Month: September 2017

Integrating Digital History into the Classroom, by Matthew Ferraro

As an aspiring social studies teacher, I recognize the importance of integrating digital history into the classroom. Students have grown up in the digital age, and, as such, consume a majority of their information online. Gone are the days of searching through a library for primary and secondary sources to support a historical argument or reading a newspaper to discover that day’s events. All this information, and more, can now be found online. This vast availability of information has greatly expanded the possibilities for studying history, which presents us, as educators, with a unique opportunity to integrate digital history into our classrooms. By doing so, we will enable students to utilize digital media to advance historical analysis and understanding. To do this, however, we must first provide students with models of digital history. What follows are several examples of digital history projects that could be used in classrooms (and beyond) to equip students with the skills required to contribute to our knowledge of world contexts in a digital way.

1) History Matters

HistoryMatters is a digital history project that resulted from collaboration between George Mason University and the City University of New York. The project began in 1998 with the intent of providing teachers and students with digital resources that could improve their instruction and understanding of United States history. It was funded by the Kellogg Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. There are over a thousand primary sources on a variety of topics that range from photographs to text documents to audio files, all of which can be used with students to help them construct a narrative of the past. What’s unique about this project is that it takes full advantage of the digital space by using audio files from everyday Americans to help participants co-construct the history of the United States as well as from scholars on how to teach major aspects of US history. In addition, since there are over a thousand primary sources available, there is a “full search” feature that was developed to assist in locating resources by time, topic, or keyword. With the large number of primary sources available, this digital history project would be an excellent resource for students to use for research papers. Students could use this project to develop a research question based on an area of inquiry, examine primary sources related to their topic, arrive at conclusions based on their research, and publish their findings in order to advance our understanding of history. Doing so would expose them to conducting research digitally while also developing their ability to think critically, evaluate evidence, and articulate their thoughts clearly.

2) Mapping Inequality  

Mapping Inequality is a digital history project that was created through the collaboration of three research teams from the University of Maryland, the University of Richmond, Virginia Tech, and Johns Hopkins University. This project showcases 150 maps that were drafted by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) from 1935 to 1940. These maps were color-coded to show the credit-worthiness of different neighborhoods in each town. Mortgage lenders then used these maps to determine whether someone would qualify for a loan. This project was developed to show that, when these maps are compared to the layout of neighborhoods in the United States today, it becomes apparent that many of the racial and class inequities that exist are a direct result of the HOLC’s maps. In fact, many of these maps were produced such that they were to codify racial segregation into real estate practice. This project could be used with students for multiple purposes. For example, when teaching about the New Deal, students could use the site to determine how the HOLC reflected a problematic legacy of the New Deal. Students could also be asked to cite specific examples from the map of how the HOLC’s practices led to the racial and class segregation that is seen today. For example, if they examined the areas around Hartford, Connecticut, they would observe that the HOLC deemed that West Hartford had the “best,” most credit worthy neighborhoods, whereas Hartford had the “hazardous,” least credit worthy neighborhoods. If this map is compared to today’s, it becomes evident that the HOLC’s maps led to racial and class segregation, with West Hartford and Hartford reflecting mostly unchanged neighborhoods. In addition, showcasing a digital history project of this nature in class would familiarize students with what digital history can look like. Through this project, teachers could expose students to some of the digital tools and resources—such as mapping software and online databases—that would be required to design it. This would create incentives to work collaboratively with other scholars—especially those who could provide the digital resources for projects like this.

3) The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War

The Valley of the Shadow is a digital history project constructed by the Virginia Center for DigitalHistory at the University of Virginia. This project narrates the countless stories of two different communities from the American Civil War—one from the North and one from the South—through letters, newspapers, diaries, speeches, and other primary sources. The project is organized through a series of image maps that direct the viewer to various search engines. This project functions similarly to the HistoryMatters project—they are both databases of primary sources that employ search engines to enable the viewer to locate information—but there is a key difference between the two worth mentioning: while HistoryMatters contains a large amount of primary source information on a wide variety of topics across United States history, this project only provides information that is relevant to a specific time and topic. The narrow focus is relevant to the work historians do on a daily basis, as most of a history scholar’s research explores questions in a specific niche of the past. As such, teachers could use this project to show students how they might approach a digital history research project. This would help transition students away from the traditional way of communicating their thoughts on history through a research paper and, instead, provide them with the opportunity to disseminate their ideas digitally. For example, rather than writing a paper about the significant World War II battles, students could create an online timeline that lays out those events chronologically while also providing descriptions of the significance of each battle. Exposing students to and allowing them to engage in this sort of work would enable them to practice the craft of a historian in a very familiar context and equip them with the skills to pose their own questions about a certain niche of the world.

Matthew Ferraro is a masters’ student in the Neag School of Education’s Integrated Bachelors’ / Masters’ (I/BM) Program. He is currently interning at Conard High School, where his research interests include how to best integrate human rights education into social studies classrooms. He is studying to become a social studies teacher at the high school level. He can be reached at matthew.ferraro@uconn.edu.

Welcome back: It’s Year 2 for DHMS

As the semester gets under way, DHMS is ready to roll out a number of updates, news, and events for the new academic year 2017/18. Welcome back, everyone!

First a quick review of Year 1: following the creation of the brand new graduate certificate in Digital Humanities and Media Studies in February – with much-appreciated support from a number of colleagues in CLAS and the Graduate School – two students already graduated from the program. Britta Meredith (LCL/German Studies) and Elisabeth Buzay (LCL/French & Francophone Studies) each completed their course work and DHMS portfolios in the nick of time and with great aplomb (and, incidentally, helped the director navigate the new learning curve of certification processing). Importantly, both DHMS certificate holders are off to a tight conference schedule: Elisabeth Buzay received two invitations already, with presentations directly related to her DHMS certificate work, and Britta Meredith is continuing her jam-packed presentation tour with next-phase talks on her DHMS portfolio that is now getting integrated with her dissertation. Congratulations to both of them!

On video now from Year 1 on the Humanities Institute youtube channel: two of the events from last year, the inaugural DHMS Talks presentation by renowned University of Santa Barbara professor Alan Liu; and pivotal information on copyright issues (both analog and digital) for academics by University of Massachusetts lawyer/librarian Laura Quilter and our own UConn-local librarian Michael Rodriguez. Alan Liu’s talk is a must-see (my humble opinion) should you have missed his thought-provoking, à propos, and widely applicable discussion of “Toward Critical Infrastructure Studies: Digital Humanities, New Media Studies, and the Culture of Infrastructure.” Ditto for Laura Quilter’s and Michael Rodriguez’s talks, for very different reasons, of course. Both point to crucial elements concerning copyright and authors’ rights that take minutiae to a new level: watch for ALL the fine print in your contracts with book and online publishers to make sure you not only understand your intellectual copyright, but also what happens (or can happen!) once you’ve published that book or article and it all goes digital and multimedia… And, yes, there IS “Fair Use in Digital Scholarship.” 

Thank you again to Jennifer Snow, one of UConn’s Digital Scholarship Librarians, for making this important event possible.

Which brings us to Year 2. This fall and spring, we will take a break from the Digital Humanities Reading Group (for further notice please check DHMS Upcoming Events), but things will rev up in other directions. The list of Scholars’ Collaborative workshops for this semester is all set, with 5 workshops scheduled throughout the fall. Look out for Michael Young’s presentation on “Images and Permissions for Publications” (NEW) and two workshops on the popular Tableau by Steve Batt (also NEW). Suggestions for more workshops/tool intros always welcome.

Year 2 in DHMS will also inaugurate a new Fall/Spring rhythm with a roundtable discussion in the fall semester and the DHMS Talk in the spring. For the DHMS Roundtable, media studies scholar and NYU English professor Lisa Gitelman, interdisciplinary artist Emma Hogarth (RISD), and UConn’s own DMD department head Tom Scheinfeldt and I will gather to discuss “Interfacing Digital Humanities and Media Studies.” Please join us on October 12 at 2:30 on the 4th floor of Babbidge Library to participate in this conversation across disciplines and across media.

Another event to take part in is collaboration #2 between DHMS and the library on the occasion of Open Access Week in October. Director Jason Schmitt will come to campus to present his documentary film

“Paywall” (2018), a topic that is bound to invite debate on a number of fronts and issues. The screening and Q&A will take place in Konover on October 25 from 2-4pm. More information forthcoming very soon. Bring your students.

Finally, our once-a-semester DHMS Meet&Greet luncheon will take place after Thanksgiving on November 30 from 2-3:30pm. My colleague Jacqueline Loss (LCL/Spanish) will provide a glimpse into her work on “Finotype” that has been selected as one of the first Greenhouse Studios projects. The Digital Coffee Hour (ad hoc gatherings next to fountains of hot coffee!) will continue as well – however, the venue has switched from the Humanities Institute to Scholarly Communications in Babbidge Library – exact location TBA.

The brain bytes blog (bi-weekly as of this year) will continue to post ideas, information, events and more – and readers are welcome to contribute a guest blog and/or recruit more readers who might have an interest in sharing their DHMS-related work (or quests). While there are several Q&A features in the making, you should feel free to suggest topics of potential interest or colleagues whose work deserves to be noticed. Two new items have been added to the Resources page: a Social Media Guide for Academics (JustPublics@365 Toolkit) and Guidelines for Digital Dissertations in History and Art History (GMU). If you have any resources or projects to share that need to find their place on the DHMS website, please just send an email to anke.finger@uconn.edu. Better yet: join the DHMS mailing list or the DHMS facebook group. Wishing everyone a productive and inspiring academic year!