About Amanda Regan

I am a second year PhD student at George Mason University and one of the Digital History Fellows at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. My research interest is primarily U.S. Women’s history with a particular focus on physical culture and beauty in the early twentieth century. Additionally I am interested in Digital History and the ways in which it can enhance historical scholarship. I earned my masters degree in history at California State University, San Marcos. My masters thesis was titled “Madame Sylvia of Hollywood and Physical Culture, 1920-1940.” It examines the changing nature of women’s physical and beauty culture by looking at one editorialist, Sylvia Ullback, who wrote for Photoplay magazine in the twenties and thirties.

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.

Reflections on the Spring Semester and Year 1 as a Digital History Fellow

It seems like just yesterday we walked into the Center for History and New Media a bit unsure about what our first year as DH fellows would entail. Looking back it has been an extremely rewarding and valuable experience. Last fall we blogged about our rotations in both the Education and Public Projects divisions. In the Spring we moved to Research for seven weeks where we worked on a programming project for THATCamp and on the PressForward project before moving onto a seminar about the history of CHNM. I want to use this blog post to reflect on the spring semester and look back at the year as a whole.

Our first stop during the spring semester was the Research division. We began our seven weeks by taking on a topic modeling project which aimed to mine all the posts from the THATCamp individual websites and blog about the process. As we used the Programming Historian to learn python (or at least attempt to), we thought a lot about tools and the scholarly research process. We discussed Zotero as a tool and the values and community behind THATCamp as a training network and community for the Digital Humanities. Although we struggled with the programming aspect of this assignment and managed to miss important concepts behind Topic Modeling, the assignment gave us some insight into what kinds of challenges and opportunities topic modeling holds. From this project I learned first hand the importance of understanding the black box behind Digital Humanities tools. After finishing with our topic modeling project we moved onto the PressForward project. We spent a week working as Editors-at-Large and helped second year fellow Amanda Morton with her Editor-in-Chief duties. Thinking about scholarly gray literature and measuring reception of scholarly works on the internet we also spent time researching AltMetrics.

At the end of the three rotations we were left with a very clear understanding of each division, its current and past projects, the audiences it creates for and the overlap between each division. We then began a seminar with Stephen Robertson that explored the history of RRCHNM. In this seminar we tried to understand how RRCHNM developed over the years into its current state and how RRCHNM fits into the larger history of the digital humanities. Beginning with an overview of what a Digital Humanities Center is and how its defined, we collaboratively looked at all 150 centers in the United States and tried to get a sense of the different models that exist and just how many actually fit the definition of a digital humanities “center” as defined by Zurich. What we realized is that the Center for History and New Media stands out from other Digital Humanities centers due to its unique attachment to the History Department but also because of the origins of the center and because of Roy Rosenzweig’s vision.

After we defined just what a center was and looked at the different models, we started to look at the origins of RRCHNM and try to create a genealogy of the different projects and trace the development of the center. Each of the first year fellows took a different major project and traced its history through grant documents and reports. I read up on Zotero in its different iterations and learned a lot about how Zotero was originally conceived as well as how it has grown, expanded, and changed since 2004.

I think one of the things that has been immensely useful for the first year fellows is the ways much of our work at the center was paralleled by our coursework. In the PhD program at GMU we’re required to take a two course sequence in digital history. The first sequence focuses on the theory of Digital History and the second is largely a web design course that introduces us to the basics of HTML and CSS. Often times the topics in Clio I related directly to why we were doing at the center and the dual exposure allowed us to see the application of things we had discussed in Clio first hand.

At the suggestion of Spencer Roberts, the fellows decided to begin a Digital History Support Space in the Fall. The support space offers “advice, guidance, and assistance for students doing digital history projects.”  Every Monday from noon to 5pm (and sometimes even on weekends) we met with students taking the Clio courses, offered advice about and brainstormed potential projects, helped to debug code, and offered a space to work where help was available if needed. We were able to draw on experience from the center and offer advice about what kinds of tools are available and where resources might be found. We weren’t experts but working with the other students in our Clio classes was equally beneficial. It left me with a better understanding of the issues, topics, and tools discussed in our classes. As many of the PhD students move onto Clio III: Programming for Historians with Lincoln Mullen this fall, I’m looking forward to continuing the Support Space.

The fellowship has been structured in such a way that each element has built on itself to provide us with experience and an understanding of digital history, digital humanities, and the debates, methodologies, and histories of the discipline. This fall I’ll be working in the Research Division on the PressForward project and helping to manage both Digital Humanities Now and the Journal of Digital Humanities. Our first year as Fellows has gone by extremely fast but I’m looking forward to beginning a new year and moving into the role of mentor to the new group of DH Fellows.

Pre-processing Text for MALLET

In our previous post, we described the process of writing a python script that pulled from the THATCamp MySQL Database. In this post, we will continue with this project and work to clean up the data we’ve collected and prepare it for some analysis. This process is known as “pre-processing”. After running our script in the THATCamp database all of the posts were collected and saved as text files. At this stage, the files are filled with extraneous information relating to the structure of the posts. Most of these are tags and metadata that would disrupt any attempts to look across the dataset. Our task here was to clean them up so they could be fed into MALLET. In order to do this, we needed to strip the html tags, remove punctuation, and remove common stopwords. To do this, we used chunks of code from the Programming Historian’s lesson on text analysis with python and modified the code to work with the files we had already downloaded.

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Extracting Data from the THATCamp Database Using Python and MySQL

This week we’ve continued to work on building a python script that will extract all of the blog posts from the various THATCamp websites. As Jannelle described last week, our goal was to write a script that downloads the blog posts in plain text form and strips all of the html tags, stopwords, and punctuation so that we can feed it into MALLET for topic modeling and text analysis. After several long days and a lot of help from second year fellow Spencer Roberts, we’ve successfully gotten the code to work.

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Public Projects: Reflection

Our first semester at the Center for History and New Media has flown by. We spent the second half of the semester in the Public Projects Division which was a diverse and rewarding experience.

During this rotation we were able to tour the entire division and spend some time working with many of the division’s projects.  We spent a large chunk of time working with Omeka, testing plugins, themes, and other items that are in development.  One thing I took away from working with the Omeka team and attending the Sprint Planning meetings is how collaborative this division, and the center as a whole, is.  Between programmers, designers, testers, and content development– Omeka really is a team project that seeks to make collecting easier for museums and archives.  Through working with the software we also got some hands on experience with the amount of work it takes to build an archive and what kinds of issues come up when doing so.  We discussed and experienced issues such as the naming of pages and areas on a site, creating a strict vocabulary to make searching consistent, and developing content first hand.

We also spend time developing content for projects such as The Histories of the National Mall and Papers of the War Department.  The National Mall project allowed us to think about how the public utilizes mobile history sites when at a museum or a national park such as the Mall.  We spent a wonderful afternoon down on the mall testing the mobile first site (and enjoyed some excellent tacos from the local food truck tacos!).

Papers of the War Department was a different experience and we spent time both transcribing documents and tagging meta data for documents. Using the Scripto plugin for Omeka, we first tagged revisit documents with key words, names, places, and topics.  This element of the project required some knowledge and required a deeper engagement with the documents than transcribing did.  Transcribing the documents was challenging (seventeenth century handwriting is interesting) but we could all see the immense benefit to having the documents both transcribed and tagged on the site.

I think we are starting to really begin to understand the inner workings of the center and the projects and goals of each division.  Public Projects does several different things from software development to content based projects and I think we all benefited greatly from our tour around the division. Coincidently, the first year fellows were also taking Clio Wired I this semester and often what we did at the center overlapped with what we did in class making the experience even more valuable for us.  I think we all came away from this semester having learned a great deal and I feel much more aware of many of the issues facing scholars in Digital History centers as well as in academia in general.

Reflections on the Education Division

On Monday the first year fellows leave the Education Division and move to Public Projects for the remainder of our first semester.  Over the last seven weeks, I have learned a lot about the projects in the education division, the project and tools within the division, and the division’s goals of providing teachers with skills and tool to teach historical thinking to students.  I’ve come away from this rotation with a better understanding of not only the role of the education division but also with a new appreciation for the challenge of using and creating tools that encourage students to think critically about history.

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Introduction to CHNM–Amanda Regan

Prior to arriving at George Mason University, I had some experience with Digital History and as a result was familiar with the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM).  I earned my masters degree at California State University San Marcos where I took several digital history courses.  It was in these courses that I first became familiar with RRCHNM and the digital history projects that it had created. Looking at the center from the outside, it was hard to get a grasp on exactly how it operated and what kinds of things went on in the center on a daily basis.

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