DH tools

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.

Oral Histories and the Tech Needed to Produce Them, Part 1: Cameras, Audio Recorders, and Media Storage, by Nick Hurley

Screen Shot 2017-03-04 at 4.19.45 PMLast summer I had the pleasure of spending several weeks in southwestern Germany, visiting family and conducting interviews with five local residents who lived through the Second World War. In doing so, I fulfilled a goal I’d had in mind ever since the death of my great-grandmother in 2013. She had been one of a host of relatives and family friends that regaled me with stories from “back then” every time I’d come to visit, and her passing made me realize that I had to do more than just listen if I wanted to preserve these memories for future generations. This time around, I would sit down with each of the participants—the youngest of whom was in their late 70s—record our conversations, and eventually send each of them a copy of their edited interview on DVD. While I had a clear idea of why I was undertaking the project, and had done a lot of reading on oral history practices (including this fantastic online resource), I was less confident in just how I would go about carrying out the actual interviews. I was inexperienced with audiovisual equipment or video editing, and the seemingly endless number of tech-related questions I faced concerning things like cameras, microphones, and recording formats left my head spinning.

It took a significant amount of research and self-instruction before I was comfortable enough to purchase the necessary gear I needed. These two posts are my attempt to share what I learned and hopefully save other oral history novices some of the headaches I endured putting together an interview “kit” which, at a minimum, will consist of a camcorder (possibly), your audio recorder, and a way to store your footage.

The Camera

You’ll need to decide early on whether or not to record video as well as audio for your oral histories. While choosing the latter option will greatly reduce the amount of equipment you’ll need to buy, it really depends on the nature of your project. If you do decide to film, steer clear of mini-DV and DVD camcorders, as these record on formats that are quickly becoming obsolete. Your best bet is to go with a flash memory camcorder, which utilize removable memory cards that can be inserted into your laptop for easy file transfer.

High definition (HD) camcorders are fast becoming the norm over their standard definition (SD) counterparts, and they’ve become affordable enough to make them a viable option for amateur filmmakers. In terms of capture quality, AVCHD usually means a higher quality image but a bigger file, while MP4 files are compressed to reduce size and are a bit more versatile in terms of how they can be manipulated and uploaded. Either way, you can’t go wrong, and will get a great looking picture. I’ve shot exclusively in AVCHD so far with my Canon camcorder and have had no issues.

The Audio Recorder

If you’re going to splurge on anything, it should be this. You may or may not elect to include video in your project, but you will always have audio, and the quality should be as clear as possible—especially if you plan on doing any kind of editing or transcribing. There are a few things to consider when choosing a recorder:

  1. Whichever model you go with should have at least one 3.5mm (1/8”)Screen Shot 2017-03-04 at 4.10.03 PM stereo line input, to give you the option of connecting an external microphone, and one 3.5mm (1/8”) output, so you can plug in a pair of headphones to monitor your audio.
  2. If you know you’re going to use an external microphone, having one or more XLR inputs is a plus. XLR refers to the type of connector used on some microphones; they are more robust than a 3.5mm jack and harder to accidentally unplug, making them an industry standard.
  3. Some recorders are meant for high-end professional use and have a plethora of features and buttons you’ll simply never use. Look for one with an easy to use interface.
  4. WAV and MP3 will be the most common options you’ll see format-wise, and many devices can record in either. WAV files are uncompressed, meaning they contain the entire recorded signal and are therefore much larger than MP3 recordings, which are easier to move and download but sometimes experience a slight loss in audio quality.

Media Storage

The three main types of memory cards that you’ll encounter are SD (Secure Digital, up to 2GB), SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity, 4-32GB), and SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity 64GB-2TB). Almost all cameras, computers, and other tech manufactured after 2010 should be compatible with all three types, and the cards themselves are fairly inexpensive. Useful as they are, memory cards shouldn’t be considered a means of long-term storage for your files. For one thing, you’ll run out of room fast; while things like compression and format will determine the exact amounts, for planning purposes you can expect to fit only about 5 hours of HD video on a 64GB SDXC card and 12-49 hours of WAV audio on a 16GB SDHC card. Even if you’ll only be doing one or two short interviews, you should still plan on migrating your files to a more secure storage media as soon as possible after you’re done recording. Cards can be broken or lost, and digital files, like their analog counterparts, will “decay” over time if simply left sitting.

Screen Shot 2017-03-04 at 4.12.54 PMMy raw footage is stored on two external hard drives. Any editing work is done using one of them, while the other is stored in a separate location as a backup. Edited interviews are likewise copied to both hard drives once they’re completed. (This practice of having multiple copies of the same material stored in separate locations is known as replication, and is an important aspect to any digital preservation plan; for more info, check out this great page from the Library of Congress.)

Again, these three pieces are the minimum you’ll need to properly record and store audio and (if you desire) video footage. Depending on the circumstances and scope of your project, however, you may want to utilize some optional gear and accessories, which I’ll bring up in Part 2. Until then, feel free to contact me with any questions, and thanks for reading!

Nick Hurley is a Research Services Assistant at UConn Archives & Special Collections, part-time Curator of the New England Air Museum, and an artillery officer in the Army National Guard. He received his B.A. and M.A. in History from the University of Connecticut, where his work focused on issues of state and society in 20th-century Europe. You can contact Nick at nicholas.hurley@uconn.edu and follow him on Twitter @hurley_nick.

Jennifer Snow, Digital Scholarship Librarian

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 11.29.44 AM1. What initially intrigued you about research/teaching in digital humanities or media studies?

I began my work at UConn as the History Librarian six years ago, and I have slowly grown my skills and interests from there.  I have a Master’s in History, although I was trained in the traditional research methodologies.  Digital humanities didn’t really feature in my education.  However, as I worked with scholars and colleagues on various projects, I saw key ways that the Library could be more involved in digital humanities.  As research and scholarship change, the Library must adapt as well to remain relevant.  My skills and knowledge in this area are mostly self-taught, and I enjoy teaching others and seeing students become excited over the research possibilities opened up by a digital approach. 

2. Has entering the DHMS realm changed your approach to research and teaching in general? If so, how?

Absolutely!  I find my research and teaching to be much more collaborative now.  I’ve learned as much from students and scholars as they have from me.  We each bring our own expertise to the table, whether it’s a technological skill or subject knowledge.  I also actively seek out from others what they would like to learn, so I can tailor workshops and research consultations to their specific needs.  Whenever I work on a new project, I immediately think about who else might be interested and have something to contribute.  It’s a very different experience from individual work on an article for publication.  The projects I work on are multidisciplinary, and I have grown as a researcher from these collaborative opportunities.

3. You have three (commitment-free) wishes to receive support for your research/teaching in DH or media studies: what are they?

First, I would love to have more staff in the library dedicated to DH.  Web developers, graphic designers, coders!  We are always trying to do more with less.  It would be nice to never worry about finding time to work on a project because there is plenty of people to work on it.  Second, the opportunity to offer student internships or assistantships would be great.  I think this will be forthcoming in the future, though, so I am very much looking forward to that.  It would be a wonderful opportunity for students to learn more about DHMS and to work on interesting projects.  And third, more time is always welcome!  There are so many fantastic projects out there that I want to be a part of, but unfortunately, there are only so many hours in a day, and I have other responsibilities.  

4. First struggles and successes: do you have any best-practice advice?

My advice is really to just dive in!  If there’s something you’re interested in learning about, whether it’s a new tool, platform, or something else, don’t hesitate to start working with it.  Try and find other people who have a similar interest, and you can help each other.  Look for workshops, seminars, and meet-and-greets related to digital scholarship.  DH is collaborative by nature, so networking is hugely important.  There will definitely be struggles.  You may not master a particular tool as quickly or easily as you had hoped.  You will have other things competing for your time.  My advice is to not get discouraged and keep plugging away.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, whether from the library or from your own departments. 

 5. How would you like to challenge yourself in DH or media studies? Or what is a project you most seek to realize? 

As the Digital Scholarship Librarian, I am tasked with working beyond the humanities and branching out into the social sciences and sciences.  This is certainly a challenge for me as my background is squarely in the humanities.  However, I am working on developing skills in areas such as data visualization that can be of benefit to people in the sciences.  I would absolutely love to work with a researcher outside of the humanities who is new to digital scholarship.  We can educate each other and become more well-rounded researchers because of our collaboration.  I somewhat actively avoided the sciences in my academic career (to this day, I have never set foot inside the science buildings at my alma mater!) so this is definitely a new area for me.  The silos between the disciplines have begun to break down as research becomes more multidisciplinary, and I’m very excited to be part of that.

Jennifer Snow has a BA in History from Vassar College and an MA in History and Master in Library Science from Florida State University.  She currently serves as the Digital Scholarship/Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian for UConn.  Her academic background is in early modern French history, and she has worked on a number of digital scholarship projects on a variety of subjects.  She has published articles and a book chapter on topics related to digital scholarship and critical pedagogy.qa

Can’t Find Your Way to Victoria? Here’s a “How To” for Home Use Blog Double Feature

In last week’s guest blog Marc Reyes enthusiastically reported back from the DH Summer Institute in Victoria. It is by all accounts a terrific first step towards all things Digital Humanities, if one can swing it, time wise or money wise. For those who will have to wait or who just want to try another route, there are plenty of opportunities to find one’s very own answers to: How do I get started with Digital Humanities??? It all depends on what you want to explore: the theoretical, the practical, the experimental or the just plain playful? Because there are so many ways to go, this blog is extra-long and therefore a double feature.

Part I: Retracing Steps and Missteps

When I think back to my own “humanities + digital” beginnings, I recall

  • visiting my very first web page in 1993. The always up-to-date Lab Director pointed at the screen and said: “This could change a whole lot in language learning!” No kidding. Will this become part of my teaching?
  • getting involved in what used to be CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) and teaching myself HTML (remember Netscape?).  But I was also writing my dissertation, so I had no time. The motto was, expressly, “publish or perish”: how could I possibly squeeze in this new digital stuff?
  • receiving a grant in my first job that allowed me to buy two SMART boards, revolutionary technology at the time and quite a mystifying wall of multimodality to all who dared start teach with it. Not everyone was gung-ho, though. That experience begged the question: is all new tech fundamentally good?
  • co-founding an online peer-reviewed open access journal, against my peers’ and mentors’ advice. It would either not count for tenure or cast doubt on my scholarly integrity. To me, it was all about matching form with content, or, in this case, the other way around: a media philosopher’s work should also be presented and discussed digitally, no? Yet, would digital publishing be recognized in merit reports?netscape-navigator

Let’s face it, these are recurring questions for most of us, no matter whether we are at the beginning of our Digital Humanities explorations or well traveled. Often, engaging with DH is a start and stop process, testing our patience, our capacity for the new, and our skill sets. No one can deny that the humanities have long entered the digital realm. But can you define your own involvement with it?

 

Of course! You don’t have to pull all-nighters or pursue perfection to learn how to

  • build webpages for teaching or research. A profile of your own making matters today, and it is often the first thing you learn at DH workshops. But no rush: take days, take months, take a whole year – practice makes playful. My own webpage changes frequently, whenever I have a moment to try out a new widget or add a piece of media.
  • blog. It’s like writing a scholarly journal or reflecting publicly on any aspect of your work. Yes, it’s public. Yes, most of us are share our process only with a select few. Yet, most of the time, I am surprised about how learning to blog (or using digital tools in general) also helps me reflect on how I think. I started various blog writing enterprises on different topics, sometimes with colleagues. I found out that I am not that good at collaborating in the blog venue for practical reasons and just do better composing by myself.
  • participate in social media. Even if you have no interest in building a profile or tweeting to announce your latest article publication to the world, do set up an account and try it out. You can always delete your profile if it’s not your channel – but you move on and find out what is.
  • take your visualization skills to the next level. You like taking photos? You have made videos on your digital camera? You want to create images from your data? My own latest exploration is with digital storytelling and video essays: writing the script, assembling the imagery, recording my own voiceover, and producing. This took a number of missteps and misadventures, but the results are passable. That’s good enough. And it will get better with time. I was also thrilled to find that there was an audience – vimeo has scored the work at over 12,000 views.

Try and fail, and enjoy the process. You have no interest in coding? Don’t. You want to hold off on writing a blog, it’s just too personal or too public? No problem, a tweet only has 140 characters. No interest in data mining? Certainly – perhaps text editing is your thing! Entirely your choice, in your own time and your own place. Your medium at your leisure.

I continue to try numerous tools, depending on what’s new, what interests me, and what is of relevance for my research and teaching. Does that make me a Digital Humanist? I don’t know. I think of myself as working in media studies with DH proficiency or a DH intermediate with a strong background in media studies. I do not code. Ditto for mapping. I do not mine data; so far I’ve just had no purposeful interest in it, but that could change. I do not (yet) work in a large collaborative team on a big multi-level, multi-year project, with substantial grant support promising a formidable outcome. But I’d like to. That’s next – at least I will try.

 

Part II: Building your own map

So how can you start on your own way into the Digital Humanities? I remember looking at Lisa Spiro’s recommendations several years ago. Although her thoughts date back to 2011 – five years is a long time in DH – and some of the initiatives and/or links are out of date (thatcamps don’t seem to happen as frequently as they used to), I still agree with many of her pointers. Most everyone just insists: start somewhere! That “somewhere” can be anywhere, really. Ideally, it connects with your ongoing research or teaching, unless you just want to take a break from that very research or teaching and occupy a different part of your brain (as in, PLEASE give me a break so I can reboot!).

There are a great many “how to” pages that provide you with lists, similar to the one Spiro set up. She remains the most cited, with the Modern Language Association and the NEH still linking her site. Duke’s DH Initiative has put together a plethora of tips and resources that get you going. Our colleague Tom Scheinfeldt created his own list, making it exceedingly easy to get your feet wet. An excellent mélange of links and lessons comes from the College of Charleston, complete with videos and tutorials. Then there is the ACH’s Digital Humanities Questions & Answers section that connects your pressing issue with someone who can assist. In fact, most libraries or DH centers and initiatives now offer some sort of “How to Get Started” page or workshops that generate ideas. Just choose what appeals to you. And most everything gets explained on youtube these days anyway. Take a look at a series on Humanities + Digital Tools available from Stanford or search for the presentation of a particular tool.

A decided favorite (DH sleuthing!) still is Miriam Posner’s “How did they make that?” She presents the finished project (what is it?), traces it back to its origins (what you’d need to know), and then gives tips on how to do it yourself (get started). This reverse-engineering perspective is great for analyzing process because once your project is done you are most likely on to the next thing. And your failures and missteps cannot inform your succeeding projects or generate new ideas and approaches. Posner also produced a video about these steps – yet another way to show her own process.staedtereise_urlaub_leipzig_innenstadt_11

Well, here we are. Understood if this load of suggestions on how to get started is exhausting. You have not finished that article. Your students’ exams remain untouched. You haven’t read the report for the meeting that starts in 20 minutes…. And it’s time to get some fresh coffee! Then don’t start today, start tomorrow. Sleep on it. Or come to the “DHMS Meet & Greet” on October 24th from 12:30-2pm at the new UCHI location on the 4th floor in the library (209).

choosing-a-college

Meet colleagues who are thinking about DH, have started or are well on their way. Enjoy lunch together. Discuss the DHSI in Victoria with other participants. And if Victoria does not appeal to you consider a DH summer in Leipzig or Oxford.