Inaugural “Six-Shooters” Lightning Round Session

On Saturday October 12, 2013 seven presenters participated in the inaugural “Six-Shooters” session from 2:30-4:00 PM in the Finger Rock III room at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, AZ. This session, sponsored by the WHA Technology Committee, utilizes a lightning round format that limits each presentation to six minutes and six slides. The session was chaired by Douglas Seefeldt, the committee chair, and the presenters were:

  • Jason Heppler, Stanford U., “Spatial History and the Western Past”
  • Leslie Working, U. Nebraska-Lincoln, “Visualizing Data with Open Source Tools”
  • Sharon Kilzer, Theodore Roosevelt Center, The Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library”
  • Jeremy Johnston, Buffalo Bill Center of the West, “The Papers of William F. Cody”
  • Douglas Seefeldt, Ball State University, “Cody Studies Digital Research Platform”
  • Larry Cebula, Eastern Washington U./Washington State Archives, “Using Mobile Interpretation to Strengthen Preservation Communities”
  • J. Wendel Cox, “Shifted Research”

Do you use digital tools in your research, teaching, or public history profession? If so, and you are willing to share your thoughts and experiences with other WHA conference attendees at our 2014 meeting, please contact Doug Seefeldt: wdseefeldt [AT] bsu [DOT] edu

See you in Tucson!

Greetings! As the 53rd Annual Conference of the Western History Association approaches the Technology Committee members are busy putting together a roster for the inaugural “Six-Shooters” lightning round session on Saturday 10/12 from 2:30-4:00 PM. Each of the 8-10 presenters will have 6 minutes and no more than 6 PowerPoint slides to share topics with a significant digital history component related to research, teaching, or public history. Pretty wide open. Before the conference, each confirmed participant will post a brief paragraph to the WHA Digital Frontiers blog outlining what they are planning to present. Check this space for updates and feel free to contact Doug Seefeldt via email [wdseefeldt AT bsu.edu] if you would like to participate in this exciting session.

Looking forward to Denver!

We are pleased to welcome you back to the blog “WHA Digital Frontiers,” created to support the Western History Association’s annual Digital History Workshop, planned this year for Friday, October 5, 2012 (1:00-3:30 PM) in the Gates Conference Room on the 5th floor of the Denver Public Library in Denver, CO (the WHA conference program includes a general description of the digital history workshop along with walking directions from the Hyatt to the DPL on p. 28).

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.

This year the Digital History Workshop is being facilitated by J. Wendel Cox, Ph.D., Senior Special Collection Librarian, Western History and Genealogy, Denver Public Library and will include three speakers. Wendel will provide details on the speakers and their topics in a separate post.

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 to contribute. We will have free wireless in the workshop so bring your laptop or other device to click along.

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 either before or after the workshop.

We’ll see you in Denver!

Douglas Seefeldt
Chair, WHA Technology Committee

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.

Virtual Conferences

IMG_0404This year I won’t be able to attend the WHA because of a conflict with another academic conference, but I will be watching the twitterstream on the #WHA2011 hashtag to keep abreast of conference happenings–even though the 140-character soundbites will offer a small (and biased) view of what’s occurring in Oakland.  The conference I am attending this week, MobilityShifts, held a session last night that addressed the impracticalities of in-person conferences:  they’re terribly expensive, waste precious resources (i.e. jetfuel), and exclude those who can’t attend.  The speaker, Eric Kluitenberg, spoke of his attempt to create an all-online conference called “ElectroSmog:”

The ElectroSmog festival was both a practical and theoretical exploration of the idea of  ‘sustainable immobility’ – a response to global mobility out of control and the desire to use networked connections to counterbalance the exponential growth of global mobility. The aim was to investigate the possibility of staging a new type of international public gathering without the usual travel and mobility patterns attached. While the festival spurred a series of highly engaged debates, experimental projects, and remarkably few technical failures, it collided dramatically with audience dynamics. The outcomes raised serious questions about the importance of embodied encounter to galvanize public experience and exchange, and the limits of the tele-presence paradigm.

In a nutshell, what he found from staging this event was that no one attended ElectroSmog–there seemed to be a lack of commitment to an event that happened in an entirely virtual space, where “real” interactions wouldn’t occur.  Thus, he posited that for virtual events to be successful, they need to replicate the embodied experience of actually attending such an event, and the multitude of interactions that occur by virtue of being in the same space with like-minded attendees.  This hit home for me as I waited for the elevator after his talk–I struck up a lively conversation with a fellow attendee who rode down the seven floors alongside me, which extended into 15 minutes of further conversation after we stepped outside the metal doors on the ground floor.  How does one have those elevator conversations in a virtual venue?  It also brought to mind another similar experience at an art installation that I attended recently where the most meaningful interaction of the afternoon was in the bathroom line after the event.  Perhaps this could be replicated in a Second-Life-style environment, but I doubt that my avatar would tolerate a 20-minute line for the women’s bathroom (and that my avatar is gender-neutral is perhaps another barrier to such an occurrence).

Many academic conferences try to include podcasts or web-streaming to help those who can’t join in the event, but this is rarely an ideal way to attend a conference–there are often technical snafus that disrupt live-streaming, and if one is watching taped sessions of an event there’s no opportunity to engage with the material in an interactive way because you can’t join in a Q&A afterwards.  From my experience with podcasting the Past Tense seminars, I’ve found some satisfaction in seeing that there are thousands of listeners who download the podcasts even when there might only be a dozen or two who are actually seated around the table at the events–but I have little idea who’s doing the downloading of the files or what they think of the talks.  The one-sidedness of the podcasting experience often makes me wonder if it’s worth the investment of time in editing each of the recordings.

However, with the way the economy is headed, and because of the environmental toll of long-distance travel, it seems almost-necessary for organizations like the WHA to engage in some means of transmitting conference happenings to those who aren’t able to attend in-person.  In your opinion, what are the most effective means of doing so?  Are audio recordings of the sessions most helpful, or video recordings, or transcripts of the talks, or live-blogging/tweeting by attendees?

Looking Ahead to Our Session in Oakland …

Hello!

I’m delighted that Doug Seefeldt has asked me to lead a breakout group at the Digital frontiers workshop and to serve as your humble Google-jockey* for digital materials related to public history. Last year’s session at Lake Tahoe set a high standard and was a wonder of collaboration and ideas.

For my part, I’d like to share a little of the enormous body of digital resources largely used for genealogy, and talk about their application for historians in teaching and research. Most of us are likely familiar with commercial databases such as Ancestry (which actually aggregates thousands of individual databases), but a universe of other resources exist, many of them free and created by volunteer efforts.

To take but one example, a project involving the Colorado Genealogical Society and a troop of volunteers created an index to Colorado Marriages, 1858-1939. The index in its PDF form is 23,417 pages in length, and testifies to the power of volunteer efforts. (I hasten to add every librarian in the Western History/Genealogy Department at the Denver Public Library recalls with horror the first time they clicked “print” rather than “print current page” with this database!) Colorado Marriages provides the name of a bride, a groom, a date for a license application, the county involved, and a license number. The application for genealogists is obvious, but consider how a researcher armed with a surname schedule might use this index to explore ethnicity and patterns of marriage within and amongst different ethnic groups.**

Anyone who wants to dabble in such sources before our session might want to explore the materials available online at FamilySearch, especially the materials under USA, Canada, and Mexico. I encourage you simply to play with these resources. Crossover opportunities abound, and I think the informed historian should be aware of the possibilities and challenges involved with such tools.

Thanks!

Wendel Cox

* Google-jockey (n.) [goo-guhl jok-ee]: a person who frantically uses Internet search engines and other tools to find and display websites casually mentioned by presenters or participants.

** So where’s the link to the Colorado Marriage Index? It’s not available online. Why not? For reasons that would form an interesting thread at our session: privacy, identity theft, and the public record in the digital age.

Getting ready for Oakland

Greetings!

A brief introduction to foreground my role as session facilitator: As a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, I have had the privilege of working for Doug Seefeldt and Will Thomas on research-based digital projects and in the development of digital projects designed for classroom teaching. Among other things, we have helped students learn how to use the web responsibly (learning to distinguish “Joe’s Civil War Page” from the “Valley of the Shadow,” for example), to build wikis to improve research and writing skills, and showed them ways to develop digital content collections.

At our workshop on Saturday (and on this blog before Saturday – hint, hint) I would like to hear how you are using digital resources in your courses – Western history or otherwise.

Some areas for thought/discussion:

  • Which types of digital assignments have you found useful and why did they work well?
  • What hasn’t worked? Why?
  • What types of sites do you use and how much guidance do you give students about web resources?
  • What kind of tools do you have students using?
  • Have the assignments in your courses changed and how have they changed with the increasing availability of digital resources?

These are just a few questions to get the ball rolling – please contribute your thoughts and ideas here! I look forward to hearing from those able to attend the workshop in person and those who will be using this blog and/or twitter to follow the Digital History Workshop.

Welcome Back!

We are pleased to welcome you back to the blog “WHA Digital Frontiers,” created to support the Western History Association’s annual Digital History Workshop, planned for Saturday, October 15, 2011 (4:00-5:30 PM) in Oakland, CA.

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. This year the conversations will be led by:

  • Research: Francis Flavin, Office of the Assistant Secretary-Indian Affairs, United States Department of Interior
  • Public History: J. Wendel Cox, Senior Special Collection Librarian, Denver Public Library
  • Teaching: Leslie Working, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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 to contribute.

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 either before or after the workshop.

We’ll see you in Oakland!

Public History Breakout Session Summary and Link Fest

Thanks to all who participated in our public history breakout session. Here is a linkified recap of the session. We talked about two broad topics–teaching digital history to public history students, and institutions using digital tools to connect with the public.

Old School Digital Western History

On the first topic we began with Paula Petrik’s course sites. Petrik led us through the schedule of her History and Cartography graduate class at George Mason. We were all quite impressed, but we also had a discussion about how those of us at smaller institutions and with less technical support simply could not do what she does. We needed some simpler models and tools.

We spoke about using free or open source tools. We looked at Omeka and some of the projects undergrads at the University of Nebraska have made with Omeka. I showed a Google Map of one-room schoolhouses a student of mine made, but we also agreed that Google Maps are not good for showing temporal changes. XX showed us an exciting Florida project, Next Exit History, which gives students the tools to make historic podcasts that then show up in an iPhone app and soon in some Garmin and TomTom GPS systems. I really liked the idea of having students in my courses create public podcasts for a collection that would grow with each course.

Adam Arenson showed us the Hypercities project and talked about some of his experiences getting his students to build GIS datasets. He also showed us his research blog, and told us how research leads and information have come to him by people discovering the blog.

Moving on to institutions using the web, George Miles showed us some of the resources at Yale’s Beinecke Library, from a static digital exhibit he hand coded in the mid-90s to the latest offerings. Much as with Petrik’s syllabi, some attendees thought that Yale’s stuff was great but not something they could duplicate at their much smaller and poorer institutions. We looked at the online photography collections of Humboldt State as an example of smaller institutional libraries mounting digital content. I showed off the audio search feature at the Washington State Archives, which allows keyword searching of MP3 files–(Washington State Digital Archives collections – go to”audio” to use the keyword audio files search.)

Finally I abused my position as a facilitator to flog my blog, Northwest History, where I often discuss the topics at hand.


What did I forget? What do you think of these tools and sites? This blog will remain up until our next meeting in Oakland, let’s use it to keep exchanging ideas between then and now.