A View into the 2014 WHA Six-Shooters digital history session

This year’s Six-Shooters digital history lightning round session, sponsored by the WHA Technology Committee, featured nine presenters sharing their research, teaching, and public projects (photos by Doug Seefeldt, session chair):

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!

Lineup for WHA 2014 Six-Shooters Session

This year’s Six-Shooters session is scheduled for Thursday, October 16, 2014 from 2:30-5:00 PM in Salon 1-2 in the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Spa, Newport Beach, CA. It offers a unique opportunity for WHA members interested in the ways digital technologies are being used in the classroom, in public history, and in research, to discover and discuss these new ideas in an “unconference” manner.

This session, sponsored by the WHA Technology Committee, chaired by Douglas Seefeldt, utilizes a lightning round format that limits each presentation to six minutes and six slides. The session will feature the following presenters and topics. Please join us for stimulating presentations, lively conversations, and valuable networking!

  • Jacob K. Friefeld,U. Nebraska-Lincoln, “The History Harvest Project” The History Harvest is a collaborative, community based digital history project and learning initiative that aims to democratize and open history. The project utilizes digital technologies to share the experiences and artifacts of people and local historical institutions. At each harvest, conducted by undergraduate students, community members are invited to share their letters, photographs, objects, and stories, and participate in a conversation about the significance and meaning of their materials. Each artifact is digitally captured and then shared in a web-based archive for general educational use and study. Overall, the History Harvest project aims to raise visibility and public conversation about history and its meaning, as well as provide a new foundation of publicly available material for historical study, K-12 instruction, and life-long learning. I will discuss the History Harvest as a concept, and explain its philosophical grounding. Then, I will briefly outline the harvest process and flexibility of the project, and conclude with a discussion of the History Harvest Archive and the future vision for the project. This short presentation is an invitation to join this growing project in increasing the availability of artifacts that help us to understand our shared history.
  • Erik Johnson, George Mason U., “Discover Historic Places Digital Project” The National Park Service, in collaboration with State Historic Preservation Officers, Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, and other local governments, administers a remarkable historic preservation program called the National Register of Historic Places. With advancements in web publishing and social media platforms, there is an opportunity to publicize the country’s historic resources to a wider audience and, in doing so, boosting historic preservation and the communities that are served by the National Register. Discover Historic Places (DHP) is a digital project that aims to work with the public to achieve a better understanding of its history by publishing National Register documentation in a highly accessible format. DHP is built using Omeka and uses the city of Philadelphia as a model for the project. The website organizes around historic themes within the city with the hope that thematic categories, along with map visualization, improve the accessibility of National Register resources for all users.
  • Robert Jordan, Colorado State U., “The Lory Student Center Project”In the midst of year-long renovations of Colorado State University’s (CSU) Lory Student Center (LSC) from the fall of 2013-2014, the history department, the Public Lands History Center (PLHC), university administrators, archivists and librarians from the Fort Collins and CSU archives, and undergraduate and graduate students worked collaboratively to produce digital, historical content to be showcased as part of the grand opening of the new student center. This digital content created by the university’s own students provides a link for past, present, and future Rams to their university, creating a sense of pride in the accomplishments of previous generations. The content is composed of twelve physical markers linked to digital, web-based “brand stories.” Working together, students in one undergraduate and one graduate history course (HIST580A1 and HIST480A5) produced narrative content for each of the twelve brand markers, as well as visual digital components for use by the LSC on a website or mobile application. Over the course of a single semester, students utilized a wide range of primary and secondary source materials and digital tools to create a dynamic, digital, public history project, learning new skills and gaining invaluable practical experience.
  • Paula Petrik, George Mason U., “Is 3-D Reconstruction Worth It?” In other words, what can we learn as historians from the laborious task of recreating a historical landscape in three dimensions, given that 3-D digital work is labor-intensive and time-consuming? Using Helena, Montana’s Wood Street neighborhood as a case study, this very short presentation illustrates what spatial analysis can contribute to historical analysis. Recreating the neighborhood adds an extra dimension to the history of “capitalists with rooms.” Not only did the Wood Street “soiled doves” create a micro-economy in their area but they also controlled its space both through the buildings’ design and location.
  • Jana Remy, Chapman U., “Digital Humanities at Chapman University” Jana will speak about two new Digital Humanities courses offered to graduate students at Chapman University, “An Introduction to DH” and “Humanities Computing.” In addition, she will share insights about serving in an “alt-ac” administrative position on her campus (as the Associate Director of Digital Scholarship), and her role in DH-related research initiatives.
  • Rebecca S. Wingo, U. Nebraska-Lincoln, “Can I Get a Witness?: Network Analysis of Homesteaders in Nebraska” In 2014, Fold3.com, a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, finished digitizing over 75,000 records of successful homestead claims for the state of Nebraska. In 2009, Richard Edwards called for a reassessment of homesteading in “Changing Perceptions of Homesteading as a Policy of Public Domain Disposal,” arguing that scholars need to approach homesteading through data analysis rather than anecdotal evidence (however compelling it tends to be). Using the newly digitized records, I sampled ten townships over two counties to thoroughly examine and document every homestead claimant, creating the most complete data set of homesteaders to date. I then used Gephi to map the social connections of homesteaders based on the witnesses they listed in their Proof of Posting. Network analysis of homesteaders indicates the prevalence of fraud (spoiler alert: it’s not as much as previous scholars have led us to believe) and traces community formation. Geolocation of the homesteaders further reveals patterns in witnessing that demonstrate the function of neighbors and neighborhoods in the rural west. Ultimately, this project merges qualitative methodologies with close-readings of the documents to produce ground-breaking research on homesteading in Nebraska.

Do you use digital tools in your research, teaching, or public history profession? If so, and you are planning to attend the 2014 Western History Association conference and are willing to share your thoughts and experiences at this session, please contact Doug Seefeldt: wdseefeldt[AT]bsu[DOT]edu and we’ll try to add you to the slate!

Call for “Six-Shooter” Lightning Round Presentations: Western History Association 54th Annual Conference, October 15-18, 2014

Greetings! The Western History Association’s Technology Committee members are seeking proposals for a roster of presentations for their “Six-Shooters” lightning round session to be held at the WHA’s 54rd Annual Conference in Newport Beach, CA on Thursday October 16, 2014 from 2:30-4:00 PM. Each of the 8 or so 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 initiatives. Before the conference, each confirmed participant will post a brief paragraph to the WHA Digital Frontiers blog outlining what they plan to present. Check this space for updates and feel free to contact Doug Seefeldt via email at wdseefeldt [AT] bsu [DOT] edu if you would like to like to be considered to participate in this alternative-format session.

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

Open Access Scholarship and Computers in the Humanities

In an Atlantic Monthly article published in 1945, the brilliant engineer Vannevar Bush, who had served as the Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development through World War II, outlined the new tools emerging that promised to “give man access to and command over the inherited knowledge of the ages.” His essay, “As We May Think,” expressed an optimistic and ambitious future of machines that would aid scientists — and other scholars — in the tasks of their research. Bush envisioned a machine that operated like the human mind, which “operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts.” He called this machine a “memex,” and pointed to history as a way to suggest the machine’s possibilities:

The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozensof possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds and interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected, Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.

And his trails do not fade. Several years later, his talk with a friend turns to the queer ways in which a people resist innovations, even of vital interest. He has an example, in the fact that the outranged Europeans still failed to adopt the Turkish bow. In fact he has a trail on it. A touch brings up the code book. Tapping a few keys projects the head of the trail. A lever runs through it at will, stopping at interesting items, going off on side excursions. It is an interesting trail, pertinent to the discussion. So he sets a reproducer in action, photographs the whole trail out, and passes it to his friend for insertion in his own memex, there to be linked into the more general trail.

The Internet, of course, has become our memex. But how history can be linked to and enhanced by the Internet is a topic still open for discussion. Can history be enhanced by the massive capabilities of machines? How might computers change the way we communicate in the humanities? The Internet, I would suggest, allows historians to query and explore materials in new ways as well as provides new ways to communicate what we discover.

When Edward Ayers and William G. Thomas coined the phrase “digital history” in 1997 with the founding of the Virginia Center for Digital History (VCDH) at the University of Virginia, the earliest institution devoted exclusively to history, they were part of a wave of scholars testing the potential for computers to influence research in the humanities.  Scholars began exploring ways that hypertext, databases, CD-ROMs, and other electronic mediums could be used to communicate knowledge or generate new insights into scholarly work.

In some ways digital history required a new set of languages.  The emergence of modern computers and servers allowed scholars to begin mastering new ways of communicating research.  Professors learned mysql; undergraduates had knowledge of server-side scripting; designers aided scholars in thinking about presentation on the web; graduate students aided in document encoding.  The revelation here is that no one could master all the skills necessary to write a piece of software or create a digital project — humanities computing was necessarily collaborative.

The growth of digital humanities centers initiated large-scale projects supported by large staffs of graduate students, faculty, computer science professionals, librarians, archivists, undergraduates, and many others that provided knowledge toward the successful completion of digital projects.  Projects like the Valley of the Shadow was a multi-year project that eventually compassed several thousand documents.  Other scholarly institutions such as the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, IATH at the University of Michigan, and the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln emerged to support digital humanities computing and scholarship.  In recent years, graduate students have pursued smaller-scale projects completed in the course of a single semester or over a year in support of a Master’s thesis or Ph.D. dissertation.  Digital works such as Andrew Torget’s Texas Slavery Project and several projects at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln illustrate the potential for scholars to produce interpretive digital projects under much shorter timeframes and manageable scopes.

The result of this explosion of digital historical material and interpretation on the web has the potential to reshape the ways scholars reach audiences.  Open access historical work, through the web, becomes more visible, can be easily retrieved, potentially reach broader audiences, and thus have a greater impact than a book.  Digital scholarship could reach thousands of readers in search of historical material.  Scholars can also track usage on their projects and determine what people choose to read and use, a task impossible with a printed book (a purchased book does not necessarily equal a book that’s been read).  It is in the interest of historians to provide unrestricted, open access to their work, because doing so increases readership and recognition.  Open access means instantaneous access to research, the ability to correct errors almost immediately, and a radical democratization of knowledge production.

The web also holds the potential to develop new forms of narrative that reflect Bush’s idea of “associations.”  Digital history completes the task required of any historian — providing an argument within an interpretive framework on a given topic.  Computers allow historians to create distinctive forms of narrative that take full advantage of the interconnected, non-linear format of the web.  History, writes Orville Vernon Burton, “is badly in need of models beyond the monograph for the demonstration of excellence, and where the scholarship itself is in need of new genres and new strategies for reaching new audiences.”  Hypertextual history, Edward Ayers suggests, means historians must establish a coherent, layered analysis.  The narrative potentials of digital history opens the door to new models of historical scholarship.

If our purpose as scholars is to share with others what we know and have learn about the past, then democratic access to scholarship should be our ultimate goal as historians.  Digital technology gives us the tools to rethink the presentation and dissemination of historical scholarship.  Although challenges and questions exist, that should not deter historians from embracing open access historical scholarship and sharing knowledge.  “If historians believe that what is available free on the Web is low quality,” Roy Rosenzweig writes, “then we have a responsibility to make better information sources available online.”

Digital History Goes Mainstream

Western historians interested in digital history will find the topics and themes listed on the call for papers for the 2010 American Association for History and Computing of great interest:

Digital History Goes Mainstream: The Role of Digital Technologies in Historical Scholarship, Teaching, and Society
November 5-7th George Mason University, Fairfax Virginia
Proposals due: September 10th

Any of these topics and themes are fair game for discussion in this blog and in our workshop at the WHA meeting in Nevada in October.

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!