Archive for Digital Life

Reflections on #SHEAR14

The analog program cover.

The analog program cover.

I just returned home from my most digitally enhanced annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) yet, so it only makes sense that I capture my reflections on that experience in digital form.

As always, I am impressed by what a generous group of scholars has been drawn to SHEAR’s flame.  With a few exceptions, the official comments and audience questions were gentle, constructive, and aimed at enhancing our understanding of the past rather than scholars’ egos.  And I think this spirit is extra impressive in a group of people who study a period in which the American ideology of competitive individualism was first finding its footing and its ideological power. Read more

Discussing My Cliometric Odyssey

Poster for our talk.

Poster for our talk

Next Wednesday, April 16th, I will be talking with the Department of History and American Studies about an ongoing cliometrical research experiment I have been undertaking this academic year.  With a research team of two outstanding senior history majors, Leah Tams and Julia Wood, we have built Excel databases of American geographical publications from 1800 to 1860.  We specifically targeted gazetteers, “geographical grammars,” and tourist guidebooks.  Using data pulled from the WorldCat union library catalog, we have attempted to make each of those databases as comprehensive as possible.

Then, using Leah’s graphing skills as a math minor and Julia’s GIS skills as a geography double major, we have experimented with developing visual representations of this data that can give us new insights into the ways in which the market for American geographical knowledge changed during the first half of the nineteenth century.  Leah’s charts and wordclouds illustrate the topical convergence and increasing seriality of guidebook publications, while Julia’s maps show how the publication of different genres was commercialized in uneven ways.  In each case, their visual representations reveal long-term trends starkly and strikingly.

All this work is contributing to my larger project on tourism and the commodification of experience in the nineteenth century.   It reveals how the print culture of geographical knowledge was increasingly commercialized and industrialized in the years before the Civil War, turning knowledge of space into a commodified experience of space, available on the shelves of booksellers across the United States.

A Month on my RSS Drip

My Tiny Tiny RSS installation.

My Tiny Tiny RSS installation.

As part of the Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative this spring, I began to explore the world of RSS feeds.  Perhaps my favorite part of the DoOOFI was its focus on managing incoming flows of digital information.  The immersive sense of information overload was always the hardest part of living a digitally-engaged scholarly life for me, and in our group we discussed lots of technological and cognitive strategies for managing that information flow to make it useful rather than overwhelming.  As a part of this discussion, I installed Tiny Tiny RSS, an open source RSS reader, on a partition of my domain.  I’ve been using TTRSS for about a month now, and I have some observations about RSS as a technology for managing your digital life.   Read more

Utopianism and Media, Then and Now

The technology of media utopianism, 1560s-style.

The technology of media utopianism, 1560s-style.

This week’s readings on the future of the internet seem deeply steeped in the utopianism of internet culture.  This utopianism has always struck me as the most salient feature of writing about internet culture, especially by those authors who are more comfortable with the label “futurist” than I am.  What we had, what we lost, what we could have, what are the threats … these are all questions that only make sense if you fundamentally assume that the internet has the potential to be a radical change agent.  I know that this is a drum I’ve been beating all semester, but as a historian of print culture, I can’t help but seeing very strong echoes of much older conversations about the relationships between ideas, media, power, and social change. Read more

The Accidental Digital Scholar

A chart by Leah Tams that shows the changing proportion of one-off and serial guidebooks across the first half of the nineteenth century

A chart by Leah Tams that shows the changing proportion of one-off and serial guidebooks across the first half of the nineteenth century

Reading through the Weller piece for this weeks’ DoOO discussion, I realized that I have become something of a digital scholar without entirely intending it.  When I began to form my scholarly identity in my early graduate school years, “digital humanities” was not yet a blip on my radar, and as I approached mature independent scholarhood, I became acquainted with the term without much context, which led me to experience it more as a buzzword than as a rigorous way of working.  But thinking back over it, my scholarly work habits grew and shaped and shifted over the course the last five years of my career, to the point where digital methods inform much of what I do. Read more

Crowdsoucing Project: Bad Historical Websites

What a terrible website!  (Just kidding.  Thanks, Geocities-izer!)

What a terrible website! (Just kidding. Thanks, Geocities-izer!)

On Wednesday, I will be leading a discussion in my undergraduate History Practicum seminar about learning to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources on the wide-open Internet.  The students have been assigned to bring in an example of a good and a bad historical website on their topic, but I would like to have my own examples of some spectacularly bad history websites to pick apart in class.  I want websites that are factually wrong, absurdly presentist, politically problematic, and straight-up plagiarized.  So what’s your favorite example of bad historical website?  Email it to me or post it in the comments below.

Oh, and I guess I’m also interested in your favorite example of good history websites, too.  Thanks, collective cloud-brain!

Analog Day, Digital Day

Virginia Snowpocalypse 2014: digital humanities or analog humanities?

Virginia Snowpocalypse 2014: digital humanities or analog humanities?

This week’s assignment to explore “personal learning networks” through social media came at an auspicious time.  Unlike Jason and Dave, last week’s snow days freed up some time for me, because of the particular moment I was in for each of my courses.  (I’m screwed this week, but that’s another story.)  That meant I had a fair amount of time on Thursday and Friday to play with Twitter and RSS. Read more

Making a Collaborative Reading Notes Wiki

Screen shot of the wiki in progress; click to enlarge.

Screen shot of the wiki in progress; click to enlarge.

This semester I am experimenting with using MediaWiki as a platform for the students in my History of Manhood in the US course to build a collaborative set of reading notes.  After being less than completely satisfied with my Twitter experiment last semester, I was looking for a new way to integrate an online component into my courses.  One of the problems I had with student tweeting is that it generated a lot of noise; there was a lot of talking and very little listening.  I had a hard time keeping up with all the tweets, and it seemed unreasonable (as well as unproductive) to expect the students to do so.  In previous years, I had found that response-blogging suffered from a similar problem; there was an awful lot of expression and not a lot of contemplation.  So I found myself searching for a different kind of online community, one in which the students wrote less but more thoughtfully, and actively engaged with what the others were contributing.   Read more

Twitter as an Academic Tool

Is it a siren song that I sing?

Is it a siren song that I sing?

This week’s assignment for the Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative is to explore online scholarly communities.  I spent some time racking my brain trying to think up Early Americanist communities online, until I realized that I have been an active user of just such a community for years, H-Net.  I belong to several of their groups, and I get much of my information about fellowships, conferences, and new work from interacting with their email listservs and their newly renovated web portal.  The size and breadth of its user community makes it an invaluable resource for me. Read more

Teaching is About Relationships

Rural school near Milton, North Dakota, 1913.  Courtesy of Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

Rural school near Milton, North Dakota, 1913. Courtesy of Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, NDIRS-NDSU, Fargo.

This week’s readings were all about using technology to open up teaching and learning and to take advantage of the “abundance” of teaching materials, expertise, and networks.  These pieces all strike me as fine, as far as they go, but they mostly reveal an understanding of what makes for good teaching that is fundamentally different from mine. Read more

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