Archive for 2014

CHNM’s Histories: Digital History and Teaching History

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Cross-posted from Stephen Robertson’s blog. This is the second in a series of posts about aspects of RRCHNM’s history written to mark the Center’s 20th anniversary.

No sooner had I published my blog post on the differences between digital history and digital humanities than I realized that I had blurred a crucial difference between digital history and digital humanities: digital history has been far more focused on teaching than digital humanities. In my earlier post I collapsed teaching projects into the broader category of presenting material online; doing so masked a sharper distinction in activity around teaching. Digital humanities, while not unconcerned with teaching, has given it far less attention relative to research than digital history, and, that attention has focused on teaching digital approaches, methods and tools. By contrast, digital history has focused on teaching history, has been “engaged in the project of improving the quality of classroom teaching practices and learning outcomes,” as Steve Brier put it, by using digital media to develop resources and professional development for teachers of K-12 and undergraduate students. The scale and reach of these projects warrants far greater attention to them than they have received in discussions of digital humanities. RRCHNM’s earliest teaching project, History Matters, a resource for undergraduate US history survey courses launched long ago in 1998, continues to attract more visitors each year despite its age: 2 million visitors in 2013, and 2.25 million so far this year. The much newer Teachinghistory, which builds on the US Department of Education’s Teaching American History (TAH) program to offer a wide range of resources for K-12 teachers of US history, drew 1.8 million visitors in 2013, and has drawn 2.42 million to date in 2014.

HIstoryMatters-300x243Those projects represent the two threads of teaching projects that are prominent in the pattern of RRCHNM’s twenty years of work. The first thread is focused on undergraduate and upper secondary courses, and on providing digital resources. The Center’s initial two collaborations with the American Social History Project, History Matters and Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, addressed core areas of the undergraduate curriculum, the US history survey and the French Revolution. Later projects undertaken by the Center, and like their predecessors largely funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), highlighted the new fields of world history and the history of childhood and youth, and recent history, the events of 1989.

teaching projectsIn the late 1990s, when there was still relatively little historical content available on the web, a major impetus for these projects was the need to get primary sources online. In that respect, early digital history teaching projects seem to have more in common with contemporaneous online archives such as the Valley of the Shadow than I at least recognized at the time. History Matters includes over 1000 primary sources, a fraction of the 12,000 files that make up the Valley of the Shadow, but nonetheless content on a sufficient scale to be considered more than just a teaching resource. Reflecting on why I didn’t think of sites like History Matters  as archives, it was because, moreso than projects conceived as archives, teaching sites surrounded their collections with guides to how to make meaning from them – with precisely the kind of context that I and others often found wanting in sites conceived as archives. Historical documents in History Matters, and other RRCHNM projects in this thread, are accompanied by annotations. Children and Youth in History also provides case studies of how to read and teach primary sources, and World History Matters and 1989 include scholar interviews that discuss how to interpret primary sources.

TAHA second strand of teaching projects at RRCHNM focused on K-12 teachers, and on providing professional development. Funded by the US Department of Education, through the TAH program, these projects involved RRCHNM partnering with local school districts. Beginning in 2002, the Center’s partners were Fairfax County (twice), Alexandria City, Fauquier County, Loudon County (twice), and Montgomery County (twice). The projects centered on workshops, summer institutes designed to connect teachers with the most recent historiography and pedagogy, supported by websites containing transcripts and videos of those events, platforms to help teachers collaborate with each other, lessons plans, source analysis modules, guides to online resources.

nhec_logo-300x114The proliferation of local projects, many of which lacked the online presence of those in which RRCHNM was involved, led the US Department of Education to decide that an online National History Education Clearinghouse was needed to broaden access and serve the needs of all teachers, and to shape a larger conversation about history education. In 2007, they selected RRCHNM working in partnership with Stanford University’s History Education Group, to create that clearinghouse, awarding the Center the largest single sum that it has received in its twenty year existence. The contract from the US Department of Education provided a guiding set of parameters for the project, including a plethora of offline activities such as an annual conference, print publications, policy analysis, and extensive face-to-face outreach.

THTeachinghistory itself includes material that spans the resources, reviews and examples of historical thinking found in our earlier projects, as well as the teaching materials, standards, lesson plans, and teaching guides of the TAH projects – but on a greater scale, and with more extensive use of video and multimedia, and with the addition of an extensive guide to digital tools for use in the classroom. The wealth of material in the sites themselves, as well as related material we’ll be making available before the conference, offer rich sources for examining the intersection of digital history and history teaching, and the changing technologies and approaches used to improve teaching practices and learning outcomes — a possible project for day one of RRCHNM’s 20th Anniversary conference, on November 14.

Teaching projects form a smaller part of the Center’s work at present than they have in the past – perhaps signaling some diminishing of the extent to which a focus on teaching distinguishes digital history from digital humanities. The TAH program has not been funded since 2011, and the NEH Division of Education Programs ended its grants for Teaching and Learning Resources and Curriculum Development, which had supported many RRCHNM teaching projects, in 2008. Kelly Schrum and her team in the Education Division at RRCHNM have taken their expertise in using digital media to develop resources for teachers and long experience working with teachers in new directions – education projects for Monticello, Ford’s Theater, National History Day, online professional development courses for teachers, and online digital history courses for higher education. Nonetheless, the steadily growing numbers of visitors to History Matters and Teachinghistory suggest no drop off in demand despite the shrinking resources for developing them.

One month until RRCHNM’s 20th Anniversary Conference

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

RRCHNM’s 20th anniversary is now only one month away. Over 100 people have registered to attend the free, two-day event on November 14 and 15. There is still time to join us – details and the registration form can be found here. More details of the schedule will be released soon.

As part of lead-up to the conference, RRCHNM’s director, Stephen Robertson, is writing a series of blog posts highlighting different aspects of the Center’s history. The first, CHNM’s Histories: Collaboration in Digital History, explores the Center’s early collaborations with the American Social History Project.

RRCHNM Partners with National History Day for WWII Teacher Institute

Monday, October 6th, 2014

National History Day (NHD) announced the 18 middle and high school teachers selected to participate in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s (ABMC) Understanding Sacrifice program. The selected teachers will conduct an in-depth study of World War II in northern Europe and create teaching activities using ABMC resources.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is partnering with NHD in this year-long program and will design the companion website to share the classroom activities developed through the teacher institute. The goal of the project is to provide classroom activities that are:

  • Accurate: grounded in current scholarship about WWII, the evolving role of ABMC, and the commemoration of WWII;
  • Engaging: shaped by recent research on teaching and learning about the past and focused on hands-on student interaction that promotes active learning — “doing history” — as well as learning from multiple disciplinary perspectives; and
  • Relevant: cross-curricular, flexible, and adaptable for a diverse range of middle and high school classroom settings.

In late October, the group will host the first teacher workshop on Mason’s Arlington Campus and will work with teachers throughout the year to develop activities. The institute culminates in a two-week field study of ABMC cemeteries in northern Europe.

“NHD is constantly looking for new opportunities to connect students with the past,” said NHD Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “We are fortunate to have this opportunity to work with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University to help the ABMC develop a website for Understanding Sacrifice that illuminates the service, experiences and sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen during World War II in northern Europe.”

About ABMC

Established by Congress in 1923, the American Battle Monuments Commission commemorates the service, achievements, and sacrifice of U.S. armed forces. ABMC administers 25 overseas military cemeteries, and 26 memorials, monuments, and markers. For more information visit www.abmc.gov.

About NHD

NHD is a non-profit education organization in College Park, MD. Established in 1974, NHD offers year-long academic programs that engage over half a million middle- and high-school students around the world annually in conducting original research on historical topics of interest. These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels, where the top student projects have the opportunity to advance to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. NHD also seeks to improve the quality of history education by providing professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators. NHD is sponsored in part by Kenneth E. Behring, Patricia Behring, HISTORY®, Jostens, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Park Service, Southwest Airlines, Weider History Group, Inc., and the WEM 2000 Foundation of the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation. For more information about NHD, visit www.nhd.org.

IMLS funds Opening Omeka for Close and Distant Reading

Monday, September 29th, 2014

RRCHNM is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a National Leadership Grant for Libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to fund Opening Omeka for Close and Distant Reading [LG-05-14-00125-14].

Over the course of the two decades since the invention of the web browser, the world’s libraries have provided digital access to a torrent of cultural heritage materials. For many libraries and special collections, Omeka has been the route to providing this kind of unprecedented public access to their holdings. While access to digitized materials is better than ever, average users do not have adequate tools to help them gain intellectual control over these materials—up close and at scale.

Libraries and archives with diverse collections need a new set of easy-to-use tools to enable visitors to engage in both distant and close reading, without requiring users to have knowledge of sophisticated programming languages. In some collections, an individual item may appear trivial and anecdotal. But, examining all items as a coherent corpus holds the promise of surfacing larger insights by evaluating large bodies of text in the aggregate. While some researchers interested in examining large-scale collections, researchers often also need to closely examine individual elements. This practice requires another set of tools, operating where the collections live, so that once the relevant sources have been identified and isolated, they are available for focused explication by a knowledgeable hand by highlighting, isolating, and annotating important elements within particular digital objects.

Opening Omeka for Distant and Close Reading (Oct. 2014-Sept. 2017) will produce four plugins for Omeka that will facilitate both the computational analysis of large collections of materials and their metadata, and the close reading and annotation of individual digitized sources:

Distant Reading

  • A word frequency plugin that will allow site creators and authorized users to offer a quantitative snapshot of an Omeka collection or another grouping of items
  • An n-gram plugin that will allow site creators and authorized users to chart the usage of words in document transcription in relationship to some other metadata variable, such as date or coverage

Close Reading

  • An annotation plugin that will allow site creators and guest users to add targeted commentary to image files, making aspects of their close reading visible
  • An annotation plugin that will allow site creators and guest users to add targeted commentary to text/transcription content

In the effort to support the adoption and use of these tools by content experts who work with existing Omeka collections, or who plan to build research collections in the future, RRCHNM will produce a series of step-by-step case studies and usages guides for each plugin, using the September 11 Digital Archive as the seedbed for these case studies, we will clearly demonstrate the benefits of using the tools to develop and communicate new insights about large-scale digital cultural heritage collections. Together with instructional guides and research case studies, these tools will help encourage enthusiastic and reluctant scholars alike to explore digital archives, which will lead them to ask new types of research questions and explore topics previously out of their grasp.

IMLS Funds Omeka Everywhere

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, in partnership with Ideum and the University of Connecticut’s Digital Media Center, is pleased to announce that it has been awarded a National Leadership Grant for Museums from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences to create Omeka Everywhere. Dramatically increasing the possibilities for visitor access to collections, Omeka Everywhere will offer a simple, cost-effective solution for connecting onsite web content and in-gallery multi-sensory experiences, affordable to museums of all sizes and missions, by capitalizing on the strengths of two successful collections-based open-source software projects: Omeka and Open Exhibits.

Currently, museums are expected to engage with visitors, share content, and offer digitally-enabled experiences everywhere: in the museum, on the Web, and on social media networks. These ever-increasing expectations, from visitors to museum administrators, place a heavy burden on the individuals creating and maintaining these digital experiences. Content experts and museum technologists often become responsible for multiple systems that do not integrate with one another. Within the bounds of tight budget, it is increasingly difficult for institutions to meet visitors’ expectations and to establish a cohesive digital strategy. Omeka Everywhere will provide a solution to these difficulties by developing a set of software packages—including Collections Viewer templates, mobile and touch tablet applications, and the Heist application—that bring digital collections hosted in Omeka into new spaces, enabling new kinds of visitor interactions.

Omeka Everywhere will expand audiences for museum-focused publicly-funded open source software projects by demonstrating how institutions of all sizes and budgets can implement next-generation computer exhibit elements into current and new exhibition spaces. Streamlining the workflows for creating and sharing digital content with online and onsite visitors, the project will empower smaller museums to rethink what is possible to implement on a shoestring budget. By enabling multi-touch and 3D interactive technologies on the museum floor, museums will reinvigorate interest in their exhibitions by offering on-site visitors unique experiences that connect them with the heart of the institution—their collections.

A New Look, and Improved Access and Stability for the September 11 Digital Archive

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

On this the 13th anniversary of the September 11th tragedy, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is proud to launch a newly upgraded and redesigned site for the September 11 Digital Archive (911DA). The new site boasts improved access to the archive’s collections and, more importantly, increased stability for the materials.

A National Park Services’ Saving America’s Treasures grant has made it possible to migrate the materials from their original digital repository to the most recent version of Omeka. The result is that the materials are significantly easier to navigate, browse, and search. Additionally, a range of video collections are available that were not being served previously. The site offers range of data feeds (RSS, ATOM, XML, JSON), and eventually we will be offering API access for researchers and developers who would like to explore the collections in new applications and interfaces.

For the past three years, Jim Safley has painstakingly engineered and executed the complex work of this data migration. As a veteran of the project, no one knows the collections the way that Jim does, and his careful attention to detail has assured the integrity of this data as it has made its journey from a labyrinthine hand-coded database to the standardized home in Omeka. Then, Sheila Brennan guided Ben Schneider and Jeri Wieringa as they added additional collection description, massaged the collections into their current organizational structure, and themed the site with the current design. These members of the 911DA team are only the most recent additions to a staff list that stretches back a dozen years and includes Dan Cohen, Tom Scheinfeldt, Marty Andolino, Joan Troyano, Rikk Mulligan, and our many collaborators at the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center (ASHP/CML) including Fritz Umback and Pennee Bender, under the direction of Joshua Brown and Steve Brier, who were RRCHNM’s partners on this work from the earliest days.

The September 11 Digital Archive originated as an off-shoot of ECHO: Exploring and Collecting the History Online project, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which experimented with new means to collect and preserve the recent history of science, technology, and industry. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, RRCHNM, again with support from the Sloan Foundation, partnered with our colleagues at ASHP/CML to turn the emerging techniques toward the effort to preserve the collect, preserve, and present the wide range of primary source materials generated by and in response to the events of that morning, especially born digital materials. In February 2002, the first iteration of the 911DA launched with a web portal that made it possible for ordinary people to contribute their stories, upload digital materials, and explore other people’s stories. The site drew in essential contributions channeled through our partners at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Library of Congress, The American Red Cross, The American Association of Museums, The Museum of the City of New York, The Brooklyn Historical Society, The New-York Historical Society, The Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at CUNY, Columbia University, New York University, The Museum of Chinese in America, and many others. In September 2003, the Library of Congress accepted a copy of the collection as it stood at that point as its first major digital accession.

In the intervening years, the archive has amassed 150,000 digital files: stories, photographs, digital art images, emails, voicemails, videos, animations, official documents, and oral histories. Together these materials offer a deep record of the immediate aftermath of the events in New York, Arlington, and Shanksville, and their subsequent shifting historical memory, and have been at the heart of much of the existing scholarship on September 11th. At the 10th anniversary of the attacks, RRCHNM reopened the collecting portal and it will remain open to capture public reflections into the future.

For RRCHNM, the 911DA is a marquee project that is at the root of much of our subsequent work in digital public history and software development. As our first major collecting project, the archive directly lead to our work around hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and the eventual development of Omeka as a software platform that could offer libraries, archives, museums, and humanities scholars an easy way to collect, preserve, and present evidence of the recent past. As we mark this next phase in the life of the 911DA, we hope that you’ll revisit the collections to explore what they have to tell us about the events of that September morning, but also with an eye to how important this archive has been to the development of digital history more generally.

Virginia Child Custody Project

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

ChildCustodyProjectThe Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is pleased to announce the launch of the Virginia Child Custody Project. This freely available website explores child custody in Virginia and nationally within a broad historical and legal context with the goal of providing an impartial, interdisciplinary resource grounded in humanities scholarship.

With funding from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at George Mason University, the website presents framing essays by leading scholars and practitioners on key issues in the complex field of child custody. Essays address topics such as the history of child custody in Virginia, the definition of family and child custody issues, child custody in the media, alternative dispute resolution, and the “best interests of the child” standard.

Authors include:

CHNM envisions expanding the project in the future to include custody laws and cases, recent research projects and studies, resource reviews, and links.

Doing Digital History in August

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

RRCHNM continued its summer of institutes in early August when 23 mid-career American historians arrived in Northern Virginia for “Doing Digital History.” Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities, the institute began on August 4 and ran for two weeks. Few of the participants expected to keep up with the workload of the intensive curriculum, but everyone left with new skills, new understandings of digital methodologies, and a new appreciation for the work required to build and sustain successful digital humanities projects.


The “Doing Digital History” Cohort (Photo courtesy of Karen Kossie-Chernyshev)

Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon led the group through a course designed to introduce historians, already established in their subject areas, to digital humanities scholarship, methods, and tools relevant to their own research and teaching in American history. Readings and discussions were coupled with demonstrations and hands-on work. Our participants created their own web domain, installed WordPress, and started blogging on Day 1. Megan Brett, Stephanie Grimes, Celeste Sharpe, and Spencer Roberts assisted throughout the institute by leading tutorials and supporting the participants. For example, Roberts created the “Historian’s Spreadsheet,” a guide to using simple functions in Excel for tidying data that was then widely circulated on Twitter and highlighted as a resource in the National Council on Public History’s weekly newsletter to its members.

“Doing Digital History” also featured instructors from RRCHNM and Mason’s History and Art History department who shared their digital humanities expertise with participants, including, Mike O’Malley, Lisa Rhody, Lincoln Mullen, and Joan Troyano. Fred Gibbs, formerly of Mason, returned from New Mexico to teach a day on text mining and Jeff McClurken visited from University of Mary Washington to lead a day on digitally-inflected pedagogy.

If you are interested in seeing how we crafted this curriculum, we invite you to review our schedule, read participants’ posts written during the institute, or browse the #doingdh14 tweetstream.

“Doing Digital History” was one of three institutes for advanced topics in the digital humanities funded by NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities to be run in 2014. Learn more about other grant programs at ODH, http://www.neh.gov/divisions/odh.

Art Historians, Rebuilding their Portfolios

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014

RRCNHM hosted an enthusiastic group of 22 art historians, librarians, and museum professionals for “Rebuilding the Portfolio,” a digital art history institute sponsored by the Getty Foundation. The self-identified novice participants began the institute on July 8, 2014 nervous and worried about the workload, but emerged two weeks later as confident, digital ambassadors.

During the institute, nicknamed “bootcamp” by some of the participants, Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon led the cohort through an intense course designed to introduce art historians to digital humanities scholarship, methods, and tools, while also directly connecting with their own work in art history. Readings and discussions were coupled with demonstrations and hands-on work. Megan Brett, Stephanie Grimes, Celeste Sharpe, and Spencer Roberts drew on their own digital work as graduate students in the history and art history program by leading demonstrations and supporting the participants in countless ways.


Rebuilding the Portfolio cohort, annotated in ThingLink by participant, Gina Tarver

Each participant registered a new web domain of their own; installed Zotero, WordPress, and Omeka; and learned to annotate, plot maps, tidy data, and visualize that data in different forms. Personal reflections of Rebuilding the Portfolio participants were aggregated and are available on the course site, with help of RRCHNM’s PressForward plugin.

We were impressed by the ways that each participant began to re-think their research projects and teaching over the course of the institute. Everyone reconsidered the ways that digital techniques might help them analyze art history sources and teach core concepts in new ways, while also thinking concretely about reaching new audiences with their scholarship.

Rebuilding the Portfolio is one of three pilot projects, supported by the Getty Foundation this summer to increase the number of professional development opportunities for training art histories in digital humanities methods.

Follow #doingdah14 to read Rebuilding the Portfolio’s conversation, and to follow UCLA’s Beyond the Digitized Slide Library institute running this week and next.

Inside Higher Ed Blog Post on Online Education

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media graduate research assistants, Nate Sleeter and Celeste Sharpe, and education division director Kelly Schrum will collaborate on a series of blog posts for Inside Higher Ed on the possibilities for student-centered online learning in the humanities. Drawing on experiences from RRCHNM-developed online courses for teachers including Hidden in Plain Sight http://edchnm.gmu.edu/hidden/, the series of three posts will explore the possibilities of online courses in the humanities.

As the authors write: “We will share lessons learned about what online learning environments can offer students. Thinking beyond the MOOC-related hype, what opportunities exist in online education? Does online education push us to rethink and re-envision our approach to teaching and learning? How do we take advantage of online classes for teaching history?”

Given that these courses are increasingly offered by universities as options for students whose schedules might not permit weekly attendance in a traditional course the authors believe it is vitally important to move beyond notions like “flipping the classroom” and the often acrimonious debate over MOOCs to serious discussions over online pedagogy in the humanities. Read the first post of the series here: http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/higher-ed-beta/beyond-flipping-classrooms.

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Since 1994, the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past. We sponsor more than two dozen digital history projects and offer free tools and resources for historians. Learn More

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Teachinghistory.org is the central online location for accessing high-quality resources in K-12 U.S. history education. Explore the highlighted content on our homepage or visit individual sections for additional materials.