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.

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