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.

Day of Tweeting – RRCHNM 20th Anniversary Conference Day One

Prior to entering the PhD program at GMU and starting my Digital History Fellowship, I had little to no interest in Twitter. My opinion of Twitter centered around self absorbed individuals who liked to tweet images of their breakfast or update the world on their commute to work. However, I found myself creating a Twitter account on my first day of graduate school. In the coming weeks, I learned that Twitter has become a very active platform for academics, especially Digital Historians, in the exchange of ideas and information. Two great articles on the topic, Heather Cox Richardson’s “Should Historians Use Twitter, parts 1 & 2” as well as Ryan Cordell’s “How to Start Tweeting (and Why You Might Want To),” were both helpful as I crafted my Twitter account.

As a Fellow, part of my curriculum for this semester is to do a day of tweeting. While the other two in my cohort (Stephanie and Alyssa) tweeted about a day in a division, I thought tweeting a day at the CHNM 20th Anniversary Conference would be interesting. The attendee list included current staff, graduate students, alumnae and other noted scholars all gathering to discuss CHNM, Digital History and Digital History Centers. Not only would this fulfill my Fellowship assignment, I thought it would be a great experience live tweeting a conference.

The conference was great! There was a lot of great discussion on various digital history topics. I found the live tweeting to go exceptionally well. I noticed that I was listening to the presenters specifically to find a group point to tweet out. This made it harder at times to take notes but in a way, the series of tweets serve as my notes. Twitter served as a collaboration platform, when using the #rrchnm20 that everyone else at the conference used. It was also interesting to see the interaction of others who could not attend the conference but could interact online through Twitter.  It was a very interesting exercise that I continued on day two as well.

Overall, my view of Twitter as increased greatly, especially from tweeting the conference. It adds another layer to scholarly interaction and allows for communication beyond the conference hall. Furthermore, it increased my network of scholars by finding new people to follow as well as others following me. My tweets from the first day of the conference are below.

Reflections on Public Projects

Last week Alyssa, Jordan, and I completed our final rotation in Public Projects.  When I first arrived at RRCHNM, Public Projects was one of the divisions that I was most eager to experience due to my background in public history.  I am in the process of finishing up my public history certificate at Southern Miss and I have always wanted work with or pursue an entire career in public history projects.  This love for public history is what made me excited to learn and understand the digital work that goes into some of the RRCHNM projects that used since I was an undergraduate.

Our first week in Public Projects was one of the most difficult, but definitely one of the most educational.  As my blogs have shown from our rotations in Research and in Education, my coding skills definitely need some work.  However, our mentor that week—Megan Brett—was exactly what I needed to understand code life a little better.  She helped us understand SSH and was able to help me and my PC keep up with everyone else and their Macs.  For once I was never left behind with Alyssa and Jordan two or three steps ahead of me because tutorials weren’t adequate enough for PCs.  Megan was able to help me understand my windows PowerShell and never became frustrated when I forget one of the dozens of commands when trying to manipulate Omeka.  Whether it was Megan’s patience or the fact that I’ve been here for an entire semester and things are finally starting to stick, my first week in Public Projects made me feel like I was finally getting the hang of things around the center and that I could actually “talk tech.”

In week two with Public Projects, the first year fellows were sent on a mission to conduct mobile testing on Histories of the National Mall. The experience was exciting not only because we got to spend an entire work day on the National Mall, but because we were able to find some of the issues with the site on our phones.  Since I’m the one of the three of us with the least flashy technology (PC and Android kid), it was fun to see Histories of the National Mall working well and at a good download speed, whereas Jordan’s was a little slow and poor Alyssa could never find a wifi network for her ipad.  It was my own personal win for the week!  However, we were able to find a few content problems, specifically with Ghost Sites, that we were able to bring back to Public Projects.

In the last two weeks of Public Projects, we were tasked with adding newly submitted documents to the 9/ll Digital Archive.  The center recently received donated materials from Brian Sullivan who worked for the FAA around 9/11 and we were asked to submit them to the Omeka site.  We reviewed the 17 documents that were submitted and then created descriptions and other portions of Dublin Core that were needed before the documents can go live on the site.  On one of our days going through the documents we were even able to watch a documentary (Please Remove Your Shoes) that was also submitted by Sullivan so we could add it to the collection.  Aside from absolutely never wanting to fly again after going through the FAA documents and watching the documentary, I really enjoyed going back to one of the reasons I wanted to become a historian—going through primary sources.

My four weeks in Public Projects was a great experience, not only because I’m finally starting to find my way around the center, but because I was genuinely interest and excited about the content we were able to learn and create.  Sharon and Shelia made all three of us feel like we’d been in Public Projects the entire semester and it was such a smooth transition to begin working with everyone in the division because of how welcomed we felt.  The things I learned in Public Projects, especially working with Omeka, are something that I will be using throughout the rest of my time at Mason and hopefully for a dissertation project.  I’m excited about the possibility of working more with Public Projects in the future and cannot wait to learn more.

Live Tweeting a Day in Public Projects

The semester is flying by, and last week I realized I had yet to live tweet a day in a division. I figured today would be a good day to attempt this assignment since it marks the beginning of the first year fellows’ time in the Public Projects Division. In addition, it’s Monday, which seems to be the busiest day of the week for the Center, so I thought I would have no shortage of things to tweet about. I also need to preface this blog post by admitting that I am not very social-media savvy: prior to this semester I was not on any social media site (unless you count LinkedIn) and was happy with that. My net-anonymity bubble burst quickly after starting at the Center, which is undoubtedly a good thing. I had to create a Twitter account for Clio, and have become familiar with the platform and follow several different digital historians. In doing so I have come to see how Twitter is used in an academic environment.

Twitter seems to be an excellent platform for scholarly communication. The telegram-style tweets that emerge as a result of the 140 character limit are useful in that the person tweeting must get to the point quickly and the viewer doesn’t have to waste any time in trying to understand what the tweet is about. There is no space for someone to get on their symbolic soapbox. I think this is definitely a product of the current generation, who want and expect everything at the click of a finger. Things must happen quickly: people must convey ideas in a timely fashion, and the audience must be able to comprehend that idea in just the same amount of time. While you wouldn’t expect it to, this lends itself well to the digital humanities, and to all of academia.

Every project that I have worked on so far at the Center has a Twitter account: PressForward, Digital Humanities Now, Histories of the National Mall, Zotero, Omeka. 100 Leaders is the only exception to this, but I think that is because 100 Leaders was created for National History Day and is not a sole creation of the Center. Twitter is a great way to promote such projects, get out information about updates on plugins and apps, and let everyone know about outages. One of the benefits of Twitter is that it is so popular, which makes spreading the word fairly easy, but it also shows how connected the Center is with social media and current trends in technology. For all academic institutions, Twitter one way to remain connected to a core audience.

Tweeting conferences is another way in which Twitter enhances scholarly communication. It can be overwhelming to have a deluge of tweets from one person on a specific day, but there are many benefits to it as well. One of the digital humanitarians I follow live tweeted a conference she was attending and it was useful in that I was able to get a brief snapshot of what was going on at the moment, such as who was presenting and a shortened version of their argument and/or project. Since I’ve never attended a THATCamp, I would find it helpful to follow someone attending one so I can get a feel of what sorts of things are discussed and presented. I think that the 20th Anniversary CHNM Conference should be live tweeted to get the word out and to broaden the discussion. I will attempt to live tweet at least one of the two days.

Twitter has been useful to me in understanding what exactly digital humanities is and to observe the conversation among scholars in the field. Twitter would be useful for any newbie in the digital humanities or academia in general to learn the ropes, understand the trending topics, and see which scholars are the most active either in their scholarly pursuits or on Twitter, or both as the case may be.

Reflections on the Education Division

Over the last four weeks the first year fellows had the opportunity to work in the Education division of the RRCHNM.  Since the start of our first year fellowship, working in the Education division was something that I was really looking forward to—especially since a lot of the projects they were completing were with National History Day.  As an undergraduate and MA student at Southern Miss, National History Day in Mississippi was always one of my favorite times of the year.  Having the opportunity to work with middle school and high school students on History Day projects and offering an outlet for students who were more gifted in the liberal arts has given me something to be proud of over the years and I was excited to do some work with the Education division on the national side of History Day.

Working in the Education division was more than just learning new aspects of something that I was already interested in, it was like coming back to my nice “cuddly blanket” of history that I was a little bit more familiar with.  While I enjoyed working with Research immensely, after having my ups and downs with Python coding and reaching the mid-point of my first semester as a PhD student, the Education division made me feel like I was “coming home” and it reminded me that I was still useful and could learn new things at a faster pace.

The first assignment we were given was to locate photographs of the 100 leaders for the 100leaders.org website.  While I initially thought this task would be simple, I quickly learned a lot about the overly complicated world of copyright laws.  I had always assumed that famous paintings and photographs became famous because they were open access and freely used enough by the public to become recognizable and iconic—e.g. Washington Crossing the Delaware.  Oh, how wrong I was.  While I had a feeling it would be difficult to find open access photos of Walt Disney (because Disney is notoriously good at copyrighting everything), I was more than shocked to discover just how difficult it was to find an image of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, etc.  These are some of the most famous and recognizable figures in American history and it is almost impossible to find a copyright free image of them for public use.  Even other—not as well-known—leaders such as Ray Kroc, and Rachel Carson would exceedingly difficult to find images of due to copyright laws.

In order to show how important these leaders were without using their own images, Jordan, Alyssa, and I had to get a little creative with our searches.  For instance, since Susan B. Anthony only has one or two open access pictures, I found free images of women protesting for their right to vote.  For Ray Kroc, I found an image of a retro McDonald’s and so on.  While it was frustrating at times trying to find new ways to represent the 100leaders, it was also an exciting challenge that reminded me of why I love history so much and chose it as a career.  The hunt can be frustrating, but when you find that one image that brings everything together it makes you feel like Indiana Jones.  There were definitely many “booyahs!” yelled out from my side of the fellow’s table.

Finding these images made up the majority of our work in Education and I learned so much from it.  I’ve had the opportunity to teach History 101 (pre-history to 1500CE) twice at the university level and after working on the 100 leaders project I’m aiming to teach a world history course again this summer.  Going through bios, finding pictures, and learning about figures that I’d never heard of before has made me want to revamp my lectures and inspired me to look at different ways of teaching. While I’m sure this wasn’t necessarily an intended lesson from Education, I’m so grateful it reminded me of how much I love history, research, and teaching.

In our time in the Education division we were also asked to do some testing on the 100leaders website before it goes lives in November.  Sitting down at the Education table and giving Thomas Edison a constant rating of “1s” is what I call a pretty fantastic day.  However, outside of my historical hate of Edison, I discovered that I’m interested in how these websites are created.  Getting to give feedback on whether the “slider” was working properly or how many times the system would lock up depending on voting made me want to explore more of the technical side of Education.  Even though we didn’t get to work with the design and construction of the website, I was constantly shocked by how many different components went into creating a simple slider and how many options there were for creating the pages for voting.  I had the same curiosity when we were asked to create a manual for the 100leaders website once Education hands the website off to National History Day.  I was in charge of creating a step-by-step guide for editing resources on the website.  Writing this portion of the guide helped me to better understand the inner workings of a wordpress website and also let me see all the ways these sites can be manipulated.  While we weren’t able to help create portions of the website, it definitely made me want to explore more with coding for future use.

I will definitely miss working in the Education division.  I looked forward to going to work every day and working on topics and projects that I love.  I’m excited by the possibility of working in the Education division again and will actively keep up with their projects throughout the rest of the semester.

 

Education Reflection

Our rotation through the Education division has come to an end. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from our assignments.

To begin, I want to contrast the fellows experience in the Research division with our time spent in Education. Our entire rotation through Education was spent working on the 100 Leaders project. We were given various tasks and assignments to complete, all of which  focused on 100 Leaders. This was different from out time in Research, where our rotation was divided between two very different projects. My time in Research, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, gave me a broad over view of a project and then a more “nuts and bolts” experience with the second project. My time in Education working on one project allowed me to engage that project at different stages along its progression. The experiences in each division are very different but, for me, are complementary in their pedagogy.While Research allowed me to see how each division manages multiple projects, Education showed me how one project matures and develops.

Our first assignment was to build up a pool of images and videos for the people on the 100 Leaders website. We each were assigned 25 of the leaders to work on. It became somewhat like a treasure hunt as we were trying to find a quality image for each leader. It was a lot of fun to find interesting or unique images and then to share them with the other fellows. In a way, I  felt more connected to each leader I spent time searching the web for. This assignment also forced me to think differently about certain leaders whom I could not find many images for. I had to reword my search phrases or approach them from their work as opposed to their name. The biggest hurdle in collecting images was copyright. I must admit that after this assignment I became somewhat disillusioned with copyright the availability of public domain images. By way of example, I was assigned George Washington. As I began to search, I was excited to work on him as I had seen many amazing pieces of art on Washington. However, it turns out, many of the paintings of Washington are not public domain. I felt saddened that such an important figure in US History, a founding father and the first President of the United States, did not belong to the people but instead to some organization or government. Looking beyond the frustrations of copyright, this assignment was very rewarding and it was even more exciting to see the images used in the instructional videos on the 100 Leaders webpage.

Our next task was to do some user testing. A major facet of the 100 Leaders website is the voting component. End users will be able to vote on how well the leader did in five different leadership qualities. The voting functionality is still being worked on and we were tasked with testing it both on a laptop computer and on a mobile device. I had never user tested anything before, hardware or software. It was interesting to think about the various scenarios in which an end user would access the site. First, would they be using a PC or Mac? Second, what operating system would they be using? Third, what browser would then use? Safari? Chrome? Mozilla? Internet Explorer? Directions were written up (how we should vote) and we had to run through them in different scenarios. Luckily, with three of us doing this, we were able to move through the directions fairly quickly. On my MacBook Pro, I have a dual boot with Windows 7, so I was able to test the voting on both OS X and Windows 7. Whenever an issue arose (the webpage froze or had a glitch, links broke, webpages loaded incorrectly, etc.) we took screen shots to document them. The mobile testing was even more interesting as we had to interact with the site on touch screens. In the end, I learned there is a lot to consider and think about when user testing. This is the time the designers want the website to break, not when it is live and taking thousands of hits a day. I must say, it was fun to “try” and break a website.

Our final assignment was to draft a user manual for those who would be editing the 100 Leaders website. I had some experience in writing a manual for a website. During my undergraduate degree, I worked for a museum whose website was being switched over to a new content management system.  My task was to develop the content for the new website and then write a manual on how to manage/edit the new website. In all honesty, I did not entirely enjoy writing the manual. For the 100 Leaders website, I only had to work on a section of the biographical content of a leader. Writing a manual is a mental exercise. The author is trying to explain how to do something to someone who has never done it before. On top of that, the text is static so there can be no conversation between the author and the user. The sections I was tasked with writing the instructions for covered material that would change according to different scenarios. With the help from my mentor, Jannelle Legg, I was able to work through them. While I don’t necessarily want to write manuals, doing so stretched me as an academic and a student.

My time in Education was very rewarding. I am excited for the 100 Leaders project and will return to the site often to see its progress and to use its tools and information. Now on to Public Projects.

Education Division Reflection

Another four weeks has gone by! I cannot believe our time in the Education Division is already at an end. We’ve had a busy and productive month.

Our first task was to find images and videos of the people featured on the 100 Leaders website. I enjoyed examining the leader gallery, seeing which leaders were chosen by the panel, and debating with the other fellows over leaders that should have been included (like John Adams). We had to find videos or images of the leaders in context or performing some action rather than portraits, so for Martin Luther I used a picture of him nailing the 95 Theses to the church door at Wittenburg. We also had to find images of the leaders that exemplify the five qualities of leadership: articulating a vision; motivating others; making effective decisions; willingness to confront tough issues; and impacting history. It was immensely satisfying to see the images we collected highlighted in the video Chris created on using 100 Leaders in the classroom.

The only problem I ran into with collecting images and video footage was, of course, copyright. While in library school I took an excellent class titled Legal Issues in Information Handling: Copyright and Fair Use in the Digital Age, taught by Dr. James “Kip” Currier. In this class we delved into the problems and consequences of American intellectual property laws, including patents, trademarks, trade secrets, and copyright. It was both frustrating and interesting from an academic standpoint to see how far the hand of copyright can reach into historical work. The fact that we cannot use a decent image of any of the Founding Fathers is ridiculous. The problems I encountered with copyright furthered my opinion that American intellectual property law hinders rather than helps the creation, promotion, and usage of intellectual property.

We also did user and mobile testing on the 100 Leaders site. I first tested the site out on my laptop and didn’t have too many problems. Mobile testing was much more problematic. I used an iPad and had a really difficult problem using the slider. What struck me most was how many changes I saw on the site from one week to the next. The voting box looked completely different after only one week of work. User and mobile testing helped me understand how much work goes into creating an interactive website. Any problem we had with the site was reported to make sure that everyone who will vote on National History Day will have a positive experience and be able to navigate and use the website.

We also worked on creating a user guide for the 100 Leaders site for when we turn the site’s management and maintenance over to National History Day. Between the first year fellows we divided up the content portion of the site. I worked on providing step-by-step instructions for how to edit the biographical information associated with each leader. We had to ensure that our work was consistent in style and that the screenshots were uniform. Prior to starting work on the guide we were able to play around with the back end of the site, since we had previously only used the front end for user and mobile testing.

Working in the Education Division has given me an appreciation for knowing one’s audience, something we’ve been discussing in Clio 1 as of late. The work we did in Research with PressForward and DHNow was catered to an academic audience, but the work we did with 100 Leaders is for a much younger audience of school-aged children. When we were discussing what went into choosing the leaders, determining the qualities that make a leader, how the site was constructed, and mobile and user testing, I was constantly reminded that National History Day and 100 Leaders was designed for children in school to be able to understand and use for their own purposes. Especially with mobile and user testing, we had to think about how children would most likely interact with the sight. We had to consider such things as: would the slider or a dropdown box be more appropriate? Would they have a problem moving the slider? Is it visually and aesthetically appealing enough for that age group?

The Education team is busy with a multiplicity of projects and it’s been fun listening to what everyone is up to at the weekly staff meetings. I also found the lightning talks informative and I would have never known about The American Yawp, the timeline Stephanie told us about, or the religious atlas that Jordan discussed otherwise. The lightning talks were a great way to highlight digital tools and resources for educating all age groups about history.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in the Education Division. I’m looking forward to seeing how the voting turns out on National History Day and I’ll be sure to vote for a few of my favorites!

Research Division Reflections

My first few weeks as a Digital History Fellow at RRCHNM have been both an amazing experience and a complete challenge.  Before I began my PhD program, I didn’t really understand digital history and I wasn’t quite sure what I would be doing during the first year of my fellowship.  I had a hunch that I would learn some computer programing, do some blogging, and for some crazy reason thought that I would be digitizing historical documents.  However, my first few weeks in Research taught me that my ideas about digital history and the RRCHNM were a little off.

First, I’ve never had much experience with websites, blogs, etc.  For the 2012 Society for Military History conference, I managed a wordpress website for the program committee to rate and select papers and panels.  However, all I was asked to do was upload posts, pages, and rating systems.  Most of what I was doing was simple copy and paste.  When I heard we would be working with PressForward and Digital Humanities now, I was excited because I would have a leg up on understanding basic components of a wordpress site—not so much.  For the first few days my colleagues Jordan, Alyssa, and I kept looking at each other with complete confusion.  There were so many acronyms and lingo that we’d never heard and jumping into the digital world made me worried that I wouldn’t be able to figure everything out.

However, the Research Division never let us slip and I am so grateful everyone on the team knew that I walked into the fellowship with very little experience.  We were so lucky to have Mandy, Amanda, and Stephanie sit down with us to explain the components of PressForward  (and for me what an RSS Feed even meant) and Digital Humanities Now.  Without a doubt, working on Digital Humanities Now was my favorite part of the last four weeks.  Having the opportunity to be an editor at large and select dozens of articles collected by PressForward made me feel like I was living in a digital world, but kept me in my comfort zone—i.e.  intense sessions of reading.   We got about two or three days to look through PressForward, mining for different articles that would be worthy of a front page spot on Digital Humanities Now, and then had the opportunity pick which articles were chosen for that week.  Mandy showed us how to use wordpress and publish the top stories, as well as setting up Twitter to tweet out our selections at different times throughout the day.

Learning PressForward and what goes into updating Digital Humanities Now was challenging, but fun because after a couple of mistakes playing in sandbox, the material started to click and I could then recognize and regurgitate steps.  However, the bottom kind of dropped out when we were told our next assignment was to work with the Programing Historian website and learn the ins and outs of Python and Zotero.  I started having problems almost immediately because of my “awesome” PC.  All of the digital history fellows, young and old, have Macs—I do not.  I had to download different programs than Jordan and Alyssa, such as Text Wrangler, and any time I a problem would occur not many people in the room could figure out what was going on to help me.  After about a day we had things up and going and I starting the Programing Historian tutorials.  Like I said before, I’ve never worked with programing and I was excited to start these tutorials because “Programing Historian” sounds like a step-by-step guide for those in the humanities who have never used a computer for more than research, Facebook, and e-mail.  This was not necessarily the case.  While the first four lessons were simple enough, I felt like I started fighting the tutorials and the tutorials started fighting me.  After eight years of higher education in the liberal arts, I’ve been trained to question everything.  Why does a “/” go in front of this phrase?  Why do I have to have a variable?  Why do I have to set up a string?  I wasn’t questioning programing to be a big liberal arts jerk, I honestly just wanted to know why.  I’ve been trained for almost a decade to understand how and why patterns work and then after that it sticks in my head and it becomes a natural reflex.  The problem I faced was not with the programing, but with letting go of having only one very specific way of learning a new tool.  Jordan told me quite a few times that there doesn’t have to be a reason for the amount of spaces and slashes in programing—you just do it.  Once I stopped fighting with myself, I finally started learning how to write code.

Once I was past my natural reflex of being stubborn, I started having a few more problems.  Programing Historian for Microsoft really has a tendency to just “run away with itself.”  I kept getting multiple errors and could never get further than the sixth tutorial because no one really around me understood why my computer was being crazy and Programming Historian doesn’t show what to do if you have common errors.  I knew there were free coding tutorials online, but very few offered lessons in Python.  Jordan suggested that I use Code Academy and within minutes I was on a tutorial page and learning code at double the speed of Programing Historian.  I was doing well with Code Academy and even got to yell out to the fellow table every time I collected a new badge.  However, within about two days, Jordan and Alyssa were on entirely different places in their Programing Historian tutorials than I was in Code Academy and I could no longer ask them questions about how to do “this” and “that” and they couldn’t really ask me anything either.

I appreciate Programing Historian because it taught two out of three people how to code in Python.  It’s not that we didn’t like each other; it’s just that our relationship really wasn’t working out and Programing Historian and I decided to see other people.

Challenges are a huge part of a PhD program and I knew I would have them starting out in a field of history in which I had very little experience. I’m sad that my time in Research is over because I was just getting the hang of Python and I really want to explore more options and how to manipulate Zotero for my personal research needs.  Everyone in Research was constantly at my side, making sure that I had all of the tools I needed to learn PressForward, Digital Humanities Now, Programing Historian, and Zotero.  I can honestly say that I am glad the first part of my fellowship was spent in the Research division and I’m excited at the possibility of working with them once again.