As the first term of 2013-14 closes, it seems appropriate to reflect on the experiences of the Digital History Fellows. Last year, our first cohort of DH Fellows spent the first semester meeting with Dan Cohen, learning the history of the center, discussing current projects, and thinking about how digital history is practiced. We spent our second semester working in each of the divisions for five weeks, and then decided in which division we would like to work in the second year. Although there was no specific requirement that we take positions spread across the three divisions, we were drawn in different directions. From the first days of the fellowship, Ben Hurwitz was most comfortable in Education and quickly entrenched himself at their community table. He now works on various educational projects, including the Popular Romance Project. Amanda Morton worked closely with Fred Gibbs before he relocated to New Mexico, which helped her transition into Research, where she works on Digital Humanities Now and related PressForward projects. Spencer Roberts was drifting toward Public Projects before the summer started, and settled in once the center received a grant to work with the National Park Service to revamp their War of 1812 site.
This year we welcomed three new members into the fellowship, bringing our total number to six. The second cohort follows a different schedule in their first year, so Amanda Regan, Anne Ladyem McDivitt, and Jannelle Legg stepped directly into the mix at RRCHNM, splitting their semester into seven-week blocks in Education and Public Projects. During those weeks, they have written reflective posts about the projects to which they’ve contributed, all of which can be found here. Next term, they will spend a block in Research before moving into a final seminar with Stephen Robertson.
Because the fellowship is a flexible, experimental collaboration between GMU’s Department of History and Art History, Office of the Provost, and RRCHNM, there are very few strict guidelines that determine how we spend our time in the center, which means that the administrators and facilitators of our fellowship are open to new ideas and input from the fellows. In this second year, we established a mentorship program within the fellowship so that new members can learn from the experiences of previous cohorts. Although we rarely recorded specific instances of mentoring moments, each new fellow knew that they could approach one (or all) of the upper fellows with questions or concerns about their work. We were also fortunate that the center was able to dedicate a work space for the fellows to gather and work in close proximity.
At the midpoint of the semester, the DH Fellows decided that we should make our experience and knowledge available to other students in the department. Two courses in digital history and media are required for the PhD in history, which can be challenging for students with little computing experience or training. We created a digital space in which students could submit questions, and committed a portion of our time on Mondays to providing in-person support for students working on digital projects. Through the Digital History Support Space, we were able to provide guidance and assistance to more than seven students in fewer than six weeks. We consider the initiative a stunning success because we were able to provide support that is not available anywhere else on campus, and despite hasty organization, lack of official status, and very little publicity. We hope to continue the DH Support Space in the second semester.
In the past year, the DH Fellowship has evolved into a dynamic, involved group of dedicated students who support one another and their colleagues throughout the program. Each second year fellow is plugged into digital history projects funded through major grants, but returns to the common space to answer questions from newcomers. The first year fellows are absorbing the entire history and current life of the center while developing their digital skills, but still find time to help other students. Over the holidays, we will recharge and prepare for next semester, in which we expect to continue working, supporting, and learning.