Utter Frustration

So, although I am supposed to be thinking about the ways that non-textual sources might inform my scholarship of teaching and learning, I find that I am completely obsessed with the inability to make Omeka work for me. I’ve created a collection but can’t seem to add any additional documents.  What in the world is going wrong???

Thoughts on making/using video for class

I’ll admit it – the longer I teach the more I like using videos – and it’s not about being lazy.  It’s the fact that videos can do things that are either difficult or impossible to do in class.  The only problem is finding something suitable – either what I find is too long, too short, or I can’t find what I want at all.  Given the tools we learned today, that’s no longer an excuse.  I can, pretty easily, make what I want – apparently with a minimum of fuss and effort.  Or lots of fuss and effort…

Thoughts on making/using video for class | My blog.

Non-Textual Sources

As a public historian and an American Studies PhD (and BA for that matter), I have long worked with non-textual sources:  material artifacts, photographs, oral histories, folkways, etc.

Nonetheless, today’s conversation in Doing Digital History pushed me a bit outside my comfort zone by pressing me to think about what it means to approach all sources as “data.” Our lively and fascinating guest instructor, Mike O’Malley, asked us to consider landscapes of sound and to examine the ways in which they have been re-configured over time. Sound Studies, as O’Malley explained them, have raised some interesting questions:  when does sound become noise? how has the experience of listening to music changed over time? Yet, much of the work seems overly focused on technical evidence. Digital environments allow scholars to graph and map sound as form and to focus on its mechanical production. Yet, it seems that sometimes the function, creation, use, context, and reception –all elements of the human experience– are irretrevable. While it is clear that technical data charting changes in sound have interpretive value, the approach often detatched from questions of human value and meaning-making. During discussion, O’Malley offered a critique of historical reenactors as an analogy. He argued that their effort to understand the meaning of the past is misleading because it is attached to microscopic detail; reenactors focus is so much on the trees, that they miss out on a approaching a deeper understanding of the forest. Yet, some sound scholars’ focus on sound charts, combined with a reluctance to think about sound as only a small part of a much larger and more dynamic cultural environment seems potentially to have the same shortcoming. Can we really understand a sound landscape without considering all of its elements:  human as well as mechanical?

My focus was a bit skewed during class. I was so interested in learning about Sound Studies as a body of scholarship, that I found it difficult to keep my attention on how this might relate to digital history. Nonetheless, I was interested in the examples that O’Malley provided about how non-text based productions can be used in a digital environment for teaching, learning, and research. I can imagine value in producing short digital stories or podcasts for students or other learning communities.  I’m not yet sure how –or if– my current projects are appropriate for experimenting with sound or video, but I am certain that digitization will provide me with a venue for associating various kinds of data:  textual, visual, audio, and material. I’m also starting to wonder how reducing evidence to “data” will impact my interest in remaining focused on the inconsistent, stubborn, difficult-to-categorize human dimension of social and cultural life.

Source: Non-Textual Sources

Non-Textual Sources

In a previous class, I required students to make a movie on a historical debate. I allowed them to present the historical debate in creative ways. Some used a game show format, others interviewed experts, and still others narrated a story. The assignment, however, was too complicated for an introductory level class. They struggled primarily with the history and not with the technology. Most used iMovie, and I was surprised that no students complained about having to learn how to use the application. Many seemed to even enjoy the assignment. In future classes, I will require students to make a movie presenting one historical argument rather than different sides of a debate.

Having now explored ThingLink, I will incorporate an assignment into selected classes that requires students to annotate a primary source image using secondary sources and other primary sources. For example, I have a 3D scanning project for public history students in my class in the fall in which students will interpret an object and create a 3D model along the lines of the Smithsonian X 3D tours or the Taung Child Skull. I will show them ThingLink as one tool that they may use to add interpretation to a gallery of pictures.

Source: Non-Textual Sources

Using non-textual sources

Well, I would write about using material culture sources here, but since this is digital history and we did soundscapes and music today, I know we are supposed to talk about that. As it happens, I do use a lot of music for teaching, particularly in my 20th Century U.S. Culture course. For this course each class features a “song of the day” from the relevant era.  When I first began to do this more than ten years ago, I chose all the songs and played them, providing brief background and contextual information. Later I began to ask the students to each select a day and song and present the song. With the advent of YouTube, this has become much easier for all of us, of course. I provide a master list of song choices, but I also allow the students to choose a different song for the given period (with my approval). I ask them to present their song along with some history about the song, the composer and singer, and the historical context.

After learning about allmusic.com today, I am thinking that when I teach this course next spring, I will ask the students to trace their song at this site as well, so that they can see who else has recorded it, and how it has changed over time. I also liked the discussion of transgression in popular song, and am thinking I could  set this assignment up more fully than I have in the past. One way might be to look at what popular songs do, and how they express and transgress social and cultural norms. I loved the Postmodern Jukebox and think that I could use the site to showcase some of the things that songs can do. In short, I think I can make this assignment more effective by tweaking it, using the insights and tools from Mike O’Malley’s presentation.

Source: Using non-textual sources

Sensing the Past

During my senior year in college, one of my history professors returned a paper with an A grade but a cautionary comment: “This is a well-organized, clearly-written paper with a convincing argument — but where are all the people?”

This was my first introduction to social history, and it’s informed my approach to the past ever since. My goal as a historian is to understand and interpret lived human experience, as it was experienced, in a particular place and time.

Human experience is a sensory one, and the past is an emotional place. Anything that might help me recapture what the past sounded like, what it looked like, how it smelled, and what it felt like to live there and then, has value. As an oral historian, I also know the power of a human voice, and I know how the slightest shift in volume, tone or inflection can change the meaning of a story.

Source: Sensing the Past

non-textual sources!

As a cultural historian, I tend to work a lot with non-textual sources (photographs! television! reenactment!**) and I’ve thought a lot in the past how this might translate into the digital in a way that would invite engagement from my students. Yesterday, I was very interested in ThingLink, and am already planning on ways that I might annotate images for my students. I’m equally interested in Scalar precisely because of the ability to annotate not only images, but also moving images (at the same time though, our good discussion today made me a bit wary of Scalar’s citation issues…always good to keep evaluation). Something I’d like to see is a platform that allows annotation from multiple sources–something like the Soundcloud example from class, or perhaps YouTube. I’d certainly use this in class assignments (relatedly, I’m hoping to get introduce iPads into my gen ed survey class this semester and already have had all kinds of plans for primary source analysis group activities), but today got me thinking about how non-textual sources might figure into my larger project, the database of Illinois state and local history primary sources. Perhaps a kind of user collaboration? Is there a way to plug this into Omeka? Excited to find out…

**here’s a tangent: I’ve been thinking a lot about how one might represent or document embodied performance in the digital…


Source: non-textual sources!

Some Basic Visualizations of Institute Participants

I decided to mess around with some very basic visualizations of the Institute participants. The first graph compares the gender of the Institute’s participants to the 2004 survey of practicing historians to see if women are over-, under-, or equally represented to the field as a whole. 2004 is the last survey I know of tracking these figures.

The second graph examines the Institute’s participants based upon the Carnegie classification of their associated college or university, compared to the breakdown of all History departments by Carnegie classification. Again, the point was to see if the three levels were roughly in line with the national pattern.

Finally, I tried to see if I could get a Google map to load noting where we are all from. Not sure how to figure out if this pattern accords with the distribution of colleges and universities across the country.

Source: Some Basic Visualizations of Institute Participants

Using Digital Tools Meaningfully

As we hit the midpoint of this institute, I am thrilled to have the chance to learn so much so quickly. My application focused on the ways in which I hoped to use digital tools in the classroom, and I am now much better prepared to carry out those plans. Learning more about Omeka, especially, is something I have wanted to do since NCPH 2013, and I now think my students will benefit from using it and WordPress as ways to present historical information.

Incorporating digital tools meaningfully into my own research is more tricky. My research and writing process is eccentric. I use Zotero for early bibliography, but read on paper, and take notes longhand. I have had some luck later typing those up, which lets me search by keyword. Although inefficient, the redundancy forces me to think repeatedly about the material.

As an urban historian, I think mapping is the most likely area of growth for my work. I hope to learn GIS, but that will take time. My current work wrestles with historic preservation, gentrification, and segregation. This summer I was excited to figure out how to use a Google Fusion table to map African-American owned barber shops and beauty parlors in Savannah in 1952:

I have also used Social Explorer to see historic census data spatially. Tracking property values over time is challenging, and may involve pulling the online property tax cards for various properties and logging sale prices over time, then somehow analyzing that data. I am not sure what forms that analysis may take, but look forward to learning more here.

Source: Using Digital Tools Meaningfully


The presentation/discussion with Michael O’Malley was quite a show—”a really big shew”—as Ed Sullivan might have said.

In thinking it over, it seems it was a mash-up (not necessarily a bad thing) of a lot of different issues. I appreciate that he gave us ways to think about music and songs as sources. And also how to present that information (or chance to “think historically” about the sources) to students (or others) through digital technology.

To do that, tho, he relied on knowledge he has both as a historian and as a musician. Lots of musical knowledge—about singers, beat, chords, recording studies—even before he got to the “technical” matters of compression and mid-range dips (I don’t think that was the word).

The resources:



as well as youtube [and how to capture videos from it www.atube.me/ ] will be fun—it not useful—in the future.

I have questions of historical interpretation: I don’t know that a song like “Chinaman Blues” that promotes racism/orientalism/etc. is “transgressive.” Or if it is “transgressive,” how does that transgression differ from the Flirtations (the ‘90s gay male a cappella group) singing “My Boyfriend’s Back”


or how lesbian audiences “in the know” about Dusty Springfield dusty

or Leslie Gore Gore

listened to them (vs. other listeners). Being passed information about them—or Janis Ian—

janis ian
was a rite of passage in some gilt communities—a “threshold” experience.

This is a long way of getting to the issue that I am always mulling around: which of the approaches are interesting to see what people have done, but I am unlikely to ever use (because I lack, not simply the digital technical ability, but the ability to think historically with/through that kind of source) and which are the ones that I can see doing although right now I am at sea (bobbin’ along). No need to decide anything now although I do find myself “tuning out” (so to speak) when I don’t see myself using it.

And that experience is a good reminder of what students often go through—an additional plus of this institute for me as a teacher.

Source: Reflections