from what you know about basic historical literacy?

Ø  Do you agree with Kelly about the sustained value of going to chat with the history liaison librarian?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Session 2

Pretty much since I started teaching in 1994, I have prepared for class by writing lists of questions to raise in discussion. I don't use them all in class, but they help me organize my thoughts and provide me fodder for kickstarting a group that has gotten tired. I thought I would experiment here with including my questions (though not my other notes) to see what happens.

In the first half of class tomorrow evening we will have an overview of the use of RefWorks by a librarian. In the second half of class (assuming we don't all freeze on the way from the library to our classroom) we will be discussion the introduction and chapter 1 of both Cohen and Rosenzweig's Digital History (2006) and Kelly's Teaching History in the Digital Age (2013).

General questions

  • How is the experience of reading texts for class online different from the experience of reading a printed book or article? How did you take notes? How did you access the footnotes?
  • How do we (historians, students, other people) make arguments about history? 
  • What is historical thinking?
  • Compare the visions of the two books and set them in their historical moment.
  • What is a meaningful scholarly historical interpretation? How can such a thing be presented on the web?

Questions specific to Kelly's writing

  • What was Kelly’s student’s argument (p. 3) in the alteration of the Nurenburg video?
  • How have you seen digital technologies used effectively in teaching history?
  • What do Kelly’s chapter titles mean?
Questions specific to Cohen and Rosenzweig's writing

  • What is XML? Opportunity to look things up on Webopedia
  • What possibilities and liabilities do DC & RR see for history on the internet?
  • pp. 10-11: why is it important to store digital records in their original form?
  • What should historians do about the problems of the web?
  • What are the implications of having digital scholarship locked behind paywalls?
  • What problems of search do DC & RR raise?
  • p. 29: how does the public “think differently about documents than librarians and archivists?
  • p. 31 what is the role of interpretation in DC & RR’s discussion? 
  • What has changed since DC & RR wrote? Sort out lasting themes from transient ideas.
  • What standards do they offer that we can use to assess historical websites?
  • What advice do they offer for readers pursuing their own DH projects?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

History 717 launches in 20 minutes. 

The syllabus is publicly posted here:

The course hashtag is #HIS717S14

We are about to jump, fall, or fly.