Doing Digital History 2016 White Paper Summary

During the summer of 2016, Sharon M. Leon and Sheila A. Brennan led a second Doing Digital History institute for advanced topics in digital humanities (IATDH) funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities together with an amazing team of graduate student mentors and visiting scholars. The final report and white paper is available.

Doing Digital History 2016 offered 24 mid-career American historians an opportunity to immerse themselves in two intensive weeks of training focusing on the theories and methods of digital history. The results of the institute were impressive, with participants increasing their technical skills, their digital literacy, and their comfort with evaluating digital work.

The team was able to rely on the lessons learned from 2014 during the planning and design phases of the curriculum and the evaluation structure for 2016. By the end of the two weeks, everyone left with new skills, new understandings of digital methodologies, and a new appreciation for the work required to build and sustain successful digital humanities projects.

A major goal of the Doing Digital History institutes is to make a targeted impact on history faculty, their students and departments, and the field at-large. To measure the overall effectiveness of the institute on changing attitudes and practices we asked four questions related to our goals at the beginning and the end of each institute:

  • If you were asked to review a digital project for a professional journal in your field of expertise, would you feel comfortable saying yes to the request?
  • If you were asked to review a colleague’s digital work for promotion, would you feel comfortable assessing its scholarly impact?
  • Do you feel comfortable presenting or discussing digital history work with your colleagues?
  • Do you feel comfortable supervising students who want to use digital tools in their history scholarship?

By comparing the 2014 and 2016 institute data, we can see some interesting differences in the cohorts. Prior to DoingDH, the 2016 cohort was much more comfortable reviewing digital work for promotion than the 2014 group, but less willing to review digital projects for journals. The 2014 cohort was slightly more at ease in supervising students incorporating digital tools into their work, and more than half of each group felt comfortable discussing digital work with colleagues.

Caparison chart 2014 and 2016 results

The post-institute surveys show that the 2016 cohort left with more overall confidence across each goal and achieved slightly more positive change in growth than the 2014 group. Even still, both groups experienced an impressive amount of personal and professional growth in two weeks!

In May 2017, we surveyed the DoingDH 2016 cohort one last time to gather some data about how each of them incorporated what they learned into their teaching, research, and professional development during the 2016-17 academic year:

Teaching

  • 61% used online publishing in their teaching
  • 61% used geospatial methods in their teaching
  • 28% used text analysis techniques in their teaching
  • 33% introduced data management concepts in their teaching
  • 28% blogged about their teaching

Research

  • 61% launched a digital project related to their work
  • 72% revised their own data management and research methods practices
  • 28% blogged about their research

Professional Advancement and Service

  • 78% talked to their administration about supporting DH work
  • 39% participated in a DH unconference or workshop
  • 33% taught a workshop for their colleagues based on things they learned at DoingDH 2016
  • 67% collaborated with a colleague on DH project
  • 17% reviewed a DH project for a journal or online publication

The results are impressive. Our other aspirations of moving the field will take longer than a year and will require some additional research in a few years to more adequately assess the long-term impact.

After finishing our second IATDH introduction to digital history, we can affirm some of our findings from our 2014 white paper. Based on the applicant pools from 2014 and 2016, we see that there are still relatively few training opportunities at the novice level for faculty, and yet, it has not prevented history departments from asking their faculty members—prepared or not—to teach digital history courses. Preparing faculty to teach these courses, just like in public history, means more than simply reading the literature. It’s a methodological shift and we continue to believe that it is irresponsible of departments, colleges, and universities to assign faculty to teach digital history courses without providing the time and resources for professional development.

Interestingly in 2016, we received more applications from junior faculty and new PhDs seeking digital training to prepare them for the job market, because their graduate programs offered no courses or opportunities to learn digital methods. Some of these applicants wrote desperately hoping that they could participate in DoingDH 2016 to help them obtain a tenure-track job.

The Doing Digital History institutes are an effort to provide scholars with a very preliminary introduction to the theories and methods of digital history. As such, they are only a beginning. Our evaluation shows that they have made a significant impact in the field, but we all have much work left to do to raise the digital literacy of the core of mid-career colleagues.