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a born-digital, open-review volume edited by Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki

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  • essay idea discussion (May-August 2011) (261 comments)

    • Comment by Hilary Moss on May 20th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Hilary Moss on May 20th, 2011

      Again – I wonder about the decision not to engage with pedagogy here.

      Comment by Hilary Moss on May 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 22nd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on May 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on May 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on May 23rd, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on May 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 24th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela on May 24th, 2011

      I agree with both Hilary and Ansley – on the relevance of discussing pedagogy here, and also on the tremendous value a library science person could bring to this discussion. I bring all my students in any class that requires any sort of primary source research to a library session to become acquainted with our online databases, and it often strikes me that the skills to navigate, synthesize, and assess these huge amounts of information are perhaps the most important ones we (try to) impart to undergraduates most of whom will not be professional historians, but who will almost certainly do work that involves some kind of online research component. Since there is so much garbage online, I think our task has become harder as educators in that we have to teach our students to be more discerning in their research than they might have been when entering a physical archive in which collections have already been culled (and in which holdings are relatively static). Anyway, I’d love to talk/write more about this

      Comment by Natalie Mehlman Petrzela on May 24th, 2011

      I am at once very grateful for the amount of information which is now digitized, and also nervous about at the carefully archived materials I am certain will become lost as students and scholars alike feel that there is less need to travel to physical archives since so much is online. Is this inevitable? Can we see any patterns to materials being left out of the growing digital record? How can we proceed to make the most of these new resources while still conducting responsible research that consults a range of digital and physical sources? How do we instill those commitments in our students? It seems to me in 20 years we may have a whole new set of scholarship on the “silences” in the online collections on which we will surely come to rely more and more… [Comment reposted here by editor.]

      Comment by Jeff McClurken on May 25th, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on May 25th, 2011

      The development of digital history projects has prompted a great deal of angst about the proper credentialing / reviewing process for professional purposes (e.g., for tenure and promotion). What is necessary for this (relatively narrow) function is the articulation of intellectual purpose for digital projects, a delineation in the spirit of Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1988) but fitting with the specifics of history. The well-dug trench of “long-form historical argument” embedded in the university-press monograph fits poorly with the range of constructions that are well-used digital history projects. Embedded in successful digital history projects is always (the possibility of) a rich historical argument, but historical argumentation is not always the intended central purpose or the way users find the most value. As members of what we would like to be a broader intellectual community, we need something that describes the intellectual merits of those projects. Fortunately, we also need that to help us teach, and the required focus of (successful) individual digital history projects suggests a common template that we can use in both teaching and in reviewing digital historical works.

      Comment by John McClymer on May 25th, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Heather Munro Prescott on May 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      Interesting topic, Jeff, which I’m moving onto the discussion list as topic #13 for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on May 26th, 2011

      Hasn’t creating scholarship always been a collaborative process at different stages (librarians, archivists, graduate students), but the author (as principal investigator) always gets the credit? No one researches, writes, and produces a book or an article on their own.  Does the digital expose these different steps as we are trying to make those steps more accessible through digital projects?
      I also think that incorporating public history work is critical in this conversation, because public historians often work collaboratively and often are not credited individually for their work–think of a museum exhibition or National Park Service interpretative guides. [Comment reposted here by editor.]

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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]

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 26th, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Jeff McClurken on May 27th, 2011

      Sheila,
      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.]

      Comment by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela on May 27th, 2011

      I think you are right, Jack, to tie this question back to the issue of historical writing. I suppose that my question – how historians and library scientists and archivists can together leverage digital resources to aid historical research and writing – intends to expand our realm of discussion beyond our own scholarly historical writing to that of our students. Is that a direction in which this volume might be interested in going?

      Comment by Heather Munro Prescott on May 28th, 2011

      I teach a course on digital history for our M.A. in public history at CCSU.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on May 28th, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 30th, 2011

      Thanks, Natalia, for your comment below. I have moved this onto the main list as topic #15, to encourage further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on May 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by dan_allosso on May 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Penny Richards on May 31st, 2011

      Not really sure where to put this, so I’ll put it here.  I’m revisiting some of my pre-internet-access projects–my dissertation database, and a transcription project, both from the early 1990s–in blog format, tapping all the online family history and local history resources I couldn’t look at back then.  It’s pretty low-tech, really–mostly searching and linking and tweeting and being open to comments–and it’s far from done, but it’s already bringing much new information, and some useful interaction with others interested in related subjects.  So I think I’m interested in “rewriting history in the digital age”–digging back into old projects to see what new can be said and found about them, in the digital environment.  Maybe such projects are their own before-and-after studies about how the digital age shapes the writing of history…

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 1st, 2011

      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.”

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 1st, 2011

      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?)

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Heather Munro Prescott on June 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 1st, 2011

      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?
      or
      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.

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 1st, 2011

      Probably the combination.  I’m feeling like projects that used to be (or feel) “finished” get re-opened with changing research tools–so the approach to writing itself is different, if it’s not necessarily the final word, or even my final word, on the subject.  This willingness to keep projects permanently open for further exploration in online formats is probably also shaped by my non-academic status (no tenure file)–I don’t have a lot of incentive to publish in traditional formats, nor any much need to get solo credit for what the projects may become.

      Comment by dan_allosso on June 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 1st, 2011

      Thanks, Dan. I moved your comment to #16 on the list to encourage further discussion.

      Comment by dan_allosso on June 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 1st, 2011

      I was curious what kind of links and contacts I could make with family historians and local historians, who could hold useful answers to the many questions left open in the original versions.  I talked to some such folks back in the early 1990s, but only as I was able to visit with them in person; online, the possibilities are much expanded.  Turns out that the projects are way more fun to do when I know there’s an audience of really interested people out there–meaning, not yawning conference goers politely sitting and staring, but knitters and foodies and genealogists who really, really care about some of the subjects.   And I like the other online tools available:  With sitemeter I know where my readers are, and how they find me. With twitter, new material gets publicized to very specific audiences (via aggregators like @ScottishHistory).  Sure didn’t have any of that in 1996.

      (Also, from a more practical angle, the original files were created in MacWrite 2, and none of my current computers can read those; so it was necessary to revisit them, if I wanted to have access to my own work again.)

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on June 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ryan Shackleton on June 1st, 2011

       As practitioners of modern-digital history we are able to instantaneously gain access to journals, news stories and other documentary evidence from foreign countries and other disciplines previously inaccessible in most university libraries. This has undoubtedly aided in redefining our craft and expanding our understanding and approach. But living in a digital era that provides us such ready access has a flip side as well. In many ways, the documents that historians have relied on in the past are no longer being systematically filed, archived and catalogued. Indeed, many conversations, ideas and decisions are being shared outside of the realm of traditional documentation. As libraries, archives, and governments struggle to capture our current conversations, society continues to find new and in many cases, less revealing methods of communication. Further complicating this could be proprietary issues surrounding the information keepers (social media-networks, online media storage sites, etc). What then does this mean for our future historians? Do historians have a right or an obligation to weigh in and lobby for electronic archival regulations? Or, as historians are we required to reflect and analyse the sources that society chooses to (or not to) leave behind?

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 1st, 2011

      Just tossing in some ideas for someone else to riff on… H-Net listservs seem to annoy and attract subscribers with some of the same characteristics.  While some like the edited nature of the listservs, others find it too mediated and dependent on the volunteer editor’s time and energy; while some like the plain-text emails for efficiency, others find the lack of images and text formatting to be old-fashioned and constraining; while some like that it’s all open-access and permanently logged, others prefer the way blogs allow revisions, tweets can be deleted, and other listservs can be closed to subscribers only. [Comment reposted here by editor.]

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 2nd, 2011

      Thanks for elaborating on this theme, Penny, which I’ve moved onto the list as idea #17 for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 2nd, 2011

      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.)

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 2nd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Marshall Poe on June 2nd, 2011

      “The Coming Age of the Video Monograph.” Print monographs are a good way to disseminate scholarly information among people who like to read (that is, academics), but a very poor way to disseminate it among people who do not like to read (that is, 99% of the population). We need to accept the print monograph for what it is: a way for us to talk among ourselves. If we want to talk to the public, we need a new medium. It is clear what this medium is: video. There is no question that people would *much* rather watch, and watch just about anything, than read. Print and video have been competing on an equal basis for people’s attention for about 60 years now. The contest is over; video has won. So, if we want people outside the graduate seminar to learn what we have to teach about the past, we must translate our print monographs into narrative videos. Technology is no hindrance, for new software makes professional video production of the “Ken Burns” variety easy. The primary challenge will be to convince an avant garde of historians to sacrifice some of their time to turning their monographs into videos, for it is virtually certain that no institutional support will be offered for this seemingly outlandish endeavor. For this initial period in the transition, your video work “will not count.” You won’t get a job with a video, you won’t get tenure with a video, and you won’t get promoted to full professor with a video. What you will get, though, is an audience, and clear demonstration that you–perhaps uniquely among your colleagues–are reaching the public with your research. Teaching the public, that’s part of our mission, right?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 2nd, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 2nd, 2011

      Digital tools have not merely transformed representation of scholarship and research tools, they’ve transformed the collaborative environment itself. Digital tools have promised to make “everyman his own historian,” to borrow Carl Becker’s phrasing from his 1931 AHA Presidential Address. If Becker’s emphasis generated the intellectual underpinnings of social history and oral history (to mention just a couple subfields), in practice relatively little historical work is so radically collaborative begging the larger question. Can we at last, in the digital age, build the sort of rigorous collaborative communities that cross the town/gown divide? I am not talking generalized encyclopedia projects like Wikipedia but specific interpretive historical projects that involve communities as investigators and interpreters not merely as crowd-sourced transcribers or data generators, as is so often the model of distributive citizen science?
      I would propose a case study of one such model project in Cleveland to highlight the possibilities and pratfalls of this sort of work. In Cleveland, we have worked to curate the city, to interpret its history not in isolation from the community but enmeshed in it. Our work has included: interpretive archival projects with teachers (Teaching & Learning Cleveland), collaborative websites (http://www.culturalgardens.org), a 700+ interview oral history collection (http://drcdev.ohiolink.edu/handle/123456789/3072), history kiosks (http://csudigitalhumanities.org/category/public-digital-history/euclid-corridor/), and a mobile history application (http://www.clevelandhistorical.org). The projects have involved students, teachers, and community members, as well as archivists and scholars, as collaborators in long-term endeavors that have generated digital scholarship and non-traditional interpretive formats.
      Is it possible, then, to capture Becker’s radical spirit in our work?
       

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 2nd, 2011

      The notion of “writing” history may no longer capture the depth of historical practice in the digital age. It is not that writing is obsolete; rather, it is but one part of the broader field of historical practice. Digital humanities scholarship emphasizes “curation.” The Digital Humanities Manifesto for example suggests that the digital “recasts the scholar as curator and the curator as scholar, and, in so doing, sets out both to reinvigorate scholarly practice by means of an expanded set of possibilities and demands, and to renew the scholarly mission of museums, libraries, and archives.” The Digital Humanities Manifesto did not reinvent the notion of curation, but has drawn on its conceptual evolution more broadly, one that is evident in everyday practice among technologists, designers, and entrepreneurs.
      This expanded notion of curation builds on a word with decidedly narrow origins. In the 14th Century, curation specifically word originally emphasized the caring for and attending to the souls of a parish. By the 15th century, curate became associated with legal guardianship, usually over minors. Only with the enlightenment, in the middle of the 17th century, did the word come to be associated with objects, specifically those of a museum or gallery.
      In the 21st century, curation has become associated with new representations of data, new approaches to collecting information, and transformative modes of interpretation. How will curation as a concept, as it is being explored popularly in the language of design, commerce, and technology, shape the humanities and specifically historical practice? How can historical practice draw upon the expanding purview of historian as curator to rebuild the discipline for the digital age?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on June 2nd, 2011

      Once upon a time I subscribed to seven H-Net lists simultaneously as a means of following various subfields that interested me as a scholar and teacher but I drifted away from most of the lists before Twitter and blogs proliferated. H-Net lists rarely lived up to their promise. Instead of fostering intellectual communities, they became bulletin boards for job ads, conference proposals, book reviews, and reference queries. Occasionallly they hosted thoughtful intellectual exchanges but in my limited experience these conversations were often not spontaneous but rather programmed. The success of Twitter and blogs highlights H-Net’s weaknesses. IMHO, the H-Net lists could easily be replaced/supplanted by blog-based formats that reach out to the same audiences while requiring less intensive moderation, allowing for the inclusion of more complex media, and presenting a more accessible, open face to the scholarly community online. [Comment reposted here by editor.]

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 2nd, 2011

      I agree; but I also think there are H-Net subscribers (and, to be honest, editors) who like that they’re just bulletin boards; they don’t want chatter or discussion or images or links.  Subscribing to an H-Net list isn’t going to clog up your inbox with big attachments, and because it’s edited it doesn’t get spammy, and you can still claim to be paying some attention to a particular field of study.  For some folks, that’s all they want, and any more would be annoying or overwhelming.  (Whenever either of the H-Net lists I edit get chatty in any volume, I start to get unsubscribe requests.)  So maybe that’s their role now?  Maybe it was always one of their roles? [Comment reposted here by editor.]

      Comment by Robert Wolff on June 3rd, 2011

      How are scholars of the past, and historians more specifically, to understand the Wikipedia? Greeted ten years ago by academics with skepticism (at best), the Wikipedia has achieved some degree of begrudging respect. Rather than ban its use, a number of college/university faculty encourage students to edit and improve its many entries. How many of us now consult Wikipedia entries as we prepare lectures and scholarship (even if only to discover what misperceptions might be out there)? How many edit entries ourselves? To understand the success of the Wikipedia and the degree to which it has become authoritative for many (and a point of departure for even more), we need to see the Wikipedia as history writing in the digital age. I propose to look at the Wikipedia through the lens of history and memory studies. Following Pierre Nora, I see its entries as “sites of memory” (lieux de mémoire), places in which the digital public memorializes both the present and the past. Ordinarily, scholars treat history and memory as distinct. As David Blight puts it, ““History – what trained historians do – is a reasoned reconstruction of the past rooted in research; critical and skeptical of human motive and action…. Memory, however, is often treated as a sacred set of potentially absolute meanings and stories, possessed as the heritage or identity of a community. Memory is often owned; history, interpreted. Memory is passed down through generations; history is revised.” Yet in the Wikipedia history and memory collide. Here history can be owned. The Wikipedia purports to  offer authoritative entries but the authority is popular not scholarly. Indeed, in the Wikipedia, to borrow from Michel Foucault, the power to define history is capillary. That power is abetted by Wikipedia’s standard that articles be written from a “Neutral Point of View” (NPOV), which resonates with the popular understanding of history as “just the facts.” Scholarly trepidation with the nature of the Wikipedia stems in part from the realization that professional norms of interpretation, discourse, and debate, cannot be readily applied and may be unwelcome. In practical terms, it’s possible to illustrate the collision of history and memory through concrete examples from the Wikipedia, using screen shots of the main text but also of editorial changes made. Where might this fit in the volume/site? I see this theme as a bridge between questions about the use of the Wikipedia (see suggestion from Amanda Seligman) and those philosophical questions about the nature of the digital history enterprise (Mark Tebeau).

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on June 3rd, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 3rd, 2011

      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!)

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 3rd, 2011

      A very rich topic, Mark, which I’ve moved to #20 on the list for further discussion (with a comment from me).

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 3rd, 2011

      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”?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 3rd, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 3rd, 2011

      I gave a talk at the Berks in 2008 that pointed to some of this, especially in women’s history and disability history, and how online engagement held the potential to build more and better such community collaborations.  At various scales and designs, this kind of project seems to have really flourished in the 1970s and early 1980s in women’s history, as I recall from that, so there’d be a then-and-now opportunity for comparison, too.  I really hope there’s a positive answer to “Can we at last, in the digital age, build the sort of rigorous collaborative communities that cross the town/gown divide?”  (I’ll be glad to send you a copy of the Berks paper, or otherwise share it around.) [See Penny Richards, “The Spinster in the Attic: Retrieving Disabled Women’s Stories from Private Collections,” Berkshire 2008 conference paper, posted here with permission of the author.]

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 3rd, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Julie Judkins on June 3rd, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Shawn Graham on June 3rd, 2011

      There’s interesting pushback from some segments of the student population when you get them to engage with things like Wikipedia – and in history at least (in my experience) it’s the students who are the better at historical thinking who are most reluctant to engage with new media, crowdsourcing, and other ways of writing history. They’ve learned how to be historians, how to play the game, and when we ask them to do this kind of work, we change the rules…
      Perhaps we should be pushing students to engage with born digital artefacts from their very first class…?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 3rd, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 3rd, 2011

      There’s a growing amount of scholarship now on the ways Flickr Commons has developed some co-creative relationships with its contributors (including me)–it may or may not have been planned as a crowdsourcing project with limited input, but that’s certainly a big and historical project that’s got the public making significant contributions.  (The National Archives has called us “citizen archivists,” which is obviously an analog to citizen science; but I still haven’t heard a good verb for what the crowd does when a project is really flourishing beyond simple transcribing or data generating.) [Comment reposted here by editor.]

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on June 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 5th, 2011

      Amanda, I’ve moved your suggestion about lay scholarship and facebook to theme 22 above, to invite further discussion.

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 6th, 2011

      Great question and push-back. I had the same thought as I was writing (and reading my writing.) But, as I contemplated and wrote, I wanted to emphasize interpretive activity.
      I would suggest that when we talk about “writing history” we’re not merely talking about texts. We are, in fact, emphasizing a mode of interpretive thinking so embedded in history research and interpretation.
      The digital has really challenged the primacy of text and thus transformed the writing of history, pushing our work toward a curatorial model which is less text based. I would argue that this enriches our interpretive work, emphasizes text as part of that interpretive process, but neither the end of it nor its only expression.
      Let me give two examples. First, oral history (and even ethnography, though to a lesser degree) used to be understood almost primarily as a textual activity. The result of an oral history interview was not (before the 1970s) understood to be the sound file, but the printed textual transcript. Oral historians compiled these transcripts, read them, interpreted them and wrote them.  The 1970s ushered in a paradigmatic shift across disciplines, emphasizing multiple subjectivities. In oral history, the voice became increasingly important, and by the digital revolution the human voice became a signal part of the field. Not only do oral historians increasingly share their work in non-textual ways, but oral history interpretation has been transformed. We curate voices and stories; we interpret those voices. Text still matters, but its primacy has diminished. This, I would argue, has transformed the writing of history, at least in the realm of oral history.
      Likewise, I would suggest that other forms of interpretive expression–photography, objects, and cartography–are playing a more signal role in interpretive historical writing. They have moved from being merely illustrative of textual arguments and interpretations to carrying interpretive weight in their own right. (Curiously, for a brief period, in the 1970s and 1980s, quantitative history and numbers took this role with the first wave of humanities computing, but receded under heavy specialization.)
      Recently, digital tools–through mashup, aggregation, and more powerful computing–have allowed these alternate forms of representation to emerge as powerful challengers to the primacy of text in crafting interpretation.
      So, I suppose what I want to do with this piece is really challenge the primacy of text, of “writing history” in the digital age. I want to suggest the emergence of alternative models is altering how we both interpret history and represent interpretive arguments. I want to suggest that new models and concepts, such as curation, or that new tools or alternative modes of representing and aggregating evidence (image, sound, maps, etc.) are pushing us to reconsider the precise nature of teaching and learning history.
      They are challenging the primacy of text.
       
       

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 6th, 2011

      See here my pushback to Jack’s question, re. curation below. In some sense, when I talk about curation, I am speaking of this notion of linked data or alternative ways of representing argument, to some degree. But, I am also turning this question on its head, suggesting that indeed the very method of history might be overwhelming the power of text.
      In my own work, I am struck that my digital work, some of it less methodologically rich than my scholarship is pushing the boundaries of knowledge and building a much wider audience than my more traditional scholarship ever could. In part, this is about the way that the arguments are represented. A “companion” website might in fact be the interpretive center, with the textual scholarship being the citation-rich (and necessary) sideshow establishing credibility.

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 6th, 2011

      Here, I am interested in evaluation and attribution as well as undergraduate learning.
      Taking the first question: How do we attribute partly complete student work, even as it becomes part of the research body of a web-based project? How do we evaluate that work? I am thinking of my work with students in developing a collaborative Omeka archive. How do we assess metadata? How do you grade it? Alternately, how do we attribute student work in which they only partly get metadata correct or you as the curator of the online exhibit have to edit their work? How is that attributed properly?
      On undergraduate learning, I am wondering about what we can legitimately expect of our students, whose own expectations about teaching and learning may come from an analog age. What are the implications of adding digital expectations to our courses? Are we moving the bar?
      Just a couple thoughts….

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 6th, 2011

      I am going to challenge Marshall a little bit here, and should say at the outset that I love this question. I should also say that I have produced over 100 “Ken Burns” videos with students, community members, colleagues, and videographers. (See our youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/csudigitalhumanities.)  All are short, usually less than 90 seconds, and often less than 60 seconds. They are short because of our end use (public exhibitions.) But, they are also short because of how difficult it is to sustain compelling narrative for more than a couple minutes.
      I would argue that the producer of a “video monograph” would be a filmmaker as well as historian (admittedly used very traditionally in this sense.) Indeed, my guess is that a film on the order of a monograph might actually count for promotion and tenure. And, based on my sense of movie audiences and presentations, I am not sure that full-length documentaries get many more viewers than historical monographs.
      In fact, the work I describe above (persented on YouTube) is fare more likely to get a wide audience, and is far less likely to count than full-length films. They are also much easier to produce.
      All of which is to say that I think this would be a richer essay if it did not merely juxtapose print/film but film/video and full-length with short-subject with short length video. Such juxtapositions will expose, I think, some of the richer tensions within this fascinating question.

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 6th, 2011

      Penny, I would love to see the Berks paper. This question was motivated by my sense that the promise of community engagement never quite made it out of the ivory tower, despite our colleague’s best intentions.
      There are a number of community-based projects that have some real power where audiences  are/were involved. It will be great fun to point to a number of these.
      It is my belief that the digital has offered new opportunities to mobilize those communities in writing history. At the same time, some of the other impediments remain, related to meshing our professional communities and practices with broader publics.

      Comment by Mark Tebeau on June 6th, 2011

      I am interested in the use of the term “co-creation” here, which suggests something about equality in the power relations. On the facebook page, my sense (perhaps incorrect) is that you are the manager with lesser empowered members who engage this fascinating project. In this sense, the knowledge is not a co-creation, but more akin to a classroom setting, even though it is clearly not such a space.
      This essay strikes me as being about social media a tool for building community and very specific knowledge. Even better, it is about using social media to build a community of users, whose lives are varied and outside the University setting, as well as geographically dispersed. Have you ever counted your fans’ geographic locations, interests, or other attributes. Who are they?
      I would agree that this is crowd-sourcing, but it also strikes me that your users may not be coming to the page to help produce knowledge. Perhaps they come to self-identify, to make relationships, or for some other reason. It would appear that some of them stay to be scholars.
      I find this story to be quite engaging and challenging of conventions/modes of inquiry at the same time.
       

      Comment by Ryan Shackleton on June 7th, 2011

      A prime example of how electronic record keeping is changing the way we conduct history can be seen in government records. In Canada, almost all government departments and agencies fall under our National Archives Act which requires them to retain, cull and submit their files to the archives. This has resulted in an enormous amount of material being housed, maintained and made available to researchers. In  political biography, studies of Canada’s foreign relations, domestic politics, and civil liberties movements it provide a framework for understanding not only how the government governed but also the constraints and opportunities that people faced. As historians know, the evolution of a historical document and the contextualization that can be discovered in an archival file are crucial to the craft. The nuances and marginalia in a draft memorandum in comparison to the official copy can shed light not only on the process but the shaping of the outcome: What led one reviewer to reject a paragraph? How did individual personality and tone alter the delivery of the message? As we move forward with electronic communications we face a new challenge in recording dialogue. Currently, the National Archives has some brilliant people working on protocols for electronic government record keeping. They are developing strategies for e-discovery, setting standards and implementing guidelines and best practices for the retention of documentation. Still, there was a lengthy period while electronic communications were developing when retention policies had yet to be put in place. Further complicating the lack of procedure is access. In a previous project I did for a department’s record keeping center we had to track down a machine that would read 5 ¼-in floppies and then a compatible program to extract the information. Undoubtedly, there are floppies, laser discs, and zip drives collecting dust throughout government agencies and in private collections. Will we take the effort to revive these forms of storage when the time comes? How can we make sure that current forms of discussion are preserved for future historians?
      The paper that I propose to write would examine current problems with document retention policies and identify gaps left behind because of technological advancements.  It would juxtapose the impact of previous shifts in forms of communications with current digital communication tools. Working as a Canadian historian, my focus would be on policies and programs in place in this country, although a comparative analysis with a US or other collaborator would be very welcome.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on June 7th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on June 7th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on June 7th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Thomas Dublin & Kathryn Kish Sklar on June 7th, 2011

      Essay proposal
      We have been co-editors of the Women and Social Movements web sites for thirteen years, beginning with our work with Binghamton students in 1997, then in the web site’s transformation into an online, peer-reviewed scholarly journal, Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000, in 2003-2004, and today also as the co-editors of the new online archive, Women and Social Movements, International—1840 to Present. Our focus throughout has been to publish interpretive collections of primary documents—the integration of sources and interpretation that online technology invites. First, we designed the innovative format of document projects to explore the history of women and social movements in the United States. Now we are constructing an online archive of documents generated by women’s international activism since the mid-nineteenth century. We will also publish scholarly interpretive essays that draw on these resources. The digital medium permits the expansive publication of primary sources, thus providing readers a unique opportunity to reflect upon historical interpretation in the light of unprecedented access to the primary sources on which that interpretation is based. This new environment poses new challenges for historians as they share both their sources and their interpretations with their readers and permit their readers to evaluate their work in new ways.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 8th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by chad.black on June 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Alex Galarza on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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?)

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Mark Winokur on June 10th, 2011

      New theme: the degree to — and ways in — which history, histories, and historiography have already inflected and determined Digital/New Media Studies.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on June 10th, 2011

      My hunch has been that since community-engagement was part of the work of public historians “in the field”–and by volunteer historians working in libraries and historic sites, et al–most academic historians stayed away even if they are philosophically dedicated to community empowerment. Many academic historians are still very skeptical, even with the idea of crowdsourced data collection, never mind interpretation. Just like professional Curators who are still struggling with everyone calling themselves a “curator”, I think professional Historians are still having trouble with every person writing as a “historian.”
      I would also say that some of this work has been generated by state and local historical societies/museums, rather than through academia. I wonder if you could do a comparative study with your work in Cleveland, spearheaded by your Center for Public History with say the Minnesota Historical Society that has generated Placeography, citizen-created exhibits on state history, and other community-based projects?

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on June 10th, 2011

      Yes, yes, yes! I would suggest that the influence of material culture studies (from American Studies) opened the door for a wider variety of evidence to be accepted and analyzed as primary sources in history as well. The digital has made more of these non-textual pieces accessible, and even through auction sites like eBay. Most digital tools available for historians, however, still focus on textual analysis or on representing/publishing images of things but not necessarily for analyzing objects.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Christopher Hager on June 10th, 2011

      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.”

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 10th, 2011

      Well, and a followup question to ask is, does this awareness of text searching change how historians write, as well as affect how we research?  I know that search-engine optimization isn’t something I think about a lot when I’m writing on blogs, but I might pause to think of it when I’m titling posts, or tagging them, before posting.  Text searching also makes spelling errors and variations more significant — a misspelled personal name isn’t just evidence of bad proofreading anymore; now it also means a good essay might not be read by the audience searching for it.

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on June 12th, 2011

      Pasts in a Digital Age: I would like to suggest an essay that inquires into whether and how digital media is altering the way we interact with our pasts.  With the digital media we frequently hear comments that the significance and use of the past are changing–becoming flatter and more fragmented.  One challenge for history is to understand how digital media impact our writing of history; it is an opportunity to think differently about how we use and narrate pasts.  To understand this impact, I argue that we must first recognize that both history as well as linear time are historical rather than natural ways of thinking about the past.  This form of “historical thinking” emerged during the first half of the nineteenth century.  With this realization we return to the basic components of history: recorded happenings, categories, and modes of connecting pasts.  Moreover, we see other ways that pasts have functioned in earlier societies, as well as today.  Finally, I will sketch practices that might be more consonant with the distributed and networked world of the digital age, a more complex relationship with time that incorporates the heterogeneity and multilinearity of lived experience and our structured lives.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on June 14th, 2011

      As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that the further the assignment deviates from a standard essay (or other familiar trope), the greater the pushback. The more people involved in creating the digital artefact, the more pushback too. (see http://www.playthepast.org/?p=848 for some of my reflection on this).

      Comment by Shawn Graham on June 14th, 2011

      Essay Proposal
      Digital history is a kind of public history: when we put materials online, we enter into a conversation with individuals from all walks of life, with various voices and degrees of professionalism. This essay would discuss our experience in relinquishing control of the historical voice, to crowdsource cultural heritage and history. What is the role of the historian when we crowdsource? Our project is unfolding this summer, and can be followed at http://heritagecrowd.org .

      Comment by john theibault on June 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by john theibault on June 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 14th, 2011

      Thanks for this contribution, Shawn. I’ve moved it over to the list at left (as #28) to encourage further discussion.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 14th, 2011

      I’m stricken by similarities between this proposal and #20 and #22, above.  Are they the same?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 15th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 15th, 2011

      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.
       

      Comment by jeddobson on June 15th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on June 15th, 2011

      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&gt;. 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/&gt;.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on June 15th, 2011

      Ah, yes, there are very strong similarities. In each of these, we are all dealing with the problem of the role of the historian when public history and digital history collide.
      So I guess that yes, we have three different case studies here revolving around similar themes and issues.

      Comment by Christopher Hager on June 16th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Christopher Hager on June 16th, 2011

      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.
      http://osc.hul.harvard.edu/highbrow/
      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).

      Towards Teaching the History Survey, Digitally.
      How are digital tools changing the task to which professional historians devote much of their time: teaching the history survey to non-majors? With low-barrier online publishing tools, college instructors (even in large classes) can offer students a range of opportunities for doing history and bring survey courses alive by turning students into producers. Tools such as blogs, wikis, and digitized archives offer new possibilities for delivering content, managing courses, structuring research and writing assignments, and organizing group work. Each of these possibilities also comes with a set of challenges that teachers must think through in order to most effectively integrate technology into their courses. Can and should teaching the history survey digitally challenge our notions of how and why such courses are important? We propose an essay that explores how college teachers can granularly and gradually integrate a range of digital tools and methods into introductory history courses, and what is to be gained by doing so. We’ll use our own failures and successes as models.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on June 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on June 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Mark Winokur on June 19th, 2011

      Hi, Kristen: Yes. Let me take as an example a paper I’m working on now. I’m playing with the idea that immersion as we understand the term for digital media was invented about 1250. Technologies of dimensionality (oil and canvas, photography, videogames) are glosses on that moment. The relevance of this notion for our discussion is that, digital media is not only not possible without previous technologies; those technologies themselves may originate from an odd epistemological change. So, though stunningly important, digital media is not an endpoint on any historical timeline that is larger than digital media itself; reductively articulated, digital media is a point somewhere in the middle of a hopefully infinite continuum of representations. To think otherwise is analogous to assuming that we live in the best of all possible worlds. Best, Mark

      Comment by Daniel Faltesek on June 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Shane Landrum on June 20th, 2011

      I really like this question. I hope to see more people engaging with it— especially around questions of improving coverage of minority or underrepresented-on-Wikipedia histories.
      (See, for example, WikiProject Women’s History. I started it, but due to the ‘real work’ of dissertation completion haven’t had time to do much with it, partially because I’m not actively teaching. This gets into some issues of what the academy considers “real” scholarship. Is engagement with Wikipedia be considered “legitimate” as professional service or as innovative teaching but not as peer-reviewed writing?)

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on June 20th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      Thanks for this essay idea, Jonathan, which now appears as #32 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      Interesting question, Leslie, which now appears as #33 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Shane Landrum on June 21st, 2011

      This is partially a proposal for an essay I’d like to write and partially a question to pull in a wider range of contributors. It relates to topics 3, 30, 33, 25, and others.

      As written, it’s targeted to Americanists (because that’s what I’m planning to write about) but mutatis mutandis, it could also be an appropriate question for scholars who work on minority histories or women within other national contexts, or on pre-19th-century periods.

      Digital Methods, Source Scarcity, and Unheard Voices


      For Americanist historians in the last 40 years, some of the most innovative approaches to source-scarcity problems have been pioneered by scholars working on women’s, African-American, and other minority histories. What is the current state of digital research methods in these subfields and why? By “digital methods,” I mean any of the following:

      the use of fulltext-search source databases (nonprofit and commercial; open-access and subscription-based)
      researcher-produced archival photography and/or researcher self-publication of primary sources
      optical character recognition (OCR) of publications or archival materials to build one’s own searchable collections of primary source materials
      use of geographic information systems (GIS) or other mapping systems (Google Maps, GeoCommons, etc) as exploratory tools
      other tools (describe them and explain what they’re useful for)

      How do digital methods modify source-scarcity problems in these subfields? What opportunities do they offer and what challenges do they pose in terms of institutional and personal resources, professional training, and/or pedagogy? What new kinds of questions can we ask and answer within these subfields using digital tools, and how are those digitally-enabled answers changing larger historical narratives?

      Digital methods and classroom diversity


      Another avenue of exploration for contributors might be around demographic diversity (of students and faculty) and the use of digital methods in the classroom. Access to one’s own computer at an early age– in the exploratory, experimental style known as “hacking”– is a privilege which isn’t often available to working-class, non-white, non-male students.

      To what extent does the “digital divide” (race/class, and to a lesser extent gender) affect who has the skills to do digital research in minority histories? How can we use courses in digital methods as ways to expose a broader range of students both to digital tools and to minority histories as an area of inquiry?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 21st, 2011

      Thanks for both essay ideas, Shane, which I have moved to the list as #34 and #35, to facilitate further discussion.

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 21st, 2011

      I wonder if diversity here can also extend to non-traditional-age students and scholars, who had no opportunity at computer play as young people, by default?  If all the digital history is done by people under 40, surely that leaves some topics under-addressed, and some areas of expertise and experience untapped?

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 21st, 2011

      Several biographical blog posts I wrote on Disability Studies, Temple U. (a group blog) became the nuclei of encyclopedia entries (in S. Burch, ed., The Encyclopedia of American Disability History, Facts on File 2009).  In those cases, blogging was a chance to play with topics, explore them a bit, seek additional sources and ideas, and find ways to write about them clearly, without committing immediately to a full-on research and writing project.  Maybe the history blog functions as a notebook of ideas, with the additional opportunities for immediate feedback and conversations?  I also think blogging history topics in the disability blogosphere draws me to the stories that offer insights for current issues, knowing that most of my readers aren’t historians or even academics, but community activists, writers, artists, policy folks, etc.

      Comment by Laura Zucconi on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Daniel Faltesek on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Stephen Robertson on June 21st, 2011

      Thinking of my own experience, I wonder if the “or” in this question obscures a key dimension of the practice of digital history, namely how employing digital tools for analysis leads to using digital tools for communication.  In my case creating Digital Harlem, a site mapping everyday life in Harlem, not only provoked a new spatial awareness, it also drew me into blogging, as a medium which allowed me to more effectively incorporate digitized sources and to elaborate ideas and evidence truncated in printed publications.  This link then becomes the starting point for conceiving digital history less bound by traditional practices.

      Comment by Penny Richards on June 22nd, 2011

      Note:  while there may be a leveling effect for academic historians, for independent scholars the move to subscription-only databases, especially for journals, has been frightening and excluding.  And that’s happening just at the time when many PhDs can expect to spend stretches of their careers without the academic affiliation that brings access to such materials.  This is a constant topic of conversation on H-Scholar (just search “JStor access,” one recurring subject line).  Yes, there are some public libraries that have good database access for patrons; but most don’t have what a historian off-campus would need to keep up with the field.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on June 22nd, 2011

      Some additional thoughts:
      1) Part of the payoff for rethinking the notion of an historical argument as the pinnacle of a scholarship hierarchy is a better pedagogical approach to the craft of history. The National Center for History in the Schools taxonomy of history skills is pretty clunky, which is not a statement about the NCHS staff competence so much as an observation that the skills taxonomy is a first cut at this. I see similar first-cut issues with the Canadian Historical Thinking project page on history skills.
      2) Mild irony: The National History Education Clearinghouse is an online project support by the Roy Rozensweig Center for History and New Media, and though the CHNM has also created a bunch of the non-argumentation-centered projects, the free poster one can get from the Clearinghouse is titled History Is an Argument about the Past (if you are a school teacher, you can click on the link and request the poster). There are some very good, approachable explanations of why primary sources are important to history, and a tiny bit of the poster devoted to knowledge about (what I think of currently as) slice-of-life knowledge (what was it like to live in year X). Would someone who read the poster agree that digital-history projects that are mostly map explorations constitute “real” history?
      3) Part of the reason to explore alternatives to history-as-argumentation is a way to bridge the gap between the occasional headline-grabbing NAEP scores on history (with NAEP’s multiple-choice format) and the standard professional yearning for students who can argue history. Otherwise, we have the uncomfortable task of saying, “Yes, we should be scandalized by the lack of history knowledge… but the NAEP test really isn’t about history as I know it because it doesn’t test argumentation skills.”

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on June 22nd, 2011

      I admire colleagues who take the time in a semester to use popularly-known resources such as Wikipedia and use them to teach about the broader issues of defining truth, the difference between credentials and expertise, and so forth. The pedagogical choices make me feel like I’m playing Whack-a-Mole given the limited time in a semester. Huzzah to Amanda!

      Comment by Kathryn_Tomasek on June 22nd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Shane Landrum on June 22nd, 2011

      Penny, this is a great point I hadn’t thought about. I think the answer might depend on what we mean by “digital history”. (See for example, the second-to-last paragraph of this essay by Mary Beth Norton on how keyword search changed her ability to write her most recent book.) The impact of researcher age and access to computer play would be one thing to think about.
      For research scholars, a related, but not quite the same, issue would be scholarly generations; when one finished the Ph.D. is likely to have an impact on the questions one thinks are worth asking. (I’ve got some unformed ideas about the good critical instincts of many pioneering women’s historians– especially around their skepticism of positivist approaches and some digital projects’ seeming embrace of positivism– that I haven’t yet quite found how to explain.)
      If past historiography is any guide, this trend means that we’re likely to see a bunch of scholars’ first books in upcoming years which do neat things with digital methods but which forget some of the analytical insights scholars had 30+ years ago. In the subfields I’ve itemized for this question, I think that would be particularly unfortunate.

      Comment by Shane Landrum on June 22nd, 2011

      If I understand your question correctly, you’re asking how prior exposure to and familiarity with computers (along demographic-diversity lines) might shape students’ and scholars’ abilities to understand new historical works and their significance within the scholarly literature. Offhand, I’d guess this might fall along a few different axes:

      The ability to read a project’s methods section and understand what the scholar did to get these results. (For example, a reader unfamiliar with “geocoding”– an algorithmic way of transferring a set of placename data onto a map– might get lost in the buzzwords of a spatial history project.) On the other hand, few historians currently write digital-methods appendices which go into heavily technical detail, which I’d argue is its own problem.
      The ability to understand how a current project’s methods are like (or unlike) methods used to answer similar questions 5, 10, or 30 years ago. (I think of this as the “what, new-social-history all over again?” issue.)
      The ability to detect flaws and holes (in sources, analysis, methods) when peer-reviewing a digital-methods or digitally-presented project

      Thanks for spurring some interesting brainstorming. I don’t think this is something I’m likely to write about, but I could easily see someone making the case for expanding methods-documentation requirements in light of wide disparities in technological literacy. It’s generally easy to know how to read someone’s footnotes and chase down their sources, but the same isn’t always true of digitally-researched projects.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 23rd, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 23rd, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jed Dobson on June 24th, 2011

      Hi, Jack,
      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.

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on June 24th, 2011

      Hi Jack and Kristen,
      I think of the writing of history along the lines of Michel de Certeau’s work, The Writing of History, where writing is the formulation of a practice and knowledge system.  Digital media, then potentially offers a different sociocultural milieu upon which the past has meaning.  At this point, the digital can reinforce existing practices or it can expose the historicity of those practices and open up new possibilities.  The latter raises questions about and the limitations of the way we conceive of data, categories, and narratives.  Also the primacy of the text. 

      The example is what gave me pause.  I am currently thinking of turning my project into a collaboratively authored monograph; unfortunately it is too soon to write about.  Perhaps I can extract from an essay that uses mobility as an organizing theme to bring in the multiple events, different relations, and heterogeneity of a moment in Meiji Japan.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on June 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Mark Winokur on June 26th, 2011

      Yes. The change in how we understand what we see in the thirteenth century has two effects on digital media and history. The first is a general effect: historically, digital media does not happen in the West without this change. (The Arabic science that informs this epistemic change does not move toward iconography as the West moves towards Renaissance perspective. Renaissance perspective is a kind of visual imperialism that is both analogue and abettor to the real thing, and an analogue to the imperialism of Western science, without which digital media does not get invented. The second effect is more immediate and local and more historiographic (more about how we understand and write history): when a new visual technology emerges, we fear and hope that visual knowledge will displace written or other kinds of knowledge. This is the issue behind religious iconoclasm, the fear of the “culture industry,” and now the illiteracy that we fear the GUI will impose on young people, who will look at online pictures rather than read books. This displacement of prose by the visual is part of the disappearance of history that critics like Fredric Jameson fear is the hallmark of contemporary industrialized societies.
      What is the effect of all of this on the doing of history through or of new media? 1. It should make historians want to understand better the difference between reading the book and reading the GUI. For example, while most of the discussions here assume the efficacy of online education, I see no research discussion that interrogates this assumption. And it is a big assumption. 2. Historians of New Media itself should be talking about Arab science more. [Editor’s Note: This has been moved to new topic #40 on the list of potential essay themes at left.-KDN]

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 27th, 2011

      Thanks for clarifying, Stefan. I have moved your essay idea to #37 on the list.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 27th, 2011

      Thanks, Jed. Your idea now appears as #38 on the list.

      Comment by Laura Zucconi on June 27th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 27th, 2011

      Thanks for your essay idea, which I’ve moved to #39 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ryan Shaw on June 27th, 2011

      Knowledge Organization as Historical Practice
      I’d like to propose a chapter, partially inspired by John Theibault’s comment above, on “Knowledge Organization as Historical Practice.”
      History is knowledge organization. In The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault wrote that history is one specific way a society orients itself to the “mass of documentation” upon which it depends. History is a way of recognizing documents (including material culture) as survivals from the past and as the potential basis for inquiries about that past. With the goal of answering these inquiries, “history … organizes the document, divides it up, distributes it, orders it, arranges it in levels, establishes series, distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not, discovers elements, defines unities, describes relations” (Foucault 1972). These are of course the core activities of knowledge organization as practiced by the librarian, archivist, and curator, the professionals that Robert Berkhofer, in his Fashioning History, calls “historians of first resort.”
      Knowledge organization is history. A tool for knowledge organization such as a subject classification is a kind of history of some domain of cultural or intellectual development, though it is rarely recognized as such. Robert Fairthorne, in his discussion of the temporal structure of bibliographical classification (1974), demonstrated that the knowledge organizer faces problems, similar to those faced by the historian, of constructing comprehensible patterns from sets of documents. Michael Buckland claimed that all information retrieval is historical information retrieval, due to the temporal separation of authors and searchers and the obsolescent nature of all information resources and conceptual frameworks.
      The demands and constraints of our technologies and techniques of knowledge organization have tended to obscure these connections, reinforcing the artificial separation of history and knowledge organization. The scholar’s index cards recording chronologies, rubber-banded and stored in file boxes and could not be easily connected to the cards in the library’s card catalog, the dog-eared pages of the archival finding aid, or museum’s adhesive labels. The ongoing move to networked digital information systems is changing this situation, and in process eroding the institutional boundaries we have erected between “historians” and “knowledge organizers.” Given these changes, some key challenges emerge. How might conceptualizations developed by historians be operationalized for use in networked systems of knowledge organization? And how might designers and implementers of knowledge organization systems better acknowledge the historically situated nature of their work, and bring to it a degree of reflectiveness similar to that achieved by historians?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 27th, 2011

      Thanks for your contribution, Ryan, which now appears as #41 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on June 27th, 2011

      This is a fascinating proposal, one that I believe dovetails nicely with what I’ve proposed in #21. Although written from different perspectives, the two proposals share concerns about who writes history in the digital age and why. Both also want to explore how professional historians do/should react to the democratization of knowledge that digital tech (Wikipedia, Ancestry.com, etc.) entails. I can easily see the two proposals as foundations for back-to-back chapters.

      Comment by Julie Judkins on June 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on June 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 28th, 2011

      Interesting essay idea, Fred, to which I’ve added a temporary title and moved to #42 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on June 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 28th, 2011

      Looking forward to reading more on this topic, Ansley, which I’ve moved to #43 on the list.

      Comment by fred gibbs on June 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Trevor Owens on June 28th, 2011

      Toward New Genres of Historical Writing: Typical history scholarship describes causation in narrative form, usually published in monographs and academic journals. We argue that the traditional forms of and venues for historical writing are no longer sufficient for the scholarly work being done with historical data/texts now available online and the new methodologies used to interrogate them. Instead, we examine the need for and legitimacy of new genres of historical writing, including technical tutorials, blog posts, short exploratory essays, etc., that deemphasize narrative in favor of interfacing with, exploring, and then making sense of data–that is, the hermeneutics of data. Such writing will foreground the new historical methods to manipulate text/data coming online, including data queries and manipulation, and the production and interpretation of visualizations. We also argue that such new kinds of writing and exercises should be required of all historians in training–not just in digital history courses–to best use the new kinds of historical sources/data that have opened up new avenues of inquiry for virtually every field.
      If this sounds interesting it would be coauthored by Fred Gibbs and I.

      Comment by fred gibbs on June 28th, 2011

      +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.

      Comment by Daniel Faltesek on June 28th, 2011


      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.

      Comment by Sarah Manekin on June 29th, 2011

      The Accountability Partnership: Our iconic image of a historian remains the scholar laboring in isolation, pouring forth pages of beautifully crafted prose.  But what happens when that isolation becomes too isolating and those pages of prose simply don’t pour out?  The task of writing history is challenging, especially in the early years of a career – during the dissertation and first book – when the work is still new and the obstacles unfamiliar. But how has the Digital Age altered those challenges? Most centrally, how might it offer new strategies for overcoming them?  The broad purposes of our essay are to interrogate the growing literature on “teaching” young scholars how to write – the actual sitting down and putting words to page part – and to propose specific strategies that harness technology to help facilitate the writing process.  Building on our previously published essay, Natalia Mehlman Petrzela and I will examine the various writing strategies presented in Dissertation Writing guidebooks and various university-sponsored support services and then focus on our own experience of using a daily, online “Accountability Partnership” during the final two years of our dissertation writing.  We expect that our experience will both echo and augment many of these traditional strategies while offering new possibilities for using technology.  Like many other articles proposed for this collection, ours is concerned with how the task of writing history has changed in the Digital Age.  Rather than focusing on the changing nature of archives and the challenges of data collection and organization, we want to understand how technology can alter the psychological and emotional aspects of the writing process.  This understanding has obvious implications for budding historians and their advisors, but it also transcends disciplinary boundaries with important implications for scholars across the Academy.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Many thanks, Daniel. Your essay idea now appears as #44 for further discussion.

      Comment by Allison Ruda on June 29th, 2011

      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)

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Thanks Trevor and Fred for this interesting essay idea, which now appears as #45 on the list.

      Comment by Alex Cummings on June 29th, 2011


      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Your essay idea now appears as #46 on the list, Sarah and Natalia. Looking forward to reading more.

      Comment by Nancy Friedland on June 29th, 2011

      The Walking Tour Goes Mobile
      Guided walking tours can provide a unique experience for an individual or group to better understand a particular place and time. Through a narrative, tour guides provide the path through history with focus on multiple historical aspects including the culture, demographics, historical movements, defining events, architecture, and more. Guests of the tour expect to witness remnants of the historical place and time by viewing the existing buildings, landmarks, and cultural artifacts.
      Today, mobile technology is an accepted platform for access to more and more information content. What if there were a means to bring the rich experience of a walking tour to a mobile device? What if anyone with an iPhone could easily access a walking tour on the spot? What if anyone with an iPhone wanted to tell and share their own story or history about a particular city or neighborhood? Technology has made this possible through a new app for the iPhone that supports the creation and access of walking tours anywhere in the world.
      In this paper, I plan to discuss the experience of creating walking tours, or local histories, for the app and how technology has also made possible the extraordinary access to historical records through full-text searching of newspapers and projects such as Digital Harlem.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Thanks for your essay idea, Allison and Shaunna, which now appears as #47 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Thanks, Alex. Your essay idea now appears as #48 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Nancy, thanks for your essay idea, which I have moved to #49 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Jenny Presnell and Sara Morris on June 29th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Marcin Wilkowski on June 29th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      Great topic, Jenny and Sara, which now appears as #50 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Mills Kelly on June 29th, 2011

      I wrote a whole series of posts on this issue a few years ago that generated a fair amount of comment (including someone accusing me of being a “renegade blogger”, a title I’m quite proud of still). I think for this idea to work, the author(s) would need access to the H-Net server logs/traffic data. These data must be available in some way, because Matrix is part of Michigan State University, a public agency. Without such data, the answer to the question in the title has to remain in the realm of speculation (as was the case in my series of posts). I went to the trouble of mining (by hand) traffic on several lists and documented some real decline in traffic on three of the four I picked. But those are just a small subset of the H-Net universe. I think all the traffic data would need to be examined to get a clear picture of what’s really going on there. My guess is they will be reluctant to share these data if the numbers are not positive, but I could be wrong.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 29th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Marcin Wilkowski on June 29th, 2011

      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 (like in the Twitter archive) limited by official API settings, privacy regulations, etc. Think at least about the case of analog exclusion – when not only your tech-savvy students prefer to use papers and sources available easily online rather than to search for them in a library and in traditional books.
      If Google becomes a primary interface of accessing knowledge on the internet, how does it influence accessing and using historical facts? Maybe – like in the “Library of Babel” – it is only a case of asking the question and choosing the right keywords to search for – and Google gives us an almost infinite spectrum of interpretations, facts and quotes. In this way, one can easy build his own vision of the past.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 30th, 2011


      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)

      Comment by Lisa Spiro on June 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on June 30th, 2011

      An intriguing essay idea, Lisa, which now appears as #51 on the list.

      Comment by Mills Kelly on June 30th, 2011

      Writing History in Chunks: Ever since Herodotus began scratching out his Histories more than 2,500 years ago, historians have been writing linear text that is narrative in both form and content. Because form and content are separable in the digital environment, digital writing simply is not the same as writing for print. With the advent of technologies like XML and CSS, the form that historians’ writing takes is now entirely malleable, which might make one think that the data structures undergirding our work matter less. In fact, they matter more. We all know that production values count in the digital realm in ways they do not in print, but only rarely do we write in pixels with issues of form in the forefront of our consciousness. We propose a chapter that considers what it means for historians to write differently than they have for the past two millennia. If we were constrained by a more generous character limit than the 140 imposed by Twitter—say 500, 600, or 700 characters—how would our writing change? Will the chunking of text that is so essential to good writing for online spaces change the way we make history? What happens to the making of history if, while we write a series of 600 character chunks, others are commenting on them? Who owns those comments and how are they incorporated into our analysis? Does the nature of our analysis and argument change if those chunks are rearranged according to the ways they are marked up? What happens to history when we permit and encourage others to reuse and re-purpose our work in a variety of ways? And what if we invite others to do more than comment? What if we invite them to add their own text or mark up ours? Is the social compact between author and reader that Roy Rosenzweig described in the middle of the last decade broken or enhanced by these opportunities? We propose not only to address these difficult questions, but also to create an interface through the WordPress publishing platform that facilitates this sort of short form writing about the past. (Suggested by Mills Kelly and Jeremy Boggs)

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 30th, 2011

      Thanks for this essay proposal, which is now #52 on our list.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 30th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Austin Mason on June 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Austin Mason on June 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Rob Nelson, Scott Nesbit, and Andrew J. torget on June 30th, 2011

      Citation, Metadata, and the Undergraduate History Essay:

      Metadata has long been at the center of historical writing, though historians usually call it citations.  And it is this metadata, at base, that gives historical writing so much of its power by connecting our work both to the original sources and to the ideas of other historians, thus advancing the conversation that is historiography.  Digital media presents opportunities for both citations and other kinds of metadata to take on increasingly greater significance in historical scholarship.  Our essay would explore some of these opportunities by considering the role of metadata in the History Engine (http://historyengine.richmond.edu), an online project containing thousands of historical vignettes about the American past. Each semester for the past several years, undergraduate students from colleges and universities across the continent have researched, written, and contributed these vignettes—what we call “episodes”—to the History Engine.  Much of their writing process remains fairly conventional, and their episodes retain all the hallmarks of traditional historical writing: close analysis, attention to historical context, citation of source materials, etc.  What differentiates a History Engine episode from a traditional history essay is the additional metadata that each student authors to describe her episode, metadata that specifies when it happened, where it happened, and its key topics.  This metadata immediately places her work into conversation the work of others in the History Engine.  It allows each episode to be linked into a larger network, connected to other historical episodes that happened near the same time, near the same place, and involved similar issues. The benefits of thinking about historical writing with metadata beyond the citation are still emerging, yet we see three: students can quickly engage with their peers writing about the same time and place across the country; historians and others can find citations to the sometimes-obscure primary sources simply by navigating the database by using the metadata visualizations; and all who come to the project can explore visualizations (maps, timelines, and tag clouds) generated not from the text of episodes but from their metadata.  This final benefit strikes us as having the most significant potential implications.  As metadata becomes a customary component of historical writing increasing opportunities emerge for distant or computational readings of large subsets of historical writing that might provide us a broader view of the past and our study of the past.

      Comment by Miriam Posner on June 30th, 2011

      Historiography and Interface Design
      There’s no shortage of scholarship on how the form of historical writing affects its meaning. From Herodotus to Hayden White, historiographers have alternately embraced and abandoned scholarly forms like narrative, biography, and postmodernist discursions.
      But what if the scholarship is digital and interactive? That is to say, what if the scholarly product requires the “reader” to engage electronically with the work? Such is the case with any number of digital scholarly projects, but we haven’t yet developed a robust critical apparatus for evaluating the form and design of these works. What importance, for example, should we place on ease of use? Should a challenging idea require a challenging interface? Is “transparency” — the impression of an invisible interface — a desirable characteristic, or a deceptive effacing of method?
      In this essay, I propose to consider a range of digital scholarly works, from the Trans-Atlantic Slave Voyages Database to the Vectors journal. I’ll consider both how previous historiography might inform our understanding of these projects and whether we should develop a new historiographical vocabulary to suit these new scholarly objects.

      Comment by Susan Garfinkel on June 30th, 2011

      It seems to me there’s a lot to be learned here from the literary use of hypertext (and perhaps the disappearance of hypertext fiction as a genre) as well as many of the newer methods used by writers of electronic literature to convey their ideas to online audiences. In particular, are there ways to suggest connections between events, people, ideas, images, etc. without stating them directly in words? Is it possible to be qualitative rather than quantitative even as you engage in manipulating discrete entities of “data”?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on June 30th, 2011

      I agree with Kristen that we should publish because we wish to share our ideas but often publish because traditional print venues (books and scholarly journals) form the basis for decisions about renewal, promotion, tenure, merit pay, sabbatical leaves, grants, etc. To answer Jack’s question, certainly my eyes were drawn to the possibility of publication under the auspices of a traditional university press. At the same time, the initial interest lay in the possibility of participating in a valuable conversation within the discipline, and knowing that my thoughts (if accepted) will be widely disseminated because the publisher will maintain open access. I know from conversations with my own dean that she struggles to determine how to determine the merits of scholarly contributions that can be read for free on the Internet. (Fwiw, this project has also led me to work on my own proposal for U Mich Press.) It seems the best of both worlds — a traditional academic imprint plus open access. How much better could it get?

      Comment by Sandra Gabriele on June 30th, 2011

      I’m a bit puzzled by the either/or proposition of the question altogether. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would mean to launch a truly born-digital, intermedia historical production. It could use any number of platforms–iPad app, website, etc. But it ought to take advantage of the possibilities of *not* choosing between print and video. Why not both? Imagine the possibility of capitalizing on the visual when it best suits the narrative. But I would suggest that there should be a compelling reason to choose dramatizing/visualizing something over narrativitizing it in print. Doing intermedia production forces these issues: *why* choose a particular medium over another to tell a story? Another issue that arises in tackling a project of this nature — if it is to be done right — is the need to involve a team of people to create the history, not a single “author.” Would this count as much as a single-authored monograph book in a tenure setting? Depends on your department, to my mind. I come from a Communication Studies department that has film/video/intermedia artists who have the experience, protocols and willingness to evaluate what we call “research creation” as a valid form of scholarly output. But I’m certain that’s not the case everywhere, as Poe suggested in his original post.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on June 30th, 2011

      I sometimes wonder whether digital history conversations will finally allow historians to fulfill the early promise of H-Net. At first, H-Net seemed to be the place where scholars could tackle issues/questions collaboratively. I seem to remember symposia on particular themes, some of which may still live on in H-Net’s archives. Yet H-Net rapidly became more of a bulletin board for conference cfps, book reviews, and fairly narrow research questions. Will digital media — such as this project — replace the journal special issue, or the specialized conference? Probably not, but I think you point to a future in which scholarly conversations might become more democratic and reach broader audiences.

      Have you considered discussing some of these issues in more explicitly generational terms? As someone trained in the 90s, I still remember historians who swore they would never use a computer. Now I think we pretty much all use a computer, but for many of us it’s just a fancy writing implement. It would be very interesting to think of best practices for training grad students in the digital age.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on June 30th, 2011


      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.

      Comment by Sandra Gabriele on June 30th, 2011

      Thanks Ryan, Christopher and Penny for these comments. They touch on EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking through for some time now. I’d be interested in writing about the newspaper database as a form of both inclusiveness and exclusion. The essay I would like to propose would begin by considering Lev Manovich’s argument that the database constitutes a fundamental shift in the organizing principles of culture from linear, often chronological narratives to programmable, nonlinear arrays of data. Manovich’s observations about database logic are essential for a consideration of what happens to the newspaper in networked digital culture. As microfilm, the newspaper remains a modern cultural object: linear, chronological and photographically fixed as a singular title, tied to a specific geographic location and community of readers. Newspaper databases operate by a different logic altogether, where algorithms define the dynamic arrangement of individual elements on a virtual page that is potentially different for every reader. Connecting the database to the Internet or other networks, moreover, creates a global audience. The temporal and spatial arrangements that once dominated how one read a newspaper (on paper or microfilm) are disrupted by networked databases, which make local small-town papers as available — and potentially interesting as research objects — as major metropolitan papers.

      Networked databases facilitate the creation of large data sets, and comparative research across larger geographic regions, as is. Access is seemingly infinite. But many of these newspaper databases are created and managed by corporations, making access to them contingent on a range of factors. What becomes evident is that the interest that for-profit corporations take in digitizing and databasing documents in the public domain is not always congruent with the public good.

      This paper will focus on the recent announcement by Google News that it would stop supporting its historical newspaper selections. Google had earlier launched partnerships with ProQuest and Heritage Microfilm to digitize their collections. Google also bought Cold North Wind’s Paper of Record collection. What makes this particular case so interesting is that Cold North Wind had acquired its Canadian content through an agreement with the Canadian Library Association for access to its microfilmed newspaper collection. The complicated weaving of access from public institutions to a series of private corporations reiterates what Roy Rosenzweig described as “the fragility of evidence in the digital era,” as many researchers suddenly found they could no longer access archives upon which they had based on their research. The paper will consider the epistemological and democratic potentials lost and gained by this changing form. As this case demonstrates, how we access our documentary heritage matters. What’s at stake in the forms that our history takes, and who controls access to them, is more than just the writing of history, but also of our future.

      Comment by Oscar Rosales Castaneda on June 30th, 2011

      In the Digital History Age, it is possible to introduce historical narratives that had previously been neglected and or marginalized. I hope to write an essay on the evolution of the “Chicana/o History Project in Washington State” in the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History project and how it has profoundly impacted and contested not only the American Southwest-Centric Chicana/o and Mexican American History Discipline, but also the larger narrative on social history and movements within the scope of traditional historical disciplines. Given the demographic shift on the Pacific Coast with Latinos now being the largest ethnic minority and the previous marginalization of the history of social movements of people of color in the Pacific Northwest, the Chicana/o Movement Project has influenced not only how Mexican American history is taught, but also brought this regional narrative out from the academic margins and has led to increased interest in Mexican American historical research in the State of Washington.
      Oscar Rosales Castaneda

      Comment by Robert Wolff on June 30th, 2011

      I want — as the editors often say — to push back a bit here. I think it entirely possible that future works of history might emerge as “video [or digital] monographs” but this proposal seems to conflate two things — audience and medium. Who is the audience for scholarly historical research? If the audience is a wider public (and not just other academics), then a video/digital medium will be the best way to reach it. But that’s a big if (as Marshall Poe surely realizes). What’s radical here is not the proposal that “scholarly information” can be disseminated by video, but that it should target a wider audience.

      Just Because It’s Digital Doesn’t Make it Different
      In our work on a website combining interpretive content with primary sources material in order to illustrate two 20th century civil rights events in Philadelphia, we have periodically speculated about the project’s purpose and impact.  Have we ‘published’ the digital equivalent of a 20th century textbook without taking advantage of news tools and functionalities that would enhance the user’s experience?  Are the two sides of the site–interpretation/context and primary source material–separated because of traditional definitions and roles?  Are historians still driving content and archivists still serving up the raw material of history?  Will users find ways to work across these two silos in ways that tradition and technology has not yet allowed us to do?  Have we supplied too much context and is it impeding creative use of the source materal?  Will the digitized raw material survive long beyond the front matter?  Will users repurpose the arhhival material in ways we haven’t considered?  How can we encourage and measure user empowerment?  How can we make the site truly interactive and stop talking to ourselves?  We need to explore how digital humanities projects can use the digital environment to make the user experience different/better and what other discplines and communities (such as the scientific community and their successful use of crowdsourcing) are doing that might work for us.
       

      Comment by Jean Bauer on June 30th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Anna Smith on June 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Tom Harbison on July 1st, 2011

      Thanks for your question, Jack.  Yes, we have taught similar courses without these digital tools and expect to use the comparative experience to guide our analysis.  Between different generations of the courses, student engagement with one another and the course material appeared to increase dramatically, and some portion of this change can be  attributed to the addition of communication technologies.  The addition of digital tools to the course has made the process of students’ historical study much more transparent, creating new opportunities for assessment of students learning and adjustment of teaching methods to meet learning goals.  Yet we have not done a diagnostic assessment of student writing before and after integrating these tools, so at this point are hesitant about making any bold claims specific to student performance.

      Comment by Marcin Wilkowski on July 1st, 2011

      I browsed the topics you suggested and in some ways they do concern the same issues as my proposal does. In point 7 I would add the problem of the historical monography model suggested lately by Ann Rigney in History and Theory (http://bit.ly/kCHSb7) or earlier by Edward L. Ayers (http://bit.ly/bkAiOC) in his article from 1999.

      In topics connected with democratisation of history writing based on digital archives and crowdsourcing models I would also discuss the idea of the participatory archive by Isto Huvila.

      Morover, I’d like to see the democratising of  history research in the digital age in a cultural context wider than just crowdsourcing or open access. I like Pierre Lévy’s perspective of the new digital universality, which is accepting everything, unlike the previous one, which controls an orthodoxy and defines heretical margins. In such a new cultural environment all expressions about the past have the same rights to be visible and used. Google accepts everything…

      I wonder how the digital universality can influence the model of historical writing, not only the way we access history (using wide spectrum of sources, listening to diffrent easily accessible experiences etc). I can see an interesting problem here. What can constitute history? How should we investigate contemporary digital history and how should we set margins of historical interests in this perspective? What can constitute history on the internet? Can a politician blog note or Second Life event be regarded as a historical fact? (see Megan Winget works for a bit of inspiration http://bit.ly/WeJQF). How should we describe them?  Can we think about historical work based mostly on digital born sources?

      I recommend also projects such as BBC Domesday (http://bbc.in/iNbUb9). Can you imagine a  historian building such a project to collect digital sources about a future event as a part of his research?

      I am not determined to set up a new topic of your essay – I only want to show possible new perspectives of what may be included in it.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      Thanks to all three of you, Rob, Scott, and Andrew. Your essay idea is #54 on the list.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      Great questions, Miriam. Your essay idea now appears as #55 on the list.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      Your essay idea now appears as #57 on the list, Oscar, for readers to discuss.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      Margery and Hillary, your essay idea has been posted as #58 on the list for further discussion.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      Thoughtful questions, Jean, and thanks for drawing connections to other essays. Your idea now appears as #59 on the list.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Trudi Abel on July 1st, 2011

      This semester, I co-taught an undergraduate class called Digital Durham with my colleague Victoria Szabo, who is director of our Information Science + Information Studies program at Duke.  I have a longstanding interest in using technology to engage undergraduates in authentic research with primary sources.  Through collaborating with a colleague who has a deep interest in GIS, we created a course where students engaged with raw materials–census data, city directory data, store ledger, photographs and early 20th c. school Board of Education reports–and mined these materials to write an analysis of their topics which ranged from African American business enterprise, to the history of Durham’s segregated schools.  We had students who were technology novices (with one exception) and they each produced a Google Earth representation of their research.  These Google Earth files helped each student see patterns in her raw data and helped her write with authority on the individual topic that she had selected.
      I think GIS has a great deal to offer undergraduates–both majors and non majors as well as faculty and would love to see a chapter that focused on the theme Hilary offered.

      Comment by Trudi Abel on July 1st, 2011

      Will the mass digitization of primary source materials help historians and their students conduct historical research or will the abundance of imaged materials without finding aids and transcriptions and keyword searches be pointless?  There are a number of trends developing in the world of archives and libraries and there doesn’t always seem to be coordination between librarians and academics and vice versa.  There is pressure, for instance, to mass digitize primary sources as they come into libraries so as to provide quicker access to materials. Some of the greatest costs in archival repositories is that expended on organizing and describing materials. If libraries invest in mass digitization, they can put materials out for patrons to see, but libraries/archives will have to do this without providing detailed finding aids that many of us have used in the past. Patrons will have to make their own transcriptions and do their own searching in manuscript material to make sense of enormous collections of digitized manuscripts.
      There are some notable success stories of collaboration between librarians and academics and academics and librarians but I often wonder if there could be more success stories.
      What if people talked to each other before they introduced new technology?
      Thirteen years ago, I started the Digital Durham Project at Duke University. The library did not have a digital production center at the time. It did house a new Center for Instructional Technology. I drew on grant funding to create a website of digitized primary source material relating to Durham’s post Civil War history.  This was a collaborative project that drew on the expertise of CIT folks, Special Collections Librarians and in 2005 digital production center staff.
      It would be interesting to know from other folks engaged in digital history (especially in recent years) how they have created their collaborations and how have they gained support for their initiatives.
       
       

      Comment by Trudi Abel on July 2nd, 2011

      Last summer, I used grant funding to create a five-week summer learning initiative for at-risk middle school students in the Walltown neighborhood of Durham, North Carolina. The Walltown Neighborhood History Project was a collaborative project—it drew on the University, a neighboring charter school, and a host of other institutions. I wanted to teach students how to investigate the roots of their school’s historically-black working class neighborhood while learning key computer skills that are crucial for succeeding in the 21st century economy. Over the course of the summer, students learned about life in Durham in the 1930s through working with federal census data. Later, they used this data to make a digital reconstruction of their historic neighborhood with Google Earth. Students also used census data to research one particular household in 1930s Walltown. They then presented their research and the interactive digital map that they map of the community at the Nasher Museum of Art. Representatives of the community spoke with the children after their presentation and some of them (much to everyone’s surprise) were directly descended from the individuals that the students had researched.
      I share Mark Tebeau’s interest in bridging the town/gown divide with digital history projects. For more information on the Walltown Neighborhood History Project, see Duke Engage Maps Walltown; also Students Uncover Walltown History. For more information about the Digital Durham Project, see http://digitaldurham.duke.edu

      Comment by Martha Saxton on July 2nd, 2011

      The article that I am thinking about, with Scott Payne, my co-author and a technology expert and two recent students, will explore aspects of collaborative work in the digital world as students contribute work to Wikipedia. In my survey of U.S. women’s history I ask students to critique an article in Wikipedia for its content, sources and tone, and for their final project, they  edit significantly an established article or develop one on their own. Two of the purposes are to increase the presence of historical material on women in the encyclopedia and to teach students about the careful creation of historical knowledge, but the third and more complex purpose is to introduce them to negotiating over their  production  of historical knowledge. Scott helps students to understand and navigate the preliminary protocol necessary for editing “established” articles that are usually patrolled by several self-appointed editors. Our students encounter cooperation or resistance depending on their selection of topic and their intended contribution. The article will discuss the collaborations between students and the editors whose preferences and ideologies “protect” the perimeters of many Wikipedia entries. It will also explore the experience students have writing material over which they do not have complete control, for an unknown public, rather than a relatively predictable professor. And, finally, there is the question of evaluating the significance of contributing to an encyclopedia that is by nature subject to the pressures of popular opinion and memory (see essay 21). What is gained and what is lost in the exchanges over content and tone that can precede the editing of entries with material that can be viewed ideologically? What do we learn about our history?
      Martha Saxton

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 3rd, 2011


      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 3rd, 2011


      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?

      Comment by Sandra Gabriele on July 3rd, 2011

      Thanks for your question, Kristen, and for pulling this back to the central theme of the book! Yes, I’m interested in the conditions within which historical writing can take place. What I’m proposing is an analysis of the politicization of knowledge, which, as Harold Innis has argued, always occurs when monopolies of information are created. In some ways, the issue is even bigger than the question of access. But what I think is worth analyzing is the way that the question is *framed* as one of access. For instance, if you take a look at the Google Forum pages when Google took over PaperofRecord.com’s holdings, the issue is discussed solely within the purview of Google “doing no harm,” which is close to their ostensible motto (“Don’t be evil’). But the entire conversation lacked any serious consideration of a more fundamental question: what does it mean to leave part of our documentary heritage in the hands of a private corporation? How does the shift from a conception of the newspaper record as a public good (i.e. a library holding) to a private good, to be sold bit by bit, impact the way we write history?

      Comment by Peter Haber on July 4th, 2011

      Essay Proposal: Data Driven History: Writing History by the Numbers? At the present time, writing history means reading sources and secondary literature, analyzing images, making excerpts and then, finally, writing a text with an introduction, arguments and a conclusion. The product is a linear text, possibly with some illustration, tables and a lot of footnotes. In the context of Digital History it seems to be possible that this setting might change. For a year or two we can keep track of an increasing amount of historically relevant digital data, downloadable online in a machine readable form. The best known example is the Ngram Viewer from Google to analyze the immense bulk of digitized books according to statistical distribution and patterns. Similar gateways are accessible from JSTOR, Hathitrust and other data collectors. What are their implications for writing history?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kevin J. Brehony on July 4th, 2011

      ‘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.

      Comment by Trudi Abel on July 4th, 2011

      Youth and Digital History
      What happens when a cultural historian teams up with an undergraduate engineer to develop a summer school learning experience for  at-risk middle-school students?  Can digital history help middle-school students gain the technology skills they need to succeed in the 21st century as well as an appreciation for the past?
      Walltown is a historically-black working-class community that lies north of Duke University’s East Campus in Durham, North Carolina. George Wall, the community’s founder, was a former slave who moved to Durham in the 1890s to serve as a custodian for Trinity College. Wall’s family resided near Trinity College and eventually other working-class African Americans settled on adjoining lots. Today, the Walltown neighborhood is in the throes of revitalization—home ownership rates are rising, crime rates have fallen. One challenge remains, however.  A report from 2009 reveals that only 43% of Walltown households polled by One Economy owned a computer while 33% had internet access. By comparison, U.S. Census Bureau reveals that 62% of American households owned computers in 2003 and 55% had internet access. The statistics gathered by One Economy and U.S. Census Bureau together with testing data from the state of North Carolina are strong reminders that the digital divide persists in Durham.  We know, from Department of Public Instruction data, that there has been almost a 25% difference in proficiency rates between white and black males on the state-mandated computer skills test for eighth graders.
      Drawing on the support of university, community, and corporate resources, I created a five-week summer learning experience in digital history for at-risk middle-school students at a local charter school.  I designed the Walltown Neighborhood History Project to address the expressed needs of the Walltown community whose members sought quality summer enrichment activities for their youth. I wanted to create an educational experience through which students built their competencies in technology skills,  while also developing expertise in working with primary materials like federal census data and historic maps.  The Walltown Neighborhood History Project provided students a foundation in local history together with instruction in core technology skills such as word processing, databases, and spreadsheets—as well as instruction in web 2.0 tools like Google Earth and VoiceThread.  At the close of the summer program, students made a public presentation of their interactive map of historic Walltown to members of the Durham community, including several descendants of George Wall.
       
       

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ellen Noonan on July 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte Rochez on July 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 6th, 2011

      Thanks for this essay idea, Charlotte, which now appears as #67 on the list.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 6th, 2011

      See my proposal and comment at #56) below.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on July 7th, 2011

      How will the new database allow readers to evaluate historians’ work?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on July 7th, 2011

      Beyond historians and archivists, are the users of the site also locked into a traditional role as consumers of the information? It’s a fascinating site (especially for someone with Philly family roots). I think the questions that you raise confront quite a few of us as we try to think outside the box.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on July 8th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on July 10th, 2011

      That’s a pretty good title for what I’m thinking. I’m not so much arguing (oh, dear, here’s an argument) that arguments are not at the center of history or what we want to teach as historical thinking so much as recognizing the critical functions in what is often portrayed as more circumscribed work. Let me put some flesh on this, since we’re into July: A number of websites that I think of as historical can focus on specific people, artifacts (both primary sources and material history artifacts), the background of life in specific times and places, and events broadly defined (things that occurred in specific spaces and times). Much of this work is extraordinarily difficult to carry on but isn’t prized by a monographic perspective on writing.
      Yet it’s often these non-argumentative foci that’s what draws people into puzzles and broader questions. So while people are often drawn into thinking about history through biographical perspectives, that’s not always prized by a monograph-centered culture (most easily framed for monograph publication as a “life and times” framework). We have Critical Editions and Edited Papers of, but they don’t get Bancroft Prizes. We want students to wallow in social history and love when children ask “what was life like in…” questions, but I’ve heard “antiquarian” or “reenactor” used too often to refer to non-historian fellow citizens who are entranced by those issues. And the worst type of test and textbook we can imagine is fact-and-date oriented, though we don’t cringe TOO much at the news reporting of the latest NAEP scores since at least our discipline was mentioned, and many of us think Sarah Palin is uneducated for not understanding Paul Revere’s ride (one lantern if by SUV, two by motorboat?).
      I think that’s enough ranting for a Sunday…

      Comment by Jeff McClurken on July 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on July 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on July 21st, 2011

      This topic has been moved to our list of proposed essays, where it appears at #68).

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on July 25th, 2011

      I don’t want to sign up to Google Docs if I can avoid it&mdash;I try and avoid passing them any more information about myself than they already have&mdash;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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on July 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on July 25th, 2011

      Done. But a GDocs account is not required to view or edit this document.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on July 25th, 2011

      Ah! But cookies must be enabled, it seems. That was why I couldn’t see it. Thankyou.

      Comment by Lisa Spiro on August 5th, 2011

      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.

      Just a note that I’m not going to be be able to write an essay for mid-August on this (or any) topic, so nobody worry about overlap or anything.  I hope to rejoin the project as a commenter once school is back in session.

      Comment by JackTest3 on August 8th, 2011

      testing comment on Chrome for Mac

      Comment by Ryan Shaw on August 8th, 2011

      Just wanted to let you know that although I submitted an idea to the Writing History site, I will not be submitting an essay. But I enjoyed reading the discussion online and look forward to the book!

      Comment by Charlotte Rochez on August 12th, 2011

      This essay will not be submitted at this time. With apologies, Charlotte Rochez

      Comment by Alex Galarza on August 16th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Margery Sly on August 18th, 2011

      We are withdrawing our proposal in order to gather more data about use of the site (which just went live in June) and due to job changes.

      Comment by Rob Nelson on August 19th, 2011

      Regrettably, we weren’t able to write this essay before the deadline.  We would have liked to have contributed to the volume.  I’m sure it will be great.

  • The Wikiblitz (Graham) Fall 2011 (69 comments)

    • Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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.
       

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      “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?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      “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?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on October 1st, 2011

      In addition to Amanda’s questions, I’m curious about the instructions you provided students as they began their foray into the Wikipedia. How did you discuss NPOV in class before the Wikiblitz? Did you talk about what kinds of sources Wikipedians would accept as authoritative?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on October 1st, 2011

      Perhaps a footnote could explain how you created the time-lapse video. That’s certainly an idea that I would want to copy in my own teaching about the Wikipedia.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on October 1st, 2011

      Which bot edited the page, and (if known) why? I find the bots really fascinating. You might be interested in the following book chapter (the hyperlink will take you to a PDF; if not a Google search will get you there): R. Stuart Geiger, “The Lives of Bots,” in Geert Lovink, and Nathaniel Tkacz, eds., Critical Point of View: A Wikipedia Reader, Institute of Network Cultures Reader 7 (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2011), 78-93.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 1st, 2011

      Hi Amanda,
      In general terms, I was thinking about the wide public accessibility of digital media. But I also believe that no password, no paywall, ultimately keeps digital information private. Things – especially digital things – have a habit of leaking out. In which case, we should behave *as if* our materials will ultimately have a public audience. I sometimes take students to see youropenbook.org as an example of how porous Facebook can be, for instance.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 1st, 2011

      Hi Robert – I used Jing in this instance (http://www.techsmith.com/jing/) to do a screencapture of me cycling through the revision history. The free version of Jing has a five minute limit.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 1st, 2011

      Hi Amanda, Hi Robert – I selected the Ottawa Valley page as that is the geographic region in which we are situated, at Carleton. Most of the students were from the City of Ottawa, but none from the wider region. In terms of the article itself before we blitzed it, there was nothing overly untoward about it, aside from perhaps an Ontario-centric bias (the Ottawa River forms the provincial boundary with Quebec, and the information about the Quebec side was sparse).  Our year-long project was in partnership with the Council of Heritage Organizations of Ottawa, putting together online exhibits about various aspects of the City of Ottawa’s history and heritage, so they had a lot of general background knowledge before we started.
      We spent two sessions before the Wikiblitz looking at crowdsourcing and ways that small changes/additions can add up to substantial revisions. (Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom was a useful source). We discussed NPOV by looking at some political blogs, and contrasting that with other resources with which the students were familiar. 
       

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 1st, 2011

      Bill Turkel writes in The Programming Historian, “If you don’t program, your research process will always be at the mercy of those who do.” A similar argument is made in the round table, ‘The Promise of Digital Humanities’ published in JAH in 2008 where Turkel argues again, “It’s important not to lose sight of the historical or historiographical relevance of our work, but it’s also essential to master some of the technologies involved. Architects, to use Roy and Dan’s example, have to know a fair amount about plumbing. Unless humanists have a hand in its creation, they are unlikely to be the beneficiaries of software that is sensitive to their needs.” Stephen Ramsay has made similar remarks more generally of the Digital Humanities as a whole in his blog post, ‘On Building‘. He likes the phrase, ‘procedural literacy’.  (More tendentiously, this is the gist of Rushkoff’s Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age).
      In 2005, William Urrichio had a chapter in the Handbook of Computer Game Studies called ‘Simulation, history, and computer games’. Urrichio argues that the rules, the code, in a video game can equals a particular historiographical tradition. This presages Bogost’s ‘procedural rhetoric‘ notion, that code (computing processes) is a kind of rhetoric and needs to be engaged with in order to understand just how digital media more generally frame or make possible different kinds of arguments.
       

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 1st, 2011

      There are other ways of framing this. For instance, Jane McGonigal in Reality is Broken argues that Wikipedia can be seen as a kind of multi-user game with subtle reward structures.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 1st, 2011

      It was ClueBot NG, an anti-vandalism bot which apparently uses Bayesian classifiers to determine whether or not a particular change is vandalism. The student had added a few lines concerning food production in the valley – here is the relevant change log. Presumably somewhere on Wikipedia other pages were perhaps being spammed with what amounted to advertising, in order for this bot to have made this deduction? The role of bots in algorithmically creating or deciding what counts as knowledge is a topic ripe for humanities scholars to explore – thank you for the link!

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 3rd, 2011

      One more v. important item: van Dijck, J. (2010). Search engines and the production of academic knowledge. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 13(6), 574 -592. doi:10.1177/1367877910376582, where van Dijck makes the argument that “to turn information into knowledge, students not only need to be socialized into the various stages of the process, but they should also be enabled to critically analyse the tools that help to construct knowledge” (p587).
      To critically analyse digital tools means being able to follow the logic of a computing process.

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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.)

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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)…

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      Silly locution question: is it “the wikipedia” or “wikipedia”? Or is this a regional difference? Your essay uses both. Maybe standardize?

      Comment by Katherine Rowe on October 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Martha Saxton on October 6th, 2011

      For what it’s worth, in my experience,  a minority of  students were engaged in editorial conversations from the beginning, and many others had little or no interaction with editors or others. It seemed to depend of the political volatility of the topic; obviously politicized subjects like the Vietnam War produced much back and forth, while, as I recall, there was no discussion of two students’ exposition of the Kansas Campaign of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.  There was no politicized group objecting to the information–or even, perhaps,  paying attention to it.  Contributing to this silence is the fact–as has been pointed out in my essay and elsewhere– that only 13 per cent of Wikipedia contributors are women, and those that were interested were evidently not displeased.

      Comment by Jason Verber on October 11th, 2011

      Typo at the end of the paragraph, missing closing parenthesis.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      And these observations are all excellent outcomes for the exercise – remembering that many students (and first year students in particular) view Wikipedia as an unproblematic source (despite being able to recite nostrums to the contrary).

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      Hi Katherine – thank you for pointing that out. I’ll certainly standardize, probably to just ‘Wikipedia’.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      Hi Katherine – please see the comments on the next paragraph.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      Hi Katharine – there probably is more to the story, and the reward structure and how that does or doesn’t fit into academic modes is part of it. However, the students I was working with had had at this point about two months of experience at university. In some respects, they didn’t cease to be high school students until the year was almost done. I have also taught at the high school level, and have seen first hand how Wikipedia is dealt with there – or at least, at the places where I have taught; so I think this ‘hangover’ effect is real enough. Disentangling the various strands would require another essay, I think.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      I think that the fact that what they did to the article created ripples, bot responses, edits by other users, and some long term (even if minor) changes to the page still warrants the phrase ‘having an impact’. 
      But I take your point on the conservation, and the conservation supplied by me – and I think that comes out, especially in the comments by the student quoted at the end of this piece.
       

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      Hi Katherine – for this particular group of students, I don’t think they had ever encountered any sort of peer review (at least, nothing at the university level that had an impact on their grades). Our final project in the class did involve some peer grading and so on.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 11th, 2011

      You’re quite right that the nature of the assignment probably pushed them towards Google – but it was also a digital history class, and the students were well aware of other online tools and resources from our library, such as JSTOR, that they could have used.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      Very helpful resources, thank you.
       
      Editors, will these comments be permanently available, or do I need to harvest all of these citations now?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      It might be worth including a line  to that effect in the final version of the essay.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 13th, 2011

      Yes, the comments will remain visible here on the site.

      Comment by Korey Jackson on October 14th, 2011

      Looks like the link in n. 28 (“The Heavy Metal Umlaut”) has changed. New active link:
      http://jonudell.net/udell/gems/wikiAnimate/wikiAnimate.html
       

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      Typo: “percieve”.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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’….

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      ought it to be ‘writing for the Wikipedia’ or just ‘writing for Wikipedia’?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      Ought it to be ‘… clear to students that in the Wikipedia…’ or ‘…clear to students that in Wikipedia…’? 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 10th, 2011

      Thank you Charlotte for the kind words. It’s been very instructive for me to see how other papers in this volume approach Wikipedia as well – in this year’s iteration of my Digital History class I’m taking my lead from Seligman’s paper, and the comments on this paper, to guide a prolonged  engagement with Wikipedia over the entire term. With a longer period, building articles up from stubs, we get to see the entire process – especially the role of bots and the benign neglect of other Wikipedians.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 10th, 2011

      Thank you for the fascinating reference. I wonder if it’s not related somehow to ideas of attention span – that we enter university conditioned to grab the quickest or easiest information? I wonder if the ‘first few pages’ rule differs according to year of the student. Year of student was collected during the survey, but the report does not break it down that way. http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_Fall2010_Survey_FullReport1.pdf

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 10th, 2011

      I try to always design a rubric for any assessment exercise I create. However, good rubric design is something I find very difficult to do. One doesn’t want to create a straightjacket that does not, in fact, end up evaluating what one hoped the students would learn. I almost always share my rubrics with students before the exercise as well, so that there are no surprises as to what it is I think I’m looking for.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 10th, 2011

      I just wanted to add a link to a resource I’ve just come across: The Wikistream http://inkdroid.org:3000/  This site visualizes the real-time editing history across all of the Wikipedias, and whether or not the change is being made by a registered or anonymous user, or a bot. In terms of watching the ripples and edit wars and the current focus of attention of the collective user base of wikipedia, it’s absolutely fascinating. One can also click on ‘trends’ to see hourly and daily reports on which articles are attracting the most attention, and which users and bots are most active. ClueBot NG, which my student triggered during the Wikiblitz was yesterday one of the most prolific ‘authors’ of changes to the English wikipedia. It strikes me therefore that more attention needs to be paid by us humanists to the role of automated knowledge ‘production’.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 10th, 2011

      Hi Katharine,
      I used ‘Jing’, from Techsmith http://www.techsmith.com/jing.html but Camtasia or other products would be just as suitable. I set it up to record the active window of my browser, and started recording. I then went to the earliest version of the page, and clicked ‘next’ continually, until we hit the present day.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 12th, 2011

      Small matter of style: “The exercise was… a successful exercise.”

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 13th, 2011

      This is true, and I’ll definitely take that into account in re-writing this paragraph. I would imagine that with G+ we’ll see an acceleration of this trend.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      I would be really interested to hear your thoughts on‘Filter Bubbles’ as discussed by Eli Pariser in this TED talk.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 18th, 2011

      Thank you for the link to Pariser’s talk. The most insidious thing about filter bubbles is that many people don’t even realize they exist. How to combat them? Multiple browsers, ‘incognito’ browsing? Bill Turkel writes about ‘spidering’ to handle your searches – http://williamjturkel.net/2011/03/22/spider-to-collect-sources/ . Turkel also suggests addons for Firefox like https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/deeperweb-boost-and-customize-/?src=search to help get more out of the search. Ideally, these sorts of things would help us burst the filter bubbles.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I’d just like to hear a bit more right at the beginning about the institutional context of the class (where, to what kinds of students, in what kind of department, etc.) rather than deferring that to the next section.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      One small thought here that might have bearing on the “pushback” described subsequently: there is a tension between the kind of subversion and opening-up that motivated you to undertake the class in the first place and this much more directed vision of teaching outcomes. E.g., it almost seems to me that it’s better to match the spirit and the imagined outcomes–that this is an investigatory class on how Wikipedia actually works, indeed, whether it works. This is an issue that crosses over into many contributions: to study what is happening to knowledge production in digital spaces doesn’t necessarily require a kind of advocacy or appreciation for digital spaces (though it might well do so). I kind of think this has something to do with the pushback: rather than convening a debate, an evaluation about whether we should wiki as much as how we should. I don’t think this is an issue just for this class–I’ve seen it in my own teaching when students are guided into digital practice. They’ll do what’s assigned, but unless a chance arises to openly debate whether they should, it’s a fire-and-forget exercise little different than churning out yet another paper.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 28th, 2011

      Thanks! Duly added to my toolbox.

      Comment by Michael Robinson on December 16th, 2011

      Fascinating insight into how wikipedia, and some of your students resist change. Although I know that wikipedia is a “collaborarive” work, I myself am still surprised when I find information presented that I know is not complete.

      Comment by Michael Robinson on December 16th, 2011

      Could I just enquire, the comment “content is contested” Do you mean that your students contested the content in wikipedia? or that their content when added was contested by other “wikipedians”?

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Introduction (Nawrotzki & Dougherty) Fall 2011 (53 comments)

    • Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 8th, 2011

      One thing that strikes me reading through the essays in this book is the lack of discussion about digital history in and about parts of the world outside of North America and Europe.  I only noticed one essay, “Pasts in a Digital Age” by Tanaka, that dealt in any substantive way with the rest of the world.  And even those contributions on European or North American areas outside of the US are few and far between.  One gets the sense that this book is really a conversation between Americanist historians about doing digital history in and about the US.  Another overwhelming emphasis is the 19th-20th centuries.  While there is nothing wrong with these emphases, I would like to see them acknowledged in the Introduction, along with a brief discussion of the reasons for and ramifications of such emphases.  Especially given the concern of the editors with increasing the inclusivity and participatory nature of the historical enterprise, the challenge of interacting with and including the histories, historians, and reading publics of the global south seems worth mentioning, if not also tackling in some substantive way.

      Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 8th, 2011

      There is a word missing in the first line.

      Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 8th, 2011

      I should also add that the essay on “Citizen Scholars” by Sikarskie considers the participation of people outside of North American and Europe in the online “Quilt Index” project.  This brings to mind Minoo Moallem’s digital project on Persian carpets, which some of you might be interested in checking out:
      http://www.vectorsjournal.org/projects/index.php?project=83

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on October 8th, 2011

      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.”

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on October 8th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 8th, 2011

      I’m not sure if you are posing Linda Gordon’s question to ME, but if you are, here goes: If the overarching argument of the book is to persuade those of us in the historical profession to rethink or expand our thinking about the way we write, the way we publish, and the way we interact with each other and the “public,” and to use the book itself as an example of its argument, then I think that your argument would be more persuasive and the book more helpful to some of us if you considered the examples of doing history of earlier time periods and different parts of the world.  I also think it would force you to consider more counter-evidence or some of the counter-evidence you already consider more deeply, such as uneven access to digital technologies across the globe (though of course this applies to expensive printed books as well), issues of language and translation, different institutional cultures (and political challenges) for professional historians and different configurations of reading “publics” in other parts of the world, the much more limited availability of digital resources for teaching students about other parts of the world and other time periods (the difficulty of finding shape files and other geospatial data at scales below the country level for the Middle East is a challenge I’ve faced), just to name a few that spring to mind.  HOWEVER, my comment was not actually meant to force you to include this group or that group, or to say that the book is weaker for not including these groups; it was just to recommend that you acknowledge the emphasis in the essays collected here in the introduction to the volume… and perhaps that you present your own thoughts on whether it affects your argument or shapes your audience – in other words, how would YOU answer Linda Gordon’s question?
      Let me say, though, in case it is not obvious, that I find this introduction and the book as a whole insightful, useful, and persuasive!  I am, after all, a professional historian in a US-based institution of higher learning, and all of the points brought up in relation to economics and institutional culture are immediately compelling to me.  So I hope you consider my comments as evidence of my enthusiasm for the project and the new questions it has prompted me to ask.

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on October 8th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Christopher Hager on October 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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.  

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      Missing word: ” groups of scholars both and outside the academy”

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Christopher Hager on October 11th, 2011

      The link for Note 3 doesn’t work for me.

      Comment by Christopher Hager on October 11th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Jacqueline Wilson on October 12th, 2011

      I like this idea.  It makes more sense to me than leaving where it is – for the reasons cited above.

      Comment by Jacqueline Wilson on October 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by David Elder on October 13th, 2011

      Why is this scarier for historians than for any other type of writer?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Korey Jackson on October 14th, 2011

      Noticed a typo in the last sentence: “…that we may can do some forms of digital history…”

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      I think that the `broader argument’ there should probably be pluralized, as I’ll be surprised if we all agree.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      I feel similarly: these are ideals, not accurate reflections of practice, and could be worded as such.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 25th, 2011

      Point taken!

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 25th, 2011

      Thanks – that’s helpful!

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 26th, 2011

      Thanks for highlighting this.  We’ll fix it!

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 26th, 2011

      I echo Kristen’s comments here. I was very excited by the danger inherent in making this process public. I’ve been blogging for some time now, and I’ve found that putting my material out there in the wilds of the internet has on balance done more good than harm.<p>
      Even things that haven’t worked in their intended sphere – teaching experiments, for instance – have generated positive outcomes once I got over my fear of showing my ‘failure’ to the world. The conversation that results is often very much ‘unconference’ like (THATCamps), and moves my work forward. Don’t be afraid to fail gloriously!<p>
      For my student co-authors in particular (if I can speak for them here), the process is especially nerve-racking, as they are not at all used to the idea of exposing their work to an audience greater than one (me). I want them to see that the risk is worth the reward: that digital history takes place in a community, and this open peer review process represents a way of writing & crafting history in one step.
       

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 31st, 2011

      A note from the editors: For additional commentary on this essay, please see the page for general comments on the book.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on November 2nd, 2011

      I agree with Kristen and Shawn: give me raging debates in the margins of my essay, I know I’ve written something that makes you think!

      Comment by Katya Maslakowski on November 5th, 2011

      Footnote #6: Link for Stanford Humanities Lab is broken. New link: http://humanitieslab.stanford.edu/Metamedia/9

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on November 8th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      Much of what I have to say here is meant to be somewhat provocative, if gently so, in the hopes that it will help the project either by sparking some useful discussion or helping the editors consider alternatives. 
       
      This introduction sets out the objectives of the project and explains the purpose clearly. It begins with the key issue of open review, as it should. It claims that “embedded within” the book is a “broader argument for rethinking how academics publish our work.” While it seems that this project does in fact create “a better way” to publish an edited volume, the larger argument about scholarly production remains murky to me. “Liquid scholarship” is a terrific metaphor, though I wished for more explication and in the essays more follow through on this conceptual framework. 
       
      This piece and perhaps the collection as a whole, with the exception of Dorn, give little attention to long-form digital argument or narrative and whether this will find a place in the profession. E books and the Kindle and other reading devices may alter our practices. At this point, how much of the difficulty historians have faced in constructing long form digital narrative is technological–the browser, the screen, the lack of electronic ink? Long form argument is currently in trouble in the digital age, according to some. I wanted to know more about where this form of writing might take place online.
       
      The editors are right to be concerned about young faculty and what “counts.” Their call for a “middle ground” is welcome. The concerns over our current publishing model are well-founded. One of the principal functions of presses is editorial oversight. And much of the history writing on the web in wikis, blogs, and web sites lacks this important quality. This project, and others like it, can provide open access scholarship but should aim for the standards often upheld in university press publication. 
       
      My main concern at this point, despite the open access publication (important) and the open review process (also important), is that the volume presented here is a book in digital form. The editors here suggest that it should “look like a book.” Why? Is this potentially a serious limitation on the project? Should this volume take more advantage of its underlying digital nature? Is “integrating narrative text and multimedia source materials” enough? I have tried a number of experiments in narrative form as digital publications, and in each case have been at pains to move beyond this sort of “integration.” Some of the essays uphold fine examples of digital history projects and scholarship (see especially Theibault), but we have few examples of digital scholarly forms that stretch our models. Richard White’s spatial history work is cited in Theibault, but for the visualizations assembled largely after that narrative text’s research was well underway. The hybrid model he has undertaken, however, is also focused on the scholarly process of publication–the Stanford team’s open footnote archive (which has little to do with the visualizations) strikes me as one of the most interesting and useful examples of the kind of digital publication models Nawrotzki and Dougherty are suggesting. In any case I would like to encourage some questions about “integrating” text and and multimedia–and whether this constitutes a change in scholarly practice or publication. 
       
      I like very much the challenge that Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty have posed–do we want readers? And their argument, based on Fitzpatrick and Shirky, that filter-then-publish is rapidly being eroded on the Internet and that publish-then-filter will likely grow in importance in our practice.
       
      I also appreciate that the editors understand that the transition to more open scholarly publishing will require alternative fiscal support and financial structures. Digital publishing is clearly not a cheaper alternative, and once scaled it may be far more expensive than traditional print scholarship. 

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on November 28th, 2011

      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 Agehttp://www.worldcat.org/title/writing-history-in-the-digital-age/oclc/756644249

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011
      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Mason Nichols on February 12th, 2012

      This paragraph does an excellent job of explaining what you are trying to accomplish with this open source e-book, and I think that this entire effort is a noble one. The idea of utilizing the tools that have graced us to share and disseminate knowledge will help us to continue to evolve as scholars and researchers.

  • “I nevertheless am a historian” (Madsen-Brooks) Fall 2011 (52 comments)

    • Comment by Christopher Hager on October 4th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Christopher Hager on October 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 5th, 2011

      If the crowds are not wise, perhaps that’s the argument right there for why volumes such as this, and the kind of engagement discussed in this essay, must be part of a ‘formal’ historian’s daily practice.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 5th, 2011

      … which is of course the point of Poe’s article.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by David Elder on October 13th, 2011

      Is “Yahoo! groups” the best example for this?  Facebook?

      Comment by Corey Meyer on October 18th, 2011

      I also teach 4 sections of American History, 1 section of Current Events and Earth Science.

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      “the twenty-first footprint”
      Recte, “the twenty-first century footprint”?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Mike O'Malley on October 26th, 2011

      Poe is right that it doesn’t count, but it ought to count. engaging with the ways history is used should be vital to our entire enterprise. When it was revealed that VA’s 4th grade history texts claimed 50,000 black confederates, I started blogging about it, and about the evidence for it. My blog posts got more readers than most of my academic work. There is no reason at all this should not count. It’s up to me (since I already have tenure) to make the argument for it counting. But it’s not a hard argument to make

      Comment by Kaci Nash on October 27th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 4th, 2011

      Consider citing “Royal Diadem’s” real name on first mention, paragraph 11 above.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 4th, 2011

      “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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      I don’t know that you need to specify ‘wartime and postwar documents’ – this could be left open here

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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? 

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      This essay tackles an exceedingly interesting question for historians–when and how might they intervene in the digital environment over questions of authenticity, authority, and/or interpretation. The black Confederate movement develop in tandem with the Internet. In 2000 when Alice E. Carter and I published The Civil War on the Web, a critical guide to the way the Civil War was portrayed on the web, we received almost immediately a flurry of challenges from a group of re-enactors in Terrell’s Texas Cavalry brigade because we had not included their site among our 100. The site, it turned out, featured documents purporting to provide evidence of so-called black Confederates. Most of the documents were from the Official Records and, in their original context, referred to impressed Confederate laborers. The members of this organization began sending me emails, however, suggesting it was liberal academic bias not to see what they saw in these documents–what they called a “rainbow coalition” of the South’s independence hungry soldiers and cause. They claimed then that academics were suppressing the real story of the war. One email was signed by a falsified name of an alleged emeritus professor of history at Yeshiva University–no such person was ever employed at the school. In any case the group moved on as I recall and their attention became focused on defending John Ashcroft. The point is that digital information can be manipulated and identities concealed in the online space.
       
      I found little reasoned discourse in my private email correspondence with the fellows of Terrell’s brigade. There was a veneer of initial courtesy and over the course of this correspondence a rapid escalation into accusation and diatribe. So, I’m skeptical based on this experience of Leslie Madsen-Brooks’ suggestion that we participate more and become the “guide on the side.” (Kevin Levin was a student of mine in a teacher’s seminar at the University of Virginia, and he has done more work on this issue than anyone. His suggestion makes a great deal of sense to work on the broader questions before the public.) One of the reasons that this issue has some bearing is that the largely white American narrative of the Civil War elides the contributions of African Americans, or the experience of African Americans. I would ask her to press more on the question of how 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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 22nd, 2011

      There are a variety of places to tackle this point (both in this essay and throughout the project) but I would like to see a more extensive awareness of the larger and prior domains within which this approach to digitization and the circulation of historical knowledge sits. Meaning, Madsen-Brooks in this first paragraph mentions this wider sense of the “production of history” but then quickly confines it to digital practices and media. I think it’s fine for this essay (and the wider project) to have that focus but the question of how historical knowledge circulates and is produced by publics and individuals beyond the academic guild of historians is a question that precedes the digital–Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Raphael Samuel, David William Cohen, John Gillis, Joanne Rappaport and many others come to mind quickly in this context. I think the contributors need to do this kind of situating early in their analyses in order to sharpen the sense of what digitization changes (or does not change) about the production of history in circulations beyond and intersecting with the academy.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 22nd, 2011

      I think this paragraph raises sharper questions than the essay currently considers. We leap from this point into discourses operating within digital media, primarily blogs. A lot of the analyses which follows is great (for example, dealing with the effect digital media have on the speed of and feedback loops in discourse between participants) but there is a key historiographical question here that I think gets collapsed into a relatively simple moment of digitization. If it’s true that the discourse of “black Confederates” substantially precedes digital discourses, I think there’s a moment of articulation between pre-digital conversations in spaces of “amateur” or “activist” historical production and digital ones–that articulation is sociological, it’s about media forms, etc. To the extent that it’s possible I’d love to see more detailed attention to the articulation between productions of “black Confederate advocacy” in pre-digital memorializations of the South, the Civil War and the take-up of those productions in digital spaces.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      One of the complicating questions to ask at this juncture is, “How is this different from the idealized ‘normal’ view of how historical scholarship should be produced?”. E.g., peer review is in theory used within scholarship in a roughly similar way: a scholar interprets a document, another scholar looks at the document and checks the interpretation, sometimes finding that a document has been misinterpreted, or that the authenticity or provenance of the document is in doubt. In a way, the only distinction we can draw is either that the propensity of “black Confederate advocates” to misinterpret documents is far higher than professionally trained historians, which just reproduces the gap between engaged publics or amateurs on one hand and academic historians on the other, or that these misinterpretations are distinguished largely by their ideological or political motivations. At which point the critique of craft is substantially an entry point to a larger critique–which in turn is the issue engaged in the next section of the essay.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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”?

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      Good point.  The Yahoo! groups reference does seem dated.  Facebook would be a better example.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      I was unfamiliar with this intriguing project.  Thanks so much for your comment, and for introducing me to Mapping the Stacks.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      Will do.  Thanks!

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      Thanks so much for the clarification, Corey.  Current Events and Earth Science? Wow!

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      Thanks, Charlotte.  Clearly I need to better define my terms throughout the essay!

      Comment by Leslie Madsen-Brooks on November 27th, 2011

      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. . .

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      I think it would be great to have some further explicit discussion of ontological and epistemological issues within the essay.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      It might be interesting for there to be some dialogue between you and Wolff (especially paragraph 5) regarding how we perceived memory and history.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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)

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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).
       
      References:
      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

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      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.

      Comment by Isaac Herring on January 19th, 2012

      LMB-
      “…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?

      Comment by Benjamin Schaffer on February 13th, 2012

      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.

  • Citizen Scholars (Sikarskie) Fall 2011 (51 comments)

    • Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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.
       

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 5th, 2011

      You might find “If This Then That” to be useful. http://ifttt.com. IFTTT lets you set up ‘triggers’ for different services, that then result in some other action taking place. For instance, I use a ‘recipe’ on the site to send anything I mark as a favorite on Twitter directly to a special folder in my Evernote account. There are many recipes already for sending content from Facebook to email, Twitter, and Dropbox; you might be able to adapt one of those or use IFTTT’s interface to create your own custom trigger+event.

      Comment by Jeremy McGinniss on October 7th, 2011

      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.
      Thanks!

      Comment by Jeremy McGinniss on October 7th, 2011

      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”.

      Comment by Jeremy McGinniss on October 7th, 2011

      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”
      or
      “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”.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      I don’t think these are conclusions, but rather a separate section of downsides that deserve their own heading.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      For `academe’ read `academic’?

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      Yikes.  Good catch.  “a ‘fan’ has suggested a way…”

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      “who happened to be one of our ‘fans'” sounds much better.  Thanks.

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      Oh wow.  Thanks so much for posting this link.  I will share it with my public history students asap!

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      Just (quite belatedly) realized that the Madsen-Brooks piece is another essay in this collection.  *bangs head on desk*

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on October 31st, 2011

      Yes.  Thanks.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      I’d be interested to see much more discussion of what is meant by “scaffolded inquiry.”

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      And once above, too.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 6th, 2011

      By that, I assumed Frankle meant inquiry taking place within a very structured (and possibly tiered or multi-level) environment.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      Tiny typo: “…I worked [as] a doctoral research assistant…” 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      Maybe, “The Quilt Index social media strategy on Facebook including  engaging…” might be replaced by “…included engaging…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      The last sentence in this paragraph does not read as well as it might.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      Did the curatorial choice reflect, and thus allow insight into, the demographic of the fanpage group?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      Space needed: “scholars’crowd” – “scholars’ crowd”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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’?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      Yes, I think this sounds very interesting and I really liked Bethany Nowviskie’s point.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 19th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      The citizen scholar opportunity and movement is important and more historians might find ways to become engaged with this form of expertise. Co-creation of content and shared inquiry on digital history projects is just beginning–the 9/11 archive stands out as an early effort in this direction, though the expertise of individual contributors was less significant than that they contributed materials to a common archive. In areas such as railroads, quilts, electronics, and other expertise subjects, often euphemistically called “hobbies”, historians can find valuable partners. Genealogy is probably the well-understood of these communities. I would like Amanda Sikarskie to open up this essay more to other forms of scholarly contribution and to explain how these contributions are credited, and what issues confront historians working to build scholarly interpretation on these contributions–i.e. how can they be verified and supported.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      No one piece should have to bear the weight of this comment alone, but one of the intense themes weaving through the essays is 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. The emphasis on digital discourses and media forms obscures a bit the extent to which there is a wider sociological context that might make this hopeful vision very hard to realize, at least in the United States. More importantly, given 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?)

      Comment by Amanda Sikarskie on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 27th, 2011

      Thanks for this comment, which clearly applies to other chapters as well (including my own). It’s late in the open comment phase, but I am struck by the suggestion that the “hopeful vision” may prove especially difficult to achieve in the U.S. I’m hoping that we get to hear more about this further down the road. What do you see as the salient factors here? Do you see the past as especially politicized in the U.S.? Put somewhat differently, does the multiplicity of imagined communities (ethnic, cultural, religious, political, etc.) preclude achievement of shared/commingled authority? Or is it perhaps that academics lack the popular respect necessary to guarantee a seat at the table of authority?

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Reflections on 10,000 Notecards (Erickson) Fall 2011 (48 comments)

    • Comment by Christopher Hager on October 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jacqueline Wilson on October 12th, 2011

      “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’?

      Comment by Jacqueline Wilson on October 12th, 2011

      “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?

      Comment by Jacqueline Wilson on October 12th, 2011

      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.
       
       

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on October 13th, 2011

      Thanks, wilssearch. Should be “using writing as a way to test out…”

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on October 13th, 2011

      “How, then, do we proceed…”

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      For what it’s worth, I think all historians proceed through their research in this way. Just some historians regard the formal research project beginning at a different stage than others. Surely students of history can only arrive at the kind of focused research so often described in books on method and methodology through a more iterative and “meandering form” of research.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      Carlo Ginzburg has mused on this process: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2005/0505/0505arc1.cfm
       

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      “Recent work… et c.” feels like it needs a footnote. In fact, it would be very useful and interesting to see how you place your dissertation research process within larger processes at the intersection of digital tool and the discipline.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      I too used a relational database for my dissertation research. Recently, however, I’ve become more interested in developing categories not from my analysis or interpolation of a primary source, but from the source itself. In other words, automating the process of database production in a way the allows for new connections (that might be invisible to the historian who cannot look at sources simultaneously but only one at a time). 
      After all, it seems to me that the break through of relational databases is that they can predict relationships and test them in a continuously iterative way (think: Oracle).
      Maybe this observation does little for this essay directly, but I think it continues your discussion of the location of the historian in the analytical process. As our research become more automated and dependent on new technologies, we are becoming more and more aware of our own place within an interpretative workflow. Our decision to “intervene” and transform a record from an aggregated primary source to a description to a interpretation is central to the link between our database, its categories, and our final synthetic (analytical) work.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on October 17th, 2011

      I look forward to reading the Ginzburg piece. Thank you.
       

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 17th, 2011

      You might also be interested in Stephen Ramsay’s piece for “Playing with Technology in History”, on ‘The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or, What You Do with a Million Books’.
      http://www.playingwithhistory.com/abstracts/
      http://www.playingwithhistory.com/www.playingwithhistory.com/wp-content/uploads/Hermeneutics.pdf

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.]

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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. 
       

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      I see you touch on this later in paragraph 36 with reference to social science more generally.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      Sorry, misuse of paste buffer: the link I meant is this one.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      The footnote says “emphasis in the original”, but there seems to be no emphasis in the text as quoted.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      This issue is essentially what the paper of mine that I mentioned above was about; I must cite you!

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      More mundanely, sorry, typo: `saavy’ presumably for `savvy’.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      Jonathan – I would be interested in your description of this difficulty. Please do send. (Email available via the web link.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      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
       

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      @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. 

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      Charlotte – It’s thanks to Jack Dougherty that I sharing the file itself was a possibility.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      …that I ^realized sharing the file

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 3rd, 2011

      Yes – thanks, Jonathan.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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!”

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 16th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      Just want to second William’s comment above. I’m not sure there is a “tidy model” that contrasts with this representation. It feels rather like a straw man.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I think the very strong finding in the essay is one that is curiously enough not particularly about the digital, which simply yet another historian discovering through experience that the classificatory and categorizing schema that govern archives and reference sources have a very problematic relationship to the actual production of historical knowledge–that they sometimes produce a sense of what is “knowable” which is subverted when those categories are ignored or reworked by a researcher, in reading across an archive horizontally. I think the sense in which you discovered this partly through your experiences of classifying in digital notation is really compelling. But I don’t think there’s much evidence that there are many historians who resist using the kinds of tools you engage in this essay. This is an example of where the depiction of a kind of unnamed, invisible majority faction of anti-digital or un-digital scholars really does seem to me an invention. If we’re talking about something like “Facebook is both a valuable research tool and a site of the production of historical knowledge”, I think it’s reasonably fair to say that many practicing academics would disdain that view. If we’re talking, “FileMaker Pro notes are digital where word-processing files are not”, I don’t really get a sense that it’s the same kind of sentiment expressed in anywhere the same kinds of numbers.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.)

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      Specific citation? This whole section, beginning in the previous paragraph, is nicely done — accessibly presented and key to your argument.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      A formal definition of “relational” databases would be useful to many of your readers.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      I think your ideas for a minor reframing are excellent and would really strengthen an already thought provoking essay.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • General Comments (45 comments)

    • Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on October 17th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Davarian Baldwin on October 18th, 2011

      Introduction
      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. 

      Comment by Katherine Hart on October 20th, 2011

      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?
       

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Dee Thompson on October 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Stephen Robertson on October 31st, 2011

      I find Davarian’s comments on my “Putting Harlem on the Map” somewhat frustrating in that he calls for the collection to go further in its approach while eliding the way that my approach does in fact go further than he allows.  I’ve published extensively about the nature of legal sources and what you can glean from them for social and cultural history; what using geospatial tools highlights is that those sources also offer evidence for a spatial analysis, which relies on addresses and locations, elements of the records that are not shaped by legal practices and processes in the ways that other details are.
      As an aside, the presence of this comment on my piece here, rather than in the comments on the article, points to the tendency of this open-review framework to disperse and potentially obscure responses

      Comment by Jack Dougherty on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Stephen Robertson on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Davarian Baldwin on November 1st, 2011

      Dear Stephen,
      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. 

      Comment by Stephen Robertson on November 1st, 2011

      Hello Davarian
      I am sorry if my failure to respond to you directly offended you, but I’m still finding my way in this format and considered comments to be directed at a broader audience not a conversation with an individual commenter — particularly since, in this case, your comment had not been addressed to “me” in the sense of being posted on my essay, but included in the general comments, where I almost missed it, and the opportunity to respond.  In responding, I sought to make clear that your critique does not apply to our site, which I guess means I defended the site, but I can’t see how that warrants the pejorative label “defensive”.
      If you’d prefer a first person conversation, I’m happy to give that a go.   As I read it, your comment clearly imputes the larger critique of digital history, as a medium occupied with engaging a wider array of sources, while paying inadequate attention to the limits of those sources, to Digital Harlem.  If that is not the case, I’d appreciate it if you would clarify your assessment of the site.  How exactly or to what extent is Digital Harlem implicated in your critique? Does mapping / spatial history not offer exactly the kind of new perspectives on sources, interpretation and writing that you are seeking?

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 2nd, 2011

      I wanted not only to write digital history, but to read digital history, digitally, so I asked the computer to find topics and patterns in the text of all contributors. I’ve detailed this topic-modeling approach on my blog, where I’ve posted both my method and preliminary results

      Comment by Paul Rowland on November 10th, 2011

      I was intrigued to discover my own process for commenting. I decided that I had to restrain myself and not comment until I have all the way through each essay. But I resorted to pen and paper to take notes on what comments I wanted to add.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 11th, 2011

      Hi
      I’ve put the output and visualization files for my topic-modeling approach to exploring the deeper structure of this volume online at http://www.graeworks.net/topic-model/output_html/all_topics.html . Instead of deciding what the possible topics mean, I’ve left that interpretation layer open. One may click through the topic to the different authors’ paragraphs, to see how MALLET breaks our text into different topic chunks – see for instance http://www.graeworks.net/topic-model/output_html/Docs/Doc410.html which is Lawrence’s paragraph on students’ writing of critical reviews. More about the process at http://electricarchaeologist.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/topic-modeling-with-the-java-gui-gephi/.
       
       

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 19th, 2011

      This is so exactly like what I did that I was surprised not to see my name on this comment!

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 19th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on November 20th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 22nd, 2011

      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?

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      One of the most interesting and appealing features of this project is the idea of open review. And yet as I thought about how to make comments, I was unsure where exactly to place them–at the paragraph level, at the essay level, at the introduction level, at the whole “book” level. These same questions face reviewers in print editions too, and we resolve them sometimes by writing running comments by essay, page, and line numbers. What I find exciting here is the possibility of exchange within comments. While we cannot be sure at this stage whether this format enhances or improves on such commentary and exchange, at least University of Michigan Press and the editors here have attempted to create a new model of scholarly communication. This is an exciting and important effort,  one that I hope we will be able to encourage. 
      I read all of the essays on my iPad, took no notes on the first pass, and clicked through all hyperlinks within the essays. I resisted the urge, overpowering as it was at times, to make comments as I went through the essays. I wanted to read the project as a whole. I skipped to essays of interest and then came back through to essays in their parts. I then took notes on essays and prepared them for comments. But then the comments on the essays distracted me and these were sometimes as important or fascinating as the essay itself. Does a reviewer comment on these comments? I decided not to at this stage, and instead to concentrate exclusively on the essays as presented.
      My plan is to make some general comments here based on the standard questions reviewers are asked and to comment on individual essays contained in the volume. I have blogged briefly about the concept of Writing History in the Digital Age at: http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=648. 
      1. Purpose of the Manuscript: The editors have prepared an experiment in form as well as asked authors to contribute essays on how writing history is changing in the digital age. The manuscript aims to raise questions about the practice of history, about what scholars do and how we go about constructing history in digital form.
      2. Accomplishment of Purpose: It is too early to tell if the experiment in form will have accomplished its purpose. Once comments have been made and authors responses included, we may know more about whether this form has achieved its purpose. There are a number of issues here: whether scholars have time for reflection, whether there will be versioning of the edition’s changes, whether comments on comments will be in some way flagged for ease of access. 
      The essays clearly address the question of historical writing in the digital age, however in general and as a group they do not squarely situate these concerns in the arena of scholarship. Many of these essays do not address the editor’s introductory call to expose what has remained hidden from view in the act of researching, writing, and producing history. I would like to see more concentrated attention on how scholarly practices are changing in the digital age and how these practices shape our understanding of the past, our relationship to our field. The exceptions here in my view are Stefan Tanaka, whose excellent essay reflects on how the digital is affecting how we conceive of historical relationships, and John Theibault, whose comprehensive assessment of vizualizations interrogates where historians are placing historical arguments in the digital form. The essays as a group are more focused on teaching, using digital tools, and assessing digital projects. The manuscript might ask some authors to focus more explicitly on research and knowledge creation–how inquiry in the digital age might lead to alternative forms of writing. 
      Soundness of Scholarship: The scholarship of these essays is sound. Nearly every one refers to the appropriate literature and many (though not all) cite relevant historiography in digital humanities, digital history, and analog history. 
      Material and Presentation: As with many collections of essays, the clarity of the writing and quality of presentation are uneven. As a general comment, I was surprised by the unedited typos and misspellings throughout a number of the essays. I have made specific suggestions at the essay level. The presentation worked beautifully in iPad using Safari. I did not test the essays on other browsers and systems. While I appreciated the consistency of essay design, paragraph orientation, and embedded links and images, I yearned for some “break-out” examples, unconstrained by the Word Press format. For a volume dedicated to exploring writing in the digital age, the form seemed remarkably text-heavy and traditional. I recognize the challenges of creating break through digital forms and so hesitate to make suggestion here. But perhaps the editors and authors could consider one such work per section. The piece might reside out of the Word Press edition, but with proper referencing in an essay authors could reflect on the work more fully. Perhaps, the editors could encourage such work to be specifically instantiated for Writing History in the Digital Age–versioned or outfitted with a logo. The Pox project is a potential candidate for this approach.
      In general, the number of essays and sections might be reduced and the breadth of them expanded. I wanted to know more about how decolonization studies, environmental historians, or LBGTQ studies, to name a few, are creating new approaches to the past through digital sources and arguments. These essays seemed primarily grounded in similar approaches and revisiting similar concerns. Two essays focus on black Confederates and memory, for example, three or more on wikipedia and its implications. The field of historical inquiry is wide and I’d hoped for more breadth. 
      Best/Worst Features: I have to say that I think the tiny comment box is the worst feature of the project. The best feature is the capacity to comment. The paragraph level comments do not appear on an iPad display when one selects the bubble. 
      Organization: see above. It might be useful to consider other ways of organizing the essays. It might be interesting to allow users a limited range of “sorts” to organize the essays in different ways that suit their preference for reading–by tags, by keywords, by chronology, by geographic region primarily considered, by genre of digital material referenced. 
      The question of organization raises the broader issue of hypertext and its relevance as a conceptual framework for “doing history.” Few essays explicitly addressed “hypertext” and its literature (Aarseth, Landow, Ayers, Murray)–indeed, a search for the term returned four essays, though each of these references was limited. Admittedly, the question of hypertextual writing has perhaps run its course, but the organization of these essays might have given more control to the reader in viewing, navigating, and connecting essays. 
      Contributions: The volume makes important contributions to the field of digital history and digital humanities. The strongest contribution is in the practice of open review and in modeling a peer review process for digital work. The social and technical barriers to promotion and tenure remain high for digital scholars, and this project provides much needed opportunity to lower these barriers. The individual essays contribute to scholarly exchange by giving readers not currently practicing digital history several useful vantage points from which to observe the field, understand its potential, and make connections into their own work.
      Intended Audience: The intended audience appears to be historians across a broad spectrum and in particular scholars working in academic history. Whether the editors can reach that audience remains unclear. The relatively traditional format of this collection of essays does translate to more traditional quarters in the profession. But we might ask whether this format “works” and whether the audience might be differently defined. Many of the essays address pedagogical concerns, demonstrate project conceptions, and highlight technologies for the practice of digital history. All of this is construed under writing in the digital age. Clearly, what has traditionally been defined as largely separate domains of research, teaching, and service come together in digital work. Rather than components of a historian’s work, these areas are instead interlocking and inter-dependent in digital practice. Perhaps the essays might draw this out more fully rather than keeping these domains largely separated as they are in the current organization. A number of recent works have pointed to the need for deeper cyberinfrastructure for the humanities and history (Borgman, Unsworth et al., Rosenzweig, . . .). And in this collection we can begin to see why this is so necessary. 
      Recommend Publication: Yes. This is an important effort both in terms of what we can learn about scholarly publication models and in the ways these essays open up the process of historical writing.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      As the last reviewer putting his nose to the grindstone, I find this conversation about how to engage this text interesting. I’m working my way through essays and commenting as a comment comes to me. I’m finding that many of my comments are about a desire to complicate or extend a point rather than the other conventional practice of peer review as correcting assertions of fact, etc. In either sense, I am so far very satisfied with the work as scholarship (I’ll add or update this comment if I come across anything in Parts 3, 4, 5, 6 that make me feel otherwise) and would absolutely recommend publication.
      One thing I am somewhat anxious about already, however, and will be looking at Part 4 with particular interest about, is two intertwined issues.
      The first is the degree to which some authors seem to assume that attention to the circulation of historical knowledge-production in digital spaces is almost inevitably simultaneous with protecting or advocating digitally-mediated work against a largely unnamed scholarly ‘mass’ who are indifferent or hostile to such work. I note this as someone who would share in most of the advocacy of most of the authors. This is a position that suffuses digital humanities-themed work generally. I do think it’s worth stepping back a bit at some points to disentangle analyzing how historical knowledge-production works in digitallly-mediated practices and whether these practices should involve scholars in some new or intensified fashion.
      The second, more important issue is that very few of the authors I’ve seen so far seem aware of a much larger ongoing historiography concerned with the production and circulation of historical knowledge outside of or interpenetrated with the academy. I guess this is the somewhat conventional kind of comment in a peer review for more citations to more people, but I think this is a crucial issue for this project. There’s no reason not to situate an understanding of how digitally-mediated practice affects the production and consumption of history within a much larger and preceding attention to similar circulations in non-digital spaces. Some of the questions and provocations that are being formulated here as native to digital media, or largely novel to digital practices, were already sharply identified in an earlier scholarly discourse about public history, commemoration and memorialization, memory and silencing, ‘amateur’ and ‘lived’ forms of historical inquiry, etc.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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’.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      Reading William G. Thomas’s comment above more closely, I see this is something he has also mentioned.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 23rd, 2011

      Hi Charlotte – this is something I’ve tried by using a topic model classifier at the level of individual paragraphs of this entire volume – I report on this here: http://electricarchaeologist.wordpress.com/2011/11/11/topic-modeling-with-the-java-gui-gephi/
      …and the resulting visualization is available here: http://electricarchaeologist.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/topics-by-authors-v2.pdf
      The colours are ‘communities’ based on patterns of linkages of ideas (topics) generated by the Mallet natural language processing toolkit topic modeling routine, which suggests four main themes. I’ve resisted labeling the topics myself, but rather, if you go to http://www.graeworks.net/topic-model/output_html/all_topics.html you can see how they break down by paper & paragraph for yourself.
       

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      Ok, now through Part 4, working on Part 5, and I would say that my top criticism is that for a group of reflections about history in a digital age, there is a curious sort of fabulistic narrative that resurfaces again and again. That I notice it as much as I do, given how much I either agree with the basic advocacy of almost all authors or am part of the historiographical moment that they’re trying to narrate (as say in Jarrett and Cumming’s essays) is very likely a sign of what a wretched old fart I am becoming. Because this is what old farts do: they say, “But we were doing all this back in the day, you young whipper-snappers”. Nevertheless, I think there’s an important issue here to consider, and it might be sufficiently important to warrant an introductory note or overview from the editors.
       
      What I’m primarily concerned about is that the novelty or particularity of the digital is in some cases being overestimated in one major respect. Some of the contributors are very appropriately focused on the technologically-mediated distinctiveness of digital tools, digital media, cultures of digital participation. If we’re asking, “What kind of historical knowledge can you produce through Twitter” or “What kind of infrastructure is necessary for long-form argument to operate in digital projects”, then no, historians weren’t doing it back in the day.
       
      But if we’re asking, “What’s the relationship between historical knowledge inside and outside of the academy?” or “How does historical expertise interact with public understandings of history or with public forms of memory and memoralization” or “How ought historians to recognize publics and interact with them?” (and many of these essays are asking these questions in some form or another) then I think it’s right to recognize the existence of quite a large node of historiographical work urgently concerned with those issues which precedes the advent of digital media, which has continued to develop on its own since the advent of digital media, and which in some cases form an important intellectual predicate for the way that scholarship about and within digital history has developed.
       
      This wish is not just about cultures of citation, deference to expertise or giving proper credit. I think it’s both a way to understand that the questions digital history is pushing forward have powerful endorsement in the work of pre-digital historians (and are therefore less insurgent or marginalized than we sometimes feel) and that there are things in that literature which can sharpen both the insights of the contributors about digital history and anticipate some of the epistemological and practical roadblocks ahead, keep people who are building digital projects from running into certain kinds of buzzsaws. Just one example that leaps to mind instantly is the long-running conversation about the 1990 exhibit Into the Heart of Africa at the Royal Ontario Museum, which has been dissected by art historians, public historians and scholars interested in the “production of history” ever since. There are both concrete episodes and general theoretical concerns to be found in this older literature which would really enrich some of these contributions. Instead, you often get the sense in the volume as a whole that the novelty of the digital is totalizing rather than particular.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on November 24th, 2011

      Timothy,
       
      Part of the omission may partly be an artifact of the word limits for the essays. I bumped up against the upper limit and faced a dilemma about how much to talk about digital projects and how much to explore comparisons with public history (such as the youth-history exhibits in Buffalo in the late 1980s or Chicago a few years ago). So my essay has only the most fleeting reference to the valuing of public history but not a deep discussion. I can see that the consequence of those choices by each author is the impression you gather from the set as a whole.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 25th, 2011

      Hi Charlotte – you can click through by topic and individual paragraph, if you follow the link to “all_topics.html”, so you could read the volume by jumping around, following the topics, as you imagine.
      In terms of sarcasm… the neat thing is that the toolkit just looks at the statistical pattern of word use (really, strings of symbols; Mallet doesn’t care if it’s French, Finnish, or Esperanto).  If we understand sarcasm from particular patterns of word use, then that pattern *should* be evident to Mallet. I am by no means an expert though. The work of Elijah Meeks, Rob Nelson, Jeff Drouin (http://www.proustarchive.org/?p=60), Scott Weingart (http://www.scottbot.net/HIAL/?p=221) and the folks at MITH (http://mith.umd.edu/topic-modeling-in-the-humanities-an-overview/) is required reading here.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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! 

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 27th, 2011

      I want to really second what Bethany Nowviskie writes above, both in general and specifically this comment:
       
      “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. ”
       
      I think this brings together beautifully some of my own concerns as expressed above and in comments on some of the essays. I feel somehow as if there has to be a way to explore what digital methods, digital media, digital audiences mean for the production of history without falling into a very old pattern in disciplinary work, of pronouncing the arrival of an insurgency at the gates of the last orthodoxy while beginning to argue for the privileged or special subdisciplinary character of the new practice.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 28th, 2011

      Having finished working through the essays, five more thoughts.
       
      1. One thing I really like about open peer review is the opportunity to see what other reviewers are saying and engage in a dialog with them. This is something worth singling out as a net strength and building on it in future experiments with the practice.
      2. I think in the “lessons for the future” category might be asking whether there are other ways to structure relations between contributions to a project. The groupings here don’t always seem to me to make sense, there are essays which should be talking to one another more directly.I almost wonder if a project like this could work around a sort of “emergent order” where groupings organically grew from usage or dialog after initial postings. In the end, I don’t think this is actually as liquid as the editors aspire for it to be.
      3. The limits on the size of contributions in some cases may be limiting their quality. But within those constraints, I also think some authors could be making better use of their allotments to quickly go to the most complicated, original or interesting components of their work or arguments. There are some tropes that get trotted out here almost ritualistically in many essays and begin to feel repetitive by the end.
      4. I share the sense that many contributors have that historians (and other humanities and social science disciplines) are reluctant to embrace many of the aspirations or ideas of interest to the contributors, but at some point I really think we may collectively need better or more concrete evidence for this assertion. The figure of the “reluctant silent majority” functions as something of an Other for this project with really very few sharply pointed examples or specifics.
      5. It’s possible that one role for editors or conveners in a project like this is less the cat-herding of the contributors who step forward in response to an RFP and more an identification of missing voices, important perspectives, potential provocations, leading to a careful selection of additional contributions or reflections that allow some sense of a counterpoint or debate within the project to arise more clearly.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 28th, 2011

      I keep coming back to general comments as I spiral through the essays and comments one more time. One thing that’s really leaping out at me now on my most recent pass is how very different the material dealing with digital reworkings of and rethinkings of “data” are from essays that consider digital culture both as communicative platform and as democratizing/popularizing force. In the former camp, there’s a very interesting but largely unproblematized naming of cliometric analysis as newly possible or invigorated through digital media or tools–John Thiebault’s essay recalls at least one major episode within the discipline of history that framed that kind of work as problematic, but I don’t think many of the other contributors really consider this broader context much.
      More importantly, I don’t think there’s much recognition in either group of just how sharply different these senses of “digital” really are. This is another case where some kind of bridging artifact or contribution would make a big difference.

      […] Author Amanda Seligman’s comment about her own review process offers an earnest and introspective example: […]

      Comment by Additional comments by Hager, Wilson, Nowviskie, Wolff on June 12th, 2012

      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.

      Christopher Hager
      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.).

      Jacqueline Wilson
      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?  

      Bethany Nowviskie
      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!

      Bethany Nowviskie
      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.”

      Robert Wolff
      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.

      Bethany Nowviskie
      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

      Amanda Seligman
      September 28, 2011 at 9:31 am
      I’m looking forward to seeing it all up!
      Amanda

  • More Than an Argument about the Past? (Dorn) Fall 2011 (45 comments)

    • Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      This paragraph was written as an explicit abstract. Does it work as an introductory paragraph as well?

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      Whoops: I think that should be “comprising,” not “comprises.”

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      I have this poster on the wall of my office. I love it, and yet I wince at the irony that this was produced for teaching purposes… so does teaching have to have an argument in order to be history?

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      Does the first-mover argument here make sense? This is one of the passages that seems obvious to me, but that I know could be too obtuse for readers.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      I love the room/floor/source metaphor. Did it appear in the CD-ROM version?

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      Unfortunately, you cannot directly use the URL listed in the caption–you need to enter through the portal and then navigate to this journal page about the surrender negotiations with Cornwallis.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      This is one of the online exhibit pages that works beautifully on an iPad–Omeka does not require Flash, unlike a number of other packages that digital historians have used over the years.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      The “active on-the-ground” version of this layered approach to display exist with several apps (or “programs” for those of us older than 30) for mobile devices, that can display historical photographs taken from the vantage point of where one is standing.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on October 2nd, 2011

      I forgot to acknowledge that there was an earlier online version from the early 1990s, with far fewer sources available (though still a wealth).

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 18th, 2011

      The mixed metaphor (as an archaeologist I can’t really imagine an embedded trench) is a bit rough at the start.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 18th, 2011

      I wonder whether the comparison between the monograph producer and the digital tool producer here is a bit overwrought. As someone whose work sits astride the fields of archaeology and history, I have come to recognize that different models for publishing thrive outside of history and are already sufficiently robust in conceptualization and practice to contribute to history as a discipline. For example, each year my archaeological project moves toward a general goal based on broad reaching research questions (grounded in an understanding and appreciation of historiography). At the same time, it produces “easy” to publish data that speaks to many smaller research questions and technical goals. More frequently we publish articles that consider method, procedures, and even technological issues surrounding archaeological field work. These studies typically engage a more technical discourse central to producing comparable, reliable, and robust archaeological samples. These occasional  annual publications filled out my CV while the longer term and more conceptual publications gestated. 
       
      The same approach could be grafted onto digital history where smaller articles on, say, technical aspects of tool development or “small picture” conceptual challenges can find “easy” homes in myriad technically oriented peer-reviewed journals. Typically a tool emerges based on carefully considered needs within the field, conversations with endusers, technical triumphs, and the like. 
       
      Moreover, the production of a tool begs and introduces a whole series of important, critical questions grounded in a sophisticated discourse. For example, consider recent(-ish) work by folks like Bruno Latour on technology and actor-network theory. To think that somehow technical proficiency occludes the need to engage this kind of theoretical and methodological scholarship is surely a false dichotomy. What it does mean, of course, is that scholars invested in using technology to move the field forward have to find ways to mediate between the practitioners in “the field” and their own contributions. Fortunately, there is a theoretical, methodological, and even technical literature that is already in place to foster these intradisciplinary conversations. 

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on October 19th, 2011

      This paragraph confuses me. How have historians gone overboard with saying that history is an argument, or a construction, or an interpretation, about the past? There are still many forces in the schools, on television, on the web that reinforce that history is a set of dates and names–which is what I believe this poster is trying to address. 
      Also, I know this is your work and your argument, but I can’t resist mentioning that there are plenty of projects at CHNM that put forth historical arguments (Gulag, Bracero, Historical Thinking Matters, History of 1989).

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on October 19th, 2011

      Thank you, Cheryl and William, for your thoughtful comments here. To some extent, I think William’s explanation of the technical-methods discussion in archaeology both provides a model for and the limits of parallel outlets for historians who spend considerable time on software tool development. There are a few technically-oriented journals that might function as outlets, such as Historical Methods (currently published by Taylor & Francis), and others might develop, either as refereed journals or as gray literature.
      I’ll leave it to those involved in development projects to talk about what sort of technical papers might come out of software development. It seems at least at first glance as if the suggestion is “well, turn your methods into an argument about methods,” which is a neat envelope trick if it can be managed… but it feels like it could easily be perceived as navel-gazing into belly buttons that are fairly ordinary. The point about software development is the what it does, and all the software tricks are hidden from the user because that’s what a good user interface does. 
      Cheryl, maybe my point should be put a little more forcefully: 1) Do you think historians should have software tools at their disposal to think about historical evidence in new ways? 2) If we do not concretely value such work through tenure, promotion, etc., which historians will be involved in their development?

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on October 19th, 2011

      Cheryl, I’m somewhat uncomfortable with this issue as well, which is why I wrote about it. Some years ago, a friend with a background in statistics asked me why historians never argue about methods. We do, occasionally, especially if there is an allegation of fabrication a la Bellesiles. But is it a sign of our craft orientation that we hide the “craftiness” of what we do behind the curtain of “this is all argumentation”?

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on October 19th, 2011

      William: guilty as charged.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on October 19th, 2011

      Cheryl: you’re right about the parallel for the digital projects I label as “artifact presentation,” which are online collections in one form or another. Do you think the same is true for the Europe, Interrupted exhibit?

      Comment by Brian Sarnacki on October 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Brian Sarnacki on October 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Brian Sarnacki on October 26th, 2011

      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.”

      Comment by Brian Sarnacki on October 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Rebecca S. Wingo on October 27th, 2011

      History on a professional level is about formulating an argument from a set of sources or materials and presenting the argument in a clear, concise, organized manner that buttresses a final conclusion.  Using that definition (or something similar), I think we can distinguish between digital projects and digital history projects, as there is a difference: the argument.  For example, when we talk about tool creation and use, the tool itself is a digital project while the use of the tool to shape an argument by either the creator or a user within the field of history is a digital history project.  This distinction needs to be made.
       
      So let us rehash the digital projects presented here that do not fall within the author’s range of an argument: Who Built America?, The Valley of the Shadows, the Papers of George Washington, etc.  I think Dorn’s argument has some validity here – not all of these make arguments.  Some mirror arguments made in monographs while others merely provide an online archive.  By today’s standard of digital history projects, many of these might not fall within the same grouping and appear more like digital projects.  Is the only reason to count Inventing Europe because of its customizable interface and manipulability?  What we need to understand when assessing these (at times award-winning) projects is that we are a long way from the Who Built America? and the Papers of George Washington.  These projects were the forerunners of digital history, and at the time they were created, they were indeed revolutionary (no pun intended for the Papers of George Washington).
       
      Unfortunately, that leaves us with a problem – do we discount previous digital history projects that would have been defined as such previously as mere digital projects because technology has changed?  That hardly seems fair.  To place this within a context that many non-digital scholars will understand, do we discard monographs once they get too dated, or do we build upon the work that previous scholars have written to formulate our own ideas?  Certainly we do the latter.  As historians, we love to contextualize our histories (as evidenced by the numerous historiographies I have to write for graduate school).  If we were to discard previous work, how would we understand our work or the work of others?  Admittedly, I created this problem by trying to distinguish between digital projects and digital history projects.  I still hold that this distinction needs to be made for new scholarship.  We have reached a point where our goals and objectives are clear when we start out.  In other words, if we want to create an archive, then we have all the tools at our disposal to do so.  If we want to create an historical argument about some materials, we have the tools to do that as well.  We are no longer breaking ground at the same speed the authors of the listed digital projects had to.  So to selfishly answer my own question, no – we should not wholly discount the work of previous historians and their digital history projects just because they are somewhat outdated.  Instead, we should look forward and realize that we are charting the course for the future of digital history and we must maintain our focus and present arguments digitally.
       
      To answer the title question, digital history is an argument about the past and needs to be maintained as such.  Online archives that merely present or collect information while engaging in the materials are useful to the development of these historical arguments, but are not inherently digital history projects.  To briefly clarify, I am not arguing against the generation of online archives.  They bring needed primary sources to the home or library and that is an important service.  I am merely suggesting that Dorn’s article could absorb some of these thoughts when looking at past projects.  As far as digital history projects go, their central purpose should always be the argument as that is the value of history.
       
      Digital projects, on the other hand, are enormously beneficial, especially to the history scholar.  Great value lies in the development of new tools like SIMILIE and Gapminder because they can aid the formulation of one’s argument.  Dorn’s breakdown of the tools to present artifacts, to present events, for learning, and for argumentation is a viable way to categorize the different types of tools.  He states, “Tools for constructing arguments have begun to catch up with the digital history projects that do not focus on argumentation.” (paragraph 27)  As already discussed, I think Dorn is absolutely correct.  The tools used to facilitate argument creation or formulate arguments are much more advanced than those of the first digital history endeavors.  However, Dorn’s definition of what these tools are (blogs, Omeka, etc) is too narrow as there are a multitude of tools being created that can revolutionize the way we approach our documents.  Google’s N-Gram (despite the problem with its origins in the computer sciences with no input from the humanist scholars who would potentially use it), key words or phrases in context, and many other newer tools that I am just not cool enough to know about yet are more revolutionary to historical methods than blogging.  Reworking this paragraph so that it encompasses some of these other argument-based tools would strengthen Dorn’s argument. 
       
      To close with some notes on collaboration, I will say that Dorn is spot on.  History has traditionally been a solo-act.  Digital history should not be.  Is it too far to say that digital history cannot be a solo act?  The way I see it, digital history hovers in a strange gray area.  The computer scientists tell us that if we are doing history, we are doing computer science and programming wrong; the book-hugging historians tell us that if we are doing digital history, then we are doing history wrong.  How do we solve this problem?  Collaboration.  In this way, and only this way, are we able to produce the best digital work possible.  Let’s face it – historians are mostly trained in the same manner of thinking; computer scientists or other well-trained humanists can expose us to new ways of conceptualizing our arguments that will forever change how we view our materials. 
       
      I have created another gap in my response that needs to be addressed: I am excluding the idea of a joint project that simultaneously creates an archive of information, documentation, photographs, or artifacts (read: digital project) and a project incorporating analysis and interpretation of the archive (read: digital history project).  In many cases, the archive needs to be created first in order to properly integrate it into the digital history project.  Indeed, it could be that digital projects begin to sprout digital history projects.  Perhaps collaboration between computer programmers, archivists, museums, and scholars would be the best solution to generation of digital projects and digital history projects.
       
      As far as value of digital scholarship goes, I am not daunted by the tenure situation.  There is no going back for history.  Frankly, the field cannot continue to exist in the way it has for the past 150 years.  Venues such as this one, and thought-provoking articles like Dorn’s, will pave the way for digital humanists across all disciplines.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      Aren’t individual and personal subscription the same thing? Or should it be “institutional or personal subscription”?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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&gt;.
       

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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&gt;

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      After such cogent and thoughtful criticisms and suggestions, I hesitate to wade into this further. I was thrilled and pleased to see that Sherman Dorn has taken on the question of “long form” digital scholarship and decided to labor in its “well-dug trench.”   
       
      What gave me pause was the idea that we have gone “overboard” in arguing that history is an argument about the past. I think that it could be argued we have persistently undervalued argument in digital history scholarship and as a result have opened up a troubling gap between digital history and mainstream historical scholarship. I would suggest that we ways to close this gap and develop new forms of digital historical argumentation–both embedded and narrative longer form.
       
      One correction: the project is The Valley of the Shadow not The Valley of the Shadows–this is a common mistake but needs to be corrected throughout. 
       
      Digital history clearly opens up room for argument to take different forms beyond the scholarly monograph and it is helpful to point out the diverse types of large projects that have come forward. Whether Mintz’s Digital History textbook is an argument in the same way that The Valley of the Shadow is is not clear to me. Dorn has pulled together a range of digital history works, and each in its own way has advanced aspects of the field. They share an emphasis on building infrastructure for scholarship–assembling tools, data, documents, and other materials in service of teaching, scholarly inquiry, and interpretative narrative. These are not all documentary scholarly editing projects, like The Papers of George Washington. And the Papers has, of course, changed form as it moves into Rotunda with other Founding collections. PGW extends a long tradition in historical scholarship, maintaining the highest standards of research, validation, and editing integrity. American Memory is a digital library project and digitization project with little if any scholarly editing.
       
      I would classify The Valley of the Shadow and Hypercities perhaps as more argument-driven than the others. The Valley’s intentional archive was specifically arranged to create a social history of the Civil War, which was underdeveloped in the historiography when the project began. It’s argument is in some ways embedded in its architecture and structure, which is explicitly comparative and built around what Ayers has called “deep contingency.” The project also produced a series of different scholarly products or outputs, most of them “long form”–Ayers’ Bancroft prize-winning book In the Presence of Mine Enemies, a co-authored scholarly argument and “article” (hundreds of pages) on The Differences Slavery Made, a primary source reader published by W. W. Norton, a CD-ROM also published by W. W. Norton, methods papers, conference presentations, and essays.
       
      The institutional settings of these projects differ as well, as does their audience and intended purpose. The Valley project contains thousands of documents but it was never a scholarly editing project in the way that The Papers of George Washington is. In any case, the larger point is that all of these are scholarship and this scholarship has taken digital form.
       
      Infrastructure is scholarly activity to be sure, and in many cases it may be scholarship. But the problem of argument remains. And so does the gap that seems to have opened up in the practice of digital history. The tools for argumentation Dorn has outlined here (blogs, Omeka) provide some good places to start, but I think we need to have a broader discussion about the changing nature of narrative and argument in long-form digital history scholarship.
       

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I think in a way part of the problem is potentially with audience–some audiences will know what is meant by “long-form historical argument” right away, but the more that I think about it, the more complicated it is even from my perspective. The monograph seems like a more specific, concrete genre–this essay suggests that ‘rich’ historical argument isn’t necessarily equivalent with the monograph but it wasn’t always equivalent with it in the past, either–part of the question is, when did that take hold in its strongest form?

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I think this piece might be a good opportunity to ask if there are any reasons why historians might legitimately regard the long-form argument in a monograph as a genuinely more labile and flexible instrument in constructing their own work and authority. So many of the contributions in the project frame that preference as the product of customary or habitual usage or as an artifact of institutional culture. But right here in these three paragraphs, you identify some significant issues, and looking at the various projects you review, those issues are pretty sharply visible. Maybe I’d be more inclined to cite and use a monograph because in some ways they are more flexible, adaptable and resilient than *any* of the digital projects reviewed here, before we even get to preferences for non-argument vs. argument functions.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on November 24th, 2011

      Kathryn: I read the MLA’s guideline as a formalistic “thou shalt think about granting credit and do it appropriately” norm rather than the guts of expectations. The pieces about having qualified reviewers and reviewing the material in the form in which it appears are important. I am not certain that addresses the argumentation preference.
      Timothy: We’re trained in grad school to focus on argumentation, to listen for an author’s goals and theses. I remember my advisor’s comment in one class that a first-year grad student’s typical response to a reading is harsh criticism, without seeing what the contribution was or could have been. The flip side of that skill is looking to exploit our colleagues’ arguments. I sometimes wonder (or worry) that as a result we’re argumentative bricoleurs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the “usability” of long-form argumentation may be the consequence of discourse habits. The fair question is whether we could write differently.
      Apart from the professional-credit and tenure issues, I think we could be. This essay is my first stab at doing so.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on November 24th, 2011

      Since I am not sure if I will have much time later this weekend (before the close of comments), I want to thank everyone who has commented on my essay, and especially William Thomas for encouraging his students to dive in. When I submitted this essay, I was not certain if it would get a rise out of anyone or just get a “ho-hum, so what?” reaction. Instead, I have a wonderful set of comments challenging me to think about the potential value of long-form arguments on multiple levels as well as missed opportunities for digital history to engage in argumentation. My deepest appreciation and gratitude to everyone who has responded.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      “Shadow” should be singular throughout.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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/

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Beyond the Historical Profession (Wolff) Fall 2011 (42 comments)

    • Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      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?)

      Comment by William Caraher on October 13th, 2011

      I am not sure that the Wordle cloud – while cool – adds much to your argument. Perhaps it would be more suitable if it were compared to a selection of other more “scholarly” (let’s say) essays on the origins of the Civil War.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 13th, 2011

      Ok, disregard the previous comment. I may be an idiot.  My comment here actually involves the founding of the AHA. I wonder whether it might be more productive to consider the tensions between amateur and professional historians in the early AHA rather than to assume that the organization was designed to produce a cadre of professional historians.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 13th, 2011

      I am not sure that the Wordle cloud – while cool – adds much to your argument. Perhaps it would be more suitable if it were compared to a selection of other more “scholarly” (let’s say) essays on the origins of the Civil War.

      Comment by Heather Munro Prescott on October 13th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Heather Munro Prescott on October 13th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      “Twined”&mdash;meaning `entwined’ or `twinned’? I’m not sure it’s clear as it stands.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      “have served in [the] past as proxies…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      OACV – OACW?
      “challenged ‘anti-southern biases’ in the OACV” 
      “lay a preoccupation with the OACV’s depiction” 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      Sorry…! the above comment belongs to paragraph 12 below

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      OACV – OACW?“challenged ‘anti-southern biases’ in the OACV” “lay a preoccupation with the OACV’s depiction” 

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      The essay would benefit from some definition of “open source knowledge” or “open source histories” at this early stage.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      Might be a typo: “wide public” – “wider public”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      Maybe a typo: “wide public” – “wider public”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      Why is it sometimes ‘the Wikipedia’ and at other times just ‘Wikipedia’?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      This essay might reconsider “the ivory tower” straw man here.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      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 wikipedia 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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      This will probably be a theme on my comments as I work through specific pieces, but I really appreciate the citation to Rosenweig and Thelen here because it reminds the reader that what’s being discussed under the heading of open-source history, digital media’s impact of history, etc. in this essay and elsewhere is a subset of a far larger relation between publics, experts and the production of history which precedes and accompanies the specifically digital.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      One thing to consider–and again I think it applies to a number of the contributions–is what the difference is between deliberate, programmatic engagement and the inevitable engagement with digital spaces which isn’t a choice, which will happen regardless simply because discourse in digital spaces involves or invokes the work of historians, as described here. Even in “surrendering the open web”, if scholarly historians are still producing scholarship within the academy, they will be cited, used, circulated and so on, just without knowing that they are. But that is on a slower and more diffuse scale something that arguably happens with scholarship in non-digital contexts as well–we are sometimes cited in literatures that we don’t know, in historiographies that we don’t track, in debates that we are unaware of, in authoritative claims that we don’t engage in our own practices.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      Bethany, thanks for suggesting clarification on the nature of “open source.” I think it’s a term that we all use with frequency but it does mean different things to different people. I’d have to think about how best to do this but I suspect I would clarify it while also addressing Heather Prescott’s suggestion (i.e., incorporating references to other wiki history projects) in #21 below.
      William, is this simply a matter of nomenclature in the final sentence here, or do you find that it’s an issue throughout the essay?

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      Jason, that’s a darn good question, one I hope that the editors as well as individual authors tackle. I’m curious to see which histories will become authoritative in the popular imagination. At some level, professional historians have always known that other historical narratives are out there but, given the near monopoly of academic and accomplished popular historians over publishing, it hasn’t been much of a concern. Now, however, those narratives can reach wider audiences and readily compete in people’s minds.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      I would love to address this point further in a revised essay. Once upon a time professional historians like Frederick Jackson Turner rode circuit to meet with public school teachers. Herbert Baxter Adams spoke at Chautauqua gatherings. In the end, of course, those activities became déclassé. The digital revolution — if I can appropriate that term for a moment — may mean that multiple modes of historical thinking compete in the popular imagination on a scale that hasn’t existed since the late 19th-c.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      I definitely do not wish to leave readers with the sense that the two are wholly divided. Boldly stated, and in contrast to David Blight, I see professional/academic history as a form of memory (albeit one governed by fairly specific rules of evidence and argument). Thanks, Bethany — this is an excellent point.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      Yes — thanks for catching this and others!!

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      (I just need to pick one form or the other. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.)

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      Yes, Wikipedia invites readers to peer behind the curtain, and offers them a chance to take the controls, but clearly sometimes — dramatically so in the case that Saxton et al describe — someone overrides those controls. In the OACW the collective worked to exclude palpably absurd notions but in Saxton’s case, the collective deleted thoroughly appropriate revisions. I agree that a more explicit dialogue between the two chapters is in order. Obviously — or perhaps not — there’s a lot of Civil War history  that is absent in the OACW but I wasn’t sure how much of it to mention. I settled on mentioning Ed Ayers’ work (given its importance as a piece of digital as well as traditional scholarship) but could easily have mentioned works by scholars like Drew Gilpin Faust. But I think it’s important to add that as of the time that this chapter was completed, I couldn’t find any indication that (for example) scholarship on women had been excluded. That’s why I find the Saxton chapter so engaging. It makes me wonder what would happen if professional historians made a sustained effort to change the culture of historical writing in the Wikipedia.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      Fair enough. I can convey the same thing in words.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 23rd, 2011

      Maddeningly the Wikipedia Foundation provided almost no detail about the survey or its methodology. I think it’s important to include but I could certainly add explicit caveats. My suspicion is that the demographic of OACV writers resembles that of my Civil War course student population (except that some finished their formal education in high school).

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 27th, 2011

      A further thought. By choosing the “Origins of the Civil War,” I knowingly selected a topic that would necessitate some discussion of slavery and race. Women’s history and gender history are less commonly employed as lenses for understanding the war’s origins. For the Spanish-American War, there is Kristin Hoganson’s Fighting for American Manhood but for the Civil War I can’t think of a comparable volume (although there are certainly chapters about the war’s origins and their effect on the homefront, especially in the South).

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 27th, 2011

      I collected user names for all contributors to the page. Looking them over, and bearing in mind that these are self-reported, self-fashioned identities, only a handful contain women’s names like Jen. Many contain men’s names like Mark. The majority, however, are ambiguous consisting of simply IP addresses or aliases such as seaphoto and RangerDude. What I could do, however, is explore the user data further. Sometimes the user pages contain more concrete info for the aliases.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 27th, 2011

      What I’d like to see is an open conversation between professional historians, public historians, and Wikipedians, ideally at an OAH/NCPH meeting. I’m curious to know what wiki projects you have found especially compelling. I do want to keep the focus on the Wikipedia in this chapter but I would like to say a bit more about “the good wiki society” in the text and/or notes. So expect an email.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      It might make it easier for the reader if you began with a working definition of history and memory and then explored different views. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 28th, 2011

      I did not do this at the outset because I do see history and memory as variants of a single phenomenon. I’m likely to address this issue further in paragraph 5 below. You’ll remember that I begin with “Ordinarily historians see…” The key here is the deployment of “ordinarily” to signal that there is another way to conceptualize the remembrance of the past. Rather than see history and memory as distinct, I prefer to see them as interconnected. History draws upon memory because it relies on past efforts to consolidate an understanding of events — whether for personal consumption in the form of letters and diaries, or in more “public” transcripts such as newspapers and government documents. The traces of those efforts — those “archive stories” to borrow the title of Antoinette Burton’s edited volume — embody all sorts of power relationships that historians should interrogate. In drafting this submission I had not wanted to stray too far or too long from the analysis of “writing history in the digital age” but based on your comments and those of others, as well as upon my own inclinations, I plan to say more in any revised version.
      The comments of Timothy Burke — e.g., http://writinghistory.trincoll.edu/evidence/pasts-in-a-digital-age-tanaka/#comment-1281 — also influence my thinking here. In one sense, professional historians have always performed their acts of history knowing that others read the scripts differently, but because the two groups practiced their crafts in different spaces, there was little direct conflict. In digital spaces the many versions of the past collide.
      Many thanks again for all of your comments! They have been very helpful.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on November 28th, 2011

      Yes, I suppose it’s easy to call for engagement with digital spaces/authors but then one must ask how to differentiate between engagement that will be meaningful for one’s self, the profession, etc., and engagement that will yield little or no return (see http://xkcd.com/386/). The Wikipedia community seems a reasonable target for outreach, especially because contributors already cite historians as authorities (even if as in this instance those citations are dated and insufficient). An open conversation with Wikipedia contributors on the nature of the historian’s craft seems called for, especially if it leads to a re-think of NPOV (neutral point of view) policy.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      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.

  • Teaching Wikipedia without Apologies (Seligman) Fall 2011 (39 comments)

    • Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      You may want to refer to Mills Kelly’s class that confabulated a Wikipedia page on a fictional pirate.

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      I’m not sure it’s fair to describe those who don’t teach about encyclopedias as “hid[ing their] head in the sand.” There probably are a number of historians who would like to pretend that encyclopedias and Cliff Notes don’t exist, but many choose not to primarily because of time: your chapter demonstrates the effort that is involved in doing this well!

      Comment by Sherman Dorn on September 30th, 2011

      I wish I knew the history of encyclopedias well enough to know how that “authoritative neutral” voice developed. Lawyers use it, too — it’s what I think of as a university lawyer’s “voice of God” trick.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      Bookmarking this for my future revisions:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Owens

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on September 30th, 2011

      I wish I knew to. Perhaps I will research it!

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 3rd, 2011

      It’s important to note the rationale behind Kelly’s course, ‘Lying about the Past’, which aimed to create deeper reflective criticism of sources in his students – see for instance http://chronicle.com/article/Teaching-by-Lying-Professor/1420

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 3rd, 2011

      The role of NPOV – and whether or note it actually exists – is tremendously important for students to get their heads around.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 3rd, 2011

      *er*, excuse the typo.
       

      Comment by Judith Kafka on October 6th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Natalia Mehlman Petrzela on October 7th, 2011

      I think this is such an important piece. The overwhelming majority of our students – and let’s admit it, ourselves as well – use Wikipedia in some way. For me, it is usually my first stop in navigating new terrain and finding pathways to other sources that are more reliable. I think part of our responsibility in teaching history in the digital age is to teach students about the new dimensions of intellectual responsibility demanded by the availability of sources such as Wikipedia.

      Comment by Jason Jones on October 10th, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      I appreciate the affirmation that we should teach about Wikipedia rather than forbid it.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      I appreciate that reference.
       

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      Thanks for the link. It’s interesting to read those comments, which also argue against using any encyclopedia.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      I like the idea of tertiary sources, but I wonder if Wikipedia necessarily qualifies as a tertiary source. In fact, parts of Wikipedia qualify as secondary sources and other parts are primary sources. In other words, I wonder whether this distinction adds confusion rather than clarity.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      I like the notion that a single wikipedia entry encapsulates at least one perspective on historical writing in general.  Historians constantly attempt to overwrite the claims and arguments of other historians by revising other’s arguments, bending by adding “unauthorized” additions, or even destroying other’s arguments entirely. In this way, Wikipedia stands less outside of a tradition of scholarly practice and more outside the tradition of popular views of historical practices which see the work of the historian to produce eternally true “facts”. 
      Of course, diligent and committed historians monitor constantly their own arguments in the scholarship and protect them with a similar vigilance that you propose for a single Wikipedia entry. 

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 17th, 2011

      Good point. In fact, tertiary sources are problematic in the same way secondary sources are–sometimes they shade down a degree.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 20th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 20th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Barbara Rockenbach on October 21st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charles Klinetobe on October 26th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 31st, 2011

      A note from the editors: For additional commentary on this essay, please see the page for general comments on the book.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      “without every saying” – “Without ever saying”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      “…rewrite the entry so that [it] is a critique…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      Formatting at start of line, “two centuries…” – line seems indented

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      For me, this thought experiments outlines the dilemmas surrounding contributing to Wikipedia in a very accessible way. Thank you.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      Why is it not ‘commons character’ like ‘commons authorship’ a few lines above?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      Perhaps when it comes to publication it would be good to have some further dialogue regarding NPOV between you and Shawn Graham.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 1st, 2011

      I find your writing style very engaging. 

      Comment by Steven Schwinghamer on November 12th, 2011

      “real-time peer review of the central argument—all with the intent of improving the overall quality of the cotnent.”
      I don’t want to be pedantic, but that typo is delicious! 
      (… and so, a tiny, orthographic victory for the real-time open review model)
       

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      This essay has a really interesting dialogic relationship to others in this section–there’s a wariness or thoughtfulness here about scholarly authority in relationship to crowdsourcing that I think is really important.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.)

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 27th, 2011

      I like Seligman’s methods approach very much and am pleased to see it here so carefully and thoroughly described. The History Methods course is becoming more and more critical in our curriculum, given the explosion in digital sources and artifacts and the challenges of understanding their provenance.
       
      More in this volume, or perhaps this essay, might be done to gain perspective on how the standard methods course is changing in the field of history. I suspect that Seligman can accomplish that here. 
       
      I appreciate the way Seligman presents the idea of using Wikipedia to elucidate argument and to work with students on reading even allegedly NPOV entries as inflected with argument. Her suggestion that we need very much to pay attention to persuading students of the “value of embedding argument in historical writing” seems especially useful.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Learning How to Write (Lawrence) Fall 2011 (37 comments)

    • Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Cheryl Greenberg on October 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      I wonder whether there was any follow up by the students to their Wikipedia articles? Did they develop a sense of ownership over their historical analysis? Did they work to protect their perspectives in their contribution to Wikipedia?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 28th, 2011

      I like the use of the term “analog histories,” which gives a name to some that we might otherwise not know what to call.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on October 31st, 2011

      Thanks!

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      Is this sample derived from one of the students’ actual creations or is it purely notional? If the latter, would the former be feasible?

      Comment by cheryl greenberg on November 1st, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 2nd, 2011

      This is derived from a students’ actual work.  I needed a way to visually see the differences in the structure of each piece.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 2nd, 2011

      Thanks, Cheryl!

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Little typo: “…possibility of providing a range [of] primary…”?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Very minor point: “whole other endeavor” – sounds a little bit colloquial

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.” 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Or indeed the possibility of encouraging students to make their reviews more widely available, through posting them to review websites online?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 18th, 2011

      Thank you for the suggestions, Charlotte.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 18th, 2011

      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/).

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 18th, 2011

      Thank you for catching this, Charlotte.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 18th, 2011

      Thank you for the suggestions.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 18th, 2011

      I thought so, too!  I’ll be sure to let him know.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 18th, 2011

      Thank you!

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 28th, 2011

      I can certainly address this in revision.

      Comment by Adrea Lawrence on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing (Gibbs & Owens) Fall 2011 (35 comments)

    • Comment by Christopher Hager on October 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Ted Underwood on October 19th, 2011

      I’m a literary historian, but I tend to place the emphasis on the noun in that phrase.
      I absolutely agree that quantitative methodology isn’t an end in itself. Indeed, I think quantitative analysis of text is often best understood as a source of leads that are then pursued with a fairly traditional historical hermeneutic.
      However, I don’t quite agree about not taking on the “epistemological burdens” that come with statistics. In one important sense I think it is necessary for us to do this. The thing is that when you use digital tools to rapidly survey large amounts of data, you’re doing something called “data mining,” and the problem of cherry-picking examples acquires a new kind of urgency. For instance, you may discover a correlation in the data that looks very significant. But if it’s a correlation that a program plucked for you out of a sea of 10,000 candidates … it may be less significant than it looks. The term of art for this dilemma is “multiple comparison.”
      Basically, I agree with you about our hermeneutic relation to data, except that 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.

      Comment by Trevor Owens on October 21st, 2011

      “epistemological burdens” might be to strong of a word here. I would tend to agree with most of what you are saying. There is indeed a need for historians to take up some more statistics. With that said, I do think it is critical to realize that much of what happens when people start talking about statistics involves bringing a hypothesis testing mindset and the idea that one wants to generalize. 
      So if one wants to make a claim about what is normal in a given corpus than things like randomness become really important. That historical intuition is pushed beyond the bounds of what it could be counted on being reliable for. However, in many cases the whole point of historical work is to start by cherry picking a some set of things to look at for a particular reason, not because they are in some way representative, but often because they are in fact not representative.  
      In any event, the point is well taken. This discussion prompts me to think that there is still a tremendous amount of thought and work to be put into working through what kinds of statistical procedures and what kinds of ways of using those procedures really make sense in different kinds of historical research contexts. It is worth thinking about the various statistical tests and procedures as tools in much the same that software is, and in that sense, I think there remains a need for extended discussions of examples grounded in attempts to answer, explore, and open up particular historical questions.

      Comment by Jason Heppler on October 27th, 2011

      # Writing in the Digital Age Reflection

      2011-10-26

      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.

      Comment by Kristen Nawrotzki on October 31st, 2011

      A note from the editors: For additional commentary on this essay, please see the page for general comments on the book.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Trevor Owens on November 6th, 2011

      Good point, it would be better for us to say something like, “Historians have been using data for a long time.”

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      This paragraph should be linked with Bauer’s assertion that her database is a publication.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Tim Sherratt on November 13th, 2011

      Is it a matter of ‘de-emphasizing’ traditional historical narrative, or finding richer platforms for publishing narratives that allow complex linkages between the story and the method talk? Just as the fun and excitement in this sort of research is shifting between the distant/close readings, so the excitement in consuming the published research will be in peering below the smooth surface of the narrative to see how the mistakes, dead-ends and eureka moments were all resolved into the ‘finished’ product. Something a bit like Darnton’s pyramid I suppose.

      Comment by Tim Sherratt on November 13th, 2011

      Important point. Data viz folks talk about ‘sketches’ and it seems like a useful metaphor. We need to observe large datasets from a variety of angles and in a variety of lights sketching as we go. There can be a bit of a tension here though just because the tools we use can make our sketches look too ‘finished’. How do we communicate that a nice-looking graph is the product of a quick and dirty analysis?

      Comment by Tim Sherratt on November 14th, 2011

      ‘Is this the twenty-first century footnote?’ Yes, I think perhaps it is. I think footnotes need to evolve to enable us to describe the relationships between our narratives and the things we’re citing – not just as points of evidence, but as methodological examples. Do we need a historical Gist repository where we publish and share examples or code snippets in a citable form? I think RDFa/microdata has a lot to offer here in building texts with embedded layers of evidence, context and coumentation.

      Comment by Tim Sherratt on November 14th, 2011

      Great article! Inspired by this and memories of maths lessons past, I definitely think we need to start ‘showing our working out’. While I agree we should start doing it now — through blogs in particular — it does make you start thinking about formats. How can bring together these different forms of historical writing (along with the sources and data) and publish in a meaningful way that itself encourages exploration and re-use.
      I’m also wondering about how we communicate the mistakes, dead ends and dumb luck that all go into research. Even in a methodological article, the tendency will be to work towards a particular end point. Perhaps we need something that combines elements of the artist’s sketchbook with the scientist’s lab notebook. Would this sort of transparency be a bit too scary?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 23rd, 2011

      Gibbs and Owens point out that historical writing has been “largely confined by linear narratives” and they argue that historians have generally hidden their methods from view. They call for historical writing that “explicates the research process” and “interfaces with, explains, and makes accessible the data that historians use.” Their main concern is that the field is currently and will be transitioning to large-data arguments and perhaps away from “humanly manageable” forms of historical research. Methodological transparency will clearly be essential in this environment. There have been many recent posts about humanities scholars in the digital age awash in data. I would like these authors to explain more about “data” — both what they mean by the term and how “data” is presently changing form and quality. We can see that Google offers a particular form of data in its N-gram viewer, but these data are quite distinct from the data that Cronon or Bushman assembled. Further work in this essay might explain a typology for data in the digital age. And therefore why hermeneutics of data might be so important now.
       
       

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I like this paragraph very much–it does what some of the other contributions don’t do as well, which is to ground claims about what is novel in digital or related practices in older or deeper conversations.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      This is like the claim that has been made in some other digital humanities work that’s grappling with the phenomenon of large data sets that are created through semi-automated processes of monitoring and scraping, which is that this data isn’t as much “proof” as it is making patterns visible which would otherwise be invisible, and that some of these patterns make counter-intuitive or unexpected interpretations imaginable–not that they prove them true, more that they allow us to expand the possibility space of interpretation.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      “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.)

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      you’re right. we need to be clearer about our definitions of data and evidence, especially since they are two different things.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 28th, 2011

      exactly right: we’re not nearly clear enough on these points, especially the notion about changing form and quality of data.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Visualizations and Historical Arguments (Theibault) Fall 2011 (35 comments)

    • Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 8th, 2011

      This opening paragraph takes for granted its geo-temporal parameters.  While it is perhaps obvious to most of us that the author is talking about Europe from the medieval period through the 19th century, I don’t think this should go without saying, particularly in an introductory paragraph.  If it can go without saying, then we are agreeing that the norm is European history.  Moreover, this paragraph expresses a clear teleology, the ever-increasing efficacy of the integration of graphic and written texts.  Words and phrases like “apotheosis” and “most elaborate evolution” reinforce this teleology and the fact that it is implied that the “apotheosis” and “most elaborate evolution” of various visualizations came out of a European historiographical tradition begs questions, at least from those of us who study the integration of graphic and written texts to produce knowledge in other parts of the world.  I would like the author to make explicit the time and place he is discussing in this paragraph rather than assuming their self-evidence and universality.

      Comment by john theibault on October 11th, 2011

      Fair enough.
      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. 

      Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 11th, 2011

      These changes would satisfy me fully.  I see no need for the essay to go into non-western visualizations, just to note that the ones it explores do not constitute the sine qua non of visualizations!

      Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 11th, 2011

      There is a word missing in the first sentence here.

      Comment by Zayde Antrim on October 11th, 2011

      As far as I am concerned, this is where the essay really takes off!  From this paragraph to the end the author explores new ground, or known ground in new ways, and I learned a lot.  This second half of the essay clearly answers the question of how digital technology can transform historical writing.

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      Many thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      Oops. Figure should be “County-level Results for the 2008 Election”
      I could also include a standard Electoral Map of the States.

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      “…statisticians were becoming more self-conscious about how the results of analysis were being used.”

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      Oops. Comment was supposed to be in section 16.

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      See comment in section 17

      Comment by john theibault on October 13th, 2011

      See comment in paragraph 17

      Comment by William Caraher on October 23rd, 2011

      I am not sure it is accurate to describe a “relative decline in social history”. (It is certainly not the case in many areas of pre-modern history European history.)  Perhaps say something like quantitative social history.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 23rd, 2011

      While I understand your point here, I’d contend that the function o the illustration in an argument has as much to do with its legibility as anything intrinsic to the visualization – at least in the case you present here. If you used this to display election results, it would obviously be problematic unless you were offering an argument that saw election results by county as being central (e.g. compared the the party of, say, county officers).
       
      I wonder if another, less problematic, example would make your (otherwise fascinating) argument more successfully. 

      Comment by William Caraher on October 23rd, 2011

      This is a nice concluding paragraph, but I wonder whether you might explore a bit more the idea that these visualization are not simply complements to complex historical arguments, but actually provide the impetus for historical arguments.
       
      Part of the so-called “spatial” or “visual” turn seems to me to be grounded in the idea that images make it easier to comprehend and interpret complexity. In other words, I would have liked to see some examples of “traditional” historical arguments that derived from visualizing complex data in new ways. To me this is different from saying that visualization allows historians to illustrate or complement their arguments. In fact, it suggests that certain kinds of visualization actually drives historical analysis because it lets us do more than communicate complex ideas, but to understand them. 

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 28th, 2011

      This article is at its strongest–and invaluable–in its discussion of mapping.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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!)

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      I like the description of two modes of reading these texts.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      Agreed.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      little typo: “…primarily the former of the latter…” – “…primarily the former [or] the latter…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      I found this essay exciting and inspirational. I would like to see other graduates and indeed undergraduates reading this.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 23rd, 2011

      I like this essay because it surveys some of the latest attempts at “processing” visualizations. I am not sure what the thesis is exactly, and would recommend that Theibault place his focus on how historians mediate visual information, from the Annales school to today, but with a special focus perhaps on mediation of visual images in digital form. Digital processing is creating an entirely new entity or class of visualizations with which we are unfamiliar, that seems to me the main issue here. We might explore what the components of these new developments are.
       
      This essay could be sharpened by addressing the issue more throughly in the text and notes–too much seems missing here. Ayers’ “cinematic maps” for example. Ayers spoke about this here at Nebraska in 2006 and has written about these in the recent edited volume on Spatial Humanities. David Staley’s book on visualization in history should be consulted and cited. There is a broader literature on data visualization in history that Theibault might work into this essay.  

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 28th, 2011

      I’m generally fascinated by this piece and really enjoyed it, but this paragraph is the clearest case of something that might need some nudging about the way it comes at the overall problem it’s engaging. 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). In terms of this latter point, I don’t think even the most imaginative visualization in the world could have exempted Fogel and Engermann from the criticisms they received, which were about far more fundamental epistemological and methodological objections. Not just between social historians and non-social historians, but within the big tent of social history: compare Fogel/Engermann to Genovese, Blassingame, Oakes, Gutman and I don’t think there’s much room left to think that visualization of any quality at all is or was the issue. (Similarly to William Caraher, I don’t think that the decline of cliometrician-styled social history is the same thing at all as the decline of social history as a whole. This is really about the relative decline of strongly quantitative history.)
      So if the story is specifically about quantitative information and its relationship to professional history, I think that’s very on the money, and clearly the reaction to Time on the Cross is some part of that, but visualization enters the figure as ‘collateral damage’. Which is in turn is relevant to the overall push of not just this essay but a number of others that consider digital means for working with both old kinds and new kinds of data. (And the examples and thinking in the rest of this essay are really compelling.)

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Wikipedia and Women's History (Saxton, et al.) Fall 2011 (34 comments)

    • Comment by Robert Wolff on October 1st, 2011

      One minor change if you keep the quote — I believe it was “professional norms of interpretation” not “problems.” Thanks!

      Comment by Christopher Hager on October 4th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 5th, 2011

      It’s worth taking a look at a recent survey from the United Nations on the demographics of the Wikipedians, http://www.wikipediastudy.org/ (a slideshare summary is available here http://www.slideshare.net/philipp/unu-merit-wikipedia-survey).
      According to that survey, about 13% of wikipedians are female. The education level of contributors works out to about 44% with secondary level or less, and about 49% with tertiary (undergrad to phd). It would be interesting to know those figures by subject/article in Wikpedia, if it’s possible…

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      Can anyone point to exactly where that comment is? I couldn’t find it with a quick scan of the referenced page?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      I see that you address the authorship in a subsequent paragraph.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 12th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

       I agree with Amanda. It also seems to rely upon a view of an encyclopedia as a collection of bits of “information” rather than a dynamic web of interrelated studies that create new foci almost continuously. It’s a bit remarkable that Wales could offer such a relatively facile understanding of this own monster.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      To make this and the following paragraph more easily understood, it would be helpful to lay out the process whereby individuals acquire editorial power in Wikipedia. It seems that much of the power of the editors comes from sustained involvement in the project.  (This is not only true of our political process where individuals acquire “vested” interest by actively vesting time, and, in scholarship, where scholars with long track records of publishing in a particular field develop authority that might exceed the intellectual content or relevance of their contributions.)  
      Of course, a class – which stretches of 15 weeks – should probably not have the same access to contributing to Wikipedia as an individual active in the project for 5 years.  On the other hand, a sustained interest by a group of scholars – or even groups of students taking a class – could over time displace vested interests and represent new editorial authority themselves.
      All this to say that Wikipedia is a tool and the social limitations of the tool conditions some of the ways in which it can be used. The limited perspective of editors manifests the relative absence of academic interest in Wikipedia.

      Comment by sikarskie on October 24th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      I actually learnt a lot about good Wikipedia practice from this, as well as bad. Thankyou for writing it.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      formatting: ‘in consequential’ – ‘inconsequential’

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 19th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      Maybe insert ‘with’: “provides students [with] another novel writing challenge…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      The final sentence in this paragraph might need reworking. I think the issue lies in the use of the word ‘one’.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      I find your argument about segregated histories to be important and thought provoking. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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’.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I also like the incorporation of Woolf here–it’s what a published volume often lacks, that sense of incorporation of other contributions, of simultaneity. I get why it’s hard to revise constantly for incorporation just in pure labor terms–fire-and-forget is first of all a way to move on with your life. But at least some of that immediate, real-time intertextuality is one of the distinguishing possibilities of this kind of writing.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      “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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      It would be useful to hear more about the editorial apparatus for Wikiprojects: how are materials rated “of interest,” for example?

      Comment by Martha Saxton on November 27th, 2011

      I think my students experienced “permission” randomly, depending on what subject they worked on.  In Peacepanda’s case she did not receive suggestions; she was summarily edited, and although she could have inserted her material again, it would have disappeared again.  In this case, it was the absence of any negotiating process that made the word “permitted” seem accurate.  In other cases there was negotiation, although the negotiations, and in some cases no editors seemed to be noticing at all.

      Comment by Martha Saxton on November 27th, 2011

      This is a very interesting possibility for an ongoing class project in which students might patrol previous classes’ interventions as well as making their own edits and contributions.  Perhaps  some of the old sexism that makes its way into some of these articles could be altered over time. (see Christopher Hager’s  comment.)

      Comment by Martha Saxton on November 27th, 2011

      Yes, I think it’s truest for essays in which race, for example, is not the central point, because those articles are hotly contested.  I think it’s  insidious in  large overviews and big synthetic pieces where the experiences of minorities can be dismissed as “off topic.”

      Comment by Martha Saxton on November 27th, 2011

      I’m glad it was useful to you.  I’ve learned an enormous amount teaching with Wikipedia–most of it unexpected.

      Comment by Martha Saxton on November 27th, 2011

      Thanks–when I wrote the sentence I was thinking that there are many struggles over who owns our history–many places where that struggle is carried out and that in each place the rules of engagement are different.  How would you rewrite the sentence?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      It’s brilliant to consider that the student is not just hearing their professor’s opinions and critique but rather gaining broader view.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Fielding History (Bauer) Fall 2011 (34 comments)

    • Comment by Christopher Hager on October 5th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jacqueline Wilson on October 12th, 2011

      “Databases can also be used for note taking, . . .  is a powerful tool for research.”  
      Awkward sentence try: and are a powerful

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      Transparency in database design is as important to understanding databases as a historial publication as transparency is in traditional historical work.  Will a database come to represent the point of mediation between the historical prose and the primary source? In other words, can you drill down through your database to your source in an efficient way?

      Comment by Ansley Erickson on October 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on October 19th, 2011

      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/

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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… 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      It could be made more explicit whether there is the ability to change keywords for later searches.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      “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?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.)

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      But that doesn’t mean the same thing!

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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…

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by fred gibbs on November 5th, 2011

      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.  

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.
       

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I don’t necessarily think this essay is the right place to take it up, but as per Christopher’s comment above, here’s a thought: past archives were not particularly good with metadata. In fact, the entirety of everything that can be used as evidence by historians in making authoritative claims is shot through with inconsistency, fragmentation, ambiguity. That’s one of the defining features of historical writing, and why it perches on an unstable balance between humanistic and social-scientistic work. This essay might be a good place to muse a bit about the belief that better, more transparent, more consistent, more complete data structures will produce some better, more consistent, more authoritative, more valuable history. When I look at the debate over the numbers of Africans taken into the Atlantic slave trade, which was kicked off by cliometricianal ambition, I really wonder whether the historiography that engendered really led us to some greater understanding or wisdom about the Atlantic slave trade or whether it led us into a cul-de-sac where designing increasingly precise and comprehensive archives governed by more and more fully apportioned metadata became a purpose in and of itself.
      This relates a bit to the question of whether tools are publications. It’s a bit of a red herring, perhaps? The point is to get credit for what we do, and to have that credit count as a form of reputation capital which the discipline and our institutions value and reward. But the ethos of a tool might be different from a publication. What’s a good tool? Sort of depends on what work you want to do. If I want to clean out the clog of a drain, only a snake will do. If I want to draw a picture, I might want a full toolbox of artistic materials. The point is that we don’t make tools for the sake of tools: we have to have a task in mind. Making some kinds of important arguments about the past might not depend upon the construction of superior informational tools.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 23rd, 2011

      In the current “spatial turn” it is refreshing to hear Jean Bauer’s sage and insightful reminder that one of the most important contributions to digital humanities we can make is “the careful representation of time.” Date-time stamps, to anyone who has attempted to make a database in say Access and transfer it to say early versions of Mysql would recognize Jean Bauer’s “harrowing” moment: finding out that the database cannot capture dates before 1999 (remember Y2K?) or that the early web relational database operates on “unix time” and cannot convert easily dates from the eighteenth century. Bauer’s revitalization of relational databases, however, makes great sense and provides an inspiring and thoroughly grounded case study for historians to consider. She asserts carefully that historians moved away from the RDBMS model because many web database systems, such as msql, MySQL, and post-gres, did not initially handle time and other important historical values very well or very usefully. She’s right in this assessment I think. But there is another dimension to the move to XML and semantic linking that she might explore. Historians face large quantities of documentary materials rather than tabular data and some decisions to abandon RDBMS approaches and favor XML encoding came from the recognition and concern that these materials were fundamentally textual and documentary rather than numerical. And in addition the energy in digital humanities around TEI and XML suggested other reasons for making this move. Perhaps, Bauer might give a more robust exploration of how historians might conceive of textual sources and new database systems (MongoDB for example) and what epistemological considerations might be at stake in this decision if any.
       
      Bauer’s section on “modeling time” is important, but I’d like to see it developed in the way that Tanaka’s essay does. This section slips too quickly into “tips” on how to encode time in RDBMS when I’d like to know more about how her project “models” or might “model” temporal relationships. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 25th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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.

  • HeritageCrowd Project (Graham, Massie, & Feuerherm) Fall 2011 (33 comments)

    • Comment by Christopher Hager on October 4th, 2011

      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.”)

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 21st, 2011

      … “an indicator of”, or `correlated with’?

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 24th, 2011

      Good point. ‘Correlated with’ is probably more accurate.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on October 24th, 2011

      I think so, yes. At the recent ThatCamp GTA (Toronto), it was suggested that crowdsourcing primary materials has ethical analogues with the work of oral historians, and that is something that should perhaps be explored further.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 2nd, 2011

      ‘…the Longitude Problem” in the…’ – quotation marks

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 5th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Shawn Graham on November 10th, 2011

      Hi Bethany – Thank you for the kind words. There is a certain amount of ‘build it and they will come’ surrounding many crowdsourcing projects, and having been through the process once, I hope that our experience can help others (especially perhaps small scale institutions or historical societies) avoid (or improve on) our mistakes or shortcomings.
      Shawn

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      Formatting – close brackets ‘… (as Steve Ramsay…’ 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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.” 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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’

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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)

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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)… 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      In this regard, this project is highly commendable and exciting. I hope it inspires (perhaps graduate) readers to think of similar projects.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 22nd, 2011

      I agree with Bethany on this essay’s valuable contribution and its useful suggestions. I like the ideas to “trawl, crawl, spider” the web for local materials and those of game rewards. This essay is a useful place to start on the idea of how much penetration local history sites might have and how participation might flow into and through the project.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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>.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Popular History, the Academy & the Internet (Jarrett) Fall 2011 (33 comments)

    • Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on October 15th, 2011

      A formatting error here: this paragraph is part of the quote from Parry and should be indented. My apologies.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 18th, 2011

      This all being said, it is generally possible to add links to future posts because most blogs have more or less predictable URLs. The line between static pages and non-static pages are blurring more and more. Some blogs, in fact, publish to static pages to eliminate rendering issues rooted in php and other server side issues.  At the same time, there are few real static pages any longer that don’t have some live content updating in real time…
       
      So this might be a bit of an anachronistic view of the difference between a blog and a static web site. The latter are a vanishing breed.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      Somewhat ironically, I find this anecdote hard to read – no need to indicate where the words are edited though…   ;)

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      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.
       

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on October 31st, 2011

      “those hings are” – “those things are”

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      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…”

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 1st, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 1st, 2011

      I think this version is much clearer.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 1st, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 16th, 2011

      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.
       

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 18th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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-BrooksCastañeda and to some extent Sikarskie.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      I keep returning to this essay, it’s a great introduction to those who may be considering blogging.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      It’s great to get a better understanding of these issues through reading the comments here, thank you. 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 23rd, 2011

      Jarrett explains that “blogging will only serve as a means of generating scholarship when there is no longer an apparatus to recognize scholarship” and that it will not be “where scholarship is done” under current conditions in the Academy. The issue of peer review, filter-then-publish, and other constraints of the current model keep coming up in these essays. For good reason. The question of whether blogging is “academic output” and what its role is to scholarship is usefully explored here. Jarrett’s commonsensical approach to these questions helps us see what kind of scholarly activity might be best suited to the blog format.  Like many of the essays in this volume, the personal experience is a useful beginning point, but I wanted to know more about how historians have changed genres and forms and what these experiences tell us about our current circumstances. In other words, these essays, while useful as best practice examples, do little to open up the broader questions and may appear under-researched. Some of the questions that come to mind have to do with analytics, and usability, and search optimization, and the various stylesheeting decision points that historians find themselves managing in this environment. 

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 28th, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 28th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit your essay into a co-authored one, we wrote:

      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.

      Comment by Alex Nelson on April 13th, 2012

      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…

  • Teaching the Introductory Course (Harbison & Waltzer) Fall 2011 (32 comments)

    • Comment by Christopher Hager on October 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 13th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 13th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Lauren Braun-Strumfels on October 13th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Luke Waltzer on October 14th, 2011

      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.          
            

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on October 14th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      Took naturally? This is pretty interesting and suggestive phrase! 
      What in the nature of the class, the students, or the tools employed led to this kind of “natural” interaction?

      Comment by William Caraher on October 16th, 2011

      Intuitively seem a bit like “naturally”. See my comments earlier. I wonder whether what you suggest as intuition is, in fact, the product of a complex set of social, generic, institutional, and even design related influences that, in fact, create the kind of productive “academic” web environment upon which much of your successful project depended.

      Comment by Andrea Nichols on October 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Michelle Tiedje on October 26th, 2011

      Historians have a responsibility to keep abreast of recent research in human learning and effective teaching techniques, and the digital age has played a large role in inspiring studies of cognition and neurobiology that can help historians become better teachers. This article makes a lot of excellent points about the need for innovation and collaboration in developing more interactive, immersive survey history courses. The introductory history course is key to generating student interest in and understanding of the study of history, which is why I find the experimentation described in this article so relevant to discussions of history in the digital age. Harbison and Waltzer list four pedagogical processes that they utilized to shape the course they developed: Writing Across the Curriculum/Writing in the Disciplines, the Visual Knowledge Project, the Open Educational Resources Movement, and networked learning theory.
       
      Each of these processes emphasizes exploration, collaboration, and primary source research as a means not only to help students work through the information in the course, but to examine how they think about, work through, and learn from that material as well. It’s about process, not product, and this is central to any successful learning experience. While it’s true that these processes and the emphasis on process rather than product could be utilized in a “traditional” (i.e. non-digital) introductory history course, I agree with the authors’ assertions that the digital medium and digital technologies and resources present unique opportunities to both teachers and students.
       
      For one, historian-teachers have access to resources that make it possible for them to observe and actively participate in their students’ attempts to navigate through the course material and develop critical analysis skills. This makes it far easier to intervene and redirect students when they are having difficulty grasping key ideas or concepts and has the added advantage of clarifying student thought processes. As a teaching assistant I have learned that it is nearly impossible to predict the ways students from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences will interact with a given text, lecture theme, or primary source. Thus far, speaking with students is the only way I have found that I can gain sufficient insight into how a student is interacting with the material to understand what a particular problem is and offer appropriate advice and direction for rethinking the problem. It seems that the digitally-taught history course offers another, potentially more effective approach: observing the learning process itself. This could make it possible to reach students before they journey too far down the wrong path or become discouraged and give up.
       
      A second obvious advantage of teaching history digitally is that it gives historians a viable platform for showing students the need for and potential of history in the digital medium. The introductory history course taught digitally will, as the authors discuss, require the use of both digital tools and digitized sources. By showing their students what is currently available online, historians can also discuss what is currently not online—as well as what this means for the discipline of history. Examples of digital scholarship can inspire students to imagine new ways of doing history, ways that are probably quite different from how they are used to thinking about history (generally in terms of names, dates, and “dusty old books”).  Digitally-taught history courses also provide a means to increase media literacy, not just in the sense of increasing student knowledge and abilities with regard to digital technologies and tools—as Harbison and Waltzer point out—but also in the sense of showing students how to critically evaluate historical sources and arguments in the digital medium. If historians don’t assume an active role in educating students about how to determine good history from bad—both in print and online—who will? Wouldn’t we rather it be us (trained professionals) educating students in our history courses than some amateur or demagogue on the Web? Of course critical evaluation of sources and argument ought to be discussed in any introductory level history course, by does not the digitally-taught history course offer a unique opportunity to impact the primary way the digital generation encounters history: on the Web?
       
      I am also particularly encouraged and intrigued by the authors’ experimentation with open platform publishing. First, this medium seems bound to generate “more rigorous examination of visual resources,” as the authors argue, and it enables both students and historian-teachers to take full advantage of a wide variety of source material. When students write and publish in the digital medium, they are able to utilize not just visual sources, but audio, video, and born-digital sources as well. This is sure to please students of the digital generation, who already tend to be well-versed in interaction with multiple forms of media, but it also promises a process and a product that will be more interdisciplinary in nature than the traditional class essay tends to be. “Media richness,” as Harbison and Waltzer term it, offers a new path to increased interdisciplinarity within the teaching, study, and profession of history. (Although of course interdisciplinary methods require their own introduction and discussion of best practices if students are to use multiple media effectively and critically.)
       
      Open platform publishing also offers a means for historian-teachers to get their students to practice and develop their writing skills more. I have been a teaching assistant for a few professors who have attempted to utilize in-class “mini-essays” as a practical opportunity to enhance students’ basic skills in forming critical arguments supported by evidence. And by practical I mean that they are brief enough to evaluate quickly—something that is key in large classes—and consume very little class time. Mini-essays are a good enough technique to start with, but they aren’t particularly useful as the semester goes on and one works to see improvement over time.  Mini-essays, by their very nature, don’t allow for much in-depth analysis and thought. The “micro-monographs” Harbison and Waltzer refer to seem a much more useful tool in the effort to achieve the same end, and the fact that these micro-monographs are developed and presented in an open, digital platform makes them all the more useful to historian-teachers’ efforts to find more effective ways to educate students. Writing as an iterative process holds great promise in getting students to improve both their writing skills and competency in making a historical argument. Harbison and Waltzer discuss having students write and publish a brief piece on a focused theme, then garner feedback via peer review and instructor intervention, gather more evidence, and rewrite. They state that their students wrote “more frequently and voluminously” over the course of the semester than in most other courses they previously taught. These short bursts of writing seem ideal for many of the goals of an introductory course, and they enable the historian-teacher to engage with their students in a more thorough, meaningful way than a typical large survey course allows.
       
      Overall, the experiences shared by Harbison and Waltzer in this article are a good illustration of the positive results that can be achieved when one is willing to experiment with the digital and find ways to utilize its advantages for the specific purposes of historians. And if more historians begin to think of what they would like to do with and within the digital medium, we can also begin to ask for (and create) the digital tools and resources we need to create the kinds of history courses we can currently only imagine. 

      Comment by Svetlana Rasmussen on October 27th, 2011


      This essay is an important contribution to our knowledge of how to enhance student motivation through digital media. In a survey class an instructor mostly communicates with students through lecture, and thus rarely gets to communicate a professional’s passion for history on a more profound personal level. Likewise, the students communicate their ideas of history through essays and tests, and virtually never engage into the informed history-related discussions with their peers. The idea that an instructor can and should transcend this deadlock is both empowering and challenging. The enthusiasm and benefits of open access blogging about history for the students are clear. Yet how can one replicate this experience?
       
      First of all, a more thorough discussion of teaching methodology will make the argument of using the authors’ experience much stronger. The discussion of goals the authors set for their classes, how assignments and activities communicate these goals to the students, finally how grading reflects the initial goals and recognizes student’s on-line contributions will open the authors’ experience for peer-instructors around the United States and, possibly, abroad. A greater focus on the goals, assignments and grading, spelled out in a few paragraphs at the beginning will also help instructors in other humanities classes to adapt authors’ experiments to the needs of their subject areas. A few statements on of class-size, grading load, and ways to cope with it in classes of hundreds of people will also create a larger audience, more experimentation, and improvement on the teaching techniques the authors’ pioneer.
       
      Another theme of the essay is developing students’ writing skills and integrating the Writing Across the Curriculum and Visual Knowledge project methodologies. Blogging about history seems to incite students’ interest by involving them directly in what they are learning. As a former teacher, and an instructor-to-be I would like to learn what kind of writing fits best in the classroom blogosphere. Is it analysis of sources? Is it reflection on a reading? Is it creative writing on a historical theme? I.e. what type of (historical) writing should instructors using blogs introduce their students to and want them to develop? Addressing these questions will bring into clearer focus the relationship between writing and the “pictorial turn” in the history survey classroom. A picture may be worth a thousand words, yet it is evocative, argumentative writing and speech that makes us form a connection with it and understand where it fits in a historical theme.
       
      Finally, what is the use of “creating a web of knowledge that could be referenced, reorganized, and built upon”? (paragraph 11) Is it of use only to students, or do these texts have a potential to be utilized as teaching tools in the same course, in oher colleges, even to amount to a textbook in a corresponding area of American history? In other words, what should the “student as producer” generate to satisfy their instructor’s hunger for digital teaching experimentation? How does the instructor ensure that contributing to a blog remains a creative activity and not a run-of-the-mill, conveyor-belt task? While the bloogging experience is fresh and innovative all of us  in the digital humanities should find out methods to keep it that way for generations of students to come, especially if open-sourse blogging in history survey courses is here to stay.

      Comment by Svetlana Rasmussen on October 28th, 2011

      It seems to the the main argument of the article, so it is worth giving the noun to the the word “characteristics.” I.e. characteristics of what are you talking about? What is “active, social, media-rich, metacognitive (whatever that means), and immersive”?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      “Luke has learned much Tom’s course design”; rather, `learned much from’?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      Could the URLs here be hyperlinked, or is that counter to style for the references list?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 1st, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 15th, 2011

      Typo: “We’ve seen what can be happen when…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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? 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Also how ‘anonymous’ were the students before the BuddyPress plugin was added? This notion of anonymity might be explored a little here.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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). 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      It might also be worth considering in more general terms the extent to which the digital age has changed the answers to these questions.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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!

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 23rd, 2011

      I can relate very much to Tom’s dilemma about teaching the U.S. survey  and how to bring students into the doing of history. As teachers of the U.S. survey we often face a trade off between content coverage and habits of mind or historical thinking. My U.S. survey course has gradually moved since 2005 quite far to the side of using digital technology and online data repositories to encourage and develop disciplinary habits of mind, analysis, and writing and communication. I especially appreciate the “authentic learning” experience that Waltzer and Harbison take through the blog assignments. I have done similar work with wikis.
       
      The main questions I have for this essay are about scale, openness, and assessment. Some of these are covered here. But I have found it difficult to scale writing intensive activities. What do the authors do to handle a course of 200 or more students? Openness is clearly an advantage because students see themselves in a different light–producing work for an audience. But how are these materials adding a new dimension to historical analysis? Or are we replicating what’s already largely available? The History Engine serves as one model of class-based activity to enrich history and make connections otherwise impossible. The decision to move to open blogging then, it seems to me, is a critical one and needs to be further contextualized and defended. Assessment is related to scale. But how is assessment managed? When I experimented with large-scale group wiki projects (150 students) producing research-based entries like those described here, we tried to come up with innovative assessment strategies. For example, higher rewards for consistent effort–we tallied number of edits in a 24-hour period over the course of the assignment so that we could see if a student made 50 edits in the last day of the assignment or if they made 3 or 4 a day for 15 days running. Then there is the question of assessing the writing. The essay states that student performance is assessed on the based of creativity, effort, attention to instructions, and timeliness–how? And of cut and paste plagiarism, which could be addressed more thoroughly in this essay.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.”

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit this essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Pasts in a Digital Age (Tanaka) Fall 2011 (31 comments)

    • Comment by Robert Wolff on October 3rd, 2011

      There’s a typo to fix here: Japan “adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1873,” not 1973.

      Comment by Robert Wolff on October 3rd, 2011

      I’d be fascinated to know more about how digital media might “facilitate more complex, not complicated, narratives and stories of the past…” Are there particular examples — perhaps some in this volume — that you see as especially promising? I also wonder — following Jay Bolter’s argument 20 years ago in Writing Space — if digital texts richly laden with hyperlinks have not already broken down the linearity of historical writing and shaken the notion that there is one correct understanding of the past.

      Comment by Anna Smith on October 13th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on November 2nd, 2011

      Yes, that is something that I have been increasingly thinking about, but I have wondered whether digital data exposes a condition that we have long overlooked(or dismissed) that the past and data from the past is of the present.
      Perhaps a sentence after the footnote like, Indeed, we need to question to what extent the past is past and whether the distinction of past and present has ever been clear.

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on November 2nd, 2011

      Yes, that is something that I have been increasingly thinking about, but I have wondered whether digital data exposes a condition that we have long overlooked(or dismissed) that the past and data from the past is of the present.
      Perhaps a sentence after the footnote like, Indeed, we need to question to what extent the past is past and whether the distinction of past and present has ever been clear.

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on November 2nd, 2011

      whoops!  That was supposed to reply to a previous comment.
      I am not convinced that hyperlinks or most digital media have broken the linearity of historical writing.  They can(and have) be used to create a more multilinear narrative, they are also used to enhance linear narrative and standard understandings of historical truth.  I don’t think we have achieved, despite the technologies we have, the dream of Vannover Bush’s memex.
      Complex as opposed to complicated is my aspiration; I’m not sure it is attainable.  My current project will try to use a non-relational database to manage and retrieve information; I hope that it leads to a system where we can see new connections in the data and emergent categories.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 3rd, 2011

      “…the epigram…suggest[s] such erosion…”?

      Comment by Anna Smith on November 4th, 2011

      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)” 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Similarly, maybe rather “governments and corporations” – because readers might be from more than one state or country… I’m not sure.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Direction of inverted commas: ‘solid’ and ‘liquid’

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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…

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      I really like this parallel you make here, but feel that your it might better be mentioned more explicitly earlier in your essay, perhaps.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Little typo: ‘included’ – rather “a richer history would include a”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      Word repetition: “A second way that that a different” 

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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…”

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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)

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 17th, 2011

      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. 

      Comment by William G. Thomas on November 23rd, 2011

      I think this is one of the strongest pieces in the volume, for its range of citations and its thought-provoking exploration of how temporality is infused in historical approaches and how we might consider different arrangements of the past in digital form.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      “Digital media are…”

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 27th, 2011

      (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.)

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 27th, 2011

      I think this essay gets closest to what I was hoping for in terms of a deeper, more complex meditation on how the production of history and digital culture and practice are interweaving–most of the other essays settle for a much simpler and less satisfying narrative of “history has been done one way, now it will be done another way”. 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.

      Comment by Jean Bauer on November 28th, 2011

      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).

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on November 29th, 2011

      Thank you for this and your comments below.  Very much appreciated.
      The Zimbardo piece is amazing.  I use it in my class on the history of time.
      I’ve debated how to present this.  It did originate from a talk (once presented as a pecha kucha).  I worry about it being too “abstract” or conceptual; I’ve struggled throughout my career of not being a good storyteller, so I am actually happy to hear that if flows.  I will try, though, to give a bit more introduction (and work on your suggestions below).

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on November 29th, 2011

      Yes, I had to summarize, even resort to caricature, some of the complicated changes of historical narrative over the century.  Occasionally, I must admit it is rhetorical, other times necessary for the brevity.
      You raise, though a part of the opening that the digital brings to our craft, a return to the history of history, the ways that history has often varied considerably and the possibility of revisiting and experimenting with alternative modes that had existed earlier.

      Comment by Stefan Tanaka on November 29th, 2011

      Hi Will, Thank you for the plug!!

      Comment by co-editors Kristen Nawrotzki and Jack Dougherty on January 13th, 2012

      In our invitation to revise & resubmit this essay, we wrote:

      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.

  • Creating Meaning in a Sea of Databases (Sklar & Dublin) Fall 2011 (28 comments)

    • Comment by Stephen Robertson on October 1st, 2011

      I feel there needs to be some discussion of the question of access here.  As a subscription based resource, WASM is only available to users with affiliations with a university library, and only a very few of those.  With a sea of databases available, even a major research university like my own cannot subscribe to everything out there, and does not subscribe to WASM.  We’re used to talking about online audiences in the millions, and even online academic audiences in the thousands or hundreds of thousands; it seems worth some discussion that this project does not use this feature of the digital medium.

      Comment by Stephen Robertson on October 1st, 2011

      I think this work is a considerable achievement, but preserving resources in gated databases does not exactly liberate them to circulate beyond the archive.  Yes, more people can access them, but there are certainly still going to be many from non-subscribing institutions who will still have to travel to archives.  Obviously, this kind of preservation work requires resources that working with commercial providers can deliver, but there are costs in that approach that I think need a mention

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on October 18th, 2011

      Ah, finally a mention of subscriptions! Throughout this case study there is an impressive cataloging of the large number and value of the documents now available and included in these databases. But, there is no mention that while the sources are fully searchable behind a gated subscription. The audience is affected by these restrictions. Given the direction of electronic publishing and push for open access for scholarship and documents, it would enrich the essay to address these concerns.

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on October 18th, 2011

      I apologize, in reading this again, I see that subscriptions are mentioned earlier in the essay. I do think that the issue of access could be addressed.
       

      Comment by Sheila Brennan on October 18th, 2011

      It might be useful to describe (perhaps even in a footnote) how this project compared with other document archives that had launched by this time, such as Valley of the Shadow; Liberty, Equality,Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution; Library of Congress’s American Memory. History Matters, DoHistory.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      Should `material’ in the last sentence be plural?

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      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&mdash;can you say anything about the audience to whom you brought these previously inaccessible documents?&mdash;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.

      Comment by Jonathan Jarrett on November 3rd, 2011

      I also think that this site’s template should allow for HTML character codes! Sorry for the gobbledegook above.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Amanda Seligman on November 9th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      I second Sheila’s comment.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Kathryn Tomasek on November 11th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      Alongside economic feasibility it might be good to mention environmental sustainability too.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 23rd, 2011

      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.”

      Comment by Timothy Burke on November 23rd, 2011

      I would also like access and usage addressed, particularly in the ways that Tomasek above notes.
       
      There’s a deeper paradigm debate to consider also, but maybe not necessary for this essay, whose purpose strikes me as more descriptive. Digital databases of this kind seem to me to operate from an assumption that the marginalization or silencing of histories in public discourse and memory has been substantially a function of informational availability and circulation. This is a position that is a strong instinct in communities of expertise in general: confronted by public practices which seem to expert communities to be unjust or unwise, the default assumption is that those publics do not have the information we have, and that we should find some new method of collating and disseminating that information. This is at least what makes the question about access and usability so important. But maybe more deeply, it strikes to the why of any such project: what do we think will happen if we create these resources, particularly considering that in some cases they take a good deal of money, time, effort to create.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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?

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Bethany Nowviskie on November 26th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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.

      Comment by Charlotte D Rochez on November 28th, 2011

      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