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.
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.
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.
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.
It has been a busy and beneficial fall semester as a second-year fellow at CHNM. The time rolled along quickly and throughout I’ve had a number of new opportunities and experiences that have built on the work that we did last year as first-year fellows.
As a second-year fellow in the center, our roles at the center changed considerably. The first year of the fellowship focused on circulating us through each division at the center – a six-week process that exposed us to the various projects and enabled us to work with faculty and staff throughout CHNM. The second year of the fellowship has been much more concentrated. My work in the Education division has afforded me more time on a project and allowed me to work more directly with members of that division. In turn I’ve been able to understand the facets of the project to which I have contributed and have enjoyed greater integration into the division.
Getting Started with Phase 1 of 100 Leaders:
In this case, the majority of the fall semester was spent working on the 100 Leaders in World History project. The site, which I have reviewed here, allows for interaction with historical figures on the subject of leadership and encourages teachers and students to extend these subjects further by rating these figures on particular leadership traits. CHNM was selected by National History Day to develop and design the site last Spring. At the start of the semester the site was still in the first phase of development. I worked to add the content from National History Day to each of the pages and familiarized myself with the back-end structure of Drupal. Throughout this period I had a number of interesting conversations with Jennifer Rosenfeld about the complexities and challenges of creating interactive and educational materials for the web. I learned a good deal about the importance of collaboration on a project of this scale. With over 100 distinct pages on the site, minor edits, like the addition of italicization, called for discussion, notation, and a division of labor to ensure that each page was updated appropriately.
Mentoring and moving into Phase 2:
As the semester rolled on, the first-year fellows circulated into the Education department for a four-week accelerated rotation. Stephanie, Jordan, and Alyssa each completed a blog post that described their experiences. During this period I took on a larger role in mentoring them and organized each of the activities we would undertake. We began with user testing across browsers and devices. At this stage, the 100 Leaders in World History project had entered the second phase of development and this user testing aided in the development and design of the current voting interface and served to test and validate that the underlying voting algorithm was capturing and recording appropriately. We consistently tried our best to break everything and shared our findings with Jennifer and James McCartney for improvement. (Anyone viewing the site on a smartphone will appreciate our feedback as the larger slider buttons were a direct result of these tests!)
Next, we worked to gather image content and citation information for videos on the site. At first, our discussions focused on digital images and copyright, but soon we turned our attention to issues of diversity and representation in terms of time period, geographic region, gender, race, ethnicity, and type of leadership. We tried to be thoughtful in our selections, considering the ability of a single image to convey particular types of information about a leader or juxtaposing images to create alternate or additional meaning about a figure or figures. The final activity undertaken with the help of the first year fellows was the creation of a guidebook that will aid National History Day in modifying and maintaining the 100 Leaders in World History site.
Each of these activities was useful in demonstrating the different complications that accompany large-scale, collaborative, educational websites. User testing encouraged us to deal with the user experience and to gain insight into the processes required to build a site of this size. Contributing images moved us back into our comfort zones as historians doing research on particular subjects- but the added complication of copyright was useful in expanding the Fellows’ thinking about what digital historical research entails. While we each campaigned for our favorite images or leaders, we also took seriously the importance of crafting a meaningful visual narrative that supported the dialogue of each video. Finally, the guidebook allowed an introduction to the back-end of a Drupal site and encouraged us to think through questions about making navigation easier and more efficient to those without experience programming.
Working on 100 Leaders after the launch:
After the first-year fellows completed their rotation in the Education division, my work continued to focus on the completion of the Guidebook as well as video transcription, user testing, data manipulation and a website review. On November 3rd, the voting interface on the 100 Leaders in World History site went live. To aid in marketing the site and to inform teachers about how it could be used in the classroom, I wrote a summary of the site’s features for Teachinghistory.org. This website review encouraged me to revisit my earlier discussions with Jennifer about online learning and to view the 100 Leaders in World History site with fresh eyes. Since then, interest in the site has exploded and we have recorded over 200,000 votes in just over a month. It has been a busy but useful semester for me in Education and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to a project like 100 Leaders.
In November, CHNM celebrated its 20th anniversary with a conference held here at George Mason. As I described here, the second-year fellows spent a portion of last spring engaged in a discussion about the history of the center. From that seminar with Dr. Robertson, each of us researched a foundational project in the center’s history and created an archive in Omeka to organize and display our findings. Over the summer I worked to expand our efforts to include the broader range of projects using grant materials, oral histories, and internal communications to trace the development and growth of important projects. As a relative newcomer to the field, this process was particularly meaningful. This work culminated this fall in the release of the RRCHNM20 Collection which made these materials public and invited others to contribute. The RRCHNM20 Collection is an important step toward creating a unified narrative of CHNM’s role through recording and preserving the hidden processes and persons at each phase of CHNM’s history. In fact, a group of us used a portion of our time at the conference to mine the RRCHNM collection and create a visualization that represents some of the connections between projects and people across 20 years. Furthermore, the conference events brought former and current employees together in a productive and meaningful dialogue about the past, present and future of work at DH centers like CHNM (I live-tweeted these experiences throughout the conference.)
Additional Fellowship Responsibilities and final thoughts:
The additional responsibilities of a second-year fellow include producing a podcast, serving as a mentor to first-year fellows and the operation of the Digital Support Space. It was interesting to be on the other side of the mentorship process this year. Last year, Ben Hurwitz, Spencer Roberts, and Amanda Morton served as mentors to the incoming fellows. They were each very helpful to us and I was excited to provide the same assistance for the new group. Across the semester I’ve made myself available to each of them for support, but my interaction during their rotation in the Education division was particularly significant. During that period I was able to provide direct support and work with each of them individually on a project. Not only do I feel that I got to know them better, but we had a number of useful conversations about the fellowship and the PhD program broadly. I also worked this semester with my mentee, Jordan, to research and produce episode 108 for the Digital Campus podcast. Finally, I also extended time and resources to individuals in Clio I, Clio 3, and Digital Storytelling classes through the Support Space.
Overall, has been a fast and busy semester but a successful one. I’ve learned a good deal about project management and collaboration through my experiences on the 100 Leaders in World History project and I’m pleased to have had the chance to work more closely in the Education division.
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.
When I applied to the PhD program in history at George Mason University, I did not know about the Digital History Fellowship. I had researched PhD programs that might offer a chance to work in digital history, and identified GMU and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media as the best option for reaching my goals. When I received notification about my acceptance via a phone call from the program director, the fellowship was a pleasant surprise and exciting opportunity within an excellent program. Two years later, I can say with assurance that the Digital History Fellowship has altered the course of my career and created opportunities I could never have imagined.
To provide some context, here is a little background on the Digital History Fellowship, as I understand it:
The DH Fellowship was designed to support a PhD student in history at the beginning of her or his time at GMU. Students spend time in a practicum at the RRCHNM, receiving funds to support the full-time course load. The first cohort, 2012-13, was given two years of unattached funding, meaning that our time in the RRCHNM could be spent on a variety of projects. The second cohort also received two years of funding. The third cohort, who have just arrived at GMU, received only one year of funding. All of the PhD students in history receive funding from the history department, so the fellowship provides extra funding through GMU’s Office of the Provost. In total, the DH Fellows are offered 4-5 years of funding through the combined funds of the department and provost.
The students accepted into the fellowship are expected to be interested in the field of digital history. Most of the DH Fellows have some digital skills and knowledge before they apply for the program, but few have had extensive experience with digital tools and methodologies. The purpose of the fellowship is to help students gain knowledge, skills, and experience within digital history. Through a practicum at the RRCHNM, the fellows are able to learn at a rapid pace while also contributing to existing projects.
The title of this essay represents my view of the DH Fellowship: by examining our experiences over the past two years, we can identify trends and trajectories that help us understand the impact of the fellowship on our futures.
The students who receive the DH Fellowship gain experience in the following areas, which are in no particular order, and certainly not exhaustive:
- community transcribing
- content management systems (Omeka, WordPress, Drupal, etc)
- citation management systems (Zotero)
- scholarly communication platforms (PressForward, Digital Humanities Now)
- public history projects (Histories of the National Mall, Papers of the War Department, September 11 Archive, etc)
- educational history projects (Teaching History, Sea of Liberty, Popular Romance, etc)
- web and programming languages (HTML, CSS, Python, PHP, etc)
- project management (sprint planning, reviews, etc)
- project planning (grant proposals, reviews, organizational structure)
- collaborative project development
- web content writing
- image permissions research
- topic modelling (MALLET, PaperMachines, etc)
- data creation, management, and analysis (spreadsheets, visualizations, etc)
- text mining (Voyant, n-Grams, etc)
- digital mapping (Google Maps Engine, Fusion Tables, MapWarper, StoryMapJS, etc)
If I took some time to consult with my colleagues, I’m sure the list would grow. More importantly, many of those experiences are well outside the realm of usual graduate studies, especially in history.
Understanding the value of a new fellowship in a new field can sometimes be difficult because of the lack of precedents. Amongst the participants at conferences, however, some comparisons might be made. I’ve attended multiple conferences in digital humanities, as well as the Digital Humanities Summer Institute on two occasions. At those events, I have noted a distinct lack of graduate student presence, even from universities with stronger digital programs. Conversations with other graduate students have made it apparent that the DH Fellowship is an exception in graduate training, even at universities with digital humanities scholars or centers. For many graduate students, those conferences and institutes offer the only way to access digital training, experience, or even exposure. The cost of access, however, remains sufficiently high in price and time that many graduate students cannot attend.
The numbers of educational programs, such as digital humanities courses and certificates, are growing, but remain limited in scope. Few departments or centers can provide a wide range of experiences in the short time that graduate students can afford. Many conventional masters and PhD programs provide little or no time for students to experiment with digital projects or methods. Even those programs with more flexibility must balance between disciplinary requirements and new digital components.
The DH Fellowship is one approach to the difficult task of educating PhD students in a discipline and valuable set of skills simultaneously. It allows history students to learn digital skills while working on history-based digital projects. Our abilities increase along two axes, as historians and as digital humanists. As a result, we start to become digital historians early in our careers, from the first days of our doctoral study. Our generation will be the first who can claim that depth of training.
We’d be mistaken, however, to describe the fellowship as the perfect solution. The first cohort arrived at the RRCHNM during a time of significant transition, as long-time director Dan Cohen took a new position at the Digital Public Library of America. The order and length of assignments within different divisions was altered for the second cohort, and again for the third. The types of assignments changed, new tasks were assigned, and have now been removed. The fellowship was intended to bring in three cohorts, and it will remain under construction from beginning to end.
The fellowship exists in a marginal space between three very different offices: the Office of the Provost, the Department of History and Art History, and the RRCHNM. Navigating the overlapping requirements and privileges of those three pivot points can be challenging. The DH Fellows receive slightly more funding than Graduate Research Assistants, but initially lacked desks and workspace in the center. After two years of intense training in digital history, there are no guarantees that we can continue in the center. That depends on the availability of grant money, rather than the provost’s funding. Two students from the first cohort remained in the center, but one moved into a teaching assistant position (by his own choice). An arrangement was found, but was negotiated on the ground when the problem arose.
That situation raised an interesting question: after investing two years in training graduate students, should they remain in the digital projects? For the students, our two year investment had no structured conclusion, leaving us precariously positioned going into third year. Was our time in the center meaningful enough that we’d be offered a position? We’d been told that the fellowship was important; but the importance of digital training seems to hinge on whether we (and the center) could sustain our training (and contributions to projects) when the fellowship ended.
The importance of digital history training is unquestionable. In a post that is optimistic for students and troubling for hiring committees, Sean Takats has highlighted the disparity between the number of jobs in digital history and the pool of candidates for such positions. According to Takats, “there simply aren’t enough candidates to fill the positions we already have, let alone the ones that may or may not be created in the future.“
Within the center, graduate students watch job postings for digital history or digital humanities positions. Recently, a job search at the University of Alberta for a Digital Humanities Specialist included a long list of qualifications. Upon review, a group of current digital history researchers (graduate students) concluded that U of A would never find someone who could meet all of those requirements. If that person exists, she or he is probably still in grad school at a short list of universities. Maybe even at GMU. Maybe even a DH Fellow. There simply aren’t many places to look for someone with basic digital skills let alone a digital humanities specialist.
The benefits of the DH Fellowship might not be immediately apparent from its description alone. In part, it allows PhD students in history to learn new digital skills. It also allows those students to contribute to projects at one of the world’s foremost digital history centers. The interaction between the center, department, and students is a two-way street that benefits all of the participants.
When we leave the fellowship and eventually the university, we will take with us the lessons we’ve learned, the skills we’ve acquired, and the knowledge to shape the future of digital history and digital humanities throughout the world. We will find jobs in that field, whether in scholarly positions or alternative-academic roles. We will continue to build on our experiences, add new tools to our set, and enrich our practice of history with technologies that open new doors. We will trace our successes to our days at Mason, sitting in the RRCHNM, debating which programming languages best suit the needs of historians.
It’s been a long while since one of the DH Fellows wrote a post here, but I assure our readers that we’re not being lazy. Rather, we are busy with the daily goings-on of the center. Unfortunately, some of those activities are just not as blog-worthy as some of our previous activities. But as the term winds to an end, we’ll have some reflections on our winter term (or is it spring?).
Additionally, Cohort 1 (Amanda M., Ben, and Spencer) will be preparing a final report for their time in the fellowship. All of us will continue at the university and probably in the center, but our classification as DH Fellows officially ends at the close of this term. Our final reflections on the fellowship will help to identify its actual value from the perspective of its participants. Our views are important because the fellowship was proposed and implemented with certain values in mind, but those almost always change when the rubber hits the road. And who better to identify the worth of a training program than those who have been trained?
There is some difficulty, however, in our immediate future. The fellowship was proposed and implemented for three cohorts. In the fall, three new students will take the three final positions. The last cohort of the fellowship is also limited to one year of funding, after which they will depend on the department rather than the provost. It’s an awkward situation because those of us who were here at the beginning won’t officially be present at the end, and those at the end receive only a half portion of the fellowship’s peak output. (See note below)
The difficulty, then, is writing up a report from the perspective of guinea pigs that captures the success of the fellowship before it’s officially over. We all believe it was extremely valuable to the university, to the center, and to us. But how do we make that apparent to others? And how do we convince the new provost that another series of cohorts is a valuable investment? We’ll be tackling those questions in the next few weeks, and posting some of our conclusions here.
Note: I’m not suggesting that the third cohort is being short-changed. One year of funding under this program is better than no years of funding, and that’s just how it was designed. Furthermore, all PhD students in History at Mason receive at least three years of funding from the department. The fellowship is added to those years, so even one year extra is great.
As the first term of 2013-14 closes, it seems appropriate to reflect on the experiences of the Digital History Fellows. Last year, our first cohort of DH Fellows spent the first semester meeting with Dan Cohen, learning the history of the center, discussing current projects, and thinking about how digital history is practiced. We spent our second semester working in each of the divisions for five weeks, and then decided in which division we would like to work in the second year. Although there was no specific requirement that we take positions spread across the three divisions, we were drawn in different directions. From the first days of the fellowship, Ben Hurwitz was most comfortable in Education and quickly entrenched himself at their community table. He now works on various educational projects, including the Popular Romance Project. Amanda Morton worked closely with Fred Gibbs before he relocated to New Mexico, which helped her transition into Research, where she works on Digital Humanities Now and related PressForward projects. Spencer Roberts was drifting toward Public Projects before the summer started, and settled in once the center received a grant to work with the National Park Service to revamp their War of 1812 site.
This year we welcomed three new members into the fellowship, bringing our total number to six. The second cohort follows a different schedule in their first year, so Amanda Regan, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, and Jannelle Legg stepped directly into the mix at RRCHNM, splitting their semester into seven-week blocks in Education and Public Projects. During those weeks, they have written reflective posts about the projects to which they’ve contributed, all of which can be found here. Next term, they will spend a block in Research before moving into a final seminar with Stephen Robertson.
The past seven weeks have moved really quickly but I have benefitted a great deal from the time we spent in the Public Projects section of CHNM.
Due to my relatively limited technical skills, this section has proven to be the most challenging thus far. However, with some help, and some pretty detailed instructions, I have been expanding my skill set and feel a lot less intimidated by the tools we work with. There are three main projects on which we focused: testing updates in Omeka, transcribing and revisiting documents at the Papers of the War Department and contributing to and testing the National Mall site.
I have deeply enjoyed them all, especially the sunny morning we spent at the National Mall. Additionally, a great deal of our work overlapped with the theoretical reading and discussions of our coursework as digital history scholars. It is rare for theory and application to be balanced, but that was definitely my experience this semester. I was frequently surprised to find applications of class reading at work and often referred to the work done at CHNM during course discussions.
Public Projects was deeply inclusive for us as fellows. I got a real sense of each of the ongoing projects and I learned a great deal about the collaborative work required to produce the resources described above.
Overall, this semester the fellowship has given me a structured place to develop my knowledge and expertise with digital tools, like Omeka and Scripto, and given me a sandbox to play with Git Hub and the command-line (if you know what those things are, you are in a much better place than I was three months ago!)
I’m looking forward to learning more in the semester to come!