Adaptation or Shaping the Field: the Next Phase of Digital History

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  • What’s next?
  • Adaptation: totally reactiveShaping: things are unpredictable, but we have some influence to change things
  • About doing digital history in the academy Rob Townsend’s new book,History Babel, tells us exactly about the narrowing of the history enterprise to academic historians [monographs and research universities], and somewhat to the exclusion of public historians, teachers, and archivists.This narrowing is changing with the increasing awareness of alt-ac opportunities.Fiscal climate is bad.Particular departments and institutions might not be ready or able to support digital history work.
  • Humanities computing is not new.Busa – concordancesFounding journals and organizationsWord-cruncher in the 1980sSGML markup  Text Encoding Initiative Mosaic = 1993 …. The Internet
  • The First Ten Years of the History Web
  • Archival Websites: Primary Sources
  • Exhibitions, Films, Scholarship, & EssaysSecondary SourcesRaid on Deerfield: The Many Stories of 1704 – multiple perspectives© 2004 Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA) / Memorial Hall Museum, Deerfield, MA. All rights reserved. 
  • Journal/magazine
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Discussion
  • OrganizationsAHA -- 1994
  • Cultural turn – James Cook’s June 2012 article in the American Historical Review – The Kids are Alright: On the “Turning” of Cultural History – is very convincing on this.The Cultural Turn is talked about as fragmenting and disruptive and sudden in a way that is misleading – as if a band of French theorists and anthropologists mugged historians in the 1980s. That narrative of suddenness ignores the long history of historians thinking about culture – about world views and language conditioning events and actions that traces itself back to the 1940s.Cook suggests that the talk of the sudden turn obscures more than it illuminates, and that we’re now in a position where those considerations have been fully internalized into the practice of history, even as historians might assail the “jargon” and complexity of critical theory.By 2003, the Interchange on the Practice of History in the JAH (1970 to 2003): showcases Cook’s point perfectly. Each participant—Patty Limerick, Drew Gilpin Faust, Mary Ryan, David Roediger—extols the virtues of cultural history and the ways those methods have contributed to their subfields. Painter and Hollinger about intellectual history vs. cultural history and the class dynamics of the distinction Geertz, Foucault, Joan Scott, Dave Roediger, Kathleen Brown, Omi and Winant… I’m an Americanist and this is my family history.We are simply all asking questions that bear the heritage of this work.[Linguistic turn; cultural turn; spatial turn; digital turn: For every season, turn, turn, turn]Colum McCann, Let The Great World Spin: A Novel (2009)  
  • So, while the questions and approaches of cultural history have been fully assimilated, the methods and research tools of digital history have not.Townsend: Avoiders: 2.4%, Passive Users: 24.4%, Active Users: 68.9%, Power Users, 4.3% Search, Google Books, Library Database, Word Processors and Digital CamerasITHAKA: Falling woefully behind in gaining intellectual control over the tide of digital sources because they aren’t using research management tools (Zotero, etc.).
  • Edited collections and repositories (History Harvest, Bracero History Archive, etc.) And, of course, the metadata and structure all represent interpretive decisions. To argue that description is value-free leans dangerously towards positivism, regardless of what the copyright lawyers want to say about the intellectual property content of metadata.Computational text analysis (Paper Machines; R; Gelphi; NodeXL; Mallet)Data visualization, geospatial and otherwise (Visualizing Emancipation, Mapping the Republic of Letters)Place-based computing (Curatescape, History Pin --> Primarily public history: Telling stories in the world)Participatory History (Zooniverse, Scripto -- about growing data rather than doing history)
  • Edited Collections and repositories – providing access
  • Computational text analysisWord frequencies from Popenoe and Johnson’s Applied Eugenics (1918)
  • Visualizations
  • Place-based computing
  • Participatory History/Community Sourcing
  • “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?” @Foundhistory (2010):Eventually, digital humanities must make arguments. It has to answer questions. But yet?
  • The tools we build (structure the work that we do): Are they open and extensible?The materials we digitize and share (who built america?; bracero history archive); scanebago and scan-on-demand; “silences”The questions we ask: What do we care about as historians? (Human stories and implications; what happened and what does it mean.Cronon: “Getting Ready to Do History”)Data processing and cleaning is hard and an extra step that historians often resist.
  • Stirrings:Doing history in public: different than doing public history. (Whitney Houston: I believe the children are our future….)Mason graduate students: http://fredgibbs.net/courses/digital-history-techne/Railroads and the Making of Modern America (UNL Graduate Student Projects): http://railroads.unl.edu/student_projects/Bryn Mawr conference: Women’s History in the Digital World: http://repository.brynmawr.edu/greenfield_conference/ Will Thomas, The Iron Way: Railroads, the Civil War, and the Making of Modern America (Yale UP, 2011).Historical practice is predicated on the close reading of sources; engaging in a conversations about interpretation. Multiple view points….Interpretive lenses: What predispositions (personal and theoretical) do we bring to the work? Constructions of race and gender and the material realities that go along with them. [How are they playing out in the metadata that we create?] What are the big questions that we are tackling in history in the twenty-first century?     OAH 2013 Plenary Sessions:     Freedom Struggles (anniversary of March on Washington and Emancipation Proclamation)     Corporations in American Life (capitalism, poverty, Citizens United, Occupy Wall Street)(New York Times: History of Capitalism is a hit in universities)State of the Field:     Historical Scholarship on Racialized Women     American Indian History     American Legal History     Writing African American History in the Age of Obama     Asian American Studies     Mass Incarceration: New Directions in the Study of Race and Punishment in Modern American Life     Foreign Relations and the Cultural Turn     Histories of the Americas: Borderlands, Hemispheric, and Global Perspectives     Rethinking Working Class Suburbia
  • We can shape the field, because we don’t do history in isolation. Digital Historians are part of the larger field and we have to enter the conversation, as scholars. Now.Digital History can answer questions. The time is now.
  • END
  • Adaptation or Shaping the Field: the Next Phase of Digital History

    1. 1. Adaptation orShaping the Field?THE NEXTPHASEOFDIGITALHISTORY S HA R O N M. L E O N D I R E CTO RO F PU BLI CP ROJ ECT S R OY R O SE NZ WEIG CE NT E R F O R HI S TO R Y A ND NE W ME D I A @ S L E O NCHNM
    2. 2. “Your Strategy Needs A Strategy”• A Classical Strategy works well for those operating in predictable and immutable environments.• An Adaptive Strategyis more flexible and experimental and works far better in immutable environments that are unpredictable.• A Shaping Strategyis best in unpredictable environments that you have the power to change.• A Visionary Strategy(the build-it-and-they-will-come approach) is appropriate in predictable environments that you have the power to change. Reeves, et al. Harvard Business Review (Sept. 2012) 79.
    3. 3. What do we know about the environmentfor our work?PR E D I CTA BL E UNPR EDICTABLE• Interpretative approaches • Intellectual Climate change • Infrastructure• Resources are scarce • Community support• Individuals are overcommitted
    4. 4. Humanities ComputingIn 1949, Father Roberto Busaconvinced IBM founder,Thomas Watson, to applycomputer technology tostudying the works ofThomas Aquinas.This work was the precursorof current computational textanalysis.
    5. 5. The First Ten Years of the History Web• Archival Sites• Exhibits, Films, Scholarship, and Essays• Teaching and Learning Sites• Discussion and Organizations
    6. 6. Building, Organizing, and Tool Making• 2003-2011: SIMILE project• 2005: RRCHNM begins work on Zotero (SmartFox)• 2006: TAPoR 1.0 launches• 2007: RRCHNM begins work on Omeka• 2009: Scholars’ Lab begins work on Neatline• 2009: Library of Congress and Zepheira begin work on Viewshare (Recollection)
    7. 7. Meanwhile, the Great World Spins Linguistic turn, cultural turn, spatial turn, digital turn, turn, turn, turn….
    8. 8. Digital and the Practice of History• Rob Townsend, “How is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians?” Perspectives (November 2010).• Rutner and Schonfeld, “Supporting the Research Practices of Historians” ITHAKA S+R (December 2012).
    9. 9. Contemporary Digital History Work• Edited collections and repositories• Computational text analysis• Data visualization, geospatial and otherwise• Place-based computing• Participatory History
    10. 10. It has to answer questions. But yet?Sunset for Ideology, Sunrise for Methodology? @Foundhistory (2008): My difficulty in answering the question “What’s the big idea in history right now?” stems from the fact that, as a digital historian, I traffic much less in new theories than in new methods. The new technology of the Internet has shifted the work of a rapidly growing number of scholars away from thinking big thoughts to forging new tools, methods, materials, techniques, and modes of work which will enable us to harness the still unwieldy, but obviously game-changing, information technologies now sitting on our desktops and in our pockets.
    11. 11. Yes, Now.
    12. 12. What do we have the power to control?1. The tools we build2. The sources we share3. The questions we ask
    13. 13. The Tools We BuildAre they open and extensible?
    14. 14. The Sources We Share Are they filling the silences?
    15. 15. The Questions We Ask• Are we asking and answering some questions that look familiar to the larger field using digital methods?• Are we doing history in public?• Are we building and doing in combination with theorizing and analyzing?• Are we engaging in a conversations about perspective, causality, and meaning?• Are we considering constructions of race and gender and the material realities that go along with them, historically and in our work?
    16. 16. Digital History can shape the field.WE NE E D TO A NS WE R QU E S T I ONS. NO W.
    17. 17. Adaptation orShaping the Field?THE NEXTPHASEOFDIGITALHISTORY S HA R O N M. L E O N D I R E CTO RO F PU BLI CP ROJ ECT S R OY R O SE NZ WEIG CE NT E R F O R HI S TO R Y A ND NE W ME D I A @ S L E O NCHNM

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