A Professor’s Legacy

This weekend I attended a memorial service for one of my Mary Washington college professors, and later colleague, Dr. Richard “Doc” Warner.  Dick had died suddenly a couple of weeks ago while in New York to talk to an editor about the historical novels he’d been writing since he retired.

Dick Warner spent 36 years at Mary Washington, teaching classes in Russian, French, and maritime history.  When I first came to the school as a prospective student he was the one who spent nearly 90 minutes talking to me about the school and the history major.  This was in stark contrast to the other schools I had visited at which I was lucky to get even five minutes with any faculty members; I don’t know if he ever realized it, but he was a big reason that I came to (then) Mary Washington College.  [Over a decade later,  when I applied after graduate school for a tenure-track teaching position in the department, Dick told me that he would only support hiring me if I agreed to become chair someday….  Something tells me he’s still got a smile and a twinkle in his eye about that one.]

Although a dedicated teacher, his real passion was men’s rugby.  He was instrumental in starting the club sport at MWC in the 1980s and was, as one of the participants this weekend noted, the “Godfather of Mary Washington Rugby”.  He advocated for resources with the administration and raised money from a wide variety of sources.  He recruited constantly, boldly poaching athletes from more mainstream sports at the school.  He attended almost every match for decades and continued to come to many games, even after his retirement and move out of state in 2004.

I knew most of this before this weekend.  Frankly, you couldn’t be Dick’s colleague (or student) without getting a major rugby update at least once a week.  But this weekend’s memorial service was a powerful sign of Dick Warner’s impact, of a remarkable legacy.  At the service, on the rugby pitch that really should be named Doc Warner Field, nearly 100 people remembered his life and his impact on them.  As we went around the large circle, we heard from alumni from the classes of the 1980s to 2011, from people who had traveled thousands of miles or just a few blocks, from teary middle-age men to proud recent graduates, all to pay tribute to Dick.

But the tales that were told of Doc Warner this weekend went beyond that of solely a sport.  Of course there were stories of recruiting phone calls and of conversations about various aspects of a student’s rugby game, of the enduring passion and love Dick had for the sport and its players.  But even more powerful were those stories of Dick mentoring students about their classes, working out structured schedules with young men who were having trouble adjusting to the rigorous demands of Mary Washington’s courses, introducing them not only to the library, but to the specific cubicle in which they would henceforth be studying.  Several alums spoke to the fact that, rather than being easier on rugby players in his own classes, that he expected more of them.  And that attention to their success as students and as men didn’t stop with their graduation.  We heard of countless recommendation letters written, or phone calls to potential employers; we heard of the community of people (students, alumni, parents, friends) bound together ostensibly by rugby, but really by Doc Warner’s unrelenting energy and interest; we heard about Dick recognizing former students on the street decades later and remembering key details about their lives.  We heard from Dick’s own family about the importance of “his second family” to Dick, of his pride in them and in their successes.  We heard about his generosity, his quiet support of students in financial straits, and his wry sense of humor.

I was talking with other faculty members at the end of the memorial, wondering at the powerful impact Dick had had on these student-athletes.  Few faculty have the kind of impact, inspire the kind of devotion, leave the kind of legacy that he did.  Many of us who teach would be thrilled to have a memorial service to which so many of those we advised and taught came, where there was as much joy and laughter as there were tears and sadness, a sense of a life well and fully lived for both family and work.  It was a fitting tribute to Richard Warner’s career and life.

Thinking about Public History Projects: A DIY history toolkit

My good friend, Leslie, begins a new tenure-track job this fall in Idaho. She recently asked for input on her next big project. If you haven’t read the post yet, you should. The gist is as follows:

Whereas public historians traditionally have done history for the public–e.g. in museum exhibits or in documentary films–there’s a small but growing group of public historians who want to foster and study history done by the public, by passionate amateurs and average folks instead of created for them. I’m one of those historians, and as I transition to life on the tenure track (I’ll have 4-5 years to prove I deserve to be employed for the next 30-35 years), I’m searching for a project or two in which I can make significant progress in 3-4 years.

I’m hoping you can help me by telling me a bit about how you use history in your life, either everyday or on special occasions. I want to find a project that not only interests me, but that really gets people excited about engaging with the history of their family, neighborhood, house, community, hobby, or whatever else they’re passionate about.

My response in her comments included two ideas, which, you’ll notice, don’t really answer her question. They do, however, raise a couple of ideas about ways to approach her rethinking of public history’s goals:

1) Create a centralized set of resources on a topic. I’m thinking of collecting links to web-based resources, but they might just be lists of various sources/works for the topic. Gathering those together in and of themselves could prove valuable to a group that has not done that yet for its own history and would allow you to bring the experiences of a public historian to help as well.

2) Create a resource that would provide access to tools, methodologies, approaches that would help people engage in their own group/family history. This would be a kind of DIY family/group history kit. You might include advice on how to do interviews; how to scan images and documents for historical purposes; discuss using WP or other blogging software (or software like Omeka) to create exhibits; how to use wikis to create crowdsourced projects like the Davis Wiki; examples of other sites (and ones that inspire a sense of possibility, not major, grant-funded institutional projects); how to fact check family/group stories (or why those stories are valuable regardless of their validity), etc.

Here I’m thinking of initially virtual tools. But with an outside grant or support from your institution, you and your new department might become known for lending the equipment (cameras, audio recorders, scanners, etc.) and expertise needed to empower people in your area to do their own individual or group history projects.

The more I think about it, the more I really like the second notion, the DIY history toolkit. Think about the value of such a guide/checklist/resource. What would you include in a DIT history toolkit?

Good luck to Leslie with her move, her new job, and her new projects. Head on over and help her out.

Banner Lecture for VHS

I was truly honored when the Virginia Historical Society, a wonderful museum and archive, asked me to give one of the famous Banner Lectures on my book. Oddly enough, though I’ve presented various parts at a number of conferences, I’ve never done a formal presentation of the whole project. So, I had a good time putting this talk together and it turned out pretty well. I got some great questions from the audience.

Thanks again to Nelson Lankford, Frances Pollard, and the rest of the VHS staff for all the work that they do to contribute to the history of Virginia.

Lecture: Teaching and Learning with New Media

I’ve not posted on this blog in a while (see ProfHacker.com and http://mcclurken.org/ for other goings on).

However, I was honored to be asked to give one of the inaugural lectures in the Teaching Excellence series begun this year by UMW’s Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning.

What follows is the video and a list of the links mentioned in the talk.

Thanks to all for the opportunity and the questions. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions.

Overview

  • What is New Media?
  • My Goals in using New Media tools
  • Examples of Classroom Use
  • Assessing the Impact
  • What Can You Do?
  • What is New Media? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_media

    UMWBlogs

  • Blogging – Teresa Coffman (EDUC) and Steve Greenlaw (ECON)
  • Blog as course management toolSue Fernsebner’s Freshman Seminar: Toys as History
  • As site for collecting hard-to-find research sources for students –Steve Harris’s Hist 485: Researching Russian and Soviet Resources
  • UMWers & New Media

    Low Levels of Technology Use

  • Wiki for discussions in all my courses
  • Blogs as Individual/Group Reflections
  • Blogs as Research Logs (Historical Methods/Digital History)
  • More Intensive Uses of New Media Tools

  • Examples of Individual digital projects — US History in Film
  • Class Museum of history of technology projects (http://historyoftech.umwblogs.org/)
  • See also Krystyn Moon’s 19th-Century Museum – http://amst312.umwblogs.org/
  • Adventures in Digital history course
    Digital Toolkit
    • 2008 Class & Projects http://digitalhistory.umwblogs.org
    • – Historical Markers Project (HMP) — [6]
    • – James Farmer Project (JFP) — [7]
    • – James Monroe Papers Project (JMPP) — [8] and [9]
    • – Alumni Project (AP) — [10]

    Adventures in Digital History 2010 — http://dh2010.umwblogs.org

    • UMW Images Project
    • Life and Legacy of Mary Ball Washington
    • James Monroe’s Letters as Minister to France
    • City of Hospitals: Fredericksburg in the Civil War

    Student Impact Survey — From November 2009Contact me directly for details

    Archiving Social Media Conversations of Significant Events

    This is a rough proposal for another session at 2009 THATCamp that grew out of conversations with a number of people in my network about the role of social media in the recent events in Iran.

    I propose that we have a session where THATCampers discuss the issues related to preserving (and/or analyzing) the blogs, tweets, images, Facebook postings, SMS(?) of the events in Iran with an eye toward a process for how future such events might be archived and analyzed as well. How will future historians/political scientists/geographers/humanists write the history of these events without some kind of system of preservation of these digital materials? What should be kept? How realistic is it to collect and preserve such items from so many different sources? Who should preserve these digital artifacts (Twitter/Google/Flickr/Facebook; LOC; Internet Archive; professional disciplinary organizations like the AHA)?

    On the analysis side, how might we depict the events (or at least the social media response to them) through a variety of timelines/charts/graphs/word-clouds/maps? What value might we get from following/charting the spread of particular pieces of information? Of false information? How might we determine reliable/unreliable sources in the massive scope of contributions?

    [I know there are many potential issues here, including language differences, privacy of individual communications, protection of individual identities, various technical limitations, and many others.]

    Maybe I’m overestimating (or underthinking) here, but I’d hope that a particularly productive session might even come up with the foundations of: a plan, a grant proposal, a set of archival standards, a wish-list of tools, even an appeal to larger companies/organizations/governmental bodies to preserve the materials for this particular set of events and a process for archiving future ones.

    What do people think? Is this idea worth pursuing?

    THATCamp 2009 — A Proposal

    For those of you that don’t know, THATCamp is an unconference on The Humanities And Technology.

    This is what I posted to the THATCamp 2009 site as my proposal for a session. Join in the discussion before and after the conference!

    How to get money, money, money for wild and crazy times!!

    Okay, not really. But I do think this topic is particularly important right now.

    This was my original proposal:

    I’d like to talk about the role of faculty, IT, and administrators in collaborating to shape institutional strategic plans and planning in general for academic computing and the digital humanities. I’ve spent nearly 18 months now involved in various strategic and practical planning committees at UMW regarding digital resources and goals for the humanities and social sciences. Making sure that resources are allocated to the digital humanities requires broad commitments within administrative and strategic planning. [Not as sexy or fun as WPMU or Omeka plug-ins, but sadly, just as important….] I’d like to share my own experiences in the area and hear from others about theirs.

    And today I would simply add that as UMW is closing in on a first draft of its strategic plan, I’m even more convinced that the college/university-wide planning process is something with which digital humanists need to be engaged. In this time of dwindling economic resources, however, we also need to be, pardon the pun, strategic about it. I think we need to figure out when we need to explain concepts, tools, the very notion of what digital humanities is and its place in the curriculum (something even THATCampers seem to be debating), when we need to do full-on DH evangelizing, and when we need to back off from our evangelizing in order to ease fears and/or recognize budgetary realities. In any case, who else has had to make the case for Digital Humanities or academic technology as part of these processes?

    UPDATE: Of course, let’s also include planning for libraries, archives, and museums in this discussion as well. (Thanks for the reminder epistemographer)

    Day One of Faculty Academy–Got Inspiration?

    As always, I’m inspired by UMW’s annual Faculty Academy, in its 14th year. I’ve been presenting here every year since I started full time at Mary Washington in 2001, yet I always seem to get more out of the sessions than I ever give in the presentations.

    Others have done recaps, but I’ll do a brief overview of my takeaways from today.

    The day began with brief introductions and a welcome recognition of the talents of our DTLT staff by acting provost Nina Mikhalevsky.

    We quickly moved into the first set of concurrent sessions. I attended Digital Resources and Global Studies: Working Projects, with Susan Fernsebner, Joseph Calpin, Alexandra deGraffenreid, Steven Harris. These faculty and students from my departent of History and American Studies showed how much has changed since I was the only history faculty member to attend Faculty Academy just four or five years. Sue and Steve talked about their projects to collect digital resources (or offline sources catalogued in digital form) related to their particular areas of interest, specifically the history of China and Russia/Soviet Union. Especially intriguing to me was the role that the two students played in shaping the structure of the resource sites, the categories that were used, and the general involvement in the creation of what we might describe as the information architecture of the sites and the resources. Excellent work all!

    The keynote address by James Boyle of Duke Law School, “Cultural Agoraphobia: What Universities Need to Know About Our Bias Against Openness” was a delightful romp through the history of computer technology and the internet (making me think that there is a class to be taught in the “history of the ‘future'”) as well as an argument that our default position should not be closed/proprietary/walled, but open/shared/commons. His point that academia, a group invested in the sharing of information, has been the most closed, most inaccessible group in sharing that information hit home with me. Much to think on there.

    Lunch was enlivened by a mock debate on “Is the CMS Dead?” that went nothing like any of us had expected. Jim Groom of EDUPUNK fame attacked CMSs in his usual passionate way as restrictive of innovation and old. John St. Clair both brought down the house with his laugh-inducing descriptions of Jim and other individuals, and made the argument that there are various teaching styles, some which lend themselves well to Blackboard, and some which don’t, but that we should respect both.

    PSU’s Cole Camplese presented a new version of a talk I heard him give at the Chronicle’s technology forum a few weeks ago, now entitled, “If this is scholarship, then we’re all doomed” (an allusion to a quote from a Chronicle forum audience member who was resisting Cole’s multi-modal argument about social networking (YouTube and/or Twitter) as both creation and conversation).

    Finally I sat on a panel about grappling with one’s own digital identity via purchasing individual domain names and (potentially) mapping onto current UMW resources. I think it was a fascinating conversation with the audience and between the panelists. Very cool.

    After a leisurly evening disecting Jim’s next move, most of us retired for the evening. Tomorrow is another day.