Posts Tagged ‘history’

  • Digital Note-taking, the semantic web, and scholarly collaboration in the age of crowdsourcing


    The project I proposed in my application is an idea for a web-based tool designed for humanities scholars engaged in historical research. After a brief introduction to the application, I’ll pose some more general questions/topics.


    As a rule, the digital tools that have transformed academic research have focused on the mundane tasks of a discipline. Empirical economists and social scientists would never practice their craft without a statistical software package like Stata or SAS—tools that dramatically improve the efficiency of the cumbersome computational tasks intrinsic to their research. In the humanities however, there is no equivalent tool. Humanists have benefitted immeasurably from bibliographic software (retrofitted to take notes), digital indices, and repositories of primary and secondary literature. (In addition, new digital tools are expanding the possibilities of sophisticated digital analysis, though they typically presume a high level of technological competency.) What’s missing is a digital tool to assist with the mundane tasks compiling, organizing, and connecting historical data: the people, institutions, locations, events, and objects of scholarly interest that are the building blocks of the stories we tell.

    HistoryMaker: The application

    My proposed project would assist with the everyday tasks of historical research organization and compilation. The core idea is to create a note-taking application that organizes one’s research with a structured framework of historical data (objects of study themselves) rather than according to the sources of information about those data (as with bibliographic software like Zotero). The application will be cloud-based. The historical “facts” will be public—open for reuse, augmentation, refinement, correction, and disputation by other scholars building their own webs of data. It will also track the provenance of each data point (both by the creator of the digital object and the cited source(s) of information). However, personal notes associated with these data points (presumably treating their significance—the real interpretive work of the humanities) would remain private (unless the researcher chose to release them).

    Over time, the application, if widely adopted, could take on two other functions. First, it could serve as a platform for collaboration in the humanities and facilitate new scholarly communities (across institutions, fields, and disciplines). Second, it could facilitate the (much-neglected) relationship between the scholarly community and the wider public. Conceived as a tool for professionals, the entry of data will be limited to those with academic training in the humanities. But the resulting web of data would constitute an authoritative base of historical knowledge that would be open for public consumption, and useful for contextualizing public debates, debunking misinformation, etc. As the record of an ongoing scholarly discourse, it will also highlight the indeterminacy of historical “facts,” and (hopefully) model civility in scholarly disputation and rigorous methodologies in research.

    General Topics/Questions

    I would be interested in helping to organize a session anound any of the following topics/questions:

    • A discussion of the state of research tools (especially for note-taking and analysis)
    • How do the digital tools we use shape the questions we ask, the answers we discover, and the stories we tell?
    • A discussion of the “state of the art” for the semantic web, promising technologies emerging out of it (i.e. that would be useful for a project like this), and how humanities folks can best utilize them.
    • How do we re-envision scholarly networks in a digital age? How do we broaden these networks to include scholars without intrinsic technological interests or proficiency?
    • Crowdsourcing (I’ll confess that I remain skeptical of it) and the role of professional scholars in constructing and curating the semantic web (especially in light of Cathy Davidson’s recent blog post)?
  • Engaged Cultural Heritage Development, Archaeology, and Digital Social Media


    The MSU Campus Archaeology Program was established to make sure that MSU serves as a good steward towards their cultural and archaeological resources. We are called in to mitigate before any tree is planted or building is built. Our primary goals include the research of MSU’s past, teaching students about archaeology, and engaged cultural heritage development within and around the MSU community.  Over the past year, the MSU Campus Archaeology Program has been utilizing digital social media as a means for engaging communities in our archaeological research. Utilizing Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and blogging, we have been able to share the process of excavation, methodology, analysis, and interpretation with the communities that we serve.

    We consider traditional public archaeology, which typically consists of site visits and museum exhibits, to be lacking in a number of qualities that keep it from being “engaged”. Communities are rarely encouraged to take part, or even to see, the process that goes from excavation to presentation. Digital social media has allowed us to keep the public informed and engaged in what we are doing in a number of ways. Real-time excavation posting on Twitter and Facebook have allowed us to show and tell the decisions we make in the field and to share the discovery of artifacts with the public. Photos on Flickr and blog posts provide an opportunity to share our research methods, discuss our findings, and provide explanations about how we draw the conclusions that we do. Lastly, social media allows for all of these elements to be two-way: the community has the opportunity to engage with us at any moment. They can ask questions of us while we are in the field, post comments to Facebook, Flickr, or our Blog asking us questions about our decision making, or anything else that is on their mind regarding our topics.

    I am hoping to discuss our methods in how they may be applied to other areas of public, engaged academic services. Additionally, I am hoping that new ideas may be brought to the table about how these technologies may be utilized. The very recent popularity of location-based social media, for example, has sparked our interest. Our primary focus will be on using technology to engage communities in the development of their cultural heritage.

    In the meantime, please see what we’re up to by following, fanning, contacting, subscribing, or what have you!

  • Reaching Common Educational Goals: Are Public History (and Digital Humanities) Entities Providing the Resources Educators Want?


    Last year, for my capstone masters project in the NYU Archives and Public History program, I undertook a three-pronged exploratory project to assess the state of collaboration among history educators and providers of educational resources sought (and unsought) by them.  My project stemmed from the commonality of “education” embraced as a shared goal among public history institutions and schools. My aim was to determine whether providers of educational resources (including archivists, museum educators and creators of digital history projects) are meeting the stated needs of K-12 teachers (and to determine whether teachers’ educational goals match the goals of public history institutions). To reach my goal I surveyed 23 history teachers (mostly secondary-level) about their educational goals and about the resources (including text books, primary sources, websites and visits to historic sites and museums) they use to meet them.  I solicited feedback on how museums and creators of digital history sites can better serve the secondary educational community. Simultaneously, I interviewed 11 public historians including museum educators, archivists and creators of digital history projects about the genesis of their projects, how they conceive of their educational goals, the role that teachers and students play in their educational efforts and the ways that they measure success.  This study has illuminated elements of successful collaboration, areas for improvement and needs for further collaboration and advocacy in the promotion of history education in America.

    Although my project focused on history education, I believe it has relevance to the humanities more broadly. For this session, I am interested in sharing the results of my survey and discussing their implications for digital humanities projects that seek to offer resources to teachers. I look forward to discussing educational goals with creators and users of digital humanities resources and brainstorming ways in which institutions can work together to make their content more relevant to educators and to advocate for the breadth and depth of educational experience possible in the best-constructed digital humanities projects.

    I welcome suggestions and am happy to discuss my survey design and results in advance of THATCamp with anyone who is interested!