teaching

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.

New Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities and Media Studies

graduates-4555027fc37869a5The first brainbytes blog of the spring semester serves as an announcement: UCONN has a brand new Graduate Certificate! Welcome back. Pending final approval by the Board of Trustees, the Humanities Institute is pleased to announce a Graduate Certificate in DHMS. This certificate will supply interested graduate students with crucial training and with marketable skills and approaches for careers within and outside of academia. As the initiating director of this certificate, I am providing a summary of the contents below.

Need for the DHMS grad certificate

The UCONN grad certificate in DHMS is unique insofar as it is fundamentally interdisciplinary: it will not be solely oriented, as certificate programs are at other schools, towards digital humanities methods, research, and practice, but also towards integrating media studies as an interdisciplinary and international field of critical inquiry and theory. It seeks to enhance the talents, interests, and success rates of our humanities graduate students entering the academic job market, as digital humanities and media studies research and scholarship has proliferated across North American campuses at the undergraduate and graduate levels, as well as internationally. In addition, employment opportunities for graduate students with training in digital humanities and media studies have increased in non-governmental organizations, libraries, museums, and other public and corporate entities as such training is often closely linked to public humanities.

Educational Objectives of the Graduate Certificate

The certificate prepares students to conduct humanities research with digital tools by providing digbookparticipants with the knowledge about same tools, about methods, and, importantly, about theoretical issues central to the interfaces between digital humanities and media studies. These may include: text analysis, data mining, visualization, geo-spatial inquiries and mapping, multimedia and digital storytelling, hybrid and digital publishing, information or knowledge design, network analysis in combination with the history of media, media archeology, media aesthetics, media theory, media philosophy, digital cultures and game studies.

Outcomes include:

  • a DHMS Portfolio (see requirements below)
  • a deepened and theoretically sound understanding of the interfaces between Digital Humanities and Media Studies
  • an in-depth practical and theoretical understanding of the humanities in the digital age as they apply to sectors within and beyond the academy
  • an understanding of and experience with collaborative practice in the humanities, social sciences, and the arts as such practice applies to research and teaching with digital tools

Course Sequence and Educational Objectives

The Graduate Certificate in DHMS for graduate students enrolled in CLAS or Fine Arts PhD or MA/MFA programs will require a total of twelve credits: 3 credits in one of the core courses, two 3-credit electives, and one 3-credit independent study, working on the DHMS Portfolio.

Electives (students take two electives and one independent study, with 3 credits each)

Electives will be chosen based on the student’s major field of inquiry, her/his departmental home, and her/his dissertation or thesis research, in consultation with the student’s PhD or MA/MFA advisor and the director of the DHMS grad certificate. One of the courses as well as the independent study can overlap with the requirements in the home department. Other courses might qualify as electives if they meet the following criteria: electives should deepen the student’s understanding and theoretical and practical application of DH and Media Studies and facilitate her/his direct translation of these skills and knowledge to her/his scholarship.


DHMS Portfolio

dig_scholThe DHMS Portfolio serves as an independent research project, realized alongside and as a product of the independent study and culled from work accomplished over the course of working on the DHMS grad certificate. Students should be able to communicate the intellectual rigor and theoretical foundations of their project. They should also address some of the evaluation guidelines put forth by the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, or the College Art Association, as listed below:

  • describe the process underlying creation of work in digital media (e.g., the creation of infrastructure as well as content) and their particular contributions
  • describe how work in digital media requires new collaborative relationships with clients, publics, other departments, colleagues, and students
  • explain and document its development and progress and its contributions to scholarship
  • include colleagues and take advantage of opportunities to explain how your work contributes to the scholarly conversation in on-campus forums, professional meetings, and print or online publications
  • consider process as a form of scholarship and as a valid, even essential, part of knowledge creation

The final product must be publicly accessible on the web and include examples of the student’s work as well as how the project contributed to the student’s growth as a scholar (process writing). The portfolio must include a short statement of purpose.

More information on the application process and certificate details will be available on the DHMS website. The first core course, “Digital Humanities, Media Studies and the Multimodal Scholar” (LCL5020), is on offer this semester. Feel free to ask questions, share with colleagues, and join in on the conversations and events at DHMS in 2017!

 

 

Jennifer Terni, Associate Professor of French (Literatures, Cultures, and Languages)

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-1-20-12-pm1. What initially intrigued you about research/teaching in digital humanities or media studies?  

My interest in media studies is a longstanding one and is no doubt rooted in my inter-disciplinarity.   My MA in history was about the ideological valences of one of France’s most successful early pulp fiction writers, Eugène Sue.  Working on Sue forced me to consider the problem of distribution and audience. I realized from correspondence about him that different groups had very different investments in Sue’s work. Because of the difficulties of describing reception, the explanations of these differences were often uncomfortably reductive (class interest, commercial distraction for the masses, etc…).  As I developed a potential subject for my Ph.D., about the ways in which theater was rooted within Parisian cultural networks, I realized that what I was really after was to imagine new ways to account for and describe these differences.  This is how my Ph.D. project evolved into a much broader study of early mass culture.  The research has led me, over the years, to explore the countless ways that media in the 1830s, ’40s and ‘50s transformed how people were positioned—and positioned themselves—in terms of a reality that was increasingly defined by large numbers of other people. And though it is true that media could be a weapon, what we find when we look more closely was that it was more often—and very self-consciously—a resource that helped people to make sense of how they were being redefined as individuals and as collectives.  The active investments of individuals in media as well as in countless other practices that media helped support played a major role in propelling the rise of a culture increasingly defined by scale.

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

This past semester I taught a new graduate course on 19th-century media.  It would have been impossible to give this course even a decade ago, since it was built on the shoulders of major digitized archives including Gallica at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Hathi Trust, and ARTFL, to name but a few.  To make use of them effectively, however, I had to build an extensive website as a platform from which to organize the many primary sources that we explored as a group as well as to give a picture of what 19th-century media would have looked like. What is more, I tried, as much as possible, to get the students to experience what it would have been like to consume media in the 19th century, for instance, by reading a pulp fiction novel in installments in a newspaper.  This experiment was more successful than I could have hoped.  What is more, occasionally I sent the students to the Dodd archive to encounter 19th-century artifacts more directly (illustrated newspapers, daguerreotype, stereoscopes, photographic technology).  The impact of those encounters was intense in large part because the students had been engaged with primary sources throughout the semester: they had seen the exploding variety of media forms in the 1800s, but also knew firsthand how even very disparate forms were interconnected. They had also read theoretical and historical articles that helped them think about what kinds of cultural work these different genres and platforms were performing.  Touching the actual artifact was meaningful because to them it was already embedded in a web of references and ways of thinking about media, but also because it contrasted with all of the digital content they had been using throughout the semester.  It was thus doubly a material encounter with material culture.

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

  1. I would love to get support for teaching students how to conduct big-data research on historical sources and to also become critical about the strengths and limits of such research.
  2. I used a digital lab for this graduate class.  It was essential to the conduct of the course.  Each student was seated at a desktop computer.  We often looked at things together in class (illustrations, plays, newsprint, exhibition sites, audio and early film recordings) either as a group or did individual research on a question that was raised in class in real time (this is where the website I built was indispensable as all the resources we needed were centralized and accessible).  Making sure such classrooms are available was essential (and it was, it turns out, a struggle to find such space especially for a graduate class).
  3. I put in a good hundred hours building my website.  Some support for this would have been great too.

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

  1. Imagine your course as an overall process of active engagement and experimentation as opposed to being about a set of materials or themes.  Organize it it in terms of activities versus readings.
  2. Try to step out of your normal reflexes in designing your class.  As I got more deeply into the selection of my materials, I worried about the quality of individual samples — their canonicity in other words.  It finally dawned on me that this was exactly the wrong approach.  Letting the students be exposed to media more randomly and giving them tools for engaging with it meaningfully was far more useful pedagogically in terms of the development of their critical and interpretive skills.  They learned how to make fine distinctions between medium, platform, genre, device, formula, topos, so they actually learned to become better readers in a literary sense.  Even as they became increasingly fluent in these distinctions, they also became aware of how much, especially after the 1830s, the development of one genre and platform affected the development of others, even if they did not seem to share obvious affinities.
  3. Do not worry about the interest of any one artifact.  It turned out that the students were interested in everything, precisely because it fit into a whole web, both at the level of 19th-century media production, but also in the conversations we were having about it in class.

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

To learn about a new media form as a tool for teaching, but even more as a subject for research.  This applies as much to 19th-century media as to the latest platforms.  I am most invested in considering the problems media raises and solves in terms of communication, cognition, socialization, cultural impacts.  I am always interested in mastering new digital tools to be able to create new learning environments (while noting that in many of my classes I have a “no computer/phone” policy).  Ideally, I’d love to happen upon a question in my research that might lead, organically, to being able to develop a meaningful crowd-based research project. qa