Reflections on the End of the Semester

For the last part of our first semester at RRCHNM, we were asked to create Omeka exhibits for the 20th anniversary website.  Since I’m studying the Revolutionary Era and have been interested in the Papers of the War Department since I arrived at the center earlier this fall, it was an easy decision to take on PWD for an Omeka exhibit.  However, the farther along I got into the project, the more complicated I realized it was going to be.

In all honesty, it took me a lot longer than normal to figure out what the heck I was doing.  It’s not that I misunderstood the directions, it’s that I couldn’t wrap my head around telling the story of PWD with Omeka without  replicating the site that already existed.  How do you tell the history of a virtual archive and a plugin like Scripto without much visual data outside of grants?  I wasn’t alone either.  Jordan, Alyssa, and I all stared at each other for a few days over our projects, trying to figure out how we can get our stories across without being text heavy and with more visuals.

Fortunately, Sharon Leon—director of Public Projects—came to my rescue.  Sharon not only told me  the fascinating story behind the creation of PWD, but she graciously gave me sets of graphs, an article she had written about Scripto and PWD, and a few leads on what would make great visuals for an Omeka exhibit.  Since we only had to have four pages for our exhibit, I decided to dedicate one page to Sharon’s article and graphs, one page on reviews of PWD by outside sources, a narrative on the creation of Scripto for PWD, and a page on Scripto from the administrator’s point of view.  While my themes don’t exactly tell a fluid narrative, with only four pages and a topic with very few visuals, the project turned out fine.

However, I will add that this exhibit was definitely not my best from the rush of the end of the semester and the amount of visuals I had to tell my story.  I am very excited that Dr. Robertson is letting us work on our exhibits into next semester and on our own time because I still believe that there is much to be done on the project and resources that I have yet to tap into.  I believe that adding a few oral histories on people who worked on both PWD and Scripto, as well as copies of grants would make this project much better.  The story of PWD is fascinating and deserves a clear and detailed exhibit, which is something that calls for much more time, research, and resources.  I have all the faith that this project will come together in the spring.

Reflections on the Seminar

This blog post will conclude my first semester in the PhD program here at George Mason University. The semester moved by very quickly and it is amazing to see how much we have all learned from the fellowship. Each divisional rotation expanded my understanding of the field of Digital History as well as my own capabilities within it. Our final rotation for the semester was a seminar with Dr. Stephen Robertson. Largely focused on the recent 20th Anniversary of the Center, I was able to learn a lot more about digital history centers in general and how they function.

We started the seminar with a list of readings on Digital Humanities Centers. It was interesting to compare what we were reading to our experiences over the last four months. I was surprised to see the complexity in establishing DH Centers. Issues were raised over where the center would reside, what function would the center have, and even if creating a center is the right thing to do. I reflected on my reasoning for applying to GMU. George Mason ranked high on my list of graduate schools because of I wanted to work at CHNM.  If I knew of a professor who worked in DH but didn’t operate in a center, would that deter me from applying to that university or program? I really liked Stephen Ramsey’s post Centers are People where he articulated a preconceived notion that I had in applying to programs. He states that for many, centers are how you get into DH. However, he goes on to highlight how this isn’t always the case. These questions about centers are really interesting to me as I aim to be a collegiate professor who is also a digital historian.

After our brief crash course in DH centers, we focused the remainder of our time on the 20th Anniversary. We thought it would be a great resource if we aggregated the tweets from the two days of the conference using Storify.  Using the #rrchnm20, we went back through twitter and grouped the tweets according to the day and session of the conference. The ability to do this capped off my largely increased appreciation for twitter that I have developed over the semester. I have come to greatly appreciate it as a platform to communicate with other scholars and to disseminate information and ideas. It also, as I learned from this, a convenient and easy way to categorize and save these communications. I can truly say that I have been converted. The saved tweets can be found here.

The majority of the seminar focused on creating an Omeka exhibit for the 20th site. Having recently come out of our rotation through Public Projects, I was interested in the history of the September 11 Digital Archive. We, the first year fellows, had the opportunity to add metadata to recently received items, so I had a little experience with the archive itself. The approach I took was to contextualize the Archive with its place in CHNM’s history. How was it influenced by other projects? Did it feed into or help bring about other projects? How does a center preserve a project over time? In locating the Archive in the overall story that is CHNM, I learned a lot. I was able to explore other Digital Memory Banks that the Center has created such as Blackout History Project and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. I was able to read through the various documents for the Archive which addressed interesting points such as what to do with submission that could be falsified or blatantly racist. Also I was able to come to appreciate the magnitude of such a project and the importance of collecting history online. If you would like to see my exhibit, follow the link here.

I found the topic of the seminar, on that of DH centers and the history of CHNM, to be a great way to wrap up this whirlwind of a semester. Each of the three divisions allowed us a glimpse into the various projects CHNM undertakes and broadened my understanding of the field. The seminar allowed us to step back and take in the broader sense of centers and their functionality in the discipline. I am coming away with a greater understanding and  even more questions.

Reflections on the Fall Semester in Research

This year I am a second year fellow and am spending the year in the Research Division working on PressForward.  In addition to working on PressForward, I’ve continued to be involved in the Support Space, Digital Campus, and mentoring the new fellows. Over the course of this semester the PressForward team has been busy wrapping up the first PressForward grant and, in October, we began PressForward 2 which was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  As one of the GRAs on this project I’ve worked on multiple things over the course of the semester including redesigning the PressForward website, continuing to manage DHNow, and was involved in putting together the most recent issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities. In the midst of all of this, we’ve been refining and further developing the next version of the PressForward plugin.  I’ve been testing the plugin and have even started contributing code to the most recent version.

This summer I was given the opportunity to work on PressForward and this enabled me to get a head start on my assignment for this year.  It was incredibly useful to be around for the launch of the plugin and to be able to use the summer to really familiarize myself with the plugin, Digital Humanities Now and other aspects of the division.  In our brief rotation through Research last Spring we didn’t get to spend a lot of time looking at the nitty gritty details of how DH Now or PressForward work.  Over the summer I was able to take some time to familiarize myself with the organization of the plugin and the daily administrative work for DHNow.  It turned out to be such a useful summer because I returned in the Fall ready for the fast paced wrap up of PressForward 1 and the beginning of our implementation phase.

Among the projects I undertook in Research this semester, redesigning the PressForward website took a large amount of my time.  PressForward 2 is an implementation grant and over the next 14 months we will be working with several partners to develop publications using the plugin.  In this new capacity, I was asked to help redesign the website and transition from a blog about a research project on scholarly communication to a website focused on our plugin and its features.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at both the Omeka and Zotero websites and thinking about what made a good digital humanities tool website.  How do you effectively communicated the major features of the tool and its application for both humanities projects and more general use?  The PressForward plugin is available on the WordPress directory and has a wide range of applications outside of just academic publishing.  The website needed to reflect both applications and focus on what makes PressForward different from a standard RSS reader.  Furthermore, it needed to have support forums as we begin to develop a community of users.  Both Omeka and Zotero have very broad and dedicated communities that contribute to these open source projects.  PressForward 2 will be, in part, about cultivating a similar community for our tool and that begins with support and education about the plugin and its uses.

Looking at other examples, I designed a site that very much mirrored the organization of both the Omeka and Zotero sites.  On the homepage the dominant area is filled with tabs that each focus on a key feature of PressForward: the overall point of the plugin, features for collecting, features for discussing, and features for sharing content.  In each tab a large download button takes the user to the PressForward GitHub repository. Below the features are links to each pilot partner’s web page and a link to our blog.  This was a very useful project because it led me to not only think about the way digital humanities tools communicate their goals but also I learned quite a bit of php while I hacked around in the theme. It worked out that I happened to be taking Lincoln Mullen’s Programming for Historians class at the same time and the skills I had learned in that class complimented this project, and working a bit with php, well.  As we move forward I’ll be doing some more theme development for PressForward 2 and will also be contributing, what I can, to UI/UX issues on new versions of the plugin.

In addition to all my work on the PressForward project, I have also been participating in running the Digital History Support Space which is always a rewarding experience.  Over the course of the semester we’ve helped numerous people from all of the Clio I courses and we expect to have more frequent visitors next semester during Clio II.

In November, the center had its twentieth anniversary conference and opened up the API for the archive that we began building last Spring (and Jannelle Legg spent all summer refining and adding content). On Friday, the first day of the conference, a few of us decided to use the API to make a network graph of all the people and projects at the center.  We coded like mad for the whole day, and—with a lot of help from Lincoln Mullen—we ended the day with three network visualizations. I think this was an interesting way to wrap up our work from last year on the archive and was a practical use of the skills Jannelle Legg and I had been learning in Lincoln Mullen’s Programming for Historians seminar.  The visualization reflects some of the decisions we made when creating the archive last summer and the some of the limitations of the archive.  All of the nodes and edges on the graph represent the information provided on the coversheets of grants.  As a result, staff that were hired after the grant was awarded are not reflected on the graph and grants that were iterative aren’t necessarily connected.  I think the project was a great example of the choices that have to made when creating a digital archive and was a fun way to wrap up the project we began last Spring. The visualization is available here. (The visualization was a collaborative effort by: Ken Albers, Peter Carr Jones, Lincoln Mullen, Patrick Murray-John, Allison O’Connor, and Faolan Cheslack-Postava).

We also have a new cohort of Fellows this year and at the beginning of the semester we paired off each second year with a first year to act as a mentor.  Our role is to mentor them throughout their first year.  Their first rotation this semester was through research and over the course of their first two weeks they worked on PressForward and Digital Humanities Now. I helped walk them through the goals of the project and showed them how the plugin worked.  They watched me do Editor in Chief and then served as Editors At Large before taking on Editor in Chief themselves. Walking them through the projects, I was struck by how much of a better understanding of the center and the various projects I have now than when I first began at the center.  Looking back on our first year, its impressive the range of material we were introduced to and the ways it complimented our coursework to provide us with a unique perspective on Digital History.   I’m really looking forward to continuing to work with the new fellows and having one of them in Research next semester.

Seminar Reflection

My final reflection for the semester is on the first year fellows’ time in the seminar block. We began our first week with a group of readings on the establishment, structure, and dissolution of digital history centers in addition to readings on the history of the Center. During the discussion of the readings, we talked about the physical location of DH centers, many of which are housed within university libraries. While that seems to be a reasonable and logical choice, it is not always best for DH centers for various reasons, least of all funding. This particularly peaked my interest because, as a librarian, I can see how placing these centers within libraries would impact libraries and the services they provide to their patrons, as well as how such a location would impact the libraries internally and the DH centers.

We also worked on compiling the information and notes taken during the 20th anniversary conference. We edited the Google docs from the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions and created an archive of the Tweets from the conference through Storify. All of this work can be accessed here. I am glad we were able to re-visit the notes from the sessions, and adding a synopsis and further resources was helpful in reminding me of the breadth of discussion that occurred at the conference. It’s also been convenient since I was unable to attend all of the sessions that I wanted to, as many of them overlapped.

Finally, we began working on our final projects for the semester. I’m working on a timeline using Timeline JS that maps out the birth of various technologies, centers, projects, works of scholarship, and blogs. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the timeline if it hadn’t been for Anne, Mandy, and Jannelle’s work on DH centers, this map from Vox, and this timeline from the Pew Research Center. It has been interesting to see what has overlapped, when certain technologies came out and how that affected centers, the first digital history projects, and the birth of blogs. It’s been difficult to find a stopping point for adding information to the timeline – there is always more that can be put in, since the history of digital history encompasses so many things. For example, I know that the timeline would really benefit from a history of CMS; adding in death dates of centers when appropriate; a history of flash; a history of CD ROMs; and more DH projects from other centers. As it is, I already have over 200 entries on the timeline, and the process has proved to be very time consuming, but also fascinating and fun. I am hoping to create four pages within an Omeka exhibit that explore Firefox and Zotero; blogging technologies; open access/open source; and Who Built America. All of our final projects will be put up on the RRCHNM 20 site.

Reflections on the Fall Semester

It has been a busy and beneficial fall semester as a second-year fellow at CHNM. The time rolled along quickly and throughout I’ve had a number of new opportunities and experiences that have built on the work that we did last year as first-year fellows.

As a second-year fellow in the center, our roles at the center changed considerably. The first year of the fellowship focused on circulating us through each division at the center – a six-week process that exposed us to the various projects and enabled us to work with faculty and staff throughout CHNM. The second year of the fellowship has been much more concentrated. My work in the Education division has afforded me more time on a project and allowed me to work more directly with members of that division. In turn I’ve been able to understand the facets of the project to which I have contributed and have enjoyed greater integration into the division.

Getting Started with Phase 1 of 100 Leaders:

In this case, the majority of the fall semester was spent working on the 100 Leaders in World History project. The site, which I have reviewed here, allows for interaction with historical figures on the subject of leadership and encourages teachers and students to extend these subjects further by rating these figures on particular leadership traits. CHNM was selected by National History Day to develop and design the site last Spring. At the start of the semester the site was still in the first phase of development. I worked to add the content from National History Day to each of the pages and familiarized myself with the back-end structure of Drupal. Throughout this period I had a number of interesting conversations with Jennifer Rosenfeld about the complexities and challenges of creating interactive and educational materials for the web. I learned a good deal about the importance of collaboration on a project of this scale. With over 100 distinct pages on the site, minor edits, like the addition of italicization, called for discussion, notation, and a division of labor to ensure that each page was updated appropriately.

Mentoring and moving into Phase 2:

As the semester rolled on, the first-year fellows circulated into the Education department for a four-week accelerated rotation. Stephanie, Jordan, and Alyssa each completed a blog post that described their experiences. During this period I took on a larger role in mentoring them and organized each of the activities we would undertake. We began with user testing across browsers and devices. At this stage, the 100 Leaders in World History project had entered the second phase of development and this user testing aided in the development and design of the current voting interface and served to test and validate that the underlying voting algorithm was capturing and recording appropriately. We consistently tried our best to break everything and shared our findings with Jennifer and James McCartney for improvement. (Anyone viewing the site on a smartphone will appreciate our feedback as the larger slider buttons were a direct result of these tests!)

Next, we worked to gather image content and citation information for videos on the site. At first, our discussions focused on digital images and copyright, but soon we turned our attention to issues of diversity and representation in terms of time period, geographic region, gender, race, ethnicity, and type of leadership. We tried to be thoughtful in our selections, considering the ability of a single image to convey particular types of information about a leader or juxtaposing images to create alternate or additional meaning about a figure or figures. The final activity undertaken with the help of the first year fellows was the creation of a guidebook that will aid National History Day in modifying and maintaining the 100 Leaders in World History site.

Each of these activities was useful in demonstrating the different complications that accompany large-scale, collaborative, educational websites. User testing encouraged us to deal with the user experience and to gain insight into the processes required to build a site of this size. Contributing images moved us back into our comfort zones as historians doing research on particular subjects- but the added complication of copyright was useful in expanding the Fellows’ thinking about what digital historical research entails. While we each campaigned for our favorite images or leaders, we also took seriously the importance of crafting a meaningful visual narrative that supported the dialogue of each video. Finally, the guidebook allowed an introduction to the back-end of a Drupal site and encouraged us to think through questions about making navigation easier and more efficient to those without experience programming.

Working on 100 Leaders after the launch:

After the first-year fellows completed their rotation in the Education division, my work continued to focus on the completion of the Guidebook as well as video transcription, user testing, data manipulation and a website review. On November 3rd, the voting interface on the 100 Leaders in World History site went live. To aid in marketing the site and to inform teachers about how it could be used in the classroom, I wrote a summary of the site’s features for Teachinghistory.org. This website review encouraged me to revisit my earlier discussions with Jennifer about online learning and to view the 100 Leaders in World History site with fresh eyes. Since then, interest in the site has exploded and we have recorded over 200,000 votes in just over a month. It has been a busy but useful semester for me in Education and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to a project like 100 Leaders.

CHNM Anniversary:

In November, CHNM celebrated its 20th anniversary with a conference held here at George Mason. As I described here, the second-year fellows spent a portion of last spring engaged in a discussion about the history of the center. From that seminar with Dr. Robertson, each of us researched a foundational project in the center’s history and created an archive in Omeka to organize and display our findings. Over the summer I worked to expand our efforts to include the broader range of projects using grant materials, oral histories, and internal communications to trace the development and growth of important projects. As a relative newcomer to the field, this process was particularly meaningful. This work culminated this fall in the release of the RRCHNM20 Collection which made these materials public and invited others to contribute. The RRCHNM20 Collection is an important step toward creating a unified narrative of CHNM’s role through recording and preserving the hidden processes and persons at each phase of CHNM’s history. In fact, a group of us used a portion of our time at the conference to mine the RRCHNM collection and create a visualization that represents some of the connections between projects and people across 20 years.  Furthermore, the conference events brought former and current employees together in a productive and meaningful dialogue about the past, present and future of work at DH centers like CHNM (I live-tweeted these experiences throughout the conference.)

Additional Fellowship Responsibilities and final thoughts:

The additional responsibilities of a second-year fellow include producing a podcast, serving as a mentor to first-year fellows and the operation of the Digital Support Space. It was interesting to be on the other side of the mentorship process this year. Last year, Ben Hurwitz, Spencer Roberts, and Amanda Morton served as mentors to the incoming fellows. They were each very helpful to us and I was excited to provide the same assistance for the new group. Across the semester I’ve made myself available to each of them for support, but my interaction during their rotation in the Education division was particularly significant. During that period I was able to provide direct support and work with each of them individually on a project. Not only do I feel that I got to know them better, but we had a number of useful conversations about the fellowship and the PhD program broadly. I also worked this semester with my mentee, Jordan, to research and produce episode 108 for the Digital Campus podcast. Finally, I also extended time and resources to individuals in Clio I, Clio 3, and Digital Storytelling classes through the Support Space.

Overall, has been a fast and busy semester but a successful one. I’ve learned a good deal about project management and collaboration through my experiences on the 100 Leaders in World History project and I’m pleased to have had the chance to work more closely in the Education division.

 

Reflections on the Fall Semester

During the fall semester, I was assigned to work in Public Projects, which has been a wonderful experience for me. Most of my time during the semester was spent working on Histories of the National Mall, including writing content, editing, and working to choose and distribute content throughout the social media platforms (Facebook, Tumblr) every week. I’ve felt like this has greatly enhanced my ability to think in terms of a public audience for history, as I tend to think of questions such as “will this topic fit with the date?”, “what type of interest would this gauge?”, and “how do I use the content to create more buzz for the site?” We were able to gain several new followers through social media during my time in Public Projects, which I think was both good for myself and the project.

Writing content for the site was also helpful, since it allowed me to think in ways of presenting concise but historically relevant and accurate information to the public. In the past, I have created exhibits, but working online where people have many options of clicking away from the content, it is important to consider how to catch and hold attention. I feel that working on this project has made me think in different and new ways, which I think strengthens me as a digital historian going forward.

One of the most fulfilling parts of my semester was the opportunity to mentor the new Digital History Fellows. Although Alyssa Toby Fahringer is my official mentee from the new cohort, I tried to assist Stephanie Seal and Jordan Bratt as much as possible, too. As a group, we assist each other in the Digital History Fellow space, asking for advice, bouncing off ideas, and also continuing the successful Digital History Support Space.

I also got to continue my work as a producer for the Digital Campus Podcast. With Alyssa, we were able to work on a couple of podcasts, including the back to campus edition and the live podcast at the 20th Anniversary Conference for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. These podcasts provide an interesting and unique opportunity for the Digital History Fellows to get insight into the field from current experts, do our own research into what stories are important, as well as to plan how to present the content in an interesting way so that listeners will want to hear that episode.

Lastly, I had the great opportunity this semester to be a part of the 20th Anniversary Conference for the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. After last semester’s contribution to the creation of the website, a lot of time was spent this semester prepping more for the conference. As DH Fellows, we were able to attend sessions and serve as scribes to ensure the content of the the conference was available once the conference was finished. I also chose to livetweet the conference as well, which provided my own insight into what I experienced.

Overall, this has been a very productive and enlightening semester for me. I have been able to consider different realms of digital history, such as the public consumption of content, social media, working with new colleagues, and celebrating the history of CHNM while exploring the future of digital humanities.

Reflections on #RRCHNM20

I always know I chose the right profession when conference season comes around.  I get excited for conferences like children get excited for Christmas and  every year I plan my schedule around them.  When I found out that the Roy Rosenzweig Center or History and New Media 20th anniversary conference landed on my birthday this year, it seemed appropriate.

However, the RRCHNM20 was unlike any history conference that I’d ever been to before.  At times I was mesmerized by the conference and other times I felt like a complete deer in the headlights.  I was expecting it to be like all of the other conferences that I attended and presented at in the past, where there was a fixed schedule of rooms full of people who stared at the speakers and nodded their heads constantly.  This definitely was not the environment of my first digital history conference and–in a way–  it was a lot more refreshing.  Having the ability to have a say in what panels would be presented that day by voting in between sessions and watching the audience live tweet intently made me fell like I was a part of something more important and like my opinion mattered along with everyone else’s.

The sessions I attended dealt with subjects that affect the world of digital history and the entire historical community.  How do we fight the cultural constructs of gender in our field and give women the same respect as men in centers?  How do we collaborate more with public historians and museums in order to reach larger audiences?  Perhaps one of the most important: how to we get the funds to accomplish all of these goals?  These sessions were encouraging and inspiring because at time it felt like a digital history summit to take over the world instead of listening to panels with three different interpretations of the exact same subject.  It was refreshing and terrifying.

The conference reminded me exactly how new I am to digital history and that while I’ve learned so much in one semester (thanks to RRCHNM) that I still have a long way to go in the field before I truly understand enough to feel comfortable making assertions in panels or offering my own opinions in front of the digital historians whose articles I’ve read in class.  I felt very much like a green horn, especially after Dr. Robertson turned on the large screen in the conference room with the live #RRCHNM20 tweets.  All of a sudden my 20 tweets a minute turned into 2 tweets an hour because I realized these digital history giants would be reading my Twitter banter.  I started questioning whether on not I had to right to comment on digital history when so many people in the room had built its foundations.

While my own fears got the best of me at times, I was constantly surprised and comforted by the amount of the support in the sessions and throughout the conference.  I was approached by many digital historians who knew that I had the words “graduate student” tattooed on my forehead.  Many people asked me questions about my research, the support I’d received from RRCHNM, and why I chose George Mason.  It was fun to explain that I’d chosen George Mason because of RRCHNM and how I wanted to become a part of something bigger in our field and I knew digital history was what would get me there.  The digital historians at the conference made me feel –even though I had my own concerns over how much I actually knew–that I belonged in this group of tech-savy historians.

The conference also reminded me how lucky I am to be at RRCHNM.  Listening to all of the stories about Roy, his legacy and what that means to digital history, left the biggest impression of what exactly I am a part of.  I go to work every day for a center that not only changes our conceptions of history, but reaches audiences at the academic, public, and international level with our projects and tools.  RRCHNM’s 20th anniversary conference has reminded me of why I got into history into the first place.  It’s all about changing the way we view our pasts and teaching to large audiences.

Reflections on the RRCHNM 20th Anniversary Conference

This past weekend, November 14th and 15th, was the RRCHNM 20th Anniversary Conference here at George Mason University. The attendee list included current and former staff, George Mason faculty, current grad students, and guests from other institutions and universities. Over the two days of this unconference, topics ranging from the history of CHNM to graduate student attribution were discussed.

I was excited to be able to meet the people whose work I have been reading in my Clio Wired class. The conference was a bit of a contextual event as I was able to interact with people like Tim Hitchcock, Dan Cohen, Trevor Owens etc. In this gathering, I was able to place myself in the community of DH scholars.  It was an interesting experience that really boost my desire to engage the field and participate in the discussions.

Of the three sessions I attended on the first day, the first session (Digital Literacy Tool Kit for Undergraduates) has lingered with me the longest. I wanted to attend this session because I am just starting out in my PhD program and in my involvement with Digital history. The discussion in this session, I felt, would help me as I learn and grow as a digital historian. The session was focused around an attendee who was trying to develop an undergraduate course focused around digital methods. It began by taking a step back and asking “What do you (the professor) want the students to leave with, ultimately?” Digital literacy and fluency, multilinear narratives, interaction with digital sources were all addressed. One of the more important comments was made by Spencer Roberts on failure. He said “Failure is productive if you value learning, it isn’t if you value the end product.” I have been reflecting on how my own relationship with failure in my work. Moving forward, I have a greater sense of myself and my own progress as a digital historian. I hope to always improve my digital literacy and fluency through my work.

I also took the opportunity of the conference to fulfill my “Live tweet a day” assignment for my Fellowship. I though it would be a great time to tweet out the discussions and talks, especially for those who weren’t able to make the first day. I wrote a blog post on that experience that can be found, here.

The second day, I worked the registration table in the morning and acted as scribe for the two breakout sessions. What was interesting was that both sessions I was assigned to ended up being on the same topic. In all, including the day before, there was a series of three sessions that carried on a long discussion of peer review of digital scholarship. There was a core group of individuals who attended all three of these sessions. It was fascinating to participate in this important discussion as I have not published anything, let alone any digital scholarship. By the third session, the afternoon of the second day, the discussion focused heavily on crafting a DHR – Digital History Review (coined by Fred Gibbs) – to provide the best platform to review the scholarship. I came away from the session invigorated and motived to continue the discussion on peer review. It is an important part of Digital History, not just for the overall review but also as a supplement for tenure and promotion committees. The notes from the latter two sessions are here and here.

Overall, the conference was a great success and a lot of fun to participate in. I enjoyed tweeting out the conference, especially because there is now a record of all the tweets using the #rrchnm20 hashtag. The sessions were incredibly helpful and insightful. I was surprised at how quickly I became invested in the discussions and the possible outputs from those sessions. I went home from the second day with a plethora of thoughts, ideas, questions and concerns. I guess, that would be the identifier of a great conference.

RRCHNM20 Reflection

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media celebrated its 20th anniversary by holding an unconference on November 14 and 15.

On day one, I worked at the registration table in the morning. I was able to catch parts of the lightning histories and remembrances, and I attended the session on 22 short stories about CHNM history. After lunch I went to the discussion on gender and centers, and the part I found most interesting was the question of whether DH centers are starting to replicate the gendering of work that happens in academic libraries. In the second afternoon session, Anne and I produced Episode 109 of Digital Campus. It was great to have Dan, Tom, Mills, and Stephen in one room rather than recording via Skype, and as that is such a rare occasion, I had hoped the question and answer session would generate more inquiries from the audience.

Day two featured panels and breakout sessions. The first panel, featuring Ed Ayers, Brett Bobley, Bethany Nowviskie, and Stephen Robertson, spoke about the future of digital humanities centers. I appreciated Ayers’ statement that the AHA needs to embrace digital humanities scholarship as true scholarship, and I realized while listening to Bethany that I need to re-read Roy Rosenzweig’s piece on scarcity and abundance. Bethany listed many issues that we need to be more aware of, including excessive consumption, the carbon footprint, adjunctification, and disparities inherent in DH centers due to budgets or location. After the panel I went to the first breakout session of the day, where we discussed global and domestic access. The part of the discussion that I most enjoyed was that of language barriers and how we need to ensure the accessibility of our technologies to all parts of the globe. Neatline is one example of a DH technology that fosters and embraces diversity and global access.

After lunch we had our second panel, during which Tim Hitchcock, William Thomas, Kathryn Tomasek, and Spencer Roberts discussed the future of digital history. Tim brought up a great point when he stated that books should not stand by themselves, and digital history needs to reinvent history writing and telling. There is more than one way to effectively study history, and the monograph should no longer be the pinnacle of academic achievement for historians. Bill mentioned revising the peer review process, and that is a topic that has come up time and again in our Clio 1 course. Spencer’s presentation was critical and informative, and he talked about a wide range of topics, including the faults inherent in the digital history fellowship model utilized at the Center, the issues surrounding digital dissertations, and the problems graduate students face as a result of lack of funding. Then we moved into our breakout sessions, and I took notes during the discussion focusing on rethinking the physical archive.

I left the conference feeling inundated with information about the future of digital humanities and digital history and the problems we need to discuss and collaborate together on to remedy. I was constantly in awe of the level of intellectual discourse occurring, and I greatly enjoyed listening to both panels’ presentations. It was great to meet some of the authors of our Clio 1 readings and the digital humanities scholars I follow on Twitter, and the big names in DH in general. I ended up with more questions than I could possibly elucidate here, but I must admit that the conference completely sold me on the utility of Twitter. Not only was it useful for me for note-taking purposes to live tweet as much of the conference as a I could, but the hashtag created for the event allowed a diverse audience of people to tune into the days’ events. To view my Tweets from the conference, click here.

Reflection on the Public Projects Division

In some ways, Public History was a field I spent little time engaging before coming to George Mason. While I did work in a University museum for 2+ years during my undergraduate degree, I had always focused my career aspirations and attention on academic history only. In part, I had never formally been introduced to public history and the vastness of the field. Since starting the Digital History Fellowing, Public history has quickly come into focus. My rotation through the Public Projects division introduced me to the plethora of opportunities that digital public history has to offer. Over the course of these four weeks, we worked on multiple projects, each with differing tasks.

During our first week, we were introduced to Omeka. A CMS (content management system) designed with the focus on the item and not the word. Omeka is one of the flagship programs/projects for Public Projects. I was excited to learn more about this program as I had heard so much about it from around the Center. We started by reading about Omeka and exploring Omeka sites. This was followed by Megan Brett walking us through a command line install of Omeka on the Dev server. It was really interesting to work with the command line as I have little experience using Terminal or command line anything. In addition, the command line install differed greatly from the One-click install we did in our Clio Wired class on Reclaim Hosting. Working on the back end using git commands definitely gave me a greater appreciation for the ease of the One-click install while also highlighting the control command line gives to the user. We wrapped up our week on Omeka by installing PosterBuilder on our Dev Omeka and tested the plugin.

In our second week, we moved on to Histories of the National Mall. Our main task was to do mobile testing of the website while on the National Mall. It doesn’t matter how old you get, everyone loves going on field trips, especially to a place like the National Mall. We took a day off from the Center and traveled out to the Mall with the intention of testing the site on different devices. Alyssa brought an iPad, Stephanie had her Android phone, and I had my iPhone 5. Of the three devices, the Android phone worked the best (surprisingly). The Mall wireless network wasn’t working thus ruling out Alyssa’s iPad and my iPhone was running really slow. In spite of this, the whole experience was a lot of fun and very educational. Using the website on the mall allowed us to experience it as it was intended. We had to work around the sun glare on the screens, trying to get the map geolocation to work, and filtering the tags for each item.

During our trip to the Mall we were tasked with reading through an Exploration to gain a sense of the user experience. After we returned to the Center, we were assigned a rough draft of an exploration that needed to be both fact checked and edited. My exploration was “Who keeps the mall so green?” It covered the history of the Mall’s landscaping as well as its grounds maintenance. The fact checking process took an exceptionally long time to complete. It required me to read through various NPS documents as well as other government documents. As difficult and frustrating as it was, it was very rewarding in the end. I learned a lot about the McMilan Plan, the Commission of Fine Arts as well as the new Turf Restoration Project.

Our final project was the 911 digital archive. A retired FAA special agent from Boston sent in a collection of documents that needed to be cataloged into the archive. We each took five documents from the collection, read through them and then populated the respective metadata fields. It was quite fascinating to read these testimonial accounts or internal memos from Logan International Airport. I learned evermore about metadata as we had to follow the Dublin Core standard. While I have experience with metadata in general (metadata is important in GIS work), I was unaware of differing standards etc. Through this project, I learned more about curating items in a digital archive as well as creating and maintaining metadata.

Overall, my time in public projects was very beneficial. I was introduced to the expanse that is digital public history by taking part in multiple projects. Each project challenged me in different ways and helped me to become a more rounded digital historian. Truthfully, I am now contemplating and investigating Public History just as much as Academic History.