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[…] In their efforts to “openly share information about our experience in building a born-digital edited volume to benefit […] others who are experimenting with new forms of scholarly communication,” the editors of this volume, Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, have made their progress report to the press available online. […]
[…] The collection, a born-digital, openly reviewed volume of essays about the interactions between the discipline of history and new digital tools for research and teaching, is currently available at http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu. Co-editors Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki discuss the official publication announcement in more detail here. […]
[…] Jack Dougherty, Kristen Nawrotzki, Charlotte Rochez, and Timothy Burke, “Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age,” [Spring 2012] in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. Forthcoming from the University of Michigan Press. Trinity College (CT) web-book edition, Spring 2012,http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/conclusions-2012-spring/ […]
[…] Have you ever tried to coordinate responses to copyediting for an edited volume with over 30 collaborators during the last four weeks of the semester? Thanks to our wonderful contributors and colleagues at the University of Michigan Press, we survived this process. Perhaps it’s worth sharing how we did it with free PDF annotation tools and a shared network folder (in our case, the free Dropbox.com service). Managing all of our copyediting this way allowed us to divide the labor, share the most up-to-date versions with our many contributors to comment on, and keep track of our work without driving ourselves crazy. Read more at http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/evolution/copyediting/ […]
[…] aunque con capacidad limitada para enviar comentarios). Como se describe en nuestra “Política Editorial y de Propiedad Intelectual“, todos los contribuyentes aceptan distribuir el contenido de sus ensayos bajo la […]
[…] Our first attempt at digital publishing on the theme of historians and technology was a comment-enabled website accompanying a (US) History of Education Society conference panel in the autumn of 2010. Immediately afterward, inspired by new forms of digital publication being pioneered by colleagues across the humanities, we drew up plans to publish our own web-book, an edited volume of essays powered by WordPress on a server operated by Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. We sought to partner with a university press whose imprimatur might satisfy the status concerns of potential contributors (not to mention their employers). The University of Michigan Press, an innovator in the field of academic publishing and the digital humanities, was our first choice, and after half a year of back-and-forth communication, we were pleased indeed when they offered us an advance contract. […]
[…] some analysis that’s already out there, I recommend Jack et al’s recent post “Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age.” There’s also a cluster of essays at the Postmedieval Forum on “The State(s) of […]
[…] as noted in Jack Dougherty, Kristen Nawrotzki, Charlotte Rochez, and Timothy Burke’s “Conclusions: What We Learned from Writing History in the Digital Age.” “Historians are,” they rightly note, “a skeptical breed.” This can be […]
[…] Wednesday, May 8th, 2013 by Jack Dougherty Permalink for this paragraph 0 Have you ever tried to coordinate responses to copyediting for an edited volume with over 30 collaborators during the last four weeks of the semester? Thanks to our wonderful contributors and colleagues at the University of Michigan Press, we survived this process. Perhaps it’s worth sharing how we did it with free PDF annotation tools and a shared network folder (in our case, the free Dropbox.com service). Managing all of our copyediting this way allowed us to divide the labor, share the most up-to-date versions with our many contributors to comment on, and keep track of our work without driving ourselves crazy. Read more at http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/evolution/copyediting/ […]
[…] Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 by Kristen Nawrotzki Permalink for this paragraph 0 … In view of the queries we continue to receive from other scholars keen to experiment in similar ways with born-digital, open-access, and/or open peer reviewed scholarly publishing, we’ve put together a list of points to consider. View and comment on them here. […]
[…] Author Amanda Seligman’s comment about her own review process offers an earnest and introspective example: […]
First to be clear, I am not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I qualified to speak directly to issues related to public health from a place of authority. That being said, I am a conscious citizen of the world interested in issues concerning disaster preparedness and what history can teach us about such efforts. I was initially drawn to this essay, because the Epidemic of 1918 appears in the novel One of Ours by Willa Cather, which is a focus in my current studies. I thought perhaps the database might incorporate artistic renderings of the epidemic as part of their project. While this does not appear to be the case, the narrative and interpretive sections are attempting to present a diverse and representative historical perspective; the project still remains very collaborative. Instead, I found myself thinking more about the AIE in its relationship to public health. I wondered how a historical rendering of this disaster could provide a narrative that would inform communities on issues of public health and disaster preparedness. Due to my combination of interests in this articles’ subject matter and the authors stated intent—to create not only materials related to this important episode in United States medical history, but also to build a “pioneering digital database that will inspire other scholars to share their research in a similar manner, making it accessible to a larger audience”—it seems that maybe my concept of this project would be useful as a person interested in the topics presented, but not well versed in either fields.
As federal dollars continue to be doled out to preparedness programs, despite budgetary cuts in other areas of research, a platform such as The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918: A Digital Encyclopedia (AIE) could stand to have a formative impact on continued and additional funding to the research efforts in the realm of history. It was interesting to see this type of archival research that is intended, not to be insular only for academic or scholarly uses, but also hopes to reach the public sphere in terms of health related issues. This led me to think about how collaboration, which is often a large part of digital projects brings relevancy to work that, although actively pursued by a few, can now be accessed and used by communities. Although I acknowledge that the concept probably goes outside of the confines of the projects current scope, but digital projects such as the AIE certainly have the potential to grow in that way. Of course, a data base like the AIE has multiple functions, and it is conceivable how fruitful using such a data base might be for scientists studying viruses to be able to contextualize the variables outside of the actual virus through having immediate access the historical factors. In a way, digital projects allow for our very specialized fields to be put in conversation with one another—to reflect on the mutual impact. Along this same line of thought, it is conceivable that such conversations open additional opportunities, not only for collaboration, but also for a sort of meta analysis on how integrating a wider range of fields into direct contact on a digital plane also changes the way we converse. Clearly bringing these fields together not only fleshes out the entire subject, such as it the case with the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, but the digital form does something to the conversation that is more than just a form.
The value of viewing history outside of printed and often linear narrative and outside the parameters of a museum where historical objects occupy physical space, also directs the conversation in a way. While it is true that providing access to the range of resources in a collaborative retelling of the events for a specific purpose, as the author states in the first paragraph “can aid to discovery”, it is also true the the digital landscape is its own part of the narrative.
In this way, I couldn’t help but wonder how this new viewing through a digital medium that is collaborative by its very nature, also is shifting both the interpretation and narrative crafted along with it. I know some would say the entire archive or body of work is it’s own narrative of sorts. But my question lingers around telling. What do you write, when a picture hangs above the text? What do you chose not to say because a hyperlinked footnote will suffice to say it? Of course, books too have pictures and footnotes, but we don’t read them in the same way. Viewing narratives is different than reading them from text, taking in images and the responsiveness of links is more tactile, although that is almost difficult to write because it is virtually tactile, not actually tactile. It appeals to different senses. Does the interpretation also follow suit? The immediacy of an image alongside historical text is, I’m sure, nothing new, but the AIE is promising to be more than just photo’s placed neatly next to historical prose.
The AIE, in some ways is seeking to offer its audience an experience—the experience of a virtual collection. Where the archive is shared and able to reach more people. I know that the prose of this article are not suggesting the type of analysis that I have concentrated on, but what I am suggesting is that the very form of the database suggests such an analysis. That alongside the content, which gives focus and purpose to the collaboration, there also could be reflection on the form. The digital formats of such projects, which make it possible to do the work, as the author acknowledges that otherwise the cost would have been to prohibitive, and as such, the form in and of itself can provide valuable insight into the collaborative process and the conversation between each specific field.
These 5 comments previously appeared on Part 2: The Wisdom of Crowds(ourcing), but were moved to General Comments by the editors in order to preserve the original URL when the section introduction was revised for the Spring 2012 version.
October 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm
I wonder if the framing question is a little too stark. There are other possibilities, aren’t there, in between (or apart from) “irreparable damage” and “necessary challenge”? While certain of the essays here show ‘the crowd’ and ‘academics’ to be in an agonistic relationship, most seem to show them usefully complementing each other (e.g. Sikarskie) or learning from each other’s differences (Graham et al.).
October 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm
“from documented editing debates over Civil War history” I am not sure what this means – debates that have been edited or editors debating?
November 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm
I agree with Christopher Hager, who questions the starkness of the dichotomy drawn by the editors between democratized knowledge as “irreparable damage” or “necessary challenge.” It makes for a provocative intro, but don’t think the more nuanced essays in this section bear that reading out!
November 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm
I’d really suggest avoiding the diminishment of “and his student co-authors” for a collaboratively-written piece. I think you should either use all the authors’ names or stick with “Graham et al.”
November 27, 2011 at 6:37 pm
I agree — this should be Graham et al. (As an aside I think it is an inadvertent but telling reflection of who we all see as “real authors” in the historical profession. Does digital history become the venue in which we as professional historians re-consider the hierarchies of authorship that we often employ? For example, does or should the appellation “independent scholar” matter? Should we be more willing to treat students — grad or undergrad — as co-authors? Food for thought.)
Similarly, these 2 comments previously appeared on Part 3: Practice What You Teach, but were moved to General Comments by the editors in order to preserve the original URL when the section introduction was revised for the Spring 2012 version.
November 26, 2011 at 11:18 am
Because this section is largely a great sea of Wikipedia pedagogy and critique, I’d suggest that the editors consider better framing the discussion by placing the very solid and contextually-rich Harbison/Waltzer essay first
September 28, 2011 at 9:31 am
I’m looking forward to seeing it all up!
Katherine, this is a great question. By my reading of our advance contract, the Press reserves the right to produce an e-reader version of the final product, but would not obligated to do so. Still, it seems relatively straightforward for the Press (or anyone) to create an e-reader version of the text with our Creative Commons licensing using Sigil, as Mills Kelly and Mark Sample recently discussed regarding Hacking The Academy, a related work from the Press.
Stephen, thanks for your response to Davarian’s comment, and as a reader who’s interested in learning more about your scholarship, I’d like to know which of your publications you specifically recommend regarding the issues mentioned above. Your essay, “Putting Harlem on the Map,” includes citations to works by you and your co-authors in your Playing the Numbers book, the Journal of Urban History, the Journal of Social History, and the Digital Harlem blog.
Also, you’re absolutely correct that comments specific to one essay are best discussed on that particular page. So if you wish to respond by linking readers from this thread back to your essay, please feel free to do so.
Hilary, I moved your suggestion about teaching writing to our growing list, so that you and others may expand on it there. See topic #11.
This is an interesting question, Hilary. We struggled with how to frame this edited volume, and decided that its core focus should be “writing history,” broadly defined. We would be delighted to see essays such as how we teach historical writing, or ways of engaging students in close readings/commentary on historical writing in the digital age. Of course, you and others may suggest other topics on this pedagogical theme. The best way to see what “fits” is to show us your idea here, and read what others think.
Thanks for this suggestion, Adrea, which I moved to the main list (see topic #12), so that you and others may expand on it there.
Interesting topic, Jeff, which I’m moving onto the discussion list as topic #13 for further discussion.
Essays on this topic would be particularly insightful if they were co-authored, or coordinated individual pieces, by the “multiple creators” of a work of digital scholarship. [Comment reposted here by editor.]
We’d also like to hear more. Please forward our “call for ideas & essays” as widely as possible, and personally invite people whose perspectives have not been included in this conversation.
Natalia, I agree that this is an important topic, and as an historian I’ve learned a great deal about digital pedagogy & scholarship from working more closely with librarians. But can you help us frame this topic that gets back to the core topic of “writing history”? Maybe something like: How can historians and librarians work together to enhance historical thinking/writing skills among our students?
Sherman, you’re making me think more carefully about why I value “historical argument,” whether in paper or digital format. I’m moving this to topic #14 to encourage more discussion and to hear different points of view.
Or maybe state something like this? “Looking for essay ideas from teams of librarians/archivists/faculty who collaborate to enhance historical thinking & writing with digital technology?” The goal would be to identify rich descriptions of digital history pedagogy and learn more about how it influences student learning.
A question to Hilary (via Ansley’s comment about including GIS in your class): When you introduced your history students to spatial analysis tools, did it change how they thought (and wrote) about the past in noticeable ways? [comment reposted here by editor]
Two responses came to mind after reading John’s linked essay above:
1) Near the top, after John’s critique of McGraw Hill digital “history lab” technology, he asks: “Can we use digital tools to find pedagogical approaches that do work?” His exercise on the history of lynching, paired with the student writing samples, intrigued me, but also led me to wonder whether students could have read, debated, and written all of this WITHOUT digital technology. In other words, does John’s example (inadvertently?) make the case that technology is NOT an essential ingredient for teaching deep historical thinking? Amid all of the pro-digital rhetoric (particularly within this volume), maybe we need more devil’s advocates. . .
B) Near the end, John writes: “Media: For years I resisted my students’ requests that they be permitted to prepare PowerPoint™ presentations. Bullet points do not facilitate historical analysis, I maintained. Both PowerPoint™ and I have gotten smarter. What PowerPoint™ enables students to do more effectively is contextualize. They locate relevant images. They link to YouTube™ videos. They add audio files. In the Spring of 2011 a first-year student did a study of advertising as a test of Jacques Barzun’s claim in From Dawn to Decadence that advertising combined temptation with “approved deceit.” I suggested that she turn to Ad*Access, an online archive of ads created by the J. Walter Thompson Agency. She decided to look at ads for soap over several decades. Did the ads try to tempt the consumer with unrealistic claims? She did a very thorough analysis and then compared those ads from the 1920s through the 1950s with contemporary commercials for similar products. . . .”
As a reader, I’d like to learn more (and perhaps see more) about this student’s “very thorough” historical analysis, which appeared as a PowerPoint presentation. Would you say that she was “writing” with PowerPoint? Did her digital presentation communicate an historical argument with supporting evidence more effectively than a conventional paper assignment? If so, John, how has this experienced influenced your stance, as a history professor, on digital media?
John, if either of these responses provoke you to propose an essay theme, please tell us more about it here. [Comment reposted here by editor.]
Thanks, Natalia, for your comment below. I have moved this onto the main list as topic #15, to encourage further discussion.
Natalia, thanks for reframing the question, which now appears as topic #15 on the main list, to encourage further discussion. Kristen and I welcome essays that examine how new technologies are transforming our work as historians and the ways in which we think, teach, author, and publish. All we ask is that they link back to the core issue of our volume: historical writing, in one of its many forms.
In response to Hilary’s comment, we have revised our home page to clarify our broad interest in writing history in the digital age, and “the ways in which we think, teach, author, and publish.”
Heather, speaking as another mostly self-taught digital historian (who occasionally wonders whether I’m wasting my time when learning yet another piece of software that will be obsolete in a few years), please allow me to “push back” for a moment. Historians value good writing, and it’s one of the skills that appears to flourish in our profession. Let’s go back to the core of this edited volume: writing history in the digital age. Do you think that learning more computing skills will enhance your historical writing, in a direct or indirect way? (Maybe this “digital humanities” field needs more devil’s advocates?)
Dan, thanks for sharing your ideas. I suspect that there may be two (or more) distinct questions here. Maybe you can help to sort out which one(s) are most interesting to you?
1) If an archive allows a scholar to photograph or scan images from its collection, does that scholar also have the right to post them on a website as a companion to his/her interpretation? (The answer may vary depending upon the archive’s policies, if stated.)
2) If a press publishes (and holds the copyright) to the text of a book, can a scholar retain the right to a companion website that features supplemental source materials? (Assuming yes to question #1, my quick response is that most publishers would welcome a companion site, if you did all the work and did not violate the copyright agreement.)
3) If a graduate student posts the text and/or sources of her dissertation online, does this create a disincentive for an academic press that may consider publishing it? (Perhaps this is a variation on your original question.)
Do any of these questions address what you’re thinking — or spark a new question in your mind?
Interesting topic, Penny, and perhaps you can help to clarify it further for us. In your view, are you asking:
a) How does our historical writing change when new digital research tools become available years after we originally conducted the research?
b) How does our historical writing change when readers use online tools to write back and suggest new ideas/sources to the author?
Or a combination of both — or maybe a third angle? In any case, the ability to refer directly to before-and-after excerpts of your writing would make this an interesting contribution.
Thanks, Dan. I moved your comment to #16 on the list to encourage further discussion.
Thanks for elaborating on this theme, Penny, which I’ve moved onto the list as idea #17 for further discussion.
Thanks, Amanda. I’ve moved your comment over to the list as idea #18, with a cross-reference to #6, as we’ve heard from other authors who also are planning to submit different essays regarding Wikipedia and historical writing. (Inserting your idea directly under #6 would screw up the numbering system we’ve been using to organize ideas. I should have thought about that in advance.)
We welcome your contribution, Ryan, and I plan to move it to the main list, but wish to ask you a question before doing so. Can you provide a vivid example on how the wealth (or dearth) of electronic documents have influenced our historical writing? A specific case here may help other contributors understand what you’re planning to write about.
Thanks for your essay idea, Marshall, which I’ve moved to #19 on the list for further discussion (and perhaps some push-back from pro-text historians!)
A very rich topic, Mark, which I’ve moved to #20 on the list for further discussion (with a comment from me).
Mark, your key phrase here is “projects that involve communities as investigators and interpreters.” In my mind, a compelling case study would include rich evidence of “historical writing” (broadly defined) by everyday people, to demonstrate their role as creators, not just consumers.
Mark, I’m going to push back (and encourage others to add their thoughts as well). Can you offer a compelling justification for why the essay theme above belongs in a volume on “writing history”?
Thanks, Robert. I’ve moved your idea to #21 on the list to encourage further discussion (particularly among other contributors who plan to write about Wikipedia).
Shawn (aka Electric Archeologist): I’m interested in hearing more about historically-minded students who frown on digital history assignments. Might you be interested in writing more about this, and/or encouraging these students to share their views in our edited volume? (Or is this born-digital thing too funky for them?)
I’d like to hear more from you (and others) on this issue, Mark, and started new topic (#23 Challenging the Primacy of Text, with cross-reference here at #8) for further discussion.
Thanks for your response, Mark. I’d like to hear more from you (and others) on this issue, so have started a new topic (#23 Challenging the Primacy of Text) for further discussion.
We appreciate your feedback, Amanda, and encourage you (and others) to submit your completed essay online by August 15th, for our open review period this fall. Soon we’ll update our submission page with more details about how it all works.
Thanks for elaborating on this interesting topic, Ryan, and also for inviting others to write a comparative essay. I have moved your topic (#24: How Do Digital Archives Change the Way We Write History?) to the list for further discussion.
Thanks for this essay topic, Thomas and Kathryn, which I have moved to the list (#25: The Challenge of Sharing Sources and Interpretations with Readers) to encourage further discussion.
Chad, your essay idea raises thoughtful questions about intellectual property and collaborative scholarship. I find myself explaining Creative Commons licensing to many academics who have never heard of it, nor thought about alternatives to traditional copyright. Your topic has been moved (#26: Hidden Collaborations and Open Access Licensing) to encourage further discussion.
Thanks for contributing this topic, Alex, which I have moved to #27 on the list for further discussion. Also, congratulations to you and your colleagues on your recent launch of GradHacker. Please encourage more grad students to post their ideas and essay topics here.
Thanks for sharing this topic, Chris, which I’ve moved to #30 on the list for further discussion, with the caveat (as you wrote me) that you’re encouraging others to write an essay on this topic.
Thanks for posting your idea, Stefan. Before moving it to the list, Kristen and I ask that you clarify how this idea fits with the “writing history” focus of the volume. For example, when you state, “I will sketch practices that might be more consonant with the distributed and networked world of the digital age,” are those “writing practices”? If so, give us an example, to help build connections between your idea and those offered by other contributors.
You’ve sparked our imaginations, Jed, with this essay idea on the “new media” of the nineteenth century. But before moving this to the list, please tell us more about how idea connects to the central issue of our volume. For example, what would “a profound reconsideration of the historiographic project” mean for digital historians today?
Thanks for this contribution, Tom and Luke, which I have moved to #31 on the list for further discussion (with a more substantive comment from me).
Thanks for sharing the link to your Modern American History course blog with student-written posts, and offering to tell us more about the lessons you have learned by introducing digital history tools into a non-majors survey course. Personally, I’d like to know if you previously taught a similar survey course without these digital tools, and if so, whether the students’ thinking and writing about the past changed in any way.
Thanks for this essay idea, Jonathan, which now appears as #32 on the list for further discussion.
As a reader, I would be interested in learning more about your own experiences with historical blogging, particularly those instances where competing standards of public history versus scholarship “butt heads” with one another, or where the gap has been bridged. Also, please tell us more about the qualities of specific history blogs that “may make us better writers,” and what these tell us about the strengths and weaknesses of our profession.
Thanks for posting this idea, Jonathan, and also the one below, which I’ve commented on separately. Regarding this theme on “We have all gone digital,” your paragraph pulls me in two different directions. In response to the first part, I want to know whether some historians still use typewriters and print catalogue tools, and if so, why. In response to the latter part about other historians “who see the potential to do entirely new things,” this raises a deeper question in my mind: not simply whether historians adopt new tools, but rather, are we using these tools to do anything more than merely replicating our old work patterns? Overall, might you be more interested and/or better positioned to take up one of these questions, rather than both, in this essay idea?
Thanks for posting your essay idea, Daniel, and perhaps you can clarify it further, and its significance for our volume as a whole. Most of the essay idea criticizes histories of technology with a “human-centered” narrative. But the last line argues a different (or perhaps contradictory?) point, that a “material” centered history “brings more of the human stories of technology users into focus.” First, have I understood your idea correctly? Second, how does it relate to our central focus of the volume: are digital tools are reshaping how we write history?
Interesting question, Leslie, which now appears as #33 on the list for further discussion.
Thanks for both essay ideas, Shane, which I have moved to the list as #34 and #35, to facilitate further discussion.
Stephen, I’d be interested in reading more about “digital history less bound by traditional practices.” I normally think of blogging as short-form writing, but you state that it “to elaborate” on your ideas beyond the printed page. Might you propose an essay topic on this, or a related theme?
Laura, I understand that you’re responding to the “collaboration” theme above, but what intrigues me even more is your digital history format: the Pox in the City game. As you and your colleagues engage in the design work, what types of historical thinking and source materials are you trying to embed into the game? What issues about historical writing does it pose for you, or those you anticipate will play the game? How do other scholars who create role-playing historical simulations, digital or otherwise, incorporate writing into the process? (Mark Carnes’ Reacting to the Past comes to mind here.) Interested in reading more on this general topic.
These are very interesting, Sherman, and lead me to wonder whether the essay idea you’re suggesting might be titled “Is (Digital) History More than An Argument about the Past?” (or something better that you or others will think of). You’ve encouraged me to pause and reflect on these questions, and distinguish between “creating” historical works versus my limited framework for “evaluating” them (e.g., is the research question insightful, and is the historical argument persuasive?). Looking forward to reading more.
Tom and Kitty, I’m interested in reading more about what you identify as the “new challenges for historians as they share both their sources and their interpretations with readers.” Are you referring to pulling back the curtain and making the solitary writing process more public (see idea #2 above)? Or how online reader comments may challenge the authority of historical scholarship (idea #7)? Or something else?
Thanks for suggesting an essay on the role of undergraduate research students in historical digitalization and interpretation, which is now topic #36 on the list for further discussion.
Kathryn, your rich central question — “Can undergraduates contribute meaningfully to a long-term digital history project?” — leads me to wonder how we define “writing history” in the context of a liberal arts education. I’m torn about this issue while preparing for my seminar this fall. If I assign students to spend more time working with digital tools and data, does it necessarily sacrifice the time we allocate to historical interpretation? Perhaps this parallels the distinction between digital “work” versus digital “scholarship” that Mills Kelly and Tom Scheinfeldt have discussed. I’d also be very interested in reading how other liberal arts faculty working with undergrads on related digital projects have dealt with this issue, such as Rachel Buurma at Swarthmore and Laura McGrane at Haverford.
Thanks for clarifying, Stefan. I have moved your essay idea to #37 on the list.
Thanks, Jed. Your idea now appears as #38 on the list.
Thanks for your essay idea, which I’ve moved to #39 on the list for further discussion.
Thanks for elaborating, Daniel. Are you suggesting an essay that draws an historical analogy between the technology of video editing and “writing history in the digital age” as we’re doing here? The motivation behind my question is to ensure stronger connections with the central theme of our volume. If yes, please condense the ideas you’ve offered above into a paragraph, with a suggested title, and repost here.
Thanks for your contribution, Ryan, which now appears as #41 on the list for further discussion.
Interesting essay idea, Fred, to which I’ve added a temporary title and moved to #42 on the list for further discussion.
Looking forward to reading more on this topic, Ansley, which I’ve moved to #43 on the list.
Many thanks, Daniel. Your essay idea now appears as #44 for further discussion.
Thanks Trevor and Fred for this interesting essay idea, which now appears as #45 on the list.
Your essay idea now appears as #46 on the list, Sarah and Natalia. Looking forward to reading more.
Thanks for your essay idea, Allison and Shaunna, which now appears as #47 on the list for further discussion.
Thanks, Alex. Your essay idea now appears as #48 on the list for further discussion.
Nancy, thanks for your essay idea, which I have moved to #49 on the list for further discussion.
Great topic, Jenny and Sara, which now appears as #50 on the list for further discussion.
Marcin, I see an assortment of ideas bundled together here. If you’re interested in proposing an essay for our volume, I suggest that you choose one idea and elaborate.
Rethinking how and why we publish: Why do historians publish? If you’ve submitted a scholarly journal article or signed a book contract with an academic press, let’s face it: your primary motivator is not money. Rather, we publish primarily because we desire to share our ideas with others. But here’s the puzzle: why are so many historians reluctant to publish on the open web? For a fast and freely accessible means of scholarly communication that maximizes the distribution of knowledge, it’s hard to beat the Internet. The problem is not the scarcity, but rather, the surplus of scholarship, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick has argued. Faced with too many articles, books, and websites to read, we rely on “filters” to focus our limited time and mental energy. Scholars crave good writing, but when looking for quick signals to sort which works have merit, we (and our tenure committees) tend to confuse quality with other characteristics, such as status and marketability. Ask yourself this question. When you first visited this website or considered submitting an essay idea, were your eyes drawn to the phrase, “under contract with the University of Michigan Press”? Would you have responded in the same way if the label had simply stated, “published on Jack and Kristen’s website”? Furthermore, after landing on this website, were you motivated to read all the way down to this entry (somewhere beyond topic #50) because of the label of institutional recognition, or the quality of ideas and scholarly community it demonstrated? Building on my earlier thinking on this topic, my essay will reflect on this and other experiments in open-access scholarly web publishing (such as MediaCommons and the newly announced PressForward by the Center for History and New Media), and also examine the unseen and underfunded work of editing and filtering scholarly writing, as historians and other scholars rethink how and why we publish in the digital age. (Suggested by Jack Dougherty)
An intriguing essay idea, Lisa, which now appears as #51 on the list.
Thanks to all three of you, Rob, Scott, and Andrew. Your essay idea is #54 on the list.
Great questions, Miriam. Your essay idea now appears as #55 on the list.
Looking forward to reading more, Kristen, as you take on change-averse historians as well as the “think different” Apple Computer public relations campaign. Your essay idea is #56 on the list.
Your essay idea now appears as #57 on the list, Oscar, for readers to discuss.
As someone who’s eager to read your essay, Oscar, I would be interested in hearing your own story about how and why you became involved in the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History project, and whether your historical thinking and writing have evolved as you shifted from a paper to digital format. Does doing history on the web affect how you research your topic or present your work? Do you collaborate more with other people? And have you and other undergraduate and graduate history students heard back from people who have read your work online?
Margery and Hillary, your essay idea has been posted as #58 on the list for further discussion.
Readers will be interested in learning more of the “behind-the-scenes” discussions and reflections in creating a digital history project by a collaboration such as yours. But I’m puzzled by the “doesn’t make it different” title you’ve suggested, because several of the questions you raise *do* suggest that digital technology is different. Or maybe you’re trying to tell us that, despite outward appearances, digital history projects remain locked into a traditional division of labor between archivists and historians? Perhaps this connects with Blouin and Rosenberg’s Processing the Past: Contesting Authorities in History and the Archives (2011).
Thoughtful questions, Jean, and thanks for drawing connections to other essays. Your idea now appears as #59 on the list.
Interesting questions, Anna, and your idea about interviewing some contributing authors with digital history projects sounds very worthwhile. Your idea now appears as #60 on the list.
Sounds good. Our readers will probably learn more from your approach — a rich insiders’ view of how students writing did (and did not) change — than a so-called formal assessment.
Looking forward to reading more, Ellen, on the power and limits of digital history textbooks. Your essay idea now appears as #66 on the list.
Thanks for this essay idea, Charlotte, which now appears as #67 on the list.
Done. But a GDocs account is not required to view or edit this document.
Thanks, Amanda, for your constructive criticism about one of the key steps in creating a born-digital volume with WordPress. You’re right that authors should be able to export and convert their WordPress essays into whatever format they prefer. Technology should be a tool to help us do our work, not an obstacle that stands in our way, and we’re still figuring out how to get there.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far. When we needed to transform your Microsoft Word essays into a WordPress-friendly format, Katie Campbell, a Trinity student research assistant, discovered how to code a Microsoft Word Macro to automatically convert footnotes. Currently, she’s looking into ways to do this in reverse, from WordPress back to Word, using your essay as the test case If successful (and this remains to be seen), would that satisfy your concerns?
Pardon my delay in responding, Amanda, as I was. . ., um, er, working on making sure that our web technology is working smoothly for the upcoming public launch. So yes, you’re absolutely correct that digital history requires us to spend some time and energy learning new skills. Openly sharing info about these skills on the web (such as the link to Katie’s Word Macro conversion above) helps others save time and devote more energy to our primary focus: doing history. Remember, one broader goal of this online project is to find better ways to publicly share our scholarship and improve its quality with community feedback. If some of us can work together to create better tools and processes to benefit all of us, I think it’s worth the extra time. Remember, it was only a couple of decades ago when the stereotypical historian wrote his manuscript in longhand and handed it to his secretary to type up. Are you proposing that we roll back to that era? If so, I’ll need to start searching for a tweed jacket and smoking pipe. You don’t happen to have one that I can borrow, do you?
Thanks for catching our typo. It should read: “Open-web scholarship needs to be available when we are unplugged from the Internet, by necessity or by choice.”
Thanks for your thoughtful criticism, Zayde, and you are indeed correct that most of our contributors specialize in modern North American and European history. But let’s take this a bit further. When I was a graduate student in Linda Gordon’s US history seminar at UW-Madison many years ago, we often criticized the book we were reading for failing to include the perspectives of women, workers, or people of color, and we thought that she (a prominent social historian) would readily agree. Instead, she pushed back and challenged us by asking: if the author had included this or that group, would it have changed the thesis of the book in any way?
All of this is very helpful, Zayde. Criticism helps to clarify our thinking. Also, your response underscores that historians of the Western and non-Western worlds face similar challenges with respect to rising price of conventionally-published books. Although I don’t have evidence, my guess is that non-Western historians face even greater difficulties when searching for scholarly publishers who will distribute their work in a reasonably-priced book, given the domestic bias of the book-buying market. If true, does that mean historians of the non-Western world might have an even more compelling reason to consider open-access web publishing?
Thanks to the Trinity College Library, here’s the link to the WorldCat record of the open peer review edition of Writing History in the Digital Age: http://www.worldcat.org/title/writing-history-in-the-digital-age/oclc/756644249
Thanks, Eric, for pointing out that the Facebook post has been removed. We consulted with the author and rewrote the text and footnote to reflect this change.
Shawn, see a related article by Kimon Keramidas, “WikiFAIL: Students and the Orthodoxy of Practice in the Classroom,” in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy at http://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/2012/wikifail-students-and-the-orthodoxy-of-practice-in-the-classroom
Good question. I’ll add my tip about this to the “Updated instructions” section.
Our goal was to present a co-authored essay that clearly identified sections which were primarily written by specific contributors, which was very challenging to do. Our best solution was mark up sections (Subheading title, by Timothy Burke) and rely on the reader to understand that with each new section, authorship may change. But we couldn’t find any models of other co-authored pieces that did this. If you know any better examples, please cite or link them.
For example, we specifically wanted to preserve Charlotte’s first-person perspective in our four-author essay. At first we considered inserting her remarks as one long block quote, to make it stand apart from the rest of the text, but that gave the mistaken appearance that we were simply quoting words she had previously written, when in fact she revised and enhanced them specifically for this essay, and made additional contributions throughout. We also considered marking up the text in dialogue format (Charlotte: When I first learnt of Writing History in the Digital Age. . .), but that would have made the whole essay look really weird, since it was not a conversation between the authors.
Good question. If we were to do it over again, perhaps we could have sent out a survey to all contributors and commentators, asking them to respond to some questions about the process (like a workshop evaluation form). But it simply didn’t occur to me, for two reasons. First, we had already been asking everyone to share their comments about the process on the “general comments on the book” page. Second, I’ve contributed chapters to other edited volumes and special journal issues, and no one has EVER asked for my feedback about the process (either in open comments or survey questions), so I didn’t have any clear models in my head about a formal way to do this. Fortunately, we did receive some process-oriented comments from readers and contributors like you.
Belatedly, here are the questions that I informally emailed about six other contributors after the open peer review, in early January 2012. I’d be curious to read your responses here or offline:
1) During the open peer review, were you trying to figure out the identities of the external reviewers?
2) If so, at what point did you figure it out — or are you still trying to do so?
3) Did you read or respond (or not respond) to anyone’s comments differently because you suspected that they might have been posted by an external reviewer?
Thanks for sharing this, Cathy. I learned quite a bit from your site, so am posting the link to your syllabus here for others to read as well.
This is the very thing I would like to propose. During fall 2010, I taught a histories of education course in which I asked my students to begin with a traditional form of scholarly writing—a critical review—and gradually move toward a publicly available digital history. We discussed extensively the different types of considerations and experimentation with the visual form and argument delivery. I would like to include examples of student work (with their permission) and analyze their shift from strictly textual scholarship to one that involves multiple forms of media.
This is really impressive. I’m curious how all of this data will be stored and how MPublishing is making long-term plans for its storage—and presumably different data formats that we currently don’t have but will in the future.
Julie, do you all have any wireframes of what this will look like for the reader?
Students talked about this a bit, though I didn’t collect data on it. What they reported to me informally was that they did indeed track the changes on “their” pages; they also began other pages related to their interests and became active in adding to and editing them. All of the students profiled here did that, but two were especially active.
Enthusiastic ambivalence is how I would characterize my students’ attitude about Wikipedia as a viable and reliable source. All of my students commented on how much they appreciated the transparency of the editing and feedback process on Wikipedia. Two of them, in fact, deliberately made their digital histories commentable in the hope that other scholars would read their work and offer feedback. This type of transparency made other students uncomfortable in spite of their regard for Wikipedia editors’ transparency. Too, students felt that it was difficult to identify and write for a particular audience on Wikipedia and in their digital history projects. What does a “general audience” look like, and what do they already know? This seemed to be one of the biggest initial issues for students, but it was one that they were able to work through after they began writing on Wikipedia and receiving feedback from other editors.
This is derived from a students’ actual work. I needed a way to visually see the differences in the structure of each piece.
Thank you for the suggestions, Charlotte.
You know, this is how I was trained, and it was a common assignment across different departments at the institution where I did my Ph.D. work. I agree that it is a challenging task—synthesizing and critiquing a scholarly work. The idea of making students’ reviews publicly available was a consideration for me. And several of them in the class published their reviews on the course website (http://www.adrealawrence.org/courses/edhistory/fall2010/).
Thank you for catching this, Charlotte.
Thank you for the suggestions.
I thought so, too! I’ll be sure to let him know.
This is a post-mortem visualization that I created using excel. Though the students and I did discuss the structure and content of critical reviews based on examples we read, there were no set or agreed upon categories. When I was analyzing their reviews in tandem I needed a way to visually parse the structure of what I was reading, and this is what I came up with.
I can certainly address this in revision.
Agreed. I had similar questions when reading Julie Judkins’ piece, The American Influenza Epidemic of 1918. When the students and I were working on these projects, we didn’t really consider the long-term accessibility of their work, and I can certainly address this in revision.
An Informal History of Informal Writing: In the age of “text message novel,” scholars have noticed a revival of writing in a variety of irregular formats, often aided by new technologies such as cell phones. Some commentators have condemned these new forms of expression as an assault on the English language (e.g. “I h8 txt msgs: How texting is wrecking our language”), yet others have noted that texting, tweeting, blogging and other activities have reintroduced writing into the everyday lives of young people. It may not look like a term paper, but it is writing nonetheless. I would like to place recent debates about academic writing in the broader context of our changing approaches to written expression. New media enthusiasts have argued that online publishing can revolutionize the way we do scholarship (in terms of its form, content, and accessibility), while critics have worried about the impact of online expression on the quality and credibility of scholarly work. With these concerns in mind, this piece will explore the significance of blogs and other kinds of “informal writing” for historians and scholars more broadly. It will situate blogging outside the traditional binary between scholarly publications and writing for the popular press, suggesting that a third option exists beside the traditional monograph or journal article and the op-ed or magazine piece for scholars who wish engage the public in their research. It will compare blogs with other media such as wikis, zines, and newsletters that offer relatively unregulated and unrestrictive outlets for writing. I plan for the piece to look at successful online experiments by scholars, such as the Legal History blog and the historiography wiki at George Mason University, while drawing on my own experience co-editing a blog focused on historiography, pop culture, and urban studies. Is there a danger in exposing our unpolished writing and inchoate thoughts to the world? Can it help to get out of a straightjacket of academic prose now and then? The main focus of the piece will be on the ways that informal writing can enhance how we explore new avenues of research, conceptualize problems, and receive feedback from others on new projects. It will also consider the ethical and practical perils that sometimes come along with writing online, such as doubts about the scholarly integrity of non-peer-reviewed, unedited work and the dreaded “timesuck” problem.
Brian and Jonathan,
Thanks so much for these insightful comments! I agree with Jonathan that there are ways we can make our two pieces more complementary. As for Twitter, I did not address it in the piece mostly due to my own limited experience with it; I enjoy reading certain people’s tweets but have not experimented with the medium myself. However, I think it would make a great addition to the essay if I addressed Twitter in a revised version; it could even discuss journalist Dan Sinker’s recently published book, The F**** Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, which consists of the tweets he posted posing as Rahm Emanuel during the 2011 Chicago mayoral race. (The book has been called the “first real work of digital literature,” and I plan to use the text in my American Media class in the Spring both as a primary source and an example of the creative possibilities of the new medium.) Several other proposed pieces for this volume touch on Twitter, but as far as I could tell no one has focused on it in detail yet. Would you be able to recommend any examples of communities or forums through which historians or other scholars use Twitter to communicate? (My email is firstname.lastname@example.org in case comments are closed.) Thanks again for your comments.
What Can Historians Learn from Journalists and Digital Storytelling? As a historian beginning my dissertation, I first encountered this question about what our field might learn from journalism and other digital collaborations at The Technology and Humanities Camp (THATCamp) at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University (session notes here). One of the conclusions we came to was that historians need to be better at breaking our work into smaller ‘consumable bits,’ rather than holding out for a monograph to tell our stories. Journalists can help us in this task by providing innovative ways of storytelling with digital media (blogs, sound/photo essays). My research examines the politics of Argentine soccer and I have been working on an Omeka site to share all of my public domain primary sources, as many are public domain government documents. During my fieldwork, I want to start building exhibits that make these sources meaningful to the Argentine public and help tell a story of change over time in soccer. I have also been very lucky to fall into a community of generous researchers who are invested in my project, and I would like to take that story and process online. At the research stage, finding and interpreting sources is often a piecemeal process where collaboration is key. Were this process to be taken online with digital media, archives, and collaboration, I believe my historical interpretation could be more transparent and illuminating.
My idea for the edited volume won’t be possible at this stage for me. I wanted to take some small chunks of my sources and analysis so far and put it into blog form, soliciting feedback from my colleagues here, but this has only begun to be possible in the last two weeks. Apologies for withdrawing.
Well, the problem with using blogs for writing lies in revising work: it’s not easily done.
If, on the other hand, one writes an outline and rough draft, then publishing a final essay as a blog-post…well, that might work.
But using a blog for writing notes remains problematical. A wiki would be a better choice; commentary, discussions, etc., could be collected on the “Talk page”. Revising information (and its changelog) are kept easy and automatic…
Our essay explores the opportunities and challenges digital media presents to historians. We argue that digital communications and social media have the potential to not only expand how historical work is communicated and shared, but to fundamentally alter our understanding of what the craft of writing history involves. Drawing upon our experiences as both digital natives who teach or mentor faculty in technology-mediated environments, and as graduate students in history and educational history whose initiations to the field have been notably absent of technology, our essay explores some of the tensions these different experiences elicit. In particular we explore the sharp contrast between the kind of participatory dialogue which social media embodies, and the traditional one-way communication between historians and readers. We discuss the speed at which information and ideas are distributed over the World Wide Web, in contrast to the more linear, paper-based world of institutional archives. These differences raise specific questions: in what ways do social media challenge traditional notions of authorship and authority? How might it transform the culture of historical scholarship, which has been conceived primarily as a solo endeavor? And finally, what does it mean to think like a historian, and can technology impact historical thinking? As both teachers and budding historians, we believe there is much to be gained by asking these questions and exploring how they may impact our own work. (Submitted by Allison Ruda and Shaunna Harrington, Northeastern University)
One thing that intrigued me as I sat down this afternoon to start looking at the essays was how I would experience myself as a reader-reviewer. In particular, I wondered, would I just comment on something interesting at the moment I saw it, the way I would on some other public interface like Facebook or the Chronicle of Higher Education discussion forusm? Or would I wait until I read the whole essay and then–with the bigger picture in mind–more thoughtfully go back and add in comments, more like what I do when I write a report for a Press?
I intentionally sat down with an apple in my hand to snack while reading, in order to prevent myself from just commenting willy-nilly, the moment an idea popped into my head.
I was also intrigued to discover my own process for commenting. I decided that I had to restrain myself and not comment until I’d gotten all the way through each essay before I commented. But I resorted to pen and paper to take notes on what comments I wanted to add.
A note on the process of peer review in this open forum.
First, in order to mimic the process I would use for a print-only, non-interactive peer review (and to protect my image of myself as someone with something intelligent to say), I decided that I should read through each essay and make handwritten notes. I only would go back and insert comments after I had finished reading a particular essay. I have slipped up once or twice.
More importantly, I began to question my motives for leaving comments. In some sense, I am drawn to the colloquy, and the chance to ask questions of authors in a way that one cannot normally do when reading in a print volume. But I also began to wonder whether I was also essentially patrolling my own essay, in a fashion not unlike what Graham and Saxton et al. describe Wikipedia editors as doing. Was I leaving comments in hopes of making sure that my investment in this project appeared big enough that my essay would make the final cut? Was I leaving comments like this one in hopes that the editors would ask me to write one of the concluding essays? (Oh, oh, choose me! I started taking notes!).
I’m not sure if the purity of my motives matters or not, but there they are.
This is so exactly like what I did that I was surprised not to see my name on this comment!
One of the things I wonder as I try to fit reading the rest of the essays into the timetable is what the number (or paucity) of comments on a particular essay mean. Is it a popularity contest? Do more comments mean the essays commented on are inferior? Did everyone simply start at the top of the list and work their ways down, accounting for fewer comments (as of today) on the latter sections of the volume?
Those are really good questions: what does the ability to comment mean?
Can you remind us what the long-run plans around commenting are? Will the published online version still allow for comments?
Here is a summary of an essay that I would like to propose:
“Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies” examines a portion of my undergraduate history methods class devoted to teaching about the use of tertiary sources. The online, collectively-written encyclopedia Wikipedia is explicitly folded into my pedagogy. In this essay, I argue that despite skepticism about the value of encyclopedias and other reference works, teaching about the use of tertiary sources is legitimate. The inclusion of the born-digital Wikipedia site is continuous with, rather than a break from, my long-standing personal commitment to the value of encyclopedic writing as part of scholarly enterprises.
I’ve now completed a rough draft of this essay. It’s still too drafty to share, but I would like to thank the editors for proposing this project. I have learned from what I have written. So even if I don’t get much farther, it’s been worthwhile.
Could you elaborate a little about the claim that “people” would rather watch than read? I’m certain that’s not true for me (I can tell, among other evidence, because I do read the text of the Facebook feed of each of my friends, but I almost never click on a video). It’s far too time consuming and inefficient a method for learning new ideas. I’m not representative of “people” but I might be of historians. Is the model you are suggesting here one in which a traditional written monograph is produced and then a video flows from it, or one in which a video is substituted for a work of written scholarship?
This is interesting, in that it’s a step beyond the project where lay people around the world look for craters on Mars or particular aspects of the sun (sorry, no more detailed evidence for this is in my head).
How do you keep track of the Facebook comments as they fall down your feed? Have you discovered a method by which Facebook is searchable?
One of the things I worry about with full-text searching is what researchers miss when they don’t go through, say, newspapers, the old fashioned way, reel-by-reel. I know that my own dissertation project was transformed radically when I saw the issues that I was after placed in the larger community context in which they were playing out.
Because part of this exercise is to give us all a chance to reflect on the larger writing practice publishing in this format involves, I thought I would add this reflection not so much as a complaint (although it might be construed as such) but as a comment on kinks in the process that perhaps should be worked out over time.
By requiring us to edit using the Word Press system rather than by revising on our own computers, the process in effect captures our scholarship in a way that might not be desirable in the long run. Say I make some revisions to my essay here, maybe even substantial revisions. And then say that my essay is eventually rejected for the volume (perhaps because I am an annoying, uncooperative contributer who leaves critical comments in the comment boxes). I am then left with my best product revised but not accepted–and stuck in a format that makes for laborious back translation to whatever word processing or other publication system that I might want to use in future as I try to find a home for my languishing, rejected essay.
What I am suggesting here is that the introduction of this step undermines or makes more difficult the old “turn your rejected essay around in 24 hours and send it to a different journal” approach that is sometimes urged on scholars to make us less thin-skinned.
In the short term this does not bother me, because I signed on to this project in part to force myself to learn something about how these new processes work. but in the long run it might discourage my participation in a project where publication was not more likely than it appears to be in the Writing History in the Digital Age project is.
Thanks, Jack, for the quick reply.
I was thinking of more than footnotes when I wrote this. I was also thinking of other aesthetic and substantive edits. The changes I made in my essay between original submission and this week’s process were fairly minor, but I already don’t remember them and therefore would have to essentially re-read and remake those other changes in my document–unless the whole document could automatically reflow back into my word processor.
I do think that this raises an interesting question that is part of the larger Digital History transformation (revolution?). That is, to what extent do we all need to become tech specialists?
I thought about this in two different ways recently.
First, our computers have gotten so complicated, that I was delighted to be able to call in someone from the UWM IT staff to take care of a couple of fixes my desktop and laptop needed this week. The desktop problem was one I could not possibly have solved on my own, as it involved opening up the box and moving around pieces. But the laptop problem I could probably have solved on my own–if I had wanted to learn how to download a driver and make it work. Instead I saved space in my own brain for history stuff and let the tech people use the expertise they had already developed.
Second, I was talking with a colleague about the History and the New Media course that my department has on the books but has been taught only once. I was considering the possibility of teaching it (later rather than sooner) but she said that I couldn’t possibly–because the course involved teaching HTML. I suggested that there were other ways of thinking about the course that did not require extensive technical knowledge.
I suppose that the question opened up here is to what extent doing (not just writing) history in the Digital Age requires us to develop technical expertise. We’ve all more or less learned to use word processors and email the same way we learned to use telephones and photocopiers (within limits). But if my time is limited, do I want to do the kind of investigation that Katie Campbell did in this case, or do I want to use my free hours to do more historical research, writing, and teaching?
As I started to see comments appear on my essay, it dawned on me that this concern may hold even for this format–depending on how extensively I revise if the essay is accepted here.
This is a very useful article for urban historians. Thank you for including it.
This is a fascinating, nay, gripping essay. I was very excited as I read it and eager to learn how it all turned out.
For me it very strongly evoked David Brin’s Earth, in which (inter alia) the character of the future internet community had already been worked out along one particular vision. This image started for me with the discussion of Google+ and the streams and sparks and revived at the end during the Wikiblitz.
The chance to read this alone makes my participation in this experiment worthwhile.
This is a very striking paragraph to me, and it turned upside down some of my notions about the value of student papers vs. Wikipedia. As a professor, I always think about student writing as a conversation (with an albeit very small audience of me alone most of the time), but I did not realize that students might not see it that way.
In my essay on Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies, the need to constantly monitor is a disadvantage–I’ll never be finished with that contribution if I have to talk about it all the time. But you point out effectively that Wikipedia is also a conversation.
I’d like to know how you picked Ottawa Valley as the entry for your class to work with. One sentence would do it.
But then I would also like to know if you perceived it as particularly flawed in some way.
Finally, I would like to know if you prepped the students by having them do traditional research ahead of time–or did they come cold to the Wikiblitz assignment?
“In digital work, these models are explicitly written in computer code. Understanding how the code forces a particular worldview on the consumer is a key portion of becoming a “digital historian”.”
This is a crucial observation and very helpful as in my department we are just at the beginning of trying to think through what it would mean to hire a digital historian. Is this a widely accepted view? Is it naturalized somehow? Are there sources other than this essay where I can go to learn more about this idea?
“Digital media make all history public history (whether we like it or not).”
This is a money line, but I’m not sure what it means. Do you mean that digital media mean it all takes place in public (which isn’t true, as I am reminded by my friend who just hid her blog about her children behind a password)? Or are you thinking here about the wide public accessibility of the digital media?
Very helpful resources, thank you.
Editors, will these comments be permanently available, or do I need to harvest all of these citations now?
It might be worth including a line to that effect in the final version of the essay.
Does that mean that it’s shifted over from crowdsourcing to something else? Botsourcing? Shawn’s observations about understanding the code seem cogent and salient here.
Bookmarking this for my future revisions:
I am thinking here of people who forbid their students to use encyclopedias, not of people who do not try to teach them. I’ll have to think about how to make that clearer.
I wish I knew to. Perhaps I will research it!
I appreciate the affirmation that we should teach about Wikipedia rather than forbid it.
I appreciate that reference.
Thanks for the link. It’s interesting to read those comments, which also argue against using any encyclopedia.
Good point. In fact, tertiary sources are problematic in the same way secondary sources are–sometimes they shade down a degree.
For example, Wikipedeans updated the reported death of Qaddafi within minutes of the breaking news story on CNN–before the New York Times had sufficiently verified to report it.
I’m not sure whether that last comment about historians is meant to be tongue in cheek or not. The only person I can think who actually did that in a systematic fashion is C Vann Woodward, with the multiple iterations of the Strange Career of Jim Crow. More of us, I suspect, monitor how well our arguments hold up without necessarily revising and republishing on the same topic. That’s the Foxes vs. Hedgehogs problem, no?
Perhaps for rhetorical purposes it would make more sense to refer here to homo videns than to homo sapiens.
To be fair, much of what people do on the internet (unless they are watching videos) is reading and writing. I’d like to know (though I don’t expect Marshall Poe to tell me) to what extent participation on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter increases users’ literacy experiences.
As I read this piece, it was meant to be polemical. And it was meant to make the point by exaggeration rather than by careful argument and evidence. It seems to me that it’s probably worth including in the final version of the project to make the point.
That said, given that it’s subject to this sort of critique, it might be worth explicitly acknowledging that continuing to write history can and should co-exist alongside video history. There are serious shortcomings with video history, starting with the fact that I (and other scholars?) won’t watch them because audio/visual delivery is a very inefficient way to disseminate/absorb new ideas. I value the flexibility of text that allows me to proceed either in a linear or non-linear fashion, depending on my needs at a given moment.
I would construct the hierarchy of scholarship for other scholars and scholarship for the public more as a pyramid rather than an either-or dichotomy. At the foundation is lots and lots of written scholarly work, and at the tip is what the public consumes, whether in written or video format.
Facebook clearly does keep an archive of posts, as witnessed by various apps and the sporadic appearance of nostalgia posts on the upper right hand corner of various individual posts (anniversaries?). Perhaps its new Timeline function, which is rumored to roll out shortly, will (at least temporarily) solve the archiving problem. I have resorted to sometimes printing out threads that I wanted to save–but Facebook is definitely not currently print friendly.
Thank you for including this article, which has given me some good ideas for how to teach history in the digital age with my methods students.
Around this point in the essay I started wondering about the relationship between historians and archivists. So much of this work in the past would have been in the province of archivists (and, indeed, archives are working on this sort of project), but it seems that the work of historians and archivists is moving closer and closer together in the digital age.
Could you comment more on the staffing issues involved here? Obviously this is a labor intensive project that requires lots of workers to identify, scan, restore, upload etc. How big a staff are you talking about?
This article is at its strongest–and invaluable–in its discussion of mapping.
I also really like this essay as a case study in what creative teachers, with support from their institutions, can do in the classroom. What is most striking to me is the necessity of the collaboration–one instructor focused on the content, the other on the technology side. Implicitly, this essay makes a case that institutional investment in technological supportive services are required to bring best digital practices (and experiments) to traditional teaching.
I was struck by the line that the students’ work is indexed by Google. First of all, is there a way to use Word Press and the Blogs@Baruch system without it being open to any web user? I simply do not know (that’s one of the reasons that I am participating in this project). Secondly, I was struck by the contrast (conflict?) between the indexing by Google and the authors’ insistence on protecting the identity of their students because of FERPA concerns. FERPA is mentioned twice, and the names of student participants are blurred in the screen shot. How do Google and FERPA indexing intersect?
As an experiment, I Googled one of the key phrases in the screen shot image–and sure enough, it took me right to the Blogs@Baruch page with those students’ names listed.
What are the implications of allowing student produced material–replete with inaccuracies?–and their names up for any outsider to see?
I think it would be worth addressing some of these concerns in a footnote, including the observation that FERPA has not caught up to the digital age.
I found this article and project completely fascinating. Thank you for sharing it.
I agree that the role of granting agencies is crucial. Having just written a big NEH grant, I know that the preferences of the agencies really matter.
I like this essay because it touches on a general problem for historical writing that historians simply do not address frequently enough: our methods. I have spent years working among social scientists in the Urban Studies Programs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and have been exposed repeatedly to their concerns about how we know what we know. Sometimes their emphasis on methods strikes me as silly (is coding really an important method) and sometimes as quite sensible (wasn’t my outlining of all my evidence a form of coding?). What is really important is that in their pedagogy and their scholarship, social scientists reflect on their method and practice. Historians, by contrast–because we are so interested in narrative flow, rarely do so.
And this is our loss, I think. As I read Ansley’s essay, I kept wondering where the parallel essays for other periods in historical writing were. Where are the essays about the 10,000 print notecards (I vividly remember talking to Jim Grossman about his boxes of notecards while he pulled them off his shelf at the Newberry Library and showed them to me)? Where is my own essay about using a word processing program to outline my notes?
As I teach the history methods class, I do look for essays that reflect in this way on historical practice and tend not to have found them yet. The best parallels I have encountered are Burton’s collection of Archive Stories, Banner and Gillis’s Becoming Historians, and Bruce Stave’s old interviews with Urban Historians. All of these are useful in their own way, but they do not yet get historians to a practice of critical reflection on methods that is standard in the social sciences.
Or, perhaps, I simply have missed a large body of literature that I ought to know about.
Another crucially important aspect of email is that it is asychronous. It is vital to be able to ignore email when you need to.
I love this article because I find graduate school such an interesting topic that I have written a book on it. I’m not sure what this article tells us about writing history in the digital age, but it tells much about writing and work in this period.
One aspect of the accountability partnership that the authors have not mentioned yet is the potential utility of their email exchanges, particularly the substantive ones, as primary sources for their own intellectual autobiographies. Just as journals written for oneself are useful in tracking where one has been, so are emails such as the authors describe here a route to examining how their projects evolved over time. Perhaps this use has not yet occurred to them, but I am jealous that they both have such great documentation of their own work patterns. Perhaps another joint article they can write for the edification of upcoming graduate students is a study of how their work pattern worked to produce what I assume are not only finished but also excellent dissertations.
All But Dissertation. Students who have finished everything required for the PhD except…
This essay is important in ways that I know I do not fully comprehend. Part of its importance is that Bauer is so far ahead technologically than people like me! I sent a note about it to my collaborator indicating that this is an important essay for us but I don’t know why yet!
This is one of those places where Bauer is far ahead of people like me. It would be really helpful to gloss (or have links to explanations) of what relational databases, XML, and semantic linking mean. I have heard all those terms before, but I know that I have less than the most superficial grasp of what they are and (more importantly) what they imply.
This comment illustrates a further important point–which is that historians who are thinking about digital history can be really far apart in what they count as basic knowledge.
I also think that Bauer should keep the sentence “Databases are normative statements about reality.” I don’t fully know what that means, but it is a powerful claim that should be available for analysis and interpretation by others.
I think that the idea “it is a publication in its own right” is an important one, although one that needs a little scrutiny and possibly explanation.
One of my worries about the character of historical scholarship in the 21st century is that I (or other historians) will spend a lot of time and effort putting together digital projects that, while excellent, will be useful for only a small number of people. One of the things that publication in print format (whether for journals or university presses) does is to certify that there is an audience for a project. That might be only several hundred people, but we seem agreed that such an audience makes our work worthwhile. In mathematics, the actual audience of a given journal article might be even smaller than that–half a dozen people. Still satisfactory.
But should we put together digital versions of archival materials that are available permanently but only have one or two other long-run users? I don’t know. (I also don’t mean this to be a comment to the effect that no one will want to know about Bauer’s database and use it; I am worrying theoretically here, not specifically; for all I know, lots of people want the data she has organized and made available).
To give an example from my own work. I am putting together a history of block clubs in Chicago. In order to know how many block clubs I am talking about, I made a spreadsheet listing them all and some salient data about them. In the old days, I might have organized that as part of a methodological appendix to the book. These days, I am considering whether to make that spreadsheet into a table and put it up online. Since I have organized the data anyway, it is probably worth the additional labor to make it available for those one or two follow up users. But I am not at all convinced that it would be worthwhile for anyone if I created that table and made it publicly available in the absence of the book I am simultaneously writing. That is, if I was just organizing the archival information in a publicly available format, it would take a lot of my time and effort, and I am not at all persuaded that it would be worthwhile a) for it to be done by anyone; b) for it to be done by me when a librarian or archivist would actually do it much better.
I suppose that where I am going with this is to wonder whether the EAFSD really is a publication in its own right, or really only in relation to the narrative interpretation that is Bauer’s dissertation. Bauer does suggest that the database is meaningful and useful to other people on its own. I think the article would not raise the questions I am meandering about here if it explicitly addressed the question of audience and the balance of time and effort with output/product.
Finally, Bauer asserts that the EASFD is a publication in its own right; but it is far from clear that a tenure or promotion decision in a traditional history department would count it. Bauer’s essay begins to help us understand why we should count it, but does so more by assertion than by finishing the job of helping skeptics understand why the database should count as scholarship too.
Can anyone point to exactly where that comment is? I couldn’t find it with a quick scan of the referenced page?
Prose suggestion here: if this is a multi-authored article, it would be better to use the first person plural or to tell us which of the authors is the I here.
I see that you address the authorship in a subsequent paragraph.
This is a very useful commentary on Wikipedia. It makes two key points that should be brought to the forefront of discussions about Wikipedia’s functions: 1) the role of editors in patrolling what Saxton et al. call “finished” entries (so that potential contributors essentially have to ask permission to make changes rather than just add and subtract willy-nilly) and 2) how Wikipedians conceptualize entries (narrowly, within “traditional” or public confines, in a way that excludes new interpretations offered by professional historians). These two features (bugs?) are intertwined through the institutionalization and establishment of editorial authority.
I am fascinated by this quotation by Wales. Again, it shows the narrowness of conceptualization in Wikipedia as “topics” rather than what we might think of as ideas or conceptual insights. One of the broader arguments that I would offer about tertiary sources and their value is in how they can bring sophisticated conceptualizations to a public or uninformed audience–and the reliance on “topics” would militate against this value.
This paragraph resonates with Shawn Graham’s comments about how Wikipedia invites participants to take part in a broader conversation–always the point of scholarly enterprises. Here that conversation is construed more like the traditional professorial-student relationship (in that the students get feedback from the editors about whether they will be allowed to participate or not).
As with Gibbs and Owens’ essay, the opening sentence of this paragraph has an implicit assumption about what “data”–as contrasted with evidence–might be. I would really like to see that assumption unpacked. It seems to me that one of the core differences between what we might call “traditional” methods of history and digital history, or one version of digital history, rests in this distinction. I would like to know what that distinction is.
I think that the last sentence in this paragraph has a really crucial observation for this volume–that there is no single Digital Humanities, no single Digital History. I would like to see the editors include in the introduction an observation to this effect and attempt to summarize the range and types of activity that seem to characterize digital history.
I agree that it is clearer in the new iteration; but understanding the import of the story depends on knowing more about what a seminar is and what role it played in one’s career than is apparent to me.
I like the use of the term “analog histories,” which gives a name to some that we might otherwise not know what to call.
This paragraph should be linked with Bauer’s assertion that her database is a publication.
What troubles me about this article is its implicit assumption that “data” is a kind of thing different from “evidence.” The word evidence, incidentally, does not appear for the first time in this essay until paragraph 11.
What do the authors mean by data? How is it different from evidence? It seems to me that if an essay argues for transparency in historical method, then explaining what these two basic terms mean–and assumption that data and evidence are mutually exclusive things–is foundational to the exercise.
I think you need to gloss what the N-gram viewer is and what you think it does. This would be consistent with the emphasis on explaining our methodology, plus it is helpful for readers like me who are not necessarily caught up on the technology.
Why can’t a chart be used as evidence? Again, I think you should explain what you think the relationship between data and evidence is.
Is there an easy mechanism for printing comments that I am missing? Even in the digital age, I need to print in order to visualize what I need to do to revise.
Could you offer some clarification/guidance on the suggestions for incorporating references to other essays in the volume and/or comments offered on the drafts?
I can see how to reference other essays in the volume–that’s a familiar enough exercise. But I am not sure I see an obvious way to talk about the comments, especially if we don’t know if they are going to be available to future readers. Should they go into footnotes only, or be incorporated into the main text as well if appropriate? How to cite them?
One thing that I find confusing about how this essay appears is that I don’t quite understand where the passages written by Rochez and Burke end (it’s clear where they start).
That last sentence in this paragraph is crucial.
One question I had about the informal polling process was why you did not poll us formally, or collectively as a group to generate dialogue amongst the contributors about this part of the process.
I really wonder whether this paragraph is true for humanities publishing. It seems to me that much of the costs of library acquisitions come from the sciences, where journals are ridiculously expensive (and where authors also pay page fees for the privilege of seeing their work published, money that tends to come out of their grants). Library acquisition of humanities books and journals is so cheap by comparison as to be negligible, it seems to me.
The other observation I would offer here is that I did not realize that there were 4 peer reviewers! I thought there were only two.
“Doing (Quilt) History on Facebook.” Hello, I work for the Quilt Index, http://www.quiltindex.org, a digital repository providing preservation and access to images and metadata for over 50,000 quilts. In addition to my regular work, I also manage the project’s page on Facebook, including posting a “Quilt of the Day” daily. Themes for the Quilt of the Day (a particular pattern, period, region, etc), are often suggested by the nearly 2,000 fans, many of whom, I have discovered from their posts, are lay scholars. Engaging in this co-creation of knowledge on Facebook has been fascinating. On more than one occasion, a “fan” has pointed out that there was something wrong with a quilt record, or suggested a way in which the record might be more complete. This has then prompted me to do additional research and post the findings. Facebook is, for me, challenging the traditional channels of scholarly communication, and crowd-sourcing the way in which I approach the writing of history.
Hi Kristen, Given that we have reached what we’re calling a “critical mass” of quilt data (50,000 quilts is a lot!), we are working with scholars in a variety of disciplines to create essays and galleries for the Index that contextualize the quilts. A quilt of the day that I posted which was supposedly from India (according to its record), but a Facebook fan discovered (correctly) to be from Pakistan was the impetus for one of these essays.I also think that the process of negotiating the weekly themes for these quilts of the day with the fan base is a type of historical writing and research. Not to mention the comments that they post in response to the quilts, often providing obscure information about pattern origins and early publications. I’m an academic textile historian, though I realize that this outpouring of lay scholarship on Facebook is not to be ignored. So much so in fact, that I’ve cited Facebook comments before.
Wow, lots of questions. Well, let me say that first of all, the dynamic that Mark proposes of a teacher-student (Facebook manager-Facebook fan) is an apt way of describing the work we’re doing on Facebook. That said, though, I do feel like even this more top-down model of exchange is still a process of co-creation to an extent.
As far as the nature of our fan base, we have around 2,000 fans, most of whom seem to be middle-aged to older women who are either hobbyist quiltmakers or self-styled lay quilt historians, though we do of course have many fans who do not meet this description. It is a geographically diverse group, though, with around 20% of our fans living outside the U.S., in places as far flung as Ethiopia and Pakistan, and huge followings in Canada, Italy, the UK, and South Africa. In fact, one of our fans in Pakistan alerted me that a quilt I posted that was supposedly made in India (according to its donor-submitted metadata) was in fact made in Pakistan (I was able to do some research to prove the fan’s assertion).
I definitely agree with the point that many of our fans come to self-identify rather than to engage in some form of knowledge production. However, we do have several folks who are clearly there to participate in research. Just a couple weeks ago, I posted a Quilt of the Day, and noted that the quilt had been published in a book called “Homage to Amanda” and inquired if anyone had ever heard of it. Several folks had, including the author of the book (who happened to be our fan)–he offered to send me a free copy as it is out of print.
And Amanda, I haven’t found a good way to archive or search our Facebook feed, and that is a problem. It’s something I’m actively looking into at the moment. Right now, I rely mostly on memory, a Word doc, and scrolling.
I’m so glad that you wrote this piece. I teach Wikipedia in my public history course, but find that many of my students are afraid of using Wikipedia in history, having been trained not to do so by others.
I think that perhaps people who were mostly in the conversation to self-identify as quilt history types definitely exhibited a preference for inquiry over certainty. Folks who had specific historical knowledge to share might be categorized more as certainty over inquiry, however. It’s certainly an interesting dichotomy. Could you please comment the title of the essay that you cite?–I’m not familiar w/ it. Thanks!
Yikes. Good catch. “a ‘fan’ has suggested a way…”
“who happened to be one of our ‘fans'” sounds much better. Thanks.
Oh wow. Thanks so much for posting this link. I will share it with my public history students asap!
Just (quite belatedly) realized that the Madsen-Brooks piece is another essay in this collection. *bangs head on desk*
Great points. In Clio Wired, Roy Rosenzweig noted that while the entry for American Cultural History (a “topic” of enormous interest to historians) was (at the time of writing) a stub, more topical sorts of subjects, such as American Postal History, were very well-covered.
Well, I’d hate to lose Stephen Fry, so maybe I’ll have to lose the arugula. Thanks so much for all your comments throughout the essay, Bethany–they should be really helpful.
The fact that many of these lay scholars are also practitioners of quiltmaking is an excellent point. Will have to explore this point in the revisions.
By that, I assumed Frankle meant inquiry taking place within a very structured (and possibly tiered or multi-level) environment.
Thanks for the comment, Charlotte. Your point about people fluidly moving between various personal and professional pages w/in Facebook (and Twitter) is a really good one. Bethany Nowviskie noted that many of the citizen scholars using the QI Facebook are also quiltmakers, which adds yet another dimension to this blurring of the lines between personal and professional personas. I’ll have to investigate this more in the revised version of the essay for sure.
This question of born-digital primary sources is very interesting. I think Facebook and Twitter will definitely be major primary sources for historians of the early 21st century. Also, we’re just beginning to emerge from a strange period in which many of the primary sources have already been lost. So much of our written culture in the 1990s and early 2000s was documented in emails that no longer exist, and many think historians in the far future may actually know more about, say, the 18th century, than the late ’90s / early 2000s for this reason.
Thanks so much for the kind words, Charlotte. And great to have anecdotal evidence that a fellow scholar in history is using Facebook in this way!
Definitely. The fans’ curatorial choices especially gave us some insight into a rough idea of the percentage of fans who are traditional quilters vs ‘art’ quilters, interested in early quilts vs quilts made after the second “Quilt Revival” c. 1976, etc.
Thanks, Timothy. This is a really valuable comment. You articulate some things that I was definitely working through in this draft, without stating them in so many words. Namely, what is lacking in crowdsourced knowledge, and what might happen when scholars engage in historical research and writing in social media in a widespread and committed fashion. As you say, this is a very optimistic piece, and I think scholars can do a lot of good by engaging in this sort of work. In the final draft, I’ll try to do a much better job of articulating just what that good is.
Overall, I found the article very inspiring in its frank discussion of pedagogical approaches, evaluating their usefulness, and actually providing examples of ways to teach courses. This topic is of particular importance and interest as I am a current graduate student and an academic teacher-in-training during the digital revolution. Reading this brought many questions and ideas to mind; however, they may be beyond the desired scope of this article and do not have to be answered.
My first concern stems from experience as a student. Often the use of technology ‘hits a wall’, to so speak, with the rather large number of teachers who do not know how, and/or are not willing to learn how to best adapt a curriculum to changing teaching environments, student audiences, and new delivery methods. How many teachers at Baruch College actually use the technology available, and to its full potential? I have found teachers often very comfortable and satisfied with their methods, and consider it a waste of time or following a fad if they test new software or technology. Blackboard (or a similar product, like Moodle) does seem to be a ubiquitous presence in many schools as the standard technological supplement to a course, but many professors do not use it beyond the “resource” model described in your article (syllabus, email, etc), and certainly the software often does not easily allow use for much else. Would the availability of a campus WordPress blog actually change professors’ teaching habits? How many currently use a blog or website option, but post only the same things that are seen on Blackboard?
Another concern with digital documents is the longevity and accessibility, given my experience with Blackboard and other software platforms. Would a blog disappear after the semester is done? What if the school upgraded or changed their software, would the old version no longer be accessible? Should a Creative Commons copyright be put on the blog if it is around for the long-term? What if someone wants to use a blog, but their school only provides Blackboard. Would a regular WordPress, Tumbler, or Blogger page work? Is there much paperwork, waivers, or other legalities involved in having student work posted publicly (FERPA, etc)?
Echoing some other comments, I believe, would be the question on how ‘intuitive’ is the blogging approach. I am thinking of situations where adult students and others not experienced with using these new things are faced suddenly with a class that bases most of the grades upon using an special device or software program (like Photoshop, a blog, an iPad, a Mac when the student is accustomed to a PC, etc.). Specialized tools and new software are exciting for the options they provide in teaching large or small classes, and in researching, but is there a point at which the students are no longer engaged and instead are overwhelmed, intimidated, and frustrated? How much time should be allotted for training?
Technology is only a tool, and this article shows how there needs to be a careful, well thought out selection and implementation of different methods. Being aware of the options, acquiring experience and training for new things, and having an open mind and discussion of what works best for students (which often means overcoming personality hurdles and technology phobias) is something many history departments certainly need to address.
I was excited when I saw your article, as this topic is something I have mulled over and discussed with other people. A frustration I have often heard voiced (or implied) by teachers is that the textbook is a contextual reference, but not perfect because it is merely the best choice they could make from among the publisher’s options. Teachers arrange a class around their own conception and understanding of topics, themes, and where to begin and end the chronology, none of which hardly ever fit a textbook. Then there are the constraints of cost as new editions of textbooks are produced that often eliminate the option of used textbooks, in addition to requiring the purchase of primary source or monograph readings that are a ‘reasonable’ price. It was great to see in your article that most of these issues were mentioned, and your argument that new models need to be created to bridge the gap between practicing and teaching research skills, even as the “need for synthesis and survey remain[s],” a good description of the tension I have witnessed.
However, given possibilities in form and content in a digital realm, I had a nagging question develop: is the model of a ‘textbook’ still necessary? Would it not be just as viable, if not more useful, to get rid of the constraining print model all together, especially when designing a digital resource? My concern stems from teachers (some more than others, of course) largely providing in lecture the context that a student needs to know. That makes PowerPoint slides, .pdfs of topic outlines, handouts etc. more of a ‘textbook’ for the class than anything purchased. Indeed, a common complaint by history professors is that a textbook does not fulfill the course needs. For instance, an issue might be that the book has a lot about Latin America and not enough about China; an economic viewpoint when the professor prefers a gender interpretation for a unit; one sentence for the Investiture Controversy, but an entire paragraph for each of Henry VIII’s wives. Furthermore, a student will often forgo reading a contextual source because what is ‘important’ would be provided in class lectures. They also find it confusing to sift out what the teacher wants from the textbook, skip the ‘not to be covered’ aspects, while being sure not to miss the parts of the professor’s lecture that will not be mentioned at all in the textbook.
In any of these instances, a print textbook loses some or all of its usefulness. Actual teaching methods to foster student engagement and understanding need to be addressed simultaneously with the current materials and possible mediums (I found the Part 2 essays very useful for this point). Since the digital realm offers an entirely new way of teaching, another possibility could be Wikipedia’s example of collaborative creation but this time used in a scholarly effort to make one large, comprehensive, free online textbook. Furthermore, digitized primary sources, digital-born scholarship and projects, online exhibits, archival collections, etc. are rapidly growing, allowing for actual practice in finding and surveying evidence, instead of having students rely upon someone else’s selection of sources and formulation of questions (which may not fit what another teacher has in mind anyway).
I think your article is a good starting point in what needs to be a serious discussion of the teaching methods used in history and how digital materials and new media would be best utilized. The Internet removes limits on size and even cost, while providing easier editing, numerous links to other sources, images, and other multimedia elements in one place. A print textbook has to have a CD or website link to provide the ‘additional content’, sometimes with a purchased access code, and many students lose or do not use those items since they are disconnected from each other or inaccessible later.
Many of the proposed essays deal with the resultant products of writing history—from new genres and types of media to issues of source accessibility and credibility. I think an essay on the composing processes of writing history digitally would be a nice accompaniment. History in the digital age is made as historians compose. This essay would address several compositional questions regarding the rhetorical, framing and compositional decisions made as a historians cross and gain facility in platforms, devices and digital tools. What affordances of varied media and modes are historians keen on taking advantage of and which seem trite and inappropriate? When and why do historians telescope in to compose within a single mode and expand out to compose, position and layer several modes together? What is considered necessary to maintain in print or image and what is deemed appropriate for transduction from one format or mode to another? What parallel digital activities (such as Twitter feeds or blogging) have influence on the composing of historical texts? What aspects of a message do historians take into consideration when communicating online for varied audiences—particular, interactive, unknown, and endlessly possible? Where, when and with whom do digitally composing historians seek mentorship and feedback? I propose that I interview a few of the contributing authors who have digital projects regarding their digital composing processes. My essay would be a distillation of the contributing authors processes and will include suggestions for understanding what it means to do history in the digital age.
Although it is mentioned in the comments about the ephemeral nature of digital data, I think this section could benefit from more emphasis on the way past data is always potentially present. If a newspage is linked in a tweet, is it still from the past? If it is merely referred to, is it past? If it is modified, does it become present or is it still past or a hybrid? How can we understand past when it is also present or potentially present?
Yes, a note such as this would satisfy me as a reader. It addresses the broader issue of the phenomenon of time. I think it would be great to imbed this notion in the footnote as well: “whether digital data exposes a condition that we have long overlooked(or dismissed)”
Hmm … you’re asking ‘the public’ to comment on the essays in this journal, but then the first two or three paragraphs talk exclusively about ‘we historians’ etc. which might well put of ‘the public’ from commenting, I would have thought.
I can’t see how the digital revolution could not transform how historians write about the past – but it probably depends how far back you go. The past is yesterday – for yesterday’s history there must be a vast mine of information on the net, from the completely trivial (I hurt my knee, ouch – I’ve written a blog post about it) to major world news.
However, pre-web history will obviously not be affected in the same way. I’ve no doubt the way it’s written about will still be affected though and I look forward to reading more and finding out how.
Unfortunately, it says above that you need to enter your details in full for each comment or register once … but when you click ‘register’ it says ‘registration is not allowed’. Mildly frustrating! :-)
One thing I especially appreciate about this article is the way it examines the authors’ very intentional use of a simple tool–email–so thoroughly and carefully. It’s not the fancy e-gadgets that will save us, after all, but rather our thoughtful use of them. Further, this article seems to me to frankly and usefully engage the real issues around “process” and “feelings” without slipping into apology or soggy thinking.
In keeping with Amanda’s attention to how this format affects our process (as authors, readers, reviewers), I’ve been noticing my own struggle over how to read the essays here alongside the comments. Do I want to have my own, uninterrupted, reading experience of a new essay, and then circle back to the comments? That seems like my preference, but the existence of numbers next to the comment bubble pulls me to do otherwise. Reading comments along the way produces a less linear reading experience, but one that allows me to incorporate what I’m learning from comments as I read. This digital format for open review thus helps review not just to be more public, but more collective. Are there drawbacks to this?
And, on a totally differently note, I wonder if the volume needs either a consistent approach to explaining more technical terms (e.g., XML, which is referenced briefly in both the Bauer and Tomasek essays). Should they always get a short definition? Or would a linked glossary be helpful?
Thanks, wilssearch. Should be “using writing as a way to test out…”
“How, then, do we proceed…”
I look forward to reading the Ginzburg piece. Thank you.
Jonathan – I would be interested in your description of this difficulty. Please do send. (Email available via the web link.
Jonathan – Thanks. I’ve had trouble with the italics in the transfer from MSWord to WordPress.
It should read… suddenly find themselves having difficulty thinking.
William – Thank you for this comment. At various times as I worked on my own research and wrote this essay, I considered what historians would do if ALL of their (at least written) sources were full-text searchable – thus allowing the “automated” process you are describing, and theoretically producing analyses that historians would have missed. I think that part of what I found worrisome about this image was my concern that it would have the opposite effect that you describe here – that somehow history produced this way would have a cast of “objectivity” as if there had been no decisions involved in looking across sources, and that historians would become less attentive to our place in that workflow. I like your idea that more “automation” can exist with more attention to our role, although I want that link to be strong, I am not confident that it would necessarily be.
@William – I like understanding this in terms of when we say that a project has begun – that is, whether the meandering counts as part of the “formal research project” or not.
@Shawn. Thanks for this suggestion – I look forward to reading.
Charlotte – Thanks for the concrete suggestion. Doing so here would help address Christopher Hager’s comment above, and relates to William Caraher’s at graph 26.
Charlotte – It’s thanks to Jack Dougherty that I sharing the file itself was a possibility.
…that I ^realized sharing the file
Yes – thanks, Jonathan.
Thank you for these helpful comments. I think Christopher Hager’s connects with others by William Caraher and Charlotte Rochez below, asking for a clearer framing of this project within the field of digital humanities, or at least to foreground earlier what’s “digital” here. That makes a lot of sense.
I appreciate Fred Gibbs’ comment, and it reinforces some thinking I’d been doing on what revisions I’d make if the essay moves forward. I was contemplating being more frank about how I am not someone who has been active in learning or using “digital humanities” methods, and who thus came to a relatively accessible tool not because it felt like doing something very new, but because it felt like doing something quite familiar in a better way. But in doing so, of course, I learned some broader things, as detailed here, and I want to encourage other folks who don’t imagine themselves to be at (or seeking) the cutting edge of digital history to still consider how these tools could work for them.
With the opportunity to revise, I will cut this section because this date fix was highly imperfect. Rendering dates as text organizes months out of order (ex. 1, 10, 11, 12, 2…) – which I worked around as I read by paging manually, but something that more expert uses of this database software, or more granular and flexible approaches to dates (as that used by Zotero), would avoid.
Dear Timothy Burke:
Thanks for this comment. I’d like to respond to the latter half, on the question of whether there’s “resistance” to using database programs of the sort I used. On reflection, my choice of the verb “to resist” may be too strong (and you’re right to point out that it’s silly to imply that a MSWord file isn’t digital). I agree that, in considering sensible-seeming database tools, there is nothing approaching the substantial concerns that come with, as per your example, using Facebook in historical research.
Yet I do think that this volume should not assume that technologies – even quite familiar ones like off-the-shelf database packages – have met universal adoption.
I have been struck by the extent to which many historians continue not to avail themselves of these tools. That impression comes from an admittedly very un-scientific sample – conversations with my peers (people 0-5 years out) in my own institution and others in my subfield, and with the 20-person discussion group at a conference in which I presented an earlier version of this paper. In that forum, no one, young or old, was using anything other than MS Word to keep her notes. These encounters have led me to puzzle over both why it is that such valuable tools may be under-utilized – because of lack of knowledge, furthered by the dearth of talk about the nuts and bolts of research in many grad programs – but also to ask if there is, if not resistance, at least some reluctance involved as well. That’s the core question this paragraph was targeting, and I hope to have the chance to revise it to emphasize that query.
As I’ve read through the various essays and comments, I think this kind of discussion raises a question for how this volume conceives of its audience. Is the purpose to move forward those already enmeshed in various kinds of digital scholarship, or is it also to try to bring in those who haven’t yet tried to connect these tools to their own work? I hope the volume can keep space open for the latter, and I hope to try to write about my experience in a way that doesn’t create a strawman of the anti- or un-digital while yet acknowledging a range of experiences and ways of thinking about these tools and their relationship to nuanced historical practice.
The whole essay raises questions for me about graduate training – where do we learn to write, and what relationship does that learning (often targeted at writing good grad-school or formal prose, as you note) have to other necessary and other productive modes of writing? That is, you’ve got a story here of how you learned, in part via digital media, to sustain yourself as a writer. Are there ways that programs can help people figure these things out better, rather than leaving them on their own to figure it out (or not)?
You’re right that historians rarely co-author, but I don’t think that’s because of wanting to pad CVs. Actually, compared to the massive article-generation machines of collaborative research teams in areas like psychology and sociology, it makes our production look relatively thin. But that’s a sideline. I think you might say more here about how cultures of collaboration or non-collaboration in history have bearing on how/whether the field can adapt to “peer production”
This essay helped bring to life a different and more sophisticated use of database technology than I was familiar with. Your descriptions of the basic architecture of the database are clear to this novice reader.
My ongoing question as I was reading was less about the technology than the substance of your dissertation and database. I would have found it helpful to know earlier, possibly interwoven with your description of your database and the decisions it required you to take, what your core research questions were: why did you want to look at correspondence networks, and why was doing so in this way valuable? This is not only to situate the example better, but to allow those of us who haven’t imagined database variants of our own work to understand the relationship between the two more fully, and thus to be better able to think about possibilities for our own work.
This paragraph gets at a potential difficulty in drawing the boundaries of this project. Do we want to include only pieces that are about digital tools for the research and writing process, or are we also interested in digital forms of presenting historical knowledge (the “curatorial models” mentioned here, I think) that was or was not garnered through digital methods? Since there are various published books (like the one from the Center for History and New Media) on the latter, I hope that if we do include that kind of digital “publishing,” we don’t lose our focus on the digital “doing” of history.
The existing contributors, and many of those who are likely to hear about this project, are practicing historians. I wonder whether we couldn’t all benefit from hearing from someone whose work is in information/library sciences or data management, about new tools in those fields that historians haven’t yet adopted (possibly because we simply don’t know about them), but seem promising.
How do graduate programs in history help students learn about the potential that digital tools and outlets offer for their work? Are there programs that have formalized this in their curricula, and if so, how? I would like to hear from someone in such a program, or who is trying to lead their program in that direction.
This is a great suggestion. I’ve been concerned that this project carves out a space that is different than some of the very good work that has already been done on producing digital tools and presentations for teaching. I’m thinking particularly of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason. But, of course, some of those tools very much involve the “doing” of history, and so your suggestion reminds me of the falseness of this divide. I know just a bit about your own work with involving students in using GIS in history-writing, but I’d like to know more, and I think that could be an important example to think about, to help us understand how students can work with digital tools in the doing and writing of history. I would be excited to see an essay focused not on a static but digitally-presented teaching tool or product, but on the process by which digital methods can affect how we teach students to do history. [Comment reposted here by editor.]
I propose an essay focusing on one digital tool – the relational database – and its utility in both the logistical and analytical work of historical research. An earlier version of this essay, “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories: Reflections on 10,000 Digital Notecards,” was included in the first round of the “Writing History” project. The essay considers both the mechanical and conceptual issues of database use in historical research. It chronicles my design and use of one database in dissertation research and writing, and then explores how tools such as these provoke historians to think about how we categorize information, and what various approaches to categorizing and organizing information mean not only for our research process, but for our findings. Using a database not only kept my note-taking tidy; it allowed me to interact with my evidence in ways that furthered my analysis. Full-text searchability across all database fields, combined with easy re-grouping and sorting, made it possible to efficiently organize my evidence around new research questions, ones that I had not anticipated when I first began my project. In other instances, the database helped me see connections between themes and examples that I would otherwise have missed. Reflecting on historian-created databases as research tools raises questions that scholars in archival studies and the social history of knowledge have long addressed: how does the process of making categories of information or knowledge affect how we interact with evidence, what we learn from it, or what we fail to learn? Although this essay differs from many proposed for this volume in that it contemplates a historical research and writing process that was neither collaborative nor public, and focused on paper archives rather than digital collections, it intersects with others in its interest in the benefits and limitations of full-text searchability, and it provokes the question of how much of the research process could, or should, become public if as historians shift towards creating digital tools for and records of their research process.
I’m of two minds on this issue, because I’ve had two very different experiences with students using Wikipedia in history courses.
In most cases, I’ve followed the seemingly standard practice of banning students from citing Wikipedia in papers and stressing repeatedly that it’s not a valid source, only to find that students still freely copy and paste from it on their papers, and in many cases fail to see why this is wrong. Even more frustratingly, when I’ve allowed students to pool their lecture notes in a collaborative only study guide for exams, I’ve found that some look to Wikipedia instead of their notebooks, providing their fellow students with material that was never covered in class and will therefore not be given credit come grading time.
In another (team taught) class, we decided instead to embrace crowd-sourcing and assigned an online group wiki project instead of papers, encouraging the students to use primarily online sources, collect and organize them in Diigo, and build a multimedia report explicitly modeled on a Wikipedia entry. After some initial grumbling, this went over very well, and the students produced some very impressive work for an introductory level class. The experience convinced me that fighting against Wikipedia and its ilk is not the answer, and that the better technique is trying to accommodate it responsibly.
Kristen’s question immediately made me think of Guns, Germs and Steel and the three-part film that National Geographic made of the book. This was obviously an exceptional case, since the book was a huge success and therefore people were willing to fund a video version of it, but it was the technique of the film that seemed relevant. Rather than just moving through Diamond’s chapters with talking heads and Ken Burns’ style images, NG created more of a narrative by putting Diamond at the center of the project: what was his initial question, what path did he take to try to answer it, and what did he find. Although most of us won’t write best-sellers, it seems to me that this model might provide a way to convert non-narrative monographs into narrative films in the way Kristen is suggesting.
An additional study might be interesting in this context. Rebecca Moore Howard,Writing Professor at Syracuse University, has studied how students use sources when writing research papers. One things she has discovered is that the majority of citations in student papers come from the first page of an article or book. So students are not only using the first three to five results they find on Google, but are then only looking at the first few pages of a source. Complete findings at, http://citationproject.net/CitationProject-findings.html.
This inclusion of an assessment rubric is hugely helpful. Resistance to these types of pedagogical exercises on the part of faculty often result from a concern about how to grade the students. This assignment is much more feasible and transferable to another context because of this rubric.
This discussion of tertiary sources is valuable and relevant. Libraries are buying fewer and fewer print tertiary sources, but are greatly expanding online reference collections that contain dictionaries, encyclopedias, compendiums, etc. This increases access to these sources and offers an alternative or extension to students impulse to use only wikipedia.
I agree that addressing the use of Wikipedia upfront with students is a great way to get them to think critically about the source and how it is produced. In libraries we often characterize the use of Wikipedia as “presearch”…the place you go to get a general sense of a topic before you begin research. It is a great jumping off point for students and a good way to introduce citations to other (perhaps) more scholarly material.
Knowledge of a subject area is one aspect of being a “true citizen scholar,” but there is also the issue of contributing to scholarship. The examples of connecting with the author of Homage to Amanda and the donor-submitted metadata do illustrate how two members of this community are contributing to knowledge. However, this argument could be strengthened with further examples of how this community is participating in knowledge creation.
This notion of the “collective intelligence of lay scholar’s crowd-sourcing history” is well illustrated in a project out of the University of Edinburgh, Tales of Things http://www.talesofthings.com/. Through this site, users can connect their memories/histories through stories about cultural objects creating a way to preserve social history.
The central question of this essay is provocative and important – how can the public participate in the making of history. This question reminded me of the work Jacqueline Goldsby of the University of Chicago’s is doing with “Mapping the Stacks,” http://mts.lib.uchicago.edu/. The project trains graduate students in the process of making archives accessible but also draws on local knowledge of the Chicago public to aid in the understanding of Chicago history.
As a history major in college, I admit that I don’t know a third as much as any regular historian, but I have done research on African American Confederates. I’m also a Civil War reenactor, so it’s quite a controversial issue. While there were definitely more black Union soldiers, it seems to me that there were at least some instances in which African Americans fought as soldiers in the Confederate military. To deny this would be to discredit vast numbers of period quotations and journal entries and newspaper articles regarding the matter. While there weren’t 1000s of black Confederates, there were a number. To deny this would be revisionist.
This project is as much an institutional and social experiment in the production of scholarly writing as it is a framework for collected views on how such writing is evolving within a particular humanities discipline “in the digital age.” Some of the most interesting formal questions it asks will only be answered as we watch it continue its trajectory into large and unforgiving systems of scholarly communication and into dialogue with a broader community of historians (many skeptical of or disinterested in the core topics taken up here). In both areas of action, Dougherty and Nawrotzki are on the right track — securing a MARC record submitted to WorldCat even for the draft version of the collection, for instance, and publicizing the experimental aspects of its peer review process in the Guardian. However, unlike most book manuscripts, some of the key framing ambitions for the project can only be proven out in future embodiments and iterations — both having to do with the extent to which the authors and editors respond to reviewers’ comments in making revisions, and the decisions that must be made in collaboration with the press about presentation and production. The polyvocal and “drafty” quality of the work at present (also, oddly, a strength) makes the standard query by Michigan UP — “How well does the manuscript accomplish this purpose in its current form?” — difficult to answer.
It is more than a bit disappointing to note that Michigan’s production decisions will be easier than they ought to be, given the subject matter of the volume. Not a single contribution to the collection is un-printable — in the sense that it takes advantage of affordances of digital media to make arguments and embody approaches impossible in print. Taken as a group, the formal properties of these essays answer the question, “What’s new about writing (about) history in the digital age?” with a resounding, “Not much.”
I share this not as a condemnation of the project — which has so much to recommend it that I unreservedly advise publication — but rather an observation about the collective force of habit and convention in academic writing. It would be interesting to hear the editors reflect, in the final version of their introduction, on the degree to which technology choices (CommentPress for paragraph-level response) and early communications about the project (referring to contributions as “essays”) shaped this response.
Still, I wonder if it’s not too late to return to many of the authors to ask if they have ready or could create multimedia supplements to the collection — a set of online appendices that would pose their own questions about multimedia rhetoric and sustainability, to be sure, but which might better embody the ethos of the digital history community and represent the subjects and energies driving the project. And the collection itself may serve as a testing-ground for some digital demonstrations. See, for instance, Shawn Graham’s comment on this page: http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/general-comments/#comment-822
The scholarship in the collection, by and large, is sound, although as a whole many of the authors seem less familiar with the history of knowledge representation and of the reading and reception of texts than I would have expected, and more of them participated in a kind of boosterism or teleological vision of the digital humanities than I might have liked. Further, classroom concerns and anxieties about Wikipedia and blogging seem over-represented, versus contributions that offer close explication of digital methods, discuss content modeling for historical representation, or survey the state of the art. Only rarely in the collection did all of these concerns (stressors and canards and all) interpenetrate in a useful way.
In terms of overall organization, I have made some small suggestions to the editors in comments throughout (see especially my comments on section 6), but would say that, in general, sections 3 and 5 are the strongest and ought to lead the collection. Beginning with crowd-sourcing and pedagogy may seem like easing in to the topics at hand, but I suspect that readers will find the whole collection more engaging if presented immediately with essays by Gibbs & Owens, Bauer, Tanaka, Theibault, Robertson, et al. It may also be that making necessary cuts in length will result in new obvious groupings — and that publication decisions for the final digital version will allow more flexible, on-the-fly groupings along thematic lines, derived from analysis of the text. (I offer this suggestion again out of a desire to see the digital object embody some of the approaches and possibilities it otherwise only talks about. Could the possibility of contributing to the project in this way be opened up to scholar-practitioners of the digital humanities?)
Finally, on the text: a good deal of copy-editing remains to be done and — because I worked down to the wire and will likely be the last substantive commenter to go through the essays — I can testify that the press will not be able to rely here on the labors of the crowd! (I, myself, often only marked the first grammatical issue of a class that I noted within a particular essay.)
I’d like to congratulate the whole community of participants in the project for the successes they’ve created together and the provocations they’re collectively offering to traditional notions of peer review. It takes a good deal of bravery to share draft versions of one’s work online, and maybe even more to comment openly on others’ writing. This is perhaps especially true for junior scholars and people working outside of the protections of tenure, so many of whom have contributed here — and during job season, no less!
The whole essay is splendid in that it demonstrates rather than simply professes the impact of new media on historical analysis and interpretation. I especially appreciate the way the specificity of the findings and methods shown frame the author’s discussion of blogging — which is itself nicely presented as continuous with other forms.
In fact, Google is already delivering customized search results to users (and not just in the Google+ stream). These seem to be based on the user’s past search history, either keyed to accounts for those who are logged in, or based on stored cookies. So the ranked results you and I see for an identical keyword search are likely not the same. See, for example: http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/answer.py?answer=54041 An acknowledgment that this is already happening (and that it’s not just a concern “if Google+ succeeds”) might add some urgency to your argument.
I’d be interested to hear you speculate on why this response came from history students in particular — since at this early stage of their academic careers, their training would not have varied greatly from, say, English majors.
This is a fascinating observation about how a skeleton or structure tends to emerge quickly and endure. It makes me wonder if you could draw some larger conclusions (or offer warnings!) about that for historical scholarship more generally.
Small matter of style: “The exercise was… a successful exercise.”
I was glad to see this comment indicating the first paragraph was a late addition, because I would encourage you to drop it entirely! The trench metaphor, the parentheticals, the issue Timothy Burke highlights below about embedding too many early assumptions in the phrase “long-form argument…” I find the second paragraph a clearer and more engaging start.
“Shadow” should be singular throughout.
You might be interested in some of the resources listed on this page, having to do with the development of project charters and the negotiation of shared credit for collaborative work: http://praxis.scholarslab.org/topics/toward-a-project-charter/
I particularly like the specificity with which Seligman presents her classroom assignments and exercises, making it possible not only to draw conclusions about the relationship between teaching practices and impact on student writing and research, but also to imagine replicating them in other contexts.
This article offers an interesting discussion of authorship attribution in print encyclopedias in the context of implicit assumptions about NPOV and argument or interpretation. I wonder, though, why Seligman makes little mention of versioning features of Wikipedia. It seems to me that Wikipedia embeds the “commons” notion that Seligman outlines so well alongside a much more sophisticated exposure of textual rescension than we commonly encounter on the Web. Common authorship is most visible, but the “history” tabs on each article ought to be bait for historians as well as textual critics. Would it not be possible for an historian to use the internal consistency, links to individual users, and documentation of article states that these provide in order to work both within and outside of the Wikipedia system to craft a kind of coherence and longevity for his or her contributions, thereby also drawing attention to them for possible incorporation back into the mainstream of an entry? (All that said, Seligman’s basic reading that Wikipedia “does not incorporate into its goals the sustaining of argument” is a sound one — and it’s her solid presentation of this situation as encountered by teachers and students of history that has prompted my musings about exploiting/exposing the underlying system in support of more academic aims.)
I find this piece much less thorougly-researched than it could be, and not compellingly argued. It would benefit from some thoughtful attention to the target audience for this collection who are, I think, eager to engage with polemical arguments so long as they are grounded in evidence. Poe’s audience is also surely receptive to the notion that video and multimedia artifacts are valid texts — but are perhaps looking for a more nuanced and broadly continuous understanding of text, and a less pugilistic article that they can cite in fostering acceptance their own work in this area. Perhaps a more effective way to make these points would have been to demonstrate them — embodying the argument in a video, presented with a very brief prose introduction.
The essay would benefit from some definition of “open source knowledge” or “open source histories” at this early stage.
I was also prepared, in the context of the last two paragraphs, to read a much richer discussion of the interrelation of academic history with popular memory or notions of heritage — perhaps even a history of these concepts! As it stands, I think the reader may be left with the false sense that the two are wholly divided, and that professional historians both naturally own the “authoritative” and are immune to the use of interpretive frames or lenses. This is a useful essay for the collection, but without more attention to this important crux, its usefulness is mostly as an intro to Wikipedia.
I agree with the previous commenter. Without a basis for comparison against other texts written for similar audiences on the same topic, it’s impossible to determine the significance of relative word frequencies.
There was a bit of wheel-spinning in the first two paragraphs before you get to the point with this strong, third one. I’d suggest condensing them, even if it means losing either the arugula or Stephen Fry!
I’ll second that, and also suggest that some definitions of “lay quilt historian” (in the previous paragraph) and “lay scholar,” used here, are necessary.
Say more about how this work constitutes a “new genre of historical writing!” It’s a very interesting notion that, to my mind, doesn’t get picked up enough later on.
I’d suggest removing the parenthetical, which feels redundant with the rest of the sentence — or maybe just expanding on these dynamics in general. Teacher/student, your readers will get. Manager/fan?
I’d be interested to see much more discussion of what is meant by “scaffolded inquiry.”
It wasn’t until this point in the essay that I realized what I think has been a missing factor in the discussion all along. Don’t you think it’s interesting that presumably many if not most of the Quilt Index’s fans are *practitioners* of the craft in question? Surely this is a unique opportunity to think through the kinds of usually-tacit popular knowledge that surface in a space like this, and how academic historians might leverage, almost ethnographically, the different understandings of quilt history that must arise in communities of practice? What kinds of questions, in other words, should we be asking of people whose knowledge has been passed down, crafter to crafter, and which is usually expressed in making rather than writing?
And once above, too.
It would be helpful, in the context of the past few paragraphs’ claims about preservation and access, not only to address the concerns of other commenters, but to know more about the terms of the project’s contract with Alexander Street Press. What happens to the content, for instance, if the Press chooses not to deliver the project anymore? In the grand scheme of things, do the editors consider the trade-off of financial stability (discussed earlier in relieved tones in terms of the stressors of grant funding) to be worth gating access to the resource? What lessons, if any, have they learned and might they share with others considering commercial partnerships?
I worry here that, as in paragraph 6, the claim made to allowing readers to “enter into the analytic, interpretive process for themselves” is based not on any sense of the project as part of the read/write web, but is merely a function of access to materials — of reading. Am I missing some background knowledge about the project that would clarify that there are commenting and user-extension features built in?
I’d be interested to hear the authors’ rationale for basing their project on HTML rather than on the more generally accepted standard for historical transcription and the creation of documentary editions, TEI/XML.
Here, too, I’d like to understand better how this early framework for the project “opened up the interpretive process to readers” in a way not possible in print or in differently-conceived digital projects. It’s a powerful claim without a lot of supporting detail.
Creation of “a new genre” is a very strong claim. There’s a long and rich history to the documentary edition (generally published with interpretive essays or introductions) and both hypertext and the Web were by this point well established. I’d like to have more detail here in order to understand this claim better.
This is an anchor essay for the “crowdsourcing” section — impeccably written, its claims well researched and substantiated, and containing (without belaboring) the most nuanced and mature notions of the bunch, about the key issues of roles and interchanges among scholars and publics, co-creators, and audiences. I find the presentation of process, results, and recommendations very well done. HeritageCrowd is presented as a helpful case study and a real contribution (strengthened by its frankness about flaws!) to public history practice.
By the way, it occurs to me that you may have missed Peter Organiściak’s recent, <a href=”http://dh2011abstracts.stanford.edu/xtf/view?docId=tei/ab-231.xml;query=;brand=default”>very solid research into crowd-sourcing practices</a>.
Ugh, dreadful. Here’s the URL again:
I agree with the commenter who suggested that you include more screenshots. I kept leaving your essay at this point to play with and explore other sites and visualizations. This is not a bad outcome for a piece that functions as a broad survey of methods and approaches! — but it did break my concentration on your argument, whereas illustrations might have enhanced it.
I find this article very useful as a survey of certain threads in mapping and visualization, but agree that the author should consider a revision that strengthens the thesis and brings it into play much earlier.
This essay does a terrific job of contextualizing the work it describes both within modern instructional technology trends and more traditional functions and configurations of the first-year history course.
I appreciate this description of roles and administrative structures for demonstrating changes in *who* teaches, writes, and thinks deeply about history “in the digital age.”
More specific citation and description or even illustration of various plugins, platforms, and tools is needed in the footnotes to this essay. Imagine reading it in 10 years and wanting to understand the basic character of the technology being used. It’s also worth explicating things like VKP and FERPA a bit more, in order to future-proof the essay a bit (and make sure present readers are fully engaged).
It’s interesting to note that Tomasek is citing and embracing as a central activity in digital humanities editorial and bibliographical work that has traditionally been discouraged and under-valued in literary studies. The argument that transcription and editing are pathways to meaningful scholarly contribution by junior scholars was once (but is no more) generally accepted in English departments — despite the fact that it underpins the digital humanities. Later citation of work in Classics and the overall contextualization provided beginning at paragraph 28 is useful in this context — and would perhaps be more helpful toward the beginning of the essay than at the end.
I’d also strongly discourage linking to a Microsoft Word document. PDF format would be much more generally accessible — but you might consider simply adding it as a brief appendix to the essay itself. It would also be worth defining “scaffolded assignment” in the body of the essay.
Small thing: “faculty” is a collective noun. “…and one faculty *member* in my department.” (I keep hearing members of the faculty at my institution refer to themselves as “a faculty.” Perhaps, like Whitman, they contain multitudes.)
Agreed that some citation of interest in categorization within “recent work in the social history of knowledge and the history of the archive…” would be of great interest and help to situate your methods.
Specific citation? This whole section, beginning in the previous paragraph, is nicely done — accessibly presented and key to your argument.
A formal definition of “relational” databases would be useful to many of your readers.
Also a comma splice in this first sentence.
I find some troublesome assumptions about textuality — including reading practices, reception histories, and the nature of text — in this essay: that readers of academic prose are locked into encountering it in an A-Z fashion, that digital culture is disruptive of otherwise smooth and untroubled discourse fields, that authorial credibility is located in linearity. There’s a rich theoretical literature and lots of down-and-dirty research on reading (in and out of the digital age) that might enrich Faltesek’s argument and certainly should be grappled with.
I find this essay very fresh, unsentimental, and clearly-written and suspect it will be a comfort and a help to graduate students in the humanities. But I would have expected, in the context of this volume, to hear much more about research and writing in history — or at least about what may be particular to the grad experience in History departments. That would be a zooming in. Alternately, the authors could zoom out a bit and think through the history of writing partnerships and collectives, in order to reflect on what may be different about such things “in the digital age.” I suppose I just want to know why this volume is the perfect place to position the essay.
Sentence with “wont to let go” perhaps states the opposite of what you intend.
(But in general, I want to say what a useful and approachable overview this essay provides! I see it as particularly good for opening conversation about the forms and structures of academic writing with graduate students.)
I second the notion of promoting discussion of the DAVILA project to a paragraph in the main body of the essay. It is a concrete and original contribution to the crucial problem set you outline here. Moreover, it’s a project designed by an historian for historians, and this essay is the right place to describe it in greater detail.
Some specific citations would be helpful here, of work and experimentation in encoding and implementing time in digital humanities projects — and assumptions about temporal representation and lived experience that underlie them.
I see a great deal of “human interest” in this final paragraph — resting nicely in a parallel between mistakes, missed communications, and the “downright weird” in Bauer’s research, and the overall experience she presents, of digital historians-cum-database designers, who are also largely amateurs “learning while doing.” But maybe I’m reading too much into it. I really should structure my thoughts and evidence in a relational DB.
I don’t read this at all (with Gibbs) as a conflation of XML and databases — but do think that Bauer should consider defining XML and semantic linking, or linked data approaches. Especially useful would be a description of why she sees XML as “more flexible.” The Herodotus/Thucydides analogy is terrific, but will be lost on many readers without a little more framing discussion.
This description of Scott Payne’s valuable and interesting exercise with students could use more explication. How does this relate to the research into existing discourse fields that historians conduct before making interventions in other media?
“Permitted” is an interesting word to choose in this context — I am certain, deliberately — but I’d like to see more discussion of whether contributions to Wikipedia are widely felt by students to be “by permission” or “contested/uncontested” by peers and editors. What, in other words, is the relation of this work to traditional peer review (for which we could also say certain contributions are “permitted.”) See also readers’ comments on paragraph 16.
It would be useful to hear more about the editorial apparatus for Wikiprojects: how are materials rated “of interest,” for example?
This claim — that ” not a single tool of the last fifteen years challenged the epistemological core area of historiography” — could use more discussion and substantiation. In general I think the collection would benefit greatly overall from the inclusion of an essay that situates digital history within the long view of humanities computing — but worry that the presentation here is too telescopic.
I will say, though, that it’s nice to see a more broadly international picture of the digital humanities than is often offered in such capsule summaries.
“Digital media are…”
I agree with Will Thomas that this is among the strongest essays in the collection, and would encourage the editors to consider re-orderings that might bring it more immediately to readers’ attention.
(And in general the essay — like many in the collection — would benefit from a bit of dedicated copy-editing as it approaches a more formal publication phase.)
This whole section reads as much more either-or than I expected, given the overall tenor of the piece. Is there no room for blended approaches and experiments at focusing scholarly attention in the publish-then-filter reality we’ve entered? I look at projects like Digital Humanities Now and PressForward with great interest.
I’d like to hear more about how these visualizations were generated, and by whom. How much classroom discussion went into the definition of categories? Did the instructor read and review these characterizations — or generate the visualizations herself? This looks like a provocative pedagogical tool, but it’s unclear to me from the presentation whether it was something done collaboratively with students, by the students themselves, or by the instructor alone as a kind of post-mortem.
Not a lot of critical discussion of potential or perceived problems with Wikipedia preceded this statement that some elements of it (undefined) are “anathema to the professional practice of history.” These issues are, of course, laid out almost ad nauseam in other essays in the collection, but if this one is meant to stand alone or be read outside the context of the whole, this issue should be addressed.
I also appreciate the attention to rhetorics of digital media design as part of writing history online — but wonder that there’s no mention of sustainability or long-term accessibility of this work. Will a Prezi slideshow still function next year? What is the 5-year plan for the stand-alone websites these students have created? My questions aren’t meant to suggest that all student writing be preserved in the long term, but that these questions become part of the conversation instructors have with students working in digital media, helping to inform their choices and teach the value of sustainable practices and standards on the Web.
This is just another word of encouragement — early on in what I think is a strong, inspiring, and indeed important essay (one of the most important in the collection) — to spend a moment defining “data” in the senses in which you’ll address the term. When you start by saying that the use of data is nothing new and conclude the piece with a statement that “not all research projects will require facility with data,” I am struck that you must have a very specific and unstated notion of what does and does not constitute historical data. If you don’t share it, your readers (day I say “users?”) will fill in the blanks.
Seconding here Tim Sherrat’s smart comments throughout on the notion of “sketching” with data and the need for publication forms that feel rough and experimental, like an artist’s notebook.
“Remain,” or “become” transparent? (And I agree that “datatext” is probably an unnecessary neologism! cf. Johanna Drucker’s notion of “capta” — which could probably usefully be cited in this essay.)
Consider citing “Royal Diadem’s” real name on first mention, paragraph 11 above.
Just a pedantic stylistic issue — since the essay begins and ends with it so strongly. “A” or “an” historian? I realize that one is a direct quotation and the other may be the author’s (in my opinion, correct!) preference — but to prevent distraction (and perhaps for copy-editing consistency throughout the book) one or another might be stuck to.
Leslie Madsen-Brooks’ essay, “I nevertheless am a historian,” is an excellent way to start, framing central questions for the collection in the context of a broadly accessible and hotly contested test case. Her themes (“what constitutes real historical practice, how are digital research and publishing tools changing that practice, and what ought to be the role of professional historians in a space where authorship has been democratized?”) are key to the collection as a whole. As a non-historian, though, I was left with some puzzlement about what seemed to be under-interrogated references to “academic credentials.” What constitutes a “credentialed” historian? Does this require a doctorate? Are there alternative routes to recognized/recognizable authority? Would public historians and museum workers with master’s degrees or significant work experience be considered adequately credentialed to adopt the “guide on the side” role Madsen-Brooks advocates — or would these people remain in the group of “other professionals” with whom those addressed in her last paragraph might collaborate? I suspect the central points of this excellent essay would not only be strengthened but made more applicable to disciplines outside or on the edges of history, if some of the field’s internalized assumptions about credentialing were addressed head-on.
“Containment” is such a loaded term here, too — beyond the previous commenter’s concern about whether this activity interferes with historians’ productivity, is “containing” what we really want to see with Internet discourse of any kind? Or is the goal here better contextualization and promotion of digital and historical literacy?
I’ll also refrain from commenting individually on the essays in this section, which each accomplish what they set out to do in a straightforward way.
I think it would make sense to move Noonan’s essay on textbooks to the section on teaching and the Sklar and Dublin essay to this “New Ways” section of the collection. It also a description of a project, albeit a longer-standing one than the others collected here, and has more in common with project summaries than with the database and content-modeling discussions of section 3.
Then I’d suggest the editors consider whether they might solicit further brief capsule summaries of projects to augment section 6 and give a broader sense of current work in digital history. With only a few projects represented, I share Will Thomas’s concern about the contribution of this section to the whole — but it strikes me that (perhaps for the online rather than the print-on-demand version of the book) a carefully-selected snapshot of history scholarship across digital media and taking a variety of approaches would serve as a useful appendix.
History textbooks occupy a fascinating place in the academic sphere. Professors are rarely, if ever, pleased with their contents. Students loathe their dry narratives, imposing size and weight, and enormous price tags. Yet, publishers continue to make large profits off of them, because the two contingents are chained to the textbook as it currently exists. In her article “Building a Better Textbook,” Ellen Noonan presents a few changes that could greatly impact the quality and usefulness of the history textbook.
Noonan suggests that publishers should begin making electronic textbooks to eschew page limits and increase interactivity. These gigantic electronic resources would provide rich primary sources for students to work with, favor inclusiveness over conciseness, and offer multiple forms of media and foster interactivity between the book and the student. Professors could then provide students with incredibly flexible and complete texts to work from, assigning (and possibly editing) specific modules to include the information they want and need, and leaving out the rest. By narrowing the textbooks down to the essential information, the book would appeal more to students, because the assignments would be chunked out and much less imposing to students.
The inclusion of primary sources also represents an essential step in teaching historical thought. Students could then peel back the scholarly narrative, see “what’s under the hood” and come to understand how scholars analyze and synthesize primary material to form an argument. As the article outlined, it would also gives students the opportunity to complete tangential assignments based on those sources. As it stands, the primary sources that are often published in textbooks are sparse, and generally serve as visual aids to the narrative, rather that a separate entity that students can deeply examine and relate back to the text. An electronic textbook would allow for many more resources, so that students can fully engage material and formulate their own arguments and ideas.
By creating a textbook consisting of problem-based and inquiry-based modules that each approach a separate topic, professors can create a smaller book that addressses all of their needs, satisfying the needs of the students as well. By doing this, the content will not only be better (by being more interactive and engaging), but will also be pointed in the direction that the professor chooses, ideally making it clear to students that the assigned portion is important and that they must read everything. The inclusion of in-text assignments, interface-based information manipulation, and mixed media will all positively contribute to a students likelihood of reading the textbook and understanding the important points.
Noonan’s suggestion for small assignments within the text also represents an important step forward in the interactivity and usefulness of electronic textbooks. Her idea to gain instant feedback from students could have major repercussions in the way that the texts are taught. The instant quantification of student responses could allow the professor to tweak their teaching plans to cover topics that students were not able to grasp, dispel popular misconceptions, and approach problems of historical analysis right before their lecture, so that they could correct student errors right on the spot. By doing so, the lesson plan could potentially become a synthetic and dynamic conversation that takes place between the scholars that write the text, the teacher, and the students, and would be custom-fitted the needs of the students and the wishes of the teacher.
To take this a step farther than Noonan, I think that an open source web of modules that utilize these same types of approaches can create an extremely beneficial, completely customizable, free textbook that will engage students without adding to student debt. Open textbooks tend to get a very strange reaction from academics. Most professors are in favor of cheaper (or free) textbooks and acknowledge that there are many open, peer-reviewed textbooks across subjects that are available on the internet, yet few of them actually assign them. By allowing for the free creation of modules and texts, professors can completely customize their textbooks, solving both of the major flaws with current textbooks.
The question of what format these electronic texts should take, however, raises more questions than answers. Although the article highlights the benefits of a touch-screen interface, the decision on which format to go with presents a lot of problems. By going with a tablet or mobile format, the potential audience is greatly limited for students. It would also require the textbook makers to deal with multiple, dynamic proprietary companies, making apps that are functional across a range of devices, and would require constant updates as new operating systems and devices are created. If the electronic textbooks are built for the web (and allow for downloads of PDFs for offline reading), they will not only cater to all students, but also enable easy module creation and foster linking between different primary source repositories and other informational sites.
The solutions Noonan has laid out, as well as the possibility for open creation and use of modules, create a bright future for electronic history textbooks. The fact that neither students nor professors are satisfied with textbooks raises a major red flag; one that has been clear for some time. Noonan’s suggestions offer a very good starting point to make a higher quality product, and the potential for open editing and creation formulate a very bright future for textbooks. There are, however, several barriers to an open, highly interactive history textbook. Publishers may run into difficulty securing the rights to primary sources and navigating the issues of publishing in the most effective platforms with the most effective tools. Some of these issues could be assuaged by going the open source route, but a lot of resistance to open textbooks remains, and many professors will still be reluctant to assign or add to these sources. The burden, in my opinion, falls on professors to decide if they would like to continue the status quo of overpriced, unsatisfactory textbooks, or if they’re willing to make a change and begin building and assigning works that better fit the needs of their students.
History as a discipline has traditionally undervalued teaching, scholarly editing, archival work, and building tools and resources. Sherman Dorn discusses this longstanding problem with the valuation of historical work, particularly in regards to digital history. The public nature of digital history projects has raised the profile of these undervalued historical practices. I agree with Sherman Dorn that history as a discipline needs to value scholarship other than historical argument about the past, but I still believe the practice of history is intimately involved with argument. While not all types of valuable historical scholarship need argument, the practice of writing, presenting, and teaching history require argument. The fact that the practice of history needs argument does not mean scholars should not restrict scholarship to long-form arguments, however. Digital history projects help bring attention to these less appreciated forms of scholarship and hopefully history as a discipline will benefit from this discussion.
I agree that a large number of digital history projects can serve as to illuminate the possibilities of historical scholarship outside of long-form argument. However, historical argument, though perhaps not long-form, has a place in many digital history projects. I think the suggestion that historians should look to the certain projects listed later as templates for moving beyond argument as the focus of scholarship leads to the confusion Shelia Brennan voices in a comment on paragraph five. Perhaps, the introduction could use a clearer explanation that this essay acknowledges, but does not focus on, historical argument in digital history. The title reflects this notion, implying (correctly) that history is argument about the past, but also that there is more to history as a discipline.
I do think on a general level teaching historical information involves argument. Teachers present an argument when they lecture on, for example, the causes of the American revolution or the worldwide impact of the Great Depression. They are arguing these particular events or social conditions caused the revolution or the Great Depression led to other specific events. Teachers may even present more than one argument to students. The way in which teachers present information, specifically constructing a narrative, creates an argument. The alternative seems to be simply listing names and dates, which is, at the very least, not good teaching.
However, I agree that teaching history (not simply historical information) does not always involve presenting an argument. Teachers must give students a set of skills for the students to do history. In teaching these skills, like writing and reading comprehension, teachers are not arguing, but they are still teaching history. In taking this broader view, teaching, like historical scholarship, is not simply historical argument, but rather argument and historical “infrastructure.”
I find it useful to compare these digital projects to their print counterparts. Long before computers helped digital history gain ground, historians undertook many similar, though not the exact same, scholastic endeavors. History must address the inequality of credit scholars receive for these type of projects, whether they be in print or digital format. History, and the academy more generally, rarely give non-argumentative scholarship equal value to long-form scholarship.
Alex Sayf Cummings covers several types of informal writing in the digital age, but also takes the time to look at past forms of historians’ informal writings, like lectures and lesson plans. By examining both the past and the present of informal writing, Cummings explores the advantages of digital informal writing, especially the ability to share work broadly, publish writing quickly, and write messy.
The connective nature of the Internet has allowed authors to collaborate more frequently and efficiently. It has also allowed the sharing of previously hidden forms of informal writing, like syllabi, lesson plans, and lectures. Cummings focuses primarily on wikis, such as the George Mason University Mason Historiographiki and Videri, a wiki on which he collaborated. Wikipedia’s popularity and wikis’ efficiency handling multiple authors make wikis the best example of sharing informal writing over the Internet.
Though meaning “fast,” the wiki does not embody the Internet’s ability to quickly publish informal writing as well as blogs. Blogs, and particularly their “push-button publishing” capabilities best highlight the difference between informal writing on the Internet, which can be published as fast as it is written, and formal academic writing, which is inevitably slowed by editing and peer-review. For an active scholarly network to exist, scholars must exchange ideas and formal writing is rarely the best way to share ideas. By quickly publishing thoughts, historians can delve into the discussion of ideas faster than ever before.
However, it is Cummings’ highlighting of the messiness of informal writing that stuck out the most to me. As someone who blogs (informally), I have found the messiness of informal writing equally as useful. Similar to Cummings, in my experience, blogging has prompted me to write more frequently and (I think) improved my formal writing. I also liked Cummings’ comparison of informal writing to lecturing, which is after all essentially informal speaking. Blogging has yet to gain full acceptance as a legitimate form of (even informal) scholarly writing, though I imagine most scholars would call their informal speaking indispensable, whether it is a classroom lecture, a reading group, or a social event.
However, there is one medium I would have liked to see Cummings address: twitter. Though social media is addressed more fully in other essays in this volume, twitter distills informal writing down to 140 words. The 140 character limit certainly impedes its effectiveness as a writing platform, but its social aspects can easily resemble the blog or the wiki. Tweets are shared with others, produced and published quickly and always written informally. While wikis and blogs can collect and display large numbers of informal writing, I have often seen and participated in sharing informal writing over twitter. The social aspect of informal writing seems very important. Informal writing that is not shared is essentially just writing in a diary or personal journal.
Informal scholarly communication is an important part of academic networks. The Internet, still largely a textually based medium, has allowed informal writing to comprise a key part of that communication network. While formal writing is still the basis of almost every historian’s evaluation, informal writing informs and improves formal writing in many ways.
I’ve assigned several of the chapters in your book for my Creating Digital History course for NYU’s Archives and Public History Program. So much of what is written is about “digital humanities” and the focus on history here really helps to take abstract themes and provide concrete examples. Will let you know how they go over!
My essay idea connects, in a manner, to Jeff’s idea in #13 and also to #4.
I want to argue that new distribution and copyright models represented by Creative Commons and/or Open Access offer the potential to match the outcome of creative historical writing with the hidden collaborations that make that work possible. The solitary endeavor of the historian at the archive and the single-authored monograph mystify a whole set of relationships and congealed labors that make that work possible. Archival manuscripts and the work that results from using them represent fetishes in the way Marx wrote of the fetish. Combined with the intellectual debts to previous scholarship, and the processes of review even our most traditional work is truly collaborative. Creative Commons, as a licensing idea that grew directly out of digital challenges to intellectual property, offers a means to codify that collaboration. And, digital publication across a range of types of historical writing offers a distribution method to capitalize on the promise of CC-BY, and also to lay bare the true collaborations behind even the most traditional historical writing. Finally, they offer a means for the individual scholar to keep the actual creative rights to their work, rather than selling it off to a press for little more than the prestige rights of a gift economy.
I’ve written a post about this previously on my blog, but I’d like to take a more serious and systematic stab at it.
In “Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies,” Amanda Seligman recounts her experiences using Wikipedia in an undergraduate methods course. Wikipedia has become viewed, in ways that she and many others have recounted, as an authoritative source by many undergraduate students and by the public at large. The extent and ways in which Wikipedia has come to be used means that, like it or not, teachers need to seriously engage Wikipedia and teach students its strengths and weaknesses. “If my students are going to turn to Wikipedia for their research,” write Seligman, “then I am going to contextualize that kind of resource for them by embedding it in a larger set of lessons about the utility of tertiary sources in historical research.”
Like many who teach, I have taken a certain smug pleasure in finding egregious errors and problems in Wikipedia; an entry on Reaganomics for instance that briefly contained the subheading “Taxes are Gay” and an obvious error in an entry on lynching that resisted my every effort at correction are amongst my personal favorites. But despite my considerable smugness, I, like most, continue to use the site. I finesse this dissonance with the belief that I am, through my education and experience, in a better position to sort the mélange of fact and foolishness so common to the internet. But if education and experience teach anything, it is extreme caution when dealing with questionable sources. By this standard, if Wikipedia was nothing more than the dreck of my imagination, I would quite reasonably avoid it all together. As I, and few others who claim to know better, can seem to manage this, it is evident that we find something of value beyond mere convenience.
Seligman argues that, because of the ubiquity of Wikipedia, it has become the obligation of those of us who supposedly know better to teach those who supposedly do not. Setting aside the inescapable questions of factual reliability, Seligman argues that Wikipedia is an ideal way to teach students about point of view and argument in writing. Although Wikipedia strives to maintain a Neutral Point of View (NPOV) in all entries, Seligman argues that this is impossible; writing always has a point of view even if only in what the author chooses to present. The collaborative nature of Wikipedia writing however can make this sometimes difficult to discern; it is difficult to maintain an argument and a point of view through multiple unrelated authors. Of course Wikipedia’s supporters will argue that this collaborative nature better insures the maintenance of NPOV. Seligman argues that this effort to obscure point of view makes it all the more valuable as a teaching tool.
In a society where “Fair and Balanced” can be wielded so cynically and people from the moment of first consciousness are exposed to a perpetual barrage of advertising and other propaganda, perhaps students are better equipped to recognize point of view than we fear. Though historians study the past they must still exist in the present. As such, it is essential for all who teach to think seriously about how the modern world shapes our understanding of the old.
Like you, I really appreciated the chance to ask questions of the authors. This process blurs the boundaries making this have elements of a seminar and others of a book. One of my interests is how the digital age challenges the dichotomy between text and speech and I feel this open commenting process is a brilliant example of this challenge.
I like your reflection about the opportunity to submit a concluding essay. To follow your candid example, I think that at the beginning this was in my mind too. However, I quickly found that I was really enjoying reading the articles and participating in the reviewing process. At many times I felt that this was some sort of work experience that is typically not available. Peer-reviewing is an element of many posts in academia and publishing, and this gave me an unprecedented opportunity to see whether I was interested in pursuing it. I found it exciting but sometimes challenging (for example when reading something I was unfamiliar with or where I was uncertain whether there was a grammatical mistake or a difference in dialect).
This is a book that I would have read for its relevance to my PhD methodology and for my general interest. I found that the process of commenting encouraged me to reflect more deeply on the content of each article and to compare and connect the different essays in terms of their examples and arguments.
I agree with your point that “the number of essays and sections might be reduced and the breadth of them expanded”. I feel this most strongly for the articles on Wikipedia. It could be interesting to use the articles as the basis for a longer debate article between Wolff, Graham, Seligman and Saxton et al. All have important comments but much material is repeated and might be merged to create a debate-based or nuanced article where the sum is more than its parts. This could allow for more engaging reading and be more accessible for student readers.
To take this a step further (though I doubt it would be favourably met), this could actually be done using a similar format to Wikipedia, with the essays posted as sections together, and contributors able to offer practical demonstrations of the points about Wikipedia, ‘edit wars’ and such in their arguments.
I started at the middle of the book and then chosen the sections and essays I thought to be most relevant to my research interests. I flitted around the book.
It’s really interesting to hear the analysis you and Jack hope to conduct. I wonder if others saw reading and commenting as separate tasks. Since I wished to get a sense of the essay’s context within the book as a whole, I began reading the book making notes in a word document (with comments coded by author and points I found important coded by theme (with author references)). Having read about half the book (though not in chapter order), I felt ready to start posting comments. I then went back to reading and private note taking before beginning a second batch of commenting. I liked having my own separate coded notes; when I wanted to make a comment linking two or more of the articles in some way I was able to quickly search through my notes to find the references I felt to be relevant.
I really enjoyed it when authors responded to my comments, particularly when they were able to give me further information and links, which would not be possible in traditional printed format. I feel this made the reading process more engaging and personal.
Several essays mention non-linear approaches to engaging with historical sources and historical accounts in the digital age. I wonder whether in the online publication you will move beyond the conventional section and chapter layout as the book as in its current form (which is likely preferable at this review stage). It could be exciting to use tags or labels (and tag clouds or lists) which link certain areas or themes. Perhaps these could even be constructed overtime by readers. These could link to whole articles or paragraphs within articles. This could be very useful for student readers interested in particular themes.
Examples might include tags such as: Digital Mapping and History (Robertson’s article and Graham, Massie & Feuerherm paragraph 7); Google N-grams (Gibbs and Owens’ article and Theibault paragraph 14); Wikipedia (Wolff, Graham, Seligman, Saxton, et al.); databases…; Videos… etc. They might also look at themes such as ‘teaching history’, ‘the role of the historian’, ‘the nature of history’, ‘collaboration in the digital age’, ‘the role of students’.
Reading William G. Thomas’s comment above more closely, I see this is something he has also mentioned.
Wow! This is very interesting. How can this be made more accessible for those not so well acquainted with internet tools? Can this base create a topic list from which to gain access to relevant articles and passages within the book? Would these links be at the essay level or at a paragraph or sentence level too?
Also, are there any issues with using a language processing toolkit rather than say having groups of individuals creating codes by consensus? Here I’m think of places where meaning plays with or is found beyond language in certain ways. Jarrett talks of the subtext of hypertext in his essay. Were an author to use such subtext, or be sarcastic or polemical (perhaps Poe’s essay is an example of this), how does a tool such as Mallet deal with this?
It is fascinating to look at your visualization and see the links between authors. Does this lead us to place greater importance on those essays which address similar themes or a greater number of themes as opposed to say an essay which, although fitting within the collection, looks at a specific and very new development in greater detail?
Thanks Graham, for the additional instructions. I think this is really brilliant. I really hope it gets included in the publication – maybe with a video tutorial for those who are not so well acquainted with this type of tool and presentation.
I really hope the editors include this. It could be great for there to be a chapter straight after the introduction with this visualisation and the model with the labels, and some paragraphs/video explaining it, maybe with the links to Weingart, MITH and ProustArchive for those wishing to read more about it.
Blog post on my experiences as a student engaging with ‘Writing History in the Digital Age’
Reliance on documentary sources was once seen to marginalise certain portions of society and certain view points. Reading your final point in this paragraph, I wonder whether, in a similar way, using location could marginalise certain groups – for example the homeless perhaps…
This ability to see complex picture through online in map form is a great parallel to Gibbs and Owens work, particularly on N-Gram, and to Theibault’s essay. This essay really shows the reader how digital mapping might create different questions and different connections.
This is truly exciting! It seems to offer greater opportunity to use a particular location or (‘ordinary’) person for historical case-study. As a child studying history, I remember doing pieces imagining ‘a day in the life of…’. I can imagine this tool could dramatically extend the potential of such assignments, combining a real person with the places they lived or worked. Indeed, if done locally, you could visit those very buildings – I am so excited by this!
Reading this raises a question in my mind about the ability to change blog posts as source collections extend and interpretations develop. I wonder if you’ve had any issues similar to those outlined by Jarrett (paragraph six) regarding the order and structure of blogging?
Also, were this tool to be extending, it could also have popular utility for those wishing to know more about the lives of their ancestors.
Considering that one of your major sources was a real estate map. And, combining this with a consideration of the present-day implications of this digital mapping tool, were it to be more widely (even universally) available. I’m wondering what the implications might be for real-estate today. Some house-prices might change if you’re easily able to find out the crimes and deaths which may have occurred in your house? Perhaps more sensibly, it is interesting to consider the use of such tools for those questioning land-ownership, rights to land and community heritage issues – potentially in cases similar to that outlined in Graham, Massie and Feuerherm (paragraph 23).
This is very interesting and exciting. I can imagine this extending and having wider popular utility. For example one might be able to click on one’s home, school or workplace, and see its past, all about the people who’d lived there the things that had gone on there. One might also be able gain a greater, more accessible and interactive insight into one’s ancestors’ lives according to where they lived and worked etc.
I wonder, in terms of extending the project, what your thoughts are on the potential for using crowd-sourced material, perhaps in a similar ways to that outlined in Graham, Massie and Feuerherm’s and Sikarskie’s essays…?
This sounds like a very useful class. I wish I had had this option during my MPhil. I have just emailed the course administrator suggesting they introduce this at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and include this publication in their suggested reading materials.
The sentence beginning “During a subsequent class…” does not flow very well to me. Maybe it ought to be ‘during the class’s blitzing of it’ instead of ‘during their blitzing of it’….
ought it to be ‘writing for the Wikipedia’ or just ‘writing for Wikipedia’?
Ought it to be ‘… clear to students that in the Wikipedia…’ or ‘…clear to students that in Wikipedia…’?
Issues surrounding NPOV might be further considered. I noticed that you posted on Seligman’s article on this recognising that it’s difficult for students to understand – I would love to hear the two of you enter into further dialogue on this. I have suggested this on her page as well.
I see now reading through the comments on other paragraphs in this essay that this discussion is taking place. It’s fascinating to read of your and Seligman’s approaches to NPOV. I would have liked to have had more training like this as an undergraduate and masters student. I will certainly be recommending both this essay and Seligman’s. With thanks!
I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on‘Filter Bubbles’ as discussed by Eli Pariser in this TED talk.
Thanks for these links. This is really helpful. I think that raising awareness is really important. It’s great that courses such as this Wikiblitz and others mentioned in this section of the book afford opportunities for students to become aware of how the internet, search engines and Wikipedia work. I suppose this might be considered to be necessary Digital Citizenship education.
Considering this bias towards the Ottawa side over the Quebec side, I wonder if this gave way to opportunities to discuss who the ‘crowd’ is that contributes to Wikipedia. Questions that this raises in my mind include ‘what the implications are for a skew towards a greater number of pages written in English?’ and ‘Are rural entries and urban entries on Wikipedia written by those with different relationships to the area, perhaps with urban entries written by locals and rural entries (particularly areas with low internet access) being written by foreigners or those in urban areas nearby? How does this changes the entries and create a bias for the reader?’ This second set of questions is partly informed by my reflections on your article with Massie and Feuerherm.
Aren’t individual and personal subscription the same thing? Or should it be “institutional or personal subscription”?
Relating this paragraph to your earlier comments regarding the digital age moving us beyond notions of history as sets of dates and names, I wonder if it is possible that this type of history remains but in a new form, whereby we consider peoples rather than individuals and time periods rather than events, with digital history organising brackets of time and statistics…
I think you could expand on this. Might not such learning websites also redefine the learning audience and broaden access to those outside of the classroom setting?
This may have utility in over-coming issues of physical access to learning. For example: where the learner is learning part-time and has other family or work commitments; where the learner is ill or has certain disabilities; where a specialist course is to be offered to many people in different locations; where the learner would prefer not to be in a classroom environment; where the learner lives in a geographically isolated or inclement area
Here it may also be worth mentioning that digital formats may allow engagement at any time and for engagement to continue for longer or to occur at the pace of the learner.
I agree with Sheila Brennan’s comment here that “there are still many forces… on the web that reinforce that history is a set of dates and names”; although we might be able to “use the best of digital history work to reimagine the discipline” as you suggest, new technologies could also be used to teach of history in a more traditional sense.
I also think that reconceptualisations of the discipline, though influenced by technological developments, may be related to wider socio-political developments, beginning perhaps in the 1960s before digital tools were so widely available.
“without every saying” – “Without ever saying”
“…rewrite the entry so that [it] is a critique…”
Formatting at start of line, “two centuries…” – line seems indented
For me, this thought experiments outlines the dilemmas surrounding contributing to Wikipedia in a very accessible way. Thank you.
Why is it not ‘commons character’ like ‘commons authorship’ a few lines above?
Perhaps when it comes to publication it would be good to have some further dialogue regarding NPOV between you and Shawn Graham.
I see now reading through the comments on other paragraphs in Graham’s essay that this discussion is taking place. It’s fascinating to read of your and Graham’s approaches to NPOV. I would have liked to have had more training like this as an undergraduate and masters student. I will certainly be recommending both this essay and Graham’s. With thanks!
I find your writing style very engaging.
It might be good for the processes, techniques, challenges, experiences and implications of the students’ video making to be more central to the essay. As a student reader, I am particularly interested in how to make use of the technologies available to me. This would then be a great parallel to Erikson’s database or Zucconi et al.‘s computer game.
I’d like to hear more on ‘impact’ and videos in relation to blogging and social networking Gibbs and Owens (paragraph 27) and Jarret (paragraph 14) and Sikarskie. I’m interested in whether it’s reading that is unpopular as you suggest or only traditional monographs? Jarrett (paragraph26) suggests boredom with reading is related to length with people dismissing longer posts with (tl; dr) [too long; didn’t read]. Both Jarrett and Cummings seem to suggest that many are happy to read blogs and Sikarskie and Gibbs and Owens give evidence of the popularity of reading shorter posts online, particularly on social networking sites.
I’d like to hear your experiences and views on how is historiographical debate captured in video? And whether video, and particularly feature film, more suited to a monograph? Noonan (paragraph 4) suggests digital textbooks can allow “excursions… into historiographical debates among scholars” – can this be done with videos and in what ways? It would be great to have some dialogue between the two of you – as presumably videos could be embedded in a digital textbook? Have your students experimented with other ways to capture historical debate and issues of interpretation? What different forms did your students’ videos take? Personally I am quite interested in Vlogging at the moment. Have any of your students experimented with this? Do you know of any historians who are Vlogging?
Do videos pose issues for students in discerning authority and argument? It would be good to have some dialogue between you and Seligman comparing issues of argument in video and in Wikipedia.
Also, it could be interesting to discuss the extent to which we consider video to be a digital medium. Video can be seen to pre-date the digital age. Here it might be interesting to set up dialogue with Cummings (paragraph 15) on how “a medium is not the same as a particular technology”.
It might be worth comparing the existing television shows on the History Channel you mention with the works of popular UK historians including David Starkey, Niall Fergusson and Simon Schama (links to youtube videos). The historical drama, The Tudors (BBC2 prime-time) and David Starkey’s Monarchy documentary (Channel Four prime-time and ‘on demand’) have high mainstream popularity in the UK.
In wondering whether claiming ‘high mainstream popularity’ was an overstatement above, I googled the Tudors ratings, and found this article from The Guardian which shows the Tudors gaining 11% of viewings against Big Brother’s (12%). Also, it claims that The Tudors is a US import, which I hadn’t realised. The Tudors is historical drama – there will likely be differing opinions as to whether it is classed as ‘history’… [I do not know the ratings for David Starkey’s Monarchy, however it has been awarded a prime-time slot]…
Reflecting on Svetlana Rasmussen’s comment (on whole page) above, I similarly agree that this section is central to understanding the essay. It would be great to mention this in the introduction, and extend it. I agree with Rasmussen, that it would be wonderful to have the videos embedded. I wonder if this is a possibility for this volume?
I think that there are examples of video history ‘counting’ – for example Simon Schama and David Starkey as mentioned above, although arguably it is their scholarship that afforded them the opportunity to make ‘video history’. My feeling is that there might be a virtuous circle of good scholarship and lecturing leading to video history opportunities inviting better academic posts and so on… Here it would be interesting to engage with Jarrett’s discussion (paragraph 14) on ‘impact’ in the UK and ‘the third-stream’ in the USA. Perhaps the situation is changing.
But then neither did our hands did not evolve to hold video cameras and spend lots of time edit film clips. If we were to use our bodies are they directly evolved we might engage in historical study and research through a combination of archaeology, conversation and real-life improvised re-enactments.
Evidence that reading books is not popular at the moment might rather suggest changes in reading habits and preferences for different forms of reading. I would imagine that we are reading online more, on sources such as Wikipedia, websites, blogs and social networking sites. An interesting example here would be Cummings’s (paragraph 1) of the cell-phone novel.
Apologies, the above is not very coherent. I meant to say:
“But then neither did our hands evolve to hold video cameras and edit film clips. If we are to use our bodies as they evolved we might engage…” Sorry!
Hi Amanda, somewhat related, you might find the following articles interesting:
Cheryl A. McLean, ‘A Space Called Home: An Immigrant Adolescent’s Digital Literacy Practices’, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , Vol. 54, No. 1 (September 2010), pp. 13-22, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20749072
Sheelah M. Sweeny, ‘Writing for the Instant Messaging and Text Messaging Generation: Using New Literacies to Support Writing Instruction’ in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy , Vol. 54, No. 2 (October 2010), pp. 121-130, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20775367
Some consideration might be given to the intended audience of the book. I wonder whether certain readers, perhaps students, will grasp the polemical nature of the piece and how they will react to it. As it stands I wonder whether it can leave such readers feeling uncomfortable as they try to engage with the points. While for some this discomfort may work to encourage them to develop their own thoughts as may be intended, you risk losing certain readers.
I wonder whether the essay could be developed into some sort of dialogue, playing with a polemical thread within your actual argument. Or keep a shortened polemical piece framed by more straightforward sections.
This raises an issue of writing in a polemical manner in the digital age. Online we are used to shorter texts and moving between shorter pieces of text. It may be that readers will be likely to only read portions of the essay, which leads to greater possibility of a somewhat hidden argument being lost.
“have served in [the] past as proxies…”
OACV – OACW?
“challenged ‘anti-southern biases’ in the OACV”
“lay a preoccupation with the OACV’s depiction”
Sorry…! the above comment belongs to paragraph 12 below
OACV – OACW?“challenged ‘anti-southern biases’ in the OACV” “lay a preoccupation with the OACV’s depiction”
Might be a typo: “wide public” – “wider public”
Maybe a typo: “wide public” – “wider public”
Why is it sometimes ‘the Wikipedia’ and at other times just ‘Wikipedia’?
I like this metaphor of “peer[ing] behind the curtain and… tak[ing] a place at the controls.” – it also has applicability to this volume and this open peer review process.
The first two sentences seem to imply that inconsistency with the collective is indicative of a lack of foundation. It might be good to explore this issue further. Perhaps it relates to queries in earlier comments by Heather Munro Prescott and Bethany Nowviskie (paragraph five) regarding the relationship between memory and history.
Considering these first two sentences, along with the final sentence in this paragraph makes me wonder about your take on Saxton et al.’s essay in this book. It raises further questions about what might be excluded that does have factual basis and what we consider to be ‘basic historical knowledge’. Readers might find it useful for there to be explicit dialogue between your entry and Saxton et al.’s, regarding Wikipedia’s ability to ‘gauge basic historical knowledge’ and instances where contributions might have historical foundation but be excluded since they are inconsistent with collective thought or there is an unwillingness within the collective to recognise it as relevant. I guess the issue centres upon whether there is a difference between ‘collective historical knowledge’ and ‘basic historical knowledge’ as well as whether Wikipedia contributors can be seen as voicing the views of a wider (even world-wide) collective.
Applying Wikipedia’s survey to the profile of OACW contributors may be problematic. Wikipedia contains such a vast variety of pages. The demographic of Wikipedia history page contributors may be very different to the wider averages on Wikipedia. If this is going to be used it might be worth including in the body of your essay a line or two about how Wikipedia conducted their survey and why you think this representation is applicable to the pages you mention. My gut feeling is that there will likely be quite different demographics for Wikipedia contributing communities between celebrity culture, history, sports etc.
I think it could strengthen your argument to mention your feeling about the resemblance of the demographic – maybe with a few words reflecting on what your suspicion is based on.
It might make it easier for the reader if you began with a working definition of history and memory and then explored different views.
One idea would be to outline the key differences between different approaches to the ontology and epistemology of history. Comparing thos who see the past as objective reality, the historian’s task being to reconstruct the past from sources, those who see history as interpretative and those who see the past as imagined. The conception of memory between these standpoints seems to vary considerably.
hahaha! This makes for a great hook for your introduction. This is really very funny, likely because there is truth within it – Since turning 26 this summer I am certainly guilty of posts about raw pad thai and Planet Organic’s amaranth – sorry! Thinking on this further it might be worth considering how Facebook users might flick between various uses of social media posting on their wall about food and such and a minute later with a post within a Faculty group or on a Fanpage such as that for The Quilt Index. It seems social media blur the lines between professional and social persona.
Tiny typo: “…I worked [as] a doctoral research assistant…”
Maybe, “The Quilt Index social media strategy on Facebook including engaging…” might be replaced by “…included engaging…”
I agree with Bethany Nowviskie that definition and discussion regarding the terms ‘lay historians’, ‘lay scholars’ and ‘true citizen scholars’ would be good. It might be interesting to explore whether these terms are based on affiliation with academic institutions, academic training, level of education? I guess this could be part of the discussion you mention in your comment above regarding blurred distinctions in the digital arena. This seems to be a complex area. Madsen-Brooks uses similar terms, and seems to explore the issues surrounding them but does not appear to offer a very stable definition for such labels. I suspect that this instability is indicative of the fluidity mentioned in your comment above.
The last sentence in this paragraph does not read as well as it might.
Did the curatorial choice reflect, and thus allow insight into, the demographic of the fanpage group?
How brilliant that you came into ‘virtual’ contact with this author. I think this aspect of Facebook is often overlooked (due to how it is popularly perceived as you outline in the introduction). I have had a similar experience to you. In using Facebook for my research on the history of home-based education, I have come into contact with those who have written and researched home-based education along with better known home-based educators. I am glad to hear that it works so very well in other areas of research as well, as I had wondered if it was an exception in home-education. In this way I think your essay is a great contribution to this volume, suggesting how Facebook (which can so easily be over-looked or seen as inappropriate) can serve as a platform to interact with those who may be able to contribute to historical research.
Space needed: “scholars’crowd” – “scholars’ crowd”
Your argument here is especially interesting when read in comparison with those reflecting on some of the issues of Wikipedia (particularly Seligman). It raises the question of how we engage with a multiplicity of voices – whether we create spaces where they can be heard (even if due to their volume we may only engage with some of them) or try to create one voice out of a sometimes dissonant chorus as with Wikipedia.
Have you tried using Facebook rather as a transcript? I hope to do this but I believe my study is of a far smaller size than your’s.
Related to this issue of documentation, I have recently been wondering about how historians of the future (immediate or more distant) might use Facebook-based material as primary sources. This is something I hope to develop in my PhD, I am also considering looking at blogs.
Thanks for posting this Amanda. I’ve been having issues with Facebook archiving groups and changing the group format. I have found this to be an issue with the change in the group format particularly with the loss of the discussions tab which I found very useful for my research. To learn of this Timeline function is very exciting. Thanks.
Whether within the article or just as a comment, I’d be really interested to hear how you went about increasing the numbers of your facebook page. Did you let it grow naturally or did you place links in related groups to publicise it? I have found that both of these techniques work.
Over recent years the number of Facebook groups seems to have grow dramatically, did you find that there were other groups which were also related to your research? If so, in what ways did you interact with them?
Maybe I should have written ‘groups and pages’ above. Actually this leads to another issue which could make for interesting discussion in your piece: do you think that the development of Facebook Pages has changed the way we perceive Facebook, moving it away from its ‘reputation as frivolous’?
Yes, I think this sounds very interesting and I really liked Bethany Nowviskie’s point.
This notion that we’ll know relatively little about the turn of this century due to the loss of would-be primary sources such as emails is very interesting. I wonder whether you or another reader has any references for articles / dialogue on this argument?
Alongside economic feasibility it might be good to mention environmental sustainability too.
In stating that the “main goal…was to documents…and the interpretations of those documents more widely available” – it might be worth considering here the extent to which they became more available, and mentioning issues of subscription.
Also you could discuss the question of authority in selecting documents.
This extension sounds brilliant. I wonder how far you believe this is mirrored in other digital projects or is part of a wider trend with a movement from a U.S. or Euro-centric focus to broader international interest
Given that many contributions in this collection mention reaching ‘lay historians’ and the public (Sikarskie, Madsen-Brooks and others), you might consider making explicit which “other historians” you hope to reach and how? Is the subscription fee such that an interested individual might afford it or is access gained through affiliation with universities, libraries, museums?
The question of source selection mentioned at the end of the previous paragraph might be considered further here too – if historians with other interests (which can’t been known beforehand) are expected to find your site useful how do you go about offering them a selection (or the opportunity to choose a selection) of documents of “special interest and meaning… chosen to connect with their changing interpretations of the past.”
I think it really would be very interesting to consider limitations and selection. On the one hand it seems wonderful that the documents and questions have been selected with women and social movements in the US in mind, and I suppose limits are necessary, but who chooses the limits? Consideration might be given to the implications of limits and decisions in terms of the utility of others whose interests might be relevant but tangentially so. A lack of awareness of your potential audiences interests could lead you to limit your potential readership.
I think it would be good for there to be a more explicit dialogue between your entry and that of Judkins regarding the relative merits and financial expedients of approaches to publishing online, specifically whether publications and databases are open source.
I like this notion of helping to construct meaning within that sea – I like this could link well to the entries by Judkins on the history encyclopedia and to Noonan on history e-textbooks. It might also be interesting to consider suggestions that rather than interpretive monographs we might see databases as historical accounts in their own right as seems to be suggested in different ways by Gibbs and Owens and Bauer.
‘…the Longitude Problem” in the…’ – quotation marks
Formatting – close brackets ‘… (as Steve Ramsay…’
How do you know submissions were from those in the targeted area? Or Or, was this not important?. Considering the spike in submissions after publication in urban newspaper (paragraph 16) makes me wonder about the location of submissions both during the spike and more generally. Were the submissions during the spike from members of the rural population who read the urban newspaper or from members of Ottawa’s population who have some knowledge of the hinterland?
Maybe rather: “The terminology and structure of the platform as it currently stands gives more authority to the data displayed than might sometimes be warranted.”
It would be interesting to further consider the issue of ‘sharing’ in your mission here. Given that the area has “relatively low internet access” (paragraph 2), I wonder the extent to which your target community could access and share this information themselves if it is in an online form. Was it also available by SMS or in some other accessible form?
It might be helpful for readers interested in mapping to have links between this paragraph and Robertson’s article. Potentially in the online publication there could be a tag in a tag cloud for ‘Digital Mapping and History’
This is a critical point that is so often overlooked in discussions about the internet which uncritically treat the ‘world-wide’ web as universally available. This aspect of your project is both exciting and heartening. I am passing on the details to a visiting scholar at my university who is looking at ways to use lower-tech tools (such as SMS) to address issues of access to education in Nigeria.
I’d be interested to see further exploration of the issue of project audience and access to knowledge. Here you mention the knowledge being made available to the wider world. It could be seen that the wider world is able to learn of this rural community’s heritage and yet somewhat ironically those to whom the heritage may be seen to ‘belong’ may still have difficulties in accessing it.
This might invite the reader to consider issues of who is the ‘crowd’, when we talk of crowdsourcing, perhaps most obviously with Wikipedia. Would this suggest that in your piece on The Wikiblitz the contributors are not from the local area? In areas with higher levels of internet access might we expect more local contributors? What are the implications of this for the nature of Wikipedia (and general web) content and how we approach it? This could add a geographic dimension to the demographics of Wikipedia contribution mentioned by Wolff (paragraph 16)…
This is very exciting. I am using what I see as an online oral history methodology in my work.
This paragraph reminds me of some conceptions of the role of the oral historian, even in a traditional oral history sense with for example the work of Allan Nevins. Your work seems to have a classic association between oral history and history-from-below, though in a digital form where ‘oral’ contributions might take SMS form.
If contributors have issues with accessing the internet, how will they know about the gaps needing filling? Similarly how will they be incentivised to play the games you write of in the next paragraph?
Reading this I get a feeling of crowdsourcing being very much about using the crowd as a source for historical knowledge which may or may not be accessed by the crowd, whereas at the beginning I had felt the project had greater potential for sharing, with a focus more on the community accessing the work. It would be interesting to explore this issue, perhaps through a paragraph early on unpicking or constructing definitions of ‘HeritageCrowd’ – whose ‘Heritage’ which ‘Crowds’ (contributors/audience)…
The terminology here is interesting here; the notion that contributors being asked to do something rather than being offered something. I wonder whether conceiving the project as something being offered to the community would encourage involvement.
Why did you decide to have a distinct platform rather than having a project which sought to create an intermediary platform offering those lacking internet access or technological expertise the opportunity to put forward contributions via SMS for a group of Wikipedia articles on this local history? This might also overcome content review and validation issues (albeit by adopting the issues of authority on Wikipedia discussed elsewhere in this collection).
Questions of whether the lack of commenting is related to issues of formality, familiarity and popularity, may be supported by the fact that Sikarskie’s Facebook Fanpage did not have such issues. However, it may also indicate that those who may be in a position to comment on your site are part of the community who do not have access to the internet.
Reading this I am still unsure of what types of contribution you hoped for, I wonder the extent to which it was not only an issue of unfamiliarity with crowdsourcing local history, but rather the need for more specific lines of focus – for example looking at particular topics as for example, Sikarskie’s ‘quilt of the day’. It might be worth slightly earlier mention here of something along the lines of your points in paragraph 27 regarding the need for narrowing targets, filling holes and having an elevator pitch.
This essay could be a great space to explore to extent to which (and the implications when) the right to share and discuss information (however inaccurate or biased) in the digital age is restricted to those with internet access and technological knowledge. This would fit with issues of authority, accuracy, political bias and manipulation in online sources discussed elsewhere in this collection, in particular Madsen-Brooks and also Saxton et al.
In this regard, this project is highly commendable and exciting. I hope it inspires (perhaps graduate) readers to think of similar projects.
I like this section. This is good practical advice, which I find helpful as a young researcher. It’s great for those who may be interested in creating such a project to have your description of challenges and solutions as a basis to start from. Thank you!
However, this issue of “widening access beyond the tech-savy” might need further exploration regarding whether there was the ability to access the materials or rather access the contribution process. Is the crowd seen as participants or contributors? Are sources shared or submitted?
This is such an interesting example. It raises the question of how digital tools (such as Robertson’s particularly in this case) might be used for political ends. It also links to questions regarding stakes, needs and roles of digital history for those whose histories may be marginalised (for example Castañeda). Though it also raises the question of potential for proliferation and perceived verification of inaccurate histories (as discussed by Madsen-Brooks).
Your final sentence really speaks to me. I like your conclusion very much especially this notion of “grassroots community empowerment” (also seen later in Castañeda’s essay).
The essay might be strengthened by considering issues of ‘grassroots community empowerment’ further, in part because of the community members’ perception of being ‘asked to do’ something (paragraph 22), and their potentially being contributors of information which their lack of internet access and lack of technological know-how, might prevent them from accessing and sharing themselves.
little typo: “…primarily the former of the latter…” – “…primarily the former [or] the latter…”
This paragraph, and in particular your example of Whitney Trettien, is brilliant – it not strengthens this essay but adds to arguments and reflections in other essays in the collection too.
I found this essay exciting and inspirational. I would like to see other graduates and indeed undergraduates reading this.
In my mind, this essay and Gibbs and Owens’ add something to each other. Gibbs and Owens’ call for using digital tools for making data available in a way that the reader can manipulate along with historical arguments and description of methodology. Here, you offer a deeper consideration of visual digital tools offering easy interpretation of deeply layered information.
Your argument about the strengths of Google N-Grams (though I wonder if it ought rather to be written as a singular ‘Google N-Gram’) offers support to, and is supported by, Gibbs and Owens’ in their more detailed example of using Google N-Grams and the interactions and dialogue which it may encourage. The two essays support each other without being repetitive. I wonder if it might be possible for them to appear closer to each other in the book layout. Or whether in the online publication there might be a tag or label which they might share.
Typo: “We’ve seen what can be happen when…”
Following on from William Caraher’s point regarding ‘natural’ interaction…
You mention Facebook in the following paragraph, but I was wondering how far you think conventions on social networking sites, and possibly online gaming help the freedom of interaction you talk of here?
Also how ‘anonymous’ were the students before the BuddyPress plugin was added? This notion of anonymity might be explored a little here.
How did you give students the opportunity to choose the extent to which their contributions were visible? And did you talk about privacy issues? Are you forcing students to make their contributions public – given that even if they choose to place privacy limitations another student could later repost their comment.While some students may be less shy, as you suggest, I wonder whether others might rather restrict what they say, fearing that their reflections may be available for longer in text form, as perhaps discussed in their course’s consideration of “the implications of openness on writing and review processes” (paragraph 24).
It might also be worth considering in more general terms the extent to which the digital age has changed the answers to these questions.
This is particularly interesting when read alongside some of Noonan’s reflections. I wonder whether it might be possible to have a tag in the online publication which links the two in some way.
It would be interesting to consider the implications of the public nature of this ‘sandbox’. I’d love to hear your thought on the effect on students’ self-confidence which could perhaps both be built but also potentially undermined by their public contributions. I wonder whether there were guidelines for interactions as outlined in Saxton et al. paragraph 5 or whether such issues were covered implicitly in the course content.
I wonder whether this is actually more than a sandpit or a classroom laboratory? Is it not possible that students might be seen to be making real contributions, as in your examples of their being contacted by professional historians. This essay and project is really challenging my thoughts on the perceived dichotomy between learning and practising history, as also discussed elsewhere in this collection. Thank you!
At first glance this seems like a contradiction to the previous paragraph where you say that you “have not yet designed an assessment to measure student learning with this type of course”. It might be worth more explicitly discussing the differences between assessing learning and student performance.
Doesn’t the student’s quote also raise an important issue of whether we are able to put down our work? Some students can feel like they ought to be working all the time. Manekin and Mehlman Petrzela mention such a sense of guilt in their essay particularly in paragraph 6 and paragraph 33.
As a student I very much like this notion. I prefer online interaction to large lecture theatres and particularly like the idea of having more freedom of choice as to when to participate.
However I am left wondering whether increased engagement with this intro course impacts on their other work.
Also it might be worth further exploring the pastoral and social implications of moving interactions away from the face-to-face towards the virtual.
I really enjoyed this project. I am especially interested in ways we can move towards hands-on apprenticeship style student learning. I will be passing this on to my university supervisor.
I wondered whether the students were paid for their involvement. It seems that so long as the task is aiding in learning, experience is credit enough. However if grades are to be related to involvement this might lead to ethical issues. Similarly it is great if students are able to work on projects such as this and earn money for it, rather than having to take jobs which take them away from their studies. If unpaid it seems that there may be ethical problems both for the students perhaps feeling obliged to work for free to further their academic careers, but also taking away work from paid archivists. It would be great for there to be a short paragraph exploring such issues.
Ought it to be ‘will be overseeing the design team’ or ‘is overseeing the design team’? Or, have some parts of the project begun and others not?
It would be interesting to further explore the place of ‘historical fact’ versus ‘historical fiction’ further here. It might be good to have some dialogue between your essay and Shawn Graham’s.
I am finding it hard to understand the section: “It also facilitates…without active learning”…
You could use speech marks to show the questions being asked of the students.
I find this idea of modelling history to be very exciting. It brings the notion of the historian immersing his or her self in the sources to a new level.
You might explicitly state here that the student is ‘interpreting sources’. This may be seen as rather different to the historical imagination as used in role-play. It seems that the student is taking a different role here, rather than acting as an historical figure, they are acting here as an historian.
It would be interesting to consider the notion of context here as well. This game seems to bring something new to an appreciation of ‘historical context’ when learning and researching. In terms of empathy and understanding context, it might be interesting to compare the benefits afforded by a third-person perspective computer game and by in-role traditional role-play.
It is interesting to consider ‘role’ again here. It seems that a photorealistic quality might encourage the player to use empathetic imagination to assume the role of the historical character, whereas the imitation of watercolours and line drawings might encourage the adoption of the role of the historian so immersed in his/her sources, that the sources rather come to life.
Further consideration could be given to epistemological issues of creation, recreation, interpretation. Here you write of “Local artists… creating a wealth of visual imagery… not… merely recording what they saw, but rather, interpreting it as a record of a bygone era…”, you could make a more explicit comparison here with your project which seems to be “creating a wealth of visual imagery… [and] interpreting it” but now in a digital format.
This paragraph is a little unclear. It seems that there are two different issues here: firstly, recreating history and a lack of active learning and secondly (and maybe this could be in a separate paragraph) learning to win the game whilst bypassing learning.
This is a very exciting project. There seems to be an underlying theme in the essay of historical fact versus historical fiction.
It might be good for you to epistemologically situate yourselves and explore this somewhere near the beginning, maybe with a short paragraph discussing different theoretical approaches and epistemological and ontological issues about the past and historical accounts (whether written, spoken, games, videos etc.). I am left wondering, what is/was your position on whether the past is recreated, reconstructed, interpreted, imagined etc.? At times the essay seems to assume a clear distinction between historical fiction and fact.
The essay also sometimes suggests a preference for historical fact (for example in paragraph 4 and paragraph 9) which leaves me wondering about your thoughts towards the role of imagination. I wonder in paragraph 7 whether it is “charismatic or present-minded students that skew the results” or is it rather historical imagination coupled with a lack of contextual understanding? Of course historical imagination can work in quieter ways for example allowing “a simulation of a real event” (paragraph12). I wonder whether, in game-based learning it is empathy and imagination which allow us to avoid the “trap of recreating history without active learning” (paragraph 12).
It might be good to further explore issues of accuracy, veracity and verisimilitude, which you allude to for example in paragraph 10 when writing, “Few historians would argue that films, even based on real events, are entirely accurate” (paragraph 10).
I wonder here if it might be interesting to think about whether the digital age encourages historians to move away from the hard-to-define inductive processes towards an approach which has more in common with what we think of as ‘grounded theory’ – given the use of memos, coding, categorisation and the emergence of themes and patterns. Though it ought to be noted that some grounded theorists take issue with digitized coding techniques.
[I’ve mentioned this question regarding historical methodology to peers and my supervisor – some seem to agree with this and others are very quick to reject the (sociological) association.]
I like your thoughts on categories and categorisation here. I agree with Peter Burke that the history of individual and social experience breaks beyond, and may be distorted by, compartmentalised categorisation. I find your discussion useful for relating such concerns to digitizing processes.
Reference: Burke, P. (1992) History and Social Theory, Cambridge: Polity Press.
It might be pertinent, at the end of this paragraph, to make a more explicit mention of the ‘digital’ aspects in the substantive focus of your essay.
I see you touch on this later in paragraph 36 with reference to social science more generally.
I like this suggestion of moving between and combining approaches or ‘encounters’. I feel this has links to Kathryn Kish Sklar and Thomas Dublin’s entry.
I think it’s brilliant that you’ve made it possible to download a template of your layout. This is one of my favourite examples in this book of the greater practical utilities afforded by publishing in digital forms, particularly here for readers interested in exploring or adopting digital tools in their work. The virtual-hands-on opportunity you provide resonates in my mind with the possibilities Gibbs and Owens mention in their essay about the desirability and possibility of making methodological processes, tools and potentially data available for readers to explore.
insert ‘of’? “…technologies could erode the basis [of] academic authority”
It might be interesting to explore this notion that videos “contain the evidence itself…” further at this point, perhaps considering truth and film, with issues of perspective, lighting, reactions to the presence of a camera, and indeed the implicit editing of what we choose to record and when we begin recording…
Reading Timothy Burke’s comment above gives me the confidence to say that I found this article quite difficult to understand. I had thought that it was just my lack of familiarity with the topic and that I was out of my depth. At times I felt that I understood but I was left feeling rather confused.
Your notion of ‘harness[ing] technology to address… isolation’ is very interesting. Reflecting at the beginning of this project on how the Digital Age has changed how we write history, I wondered whether technology was in some senses a culprit for our isolation – see the section of ‘Researcher Lifestyle’ towards the end of this blog post. I was also concerned about being able to put down my work at the end of the day. This essay gives a practical solution to how technology can actually help with these issues. Issues, which could, of course, be seen to pre-date the advent of technology, for example in projects involving long time spent working alone in an archive or writing in private.
Sorry I do not know what ABDs are…
Tangentially, as historians of education, I wonder whether, and how, you think that Barbara Ehrenreich’s notion of a misbelief that success is solely dependent on ‘dutiful work’ is related to our attitudes towards success at earlier stages of scholarship and education in colleges and schools? [Clearly this is beyond the remit of the essay and the focus of this publication – but I’d be interested, as a graduate student researching the historian of education, to hear your thoughts as a comment]
While you met in ‘real life’ at conferences I wonder what you think of prospects for setting up accountability partnerships online in virtual environments through sites such as academia.edu or Facebook.
As a second year PhD student I can quite see the value of your online ‘accountability partnership’. Beyond finding this inspirational, the level of detail provided makes this a practical suggestion. I have posted a link to your article in the FERSA Facebook group [Cambridge University’s Faculty of Education Research Student Association]. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Above: *researching the history of education…
Thanks Amanda. It would be good to have this put in full word form, as I’m not sure that it’s a term used in all countries.
I like this notion of an online trial for ideas. I spoke about this recently with a friend doing science PhDs. My astro-physicist friend was horrified, he and a biologist agreed that this would lead to ‘scooping’ of ideas. It seems that the collaborative possibilities afforded by the internet might be more suited to disciplines such as the arts, humanities and social sciences, say as opposed to natural sciences. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on this.
Maybe “out of reach” not “out of the reach” here…
Maybe either ‘literary definitions… take on’ or ‘literary definition… takes on’…
I find this essay and this project particularly exciting – both for the role of the internet in accounting the history of the marginalised and considering the roles students can play in writing and documenting history online.
In considering source selection and trying to represent different aspects of history and historical experience, it might be good for readers to see some online dialogue between you and Julie Judkins…
It could be made more explicit whether there is the ability to change keywords for later searches.
This section, and your reflections in paragraph 16 below, are particularly interesting. Read alongside Tanaka’s essay, I am left reflecting further on the extent to which technology dictates the way we see our sources, the past and indeed our conception of time. I wonder if in the online publication of this book, there might be an explicit link, label or tag for a reader between the two.
Also I am wondering as historiographic fashions change and different concerns come to the fore in our readings of the past, whether categorisations will become outdated or whether they will be allowed to develop and change for later searches with different concerns at later times.
formatting: ‘in consequential’ – ‘inconsequential’
I like the dialogue here to another author within the same book. I hope this is something that is seen elsewhere in the book once it comes to be published, it is a definite benefit of the open online nature of this publication.
Maybe insert ‘with’: “provides students [with] another novel writing challenge…”
It is interesting to consider these instructions, and more generally how we treat each other online. I think the points within this paragraph have an important relevance given the essay’s context within this online publication. It relates to reflections upon the review process of this book, such as those mentioned by Cheryl Greenberg in her comment on the introduction paragraph 6.
The final sentence in this paragraph might need reworking. I think the issue lies in the use of the word ‘one’.
This example is fascinating and allows insight into such an important issue. This point stayed with me after reading the essay and I have discussed this example with some peers and friends.
I find your argument about segregated histories to be important and thought provoking.
Your essay and argument have led me to reflect further on other groups who may be marginalised by Wikipedia (for example due to race or location) and how far this argument holds for them too. It has also encouraged me to consider the implications of this marginalisation when Wikipedia is such an important source for ‘information’.
Reading this essay alongside Wolff’s claim that his examples suggest that “…the Wikipedia community does effectively gauge basic historical knowledge…” (Wolff paragraph 13) invites further questions over what constitutes basic historical knowledge and who determines this and how.
It’s brilliant to consider that the student is not just hearing their professor’s opinions and critique but rather gaining broader view.
While ‘methodical’ works, I wonder whether ‘methodological… questions’ might be better here…
It would be interesting to consider the ethical, practical and philosophical implications of “shift[ing] decisions about what to include and what to pass over to instructors”. In certain levels and forms of education this could tend to a redefining of the roles of the editor and the instructor, particularly in situations where instructors use textbooks rather as curriculum and rely on editors to deal with issues of coverage. There seems to be two directions of expansion: level of detail and number of topics. Further to the possibilities afforded by expansion in detail and the inclusion of additional sources as outlined below, it would be interesting to explicitly consider the implications of including an ever-growing number of topics. In some sectors “reasonable page length… [and] poundage” may be perceived as indicative of a reasonable length of teaching course. Dropping “editorial trimming and squeezing” may change student and instructors’ expectations for what may be comprehensively covered within one course. Instructors may embrace autonomy over topic choice or they may feel that editors’ have offloaded the issue of coverage upon them. Without coverage limits, is the only distinction between the ever-growing digital textbook and other digital learning sources – such as the online databases, larger websites and online encyclopaedias discussed in this volume – the great addition of learning tasks as outlined below?
It might be interesting to consider the reasons behind the failure for the history textbook to take advantage of, and be accommodated by, the newest technologies. Perhaps this owes to the nature of history and historical sources. Many of the entries in part 3 detail the work involved in digitizing historical sources and others spread throughout the book consider issues of authority and interpretation. Given that these issues are similarly faced by those hoping to make a traditional printed textbook suggests that maybe it is a cultural question; perhaps “historians are an awfully conservative bunch” as Marshall Poe suggests. However, considering the innovative digital representations of history detailed within this book, might suggest that the failure to adapt to new technologies is specifically related to history textbooks rather than the discipline as a whole…
Also, it might be good, when considering book length and poundage, to mention the financial and environmental costs of regularly printing updated history text books (especially given the current economic and environmental issues governments and societies face).
Though not considered as digital history textbooks, this question and answer format has long been around, for example in the UK GCSE bitesize has been doing this since the late 1990s I believe. However, I do not think this offers the option for an interpretive answer as you detail.
I like this notion of ‘excursions’ from a spine. This seems similar to Judkins’ (paragraph 13) use of brief essays and ‘sidebars’.
It could be interesting to consider curriculum in schools. In England, UK one issue we face is whether to have locally relevant curriculum content or for everyone to learn the same. Do you think that digital textbooks might help by allowing for both of these simultaneously?
Yes, I think this is right and desirable. I suppose I was thinking back to my own history lessons when I was very young where we seemed to follow through an entire textbook. I suppose in the case of these e-textbooks then, it might become possible for there to be just one e-textbook for larger areas or an entire country and to pick and choose according to more local relevance.
Would there then be the need for various e-textbooks aimed at different age groups or could the e-textbook have different ability-level-based user formats but draw on the same source base? Such a textbook could be preferable when seeking to meet the needs of students with different abilities within the same classroom. Or, are you thinking more of only older students?
This question of coverage also leads me to wonder about possibilities of affording students greater choice and autonomy in their learning. This links with Harbison and Waltzer’s idea that “students [might be encouraged] to specialize their knowledge in narrow topics of their choosing.” (Harbison and Waltzer paragraph 17)
“breath of material” – “breadth of material”
It might be interesting to consider who decides what are “notable primary documents” and how…
In considering source selection and trying to represent different aspects of history and historical experience, it might be good for readers to see some online dialogue between you and Jean Bauer
I really this idea of sidebars with additional material.
Above: *really like this idea of sidebars…
Reading this essay alongside Sklar and Dublin’s leads me to think about publishing online and whether it is open-source. While both essays see online publishing to be cost-effective, Sklar and Dublin’s project is accessed via subscription. I keep wondering about the financial expedients surrounding publishing online, and the different options for making historical research both financially viable and accessible. This is something that doesn’t seem to be directly and explicitly addressed very much in the volume as it stands. Maybe the references to such issues found within the essays could be linked in the online publication under a tag about digital publishing in relation to finance.
Thanks. That sounds good – it could also explore whether what we consider ‘notable’ are the same in a digital context as in a printed context.
“…the epigram…suggest[s] such erosion…”?
small style point: maybe “we see people and institutions confronting their future pasts”? I guess this might actually be an ontological issue regarding whether there is seen to be one past or many…
Similarly, maybe rather “governments and corporations” – because readers might be from more than one state or country… I’m not sure.
Direction of inverted commas: ‘solid’ and ‘liquid’
It might be worth extending the points in this paragraph and paragraph 12, with a consideration of the power issues implicit in the ordering of others’ histories and the reasons for the extension in historical interests. The realisation, “there [was] no longer a history with a capital H; there [were] many histories” (Furedi 1992, 8 – cited Arthur, J. and Phillips, R. 2000, 11) might be linked to changes in popular world-views, political philosophy, socio-cultural norms, ‘The Postmodern Condition’, the influence of the World Wars, the growth of multi-cultural communities in the 1960s…
Sorry, the quote above should read, “there [was] no longer a history with a capital H; there [were] many competing histories” – this issue of ‘competing’ is an important one here I think when considering the nature of the ‘expanded realm’ you mention. It was not simply about larger coverage in terms of location or time period but an expansion of interpretations and viewpoints at this time too.
I really like this parallel you make here, but feel that your it might better be mentioned more explicitly earlier in your essay, perhaps.
Little typo: ‘included’ – rather “a richer history would include a”
Word repetition: “A second way that that a different”
Maybe add the word ‘if’: “…my hope is that [if] this helps us bring stories together…”
Or instead add the word ‘and that’: “…my hope is that this helps us bring stories together…thinking, [and that] we might…”
Here, it might be worth a nod to other contributions in the collection which detail examples of different forms of ‘socio-temporal modes of organization’, such as Theibault and Robertson.
I like this example. However, I wonder whether the level of detail seems to be more suited for the talk and might need to be further adapted to be more concise for this text format.
I very much like this notion. Also, it definitely adds something to consideration of using digital tools to code and categorise complex human history seen in Erikson’s thoughts (particularly paragraph 28 -34)…
This is a really interesting and thought-provoking piece. It adds a great philosophical dimension to this collection.
A ‘talk’ quality seems to remain in this piece, which encourages flow. However, it might be good to add a paragraph near the beginning which offers the reader a simplified overview of your direction.
I happened to watch this RSA animate, Philip Zimbardo, on ‘The Secret Power of Time’ http://youtu.be/A3oIiH7BLmg soon after reading your essay. I really liked the extended context your essay gave me in watching it. Thank you.
I agree. Blogger certainly offers simple features for labelling. Also it might be noted that it is possible to post-date or future date blog posts. I imagine that blogger and wordpress will evolve with further options for organisation and dating.
Somewhat ironically, I find this anecdote hard to read – no need to indicate where the words are edited though… ;)
It might be useful to have some mention of Search Engine Optimisation techniques. It would be interesting to have some dialogue between this paragraph and Shawn Graham’s section on google’s developments in trying to recognise the user’s interest.
Beyond the accessibility given the norm to blog in more colloquial language, there is the option to make writing accessible through hyper-linking ‘academic’ terms or concepts with links to sources such as Wikipedia or dictionary.com offering a definition. This makes the writing more accessible and user-friendly for those new to the topic, without interrupting the flow of those who are more knowledgeable. For example, in this blog post I hyperlink the term ‘grey literature’ for readers more familiar with my substantive focus than my theoretical approach.
“those hings are” – “those things are”
No, I don’t think it is very good practice to link to ‘pre-existent’ material.
However, I do hope that sites such as Blogger and WordPress will develop to have features which better facilitate linking, in the ways more commonly seen in websites. I hope that they might develop improved search-ability functions to go through earlier posts looking for key words to create links from all such words at once if a future post (or outside article or source) is seen to be relevant.
My limited experience suggests that perhaps one reason why some users choose to create a blog over a website is because they perceive blogger and wordpress to offer well-known and user-friendly tools particularly for novices.
Your point about whether historians ought to be faking chronology anyway is very interesting. Beyond the ethical question for blogging historians today it makes me wonder about issues for historians of the future, for whom the blogs and websites of today may be primary sources: will it be difficult to reliably date certain online sources?
I think this version is much clearer.
Ooops, it is in the next paragraph of Graham’s essay, where he mentions Google+; this is what I was thinking of more. To me, developments such as Google+, suggest that in the near future it may no longer simply be the blog content that provides a filter. The ‘near-clairvoyance’ Steve Levy mentions (cited by Graham) suggests that already google is starting to predict what parties are seeking on the basis of their social connections, previous searches and existing preferences. It would be interesting to consider what this means for blogs as I do not know whether blogs would be effected much or only the more popular websites.
Whether you mention keywording might depend on the intended audience and use of this publication. As a PhD student, I am interested in learning of the tools and opportunities afforded by the internet for my own practical use. Last week I was thankful to a technophile friend of mine who explained to me how keywords can be entered on WordPress to improve search engine optimisation. I was disappointed to learn that it is far more complicated, if indeed at all possible, to enter keywords on blogger.
Yes, it would be good there.
Your point about subtext in hypertext is one of my favourites and something I have been thinking about. Your comment led me to reflect upon the extent to which each of the various audience sectors you outline in part four are likely to access and understand subtext. ‘Peers’ who have be trained to read footnotes may follow hyperlinks but for readers who do not follow all hyperlinks, and this may include many peers, the creative writer’s subtext is lost…
Although it might not make it into the body of the essay, I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on ‘Filter Bubbles’ as discussed by Eli Pariser in this TED talk. I’ve also asked this of Madsen-Brooks and Graham given some of the points they touch on in their work.
I wonder whether there is an additional audience for blogging for some forms of history. Although it might fall with ‘Non-academics’ and ‘Non-scholars’ it is a group which may warrant particular mention. It is difficult to define but it is something along the lines of ‘Heritage Community’.
For this audience, an historian’s blog might allow access to the sources and interpretations of ‘their’ past, and an insight into the progress of work being done about ‘them’. Through commenting it may allow interaction with the historian which might otherwise be denied. This could be very useful to the historian who may gain leads, sources, further information. Though still in its early stages I have found my blog to be very useful in this way.
I suppose this audience base might be more likely found with particular blogs. For example, those concerning the history of more recent periods, those relating to social or community histories, those of histories which have strong or conflictual contemporary significance. It may also be more likely for history project undertaken under particular theoretical approaches, such as a participatory approach, or those employing particular methodology such as oral history.
This is an audience base that is touched upon elsewhere in this collection, for example, Graham, Massie, & Feuerherm, Madsen-Brooks, Castañeda and to some extent Sikarskie.
I keep returning to this essay, it’s a great introduction to those who may be considering blogging.
It’s great to get a better understanding of these issues through reading the comments here, thank you.
It is interesting to consider how blogging platforms can both create organisational issues as you outline here but also be used as an organisational or footnoting tool as discussed in Robertson’s paragraph regarding blogging.
For Paragraph 1 (where comment feature doesn’t seem to work):
I quite agree with this regarding blogging. It is also a great parallel for the peer reviewing opportunities given to new historians in this volume.
Tiny point: maybe write ‘or’ rather than ‘and’ – “… unless the burgeoning historian publishes their work digitally… on Wikipedia, [or] on their own websites”
Little typo: “…possibility of providing a range [of] primary…”?
For Paragraph 2:
It might be worth adding a sentence to the end of this paragraph, making explicit that this is not merely about improving teaching for undergraduates but that the undergraduates’ work is substantively useful. Actually, something similar to the final sentence in paragraph four might be good coming at the end of this paragraph.
Very minor point: “whole other endeavor” – sounds a little bit colloquial
Wow. This is very exciting. I’ve been having a look at Matthew Henry’s pieces, also on Edgar Alan Poe. This is really inspirational and exciting.
This is a very good argument and example of something I have been wondering in reading these essays, namely, what will be the tools and skills necessary to be a historian in the future and what digital skills ought we to be focusing on in academic training. It seems that while collaboration with technophiles is possible, being digitally proficient is highly desirable. I like the way you sum this up in paragraph 29: “…students’ experimentation with… creating a digital history suggest the need for explicit training in both public history and web or graphic design.”
The section “…not being able to control (or have the perception of control) the…” might need reworking.
It feels like it “…not being able to control (or have the perception of control over) the…’ might be better.
Alternatively, maybe just “…not feeling able to control the…” would work.
Also, the section “…the order in which the viewer reads each page”, might work better as, “…the order in which the viewer reads the pages…”. At the moment the meaning of this section could be interpreted as the order in which sections on each page are read.
This sounds like a great assignment. I wonder what you think about students being able to do this in a more ‘real’ way, for example, if there were more publications like this one (as I strongly hope they will be). Looking at the comments here I see one group of students is already doing this on single or a couple of essays. I wonder about the possibilities for graduates being able to do reviews of books as a whole?
I am really enjoying this peer-review process. I would have read this book anyway for its relevance to my work. As an undergraduate or Masters student I would have found doing this in lieu of a paper to be challenging, useful and engaging.
It seems that students could spend time doing proof-reading duties and offering suggestions where able. In doing so they would gain apprenticeship experience of reviewing while increasing their subject knowledge. It would offer them the possibility to gradually enter academic communities.
Or indeed the possibility of encouraging students to make their reviews more widely available, through posting them to review websites online?
I like this idea of coming together to discuss online contributions (also seen in Saxton et al. paragraph 5). It sounds like a supportive way to approach digital-history projects, which can be quite daunting I think.
This is great. I particularly like the link to Ken’s video. I imagine this would be a good step towards making one’s work and one’s thoughts available to others. I have known this to sometimes be a daunting process but this seems quite supportive.
I really enjoyed this article.
Reading this alongside Bauer’s raises a question in my mind. Bauer writes, “you have to be careful while designing your database to ensure that you accurately model your field of study without feeding your own preconceptions back into your analysis” (Bauer paragraph 2). To what extent do you think using larger web-based databases overcomes this issue? Do you think that geographical, political, gendered or cultural biases exist within web-based databases with vast collections of certain source types and under-sampled selections of others?
It could be interesting in the published volume for there to be some link here to the examples in other essays in this collection for example in Theibault’s essay (particularly paragraph 20). Perhaps this link could take the form of a tag cloud, allowing the reader to ping between your argument and examples you see as relevant within the volume itself. This could really aid the reader and thus make the book more useful and successful too.
“gentlemen do for a living is…is teach” – ‘is’ repetition, though maybe you’re using the double is to invoke something of Connie Ward’s indignation, I’m not sure.
It might be worth, early on, defining ‘public’ and giving greater attention to the extent to which digital tools are freely available, for example, considering geographic and financial limitations to accessing the ‘world-wide’ web
I don’t know that you need to specify ‘wartime and postwar documents’ – this could be left open here
The term ‘lay public’ remains undefined; although you address arguments which point to disagreement on what constitutes a historian, it is rather implicit. Maybe you’ve chosen for the audience to grapple with it in their own head, but I think it could be further addressed earlier on in the essay, if only with a working definition. Similarly it might be good to include something creating a working framework or introductory discussion making distinctions between these different groups – lay public, amateur historians, other professionals.
Also maybe put ‘academic professionals’ rather than simply ‘professionals’. I’m not sure.
I’d be interested to see more elaboration on your definition of ‘online public historians’ – for example what credentials would count? In the paragraph above it seems that credentials in history based on memorising content might not be those seen to be needed to encourage an appreciation of context.
Taken in the context of your wider discussion, this is a critical and interesting point about the role of the historian. It links to ideas of historian as a guardian of the past. In my mind it invites consideration of the underpinning ontological and epistemological issues regarding whether the past exists in some objective sense or is imagined.
To an extent this seems to be tackling what people want to hear and believe. I’ve been considering ‘Filter Bubbles’ lately as discussed by Eli Pariser in this TED talk. [This also relates closely to Graham’s paragraphs in this collection regarding Google +.] I would be interested to consider what your thoughts are of these developments in relation to histories such as ‘the black Confederate soldier narrative’. What are the implications for those with differing viewpoints to be aware of each other?
I think it would be great to have some further explicit discussion of ontological and epistemological issues within the essay.
It might be interesting for there to be some dialogue between you and Wolff (especially paragraph 5) regarding how we perceived memory and history.
It would be interesting to further explore the difference between history and memory. Some consider that “history is collective memory… through which people develop a sense of their social identity and their future prospects” (Tosh, J 1991, The Pursuit of History, Longman, p.1). It might also be worth extending your argument under the reflection that people’s reflexivity can be an important source of co-ordinated collective action (Baert, P. and Silva, F.C. 1998 Social Theory in the Twentieth Century).
I think the examples of Flikr and VoiceThread are very interesting here. I wonder also about the use of Facebook and Twitter (though this is perhaps more difficult given privacy settings and social networking forms)
This makes me reflect further on whether memory is social and the place of public myth. Here it might be interesting to give further consideration to the work of Fentress and Wickham who recognise the social role of memory, “one mak[ing] individual memory ‘social’… by talking about it” (Fentress and Wickham 1992, 201; ix-x). They suggest that consciousness is mediated through memory and society cannot be reproduced without exercising memory (Fentress and Wickham 1992, 201).
It might also be interesting to consider what these examples of inaccurate history can tell us about the thoughts, beliefs and desires of the groups and communities which share them. Allen and Montell (1981) suggest that even factually unreliable accounts can demonstrate how a community feels about an an issue and the meanings of a tradition (Allen and Montell 1981). It may be seen that memory “tells us who we are, embedding our present selves in our pasts” (Fentress and Wickham 1992, 201).
Allen, B. and Montell, L. (1981) From Memory to History (American Association for State and Local History)
Fentress, J. and Wickham, C. 1992, Social Meaning, Oxford: Blackwell
I quite agree with Cheryl Greenberg. This reluctance about online publishing and posting is mentioned in several places in this volume (particularly with regard to student fears). I think such concerns about online publishing may serve to improve the standard of work submitted encouraging authors to think twice before submitting essays knowing that the review of their work is public. This is only an idea – I wonder whether this fits with what our authors have said about their experiences.
I wonder whether it was rather more difficult for authors to engage with each other at the ideas stage. It is sometimes hard to get a good insight into a piece from one paragraph. At this stage following the review of essays as a whole I wonder what prospects there are for authors who have written on similar topics to come together as co-authors. I also wonder in what ways it might be possible for the dialogue and comments of authors and reviewers to be captured.
I especially liked Wolff’s analogy of an ability to ‘ peer behind the curtain and if interested take a place at the controls’ in this regard.
This is such a key point. It is for this reason that I hope this volume is read by undergraduate and post-graduate course managers. It is so important we prepare students with the skills for writing history in the digital age. Reading some of the examples of this, in this volume, suggests that the book ought to be read by course managers and supervisors. There are so many new techniques and platforms for analysing and representing historical sources and accounts, which I was unaware of until I read this volume. I really hope that more students find there way to learn of these opportunities, whether independently or through taught courses.
Beyond simply sharing ideas, I think there is something of publishing history as a form of community or global heritage that might be mentioned here.
This is a noble aim and I wish this book every success. Recently, at a seminar regarding publishing options I suggested that writers needed to choose to publish in open-access volumes. Responses suggested that I was perceived as ideological and naive, reading your aims and this volume I now feel I was right in my suggestion. This book is an example of how open-access volumes can have the credibility and strengths associated with traditional subscription-based publications. Thank you!
I like the title of this section. It hints towards issues of creation versus reconstruction in historical accounts which gives a good context for Zucconi et al.’s opening piece in the chapter.
I liked this section and found the articles within it to be relevant. It could be a question of the placing of the essays. Although I like the title for the section, maybe it would work better as Christopher Hager suggests with placing the articles in different sections.
I think that Zucconi et al.’s piece could be seen as an example of a change in the notion of ‘writing’ in the digital age – with some writing of history moving from the form of narrative (whether in text, video etc.) to being rather about writing computer programming for games. Therefore it might fit well in Part 4.
If the rest of the books layout is to remain, Judkins could fit within Part 3 close to that of Sklar and Dublin – though the section may need to change name. Alternatively if there was a section on Wikipedia (with Wolff, Graham and Seligman) it could be an interesting example of an alternative digital encyclopaedia.
Castañeda’s essay could fit in Part 1, besides essays treating of history and the public (Madsen-Brooks, Sikarskie, Graham et al.). I find this essay an important piece in this collection.
Noonan’s essay could be better suited to Part 2 as Hager suggests.
To what extent may the internet be seen as ‘the new millennium for oral history’?
It is recognised that “the Internet is now an integral part of all academic disciplines” (Selwyn 2002). In 1999 (Gluck et al.) the internet was hailed as “the new millennium for oral history” . This essay will explore some of the ways in which the internet has changed oral history and to what extent. This essay will consider the relationship between the internet and the nature and purposes of oral history. It will particularly focus on the notions of democratisation and construction of social identities through oral history. It will address online oral history methods and forms of presentation, with focus on instant messaging interviews, online discussion forums, testimonial monologues and blogging. It will consider issues of ethics, validity and bias pertaining to online oral history. Finally, it will discuss what the future may hold for online oral history and whether, in the face of technological developments and potential energy crisis, the age of online oral history could span a millennium.
This essay will not be submitted at this time. With apologies, Charlotte Rochez
I thought this essay was quite provocative. But it did leave me uncomfortable. You suggest that the claim that we have gone overboard with the claim that “history is an argument about the past.” But I think it IS. That is what distinguishes historians from antiquarians — we both collect information but historians analyze it, place it in its context and explore why it happened as it did. I agree we should appreciate the challenges of creating digital sites, etc. but I am worried about giving this sense of history as analytical argument up.
I agree with these claims for the importance of, and the challenges of doing, these kinds of digital projects. But it is less clear to me how these projects differ from print versions of document collections, except in their scope. That is, with the exception perhaps of the mapping tools, digital history projects seem to me to be a bit like document collections on steroids. I would never quarrel with the benefit of wide distribution, and plentiful space, neither of which a book can enjoy. I use many of these sources myself for teaching and even for research. But I don’t quite see how it is structurally different (except in having to learn the software) from those earlier document volumes, or why they ought to be valued (as contributions) any differently than those are.
I do think there is an important difference between the monograph and the software product and that is in how it moves the field forward. Teaching is important, and we are not just teaching future historians. Educating a wide audience is crucial outside our classrooms as well. However the other component to our job is to move our knowledge or understanding of a topic forward. That’s the difference between professors and high school teachers. Both teach, both know an incredible amount. But professors are (ordinarily) also expected to add something to the “current wisdom” in our field. (I am not saying high school teachers can’t do this, of course, I’m only talking about job expectations.) Certainly we want to reach broader audiences, and we want to support those who do. But I don’t think we want to lose sight of the importance of the analysis that the “singe-authored book on an obscure topic” can provide.
I love these ideas, the “how-to” nature of the article, and the important questions you raise. But I would really be interested in hearing your speculation about the answers to those questions, the pros and cons of the different alternatives, etc.
Here is an example of what I’d like to hear more about. The questions about interpretation, the impact of Wikipedia-like sources for historical narrative and analysis, are central issues to historians hoping to engage more productively with digital and on-line materials. I’d like to hear the students’ — and your — reflections on what they concluded after this Wikipedia experience.
The issues raised in this conclusion paragraph only pique my interest further! These questions of audience, of what happens to narrative and analysis, of the effect of open-source critiques, of the impact of unquestioned and invisible forces (like the standards of Wikipedia) are crucial for us to understand and explore. After doing this project, what are your initial, tentative, conclusions, the pros and cons of these “changing forms and norms of doing history”? What can we learn, how might we most effectively respond to the challenges we see?
This is really interesting. I hope it can be worked into the article itself somehow. We have questions and theories but these students actually DID it!
I am just musing here about the pros and cons of doing this for a monograph. I know it has been done, and certainly one can invite comments from others this way. But many of the advantages you cite, such as cross-fertilization of ideas, seems to suit collaborative and edited volumes best. Nor is it necessarily clear to me why an online reader would willingly wade through an entire monograph-length manuscript to add his or her comments, since there is no evidence the manuscript is worthwhile (all sorts of things appear on the web, after all). So this might also work best for scholars who are already known, despite your hope that this medium will help bring all of us into scholarly discussion on an equal basis.
I like many things about this idea of public comment and review. However, given my frail ego, I’m not sure of how well it will work in two different situations. First, there have been times I have been asked to evaluate a manuscript for an article or book and I thought it was not only bad but hopelessly bad. I need to tell the publisher not to spend more time on this. But I would never have the heart to say this in a public forum. Too humiliating for the author. Might the most challenging comments therefore be left out in this public process?
My second fear is on the other end of the screen, so to speak, as an author. While I appreciate helpful criticism, or different points of view, these are not always phrased in the most judicious of ways. (And the need to reread and revise one’s comments seems less compelling on on-line forums, so such initial expressons of distaste are less likely to be rephrased by the critic than something that needs to be written and then sent to an editor.) Ideally critics would be sensitive to the fact that their comments are public but what if they are not? Wouldn’t I feel both hurt and humiliated to be told my work (or I) was stupid, false, ignorant, whatever? Even inadvertent comments may hurt, since we do not know the “baggage” writers bring and therefore don’t know what buttons we may inadvertently be pushing. Couple that with the notorious inability of technological methods to communicate nuance, comments may be taken out of context and you end up in a kind of flame war, all in public.
All of this makes me nervous. What’s nice about named posts is that you can identify the person offering the comments and if it is, say, a member of an organization with an axe to grind about your work, we can all dismiss it as such. But what if you don’t know the name?
I’m not oppsed to public comment. I think whole discussion threads like these can be fascinating. But in the case of negative comments, I do worry about the limits of public postings.
I agree that we lack the time to learn a new vocabulary or even appreciate the tools that are available to us. But I also think that your comment about “curation” as opposed to “detective work” speaks to another reason historians may resist this. I use the web and digital media as tools, to gather materials but my goal is not just to collect the information but to analyze it. It is precisely the “detective work” in the sense of making sense of things, that I would want to emphasize, while the web seems more curatorial. I’m not saying it must be, but I wanted to raise the question. I think we need to think about how on-line work actually changes the history we do (for example, links challenging linearity) before we may embrace it enthusiastically.
By the way, a typo in the last sentence.
I think the question of what “counts” is determined less by medium (print, on-line) and more by the evaluation or vetting process. So on a tenure committee I would worry that on-line published material has not had the careful peer review we expect from scholarly sources. That’s not to say on-line work can’t be peer reviewed (although see my comments on public review, above). Nor is it to relinquish my own responsibility to evaluate the quality of a candidate. Nevertheless, we are usually evaluating people not in our immediate field and to have had material reviewed by scholars who are in the same field as the candidate is incredibly helpful. Again, I’m not saying this can’t be resolved (you yourselves resolve it with the U of Mich Press), but that it must be resolved before committees will comfortably “count” on-line materials.
This argument may, inadvertently, lead us to conclude that since books are done for, we should go digital. Greater use of digital books would have an impact on publishers, I would think, which would only speed the process of raising prices of books or making them less common. And as a reader of books (like those in your next paragraph) I am loathe to do anything to threaten academic publishers. I guess we need to ask ourselves, is there any reason to preserve books themselves? And if so, is there a way to address the problem — spiraling costs — rather than just yielding to the inevitability of the problem?
“Looks like a book” — I agree. I love wordpress but so far this doesn’t actually look like a book. The paragraphs are odd, as if they are numbered bullet points, you have to scroll to read, and it’s hard to tell where you are in the chapter or section (the bar on the right tells me I’m about 3/4 of the way through, but through what? The chapter? The book? The section? The space I have to comment?) I know you guys are aware of this; I’m just saying I look forward to the day when it actually does look like a book to a greater extent.
What were the findings of the Planned Obsolescence experience? Did public reviewers and private reviewers come to similar conclusions? If so, it suggests blind reviewers work fine. (And so would public). If not, were the comments more appropriate and relevant from the blind or the public reviewers? That is, did blind reviewing work in the sense that they could be more honest and therefore more useful, or did it fail in the sense that a couple of blind reviewers were narrower than public reviews, and therefore less helpful?
Small glitch I’ve noticed as I’ve begun reading: the navigation between footnotes and main text is a little off. When I click on a footnote marker, or on the return arrow to go from a footnote back to the main text, I don’t land exactly where I want to. I land about four or five lines below the matching note number (and have to scroll back up to get to the right place). Not a big deal, but something readers may find a little annoying. I’m reading on Safari 5.
As a literature scholar who crosses over into history from time to time, I’m interested in the influence of the now-very-rudimentary technology of text searching (and, of course, the growing number of databases of searchable text). Before the digital age, historians found sources (both primary and secondary) in a variety of ways (which will never go out of style) including library catalogs and shelves, finding aids in archives, references in existing secondary literature, word of mouth, and serendipity. By and large, these methods require looking for subjects. Now that we have numerous venues for keyword searching, from Google to specialized databases, we often find sources not based on topical connections but based on specific words and phrases (which, of course, have histories of their own; I often have to remind my students that if they’re searching primary sources from the 19th century, typing in “African American” will not lead them to what they’re probably looking for). So to the extent that we now find sources based on the words they contain — rather than on their titles, or subjects, or the ways some intermediary catalogued them — are we seeing different parts of the documentary record, or seeing records differently and in different combinations? And does that prompt historical writing to devote more attention to concerns (sometimes more closely associated with literary studies) such as discursive patterns, quotation & intertextuality, evolving figures of speech, etc. I think of Kate Masur’s great article in JAH a few years ago about the word “contraband” during the Civil War era — a piece that certainly entailed a great deal of ‘old-fashioned,’ reading-intensive research, but that also would have been almost prohibitively difficult to pull off without the ability to search large quantities of material for the single word, “contraband.”
A related question here might be the economics of research funding and of the key players in large-scale digitization efforts. In the old days, there was, of course, a rich-get-richer dynamic in the academic profession: if you went to a top-flight graduate school, you had access to a great library (maybe even major archival holdings that sparked your dissertation research) and potentially access to funds for travel to distant archives. With these advantages, you got a great job at a similar institution and continued to have better resources for research than your peers at less-well-heeled schools. As the strictures of the job market resulted in countless talented young scholars with ambitious research agendas being employed in out-of-the-way places, at schools with small libraries, the inequities seemed to worsen: if your job took you farther away from archival resources, you could never hope to “catch up” with your scholarly peers at “better” schools. One of the greatest things about digital archives is that they ameliorate this problem, somewhat leveling the playing field. Now, a young historian at a small school in the Great Plains, provided her school subscribes to a few widely-used databases, can browse through (and search! see paragraph 30) about as many old newspapers as her Ivy-League counterparts can crank through on microfilm at their local libraries. Again: a wonderful development — good both for the writing of history and for the health of the profession. But even if access to resources is perhaps becoming a less sharp divide among individual historians, economic issues are affecting the content of archives in new ways at the macro-level: How are the interests of ProQuest, EBSCO, Readex, etc., influencing the archive that historians sitting at computers are studying? How are the editorial/curatorial decisions being made by commercial digital content-providers different from the ones made by research libraries (or, as Ryan Shackleton is discussing, governments)? Like my post in paragraph 30, this is a topic I really don’t have the knowledge base to develop into an essay — I’m just very curious. Perhaps others have thoughts about how the premises of the digital archive may be different from pre-digital archives.
À propos of nothing except the digital humanities in general, readers here may be interested in a new tool being developed by Reinhard Engels, a digital library software engineer at Harvard.
The beta version is being used this fall by a group of literature scholars interested in the ‘impact factor,’ I suppose you could say of some of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essays, but it’s not hard to imagine applications for writing history (and for the meta-writing of historiography).
A great point, based in a (not quite perfect, but perhaps illustrative) analogy to “old-fashioned” historical research: just as one would never go into an archive and begin looking at primary documents without first consulting some relevant secondary literature, the use of digital-age methods for primary research, such as crowdsourcing, likewise should be preceded by research that helps a scholar figure out good questions to ask and formulate a sound plan for exploring the archive. (The analogy isn’t perfect because Flickr is more like an archive of primary sources than a form of “secondary literature.”)
I like that this essay frames its case study in terms that are broadly applicable to folks who may be using different kinds of digital platforms in their classrooms, in different ways. The particular challenges of survey courses are familiar to me even though I teach in a different field, and this essay leaves me filled with ideas of things I might like to try. Especially effective, I think, is the organization of the essay: instead of offering a linear narrative of how the pedagogical experiment unfolded, the authors present several discrete attributes of the digital tools they used (e.g., ‘social,’ ‘open,’ ‘media rich.’). Where I might otherwise be left thinking, ‘interesting, but I’m not sure how I’d adapt that to my own courses,’ here I can ask myself: ‘how can I make the digital platforms available on my campus (or even, how can I make non-digital elements of my survey courses) more “immersive” or more “metacognitive.”‘ Terrific.
I have loved reading about this project. I’d like to know more, though, about the XML coding. I can see from the screenshot a few examples of what types of data are being isolated and coded (“commodities,” for instance) but it would be interesting to know more. What kinds of searching does the XML code make possible in the completed digital texts, and do students avail themselves of such searches in developing their research projects? Could a person use the digital text, for instance, to extract data points that would chart trends over time in Wheaton’s dealings in certain commodities? or to observe women’s levels of participation in business affairs?
I think this essay might have a stronger impact if some of the material on “the problem of categories” — which, in this iteration, is mostly reserved ’til the end — were brought up near the beginning. I got through most of the essay thinking that the only benefit of the ‘digital notecards’ was that they allowed the researcher to manage a larger volume of notes. By the end of the essay, though, it became clear that there’s a more interesting argument here: by working with a large volume of sortable and searchable notes, the researcher could actually make conceptual strides in the interpretive work of the project — strides of a sort that might never have been made with non-digital note-cards. It would be nice to see a little more of that telegraphed in the beginning. The first two paragraphs talk about these issues (“the less tidy model”) but don’t actually explain how a digital technology can enhance or invigorate that mode of scholarship.
Hear, hear! In the same vein as some of the most trenchant critiques of Google Book Search — if this is going to become the world’s digital library, and it probably is, then we can’t afford sloppiness or inattention to metadata — this ¶ makes the crucial point that, as we build digital resources that likely will shape if not drive historical inquiry for decades to come, it’s imperative that the scholarly community has ways of communicating about the implicit arguments of database design. I wonder if Note 6 ought to be promoted to the main text and expanded, as a possible way forward in this regard?
Really fascinating — though distressing. This and all the examples in this essay powerfully debunk the image of Wikipedia as “open,” “democratizing,” etc. Interestingly, the evidence in a few essays from the previous section (Sikarskie; Graham, Massie, & Feuerherm) suggests that “crowdsourcing” may work best when it is mediated through or by forms of curator- or editor-ship — as more of a fusion with “traditional” models of research and writing than a rebellion against them. Here, we see the converse of that: the most ostensibly iconoclastic reference project in the world actually has spawned its own internal system of credentials and editorial authority. And, perhaps unsurprisingly (plus ça change), those who amass editorial power in the crowd-space may use their gatekeeping power with uneven responsibility and fairness. In short, they can replicate in the world of Wikipedia the same supposed narrowness and elitism of which iconoclasts of various stripes have long accused ‘traditional’ forms of authority in the academic world.
What’s particularly alarming is that this new class of intellectual gatekeepers would seem, in this case at least, to be roughly where the academy was more than a generation ago — heavily slanted toward political and military history, largely excluding women. It’s not heartening to think that decades’ worth of battles for more inclusive academic histories may now have to be re-fought on new terrain.
Terrific point. With increasing frequency of late, I’ve found myself reading monographs and saying to myself, This book is kind of just a report on the real contribution to knowledge — the author’s creation of a major new dataset on a consequential subject. While the author’s written analysis of the data is essential, of course, it sometimes needn’t be book-length, nor is the book often an optimal medium for showing the data set’s significance — except that writing a book is what the author has to do to ‘get credit’ for the enormously valuable work he or she did in assembling the data and organizing it in a way that makes sense of it. Reading such books often makes me want to dive in through an endnote and ‘play around’ with the primary material — but books aren’t good at enabling that.
I find the opening sentence here less encouraging than it seems intended to be. If wildfires were so ravaging a place that construction workers had to be redeployed as firefighters, we might be grateful that all of them had good firefighting equipment, but we still would regard the larger situation as one of devastation and loss. Given that historians and their time aren’t infinite, doesn’t it stand to reason that every hour spent using digital resources to “contain” pernicious myths is an hour not spent using those resources to deepen knowledge and understanding?
Having reached the end of the essay, I’m not sure that Poe’s position has been convincingly rebutted. The evidence presented here does show that “crowds” are capable of self-correction (e.g., paragraph 38) — that they can to some extent regulate outbreaks of “bad” history — but I’m not sure that’s the same thing as creating “good” history.
It may be helpful for this essay to lay out more precise definitions of the kinds of historical work “crowds” / “users” / “amateur historians” are doing on the discursive battlefield of the Black Confederate Myth. They may not be the same definitions of historical work that Marshall Poe is (or other skeptics are) using. In an essay below, Amanda Seligman focuses on “tertiary sources,” such as encyclopedias, and this essay might benefit from more clarity about the tertiary / secondary distinction. The case of the BCM may show that “self-regulating” communities of non-academic historians can produce, or at least preserve, defensible “tertiary” sources (overviews of existing knowledge). But when it comes to “secondary” material — interpretations (or mis-interpretations) of historical evidence — the same case study seems to show that, at least in terms of sheer volume, “the crowd” history is producing more myth than corrective.
For what it’s worth, I actually wrote down in my notes, barely a few paragraphs into the Graham/Massie/Feuerherm essay, ‘How refreshing to arrive in Canada!’ Probably only an Americanist finds great potential for comparatist study in Canada, but that essay did in fact, by its contrast with the U.S.-centered essays, expose some unspoken assumptions in the majority of the book. The authors’ effort to do ‘digital history’ across the digital divide stands out amid the numerous digital projects described throughout the volume. (Here i go romanticizing and essentializing Canada, but their impulse struck me as somehow of a piece with a national culture that is far more sensitive to its native population than the U.S. is, more attuned to economic disparities because it hasn’t mapped them on to race.) Whatever its origin, that project shows by contrast how many of the books’ other contributors see digital history as serving either (a) the academy (scholars or students), or (b) a ‘public’ that is roughly coterminous with the ‘general reader’ in whom (printed) historical writing sometimes finds an audience — which, of course, is a fairly small public (possibly larger if you throw in zealous editors of Wikipedia entries, but still. . .). What Zayde’s comments, and the outlier case of the Graham, et al. essay, suggest to me is that, with rare exceptions that may prove the rule, historians do not seem to be using digital technology as a way to involve people (as audience, source, or what have you) who weren’t already involved prior to the digital age.
The link for Note 3 doesn’t work for me.
Part of me would like to see the Introduction begin here — just taking up the central intellectual problem of the volume, without yet broaching the book’s interventions re: medium and process. Why? Because the current opening paragraphs strike me as having a slightly defensive subtext — as if to say, ‘Reader, we know you’re suspicious, that you’re not sure what this is that you’re reading, and that you may not believe it’s really a “book” — so let us explain to you that it really is pretty much a book, except that in important ways it’s also not exactly a book in the way that you’re used to.’
I think it would be be a bolder gesture to begin the book in exactly the way you would if it were a traditional, printed and bound edited volume: here’s what this book is about. The subtext of that kind of opening would be: this is a book, equal in stature to any other book. And then you could go on to explain: but wait! There’s more! This book is actually doing several things that other books can’t or don’t do!
The focus of this section seems fuzzier to me than the others. What really links these four essays? Might not the Zucconi and Noonan essays belong in the Teaching section?
In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:
We support the valuable public comments garnered by this essay, and concur with Bethany Nowviskie’s remark: “The whole essay is splendid in that it demonstrates rather than simply professes the impact of new media on historical analysis and interpretation. I especially appreciate the way the specificity of the findings and methods shown frame the author’s discussion of blogging — which is itself nicely presented as continuous with other forms.”
When drafting your revisions, we encourage you to specifically address the question about using legal records as source materials for everyday life, as you already discussed in your comment here:
“I elaborate my approach to using legal records for social and cultural history in “What’s Law Got to Do With It? Legal Records and Sexual Histories,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 14, 1/2 (January/April 2005): 161-85. We discuss what can be gleaned about everyday life from Probation Department files in our “This Harlem Life: Black Families and Everyday Life in the 1920s and 1930s,” Journal of Social History, 44, 1 (Fall 2010): 97-122.
Those articles do not explicitly address the spatial data found in legal records and how that can be used – that is what I’d hoped ‘Putting Harlem on the Map’ did. Given the chance to revise it, I’d probably more explicitly address the common misapprehension that legal records are only about crime, but I thought for this volume the focus should be on new possibilities for spatial history more than debates about the everyday – which we ground not simply in volume of sources, as Davarian implies, but also in diversity of sources.”
Furthermore, it would be ideal if you could share your thoughts regarding two other questions that arose in the comments, especially since they tie into other essays in the volume:
First, William Caraher asked:
“It would be particularly interesting to hear your thoughts on the intersection of time and place on the map and the ways in which visualizing time (which I know the folks at the ACL have had a serious interest) on a spatial scale. When do accidents occur? When do crimes occur? Does this vary spatially?”
Second, Charlotte Rochez queried:
“what your thoughts are on the potential for using crowd-sourced material, perhaps in a similar ways to that outlined in Graham, Massie and Feuerherm’s and Sikarskie’s essays…?”
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,789 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 5,000 words.
We concur with the thoughtful public comments your essay has received and encourage you to incorporate your own responses to them (e.g. attached to paragraph 12) in your revisions. We ask that you reference and engage with other essays in the volume (e.g. Seligman’s, Wolff’s) as well as the public comments about those essays, where appropriate. For example, you write about “knowledge credibility and suitability”, others (e.g. Saxton et al., and commenters thereto) write about authorship and the constitution of knowledge, editorial power, and gatekeeping. Are you talking about the same things by different names, or something else entirely? How different are these in the (teaching) Wikipedia context compared with (teaching) traditional forms and modes of historiographical writing?
We ask you to especially consider Tim Burke’s comment on paragraph 17, in which he notes the need for students to question and debate whether we should wiki as much as how it is best done. This gets to the heart of one of the key themes of the volume as a whole, namely whether digital forms of writing (or digital tools for writing) lead to better scholarship, which is to say, a better understanding of the past and its meaning(s).
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,259 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 4,000 words.
This essay’s focus on argument is commendable and much needed. However, we are left wondering how you see narrative (as opposed to argument, or in conjunction with argument) given the thrust of this essay. For instance, do you believe that historians overvalue narrative as well? As our 2012 Table of Contents shows, we plan to pair this essay with the one written by Stefan Tanaka, who discusses narrative, so it would be ideal for it to briefly address this. See also other comments on your essay in the Fall 2011 web-book, in particular the suggestions by Will Thomas.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,599 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 5,000 words.
We support the thoughtful public comments your essay has received and encourage you to incorporate your own responses to them in your revisions. We concur with Bethany Nowviskie, who praised “the specificity with which Seligman presents her classroom assignments and exercises, making it possible not only to draw conclusions about the relationship between teaching practices and impact on student writing and research, but also to imagine replicating them in other contexts.” The essay’s prose (orthography in particular) does need a bit of polishing in places, most of which were identified in by readers in the comments. Wherever appropriate, we encourage you to refer to other essays in the volume and the comments on them — especially (but not only) the others directly addressing Wikipedia and/or teaching writing.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,274 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 4,000 words.
In our invitation to revise & resubmit this essay, we wrote:
We support your own proposed revisions in response to the thoughtful public comments your essay received, for example, being explicit about your understanding of history and/versus memory, defining terms such as “open source”, and problematizing the idea of “authoritative” histories.
We concur with William G. Thomas’s comments, when he wrote of this essay:
“I like the way this essay explores the making and editing of wikipedia pages and the contested questions of history and memory that unfold around the NPOV and the Civil War. This essay is smart and well-conceived. The call to greater engagement Wolff makes is helpful, but mainly because of the thorough and serious care he takes in looking at the construction of Wiikipedia entries on this subject and the “edit wars” that developed around key concepts. This essay usefully explores digital history writing in wikipedia. I was left wondering what uncovering this “chaotic” process meant for scholarly practice–beyond that scholars might consider engaging in this activity.”
We do, however, feel this essay would benefit from a better title — perhaps one referring to questions of historical author(ity) which seem central to the essay? Alternatively, you might consider dropping the main title and going with the more expressive sub-title (The Historian’s Craft, Popular Memory, and Wikipedia) instead.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,010 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 4,000 words.
We support the valuable public comments garnered by this essay and ask you to re-read them in detail and to consider incorporating the suggestions made therein. In particular, we ask you to:
Condense the first two paragraphs so that the stronger third paragraph becomes more prominent.
integrate additional examples of how (in Barbara Rockenbach’s words, attached to paragraph 5) “this community is participating in knowledge creation.”
attempt to define and discuss the terminology you use, e.g. “scaffolded inquiry”, as well as terms like lay historians, lay scholars and true citizen scholars – and even scholars (without preceding adjective), for that matter. Do you see these as being at different points on a continuum of knowledge, participation, productivity, or credentialing? Or are they different hats worn by the same participant in different venues or contexts? It would be fruitful if you could connect your treatment of these ideas to that by Madsen-Brooks elsewhere in this volume.
follow Bethany Nowviskie’s suggestion to “[s]ay more about how this work constitutes a ‘new genre of historical writing!’ It’s a very interesting notion that, to my mind, doesn’t get picked up enough later on.”
consider, too, Nowviskie’s questions about how scholars might access and understand practitioners’ tacit knowledge (see comment paragraph 16).
We particularly encourage you to consider Timothy Burke’s comment on paragraph 10 of your essay, where he identifies in your essay (and others!) a “hopeful vision of shared or commingled authority which nevertheless somehow preserves or recognizes the distinctive (and valuable) role of academic training and scholarly practice. […] [G]iven what Sikarskie is arguing in this piece, that hopeful vision requires somehow articulating what’s lacking in crowdsourced knowledge (e.g., if we note that our colleagues do not engage social media/crowdsourced knowledge as much as we believe they ought, what will happen when they do? When we invent protocols for archiving Facebook conversations within a scholarly ethos, etc.: what will the knowledge already produced become which is not presently?)”. As you noted in your reply to Burke in the comment thread, these are important questions which your essay would do well to take on directly.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 2,173 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 2,000 words.
We concur with the valuable public comments garnered by this essay, including those urging the authors to:
– discuss access and use (including an answer to Bethany Nowviskie’s question about interactivity, attached to paragraph 15),
-contextualize WASM-US amidst other digital document archives as well as “documentary editions” in the traditional sense, and
-explain what form(s) writing takes in the context of “document projects” and the WASM.
Do you understand curation as authorship (to the extent that curation shapes the explicit or implicit argument of any given collection)? Here the essay might connect to that by Gibbs and Owens, which we expect to publish in the same section of our volume.
Moreover, we wish to underscore Bethany Nowviskie’s recommendation appended to paragraph 35: “It would be helpful, in the context of the past few paragraphs’ claims about preservation and access, not only to address the concerns of other commenters, but to know more about the terms of the project’s contract with Alexander Street Press. What happens to the content, for instance, if the Press chooses not to deliver the project anymore? In the grand scheme of things, do the editors consider the trade-off of financial stability (discussed earlier in relieved tones in terms of the stressors of grant funding) to be worth gating access to the resource? What lessons, if any, have they learned and might they share with others considering commercial partnerships?”. These are important questions which you are uniquely placed to answer. Please do so.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,906 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 5,000 words.
We support the valuable public comments garnered by this essay and ask you to re-read them in detail and to consider incorporating the suggestions made therein. In particular, we ask you to:
include more descriptive information and/or visuals about the contents that were crowdsourced
include your thoughts about crowdsourcing primary (as opposed to interpretive) material, as discussed in yours and Jonathan Jarrett’s comments on paragraph 2.
incorporate Charlotte Rochez’s suggestion in this comment on paragraph 21: “Reading this I get a feeling of crowdsourcing being very much about using the crowd as a source for historical knowledge which may or may not be accessed by the crowd, whereas at the beginning I had felt the project had greater potential for sharing, with a focus more on the community accessing the work. It would be interesting to explore this issue, perhaps through a paragraph early on unpicking or constructing definitions of ‘HeritageCrowd’ – whose ‘Heritage’ which ‘Crowds’ (contributors/audience)…”
connect your essay’s claims and findings to those of others in the volume, e.g. Sikarskie, Robertson, Rosales Castañeda, and others, where appropriate.
In addition, we urge you to make clear why a historian (as opposed to some other tech-literate person) is needed on a project like this. According to your essay’s argument, it’s not clear to the reader that a historian is necessary at all. This is in contrast to other essays, as highlighted by Timothy Burke’s comment on paragraph 10 of Amanda Sikarskie’s essay. Burke identifies in Sikarskie’s and others’ essays a “hopeful vision of shared or commingled authority which nevertheless somehow preserves or recognizes the distinctive (and valuable) role of academic training and scholarly practice. […] [G]iven what Sikarskie is arguing in this piece, that hopeful vision requires somehow articulating what’s lacking in crowdsourced knowledge (e.g., if we note that our colleagues do not engage social media/crowdsourced knowledge as much as we believe they ought, what will happen when they do? When we invent protocols for archiving Facebook conversations within a scholarly ethos, etc.: what will the knowledge already produced become which is not presently?)”. These are important questions which we would like your essay to take on explicitly if possible.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 3,926 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 4,000 words.
We concur with the valuable public comments garnered by this essay as well as your own responses to them. We especially support the recommendations to:
• tighten the essay’s structure and strengthen its thesis by introducing it early and referring to it often.
• include more screenshots and images (esp. illustrating points made in what is now the second half of the essay).
• reference the broader literature on data visualization in history (See William G. Thomas’s comment on the whole page, and Tim Burke’s comment attached to paragraph 5, where he writes, in part: “There’s one sense in which the story of visualization and history is too small as this essay tells it (Grafton’s work on the history of the timeline might be one example of how the story could grow and deepen both chronologically and across various contexts of historical production) and too big (in that visualization is provided as a key component of certain recent historiographical episodes).”
• highlight connections with other essays in the volume, most notably that by Gibbs and Owens.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 5,019 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 5,000 words.
We support the thoughtful public comments your essay has received and encourage you to incorporate your own responses to them (e.g. your response to queries about privacy and FERPA) in your revisions. Of particular interest would be the questions from Jarrett about ‘efficiency’ and William G. Thomas about scale, openness, and assessment (not least on the point of plagiarism). In addition, we would like to underscore Bethany Nowviskie’s advice in her comment to paragraph 22: “More specific citation and description or even illustration of various plugins, platforms, and tools is needed in the footnotes to this essay.” Moreover, we concur with Svetlana Rasmussen’s suggestion for improving the clarity of paragraph 15 and, indeed, the meaning of subsequent paragraphs. Last but not least, be sure to eliminate typographical errors, including but not limited to those identified by reviewers in their public comments.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 5,190 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 5,000 words.
We support the valuable public comments garnered by this essay and ask you to re-read them in detail and to consider incorporating the suggestions made therein. In particular, we ask you to:
• (borrowing Charlotte Rochez’s words) “situate yourselves and explore [the relationship between historical fact and fiction] somewhere near the beginning, maybe with a short paragraph discussing different theoretical approaches and epistemological and ontological issues about the past and historical accounts (whether written, spoken, games, videos etc.). I am left wondering, what is/was your position on whether the past is recreated, reconstructed, interpreted, imagined etc.? At times the essay seems to assume a clear distinction between historical fiction and fact […with] a preference for historical fact (for example in paragraph 4 and paragraph 9)”
• consider moving paragraph 16 up to the introduction, where it would have more impact.
• be explicit about how the authors view(ed) writing within the game. Laura Zucconi writes: “Those of us creating the game Pox in the City as both a teaching and research tool for the history of medicine approach the ‘writing’ of history from different persepctives. Each one of us brings a specific area of expertise to the project but what may appear as a simple decision in one area suddenly becomes problematic when it intersects with another area creating, essentially, a jigsaw puzzle.” How does one/did you write a jigsaw puzzle? How do collaborators overcome this? For example, does a lack of length constraints help, or hinder? What recommendations might you offer for others considering projects of this type, especially when it comes to writing (in particular, as compared with traditional modes and products of historiographical research)?
•Make sure that your use of “Pox and the City” (or Pox in the City) is consistent across the entire essay.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 3,852 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 3,500 words.
We support the thoughtful public comments your essay has already received, as well as your own proposed revisions in response to them (e.g. comments on paragraph 36).
We would particularly like to underscore Caraher’s, Graham’s, and Burke’s concerns (paragraph 2) about the “tidy model” being a straw man, or at least a segment of a larger process which almost always incorporates “meandering” (a.k.a. playing, exploratory, or even “screwing around”) phases either before or in-between the committing of ideas to paper (or screen). Your own exclusion of evidence-gathering and sense-making from “the writing process” (where you write: “The big, driving question I am addressing becomes clear only gradually, often long after the evidence-gathering and sense-making, and well into the writing process”) suggests that the divisions you set up between different “models” of historiographical research and writing, as well as between different phases of your own modus operandi are not self-evident. You may well need to define “writing process”, especially if your definition includes research and sense-making as preludes to it but not part and parcel of it.
In addition to polishing typographical and formatting errors, we ask that you add references where needed, for example: a complete reference is needed for Peter Burke’s work referred to in paragraph 28 and later; details should be provided for “recent work” as pointed out by William Caraher’s comment on paragraph 26.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 5,085 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 5,000 words.
We support the valuable public comments garnered by this essay and ask you to re-read them in detail and to consider incorporating the suggestions made therein. In particular:
• We concur with Bethany Nowviskie’s suggestion that this essay could be broadened in at least one of two ways:
“I would have expected, in the context of this volume, to hear much more about research and writing in history — or at least about what may be particular to the grad experience in History departments. That would be a zooming in.”
This strategy would mean explaining to non-historians what makes the typical history dissertation writing project so isolating, compared to other academic fields. You briefly touch on this in paragraph 4 on the psychological challenges of dissertation writing in general, with a footnote on literature about technology and social isolation (similar to Sherry Turkle’s book, Alone Together).
Also consider Nowviskie’s other suggestion:
“Alternately, the authors could zoom out a bit and think through the history of writing partnerships and collectives, in order to reflect on what may be different about such things “in the digital age.” I suppose I just want to know why this volume is the perfect place to position the essay.”
Following this piece of advice might be the best way to incorporate suggestions from YP Ong, Amanda Seligman, and Will Thomas others to pay more attention to the nature and form of email itself, and what this type of source material can reveal, in the eyes of historians, about authors’ work processes and their relationships with other readers and writers, beyond what we can tell from paper-only correspondence.
• We do NOT expect you to incorporate a “history of email” into your revised essay. But you might point readers to relevant works on that subject, or to relevant controversies involving historians and our email exchanges (see William Cronon), or practical references for academic authors on archiving our email (for example, see ProfHacker).
We appreciate how the 2010 edition of this essay evolved into the current 2011 version, most notably with the additional analysis of dissertation self-help industry, which significantly broadened its scope. As you revise the essay for the 2012 manuscript, we are asking you to broaden the scope again, while cutting back on the word count, which requires you to condense some of your earlier prose. In the current draft, the introduction stretches from paragraphs 1-5, the critique of self-help literature runs from paragraph 6-11, and the description of your accountability partnership does not begin until paragraph 12. We believe that you can reorganize and streamline your writing to achieve some of the goals outlined above.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4432 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 4000 words.
In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay into a co-authored one, we wrote:
We agree with Jonathan Jarrett’s comment on your essay:
“I think that this essays gets over better what I tried to say in the closing paragraphs of mine about writing a blog as practice for writing anything. If both essays go through to the final volume I would take those out and refer to this essay instead, which would make mine more clearly focused, and then the two would complement each other nicely.”
We also support your own suggestion for making your and Jarrett’s essays more complementary (with regard to Twitter but also in general):
“I agree with Jonathan that there are ways we can make our two pieces more complementary. As for Twitter, I did not address it in the piece mostly due to my own limited experience with it; I enjoy reading certain people’s tweets but have not experimented with the medium myself. However, I think it would make a great addition to the essay if I addressed Twitter in a revised version; it could even discuss journalist Dan Sinker’s recently published book, The F**** Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, which consists of the tweets he posted posing as Rahm Emanuel during the 2011 Chicago mayoral race. (The book has been called the “first real work of digital literature,” and I plan to use the text in my American Media class in the Spring both as a primary source and an example of the creative possibilities of the new medium.)”
As a result, we ask that you and Jonathan Jarrett collaborate, revising your two essays to form a single collaborative essay, not to exceed 4000 words. If you choose to work together, we encourage you to jointly produce the text either via your blog(s) and/or a shared GoogleDoc (our own usual mode for transatlantic composition). The final joint essay would need to be submitted to us as a Word document or a GoogleDoc; we would then upload it into WordPress. We would ask that you incorporate recommendations from the Writing History in the Digital Age web-book comments into your joint revised essay (for example, those on analytics, search engine optimization, and “heritage” audiences), inasmuch as possible.
We support the valuable public comments garnered by this essay and ask you to re-read them in detail and to consider incorporating the suggestions made therein. If you agree to revise this essay, we would like to feature it as the first in a new section about “Public History on the Web.” But in order to do so, the revised version needs to amplify specific themes to help it fit better within the scope of our volume on writing history in the digital age. Specifically, we suggest:
• Revise the introduction to provide at least a few sentences of context about the larger Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project, before moving on to the Chicana/o Movement Project. The current draft assumes that our readers have heard about the former, but that’s not the case, as shown by the first comment from Natalia Mehlman Petrzela.
• Emphasize the broader argument in the introduction. Both Mehlman Petrzela and Charlotte Rochez also ask for more of the “digital history” context. We believe that this is not only “the largest archive” of the Chicana/o Movement outside of the Southwest, but more importantly, a lesson about how student-activists harnessed the power of digital tools to retell the story of a marginalized people, and to build historical awareness on the web during politically-charged current events.
• Raise the “digital discovery” story to the surface. In paragraph 8, there’s a pivot moment in the project that’s buried inside the current draft: “. . . This discovery of this article profoundly impacted how MEChA viewed the utilization of digital media in collecting this story…” This looks like a great opportunity to revise your essay to fit with our volume’s broad focus on writing history in the digital age. Tell us more about what you and other student-activists were thinking here. Why did you begin digitizing and writing for the public web, rather than compiling a more traditional paper archive, and how did this shape the broader mission?
On a similar theme, you later write: “The urban narrative existed, as many later found out, in a patchwork collection of journal articles, Masters Theses, personal document collections, newsletters, organizational papers and unpublished lithographs that remained out of the reach for people in the community not privileged enough to be enrolled at the University of Washington. As a means of addressing this issue, the UW MEChA Chapter undertook the task of centralizing and consolidating material pertinent to the history of Chicano and Latino students at the university.” But this seems less a question of physical access (anyone can walk into the public university and read a thesis on the shelf), and more about reader accessibility (it seems that you and your colleagues wrote a narrative designed for wide audiences on the web, and actively disseminated it to the public, not just where scholars might see it). If so, clearly make this point more central to the story.
• Rewrite with a more consistent first-person active voice. We appreciate your particular perspective as a student creating digital history, and we encourage you to revise your essay to eliminate the third-person passive voice. For example, as a member of MEChA, consider rewriting paragraph 4 from “this was the first time they had come together” to “this was the first time we came together. . ,” See also paragraph 11, where the current version reads: “With the project finally taking form, interest in the research slowly surfaced.” Whose interest surfaced here? We cannot tell from the rest of the paragraph. Some sections of the current essay feature first-person active voice, but it’s inconsistent.
• Cut back on the extended footnotes (nearly 1,300 words in this draft) and instead, point readers to the relevant page of your site, if possible.
• Consider raising the “Chicana/o Movement” web page screen shot (currently in paragraph 18) to the top of the essay, perhaps immediately after the introduction, to help readers who want to learn more detail. Revise the caption to read: “Click to open the Chicana/o Movement in Washington State History Project home page (http://depts.washington.edu/civilr/mecha_intro.htm) in a new tab/window.” You also can edit the image in WordPress to send readers to your URL above when the image is clicked (ask if you need assistance).
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 3,676 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 2,500 words. Since we are suggesting some additions above, the most feasible way to begin cutting back is to shrink the notes and refer interested readers to your digital site. We understand that this is a challenge, but we believe that you can do it (and feel free to directly contact email@example.com if you’d would like some assistance in reaching this goal).
We concur with the thoughtful public comments your essay has already received and encourage you to incorporate your own response to them in your revisions. We recommend that you take up more explicitly in the essay the question raised by Charlotte Rochez about “what constitutes basic historical knowledge and who determines this and how”, as well as the broader issues of authorship, editorial power and gatekeeping as discussed inter alia by Bethany Nowviskie (paragraph 14) and Burke, Graham, and Caraher (paragraph 16). The reader would benefit from knowing more about the ways in which historiographical writing in Wikipedia differs from (or is the same as) historiographical writing in more traditional forms and formats: different keeper, same gate? Similarly, we would also like to underscore Bethany Nowviskie’s comment on paragraph 11, where she asks how your students’ preparation for revising a Wikipedia entry “relate to the research into existing discourse fields that historians conduct before making interventions in other media.” Which parts/steps of the teaching of historiographical writing are the same with Wikipedia as they always were?
We appreciate your essay’s reference to that by Wolff elsewhere in the volume and encourage you to reference others (e.g. Shawn Graham’s on the Wikiblitz) as appropriate, too.
Finally, strongly recommend the by-line of the essay be revised to indicate Saxton (or Saxton and Payne) “with” the other named authors. The use of the first-person “I” in some parts of the essay is confusing given the 4-author by-line. Alternatively (though less advisedly), the first-person should be removed in favor of third-person references, with the respective author (e.g. Saxton, in paragraph 2) mentioned by name.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 3,646 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 3,500 words.
Clarify the essay title — is it Past or Pasts in a Digital Age? (Past appears in title, Pasts in the body of the text).
Paragraph 7: should the German phrase “wie est eigentlich gewesen” be “wie es eigentlich gewesen”?
Paragraph 29: omit “etc.”, as it’s not apparent to the reader what would come next in that series.
Correct grammar in places, e.g. subject/verb disagreement noted in comments to paragraph 3, but also elsewhere in the essay.
In light of Burke’s comment below, we ask that you either make explicit your decision to focus on “guild history” and its Rankean orientation, or else (preferably) nod to the wider array of practitioners and practices around history and historical knowledge which are perhaps not scholarly, but which do indeed influence the understandings, practices and products of academic history. There is a hint of this in paragraph 28, but only a hint. In paragraph 30, it’s not clear which “history” (all practices and products of historical understanding? or a narrowly defined academic enterprise?) is meant.
Tim Burke: “Even here, though, I think the story of Rankean history overwhelming and subsuming the production and representation of the past overlooks the degree to which “guild history” has only been one part of the story of how the past has been remembered, represented, memorialized, etc. in the last century and a half. Some of what the “liquidity” of the digital is revealing is perhaps less a new practice and more a new channel for alternative or counter-professional practices to flow into the space of professional, elite or guild histories”
See also other online comments on your essay.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,876 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 5,000 words.
We agree with your own comment on Alex Sayf Cummings’s essay:
“I think that this essays gets over better what I tried to say in the closing paragraphs of mine about writing a blog as practice for writing anything. If both essays go through to the final volume I would take those out and refer to this essay instead, which would make mine more clearly focused, and then the two would complement each other nicely.”
We also support Alex’s suggestion for making and his essay and yours more complementary (with regard to Twitter but also in general):
“I agree with Jonathan that there are ways we can make our two pieces more complementary. As for Twitter, I did not address it in the piece mostly due to my own limited experience with it; I enjoy reading certain people’s tweets but have not experimented with the medium myself. However, I think it would make a great addition to the essay if I addressed Twitter in a revised version; it could even discuss journalist Dan Sinker’s recently published book, The F**** Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel, which consists of the tweets he posted posing as Rahm Emanuel during the 2011 Chicago mayoral race. (The book has been called the “first real work of digital literature,” and I plan to use the text in my American Media class in the Spring both as a primary source and an example of the creative possibilities of the new medium.)”
As a result, we ask that you and Alex Sayf Cummings collaborate, revising your two essays to form a single collaborative essay, not to exceed 4000 words. If you choose to work together, we encourage you to jointly produce the text either via your blog(s) and/or a shared GoogleDoc (our own usual mode for transatlantic composition). The final joint essay would need to be submitted to us as a Word document or a GoogleDoc; we would then upload it into WordPress. We would ask that you incorporate recommendations from the Writing History in the Digital Age web-book comments into your joint revised essay (for example, those on analytics, search engine optimization, and “heritage” audiences), inasmuch as possible.
We support the thoughtful public comments your essay has received and encourage you to incorporate your own responses to them (e.g. your response to a query about the long-term accessibility of students’ digital works) in your revisions. We wish to underscore Cheryl Greenberg’s call for conclusions you and your students drew from the writing Wikipedia experience. Your own reply to Cheryl Greenberg’s query touches on topics central to the theme of the volume as a whole, namely: “This type of transparency made other students uncomfortable in spite of their regard for Wikipedia editors’ transparency. Too, students felt that it was difficult to identify and write for a particular audience on Wikipedia and in their digital history projects. What does a “general audience” look like, and what do they already know?” It’s not just students who are intimidated — or even scared off entirely — by transparency, writing in new (to us) genres and writing for diverse and unfamiliar audiences (especially those who interact with our work rather than just read it). Please at least mention these in your revised essay.
The prose needs polishing in places (in addition to examples already mentioned in the public comments): e.g. paragraph 19: “Creating a 5000 word essay was not a terribly appealing option in an online environment to students, particularly when the possibility of providing a range primary, multimedia sources—not just their citations—was a viable option.” The phrase “to students” is misplaced; should be something like: “Creating a simple 5000-word essay was not terribly appealing to students, particularly when the online environment allowed them to provide a range of primary, multimedia sources instead of just their citations.” paragraph 21: “Like many analog histories, students organized their digital history content thematically or through periodization.”. “Like many analog histories” is a dangling modifier.
Paragraph 24 needs a complete reference for Matthew Henry, Hollywood Made Children (is it a book? An essay? Wikipedia entry?) or else just omit mention of it.
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,533 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must be reduced to 4,000 words.
We support the thoughtful public comments your essay has already received, as well as your own proposed revisions in response to them. For example, Fred Gibbs writes:
“thanks, bethany. you’re right on both counts: we need to fix the “remain” typo, and drucker should appear here. my worry was that ‘capta’ doesn’t really capture (sorry) our point here, though similar, and i didn’t want them to be conflated. i’m generally against neologisms, but wonder if the notions of text and data are too firmly established to refer to something else (or how they are to be used), even if not wholly different. probably, the idea of datatext should be expanded here and the word itself excised.”
We would encourage you to take up in the essay (as Trevor Owens has already done in a comment) Ted Underwood’s warning about the problems concomitant with expansion of scale and about the cherry-picking that historians have been practicing long before data mining became possible (but which may certainly be intensified by it). Underwood writes:
“the expansion of scale is not a trivial problem. If you sufficiently expand the volume of data you’re considering, ordinary historical intuition about the significance of an example starts to become unreliable, and you need to think statistically. But if the truth is to be told, this started to become a problem as soon as we got keyword-searchable databases. A lot of us are already, in practice, doing a kind of cherry-picking with those tools.” (paragraph 32)
We would also like to underscore Amanda Seligman’s suggestion that the relationship between data and evidence (or that of facts and evidence, in more traditional narrative-based historiography) requires elucidation here. It would highlight an important point of contact between this essay and Stefan Tanaka’s elsewhere in the volume. As Charlotte Rochez writes in a comment on paragraph 30, it would be beneficial if you were to identify and refer to connections between your claims and e.g. examples in others of the volume’s essays, such as John Theibault’s on visualizations and historical arguments.
Typographical and grammatical errors need to be corrected throughout; some of these have been highlighted by public commenters but others have not, e.g. paragraph 20: “… it is now takes only seconds to…”
Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,340 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 4,400 words.
In our invitation to revise & resubmit this essay, we wrote:
Explicit attention to three particular themes would strengthen this essay’s contribution to the volume as well as to the wider discourse of digital history. First, you should do as you suggest in your own response to comments, i.e. to play with (or at least refer to some of) “the philosophical implications of an imagined or actual past” as they emerge in this essay. Secondly, as Bethany Nowviskie notes (and as you yourself acknowledge in a comment thereto), the premise of this essay requires an interrogation of “academic credentials” as a source of legitimacy and authority. Both of these are themes common to other essays in the collection, and it is important to address them here – preferably even with reference to those other essays. Finally, we ask that you especially consider William Thomas’s prompt for more critique of the engagement you call for, namely: “[H]ow to deal with the question of rip-mix-burn culture and the provenance of, and interpretation of, historical materials. The online space excels at manipulation. Are historians working against the grain, the underlying nature of the medium? If so, what can be done to take more advantage of the medium to give greater context to this subject–see for example the Virginia Historical Society runaway slave role playing exhibit–fully immersive.”
See also other comments on your essay in the Fall 2011 web-book. Please do your best to incorporate these recommendations into your revised essay. According to the word count at the bottom of the WordPress editing window, your current essay is 4,844 words. In order to meet our obligations to the Press, your final resubmission must not exceed 5,000 words.
I also teach 4 sections of American History, 1 section of Current Events and Earth Science.
I’m writing a dissertation that argues for the inclusion of voices and stories of regular people in social and business history. I demonstrate this by using personal and business letters extensively. I’ve been taking digital photos of these, when I go out on research trips, and I now have over 10,000 pics. So it occurs to me that, in addition to citing them, I could post them, and a lot of my other research, as a companion website. Of course, I’m also thinking of publication, which causes me to hesitate.
So, to formulate this in an “issue” for the project, I think we ought to explore the idea of “ownership” of a text, and how that may change if authors want to retain rights to (and continue to build) a living, web-based companion to a text that goes into the publication process.
Thanks, Jack! Your questions all point toward interesting discussions. While I think archives’ attitudes are probably changing, I’d like to bypass the question of getting permission to use material, and focus more on whether the web and the availability of online sources, change the ownership scenario for authors and publishers? I’ve had good luck as a grad student, finding the published primary sources used in the secondary texts I’ve read. This has led me to be able to not only “fact-check,” but to relive the author’s process to a much greater degree than I would have been able to in the past. In the case I mentioned, I have a wide variety of materials that may not make it into a final dissertation or book. I think many of them are valuable, even if they do not support my historiographical point closely enough to be included in the final text. So, while I AM interested in the changing nature of copyright and author-publisher ownership, maybe I should rephrase the question:
How do the ability to post primary documents (assuming permissions are granted) and research results far in excess of those needed to sustain the argument of a monograph influence the process of researching and writing in the academy? Further, how does the web’s ability to grant readers an “inside” view of the research and writing process, and potentially to interpret the sources for themselves, change the game for historians? And most important, is this different when discussing academic monographs vs. popular history?
I suspect that the process of interpretation and creation of narrative from sources will be enhanced rather than diminished by the transparency afforded by the web. It’s still not going to be a trivial task to come up with an original interpretation or a good story, even if people can see farther into the process. In fact, a deeper view into the process might add value.
Re: #s 2 and 3, I do think there are interesting questions about ownership, attribution, and profit that change when a work is seen as more evolutionary, and less of a fixed textual product. Will this change the way we talk about our work? will we be more or less willing to discuss work-in-progress? Will we take on bigger projects, and write about them in stages?
Interesting perspective, Penny. I just put a post up on the Historical Society’s blog (http://histsociety.blogspot.com/2011/05/notes-from-grad-school-last-professors.html ), where I was trying to open a discussion about “doing history” outside of the academy, for grad students like myself facing the current job market. I’m also trying to think about the different motivations of people writing for the public. What prompts you to re-open your project and put it up on the web?
In working on a dissertation chapter on the digital transition in television in the United States I came on a curious gap in the history of technology literature, no one had yet written a history of the non-linear editor – the software that allows an editor to use a computer craft video without destructive editing. A non-linear editor is like a word processor for images. The primary research for the chapter worked through old trade journals and electrical engineering newsletters, televised sales pitches, and vanity pressed books. Almost every time the history of the technology was written, the story was one of a genius inventor creating a revolutionary technology against all odds. Since the authors were devoted to personalities, rather than technologies, the entry point for writing appeared to be more biographical than technological. Writing would require choosing between Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Walter Murch, or any number of other luminaries, to position that individual as the force of history.
The topic of the chapter, the digital non-linear editor, lent itself to choice to avoid a human centered history, through the work of Friedrich Kittler. Kittler’s work has been important for those writing historical works in cinema and communication studies as his tendency to emphasize the material conditions of media, in particular the storage of information, offers an alternative to the human centered, transmission oriented histories that guide the field. Writing from this perspective discounts the power of human innovators and emphasizes the disruptive and productive aspects of the technology itself, which in an important way brings more of the human stories of technology users into focus.
This idea plays with topics 3, 23, and 30.
Thank you for the questions, I think that they will help me clarify my position. Historically, editors and other above the line production people were well regarded trades people, who made reasonable money and had good working conditions. When most editing was done on film the acts of a single worker with a poorly wielded razor blade could do millions of dollars of damage. Digital non-linear editing eliminated this entire step in film production, razor blades are now used exclusively for shaving. Protecting media companies from a great deal of risk. The new software also allowed the automated production of all manner of special effects that had once been prohibitively expensive. Lens flare could be created in post-production rather than through the painstaking placement of lights, spelling errors on sets could be automatically mapped and changed, and the Herculean collage creations we call reality television shows are only possible because of the technology. The flip side of this story is that the risk reduction and automatic text production lead to deskilling and decreased job stability. Histories of the technology that are centered on genius humans exclude what is lost in the transition. This is where the contradiction becomes profitable, the stories of the people and the texts that are negatively effected by non-linear editing only appear when the technology, rather than the auteur is the subject of the history.
A team of editors working across a computer network has displaced the romantic conception of the media editor working alone to produce a masterpiece. The vision of this book, and this style of open source editing positions the digital age as the activation of a latent network of creativity. Many of the digital methods tools that other topics discuss are writing machines, they are not just data search systems. What many of the other topics get at quite effectively is the need to show how people produce their history through work with human collaborators. The case study of writing the history of a piece of video editing software both provides an analysis of a tool that is changing how scholarship happens, and is a metaphor for a larger claim about technology. This essay takes the digital a step further to claim that what some might call tools are also collaborators. To put it in the form of a flip question, what if in a digital age history writes itself?
Everyone is an Editor: The Tenuous Politics of Non-Linear Editing and the Digital Age
Non-linear video editing ushered in dramatic changes in the ways that videos are produced. Gone were the days of editors working in dark rooms on old but reliable machines, and stable expectations about what videos would look like. The promise of non-linear editing in video was that production would become more democratic, and that the risks of cutting and taping strips of film could be mitigated. Non-linear editing has reduced access and production costs, allowing new producers and new aesthetics to change the video landscape. What these changes mean for production quality and production employees is a complicated question. This essay will draw out an analogy between digital technology for video production and digital technology for the production of historical texts, with a particular emphasis on the ways in which non-linear editing normalized the automated production information and special effects.
In this paragraph I took technical knowledge for granted, the most interesting arguments about problems in digital signal processing happen in the literature on the Longley-Rice Code Three Error. There is a good primer from an engineering firm employed by the FCC that might work well.
You are on point finding a shadow debate about discourse here, in a longer piece I would try to tangle up Foucault’s discourses with Benjamin. I am interested in making a larger argument about the disconnect between circulating aesthetic discourses as an indicator that runs ahead of material changes in the public sphere. In my dissertation I work on this problem by comparing popular press accounts of digital technology to infrastructural changes. I would have included more of this material in this essay if not for length issues.
On the meta-level, I would argue that this continuity-discontinuity is a core theme for studies of the digital which can be explored through the digital signal processing issues that you commented on in a later paragraph.
The bin is unstable and can be changed by anyone at anytime, entering footage into a digital non-linear bin can make it precarious. I am using the historical record to point toward something more stable, although I should be careful not to overstate that stability.
Thank you for your comments, both on the essay as a whole and the paragraphs. Hopefully this will clarify my essay.
@Burke: I generally thought of this piece as responding to other essays that argue that overstate the ease and success of digital methods as a form of writing. If I were to reorganize the essay, I would write directly to address their claims, which would also answer Burke’s argument that historians are not involved in digital media production. Even if they are not involved now, there are essays in this draft of the collection that would seriously propose that they become video editors. An expansive view of future activities for historical writing would be especially called for by the future orientation of this book.
@Novwiskie: Perhaps the point where I am be unclear is that I am not trying to argue that the digital is new or radical, but that there is a great deal of continuity in how media technologies further post-Fordism. Further, I would have no problem adding any number of theoretical sources. While these would provide enjoyable sparing partners, it is unclear what a substantial discussion of Jenkins, Manovitch, or Rheingold would add to this essay. Linearity as well as physical control are both means by which historical authority are produced. In any case, ethos comes from somewhere and the ethos of History is changing.
@Rochez: I should have been more direct, I was trying to make my argument through the history of the software when for the sake of clarity I should have been using a line-by-line style.
In this essay I tried to tell a story about the rise of some obscure computer software, and how this software has been central to the evolving digital public sphere. It is a cautionary tale about changing means of textual production — the central theme of this book. To hit my core point: digital modes of writing do not escape analog power relations. This essay does a short history of digital video that would harmonize with overly optimistic accounts of digital video. To use an analogy, instead of digital video leading to the democratization of production and cinema verite, it brought us Reality TV. That does not mean that everything on television is terrible, or that there are not fantastic uses of digital video, but that we need to take the history (and risks) of video editing seriously if we want more of the good than the bad.
I was certainly intrigued by the landscape of digital history laid bare by the insightful introduction. Intrigued to the degree that it raised a number of questions or queries. To what degree is the question here about writing in the digital age or is there an underlying question about the market i.e. new economic relations and the collapse of publishing? Has a technological language of efficiency and process masked other questions about commodity value and cost reduction?? Can we have a functionalist discussion (electronic tools and techniques) divorced from related concerns about market value (scholarly publishing)? How has the collapse of publishing the demand for profitable books and the convergence between journalistic prose and journalists writing history, blog accessibility, and increased demands for tenure, shaped this discussion beyond electronic technique and writing style?
How can the topic (historical writing) be discussed in such a way to match the reach of the technology?
“Good Writing”—how do we confront the historian’s tendency to eschew bearing witness to writing and thinking as process; seeing the uneven and revised elements versus a seamless vacuum of self-evident prose…? Can the historian write directly about their writing process and still consider it “good” historical writing?
Isn’t what you describe as “secrecy” really an expression of “intellectual property” because of the digital age?
But with a profession so obsessed with almost unstated “standards” and quality control, how will this square with a digital ethos of giving more (especially a profession that polices the notion of valid sources and interpretation)? Is this struggle a product of anxiety about the empiricism of historical methods and sources in the first place?
I think we are assuming the “historical habits of mind” where this seems like an opportunity to interrogate the assumptions embedded within such self-righteous claims. How does such a formulation square with the notion of genres of digital knowledge production?
But the lofty notion of exchanging ideas is not disentangled from the market issues of publisher status, price point, medium, prose, awards etc.
I wonder to what degree was the University of Michigan Press’ restructuring a process of idea dissemination and what part the new publishing industry landscape. I would really like to see an “open source” discussion of their restructuring process.
When considering digital format, what level of attention was given to design i.e. the relationship between aesthetic style and the ease of user interface?
One possible draw-back that must be considered with digital peer review is that vigorous back and forth conversation could be evaluated as concern about the manuscript; if only because written reviews rarely go beyond two exchanges (first and second reports).
Will the accessibility of digital materials encourage a rigidity of “standards” or will standards mirror the relative democratization of information that comes with digital access?
Why is it that elite institutions are first to venture into open source, is it because older modes of evaluation excellence (ivy=legitimate source) follow us into the digital age and are masked by claims to democratic access and multi-medium “platforming”?
For those interested in converting ideas into visual digital expressions, how does the electronic learning and production curve get in the way of stated aims for ease, speed, openness, and interaction?
The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing Gibbs/Owens
It seems that digital discussions of historical methods have tended toward large chunks of “quantitative” data sets. Does the discussion become more difficult with qualitative data? Does “data” here mean court records, statistics, maps, census materials etc.? What happens in this discussion with clothing, music, visual art etc?
How does all of this apply to the qualitative work of say counterfactual history, or theoretically interpretative history?
It would be really useful to demonstrate what useful methodological writing might look like. What exactly is meant by a “methodological tutorial”?
It seems the case study here relies so heavily on charts and graphs that it works against the very intent of transparency…i.e. the mode conveying knowledge still matters.
It seems that in so many of the discussions here, new data is seen a simply repositories of information and never unpacked from within their own systems of meaning i.e. data sets are represented as simply conveying facts and not as products of the rules and conventions that govern various data sets…that would seem to be a very useful discussion here.
For example, in was intrigued by the “Putting Harlem on the Map,” essay. The focus on different mapping databases was instructive and exciting. But I thought we would see various mappings of the same space and how each map was governed by a set of different rules, assumptions, and contexts and what that means for method and interpretation…I am familiar with the larger dataset here and a big challenge or critique is that while larger data sets can make claims to getting at a “deeper” level of everyday life (vs. cultural anecdote), one of the major databases used is crime records. What are the limits of accessing the “truth” of a community based on crime reports? Many have found that volume is fetishized and equated with “everyday,” without enough self-conscious interrogation of the rules and assumptions that shape such data sets, as repositories of truth.
*NOTE: Please understand that these comments are not a dismissal of this innovative work. In fact my comments are driven by the belief that these essays, in their composite form, don’t go far enough, that digital history can be more than just a medium for engaging a wider array of sources. This work can directly examine how we think about sources, interpretation, and methodology far beyond large data sets. Such an exploration is especially hopeful for those of us who work in the areas of cultural history; where our source selections are already shrouded in doubt and suspicion from the vantage point of many “mainstream” colleagues in the profession. This could be a discussion that breaks open a wider examination of big questions like evidence, verification, and “good writing” that finally moves the profession beyond imitative desires to mirror the 19th century hard sciences.
Since my comments on your (collective) approaches to mapping and the use of crime databases was in clearly stated as a reference to a larger conversation, perhaps it would be best to directly ask me what I meant in my comments than to continually reply to me in the third person. My major commentary was based on an interrogation (and hopes for) this larger project and not the validity of your body of scholarship. It is unfortunate that you took my comments so defensively.
Is “Yahoo! groups” the best example for this? Facebook?
Why is this scarier for historians than for any other type of writer?
Response to Amanda I. Seligman’s, “Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies,” 10/27/11
Ten years of “Do Not Use Wikipedia” for serious research or critical study, cannot be removed from my psyche even now as I search “how to make donuts,” “how donuts were made in the 19th c,” or “19th c baking ovens” to describe a kitchen scene in England for the historical fiction I’m working on. The accessibility of videos and utilitarian information seems harmless, and yet in the back of my mind there is the flashing reminder that I will have to cross-reference with scholarly journals, archives, and ‘closed’ data-bases before sending my work on. I want to do that regardless, because the descriptions and definitions afforded a writer on Wikipedia are limited, and the chance occurrence of finding, say, the manor in which a noted author spent his last years, is sporadic, obviously, but I agree that the utility of this tertiary source allows me to create a first draft expediently. I also teach my students the critical thought process of ethos and authorship of all sources they choose to use; our contribution to students in this digital age is really only to lead them to have critical thinking skills they can employ in searches as well as to express their findings with original and coherent thought.
While you’re correct that a Zotero source record only has a single field for notes, you can have any number of associated text (i.e. note) records related that that source.
Digital technology can revolutionize the history textbook as we know it. Publishers are already rolling out digital editions that incorporate opportunities for interactivity and media supplements; such features are useful but deeply limited. Current digital technologies, put in service of the research into historical thinking by Samuel Wineburg and others, offer the opportunity to rethink the history textbook in radical new ways. This essay will explore how historians and educators can create a new model for history learning that will use digital tools to foster historical thinking skills, as well as deep understanding and inquiry into historical content.
Andrea, Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments. I think your point that the model of the textbook may not still be necessary is right on; perhaps we continue to use it as a way to ease us into something more useful. The “e-text” I would want would embody and reinforce the ways that instructors are trying to teach students to think historically.
I think having students find and survey evidence, a process made dramatically more accessible because of digitization, is important, but in order to be truly effective should come after (or at least simultaneous with) assignments that help them develop their historical thinking skills. There’s a lot that we do as historians in evaluating and filtering sources that students need to learn. The expansive possibilities of e-textbooks, freed from the constraints of paper and bindings, would ideally give instructors enough choices so that they could find units that fit what they want to do, while also being much clearer for students than “read this, don’t read this.”
Brandon, Thank you for your extensive and useful reflections on my essay. While I like the idea of the free, open-source textbook, the labor to create such a resource is real. It presents a genuine dilemma–do you build tools and models to enable instructors to create their own digital modules, thus creating a great deal of additional (and in many cases uncompensated) work for them? Work which many of them won’t be inclined or able to do, for a variety of reasons? Or do you assemble an electronic resource that has enough choice so that instructors can find enough useful materials to build a course around it?
There are real tradeoffs to either approach. My dream is to find funders who would underwrite such centralized labor, creating a flexible but easy to use and ready to go resource that would be free for the largest number of instructors and students.
Also, I forgot to mention that the digital textbook I envision could be programmed for the web but run natively on tablet devices that are connected to the internet (ie, have the gesture-based interface)–this would insure access to those without tablets and across proprietary systems (although you would lose the total portability of the tablet, since you’d need to be connected to the internet to use it).
You’re absolutely right to note that authority is still being exercised–that’s true of every book, and ideally the ebook can even draw attention to that fact, once a student has mastered some basic skills of identifying and evaluating evidence in the first place. I would love it if a student wanted to debate what kind of evidence a general’s diary is. This is still speculative, of course, but I wouldn’t want to create such a closed system of feedback as to make for a rigid idea of right and wrong answers when that’s not appropriate.
You make an excellent point about the instructional labor involved. I hope that an ebook like this would be shift when and how instructors spend their time rather than dramatically increase it. For example, these kinds of exercises of working with evidence could be equivalent to the short response papers college instructors frequently assign, and they would build student skills in such a way as to result in better work on the longer papers also assigned later in the semester.
But don’t instructors do this kind of picking and choosing what to cover all the time anyway, with the materials they use in addition to the textbook? As an east coast native, I remember being surprised at how different the curriculum of the US history survey course was in California. All I’m suggesting is that they have the ability to exercise that kind of flexibility with the textbook itself.
I would love to be able to show rather than tell, but that would require programming labor and expertise that I don’t have. Unlike a written textbook, I can’t create the e-book I envision by myself.
What I could do, though, is better explain in words why what I envision is not the “evidence and viewpoints” approach, which you rightly note is entrenched in history textbooks at this point. What I would like to see technology enable is a learn-by-doing approach that allows students to formulate and support arguments using evidence, rather than telling them “some historians think X, while others think Y.”
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Digital humanists have begun to explore the power of distant reading–viewing texts from a much higher scale to identify larger phenomena that aren’t visible at the level of the traditional close reading. As a result, new methodologies like topic modeling and natural language processing have given us new ways of thinking about texts and hold great promise to yield new research questions and answers. However, most humanists remain skeptical about such claims and the questions derived by such techniques. Opaque algorithms and data manipulations raise humanists’ concern as to whether the resultant data says anything meaningful about a text itself. I argue that we must abandon in our methodological arguments the unnecessary binary of close and distant readings that has characterized recent debates. Rather, I suggest an approach that might encourage wider adoption of various methodologies in the digital humanities: the not-too-distant reading. This approach, which I hope to elaborate on in the essay, embraces simple technologies to help humanists sort, filter, and process the growing body of easily available online texts in very straightforward and incremental steps. Such a methodology allows a historian to comb through virtually infinitely more texts than is possible by hand or by simple text searching, but still relies on reading (parts of) the texts. Crucial to this approach, I will argue, is that (digital) historical writing must emphasize methodological transparency. Because digital history employs so many techniques not taught in traditional history training, discussions of our data manipulations need to be integrated into our interpretive work, rather than focusing solely on conclusions from purely mathematical results. Such clarity will improve the legitimacy of large-scale research by simultaneously staying to closer to the texts and also facilitating similar inquiries on the same or different texts–that is, repeatability and related explorations–and thus further the scholarly discussion about them in ways that simply do not happen now.
i’m also interested in knowing more about the pushback. as i reflected at http://historyproef.org/blog/teaching/assigning-wikipedia/ my grad students loved that they were contributing to the historical conversation even for a course assignment, and also enjoyed having class discussions about what constitutes scholarly work and writing in concrete terms. most had a relatively low opinion of wikipedia to begin with, and some rarely used it. most won’t be professional historians, and perhaps for that reason they were glad for an atypical academic assignment.
+1 for the curation angle, esp how online and easily viewable curation efforts (and access to them through interfaces and APIs) changes our thinking and writing about history. also +1 for challenging text as only legitimate form of historical scholarship. these sound like two separate articles. i was less convinced by the oral history example. just as non-text has gotten new life in history, there are also many digital projects to transform oral histories into text so that they can be compared to and used as part of larger corpora. i think any article that focuses on challenging the primacy of text needs to address such activities to create more text.
i would be more extreme: it’s not that visualizations “can also work” as rhetoric, but in fact always do, even if they don’t mean to. historians more than ever need to be versed in that rhetoric–as you go on to explain.
actually, i would say the opposite. historians are probably as or not more comfortable with maps than other complex (and especially multivariate) visualization. it’s the scatter plots and tree diagrams and representations of that nature that can be downright frightening to those who aren’t familiar with them. to explain how they are useful and necessary is a worthy exercise.
it might also be emphasized that making sense of visualizations of any sort necessarily (to some extent at least) entails understanding the principles of graphic design in the sense that it gives us a vocabulary to discuss why something works or doesn’t as a piece of visual communication. it’s hard to critique the value and meaning of the data behind or within the visualization if one is unclear about how deliberately the different elements are interacting with each other.
i love the comment about historians romanticizing their sources in the archives. spot on. and yet while many traditionalists see databases as overly reductive, they have no compunction about the distortion that goes into creating nicely defined chapters and tightly spun historical narratives. i think historians on the whole have not recognized that thinking of history as data does not mean forgoing nuance and interpretation.
i fully agree with the above two comments. i think the early focus on filemaker, an entirely antiquated technology compared to (as mentioned) zotero (not that i’m biased, though i am), detracts from the useful points about database methods generally that appear later. the 10k notecard analogy is cool, and i think that could be leveraged even more in the way that one could argue (more explicitly than in the essay [unless i missed it]: “hey, don’t be afraid–a database isn’t that different from a box of notecards. but look at all the cool other things you can do!”
having only read this one P so far, i like where’s it’s going. 2 points:
1) i wouldn’t say that databases are normative statements about reality so much as about relationships (perhaps inherent in your use of database to mean relational database), as the information in a database often does not reflect an actual reality as much as an artificial one–and this is a great freedom!
2) i’m not sure the conflation of XML and databases is helpful here. i consider databases for storage and retrieval (including very complex queries), and XML as a standard format for transfer of information. an XML file could be a database in a way (ala iTunes), but i see them as serving largely different purposes most of the time. since it seems you don’t talk about XML anymore, why introduce a new tech upfront?
you might also mention here the problem of certainty. though perhaps not relevant to your specific example, a common historical problem is not knowing exactly when something happened. but historians can and have to make educated guesses about such cases, and have (at least internally) degrees of certainty associated with their guesses. this too could be managed in the database, and give DB skeptics one less round of ammo in their arsenal.
because normalization is so primary for useful databases and so foreign for historians (sorry, i couldn’t resist), it might be very helpful to show in graphical form some of the other tables for individuals, locations, etc.
also, you might mention how in some cases (perhaps not yours) the to, from, and location fields in the letters table would need to be in separate connector tables of their own. i realize this introduces even more complexity is what is not a technical tutorial, but in order to reach a wide audience of people with very messy data, it may help others realize that it’s both possible and not _that_ difficult. otherwise, i worry that skeptics will say: oh, that’s fine for you, but i can’t use this. and that seems to be exactly the attitude this essay tries to, and hopefully will, minimize.
perhaps we need to clarify a bit more, but we don’t say that a chart can’t be used as evidence. we say that this particular chart (and in fact any chart) from the n-gram viewer does not provide evidence for any historical argument because of the uncertainties in the data behind the chart. of course the point here is that even when we have charts like n-gram viewer ones, we shouldn’t simply ignore them because of those uncertainties. instead, we should appreciate them for how they can reveal phenomena that we would have missed. in other words, charts don’t have to be used as evidence, but can be useful in other ways.
thanks, bethany. you’re right on both counts: we need to fix the “remain” typo, and drucker should appear here. my worry was that ‘capta’ doesn’t really capture (sorry) our point here, though similar, and i didn’t want them to be conflated. i’m generally against neologisms, but wonder if the notions of text and data are too firmly established to refer to something else (or how they are to be used), even if not wholly different. probably, the idea of datatext should be expanded here and the word itself excised.
thanks, tim. i hope we can incorporate some of your nice ideas into this part of the text. your comments very nicely illustrate our probably-too-implicit point that there is a range of visualization qualities–rather than all or nothing–and they all can help illustrate our methodologies. we hadn’t thought about the tendency to polish visualizations, but it’s a great point.
i think we were thinking about the historians in the context of the modern historical profession rather than any work that could be considered historical. but even older historians (broadly construed) certainly didn’t have the kind of data we’re talking about–but since we haven’t really explained what we mean by data very well, your comment is well taken. while i don’t think our original formulation was patronizing, it certainly does need fixing to accommodate the range of historical work that has relied on data of one kind or another. thanks for the comment.
good point. i think the academy needs some of both, actually, but you’re right and we should mention more about the consumption of historical work.
you’re right. we need to be clearer about our definitions of data and evidence, especially since they are two different things.
exactly right: we’re not nearly clear enough on these points, especially the notion about changing form and quality of data.
As a start, I’m going to restate something I posted in reply to a query on Archivesnext about “What Would you want out of a History & Web conference:”
I think that in order to get more involved in the field there needs to be some concrete, hands-on training in technical skills. Although I teach a graduate course in digital history, I’m largely self-taught and my skills are way behind those who attend and present at THATCamp and Museums and the Web. I attended the latter this past April and while I enjoyed it I also felt overwhelmed at how little I know how to do, and how poorly I know how to do that.
In other words, we’re a very small pond (a puddle really). If we want the field to grow we need to do more outreach, not just talk to each other all the time.
I teach a course on digital history for our M.A. in public history at CCSU.
Thanks for your reply. I agree that historians value good writing, but when I tried to explain history in the digital age to my colleagues, they thought I just meant e-books, i.e. print books that can be read on e-readers. Others think digital means digitizing print materials. One even thought that “digital” meant using Powerpoint in class. When I tried to explain that this is a very narrow and not particularly innovative view of what digital history is all about they were either dumbfounded or skeptical (or both). In other words, the short answer to many of your questions is “no” because so few historians are involved in digital history. This is in marked contrast to those in literature — look at how many sessions there are on digital topics at the MLA compared with AHA. Better yet, compare the volume of tweets using #MLA2011 compared with #AHA2011. I think the reasons for this need to be explored — is there something about the field of history that makes historians less reluctant to delve into this field? Is the learning curve too steep? Do we need to do more “digital evangelism”? That sort of thing.
NB: There is an entire field of history devoted to the study of memory (including a peer reviewed journal). Maybe this could be explored or at least mentioned?
Perhaps you could mention the various wiki-projects devoted to history as examples of how to accomplish this? Are there any that demonstrate best practices?
I am curious about the framing. You ask how the digital revolution has changed how we think, write, and publish about the past. Why did you decide not to include how we teach about the past as well?
Again – I wonder about the decision not to engage with pedagogy here.
I’d love to see an essay about teaching, particularly about scholarly collaboration and ways to engage undergraduates and soon-to-be historians with the themes noted above.
“…the digital footprint of people who maintain there were significant numbers of black Confederate soldiers appears far larger than that of historians and others who attempt to refute the myth.”
What do you consider to be a significant number?
And what exactly is the “myth?” A significant number or any number?
testing comment on Chrome for Mac
“using writing as a way to find out rest out what I am arguing” does not make sense. Perhaps ‘using writing as a way to find out what I am arguing’?
“How, then, do we how do we proceed to do research –the real nuts and bolts of it –”
first part of sentence has extra words plus missing space after first hyphen.
Try: How, then, do we know how to proceed to do research – the real nuts and bolts of it — or something like that. Perhaps too many hows?
This really makes sense to me and something I have been thinking about (that is how to do it?) and you have given me a great deal to think about.
“Databases can also be used for note taking, . . . is a powerful tool for research.”
Awkward sentence try: and are a powerful
I like this idea. It makes more sense to me than leaving where it is – for the reasons cited above.
I find your last statement somewhat questionable in once sense – If that is a true statement, why do I find so many monographs that are written that they can not be read without a dictionary or that the sentence structure leads to misreading what has been written. Sometimes, I have to actually outline the chapter just to understand it.
I must admit that I love a well written narrative full of “meaningful insights about the past” that actually becomes a good story – now if I could just find more of them.
Hopefully, this new digital age will help that come about.
# Writing in the Digital Age Reflection
Fred Gibbs and Trevor Owens take aim at an important topic, namely the ways that historians should approach writing about their methods in an age of data processing and visualizations. They argue that “new methods used to explore and interpret historical data require[s] a new kind of methodological transparency in history writing,” one that privileges historical narrative not only as a product but also a process. Methodological transparency includes discussing data queries, workflows with tools, and the production and interpretation of visualizations, as well as a de-emphasis on the traditional historical narrative in favor of explaining a process of inference with historical data that is principally digital.
Especially important is their call for digital humanists to foreground their methodological techniques and explain these in a way that allows broad accessibility for a wide array of scholars curious about methods for approaching data. They rightfully point out that historians likely place their digital methods in the background in order to emphasize the traditional approach to historical narrative and give their projects legitimacy. Yet by ignoring methodological explanations, digital techniques remain “an impenetrable and mysterious black box” peered into only by those with the knowhow and technical wherewithal to make things happen. Like most other scholarly fields, historians usually explain their methodologies and frameworks in journal articles and book introductions, including the sorts of primary source material used in constructing scholarly conclusions. Digital methods are different in that the techniques allow for a much broader swath of historical data to analyze with techniques that make such analysis relatively fast.
Also important is their explanation of what data is and is not. Perhaps drawing on Jerome McGann and Joanna Drucker, the authors describe the process of working with data as “playful” and “exploratory.” Data does not need to reach solid conclusions through statistical methods. Simply doing basic queries in Google ngrams can raise new questions about topics, although the data present in the graph would not constitute a solid form of historical evidence. Nor does data need to take on a sort of scientific quality that relies on rigorous hypothesis testing, a crucial difference, they remind readers, from cliometrics. Tied to both of these realizations is their insistence that data is not only evidence, but a broader framework or discovery of research inquiry. The examples provided of Owens’ querying the rise of the user illustrates this very well by demonstrating how quieries raised questions for his research. By digging deeper into texts he uncovered new possibilities about the phrase and its rising use in the later decades of the twentieth century. The tandem approach of distant reading and close reading — enabled only by digital techniques and clearly explained as a method — gave historical significance the trends Owens was seeing.
Connected to Owens approach was the publicness of his techniques. His research question was immediately public, appearing as a thoughtful blog posts on his website, and soon spread through Twitter and received thoughts and comments from hundreds of other scholars. In no area of print publication is such a method of publicly testing an idea possible to this extent. By making preliminary investigations and interpretations public and inviting public comment and consideration, historians have an ability to engage in substantial scholarly debates early on in the research process. The value here is a richer, more thorough discussion of an early idea that will only serve to assist Owens in thinking about his research in new ways.
The authors argue against a mathematical complexity so often found in the social sciences. They stand against any claims that data can stand as self-evident proof. Historical interpretation still remains a key component to the analysis of historical data. Indeed, they suggest “datatext” as a label for treating data *as* a text. In this way, the analysis of data is treated as any other historical source — from multiple perspectives and considerations.
Towards the end the authors write that historians do not need to take on the “epistemologial burdens” of staticians or quantitative historians. That is why this piece is so important. Precisely because historians are making inferences off large datasets without necessarily subjecting that data to mathematical vigor, we must explain not only the conclusions drawn from the data but the process of reaching those conclusions. There is a serious disconnect between reader and writer if it remains unexplained how conclusions were reached through data visualization. Even if such tools and visualizations are tools built by an individual scholar for a specific research topic, an explanation of how such things work and what it reveals in terms of historical questions is as important as the conclusions drawn from the tools.
Perhaps there is a level of statistical inference that *must* happen when working with large sets of data. We may not need the precise toolkit of staticians — for example, in topic modeling, knowing something about the Dirichlet parameter will not likely be of much concern —but there is a danger in cherry-picked phrases or words appearing as a significant correlation when, statistically, that may not be the case. We might could think of words with multiple meanings — “character” may refer to the moral qualities of an individual, but it might also refer to imaginative creatures or a jab (“he’s a real character”) — may well require a different sort of analysis somewhere in between distant and close reading. In other words, historians may have to carry an “epistemological burden” of their own. Ours may not center on statistical or mathematical formulas, but certainly will include the very process of working with data. The reason we chose a word or the process of historical inference is essential to the workings of data hermeneutics.
It may be beyond the scope of the essay, but the authors may speak a little more about the training of historians in assessing, collecting, interpreting, manipulate, and disseminating data. In their conclusion they argue that gathering, working with, and representing data should be required training, no different than learning about the various frameworks and techniques used in historical writing and interpretation. But perhaps they could expand this slightly and make a fuller case as to the importance of such a change in training. Their explanation would not only foreground data hermeneutics as part of the very work we should do as historians, but also perhaps give graduate students some ideas for thought and discussion among their colleagues, advisors, and mentors. The case is still being made that digital history has value as a method. Integrating the process and product of data into the broader argument of digital humanism only helps to strengthen the case.
“what appears in an entry one day might be gone or changed the next”
True, and so one of the first things I teach my students is the “link to a permanent version of this page” feature. Makes a lot of things easier.
Actually, i think the question, “whose histories will be authoritative in the digital age” assumes an answer it should be unpacking. (At the risk of being facile, is a Facebook status about a historical topic–something serious, like Jeff Nunokawa’s FB account–that gets ‘liked’ a thousand times or more “authoritative”? Or is that even the right metric?)
I wonder–especially after reading Leslie Madsen-Brooks’s essay–whether there is in fact a “preference for inquiry over certainty.”
That doesn’t fit well with my experience of online discussions, although I might be hanging out in the wrong places!
I found myself thinking here about the multiplicity of digital spaces–how, for example, the work of history emerges on a political/journalism blog (Ta-Nehisi Coates) in different ways, perhaps, than on blogs or fora devoted to the issue.
It seems to me clear, both in the introduction and the essays, that the book basically addresses itself to North American historians, mostly in universities. There’s no harm done in being somewhat more explicit about that focus.
That would have an important secondary benefit: It would permit a more prominent (i.e., earlier, and possibly more substantive) place for the institutional pressures shaping this discussion: In a world where the job market for historians is, if I understand things aright, even worse than that for literary folks (hard as that is to believe), then it’s a bit of a miracle that *anyone* does something even vaguely experimental.
It’s noteworthy how both the discussion and the platform seem to imagine comments as the ne plus ultra of web writing. A paragraph with a lot of comments is better, or more interesting, or more provocative, than one without. (Y’all even suggest that the presence of comments is suggestive of more, or more careful, reading.)
I understand why paragraph-level comments are helpful for a project such as this one, in its current state. After all, if this is a new sort of peer review/editing, then you need to be able to comment in a more fine-grained manner.
I worry about two different things. First, it’s Really. Not. Hard. to get comments on the web, and so I wonder what effects that lure would have on scholarly writing. You’ll know that things have gone too far when you see articles like, “Top 5 Reasons the Great Reform Bill Advanced 19thC Democracy (And 2 Reasons It Really Didn’t!)”
And second, a lot of my favorite web writing either disallows commenting altogether, or places heavy restrictions on commenters. From this point of view, a web site allows one the opportunity to develop one’s own take, and, if people want to respond in kind, they can very well get their own site. They’re cheap! While this may seem elitist (“Get off my lawn!!!”), it also recognizes that other people’s responses deserve a kind of equality of platform.
“More deeply” than what? (Than Hacking the Academy?)
Also, if I understand the process correctly, writers composed their papers in Word, and then y’all retconned them into CommentPress? If so, then I think the analogy to the industry practice of eating one’s own dog food calls for more explication.
Although, I note, pseudonymous feedback certainly is. Is the reason to prevent anonymous commentary, then, just a way of creating a minimal cost of entry, such that articles don’t turn into YouTube pages?
Missing word: ” groups of scholars both and outside the academy”
“These same scholars use email, word processing software, online . . .”
I wish there were stats documenting these numbers in the late 1980s (for word processing) and early 1990s (for e-mail). *Did* people shift to word processors more quickly than they’ve (not-)flocked to the web? In my own department–which is not history–I note the existence of by-laws indicating that typing of articles and such will be performed by the administrative assistant existing far later than one might imagine.
This is what I meant in the general comment: This paragraph focuses mostly on the tenure decision, when I think a certain amount of reticence–if there is such–is enforced by the job system.
Typo at the end of the paragraph, missing closing parenthesis.
Picking up on themes in posts #41 and #43, I would like to propose an article on the specific opportunities and challenges of designing relational databases to hold and analyze historical research. Relational databases are profoundly powerful tools, for a very small subset of humanities data — namely information that can be broken down into discrete units and then reconnected without undue loss of context or meaning. A relational data structure is essentially a normative structure of reality, a series of statements on what the world contains and how it operates. Historians today tend to avoid overarching explanations or meta-narratives, but databases push us to make concrete, upfront assessments of our subject matter — often before our research is even complete. How then do these structures affect our writing? Do they reappear in chapter orders, in introductions, or do they completely structure a final prose work in more subtle ways? How also, do we deal with how databases (and computers in general) represent time and chronological calculations. Does that affect our analysis for better or worse?
This essay uses a number of very good examples and makes some important points about the ability of historians to read the visualizations their colleagues are being to produce. I would like to see this argument strengthened by a more explicit discussion of the ethics of visualization — perhaps in relation to the ethics of data. What do we as historians need to include in our visualizations (or explanatory texts) to make these images credible and critiquable?
I think your ideas for a minor reframing are excellent and would really strengthen an already thought provoking essay.
This is an excellent point. Too often people think of categories as permanently fixed in the system. We can change them, but that change also requires reflection.
I also wrote a blog post about writing this essay called “Am I even qualified?: Writing about digital history”. It is more about writing DH in general, than anything particular to what I write here. If anyone is interested it can be found on my blog, “Packets:” http://packets.jeanbauer.com/2011/10/16/am-i-even-qualified-writing-about-digital-history/
Thanks so much for the great comments. One theme that emerges is a desire for more examples. I initially struggled with deciding how much time to devote to my own research topics, but clearly I need to flesh this out more.
I wondered how people would react to my discussion of relational databases vs. XML. As Will Thomas mentioned in his comment, relational databases can be something of a hot potato for historians. I was trying to separate the two, but as Bethany points out I should do so more clearly and with greater nuance for the strengths and weaknesses of each option.
Thanks! I do, however, think that data structures in general are normative statements about reality — statements about what “ought” to matter in the world around us, created by what we choose to record and therefore save out of all the possible information. Probably don’t have time or space here, but I’d love to continue this discussion.
In this kind of system, I’m tempted to say that the people in charge of shaping the content could always add new key words and categories — or dump the data and start over again when all the questions change. However, I do think that some of these systems will in time come to reflect the questions of their day and be of interest to historiographers for just that reason. The trick is to make your data exportable so that people can re-envision it as the field changes.
Excellent point. I should build some certainty measures into the system — there are some in the citation module which allows you to associate contradictory sources with a single record and indicate which one you trust and why.
I only have anecdotal evidence for my user base — really should put some analytics on this thing — but I do know that several scholars working on Atlantic history and particularly the staff of the Adams Papers use the site as a reference tool for finding people and learning more about the distribution of foreign service posts in their area of study. 18th Century Diplomatic History is a sufficiently small field that I will call that a win, and hope that the site can help the field grow by making difficult to find information accessible.
I agree! Of course, I opted off the tenure track and into alt-ac, but I found that my database work generated most of my funding in graduate school and not just from DH centers at UVA. But that is also why we need to be explicit in our choices and explanation of those choices. The more we educate our colleagues, the more they will recognize these new publications as things of value.
I concur with all the comments above, particularly those of Will Thomas and Bethany Nowviskie. It is also the best discussion of non-universal time that I have seen from a historian (as opposed to a literary scholar juxtaposing the worlds contained in multiple texts).
This is a very important essay on a crucial topic. To channel Jo Guldi, one of the interesting questions on the horizon is “What can historians do with sloppy answers to big questions?” I particularly like the emphasis on play, especially because I’m not sure there is a better approach for most kinds of historical data. Keeping statistical methods in mind is hardly a bad idea, but what we have is almost always too fragmented for statistical analysis — What is a statistically viable sample of inscriptions from Athens? Well, what’s your sample set? All the inscriptions there ever were, or just the ones that have survived?
Using play as your model, could also force historians to be explicit about where they got their data and how they did (and did not) analyze it. If you aren’t even pretending that your methods are exhaustive, then the burden is on you to show why what you did do is of real value.
I would like to suggest that the promise of digital reproducibility–the fantasy of a perfect recreation of an author’s workstation–implicit in a project such as Emory University’s “Rushdie Archives” might be undermined by these early theorists of media and history (Adams and Benjamin). Digital historians of today have wonderful tools that enable the recovery of repressed or low-resolution data & information, but perhaps in in deploying these tools we lose the sense of temporal shift that becomes the condition of possibility for the historical event.
I argue that the digital humanities, as the field currently exists, operates within a space of fantasmatic completion of the history archive—a fantasy heavily critiqued by early twentieth century critics of historiography including Henry Adams and Walter Benjamin. Both Adams and Benjamin in their respective work propose answers to the question of how one might listen to the traces of the past and the historian’s obligation to give voice to those occluded and multiple silenced voices. In the process both make imaginative, metaphorical use of new technologies; for Adams the electric generator—the dynamo—with its twin magnetic poles of positive and negative symbolize the historian’s proper relation to the past and present, while for Benjamin the layering in the photomontage reveals what he calls the “optical unconscious” and makes possible a new position that traditional historiography has occluded. Benjamin’s Arcades Project and his use of the figure of the panorama, however, acknowledge that the project of completion is doomed to fail. If the new media and representation technologies that emerged in the nineteenth century presented Adams and Benjamin with the possibility of rupture in the historical record, the digital technologies and massive storage databases of the present moment require a profound reconsideration of the historiographic project itself.
The traditional model of historical scholarship is a solitary pursuit, yet many digital history projects (including, but not limited to, digitized archives, text-mining, and various new tools of digital scholarship) lend themselves to or even require multiple contributors (historians, librarians, archivists, technical specialists, digital humanities centers, etc.). So, then, how does the increasingly common practice of multiple creators in digital history affect the ways that scholarship is done, evaluated, and attributed? And how does that affect the ways that undergraduates learn about and engage in the practice of history? [This may overlap with some of the existing questions (esp. #2 and #11).] [Comment reposted here by editor.]
The question of credit (appropriately attributed or not) is certainly a key issue here and one I’m aware as having influenced my own career. [I almost certainly got into graduate school in large part because I was an early (and credited) contributor to the Valley of the Shadow project, something I still get credit for nearly 2 decades after I worked on it.]
As for the notion that the creation of historical scholarship has always been a collaborative process, I would disagree a bit. While all scholarship is, of course, built on the work and ideas of others to some extent, I do think there’s a distinction here between the solitary historian who finds his/her own books, accesses archives with minimal, or even no, interaction with archivists, who doesn’t have graduate students to work with, who conceives and creates projects with limited interactions with others, and, on the other hand, the many digital history projects which are difficult to do alone, given the technical abilities and scale required. Moreover, the culture of digital history (or more broadly, digital humanities) is one that has emerged with collaboration at its center, so that even if the technical and scale aspects of a project can be managed by one person, the expectation is that others will work with you. That is definitely NOT true of history as a discipline.
No question as well that I had public history (and much of CHNM’s work) in mind when I proposed this question. But I think that credit in the public history model is changing too as digital public history projects often include credit for the many people who worked on them, in ways that purely physical exhibitions or guides have not. Is that a cultural shift or is it a shift brought about by digital format or some combination of both? [Comment reposted here by editor.]
All, unfortunately I’m not going to time to write this (at least not by myself) before August 15, so if someone else would like to take a crack at it, be my guest.
Access to digital sources has revolutionized the methods of historical research, but the current marketplace of information could likely negatively affect historical scholarship. Initially internet access to indexes and databases and faster interlibrary loan services, made it possible to do high caliber research at smaller institutions without research collections. However, the current practices of database providers will return library users to a world of the haves and have nots. In the current climate of the information, publishers market to the general undergraduate researcher with single search engines, multi-source databases, full text access to journals, and thematic digital archives with only selected manuscripts. Decisions related to improving the bottom line, rather than location, often determine access to resources. For example: databases drop full text journals, journal prices increase astronomically when independent and scholarly societies sell their journal to for-profit publishers; essential primary sources are digitized and sold with a price point only the wealthiest institutions can afford. Today access to resources, even in terms of interlibrary loan, often depends more on copyright, licensing agreements, and cost than actual physical holdings. This article will examine the affects of the cost and availability of information (both free, for instance Hathi Trust and fee, for instance Ebsco databases, resources), the variety of resources (digital, e-books, Google Scholar, institutional repositories), and the changes this new pattern of resource availability on historical scholarship.
The second line ending in “a ‘fan’ has pointed has suggested” is confusing. It seems the author was trying out both phrases as options and one needs to be picked.
The phrase on the fourth line of this paragraphed “who happened to be our fan” is awkward as it implies that this individual is the only fan which is obviously not true, based on earlier paragraphs.
Suggest “who happened to be one of our ‘fans'” or “who also happened to be a fan of the Facebook page”.
The phrase: “alerted me that a ralli quilt I had posted on Facebook that was”.
One or both of the “that”s needs to be removed.
“alerted me a ralli quilt6 I had posted on Facebook that was”
“alerted me that a ralli quilt6 I had posted on Facebook was”
The phrase following: “was in fact made in Pakistan” should have “was” removed from the beginning of the phrase as it carries over from the phrase “had posted on Facebook was”.
I agree emphatically with Hilary about the importance of discussing pedagogy. I’m in the midst of revising the AHA Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media and an active conversation can dramatically improve that guide. Also, Jack Dougherty suggested to me that posting a draft of the chapter I hope to submit will not only improve the essay but also allow the participants in this online conversation to explore how writing history and about writing history can change in a digital environment. here is the link to Information Fluency in Historical Studies, http://www1.assumption.edu/users/mcclymer/cic/cic.html.
The essay, I should add, began life as a talk at a Conference of Independent Colleges workshop. [Comment reposted here by editor.]
Proposed topic: Visualization as Historical Argument.
The notion that pictures, charts, maps, and other visualizations can be integral to the development of an historical narrative or argument precedes the development of online works (e.g. in the work of Edward Tufte). Occasionally, as in historical atlas projects, the work of creating visualizations was as valued as traditional text-based narratives or arguments. But more often in the past, visual evidence was mere illustrative detail to text-based arguments. The internet has created opportunities for more expansive interactive visualizations that can carry greater narrative and rhetorical weight. Hans Rosling’s work on the evolution of health and wealth in the last two centuries underscores how powerful arguments can be built on a visualization. Some visualizations can be easily and intuitively read and understood. Others require a bit of experience or habituation to understand the points being made. This presentation will talk about how historians are using visualizations to make arguments and how we can accustom historians to “reading” information and arguments presented visually.
In some respects, this topic focuses on a subset of the issues raised by Mark Tebeau in #23; but I think visual literacy is a substantial enough topic that it deserves its own space.
I’ve added my own proposal on visualization as historical argument as a subset of the issues raised here.
The topic you lay out here is really big — and should perhaps be subdivided still further. The keyword that I think deserves bigger play is “curation.” It crops up more and more frequently in the digital humanities community. You use it a couple of times in your description; but I don’t get the sense that you want to write about curation, so much as you want to write about the uses of soundfiles, databases, and mashups.
I’d go out on a small limb and suggest that if this book appears without some discussion of “curation as historical practice,” that will be perceived as a rather significant absence.
Sentence four should probably start “In European books…” or “In the European tradition…” And sentence six could then start “Western…” It would probably be redundant to add geo-temporal modifiers to “even the most conventional nineteenth century political histories…”
It was my intention to suggest that Emblem Books were a kind of “apotheosis” of visualization trends in illuminated manuscripts and incunabula, not of human visual achievement. Similarly, I was envisioning maps as having the “most elaborate evolution” of the three modes of visualization I mention, timelines, maps, and genealogical charts, not of all the possible visualizations of historical arguments.
As you note, I am tracing a major genealogy of recent academic historiography, not an exclusive genealogy. Would be happy for pointers to outstanding digital visualizations of non-western information as well.
Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
I should add a footnote to Anthony Grafton and Daniel Rosenberg, Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010) at end of paragraph (and would be cool to show some timeline visualizations from the book).
Oops. Figure should be “County-level Results for the 2008 Election”
I could also include a standard Electoral Map of the States.
“…statisticians were becoming more self-conscious about how the results of analysis were being used.”
Paragraph breaks for the next three sections seem to have gotten out of line. Should only be two paragraphs, I think. First five sentences of next paragraph should be in this one. Last two sentences should be start of next full paragraph.
Oops. Comment was supposed to be in section 16.
See comment in section 17
See comment in paragraph 17
For what it’s worth, I started by answering comments on my essay and then went through the book in order, starting each session with a check-in on my own essay for responses required.
Luddites and the long tail of facilitation: digital resources among the non-adopters
It is abundantly clear to those of us who do use some digital chops in the writing of our historiography that there are plenty of our colleagues who do not. Their reasons are many, from Luddism to the simple absence of their material from digitisation projects so far completed, but we can test the weight of their opinion with the following question: would your CV benefit more from an article in a brave new electronic journal or one with a seventy-year print run behind it, whose digital face if any is behind a paywall? From the UK at least, the safe answer ineluctably remains the printed word. But it is equally blinkered to ignore that almost all historians, now, do some of our research with digital tools. Just as the computer was always meant to, its adoption into the tools of the historian makes a large number of things far far easier even for those whose ultimate aim is thirty printed A5 pages and a small bundle of tree-killing offprints. We can obtain sources on our desktop now that once would have meant trips to distant, even foreign, libraries. Huge runs of archive material process their way online. Books that were unobtainable are now at least partly legible on Google Books or, more usably and ethically, on the Internet Archive. By e-mail we can reach colleagues who, if they have the time, can help with queries instantly. Old-fashioned collaborative tools like mailing lists are now supplemented by new ones like Academia.edu and less academic portals like Facebook or the near-ineluctable (but still profitless) Twitter to create the kind of high-frequency back-and-forth and meeting of unexpected but useful people that previously only conferences and raw chance could provide. Knowledge now passes between us at greater speed. We could do all of this before, but it was much much harder and more expensive. Even writing has supposedly got easier, with a range of tools to enhance productivity and word processors (lest we forget!) to speed revision and aid circulation and review, as well as getting more difficult due to all the digital distractions. At the very least, then, writing history has become far easier than it had been because of the digital age. In perhaps two weeks, I can from start to finish assemble a reasonable picture of the literature in a subfield (for myself using tools like the Regesta Imperii OPAC and the paywalled International; Medieval Bibliography), probably download quite a lot of that literature onto my computer, read as much as I can in a panicky manner, draft and circulate a provisional paper and still have time to put together some images and texts to go with it at presentation time. It might not be a terribly good paper at that rate but the endeavour was previously impossible. This is a poor and niggardly representation of the potential of digital humanities for the writing of history, not least because it focuses more on the resources on a scholar’s home computer than on the collaborative and interactive resources that are now available, but it is the baseline level of adoption and it is by far the widest. How many scholars still compose their work on a typewriter? Does anyone use a print catalogue for their library where an online one is available? We have all `gone digital’ to an extent, and it has made a difference for almost everyone. The real innovations of the last few years have a long long tail of slow adoption behind them, and even though that tail still wags the profession to a large extent, it is still part of the same animal. The first task of the computer has always been to facilitate things that we wanted to do already; while others see the potential to do entirely new things, that task is where the first and last converts were and will be made.
Writing for new audiences: popular history, the Academy and the Internet
As a humanity, history is supposedly about people. Its subject is humanity, and humanity generated most if not all of its source material. It is also, of course, enjoyed by humanity, or at least some parts thereof, and various studies report that this popularity continues to increase even as money to teach history is cut away. The obligations attached to this money, much of which has its origins in the public purse, lead some historians to feel that they have an obligation to communicate to the public, and in the USA at least public historian is a professional title. In Europe, by contrast, such a desire can still be stigmatised: the messy hangover of Oxbridge reactions to early `TV dons’ is now visible in academic reactions to the inaccuracies, streamlining and sensationalisation of much historical TV programming, and this has its knock-on effects on the presentation of history online. How far is it desirable to put our work online for public consumption? Is this a worthwhile endeavour personally? Are its professional consequences beneficial, or detrimental? Can we communicate our complex topics in this way without unacceptable simplification? (And if we can’t, how on earth can we teach them?) These issues obviously swirl particularly closely around historical blogging, where informality, accessibility and the desire for an audience butt heads with professionalism, accuracy and the desire to keep one’s findings one’s own until publication. Is this kind of presentation of our work a meaningless time-sink or a valuable source of comment and self-justification? And must the academic and public spheres remain separate anyway? In this essay I would attempt to address these concerns from my own experience and suggest that while there is no one way to blog, even for academics, there are several that may make us better writers, better communicators and better able to be sure that what we are doing matters.
I don’t want to sign up to Google Docs if I can avoid it—I try and avoid passing them any more information about myself than they already have—so I wonder if someone who can see the e-mail address I’ve signed in under (Jack?) could kindly send me the document for perusal? Thankyou.
This seems to me to work in all kinds of directions. Over-subscribed archives with precious or fragile resources often seem to look on digitisation as a way to avoid the need for people to actually consult their holdings. Other archives who aren’t getting many visitors and have to justify their funding are looking to digitisation to create wider awareness of their holdings and cause people to come and see them in person. That is, it is hoped that the same process will have exactly opposite outcomes depending on the circumstances of the digitising institution. I don’t know of very much work on this with actual numbers, but the only piece I know that does concluded, perversely, that digitisation didn’t measurably affect access to closed collections in either direction. It’s here.
A possible workaround, that I now can’t test because the essays are locked, but which I suppose might be possible just by viewing source code, since on a quick look at this page it seems like most of the styling is CSS. Either by copying the content ‘div’ out of the source code, therefore, or by copying the code from the editor window once that’s available again, paste the HTML behind your essay here into a Notepad file or your HTML editor of choice if you have one. Read that into Word or your word processor choice. Hack away as necessary. Won’t that do it?
Testing my own source code hack above, I find that it more or less works. There are paragraphs and paragraphs of HTML styling that you would want to prune out but the text comes out intact, and indeed if you’ve got comments expanded in the sidebar they do too, though in a different ‘div’. It would obviously be simpler and cleaner with the editor re-enabled. But, as long as it can go up on a webpage, you can grab that text back…
I think it probably behoves us to acknowledge that most or even all of the prospective contributors to this volume are writing methods papers that came out of larger research projects that were aimed at other outcomes.
More anecdotally, I’m sure we can all think of scholars who did grunt work on digital projects that didn’t wind up being an effective CV line, but if you need a case, I blogged about one here. The text between the lines may need filling in but you can see the shape of it.
I think the papers discussing Wikipedia’s Neutral Point of View earlier on in this may-be-volume help with this. That too is an argument, of course, even though it disclaims it. Similarly, whatever any teacher may pitch to a class is an argument, even if he or she speaks as Authority. It may be a completely well-founded and convincing argument! But I don’t see how encouraging the pupils to follow it through and make sure would hurt even then.
If I can be forgiven for following up to myself, now that I’ve read Noonan’s essay below, which starts with Wineburg as well but goes to a very different conclusion from his work, that that essay may answer some of my objections here. Since it does so by preaching a different gospel to that given by this author here, it would be interesting to see the two brought into dialogue or even dispute.
Should `material’ in the last sentence be plural?
I think that this essay would be of still greater interest if some space were given to usage, i. e. patterns of hits on the website—can you say anything about the audience to whom you brought these previously inaccessible documents?—and contributors and users of the database material. There is some repetition of the idea that the web is not space-limited which might be collapsed in order to make room for such reflection.
I also think that this site’s template should allow for HTML character codes! Sorry for the gobbledegook above.
I think this section would be much enhanced by screen-shots of the websites concerned, which would (almost ironically) enhance the essay’s discussion of visual structuring here.
“If I had used pen-and-paper notebooks or a set of word processing documents, regrouping information would have required a great expenditure of time.”
I have a methods paper under work about my dissertation project and the use I made there of a database; that database had partly replaced a set of word processing documents, precisely because of the awful waste of time integrating new information across many files had become. If it would be any use to have a user case here, I can pass you a text.
This reminds me hugely of the manifesto of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, as quoted on this web-page; but most things that describe categorisation of knowledge do…
Sorry, misuse of paste buffer: the link I meant is this one.
The footnote says “emphasis in the original”, but there seems to be no emphasis in the text as quoted.
This issue is essentially what the paper of mine that I mentioned above was about; I must cite you!
More mundanely, sorry, typo: `saavy’ presumably for `savvy’.
“The original tools for motion picture editing where razor blades and tape, spices were made by hand to strips of film”: `where’ for `were’, `spices’ for `splices’.
“Our dissertations take eight years to write”…
I feel I ought to signal that this is addressed, consciously or unconsciously, only to inhabitants of the US educational system.
“The site went on hiatus late in 2010.”
It has lately returned to action.
I think that this essays gets over better what I tried to say in the closing paragraphs of mine about writing a blog as practice for writing anything. If both essays go through to the final volume I would take those out and refer to this essay instead, which would make mine more clearly focused, and then the two would complement each other nicely.
The word “Chicana/o” is missing from the translated version of the organisation name–deliberately?
Note 7 seems to want more punctuation than it has, and the capitalisation seems odd; is this a formal collection on deposit somewhere (if so where) or is it actually just the author’s personal papers? If the latter, I suggest decapitalising to avoid an apparent pomposity.
“Good decision support database design involves…”
I had to look at this phrase for a while before I understood all the appositions. Perhaps “Design of a database that’s good for supporting decisions involves…” would be kinder on the lay reader?
This still involves normalisation of categories, even at the lower level, which makes Charlotte’s question all the more pertinent; if, for example, it should be that someone with a consular title was operating temporarily in a diplomatic role, would you get the guy in the searches for the latter? (I don’t know if this particular example is feasible, but there must be edge cases.)
But that doesn’t mean the same thing!
The last part of this paragraph cries out for an example, if you have the spare words for one! Just because this (interesting) essay is about databases doesn’t require it to abjure human interest…
I feel that this essay is perhaps in the wrong part of the book. It serves almost as part of a larger introduction to the digital humanities, and might be better positioned among the opening materials?
“Because the selected evidence can be used to support more than one interpretation there is no “right” way to classify the evidence.”
Except, of course, that a classification has already been made, by the historians editing and deciding, for example, what the line between “official military” and “individual soldier” is–what when the source is a general’s diary? etc. I don’t want to contest any such choices but it would be nice to see acknowledged that an authority and a choice or at least constraint of interpretation does exist in this method. The students will proceed through it trying to get the `right’ answer as preselected by the editors.
I’d also like to see some estimation of the increase of workload implied by the final sentence. When does the author expect these exercises to be done? In class time? In set hours of study time? When will the instructor be expected to be watching? At all times? And so forth. In short: this technology certainly does represent an exciting way to guide students’ learning towards historical argumentation, but is it a sustainable model from the teaching point of view also?
I think this is a very interesting, and perhaps visionary essay. Exposing to two of the others in our `volume’ might sharpen it still further, if the author agrees that it would do any good. First of these is <a href=”http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/revisioning/the-necessity-of-video-history-poe/”>Poe’s “On the Necessity of Video History”</a> which takes the same Wineburg works and runs in a very different direction with it, not `textbooks need rethinking’ but `text is out of date’. I’ve raised some issues I have with that perspective there and I think this essay, for me, substantially answers those issues, but the potential for dialogue is obviously high given the similar starting point.
The other point of contact is <a href=”http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/revisioning/more-than-an-argument-about-the-past-dorn/”>Sherman Dorn’s `More than an Argument about the Past'</a>. I think this because it seems to me that what Noonan is proposing here is in some ways a massive, fully-featured interactive version of the poster, “History is an Argument about the Past”, with which Dorn principally engages there to structure his essay. Are Dorn’s objections to that poster’s message valid, and does that affect the desire to teach that process of making `argument about the past’ with this proposed tool? Or, alternatively, does the solution Noonan proposes here actually answer Dorn’s objections by contextualising the `Argument’ and getting round the limitations of the poster’s message? I suppose the author may also feel that my comparison of the two pieces of media is unfair but I hope that if so, it is at least unfair in a provocative way.
I should also apologise for my habituation to raw HTML! The links are this and this.
“Interpretive” – Merriam Webster doesn’t have this, and suggests `interpretative’, which is certainly what this Englishman would expect in his area.
It leaves me wondering about the underlying file structure and how content is organised to feed the web-page front-end; perhaps these are geeky details not necessary for the publication but I think it might at least be useful to name the technologies involved and explain whether or not they are open-source, whether raw data is available for download, who owns copyright in what and so on. These are issues of usability and practice that if addressed would elevate this piece into commentary, whereas at the moment it is kind of an advertisement, and one moreover for a venture by our prospective publishers.
Sorry to have missed the early software details! My question about copyrights was more of a general one, sparked here because this seems to be where you speak in most detail of structure, which provoked the question as a whole. I wasn’t thinking of the essays specifically, where presumably the copyright resides with the authors, but with the maps, records, excerpts etc. that you discuss here, the `raw data’ for the interpretations. Most of these elements must have come from somewhere else; how did you negotiate their use, and what rights for reuse may the users of your database expect? And also, will the underlying code be available, will people be able to see the query that fetched them their data or design their own? That was the kind of thing I was wondering. Only some of these necessarily help the essay rather than just pandering to my technical interest, though!
It’s already difficult to do so! With dynamic HTML so frequent. and the WWW Consortium advice to provide a last-modified date so little adhered to, many sites with dynamic content can sit idle for years and still be dated today. This is why last-modified dates have dropped out of the very few citation standards that were ever savvy enough to include them. I still try where I can but I’m a pedant and Internet antiquarian.
More seriously, however, I gather that you think this paragraph should contain some nod towards future tools that may already be on their way? I can manage that.
I suppose that such an intelligent search provider might privilege pages from sites linked to by the blog, or from sites that have linked to it.
I am very reluctant to add anything on SEO. I am a complete layman in this field; Google’s algorithms are secret, which is why there is a business dedicated to selling you website makeovers that may or may not entice them. All I really do to try and boost my ratings is link very heavily, and technically I believe this only boosts the signal of those I link to, not my own. My blog does actually rank quite highly, but I don’t really understand why; and just to say that much looks more like boasting than useful commentary. Plus which, words are tight…
I discuss the following of links in my `Audience’ paper, cited here once or twice; it is a tiny tiny number compared to the page-views, at least on my site (which is the only one I have statistics for). Of course, in sites where there is such intentional subtext, one doesn’t always need to click, just hover and notice that the word `leery’ is linked to Tim Leary’s site or that `blue pill’ goes to David Ike not IMDB, or whatever. But that doesn’t show up in any stats. I doubt it’s large, even so.
That’s quite a challenge, but it seems to be for the book, rather than the essay? I do deal with some of the technicalities of analytics and optimization in the other related essay of mine that I cite here, but I am hard against the word limit for this piece already and am not sure what I would cut to duplicate that material here…
The idea of blogging as footnotes one couldn’t keep is actually something I’ve explicitly stated on my blog in the past, and so it should certainly come in here; thankyou for the thought.
Wow, that’s kind of procedural academy stuff, I’m not sure if there’s a place for that in an essay about something else. But I agree that it could still be clearer. If I wrote of presenting before an informal audience of colleagues, rather than at a seminar, maybe that would do better.
It is also touched on explicitly in the other related paper of mine about audience footnoted from this paragraph. I haven’t enough space here to duplicate the two, I fear!
The short answer to this is not much shorter than the paragraph; I think peer review excludes blogging from scholarship. Even publish-then-filter requires someone to do the filtering, and hopefully someone with expertise: I could certainly cite examples of sites that are filtered by interest instead with horribly misleading results on occasion, though it would be mean of me to do so. PressForward’s questionnaire however includes a variety of grades of review, all the way from double-blind to none, which might be a useful template for further discussion here if there were space or if it were necessary to find some. But since as yet they haven’t actually answered the question, merely posed it, I’m not sure I can anticipate an answer. The revolution seems to have been a long time coming thus far.
“Obviously historians have been using and writing about data for well over a century.”
I think this phrase is a little patronising. Were the historians before this era using only imagination? Surely information, which those guys surely had, is a subset of data, not a superset. Adam Smith had data. Karl Marx had data. Bede had data. They may not have had full data, rigorous data collection or management strategies, or an experimental method but that doesn’t make the matter of their work qualitatively different, only their interpretation and selection of it.
For what it’s worth, despite the occasional niggles I’ve added below I think this is an important piece that deserves an audience more than most other things I’ve read about digital humanities scholarship.
At least in my field, it remains far far too easy to blind historians with numbers so I’m inclined to agree that suggesting they don’t need to cope with statistics to play may justify more bad work than it does good. Only anecdotal feedback, though, I realise.
Quite a challenge, that last bit. The qualities I had in mind were partly those of blogging at all, in as much as it involves a certain amount of self-discipline, both to write anything at all, and to think of a potential audience as one does so. In that instance, while blogging may be informal, it is not without some kind of attention to context and expectation.
As with so many things the question of audience is key: some blogs are deliberately set up for in-discipline collaboration that happens to be open for the public to watch (here In the Medieval Middle might be the best example), some are set up to tell the public about a project or academic activity and only coincidentally involve other academics (most archaeological project blogs, to pick one right the Bamburgh Research Project blog). There are lots of spaces between the two and they all require various registers.
The classic one of course is writing for oneself alone, classic in as much as no-one ever does this (or you wouldn’t do it online) but nonetheless the consequence of finding an audience are not always thought through.
Ah! But cookies must be enabled, it seems. That was why I couldn’t see it. Thankyou.
“In that time we’ve written and presses have published thousands and thousands of serious history books for millions and millions of readers.”
Given as many of these publishers are still in operation, it might be worth adding some actual numbers to this quasi-economical reading in order to explain how they all keep in business selling these books that don’t have readers. Evidently there is a buying public for these books, for some books a large public. Without some attempt to match sales figures with library buying and student use, this essay has no way to demonstrate, what may be true, that only people who have to are reading this stuff, or refute the possible counter, that lots of people buy history books, even if it’s not proportionally very much of the public.
There is probably a further argument to be had about whether purchase actually leads to reading and comprehension but my to-read shelves forbid me from making it.
“Over the past half century we’ve conducted a massive test of the relative attractiveness of watching and reading.”
This probably needs more than a cite of a 2007 survey to back it up. Where’s the data for the previous 46 years?
“Over the past year, these videos have been view nearly 400,000 times” — `viewed’?
I have seen some tremendous examples of history teaching using videos: one that I trot out quite a lot is this one on the difference between England and Great Britain:
and there is a whole slew of slightly variable brilliance on the video channel History Teachers:
But, these are all what you might call *simplified*, despite the wealth of detail crammed into the former. I suppose my feeling about this piece is that, having set up a largely unsourced argument, it leaves two big questions unexamined which might help develop it. The first of these is that first question of what sacrifices have to be made to historical argument to present it in video form. It’s especially difficult to present ignorance or a judicious refusal to make a judgement in film, and I have seen one historical documentary that actually went so far as to say one thing via the voice-over and depict a different story on screen, possibly to address this (although in that case I think more to hide the fact that they were going well beyond the sources).
The second issue is one of academic self-reproduction and the goals of education. We are different, this piece repeatedly stresses, in almost eugenic terms, because we like to read. But this is not innate, it is taught; studies about literacy connected with numbers of books in the parental home could be cited, but more importantly is not this affection for and valuing of textual information one of the things we are supposed to impart in our teaching? What are the consequences for the Academy of deprecating text-based teaching? Does it mean fewer upcoming research students (which might be good for the profession, but not for our funding)? Does it, if students are reading less, mean that libraries will come under threat? Since they already are, the answer to this is probably obvious, but both of these potentially have serious consequences for academic research. My feeling is that these issues are where this piece points to; maybe it would be richer if it went there as well.
“Twined”—meaning `entwined’ or `twinned’? I’m not sure it’s clear as it stands.
I don’t agree with either of those corrections! The two instances of `that’ are part of the clauses containing the verbs `posted’ and `was… made’ respectively, and the two instances of `was’ relate to the India and Pakistan attributions respectively. I submit that the sentence is correct as it stands.
I don’t think these are conclusions, but rather a separate section of downsides that deserve their own heading.
For `academe’ read `academic’?
There’s a difference, isn’t there, between crowd-sourcing primary source material, as you are describing here, and crowd-sourcing interpretative material as with the previous paper in this volume. Is this worth drawing out?
… “an indicator of”, or `correlated with’?
“Luke has learned much Tom’s course design”; rather, `learned much from’?
Could the URLs here be hyperlinked, or is that counter to style for the references list?
I would be interested to see some time-and-motion consideration here, not for the students (which seems to be covered) but for the instructors. Does setting-up, maintaining, contributing and moderating (if this last is done) such a site consume more time than the older methods of pedagogy would have done? If so, is any use of this sort of teaching as an `efficiency measure’, something which the authors wish to avoid of course, misplaced?
I also wonder, with Ms Nichols above, what happens to old content, especially given that various web-search systems will cache it. Are old blogs archived; are they available to new students? Whose is the copyright? These are issues it would be nice to have resolved even if in the most summary form.
This may be unnecessarily pernickety, but the last footnote should be moved up to sit with the sentence ending in `simulation’. Three more sources are mentioned before the reference to the Davidson and Goldberg article arrives and I actually clicked the note for a reference to the AHA recommendation, which has not been mentioned thus far as far I can see. These missing references could be hyperlinked if the word count doesn’t permit their inclusion.
I wonder if the level of signposting that the author has provided in this article is really necessary for an audience of academics? Words might be saved and engagement facilitated if the descriptions of the material were not split between the first and second sections and if the pedagogical truisms contained in the exercise breakdown were elided or eliminated. I realise that they served functions in their context but I’m not sure that need persists here.
I actually learnt a lot about good Wikipedia practice from this, as well as bad. Thankyou for writing it.
The keyword in the last sentence would seem to be `active’. It seems clear that some topics will have more active followers and contributors than many others. One wonders what the prospects of damage to a dormant article being spotted quickly are, and whether there are anecdata that could be cited about that as contrast.
A formatting error here: this paragraph is part of the quote from Parry and should be indented. My apologies.
It is also possible in WordPress to write stubs and link to those, even if the post URL isn’t predictable (which in WordPress it would not be, unless you were sure what date you would post on, as the date is part of the post URL). But is it really good practice to link to stuff that isn’t there yet? A dead link is a dead link. I’m not sure that future-dating posts helps either; surely that just means that material will all emerge at once? At that rate, again, why bother with the blog template? A normal website would do the same thing more cleanly. What would adding faked dates to it do for the usability or comprehensibility of the site? (And should historians be faking chronology anyway?)
I do however need to lose the word `static’ here, I think; it is limiting my point. Thanks for focusing on it.
It is awkwardly phrased, I agree. I need to make the agencies clearer. How about:
“This is of course not alien to academic practice: an erstwhile teacher of mine had a story of a very senior colleague of his early career, who would whenever he presented at a seminar hand the chair a printed copy of his paper at the end. My old teacher found this horrifying: it implied to his mind that the speaker thought that nothing in his work would ever require changing. All the same, it is in opposition…”
I suspect the only technique I could say anything useful about here without sounding like a spammer, and speaking with as much authority, is keywording. Is this sufficiently obscure as to merit discussion, though?
As to Shawn Graham’s paragraph, his comments there seem specific to Wikipedia. I don’t think I could say anything here with any explanatory value. How do you see such a dialogue opening?
Good point! I do this too and had forgotten to mention it. I will add it, but perhaps to this paragraph, where I’m already talking about subtext in hypertext.
Is this sample derived from one of the students’ actual creations or is it purely notional? If the latter, would the former be feasible?
“the twenty-first footprint”
Recte, “the twenty-first century footprint”?
I think these concerns about affecting (and generating) our own data, and the paper’s overall methodology are perhaps important enough to be promoted to main text? I grant that this would perhaps decrease readability but to the academic reader it may not be less interesting than the main content, especially since it is somewhat in tension with some of the suggested interventions in the essay’s final paragraph.
Our papers were written, and marked up, as pages within this site using WordPress technology. Knowing this would be done, I originally drafted mine offline in TextPad but other contributors may have done it in Word, who knows. I don’t think it alters the fact that they were submitted `web-ready’, not print-ready.
I think that the `broader argument’ there should probably be pluralized, as I’ll be surprised if we all agree.
I feel similarly: these are ideals, not accurate reflections of practice, and could be worded as such.
“Once the research had been transformed into an article or book, gatekeepers—publishing houses, editors, and peer reviewers—ensured academic rigor.”
That’s the most sensible point imo, gatekeepers & rigor.
Academic gatekeepers, in my limited experience as amateur historian (yes, I think I am one of those “I nevertheless am a historian” of yours), are usually (and logically) refractary to check or even get involved in non academic initiatives.
So, I completely agree that the gray area between ‘formal’ and ‘amateur’ historiography needs an expanded contribution from professional historians helping to raise the rigor level.
There can’t be gatekeepers in such an open field as digital media, but the need for correctness remains, maybe that’s where public/academic institutions have also an expanding role to do, supporting or backing up ‘amateur’ initiatives.
In the end, I suppouse it’s all about consensus creation/change, one of the axial topics in historiography, indeed.
I’m so glad to see this here. I always tell my students — of all subjects, at all levels — that all writing involves making an argument, and that they should always be conscious of the arguments that they’re making. This is especially important in history, where they are more willing to accept the “neutral voice of authority’ about things that happened in the past.
Dear Peter, the first sentence sounds a bit bureaucratic because of using passive. I am although wondering if “for several months now” fits.
Last sentence: active? which I will discuss below?
Who are the obstetricians – the historians or Twitter, Facebook etc.? What about people connected to projects like “sehepunkte”, “perspective.net”??? Are they already old school?
Next sentence: I would add: “but” (?)
Who/what do you mean referring to “fashionable” historians?
Maybe you could transfer this paragraph below the next headline?
Dear Peter, I might want to add, that you don’t write about “information” (as written in the headline). You could add a statement here or in the next paragraphe concerning this dialectical connection – but maybe this would sound quite “kulturkritisch”?
1962 is not exactly forty years ago :)
– 49 –
I’m extremely interested in this “theme” because it applies directly to my work. I am a Digital Librarian at the Center for the History of Medicine (historical research unit of the University of Michigan Medical School) and we, in partnership with MPublishing, are building a digital repository of archival materials curated by historians. The project is unusual and particularly complex because, while all the documents are archival primary sources, most of the materials that we’ve digitized are already surrogates. For several years, we gathered materials–scans, photocopies, scans and photocopies of microfilm–from repositories around the country while collecting research for a formal report commissioned by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This project will bring all of these materials together, making them searchable and accessible from a single repository. Our repository will also feature original essays that tell what happened in U.S. cities during the epidemic, along with interactive (hyperlinked) timelines. The project is aimed at a wide-ranging audience that encompasses high school and college students, historians and social scientists, epidemiologists and public health practitioners, journalists and writers, and informed internet users.
My colleague Rebecca Welzenbach (Digital Publishing Projects Manager at MPublishing) and I are interested in writing about the process of building our repository and examining it as a case study. [Comment reposted here by editor.]
In creating our digital encyclopedia our primary concern is to present the broad range of experience throughout the United States during the epidemic. The historians on staff studied 50 U.S. cities and each of these cities will be represented in the encyclopedia. Portraying the unique experience of each city is of course difficult, given the diverse geographical and cultural factors endemic to a large nation. So that’s one concern.
We are attempting to give a sense of each city’s experience — their “story,” so to speak — with the narrative essays I mentioned. Our project manager and staff writer are the primary authors of the narrative essays. They used the primary materials gathered during the research process (newspapers, health reports, letters), as well as secondary sources written about the cities’ cultural backgrounds. Each essay is approximately 2,000 words and provides not only a portrait of the city during the epidemic (steps taken to prevent infection, spread of disease, death totals, introduction to major officials) but also the current state of the city at the time. Since the essays are short, considering the breath of material available, we plan to feature “sidebars” on related pages (like next to the relevant city essay) that include material cut from the original essays, such as the roles of important civilian figures.
Another major concern is how to convey the wealth of materials collected by our researchers. To achieve this, we’re ensuring that each item in our database has a strong and relevant metadata that will aid in retrieval. We’ve also placed emphasis on a functional design so that users can navigate the website as easily as possible.
We envision our website being used as both an introduction to the topic of the influenza epidemic in the United States, as well as a resource for further study. The essays are a good example of this, since they collocate the primary sources we’ve gathered, as well as highlight sources of particular interest (all of which have been scanned and will be viewable in the online database.) The essays will make frequent use of footnotes, which we intend to hyperlink, and will lead the user directly to the primary source that the historian on staff used. That said, a user could also browse the database without ever reading any of the essays. But we think the essays will be a good entry point, especially for non-historians. For example, we envision students reading their city’s essay and learning about the general history before seeking out primary sources in the database. The timelines will also function as a way for users to navigate the website even if they have little previous knowledge about the epidemic. Again, we intend to hyperlink these so that a user could jump directly to a specific time period. Historians or epidemiologists might use the website to see how successful different methods of containment proved to be and the resulting mortality rates of each city, as well as browse the primary sources for their own use. It’s also possible that users might use our website for secondary and off-topic uses. For example, many of our newspaper clippings feature ads that might prove useful for someone studying advertising in the early twentieth century.
A press release about our project is available here.
Thank you for your comment, Jonathan. I appreciate your concerns.
As I mentioned, the AIE is built on top of the Digital Library eXtension Service (DLXS), a technology developed at the University of Michigan. When revising my essay, I will expand the information about DLXS and explain it further.
Part of the absence of information about the “back end” results from the fact that the encyclopedia is still a work in progress and therefore much of the information you seek is still in flux. My essay, like the project, is on-going and I plan to update it further if it is selected for publication. At the present time, the technical aspects of building the site are still in the beginning stages and the information you’re looking for doesn’t exist yet.
Since your comment was attached to the paragraph concerning the city essays written by our staff, I am assuming those are the materials you are curious about. Although I would need to read the fine print in our grant to make sure, my educated guess is that the city essays’ copyright would reside with CHM because they were written by our staff. The majority of archival materials present in the AIE are in the public domain and we are currently securing permission for any materials still under copyright.
I’m not sure what “raw data” you would hope to download? Can you explain?
You raise a good point. Thanks for catching my vague term. In this instance, it would be documents that we feel should not be missed or that are of particular importance, when considering the history of the epidemic in the city. Maybe they relate directly to something written about in a city essay. I will make this clearer in the next draft.
The data is stored on the University of Michigan library servers. It’s backed up (nightly, I believe) and there is a disaster plan in place. I do know that MPublishing designs their projects with an eye to long-term sustainability (i.e. no Flash).
Not yet, unfortunately (apart from the mock-up image included with this article). Data is still being ingested and the design is a work-in-progress.
The democratizing nature of the Web is not a new topic in the realm of digital humanities. What is given less attention is how this democratization changes the way history is produced and disseminated in the public realm. Leslie Madsen-Brooks is particularly interested in the way the Internet allows a non-academically trained public to “do history,” and the relative absence of professional historians in this growing online dialogue. To illustrate her arguments, she uses the propagation of the black Confederate soldier myth in online forums like blogs, websites, and discussion boards.
Refraining from chiming in on the issue that serves as her example (something that is hard for a Civil War historian such as myself to do), I must mention that the use of the black Confederate argument is especially effective. The Civil War is a subject with many lay followers, who, as Madsen-Brooks points out, are markedly more vocal online than their professionally-trained associates. She succeeds in demonstrating what is at stake when academics refrain from becoming involved with the “Internet audience.”
One of the questions raised in this article is similar to those presented in connection with the existence of Wikipedia: what do we, as professional historians, do about the “bad” or unsubstantiated histories that are made widely available due to the “rise of inexpensive and easy-to-use digital tools?” (¶9) In an age where almost anyone can publish in an online space, do historians have a duty to engage with this content? While not going so far as to label it a mandatory obligation, Madsen-Brooks insists that “an important role for historians . . . is helping people [members of the public] gain the skills to interpret an era’s documents, photographs, and material culture” (¶20). While this is a pleasant thought, one has to wonder what kind of historian has time to police the web in such a fashion?
Madsen-Brooks is not ignorant of this problem, and provides excerpts from the conversation as it has appeared in academic circles. Most telling—and representative of the reasoning nearly all academics cite—is Marshall Poe’s explanation that a digital presence “doesn’t really count toward hiring, tenure, and promotion.” But by staying absent from these online conversations, historians are leaving the writing of history to public users who are “uncritical, poorly informed, and with axes to grind” (¶32). Despite the seriousness of this issue and its implications for the future of history on the web, Madsen-Brooks does not offer any suggestions as to how to improve the situation. In her defense, it is not a matter which is easily resolved. How can we make sure that Internet presence is considered as part of tenure?
“Sustaining Digital History,” a meeting held at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln last fall, attempted to address these issues by gathering authors, peer reviewers, and journal editors together to discuss the ways in which digital scholarship might be incorporated into the existing print-based journal world. While not directly related to the issues undertaken in this article, it is indicative of developments that are taking place to raise awareness of digital forms of scholarship. More of these dialogues need to happen in order for institutions to understand the value of scholarly work in the online environment. The problem facing us at the moment is that creating a “digital footprint” takes time away from professional pursuits. Until creating digital scholarship, composing historically-driven blog entries, or participating in online historical debates counts as part of those professional endeavors, I think the trend of few professional historians on the web will continue.
But back to Madsen-Brooks’ assertion that historians should be actively-participating with the Internet audience, she suggests the need for “online public historians”—“credentialed historians who engage with the public” (¶36). While I do not think she intended it this way, this comment triggered in my imagination a new brand of historians. Most of the discussion about digital history centers on University academics. But what about historians who work outside the academy? As an historian who plans to work in the public realm, I wonder if we might not consider this part of our relations with and education of the public? If educating or interacting with the Internet audience is not a job for academic historians, is there room for a new kind of public historian?
Putting these questions of time and tenure aside, how can historians participate online? Madsen-Brooks urges more historians to “explore new roles in the digital realm” by assuming “whatever responsibilities appeal to us as individuals” (¶41). She suggests opening a blog or podcast, creating an e-Book, or managing content on public forums like Wikipedia. But is joining already-established networks the best way to go about this? Joining the blogosphere will only result in historians creating works that look like the “amateur” publications. What is lacking here is a sense of legitimacy, an elevation of the work of academics with “a background understanding of how to work with [historical] items” over that of a non-credentialed public (¶28). Perhaps we need more “born-digital, open-review” venues such as “Writing History in the Digital Age.” Or perhaps an academic blogging platform that requires registration or credentials to participate.
There appears to be no definitive answer to the questions posed in this article. However, Madsen-Brooks’ thoughtful presentation of the complications that arise with the democratization of the Web are an important addition to the conversations that will eventually lead to a new role for historians in the digital age.
Though obviously the collection perspective is important to libraries, my immediate interest is in the use of the content and how that impacts the reader’s (especially the student’s) comprehension and learning. My experience so far, and this is an evolving story, is that students still prefer a printed copy of any lengthy article or chapter that they wish to read. This may reflect their unfamiliarity with the online tools that allow them to underline and make notes or it may be something more cognitive. However, I am also certain that part of the reader’s resistance to online monographs is because most academic publishers do not permit downloading of their content to a reader.
Hence, my question:
When the review process is finished and the book is published will the University of Michigan make it possible to download the content to a reader?
This is tremendously interesting essay — provoking all kinds of questions and thoughts for me. As an experiment in demonstrating to a group of students the strengths and limitations of wikipedia as a platform for knowledge-sharing, this seems to me a great success. As a way of demonstrating that they “can have an immediate impact”, I’m less sure — particularly since my own experiment along these lines (described above) encountered very similar limitations. It surprises me not at all that the resistant students were the self-identified historians; it’s not only that they have internalized disciplinary protocols. If I’m understanding correctly, the history majors had an investment in their own contributions to the field — it’s hard to see how Wikipedia can answer that desire; the “written in water” element of the experience of contributing to Wikipedia is certainly painful to students whose goal is to have an impact. I’m guessing from the time-frame established for the blitz (but I may be mis-interpreting) that those with a commitment to the methodologies you teach elsewhere in the course would find this frustrating.
I’m just thinking out loud here — feeling my way into the issue — but I wonder if the question of the quality of a “major contribution” and who decides it is in play here too? In my experience, most folks are open to having their worked reviewed by those they feel share common goals/interests — but the common goals/interests of a wikipage are emergent, not spelled out a priori, and as you note the “community” around a given page or network of pages is both hierarchical and inconsistent in its presence. So students are here a) contributing work that will be “reviewed” by anonymous contributors and bots, and be doing so in the context of a lack of defined goals or a stable community to join. In this context you really have to trust that over time the chips of wood will make not just a pile but a meaningful and compelling pile — and it might be hard to see the impact from the perspective of the student putting her first chip of wood into that overall project…
What a witty and illuminating tie-back to the termites/emergent action model. Can you add a footnote describing how to take a time-lapse video of a wikipage?
In fact, quite a small amount of activity on a quiet page can trigger a bot to come revert changes and/or lock down a page. My two students (each working alone) triggered this response for the pages they were editing; users unfamiliar with the bots may have difficulty figuring out how to restore the edits (and prove one is not a bot), leading to further frustration. And with wikipedia there is, of course, no one around to answer a question. I couldn’t, therefore, figure out how to bot-protect a page for a short period of time to allow such work. Nor could I get any response from the watchers supposedly dedicated to the network of Shakespeare pages inside of which they were working. As far as I can tell there are no structures to support this kind of classroom based work in Wikipedia, although guided undergraduates do seem like a promising population for the future of crowdsourcing.
I’m wondering if a lack of understanding of “scholarship is conversation” is the whole story here. I totally agree that much of our curriculum at the secondary and college level is structured as an obstacle course — launch and forget is a lovely way to put it. But scholars (and I’m going to include students scholars in that category) have a need for time-delimited frames of knowledge production, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick and I observed in other open review experiments. We want to move on to other topics; endless ongoing conversation around the same topic can simply be boring.
A related issue: I’m not clear that contributions to wikipedia *feel* genuinely dialogic. Some “Talk” pages may involve real conversations; others may not. Most importantly, unless one is an insider to those conversations, there’s little or no actual exchange that occurs around whether ones edit stays in place or doesn’t. And no guarantee there will be someone to respond to in a real way. One could simply restore the edit but that’s not much of a conversation (cf “gainsaying”, Monty Python, “Argument” Clinic).
Here, as below, I guess I’m questioning the use of the phrase “having an impact” to sum up the experience of editing a wikipedia page. The conversation, it seems to me, is being supplied by you, in the exercize around the page that you structured. The “impact” is similarly what you enabled — a deeper understanding of NPOV protocols, social construction of knowledge, etc.
In my student surveys (small liberal arts college for women) I notice similar patters All students have used wikipedia; next to none have contributed to it in any way. I’m not sure that admonishment by teachers can be the whole story about this. I think your essay uncovers real downsides for contributors that are worth unfolding at more length to illustrate their complexity.
Reward structure is part of the story — by definition Wikipedia works in a gift economy and academic institutions do not, at any level. Moreover, Wikipedia’s gift economy is a peculiar one: bias or interest in a topic is the main reason to contribute labor for most of us; yet the protocols (rightly) require neutrality. This conflict between motivation and decorum is challenging for many of us to navigate. Another part of the story may be that wikipedia challenges one of the chief pleasures of writing — wordsmithing. Anyone with a commitment to cultivating “voice”, “style”, etc. is going to feel some resistance, since little of that can be preserved in wikipedia contributions.
(See following comments for more.)
At some point in the essay I’d love to see a deeper analysis of what kind of peer review (particularly with bots in the scene) and of how this compares with other kinds of peer review experiences students have. See comments on “conversation” for more queries about this.
So if I”m understanding this correctly, the classroom effectively served as a “Talk” space for these articles? I.e., it provided in real-time the conversations that Wikipedia Talk pages sometimes provide but all too often do not (when a page falls into neglect)…
I’m not sure I quite get what’s going on here. Did the students have time to prepare for this edit by a) analyzing the page and deciding what changes were needed and b) laying some groundwork (using traditional research practices) for those change? I’m trying to understand exactly why they made recourse to Google searches and how much that had to do with the time frame and structure of the assignment…
Could you say more about the choice of this page/topic? Why this one? What investments (or lack of investments) would this class have brought to the task?
Silly locution question: is it “the wikipedia” or “wikipedia”? Or is this a regional difference? Your essay uses both. Maybe standardize?
I was immediately drawn to this essay because I’ve pursued related experiments in an Introductory Shakespeare class. I’ll describe it briefly because our experience was remarkably consistent with what’s described here. This assignment was part of a series of “public options” for the final paper of the semester. All involved writing for public audiences and publishing online: a theater review,a curated film clip, or an improved wikipedia page.
Students who opted into the latter used the wikipedia Shakespeare project’s “to do” grid of needed improvements to select an article of interest that met two criteria: “start” level quality or below / “mid” level importance or higher. They submitted a plan for revision — identifying weak areas in the existing articles — that I reviewed and provided feedback on. They expressed a lot of anxiety at this stage about their own authority. We talked about how to establish authority in a wikipedia page and what resources they had under their belt after a semester in a Shakespeare class. Ultimately they dug fairly deeply into traditional scholarship (I suggested where) to anchor their own observations. Indeed, I’ve never seen students head with such commitment into secondary sources before. The desire to write in a way that was rigorous and well-grounded clearly increased with their sense that others would come to their work for a sound understanding of the plays in question. They felt deeply responsible for their own writing in a way that surprised us all.
They chose topics well: small scale articles with numerous errors, badly in need of revision. They submitted revisions by the due date and then we watched and discussed the results. We experienced many of the same system-level glitches you describe here (particularly bot activity of a frustrating kind). They found it quite painful to have work pruned (even work they had cited sources for) with no interaction with the editor responsible.
In my assessment, they significantly improved the quality and accuracy of the entries. They were frustrated that their improvements registered no change in the wikiproject assessments of the articles in question — one of these now quite comprehensive articles is still labelled a stub, nearly a year later. So the full “peer review” loop that might have validated their work externally has yet to be completed. My own long Talk posting summarizing the results of this experience remains un-responded to as well. It’s not clear there is anyone in this space any more with whom to correspond.
These experiences underpin my questions below about the degree of dialogism actually present as a felt experience for contributors to wikipedia.
Some thoughts as I reflect on my process of reading and commenting:
It has taken me a long time to get around to this, so in certain ways i don’t find this reviewing process all that different from usual. The main difference lies in the fact that I am not taking notes and writing later–the comment window allows me to comment as I read. Perhaps not always to my own benefit, and certainly not maximizing my intelligibility. But nevertheless allowing a kind of spontaneity too often missing from my other professional reviewing experiences.
I’d also note that I’m not reading through the text in order. I’m choosing essays based on what interests me at the moment. Again, not that much different from the way I often read print collections, but a process facilitated by the digital format.
I would say that the collaborations involved in many digital history projects surface the hidden work that long belied the myth of the lone researcher/scholar/writer. Some of that hidden work was credited differently, to archivists and librarians as well as others who appeared in acknowledgements in monographs: graduate student researchers, spouses.
Evaluation is a question that the MLA has addressed with their guidelines <http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital>. I would like to see the AHA develop something similar.
I hope that new opportunities created by digital history projects that take advantage of local collections can transform undergraduate history education. We try to do this with our work at the Wheaton College Digital History Project <http://wheatoncollege.edu/digital-history-project/>.
Lovely invitation in the final sentence. I’d be delighted to see us as a discipline undertake to develop guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship comparable to those of the MLA: <http://www.mla.org/guidelines_evaluation_digital>.
I’d also say that meditations on the meaning of “finished” in digital humanities quarterly are useful for discussion of the “ease” of digital projects.
So many places where we as historians can benefit from interactions with digital humanities folks. Matt Kirschenbaum’s current work on the necessity of knowing how to operate heritage machines in order to be an archivist of the digital age, for example. Stephen Ramsay’s notion that digital humanists build things. Willard McCarty’s resisting dh as “mere” methodology and seeking dh as poesis.
Posing a dichotomy between the monograph and the software package/tool leaves out multiple points of opportunity for creating new ways to affect the ways we think about the past. I’m interested in ways in which creating an online archive like Valley of the Shadow (no s, the allusion is to the 23d Psalm) created the possibility for Christian Spielvogel at Hope College to create ValleySim, a game that used the data created in the transcription and markup of the documents Ayers and his numerous collaborators, credited and non-credited, curated for Valley of the Shadow. <http://valleydev.cs.hope.edu/template/home.php>
Not a problem for me. I do think that this essay privileges one kind of successful project while leaving out the kind of success that Sklar and Dublin claim for their WASM. My own concerns about their project are stated (if not entirely clearly) in the comments on their essay. I wonder whether WASM is omitted from this essay by choice or as a result of oversight.
First, I want to express my appreciation of the way this essay sets out some articulate points about opportunities to “think about historical scholarship beyond the long-form argument.” This resonates deeply with ideas that I have encountered within the Digital Humanities community. Digital innovations have the potential to transform the ways we define scholarship in history as has been the case in other disciplines.
In my comment on the final paragraph, I have already said a bit about the effects of dichotomies that Dorn introduces in the final section. Here, I want to respond to Wingo’s comment above.
It’s perhaps to be expected that I dislike the idea of establishing a dichotomy between digital projects and digital history projects as Wingo suggests. Since I count the editorial staff of the Papers of George Washington and the XML experts at Rotunda among my colleagues, I object to the notion that PGW is somehow over or passé. Such commentary reproduces longstanding and unfortunate underestimation of the value of scholarly editing. I much prefer the generosity of the notion expressed by the organizers of the 2011 Digital Humanities conference, the idea that the field is a “big tent” that includes many different types of projects.
I do not dispute the notion that collection digitization differs from argumentation about the past, but I do think it’s useful for us to think about the potential of such digitization for making the asking of new questions possible. For example, my conversations with the editors at PGW began because both their projects and ours have begun to digitize financial records, an abundant and underutilized resource that can be found in many archives worldwide. I imagine a future historical profession in which markup and metadata standards for the digitization of collections that include such documents will make possible new kinds of understandings of the economic exchanges that characterized daily life through data harvesting. Digitizing this kind of primary source is more labor intensive than creating Google Books, and it produces data that differs from either the IPUMs demographic data or the ICPSR political and social data. That does not mean it does not have value or that the work of creating standards for metadata and markup should not “count” as scholarship.
Clearly, Wingo has hit a nerve, and I apologize if this comment offends.
I would be saddened indeed to think of our discipline as one so firmly attached to defining history as argument about the past as to fail to imagine possible uses of digital efforts that move beyond argument for future historians.
I second Sheila’s comment.
I think that one of the effects of digital tools on the writing of history is to blur the lines between the tasks of historians and archivists.
Even though Sklar and Dublin have faced this criticism ever since the partnership with Alexander Street began, I agree with Robertson here. The definition of accessibility here is limited, and that fact deserves mention. Our institution has never been able to afford a subscription to WASM, and I wonder how accessible the database is to anyone outside a large research university setting.
The work that Sklar and Dublin have done with this project is indeed a significant achievement. It’s important to note the issues of access raised by at least two commentators at the end of the essay.
I’m very sorry to say that the access question makes WASM seem out of step with the broader landscape of digital scholarshipin disciplines other than history, where comments on the desirability of open access have only increased over the seven years that I have spent doing history digitally. This is almost certainly an effect of having been a pioneering project in a state where support for the university system is all too limited, and everyone I have ever heard comment on the Alexander Street partnership has noted that the challenges of sustainability made it seem the only possible choice when it was made. I have to wonder, though, about the long term fate of the data that has been made proprietary through this project.
The next-to-last sentence seems to me to be particularly significant. You’re saying that visualization is more than decoration, even more than narrative. If Alan Liu says that textual studies has moved beyond argument-centered essays as primary disciplinary mode, do you mean to suggest something related but quite different about foregrounding the argumentation that we can achieve through visualizations? And how is that significant? (Guess I’d better keep reading and find out!)
I like the description of two modes of reading these texts.
Quite a dense essay. I’ve clearly been reading too many student papers because I kept looking for a thesis, as some of my comments show. I do see the thread of argument: historians have supplemented their work with illustrations; digital visualizations are different, both from illustrations and from the displays of data of the cliometricians. As a reader, I need some help, though.
My main goal in the assignment I describe here was to model for students the process of engagement with primary sources and iterative writing. The transcription and markup were in this case pedagogical tools that I was using to force close reading.
The discussion you suggest would be a fascinating one, and it would get to questions that I have tried to raise (feebly) elsewhere. The article I reference in note 4, for example, begins with an all too brief discussion of the distance that print collections of primary sources put between undergraduates and the original sources. One of the things students have appreciated has been the opportunity to see and handle the sources as physical objects. (Though the ones with mold allergies have been less thrilled.)
I wouldn’t call my own course a critique of the kind that you describe, but I would love to read the essays in this volume with students and find out what they think about the question you pose. Of course, another angle to consider is how to bring these “digital natives” to the point of a critical perspective on tools that may seem to them transparent.
I’m happy to make any changes the editors/press require. And the more redundancies saved, the better.
Is the link broken? It works when I try it; leads to a downloadable pdf. And I could easily include it in the text, either as text the way I’ve done with the assignment featured here or as an image (though that doesn’t seem quite right for two pages of text…).
At this point the TEI <measure> element offers a standard format for marking quantity, unit, and commodity (or in fact, whatever else we might like to mark).
We’re actually working now on developing standards for markup of this kind of document. That, like the completed file for the daybook and other financial documents in the collection, will take a while. (I like to refer to this characteristic of the project as digitization at an analog pace, a consequence of our being a small institution.) We’ll be seeking funding and new partners for the next phase of the standards development–working out vocabularies for commodities, determining how to mark transactions–how to capture the semantic values embedded in financial records. So be in touch!
Great suggestions. Thanks!
And the answer to both of your final questions is yes.
I think that as historians explore the utilities of digital tools our models for what “counts” as publication will change. The very existence of this volume as a project is evidence to that effect. And I would say that we need to consider how digital tools, their production, and what we produce with them call into question what “counts” in our departments.
I like this essay very much. Though I’m not someone who tends to find collocation observations or the Google Ngram particularly compelling, I do appreciate the ideas the authors have about how digital tools can change historians’ methodologies and in fact must change the ways in which we talk about them. And I particularly like the notion that learning how to play with data has the potential to open up some new lines of inquiry in our discipline.
Collaborative Teaching with TEI: The Wheaton College Digital History Project
This is related to a number of previous posts. It describes three iterations of assignments/opportunities in which students at Wheaton College have used TEI (and the History Engine) to contribute to a local digital history project.
Can undergraduates contribute meaningfully to a long-term digital history project? What role can transcription and markup play in the undergraduate history curriculum? How can collaborations among instructor, archivist, and technologist contribute to undergraduate research? What is the role of collaborations with other small liberal arts colleges and with large research universities?
All too often, students majoring in non-science disciplines have little exposure to computational thinking and working with computer code. At the same time, digital methods of analysis exert growing influence on the practice of many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. The Wheaton College Digital History Project seeks to bridge this gap using tools from Digital Humanities. Ours is an example of a long-term project in digital history that includes undergraduates as significant partners in the digitization and interpretation of a local collection that offers insight into the relationship between capitalist accumulation and women’s education in the nineteenth-century United States.
Footnote #6: Link for Stanford Humanities Lab is broken. New link: http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/Metamedia/9
‘only with MS in hand that the real meaning of the text becomes apparent’ This claim by Tristram Hunt, a historian turned Labour MP in a newspaper article prompted by the British Library-Google tie-up putting some 250,000 books online, http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jul/03/tristram-hunt-british-library-google-history?INTCMP=SRCH helped me to focus my thoughts for a proposal that heretofore were ranging over the technological terrain that I have traversed over a number of years without alighting on anything substantive. Not being a historian by training I came to historical texts with an enthusiasm for CAQDAS picked up as a qualitative researcher, as a means of indexing, coding and retrieving text. There is now a considerable range of such applications with university departments tending to support one of the – usually expensive – alternatives. In my experience, few graduate students ever use these applications finding the cost and steep learning curve needed a significant barrier. At the heart of the matter is the question of how meaning is produced from texts and how might interpretation be given plausibility. These are age old questions in historiography made especially pertinent by a massive increase in the sources available and applications that hold out some hope of being able to analyse them without falling over into positivism or the Romantic position of Hunt which seems to reliy on some process of osmosis masquerading as erudition.
What I would like to propose, contra Hunt, is a discussion of Ricouer’s contention that, ‘An interpretation must not only be probable, but more probable than another interpretation’ with reference to a number of select applications that enable the coding and retrieving.of historical – and other – documents.
Looks like the link in n. 28 (“The Heavy Metal Umlaut”) has changed. New active link:
Noticed a typo in the last sentence: “…that we may can do some forms of digital history…”
The questions you raise have been in my mind since the start of this project, and I have been observing the posting of comments very much with them in mind. How do we — as editors, as authors, as readers – understand the existence of comments, let alone their content? (This theme was also raised by Jason B. Jones in a comment on the Introduction.) Working from your question about whether it’s a popularity contest, I would ask a series of questions that might help open review author(s) to make their essays more popular, i.e. to maximize the number of readers and the number of comments they receive (assuming that more comments would be more desirable and helpful for the author, but making no assumption that more comments would necessarily signify a piece of scholarship that was “better” than some other). So… Is it the topic, or a snappy essay title, or the renown of the author(s) which is most influential in attracting comments (whether positive or critical)? Are some essays (or writing styles) more commentable in that they leave conceptual openings for readers to question or interject (or in that the authors actually ask questions of readers within the text)? Which authors have done a better job of PR, both in coming up with snappy titles that attract readers and in doing PR for their own essays in a bid to attract comments from friends and critics, colleagues and students? Do authors who reply to comments on their own essay tend to get more comments than others? Do authors who comment on others’ essays receive more comments on their own as well — does there seem to be a quid pro quo? Do the rich get richer, i.e. does having lots of comments on any given essay attract even more comments?
I hope Jack and I will be able to gather more data (perhaps also by surveying authors and commenters?) and draw some preliminary conclusions about what we can learn from the comment patterns and how they relate to reading behaviors this volume, and what this might suggest for future work. GoogleAnalytics will certainly be a valuable source in this regard, since it tells us, for example, how many views each essay has received (so we can see, e.g., whether those rarely commented upon are also those less often read), how readers approach the essays (where they start on the site and how they proceed from essay to essay – whether in list order or targeting particular essays or even reading essays together that link to each other).
Reading Sheila Brennan’s comment (and Jeff’s response) has made me wonder why it is that I have always felt that much of my historical scholarship has indeed been a solitary pursuit even though – obviously – I had relied upon librarians, archivists and others seen and unseen to identify and prepare materials, catalogue them, and even to take me by the hand (literally or figuratively) and lead me to them. It makes a difference to me whether these persons were seen/known (as the archivists whom I met, however briefly, or communicated with once or twice via email) or not (such as the unseen librarians who made sure that the 19th century books I sought were indeed on the shelf where their catalogue said they’d be when I entered the stacks to get them myself). Though all of these folks helped me in my pursuit of historical scholarship, I wouldn’t consider them collaborators. Should I? (This is not a rhetorical question!) In my own experience and perception, those highly skilled people and their work were sort of the BASF of my work: they made the scholarship better (or even possible), but they didn’t make the scholarship itself. Perhaps because I did not see them as potential collaborators as I began those particular projects, I did not avail myself of their collaborative potential. This is something I see this project as a corrective for.
There are two further matters influencing my perception of the bulk of my own research to date as having been a solitary pursuit. One is that I have experienced the peer review process (as both author and reviewer) as something extremely constructive, but not really as collaboration. Do others? Does it depend on the content? On the (perceived) power relations involved? And, secondly, I have co-authored historical scholarship which I very much felt was collaborative work, work in which the source materials were jointly examined and the substance of the analysis was hammered out through extensive discussion, online editing with tracked changes and inserted comments, shared Googledocs, and hours of Skype videoconferences.
So I guess the question that I’m left with is: what exactly is an “author” in the sense of a scholarly text in the field of history? I’m not sure the PI model Sheila mentions fits at all what I’ve been doing, especially when most of the people who would’ve had a hand in preparing any of the materials I needed were people I would never meet or contact, and who never knew what kind of work it was that I was doing. It’s not that I discredit their contribution, it’s that I wouldn’t know who to credit it to in the first place. This is, I think, why my traditional historical work has felt so solitary (which is not to say that it was necessarily lonely – I think many historians enjoy the feeling of working — and, especially, of thinking and writing — alone). [Comment reposted here by editor.]
Heather, can you unpack what you mean by engagement with digital history – is it a question of writing it or also of reading it, in the first instance? I don’t mean this as a chicken-and-egg question, but do you think most historians don’t write digital history because they don’t read any? If not, why not?
In his case study proposal (now theme number 20) on this ideas page, Mark Tebeau challenges models of distributive citizen science in which the public are “merely … crowd-sourced transcribers or data generators”. And yet your comment here, Amanda, makes me wonder if many of us may be overlooking ways in which the public already contributes to scholarly writing as such. Can you explain more about the writing aspects of your experience with the Quilt Index and/or its Facebook forum?
Amanda, I’ve moved your suggestion about lay scholarship and facebook to theme 22 above, to invite further discussion.
A recent essay by James M. Lundberg, “Thanks a Lot, Ken Burns“, reminded me of the power and appeal of video as a narrative medium, as well as of problems inherent in the filmic representation of the narrative, even (especially) when it’s offered to us by an affable and apparently trustworthy talking-head. To draw on Marshall’s proposition and on Mark’s and Amanda’s responses, I am wondering whether/how the non-narrative historiographical monograph could or should take the form of video. I can certainly see (no pun) the benefit of attempts to communicate aspects of it visually (graphically). But as video? Non-narrative cinema is rarely commercially successful, after all, so if it’s audiences we’re after, we might need something else anyway.
Much of the extant discourse on digital history has discussed influence in the other direction (i.e. the influence of Digital/New Media Studies on history as a scholarly and public pursuit), so your suggestion is especially interesting. Can you tell us more about what you have in mind, Mark?
Thanks for this contribution, Shawn. I’ve moved it over to the list at left (as #28) to encourage further discussion.
I’m stricken by similarities between this proposal and #20 and #22, above. Are they the same?
John, thanks for drawing our collective attention to the matter of visual literacy. I agree that it deserves its own space – now at #29 in our list of themes.
I’d like to add to Penny’s great questions a query of my own: Shane, your focus here is on the doing of digital research, but I wonder whether demographic diversity would also be a factor in the reading of digital historiography, too (brought to mind by the discussion of visual literacy in #29 above). What do you think?
Thanks for expanding on your idea a bit. Though I can imagine some for myself, I’d like to ask you to make explicit the connection of these ideas with the focus of the volume as a whole – especially for those historians who may not be very familiar with Digital and New Media Studies. Could you describe in what ways historiographical writing (as process/product) seems to be influencing Digital and New Media Studies? What types of evidence might there be? Do you see this influence as positive? negative? mixed? For whom?
Thanks for this essay proposal, which is now #52 on our list.
Of course, I would have been keen to publish on “Jack and Kristen’s website” in your example, but then again, that’s what personal publishing platforms are for. This brings me to wonder to what extent this (and topic #48, above) might have to do with genre as well as with imprint. I’d also like to push back on this statement: “we publish primarily because we desire to share our ideas with others.” I think we should publish for that reason, but not all of us do, or at least not all the time.
Thanks for elaborating on your initial comment, Marcin. I wonder whether you might be able focus these ideas a bit further, to make clear how they connect with (or contradict) what others have proposed (e.g. topics 7, 20, 22, and/or 28) and also to flesh out your problematization of the (putative?) democratization of history. More specifically, I wonder how all of this might relate to writing. What can we say about the quality of “easily built” history? What is history in that sense? Is it historiography?
Mills and Jeremy, your questions challenge so many of the assumptions we have about scholarly texts in general; I very much look forward to your answers. This essay proposal now appears as #53 in our topic list.
Change and Resistance to It: Digital History and the Professional as Personal: Much of the recent writing about the digital humanities has implored humanities scholars (in the words of Dan Cohen), “to think less like humanities scholars and more like” someone else (in Cohen’s example, social scientists). Indeed, many of the proposals above include the implicit or explicit suggestion that – if they’re not doing so already — historians can and should work differently, think differently and indeed write differently than they have in the past. But does “can” automatically mean “should” or even “must”? What sorts of resistance do these calls for change engender, and why? Is it simply a case of humans being change averse (historians more than others?), or are there additional motivations and forces at play? In exploring these questions, my essay will examine, among other things, depictions of change and of tradition in digital history discourses and the importance –perhaps even the primacy — of the personal in scholarly work, especially in writing.
Sandra, thanks for this proposal about the inclusiveness and exclusiveness of newspaper databases. I note how this relates to the themes of democratization and of curation expressed in some other topics on our list, but I wonder: could you spin out for us your proposal’s connection to writing history (as opposed to accessing history more generally)? Does it boil down to no access to sources=no research=no writing, or do you see further implications, complications or opportunities in the example of historical newspaper collections, particularly with regard to writing?
Martha and Scott, thanks for this proposal highlighting collaboration as negotiation, an issue we’ve seen raised to different degrees and against different backgrounds in proposals #20, #22 and #28. I’ve added your topic to the list as #61.
I’m glad to see this proposal about the multifaceted challenges of scholarly and public collaboration and editing, attending to both the practicalities on the one hand and the ideological issues on the other. A question that arises for me first-off is how quality is understood and, for teaching and grading purposes, assessed, in the case of these Wikipedia projects. Can grades be given for process or product, negotiation, composition, or all or none of the above? What happens when the professor and the self-appointed Wikipedia editors disagree about quality? In addition, I look forward to reading about the support Scott gives to students to enable them to successfully encroach on others’ (established article) turf. Are there topics that are for the purposes of this project simply no-go, or do you encourage students to take up any/every challenge?
Sandra, thanks for your reply, and for bringing Innis into this discussion.I think we could use him, and not only here. I’ve moved your proposal to #62 in our topic list.
Thanks for this proposal, Peter. There would seem to be potentially productive overlap between this one and topics #24 and the just-posted #62. I wonder whether this might especially be a case for collaboration – or at least a further comparing of notes – amongst proposal authors. I’ve moved your proposal to #63 on our list of topics.
Kevin, I’ve moved your essay idea to #64 in our topics list and noted there some other proposals which might relate in one way or another to this key epistemological question.
Trudi, your proposal brings a new dimension to the others we’ve seen about engaging communities in digital history, with its dual focus on product and on building skills amongst community members — in this case, middle-schoolers. I’ve moved it to #65 in our list of proposed topics.
The more time I spend on it, the more I think my essay should incorporate elements of topic 9 above as well. It’s the one about open peer review, with the example of the 1997 JAH roundtable entitled, “What We See and Can’t See in the Past”, and has much to do with the resistance to exposure and to change that I want to discuss.
See my proposal and comment at #56) below.
This topic has been moved to our list of proposed essays, where it appears at #68).
A note from the editors: For additional commentary on this essay, please see the page for general comments on the book.
Yes, the comments will remain visible here on the site.
Many thanks for drawing our attention to this. We did initially contemplate addressing the medium and process aspects in a preface as opposed to here in the introduction, but then felt the remove would be too great. However, the suggestion to re-order the components of the introduction in the service of our more meaningful message seems to me a good one. I feel the subtext here is definitely something Jack and I should revisit and perhaps re-gauge, and it’s helpful to know from others how it’s coming across.
Yes, we received the essays in Word and then we uploaded them into WordPress. But some of the essays (this one, at least) were composed in GoogleDocs, not in Word (a necessity, since Jack and I were working several thousand miles and a 6-hour time difference apart). Once the essays were on our site (but not yet public), authors had a 2-week period to revise them – in WordPress. Some authors made only minor revisions or none at all, but others made major revisions right within WordPress. From log-in data we know that co-authors of some of the essays used our WordPress site to make both concurrent and asynchronous edits to their texts, not unlike the way Jack and I used GoogleDocs for our initial essay draft.
I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds but I think I can speak for most if not all of the authors of essays in this volume when I say that we are nervous about many of the same things you have mentioned, for the reasons you described. Our work and others’ opinions of it are utterly and completely exposed here. This open review process is indeed a risky undertaking and – at this stage of experimentation, in the absence of an established culture of open peer review — we don’t know what kind of responses we’ll get and we don’t know who we’ll get them from. Which would be worse: having lots of critical comments (demonstrating that [a] we have readers and [b] that they feel our project or ideas are worth commenting on); or receiving no comments at all? We’re committed to this experiment because we want to find out and because, to put it quite simply, somebody needs to stick their neck out and see if their head gets chopped off. Will reviewers note weaknesses by flagging them outright, by offering veiled criticism, or by abstaining from commenting at all (as in, if you’ve nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all)? Of course, this open review process entails risk for the reviewers themselves as well, which is why we authors are particularly grateful for the many thoughtful comments we’ve received from people like yourself thus far. One of the best things that has happened to me so far is that I’ve received comments from people whose names I don’t know (but who by definition have an interest in what I’ve written). If I want to, I (or anyone else who reads their comment) can google them or email them and find out who they are, deciding by virtue of their comment or of their qualifications and affiliations (or both) whether to heed and/or respond to their comment or not. I think we are just at the beginnings of what might eventually become a productive open review culture with its own widely-accepted norms, and it’ll be some time before we can say what one should expect in this process both as author and open peer reviewer. Until then (or at least until the end of our open peer review period, on November 14th), I, for one, will be at the edge of my seat.
Jacqueline and Jonathan – it sounds like we all agree that “we appreciate the importance of narrative and the ability to wrap meaningful insights about the past into a good story.” I thought it had been covered by “Historians value good writing” – a statement you seem to agree with. What we didn’t say is “Historians are good writers.” — for the reasons you both have noted. Having said that, we are hopeful that open peer review and some of the many digital tools and publishing formats (not least the web-book) will help in this regard. In the meantime, we’ll have another look at the phrasing here regarding real and ideal and see if we can make the point more clearly. I’m glad you flagged this as requiring clarification, as I assumed it was already clear and thus would’ve missed it.
Thanks – that’s helpful!
I don’t believe that a paragraph with more comments is likely to be more meaningful than one with fewer or no comments. I do think, however, that a paragraph with more comments is likely to be more useful to the author in the revising process (and even in her or his global thinking about research and writing) than one with fewer or no comments. Not all comments are helpful, ergo more comments are not necessarily better than fewer comments. But the presence of relevant comments is, I think, suggestive of something which we can (and ought to) use to improve our writing and the thinking behind it. If the comments are at all relevant, it tells us that the paragraph has been read (at all), something we don’t know about paper-based works (neither book sales data nor download statistics for digitized articles tell us whether anyone has actually read the darn things once they’ve got hold of them). The presence of relevant comments tells us that either the topic of the work (or the paragraph), or its title, or our own name as author led someone(s) to read it. If the comments are thoughtful, we can know that the contents of the paragraph were indeed thought-provoking, regardless of whether the thoughtful comments are critical, flattering, or somewhere in-between. (Here I would differentiate between provocative – your word – and thought-provoking, which I see as a different and more common goal.) We can also know (in our case, at least) who is making those comments, so that we can tell whether our work is being read by (anyone in) its intended audience, and/or whether it moves any of those readers to speak up. We still don’t know anything about those who don’t speak up, and we may choose to attend to or disregard those who speak up in ways which are outside of our scholarly cultural norms or who express points of view which we don’t like – or we may find it necessary to respond to critical comments in particular. Same goes for other commenters in the discussion – they may respond to or disregard each other. Naturally we can also search Twitter and the blogosphere and the newspapers and scholarly review outlets to find out who says they’re reading our work and what they might think about it, but that is normally well after publication rather than in the middle of the dynamic writing/revising/publishing process. Moreover, the paragraph-level commenting format here provides not only easy two-way communication but also a centralized forum for all of those interested in the topic or text to discuss (or to watch a discussion of) it in one place. I may be misunderstanding your point about equality of platform, but I don’t see how our asking for comments limits other people’s ability to develop their own WordPress site (and web-book!) to take further any of the topics addressed here. In fact, they could include a link to their own site in a comment here, if they want to, just as we might on theirs, if they allow comments. Because we’re not just allowing comments but asking commenters to participate in open peer review, I think we run less of a risk of the kind of degeneration of comments that you mentioned, but of course the risk is still there. The hope is that substantive, idea- and text-shaping discussion can take place on comment-enabled sites, and my feeling is that we have evidence of that very thing on this site already, present company included.
Thanks for highlighting this. We’ll fix it!
Thanks for flagging our phrasing here. When it comes to revision, I’ll vote for omitting “historians” from this sentence (and, thus, from the paragraph) altogether.
Thanks for this. It should be working now.
Our apologies for this frustration. We had temporarily suspended new registrations for technical reasons but have since reactivated it, so that both new registration and commenting without registration should now be possible.
We recommend referencing comments on the 2011 web-book the same way that you’d reference essays. You may mention them in-text or just footnote them, as appropriate. Our suggestion for footnoting references to comments is:
(Commenter first and last name), on (author first and last name), “Essay and/or Page Title,” in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. Under contract with the University of Michigan Press. Web-book edition, Trinity College (CT), Fall 2011. http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu.
The 2011 web-book version of the volume — the one that underwent the open peer review, including all of the comments appended to it — will remain publicly available in perpetuity. Should the Press approve our final manuscript (a 2012 product), the Press’s digital and paper versions of that manuscript will coexist alongside the 2011 web-book version.
Julie, I see how such a case study might address this theme and touch on some others as well. Could you share with us some of the questions/concerns you and Rebecca might address? I’d be especially interested in a discussion of the role of writing (both process and product) within the repository (for example, those essays you mentioned) as well as how you envision the repository’s contents and tools might be used by prospective writers – especially historians but also others in the diverse fields you mentioned. [Comment reposted here by editor.]
The question of how multiple creators in digital history affect scholarship resonates with those of us creating the game Pox in the City as both a teaching and research tool for the history of medicine. Each one of us brings a specific area of expertise to the project but what may appear as a simple decision in one area suddenly becomes problematic when it intersects with another area creating, essentially, a jigsaw puzzle. An idea such as whether the game should be played from a first or third person perspective takes on greater significance; a first person perspective may be ideal for conveying certain aspects of content but the third person perspective better suits the digital platform. A collaborative digital history project raises a series of questions: How do you clarify the content and its relevance to the study of history especially when securing funding for the project? How does one adapt the content into a playable scenario that retains educational and research value? What restrictions do funding as well as research and pedagogical concerns have on the actual programming? And how are these concepts visually represented in a digital world?
Those of us creating the game Pox in the City as both a teaching and research tool for the history of medicine approach the “writing” of history from different persepctives. Each one of us brings a specific area of expertise to the project but what may appear as a simple decision in one area suddenly becomes problematic when it intersects with another area creating, essentially, a jigsaw puzzle. A collaborative digital history project raises a series of questions: How do you clarify the content and its relevance to the study of history especially when securing funding for the project? How does one adapt the content into a playable scenario that retains educational and research value? What restrictions do funding as well as research and pedagogical concerns have on the actual programming? And how are these concepts visually represented in a digital world?
This seems like a profound way to get at students’ preconcvieved notions about what history is, and to engage students in a field they may see as foreign, boring, or tangential. I am particularly energized by the authors’ method of teaching, which seems to give students who feel forced to take history — and we know many of our survey students feel this — an experiential way to really *learn* about the past and how we understand it, and to leave the course as sophisticated consumers and producers of historical analysis.
Related to #28, but different, in that it focuses more on the public’s interpretation and synthesis of records than on their co-creation of a geographical community’s archive:
The definition of “historian” becomes quite muzzy when we consider the ever-growing number of people who consult digitized primary sources to write about the past on blogs, wikis, forums, and genealogy sites. My research question, then, becomes “How are digital technologies changing who researches and writes history, and what authorial roles are scholars playing in the fuzzy edges where crowdsourcing and the lay public are creating new research resources and narratives?” Furthermore, what might professional historians’ responsibilities be in these liminal spaces of historical practice? I’m open to case study suggestions, but I’m thinking specifically about exploring the intersection of U.S. Civil War memory as expressed on blogs, wikis, and forums authored by amateur historians or the lay public with the communities of amateur historians that coalesce on genealogy sites like Ancestry.com, where users can piece together family histories by synthesizing government records and crowdsourced resources of varying origin and credibility. So, for example, how are digital archival and communication resources affecting the spread or containment of the black Confederate soldier narrative–and how are these technologies aiding academic historians in participating, or impeding them from intervening, in these discussions?
Thanks so much for your comment, Bethany. I absolutely used shorthand where I should be more forthcoming, and I recognize some irony in encouraging non-credentialed historians to tackle history at the same time as I insist on some kind of credentialing. The recent discussion of badges comes to mind. . . Thanks again!
Thanks so much for your insightful and thorough comments, Kaci. I wish I did have an answer to the question of how to differentiate “credentialed” (an adjective I realize I’ve left pretty vague here) historians’ work online from amateur historians’ contributions. My own department’s guidelines for tenure and promotion do recognize “alternative” contributions to traditional scholarship, but what exactly constitutes significant and relevant production is evaluated case-by-case; there aren’t clear delineations between what counts and what doesn’t. As an assistant professor on the tenure track, I’d love to see some clearer advice on such matters emerge from our professional associations.
Because I mentor many public history grad students, I’d also like to see more discussion (beyond talk of “Plan A” vs. “Plan B”) about how to prepare these emerging professionals for a digital age. How much of their training should include technological literacy and skills, and how much of it critical thinking about the public use of technology to “do history”?
Thank you, William, for sharing your own experiences with the Black Confederate soldier proponents. Perhaps I am being too generous in suggesting we work with them rather than always be in combat against them, and maybe I could have selected a better example to demonstrate a place where professional historians could enrich the understanding of amateurs pursuing reasonable historical leads.
Mainstream genealogy comes to mind as one place where historians might serve as guides on the side. That said, at a recent regional history conference, it became clear to me that many genealogists would see such offers of assistance as intrusive, as they are the experts in their domain. That discussion has made it more difficult for me to imagine spaces where such collaboration could occur. Perhaps citizen science offers one model?
You’re absolutely right–this essay does need greater contextualization. In part, my own scholarly myopia explains the omission. I did become a scholar in the digital age, and I don’t have any degrees in history myself–mine are in English and cultural studies–which means I also don’t have the historiographical background that might ease such a contextualization. Another issue in this elision is we are limited to 5,000 words, and I have to admit in my own revisions, I prioritized Black Confederate examples over context. When I revise the essay, I’ll look for ways to provide some sense of the conversation about knowledge circulation and democratization prior to the digital age. Thanks so much for your comments.
Thanks to everyone for your comments. As a veteran of creative writing workshops, I’ve been sitting back and “listening” to your contributions rather than engaging with them all along (as I fear I would sound–or be–defensive), but please know that I’ve been finding them incredibly helpful and insightful.
Good point. The Yahoo! groups reference does seem dated. Facebook would be a better example.
I was unfamiliar with this intriguing project. Thanks so much for your comment, and for introducing me to Mapping the Stacks.
Absolutely. I wanted to include a wider-ranging analysis of who has the privilege to participate in these online discussions, but space limitations are keeping me from providing the kind of context I’d prefer. Still, I’ll try to find ways to better define “public” and delineate which tools are accessible to participants on a broader socioeconomic spectrum.
Excellent suggestion. I suppose I need to spend some time on archive.org to find the earliest available exchanges about Black Confederates at that moment of articulation. Do you have other suggestions on where I might look for these discussions?
Will do. Thanks!
Charlotte, you’re right. The paragraph does invite that kind of consideration. I’m worried that in the space available to me here (5,000 words), I might not have the opportunity to play with the philosophical implications of an imagined or actual past. Still, if I have the opportunity to address this topic in a longer form, I absolutely will pursue that line of investigation. Many thanks!
Thanks so much for the clarification, Corey. Current Events and Earth Science? Wow!
Excellent point, Christopher. My essay does blur the definitions of crowds, users, and amateur historians. I like your distinction between secondary and tertiary material; I hadn’t considered the Black Confederate myth in that light, since I was so caught up with the proponents’ use and misuse of primary sources.
I agree, Mike. I have had a couple colleagues quietly suggest to me that, at least for a public historian on the tenure track, significant blog posts (or series of posts) that stimulate discussion ought to be considered at least as valuable as traditional essays published in minor journals where the articles are read by maybe half a dozen people. I am interested to see what kind of reception my contributions to Writing History in the Digital Age get in my tenure dossier in a few years.
Coates’ blog and its community of commenters would indeed make an interesting case study, especially since it appears many of his commenters sit on the opposite end of the educational and ideological spectrum from Black Confederate proponents.
Thanks, Charlotte. Clearly I need to better define my terms throughout the essay!
Jonathan, this is something I wrestled with as well. In several drafts I promoted this consideration of ethics to the main text. I’m still wavering about it. . .
Collaborative Bibliographies, Social Reading and Writing
Social bookmarking tools such as Diigo and social bibliography tools such as Zotero enable researchers to curate and share research materials, but to what extent does such software foster social reading and collaborative writing? Through social reading, readers participate in a conversation with the text, each other, and even the author. Using Diigo, researchers can create groups, share their bookmarks, and write notes as part the metadata records for items that they bookmark. Moreover, they can add highlights and sticky notes directly to web pages, making these annotations visible to other Diigo users and engaging in discussions even in (or on top of) web spaces that don’t allow comments. Similarly, with Zotero users can set up public or private groups to share citations with students, colleagues, or fellow researchers. Zotero also provides social networking features, including the ability to set up a profile, “follow” other users, and invite others to join your group. Both tools make visible an important part of the research process, collecting and curating resources. Furthermore, annotation and discussion are themselves forms of writing that often grow out of reading.
To understand the impact that social bibliography and bookmarking tools are having on historical writing, I plan to do case studies of three Zotero groups and three Diigo groups that focus on some aspect of history. I will analyze the types of citations that these groups have collected, what kinds of annotations they make and tags they use, and the extent to which annotation leads to conversation. I will also interview participants in the groups to explore what motivates them to contribute, what impact the collective bibliography has had on their research and writing, and how they might improve both the tools and the workflow. How do Zotero and Diigo differ? Is annotation and commentary a form of publication? In what ways do collective bibliographies foster more formal writing, such as books and articles? To what extent do these groups build a social identity, and what facilitates the development of such bonds? What protocols have emerged that govern additions, deletions, and tagging? Through this study, I hope to develop a better understanding of research as a social phenomenon and analyze the relationship between reading and writing as public processes.
Unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to pull together this essay time to meet the deadline, but I look forward to reading (and commenting on) the other contributions to the volume.
Amanda: thanks so much for your comments and questions. I’ll respond to both comments here.
First, with privacy, Blogs@Baruch has granular privacy control that breaks down as follows: sites can be open and indexed, open and not indexed, open only to Blogs@Baruch users, open only to users the individual site administrator adds, and open only to administrators. Beyond that, individual posts and pages may be password protected, and authors may publish under a nickname. Much of the faculty development and instruction we do around the system is oriented to equip users to best navigate those options given their needs.
The question about FERPA is a difficult one, and Tom and I discussed it extensively as we prepared this essay. Having student work be public and indexed by Google is NOT a violation of FERPA. Putting their grades online would be. Disallowing them from removing their work if they choose to do so would (likely) be. Requiring them to put work out without discussing with them of the implications of doing so is likely NOT a violation, but it’s unethical.
Our decision not to link directly to student work in our essay comes from the fact that we did not go through the IRB clearance process in advance of these courses, and we felt that directly linking would increase the amount of gray FERPA area surrounding us. We could very well be wrong about that. Our sense is that FERPA rules have not adapted to the new communication realities… nor, for that matter, have IRB processes on most campuses. But it’s something we know less about than we’d like.
As for the question about the implications of allowing student produced material to be out there for anyone to see, perhaps it’s an argument we need to make more explicit in the essay. We feel that doing so raises the stakes in ways that often improve the quality of student work. It also makes possible what my friend Matt Gold has called “serendipitous connections” between our students and those outside who find and interact with their work (such as the presidential librarian). There are risks, to be sure, and we discuss these with the students and make sure they enter the project with their eyes open and aware of their levels of control over their work. But we feel the potential benefits of openness outweigh the risks by a significant margin.
Digital history as a buzzword (do we need to define another branch?), the danger of “analog exclusion” and limits of doing research in commercial environments (like Twitter archive). Problems with democratisation of history writing on the internet (Google as a “Library of Babel”). New models of historical monograph – evolution of traditional book or its contestation?
In my opinion most of these issues (maybe excluding digital history as a buzzword) can be enclosed in the idea of the democratisation of writing and of accessing history. It is a great vision: thanks to the internet anyone can access articles, sources and discussions about the past. Minorities can promote their versions of history online if they are not supported by official educational systems or mainstream media. Thanks to the internet, local pasts can be discussed beyond local perspective and individual histories presented online become new sources of reflection about universal issues (see http://wwar1.blogspot.com/).
But there are some clear disadvantages of such democratisation. Think about the capabilities of a professional historian working on the Wikipedia, about the social role of the University as a producer of knowledge, about the research done in the commercial sphere (li