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.

My rotation through the Research Division

I am not sure what I was expecting when the first year fellows were assigned to the Research division. I came with a preconceived notion of what Digital History research is and what historians do with it. It turned out that the scope of my understanding was actually quite limited. My time in the division has taught me a lot about the vast applications and possibilities of Digital History. We (the first year fellows) were given chances to get our hands dirty and it proved very rewarding. Sadly, this blog post marks the end of our rotation through the Research division.

Our first assignment was to PressForward. We started from the ground up by familiarizing ourselves with the project. We installed the plugin on the sandbox server and got to bang around on it. We explored the PressForward.org site as well as the digitalhumanitiesnow.org site. I must admit that my initial reaction was that PressForward was a glorified RSS reader with some added features of promoting articles. I use Feedly (a RSS reader) on my phone to follow various history blogs and I, at first, did not see a big difference between the two. It wasn’t until someone explained “gray literature” that the full purpose of PressForward came into view. Until that point, I had been ignorant to the issue of online scholarship. The PressForward site explains “gray literature” to be “conference papers, white papers, reports, scholarly blogs, and digital projects.” Online scholarship is being under-appreciated and forgotten in a discipline that has focused so heavily for so long on printed material.  My assignment as an Editor-at-Large and then as an Editor-in-Chief brought this issue into focus for me

Working as an Editor-at-Large and Editor-in-Chief really solidified the importance of PressForward. As an Editors-at-Large, we worked through the live feed of articles and websites coming into Digital Humanities Now. I learned that it can be labor intensive to sift through the various websites and articles to find important, relevant material. It is not always easy to find the scholarship and pertinent information. I also learned first hand about the limitations of the software. On a couple of occasions I fell victim to the browser’s back button instead of closing a window. I then found myself back at the beginning of the feed instead of where I was before I had clicked on the article. After shadowing Amanda and Mandy when they were Editors-in-Chief, the first year fellows were able to make decisions on what would be published to DH Now. It was a very fun experience that helped me begin to grasp the extent of online scholarship and publishing. In addition, reading through the articles helped us to be informed an the various projects in the field. I even found articles that did not qualify for DH Now but were of interest to me. I bookmarked more than a handful that I wanted to return to later.

The second assignment was Programming Historian. While our time in PressForward gave us an overview of one of the projects, Programming Historian introduced us to the “nuts and bolts” of the division. It was here that my experience differed from Alyssa’s and Stephanie’s experiences. I came into this program with a background in computer programming. While I am not a computer science “person” I did take classes, during my undergraduate, on C#, HTML, CSS, and Javascript. I struggled at first with the syntax of Python but my background in programming proved very helpful in picking up the language and quickly moving through the lessons. However, I found the lessons to be more focused  on the task of the program (manipulating strings, working with web pages etc.) than learning the language itself. I think it would be beneficial to those without programming experience to work through the Python lessons at Codecademy before starting the Programming Historian lessons. I found the lessons to be very interesting and fun to do. I am excited to use these programs, such as frequency counts and n-grams, in my own research.

The final part of Programming Historian were the lessons on APIs, more specifically the Zotero API. I had never used Zotero so these lessons introduced me to both Zotero and the Zotero API. Before I began the lessons I played around on Zotero, starting my own library and learning to love the program. From the beginning, I wanted to use my personal library in the lessons and not the sample one provided. By doing this, Spencer and I found a problem in the lessons when my program couldn’t access my library. Alyssa has since reported it and a problem she had to GitHub. After finishing the API lessons, I wanted to do things that the lessons did not delve into. With help from Spencer I was able to bang around on the API in an attempt to add/edit the author field of an item. While we did not find a solution we did make headway and it really piqued my interest in working on the Zotero API.

I am leaving a much improved Digital Historian. The Research division had to help the first year fellows through a learning curve that, in some ways, Education and Public Projects don’t. We now know the Center and feel comfortable in it.We got our feet wet and our hands dirty. The Research division was a great place to do that.

Research Division Reflection

It’s hard to believe that the first year fellows have already completed our first rotation within a division. I was nervous to begin the fellowship in the Research Division, since I’m not super-technical (I was rightly told that I can no longer claim to not be a “technology person”), but I have had quite a learning experience. I learned new skills – I can now effectively explain to someone what a plugin actually does and how it works – and went out of my comfort zone in learning Python.

In our first week, we began with PressForward. After playing around with the sandbox site, I installed the PressForward plugin onto my dev site to get a better handle of how it worked. Once I was more comfortable with the logistics of the plugin I moved on to working as an editor-at-large of Digital Humanities Now. It was incredibly interesting to see how the plugin can be used for academic purposes and how it aggregates and organizes content. I was astounded by the quantity of content that was part of the all content feed, especially since a disproportionate amount of the posts were not related to digital humanities.

In our second week, we shadowed Tuesday’s editors-in-chief, Amanda and Mandy, and watched them go through the process of examining the articles under review and deciding which pieces should be published. Prior to Thursday, I familiarized myself with the editors-at-large corner and read several editors’ choice articles. I especially enjoyed reading “Thoughts on feminism, digital humanities and women’s history,” since my area of research is women and gender. On Thursday we were editors-in-chief, which was such a fun experience.

It was beneficial to begin work with PressForward from the ground up. We started with the sandbox, moved on to seeing how the plugin worked for DH Now, and then used the plugin to publish an issue of DH Now. It is a fantastic tool for disseminating often overlooked material to a wide audience and for collecting and curating information. Overall, I had a positive experience with PressForward and DH Now.

After PressForward, we started learning Python through the Programming Historian lessons. I had minimal experience using HTML, CSS, and XML to create a website from scratch when I was in library school, but programming is not something I am comfortable with. At first Programming Historian was fairly easy and the first few lessons seemed straight-forward, but once I got past the “Manipulating Strings in Python” I started to feel lost. After completing those lessons I moved onto the Zotero API lessons. These were more difficult for me to comprehend, especially since, as Stephanie pointed out, they are not in layman’s terms. With help from Jordan and Spencer, I was able to get through the lessons using the sample Zotero library.

I cultivated my own Zotero library and then went back through the API lessons using it instead of the sample in order to see how much of the lessons I could understand on my own. I was successfully able to get through the first two lessons, which was very exciting. I ran into some problems with the third lesson when Text Wrangler was not reading the URLs from the first two items in my library. It was working when I used the sample library because the URLs are links to simple HTML pages, but the links in my library are linked to more complicated sites, such as the source’s record in EBSCO. Jordan had discovered another problem earlier with the user and group tags, and I went into GitHub and reported both of our problems. I am excited to see how I will use Python in the future with other digital humanities projects.

It was an illuminating contrast to work with both PressForward and Python and to see how the latter influences the former. I can understand why we began in the Research Division since the technical skills we learned are necessary in order to have a solid foundation and understanding of digital history.

Digital Campus Podcast: Back to the Future of Digital Humanities

This past Friday, I co-produced a Digital Campus Podcast with help from my digital history mentor and second-year Digital History Fellow at the Center, Anne Ladyem McDivitt. Stephen Robertson hosted, and Dan Cohen, Amanda French, Mills Kelly, and Tom Scheinfeldt joined the discussion. Of particular interest to me was their debate about the use of Twitter as an academic outlet, how it has evolved, and the possibilities for the future. Will the academic community return to blogging or will Tumblr be the go-to platform?

Digital Campus Episode #106 – Back to the Future of Digital Humanities

Looking Forward in the Rearview

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:

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.

Reflections on My First Year as a DH Fellow

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

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

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

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

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

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