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.