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.

Reflections on the Spring Semester and Year 1 as a Digital History Fellow

It seems like just yesterday we walked into the Center for History and New Media a bit unsure about what our first year as DH fellows would entail. Looking back it has been an extremely rewarding and valuable experience. Last fall we blogged about our rotations in both the Education and Public Projects divisions. In the Spring we moved to Research for seven weeks where we worked on a programming project for THATCamp and on the PressForward project before moving onto a seminar about the history of CHNM. I want to use this blog post to reflect on the spring semester and look back at the year as a whole.

Our first stop during the spring semester was the Research division. We began our seven weeks by taking on a topic modeling project which aimed to mine all the posts from the THATCamp individual websites and blog about the process. As we used the Programming Historian to learn python (or at least attempt to), we thought a lot about tools and the scholarly research process. We discussed Zotero as a tool and the values and community behind THATCamp as a training network and community for the Digital Humanities. Although we struggled with the programming aspect of this assignment and managed to miss important concepts behind Topic Modeling, the assignment gave us some insight into what kinds of challenges and opportunities topic modeling holds. From this project I learned first hand the importance of understanding the black box behind Digital Humanities tools. After finishing with our topic modeling project we moved onto the PressForward project. We spent a week working as Editors-at-Large and helped second year fellow Amanda Morton with her Editor-in-Chief duties. Thinking about scholarly gray literature and measuring reception of scholarly works on the internet we also spent time researching AltMetrics.

At the end of the three rotations we were left with a very clear understanding of each division, its current and past projects, the audiences it creates for and the overlap between each division. We then began a seminar with Stephen Robertson that explored the history of RRCHNM. In this seminar we tried to understand how RRCHNM developed over the years into its current state and how RRCHNM fits into the larger history of the digital humanities. Beginning with an overview of what a Digital Humanities Center is and how its defined, we collaboratively looked at all 150 centers in the United States and tried to get a sense of the different models that exist and just how many actually fit the definition of a digital humanities “center” as defined by Zurich. What we realized is that the Center for History and New Media stands out from other Digital Humanities centers due to its unique attachment to the History Department but also because of the origins of the center and because of Roy Rosenzweig’s vision.

After we defined just what a center was and looked at the different models, we started to look at the origins of RRCHNM and try to create a genealogy of the different projects and trace the development of the center. Each of the first year fellows took a different major project and traced its history through grant documents and reports. I read up on Zotero in its different iterations and learned a lot about how Zotero was originally conceived as well as how it has grown, expanded, and changed since 2004.

I think one of the things that has been immensely useful for the first year fellows is the ways much of our work at the center was paralleled by our coursework. In the PhD program at GMU we’re required to take a two course sequence in digital history. The first sequence focuses on the theory of Digital History and the second is largely a web design course that introduces us to the basics of HTML and CSS. Often times the topics in Clio I related directly to why we were doing at the center and the dual exposure allowed us to see the application of things we had discussed in Clio first hand.

At the suggestion of Spencer Roberts, the fellows decided to begin a Digital History Support Space in the Fall. The support space offers “advice, guidance, and assistance for students doing digital history projects.”  Every Monday from noon to 5pm (and sometimes even on weekends) we met with students taking the Clio courses, offered advice about and brainstormed potential projects, helped to debug code, and offered a space to work where help was available if needed. We were able to draw on experience from the center and offer advice about what kinds of tools are available and where resources might be found. We weren’t experts but working with the other students in our Clio classes was equally beneficial. It left me with a better understanding of the issues, topics, and tools discussed in our classes. As many of the PhD students move onto Clio III: Programming for Historians with Lincoln Mullen this fall, I’m looking forward to continuing the Support Space.

The fellowship has been structured in such a way that each element has built on itself to provide us with experience and an understanding of digital history, digital humanities, and the debates, methodologies, and histories of the discipline. This fall I’ll be working in the Research Division on the PressForward project and helping to manage both Digital Humanities Now and the Journal of Digital Humanities. Our first year as Fellows has gone by extremely fast but I’m looking forward to beginning a new year and moving into the role of mentor to the new group of DH Fellows.

First-Year Review

Our spring semester as Fellows at the Center passed remarkably quickly (not solely a result of the frequent snow days but cancellations definitely contributed to the rapid approach of summer). We were kept very busy with projects for the Research division and an intensive DH Seminar this semester. Below I’ll briefly describe some of the activities we undertook throughout this period and reflect on my first year fellowship at CHNM.

The semester started with six weeks in the Research division – by far the most intimidating to someone that is new to DH. Quickly, however, we were put to work on several engaging projects and I found that I acclimated without feeling overwhelmed. We learned about PressForward by doing some user testing and improving the documentation for the plugin. We also were able to learn about the grant-writing process by doing some research for an upcoming project and we got a clearer idea of how plugins and tools are developed at the center. The majority of our time in this division was spent on the challenging task of using digital tools to uncover information about THATCamp. We blogged about the process of being set loose on the contents of THATCamp and the scraping and topic modeling we performed (those posts are available here). We shared these results in a center-wide presentation and received a lot of support and feedback for the project.

Across the semester the Fellows also focused time on providing support and assistance to other students. As many of us were also enrolled in Clio 2, we were visited many of our classmates and our table was often filled with students collaborating on skills and resources. With assignments that required significant use of digital tools, we handled questions regarding Photoshop and Dreamweaver, sought new resources and tools, and helped find errors in HTML or CSS. I saw a huge benefit in working through problems and took a lot of inspiration from the advice and suggestions of everyone at the table.

Finally, our semester came to a close as we spent the last six weeks in a seminar with Dr. Stephen Robertson. The seminar built on the experiences within each department at the Center and, with this base of knowledge, asked us to turn our gaze outward at the digital humanities as a field and DH centers as centers of production. This discussion was also a timely one, as this fall CHNM will celebrate its 20th anniversary and the Center has begun to reflect on this period. We used Diane Zorich’s work on DH centers with readings by Mark Sample, Stephen Ramsay, Bethany Nowviskie, Neil Fraistat, Elijah Meeks and Trevor Owens, to frame our discussions and answer questions about where, when and how DH work has been done.

Using centerNet as a starting place, we tried to unpack a larger history of digital humanities labs and centers. This process raised interesting questions for us about the differences between a resource center, library service desk, institutional organization and brick-and-mortar DH center. Projects, staff, infrastructure, institutional support and audience were among the issues we considered, but we were also curious about how these locations are linked through shared resources, staff and projects.

Next we dug into the history of CHNM. Oral histories have been collected from participants at the center- but we soon realized that the overview these interviews provided would be only part of the picture of CHNM. In order to further unpack this history, we would need to dive into the projects themselves. Each of us examined a pivotal project. For me this was ECHO, a web portal for the history of science and technology. Working through grant materials enabled me to make connections between this early project and current/recent projects like Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, Zotero, and Omeka. Using ECHO as a vantage point, I gained greater insight into the transitions the Center has seen – from an emphasis on CD-ROMs and single-subject websites to building tools that enable us to organize, analyze, present, and use content in new ways. Understanding and unpacking this trajectory was very useful for me and a meaningful part of my semester.

Looking across my year at CHNM, I’m very happy with the time we spent in each division. Walking into the center can be an intimidating process. One has the immediate sense that you are entering a place where things happen, where goals are made, met, and exceeded. It was very hard to imagine my place in the midst of such an accomplished group of people. With a limited digital background – this was a year of learning, asking questions and digging up online tutorials. The Center has been a remarkable resource toward that goal. Cycling through each division exposed us to a variety of projects and workflows and I’ve learned a great deal through this process. Though each division responds to their own set of concerns and audiences, there is a definite cohesion to the work that is done. It has been remarkably informative to have played a small part in that process.

Planning the Wrap-Up

It’s been a long while since one of the DH Fellows wrote a post here, but I assure our readers that we’re not being lazy. Rather, we are busy with the daily goings-on of the center. Unfortunately, some of those activities are just not as blog-worthy as some of our previous activities. But as the term winds to an end, we’ll have some reflections on our winter term (or is it spring?).

Additionally, Cohort 1 (Amanda M., Ben, and Spencer) will be preparing a final report for their time in the fellowship. All of us will continue at the university and probably in the center, but our classification as DH Fellows officially ends at the close of this term. Our final reflections on the fellowship will help to identify its actual value from the perspective of its participants. Our views are important because the fellowship was proposed and implemented with certain values in mind, but those almost always change when the rubber hits the road. And who better to identify the worth of a training program than those who have been trained?

There is some difficulty, however, in our immediate future. The fellowship was proposed and implemented for three cohorts. In the fall, three new students will take the three final positions. The last cohort of the fellowship is also limited to one year of funding, after which they will depend on the department rather than the provost. It’s an awkward situation because those of us who were here at the beginning won’t officially be present at the end, and those at the end receive only a half portion of the fellowship’s peak output. (See note below)

The difficulty, then, is writing up a report from the perspective of guinea pigs that captures the success of the fellowship before it’s officially over. We all believe it was extremely valuable to the university, to the center, and to us. But how do we make that apparent to others? And how do we convince the new provost that another series of cohorts is a valuable investment? We’ll be tackling those questions in the next few weeks, and posting some of our conclusions here.

Note: I’m not suggesting that the third cohort is being short-changed. One year of funding under this program is better than no years of funding, and that’s just how it was designed. Furthermore, all PhD students in History at Mason receive at least three years of funding from the department. The fellowship is added to those years, so even one year extra is great.