Blog Post, Process Blog

#dh/#dhist: Party of One

Republished from Storify. This sentence is the link to the original publication.

A quick clarification of terms (with thanks to friend and colleague Paul McAfee who asked me to define on FB):

  1. DH is “digital humanities” – a broad umbrella term for projects that utilize digital tools and processes to forward research in one or more of the humanities fields.
  2. dhist is one of many hashtags for “digital history” on social media. Digital history is a subset of digital humanities in which digital tools and methods are used to explore historical content.
  3. Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that you aren’t actually capable of doing what you’re supposed to be doing/have chosen to do – and that sooner or later everyone else will figure that out too. It doesn’t always (or even often) mean the person doesn’t know what their up to – it’s just a persistent, nagging voice in the head to the effect of “not good enough.”
Blog Post

Notes from #aha17: Day 2

A lighter day on my end – and in Denver, where the sun came out and I had a view of the Rockies from my window. Win.

My brain is pretty mushy from trying to figure out a bunch of digital history tools at the moment, but here’s the (briefer than yesterday) highlights:

Praise for a colleague

First and foremost, Jordan Reed, fellow Drew grad student and digital historian, was one of today’s most tweeted persons thanks to his presentation with SHARP (Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing)! Woot!

#aha17 #s110: Collaborative Digital History

Great panel/roundtable from Stephen Robertson, Jim Clifford, Ian Milligan, Emily Merchant, and Myron Gutmann – and the audience, which was gain full of live tweeters. (Seriously – such a joy to tweet with other people!)

The takeaways for me:

Digital history can be learned as projects are in-progress.

Woot! Every collaborator – even/especially grads and undergrads – deserves reward/credit for work

Because history is always-already collaborative – we just don’t tend to make that explicit

Do need to take care as we consider how to treat student collaborators, though. What work should be public? What work should be withheld? How are we ensuring that students have a clear and respected say?

Odds and ends about who we write for and what digital projects mean for securing jobs and/or gaining tenure

#aha17 #s117: Digital Drop-In

Pretty much sums up how I feel about this session:

Digital history is still a new community for me – but it is a community as far as I can tell. And a remarkably supportive, interested, and creative one in which resources are made to be shared.

Jeff McLurken welcomed me at the door, listened patiently to my project description and skills needs, and then pointed me to two different digital historians/humanists who had great suggestions for tools to use for data analysis.

I had the chance to speak with Ian Milligan again and he kindly re-demonstrated some of the web scraping tools from yesterday (Voyant and DocNow). I’m still putzing around with these tools and figuring out how to make them work for my needs, but I’m feeling on firmer ground with the dissertation after the drop-in session.

Blog Post

Notes from #aha17: Day 1


It’s 4° F in Denver. So obviously one of the most shared images on Twitter this morning was Jon Snow. This sort of thing might be what led to these shenanigans on Channel 9 News: History Buffs Tweet About Snow, Hilarity Ensues.

It is my intention to write a brief summary of each day at #aha17 (American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting) in Denver – but goodness knows I never finish series of blog posts. So this might just be a one-off thing. Here’s the highlights from today. Readers, beware. Herein lies an excessive number of links…

Personal Odds and Ends:

I was so grateful when presenters shared links to slides today! It meant I could happily toggle between tweeting, exploring the digital projects discussed, and browsing slides and links.

Okay. I give in. I’ll start providing slides before class. (It’s good to be a pseudo-student sometimes…)

#aha17 #gsdh: Getting Started in Digital History

Link to AHA Program

I attended the session on Web Scraping, led by Ian Milligan (@ianmilligan1). If you’d like to browse the slides and links, Ian was good enough to provide all of the materials for the session on his website.

Web scraping, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, means pulling all sorts of basic info off of a website. For instance, if you use a web tool (like on a website like a database of song lyrics (such as this example from Ian this morning), you can run a URL with the web tool and it will extract information like song title, artist, and relevant links from the webpage. This information can then be exported into a Comma Separated Values (.csv) file – pretty much an Excel file with a different ending. That data can then be run through any number of analysis tools (we used Voyant Tools) to study things like word frequency, spikes in popularity, and the context of specific words, people, or places.

For me, I plan to apply similar tools and methods for my social-media based dissertation. We spent some time practicing web scraping social media using Doc Now, which lets you run a hashtag on a given day, pulls all of the tweets and related RTs, and then allows you to export the data for analysis. Super useful given that I’m hoping to analyze upwards of 200 tweets per class meeting this semester…

After the Web Scraping Workshop, we broke out for lunch and “table talks” hosted by faculty and alt-acs who shared their experience in public history, choosing digital humanities tools, sustaining digital projects, and funding digital projects, among other digital humanities (DH) topics.

I attended the informal talk on DH jobs led by Rebecca Wingo who offered helpful advice about what jobs were out there, what degree programs might be most useful, and what additional certifications/experience would be useful for pursuing a DH job. The takeaway for me was a confirmation of the usefulness of George Mason University’s DH certificate program (which I may be looking at in the future) and her suggestion to attend digital history training opportunities to acquire skills and experience as needed including:

For the second round, I headed for the Grading Digital Projects table led by John Rosinbum.  We talked about timeline assignments, rubrics, and citations and – good news for the next round of #hwc111 students – I’m more thoroughly convinced of the necessity of rubrics. So, rubrics coming for Spring 2017 blogging project! Also probably and more thorough and interactive conversation about why and how to cite sources on the web. Spread the news, dear students…

#aha17 #s22: Historical Sources as Data: Opportunities and Challenges

Link to AHA Program

Wowsa. When you attend a #dighist session, everybody live tweets! Which was a great thing because the presentations given by Kalani Craig, Lauren Tilton, and Brandon Locke were brilliant and useful and challenging.

All three presentations challenged listeners to consider how best to reach wider audiences in clearer ways by:

  • Bringing information out from behind paywalled collections (i.e., only available to institutions with money, like Proquest or JSTOR) in legal, but accessible ways through the use of good old copy-and-paste, data compilation, and natural language processing
  • Shedding light on lesser-known, but exceptionally important figures and places in history through network analysis and comprehensive metadata for images and sources
  • Making transparent our methodologies and sources so other scholars can assess and help us grow our process and data can remain reusable.

This session was, I swear, more compelling than I’m making it sound. I highly recommend checking out the projects driven by the presenters for a better sense of how innovative and important their work is:

#aha17 #s31: A Retrospective on Tuning: Where Have We Been and Where Should We Go?

Link to AHA Program

Yup, all the live tweets for this one are mine. Because when you don’t go to a #dighist session, sometimes you’re the only one tweeting. Ah well.

I’m still processing this one. I like the ambitions of the Tuning Project. The idea is to host, coordinate, and focus conversations about what faculty want history majors to be able to do when they finish the degree.

The aim of the three-year project has been to help establish guidelines useful to history departments across the United States and to foster a more natural language surrounding historical skills so students have a fuller stake in course assessments and outcomes. The project is faculty (not admin) driven, it has increased the AHA’s emphasis on teaching, and the panelists today seemed committed to bringing a wider variety of educators into the conversation in the future.

The focus of the project is also shifting from majors to introductory courses, which I (selfishly) think is a great move given that this is what I teach.

I’m not totally sold though. The project itself still requires a lot of explanation – at least for those of us who aren’t really part of history departments. I don’t know that there are a ton of resources or training on site for new college and university teachers to implement the suggested Tuning outcomes in effective ways (though Anne Hyde did note the increasing presence and usefulness of centers for teaching and learning on campuses). I’m also still not certain how much students value the language of transferable skills in general education courses… But then I haven’t really asked how they feel about it. (Maybe I will in the near future.)

It was a thought-provoking session one way or another and I’m grateful for the conversations led by Elaine Carey, Anne Hyde, Elizabeth Lehfeldt and Daniel McInerney in the field of history education.


I finished out the day at the grad student reception (met a Masters student from University at Buffalo and chatted about pre-modern China) and the Twitterstorians/bloggers reception. It turns out that if you hang out long enough, you meet people who recommend awesome medieval Tumblrs, Baltimore tours, and scholars of history teaching and learning. Also they had Denver-brewed beer. Win.

Blog Post

“This is hard. It isn’t very linear.”

Class Blogging and Non-Linear Storytelling

The World Civ I classes I teach are embarking on the final stage of their blogging project this semester. This is a thoroughly self-directed project. Students can choose any topic within the time frame of the course (10,000 BCE to 1500 CE) and they can present their topic however they choose. Thus far, I have tentative proposals for Instagram feeds, Pinterest boards, Tumblrs, fashion videos, and songs and I am pretty darn excited to see where things go.

I also have a few groups clearly struggling to figure out how digital storytelling works. During our last workshop for the blogging project, I was working with one group to define a topic, a takeaway, and a creative medium they would be comfortable working with. In the midst of the conversation, one member of the group encapsulated the difficulty of pinning down this project. “This is hard,” they said. “It isn’t very linear.”

That, I think, is exactly the difficulty of creating good digital material. It isn’t especially linear and when you’ve really only been taught to think of writing in linear ways (intro, thesis, body, conclusion), it can be incredibly difficult to think about organizing information in a way that is connective but not linear.

The student’s comment prompts a number of questions for me (which I’ll record here in the hopes that I can come back to them sometime):

  • What’s the purpose of trying to think in non-linear ways if it feels so unnatural?
  • How can I teach non-linear and creative thinking?
    • Is there more prep and introduction I can give students to this sort of task
    • Undoubtedly, yes – but what prep should I give? The 5 Photos exercise might be a good place to start…
  • How do I help students locate models and assistance (outside of the class and myself) for trying to think and create in new ways?

The Dissertation Project and Boundaries of Storytelling

The last question is especially pressing for me as I try to work out the purpose and shape of my dissertation project. My project currently centers on how students understand and express the importance of a particular person, event, or idea in history. My working hypothesis is that the default definition of “historically significant” for most students at the start of a class has to do with whether or not something or someone is relatable.

I suspect this definition is, at least in part, a product of the pervasiveness of social media platforms that encourage us (the students and myself) to react to or comment on everything. I’m wondering if this preference for interactive material prompts us to consider our own reactions to content as co-equal in importance to the content itself. I think that might cause us to filter all information (past and present) through that question of whether or not something is personally relatable.

This is all very tentative stuff at the moment. In order to understand whether that hypothesis is reasonable, I need to ask students what they actually think about history and how they use digital media. No surprise there; lots of historians concerned with what students think about history or digital media have asked them before.

I think, though, that I’d like to play with the linear way historians usually ask students what they think about history and digital media. In academic work about historical thinking (see the work of Sam Wineburg, the edited volume Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History, or the Perspectives series, “Thinking Historically in the Classroom“) or digital media (I’m thinking especially of Henry Jenkins and Mills Kelly here), the research model is usually pretty traditional. The researcher formulates a hypothesis, designs a study, collects the data, analyzes the data, and publishes her/his findings. In the case of works about pedagogy, the author of a book or article might simply reflect on what they’ve observed in their classes.

In either case, the researcher has the final word when it comes to interpretation. That makes sense given the short-term nature of many studies and the clear knowledge difference between, say, primary- or secondary-school students and a researcher with a Ph.D. This process also produces perceptive frameworks for thinking about how people think about history, many of which as a springboard for my own work, so I’m not by any means trying to overturn this model altogether.

I am wondering, though, if it might be worthwhile to interrupt the linear research model by asking for feedback from participants about the conclusions of a study. I’m planning to work with adults (most of whom aren’t much younger than me) who possess the self-awareness to tell me if I’m misinterpreting their written or spoken responses in an activity. I’d love to make them collaborators in this process and seek their input throughout the project. I am also unsure how to accomplish that in meaningful ways.

I currently lack a model for that sort of collaboration and there are a lot of questions I would need to address to do this sort of work:

  • Would students (participants even be interested in providing feedback about conclusions?
  • What would it take to get students to agree to provide regular and helpful feedback about my work? Would I need to incentivize their participation bribe them with extra credit or the possibility of putting a line on their CVs as collaborators or research assistants of sorts? What are the ethics of that?
  • How would I incorporate their feedback? Who gets the final say about the interpretation of a set of data – the students who provided the data or me as the researcher?
  • How might student feedback shift the trajectory of the research or the shape of activities that are part of the research? [That last question matters immensely since I need to seek the approval of an ethics committee – an institutional review board (IRB) – for every aspect of the project.]

These are hard questions. I don’t know if that will possible to come up with good answers in the progress of this project or if I will be able to put any ideas about these questions into practice. I do think I agree with my student about the difficulties of this unfamiliar territory: “This is hard. It isn’t very linear.”

Blog Post

Things I Found This Week: Dissertation Distractions Edition

The best/worst part of a dissertation project involving social media and technology is the constant discovery of blogs, online journals, and tech tools for teaching and researching. After reading any book or article, after every discussion with a peer or scholar, I’m left with a lengthy list of new resources – which at the moment seem far more interesting and exciting than the harder work of sitting down to, you know, actually think, read, and write about my topic. For instance:

I’m itching to play around with Omeka and Scalar, two resources a fellow Drew student, Jessica Brandt, was good enough to alert me to.

Omeka looks like a more traditional blog/website platform, but it’s designed to assist scholars (amateur and professional) and institutions in creating top-notch online archives, exhibits, and narratives. The platform allows for beautiful image collections, searchable tags, interactive images, and customizable themes, fonts, etc. The software is free and open source and looks like a powerful story-telling tool.

(What Is Omeka from Omeka on Vimeo.)

Scalar is exciting for the way it allows scholars to structure their narratives in fully digital ways. The platform’s purpose, according to creators, is to give “authors tools to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats.” Authors can create multiple paths through the same project, tag paragraphs and sections to create relationships throughout the “document”, and insert multimedia content related to the text portions of the project. My project could, I think, benefit from all of these possibilities and I’m excited to give it a test run once the topic is a little more structured.

(Scalar Platform — Trailer from MA+P @ USC on Vimeo.)

I’m also super tempted to enroll in one (or…all) of the online courses offered by Hybrid Pedagogy. The upcoming course topics are “The Flipped Classroom,” “Teaching with Twitter,” and “Learning Online” – all topics of interest to me and all for very reasonable prices ($250-350, with discounts for adjuncts and students). Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure that adding an online class to the mix of dissertation prospectus + two classes + training for half-marathon would turn out to be a little much… Alas. I’ll just have to keep an eye on the offerings in the Digital Pedagogy Lab in the future.

Two final resources/projects on my radar this week: Educause Review (my thanks to Gamin Bartle for this one), which looks to be full of all sorts of thoughtful pieces regarding technology and the digital age in and education, and the Wikipedia page for the feminist sci-fi film, Advantageous. The film is gorgeous and provocative and made my cyborg-loving self terribly happy. The Wikipedia page doesn’t do it credit – by which I mean the information is super basic. So I added a link for one of the actresses last night and today (or tomorrow or whenever I decide to neglect other work), I’d really like to add a plot summary or something about critical reception, and them maybe begin work on pages for Freya Adams and Samantha Kim. I’ve been meaning to make a foray into editing Wikipedia for awhile and this seems like a good place to start.

Leave a comment if you’re using similar resources or if you want to talk ed-tech, social media in the classroom, or dissertations. Or anything else. Now to the real work of the day for me – updating my class website to include the new syllabus and a list of topics for the semester’s portfolio project. (Will provide links for those once they’re ready to go…) I also need to finish off an e-book of last semester’s blog posts for my students – it’s the closest I can get to preserving their work for the moment and that task has been on the back burner for far too long.

Blog Post

Hey Prof, Is There A Crash Course For That?

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of presenting at the third Dean Hopper New Scholars’ Conference at Drew University as part of the panel, “The Digital Age in the Classroom.” My fellow panelist and I had similar concerns (I love when that happens): What does digitization mean for textbooks in the classroom? How do we balance content and critical thinking skills? How can we leverage new media/mediums for the benefit of our research and our students?

The conversation that followed our presentations was energetic; attendees had great questions for us and offered their own ideas about digital mediums in the classroom. I left feeling really excited about the conversation and deeply appreciative of how thoughtful other history educators are about their pedagogy.

The presentation would not have been possible without the input of my former students. They offered their impressions of the Crash Course: World History series (the subject of my presentation) in an informal survey leading up to the conference and their insights helped me more fully evaluate the potential impact of the Crash Course videos. So, if you are a student reading this: many, many thanks to you!

If you’d like to know more about my preliminary conclusions regarding the Crash Course videos and the digital age in the classroom, please check out the files below. I’ve uploaded a pdf version of my Keynote presentation; the videos used in the presentation are linked below as well. You can also read a rough, written text of my presentation (not verbatim, but close).

“Hey Prof, Is There A Crash Course For That?” PDF of Keynote (Intro Video for Slide 3 and “Alexander the Great and the Situation…The Great?” for Slide 10 – watch to 2:32)

“Hey Prof, Is There A Crash Course For That?” Text Only

If you find these ideas intriguing, if you’re using digital mediums and social media in your classes, or if we met at the conference, I’d love to hear from you. Please do get in touch via the contact form on this website.