Talking about Digital History and the SHA

At the Southern Historical Association Conference in November 2013, I was asked by Ian Binnington and David Herr, editors of the H-South discussion network and fellow historians of the South, to sit down and talk about digital history, digital tools, scholarship and teaching, and the role of scholarly organizations and conferences in a Digital Age.  I was honored to be asked (though I should note I was a last-minute replacement for another scholar who has a terrific book about which it would have been great to hear more), and Ian and I talked for about an hour.  David Herr did a great job splitting the footage into discrete clips. [I’ll be honest, though I’m pleased with the conversation, mostly what I see are my own verbal tics, include some painful verbal clutter.] Still, I think Ian and I work through some basic issues and opportunities that historians face these days.

Introduction

https://networks.h-net.org/node/512/discussions/34999/h-south-sha-and-youtube

Changing Modes of Research

Cataloging

Digital Tools

Dangers of Digital Humanities

Academia

Scholarship

Student Engagement

Changing Conferences

Century America: A Course about the Past Done with Tools from the Present (but What’s Its Future?)

http://centuryamerica.org Century America Main Project Site

http://centuryamerica.org
Century America Main Project Site

This post is my contribution to UMW’s Digital Scholarship Initiative discussions.

I should start by confessing that I originally proposed four different ideas to talk about for my week: a nascent digital project on a poisoning case in a mental institution with Pinkerton detectives, as well as my courses on Digital History, the History of the Information Age, and this course, Century America.  Mary Kayler wisely advised me to pick just one, and so I chose Century America as the best combination of unique approach and sufficient work done to have something to talk about.

So, what is Century America?  I’ll let Bill Spellman, Director of COPLAC, introduce it. [This is from the Chronicle of Higher Education.]

“Century America,” launched by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, is a digital-humanities project in which undergraduates on nearly a dozen campuses will produce a website documenting daily life during World War I.

 

The project combines the virtual and the local—engaging students in exploring and mastering digital tools and resources while delving into the histories of their own campuses and communities. By semester’s end, the undergraduate researchers will produce a web-published product that will provide narrative and photographic overviews of campus and community life during World War I. The project will also document the impact of the global influenza epidemic of 1918-19 on those communities. This final product, accessible online, will make contributions to historical understanding locally and nationally.

 

Using distance technology, student researchers on the 11 campuses will collaborate with one another and be guided by academic mentors—Ellen Holmes Pearson, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and Jeffrey McClurken, chair and a professor of history and American studies at the University of Mary Washington.

 

Students enrolled in the online seminar will blog about their progress, learn to create digital maps, integrate timelines into their work, and practice digital presentation. That approach to collaborative learning blends the traditional benefits of a liberal-arts classroom, high-impact undergraduate research, online teaching of digital skills, and the technical proficiency necessary for historians in the digital age.

 

The “Century America” program receives generous support from the Teagle Foundation of New York.

The ultimate goal is to have each student create a site about their own school and that school’s community’s experiences during the Great War and the Influenza epidemic that follows, but within a framework of a larger overarching site (built by the four UMW students who are part of the class).

As you can see from this introduction and from the syllabus (which will give you a good sense of the structure and the assignments), this is an unusual course.  Some have called this a “distance mentoring course,” but I like to think of it as a small, private, online course (especially to contrast it with the Massively Open Online Course).  It is being taught by faculty from two different schools, and with students from nine different public liberal arts colleges. [We began with 14 students from 11 schools, but two students had to drop out because of other commitments.]  It takes advantage of various distance-learning technologies/systems (Skype, Bluejeans, Cisco Movi-Jabber, and MCNC) to enable students in three time zones to have the same kind of powerful interactions with faculty and with each other that UMW and other liberal arts institutions pride themselves on.  Most online course are larger and/or asynchronous.  We meet together as a group in real time, 1-2 times each week, even as we are spread across the country.  I’m not aware of any other course that brings together students from so many different schools to create a digital project together, especially one that provides both support and autonomy to build those projects.

In terms of opportunities for the students, they have access to the expertise of two faculty members not at their institution, as well as many other resources from the various schools (including help from UMW’s DTLT), they have a chance to be part of a project that weaves together nine different local histories of schools and communities during the Great War with an overarching national narrative.  They have the chance to see those different community histories through the eyes of people who are deeply interested in those communities because they are a part of the modern version of that community.

The distance learning aspect represents the biggest change for me, having never taught online before.  In some ways it’s more challenging than face-to-face classes: the video-conferencing technology isn’t perfect and it’s not easy for multiple people to talk without some pauses.  It’s challenging in that it’s hard to read body language or to see people getting ready to talk or any number of cues that can be easily recognized by experienced teachers in the classroom.  It’s also more challenging because the casual conversations that we typically engage in as faculty before and after classes simply aren’t there.  So, getting to know the students as people is more difficult.  Still, Ellen Holmes Pearson and I have worked to engage with students on their blogs and via Twitter (the class hashtag in #HIST1914).

Dealing with students at different schools also has raised other issues, including differing student expectations, differing tech support levels,  and differing research environments.  We’ve tried to address those with clear guidelines, assignments aimed at building tech skills, support from the UMW students in the course (building on the concept of tech mentors), and lots of discussions about archival research, citation, copyright permissions, and many other topics that you can read about in the syllabus.

The finished drafts of the projects are due April 3 and they look like they are going to be phenomenal.  [See links off of here to check them out.] I believe that they will serve as a resource for some time to come for the public to use.

I think that the course has the potential to serve as a model for one way that liberal arts institutions can engage in online learning without giving up the core values at the heart of what we do.  However, I’d like some help in thinking through:

  • How can we replicate this process with other classes?  [In other words, can we scale production of these classes, even if we want to continue to keep them small?]
  • How can we replicate this process without the resources of hire-behinds and/or a technical infrastructure for videoconferencing?
  • Who this approach should be aimed at? [Both in terms of students and in terms of faculty who might be able to participate.]
  • What lessons can be learned from this for hybrid or face-to-face courses?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Century America: A Course about the Past Done with Tools from the Present (but What’s Its Future?)

http://centuryamerica.org Century America Main Project Site

http://centuryamerica.org
Century America Main Project Site

This post is my contribution to UMW’s Digital Scholarship Institute discussions.

I should start by confessing that I originally proposed four different ideas to talk about for my week: a nascent digital project on a poisoning case in a mental institution with Pinkerton detectives, as well as my courses on Digital History, the History of the Information Age, and this course, Century America.  Mary Kayler wisely advised me to pick just one, and so I chose Century America as the best combination of unique approach and sufficient work done to have something to talk about.

So, what is Century America?  I’ll let Bill Spellman, Director of COPLAC, introduce it. [This is from the Chronicle of Higher Education.]

“Century America,” launched by the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, is a digital-humanities project in which undergraduates on nearly a dozen campuses will produce a website documenting daily life during World War I.

 

The project combines the virtual and the local—engaging students in exploring and mastering digital tools and resources while delving into the histories of their own campuses and communities. By semester’s end, the undergraduate researchers will produce a web-published product that will provide narrative and photographic overviews of campus and community life during World War I. The project will also document the impact of the global influenza epidemic of 1918-19 on those communities. This final product, accessible online, will make contributions to historical understanding locally and nationally.

 

Using distance technology, student researchers on the 11 campuses will collaborate with one another and be guided by academic mentors—Ellen Holmes Pearson, an associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and Jeffrey McClurken, chair and a professor of history and American studies at the University of Mary Washington.

 

Students enrolled in the online seminar will blog about their progress, learn to create digital maps, integrate timelines into their work, and practice digital presentation. That approach to collaborative learning blends the traditional benefits of a liberal-arts classroom, high-impact undergraduate research, online teaching of digital skills, and the technical proficiency necessary for historians in the digital age.

 

The “Century America” program receives generous support from the Teagle Foundation of New York.

The ultimate goal is to have each student create a site about their own school and that school’s community’s experiences during the Great War and the Influenza epidemic that follows, but within a framework of a larger overarching site (built by the four UMW students who are part of the class).

As you can see from this introduction and from the syllabus (which will give you a good sense of the structure and the assignments), this is an unusual course.  Some have called this a “distance mentoring course,” but I like to think of it as a small, private, online course (especially to contrast it with the Massively Open Online Course).  It is being taught by faculty from two different schools, and with students from nine different public liberal arts colleges. [We began with 14 students from 11 schools, but two students had to drop out because of other commitments.]  It takes advantage of various distance-learning technologies/systems (Skype, Bluejeans, Cisco Movi-Jabber, and MCNC) to enable students in three time zones to have the same kind of powerful interactions with faculty and with each other that UMW and other liberal arts institutions pride themselves on.  Most online course are larger and/or asynchronous.  We meet together as a group in real time, 1-2 times each week, even as we are spread across the country.  I’m not aware of any other course that brings together students from so many different schools to create a digital project together, especially one that provides both support and autonomy to build those projects.

In terms of opportunities for the students, they have access to the expertise of two faculty members not at their institution, as well as many other resources from the various schools (including help from UMW’s DTLT), they have a chance to be part of a project that weaves together nine different local histories of schools and communities during the Great War with an overarching national narrative.  They have the chance to see those different community histories through the eyes of people who are deeply interested in those communities because they are a part of the modern version of that community.

The distance learning aspect represents the biggest change for me, having never taught online before.  In some ways it’s more challenging than face-to-face classes: the video-conferencing technology isn’t perfect and it’s not easy for multiple people to talk without some pauses.  It’s challenging in that it’s hard to read body language or to see people getting ready to talk or any number of cues that can be easily recognized by experienced teachers in the classroom.  It’s also more challenging because the casual conversations that we typically engage in as faculty before and after classes simply aren’t there.  So, getting to know the students as people is more difficult.  Still, Ellen Holmes Pearson and I have worked to engage with students on their blogs and via Twitter (the class hashtag in #HIST1914).

Dealing with students at different schools also has raised other issues, including differing student expectations, differing tech support levels,  and differing research environments.  We’ve tried to address those with clear guidelines, assignments aimed at building tech skills, support from the UMW students in the course (building on the concept of tech mentors), and lots of discussions about archival research, citation, copyright permissions, and many other topics that you can read about in the syllabus.

The finished drafts of the projects are due April 3 and they look like they are going to be phenomenal.  [See links off of here to check them out.] I believe that they will serve as a resource for some time to come for the public to use.

I think that the course has the potential to serve as a model for one way that liberal arts institutions can engage in online learning without giving up the core values at the heart of what we do.  However, I’d like some help in thinking through:

  • How can we replicate this process with other classes?  [In other words, can we scale production of these classes, even if we want to continue to keep them small?]
  • How can we replicate this process without the resources of hire-behinds and/or a technical infrastructure for videoconferencing?
  • Who this approach should be aimed at? [Both in terms of students and in terms of faculty who might be able to participate.]
  • What lessons can be learned from this for hybrid or face-to-face courses?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Lecture: Teaching and Learning with New Media

I've not posted on this blog in a while (see ProfHacker.com and http://mcclurken.org/ for other goings on).

However, I was honored to be asked to give one of the inaugural lectures in the Teaching Excellence series begun this year by UMW's Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning.

What follows is the video and a list of the links mentioned in the talk.

Thanks to all for the opportunity and the questions. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.






Overview

  • What is New Media?
  • My Goals in using New Media tools
  • Examples of Classroom Use
  • Assessing the Impact
  • What Can You Do?
  • What is New Media? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_media

    UMWBlogs

  • Blogging – Teresa Coffman (EDUC) and Steve Greenlaw (ECON)
  • Blog as course management toolSue Fernsebner’s Freshman Seminar: Toys as History
  • As site for collecting hard-to-find research sources for students –Steve Harris’s Hist 485: Researching Russian and Soviet Resources
  • UMWers & New Media

    Low Levels of Technology Use

  • Wiki for discussions in all my courses
  • Blogs as Individual/Group Reflections
  • Blogs as Research Logs (Historical Methods/Digital History)
  • More Intensive Uses of New Media Tools

  • Examples of Individual digital projects — US History in Film
  • Class Museum of history of technology projects (http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/)
  • See also Krystyn Moon’s 19th-Century Museum – http://amst312.umwblogs.org/
  • Adventures in Digital history course
    Digital Toolkit
    • 2008 Class & Projects http://digitalhistory.umwblogs.org
    • – Historical Markers Project (HMP) — [6]
    • – James Farmer Project (JFP) — [7]
    • – James Monroe Papers Project (JMPP) — [8] and [9]
    • – Alumni Project (AP) — [10]

    Adventures in Digital History 2010 — http://dh2010.umwblogs.org

    • UMW Images Project
    • Life and Legacy of Mary Ball Washington
    • James Monroe’s Letters as Minister to France
    • City of Hospitals: Fredericksburg in the Civil War

    Student Impact Survey — From November 2009Contact me directly for details

    Lecture: Teaching and Learning with New Media

    I've not posted on this blog in a while (see ProfHacker.com and http://mcclurken.org/ for other goings on).

    However, I was honored to be asked to give one of the inaugural lectures in the Teaching Excellence series begun this year by UMW's Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning.

    What follows is the video and a list of the links mentioned in the talk.

    Thanks to all for the opportunity and the questions. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.






    Overview

  • What is New Media?
  • My Goals in using New Media tools
  • Examples of Classroom Use
  • Assessing the Impact
  • What Can You Do?
  • What is New Media? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_media

    UMWBlogs

  • Blogging – Teresa Coffman (EDUC) and Steve Greenlaw (ECON)
  • Blog as course management toolSue Fernsebner’s Freshman Seminar: Toys as History
  • As site for collecting hard-to-find research sources for students –Steve Harris’s Hist 485: Researching Russian and Soviet Resources
  • UMWers & New Media

    Low Levels of Technology Use

  • Wiki for discussions in all my courses
  • Blogs as Individual/Group Reflections
  • Blogs as Research Logs (Historical Methods/Digital History)
  • More Intensive Uses of New Media Tools

  • Examples of Individual digital projects — US History in Film
  • Class Museum of history of technology projects (http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/)
  • See also Krystyn Moon’s 19th-Century Museum – http://amst312.umwblogs.org/
  • Adventures in Digital history course
    Digital Toolkit
    • 2008 Class & Projects http://digitalhistory.umwblogs.org
    • – Historical Markers Project (HMP) — [6]
    • – James Farmer Project (JFP) — [7]
    • – James Monroe Papers Project (JMPP) — [8] and [9]
    • – Alumni Project (AP) — [10]

    Adventures in Digital History 2010 — http://dh2010.umwblogs.org

    • UMW Images Project
    • Life and Legacy of Mary Ball Washington
    • James Monroe’s Letters as Minister to France
    • City of Hospitals: Fredericksburg in the Civil War

    Student Impact Survey — From November 2009Contact me directly for details

    Lecture: Teaching and Learning with New Media

    I've not posted on this blog in a while (see ProfHacker.com and http://mcclurken.org/ for other goings on).

    However, I was honored to be asked to give one of the inaugural lectures in the Teaching Excellence series begun this year by UMW's Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning.

    What follows is the video and a list of the links mentioned in the talk.

    Thanks to all for the opportunity and the questions. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.






    Overview

  • What is New Media?
  • My Goals in using New Media tools
  • Examples of Classroom Use
  • Assessing the Impact
  • What Can You Do?
  • What is New Media? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_media

    UMWBlogs

  • Blogging – Teresa Coffman (EDUC) and Steve Greenlaw (ECON)
  • Blog as course management toolSue Fernsebner’s Freshman Seminar: Toys as History
  • As site for collecting hard-to-find research sources for students –Steve Harris’s Hist 485: Researching Russian and Soviet Resources
  • UMWers & New Media

    Low Levels of Technology Use

  • Wiki for discussions in all my courses
  • Blogs as Individual/Group Reflections
  • Blogs as Research Logs (Historical Methods/Digital History)
  • More Intensive Uses of New Media Tools

  • Examples of Individual digital projects — US History in Film
  • Class Museum of history of technology projects (http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/)
  • See also Krystyn Moon’s 19th-Century Museum – http://amst312.umwblogs.org/
  • Adventures in Digital history course
    Digital Toolkit
    • 2008 Class & Projects http://digitalhistory.umwblogs.org
    • – Historical Markers Project (HMP) — [6]
    • – James Farmer Project (JFP) — [7]
    • – James Monroe Papers Project (JMPP) — [8] and [9]
    • – Alumni Project (AP) — [10]

    Adventures in Digital History 2010 — http://dh2010.umwblogs.org

    • UMW Images Project
    • Life and Legacy of Mary Ball Washington
    • James Monroe’s Letters as Minister to France
    • City of Hospitals: Fredericksburg in the Civil War

    Student Impact Survey — From November 2009Contact me directly for details

    Strategic Planning for Academic Technologies and Libraries

    So I posted almost two months ago about the strategic planning process going on at my institution and the subcommittee (now called a "discussion group") I was working with on Academic Technologies and Libraries. I wanted to post a link to what we came up with to recommend to the larger Strategic Planning Steering Committee. I'd appreciate any feedback that people had on what we came up with, especially since I'm on the Steering Committee and we'll be taking this report (and 14 others) into account as we write the school's strategic plan to present to our Board of Visitors in July.

    Here's the report, in MS Word form.

    Strategic Planning for Academic Technologies and Libraries

    So I posted almost two months ago about the strategic planning process going on at my institution and the subcommittee (now called a "discussion group") I was working with on Academic Technologies and Libraries. I wanted to post a link to what we came up with to recommend to the larger Strategic Planning Steering Committee. I'd appreciate any feedback that people had on what we came up with, especially since I'm on the Steering Committee and we'll be taking this report (and 14 others) into account as we write the school's strategic plan to present to our Board of Visitors in July.

    Here's the report, in MS Word form.

    Ada Lovelace Day Post–Women in the History of American Technology

    I've had trouble deciding who I was going to write about for my promised post on Ada Lovelace day. [Don't know who she is? Look her up here and be sure to check out the references as well.] I'm glad to see that I'm far from alone in writing today. The task for Ada Lovelace Day is to blog about a woman in technology, but I'm going to write about my own impressions here on the subject of the history of women in American Technology before I get to discussing three specific women. This is not a scholarly exercise (hence no footnotes) or a complete history by any stretch (so don't use this to study for a test, or crib from this post), but simply a few musings that come after teaching a particular history class (History of American Technology and Culture) in a particular way for a number of years.

    As an historian of American technology (and other areas including the 19th Century US, as well as women and gender), I've often been frustrated (though perhaps not surprised) by the relative paucity of the presence of women as individuals in this sub-field's historical literature. Of course, from before the arrival of Europeans American women have worked in agricultural fields, often beside men, and using various implements of technology while doing so. Women also appear prominently in accounts of Lowell's textile mills, and in the form of laborers in a number of industries employing technology, especially at times of war (the women in Civil War munitions factories and so famously represented by Rosie the Riveter in WWII are merely the most well known).

    Yet, since my class is organized around the inventions (and reinventions) of twenty or so key artifacts of American technology, I've all too often talked about women's roles in technology as secondary or reactive, especially before 1900. The number of prominent inventions women had direct roles in creating before the 20th century is harder to highlight given the roles that women were expected to play, and the restrictions often placed on their educations and their actions.

    Still, there are three women of the "long 19th Century" that I want to mention, women who were involved in some of the most significant acts of technological creation of their day and place.
    • Catherine Green was a widow and Georgia plantation owner who certainly encouraged Eli Whitney to work on the problem of removing seeds from cotton. What's less clear historically speaking is how much of a role she played in helping Whitney discover what may have been the key aspect of that the cotton gin, the wire teeth that pulled the cotton fibers from those pesky seeds. [1793]
    • Emily Warren Roebling was the spouse of Brooklyn Bridge head engineer Washington Roebling. When he was struck down and crippled by "caissons disease" after spending too much time in the pressurized diggings below the surface of the East River it was Emily Roebling who took over as the main contact between Washington and the bridge effort. For years while Washington apparently watched from the window of a nearby building, Emily was his eyes and ears, learning a great deal of engineering on what was the largest bridge in the world at the time. When it was completed, it was Emily Roebling who made the first official crossing of the bridge in 1883. [1869-1883]
    • Finally, Amanda Jones is the least well known of the three, though I'd argue fairly important. Though women were often chiefly responsible for preserving food in their households in the 19th Century, most of the innovations in commercial preservation came from men like Gail Borden, H. J. Heinz, and John Torrence (of Campbell's Soup). In 1872, however, Amanda Jones was the inventor of a vacuum-based process for canning foods that made them last longer and taste better.
    As I close this post, it occurs to me that it might be time to think about teaching a new course focusing on the history of women, technology, and culture in the US. Reactions, suggestions, reading lists? They're all appreciated.

    Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

    Ada Lovelace Day Post–Women in the History of American Technology

    I've had trouble deciding who I was going to write about for my promised post on Ada Lovelace day. [Don't know who she is? Look her up here and be sure to check out the references as well.] I'm glad to see that I'm far from alone in writing today. The task for Ada Lovelace Day is to blog about a woman in technology, but I'm going to write about my own impressions here on the subject of the history of women in American Technology before I get to discussing three specific women. This is not a scholarly exercise (hence no footnotes) or a complete history by any stretch (so don't use this to study for a test, or crib from this post), but simply a few musings that come after teaching a particular history class (History of American Technology and Culture) in a particular way for a number of years.

    As an historian of American technology (and other areas including the 19th Century US, as well as women and gender), I've often been frustrated (though perhaps not surprised) by the relative paucity of the presence of women as individuals in this sub-field's historical literature. Of course, from before the arrival of Europeans American women have worked in agricultural fields, often beside men, and using various implements of technology while doing so. Women also appear prominently in accounts of Lowell's textile mills, and in the form of laborers in a number of industries employing technology, especially at times of war (the women in Civil War munitions factories and so famously represented by Rosie the Riveter in WWII are merely the most well known).

    Yet, since my class is organized around the inventions (and reinventions) of twenty or so key artifacts of American technology, I've all too often talked about women's roles in technology as secondary or reactive, especially before 1900. The number of prominent inventions women had direct roles in creating before the 20th century is harder to highlight given the roles that women were expected to play, and the restrictions often placed on their educations and their actions.

    Still, there are three women of the "long 19th Century" that I want to mention, women who were involved in some of the most significant acts of technological creation of their day and place.
    • Catherine Green was a widow and Georgia plantation owner who certainly encouraged Eli Whitney to work on the problem of removing seeds from cotton. What's less clear historically speaking is how much of a role she played in helping Whitney discover what may have been the key aspect of that the cotton gin, the wire teeth that pulled the cotton fibers from those pesky seeds. [1793]
    • Emily Warren Roebling was the spouse of Brooklyn Bridge head engineer Washington Roebling. When he was struck down and crippled by "caissons disease" after spending too much time in the pressurized diggings below the surface of the East River it was Emily Roebling who took over as the main contact between Washington and the bridge effort. For years while Washington apparently watched from the window of a nearby building, Emily was his eyes and ears, learning a great deal of engineering on what was the largest bridge in the world at the time. When it was completed, it was Emily Roebling who made the first official crossing of the bridge in 1883. [1869-1883]
    • Finally, Amanda Jones is the least well known of the three, though I'd argue fairly important. Though women were often chiefly responsible for preserving food in their households in the 19th Century, most of the innovations in commercial preservation came from men like Gail Borden, H. J. Heinz, and John Torrence (of Campbell's Soup). In 1872, however, Amanda Jones was the inventor of a vacuum-based process for canning foods that made them last longer and taste better.
    As I close this post, it occurs to me that it might be time to think about teaching a new course focusing on the history of women, technology, and culture in the US. Reactions, suggestions, reading lists? They're all appreciated.

    Happy Ada Lovelace Day!