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.


Changing Modes of Research


Digital Tools

Dangers of Digital Humanities



Student Engagement

Changing Conferences

Info Age #4 — The Documentaries

[Be sure to check out the earlier installments of my discussion of my History of the Information Age senior seminar as well:   here, here, and here, as well as the class timeline and the list of the first set of projects to be placed in that timeline.]

Assignment #4 in this course was the group documentaries on some aspect of the Information Age.  I didn’t give the students a great deal of direction, other than to say that they needed to show change over time, that they should be between 5 and 10 minutes, and that they needed to upload them somewhere where they could be seen (they all chose YouTube).  They had about three weeks to come up with a topic (related to the class discussions of the digital age), research, film, and edit the video.

Each group had a basic video camera, and they had access to the editing stations in our Digital Media Lab (with iMovie and Premiere).   Ultimately, only one group used Premiere, one used iMovie, and two used Windows Movie Maker.  
Although they had been given a brief intro to video editing at the start of the semester by DTLT, most of them were going to be doing video capture and editing for the first time.  I recommended that they test out their cameras, video files, and basic editing before they got too far into the process so that they could figure out problems in advance.

They presented the documentaries to the class and they were a great deal of fun.  Certainly, the videos aren’t as polished as they would have been if I had spent more time in training them how to use editing software, or if they’d had more time in the semester to work on them (both points the students make in their after-project posts, linked below), but I’m quite impressed with the work they produced and their willingness to throw themselves into the projects.  

What’s your take?  What suggestions do you have for future iterations of the assignment?

Contemplating Online Academic Publishing

This post began as a comment on Laura Blankenship’s Emerging Technologies Consulting blog. Laura noted that the topic of online academic publishing and how it relates to tenure and other institutional academic concerns was going to be part of her formal role as a speaker/leader at this year’s Faculty Academy. My response was as follows:

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say in May. This is a particularly tough issue and one that has gotten a great deal of resistance when broached (at UMW and elsewhere) in formal or informal ways in a variety of conversations I’ve been a part of lately.

On one hand the change to a new system is always complicated (and frankly, even in the old system, the disciplinary differences are enough to make university-wide review committees shudder–e.g., how many psychology articles equal a book in history? I have my own argument, but all would agree that my perspective on this is fairly biased). So, that resistance isn’t that surprising.

Yet, on the surface, online publishing should make a lot of things easier, not harder, to assess for tenure and/or merit pay:

1) Financial limitations that restrict #/size/scope of published works exist on a completely different scale in the online world, especially once a system for peer-reviewed academic e-publishing is built.

1a) It seems almost a no-brainer that scholarly journals should move on-line completely (or at least in part) given the large percentage of costs that publishing those journals entails.

2) Measuring impact — There must be some way of measuring the number of readers/links/hits/formal citations in other peer-reviewed articles or books/presence in syllabi. Now, obviously these things could be gamed (i.e., hits and uniques) or narrowed by restrictive access to some of the examples (BB course syllabi aren’t accessible, for example, nor are many online, but peer-reviewed articles in collections like JSTOR).

I’m sure there are many things I’m forgetting/overlooking here, but I’m really looking forward to Laura’s exploration of the topic in May. Every institution needs to have that conversation.

The Promise and Peril of using Commercial Sites for Historical Materials

Tom at FoundHistory recently posted on the layoff of one of the architects of Flickr Commons, that incredibly useful source for materials from a number of major archives and museums. Tom sees this as a moment to discuss some of his own concerns about the promise and peril of using commercial sites like Yahoo, Flickr, Second Life, and others for publishing cultural and academic resources online.

This debate is one that I’ve had both internally with myself and externally with my colleagues for several years now. No one wants to think that the time, energy, money, and resources invested in placing something valuable online is just going to go away, but the benefits of a ready-made location and user base are also clear.

It seems to me this is about balancing the ability to reach more people, often with a more polished and supported interface, with the need to protect against the risks of commercial failure and potential loss of access to data. [Although we also need to remember that just because something is hosted on the servers of an educational or cultural institution doesn’t mean it is always going to be there. “Forever” is a long time in the era of government budget cuts and rapid software change.]

Still, in the end for me it comes down to a question of whether or not an institution can get data placed in repositories like Flickr Commons back out with some relative ease (both technically and in terms of copyright).