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Celebrate 20 Years of RRCHNM in November 2014

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Plans are taking shape for the upcoming conference to mark the 20th anniversary of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, November 14-­15, 2014. The conference will reflect the spirit of THATCamp: the first day will be spent hacking the history of RRCHNM, working collectively to tell the story of how projects were created and what they tell us about digital history’s past. The second day will feature short talks by invited guests, each followed by extended discussion, and unconference­-style breakout sessions.

We’re thrilled that Edward Ayers, Brett Bobley, and Bethany Nowviskie have agreed to share their thoughts on the future of digital humanities centers, while Tim Hitchcock, William Thomas, Kathryn Tomasek and a collective of GMU graduate students will offer visions of the future of digital history. We’re inviting all the fantastic folks who have worked with and at RRCHNM over the past two decades to celebrate with us.

You only turn 20 once, and we want to do this right. So, in 2014 we will focus on the 20th anniversary events. This means a hiatus for THATCamp Prime in 2014, but we’re already talking about ideas for 2015.

The 20th anniversary event is free and registration will open in early 2014. In the coming months, we will post additional information to the RRCHNM blog and tweet updates from @chnm, tagged #rrchnm20. We hope to see many of you in November.

PressForward Editors-at-Large | DH Fellow’s Blog

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Amanda Morton (2nd year Digital History Fellow)

This semester the second year Digital History Fellows are sticking with one of the three divisions at RRCHNM (Research, Education, Public Projects) and participating in selected projects within those divisions. Some of us are coming in at the start of a new set of projects, while others are joining projects already in progress. There’s a certain benefit, I think, to being able to join a project in mid-flow and provide both an extra pair of hands and the type of feedback that comes from a fresh look at ongoing processes. By essentially acting as full-time floaters, we can also lend work hours and a different set of opinions to changes already set in motion,

I’ve been assigned to the Research Division this semester, directed by Sean Takats, and am currently spending the majority of my time working under Joan Fragaszy Troyano on the PressForward project. This project received an influx of graduate research assistants this semester, most of whom were, like myself, new to the division and to PressForward, and needed to be introduced to the way the different parts of the project are managed, particularly the weekly management of Digital Humanities Now.

A PressForward publication, Digital Humanities Now is a community-driven aggregator that calls upon volunteers to nominate content, then curates and publishes the best blog posts and news stories coming out of the DH community. One element of the management equation for DHNow, the way Editors-in-Chief communicate with and organize information for the Editors-at-Large — volunteers who nominate content for Digital Humanities Now — needed to be re-worked and streamlined to accommodate the addition of several new Graduate Research assistants to the project. This effort was also undertaken with an eye toward making the management of Editors-at-Large easier to share with groups using DHNow as a model for their own projects.

As a DH Fellow I was able to lend a hand to this redesign, working alongside Jeri Wieringa, one of the original PressForward GRAs who has a great deal of experience working with Editors-at-Large and organizing the associated data. The redesign that launched at the end of September includes a new section of the DHNow website that we’ve called our “Editors’ Corner,” designed to help Editors-at-Large choose and nominate content using the PressForward plugin, keep track of the weeks they’ve volunteered to edit, and provide feedback on the entire process. The changes we’ve made also streamline the way the Editors-at-Large system works on the administration side, automating emails and organizing form data, as well as utilizing bulk-upload plugins to make new user creation for the DHNow site (required to allow Editors-at-Large to nominate items using the PressForward plugin) faster and easier to manage.

This streamlining involved a variety of adjustments to the existing processes, from simple changes like modifying the structure of the Editor-at-Large sign-up form to give each week its own column, to more complicated changes that involved writing and/or modifying Google Apps Scripts to automate informational emails and confirmation messages.

Additionally, we are in the process of creating sets of instructions for using this new system, as well as the portion of the DHNow site dedicated to Editors-at-Large (DHNow’s Editors-at-Large Corner), so that projects with similar requirements can adapt these techniques to their own needs. DHNow has and continues to rely on free and open access tools such as Google Spreadsheets and Forms, in addition to free WordPress plugins. Our goal in this is to enable other projects to easily access and adopt our processes for creating community run, aggregated publications.

In the end, we’ve created a system that we hope will be an accessible and easy to use example of how other groups or organizations might manage a similar project. I’m delighted to have had the chance to participate in this process, and I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t volunteered to be an Editor-at-Large for DHNow to sign up now, and if you have, sign up again and check out the new Editors-at-Large Corner!

How can technology help teachers to teach historical and critical thinking? | DH Fellow’s Blogpost

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Amanda Regan (1st Year Digital history Fellow)

How can technology help teachers to teach historical and critical thinking?  Getting students to think critically about historical events rather than just memorizing the facts is challenging, but digital technology can help.  With so many new digital tools being developed each year, teachers are eager for resources to help locate free, quality tools that can help students become better critical thinkers and historians.

screen shot--teachinghistoryOne of the RRCHNM’s projects, Teachinghistory.org, has a section called Digital Classroom devoted to providing tips and resources for incorporating digital tools into the classroom.  The introductory video for Digital Classroom explains how digital tools can engage students and help them to think critically about the past.  The goal of Digital Classroom is to provide teachers with resources to help them incorporate digital technology in their classroom and to provide examples of how to enhance learning by using technology in the classroom.

To help teachers find free, digital tools for use in social studies classrooms, Digital Classroom includes a collection of digital tool reviews, called Tech for Teachers.  Over the last week the Digital History Fellows have been researching and writing reviews for this section and we’ve been thinking a lot about what kinds of digital tools are useful for teaching historical thinking skills in the classroom.

Tech for Teachers aims to provide detailed reviews of tools to help teachers evaluate ways in which it might be useful.  Each review provides an overview of what users will experience when they use the tool as well as what the most important or useful features might be.  Reviews generally include some examples or suggestions of ways that the tool is being used and may include examples of student work.  The goal of these reviews is not only to help teachers find digital tools but also to help them evaluate what the tool offers that makes it unique and useful for learning.

My Tech for Teacher’s review looked at a tool called myHistro which allows users to create “geolocated maps with a social twist.”  Timelines and maps are two tools that are commonly used to teach history.  However, now these tools have gone digital and several sites have created platforms that combine the two.  They allow users to create interactive stories that utilize timelines, maps, and multimedia such as videos and photos to tell a story.  Using these tools encourages students to think critically about historical events, their causes and effects, and how individual events culminate into a larger movement.

screen shot--myhistro

To help teachers see how students and teachers are using myHistro, I provided several examples and discussed how teachers might use this tool as either a presentation or as an assignment for students.  Many teachers are using myHistro as an assignment for group projects in which students create a story about the development of a historical event or movement.  One example is the student project, Road to the Civil War, where students created a story composed of the events that they thought led to the Civil War.  Beginning with the Louisiana Purchase and ending with the election of Lincoln in 1860, the students reflected on each event and wrote a synopsis about why each event led to the Civil War.  Another example is a collaborative AP U.S. History project where each student added an event related to their curriculum.  The story was then a review source that included all the major events the class had discussed and could be used to help study for the AP exam.

While researching and writing my Tech for Teachers review, I learned a lot about how K-12 teachers are using technology to teach historical thinking in the classroom.  One thing that I took away is that integrating technology into the classroom is a complicated process. Guiding students to use a digital tool in a way that will improve upon traditional ways of teaching history requires a great deal of planning.  I came to appreciate how much thought and critical evaluation is necessary for digital tools to be used effectively in a classroom setting.  Good history teaching is first and foremost based on good historical thinking skills.  Digital tools and technology help to guide, challenge, and engage students but they don’t do that on their own.  The technology must be paired with teaching skills to critically engage history.

How It’s Made: Public History Projects | DH Fellow’s Blogpost

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Spencer Roberts (2nd Year Digital history Fellow)

In a recent conversation, a friend inquired about the projects on which I am working here at the RRCHNM. I explained that I am currently assigned to a project about the War of 1812 on behalf of the National Park Service, and described the basic elements of the project. “I understand the project,” she replied, “but what do you actually do?”

Our exchange illuminated an issue that seems obvious but is rarely addressed: the average American is told little about the work that goes into producing public history or heritage projects. Although such projects and exhibits dot the social landscape in parks, museums, galleries, libraries, books, and the web, the processes of preserving, interpreting, and presenting the past are largely hidden from users. In response to these observations, I’d like to describe some of work done by researchers to produce public history projects.

Each project taken on by the RRCHNM staff has unique characteristics that shape the processes by which it is built, but some projects inevitably require similar constructions. The September 11 Digital Archive, the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, and other projects all required a platform to host large collections of digital materials; as a result, development staff spent time designing databases, interfaces, and processes that ensure effective and efficient preservation and presentation of archived material. The results of that work are usually invisible to the user, hidden in the background or simply presented without loud attribution. A project without visible seams will cause fewer inquiries about its design.

One answer to these recurring needs is Omeka, a “free, flexible, and open source web-publishing platform for the display of library, museum, archives, and scholarly collections and exhibitions.” Many projects are built upon the foundations provided by the Omeka platform, and staff now spend more time customizing the visual, functional, and historical components of these sites. Additionally, researchers spend some of their time testing the updates for upcoming versions of Omeka, which improves subsequent projects at the center, but also supports users of Omeka who build projects at other institutions and centers. The work of the public projects division at RRCHNM has increasingly been expanded to include both production of projects and resources for building.

Another major task for public projects is historical interpretation and representation. For the War of 1812 project, for instance, our research team is not designing a new site for hosting a collection; we are, instead, designing historical content and packages that fit into the existing NPS structures. Given specific functional and presentational limitations, we brainstormed ways in which we could shape the experience of users and best represent the complexities of a little-known war. In some ways, this project is a sober reminder of the restrictions often placed on researchers in a field with limited funding, few resources, and overextended staff. Not every project can afford to build a new site, create a new archive, or even redesign the look of existing sites. In these cases, researchers must be innovative within constraints.

The specific tasks for researchers vary across different projects. In some cases, they must double-check the transcriptions provided by volunteers, ensuring accuracy despite limited resources. At times, they might write brief historical summaries for virtual exhibits, enabling tourists to glimpse the unknown past of a battlefield or National Mall. Recently, I have been finding evidence about individuals who lived during the War of 1812 and whose stories will illustrate some of the historical arguments we have chosen to present. We believe that the stories of a war widow, a deserter, a politician, a nurse, a soldier, a surgeon, or a traitor can help illuminate the past, and provide a basis from which to build an interpretation of the events and decisions of that time.

To return to our question at the outset, researchers on public history projects (and in many areas) might easily have a different task each day and may never repeat those tasks. Describing what researchers do is difficult because it changes regularly; describing what researchers have done provides typical examples and possibilities. More important than asking what, however, is asking how. In all tasks, researchers use critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and other scholarly skills to ensure that their product meets the standards expected by their peers and the public. For graduate students, observing how research is conducted in each task is the most important lesson.

The Challenges of Making a Challenge | DH Fellow’s Blogpost

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Anne McDivitt (1st year Digital History Fellow)

For the past few weeks at the Center for History and New Media, my fellow first year Digital History Fellows and myself were assigned to work in the Education division, which produces projects that are designed to teach history to a wide scope of people through various educational resources. While in the Education division, we have been working with a new web project meant to engage and educate the audience by allowing them to examine liberty in the United States in a new and interesting way. This is achieved by incorporating age and ability-appropriate “challenges” and access to primary documents and images. This project seeks an audience of teachers, K-12 students, as well as the general public.
There are intriguing methods in creating a challenge for students. While creating our own challenge for the project, there were multiple questions that we had to ask ourselves. First, what was the goal of the project? What did we want the students to achieve from doing the challenge? What skills would they use? In terms of examining the sources, we attempted to view them in an analytic manner, but with a basic guided direction so that the students do not get overwhelmed. We wanted the students to come away with an understanding of the importance of understanding not only the document itself, but also their context. By giving the students a choice of what documents they could utilize for their own project, it allows them to view our examples and use the skills they gained to create an interesting project from their understanding.
Although this project has yet to publicly launch, I have been testing the website from multiple angles to ensure that it will work properly for the end users. This has certainly been a fun process for me, as I have had to work as both a teacher and a student! This meant that I had to get myself into a mindset of, “if I were in tenth grade, how would I have completed this assignment? What did I know? What did I not know?” It was also quite engaging to utilize the primary documents and photographs in conjunction with the provided tools to create interesting projects with the website. I would imagine that K-12 aged students would also find this to be quite exciting, but I also think that it would be a fun experience for teachers who are designing challenges for their students, as well. I know all of the DH Fellows that worked on this project took our assignments very seriously beyond just the testing phase, as we worked for hours to perfect our challenge assignments!

Readings Course in Digital History | DH Fellow’s blogpost

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Ben Hurwitz (2nd year Digital History Fellow)

Since its inception, the George Mason history PhD program has emphasized exposure to the Digital Humanities (DH). The program requires completion of two courses that introduce students to digital tools and developments in the DH community. In addition to these courses and others, the department also allows students to pursue a minor field in Digital History.

This summer, seven graduate students, including four graduate research assistants at RRCHNM, participated in a readings course to complete the Digital History minor. Working with Dr. Kelly Schrum, our class explored creative uses for social media, games, digital maps, and data visualizations. This readings course was atypical in that the students were expected to demonstrate mastery through frequent creative assignments in addition to discussing influential publications and debates within the field.

The products of these assignments demonstrate the wide-ranging applications of digital technology for teaching, learning, research, and presentation of scholarship. For example, in one assignment I used Google Art Project to create a gallery of artwork depicting sheep and shepherds. Using this gallery, I showed that sheep are often associated with specific concepts, such as solitude, religious devotion, or an idyllic landscape. Within minutes, I was able to gather and organize sources in order to visually support an argument about popular perceptions of sheep farming (you can see the gallery and a fuller explanation here). Here we had an exercise that was quick and low-tech, yet could create a meaningful product. It was easy to see how this same exercise could be formatted into a valuable learning assignment for history students.

At the other end of the spectrum, David Mackenzie’s interactive map, Santa Anna Goes to Washington, resulted from very detailed original research. The map retraces Santa Anna’s 1836 journey, providing precise locations where the general’s party is known to have stopped. These locations are annotated with valuable primary and secondary source material. David’s project provides the user with a rich understanding of a strange and fascinating journey. Furthermore, the process of compiling the map was in itself a fruitful exercise that furthered his understanding of Santa Anna and his research more broadly.

That leads me to the most important lesson learned in this course – that people learn more by doing, by interacting, and by creating. This simple rule applies equally to students in a classroom, to visitors in a museum, and to readers of scholarship. The Internet has made a vast amount of historical source material available to a wide audience, but it has also opened the door for greater engagement with that same material. As teachers, we have the opportunity to create more interactive classrooms where students are able to explore sources and create products independently. As scholars, we have the opportunity to improve our research while drawing our audience toward a closer reading of our work.

It is lamentable that in many ways our discipline is dominated by final products, from the way students are graded to the way academic scholarship is judged. In this course, we privileged process over product; methodologies were always shared and creative failures were accepted, even celebrated. If we can imagine for one minute that the Internet had never existed, it would still be in our interest, from a pedagogical perspective, to place more emphasis on the process of doing history. Given the reality of our digital environment, more interactive forms of teaching and scholarship are steadily gaining appeal. This course, and the minor field more generally, have helped me to anticipate changes in a field where students and other audience members will be increasingly involved in the process.

The Impact of Education Projects | DH Fellow’s blogpost

Monday, September 16th, 2013

As fellows in the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, my cohort and I will spend the better part of this year working within the three divisions, engaged in hands-on work with the tools and projects CHNM produces.

We’ve begun our foray in the educational projects division of CHNM and as I described in my introductory blog, the content and materials created and maintained in this area are expansive. Projects like Children and Youth in History, Popular Romance, History Matters, and others, are built with commitment to open access content and resources in history education. And these efforts consistently earn awards. The American Association for State and Local History recently recognized CHNM’s Teachinghistory.org with a 2013 Leadership in History Award of Merit.

But how do we evaluate the impact of the work that we do? As we assess the resources required, apply for funding, and think about site maintenance, this is a question that we frequently revisit in the digital humanities. I took the opportunity to sit down with Kelly Schrum, director of educational projects at CHNM and director of Teachinghistory.org, and Jennifer Rosenfeld, associate director of educational projects at CHNM, to discuss impact and their vision of work within the Center.

As they explained, impact may be measured in terms of reach: How many people utilize the resources CHNM provides? Who are they? Teachinghistory.org (launched in 2007 with funding from the U.S. Department of Education), for instance, is a free, online resource for K-12 teachers. The site receives more than a million unique visitors and 100 million hits each year. According to an independent evaluation, the majority of visitors to the site are K-12 teachers, but its resources are also accessed by librarians, homeschoolers, public historians, curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teacher educators.

The growth of Teachinghistory.org, as Rosenfeld described, relied on a combination of substantive, relevant content and a commitment to building an audience. What CHNM has found is that when one teacher finds the content useful, they share it. And in turn those educators recommend it to others. In fact, of those surveyed, 88% of respondants indicated that they were very or extremely likely to recommend it to a friend and over a third learned about the site from a colleague. 98% of users said they found what they were looking for and more than 40% found more than expected.

Impact can also be described in terms of scope. Teachinghistory.org provides a wealth of primary and secondary source materials as well as multimedia content (averaging 5 terabytes of bandwidth usage annually). These are not merely databases of digitized sources, however. The site also provides guides on how to use primary sources, lesson plans, instructional videos, history quizzes, teaching strategies, and examples of best practices. An important aspect of this content is that it allows for many ways of teaching history. Teachers are able to utilize these resources in part or whole as they structure their teaching.

CHNM is committed to creating resources that teachers can share and integrate into their classrooms in multiple ways. As Schrum and Rosenfeld shared with me, we create digital content with many audiences in mind. For example, the Teachinghistory.org homepage features a video called “What is Historical Thinking?” Interestingly, Dr. Schrum and Rosenfeld have noted that not only do teachers use it, but also professional development coordinators and museum educators conducting teacher workshops. The Center endeavors to craft content in a way that shapes the experience of users and lends itself to flexibility of application. To this end, emphasis has been placed on producing resources that connect teachers to digital tools, website reviews, and strategies for effective teaching in history classrooms.

Impact may also be assessed by the degree to which the content shapes and promotes new teaching strategies. CHNM demonstrates a commitment to promoting professional development for educators.  For example, CHNM created a guide for developing successful professional development partnerships with museums, historic sites, and libraries.

Further, the Center offers two online, asynchronous professional development courses for teachers – Virginia Studies in the fall and Hidden in Plain Sight in the spring. Not only do these courses engage teachers with content in new ways, but teaching practices and tools are also addressed. Dr. Schrum and CHNM Graduate Research Assistant Nate Sleeter described the impact of this type of teaching programming in a recent article in OAH Magazine of History [extract available here].

As a CHNM fellow, a key aspect of my experience here has been learning about the behind-the-scenes work that is required to develop and maintain the range of projects at CHNM. As someone new to the field of digital history, I was curious about key differences between analog and digital teaching with no real idea of the varied tools and resources available here. What I’ve learned from this exercise is just how much reflecting and revising is required in order to maintain a responsive, living resource, and how broad the impact of these resources has been.

Jannelle Legg

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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

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.