Friday, May 8, 2015

Self Evaluation

I am right in that in-between moment where the formal class meetings are over and my opportunity to assess the final projects has not quite come yet. I thought I would take a couple of minutes and review how the course went this second time through. The syllabus, should you want to check it out, is available here.

The "tools" presentations are far and away the most useful part of the course. They allow students to investigate an array of useful (and less useful) Big and Small digital tools that they can incorporate into their work right away. Collectively, they also teach the lesson that solutions are out there--or can be developed. I will keep this practice during the next iteration of the class.

I was very glad to have changed the final project into a collectively-prepared grant application rather than individual assignments. The class presentations on Tuesday night were terrific and really showcased how much the students have synthesized over the semester. This feature stays.

I was also pleased with how useful the readings were. I felt much better informed about the selections this second time through. I think that the order should be rejiggered next time through, however. The Big Data and Relational Databases weeks should definitely be flipped. Digital Archives and Full-Text Databases belong later, Twitter and Storify earlier. Related, I was disappointed that none of the students took to tweeting about the class. Almost all the Tweets with #HIS717S15 are my own.

One small change I have not yet been able to think through: when I assign students to make a change to Wikipedia, do I really need to run it by the Wikipedians first and set up a class page and sandbox? My theory is that I don't, for a couple of reasons. Students in this class are all graduate students; the assignment is minimal (make a change and watch what happens), no more than anyone might do on their own; I figured out this year to require that the change be "truthful," which helps to prevent vandalism. One of the most interesting points that came out of our discussion about this Wikipedia assignment was the way it caused the students to really review the site, as they looked for topics that needed fixing.

Finally, the portion of the course that I again feel is least successful is the blog. Although creating a dedicated blog site was an improvement over having each student maintain his or her own blog, the process was still not integrated into the class as a whole. In my wild pedagogical imagination, the students will keep up with their blog posts and responses and bring those conversations into the classroom. Although the students were fairly dutiful about posting, it did not feed back into the classroom in the way that I wished. More fodder for next time. And I hope there will be a next time (although not in 2015-2016).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Week 14: Conclusion

Last night was the last class for History 717, Spring 2015 version. In addition to two terrific presentations from the students about their semester DH projects, we discussed the course as a whole. Here are our class notes on What We Learned This Semester:

What did we learn about digital history this semester?

Evaluating DH projects in terms of metadata, funding, and front and backmatter of the websites.
Challenges DH faces in academia and public history
Perishability of DH
Emphasis on projects to market themselves: how do we build this into future curricula? What do you do about platforms being ephemeral?
problem of credit for tenure and promotion
How digital tools can expand your ability to work with historical documents, reconceive ways of working your topic--think outside the box
A lot of ways to be more organized and more efficient
Presentations on different tools
Learning a new tool doesn’t have to be scary
Blogging can be used professionally, not just LiveJournal
How conservative/luddite/resistant are we?
Potential for tools learned
Don’t have to be part of an institution to be part of a historical project (gold star)

What do you wish you had learned?
Closer connect DH with the does it become public history
How does a database work?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Week 13: Evaluating Digital Scholarship

Class session goal: develop our own list of criteria for evaluating digital projects.

  • What criteria should we use to assess digital scholarship? How do we know if a digital project is a success?
  • What kinds of problems do we need to take into consideration when evaluating digital history projects? How are these problems different from the problems associated with traditional history projects?
  • What is the context for most of the evaluations being discussed here? Are they talking about critical reviews, such as you might offer in a journal review of a website? Or are they talking about decisions about people’s jobs? Do some (or all) of these criteria apply in both contexts?
  • To what extent can academic tenure and promotion advice be translated to other contexts?
  • What criteria have we been using to evaluate websites? Based on the advice in these articles, what else could we be examining that we have not been talking about together?

Todd Pressner, “How to Evaluate Digital Scholarship,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1(4) (2012).
  • Why is it important to view a digital project in the medium in which it was created?
  • “New knowledge is not just new content but also new ways of organizing, classifying, and interacting with content.”
  • Are any criteria missing?
  • Do you find any of these criteria controversial?

Geoffrey Rockwell, “Short Guide to Evaluation of Digital Work,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012).
  • What kinds of evaluations is he talking about?

James Smithies, “Evaluating Scholarly Digital Outputs: The Six Layers Approach,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012).
  • Why would you want to pin a project into one of these categories?

 Laura Mandell, “Promotion and Tenure forDigital Scholarship,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4) (2012).
  • Why did she write this document?
  • Why does she have to say explicitly that an article published in a digital journal is no different than an article published in a traditional print journal?
  • Do you agree that creating a platform for digital humanities scholarship (such as Hypercities) should count as much as offering a new interpretation?

Katherine D. Harris, “Explaining Digital Humanities in Promotion Documents,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4): 2012.
  • What is a “legacy project”?
  • What does she mean by work that is ephemeral?
  • How can work that is ephemeral be integral to someone’s scholarly productivity?
  • What range of activities does she include in her case?

  • Why do “publicly engaged academic” historians need their own separate guidelines for tenure and promotion?
  • How is public history scholarship different from traditional academic scholarship?
  • What is the thrust of the list of best practices? Are any important considerations omitted?
  • What do they mean by “look beyond the traditional monograph”?
  • Why does this document give advice to departments and administrators as well as to digital scholars?

  • “Scholarship is a documented and disciplined conversation about matters of enduring consequence. Hiring, tenure, and promotion involve peer-based judgments evaluating the significance of a scholar’s contribution to one or more of those conversations.”
  • Why does this document give advice to departments as well as to digital scholars?
  • Why is digital scholarship so often “unfinished”?

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapter 8 and “Some Final Thoughts
  • “The Ivar Aasen Centre of Language and Culture, a literary museum in Norway, lost the ability to use its large, expensive electronic catalog of holdings after the death of the one administrator who knew the two sequential passwords into the system.”
  • Is it obvious that all digital history projects should be preserved?
  • What is their general advice about how to choose the systems for coding and storing your project?
  • Why isn’t backing up your project on paper a really good idea?
  • What is “emulation” as a strategy for preserving digital materials? What are its advantages and disadvantages?
  • How can you strike a balance between being careful and being ponderously slow?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Week 12: Relational Databases (plus copyright)

Ansley T. Erickson, “Historical Research and the Problem ofCategories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Note Cards,Writing History in the Digital Age
  • What is a relational database?
  • How do you keep track of all your notes for a project? How should you do this?
  • What was Erickson’s goal in using a relational database for her dissertation?
  • How much reading of and thinking about documents should you do in the archives? How much do you do later?
  • How did she take advantage of the possibilities of the database in her research and writing process?
  • When in the process should you start writing?
  • Do you actually organize your writing through categories, or through topics, or through narrative?

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, “Africa and Africans in the African Diaspora: The Uses of Relational Databases,” American Historical Review (February 2010): 136-150.
  • What motivates this article? Why does whether women milled rice during the Middle Passage matter?
  • How do you know what is in a database you are working with? “Thousands of new Brazilian and Portuguese voyages have been added, correcting the Anglo-focused distortion of TSTD1.”
  • What limitations do databases have?
  • What does she mean by “unquantifiable data”?
  • What cautions does she offer about databases? “to answer, they can be rigid and inflexible, locking in outmoded research and questions and not allowing for new ones. Databases are not a higher form of knowledge that can somehow trump other kinds of research. Scholarship is not a zero-sum game.”

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapter 7, “Owning the Past
  • What do you need to know about copyright law? How much do Cohen and Rosenzweig want you to worry about it?
  • Do course instructors still use course packets?
  • What stance toward copyright do you expect from digital historians?
  • What are the costs associated with acquiring permission to use published sources in a digital project?
  • “Good copyright citizens—cooperative residents of the digital commons—don’t try to grab rights they don’t have.”
  • What is Creative Commons?
  • What is fair use?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Week 11: Big Data

  • What is topic modeling? How do they do it?
  • What is network analysis? How do they do it?
  • Can you tell how much “live writing” they actually did for this project? How does their writing in public approach compare to Moravec’s?
  • What is github?
  • Are you persuaded by their proposal that shifts in training and standards are needed for historical education?
  • What kinds of historical questions can you ask with Big Data that you can’t with more traditional textual analysis methods?
  • At what stage in the research process would you imagine visualizing your primary sources with a tool like Voyant?
  • What do you think of this definition of Big Data?: “For us, big data is simply more data that you could conceivably read yourself in a reasonable amount of time – or, even more inclusively – information that requires computational intervention to make new sense of it.”
  • Does this book motivate you to learn to code?
  • Assuming you had a research problem that you needed a tool for…how would you find out what tools are available and which ones you might need to code yourself?
  • What concerns of copyright underpinned Google’s digitization of the five big libraries?
  • What kinds of historical questions do you think you can ask with Big Data?
  • What did they do with the Dictionary of Canadian Biography?
  • What do they mean by “distant reading”? (PhD Comics example:
  • Differences among “information visualization,” “scientific visualization,” and “infographic”
  • Let’s compare the 3 kinds of written in public approaches that we have looked at so far this semester. What are their strengths and weaknesses?

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapter 6, Collecting History Online
  • How are the challenges of digital archiving different now than they were when Cohen and Rosenzweig wrote this chapter a decade ago?
  • How do you know that you have a target project audience that is just the right size—not too narrow and not too broad?
  • How do you feel the blog is working for our class?
  • Do any of you run personal blogs? Why? Are they thematic in any way?
  • What lessons do you take from the story of the Sept. 11 Digital Archive?


Monday, April 6, 2015

Week 10: Writing in Public

This week's topic is "Writing in Public," a topic I did not include in the first iteration of History 717. I thought to include it this year only after reading Twitter accounts of the 2015 AHA meeting, which included a session on Writing in Public. Michele Moravec (Rosemont College) shares her work-in-progress online for readers to engage as she writes.

General questions:
What are the reasons for writing in public?
Would you do it?
Should you advertise it if you do?
Touch on dissertation/thesis embargo question.

Michele Moravec, #writinginpublic
  • How do you pick a platform for writing in public?
  • Why does Moravec write in public? What are other reasons for writing in public? Would you?
  • What are the risks of writing in public?
  • Is writing in public the same as “live writing”?
  • Would you do either?
  • How do you interact with yourself while you write?
  • How does writing in public work as a form of peer review?
  • What kind of “behind the scenes” writing activity might support a written in public project like this? For example, how does the organization emerge? How does revising work? What if the author needs to move things around? How far along in a project do you need to be before you start “writing it in public?” What are the implications of writing in two platforms, using different word processing tools? How would you manage keeping track of two organizational systems? How would you decide what to post in public and what to do in private? How would you leave notes for yourself about what still needed to be done, what you were confused by?
  • How could you use different platforms differently?
  • I’m intrigued by the idea of live commenting. When I am a peer reviewer in a traditional process, the author doesn’t get my comments as I go along. I suppose I could go back and insert them later, but I am too lazy to refigure where they all should go!

Michele Moravec, Politics of Women's Culture manuscript:
  • [Note that I end up with almost no substantive questions about this work, probably because it is so far afield for me. I can’t tell what might be known from previous scholarship and what is really new here, since I just am not immersed in that literature]
  • How did you decide how to navigate through the book?
  • Did you read the comments as you went along?
  • If an author puts up images in a work in progress written in public, does she have to get permissions for them the same way she would with a “published” work?
  • What argument could you get from the work in progress? Perhaps start with small groups to see what they think the argument is. Perhaps like trying to identify the elephant with a blindfold on?
  • What is this project about?
  • Do you feel like you need to read the finished book?
  • How would you handle footnoting if writing in public? How would footnoting integrate with the use of a program like Zotero or RefWorks that handled many of the fine details for you?
  • I wonder why comments are closed on the section on The Journal of Women’s History. I wanted to ask of paragraph 6 whether there are archives that would show the process by which authors decided what to do with their pieces and what to respond to. I’m sure I am only thinking of this because of reading in the open peer review format of this manuscript.

Cohen and Rosenzweig chapter 5, “Building an Audience
  • Do you respond to the idea of marketing in the negative way that Cohen and Rosenzweig assume?
  • Should writing in public be regarded as a form of marketing by building an audience?
  • How might you build an audience for the group projects you are working on?
  • How does Google work, according to Cohen and Rosenzweig?
  • What is the difference between “hits” and “visitors” and “users”?
  • What are some reliable ways of figuring out why users come to your site?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Week 9: Peer Review

  • How is open peer review different from traditional blind peer review, and what are the implications for academic publishing?
  • How do digital media present credit problems for authors who are pursuing tenure?
  • How can academic communities handle credit for collaborative work?
  • What implications do these articles have for the way you are receiving credit for your group projects in this class?

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

  • How do digital media complicate traditional scholarly peer review?
  • Why would digital contributions be difficult for traditional academic departments to assess? To include in tenure and promotion reviews?
  • Who are the peers who can review digital projects? What standards do they and should they apply? Are those the same criteria that department scholarly evaluations use?
  • Why is this true (or not)?: ‘“Self-publishing” on the web, for instance, does not correspond to traditional print “self-publishing” as closely as many non-digitally savvy faculty members believe.’
  • What are the problems of traditional peer review for digital projects?
  • How should graduate training adapt to the digital age?
  • Why are humanities scholars reluctant to see collaboration as worthy of credit?
  • Why do humanities scholars need institutional support for digital projects?

Bethany Nowviske, “Evaluating Collaborative DigitalScholarship (Or, Where Credit is Due),” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (4).
  • Why does she argue that Tenure and Promotion committees are not really qualified to assess collaborative scholarship?
  • What does this mean?: “the activity I want to argue is actually the new responsibility of tenure and promotion committees. This is your responsibility to assess quality in digital humanities work — not in terms of product or output — but as embodied in an evolving and continuous series of transformative processes.”
  • Why is so much of this essay about human relationships?
  • What should we do about the problem of digital projects never being done?
  • Is this just a lot of hand-wringing over problems that scientists and museums (and other public historians) have long-since solved?
  • “Digital humanities practitioners don’t often say, but we all know that collaborative work involves a kind of perpetual peer review.”

Kristen Nawrotski and Jack Dougherty, “Introduction,” in Writing History in the Digital Age
  • What is different about this approach to peer review?
  • Take a look at some of the original comments:
  • It might be hard to tell, since we have been reading this volume across multiple weeks: but did their review process produce a “better book”?
  • What skills do you need to participate in (or run!) an open peer-review project such as this one?
  • How does the timing problem affect participation in a project like this one?
  • “As a result, higher education pays twice for scholarship produced by its own faculty: first, in the form of salary or sabbatical support for individual professors, and second, in fees for the right to distribute the work.”
  • Should blogs count?
  • Why doesn’t the Writing History in the Digital Age book have a comment section on the published version?
  • What do they mean by “filter then publish” and “publish then filter”?

Jack Dougherty, Kristen Nawrotzki, Charlotte D. Rochez, and Timothy Burke, “Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in theDigital Age,” in Writing History in the Digital Age
  • Can you think of any other project in which peer reviewers have become co-authors?
  • Does this conclusion—the result of the open peer review process—hang together effectively as an essay?
  • “But the most important lesson we learned was the power of a critical mass of contributors with their own social media connections. When we tweeted or blogged about new essay ideas on our edited volume, this information cascaded as several authors and commenters recirculated it on their Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress accounts.”
  • Were you interested in the comments made on the book in progress? Did anyone go back and look at them?
  • Would you publish an essay in progress on the internet?
  • “In this way, the volume blurred the boundaries between a conference and a book.”

Jack Dougherty, “Lessons Learned from Open Peer Review for Digital Book Publishing,” media commons: a digital scholarly network, October 29, 2013
  • What are the risks to publishers if they have an open peer review project? What are the reasons they might be inclined or disinclined to pursue such a project?
  • What are the risks to authors? Why might they be inclined or disinclined to participate in an open peer review project?
  • What difference does/should it make to authors in multi-paper projects to see the other essays as they develop?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Week 8: Wikipedia

In the spirit of my article "Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies," I devote an entire week of this seminar (and a blog assignment) to Wikipedia.

  • Let’s develop a list of things that people who use Wikipediashould understand about it.

Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past,” Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (2006): 141-46.
  • What factors limit historians’ willingness to contribute to Wikipedia?
  • Ten years down the road, which of Rosenzweig’s observations about Wikipedia are still useful and valid?
  • What does this line suggest about Wikipedia’s orientation?: “whom Wales knew from their joint participation in online mailing lists and Usenet discussion groups devoted to Ayn Rand and objectivism”
  • What do you think of the Wikipedia’s review process? Compared to traditional academic peer review, what advantages and disadvantages does it offer?
  • Is it true that encyclopedias do not break new ground intellectually?
  • What does NPOV mean? What are its implications for writing content for Wikipedia?
  • Who contributes to Wikipedia?
  • What is the right word for people who do stuff on Wikipedia? Writers, editors, contributors, Wikipedians?
  • What makes for good historical writing? Do you agree that writing is better in professional historical sources than on Wikipedia? Why?
  • What precautions should you take before assuming the credibility of any given entry in Wikipedia?
  • Should we encourage or discourage students from using Wikipedia?
  • What do you think of Rosenzweig’s criticism about good academic sources being locked behind paywalls?
  • Do you agree that Wikipedia’s Discussion pages amount to historiographic debate?
  • Do you agree that historians should contribute to Wikipedia? Would you contribute on a regular basis? How would you feel about having your “contributions” changed?

  • Given the very small scale of the assignment for this class, do you think I should have observed Wikipedia’s rules for class projects more closely?

Shawn Graham, “The Wikiblitz: A Wikipedia Editing Assignmentin a First-Year Undergraduate Class,” Writing History in the Digital Age
  • “Digital media make all history public history (whether we like it or not),[4] and we need to get our research into that positive feedback loop.”
  • ‘Understanding how the code forces a particular worldview on the user is a key portion of becoming a “digital historian.”’ How much about coding do you think you need to know? How does coding affect our experience of reading a text or site?
  • How does the necessity of “monitoring” changes you make to Wikipedia affect your inclination to be a contributor?
  • Wikipedia is not just the content of a given page but also the network structure of links that connect pages together.”
  • What is the role of “bots” in running Wikipedia?
  • Why do you think the history majors resisted participating in this class exercise by staying out sick?

Timothy Messer-Kruse, “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth onWikipedia,” The Chronicle of Higher Education online, February 12, 2012, 
  • Why doesn’t expertise matter on Wikipedia?
  • Why does a “majority” determine what gets included on Wikipedia?
  • What does the existence (and persistence) of “Wiki-gatekeepers” suggest about the general claim that “just anyone” can edit Wikipedia?
  • “"Wikipedia is not 'truth,' Wikipedia is 'verifiability' of reliable sources. Hence, if most secondary sources which are taken as reliable happen to repeat a flawed account or description of something, Wikipedia will echo that."”
  • Looking at the entry on "the Haymarket affair" now, it looks to me like Messer-Kruse’s changes got through.

Martha Saxton, “Wikipedia and Women’s History: A ClassroomExperience,” Writing History in the Digital Age
  • Why aren’t primary source citations “verifiable”?
  • What kind of resistance to incorporating women’s history into Wikipedia did Martha Saxton’s students encounter?

Amanda Seligman, “Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies,” Writing History in the Digital Age
  • What attitudes about encyclopedias in general, and Wikipedia in particular, have you encountered in your classes?
  • Do you use reference works in your own research?
  • Could you detect arguments in the Wikipedia entries that you looked at for this week’s discussion?
  • How did you learn about the existence of argument in secondary historical sources? At this point in your education, do you feel comfortable identifying them?
  • [Back up and discuss the process of developing the Writing History in the Digital Age project.]

Siobhan Senier, “Indigenizing Wikipedia: StudentAccountability to Native American Authors on the World’s Largest Encyclopedia,” Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning 
  • What counts as “notable” according to Wikipedia standards?
  • [Discuss the differences between the Writing History in the Digital Age and the Web Writing process and formats]
  • Does Wikipedia merit the sustained and organized efforts to improve it, such as those organized by feminist scholars?
  • ‘But “reliability,” of course, is slippery: even in the academic realm, telling our students that university presses are “better” than “the Internet” isn’t teaching them critical thinking.’
  • Should professors grade students’ Wikipedia contributions? How?

Robert S. Wolff, “The Historian’s Craft, Popular Memory, andWikipedia,”Writing History in the Digital Age 
  • What does Wolff show us about Wikipedia as a site of popular memory?
  • What is Wolff’s research method?
  • “More than just an encyclopedia, 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.”

Monday, March 9, 2015

Week 7: #Twitterstorians

Discuss experience of trying to understand the AHA through Twitter
How could you use Twitter for your future historical work (broadly considered)? Will you?

Leah Wright, “Tweet Me a Story,” in Web Writing: Why & How for Liberal Arts Teaching & Learning
  • What is Wright trying to teach her journalism students to do? Which of these skills apply to historical writing?
  • Is brevity a virtue or a vice for historians?
  • Did the student Tweeters tweet similarly to or differently from the scholars in the “Embedded Backchannel” article?
  • What role does Twitter have in news reporting now?
  • Why would you want to use Storify to compile tweets?
  • How could you use Twitter and Storify to engage students in an undergraduate history class? In a museum exhibit? In a digital history project?

C. Ross, M. Terras, C. Warwick, and A. Welsh, “Enabled Backchannel: Conference Twitter Use by Digital Humanists,” Journal of Documentation, 67(2) (2011): 214-237.
  • What did Ross et al. try to investigate about scholars’ use of Twitter for conferences?
  • What did they find?
  • What methodological problems did they encounter?
  • Is Tweeting in public fora such as conferences disruptive or fragmenting?
  • How do the peculiarities of Twitter make formal analysis difficult?
  • Page 219: “Tweets were divided into seven categories: comments on presentations; sharing resources; discussions and conversations; jotting down notes; establishing an online presence; and asking organizational questions.”
  • Page 221: “the presence of the @ sign signifies that the Tweet is part of a conversation.”
  • Page 221: “This lends support to the notion of a “90:9:1” rule (Nielson, 2006) for new social media, where 90 per cent of users are lurkers, 9 per cent of users contribute from time to time and 1 per cent participate a lot and account for the majority of contributions.”
  • Why would non-attendees use a conference hashtag?
  • Page 224: ‘Twitter challenges the traditional authorial boundaries that are associated with writing and the word “text”.’

  • Frustrated that non-historian groups are using the same hashtag? Try using advanced search to limit by date around the early January 2015 time of the AHA meeting.
  • Is there a way around reading the conference backwards in time?
  • To what uses do you see Twitter users putting the hashtag?
  • If you were going to use these tweets to write an essay about the meeting, how would you go about tackling the problem of reading and managing your notes?
  • Why do I go into skimming mode when reading Twitter instead of careful reading?
  • How do historians use Storify to communicate about #aha2015?
  • Should/Would you embargo your thesis or dissertation?

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Week 6

An expected highlight of this week's class is that our two student project groups will be turning in their proposals for their final projects: a grant proposal.

General questions 
  • What is Web 2.0?
  • What is “Shared Authority”?  Where do you come down on question of the role of experts and non-experts in presenting the past?
  • Why would a member of the public participate in a shared authority digital project when they could just start their own blog or put up a website?
  • What is the role of museum staff in the world of public curation of content?
  • Why is it important to this book that the editors see a continuity between participation in the 20th century physical spaces and the 21st century virtual spaces?
  • Is “Humans of New York” an example of Letting Go?

Nina Simon, “Participatory Design and the Future of Museums”
  • What is a “folksonomy”?
  • What kind of participatory techniques have you found engaging on the web?
  • Do you agree that feedback has to get used?
  • What is the relationship between participatory feedback and the “trending” feature of sites like Facebook and Twitter?
  • Do you want to go to museums where visitors create the content? (I did at this one:
  • What is the difference between the Unsuggester and spam?

Steve Zeitlin, “Where Are the Best Stories? Where Is My Story?”
  • What is the distinction between contributed stories and curated stories?
  • Is Facebook a museum?
  • If they are curating the content of, in what senses are they “letting go”?

Matthew Fisher and Bill Adair, “Online Dialogue and Cultural Practice: A Conversation”
  • What are the underlying reasons for Shared Authority?
  • Digital engagement tools: Favoriting, Tagging, Commenting, Blogging
  • Is history just “a collection of truths”? What is the role of analysis in public engagement?

Matthew MacArthur, “Get Real! The Role of Objects in the Digital Age”
  • I wonder what the role of 3-D printing might be in the curation of digital objects.
  • Do you think that the physical experience or the digital experience of museums is more important?

Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age, chapter 5
  • Should historians be responsible for getting digital content online?
  • What do you think of representing history with “thought experiments”? What is the goal of teaching history?
  • What is “backwards design”?
  • What do you think of Kelly’s Lying About the Past experimental course?
  • Is it OK to ask students to put false information into Wikipedia? Into the Internet?
  • Why does Kelly narrate the hoax in the present tense as if he was going to teach the course again?
  • Could Kelly have generated similar enthusiasm among his students if he had found a well-documented but obscure historical figure for them to research and document? That is, what is the role of “hoaxing” in this class?
  • What was the educational value in Kelly’s experiment?
  • What is the point of teaching students to write papers?

Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age, “Conclusion

  • Do you agree with Kelly’s underlying belief that young people (=students) prefer to represent their learning about history in a variety of non-written formats?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Week 5: Digital Archives and Full-Text Databases

General questions for consideration:
  • What is a database? In what ways is a full-text database parallel to an archive? In what ways is it different?
  • Are we talking about data or evidence or something else?
  • Generate list of questions you automatically ask yourself when picking up a book or looking at an archival collection. What is a comparable list for using a full-text database for research?

Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin, “Creating Meaning in a Sea of Information: The Women and Social Movements Web Site,” in Writing History in the Digital Age

  • What do they mean by “document project”? What is involved in producing one? How is it different from the kinds of research projects that historians usually conduct?
  • In what sense is it a database? In what sense is their site a journal?
  • Why did they join a contract with Alexander Street Press? What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a commercial arrangement? What provisions have they made against ASP’s disappearance?
  • Why do they combine primary sources and interpretive texts?
  • What form do the primary sources take in their database? Why don’t the documents appear in their original form?
  • What advantages are there to having so many primary sources digitized on a single site?
  • How did this project come to take on preservation as a mission?
  • Is this project a realization of the “recombinant documents” that Mills Kelly wrote about?
  • What happens to your interpretation of a document when it is extracted from its archival context?

(D2L) Nancy Chaffin Hunter, Kathleen Legg, and Beth Oehlerts, “Two Librarians, an Archivist, and 13,000 Images: Collaborating to Build a Digital Collection,” Library Quarterly 80(1) (2010): 81-109.
  • What is the University Historic Photograph Collection at Colorado State University?
  • Who created it, and how?
  • In what ways is digital browse better than file-cabinet browse? Are there disadvantages?
  • Can you make sense of the work flow visualization?
  • What do you learn about librarians and archivists from this article?
  • How does a library-science literature review differ from a historiography?
  • What is a metadata librarian?
  • Would you consider this project a digital history project? Why or why not?
  • In what sense is it a database? In what sense is it interpretive?

Charles Upchurch, “Full-Text Databases and Historical Research: Cautionary Results from a Ten-Year Study,” Journal of Social History 46 (1) (Fall 2012): 89-105.
  • What are the advantages of full-text databases? What are the disadvantages?
  • What do you need to know about the databases you are working with before you start to seriously analyze your data? Develop a list of questions. How would you find answers to these questions? How useful did Upchurch find it to ask the database publishers?
  • What do you learn from this article about how OCR works? What is “article zoning”? What is “fuzzy searching”?
  • What does this article teach us about research design?
  • What does it teach us about how to keep track of our own research processes?
  • What do you learn about use of keyword search from this article?
  • Under what kinds of research plans would you want to keep track of all the searches you conducted? What would be a good method for keeping track?

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapter 3-4

Chapter 3, “Becoming Digital
  • How do you know that it is worth it to conduct a digitization project? Should we just be digitizing everything? How can we set priorities?
  • What losses should you be cognizant of when you think about digitized sources?
  • What are the possible options for digitizing text that they describe?
  • How did the authors of the other articles we read for today go about answering the kinds of questions Cohen and Rosenzweig raise about what is worth doing and what is not worth doing?
  • Do you think it is better for scholars to annotate (mark up) documents for other people to use, or to work with full-text search? Are there reasons you might choose one rather than the other for one project, and then use the other for another project?
  • Laying OCR underneath a scanned image.
  • Why is typing sometimes better? I wonder if this is still true now that a decade has elapsed since this book’s publication.
  • When thinking about digitizing images, audio, or video, what qualities do you need to consider that you would not bother with for text?
  • What considerations should you keep in mind about whether to contract out the digitization?
  • If you “do the work yourself” is it really free? How could you account for the cost of doing it yourself?
  • How should you find out what standards to use now?

  • What elements of website design do you consider essential?
  • How important is visual appeal for the project your group is developing?
  • To what extent is it important to make design choices for your grant application project?
  • Will you chose a URL?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Week 4: There is a lot of information out there for historians to work with

Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance: Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.” American Historical Review 108 (3) (2003): 735-762.
  • What digital aspects of your life alone disappear?
  • What are the difficulties of preserving digital primary sources?
  • How do you know when you have done enough research? Have you ever faced a situation where you thought you had found and examined all the relevant primary sources?
  • Rosenzweig argues that we face a future task of writing history in a world in which there are too many records for us to cope with, disappearing evidence, and a broadened audience.
  • Are these technical problems, or should we historians truly be concerned?
  • Why are digital documents vulnerable?
  • Blurring and merging of professional responsibilities. Historians, archives, and museums. Who should be responsible for keeping the machines needed to read old digital primary sources?
  • Is it important to read (or at least store) digital primary sources in their original format, or would physical copies suffice?
  • How do copyright and ownership issues enter the picture of preserving digital sources?
  • Why have historians been ignoring the problems of preserving digital sources?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of letting commercial enterprises have control of archiving?
  • How might the challenges outlined in this article shape the kind of historical writing that we will see over the next decades?

David Armitage and Jo Guldi, The History Manifesto, chapter 4:
  • Did you read this online or download it? What is Open Access?
  • What can you infer from the website hosting The History Manifesto about the authors’ goals and relationship to digital history? How successful do they seem at achieving those goals, based on their site? What opportunities for interacting with The History Manifesto do they make available?
  • How does it affect your reading experience to have the outline of the book always available in the left hand margin of the screen? How about the footnote functionality? What was your experience of “turning pages” and “turning sections”? Why isn’t there a “next section” button at the bottom of the page?
  • What do they mean by “machine-read”? Should we think of this activity as reading?
  • How do their inquiries fit particularly with their other scholarly focus on the longue durée?
  • What kinds of unfamiliar historical research approaches do they discuss? Can you imagine yourself needing to use any of them? Wanting to?
  • What is Paper Machines?
  • Panama Zotero group: again the blurring of historians, archivists, and librarians.
  • What is involved in visualizing text-based “data”? Is the visualization enough?
  • What does this sentence mean?: “Traditional research, limited by the sheer breadth of the non- digitised archive and the time necessary to sort through it, becomes easily shackled to histories of institutions and actors in power, for instance characterising universal trends in the American empire from the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’ investments in pesticides, as some historians have done.”
  • Examples of the “untapped sources of historical data”? Are those sources digitally available? How much work is involved in digitizing them so that historians can work with them in the ways Guldi and Armitage envision?
  • How are we ever going to keep track of this hyperabundance of information—and scholarly discussions of it—so that we can know what to go look at? How would you know to go looking for the Declassification Engine, for example? How can you prevent yourself from going out and laboriously duplicating someone else’s tech work?
  • “This enterprise points to the hunger in the private sector for experts who understand time – on either the short durée or the long.”
  • Does this chapter represent a demonstrated claim or an extended assertion (or polemic)?
  • “In a world of mobility, the university’s long sense of historical traditions substitute for the long-term thinking that was the preserve of shamans, priests, and elders in another community.”
  • What special skills do historians bring to the discussion of big data? “The reading of temporally generated sequences of heterogeneous data is a historian’s speciality.”
  • If you “read” big data broadly, can you still know something deeply?
  • Are you persuaded by this:  “Their training should evolve to entertain conversations about what makes a good longue durée narrative, about how the archival skills of the micro-historian can be combined with the overarching suggestions offered by the macroscope. In the era oflongue-durée tools, when experimenting across centuries becomes part of the toolkit of every graduate student, conversations about the appropriate audience and application of large-scale examinations of history may become part of the fabric of every History department.”
  • Do you see yourself in this?: “Historians may become tool-builders and tool-reviewers as well as tool-consumers and tool-teachers.”


Saturday, February 14, 2015

Prepping for class

One of my unsolved problems as an instructor of digital history is managing the readings that I assign. Not, of course (!) in the sense of getting the reading done. But because I have assigned almost all digital materials, I am doing my reading on the computer. Which, in this case, is the laptop I work with at home. I have not figured out how I as the instructor should manage the readings when we talk about them in class. I do make a practice of pulling them up on the class computer and monitor so that we can all turn to the same "page" if necessary. But I can't idly and subtly look through an article for a particular passage without making it patently obvious to the students that I am not attending wholly to what they are saying. I could possibly have the readings on a second laptop in class, but then I as an instructor will be sitting behind a wall of screens, dividing myself from my class.

I wonder how other professors deal with this problem.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Week 3

This is a key week in the class: we will divide into groups to work on semester-long projects. I have never put students into long-term groups before, so I am a little apprehensive about how to do it. Right now my intent is to let some (controlled) chaos reign and see if the students sort themselves into groups without help. If they need help, my plan is to have them engage in "speed dating," each talking to everyone else in the class for a fixed amount of time (e.g. two minutes) to test whether they will get along well enough to work together. Following the speed-rounds, students could submit to me a list of people they want to work with, and I could take a couple of minutes to organize the groups on that basis.

No one signed up to give a presentation this week, which might be just as well given the need to break into groups. Depending on how long it takes to organize into groups, I intend to take the students on a guided tour of the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee's successful grant application to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Reading questions:

Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age

What does he mean about books “reading each other”?
What does he mean by “recombinant documents”? Why might you want such things?
What kind of metadata do you take in about primary sources, almost unconsciously, when you start to work with them in traditional formats? How do you get this metadata from digital sources?
What kind of new questions are made possibly by the availability and searchability of digital primary sources? How would this availability change your plans for your own research projects? Would you still travel to archives to conduct research?
What is “text mining”? Why would you want to do this? Given the amount of information produced, how would you make sense of it? Is close reading obsolete?

What history-writing skills do you think that you (and students) need in the 21st century? Does the standard college essay format teach you those skills?
How do you feel about requiring students to write in public instead of just handing in their work to the professor to read? How should we take into consideration student privacy issues when putting their work in the public realm?
What do you think about the comparison to basketball: that we teach basketball by having students handle the ball from the outset; and we should have students “make” history right from the outset as well?
Are you familiar with the idea of the Dublin Core standards?
What do you think about designing (undergraduate) courses around skills and understanding rather than around content?

Cohen and Rosenzweig, chapters 1-2

19: why wouldn’t a  history website be accepted as “academic venture”?
22: how Yahoo’s organization (“librarian’s touch of classification”) helped; how is history presently organized/accessible on the internet?
What does he mean by “deep web”? Why don’t searches pull up materials behind paywalls? What would you do if they did?
25: list of 5 main types of history websites: archives, secondary sources, teaching, discussion, organizational. Have these five categories blurred more or separated more since this book was published in 2005?
29: it is easy to see why amateur enthusiasts don’t care about provenance of primary documents. But why does provenance matter to scholars?
Why isn’t there a convention to italicize (or put in quotation marks) the titles of websites in use in this book?
Do you think blogs have successfully challenged the journal article?
44: why have libraries and archives taken to the web to expand their mission to teaching?
50: Is their charge to become familiar with how history is done on the web before getting started with your own project still realistic?

53: example of 20,000 documents stored in a database and displayed on the web only when called up. Why is this a sound strategy for presenting information digitally? What does it imply about how the contents have to be organized and stored?
Do you need to know HTML to do digital history? What do you need to know about HTML?
Do you agree that HTML is basically readable?
How do you look at the source code for a web page, as they recommend?
What kind of planning process for your digital project do they recommend?
Generate a list of questions you should be asking yourself as you plan your group projects.
59: In discussing the question of whether you need to learn to code, they make a comparison to reading Dante’s Inferno in English translation. Does this comparison work for you? Would you venture to produce scholarship on Dante if you read it only in English?

Why do they so routinely include the price of software in their discussion?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Week 2

This week class is held in the library, where a reference librarian will introduce students to the use of RefWorks. In the second part of class, we will talk more about possible collaborative final projects and then discuss the following assigned readings:

Andrew Abbott, Digital Paper: A Manual for Research and Writing with Library and Internet Materials (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2014), chapter 4.

            Abbott advises in this book that it does not need to be read in a linear fashion, so I have assigned selections from Digital Paper in both this class and my undergraduate history research methods class this semester. Part of my goal is to buy myself the time to read it for my own purposes, for my intuition tells me that this is a really important book about how to do research—as crucial as Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is for writing. I am an admirer of other work by Abbott, who appears to me to be the smartest contemporary scholar in the world. This chapter is not precisely about digital history, but it points to issues that graduate students in general should be thinking about as they approach seminar papers and their theses. From what I have read so far, I have to agree with this blog post, which calls for pretty much everyone to read it.

  • Discussion strategy: start with generally what he is telling us, and then move to what implications it might have for digital history.
  • What advice does Abbott give about library research? What are his major points about organizing a research project?
  • How would you implement the suggestions practically, using digital tools (acknowledging Abbott’s own preference for paper)?
  • What is the difference between scanning and browsing?

T. Mills Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age, Preface through chapter 2.

  • What do you think of his point that if students are engaged with what they are doing, they are probably learning better—even if it’s technology and not history that focuses them?

  • Why did Kelly’s student feel free to mash-up a primary source? In what sense was it “better” than the original? Why would historians object to this practice?
  • Where do you stand on the “authenticity” vs. “originality” dichotomy he sets up?
  • Do you agree that lecture is the worst possible way to teach anything?
  • What does he mean by “remix culture”?

Chapter 1: Thinking
  • What distinction does Kelly draw between considering how best to teach history and how students learn history best?
  • What skills, facts, and ideas about history should we be trying to inculcate in students?
  • What is Kelly’s attitude toward students? Is this an attitude many history professors share?
  • What does he mean by “do history” and “make history”?

Chapter 2: Finding
  • Kelly opens with discussion of the difficulty of teaching Eastern European history to American students because of the language barrier—he was mostly limited to teaching primary sources that originally in English or were translated into English. Does translation include barriers that student readers should be aware of? Are those barriers in any way comparable to those we should consider when consuming primary sources made available online?
  • Do students actually wander freely around the internet, finding all sorts of historical sources without professorial encouragement?
  • What is “disintermediation,” which Kelly defines as “the removal of hierarchical controls over information in the digital realm”?
  • Kelly suggests that it is a mistake to expect 21st century students to rely only on sources vetted by historians. Is it possible to reconcile this stance with Abbott’s clearly stated belief that not only should we rely on peer reviewed sources, but we should also depend on a hierarchy of prestige among university presses and academic journals? Are there other important differences in how Kelly and Abbott think about (student) research paths that we should be aware of?
  • What is the problem with the Adolf Hitler Historical Museum? (Is it still out there? I tried Kelly’s searches and did not get similar results.)
  • What “digital literacy” information skills should we be inculcating in students?
  • Why does Kelly provide the date of his Google searches? Should we be worried about the fact that Google searches are actually individualized by computer?

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006),Introduction.
  • Note the publication date
  • What are the reasons they are optimistic about the utility of the web for history? Are there any new reasons for (or against) that have emerged since they published?
  • Qualities [capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, manipulability, interactivity, and hypertextuality (non-linearity)] and dangers of networks (quality, durability, readability, passivity, and inaccessibility)
  • How is authority established on the web? How do you know what to trust, what to be skeptical of, and how to use it?
  • How do you know what order in which to read hypertext historical materials?
  • Should we look for argument in digital historical scholarship? Should we try to embed argument in digital historical scholarship?
  • What do you think of the practice of academic publishers of charging (relatively high) prices for access to their digital databases of journals? Do you feel the same way about book publishers?
  • What does “open source” mean?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Syllabus posted!

I finally got my syllabus ready for the spring semester. In case you would like to see how I structured the course, you can read it here.

I did some major restructuring since the first iteration of the class, but I did keep some of the elements that I found most successful.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Three Reflections

As I revise the syllabus, I have three major reflections on the course.

First, and pleasingly, I feel that the course is much better structured, much more organic (if you will) than the first time I taught it. Despite not having actively prepared to revise the course through structured reading, I am organizing the topics better and have much clearer ideas of what to include and include. The syllabus feels much less driven by a few main texts and more more topical.

Second, and less pleasingly, I feel myself retreating from my earlier "Ceding Control" position. As I prepare the Google Drive document where the students will sign up for presentations, I find myself filling in many of the boxes with suggestions for what someone might want to present in a given week. I have sneakily left most social media off the list of "Big Tools" for students to present, because I felt I had too many somewhat duplicative presentations on that theme last time. Those tactics are the result of knowing better what I am doing and what my goals are, but it might meant that the course caters less to the students' individual interests.

Third, I am still a Reluctant Digital Historian. I cannot get very excited about learning how to use new tools. I like to know that new tools are out there. For example, despite a failed experiment in using TimelineJS in my spring semester undergraduate capstone course, I have added it to the list of Big Tools that students might want to present on. But I do not have much enthusiasm for spending hours learning how to make a tool work for me, unless I know I am going to use it all the time (like my word processor or email). Like last year, I decided to survey my students about their DH background. Last year, I used Survey Monkey. This year, because I knew that UWM has purchased access to a more sophisticated survey tool, I tried to use it instead. But after ten minutes of noodling around, I decided that it was much more than I needed, and not quite intuitive enough. So I gave up and just duplicated my previous survey.


Want to follow this class online? The spring 2015 course hashtag is #HIS717S15.

Friday, January 9, 2015

History 717, Redux

I'm spending a very cold Milwaukee afternoon in my office, prepping a new iteration of History 717: History and the New Media. It's daunting!