Philly DH

Van Pelt Library at Penn

I am heading into Philadelphia (again) this morning for the Philly DH unconference at Penn.  I am hoping to learn some things that will improve the quality of what we do here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and gain some knowledge of digital history that might be put to use in the revamped public history program at Messiah College.  Stay tuned.  I will try to tweet the conference.  You can follow along at @johnfea1.

The American Revolution Reborn and Philly DH

I just registered for two free conferences at the University of Pennsylvania.

The first conference, The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century, is sponsored by American Philosophical Society, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and the Museum of the American Revolution.  It will be held throughout Philadelphia from May 30 to June 1.  Here is the overview:

The conference aims to identify new directions and new trends in scholarship on the American Revolution.  The conference organizers expect that it will be the first in a series of conferences exploring important themes on the era of the American Revolution.  The four themes that will guide the first conference are Global Perspectives, Power, Violence, and Civil War.

The format of the conference will differ from most academic conferences.  Instead of privileging papers, the conference organizers have created a program that aims to foster conversation between panelists and the audience with the hope that this dialogue will point toward the new directions in scholarship that the conference hopes to catalyze.  For that reason, we encourage all scholars interested in the era of the American Revolution to attend.  We expect the audience to be as much a part of the conference as the panelists..

Instead of reading papers, panelists will pre-circulate short papers (10 pages).  In the papers sessions, panelists will have just eight minutes to present their work, leaving the larger part of each papers session for discussion with the audience.  After each papers session, a commentary session will follow.  A group of eminent scholars will continue the conversation, reflecting on the papers and on what was said.  In addition, the conference has ample time for participants to talk casually with one another between sessions and at lunch and dinner each day.  The conference will “happen” outside the sessions as much as in them. 

The lineup of speakers is star-studded.  It includes:  Edward Gray, Jane Kamensky, Aaron Fogleman, Ned Landsman, Linda Colley, Ed Countryman, Christine Heyrman, Marjoleine Kars, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Marcus Rediker, Peter Thompson, Annette Gordon-Reed, David Shields, Thomas Slaughter, and Alan Taylor.

This is probably one of the best conferences on the American Revolution ever assembled.  You really need to be there.

The second conference, Philly DH@Penn, is a one day introduction to the digital humanities.  It includes workshops on creating video, encoding for beginners, open access images, WordPress, 101, and social media tech tools.  This sounds like an ideal conference for folks who want to learn something about the digital humanities but are not yet ready for a THATCamp

See you in Philly.  I will probably be tweeting and blogging from both events.

Geneva College Digital History

Greg Jones and his digital history course at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA has put together a nice digital archive related to the history of the college.  This course and website serves as a nice model for introducing the digital humanities in a small college setting.

Here is  description of the project:

The Geneva College Digital Archive is part of a semester-long course at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA.  The staff of the project includes seven undergraduate students and one facilitating instructor.  Utilizing local primary sources, the group organized an archive of the 1920s that serves as a functioning research archive for higher education, college sports, western Pennsylvania history, and the 1920s in the broadest sense.

The course design is a part of an emerging applied history pedagogy intended to give students hands-on experience in the field of history, while also providing a service to the local Geneva community.

To contact us please email:

McLemee: The Digital Public Library of America Has More Work to Do

Last week we did a few posts on the launching of the Digital Public Library of America.  This is an incredible resource that provides books, images, historic records, and audiovisual materials to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection.  I highly recommend heading over to the site and poking around a bit.

All of the initial reviews of the DPLA have been glowing, but Scott McLemee, writing at Inside Higher Ed, thinks the site needs some more work. Here is a taste of his piece:

The library’s potential for assembling and integrating an incredible range of documents and knowledge is almost unimaginable. Excitement seems appropriate. But in describing my own impressions of DPLA, I want to be a little more qualified about the enthusiasm it inspires. Things are not nearly as far along as some comments have implied. This isn’t just naysaying. The site is currently in its beta version, and many of my points will probably be nullified in due course. But it’s better to be aware of some of the limitations beforehand than to visit the site expecting a digital Library of Alexandria…


…Continued thumbing through the catalog demonstrated how early a stage DPLA is in accumulating its collection – and how much fine-tuning its search engine may need.
Entering “Benjamin Franklin,” you get more than 1,400 results. Out of the first 30, all but 3 are documents (usually death certificates) for people named after the inventor and statesman. A toolbar on the left allows the user to refine the search in various ways – but the most useful filter, by subject, is at the very bottom and easy to overlook.

It was encouraging to get 17 results when searching for Phyllis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet, but 15 of them led to records from the 1940 census, by which point she had been dead the better part of 150 years. Only one of the other two was at all germane to her as historical figure. The other concerned an Atlanta branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association named in her honor.

More on the Digital Public Library of America

Over at The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen interviews Dan Cohen, the new director of the Digital Public Library of America. (You may recall our recent post on the opening of the DPLA).

Here is a taste of the interview:

What is the Digital Public Library of America? What do you hope it will become? 

The idea behind the Digital Public Library of America is fairly simple actually — it is the attempt, really a large-scale attempt, to knit together America’s archives, libraries, and museums, which have a tremendous amount of content — all forms of human expression, from images and photographs, to artwork, to published material and unpublished material, like archival and special collections. We want to bring that all together in one place.

One big part of the DPLA will be its brand-new website, DP.LA — a nice, short URL. It works great on mobile phones too. It’s a modern, responsive website.

But also, by bringing them together, I think we’re also in a sense making those collections much more usable. When people come to the website, first of all, they’ll be able to find a lot of content that exists out in smaller archives and collections much more easily. They won’t have to go to hundreds or thousands of websites to find this amazing, unique scanned content from America’s heritage and, indeed, from the world’s — because we have people from all over the world here, and archival content from all over the world.

So there will be a real element of discovery — both directed discovery and also coming across new things through serendipity, things you might not encounter otherwise.

There will also be very innovative ways to search and scan across these collections. For the first time users will be able to actually browse an archive’s collections using a map. We’re using Open Street Map and people will be able to zoom into particular localities and see what any collection might have about that particular locality — whether it’s a big collection like the Smithsonian or the National Archives or a very small county historical society. 

Read the rest here.

I spent some time at the DPLA and found it to be very user friendly.  I found some documents from the New York Public Library collection that I did not know existed, although the link to the images kept taking me to a library web page about the collection, rather than the actual scanned image of the document.  I also found some really cool images that might be useful for the Greenwich Tea Burning project

I know I will be spending a lot of time at the DPLA in the future.  The option to save items and searches will be particularly useful once I start to dig more deeply into the collections.

The Digital Public Library of America

It launched about an hour ago.

Jonathan Wilson tells us more.  Here is a taste of his post at The Junto:

At noon Eastern today, the Digital Public Library of America will launch a beta version of its “discovery portal,”  allowing visitors to search through materials at a wide array of participating institutions.

This is the product of more than two years of work, managed by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society but involving representatives from dozens of other scholarly organizations (and funded by the Sloan Foundation, the Arcadia Fund, the NEH, the Mellon Foundation, and the Soros Foundation).

The DPLA relies on other organizations for more than support; for the time being, at least, it supports their digitization projects more than the other way around. The DPLA is not a factory or storehouse for scanned books and images, but a guide to collections maintained elsewhere. And the disgraceful snarl of American copyright law still impedes efforts to make even classic works produced by long-dead authors available freely to the public. Furthermore, libraries and publishers have reason to be concerned about their survival prospects in this age of ephemeral text. So the future of the DPLA as a public alternative to private control of the cultural commons is uncertain.

When I get some time I will poke around at the DPLA and perhaps do a post or two about it.  I think this is going to be an incredible resource.

It’s History Harvest Blitz Week

I have been singing the praises of History Harvests for a few months now and would still like to try one at Messiah College in Spring 2014 in conjunction with my new Pennsylvania History course.  This week the good folks at the University of Nebraska History Department are sponsoring “History Harvest Blitz Week.”

Back in February we did a post on the Blitz Week.  I still want to try to get in on the NITLE seminar on History Harvests, so if anyone knows if it is possible to join the webinar without holding membership in NITLE I would love to hear from you.

If I can’t get into the webinar, I am going to try to head over the History Harvest Google hangout tomorrow afternoon at 4pm.  I hope to see you there.

NEH Digital Humanities Start-Up Grants

The Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities have announced 23 awards from its Digital Humanities Start-Up Grant program.  Here are a couple of them that caught my eye:

Indiana University, Bloomington — Bloomington, IN
HD 51642, Representing Early Black Film Artifacts as Material Evidence in Digital Contexts
Brian Graney, Project Director
Outright: $26,400
To support: A scholarly workshop and follow up activities that will bring together film studies scholars, moving image archivists, and library professionals to consider how digitization of early motion picture film might be improved to better capture the physical attributes of the film print.  The workshop would focus on early twentieth century films made for African American audiences.

Northeastern University — Boston, MA
HD 51728, Uncovering Reprinting Networks in Nineteenth Century American Newspapers
Ryan Cordell, Project Director
Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Project Director
David Smith, Project Director
Outright: $59,805
To support: The development of models, using tools from computational linguistics, to help track the spread of prints and reprints of poetry and short stories throughout 19th centry newspapers, using the sources found in the Chronicling America database of digitized newspapers.

Digital Humanities: The Next Generation

This looks like a great two-day conference.  If you are not in Gettysburg for the Future of Civil War History conference, and you happen to be in the Boston area, you should head over to Simmons College and take in some of these sessions.

Way of Improvement Leads Home reader Lincoln Mullen will be on a panel titled “Digital Humanities Methods in the Traditional Dissertation.”  There will also be a session on “Digital Humanities and History” featuring Ondine LeBlanc of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Kathryn Tomasek of Wheaton College.

Read the entire program here.

National Archives To Donate 1.2 Million Digital Objects to Digital Public Library of America

National Archives

Last week we did a post on Dan Cohen‘s move from the Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), where he will serve as Executive Director.

Yesterday it was announced that the National Archives will donate 1.2 million digital objects–from founding documents to World War II Posters–to the DPLA’s first project at the Boston Public Library.  Here is a taste of the press release:

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that the National Archives, as a leading content provider to the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), will help launch its first pilot project.

The DPLA is a large-scale, collaborative project across government, research institutions, museums, libraries and archives to build a digital library platform to make America’s cultural and scientific history free and publicly available anytime, anywhere, online through a single access point. 

The DPLA is working with several large digital content providers – including the National Archives and Harvard University – to share digitized content from their online catalogs for the project’s two-year Digital Hubs Pilot Project.  This pilot project is scheduled to launch on April 18-19, 2013 at the Boston Public Library, which will host an array of festivities, including presentations and interactive exhibits showcasing content from the DPLA’s content partners.  The DPLA will include 1.2 million digital copies from the National Archives catalog, including our nation’s founding documents, photos from the Documerica Photography Project of the 1970’s, World War II posters, Mathew Brady Civil War photographs, and documents that define our human and civil rights. 

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said: “I am proud of the work done collaboratively by the National Archives and participating institutions to make the vision of the Digital Public Library of America a reality. The ability to seamlessly search across the collections of major cultural, historical, and research institutions improves democracy through education, and furthers the principles of Open Government.” 

“One of the distinctive features of the DPLA is that it has developed as a true public-private partnership,” said John Palfrey, chair of the DPLA Board of Directors.  “The active and engaged support of the Archivist of the United States and the National Archives as an institution has been a crucial building block in a truly national platform for libraries and digital materials.  We are deeply fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Mr. Ferriero and his team and excited about this announcement today.” 

The Digital Public Library of America is taking the first concrete steps toward the realization of a large-scale digital public library that will make the cultural and scientific record available to all. This impact-oriented research effort unites the leaders from all types of libraries, museums, and archives with educators, industry, and government to define the vision for a digital library in service of the American public.  More information is online at

Dan Cohen Leaving George Mason for the Digital Library of America

Dan Cohen

Dan Cohen, currently the Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is leaving his post at George Mason University to become the Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America

Here is a taste of the press release from the Digital Public Library of America:

Cambridge, MA—The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) announced today the appointment of Dan Cohen as the DPLA’s founding Executive Director.  Cohen, currently a tenured professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University and the Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, brings to the DPLA more than a decade of experience in digital humanities and a deep commitment to the future of libraries, archives, and museums.  Cohen will begin his tenure on April 18, 2013.

“Dan Cohen’s appointment is exceptionally good news for the future of the DPLA,” said John Palfrey, President of the DPLA Board of Directors. “Dan’s contributions to the field of digital humanities and to libraries are already extraordinary.  He has led major open source development projects, helped to digitize important works of culture, supported teachers and students in accessing fantastic digital materials, and written about the importance of libraries, archives, and museums in a digital age.  We are very fortunate that he has agreed to lead the DPLA as the founding executive director.”

As the Executive Director, Cohen will work to further the DPLA’s mission to make the cultural and scientific heritage of humanity available, free of charge, to all.  He will manage the day-to-day operations of the new organization, will serve as the DPLA’s spokesperson, and will advocate for partners within and outside the larger DPLA community, among a range of other critical duties.

“I am so honored to be entrusted with leading the team that will take the next steps in making the wonderful idea of the Digital Public Library of America a reality,” said Cohen. “The notion of a large-scale open digital library for all, which will connect everyone to the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums, is profoundly important. I am deeply thankful for the hard work and tremendous vision of the DPLA’s Secretariat, Steering Committee, and Board of Directors, Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the thousands of Americans who have participated in the DPLA’s planning process. I look forward to building upon this incredible foundation, and to partnering with people and institutions across the country to build a new library for the twenty-first century.” 

Congratulations, Dan.

Pannapacker: How to Get Liberal-Arts Colleges to Embrace Digital Humanities

Writing at The Chronicle of Higher Education (his usual venue), William Pannapacker offers ten strategies “to help liberal-arts colleges join the digital humanities movement.  Read his entire piece here.  I have listed his points below:

1.  “Stop calling it ‘digital humanities.'”

2.  “Show how digital humanities supports the liberal arts.”

3.  “Build a support network with like-minded colleagues.”

4. “Integrate digital humanities into the curriculum.”

5.  “Show how digital techniques support faculty research.”

6.  “Celebrate the accomplishments of students and colleagues.”

7. “Seek support of the higher-ups.”

8.  “Invest in faculty and staff development.”

9.  “Seek external partnerships.”

10.  “Strive to be a “servant leader.”

What Digital Skills Should You Develop in Graduate School?

Ashley Wiersma, a doctoral candidate in history at Michigan State, offers a few suggestions at Inside Higher Ed.  They are:

1.  Social Media:  Learn how to brand yourself

2.  Learn how to use a bibliographic file management system such as Zotero or EndNote

3. Explore digital research skills and digital workflows

4.  Learn a programming language such as html

5.  Consider attending a digital humanities institute or a THAT Camp.

See how Wiersma expands her thoughts on these points by reading her entire piece.

Some Technology in Education Articles You May Have Missed

These are hilarious.  Thanks Kerry Soper.

Here are a few of my favorites:

“Department chair supports ‘digital humanities’ without knowing exactly what it is”

“Widely published senior colleague still unable to detect Nigerian e-mail scams without help of college IT guy”

“Middle-aged history professor gets Twitter account; makes one tweet before losing login information”

“Full professor reprimanded a third time by Wikipedia administrators for attempting to create an entry on himself”

Ed Ayers on the Digital Humanities, MOOCs, and Technology in Higher Education

When Ed Ayers has something to say about the digital humanities I tend to listen–attentively.  Today the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a piece by Ayers titled “A More Radical Online Revolution.”  He introduces his readers to the “History Harvest” project at the University of Nebraska and the “Visualizing Emancipation” project at his own University of Richmond (Ayers is the president).  In the process he makes a compelling argument for the role that digital history might play in the entire MOOC, online learning, and technology conversation.

Here is a taste of his piece:

Ironically, the advocates and skeptics of online teaching might find common ground by thinking more boldly, beyond the terms of the current debate. The skeptics might ask whether the new technologies cannot offer useful amplification to our scholarly work of discovery; the advocates of the new technologies need to think more directly about how to reach broad audiences while also fostering meaningful conversations across the disciplines and bridging a division between teaching and scholarship.

Two crucial parts of higher education that have received little attention in the debates thus far—the humanities and the creation of new knowledge—can help advance those conversations.

A deeper engagement with the methods and purposes of the humanities is essential for any online enterprise that claims to offer a university education. Though humanities courses appear on some of the listings from the new consortia, and though some courses have proved extremely popular, much of the attention devoted to MOOCs focuses on the procedural, cumulative methods of teaching of computer science, statistics, and the basic sciences. The humanities, by contrast, flourish with different ways of thinking and teaching, more ambiguous, open-ended, and interpretive.

Whatever the discipline, the new online world must find ways to help create new knowledge. Online education cannot run indefinitely, as it does now, on borrowed intellectual capital, disseminating what we already know. Higher education takes its energy, its purpose, from a charged circuit between teaching and research, between sharing knowledge and making knowledge. New forms of teaching must be able to generate new ideas.

Scholarship expressly built for electronic environments has been slow to develop. Perhaps surprisingly, given how slow online teaching methods have been to adapt to the humanities, those disciplines are in the forefront of developing this new kind of scholarship. The digital humanities are growing rapidly, establishing centers at many institutions, hiring professors and researchers, sustaining rich conversations online and in national and international conferences. Indeed, the digital humanities can serve as a model for other disciplines, and for the larger online enterprise.

Will the Digital Humanities Bubble Burst?

William Pannapacker discusses the dominant role that digital humanities played at the recent meeting of the Modern Language Association (MLA).  In this piece at “The Conversation” blog of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Pannapacker discusses the “dark side” of digital humanities and wonders if the field has reached “the top of its growth curve.”  He writes: “there seems to be a growing backlash against DH, right on schedule.”  Here is an additional taste:

One MLA panel yesterday expounded on “The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities.” Like all the DH sessions I’ve attended this year, it was packed. Amid the surge of Twitter conversations (like drinking from a bundle of firehoses), I was able to absorb some points in the larger bill of indictment: That DH is insufficiently diverse. That it falsely presents itself as a fast-track to academic jobs (when most of the positions are funded on soft money). That it suffers from “techno-utopianism” and “claims to be the solution for every problem.”  That DH is “a blind and vapid embrace of the digital”; it insists upon coding and gamification to the exclusion of more humanistic practices.  That it detaches itself from the rest of the humanities (regarding itself as not just “the next big thing,” but “the only thing”).  That it allows everyone else in the humanities to sink as long as the DH’ers stay afloat. That DH is complicit with the neoliberal transformation of higher education; it “capitulates to bureaucratic and technocratic logic”; and its strongest support comes from administrators who see DH’ers as successful fundraisers and allies in the “creative destruction” of humanities education. And—most damning—that DH’ers are affiliated with a specter that is haunting the humanities—the specter of MOOCs.

In short, DH is an opportunistic, instrumentalist, mechanized response to the economic crisis—it represents “the dark side of capitalism”—and, as such, it is the enemy of good, organic humanists everywhere: cue the “Imperial March” from Star Wars.

The reaction of the DH’ers in the audience was captured immediately by Amanda French, “I didn’t recognize the digital humanities in what the panel was discussing.”  Just after the session, Ryan Cordell told me, “There were so many horrible mischaracterizations that I had trouble attending to the valid critiques.”

Many DH’ers were baffled especially by the conflation of the digital humanities and MOOCs. At the Q&A, French said, “I don’t know a single digital humanist who likes MOOCs.” In the Presidential Forum on DH that followed, Cathy Davidson said that the popularity of MOOCs with administrators—and unpopularity with DH’ers—is that MOOCs are the least disruptive to methods of education that were devised during the industrial revolution.  We need to see the “liberal arts as a startup curriculum for resilient global citizenship,” Davidson said, and—while it is not perfect, given the ongoing challenges of access and inclusion—“the digital humanities is the only field in the humanities that takes that project seriously.”

Resolutions for Teaching Digital History

If all goes as planned, the Messiah College History Department will offer a course in digital history next Spring.  It will be our first venture into the world of digital humanities and we are excited about the possibilities.  My colleague David Pettegrew is putting together a syllabus for the class as I type.

To help us along the way, I have sent David a link to Caleb McDaniel’s talk on teaching digital history, presented last weekend at the annual meeting of the American historical association in  New Orleans.  The talk was part of panel on teaching digital history methods to history graduate students, but I think many of his suggestions are relevant for undergraduate courses as well.

Here is a taste:

Instead of expertise, what I want to offer—in the spirit of the New Year—are several resolutions I’ve made about teaching digital history with some thoughts-in-progress about how it’s gone so far.

My first resolution: I resolve to share with students my own reasons for interest in digital history. My masterclass began, as many classes do, with my asking students why they were taking the class; but it also started with my telling them why I was teaching it. In my case, I started to become interested in digital history when I realized that I was already a digital historian whether I wanted to be or not—that is, when I realized that I rely heavily for my work on digital databases and digital tools whose workings I needed to better understand. In your case, you may feel a professional obligation to talk about digital skills given that an increasing number of job ads mention them and an increasing number of careers require them. But whatever your reasons for being here might be, you can resolve to be open with students about them. I’ve found that this simple step is not a bad way to get quickly into some of the debates at the center of the digital humanities.

My second resolution: I resolve to encourage students to build an online presence. In both of my graduate seminars, students create blogs in which they write about course readings and projects, and many students also join Twitter. This has two important effects. First, it extends our classroom by connecting students with practicing digital historians at other institutions who are more expert than I. Second, the practice of running a simple blog or website and playing around with it—changing themes, installing WordPress plugins, tweaking CSS and HTML—can be a good preparation for learning about more complex digital history tools and encourage more reflective use of things like search engines and databases.

Third, I resolve to assign some digital history projects and articles as part of the reading for my courses. Even if students in a particular course do not make a digital project, they can learn how to examine and evaluate articles and websites that do make extensive use of digital methods. So, for example, in my methods in social and cultural history course, placing a couple of articles that do rudimentary text mining on the syllabus exposes students to such work and again encourages reflection on the way they themselves use keyword searching or databases like Google Books.

My fourth resolution: I resolve to learn from graduate students and colleagues from outside my department. I have to say that I’ve learned a ton just from reading the tutorials and blogs of graduate students in classes like the one Fred Gibbs teaches at George Mason. I consider blogging graduate students like Cameron Blevins, Jeri Wieringa, and Benjamin Schmidt my digital hisory teachers. And at my own institution, many students and staff members have more expertise on GIS software or web server administration than I. Training others in these methods requires being trained, and a willingness—as Stephen Ramsay once put it—to sometimes be “the dumbest person in the room.”

And finally, I resolve to be open with students about my own research and learning process. If students are often reluctant to try new things and fail, who can blame them if we are too? That’s why, when I recently used part of a leave to learn some computer programming skills, I blogged about the experience for my masterclass. It’s also why, in my methods course, I shared with students the history of my first article, from outline to seminar paper to publication. I not only gave them access to every rough draft of the paper that I wrote, but also showed them reader’s reports (both from the first, rejected submission and the second, accepted one) and the methods I used to keep my research notes along the way. This meant, of course, talking with them about dead ends, false starts, and things I wish I had known then about organizing notes or keeping citations.