Fall 2016 – Research Division

This semester I worked with the Research Division on Digital Humanities Now.  I was tasked with inventory and assessment of the over 500 subscribed feeds.  These feeds were/are primarily personal or institutional blogs related to the digital humanities.  Since DH Now lives here at CHNM, there were a lot more history blogs than there might be if it lived somewhere else, but there were many entries in literature, anthropology, cultural studies and perhaps most active recently, libraries, museums and cultural heritage institutes.  I cleanup up the site by removing a couple hundred broken and abandoned blogs, and moved 50 or so to their new homes.  I also categorized the entries by discipline and organized the sites by frequency.  There was a meeting to see if folders would be helpful to the editors, but it seemed that it wouldn’t really be of much help.

If I were to make some cursory observations from the DH Now feeds, I would say that it seems like personal blogs are not as popular as they were five years ago.  Most of the ‘big’ names if you will can publish on larger audience platforms – online journals, news sites, etc.  This is a great opportunity for graduate students to work with original scholarship into the blog post medium, since it might a bit harder for them to get ‘DH’ thought pieces onto HuffPost.  I fear however, that microblogging takes up a lot of time.  I also saw a lot of blogs that lasted as long as grad school and then were abandoned or turned into personal sites with links to syllabi and monographs.  At any rate, if the quantitative trends in digital humanities are to serve as guideline for making assertions, it really isn’t right of me to make these kinds of generalizations without a real data set.

Research Division Rotation

During my time with the research division, I became familiar with Press Forward plugin development and functionality and Digital Humanities Now’s funding model, editorial workflow, publication process and traffic statistics.  Though, I had been reading and nominating posts for DHNow earlier in the semester, my time in research gave me a fuller understanding of the trends in digital humanities and popular blog posts on the subject as well.  This came primarily from compiling the most popular or relevant posts over the past year.  Of particular interest to me seemed to be the move to global perspectives on resource building and scholarship, how digital humanities teaching employs critical investigation, libraries grappling with linked data models, and the transform DH movement to build more robust analyses of race, gender, sexuality and disability.

I also did some research on open access for a Press Forward white paper and learned a lot about the history of open access and how scientists approached the topic.  I was surprised to find out how much authors are required to pay to be published in open access science journals and it seems that there is a shift from library subscription models to departmental funding for scholarly publication.

I set up my own Press Forward installation and was able to follow along a bit in a meeting about reworking database assets to speed up plugin functionality.  I also tested a new Press Forward theme.  Both of these processes exposed me to some changes in the WordPress api since I last built a site, which was over five years ago, which will be of great use if I intend to build another site with this growing platform.

When I was last at CHNM, while doing my master’s, Dan Cohen first proposed and built DH Now during a ThatCamp.  It was originally built to automatically re-post popular DH blog work, with little labor required.  Reading the PressForward and DH Now proposals and white papers published in the last few years, helped me understand how the original automation was transformed into a fairly time-consuming editorial process, and finally to a more streamlined approach that benefits greatly from the inclusion on volunteer editors-at-large which contribute nominations from the perspective of a variety of academics, museum and library professionals.

Education Rotation

It was a busy start of the year in the Education Department at CHNM.  I worked on data cleaning for the American Battle Monuments Commission (AMBC) War Dead Database, transcribed Sacrificing Freedom eulogy videos, prepared/uploaded Lesson Plans for ABMC’s new Education Site, and did a content inventory for the National History Day redesign.

Working the war dead database I came to understand that optimizing search and sorting for large data sets involves strategic efforts to ensure proper data importing and input, detailed taxonomies, multiple testing stages and checks for uniform outputs.  My job was primarily searching, sorting and testing cross-browser functionality, but in the process I was able to come gain some insights into how the data set was moved from the old to new system, that could be of benefit if I work on any other data migration projects.  I also was able to get to know a bit more about the different ranks and divisions in the U.S. military.

By transcribing eulogy videos, I was reminded of the importance of accessibility to digital work.  Furthermore, the people in the database entries came to life . The Understanding Sacrifice project works with teachers to develop lesson plans on WWI, by researching individual soldiers and eulogizing them at their overseas resting places.  I was moved by the teachers attachment to their subjects.

I also helped CHNM’s filmmaker Chris Preperato identify selections from project leaders and teachers interviews for the Understanding Sacrifice intro video.  This helped me understand the goals of the project facilitators and see that they were met by the reactions of the teachers.  Teachers were reinvigorated as working historians by doing primary source research on the First World War.  They made lasting connections with the families of fallen heroes.  Perhaps most importantly, they were able to channel the power of place, connect it the lives and stories of individuals on the battlefield, and bring that knowledge back to the classroom with renewed vigor.

In a time when middle and high school teachers are sometimes treated like little more than pre-packaged content distributors and assessors, projects like these seem to make them feel like experts again, with unique experiences to share with students.  Jennifer explained to me how impressed the teachers were that their final lesson plan products were professionally designed and distributed.  When marking up the lesson plans with some html, and uploading documents, I was able to see the great variety of ways that the history teachers approached their lessons, which could be helpful in my own teaching.  However, the painstaking detail to each minute process and attention to national standards, reminded me that a career in secondary education will likely not be in my future.

One of the major takeaways from this experience would be the importance of close collaborations.  Understanding Sacrifice is a collaboration between CHNM and National History Day (NHD).  During my work tenure, NHD had trouble putting together a birthday video for one of their major donors.  On short notice, Kelly was able to step in.  I helped by taping the directors message while Chris was on vacation.  (Note:  the WWII memorial is windy and loud, so if you tape there, be prepared)  Despite my bad audio collection, Chris was able to get together tons of other footage and testimonies and Kelly hired a professional musician to score the video and help with other audio layovers.  I hear that the major donor is really thrilled with his video and shows it to all of his friends.

In sum, I think that the flexibility of working relationships,  i.e. going outside the box with professional development like Understanding Sacrifice and being able to solve partner problems on the fly without huge administrative hurdles, shows how the Education Department at CHNM knows how to make things happen and is dedicated to serving the needs of partners and teachers in unique ways.  It is a model example of how to develop dynamic working relationships and lasting professional collaborations.