About Anne McDivitt

My name is Anne Ladyem McDivitt. I am a graduate student pursuing my PhD in history at George Mason University. I am a second year Digital History Fellow at the Center for History and New Media. I received my MA and BA from the University of Central Florida. My research focuses on the US video game industry and masculinity from 1958-1986. I am also involved in digital and public history research.

Collaborative Second Year Post

We’ve reached the end of our two-year stint as Digital History Fellows at RRCHNM. The time we’ve spent at the center has introduced us to various tools and techniques, provided the opportunity to work with scholars, given us insight into the process and progress of grant-funded DH projects, and enabled us to build a supportive cohort of students across the program that will continue to serve each of us as we move into the next stage of our programs. Below, each of us will expand on the experiences we’ve had at the center and reflect on the work we’ve done.


The structure of the DH fellowship helped me to gain knowledge and skills of digital history in a meaningful way—one that assisted me in learning more collaborative ways of doing history, achieving more skills to accomplish creating digital history, and understanding the reasoning behind doing DH. During my first year, we were able to travel between the divisions, which allowed for a relatively quick overview of the different ways that digital history is done. In the second year, I was placed into two divisions—one each in fall and spring—and I was able to delve further into particular projects within these divisions and work more closely with the members of each division.

The Center for History and New Media is structured in such a way that open collaboration and communication is possible. Although there are three divisions, there are open discussions for ideas, collaboration amongst the members, and many people that are very willing to help if needed. Through my work here, I’ve learned that many people in the Center use different tools to create their work, and this has helped me to become exposed to new methods. There are also several meetings in which ideas are discussed, and these meetings are productive for learning new ways to do Digital History.

I had a much easier time with my trio of Clio classes due to my time as a DH Fellow. When I came in, I had some experience with certain tools, but I did not feel confident in my ability to actually do digital history. Our classes have changed that, and my time at the Center was very complementary in that it seemed whenever we were doing work for the Clio classes, we were also working on something similar within our CHNM work. It also was a great establishment of skills for taking Clio 3, which involved much more programming. Because of my time at CHNM, I had previous experience with some programing languages, and it made the process of taking Clio 3 much easier so that I was able to produce a meaningful piece of scholarship in the end.

In the future, I plan on taking the ideas of collaboration, communication, and the skill set that I have gained from CHNM into my career as a historian. Since I plan on working in a public history setting, I feel that the ability to utilize these skills will further my ability as a historian.

I believe that one of the most meaningful activities of my time at CHNM was the building of relationships with my colleagues through our mentoring and support space. Although we were all working on different projects throughout the two years of our DH Fellowship, the availability of mentoring—first with the third years mentoring us and then us doing the same for the first years—allowed us to communicate, collaborate, and to learn from each other. I believe that this is one of the most important aspects of the DH Fellowship, as it fosters an environment that promotes this type of dialogue for our future careers and work, whether inside or outside the academy.


The second year of the fellowship, for me, has been incredibly useful.  I’ve really enjoyed being positioned on PressForward in the Research division. My work in this division has allowed me to further develop my programming skills, stay current with the latest DH scholarship through DHNow and the Journal of Digital Humanities, and participate in the development cycle for an open access piece of software.  Our first year of the fellowship was focused on testing various tools and becoming familiar with different platforms and approaches to Digital History.  This year I’ve moved into more of a building role and have had the opportunity to draw on the programming skills I’ve developed to contribute to the PressForward plugin. The structure of both the first and second years of the fellowship compliment each other well and has provided me with a broad knowledge of the centers organization, various digital history tools and approaches, as well as a chance to implement and build on what I’ve learned.

When I began this fellowship, the structure of the center was very unclear to me. However, through our rotations and experience in each division, I’ve become familiar with the current structure of the center, its origin, history, and its position in the larger field. CHNM has a long history of collaborating with teachers and schools, museums and libraries, as well as individual scholars and researchers to produce tools and projects that are innovative and sustainable. Participation in the Open Source community has been important to projects like Omeka or Zotero and has created a group of users who are active in testing and developing for these projects.

The digital history coursework we’ve been required to complete has often complimented our work at the center and helped to shape my views on digital history. Our practicum at RRCHNM provided practical hands-on experience while our coursework often provided a theoretical and sometimes historical perspective on Digital History methods, tools, and projects. I think taking these courses as a fellow gave me a unique perspective and some unique experience in Digital History.

Looking forward to the next year, I am planning to finish up prepping for my comprehensive exams and prepare my dissertation prospectus in order to advance to candidacy. Over the summer, I’ll be working on developing my dissertation prospectus and working to develop a proposal and plan for a digital component. My experience as a Digital History Fellow has shaped the way I’ve conceptualized using digital methodologies and techniques in my dissertation and has helped me to develop some of the skills that will be necessary. Because of the work I’ve been involved with at the center and my digital coursework at GMU, I have a realistic idea of what will be required to build a digital component.

The projects I have found most valuable during this fellowship have been projects like our THATCamp Topic Modeling project where we generated a data set about a center project and mined it. This project, in many ways, was a productive failure and I benefited greatly from it. Looking back on the project now, a year later, I realize many of the assumptions we made were flawed and we could have extracted and cleaned the data in both a reproducible and an easier manner. Projects where the fellows are given creative license to draw on techniques and concepts discussed in our coursework in order to create something based on a center project (or on center history) is, I think, extremely valuable for Digital History Fellows. These types of projects are also ideal for fostering and promoting mentorship among the fellows.  Spencer Roberts was such an important resource for us during the THATCamp project and we couldn’t have completed the project without him.  He offered advice on how to approach the project, explained programming concepts, and worked with us for several days on troubleshooting our python script.  Through this project, as well as projects like creating the RRCHNM Omeka Archive for the 20th Anniversary, I gained valuable insight into what it takes to accurately and realistically conceptualize a digital project as well as experience thinking through critical choices like information architecture with the user in mind. We were often faced with unexpected challenges and messy data along the way. I’ve taken a lot away from these projects and I think they are a valuable and unique aspect of the fellowship that should be continued and implemented in a thoughtful way for future cohorts.


Recently the next cohort of PhD students visited GMU. As we sat with them and described the fellowship track and digital coursework, I began to reflect on my own experience along these lines. It is surprising how quickly we were incorporated into the activities of the center. The structure of the fellowship was remarkably useful in this regard- we were introduced to people and projects in a six week cycle that provided a low barrier to entry. As we moved across the center, we were able to identify the projects and skills that appealed to each of us. The second year took this process further. Moving into a single department meant that each of us was able to take a larger part in the work. Each of us was able to explore subjects of interest and work more extensively with others within that division. In my case this meant a fall semester in the Education division working on the 100 Leaders project and a spring semester in the Public Projects division working on the Mall project. Working more extensively in one division meant that each of us had to balance the responsibilities of the fellowship with our tasks in each division, but in most cases we were able to manage these well.

Working as a DH Fellow has definitely guided the direction of my coursework. I entered the program here at GMU with very little technical experience. Working at the center enabled me to build skill and confidence in these areas. It definitely gave me the confidence to enroll in Clio 3; Programming for Historians without these valuable experiences. I also found the Support Space to be a valuable aspect of my time at the Center. Bringing my challenges to the table and helping others with their work allowed me to create and build relationships with other students in the program. Oftentimes, we would spend time talking a problem out together and I found this type of collaboration particularly edifying. Last spring, Mandy Regan led a group of students in our Clio 2 class in a tutorial on 960 grid. This impromptu tutorial was a great example of the way that we were able to bridge our coursework with the fellowship. These activities have fostered collaborative relationships that continue to encourage us to share techniques and digital work with one another.

I’ve written on this subject in the past, but the preparation we did for the 20th anniversary was particularly meaningful for me. We started this work as a group and over the course of the summer I expanded the repository to include the many projects in the Center’s history. The process enabled me to read each one of the grants in the center’s history. Quickly I gained a better understanding of how the field has changed in 20 years. The project forced me to reconsider tools like Zotero as part of a larger vision. To think about projects like History Matters in terms of the other work the center has produced. To put them on a timeline and to view them not as discrete but connected by a thread or an idea. I learned more about iterative projects and the complexities of collaboration. Considering these things while I was working through my coursework enabled me to make connections with readings and class discussions. The experience encouraged me to see these projects from multiple perspectives.

When I reflect on my time as a fellow – this project encapsulates the value of the fellowship for me. It encouraged me to think about the legacy of digital history projects while also considering what is to come from the field. It is a project that will be difficult to duplicate, but one that would serve future Fellows in a meaningful way.

Next year, we all move on, either as a Graduate Research Assistant at the center or as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of History and Art History here at George Mason.  Although our stint as Digital History Fellows is over, we all agree that it was a beneficial experience and we look forward to seeing what future cohorts will do.


Mentoring as a DH Fellow

Mentoring with the Digital History Fellows was one of the most meaningful aspects of my time at the Center for History and New Media. Historians often isolate themselves and their research, but with digital history methods, collaboration becomes key to creating something meaningful. Through both my time as a first year and second year, I engaged with other fellows, as well as our colleagues in the program, to help each other learn tools, troubleshoot problems, and also engage in a social, collaborative environment that allowed us to foster a useful learning environment for digital history.

Mentoring had two aspects–the first was the DH Fellows working amongst themselves to solve problems, bounce off ideas, and to work together on projects assigned by the three divisions of CHNM. Second, the DH Fellows created a support space last year that allowed students in Clio 1 and 2 to come into the Center and work, so that if there were problems with their projects, we could collaboratively work to fix and explain in more depth the different tools that they were exposed to.

Lastly, it was helpful to have my mentee, Alyssa, with me to do the Digital Campus Podcast. Together, we came up with stories that we felt were meaningful, interesting, and even were able to produce the live podcast at the 20th Anniversary Conference. This process would be difficult without her, as it helps to have two people bounce ideas around for projects that are already so collaborative in nature.

Mentoring allowed me to create new relationships with fellow historians, learn the collaborative nature of digital history and the best ways to work together, and also how to share and identify problems that could potentially help all of us create better work overall.

Tweeting as Communication

Earlier this year, I decided to livetweet the RRCHNM 20th Anniversary Conference, which was significant to me in regards to discussing the topics of the conference itself, but also one of the benefits was that I was able to communicate with other historians about these topics. I received many replies, retweets, and even connected to other historians that would not have been aware of who I was without my tweets. It was a very useful experience, and I believe I gained more from this livetweet, in terms of professional connections and discussions, than previous livetweets I have done. This type of scholarly communication can link together historians that may not necessarily have connected without this type of technology, and it proved useful to me in engaging in the larger discussions surrounding the conference.

Working with Ancestry

Most of this semester, I have been doing research with Ancestry for the Education Division for a project, and I have learned so much about researching family histories from this project. I’ve also learned more about crowd-sourcing materials, the structure of Ancestry, and the usefulness of the databases for finding people that otherwise may not be traceable.

When I trotted my way into the Fairfax county library system, I was not entirely sure what to expect in going through Ancestry. I had never gone through the databases before, and it took a while to actually learn how to effectively use the system. The difficulty of the process was gathering correct data on research subjects with partial birth or death dates and partial names.  For one, I needed to ensure I had the correct person’s information with sometimes very little to work with. Second, it was difficult, if not impossible, to find certain people.

Since many of these people died during the 19th and early 20th centuries, records were not always clear or present. This is partially why it is sometimes extremely helpful (although there are certainly pitfalls, as well) to have crowdsourced information. Often times, people that are extremely interested in their family histories will ensure that this information is available on Ancestry. This made it significantly easier to correctly identify people. However, as many of us know, family histories can greatly be exaggerated to connect family members to certain places, events, or people, even if it is done without intention or through oral tradition.

I feel like my work through this project allowed me to better understand researching specific people, especially those that may not be as well known. This may particularly be helpful for me in future career choices, and I have also certainly enjoyed the process, although it has been at times a struggle.

Educational Games vs Consumer Games

For the past few weeks, I’ve been playing through video games that explore civics and history in an attempt to gain insight into what type of educational video games exist out there and what I thought about them. Given my experience with consumer video games, I felt that it would be interesting to play through educational games for comparison. This was an enlightening, and oftentimes quite frustrating, experience for me.

I will say upfront that many of the educational games that I played were not fun. There was no inherent pleasure or excitement in playing them, and that is one of the most important aspects of a video game. One of the educational goals of video games is to make learning fun. Given the types of audiences these games are trying to reach, it seems important to create something that would be fun to play as well as educational. My thoughts throughout the entire process of playing these games is that there are commercially successful games that have really good ideas on how to make a fun game that aren’t particularly complicated in how they run or how to play. Double Fine’s works (Grim Fandango and Broken Age) are a good example of point and click adventure games, and they have engaging stories and gameplay. They are also very accessible in regards to actually playing through the games. The only educational game that I played that I thoroughly enjoyed (Jamestown Game) was only entertaining to me when I was completely going against the history of Jamestown. This game only lasted about 5 minutes total, as well, which is not going to be engaging for long for students, with written explanations of what the Jamestown settlers actually did when everything is completed.

I feel that there must be a way to incorporate the engaging stories of civics and history while including fun gameplay in a way that would make educational games fun and exciting for students. Mission US is the closest to an educational game that had the makings to be something fun while helping students learn. The classic style “point and click” games, where one is able to gain items to solve puzzles and choose dialogue options, have been very successful in commercial venues. This style is what Mission US follows; however, in its attempts to follow history and allow choices, the writing is very flat and uninteresting. If there was a way to keep this style for learning about civics and history while providing a narrative that is well-written and promotes learning while being fun (easier said than done, I know!), I feel that it would be a successful educational game.

The educational games, much to my surprise, also had a lot of accessibility issues. Many of them came with no subtitles, which limits the ability of students with hearing issues to engage with the games. However, this also made me question how students would be playing these games in general. Would they have headphones? Would they play in a classroom? Would they play in groups? These types of questions are important to consider when creating an educational game. I have not encountered many commercial video games that do not have subtitles or allow for toggling them on or off. This feature should be very important to reach a broad audience with educational games. There were also very few games for younger students. The primary focus was on middle and high school students. The few that were accessible to younger students had no educational value whatsoever.

Overall, I felt like this experience was incredibly helpful for me to try and think about what the goals of educational games actually are and how well they accomplish that task. I see that there are currently many limitations on how educational games can work (resources to create them, writing, accessibility, age groups, etc).The primary goal of educational games is to make learning entertaining, but I think that many of the games currently out there miss the mark. Using engaging writing with a coherent storyline–whether it is historical, on civics, or anything else–will help many educational games to reach their intended goal. When I think of educational game, I think of the games I played when I was a kid–Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. These were very story-driven games, which I think is the important aspect that we should focus on.


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 My First Year as a DH Fellow

This has been a very eventful and exciting first year for me working within the Center for History and New Media. As I mentioned in my introduction post, I came in with a vague familiarity with CHNM from my previous institution. However, being immersed within it helped me to form a much greater understanding of what the Center does, what the possibilities of Digital History are, and where I fit into that picture for my career and studies.

First, the inclusion of the DH Fellows into the different divisions throughout the year was extremely helpful for me. Through this process, I learned how the Center works, as well as the different projects that were available. I came out way more knowledgeable about Omeka, PressForward, and how projects such as Sea of Liberty come to life.

Beyond the actual projects, one of the primary benefits of being a DH Fellow was the establishment of communication and networks that I feel will be incredibly helpful for me continuing forward. With the various projects, such as our project that scraped THATCamp data (those posts are here in five parts-one, two, three, four, five), we were able to communicate with people within CHNM for assistance. That process was immensely helpful, as well as the Digital Campus podcast sessions that let me engage in the process of thinking about the implications of current events for digital history, as well as participating in an experience working with major players in the field.

As well as working with people that are currently doing Digital History, I was also able to work with my peers that were in the Clio 1 and 2 classes. The DH Fellows, through the suggestion of Spencer Roberts, created the DH Support Space that met every week. This support space was a great addition to the DH Fellowship, as it allowed us to both use the tools we had learned in class and at CHNM, as well as to assist other students in issues they had. This let me grow my skills and learn in the process of trying to help other students with their assignments and projects.

Lastly, I believe one of the most useful aspects of my first year was the seminar. First, we researched what made a digital humanities center, and which ones are still around today. This then led into researching the history of the Center for History and New Media. Each of the first year DH Fellows was given a project to research, and I picked teachinghistory.org. This project let me dive into grants, documents, and how our projects played into the history of the Center. It was very helpful in learning where the Center fits into the larger context of Digital History, which is significant (and helpful!) for my minor field of Digital History.

I feel that overall, this entire year has been incredibly useful and helpful for me, and I have learned so much from working here. I look forward to assisting others this year, mentoring, and continuing to learn the process of doing Digital History through my assignment as a DH Fellow in my second year.

THATCamp Mallet Results

We have spent the last few weeks working to build a python script that would allow us to download and prep all of the THATCamp blog posts for topic modeling in MALLET (for those catching up, we detailed this process in a series of previous posts). As our last post detailed, we encountered a few more complications than expected due to foreign languages in the corpus of the text.  After some discussion, we worked through these issues and were able to add stoplists to the script for German, French, and Spanish.  Although this didn’t solve all of our issues and some terms do still show up (we didn’t realize there was Dutch too), it led to some interesting discussion about the methodology behind topic modeling.  Finally we were able to rerun the python script with the new stopwords and then feed this new data into MALLET.

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Reflections on Public Projects

This week, we finished our rotation block with Public Projects. I both struggled and thoroughly enjoyed working in Public Projects, as I learned so many new and helpful things while I also found my weaknesses in some of the more technical aspects of digital history. This block included many different types of projects, such as live testing a new website at the National Mall, writing entries for that project, testing Omeka, and even transcribing letters for Papers of the War Department.

I also got to venture into DC for the first time for work during this rotation, which I enjoyed immensely. I was very thankful that I got to test the new National Mall project with my other first year fellows, and you can read more about that experience here. I am excited to see it go live, and I hope that when it is live, many other first-time and returning visitors to the Mall can utilize it.

I also had some difficulties in the block that I overcame, which makes me feel incredibly accomplished. Although I felt comfortable with Omeka coming into this block, I have learned so much more about how it functions and the different uses than I had previously known. I also learned a lot about how transcribing and pulling out keywords from handwritten letters are entirely different experiences. This was difficult, especially figuring out what particular words were, but it was so useful, connecting, and interesting to read these letters from when the US was a brand new country.

I loved working within this block, and I liked that I was challenged by a lot of the projects we worked on. I have learned a lot of useful skills that I can apply to my future career or dissertation as a historian. Coming into George Mason University, I already had my MA in Public History, and I have a real passion for making history accessible to the public. I believe that a lot of the work that is being done in the Public Projects section of CHNM is applying this concept, and I take great inspiration from the people and projects that I have encountered while working here.

Education Reflection

My time in the Education block of the Center for History and New Media as a Digital History Fellow has been quite interesting for me. Previously, my experience with teaching was limited to either working as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for introductory-level history courses or teaching fourth graders as a Public History Educator at a museum in Sanford, Florida.  Due to my admittedly limited experience with K-12 education, this experience has been revealing on how technology can accommodate teaching history to students at those levels.

Although historians always analyze information and primary documents, it is a lot more difficult to determine the best way for students to utilize those resources for learning. For example, while writing reviews for Teaching History, I had to consider the typical things for historians, such as bias, type of information, and quality and quantity of the primary documents. What is new to me is that I also had to think of how these items could potentially enhance a lesson plan for a teacher for their class. In addition, I also had to consider the usability of these websites and tools. If a website is too difficult or confusing for a student to use, then it is problematic to consider it a valuable teaching resource, even if the information is good.

I have previously mentioned the challenges of thinking as an educator, and these challenges continue to be something that I must tackle as I continue in the educational portion of CHNM, as well as my future as a historian. I believe that these are some of the valuable lessons that I can take form working at a Digital History Fellow at CHNM, because I will be able to utilize the skills that I have obtained from working on these projects in future endeavors.