Talking about Digital History and the SHA

At the Southern Historical Association Conference in November 2013, I was asked by Ian Binnington and David Herr, editors of the H-South discussion network and fellow historians of the South, to sit down and talk about digital history, digital tools, scholarship and teaching, and the role of scholarly organizations and conferences in a Digital Age.  I was honored to be asked (though I should note I was a last-minute replacement for another scholar who has a terrific book about which it would have been great to hear more), and Ian and I talked for about an hour.  David Herr did a great job splitting the footage into discrete clips. [I’ll be honest, though I’m pleased with the conversation, mostly what I see are my own verbal tics, include some painful verbal clutter.] Still, I think Ian and I work through some basic issues and opportunities that historians face these days.

Introduction

https://networks.h-net.org/node/512/discussions/34999/h-south-sha-and-youtube

Changing Modes of Research

Cataloging

Digital Tools

Dangers of Digital Humanities

Academia

Scholarship

Student Engagement

Changing Conferences

Revised Digital History Review Guidelines

Thanks to all those who offered advice on my last post, especially Sheila Brennan and Matthew Lincoln.  The new guidelines I submitted are copied below.  They are still heavily based on those created by previous editors of this section of the Journal (Roy Rosenzweig and Kelly Schrum) but offer more categories, more instructions for reviewing, and a mention of collaborative authorship and coding/programming.  It’s not perfect, but I think it does a much better job of addressing the changes in a growing and complex field.

Digital History Reviews

“Web Site Reviews” first appeared in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of American History and became “Digital History Reviews” in the September 2013 issue. This section is a collaborative venture with the History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web, http://historymatters.gmu.edu. This section appears quarterly and normally runs five reviews.

Jeffrey W. McClurken, Professor of History and American Studies & Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation at the University of Mary Washington, is the contributing editor for the “Digital History Reviews” section of the Journal.

The editor welcomes suggestions and may be reached at jmcclurk@umw.edu.

 

Guidelines

Although these scholarly reviews of digital history projects follow the long tradition of reviewing books in the JAH—as well as the more recent practice of reviewing museum exhibitions, films, and textbooks—digital history reviews have some particular features. The guidelines below provide specific suggestions for dealing with this medium. Please feel free to write to me with any questions you might have, as well as suggested revisions and clarifications in the guidelines.

Digital history projects share a common medium, but they are quite diverse in their character. Reviewers need to keep that diversity in mind and to evaluate them on their own terms. Generally, most digital history projects fall into one of the following categories, although many sites combine different genres:

  • Archive: a site that provides a body of primary sources. Could also include collections of documents marked up in TEI or databases of materials.
  • Essay, Exhibit, Digital Narrative: something created or written specifically for the Web or with digital methods, that serves as a secondary source for interpreting the past by offering a historical narrative or argument. This can also include maps, network visualizations, or other ways of representing historical data.
  • Teaching Resource: a site that provides online assignments, syllabi, other resources specifically geared toward using the Web or digital apps for teaching, including educational history content for children or adults, pedagogical training tools, and outreach to the education community.
  • Tool: downloadable, plugin, app, or online service that provides functionality related to creating, accessing, aggregating, or editing digital history content (rather than the content itself).
  • Gateway/Clearinghouse: a site that provides access to other websites or Internet-based resources.
  • Journal/Blog/Publication: any type of online publication.
  • Professional/Institutional Site: a site devoted to sharing information on a particular organization.
  • Digital Community: online social spaces that offer a virtual space for people to gather around a common experience, exhibition or interest.
  • Podcasts:video and audio podcasts that engage audiences on historical topics and themes.
  • Audio/Application-based Tours: Downloadable walking, car, or museum tours
  • Games: Challenging interactive activities that educate through competition or role playing, finding evidence defined by rules and linked to a specific outcome. Games can be online, peer-to-peer or mobile.
  • Data sets, APIs: compilations of machine-readable data, shared in a commonly-accessible format, possibly through a CSV file or an Application Programming Interface (API), or data files, that allows others to make use of this data in their own digital history work.

Many projects to be reviewed will probably fall into one of the first three categories. The reviewing criteria will vary depending on the category into which the site falls. Thus, for example, an archival site should be evaluated based on the quality of the materials presented; the care with which they have been prepared and perhaps edited and introduced; the ease of navigation; and its usefulness to teachers, students, and scholars. How comprehensive is the archive? Are there biases in what has been included or excluded? Does the archive, in effect, offer a point of view or interpretation? As with other types of reviews, you are providing guidance to readers on the usefulness of the site in their teaching or scholarship. At the same time, you are participating in a community of critical discourse and you are trying to improve the level of work in the field. As you would do in a scholarly book review, then, you are speaking both to potential readers and to producers of similar work.

Even within a single category, the purposes of the digital history projects can vary significantly. An online exhibition or a digital narrative can be directed at a largely scholarly audience or a more broadly public audience. It would be unfair to fault a popularly oriented website for failing to trace the latest nuances in scholarship, but it would certainly be fair to note that the creators had not taken current scholarship into account. In general, then, online exhibitions and essays should be judged by the quality of their interpretation: What version of the past is presented? Is it grounded in historical scholarship? Is it original in its interpretation or mode of presentation? Again, the goal of the review is to provide guidance to potential readers (who might be reading in their roles as teachers, scholars, or citizens) and to raise the level of digital-based historical work.

Classroom-oriented projects would be judged by the quality of the scholarship underlying them, but naturally you would also want to evaluate the originality and usefulness of the pedagogical approach. Will this project be useful to teachers and students? At what level?

Reviews of digital history projects must necessarily address questions of navigation and presentation. To some extent, this is the same as a book reviewer commenting on whether a book is well written or clearly organized. To be sure, the conventions of book publication are well enough established that book reviewers rarely comment on matters of navigation or design—although they do occasionally note a poorly prepared index or a work with excessive typographical errors. But in the digital world, which is an emerging medium that is visual (and often multimedia), issues of design and “interface” are necessarily more important. In this sense, digital history reviews share a great deal with film and exhibit reviews. In general, reviewers should consider what, if anything, the electronic medium adds to the historical work being presented. Does the digital format allow the creators of the project to do something different or better than what has been done in pre-digital formats (for example, books, films, museum exhibitions)? Have the creators of the project made effective use of the medium? How easy is it to find specific materials and to find your way around the project?

In summary, most reviews will address the following five areas:

  • Content: Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretative point of view? How well is the content communicated to users?
  • Design: Does the information architecture clearly communicate what a user can find in the site? Does the structure make it easy for a user to navigate through the site? Do all of the sections of the project function as expected? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? How accessible is the site for individuals of all abilities? If it is a website, is it responsive (i.e., tablet/mobile-friendly)?
  • Audience: Is the project directed at a clear audience? How well does the project address the needs of that audience?
  • Digital Media: Does it make effective use of digital media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media—print, exhibition, film?
  • Creators: Many digital projects include multiple contributors. Who worked on this project and in what capacity?

Although it won’t be necessary for all sites, it may well be appropriate to comment on some of the more technical aspects of the site.  What programming or coding choices have been made and how have they shaped the project that emerged?  How are the materials of the project made available? [For example, how are the materials in a database project accessible? Via a search bar?  In a downloadable format? In multiple machine-readable formats (CSV, JSON, API)?]  Remember, however, that the journal’s audience may not be familiar with these terms, so plan on some context.  If you have questions about when such comments are appropriate or how best to provide context, please ask me.

Because some digital history projects (largely archives) are vast, it is not possible to read every document or visit every link. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1940, at the Library of Congress’s American Memory site, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, includes 2,900 documents that range from 2,000 to 15,000 words in length. The reviewer could hardly be expected to read what probably amounts to the equivalent of 300 books. In such circumstances, some systematic sampling of the contents can substitute for a review of every single part. At the same time, the reviewer of a digital project should devote the same kind of close attention to the work as does a reviewer of a book, exhibition, or film. Because there is no easy way to indicate the size of a digital project (as you can note the number of pages in a book or the number of minutes in a film), you should try (ideally early in your review) to give readers some sense of the kinds of material found and the quantity of each.

One final way that digital history projects differ from books, exhibits, and films is that they are often works in progress. Thus, we ask that the headnote for the review indicate when you examined the project (this could be a range of dates) just as you would indicate in reviewing a performance of a play. Where the project plans some significant further changes, you should say that in the review. If you think that it would make more sense to wait for further changes before reviewing the project, then please let us know and we will put the review off to a later date. If you feel that you need additional information about a project in order to complete a review, we would be happy to contact the author or creator on your behalf.

Because of our scholarly and pedagogical focus, our first priority in selecting reviewers is to find people whose scholarship and teaching parallels the subject areas of the project. We do not favor people who have some “technical” skill any more than we would expect book reviewers to know how books are typeset and printed. But we do have a preference—where possible—for reviewers who are familiar with what has been done in the digital world, since that will give them a comparative context for their evaluation. Still, we recognize that such familiarity is still only gradually emerging among professional historians, and some reviewers will be relatively new to such work.

Headings:

Name of site/title. Address/URL. Who set it up? Who maintains it (if different)? When reviewer consulted it.

EXAMPLES:

Panoramic Maps, 1847–1929. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pmhtml/panhome.html. Created and maintained by the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Reviewed Dec. 25, 2000–Jan. 2, 2001.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: March 25, 1911. http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University in cooperation with UNITE! (Union of Needle Trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees); edited by Hope Nisly and Patricia Sione. Last site update April 21, 2000. Reviewed Dec. 20, 2000–Jan. 5, 2001.

 

Jeffrey McClurken
Editor, Digital History Reviews, Journal of American History
Professor of History and American Studies
Special Assistant to the Provost for Teaching, Technology, and Innovation
University of Mary Washington
http://mcclurken.org/
Twitter: @jmcclurken
Phone: 540-654-1475
jmcclurk at umw dot edu

 

Reviewing Digital History Projects — A Request for Input

Among the many hats I wear, I’m the contributing editor for Digital History Reviews in the Journal of American History.  That means I solicit, edit, and submit 5-6 500-word reviews every 3 months on a wide array of digital projects (including sites, tools, apps, databases, and so on).  There are very few places that regularly review digital projects and those of us interested in digital history as a field need to facilitate more and better reviews of those projects.  This notion was something that I heard over and over again at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media 20th Anniversary Conference last weekend.  [There were 3 different breakout sessions that dealt with peer review of digital history projects in some way and several of the invited speakers mentioned it in their remarks.]

Fortuitously, it is also time to update the guidelines that I provide the JAH Digital History Project Reviewers (copied below).  Having just had a number of conversations about peer review of digital projects at the RRCHNM conference, I know that I want to push reviewers to think more about who the various contributors are (including undergraduate and graduate students), to contemplate questions of coding/programming, and to look more deeply at claimed and actual historiographic impact.  I’m also struggling with notions of reviewing versions of digital projects (should we go back a review a site again after a big update?) as well as questions of how to capture the complexity of some projects in limited space (is it worth doing just 3 1000-word reviews to allow reviewers to explore more extensively each site?).

So, any suggestions you have for changes, updates, clarifications, or additions are welcomed.

 

Digital History Reviews

“Web Site Reviews” first appeared in the June 2001 issue of the Journal of American History and became “Digital History Reviews” in the September 2013 issue. This section is a collaborative venture with the Web site History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web http://historymatters.gmu.edu. This section appears quarterly and normally runs five reviews.

Jeffrey W. McClurken, the department chair and professor of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington, is the contributing editor for the “Digital History Reviews” section of the Journal.

The editor welcomes suggestions and may be reached at jmcclurk@umw.edu.

Guidelines

Although these scholarly reviews of digital history projects follow the long tradition of reviewing books in theJAH—as well as the more recent practice of reviewing museum exhibitions, films, and textbooks—digital history reviews have some particular features. The guidelines below provide specific suggestions for dealing with this medium. Please feel free to write to me with any questions you might have, as well as suggested revisions and clarifications in the guidelines.

Digital history projects share a common medium (the World Wide Web), but they are quite diverse in their character. Reviewers need to keep that diversity in mind and to evaluate them on their own terms. Generally, most digital history projects fall into one of the following categories, although many sites combine different genres:

  • Archive: a site that provides a body of primary documents.
  • Electronic Essay/Exhibit: something created/written specifically for the Web—that is, a secondary source that interprets the past in some fashion. This would include “hypertexts” that offer a historical narrative or argument.
  • Teaching Resource: a site that provides online assignments, syllabi, and other resources specifically geared toward using the Web for teaching.
  • Tool: something that provides functionality related to creating, accessing, or editing digital history content (rather than the content itself).
  • Gateway: a site that provides access to other Web-based materials.
  • Journal/Webzine: an online publication.
  • Organization: a site devoted to providing information on a particular organization.
  • Virtual Community: a site on which a historical community—popular or academic—interacts.

Most projects to be reviewed will probably fall into one of the first three categories. The reviewing criteria will vary depending on the category into which the site falls. Thus, for example, an archival site should be evaluated based on the quality of the materials presented; the care with which they have been prepared and perhaps edited and introduced; the ease of navigation; and its usefulness to teachers, students, and scholars. How comprehensive is the archive? Are there biases in what has been included or excluded? Does the archive, in effect, offer a point of view or interpretation? As with other types of reviews, you are providing guidance to readers on the usefulness of the site in their teaching or scholarship. At the same time, you are participating in a community of critical discourse and you are trying to improve the level of work in the field. As you would do in a scholarly book review, then, you are speaking both to potential readers and to producers of similar work.

Even within a single category, the purposes of the digital history projects can vary significantly. An online exhibition or an “electronic essay” can be directed at a largely scholarly audience or a more broadly public audience. It would be unfair to fault a popularly oriented Web site for failing to trace the latest nuances in scholarship, but it would certainly be fair to note that the creators had not taken current scholarship into account. In general, then, online exhibitions and essays should be judged by the quality of their interpretation: What version of the past is presented? Is it grounded in historical scholarship? Is it original in its interpretation or mode of presentation? Again, the goal of the review is to provide guidance to potential readers (who might be reading in their roles as teachers, scholars, or citizens) and to raise the level of digital-based historical work.

Classroom-oriented projects would be judged by the quality of the scholarship underlying them, but naturally you would also want to evaluate the originality and usefulness of the pedagogical approach. Will this project be useful to teachers and students? At what level?

Reviews of digital history projects must necessarily address questions of navigation and presentation. To some extent, this is the same as a book reviewer commenting on whether a book is well written or clearly organized. To be sure, the conventions of book publication are well enough established that book reviewers rarely comment on matters of navigation or design—although they do occasionally note a poorly prepared index or a work with excessive typographical errors. But in the digital world, which is an emerging medium that is visual (and often multimedia), issues of design and “interface” are necessarily more important. In this sense, digital history reviews share a great deal with film and exhibit reviews. In general, reviewers should consider what, if anything, the electronic medium adds to the historical work being presented. Does the digital format allow the creators of the project to do something different or better than what has been done in pre-digital formats (for example, books, films, museum exhibitions)? Have the creators of the project made effective use of the medium? How easy is it to find specific materials and to find your way around the project?

In summary, most reviews will address the following four areas:

  • Content: Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretation or point of view?
  • Form: Is it clear? Easy to navigate? Does it function effectively? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? Does it have a coherent structure?
  • Audience/Use: Is it directed at a clear audience? Will it serve the needs of that audience?
  • New Media: Does it make effective use of new media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media—print, exhibition, film?

Because some digital history projects (largely archives) are vast, it is not possible to read every document or visit every link. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936–1940, at the Library of Congress’s American Memory site, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/wpaintro/wpahome.html, includes 2,900 documents that range from 2,000 to 15,000 words in length. The reviewer could hardly be expected to read what probably amounts to the equivalent of 300 books. In such circumstances, some systematic sampling of the contents can substitute for a review of every single Web page. At the same time, the reviewer of a Web site should devote the same kind of close attention to the work as does a reviewer of a book, exhibition, or film. Because there is no easy way to indicate the size of a Web site (as you can note the number of pages in a book or the number of minutes in a film), you should try (ideally early in your review) to give readers some sense of the kinds of material found and the quantity of each.

One final way that digital history projects differ from books, exhibits, and films is that they are often works in progress. Thus, we ask that the headnote for the review indicate when you examined the project (this could be a range of dates) just as you would indicate in reviewing a performance of a play. Where the project plans some significant further changes, you should say that in the review. If you think that it would make more sense to wait for further changes before reviewing the project, then please let us know and we will put the review off to a later date. If you feel that you need additional information about a project in order to complete a review, we would be happy to contact the author or creator on your behalf.

Because of our scholarly and pedagogical focus, our first priority in selecting reviewers is to find people whose scholarship and teaching parallels the subject areas of the project. We do not favor people who have some “technical” skill any more than we would expect book reviewers to know how books are typeset and printed. But we do have a preference—where possible—for reviewers who are familiar with what has been done in the digital world, since that will give them a comparative context for their evaluation. Still, we recognize that such familiarity is still only gradually emerging among professional historians, and some reviewers will be relatively new to such work.

Headings:

Name of site/title. Address/URL. Who set it up? Who maintains it (if different)? When reviewer consulted it.

EXAMPLES:

Panoramic Maps, 1847–1929, http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/pmhtml/panhome.html. Created and maintained by the Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Reviewed Dec. 25, 2000–Jan. 2, 2001.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire: March 25, 1911, http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire. Kheel Center for Labor-Management Documentation and Archives at Cornell University in cooperation with unite! (Union of Needle Trades, Industrial, and Textile Employees); edited by Hope Nisly and Patricia Sione. Last site update April 21, 2000. Reviewed Dec. 20, 2000–Jan. 5, 2001.

Jeffrey McClurken
Editor, Digital History Reviews, Journal of American History
Professor and Department Chair, History and American Studies
University of Mary Washington
http://cas.umw.edu/historyamericanstudies/
http://mcclurken.org/
Twitter: @jmcclurken
Phone: 540-654-1475
jmcclurk at umw dot edu

My Contribution to the James Farmer Lecture Hall Dedication

I was honored to be asked to be part of the dedication of the large lecture room in Monroe Hall at UMW in honor of Civil Rights icon James Farmer, who taught in that room for nearly 15 years.  Here is the text of my remarks with some of the clips I shared with the audience.

—————————————————————
James Farmer Lecture Hall Dedication, November 15, 2013


Thank you all for coming. It is indeed an honor for me to be here today, to be part of this ceremony. And it’s certainly appropriate for me, as chair of UMW’s department of History and American Studies, the department that James Farmer taught in for many years, to say a few words here today.

But I have another perspective on Dr. Farmer as well. Twenty years ago this fall, I was starting my senior year at Mary Washington College, and, once a week, for nearly three hours, I had the privilege of sitting in this very room, listening to James Farmer tell nearly 100 of us about the Civil Rights movement and about his role in it as part of his Introduction to Civil Rights course. As a history major I had heard about the movement in several of my classes, but there was something fundamentally different in hearing those stories come to life from someone who had been there, someone who had physically and emotionally suffered for the cause in which he believed.

As a history major who had every plan of going on to graduate school to become a professor, a scholar, an historian, a teacher there was something deeply powerful about hearing from a living legend who was simultaneously, clearly human as well. He was self-deprecating and open about his personal struggles: discussing, for example, how he dealt with his jealousy of “Martin’s” fame (that first-name reference itself a casual, not ostentatious, but constant reminder to us of his ties to the other leaders of the movement) or his wondering whether he made the right decision to stay in jail with other protesters arrested in Plaquemine, Louisiana instead of paying the fees and being at the 1963 March on Washington.

Even if I hadn’t already been aware of the unique experience that I and my classmates were going through, it would have been brought home to me when I got my paper back with his comments on it. My paper was on Lyndon Johnson’s varied stances on Civil Rights over the years. I won’t bore you with the details now, but I was proud of the nuanced story that I had written, working in many primary sources, but especially using LBJ’s autobiography, written after he had stepped down as president. [In retrospect, given what I know now of primary sources and about Lyndon Johnson, I bought into LBJ’s retellings of his own story more than I should have.] When I got the paper back, Dr. Farmer had simply written, “Interesting. This is not the version President Johnson told me when I was in the Oval Office.” Now, I’d had professors tell me that I needed to think more critically about my sources before, but none of them could cite actual interactions with the people in question to make me do so.

For this and so many other reasons, my time in James Farmer’s class, my time in this very room with him, was transformative, so much so, that when I had the chance to come back to teach at Mary Washington I jumped at the opportunity to find ways to remember and honor him, for his service to the Civil Rights Movement and for his service to nearly a generation of students at this school. I’m not alone in that. Tim O’Donnell taught a First-Year Seminar on James Farmer, as do an interdisciplinary group of faculty led by Craig Vasey; my colleague Jess Rigelhaupt taught an oral history class in which the students interviewed many of Farmer’s colleagues during his time at MWC.

But I’ve been asked to show you a bit of work that students in my digital history courses have done to honor James Farmer. Now, in talking with my students who were working on these projects, I told them about my own experiences in Farmer’s class and about his many gifts as an orator. They decided that they wanted to make it possible for others to not just read Dr. Farmer’s words but to be able to hear him as well. The 2008 iteration of my digital history course found and digitized Farmer’s 1994 appearance before the Federal Election Commission. There are many excerpts of that testimony with him talking about his first exposure to racism in 1923, him discussing his views on affirmative action, him revealing the ways in which Gandhi’s non-violent approach was an inspiration to him. But I want to share this clip of a poem that Farmer himself wrote.

 “When I Stand Tall”

In the mid-1980s television station WNVT came and recorded 13 of James Farmer’s class lectures. In 2012, working with our Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, students digitized those lectures, transcribed them, and made them available for anyone to see.

I want to share two clips here. The first clip is actually a trailer made for the site by the students in the class to draw people in to watching the full lectures.

In the second clip Farmer talks about what he saw as the successes of the Freedom Summer.

Please check out these two sites for more videos of Dr. Farmer’s FEC testimony and class lectures.

So you can see that through the work of UMW students everyone can hear James Farmer’s words, can hear him tell his stories, can come to understand why we honor James Farmer today with a room in which people will regularly gather to hear from faculty, from guest speakers, from politicians debating the issues of the day, and from students presenting on their own research, perhaps on the Civil Rights Movement.

It is indeed right and appropriate that today we honor James Farmer in this way, in this room in which he touched so many Mary Washington students’ lives.

It is indeed right and appropriate that we designate, that we consecrate this place where the Civil Rights movement came to life through the resonant voice, the wry humor, the deep intelligence, and the raw emotion of a man who had lived through the movement, had changed the movement, and had been changed by it

It is indeed right and appropriate that we celebrate and recognize the life and teaching of James Leonard Farmer, Civil Rights leader, hero, and educator.

Thank you.

Incorporating Digital Literacy into History Methods Courses

In the History and American Studies 2009 Departmental Strategic Plan my department said that, in addition to other skills and literacies, we wanted all majors to develop the following abilities:

n  Digital Literacy
o   The ability to find reliable, scholarly, information on topics:
§  Within gated, subscription databases and in the larger, disorganized online world.
§  In online archives, museums and institutions of higher education.
o   The ability to assess and evaluate the reliability of online sources bringing to this newer source of information the skills of judicious, critical skepticism that have long been an indispensable historical tool.
o   The ability to produce creative, scholarly materials for the digital world that require the same level of rigor historians have applied to writing and publishing traditional papers, presentations, and monographs
When we developed learning outcomes for the history major, we incorporated these concepts into 8 of the 14 objectives, including the most obvious one:
  • Ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation.
Now, we are looking at revising our department’s long standing methods course, HIST 299, into a two semester class (HIST 297 — Colloquium and HIST 298 — Practicum) for a number of reasons, among them the desire to be able to fully integrate all of the aspects we believe necessary to be a successful history major in our upper-level classes, in graduate school, and beyond.

At our last department meeting, the department agreed to include the following ideas, concepts, and assignments into the two classes:   


HIST 297
n  Finding and evaluating sources online
o   How do we find and evaluate online materials for scholarly uses? How does one begin to sift through the massive content that is available in a systematic and/or creative way? What are the pitfalls and perils, the promises and potentialities of the online information experience?
§  Learn library databases
§  Advanced scholarly searching
§  Evaluating sources online
n  Discuss new forms of scholarly communication and methodology, including digital history projects, collaborative writing, blogs, text-mining/topic modeling, mapping/GIS [1]  
n  Digital identity
o   How should we present ourselves to the online world (personally, professionally, and intellectually)?
n  Potential assignments for HIST 297:
o   E-portfolio/digital resume
o   Website review (e.g, along the lines of the Journal of American History website reviews)
o   Public writing (reflective blogs or individual/group resource sites on historical topics)
o   Some kind of public history assignment
HIST 298


n  Review, as needed, concepts of source location and evaluation (focusing on primary sources), digital identity, and new forms of scholarly methods and communication.
n  Potential assignments
o   Minimum level:
§  Public writing (Research log or resource site on topic)
o   Innovative level:
§  Multimedia version of their research project.
§  Contribute to a larger digital project in a small way
·       Partnered with James Monroe Papers, James Monroe Museum, and/or Library’s Special Collections, students could make small contributions to larger projects, getting a sense for what goes on behind the scenes and contributing to a larger good.
·       Or students could participate in crowd-sourced transcription projects, such as the War Department Papers or Jeremy Bentham’s papers.

We’ll have to see how it actually plays out in classes, but I’m glad to see our department working on practical ways to implement digital fluency into the core classes of our curriculum.



[1]Here I’m talking about, at minimum, exposure to the complex new approaches to research in the some exposure to the complex new approaches to research in the discipline offered by recent advancements in computing, including text-mining or GIS (if only because that those methods are influencing a new generation of scholarship that students will need to understand to assess). As they become more accessible and widely used, there will be more opportunities for students to also engage in the application of these tools in their own work.

Vote now on the UMW decade sites

The research sites on the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s that my US Women’s History students have created as part of our project to re-create the Mary Washington college classroom experience are now up on the course site.

Please check the sites out, and vote for the site that you think provides the best set of resources for our class to actually re-create the classroom experience.

Thanks!

The Assignment for Recreating the historical MWC Classroom

As I discussed in this post, my US Women’s History since 1870 class will be working on a project in which the ultimate goal is to be able to recreate a class session or two from the middle of the 20th Century.

Here is the assignment that I developed for the course, in three stages.  Note the use of individual and group work, online and IRL activities, and deep research in the archives of the school.

As always, I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions.  [The full course syllabus is here.]

MARY WASHINGTON CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE RESEARCH PROJECT
This project will be based around researching Mary Washington College classes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s (including course topics, pedagogical approaches, majors, gender stereotypes, technology, and clothing).  As our class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20th Centuries, our parallel goal will be to understand what college meant to women who came to Mary Washington in the four decades in the middle of the 20th Century.
Each group of 6-7 of you will have a decade to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Rather than writing a traditional individual research paper, you’ll keep a research blog and work with your group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Primary source resources (many available in UMW Special Collections)
  • The Bullet
  • Course Catalogs
  • Academic Department and Faculty Files
  • Student Handbooks
  • Photographs (Centennial Collection online plus those digitized, but not online yet)
  • Alumni/Faculty Interviews (talk to me about interview waivers)
  • Resources from Historic Preservation (?)
  • Scrapbooks/Aubade/Alumni Magazine/President’s files
Secondary Sources
  • Crawley, William B. University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History, 1908-2008. Fredericksburg, VA: University of Mary Washington, 2008.
  • Key UMW faculty and staff (Parsons, McClusky, Thaden, Snyder)
Decade-based Research Groups
I will assign each of you to a group of 5-7 each with a different decade at MWC to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Each person will keep their own research log/blog and work with their group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.
Part I — Individual Research Logs
Each student will take a particular set of primary sources (or will interview alumni) and research classroom experiences for their group’s decade.  Each student will share her/his work in progress in the form of four individual research log-style blog posts posted before class starts on four consecutive Tuesdays (1/31, 2/7, 2/14, 2/21).
Part II — Group Research Project
Building on the research done by each of the group members, each group will construct a site for their decade in UMWBlogs.  The design, format, and presentation of these sites will be determined by the group, with a broad audience in mind.  These sites are due by 11:59 PM on Monday, March 12.
Grading for Parts I and II – 30% overall, with an individual grade for research logs and group grade for the research project.
Part III – Class re-creation
Based on those group research sites, we will collectively decide (with the help of some alums), which decade we will then use for the final project, a re-creation of a course session or two from that decade.  The form these class sessions will take is still yet to be determined (depending in part on the decade picked), but they will involve everyone in some way in preparation and presentation.  Specific tasks will be determined after the decade is chosen.  This recreation will take place during the week of April 17.
Grading for Part III – 10%, with individual grades defined by student’s participation in the re-creation process.
PLEASE NOTE: Throughout these projects, all ideas, phrases, and quotes must be cited using footnote-style citations and bibliographies done using the Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) or Turabian’s newest Guide (7th Edition).   

Re-Creating the College Classroom of the Past

I just sent the following email to one of my classes for the Spring.

Hello all,

Thanks for signing up for History 328: US Women’s History since 1870.  I wanted to give you a little preview of my plans for our class next semester because the research projects in the class are going to be a little different than that of other history classes (even for those of you who took HIST 327 this fall).

First of all, in many ways, the general structure of the class is going to be fairly standard.  We’ll have lectures on Tuesdays and part of Thursdays, and discuss readings on Thursdays.  There will be a mid-term and a final based on those lectures, discussions, and readings.

What’s different is that the rest of your grade, roughly 40%, will be based on a series of projects we’ll be working on in groups and as a class.  These projects will be based around researching Mary Washington College classes in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, & 1960s (including course topics, pedagogical approaches, majors, gender stereotypes, technology, and clothing).  As the class lectures and readings look at the experiences of women in the United States in the late 19th and 20thCenturies, our parallel goal will be to understand what college meant to women who came to Mary Washington in the four decades in the middle of the 20thCentury.

Each group of 6-7 of you will have a decade to research, using a variety of online and archival sources, as well as interviews with alums from these decades.  Rather than writing a traditional individual research paper, you’ll keep a research blog and  work with your group to create a research site collecting together the information that you’ve found.

Based on those sites, we will collectively decide (perhaps with the help of some alums), which decade we will then use for the final project, a re-creation of a course session or two from that decade.

Now, if this project is not the kind of thing you’ll be interested in working on, you may want to look for another class.  But I hope you’ll each at least be intrigued by the idea and perhaps even excited by doing something that is original, fun, and creative, while tying in to the themes we’ll be discussing more broadly for US women in the class.

Have a terrific break and I’ll see you in January.

Dr. McClurken

I’m very excited about this project, so any suggestions you have for the process, the approach, the research sites, or anything else will be greatly appreciated.

Info Age Assignment # 3 — The advertisements

[Though I still need to go back and blog about the first two assignments in my History of the Information Age senior seminar (the creation of our class timeline and the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline), I decided to go ahead and post about this assignment anyway.]

For this assignment, the class split into four groups, each to work on their own fictional advertisement.  The goal of this assignment was to have students explore what went into advertisements in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and/or 1960s.  We read several pieces on the history of advertising as part of our weekly class reading on the history of communication and information, and students did further research before they actually created their projects.  [Some of the ads juxtapose topics that are chronologically out of the time period of the ad style, but I think that actually helped, in that it forced students to do more than just copy previous advertisements.]

Students threw themselves into researching the way that advertising was done in terms of themes, colors, wording, images, stories, tone, even font.  And at the end I think that they learned quite a bit about the difficulty and possibility of communicating in ways that go beyond text itself.

Check them out and let us know what you think.

Collaborative Course Construction

I’m teaching a new course this semester, a senior seminar on the History of the Information Age.  I’ve got a great group of students who are interested in the topic, but also in breaking out of the normal senior readings seminar.  I’ve challenged that format in another senior seminar, Adventures in Digital History (2008/2010 iterations), but this class is a bit different.  ADH is primarily a project based class, where the process of creating the projects is the entire focus of the course.

For this seminar on the Information Age, I wanted to try something different.  I wanted to combine digital history projects with a genuine engagement with  scholarly readings and discussions of themes.  But I also wanted to engage the students in creating the course itself.

So, in late July/early August I created a rough syllabus (version 0.9) here.  It has a rough semester calendar with four broad eras of the “Information Age” — Print (and its predecessors), Early Networked Communication, Broadcasting, and Information in the Digital Age.  It includes three books I had the bookstore order and will have the students read over the course of the semester.  It includes what I see as the non-negotiable parts of the course:  

Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, post regularly to the individual blogs, participate in class, and help lead two weeks of class discussions.  Students are also expected to contribute to the creation of a public, digital timeline of developments, events, people in the information age and add materials to it all semester.”

Participation will be worth 40% and blog posts will be worth at least 10%.  
Here’s what I don’t know and what I want to figure out with the class over the next 10 days or so.

  • I don’t know quite what that timeline will look like yet.  I don’t know what will make it on the timeline, how exactly we’ll construct it, what we will add to it and how.
  • I don’t know what the other 50% of the graded portion of the course will consist of.  
    • I imagine some of it will be material that enriches the digital timeline, but I don’t know what that will be yet.  
    • Some preliminary discussion of ideas on the syllabus comments suggests a student interest in group projects, perhaps video recorded oral histories of aspects of the Information Age.  
    • Others have discussed the value of infographics for displaying particularly perspective on trends/ideas/concepts.  
    • It’s also possible that they will include formal or informal presentations of their work as part of the graded portion of the course.
  • I don’t know which topics the class will want to focus on and for how long.
    • On a related note, I don’t know which readings/texts/images/videos we’ll be using beyond the three core texts to explore the topics the class wants.
  • I don’t know if this will work.  But I’ve got a group of students who genuinely seem excited by the chance to try, and so I’m excited too.  

More to follow.