Jessica Otis Receives Major NSF Grant

RRCHNM Professor and Director of Public Projects Jessica Otis has been awarded $443,425 from the NSF to support her digital work on the history of the plague in early modern London. The project, called “Assessing the Arithmetic of Early Modern London’s Bills of Mortality,” involves the creation, publication and computational analysis of a dataset of weekly and annual mortality statistics produced for the city of London between 1603 and 1752.

Plague was one of the most dreaded diseases in early modern England. The city of London alone lost an estimated 225,000 people to plague in the century between 1563 and 1665. As an extension of government attempts to track plague deaths during outbreaks, London officials started publicly distributing a weekly series of mortality statistics called the Bills of Mortality at the turn of the seventeenth century. Jessica’s project uses the Bills of Mortality to investigate how lived experiences of plague outbreaks intersected with an emerging quantitative mentality among the people of early modern England. It examines how ordinary people aggregated, transformed, and interpreted death counts in order to draw conclusions about changes in the early modern use of and trust in numbers over time. In doing so, the project investigates contemporary perceptions of numbers and historicizes a quantitative method of knowledge generation that has become central to twenty-first-century understandings of the world.

The foundation of this project is the Bills of Mortality dataset, created through the digitization of primary sources and their subsequent transcription in DataScribe: specialized software designed at RRCHNM to create validated structured datasets from historical sources. The project deploys custom Python code on this dataset to assess the arithmetical accuracy of bills’ internal calculations and their summary statistics. It combines this assessment with close reading of historical sources in order draw conclusions about early modern use of and trust in numbers. Underlying these analyses are two questions: (1) Did people put their trust in the authority of the bills’ internal sums and extracted summary statistics because of the mathematical accuracy of their compilation, reflecting a belief in the importance of correctly quantifying mortality for assessing risk? (2) Did people put their trust in the bills’ numbers because they were numbers, seeing the bills and their mortality statistics as an inherently trustworthy form of knowledge because of its numerical basis?

The project also supports a variety of secondary and student-driven analyses on the dataset. By including student researchers, the project models interdisciplinary paths for students interested in both historical and STEM research and demonstrates the myriad career and research options available at the intersection of history and STEM.

New Digital Military History Postdoctoral Fellowship (Relisted)

We are pleased to announce that the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media will be collaborating with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to host a new postdoctoral fellowship in digital military history here at our center. The DPAA is the Defense Department agency charged with providing the fullest possible accounting for America’s missing military personnel to their families and the nation. Researchers and scientists from DPAA travel to wherever American military personnel have died or gone missing in order to provide accurate and timely information to the families of those who remain unaccounted for. Funding for this three-year fellowship will allow an emerging scholar to work directly with DPAA staff and scientists on a variety of digital military history projects that further the agency’s mission.

The advertisement for this position will take you to the full job posting. If you are a military historian with some digital experience and hold (or are about to hold) a PhD in history, please consider applying to this exciting postdoctoral fellowship. The successful applicant will join our team and a cohort of three other talented postdoctoral fellows working on a diverse array of topics in digital history.

The person hired for this position can begin their employment immediately.

Note: Commonwealth of Virginia policies require candidates to have completed all requirements for their degree prior to their first day of employment. Students with a firm defense date for their degree can apply, but cannot work at George Mason as a postdoctoral fellow unless they have completed all requirements for the degree prior to the first day of employment.

Jessica Mack Receives Grant for Project on Universities and Power

Our postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Jessica Mack, has received funding from the 4VA consortium for her digital project Mapping the University: A Digital Resource for Studying Virginia Campus Histories. Her project is an interdisciplinary, collaborative research project that will analyze the histories of Virginia campuses using university archives, digital mapping, and aerial photographs.

 Mapping the University is a timely inquiry into the planning, construction and expansion of the campus at George Mason and Old Dominion University. In a collaborative effort that will prioritize building undergraduate and graduate research skills, students at the two universities will work with university archivists, historians, and digital scholars to better understand student life on campus, academic priorities, historical exclusions, and town-gown relations, and to contextualize recent discussions about building naming, monuments and memorialization on campus. In collaboration with Mason’s Special Collections Research Center at Fenwick Library, RRCHNM, the Department of History and Art History, the Geography and Geoinformation Science Department, and colleagues at ODU, the project will provide training for students in archival research methods, digital history tools, and spatial analysis of materials such as maps, architectural plans, and aerial photographs. The result will be an open access, interactive website that will provide access to digitized archival documents alongside digital maps and interpretive content.

Lincoln Mullen Selected for Library of Congress Initiative

Professor Lincoln Mullen, Director of Computational History at RRCHNM, will join two other digital humanists at the Library of Congress as fellows working on the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud initiative. Mullen will use this opportunity to extend the work he has done in his award-winning America’s Public Bible project and will be applying lessons from that project to a wide range of digital collections at the Library. The CCHC initiative is a first foray by the Library into using AI tools to transform access to knowledge and we are very proud of our colleague for being selected for this prestigious fellowship.

Mills Kelly honored by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz for teaching excellence

Mills Kelly, the executive director of RRCHNM and a leading expert on the scholarship of teaching and learning for history, has been an honored guest at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz the past two weeks. Kelly has been in residence at the university, and has been honored in a ceremony signing the university’s Golden Book. The reception celebrated Kelly’s previous receipt of the Gutenberg Teaching Award, which was rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Mainz, Kelly gave several lectures at the Leibniz Institute for European History and the Mainz Center for Digitality in the Humanities and Cultural Studies. His keynote lecture was titled “The Future of Teaching About the Past,” and he also led a seminar on community-engaged learning in history.

The president of the university, Prof. Dr. Georg Krausch, said (in translation), “I am very pleased to be able to welcome Mills Kelly, an outstanding and exceptionally innovative university professor known around the world. I am sure that lecturers and students at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz will benefit greatly from the exchange with him.”

A fuller story about Kelly’s award is available on the JGU website.

Welcoming Jason Heppler to RRCHNM

RRCHNM is pleased to announce that Jason Heppler will be joining us this June as a web developer. Jason is well known in digital history circles for his exciting and pioneering work on data visualization, community engagement, and environmental and urban history. His best known work which he led or to which he contributed as a developer-scholar includes Machines in the Valley, The Geography of the Post, the American Indian Digital History Project, and many other mapping or visualization projects. He is also the co-editor of Digital Community Engagement and the author of the forthcoming The Nature of the Valley: Politics and the Environment in Postwar Silicon Valley.

Jason joins us from the University of Nebraska at Omaha where he was a Digital Engagement Librarian and assistant professor of history. Earlier he worked at Stanford University as an Academic Technology Specialist, and he received his PhD in history at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2016.

At RRCHNM, Jason will contribute across the board to our many projects. But his expertise will strengthen our emphasis on interactive scholarly works, data visualization and mapping, and engagement with communities through public history. Jason is widely recognized as a generous colleague and collaborator, and we are thrilled that RRCHNM will be his new academic home.

Congratulations to Dr. Janelle Legg

Here at RRCHNM we are very proud of our former graduate research assistant and recent Mason PhD, Dr. Jannelle Legg who has just accepted a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor in the College of Arts and Humanities at Gallaudet University where she will also be part of the team and the Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center beginning this fall. Jannelle, who defended her excellent dissertation last month, is an expert on the intersection of deaf history and digital humanities and we are looking forward to having her back in the greater DC area. Congratulations Jannelle!

Come Work With Us!

We are pleased to announce that the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is collaborating with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) to host a new postdoctoral fellowship in digital military history here at our center. The DPAA is the Defense Department agency charged with providing the fullest possible accounting for America’s missing military personnel to their families and the nation. Researchers and scientists from DPAA travel to wherever American military personnel have died or gone missing in order to provide accurate and timely information to the families of those who remain unaccounted for. Funding for this fellowship, which may be renewed, will allow an emerging scholar to work directly with DPAA staff and scientists on a variety of digital military history projects that further the agency’s mission.

Candidates should apply online via the Mason Jobs website. If you are a digital military historian and hold (or are about to hold) a PhD in history, please consider applying to this exciting postdoctoral fellowship. The successful applicant will join our team and a cohort of three other talented postdoctoral fellows working on a diverse array of topics in digital history.

Note: Commonwealth of Virginia policies require candidates to have completed all requirements for their degree prior to their first day of employment. Students with a firm defense date for their degree can apply, but cannot work at George Mason as a postdoctoral fellow unless they have completed all requirements for the degree prior to the first day of employment.

Welcome Amanda Madden!

We are very pleased to announce that Dr. Amanda Madden will be joining us here at RRCHNM this fall as an assistant professor of digital history and our Director of Geospatial History. Amanda is a digital historian and historian of early modern Italy who specializes in geospatial history and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). She is a former a Marion L. Brittain postdoctoral fellow in Digital Pedagogy at Georgia Tech and former research scientist at the Center for 21st Century Universities (C2IU), also at Georgia Tech. She’s Co-PI of the collaborative historical GIS project, Mapping Violence in Early Modern Italy, and has written on vendetta violence, course design, and teaching with video games. She’s currently finishing her first book, Civil Blood: Vendetta Violence and State Formation in Early Modern Italy and is working with her students to design a mobile app that provides a walking tour of unmarked historic sites central to the history of Civil Rights era Atlanta.

NMAAHC/HBCU History and Culture Access Consortium

We are very proud to announce that the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media will be playing a lead role in the HBCU History and Culture Access Consortium announced today. The Consortium brings together the National Museum of African American History and Culture and five Historically Black Colleges and Universities with the goal of making public the riches of the special collections and archives at these five institutions: Tuskegee University, Clark Atlanta University, Jackson State University, Florida A&M University, Texas Southern University.

NMAAHC/HBCU Project Logo

In addition to building the digital infrastructure for the project, we will work with our HBCU partners to identify those items in their special collections and archives they want to highlight on their websites and to think through how they want those websites to reflect their institutional missions and values. Finally, we will help train professionals and students at the partner universities in digital humanities methods so that they can expand the community of practice they create during this effort. We are thrilled to be part of such an exciting and important group of institutions. As Smithsonian Secretary Lonnie Bunch said during the project launch today, this project will be, “A model for what positive change looks like.” We couldn’t be more proud to be a part of that change.