The Next "Librarian of Congress" Should Be a Librarian

This is the argument of Portland Community College librarian Meredeth Farkas in a piece at The New Republic.

Farkas chides outgoing Librarian of Congress James Billington for, among other things, not modernizing the Library and bringing it fully into the digital world.

She writes:

President Obama will soon appoint a new Librarian of Congress, a position that requires Congressional approval and could impact the everyday lives of most Americans. This position has the power to provide exemptions to a copyright regime that currently limits what consumers can do with their media, software, digital devices, and even vehicles. The next Librarian of Congress could ease copyright restrictions, provide improved access to federally-funded research, and embrace cooperative efforts toward making our nation’s history available online. On the other hand, the new Librarian could limit what Americans can do with the content and technologies they have lawfully purchased by choosing not to make exemptions to copyright law. It all hinges on the values and background of the person the President chooses to appoint….

In a 2014 speech, former Deputy and now Acting Librarian of Congress, David Mao stated that the Library of Congress is “the de-facto national library of the United States and so… it’s actually your library.” Over the past few decades, public access to the Library of Congress has increased and the Library has carved out a role in preserving, digitizing, and making accessible the cultural history of the United States. Projects like American Memory (begun in 1990) and THOMAS (begun in 1995) were early trailblazers in providing historical artifacts and legislative information on the Web.
In the two decades since the birth of those projects, however, digital initiatives at universities, cultural institutions, other national libraries, and Google have eclipsed the work of the Library of Congress in terms of both scale and design. Although programs like their newspaper digitization initiative, Chronicling America, have great value, only a very small proportion of their collection has been made available to the public online. The Library of Congress has also been notably unwilling to participate in major cooperative digital library initiatives, including the Digital Public Library of America, which has brought together the digital collections of public libraries, university archives, and diverse cultural heritage institutions, including the National Archives and the Smithsonian
A public intellectual would likely be an easy sell to Congress as Billington was beloved by members of Congress even as they criticized his Library. The next Librarian of Congress, however, needs to not only be well-credentialed, but someone who can run a very large and complex agency of over 3,000 employees. They will step into an organization that has beenwidely criticized for mismanagement. They will need to know when to lead, delegate, collaborate, or gracefully get out of the way. They will not only need to bring the Library of Congress into the 21st century, but they will have to administer a large institution that has been poorly run for decades.
Many in the library world are advocating for a fellow librarian to be appointed Librarian of Congress. A librarian could be expected to capably administer The Library of Congress, which serves many of the same functions as an academic library, albeit on a much grander scale. There are many distinguished and innovative librarians who have successfully run large, complex organizations and are well-versed in issues related to scholarly publishing, copyright, digitization, technology trends, and fundraising. However, the next Librarian of Congress could still embody and support the values librarians hold dear, whether she or he is a librarian, a scholar, a university administrator, or a software executive
Read the entire article here.

More Good News About the Digital Harrisburg Initiative

As I have written here before, Messiah College hosts the Digital Harrisburg Initiative, a digital project that is trying to understand early 20th-century Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  (Read our coverage here).

M. Diane McCormick has written a very thorough piece about the project at The Burg.  Here is a taste:

The turn of the 20th century was the era of City Beautiful, when Harrisburg was a leader in the young nation’s progressive urban movement.

Though City Beautiful has been well documented, questions remain. When ridding the city of typhus depended on a yes vote for a municipal bond for sewer upgrades, why did some precincts vote no?

We know about the elites who championed City Beautiful, but how did the reforms affect the everyday lives of citizens?

The questions are still being explored, but Digital Harrisburg has begun seeking answers. It started when liberal arts Messiah College and nerdy Harrisburg University started conversing on ways to blend humanities and technology. At Messiah, Associate Professor David Pettegrew turned his digital history class students into sort of 1900 census-takers, transcribing census data into a database for easy searching.

At the same time, students of Albert Sarvis, Harrisburg University assistant professor of geospatial technology and project management, aligned Harrisburg’s 1901 road network with today’s map. Another class vectorized—that is, drew the shapes—of city buildings and lined up the shapes with the address codes tied to the census findings of Pettegrew’s students.

It’s not as if the findings themselves are new. They’ve been discoverable in records for decades—for anyone with the unlimited time to find them. Digitization makes results instantly searchable.

Demographic trends in income, occupation, race and ethnicity quickly pop up by geography. Where did families live who had the highest rate of living children, versus those who had lost the largest numbers of children? That might have influenced their City Beautiful votes.

It’s a way to compare “a pattern or any other spatial layer you want to,” said Sarvis.

“It’s not just how many German illiterate women there are, but exactly where in the city they are,” he added.

Never Knew Existed

Rachel Carey joined the project as a Pettegrew student and is now the data master. The history major with a minor in music (she plays French horn) graduates from Messiah College at the end of 2015 and then looks forward to a graduate program in history.

Digitizing history is the 21st-century solution to the age-old puzzle of how to engage new generations in history, said Carey. Historians have a new tool to “bring the past into the present” and help contemporary audiences relate to the neighborhoods and communities of the past, even in “this smallish city.”

“My favorite part is being able to visualize the past, and that’s what this project is all about,” she said. “We take these people who formerly we knew nothing about. We put it on the Internet and map their houses. You go onto the map, click a house, and you can read all of this information about these people you never knew existed.”

At Messiah, the project has become an “energized enterprise” among faculty and students from many classes. Some students of Messiah History Department Chairman John Fea added Market Square Presbyterian Church membership records to the database, finding where church members, many among the city’s elite, lived in relation to neighborhoods and ethnicities. For the rest of 2015, inputting citywide property values for 1900 is a top priority for the Digital Harrisburg team.

Read the rest here.

What is Digital Scholarship?

Valley of the Shadow is TRC

For those of us who are still trying to discern the kinds of online work that qualifies as “digital scholarship,” William Thomas, the chair of the history department at the University of Nebraska, has offered a helpful blog post entitled “What is Digital Scholarship: A Typology.”  (Some of you may recall a post we did last year on Thomas’s work conducting “History Harvests.”).

Thomas defines three types of projects that we should consider forms of digital scholarship:

1.  Interpretive Scholarly Works:

These works are hybrids of archival materials and tool components, and are situated around a historiographically significant or critical concern. These works often assert a methodological argument as well, demonstrating that the combination of tools and materials serves as a method worthy of applying to the problem. Interactive Scholarly Works have a limited set of relatively homogenous data, and they might include a textual component on the scale of a brief academic journal article. They feature an API for users to access the data and programming directly. Relatively tightly defined in subject, ISWs provide users with a high degree of interactivity in a limited framework. (Meeks and Grossner 2012)

Examples include: Visualizing Emancipation and Who Killed William Robinson?

2.  Digital Projects or Thematic Research Collections:

Digital projects, sometimes referred to as Thematic Research Collections, are perhaps the most well defined genre in digital humanities scholarship. Carole L. Palmer’s 2004 review of these works emphasized several qualities, such as their heterogeneous datatypes, structured but open ended, designed to support research, multi-authored, primary sources. Combining tools and archival materials framed around a historiographically significant or critical problem, these projects are sprawling investigations into a major problem. Typically gathering thousands of objects and records from widely varying institutions and in widely varying formats, digital history projects contain “digital aggregations” of primary sources that support research on a particular theme or historical question. Scholars embed interpretive affordances in the collection and use these affordances to open up new modes of inquiry and/or discovery. They are open-ended projects and often support ongoing research by multiple scholars or teams. Often traditional peer reviewed scholarship is derived from the thematic research collection. The next phase of thematic research collections might feature interpretive scholarship embedded within and in relationship to the collection. (Palmer, 2004)

Examples include: Valley of the Shadow and Mapping the Republic of Letters

3.  Digital Narratives

These scholarly works are born-digital, and they primarily feature a work of scholarly interpretation or argument embedded within layers of evidence and citation. They do not and presumably cannot exist in analog fashion. They may be multimodal, multi-authored, and user-directed. They may change between and among readings, either through updates or algorithmic reconstitutions. Unlike the first generation of “eBooks” which transferred analog books into digital formats, these nonlinear, multimodal narratives offer explicit hypertext structures. These works primarily provide multiple points of entry for readers and situate evidence and interpretation in ways that allow readers to unpack the scholarly work. They are highly configured, deeply structured, and strongly interpretive pieces of scholarship. They could be stand alone self-generating web sites, cloud applications, or they could be presented in a media-rich scholarly publishing framework such as Scalar.

Examples include: Gilded Age Plains City and The Differences Slavery Made

Read more about Thomas’s categories here.

Job Opening: Ancient-Digital History at Bethel University

My friend Chris Gehtz, aka “The Pietest Schoolman,” has just announced a very interesting job opening at Bethel University in St. Paul, MN.   Bethel is looking to start a digital humanities major and they hope to hire a coordinator for the program with additional expertise in the ancient and medieval world.

Chris has described the job on Bethel’s Department of History blog:
We’re happy to announce that we’ve begun a job search for the newest member of our faculty: a gifted, innovative teacher committed to the mission of Bethel and able to straddle the fields of ancient/medieval and digital history.
First, our new colleague will teach upper-division courses in ancient and medieval history, and as a member of the team for GES130 Christianity and Western Culture. We’re committed to a curriculum that spans the breadth of human experience, including premodern history. And we think that’s all the more important for a Christian liberal arts college, where we want our students to understand the development and context of a faith whose roots stretch back into the ancient world.
But what’s makes the position especially distinctive is that whomever we hire will have the opportunity to shape and then coordinate a new major in Digital Humanities (or DH), teaching introductory and capstone courses and mentoring students as they build digital portfolios through coursework, research projects, and internships.
Thus far shepherded by History professors Chris Gehrz and Sam Mulberry alongside digital library manager Kent Gerber, the proposal for a DH major was the subject of a story in the Bethel Clarion last fall. Gerber described the field in this way:
Regardless of how digital humanities is defined, it is characterized by collaboration, creativity and multiple disciplines… You will see people who know a lot about computers working with people who know a lot about humanities research in archaeology, English literature, history, linguistics, art, communication studies or library and information science.
Gehrz added that the major should appeal strongly to students who have a passion for fields like history but are concerned about finding a career path:
I think there are a lot of students who really do love things like literature and languages and philosophy and history and theology… Yet they have a voice in themselves saying, “What are you going to do with that?” And part of what this [program] does is suggest, “Well, I can study all of these things that I love, and at the same time I’m getting skills that are very useful for any employer.”
Our faculty, students, and alumni have already been experimenting with digital approaches to research and communication. Gehrz and Mulberry have been prolific podcasters and digital filmmakers, and this May Gehrz and student Fletcher Warren ’15 will debut their digital history of Bethel in an age of modern warfare (here’s their project blog). Prof. Diana Magnuson has worked closely with Gerber and students like Warren in digitizing the holdings of Bethel and the Baptist General Conference. And The American Yawp, “a free and online, collaboratively built, open American history textbook” co-edited by History/Social Studies Ed alum Ben Wright ’06, was recently voted Best Use of Digital Humanities for Public Engagement. (Ben spoke to the impact of digital humanities on history as part of our recent interview on applying to graduate school.)
For further details about our ancient-digital position and instructions on how to apply, please see Bethel’sfaculty employment page. Priority will be given to applications received in full by April 7th.
Chris has also written about the job at The Pietist Schoolman

Erin Bartram’s Busy Day at AHA 2015

Erin Bartram is back.  As some of you read this, Erin will be presenting at American Society of Church History session “American Religion Online: How Digital Projects Can Change How We Teach, Research, and Interpret Religious History.”  I am looking forward to chairing and commenting. Here is her latest AHA post.  I can’t believe she got a lanyard! –JF
My day began not-so-bright but definitely early at the Women in Theology and Church History breakfast. It was such a treat, but also such a shame that it was so short and I didn’t get to meet many of the people whose projects were so interesting to me.  I was fortunate enough to meet up with some of the graduate students from the breakfast at the ASCH reception in the evening. Perhaps the most important development at the breakfast – I got a lanyard from ASCH Executive Secretary Keith Francis!
My first panel of the day was “Doing More with Less:The Promise and Pitfalls of Short-Form Scholarship in the Digital HistoryAge.” Kathy Nasstrom talked about the Oral History Review’s foray into short-form articles which you can read more about here. She said most of the submissions so far had come from traditional university-based scholars but that she hoped to see more from alternative kinds of scholars. Ben Railton spoke about blogging, tweeting, and writing pieces for websites like Talking Points Memo. One of his main points, echoed by the others on the panel, was that blogging is very generative, but that there’s no built in audience (except your parents) so you have to find a way to connect to your desired audience. Stephanie Westcott spoke about the overabundance of knowledge being created by scholars in an online form, and offered two ways to help us manage that deluge. The PressForward plugin helps scholars stay up to date on a given topic by aggregating blog posts of interest, and Digital Humanities Now curates and promotes new and interesting DH projects.
Finally, Kristin Purdy of Palgrave Macmillan talked about the Pivot series, which publishes works longer than an article but shorter than a monograph. Of the many benefits to this series, most interesting to me was something all of the panelists extolled as a virtue of short-form scholarship: the relative speed with which material can get to its audience and make an impact. Purdy said that while monographs spend months in the editorial process, Pivot books can make it to press in nine weeks. She cited the example of Peter Conn’s book Adoption: A Social and Cultural Historywhich was cited one month after its publication in an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court in the Proposition 8 case. The potential of all of these new forms was palpable in the discussion, but the comments did return several times to that perpetual question whenever innovation in form is considered: “How will this count towards tenure?”
On I went to the Digital Pedagogy Lightning Round, where nearly two dozen of us took two minutes each to pitch or explain a way to use digital methods in teaching. The ideas came fast and furious and I gave up taking notes, but I urge you to read the #s95 hashtag to see all of the amazing things presented. The main thing that struck me, however, was that all of this technology was being used to help teachers help their students as people, not just learners, whether by empowering students to create history in new and interesting ways or helping professors streamline assessment to leave them with more time to focus on the meaningful connections that can drive learning and keep students engaged and enrolled. I pitched my own project, and hopefully after a few conversations tomorrow, I’ll have something to share in my next update. One major benefit to a DH session like this? You pick up a dozen newTwitter followers in a couple of hours!
I had planned on choosing from one of several panels in the afternoon but when it came down to it, coming back to my hotel room and resting my brain a little bit won out. Thankfully, with John tweeting the public intellectuals panel, I felt like I didn’t miss a thing. Feeling a bit more refreshed a few hours later, I wandered over to the book exhibit, made a list of a million books I want to read, and tried to avoid the throngs of scholars clutching their complimentary wine and cheese. I didn’t buy anything, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold out tomorrow.
Tonight, all that’s left is to pack up and prepare for my presentation tomorrow morning: “The American Converts Database: TheDatabase as an Expression of Scholarship on Religious History.” For anyone who might be coming to the panel tomorrow morning on American religion online, feel free to take a look at the database beforehand. (

More From Christian James on the Digital History and Library/Archive Front

New York Public Library
For Christian’s previous AHA 2015 post click here.–JF

Later Friday, I attended two panels about important historical research issues in the digital era.

The first, Session #42: “Digital Tools: From the Archive to Publication,” presented case studies, suggestions and perspectives on how to use software to manage archival sources. Ashley Sanders started off the panel by giving a broad overview of digital history and tools and resources such as Zotero, Omeka, Evernote, and H-Net Commons and Crossroads. (Sanders is a PhD candidate in History and a Network Developer for H-Net.)

 Nancy Brown and RachelKantrowitz discussed specific software applications further in depth. Brown talked about her creation of a keyword taxonomy to organize piles of image scans in Adobe Lightroom. Kantrowitz discussed using Devonthink Pro to make her scanned documents searchable through optical character recognition (OCR) and cross-reverencing her scans while writing using Scrivener.

 Nora Slonimsky put the panel in a sort of meta-historical perspective by sharing some of her research in intellectual property concepts and laws of the early American republic. In this historical context, there was a clearer distinction between the labor of authorship and intellectual content; this pitted copyright disputes between the “indolent compilers” and the “industrious authors.” Slonimsky’s implication for digital scholarship seems to be that clearer distinctions such as these would give historians greater flexibility to share the process (i.e. source files) and products of their research.

 The question of sharing research almost dominated the ensuing roundtable and audience discussion, at the prodding of panel chair Leah Weinryb Grohsgal. Grohsgal asked panelists if they would not share their research to collaborate with libraries and archives and help other historians, while the panelists and some audience members shared reservations. (The sharing of research files is becoming a significant aspect of academic research in the natural and physical sciences, a comparison I would have liked to have seen discussed.) Another contribution came from Rosenzweig Center forHistory and New Media Director Stephen Robertson, from the audience, who pointed out that the work described here enables further digital scholarship, principally text mining. Sharing the panelists’ research could therefore enable new paths of inquiry.

 After checking into my hotel and having dinner with a friend, I stopped by the late evening plenary session on the “New York Public Library Controversy and the Future of the American Research Library.” I typically don’t attend events like this, opting to turn in early or socialize instead. At 8:30pm the dim lights made me a bit drowsy, but the intense panel conversation easily kept me awake.

 Joan W. Scott led the panelby diving directly into her active efforts to “save” NYPL, prompted by The Nation magazine’s articleslamming the Central Library Plan (CLP) to close Manhattan branch libraries and remove research collections from the famed 42nd Street branch. Her recap was a blow-by-blow account, but unfortunately, given her position as an eminent scholar, presented more of the controversy and less reflection on the future of library research.

 Michael Kimmelman, New York Times architectural critic, gave a very nuanced account of events as he tried to judge the CLP on its own merits and intended goals. He nonetheless reached a similar conclusion to Scott: that the Plan benefited real estate developers at the expense of researchers and New Yorkers.

 NYPL had a chance to respond. President Anthony Marx, who was not listed as a speaker on the online program, was the next panel speaker. Marx admitted that the CLP did not work and that NYPL responded to public outcries by stopping it. (A major part of this admission, though, was the recognition that 42nd Street renovations would go over-budget.) Marx still wants to keep more, not less, print books on-site and increase programming for a range of constituent demographics. Association of Research Libraries’ Elliott Shore also responded by putting NYPL’s woes in a continent-wide crisis of funding. In this context, Shore thinks that old, nostalgic visions of research libraries like 42ndStreet are historically-constructed and can no longer be institutionally supported.

 There was little time for audience discussion following the panel’s presentations, but the Q&A tone seemed to both acknowledge the possibilities of digitization while doubling down on the need for collaboration between stakeholders and the preservation of on-site research collections. The audience also seemed unclear on Shore’s proposed solutions, perhaps because, as Scott pointed out, his references to consortia and other collaborative initiatives as ‘meta-librarianship’ sounded unintelligible to the audience. Perhaps more work explaining (or debating) these solutions and their utility to cash-strapped libraries is needed.

 Joan W. Scott referenced a forthcoming book (Patience and Fortitude: Power, Real Estate, and the Fight to Save a Public Library), by Scott Sherman, due June 2015) on the CLP controversy. At the end of the panel, free copies of Simon Verity‘s book of cartoons on the controversy were given out. This episode is now, literally, in the books. But as I saw in these two panels yesterday, the future of historical research is yet to be written.

Christian James: On the Archive Beat on Day One of AHA 2015

National Archives Building
I am happy to have Christian James with us this weekend.  Christian is a digital historian and archivist currently working on an MLS degree.  He will be covering some of the sessions related to his field of expertise.  Welcome aboard, Christian!  –JF
I had to take the opportunity to attend this year’s AHA annual conference. Last year’s conference was in my backyard, Washington, D.C., yet I had to cancel my attendance plans for business reasons. And as I pursue my Master of Library Science (MLS) degree, this will be my last year to qualify for a student rate. Even better, this year‘s theme, “History and the Other Disciplines,” promises to tie history to the concerns of libraries, archives, and beyond. But how well will this interdisciplinary focus play out? As one of my MLS classmates observed, the choice of the word “other” might have a distancing effect. Fortunately, my first panel event saw this dynamic play out favorably.
I started out Friday’s conference proceedings precisely at AHA Session #1: “Are We Losing History? Capturing Archival Records for a New Era of Research.” Kicking off the conference with Session #1 titled, “Are We Losing History?” sounds like an audacious way to begin, but the session name was surely a rhetorical question. In fact, the panel presented and sought strategies to continue leveraging historical research to help archives acquire and retain records.
The 1pm panel began to a room at least two-thirds-full – crowded, perhaps, since registration opened at noon and the line for pre-registered attendees seemed to extend the length of a football field. Panel chair Megan Phillips of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) explained that the panel had come about through a conversation between her and AHA to foster dialogue about trends in historical research and what NARA can provide strong service and access to historians. What came about – perhaps differently from the initial vision but equally as useful – was a conversation about how both public and private relationships with government can facilitate access to records both nationally and internationally.
NARA Chief Records Officer Paul Wester* began the panel with an overview of his organization’s duty to transfer records from individual government agencies to the National Archives. Wester began by discussing NARA’s duty to help determine records of lasting value and its records scheduling function. Wester also discussed NARA’s new Capstone system, which allows agencies to more easily identify records of top officials to transfer to the Archives. The talk concluded with discussion of the needs for balance between keeping few versus many records, and for seeking input from scholars to help determine that balance. These needs are most striking in his example of public concernamid the Central Intelligence Agency’s bid to implement a Capstone policy to its own records.
The next speaker, Robert E. Lee, of East View Information Services, Inc. discussed his company’s work coordinating the publication of records and special collections from foreign nations, most notably Joseph Stalin’s personal library. This type of work requires careful negotiation and rights management, but also demonstrates the opportunities available for the private sector to open access to records. Historian Derek Peterson followed Lee with a fascinating analysis of changing archival practices in Uganda, from the cover-ups of the British colonial government to the neglect (but relatively open access) of the administration of President Yoweri Museveni, who considers history to be a “distraction.” Now, thanks to Ugandan and U.S. universities and libraries, previously censored or neglected records are preserved and digitized.
The final speaker, Matthew Connelly, brought the conversation full circle with a review of problems facing the National Archives. To Connelly, NARA faces a crisis because of low morale, low funding, other agencies’ abuse of national security classification designations, and a deluge of incoming electronic records. Connelly wondered if NARA could actually acquire more government records than it already does if it pursues more technological innovation. But nothing, Connelly insists, is more important than proper funding for the agency, which lacks the resources to best execute its mandates.
The panel broached a huge number of topics but unfortunately couldn’t pursue them all fully. (I also wondered if the panel could have discussed personal digital archiving or the role of public-private partnerships.) But the four speakers each contributed to a great panel to show how historians and the public and private spheres can unite to help archivists – definitely a strong start to “History and the Other Disciplines.”

Is There a Difference Between Digital History and Digital Humanities?

Stephen Robertson is the Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.  In a recent post at his blog, he laments the fact that recent conversation about the digital humanities, particularly Adam Kirsch’s essay in the May 2014 issue of The New Republic, have failed to address digital history.  Read his entire post, but here is a taste of the part of the post in which Robertson discusses the differences between digital history and digital humanities:
So what are the differences between digital history and ‘dh’/digital literary studies? In the current landscape in the US, broadly speaking, two stand out to me. First, the collection, presentation, and dissemination of material online is a more central part of digital history. Dan and Roy’s Digital History departs from the proliferating monographs and collections about digital humanities in being focused not on defining but on creating — or more precisely, on “gathering, preserving and presenting the past on the web.” At RRCHNM, our mission is to use “digital media and technology to preserve and present history online, transform scholarship across the humanities, and advance historical education and understanding.” This focus has seen the Center create open access resources for K-12 & university teachers, build exhibits with library, archives and museums, collect born digital records, crowdsource transcription, and build open source software. As Tom Scheinfeldt has pointed out, these practices do not originate in humanities computing, the dominant origin story for digital humanities, but in oral history, folklore studies, radical history and public history. I’m not saying that the presentation of material online is not part of digital literary studies: electronic scholarly editions and manuscript collections such as The Shelley-Godwin Archive are longstanding parts of that field, but, as the current debate indicates, at present they are not its predominant focus.
Second, in regards to digital analysis, digital history has seen more work in the area of digital mapping than has digital literary studies, where text mining and topic modeling are the predominant practices. The pioneering Valley of the Shadow project used mapping to understand and compare the two counties on which it focused. The first two winners of the AHA’s Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History were mapping projects: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930 (which I created with collaborators at the University of Sydney) and Bobby Allen’s Going to the Show. Other prominent mapping projects include Visualizing EmancipationORBIS (The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World), Mapping TextsSlave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761The Roaring TwentiesPhilaPlace andMapping the Republic of Letters.
Again, that is not to say that mapping is not part of digital literary studies: Ryan Cordell’s Viral Texts is a noteworthy example. Nor is it to say that the textual analysis that predominates in digital literary studies has not been undertaken by historians. Dan Cohen and Fred Gibbs were among the first to experiment with data from Google books, and they went on to be part of the With Criminal Intent project datamining the Old Bailey trials.  Rob Nelson, in Mining the Dispatch, used topic modeling to explore the Confederacy’s paper of record during the Civil War. The next issue of the Journal of American History will feature an article by Cameron Blevins that uses computational tools to analyze the view of the world offered by a late-nineteenth century Houston newspaper (an online essay describing his methods is already available).

Digital Humanities, Information Fluency, and the Digital Harrisburg Project

Yesterday I wrote a post called “A New Kind of History Department” to explain some of the ways the digital history initiatives we have stared at Messiah College are connected to the larger vision of the Messiah College History Department.  In that post I shared some of things I talked about during a meeting with high-level Messiah College administrators and referenced my colleague David Pettegrew‘s remarks about our Digital Harrisburg Project.  

Over at the Digital Harrisburg blog, David has now shared some of the remarks he delivered in this meeting. Here is a taste:

…I was brought in to give a concrete example of the ways that the humanities can intersect with digital media to produce something of great value to both students and the broader public. I began with a Council of Independent Colleges workshop on Information Fluency that I attended two years ago in Baltimore. The team sent by our president to learn about infofluency included Dean Powers, Michael Rice, and myself. For two days, we participated in discussions about the differences between “information literacy” and “information fluency”. Like the distinction in language studies between literacy (the ability to read and write) and fluency (the ability to express one’s self well), information fluency highlights the use, employment, and production of information, rather than simply knowledge of how to access it. I reported on the workshop in this post.
My Digital History class this semester was a direct result of that workshop. Collectively, as a department, we launched a new digital initiative in our department focused on public history, which would include a digital component, and focus on Harrisburg and its environs. Rather than simply show students how to access and consume through databases, websites, and online resources, we began to think about how our students could be producers. We created two classes (Digital History and John Fea’s Pennsylvania History) to help our students become more fluent in information, contribute to the broader discussion in Digital Humanities on campus, and make a public contribution to the history and culture of Harrisburg.
I used my course in digital history as a specific example. Some of the following will sound redundant if you have been following our work at this site, but the following summary overview constitutes a kind of metadata about the project. Twelve students in my class carried out three projects centering on the historic movement of the “City Beautiful” in Harrisburg at the turn of the twentieth century. This civic movement sought to beautify and improve the city by creating new green spaces, upgrading utilities such as roads and sewage systems, and reducing the problems of sanitation and health created through frequent flooding of the Susquehanna River. Many of the impressive buildings and green spaces visible in Harrisburg today, including the Capitol Park, were a direct result of City Beautiful.
I selected City Beautiful as a viable digital initiative for two reasons. First, the movement in Harrisburg is historically significant because it was one of the earliest city beautiful programs in the nation and garnered widespread popular support. Second, the topic is relevant to current conversations about improving Harrisburg. Last year, a group of citizens in Harrisburg launchedCity Beautiful 2.0, a collaborative grass-roots movement “to address concerns of the city” by reclaiming the spirit and foundations of the original City Beautiful movement. Mayor Papenfuseeven made the promotion of City Beautiful 2.0 a short-term agenda item in his recent transition report.
In my course, students are contributing to this conversation through three projects. The first project was to create a legitimate and serious website devoted to the original City Beautiful Movement. For this project, I sent students to Dauphin County Historical Society and the PA State Archives to comb through boxes of documents, photographs, and letters related to the original movement. Students have learned best practices in digitization such as photographing, scanning, and metadata, and are collaborating as a class to create a website for displaying historical exhibits and collections. We are working on this Omeka site now, which should go live on May 6, with the final draft available May 12.
The second project, “The City Social”, was designed to put the people of Harrisburg on the map. Working from scanned copies of the United States census records in (which you can see above), students transferred information into spreadsheets in Microsoft Excel. These spreadsheets currently contain the records of 28,000 individuals living in Harrisburg in 1900 (60% of the population) and include the relevant social fields from the original census, such as race, gender, age, birthplace, and occupation. In the process, students learned how to produce data, normalize it, proofread it, and analyze it.
By importing this spreadsheet data into MS Access (above), we have created a truly powerful database that has opened up a wide range of new research questions (below). We can ask about the ethnic diversity of the city in 1900. We can ask what percentage of the Russian-born population spoke English, how many Irish worked at the iron mill, and how female literacy rates compared with male. Closer to home, we can ask about the diversity of the original neighborhood of Messiah College’s Harrisburg campus before the college moved to Grantham.
Our student also collaborated with GIS students from other courses to link the census data to a digitized map of the city in 1900. Students from Jeff Erikson’s GIS class here at Messiah completelydigitized four wards of the city in 1900. Professor Albert Sarvis’ class in Applied GIS at Harrisburg University georeferenced and geocoded a map of the city in 1900 to display the census data. When the data entry and map is complete next fall, we will be able to project and pattern the population of Harrisburg in 1900 by a wide range of criteria, such as occupation, birthplace, and race (this image below comes from the work of Professor Sarvis’ class). Finally, a student of Professor Nicole Ernst of HACC has been working with Professor Erikson on the broader City Beautiful.
Third, we created this website to act as an immediate portal for publicizing the work of these classes at different institutions. Students learned to craft polished blog entries for the web and in the process, populated the internet with interesting content about Harrisburg’s history.
I summed up by noting how well this Digital Harrisburg project intersects with current strategic initiatives and the mission of Messiah College:
1. Information Fluency and Student Learning: We’re giving our students fluency in information by having them produce it, bridging the learning gap between information and original source.
2. Undergraduate Research: We’re showing our students how the application of digital tools opens up new interdisciplinary pathways to the study of history.
3. Diversity: We’re connecting students to the region’s physical resources and a diverse urban population and context.
4. Community Engagement: We are creating digital products that will have an impact on broader public knowledge of Harrisburg’s history and culture. 
5. Collaboration: We are creating new collaborations and connections with government agencies, local historical societies, and educational institutions (such as HACC and Harrisburg University)—as well as with other departments across campus.

Digital Public Library of America Lands Large Grant

Press release from the DPLA website:

BOSTON — The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) announced today $594,000 in new funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to research potential sustainability models and to pursue the most promising option (or options). This two-year grant will allow DPLA to expand its staff to target opportunities for further development and revenue, without compromising its mission of open access to the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums.

“We deeply appreciate the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s generous support, which will help us build on DPLA’s tremendous momentum,” said DPLA Executive Director Dan Cohen. “Our ambitious coast-to-coast accumulation of openly available materials will take years to bring together and to put into educational contexts and public programs, and achieving a sustainable model will be critical to fulfilling that mission.”

The project, which will proceed in a series of phases, is designed to first comprehensively flesh out an emerging set of sustainability pathways for the young organization. In the following phases, DPLA will narrow down those options in concert with its partners and through additional technical and content work.

New positions in business development, content, and technology will help DPLA achieve this sustainable path. The opening for a Content Specialist is immediately available; other positions will be released in the near future at

Tweets from William Pannapacker Lecture at Messiah College

Here are my tweets from last night’s William Pannapacker lecture at Messiah College on digital humanities and the liberal arts.  It was an excellent introduction to the field of digital humanities.  For more tweets check out #dhmessiah on Twitter.  In fact, #dhmessiah was the hottest hashtag in the Harrisburg, PA area last night.

























Don’t forget THATCamp Harrisburg today and Saturday.  Sponsored by Messiah College and the Harrisburg University.

William Pannapacker at Messiah College

If you are in the area, stop by at Messiah College on Thursday night to hear a public lecture on the digital humanities from Hope College English professor William Pannapacker.  I first started reading Pannapacker’s essays in The Chronicle of Higher Education when he was writing under the name “Thomas Hart Benton.”  In fact, I have blogged about his work here and here and here and here and here.

Here is everything you need to know:

Join us for an exciting opportunity to hear more about the development of the Digital Humanities and their impact on education in various majors.  William Pannapacker, Professor of English and Director of the Mellon Scholars Program in Arts and Humanities at Hope College, will be visiting campus to deliver a lecture entitled “The Digital Humanities and the Future of the Liberal Arts.”

William Pannapacker is an American professor of English literature, an academic administrator, and a higher education journalist.  He is the author of Revised Lives: Walt Whitman and Nineteenth-Century Authorship, and numerous articles on American literature and culture, higher education, and the Digital Humanities.  He has been a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education since 1998, and he is a contributor to The New York Times and Slate Magazine.  He is the founding director of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Programs in the Arts and Humanities at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  According to Harvard University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, “in the world of education journalism, there are few opinion voices as potent as that of William Pannapacker.”

Pannapacker will also be speaking this weekend at THATCamp Harrisburg.  From what I understand, it is not too late to propose an “unconference” session.

Class-Sourcing as a Teaching Strategy

Gleb Tsipursky, assistant professor  at Ohio State University’s Newark Campus, has been trying out something new with the students in his history classes. Instead of assigning research papers, Tsipursky assigns class-sourcing projects where students create “publicly accessible online digital artifacts, such as wikis websites, blogs, videos, podcasts, and others.” The students work in teams to create a historically accurate database that is available to the online community.  Here is a taste of Tsipursky’s class-sourcing strategy from Inside Higher Ed:

Similar to a research paper, students conduct independent research on a specific topic they chose, analyze the information they find, and organize and communicate this data, which strengthens research, writing and critical thinking. However, online digital artifacts provide additional benefits, as they advance our ability to teach students digital literacy skills relevant to professional and civic life in the modern digital age.
The novelty of class-sourced assignments improves student engagement, which enhances comprehension of course content. Additionally, the publicly accessible nature of the online projects, and students’ knowledge that they will be used to teach subsequent classes, results in improved academic performance. Finally, students working in teams on these assignments strengthened teamwork and collaboration abilities.

Thanks to Megan Piette for contributing this post.

THATCamp Harrisburg: Oct 25-26, 2013

I am happy to announce that Messiah College and Harrisburg University of Science and Technology are teaming up to host THATCamp Harrisburg on October 25 and 26.  Head over to the event website to learn more about THATCamps, unconferences, and the digital humanities.  You can also find a call for participation, information about travel and lodging, and registration information.

See you in Harrisburg on October 25-26!

Digital Humanities at Small Colleges

Over at ProfHacker, Adeline Koh of Richard Stockton College has started a conversation about how the digital humanities can be done outside the research university.  This is something that we wrestle with on a daily basis at Messiah College under the leadership of our Dean of Humanities, Peter Powers.

In the History Department, starting in Spring 2014, we will be offering a course on “Digital History.”  The course is part of our new and improved Public History concentration, but it will be open to the entire student population.  I know other things are in the works as well, including a collaborative project with nearby Harrisburg University.

Koh gets the conversation started with a few important questions:

  • What is the state of the digital humanities outside of the research university?
  • How do you “do” the digital humanities with limited resources? 
  • Have you brought digital humanities methods into your teaching and service activities?
  • Do you work together with other institutions to pool resources?
  • What suggestions can you offer to those wanting to enter the field who work in small liberal arts colleges, master’s level institutions and community colleges?

Tweets From the Philly DH Conference

Here are some of my tweets from Tuesday’s Philly’s DH conference. Here is my summary of the event:

Edson: Archives, museums, and libraries are important, but we need technology, not more rooms full of stuff
Edson begins talk with a 10-minute poem called “Jack the Museum” Will this poem be put online at some point?  (Yes).
Edson: We forged our dreams in simpler times when bigger collections, staffs, and buildings defined the field. We need new dreams
Keynote Address at : Michael Edson, director of web and new media at the Smithsonian. Talk is titled “The Age of Scale”
Lightning Round is about to begin. Contestants have 2 minutes to pitch a DH idea. A gong is present to stop long-winded DHers
Learning how to use Omeka at
Messiah College academic dean Pete Powers gets a shout-out at for his work on DH collaboration!!
Possibility of bringing small liberal arts colleges together in a Philly-area consortium with Haverford-Swarth-Bryn Mawr as model
Settling in for unconference session on DH at small liberal arts colleges
Great discussion on digitized records. Do historians want digitized transcriptions (that are searchable) or scanned originals?
Princeton archivist: Users can take photos for their own research and then agree to download for public use online
Session focused on “demand side” of archive research. Users rather than archivists.
At session on “Workflows for Archival Research.” Maybe I can be convinced to change my old school archival research practices.
Brianna LaCasse: Students should try to start a grassroots movement to get the administration to support digital initiatives
Your writing voice often follows you in a way that your speaking voice does not. Be cautious about posting student papers/videos.
Students are unaware of possibilities in DH. Do not understand how it will benefit them on the job market in a variety of fields
Should digital media labs be prioritized to the same degree as writing centers or tutoring centers?
Smaller institutions should advocate for a centralized digital media lab where people can go for help with digital tools.
If students do most of their writing on Facebook, we can teach them to make evidence-based arguments on FB.
Should colleges have “technology literacy” requirements. or a required gen-ed course of this nature?
In order for blogs to work in your classroom you need to grade it and hold students accountable.
Some faculty members, especially older ones, have no interest in DH. Must move forward with those who ARE interested
Sitting in on an “unconference” session on digital humanities and the undergraduate curriculum
Wow! Did not know you could do so much with WordPress. May need to finally leave Blogger!