Reflections on the Seminar

This blog post will conclude my first semester in the PhD program here at George Mason University. The semester moved by very quickly and it is amazing to see how much we have all learned from the fellowship. Each divisional rotation expanded my understanding of the field of Digital History as well as my own capabilities within it. Our final rotation for the semester was a seminar with Dr. Stephen Robertson. Largely focused on the recent 20th Anniversary of the Center, I was able to learn a lot more about digital history centers in general and how they function.

We started the seminar with a list of readings on Digital Humanities Centers. It was interesting to compare what we were reading to our experiences over the last four months. I was surprised to see the complexity in establishing DH Centers. Issues were raised over where the center would reside, what function would the center have, and even if creating a center is the right thing to do. I reflected on my reasoning for applying to GMU. George Mason ranked high on my list of graduate schools because of I wanted to work at CHNM.  If I knew of a professor who worked in DH but didn’t operate in a center, would that deter me from applying to that university or program? I really liked Stephen Ramsey’s post Centers are People where he articulated a preconceived notion that I had in applying to programs. He states that for many, centers are how you get into DH. However, he goes on to highlight how this isn’t always the case. These questions about centers are really interesting to me as I aim to be a collegiate professor who is also a digital historian.

After our brief crash course in DH centers, we focused the remainder of our time on the 20th Anniversary. We thought it would be a great resource if we aggregated the tweets from the two days of the conference using Storify.  Using the #rrchnm20, we went back through twitter and grouped the tweets according to the day and session of the conference. The ability to do this capped off my largely increased appreciation for twitter that I have developed over the semester. I have come to greatly appreciate it as a platform to communicate with other scholars and to disseminate information and ideas. It also, as I learned from this, a convenient and easy way to categorize and save these communications. I can truly say that I have been converted. The saved tweets can be found here.

The majority of the seminar focused on creating an Omeka exhibit for the 20th site. Having recently come out of our rotation through Public Projects, I was interested in the history of the September 11 Digital Archive. We, the first year fellows, had the opportunity to add metadata to recently received items, so I had a little experience with the archive itself. The approach I took was to contextualize the Archive with its place in CHNM’s history. How was it influenced by other projects? Did it feed into or help bring about other projects? How does a center preserve a project over time? In locating the Archive in the overall story that is CHNM, I learned a lot. I was able to explore other Digital Memory Banks that the Center has created such as Blackout History Project and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. I was able to read through the various documents for the Archive which addressed interesting points such as what to do with submission that could be falsified or blatantly racist. Also I was able to come to appreciate the magnitude of such a project and the importance of collecting history online. If you would like to see my exhibit, follow the link here.

I found the topic of the seminar, on that of DH centers and the history of CHNM, to be a great way to wrap up this whirlwind of a semester. Each of the three divisions allowed us a glimpse into the various projects CHNM undertakes and broadened my understanding of the field. The seminar allowed us to step back and take in the broader sense of centers and their functionality in the discipline. I am coming away with a greater understanding and  even more questions.

Reflections on the Fall Semester in Research

This year I am a second year fellow and am spending the year in the Research Division working on PressForward.  In addition to working on PressForward, I’ve continued to be involved in the Support Space, Digital Campus, and mentoring the new fellows. Over the course of this semester the PressForward team has been busy wrapping up the first PressForward grant and, in October, we began PressForward 2 which was funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.  As one of the GRAs on this project I’ve worked on multiple things over the course of the semester including redesigning the PressForward website, continuing to manage DHNow, and was involved in putting together the most recent issue of the Journal of Digital Humanities. In the midst of all of this, we’ve been refining and further developing the next version of the PressForward plugin.  I’ve been testing the plugin and have even started contributing code to the most recent version.

This summer I was given the opportunity to work on PressForward and this enabled me to get a head start on my assignment for this year.  It was incredibly useful to be around for the launch of the plugin and to be able to use the summer to really familiarize myself with the plugin, Digital Humanities Now and other aspects of the division.  In our brief rotation through Research last Spring we didn’t get to spend a lot of time looking at the nitty gritty details of how DH Now or PressForward work.  Over the summer I was able to take some time to familiarize myself with the organization of the plugin and the daily administrative work for DHNow.  It turned out to be such a useful summer because I returned in the Fall ready for the fast paced wrap up of PressForward 1 and the beginning of our implementation phase.

Among the projects I undertook in Research this semester, redesigning the PressForward website took a large amount of my time.  PressForward 2 is an implementation grant and over the next 14 months we will be working with several partners to develop publications using the plugin.  In this new capacity, I was asked to help redesign the website and transition from a blog about a research project on scholarly communication to a website focused on our plugin and its features.  I spent quite a bit of time looking at both the Omeka and Zotero websites and thinking about what made a good digital humanities tool website.  How do you effectively communicated the major features of the tool and its application for both humanities projects and more general use?  The PressForward plugin is available on the WordPress directory and has a wide range of applications outside of just academic publishing.  The website needed to reflect both applications and focus on what makes PressForward different from a standard RSS reader.  Furthermore, it needed to have support forums as we begin to develop a community of users.  Both Omeka and Zotero have very broad and dedicated communities that contribute to these open source projects.  PressForward 2 will be, in part, about cultivating a similar community for our tool and that begins with support and education about the plugin and its uses.

Looking at other examples, I designed a site that very much mirrored the organization of both the Omeka and Zotero sites.  On the homepage the dominant area is filled with tabs that each focus on a key feature of PressForward: the overall point of the plugin, features for collecting, features for discussing, and features for sharing content.  In each tab a large download button takes the user to the PressForward GitHub repository. Below the features are links to each pilot partner’s web page and a link to our blog.  This was a very useful project because it led me to not only think about the way digital humanities tools communicate their goals but also I learned quite a bit of php while I hacked around in the theme. It worked out that I happened to be taking Lincoln Mullen’s Programming for Historians class at the same time and the skills I had learned in that class complimented this project, and working a bit with php, well.  As we move forward I’ll be doing some more theme development for PressForward 2 and will also be contributing, what I can, to UI/UX issues on new versions of the plugin.

In addition to all my work on the PressForward project, I have also been participating in running the Digital History Support Space which is always a rewarding experience.  Over the course of the semester we’ve helped numerous people from all of the Clio I courses and we expect to have more frequent visitors next semester during Clio II.

In November, the center had its twentieth anniversary conference and opened up the API for the archive that we began building last Spring (and Jannelle Legg spent all summer refining and adding content). On Friday, the first day of the conference, a few of us decided to use the API to make a network graph of all the people and projects at the center.  We coded like mad for the whole day, and—with a lot of help from Lincoln Mullen—we ended the day with three network visualizations. I think this was an interesting way to wrap up our work from last year on the archive and was a practical use of the skills Jannelle Legg and I had been learning in Lincoln Mullen’s Programming for Historians seminar.  The visualization reflects some of the decisions we made when creating the archive last summer and the some of the limitations of the archive.  All of the nodes and edges on the graph represent the information provided on the coversheets of grants.  As a result, staff that were hired after the grant was awarded are not reflected on the graph and grants that were iterative aren’t necessarily connected.  I think the project was a great example of the choices that have to made when creating a digital archive and was a fun way to wrap up the project we began last Spring. The visualization is available here. (The visualization was a collaborative effort by: Ken Albers, Peter Carr Jones, Lincoln Mullen, Patrick Murray-John, Allison O’Connor, and Faolan Cheslack-Postava).

We also have a new cohort of Fellows this year and at the beginning of the semester we paired off each second year with a first year to act as a mentor.  Our role is to mentor them throughout their first year.  Their first rotation this semester was through research and over the course of their first two weeks they worked on PressForward and Digital Humanities Now. I helped walk them through the goals of the project and showed them how the plugin worked.  They watched me do Editor in Chief and then served as Editors At Large before taking on Editor in Chief themselves. Walking them through the projects, I was struck by how much of a better understanding of the center and the various projects I have now than when I first began at the center.  Looking back on our first year, its impressive the range of material we were introduced to and the ways it complimented our coursework to provide us with a unique perspective on Digital History.   I’m really looking forward to continuing to work with the new fellows and having one of them in Research next semester.

Seminar Reflection

My final reflection for the semester is on the first year fellows’ time in the seminar block. We began our first week with a group of readings on the establishment, structure, and dissolution of digital history centers in addition to readings on the history of the Center. During the discussion of the readings, we talked about the physical location of DH centers, many of which are housed within university libraries. While that seems to be a reasonable and logical choice, it is not always best for DH centers for various reasons, least of all funding. This particularly peaked my interest because, as a librarian, I can see how placing these centers within libraries would impact libraries and the services they provide to their patrons, as well as how such a location would impact the libraries internally and the DH centers.

We also worked on compiling the information and notes taken during the 20th anniversary conference. We edited the Google docs from the Saturday morning and afternoon sessions and created an archive of the Tweets from the conference through Storify. All of this work can be accessed here. I am glad we were able to re-visit the notes from the sessions, and adding a synopsis and further resources was helpful in reminding me of the breadth of discussion that occurred at the conference. It’s also been convenient since I was unable to attend all of the sessions that I wanted to, as many of them overlapped.

Finally, we began working on our final projects for the semester. I’m working on a timeline using Timeline JS that maps out the birth of various technologies, centers, projects, works of scholarship, and blogs. I wouldn’t have been able to complete the timeline if it hadn’t been for Anne, Mandy, and Jannelle’s work on DH centers, this map from Vox, and this timeline from the Pew Research Center. It has been interesting to see what has overlapped, when certain technologies came out and how that affected centers, the first digital history projects, and the birth of blogs. It’s been difficult to find a stopping point for adding information to the timeline – there is always more that can be put in, since the history of digital history encompasses so many things. For example, I know that the timeline would really benefit from a history of CMS; adding in death dates of centers when appropriate; a history of flash; a history of CD ROMs; and more DH projects from other centers. As it is, I already have over 200 entries on the timeline, and the process has proved to be very time consuming, but also fascinating and fun. I am hoping to create four pages within an Omeka exhibit that explore Firefox and Zotero; blogging technologies; open access/open source; and Who Built America. All of our final projects will be put up on the RRCHNM 20 site.

Reflections on the Fall 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.

CHNM Anniversary:

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.

 

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 #RRCHNM20

I always know I chose the right profession when conference season comes around.  I get excited for conferences like children get excited for Christmas and  every year I plan my schedule around them.  When I found out that the Roy Rosenzweig Center or History and New Media 20th anniversary conference landed on my birthday this year, it seemed appropriate.

However, the RRCHNM20 was unlike any history conference that I’d ever been to before.  At times I was mesmerized by the conference and other times I felt like a complete deer in the headlights.  I was expecting it to be like all of the other conferences that I attended and presented at in the past, where there was a fixed schedule of rooms full of people who stared at the speakers and nodded their heads constantly.  This definitely was not the environment of my first digital history conference and–in a way–  it was a lot more refreshing.  Having the ability to have a say in what panels would be presented that day by voting in between sessions and watching the audience live tweet intently made me fell like I was a part of something more important and like my opinion mattered along with everyone else’s.

The sessions I attended dealt with subjects that affect the world of digital history and the entire historical community.  How do we fight the cultural constructs of gender in our field and give women the same respect as men in centers?  How do we collaborate more with public historians and museums in order to reach larger audiences?  Perhaps one of the most important: how to we get the funds to accomplish all of these goals?  These sessions were encouraging and inspiring because at time it felt like a digital history summit to take over the world instead of listening to panels with three different interpretations of the exact same subject.  It was refreshing and terrifying.

The conference reminded me exactly how new I am to digital history and that while I’ve learned so much in one semester (thanks to RRCHNM) that I still have a long way to go in the field before I truly understand enough to feel comfortable making assertions in panels or offering my own opinions in front of the digital historians whose articles I’ve read in class.  I felt very much like a green horn, especially after Dr. Robertson turned on the large screen in the conference room with the live #RRCHNM20 tweets.  All of a sudden my 20 tweets a minute turned into 2 tweets an hour because I realized these digital history giants would be reading my Twitter banter.  I started questioning whether on not I had to right to comment on digital history when so many people in the room had built its foundations.

While my own fears got the best of me at times, I was constantly surprised and comforted by the amount of the support in the sessions and throughout the conference.  I was approached by many digital historians who knew that I had the words “graduate student” tattooed on my forehead.  Many people asked me questions about my research, the support I’d received from RRCHNM, and why I chose George Mason.  It was fun to explain that I’d chosen George Mason because of RRCHNM and how I wanted to become a part of something bigger in our field and I knew digital history was what would get me there.  The digital historians at the conference made me feel –even though I had my own concerns over how much I actually knew–that I belonged in this group of tech-savy historians.

The conference also reminded me how lucky I am to be at RRCHNM.  Listening to all of the stories about Roy, his legacy and what that means to digital history, left the biggest impression of what exactly I am a part of.  I go to work every day for a center that not only changes our conceptions of history, but reaches audiences at the academic, public, and international level with our projects and tools.  RRCHNM’s 20th anniversary conference has reminded me of why I got into history into the first place.  It’s all about changing the way we view our pasts and teaching to large audiences.

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.

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.