Fall 2016 – Research Division

This semester I worked with the Research Division on Digital Humanities Now.  I was tasked with inventory and assessment of the over 500 subscribed feeds.  These feeds were/are primarily personal or institutional blogs related to the digital humanities.  Since DH Now lives here at CHNM, there were a lot more history blogs than there might be if it lived somewhere else, but there were many entries in literature, anthropology, cultural studies and perhaps most active recently, libraries, museums and cultural heritage institutes.  I cleanup up the site by removing a couple hundred broken and abandoned blogs, and moved 50 or so to their new homes.  I also categorized the entries by discipline and organized the sites by frequency.  There was a meeting to see if folders would be helpful to the editors, but it seemed that it wouldn’t really be of much help.

If I were to make some cursory observations from the DH Now feeds, I would say that it seems like personal blogs are not as popular as they were five years ago.  Most of the ‘big’ names if you will can publish on larger audience platforms – online journals, news sites, etc.  This is a great opportunity for graduate students to work with original scholarship into the blog post medium, since it might a bit harder for them to get ‘DH’ thought pieces onto HuffPost.  I fear however, that microblogging takes up a lot of time.  I also saw a lot of blogs that lasted as long as grad school and then were abandoned or turned into personal sites with links to syllabi and monographs.  At any rate, if the quantitative trends in digital humanities are to serve as guideline for making assertions, it really isn’t right of me to make these kinds of generalizations without a real data set.

An Eight-Week Education

Our first rotation through the Center sent us to the Education Division (ED). Although set back from the main workspaces of the Center, it soon became clear that the ED’s work is central to the reputation and productivity of the Center. At our first weekly meeting, we were introduced to the progress board, a large white board listing each project in the ED and details about the progress of each. Every Tuesday morning, members of the ED would update the group on the progress of each project, of which there were many, and record those changes on the board. This all seemed a bit overwhelming at first, but by the end of our rotation I was (mostly) able to keep track of the many projects the ED is constantly (and successfully) juggling.

We were given a chance to work on more of these projects than I would have imagined we could have time for in eight weeks. We first started working with Jennifer Rosenfeld, Associate Director of Educational Projects, on the Understanding Sacrifice project with the American Battle Monuments Commission. This project gives history teachers an opportunity to visit an American military cemetery, research and write a eulogy for a fallen soldier in that cemetery, and create a publicly-available lesson plan around what they’ve learned. To help with this project, we were asked to transcribe a few of the recorded eulogies spoken at the gravesite of their fallen soldier, as well as edit the written biographies of these soldiers and the lesson plans that each teacher developed. Many of these stories were quite moving, and the lesson plans provided interesting ways to engage students with military history in new ways, even outside of the history classroom. Jennifer also asked us to help test the online course for George Mason University’s Digital Public Humanities Graduate Certificate. Helping with Jennifer’s projects allowed me to see how the ED’s projects can directly enrich the relationship between instructors and students.

Kelly Schrum, Director of Educational Projects, assigned us to a number of projects that allowed us to work with other members of the ED. With Nate Sleeter we helped to organize a testing workshop for Through the Doors of Stratford, a website that will allow students in Arlington, Virginia to connect the history of the Civil Rights Movement and massive resistance to their local community through online modules. We also worked with Nate on Hidden in Plain Sight, a course that allows teachers to gain certification credits by learning to narrate history through primary sources, and were able to develop our own modules. I decided to bridge my interest in music history with the public-domain treasure trove that is the WPA materials at the Library of Congress to design a module that uses Federal Project Number One as a window into American life in the 1930s. This was one of the more engaging and challenging assignments we were given, providing an opportunity to contribute our own research to a successful DH project.

Kelly also had us work with Sara Collini to help develop Eagle Eye Citizen, a free, online interactive that allows students to solve challenges about Civics and History using primary sources from the Library of Congress. Our role in this project was quite varied, as we were asked to do everything from search through Library of Congress’ online sources, write and review parts of the challenges, search for sheet music and interviews that would be engaging for students, and make sure that this information was entered correctly into Drupal. We were also asked to work the Eagle Eye Citizen booth at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference, which was a fun and lively conference. It was great to see teachers genuinely excited about the launch of this project next Fall, and already thinking of ways to integrate it into their classrooms and curriculums. Sometimes, working on these kinds of projects comes with the worry that no one else will be as excited about your project as you are. The response at the conference (and the Center’s general track record) showed that this isn’t the case!

My last major contribution in the ED was to help Kelly develop a project to record historic sheet music for use by students and teachers. This allowed me to reference my love of music and cultural history, and consider various questions and concerns that characterize the beginnings of any scholarly project, DH or otherwise. This entailed envisioning what kinds of recordings we would make and what pieces of music we would select, how the recordings would be made available, who might be interested in using it, and, perhaps most importantly, who would be interested in funding it. Although still in its early stages, it is a project that I am very excited about, and hope to stay involved in even as I continue to cycle around the Center.

I really enjoyed my time working in the Education Division. Although my role was small in many of these projects—much of the groundwork had been done before we arrived in the ED—it felt good to work on projects that will help teachers and students engage with the past. It also made clear to me—in ways that our previous time in the seminar portion of fellowship could only do theoretically—the range of projects and partnerships the Center has developed, even just within one department. Personally, the ED showed me how good it feels to be part of a professional and courteous group of people who are all willing to meet on Tuesday mornings to return, once again, to the progress board, with the sole condition that the meeting starts with a plate of cookies or a piece of cake.

Next up: Research.