Material Histories of the Indian Ocean World, 1500-Present

Join RRCHNM for an exciting new series, organized and hosted by Dr. Deepthi Murali, on “Material Histories of the Indian Ocean World, 1500-Present.”

The Material Histories of the Indian Ocean World webinar brings together scholars from different disciplines that work primarily on the study of artistic materials produced, circulated, and used in and through the Indian Ocean World (IOW) post the advent of European mercantile powers in this part of the world. This webinar seeks to look at the study of transcultural and transoceanic objects, architecture, and material culture through an interdisciplinary perspective. Using their expertise in different types of materials, regions, and methdological questions related to the IOW, participants will discuss their own research experiences and methdological approaches while also providing insight into the challenges of such research. The series runs from March 24, 2021 – April 22, 2021.

You can register to join the webinar at its website.

RRCHNM Receives NEH Chairman’s Grant

We are pleased to announce that RRCHNM has received an National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman’s Grant. Funding from this grant will help us assist Dr. Jewon Woo, Associate Professor of English at Lorain Community College (Ohio), with her digital project on the 19th-century Black press in Ohio. Her project, which is also supported by the NEH, is titled, “Rhizomatic Democracy in the Nineteenth-Century Black Press of Ohio.” Professor Woo will be using digital humanities tools to illuminate the distinctively collaborative editorship of these newspapers and through that research will help us better understand the complexity of 19th century African American communal life. We are pleased to be collaborating with Professor Woo on this exciting project and are very grateful to the NEH for making that collaboration possible.

Releasing a Web Monetization module for Omeka S

Today RRCHNM is announcing the release of a module for Omeka S that will allow cultural heritage institutions to enable Web Monetization on their digital collections, so that users can stream micropayments for their support.

That was a lot of jargon. Let’s back up a few steps.

First, a principle: We believe that cultural heritage institutions (like RRCHNM!) should align their mission with the users that they serve. It would be ideal, in other words, if what was financially good for an institution aligned with what was best for its constituents. It is very rarely the case, however, that providers of digital content are supported by their users. More often they have a different revenue stream. While this is not all bad, it can lead institutions to be funder-driven rather than mission-driven. And it does leave institutions vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of their funding.

Second, an opportunity: the economy around “content creators” in the past several years has changed rather dramatically. Where once it was the expectation that services or content would be provided for free, it is now understood that those services come with a cost (usually your privacy). But users and subscribers are now more willing now to support the people who provide the content they use: witness the growth of podcast memberships, Patreons, and the like.

Finally, a technology. Web Monetization is a JavaScript API that allows users to stream small payments to the websites that they visit. For example, if a user visits a museum website or an educational resource, then small amounts of money are paid to the website, if it has Web Monetization enabled. We see this as a potential way to connect cultural heritage institutions to their users, and allow users to automatically donate to the institutions they frequent.

Many cultural heritage institutions, including RRCHNM, use Omeka S to host their collections. Our Web Monetization module allows them to enable these donations on their websites.

For example, an institution could add an unobtrusive banner at the top of the page, requesting that users support the site by enabling web monetization and providing a link with an explanation. Users can sign up for a Coil account to enable streaming payments.

Users who already had Web Monetization enabled would then be able start sending automatic payments to the site whenever they browsed it. It is also possible to configure the module so that users with Web Monetization enabled will start donating automatically.

The module offers a number of customization options, and it has been integrated into commonly used Omeka S themes.

We hope that this module will be of use to cultural heritage institutions. You can find it on both GitHub and the Omeka module repository. The module was created by Jim Safley and Kim Nguyen, with an assist in testing from God’s Will Katchoua. The module was created thanks to Grant for the Web, which funded its development.

It is still early days for this technology, but we think it offers a great deal of promise for connecting cultural heritage institutions to their users, and for users to become supporters. In a future post, we will explain how we are rolling it out to RRCHNM websites, and how we are encouraging our users to support us in this way.

Collecting These Times: American Jewish Experiences of the Pandemic Invites Communities to Contribute to Collections Documenting Jewish Life During Pandemic

For Immediate Release

DATE 3/8/2021

Contact: Jason Edelstein, 510-239-1102

Collecting Projects Led by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and the Council of American Jewish Museums Are Accessible to All

Washington, DC — A new web portal connects American Jews to Jewish institutions and collecting projects that are gathering and preserving materials related to Jewish life during the pandemic. The interactive website, Collecting These Times: American Jewish Experiences of the Pandemic (CollectingTheseTimes.org), was developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University in partnership with the Council of American Jewish Museums, the Breman Museum, the Capital Jewish MuseumHebrew Theological College, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools

This new website offers an easy way for people to find collecting projects and contribute images, videos, audio recordings, documents, and oral histories to institutions in different parts of the U.S. Users can also browse curated contributions from different Jewish communities, covering everything from Jewish ritual practices to schools,  summer camps, businesses, and many other aspects of Jewish life during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Collecting These Times is accessible to anyone who wants to share their experiences or better understand how Jewish life in the U.S. has changed over the past year,” says Jessica Mack of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  “We have much to learn about how individuals, families, and communities have used creativity and tenacity to reimagine so many Jewish experiences during the pandemic, and we hope that the site will be an educational resource both now and in the future. The collections will continue to grow as more people contribute content and tell their stories.”

“The website represents an extraordinary confluence of interest and determination by everyone involved,” says Zev Eleff, chief academic officer of Hebrew Theological College. “Our shared aim is to democratize our knowledge and wisdom of the current pandemic to deepen learning and scholarship on contemporary Jewish life.”

Collecting These Times currently connects users to over 70 collecting projects, including American Jewish Life, a digital collection developed last year by RRCHNM in collaboration with six Jewish partner organizations. To find a collection and contribute your own materials, visit collectingthesetimes.org and click Find a Collecting Project. The list of collections will continue to expand as the project aims to connect to and host additional collecting projects from different Jewish communities and institutions. Libraries, archives, researchers, educators, students, and others can access all content at no cost and share content with each other. Funding for the project comes from a group of Jewish funders, the Chronicling Funder Collaborative, that are supporting efforts to document diverse Jewish experiences of the pandemic. The Collaborative also awarded a grant to the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM), enabling it to partner with 18 member institutions to lead a broad-based oral history collecting initiative.

The Funder Collaborative is composed of Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, Jim Joseph Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, and The Russell Berrie Foundation.

Efforts to elevate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) are integral to both the web portal and oral history collecting campaign. Both entities seek to engage populations that are rarely included in this type of collecting and interpretation, lending valuable insights into a diverse range of Jewish pandemic experiences. Both projects will be working with DEI consultants and an advisory board in approaching this work with an inclusive lens and strategy. 

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Since 1994, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media has created websites and other digital media with the goal of democratizing history for scholarly, public, and educational audiences. RRCHNM brings together scholars, web developers and designers, and graduate and undergraduate students to accomplish that mission. In addition to democratizing history for the over two million people who visit its websites each year, RRCHNM is passionate about enabling the work of other institutions, especially through its ability to develop websites and software, host technical infrastructure, and manage projects and grants. RRCHNM is a research center at George Mason University, the largest public research university in Virginia and one of the most diverse universities in the United States.

The Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) is an association of institutions and individuals committed to enriching American and Jewish culture and enhancing the value of Jewish museums to their communities. It offers programs, networking, and learning opportunities to the Jewish-museum field, and highlights issues pertaining to the presentation and preservation of Jewish culture. It is the leading forum for Jewish museums in North America. 

We’re hiring a full-stack developer

RRCHNM is hiring a full-stack web developer. We’re looking for a developer or developer-scholar who can help us fulfill our mission to democratize history. RRCHNM has a twenty-five year track record of bringing history to public and educational audiences, and we have many exciting new avenues of research underway, ranging from historical visualization and computational history, to podcasts, to our existing strengths in public history. We are a great, friendly place to work, and whoever enters this position will have a chance to develop professionally while collaborating with a large team of faculty, grad students, staff, and undergraduates who share a common mission to bring history online and make it accessible.

Please see the job ad and apply for the job at GMU’s job portal. Below is the text of most of the job ad.

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) at George Mason University is hiring a full stack Web Developer. George Mason University has a strong institutional commitment to the achievement of excellence and diversity among its faculty and staff, and strongly encourages candidates to apply who will enrich Mason’s academic and culturally inclusive environment.

The Web Developer will contribute to existing and future projects that advance RRCHNM’s mission to democratize history by making our work publicly available on the web. The technology stack for future projects will be determined in consultation with the developer who is hired. Current projects are based on MySQL and PostgreSQL/PostGIS; PHP, Go, and/or Javascript; and the Omeka, Drupal, and WordPress CMSs. Candidates should demonstrate a strong working knowledge of one or more of these languages and platforms. The developer must be able to help architect and develop web-based projects, working in connection with our systems administrator, web designers, project managers, graduate students, and historians.

The person hired for this position must have the demonstrated ability to learn on the job, must demonstrate flexibility when it comes to the various tools and platforms they will use here at our Center, and must be someone who thrives in a highly collaborative environment. The person hired for this position will have at least 10% self-directed time for professional development or self-initiated projects and scholarship. Because RRCHNM is first and foremost a history center, we have a strong preference for candidates who want to help us create meaningful historical projects by means of digital technologies. Candidates should understand and be committed to the idea that historical research projects, digital public history projects, and educational resources for history teachers and their students are what we are creating, and that technology is the means for creating those historical resources for our large and diverse audiences. To get a sense of RRCHNM’s work, candidates are invited to browse our list of current and past projects.

RRCHNM is America’s oldest and most successful digital humanities center with a long track record of success in pushing the field of digital humanities forward. Because our work is rooted in history and the humanities, we have a preference for candidates who have a degree or significant coursework in history or an associated discipline and also have the technology skills and experiences we require. However, a background in history is not required. RRCHNM has a well-supported infrastructure for web technologies, including a full time systems administrator, our own on-premises servers and cloud infrastructure, and access to research computing resources at GMU.

Collecting These Times: RRCHNM Gathers and Interprets COVID-19’s Impact on American Judaism

by Anne Reynolds

From the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RRCHNM) has worked to document the ways in which the virus has impacted religious communities through its Pandemic Religion digital collection. As part of this effort, American Jewish Life launched in July 2020 to document and interpret the experiences of Jewish individuals and communities.

An interfaith Chavurah made up of members of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA celebrates the fourth night of Hanukkah together over Zoom. A pandemic didn’t stop this Chavurah’s 20+ year tradition!

Now, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, the Jim Joseph Foundation, Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah, and the Russell Berrie Foundation have collectively awarded RRCHNM $107,000 for a project called Collecting These Times. These funds have allowed the center to rapidly build out a web portal for collecting materials from American Jews about their community’s experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this effort, the center has partnered with the Breman Museum, the Capital Jewish Museum, the Council of American Jewish Museums, Hebrew Theological College, the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

“The Jewish community’s response to this historic moment warrants careful curating and documentation in one centralized location,” said Jessica Mack, one of the principal investigators for Collecting These Times. The project is a hub, she explained, that allows visitors to access a number of different collections. “As of right now, we have over 70 collections listed, and the list will continue to grow,” she added.

Mack is a postdoctoral fellow at RRCHNM. She, along with associate professor of history Lincoln Mullen and history and religious studies professor John Turner, are the co-directors of the project. “In addition to staff at RRCHNM, this project will enable us to involve a number of our most capable undergraduate and graduate students in this humanities response to the pandemic,” said Turner. “It is also gratifying to build relationships between Mason and these many Jewish partner organizations to preserve the history of this pandemic as it happens.” One such partner is a near neighbor in Washington, DC, the Capital Jewish Museum.

The projects leaders emphasized that Collecting These Times seeks to reflect the diversity of Jewish traditions in the United States.

“One of the priorities of the project is to include and collaborate with a diverse group of individuals from across different Jewish communities, including those that have been historically underrepresented in collection efforts,” she said. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings and strategies will guide this work.”

To achieve this level of inclusion, the team hopes to spread the word about the site and encourage community members to document and add their materials to the collections. In February, Mack presented the project to Mason colleagues as part of a panel organized with the Center for Humanities Research. Above all, the project team hopes that the site will be a resource for teaching and learning about this time.

“Visit the site, explore it, get a sense for the different materials that are there,” she suggested. “Then, even for folks who aren’t going to contribute, or aren’t part of a Jewish community, it’s a way to learn about the changes that have taken place during the pandemic and with this community in particular.”

The center hopes that Collecting These Times will serve as a lasting repository for information about these very unusual times.

“Contrary to what many think,” said Mack, “digital content does not last forever unless we make efforts to preserve it. With the Collaborative’s generous support, we will gather materials showing how the community adapted at this time—and share it in one accessible, central platform. Future Jewish community researchers and leaders will be able to learn about the rapid transformation of Jewish life during this time.”

Saying Goodbye — Kim Nguyen

Have you ever looked at one of our websites and asked yourself what kind of design firm RRCHNM uses? For a large number of our projects, that design firm has been Kim Nguyen, our long-time in house web designer. Since 2011, Kim has been the person we all turn to for questions about everything from color compatibility, to making our work accessible to all, to how to insure that our sites look good across multiple platforms. Along the way, Kim has helped professionalize our design efforts, especially through the application of best practices in all aspects of design.

Unlike some of our other departing colleagues, who found their way to us through their experiences as students at Mason or through personal contacts with RRCHNM staffers, Kim found us the old fashioned way — through a job ad. She had just graduated from Virginia Tech with a BFA in Visual Communications Design and had been working as an independent design professional for several years. Then she saw our ad. “I found the center’s mission and project descriptions appealing. Based off the websites and digital tools I used in my own undergraduate experience, educators in the humanities felt like an underserved audience when it came to good design and modern web practices,” she said recently.

Her initial assignment was to build themes for Omeka and since then she has been responsible for almost every design innovation for that project, as well as many others at the Center. While she hopes no one looks at the very first Omeka theme she built, Kim is justifiably proud of the clean lines and dynamic look and feel of her work.

In addition to teaching us all how to be better at thinking about design and usability, over her 10 years at RRCHNM Kim has also acquired many new and valuable skills, often because knowing a thing made it possible for her to solve one or several problems. “I’ve come to use static site generators like Hugo and Jekyll, accrue a lot more experience with scripting and PHP, improve my understanding of best practices for web accessibility, all while continuing to perform in my primary role as a front-end designer. RRCHNM has been a great environment for learning outside of my comfort zone.”

If you’ve ever sat next to Kim at our large co-working table, you likely have noticed that her keyboard looks just a little non-standard. That’s because Kim is also a hacker (in the best sense) of physical devices, including 3-D printing herself a keyboard that works better than the original and is much, much more colorful than those black keys you’ve been tapping away on all day. When she leaves us at the end of this week, we will of course miss her professionalism and her innovative work most of all, but we’ll also miss her playful thinking and the ways that her creativity manifests itself not only on a website, but on everyday objects as well. We wish Kim well in her new role at the Corporation for Digital Scholarship and can’t wait to see how being able to devote herself 100% to one project will lead to new and exciting results.

Saying Goodbye — John Flatness

If you’ve ever gone to the Omeka forums looking for help with a vexing problem, big or small, with your Omeka-based website, there’s a pretty good chance that the response you received was from John Flatness (jflatnes in the forums). What you might not know is that the person who just gave you excellent advice and a solution to your problem also happens to be the lead developer on the project. John has worked at RRCHNM on the Omeka project since 2010 and has been the lead developer for many of those years, guiding the team of developers through multiple versions of Omeka Classic and now Omeka S.

Like so many of our staff and students, John first encountered the work of the Center through a class project–in his case in the computer science program at Virginia Tech. That class project was to allow an Omeka site to expose its metadata using the OAI-PMH protocol and somehow or other his work caught the eye of our then creative lead, Jeremy Boggs, and later Jim Safley. Before long, Jeremy and Jim were recruiting John to work on projects at the Center and so John became a part of the RRCHNM team even before he graduated from college in 2010.

Many of the most important innovations in the Omeka platforms are the result of John’s work or of his leadership. As proud as he is of those plug-ins and other features, what John is proudest of is the longevity of the Omeka project and the role he’s played in that persistence. Over the years, he and the Omeka team have faced skepticism about whether the project will continue–skepticism rooted in the experience of many digital humanists who have seen worthy projects come and go. As John said recently, “The pattern of promising projects that faded away as grad students moved on or funding dried up was pretty familiar, and we occasionally faced skepticism along those lines from our own users: a printout of a years-old forum post wondering if we were still active has long adorned my office door.” Instead, John’s leadership has helped to insure that the project continues to grow and prosper.

At the same time, John is also very proud of what Omeka has allowed its users to accomplish: “Omeka is ultimately about the projects it enables people to create and so it’s really those that are the greatest testament, whether its the Center’s own work, student projects, sites hosted on Omeka.net, or just the individual goals of the myriad of mailing list and forum posters looking for help.”

Those who know John know that he has never sought credit for his vital role in the Omeka project. Instead of credit, what makes him happy is seeing new projects that have the tagline “Powered by Omeka” at the bottom of the page.

Those who have worked with John all these years at RRCHNM also know him for another reason. A daily tradition at the Center, until Covid disrupted our lives, was an online trivia challenge. Pausing his work for a few minutes, John would lead us through an often bewildering choice of categories–some of them truly trivial–always assuring us that our answers were “really close” or “almost right”, even if they rarely were. Little things like that trivia challenge often provide the glue that helps hold a team together. In his quiet way, John always made sure that everyone sitting at our big central work table felt part of the team, even if all they could contribute was a wildly incorrect guess to a trivia question.

We wish John all the best in his new job at the Corporation for Digital Scholarship and thank him for all of his contributions, especially those that you might have missed if you weren’t paying close attention.

Saying Goodbye — Ken Albers

Sixteen years ago, Ken Albers was a new doctoral student in history here at George Mason University. Part of his program included being assigned as a graduate research assistant at what was then known at the Center for History and New Media. In those days we were located in the beautiful Pohick Module, which, truth be told, was anything but beautiful. There are no longer any photos of Pohick online, but this image will give you the general feel for the trailer we were in when Ken started.

As unpleasant as that old trailer was, the CHNM that Ken encountered when he joined us was a place where almost anything was possible, where any good idea in digital history could be pursued. In Ken’s case, the first thing he worked on was our original digital collecting project, ECHO, and his first DH task was writing annotations for the websites being added to the ECHO collection. Before long, Ken had transitioned to full time work at the Center. “As I continued to learn more and more about the mechanical end of digital history, I realized I could have a bigger impact on the field through my work on projects like Omeka than I could completing my doctorate,” he says of his choice.

That choice meant that he was a key player in the start up of the Omeka project and made it possible for him to play a leading role in the Mozilla Digital Memory Bank, a digital archive preserving the early history of Firefox, Thunderbird, and the Mozilla community. A less well known, but very important project that Ken played a key role in (so important that even Ken may have forgotten it) is the George Mason Basketball Digital Memory Bank, which he and another graduate student pulled together in one evening following Mason’s victory that sent the team to the Final Four in 2006.

Of all his many accomplishments at RRCHNM, Ken is proudest of the work he has done on the Omeka project: “I think it’s the project that adheres most closely to RRCHNM’s mission to democratize history.” While everyone who worked with Ken over the years will remember his contributions to the Omeka project, they will also remember him as someone who helped ensure that the working environment at the Center was fun and relaxed, even as it was innovative and productive. Among the many things we’ll miss about Ken is that sense of humor and his easy going approach to even the hard things.

Along with Jim Safley, Ken is one of the last people at RRCHNM who still remember working with our founder, Roy Rosenzweig. Those of us fortunate enough to have worked with Roy all have our favorite stories. Ken’s goes like this: “As my first semester at CHNM wound down, Roy asked me into his office one day. I didn’t know Roy too well, yet, and was slightly nervous as to what it might be about. But he simply was curious what classes I was planning to register for in the spring, and offered some helpful guidance on what I might take and who I might want to work with. I was really struck with Roy, the very busy director of CHNM, carving out part of his day to help a new student find his footing. I immediately felt more valued and part of the team as a result, and I’ve always carried that lesson with me.”

Years from now, when people who were fortunate enough to work with Ken think back about their time with him, one of the things they will surely remember is how hard Ken worked to make sure that everyone around him felt valued and part of the team. We’re all going to miss him and can’t wait to see what he accomplishes in his new job at the Corporation for Digital Scholarship.

Saying Goodbye — Jim Safley

In 2002, Kelly Schrum, the long-time director of educational projects at RRCHNM, told a student in Mason’s BA program in applied history that he should apply for a job that was opening up at the Center. That student was Jim Safley and until that moment, he had assumed he would find a job at a traditional archive or library. “I never considered a career in digital humanities given my technical inexperience, but I couldn’t turn down the prospect of working with Roy Rosenzweig,” Jim said of that moment 19 years ago.

We had recently launched the September 11 Digital Archive and right out of the gate Jim was put in charge of trying to make sense of the rapidly growing collection of digital objects being deposited into the archive and implementing standards for organizing and preserving the collection. Little did he know when he started how important that work would become. When the Library of Congress decided to make the Archive the Library’s first major acquisition of born-digital content related to the attacks of September 11, the standards Jim helped create became a template for future work by scholars working in digital collecting.

When a team of researchers at RRCHNM began work on Omeka, it was only natural that Jim would play a leading role in that effort. Since 2007, Jim has been responsible for some of the most important aspects of Omeka, work that he is justifiably very proud of. Thinking about his contributions to the Omeka project, Jim said, “I’m most proud of the planning and development work that I’ve done for Omeka because it represents an intentional, collective effort to solve common problems in the humanities. Knowing that we recognized these problems early in my career, it’s satisfying to have been a part of a mature solution that moves the field forward.”

In addition to his vital contributions to the Omeka project, Jim has been the person we have all turned to for questions about metadata and new ways to think about solutions to vexing problems. Anyone who has had the privilege of working with Jim would tell you that he is passionate about whatever he is working on, that he is unfailingly kind, and that he goes out of his way to find the good in any idea that someone comes up with.

Jim is part of a small group of RRCHNM staff and faculty who still remember working with our founder, Roy Rosenzweig. Remembering Roy, Jim says, “I owe much to Roy, not only for his passion to democratize history, but for his dedication to provide the conditions necessary to develop as a digital humanist. I could not have endured so long at the Center without the positive, collegial work culture that Roy started.”

We will miss Jim’s talents, his collegiality, and his unwavering commitment to the mission Roy first articulated in 1994. Through all the changes that have happened at RRCHNM since 2002, Jim has been a steady, constant presence. We wish him all the best and thank him for everything he has accomplished over the past 19 years.