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?