Bonus Episode: Live at Messiah College Educator’s Day

Podcast

On May 21, 2018, the Office of the Provost at Messiah College surprised the faculty at their annual Educator’s Day with a live recording of our podcast. Under the theme “Flourishing in a Digital World,” the goal was to highlight the ways in which Messiah faculty have been using digital tools within their own scholarship. In that spirit, we interviewed history professor and lead architect of the Digital Harrisburg project, David Pettegrew (@dpettegrew); English professor and director of the Center for Public Humanities, Jean Corey; and film and digital media professor, Nathan Skulstad (@NathanSkulstad). The episode also features an interview of our regular host, John Fea, conducted by the director of the Agape Center, Ashley Sheaffer. Finally, special thanks also go out to the director of the Ernest L. Boyer Center, Cynthia Wells for organizing and co-producing the event.

How are People Using the Digital Harrisburg Initiative?

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Digital Harrisburg is a digital public humanities project created by students and faculty of Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology that explores the history and culture of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area.  Read more about it here.

Over at Harrisburg Magazine, write Rick Dapp has used Digital Harrisburg to learn more about four blocks on Verbeke Street.  Here is a taste of his article:

Memory is an elusive thing, often distorted by time and the inclusion of unintentionally specious fictions in the retelling of stories handed down from one generation to another. Occasionally a sliver of truth finds its way into our awareness and triggers a desire to expand our knowledge of it. When there is tangible evidence it’s a relatively uncomplicated process. When there is nothing to perceive imagination – and some research – is required.

If there is one pair of structures that provide an anchor for the Midtown section of the city, it’s the Broad Street Market. Despite the fact that there is no Broad Street in the city, it goes by that name nonetheless. In the nineteenth century there was an effort to make the name stick, but Verbeke Street prevailed. Named for William K. Verbeke, the street has two distinct characteristics. There is the section running from North 6th Street to 3rd Street, and, like a number of similar city thoroughfares, it terminates and then resumes on Cameron Street….

And he concludes:

How does one glean this knowledge that allows the imagination to recreate the past? It’s quite simple, you simply type in (on your computer – were back in real time again) https//digitalharrisburg.com/2014/12/16/explore-harrisburg-in-1900

The interactive map that has been developed as a collaboration between Messiah College, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and the Historical Society of Dauphin County. The participants in this invaluable effort scanned the entire 1901 Harrisburg Title Company Atlas. Data includes information from the federal census that allows the viewer to determine the location of a specific property and numerous personal indices relative to families or individuals living within a specific property in 1901.

Log on and take a look at 314 Verbeke. You’ll never look at those vacant spaces on Verbeke west of the Millworks in quite the same way again.

Read the entire piece here.

Our First Live Episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast is in the Books!

Podcast on stageThis morning we recorded our first live episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast before the Community of Educators (faculty and co-curricular educators) at Messiah College.

The Community of Educators gathered today at “Educator’s Day,” a tradition in which our faculty and co-curricular educators mark the end of the previous year and turn our attention to developing ourselves for the year ahead.  The theme of this year’s Educator’s Day was “Flourishing in a Digital World.”

As I noted in my post this morning, the administration asked us to record an episode of the podcast related to this theme.   Our guests were three humanities scholars doing very creative work at the intersection of digital scholarship and place.  David Pettegrew runs Messiah College’s Digital Harrisburg Initiative, Jean Corey runs Messiah’s Center for Public Humanities, and Nathan Skulstad is a digital documentarian and story-teller.

We could not have done this live episode without the hard work of podcast producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling and Cynthia Wells, the director of the Ernest L. Boyer Center at Messiah.  Thanks as well to Ashley Sheaffer of the Messiah College Agape Center for interviewing me on the episode and the skilled technicians on the Messiah College sound team for making us sound good!

Stay tuned.  This bonus episode will drop sometime in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, head over to Patreon site and help get us to Season 5.

Some tweets:

And Drew’s excellent response to Mr. Hatfield’s snarky tweet:

Welcome Messiah College Community of Educators!

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Parmer Hall, Messiah College

When this post appears on the blog (9:50am on Monday, May 20, 2018) I will be sitting with Drew Dyrli Hermeling on the magnificent stage of Parmer Hall at Messiah College hosting a special episode of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  The episode is being recorded right now in front of a live studio audience at Messiah’s “Educator’s Day.”  Every year, Messiah College’s community of educators gather on the Monday following graduation for a day of professional development.  This year’s theme is “Flourishing in a Digital Age” and the administration has asked me to dedicate a podcast episode to digital scholarship and teaching at Messiah College.

We have done 38 full episodes of the podcast thus far.  I have interviewed Pulitzer Prize–winning authors and all kinds of other important people in the history field, but I have never been more nervous than I am this morning.  There is something different about having to host this podcast in front of a few hundred of my colleagues!

I think it is fair to say that most Messiah College educators are not familiar with the blog or the podcast.  Many will be finding their way to http://www.thewayofimprovement.com from their phones and laptops as they listen to us recording the podcast on stage. If you are one of those educators, welcome to our online home!  Feel free to explore a bit and get acquainted with what we have been doing here for the last ten years!  🙂

Digital History at Messiah College

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Yesterday I was telling the museum professionals at the PA Museum Association annual conference about our Public History Program at Messiah College.  Here is what I said:

As the chair of the history department, I have also been involved in helping to create Messiah College’s public history program.  Our public history students get training in the kind of historical thinking and historical content that all of our history majors receive.  That includes 39 hours of coursework.  But they also take a course in public history theory and practice and enroll in other courses that have substantial units devoted to oral history, local history, history education, public archaeology, and digital history.  But that is not all!  Students also take electives in topics such as web design, event planning, GIS technology, business administration, museum studies, public relations writing, or photography.    Our program is innovative, and I know of several colleges that have used it as a model for their own public history programs.

As I told the museum professionals, digital history plays an important role in our public history program.  We offer a 300-level course in the subject and use the Digital Harrisburg Initiative as a home base for a lot of our work in this area.

Want to learn more about digital history at Messiah?  Watch this video. (For whatever reason, I cannot get it to embed).

OAH 2018 Dispatch: Digital History

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Messiah College students engaged in the Digital Harrisburg Initiative

We are pleased to add this dispatch from Gabriel Loiacono to our coverage of the 2018 meeting of the Organization of American Historians in Sacramento. Gabe is Associate Professor of History and Director of the University Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and is currently writing a book tentatively titled: “Five Lives Shaped by the Poor Law: Stories of Welfare in the Early Republic.”  Gabe writes:

This dispatch is about two digital history panels. I had a wonderful conference overall, including my own panel, “Beyond Northern Exceptionalism” (#AM2347). I will say nothing about that panel except that its genesis was on this blog when I read an interview with my co-panelist Christy Clark-Pujara about her book Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. I read the interview and the book, reached out to Christy, and with Chad Montrie, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Sharon Romeo, we had a thoroughly enjoyable panel.

Now on to Digital History….

Giddiness and Guilt. I alternate between those two sensations when using digitized primary sources for my research and writing. The OAH panel “Consequences of Digital Technologies for History: A Roundtable Discussion on the Digital Future of the Historian’s Craft” (#AM2675) helped me to think about why that is. Panelist Lara Putnam caused much introspection in the audience when she said, and I paraphrase: “if you are feeling shameful about having used digitized sources, and that’s why you’re not citing the sources’ digital formats, we need to talk about that.” I, for one, have felt that shame and this panel helped me to think about why.

Panelists Andreas Fickers, Lara Putnam, Jason Rhody, and Jennifer Guiliano offered really thoughtful critiques about how, precisely, primary sources and the historian’s craft are changed by digitization. Fickers emphasized how we really need to think about the digital tools we use, how search engines are not neutral, and how sources are manipulated in the process of digitization. He offers a model of “thinkering,” thinking while tinkering, in order to come up with updated methodologies to fit our updated tools. Putnam pointed out how there have always been problems with how our sources are collected, preserved, and found, but some problems are new, like algorithmic bias. Now is the moment to “retro-engineer” old problems while thinking about new ones.

Putnam also pointed to what is lost in moving from the “analog” methods of finding and reading an old newspaper, and the digital method of encountering it as a search result. In particular, much of the contextual information about the newspaper, from other issues to what the rest of the issue says to where you can find this newspaper can disappear in a digital search. Rhody and Guiliano both referenced the ethics of google searches and Guiliano called into question the ethics of ancestry.com’s business model. Leaning on the work of communications studies scholar Safiya Noble (see Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism), they underlined how google searches of women or people color often turn up biased results. To what extent do biased results shape our and our students’ historical research? Moreover, how are historians of our period going to cope with using billions of tweets as sources?

The panelists only began to answer these questions. Guiliano warned that we better start learning statistical methods and how algorithms work. All underlined how important it is that we develop some methodology that takes into account the differences that digital tools make in our research and understanding.

This Digital History panel had my mental wheels spinning, and I decided to take in the next session in that room: “Teaching Historical Literacy in the Digital Age” (#AM2581). To my surprise, the rest of the audience was totally different, which was too bad. These panels spoke to the same big questions and there could have been a rich inter-panel conversation had more people listened to both. Four two-year college professors and one high school teacher made up this panel: Abigail Feely, Chris Padgett, Elise Robison, Rob Marchie, and Sara Ball. Where the first panel focused on theory and research methodology, this panel focused on the practice of teaching. The teaching expertise of the panelists shone in one after another example of how to harness digital platforms for teaching and how to help students think critically about digital sources. One of my favorites was to assign students to critique a website or even a google search in terms of what was missing and how dated or well-rounded the sources behind these digital resources were. Another favorite was to ask students to take digital photos of something (such as the suburb nearby) before students even knew they would be focusing on Levittown the following week.

Perhaps the single most exciting point I took from this panel was that historians’ skills are precisely the skills that students need to navigate the digital age. Evaluating the source (archival or digital) that you are looking at is what we teach. Likewise, building up context and the ability to take apart the argument being presented to you are skills that we teach! This was an exciting clarion call for us historians. Let’s tackle these new problems in research and teaching with our old methodologies, and develop new methodologies for new sources.

There were other digital history panels that I could not make. I bet those were good too. What an exciting series of issues to tackle at the OAH.

The New York Slavery Records Index

Slave RevoltAnother great database:

The New York Slavery Records Index is a searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and their owners, beginning as early as 1525 and ending during the Civil War.

Our data come from census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. The index contains over 35,000 records and will continue to grow as our team of John Jay College professors and students locates and assembles data from additional sources.

Our goal is to deepen the understanding of slavery in New York by bringing together information that until now has been largely disconnected and difficult to access. This allows for searches that combine records from all indexed sources based on parameters such as the name of an owner, a place name, and date ranges.

Learn more here.

AHA Bound!

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I’m heading to Washington D.C. today for the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. I will be joining thousands of historians in a weekend of presentations, panels, conversations, job-searching, book-browsing, receptions and other history-related activities.  As always, we will have the conference covered here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Check back often for updates from this D.C. history-fest!

I will be participating in two sessions.  Both will take place on Friday:

Placing the American Community: Lessons from the Digital Harrisburg Project

The Bible in American Cultural and Political History

I hope to see some of you there!

Race, Memory, and the Digital Humanities

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Over at Uncommon Sense, Elizabeth Losh of the American Studies Department at William & Mary reports on an upcoming conference:

The Digital Humanities Caucus of the American Studies Association is committed to working across “the various areas of digital humanities,” including but not limited to  “born-digital work, computational methods (such as network, spatial, and textual analysis), cyberculture studies, digital editions and collections, digital tools (cyberinfrastructure) for humanities scholars, and new media.” The American Studies Program at William and Mary consulted with the caucus’s leadership to assemble an exciting roster of digital humanities speakers to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of African Americans in Residence on the historic campus. These efforts have been helped by months of collaboration with the Omohundro Institute, which is developing more digital projects and more interactive articles in its signature publication, The William and Mary Quarterly, including many that address the legacies of slavery and the racist dogmas of colonization.

An upcoming Omohundro-sponsored conference on “Race, Memory, and the Digital Humanities” reflects a number of recent conversations about using digital technologies to archive and interpret the cultural record with more attention to the contributions of communities of color. Although just a few years ago Tara McPherson bemoaned the lack of diversity in the digital humanities in her groundbreaking article “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White?” digital scholarship that approaches race as a critical issue from the traditional archive to online communities has become a vibrant and expanding field. From digitizing records on slavery, colonialism, and 19th century political organizing by free and fugitive Blacks to interpreting Afrofuturist science fiction, digital music, and hashtag activism, the contributions of scholars of African-American history and culture to the digital humanities have been significant.  Digital humanities work that explores race and memory even incorporates cutting-edge technologies like 3D computer animation and virtual reality, which Angel David Nieves of Yale will discuss.  Many of the speakers – including Moya Bailey, Alexis Lothian, Amanda Phillips – were founding members of TransformDH, which is devoted to “a digital humanities of transformative research, pedagogy, and activism for social justice, accessibility, and inclusion.”

Read the rest here.

Black Boston

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Robert Gould Shaw Monument, Boston

The Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the Tufts Data Lab are working together to document Boston’s African-American history.  Learn more about the African American Freedom Trail Project in this piece at WBUR.

Here is a taste:

Boston is a city rich in American history. Tourists come here to explore the city’s central role in some of the United States’ pivotal moments. But its historical narrative is whitewashed, often omitting the influence and accomplishments of the city’s African-American community.

That’s according to Kerri Greenidge, who teaches history at Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts Boston. She specializes in the African diaspora in New England and the Northeast.

“If you have the same people tell the story, you’re not going to get recent scholarship that challenges the story we accept,” says Greenidge.

The narrative Boston has accepted, Greenidge notes, doesn’t exactly highlight the African-American influence and experience beyond slavery.

The Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, where Greenidge is on staff, wanted to help change that. So, together with the Tufts Data Lab, the center embarked on a mission to document significant sites that reflect local African-American history.

Greenidge and Kendra Fields, the center’s director, created a digital map that both tourists and curious locals could use to explore underrepresented but important events in the city’s history.

Read the entire piece here.

Historian Edward Ayers

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Ed Ayers is a Civil War-era historian and a “pioneer” in the field of digital humanities. After 27 years teaching history at the University of Virginia, he served eight years as the president of the University of Richmond.  He currently holds the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities at Richmond.

Earlier this week, Inside Higher Ed, published an article on his current work.  Here is a taste of “Making History Cool“:

Ed Ayers stepped down as president of University of Richmond in June 2015 after an eight-year run. Plenty of distinguished university leaders like him would use their postpresidency time to relax — or to take up a hobby, perhaps.

But Ayers had other plans.

“The whole time, I knew I wasn’t finished being a historian,” Ayers said in an interview with “Inside Digital Learning.”

“What I wanted to do was connect with as broad an audience as possible.”

Those efforts are underway, and they’ve already taken several forms. Ayers polished the second and final volume of his book Valley of the Shadow, assembled from his landmark digital humanities project of the same name from the early 2000s, for release Oct. 24. He also continues co-hosting the BackStory podcast, in which he’s been taking deep dives into historical issues since 2008.

In several other arenas, he’s in a leadership role that he and others describe as “executive producer,” overseeing projects at the Digital Scholarship Lab, a digital humanities lab at Richmond that contributes research and teaching. And most intriguing, he’s half of the duo behind Bunk, a project launching this week that represents the peak of Ayers’s ambitions thus far. The website describes itself as “a shared home for the web’s most interesting writing and thinking about the American past.”

His goals are lofty.

Read the entire piece here.

Live Tweeting a Historical Event

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Spokane’s Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, the site of the Twitter “re-enactment”

Over at Northwest History, Eastern Washington University public historian Larry Cebula writes about how he and some local historians conducted a Twitter re-enactment of Spokane’s 1889 fire.  According to his post, several folks got together with historical documents and began composing tweets using the hashtag #greatfire1889.  They even got coverage in the local newspaper!

Cebula writes:

It was a blast. We each worked from a different resource about the fire, books and letters and newspaper articles, and pulled out striking and dramatic bits. The 144-character limit of Twitter was not as much of a problem as I would have thought, and we quickly figured out that 144 characters equaled about one-and-a-half lines on the Google Doc. We tried to keep the Tweets roughly chronological as we added them to the document. The Google Doc had the great advantage of allowing everyone to see what the others were working on and avoiding duplicate tweets on the same subject. We added brief citation notes to each tweet, not to be tweeted but to document where we had found the information in case there were questions later. We also looked at some of the dramatic photographs that Harbine had identified from the collections and wrote tweets to highlight those images.

After ninety minutes or so we had in excess of thirty tweets that did a really nice job of telling the story of the fire. Camporeale then assigned times to each tweet. The tweets went into Hootsuite, a social media tool that allows one to schedule tweets in advance, each set to be tweeted at the right time.

Cebula offers some tips for doing such a project in a public history or digital history course:

Live tweeting a historical event would make a great classroom project for digital and public history courses. This presentation lays out how they did a similar project on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald has some good tips. Here are the steps as I see it

  1. Pick a historical event. Something dramatic, well-documented, and with contemporary interest. It needs to be an event that took place over a few days, not months. Choose a time period that you will be tweeting, maybe 3-7 days?
  2. Choose a hashtag. Make sure that it has not been taken.
  3. Assemble some resources. It really worked well to have different people pulling their tweets out of different sources. Resources could be a mix of physical and digital, with digitized books and newspapers offering a rich set of perspectives. Make a Google Doc with links to the digital resources.
  4. Write the tweets. If I were working with a larger class, I would organize the Google Doc a bit in advance by making headings for each days tweets. Encourage students to find relevant images to attach to the tweets.
  5. Schedule the tweets with Hootsuite or a similar social media manager

Read the rest here.

Library of Congress Places 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps Online

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This is huge.  We uses these maps for our Digital Harrisburg Project at Messiah College.

Here is a taste of the press release:

The Library of Congress has placed online nearly 25,000 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, which depict the structure and use of buildings in U.S. cities and towns. Maps will be added monthly until 2020, for a total of approximately 500,000.

The online collection now features maps published prior to 1900.  The states available include Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Alaska is also online, with maps published through the early 1960s.  By 2020, all the states will be online, showing maps from the late 1880s through the early 1960s.

In collaboration with the Library’s Geography and Map Division, Historical Information Gatherers digitized the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps during a 16-month period at the Library of Congress.  The Library is in the process of adding metadata and placing the digitized, public-domain maps on its website. 

The Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps are a valuable resource for genealogists, historians, urban planners, teachers or anyone with a personal connection to a community, street or building.  The maps depict more than 12,000 American towns and cities.  They show the size, shape and construction materials of dwellings, commercial buildings, factories and other structures.  They indicate both the names and width of streets, and show property boundaries and how individual buildings were used.  House and block numbers are identified.  They also show the location of water mains, fire alarm boxes and fire hydrants.

In the 19th century, specialized maps were originally prepared for the exclusive use of fire insurance companies and underwriters.  Those companies needed accurate, current and detailed information about the properties they were insuring. The Sanborn Map Company was created around 1866 in the United States in response to this need and began publishing and registering maps for copyright. The Library of Congress acquired the maps through copyright deposit, and the collection grew to 700,000 individual sheets. The insurance industry eventually phased out use of the maps and Sanborn stopped producing updates in the late 1970s.

I have spent far too much time looking at these maps this weekend.  You can view them here.

Liz Covart Joins the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

Liz CovartHistory podcaster Liz Covart has a new full-time job. The creator and host of Ben Franklin’s World just announced that she will be joining the staff of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture as its New Digital Projects Editor.

Here is a taste of her announcement at Uncommon Sense–The Blog:

I’m excited to announce that I’ve joined the staff at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture as its new Digital Projects Editor.

This is a really exciting opportunity because it means long-term support for Ben Franklin’s World and the Doing History series and a chance to continue working and collaborating with the OI’s great staff of talented historians and professionals.

Over the last two years, the team at the Omohundro Institute has helped develop Ben Franklin’s World into a serious and professional media outlet for scholarly history. Their knowledge has played a major role in growing Ben Franklin’s World into a podcast that receives over 160,000 downloads per month and has garnered more than 2 million downloads in less than 3 years. Plus, the Doing History series has evolved into a dynamic series that not only shows the world how historians work and why our work matters, but encourages us to experiment with adapting our traditional modes of historical interpretation and communication to new media. (Thus far these experiments have proven successful as episodes in the Doing History: To the Revolution! series are the most downloaded episodes in the entire BFWorld catalog.)

Read the entire post here. Congratulations, Liz!