Doing Digital History 2016 is a Wrap

In July, RRCHNM welcomed 24 American historians to Mason’s Arlington campus for two intensive weeks of the National Endowment for the Humanities-sponsored summer institute, Doing Digital History 2016. Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon led the group through a course designed to introduce historians, experts in their own subject areas, to digital history scholarship, methods, and tools relevant to their own research and teaching in American history.

Doing DH 2016 Participants and Team

Doing DH 2016 Participants and Team

Participants began as self-identified digital novices unsure of their abilities to keep up with the workload and left with their own web domains, experience working in the statistical programming language R, and many ideas for new teaching assignments, research projects, and digital publications. Most important, each participant became more confident engaging with and reviewing digital scholarship, advising students wishing to do digital projects, and in learning to tinker with and ask questions of digital methodologies.

Throughout the two weeks, readings and discussions were coupled with demonstrations and hands-on work. Each participant established their own web domain, installed open source software (WordPress, Omeka, R, Audacity); implemented best practices for managing their research; made visualizations; built simple maps; learned how to plan a digital project; edited sound files, planned digitally-inflected lessons for their classes; and considered the implications of the changing field of scholarly communications. Doing DH benefited from an enthusiastic corps of RRCHNM graduate students, Alyssa Fahringer, Eric Gonzaba, Jannelle Legg,  and Spencer Roberts, who developed tutorials and use cases for incorporating different digital tools into teaching and research. They also provided moral and technical support to the participants, and managed the Twitter backchannel conversations under #doingdh16.

Doing DH also featured guest instructors from Mason’s History and Art History Department, Mason Library, and neighboring institutions. Lincoln Mullen shared his extensive expertise doing computational research over three days and Michael O’Malley led a day on sound studies. Jeri Wieringa of the Mason Publishing Group shared trends in scholarly communications and digital publishing initiatives. Denise Meringolo, a participant in Doing DH 2014, returned to discuss how her public history work at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, became digital. And, Jeff McClurken visited from University of Mary Washington to lead a day on digitally-inflected pedagogy.

By the end of Doing DH 2016, participants were tired, but also invigorated with ideas and three action items to implement over the next six months.

In Memory of Lt. Col. Ronald J. Martin, USMC, Retired

Lt. Col. Ronald J. Martin, USMC, RetiredOn July 14, 2016, the Rosenzweig Center lost Ronald J. Martin, a longtime and valuable member of our team, to his struggle with cancer. Ron came to the Center in 2008 to serve join the team of scholars editing the Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800, and was integral to our work with the National Park Service on the history of the War of 1812. He was an enthusiastic partner in our work to share early American history with the public, and we mourn his passing.

Serving as PWD’s only full time  staff person, Ron began as an assistant editor, but soon he moved into the role of Associate Editor. From that position, he worked with the assistant editors to complete the basic description (author, recipient, and date) of the full collection, more than 18,000 of the total 42,800 documents. Then, in 2010 he and the staff turned their attention to offering a more full description of a key subset of the collection. During the next three years, Ron shepherded the process of creating enhanced description, including people, places, and items mentioned and a general description of the document, for more than 27,000 items. Ron alone completed the description for more than 5,000 documents annually. In the end, the team exceed their description goals by 3,000 documents. As a result of this work, researchers, students, teachers, and members of the interested public have vastly improved access to the inner-workings of the early national federal government, to day-to-day correspondence on issues related to Native Americans, active military, veterans, and their families.

Beginning in 2010, Ron started to share his unparalleled knowledge of the PWD collections with the public through a series of blog posts. In the end, these short pieces covered the range of historical issues and events contained with in the collections. Ron wrote biographical sketches of key individuals, including Andrew Pickens, William Blount, Tobias Lear, and George Izard. He offered explanations for different kinds of documents, outlined important events in early national military history, and provided insight into the development of the Navy. Once RRCHNM began work on community sourcing the transcription of the Papers in March 2011, Ron carefully selected a set of documents that would be interesting candidates for public work. These documents included letters from Judith Sargent Murray, the Jay Treaty, materials on the beginning of the Quasi War, and orders for supplies related to muskets being manufactured by Eli Whitney—each one fascinating in its own way, and all reflective of different elements of the early national experience.

Upon the completion of the description for PWD, in 2013, Ron turned his attention to the War of 1812. Working with Christopher Hamner and Spencer Roberts, he created a significant amount of the historical content on the National Park Service’s website dedicated to the war’s bicentennial. The team for the 1812 work decided on content strategy that was more suited to the digital engagement habits of contemporary users, that stressed the cultural and social context of the war along with the more traditional materials on major military events, and that highlighted both contingency and diversity. Rather than presenting a series of longer essays that focus on key themes, the team developed 70 modules that users could explore by following their own interests and questions. “Voices” modules began with a quotation from a specific individual to offer users many human experiences and perspectives. “Moments” modules focused on a specific event to give users a sense of the key milestones of the conflict.”Perspectives” modules targeted the experiences of and impacts on the many diverse communities touched by the war. This approach allowed the team to present the history of the War of 1812 in new way while working within the constraints of the National Park Service’s technological infrastructure.

It was while he was finishing up his work on the War of 1812 that Ron fell ill. We at the Center have missed his kindness and generosity over the past year and a half, and we are deeply saddened at his death. Ron was so much more than a good historian—a Marine, a husband, a father, a champion hockey and football player—but, we knew him best through his hard work and his dedication to early American history. Given that commitment, Ron’s family has requested that memorial donations be made to RRCHNM. We will use those contributions to sustain our digital collections, including the Papers of the War Department project.

A Liberian Journey Launches

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media is pleased to announce the launch of A Liberian Journey: History, Memory, and the Making of a Nation <liberianhistory.org>, developed in partnership with the Liberian Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA), the Indiana University Liberian Collections, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with generous support from the National Science Foundation.

Liberian President attends opening ceremonies

Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, attends launch ceremony at CNDRA.

The project officially launched in Monrovia at a ceremony on Monday, March 21 with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in attendance, together with members of her cabinet and the Liberian legislature.

This new digital public history site is meant to inform, raise questions, and invite stories about a transformational moment in Liberia’s past by making historical sources available for the first time in one place related to a 1926 Harvard scientific expedition to Liberia. The website features an exhibit on Chief Suah Koko, a noted woman leader in Liberia’s history; digital collections containing nearly 600 photographs, more than two hours of motion picture footage, oral histories, and documents linked to an interactive map. This effort marks the beginning of a recollection of Liberia’s lost history and for CNDRA represents a very important step in reawakening the Liberia national consciousness.

In 1926, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company secured a ninety-nine year lease for nearly one million acres of land from the Liberian government to establish one of the world’s largest rubber plantations. To help the company understand the conditions and challenges it faced, Firestone sponsored a team of Harvard University scientists and physicians to conduct a four-month-long biological and medical survey. Loring Whitman, a Harvard medical student, served as the expedition’s official photographer, and his work includes the earliest known surviving motion picture footage of Liberia. The moving images and still photographs offer a perspective shaped by the early-twentieth-century, “Western,” world-view of the American scientists. At the same time, the footage and photographs offer a valuable historical record of the peoples, cultural traditions, and landscapes of Liberia at a time of rapid economic, cultural, and environmental change.

A Liberian Journey homepage
RRCHNM’s Sheila Brennan and Ken Albers collaborated with the team for nearly three years to develop this digital public history and community-sourcing site. The site is designed minimally for mobile devices first, in the Omeka platform, to ensure that anyone can access the site especially in areas with limited internet connectivity. A Liberian Journey adds to the Center’s portfolio of global digital humanities projects.

In the coming months, CNDRA will invite individuals to share meaningful stories and images about Liberia’s past. Additional online exhibits will combine community contributions with the Firestone expedition sources to give voice, meaning, and historical context to the lives, cultures, and histories of the Liberian people.

Apply now for the online Graduate Certificate in Digital Public Humanities

Digital tools and resources are transforming the ways in which we research, interpret, and communicate. Be part of this change by enrolling in the graduate online Digital Public Humanities Certificate created by the Department of History and Art History and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in partnership with Smithsonian Associates. Because it is both online and part-time, students can pursue the certificate while working or attending another graduate program.  The certificate can also be combined with GMU’s own History M.A. program.

This one-year, 15-credit certificate program includes three online courses:

  • Introduction to Digital Humanities (Fall 2016; 3 credits)
  • Digital Public History (Spring 2017; 3 credits)
  • Teaching Humanities in the Digital Age (Spring 2017; 3 credits)

Courses will introduce students interested in public history, museums, libraries, archives, education, and communications to ways in which they can incorporate digital public humanities skills and tools into their current or future practice. Students will learn research and presentation skills, including text mining, topic modeling, data visualization, and mapping. They will explore innovative ways to advance teaching and learning through digital tools while developing skills in digital curation, writing, and content strategy.

The program includes a 6-credit “virtual” summer internship with the Smithsonian Institution. The internship can be completed remotely.

Learn more here or apply today!

Apply Now for Doing Digital History 2016

Are you a mid-career American historian interested in digital history training for novices?

Apply now for one of 25 available spots for the Doing Digital History: 2016 summer institute to be held July 11- 22, 2016 at George Mason University. The institute is organized by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History in New Media and generously sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities.

Doing Digital History: 2016 is designed to address the existing gap in digital history training for established scholars who need instruction and a professional learning community to explore digital methodologies and theories applicable to their historical research and teaching. During the summer of 2014, RRCHNM ran the first Doing Digital History institute also sponsored by the NEH.

Institute Directors Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan will be joined by experts in the digital history and humanities fields who will guest lecture throughout the institute.

We seek applications from established faculty, public historians, archivists, librarians, museum professionals, and independent scholars specializing in US history, who have had very limited or no training in using digital methods and tools, or in computing, and who lack a supportive digital community at their home institutions.

Applications will be open until March 15, 2016: http://history2016.doingdh.org/apply/

Digital History Fellowships for Fall 2016

A reminder that the Department of History & Art History at George Mason University is offering two Digital History Fellowships to support students undertaking a Ph.D.

Fellows enrolling in Fall 2016 will receive stipends of $20,000 for two years, during which time they will take a practicum course each semester here at RRCHNM, and then a further three years of support from the Department of History and Art History. The practicum courses provide an opportunity to be part of a digital history center and to contribute to a range of projects across all three of the Center’s divisions. Syllabi for the practicum courses can be found on the Fellows’ blog, which also includes posts by all four cohorts of fellows reflecting on their experiences at the Center.

Students interested in applying to the GMU History PhD program and being a Digital history Fellow, should consult the information on the department website or contact the department’s graduate director, Professor Cindy Kierner. Applications close January 15, 2016

RRCHNM Wins Mason Distance Education Award

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media received a Distance Education Award for its work conceptualizing and creating a new online course, “Introduction to Digital Humanities.” Steve Nodine, Director of Distance Education, presented the award at the Mason Outstanding Achievement Awards on November 3, 2015.

DE_Award

The RRCHNM team was recognized for working collaboratively to establish “a new model that can inspire all of Mason.” This innovative course includes synchronous online class sessions, synchronous individual meetings between student and instructor, and asynchronous modules. There are no textbooks, video lectures, or multiple-choice quizzes. Content consists of readings, short videos, interactive activities, and a culminating digital project.

“Introduction to Digital Humanities” is the first course in a 15-credit online certificate program in Digital Public Humanities. The team is currently developing two additional certificate with instructors Sharon Leon and Mills Kelly. The certificate includes a 6-credit digital internship with the Smithsonian Institution, the first of its kind at Mason.

Award recipients: Kelly Schrum (Project Director); Stephen Robertson (Course Professor); Jennifer Rosenfeld (Project Manager); James McCartney (Senior Developer); Chris Preperato (Interactive & Multimedia Developer); Joo-Ah Lee (Junior Developer); and Caroline Kelly (Undergraduate OSCAR Research Assistant).

Congratulations all!

Building Histories of the National Mall

We are pleased to announce the publication of Building Histories of the National Mall: A Guide to Creating a Digital Public History Project (http://mallhistory.org/Guide), a comprehensive guide that details each phase of creating the award-winning website, Histories of the National Mall. The text showcases the voices of project team members, who authored specific sections that demonstrate the range and breadth of the collaboration and cooperation that produced mallhistory.org.

This guide goes beyond a traditional case study by sharing the project’s rationale; the interpretative approach; the specifics of the design, development, and outreach–including our social media strategy–;  and the research that drove these different stages of development. For example, our decision to build for the mobile web and not a single-use, platform-specific native app was based in research begun by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan in 2009 with funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to review and experiment with mobile formats pertinent for art and cultural heritage collections. Additionally, readers will learn how the team’s user testing regiment greatly influenced the final site structure, design, and content of Histories of the National Mall.

For someone eager to begin developing her own version of Histories using Omeka, the technical specifications and code are available now. For organizations in the early planning stages of a project, this guide offers an open source and replicable example for history and cultural heritage professionals wanting a cost-effective solution for developing and delivering mobile content. The guide offers lessons learned and challenges we faced throughout the project’s development, and we discuss how we measured success for this specific project.

Building Histories of the National Mall belongs to the long tradition of knowledge sharing at RRCHNM that encourages history and humanities professionals to be active designers and builders of their own digital projects. This guide and the website, mallhistory.org, were generously funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

RRCHNM to build software to help researchers organize digital photographs

We are pleased to announce funding for a new project to develop a freely licensed and open-source software tool, called Tropy, which will allow archival researchers to collect and organize the digital photographs that they take in their research, associate metadata with those images, and export both photographs and metadata to other platforms. Generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Tropy will be led by Stephen Robertson and Sean Takats over the next two years.

The affordability of powerful digital cameras and the increasing willingness of libraries and archives to allow their use have produced a widespread need for this software. The difficulties of organizing and managing large collections of digital images familiar to us from our own experiences as researchers are well-documented in surveys of humanities research practices, blog posts and comments, and appeals on Twitter. In addressing this need, Tropy represents an extension of RRCHNM’s work building an infrastructure for digital scholarship, joining Zotero, Omeka, and PressForward.

Now under development, Tropy will ultimately let you import photographs, adjust them to ensure they are of adequate quality for your purposes, and attach metadata to those images, using a template. After import, you will also be able to batch-edit the metadata across multiple images, as well as edit individual images. In Tropy, images will be able to be organized via collections and/or tags, and accessed in a variety of ways: by browsing image collections and tags via list and thumbnail modes; by sorting these views using all available metadata, such as date, source archive, and title; and by searching across all available metadata, including notes.

All images stored in Tropy will be exportable to other applications on your computer and to external, web-based services (such as RRCHNM’s Omeka). We are particularly excited about the prospects that this offers for collaborations between researchers and the libraries and archives whose collections they are photographing. Institutions could provide metadata templates customized to their specific holdings. Researchers using those templates could share both images and item-level descriptions of collections, which institutions could then use in a variety of ways to enrich their catalogs, finding aids and digital collections.

We’ll be looking for input from both researchers and libraries and archives as we develop Tropy in the coming months. More news soon!

Scholars as Students: Outcomes from Doing Digital History 2014

During the summer of 2014, Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan, joined by a team of graduate assistants and expert scholars, oversaw one of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media’s most recent efforts to offer professional development for mid-career scholars: the Doing Digital History (DoingDH) summer institute.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, Office of Digital Humanities, the institute offered 23 American Historians an opportunity to undertake a two-week immersion in 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:

doingdh-eval

As a follow-up to the face-to-face institute experience, we are now publishing a whitepaper that lays out the pedagogical approach to DoingDH, evaluates the experience, and includes the detailed curriculum employed during the institute: Scholars as Students: Introductory Digital History Training for Mid-Career Historians (PDF).

This work builds upon over a decade of innovation and experimentation with professional development at RRCHNM. Just as our workshop sessions at disciplinary conferences, bootcamp sessions at THATCamp unconferences, and a range of longer training experiences have been designed to offer replicable models, we hope that DoingDH will be a jumping-off point for those working to build the digital capacities of our communities of practice. We invite you to review the work and outcomes of the institute and consider the ways that you might put these materials to good use in creating training opportunities for mid-career faculty, curators, librarians, archivists, and staff in your own institutions.

Finally, based on the success and lessons learned in the 2014 DoingDH institute, RRCHNM is offering another DoingDH institute in the summer of 2016, again with the generous support of NEH-ODH.  Soon, we will post a form for anyone interested in being notified when applications open for the 2016 institute. We will announce it on the RRCHNM blog and tweet it from @chnm.