New Publication Model, Editor for Current Research in Digital History

For the past three years, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has been publishing a peer-reviewed journal, Current Research in Digital History. Over those three years, our mission for CRDH has been consistent. We think that digital history needs more scholarship that makes interpretative or argumentative claims within specific fields of history. Digital history methods, in other words, ought to produce new historical insights, and those new historical insights ought to be shared with, say, scholars of American legal history or of Ottoman culture. CRDH exists to provide a home for—or sometimes a waypoint to—such scholarship. We publish short-form essays of about 3,000 words. We have built a platform which we will continue to expand that can host whatever kind of digital history content an author can imagine. We publish the articles open access. And we envision this as a place where scholars can either write up the interpretative aspects of a digital history project or publish a brief version of an idea that they will develop more fully elsewhere. Part of that is that we publish quickly: less than a year from submission through peer review to publication, and faster if we can.

Covers of CRDH

For the first few years we published CRDH in conjunction with an annual conference that we held at RRCHNM in Virginia. The purpose of the conference was to bootstrap the journal, by helping provide guidance to digital historians who were applying their digital methods to argumentative history for the first time. We have found CRDH to be a modest success. A number of scholars have seen how we are trying to enable their work and have taken advantage of the venue. We are especially pleased that the journal has been a useful home for graduate students and early career scholars who want to publish work in digital history.

Today we published the 2020 issue, but we are also making a step to a new publication model. We will begin accepting and publishing submissions on a rolling basis. In other words, instead of waiting to publish all the articles we receive all at the same time, we will publish them as they become ready for publication. And the journal will now be completely decoupled from the conference, which we will no longer hold. We are making these steps for two reasons. First, there were always scholars who could not attend the conference, and we will be able to draw from a wider pool of scholars now. And second, we like to keep the current in CRDH, and this move will allow us to publish articles faster.

If CRDH sounds like a venue in which you could publish your work, we encourage you to send submissions or even just questions to the editors.

We have another important piece of news about CRDH as well. For the past three years, Greta Swain has been the journal’s editorial assistant. No one has done more for the success of the journal—or of its authors—than Greta. Starting now, she will join the journal as an editor alongside Stephen Robertson and Lincoln Mullen. She is a gifted scholar of early Americas and of digital history, and will bring a keen eye for both historical argumentation and the craft of digital history to editing the journal. As a PhD candidate at George Mason University, she will also be a part of the journal’s strategy in reaching out to graduate students and early career scholars. We are grateful that Swain is taking on this new role as the journal transitions to a new publication model.

While CRDH is finalizing its editorial board, we are grateful that the following scholars have agreed to join the editorial board. All of them have been long-time supporters of the journal’s mission, and they will bring their wide-ranging experience to bear in helping us accomplish that mission.

Current Research in Digital History 2020

Today RRCHNM is publishing the third issue of our open-access, peer-reviewed publication Current Research in Digital History. This issue features six essays on topics ranging from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s (SNCC) national network-based infrastructuremaritime mobility in mid-nineteenth century Puget Sound, and reimagined regional identities of Colorado and New Mexico’s San Luis Valley, to women’s key roles as mediators in Ottoman-Algerian socio-political networks, a critique of History’s (formerly The History Channel) nominally historical programing, and the “news(paper) diets” served up to early-twentieth-century American readers.

CRDH 2020, CoverEditors Lincoln Mullen and Stephen Robertson worked with Editorial Assistant Greta Swain, as well as this year’s program committee, consisting of Christopher Church, Kalani Craig, Maeve Kane, and Crystal Moten, to produce this issue. The online publication platform for CRDH was designed by Kim Ngyuen and Ken Albers to allow for interactive visualizations, data and code appendices and other features not typically available from other humanities journals.

The primary aim of Current Research in Digital History is to encourage and publish scholarship in digital history that offers discipline-specific arguments and interpretations, rather than simply showcases digital projects. By featuring short essays, it also seeks to provide an opportunity to make arguments on the basis of ongoing research in larger projects. Given that these are brief articles about work in progress, CRDH is committed to a fast peer review and publication schedule.

The journal welcomes submissions of short-form, interpretative essays in digital history.

From Historical Sources to Datasets: A Preview of DataScribe

Updated November 11: The beta release is now available for download (zip file).

Scholars in history and related humanities fields are increasingly turning towards data analysis and visualization in order to understand the past. Historians have of course long used sources with quantitative informations, such as probate records, tax lists, bills of mortality, censuses, and the like. The mass digitization of historical records has only made those types of sources more readily accessible.

And yet there is a huge gap between having a historical source (even a digitized one) and having a dataset which can be analyzed. By analogy, you can think of the difference between having an image of a manuscript and having a text transcription of that document. But with datasets, the problem of transcription is even more difficult, because data has structure. For example, historical documents may have many small variations in how they are laid out, but when transcribed they should all use the same variable. Or it may be important to standardize the transcription of a set of categories. Historians and scholars who are creating their own datasets have been transcribing them in software not really designed for the purpose, perhaps in spreadsheets. But those ad hoc approaches have many limitations. (Believe us, we’ve run into them many times!) And those limitations great affect the speed, accuracy, and usability of the datasets that are transcribed.

Enter DataScribe. In September 2019, the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities awarded RRCHNM a grant to develop software to tackle just this problem. We have been diligently—but quietly—developing this software over the past year. As we approach our initial round of  testing outside of RRCHNM, we are ready to start giving you previews of what this software will be able to do.

DataScribe is built on the Omeka S platform. Many, many humanities projects are already using Omeka S to describe and display collections of historical sources. You will be able to add the open-source DataScribe module to Omeka and use it to transcribe historical sources. You can define what a dataset should look like: the variables you are going to transcribe and the types of data (numeric, categorical, textual, as well as custom data types) that go into those variables. Teams of people will then be able to transcribe the sources, and we are building in a workflow for reviewing and managing transcriptions. Transcribers will see the historical sources side by side with the fields they need to transcribe, and managers will be able to see the status of the project. While this software is in very rapid development and will continue to change, you can get a sneak preview of what it looks like in the screenshots at the end of this post.

So, when can you get your hands on DataScribe? The answer is soon. DataScribe is currently alpha software, and you can follow its development and open issues at our GitHub repository. On November 11 we will move into our first round of public beta testing. If you are interested in testing DataScribe—or even just want to receive periodic updates about the project—please fill out this very brief form. We will add you to a mailing list to keep you up to date about the project, and if you indicate an interest in testing we will be back in touch with the details. Our project website and the draft documentation are also great ways to learn about the project.

One of the ways that humanities discipline is moving forward is by creating (and sharing) new datasets. Very few historians working with data are dealing with off-the-shelf datasets which are already ready to be analyzed or visualized. To create new historical or humanities knowledge, scholars need to be able to create new datasets. And that is what DataScribe will help them do.

 

Screenshots of the DataScribe module (click for full resolution images)

Datascribe's transcribe view

DataScribe allows users to see the documents they are transcribing, to enter the transcription into fields that ensure data accuracy and consistency, and to manage the workflow of the project.

DataScribe's focus mode for transcribers

DataScribe also allows transcribers to focus just on the document and the fields that they need to enter.

DataScribe form builder

Project managers can use DataScribe’s form builder to define which fields should be transcribed and to decide which types of data, such as numbers, dates, and categories, should be associated with those fields.

Consolation Prize — a New Podcast From RRCHNM

When you think of the most exciting, controversial, or salacious moments in American history, your first thought probably isn’t the story of a U.S. consul. Consuls were charged by the U.S. State Department with reporting American trade in cities across the world, as well as taking care of Americans abroad, but they had little official diplomatic power. They weren’t negotiating treaties or starting wars; they weren’t leading charges into battle or changing the political landscape.

Or were they? The responsibility for the United States’ reputation in other parts of the world often fell squarely on the shoulders of consuls, who were the first ones called in when Americans got themselves in trouble or were mistreated while they were abroad. How they interpreted their duties sometimes got them involved in all kinds of complicated circumstances. And often, their actions on a personal level had ramifications far up the chain, even making a difference in national politics or international relations.

The stories of these consuls deserve to be told. Here at RRCHNM, we’re starting a podcast to tell them. Consolation Prize is a narrative-style podcast, hosted by Abby Mullen, who talks to scholars across the historical discipline about consuls and their world. You’ll also hear the voices of these consuls, their colleagues, and their enemies, telling their own stories. In this season, you’ll hear about rhinoceroses, and coffee trading, and hymn writing; you’ll hear about imprisonment, slavery, and oppression. You’ll hear stories of revenge, humiliation, and bitter feuds, but also stories of triumph, joy, and delight. You’ll go places as close to home as Vera Cruz, Mexico, and as far away as Canton and Zanzibar.

Please join us as we travel the globe with nineteenth-century consuls! You can visit our website for more info, including where to subscribe so you don’t miss any episodes. You’ll also find our show notes there, which include transcripts of the episodes, bios of our experts, further readings, and so much more. You can also follow us on Twitter at @ConsolPrize, or join our Facebook group, to get more resources and behind-the-scenes content.

Episode 1 of Consolation Prize takes us to Vera Cruz, Mexico, where we investigate what happens when personal affairs and official duties intermingle; in Episode 2, we head to Liverpool during the height of the impressment crisis before the War of 1812. Episodes post every three weeks on Tuesdays.

Congratulations to Capital Jewish Museum on Groundbreaking Festival

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, RRCHNM has been collaborating with a series of partners on its Pandemic Religion and American Jewish Life project. We have been very fortunate to have had the chance to work with these partners to collect and preserve sources about the impact the pandemic is having on American religion.

One of our partners—and neighbors—is the Capital Jewish Museum, which has also accepted a GMU student as an intern. But the Capital Jewish Museum is not even officially open yet! The work they are doing is all the more remarkable, then, and we are all the more pleased to share this announcement of their groundbreaking festival, coming up on September 12 to September 18.

Poster for Groundbreaking Festival at Capital Jewish Museum. Celebrate a new museum breaking ground in Downtown DC with a live-streamed ceremony, family scavenger hunt, conversations with cultural leaders, film screenings and much more. Coming to a screen near you September 12th to September 18th. Register now at www.capitaljewishmuseum.org/groundbreaking

These are no ordinary times. And this is no ordinary event! Be a part of an interactive, multi-day virtual festival to celebrate the Capital Jewish Museum breaking ground on what will become our permanent home at 3rd and F Streets, NW in Downtown Washington, DC. Experience a variety of free virtual events celebrating the new museum and its exploration of the intersection of American Judaism and American democracy. As the centerpiece of the festival, we will livestream the historic groundbreaking ceremony at the site of the future museum, marking the official start of transforming the space into our permanent home.

The festival will feature something for everyone, from online interactive conversations with top chefs, historians, and musicians, to family programming, a film screening, virtual photobooth, trivia and so much more! Explore the full schedule and register now!

The festival will include a film screening, a Rosh Hashanah concert, a panel on the first LGBTQ synagogue in DC, a food festival, a professional development session for teachers, a session on Jewish refugee scholars at HBCUs, a session on museums as agents of change, a scavenger hunt, and at the center the livestreamed groundbreaking ceremony itself. In addition to registering for these events, be sure to take a look at the plans for the museum and how it incorporates a historic Washington, DC, synagogue.

RRCHNM is thankful to have had the chance to partner with the museum since its outset, and we offer warm wishes and hearty congratulations for the groundbreaking of the Capital Jewish Museum!

Laura Brannan Speaks at African American Museum Conference

In August, PhD student and RRCHNM graduate research assistant Laura Brannan spoke at the annual meeting of the Association of African American Museums–the organization’s first ever virtual conference. Laura writes about her experience speaking at the conference:

“Recently, I virtually presented at the Association of African American Museums conference (AAAM). I admit I was a bit hesitant; this was my first virtual conference and I was unsure what to expect. Nevertheless, my experience at AAAM demonstrated the possibilities and slight limitations of presenting and attending a completely digital conference. The AAAM staff built the conference site from the ground up via the platform PheedLoop. This recreated the conference experience to the best of its abilities, with the user able to message and video chat with anyone in the virtual “lobby” room and access all recorded sessions after the fact. In this sense, the digital format was very helpful and made me feel connected to other participants.

As a presenter, overall, I found that the various digital platforms helped me successfully prepare for my roundtable discussion. My co-panelists and I rehearsed beforehand via Zoom, shared notes via Google Docs, and communicated with our panel moderator during the presentation via the chat feature in Zoom. The roundtable was conducted as a Zoom webinar, where I was a panelist and could only see the tiles of my fellow panelists. Though strange and somewhat alienating to not see the faces of the audience members during the presentation, in a way the digital format actually helped me focus more easily on the conversation.

Alongside members of the John Mitchell Jr. Program for History, Justice, and Race from the School of Conflict, Analysis, and Resolution at George Mason, our session discussed the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) as a site of healing, pilgrimage, and controversies in the context of COVID-19 and the current racial reckoning in the U.S. today. As a scholar of race, gender, and public memory in the U.S., I pointed out the institutional legacies NMAAHC contends with as the first museum to exclusively center African, African American, and Black voices in the U.S. yet still be a part of the Smithsonian, an institution created in the mid-nineteenth century. In the current state of racial reckoning throughout the country, I also spoke of the importance for white people to visit museums like NMAAHC that center lives and stories different from theirs. Through exhibits and programming, Black-centered museums such as the NMAAHC encourage visitors to confront the history of oppression and racism in the U.S. while also serving as potential spaces to promote healing and reconciliation.

Although AAAM was not a typical conference by past in-person standards, its success serves as a model for how virtual conferences can be typical in the world of COVID-19 and remote work. More importantly, AAAM showed how digital tools can facilitate important conversations between people in different parts of the world that would otherwise not be possible.”

American Jewish Life: A Pandemic Religion Project

Today the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is launching American Jewish Life, a digital collecting project that will document and interpret the experiences of individuals and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the Center’s larger Pandemic Religion project, American Jewish Life has been created in partnership with the Breman Museum; the Capital Jewish Museum; the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life;  Hebrew Theological College; the Houston Jewish History Archive at Rice University; and Yeshiva University. The six Jewish institutions who have partnered with American Jewish Life are broadly representative of the geographic and theological diversity of American Judaism.  

Screenshot of the American Jewish Life website

Most of the initial items on American Jewish Life represent the prior collecting of our partner institutions. Others have been contributed by visitors to the Pandemic Religion site.

You may wish to browse some of the items that have already been contribute:

Collection is only the first stage in this project. In the coming weeks and months, we will also work with our partners to richly interpret the experiences and responses of Jewish communities during this time.

We invite anyone who is interested in the project to make a contribution, or to offer suggestions and raise questions. You can contact John Turner (the project director) and Lincoln Mullen (the project co-director) via email at pandemicreligion@gmail.com.

Pandemic Religion Digital Stories Fellowship: Call for Participants

Lived Religion in the Digital Age, a project of St. Louis University, in partnership with the Pandemic Religion project at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, welcomes applications for a short-term Digital Stories Fellowship. The Digital Stories Fellow will work from the Pandemic Religion database to create, compose, and/or curate original material for the Digital Stories platform. The fellowship carries an award of up to $1,500.

Digital Stories prioritizes the study and practice of visual, aural, multimodal, and other embodied storytelling techniques, particularly as they are shaped, transformed, or confronted by digital life and cultures. Preferred contributions include visual essays, short documentaries, soundtracks or podcasts, data visualizations, digital exhibits, multimediated content, and short essays, among other possible modes of public scholarship. The Digital Stories fellow will have expertise in religion, theology, American studies, performance studies, visual studies, or related fields or professions and will contribute a series of original entries to the site during the funding period.

This fellowship is expected to begin immediately and be completed by December 31, 2020.

To apply, please submit a letter of interest (1–2 pages), current CV or resume, and brief writing or multimedia sample (links to digital content are encouraged).

Please submit fellowship application materials or general queries to LRDA Administrator Dr. Samantha Arten at livedreligion@slu.edu. Applicants may also apply through this form. Applications received by June 15 will receive full consideration.

In addition to this fellowship, Digital Stories welcomes contributions on a rolling basis. Please contact Digital Stories Editor, Dr. Adam Park (adam.park@slu.edu) for questions and submissions.

Download this CFP as a PDF.

ACLS Digital Extension Grant for World History Commons

The American Council for Learned Societies has awarded our World History Commons project a digital extension grant. “Expanding the Commons: Supporting Emerging World History Scholars and Community Colleges through the World History Commons OER.” This grant will extend the reach and impact of World History Commons, which provides valuable resources to teachers, students, and researchers, including scholarly essays, teaching materials, historical thinking strategies, and curated primary sources. Expanding the Commons expands on the current project in two key ways. The first is by recruiting early career scholars to write new scholarly essays and incorporating their cutting-edge historical research into the project.  The second is by partnering with experienced community college faculty to connect World History Commons to the community college curriculum and to promote its use among community college world history teachers and students, increasing both access and visibility. Led by former Kelly Schrum, Nate Sleeter, and Jessica Otis, this project will provide a valuable resource to world history educators for many years to come.

RRCHNM Joins Nonprofit Finance Fund Cohort

We are pleased to announce that the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has been selected to join an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded cohort of six digital humanities organizations in a three-year initiative focused on building financial resilience in the digital humanities. This initiative, managed by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, will be structured around helping all six DH organizations become more adaptable and financially resilient while staying true to our individual  missions. Since our founding in 1994, RRCHNM has been committed to open access and open source, but these commitments make it challenging to create a business model that provides sufficient resilience in a rapidly changing world. Through the support of this project, we look forward to finding new ways to continue our mission of democratizing access to historical information while also strengthening our financial model and becoming a more adaptable organization. We are also very excited to be part of a cohort that includes the Hathi Trust, the HBCU Library Alliance, Humanities Commons, Rhizome, and the South Asian American Digital Archive. The best ideas in the world come from collaborations among diverse groups of people who bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. We couldn’t be happier about being part of this cohort of such excellent organizations.