Brenden W. Rensink – Intermountain Histories as Digital Public History & Pedagogy

My name is Brenden W. Rensink and I am excited to be participating on the 2018 Western History Association Digital Sixshooter panel in San Antonio! Allow me a moment to introduce myself and the topic that I will be discussing next week.

I am the Assistant Director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and an Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University. To the present, I have studied and published primarily in the North American West subfields of borderlands and Indigenous studies. In June I published a comparative Native Borderlands monograph, Native but Foreign: Indigenous Immigrants and Refugees in the North American Borderlands (Texas A&M Press, 2018). More germane to our Digital Sixshooters panel, in my position at the BYU Redd Center I am pivoting towards public history in many of my new endeavors, including the Intermountain Histories digital public history project and the Writing Westward Podcast.

For our panel, I focus on the Intermountain Histories project. The project curates microhistories for the public to navigate and access on a map-driven website and free mobile app. It is built on the Curatescape platform. Content is produced via collaboration between myself (as Project Manager and General Editor) and professors and their students at universities around the Intermountain West region. In my brief comments I will discuss how I have structured it as a digital project with two primary goals: 1. Serve the public by providing an easy-to-use digital history resource. 2. Serve professors and students as a pedagogical tool. I am increasingly convinced that the latter is the more powerful of the projects two goals/outcomes. It is also the less obvious of the two. I believe it is a project that could be modeled by others for use in the classroom and beyond.

I look forward to seeing everyone there!

WHA Six Shooters 2018 Lineup

Here is an alphabetical list of the presenters that we have confirmed for the Technology Committee-sponsored session, “Six-Shooters: A Digital Frontiers Lightning Round”:

  • Saara Kekki, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Andrew Torget, University of North Texas
  • Brenden Rensink, Brigham Young University
  • Margaret Sternbergh, Independent Scholar, San Antonio
  • Lauren Turek, Trinity University
  • Leslie Miller and Kyler Miller, Idaho State University
  • Gianna May Sanchez, University of Michigan
  • Jessica Nowlin, University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Sarah H. Salter, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
  • Andrew Offenburger, Miami University

The session will be chaired by Jason Heppler, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and is scheduled for Thursday, October 18, from 12:45-2:15 PM in the Directors room of the Hyatt Regency, San Antonio, Texas. Each presenter has six minutes and six slides (“Six-Shooters,” get it?) for their presentation. All presenters will entertain questions from the audience at the conclusion of all of the presentations. We encourage what may seem like “basic” questions as well as “shop talk” from those in attendance.

Please check this website in the days leading up to the conference for posts by each presenter introducing themselves and providing brief descriptions of the work they plan to present.

Introduction – Verónica Reyes-Escudero

It is a pleasure for me to participate in this year’s Six-Shooters Lightning Round. I am the Borderlands Curator and Associate Librarian at the University of Arizona Libraries’ Special Collections. We’re located in beautiful Tucson, Arizona just 90 miles from the U.S. – Mexico border. I work with faculty and students across disciplines in using special collections materials and engage with the community through donor relations and events highlighting the archive’s rich holdings on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. I’ve written and presented on incorporating archives-based research into the curriculum, newspaper digitization, and the archives of Mexican American literary authors.

As for my six minutes, six slides, I’ll be presenting on The Documented Border Archive. The project is an interdisciplinary effort to advance understanding about the U.S. – Mexico border and its peoples during a period of unprecedented change. A unique aspect of the project is that it is a living archive. Archives struggle to include the voices of underrepresented communities. The Documented Border collects, preserves, and affords access to just such voices for study and research, now and in the future. The genesis of the project involved Drs. Celeste Gonzalez de Bustamante and Jeannine Relly from The School of Journalism; Fine Arts faculty, Lawrence Gipe; and Borderlands Curator Verónica Reyes-Escudero, Special Collections, University of Arizona Libraries.
Currently, the archive content takes two forms: interviews and images. Interviews include Mexican and U.S. journalists who cover northern Mexico and human rights activists dedicated to improving freedom of expression. Journalists discuss kidnapping attempts, threats of violence, and lack of security and freedom of expression, in some cases, leading to self-censorship. The archive also contains a collection of sketches of migrants sentenced in federal immigration court under “Operation Streamline.” These are some of the only visual representations of these proceedings, as cameras are forbidden in all federal courts, putting a face to migrant deportations.

Crafting a Digital Denver: Virtual Spaces and Undergraduate Teaching

Hello! To introduce myself, I currently teach as a special instructor in the History Department at Colorado State University (CSU), where I specialize in digital history and the history of Mexico. Over the years, I’ve utilized a number of digital tools and publication platforms in my classes, but nothing quite like, which is the subject of this talk. During the spring 2015 semester,  students in my upper-division course on digital history worked with resources from the Denver Public Library’s collection of Sanborn maps and digital photographs, Colorado State Library’s newspaper archive, and an ed-tech version of the immensely popular video game Minecraft to create a 100% scale, virtual facsimile of the city of Denver at the dawn of the twentieth century. In addition to intensive training in interpreting the complex maps needed to faithfully recreate the cityscape down to the brick, students were individually tasked with researching thematic topics from within the social, economic, political, and cultural history of the city and the larger U.S. West.

This multifaceted, multimedia exploration of the urban history of Denver will then be published on a class Tumblr account and web links to the visual and written materials will be placed within the game environment to allow the viewer the potential for a more in-depth exploration and understanding of the spaces of this rapidly-expanding city. However, given the time-intensive nature of this kind of ambitious project, it will not be possible to complete it in a single semester. Our projected launch date is currently the year 2020, but we do plan to release updated versions of the map on a yearly basis to be shared with libraries, schools, and the general public, allowing a unique opportunity for any interested parties to virtually immerse themselves within the living landscape of the city of Denver as it was over a century ago. 

Introductions – Rebecca S. Wingo

I’m pleased to be a new contributor on the blog and a panelist at this year’s Six-Shooters Lightning Round.  (The main reasons I signed up for this session is because the title makes me think of Yosemite Sam.)

I am currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and will graduate in May 2015 with two graduate certificates in Digital Humanities and Great Plains Studies.  My dissertation, “Restructuring the Reservation: Housing, Hygiene, and Domesticity on the Crow Reservation, 1880-1934,” examines house-building policy as an imposition of a larger project of cultural imperialism by enforcing Christian concepts of domesticity, gender, and hygiene on indigenous communities.  The project introduces a unique set of photographs emerging from the Crow Reservation to examine signs of Native interruption to federal assimilationist policy.

More specific to the Six-Shooters Lightning Round, I have been working with a research team at the Center for Great Plains Studies to reassess the Homestead Act of 1862 based on the now-digitized NARA records for the State of Nebraska.  We are preparing a manuscript (publisher TBA) for completion in 2015.  The presentation, “Can I Get a Witness?: Network Analysis of Homesteaders in Nebraska,” examines a network forged legally between witnesses under the Homestead Act.  Essentially, the Land Office required each homesteader to list four witnesses in a Proof of Posting which ran for five weeks in a local newspaper.  While only two witnesses were required to testify at the Land Office, mapping all four connections reveals community formation, local leadership, and settlement patterns of neighborhoods in the rural plains.  I created a digital companion to our manuscript, and while it is waiting for final review and a permanent home, you’re welcome to view its nascent form here.

I look forward to my six-minutes and six-slides of fame this coming Thursday!

WHA 2014 Six-Shooters Session – Robert Jordan

Prior to the Six-Shooters session at this year’s WHA conference, I would like to introduce myself and some of the work I’ve been doing over the last year or so. I am a third-year instructor in the History Department of Colorado State University, specializing in Mexican history and digital history. Digital history, especially as expressed through spatial visualizations, plays a prominent role in both my research and teaching, as I believe that traditional methods of historical inquiry and publication can be greatly augmented by the incorporation of digital tools. I have utilized a number of digital tools and publication platforms in my classes, including: Twitter, Neatline, Voyant Tools, Tiki-Toki, Wikipedia, Gephi, Open Refine, Tumblr, ArcGIS, Google Earth, WordPress, SketchUp, and 3-D printing, among others.

While teaching the first undergraduate digital history course ever offered at CSU in the spring of this year, my students trained and published a wide variety of information on the history of the university and campus life. Digital timelines, maps, slideshows, and network graphs were created to be later hosted by CSU’s university webpage and mobile app. The creation of these multimedia, highly visual presentations of local, public history challenged my students with a hands-on, collaborative project which pushed their limits but provided invaluable experience for the job market and/or graduate school. I look forward to discussing the challenges during the planning and execution of this project, the pedagogical outcomes for my students, and the future of scholarly innovation inside and outside the history classroom.

Digital Frontiers: Public History Breakout Session

Our public history breakout group was a modest but generous band of contributors who shared a surprising array of tools and resources with each other.  Not surprisingly, one of the themes to emerge from our discussion was how the enormous number of resources available and their ever-changing nature pose a challenge not simply with how we stay current with trends, but might ever hope to find the most relevant resources for our needs.

I began with a brief discussion of the resources the vast genealogical community has created and how some of those material might be used in teaching and research. Frankly, I was intent on playing with the notion of “public history” by offering resources derived by a popular avocation that has created a truly staggering body of digital resources. Many of those resources — indexes, guides, abstracts, transcriptions — themselves derive from public records of birth, marriage, taxation, death, and probate. And in particular it was a pleasure to demonstrate a little of the Colorado Genealogical Society‘s remarkable Colorado Marriages, 1858-1939, which I described in an earlier post.  The result is a 23,417-page alphabetical index to marriages, which I think is simply waiting to support studies of marriage and community.

After my brief discussion — which also saw the patience and good humor of those present as we briefly grappled with the inevitable display issues whenever laptop, projector, and audience come together! — we heard from group members about their particular interests and  projects they especially admired or with which they’ve been associated, including:

And as we discussed these and other projects, including the Plateau Peoples’ Portal, the Bureau of Land Management’s Government Land Office records, FamilySearch, and the Wyoming Newspaper Project, the question arose as to how we learn and share these resources, as well as make them more user friendly in form. In some respects, it was a familiar topic for most of us gathered together, but it nevertheless reflects real challenges.

For my part, I think the fragmentary nature of information has long been with us, and that the very nature of our session and the continuation of this blog offers part of the solution. And I also think we may want to give users more credit for their ability to use new and challenging tools and resources — and even recognize that such a process is a part of information literacy! — rather than strive for an elusive and ultimately futile simplicity that neglects the complexity of the past and the sources we use to explore and understand it.

Welcome Public Historians! Please Introduce Yourselves.

Are you a public historian, employed at a museum or archive or government office? Are you using digital technologies to help yo do your work and reach the public? Or are you “digital curious?”

One of our break-out sessions will be about Public History at the Digital Frontier. Our hope is to create a discussion where public historians can share their ideas, questions, and tips. It all starts here–so please tell us about yourself in the comments. I’ll go first!


We are pleased to welcome you to a new blog created to support the Western History Association’s Digital History Workshop, planned for Thursday, October 14, 2010 (3:00-4:30) at Lake Tahoe.

The workshop is an opportunity for WHA members interested in the ways digital technologies can be (and are being) used in the classroom, in public history, and in research to gather virtually here on the blog and in person at the WHA Conference to discuss interests, concerns, and ideas. Whether tech guru or newbie, anyone interested in hearing about/discussing the increasingly significant roles digital technologies play in contemporary scholarship, teaching, and public history is welcome.

This blog is a place for potential attendees to begin the conversations and exchanges of ideas that they hope to continue in the workshop; we also ask contributors to share those resources, tools, examples of digital scholarship, online exhibits,  etc., that they have found noteworthy or helpful in their own work.