Non-Text Sources and Teaching Ideas

So there was some cool stuff at Doing Digital History today, but unless I move in the direction of Civil War memory, video and audio sources probably aren’t going to be a huge part of my researching life. Photographs and other images may, of course, and lots of people with the appropriate training do cool things with material culture. I definitely hope to include mapping, but I’ll leave a discussion of that for when we actually get to it in the seminar. (Is it a seminar or an institute? I’m never sure how the NEH classifies things.)

I am excited about some options we’ve seen for having students work with nontextual sources. I’m hoping to find two or three good tools to incorporate into the Historical Methods class, and I definitely plan to use ThingLink. We already include a series of assignments in which students locate and analyze one primary source at a time and then explain how that single source connects to larger themes, and images should obviously be part of that process. I’ll have to think about ways that annotating the image in ThingLink promotes historical thinking differently from simply writing about it, but it’s definitely a little more fun — and sometimes that’s enough to make something worth doing. We all need some fun built into the semester.

I had students use iMovie/Moviemaker for two assignments last semester, and that worked fairly well, but I think Animoto would be great too. What I like about Animoto is the limitations it places on the amount of text students can use. It prevents them from making the kinds of text-heavy products they sometimes create when asked to give class presentations or share various types of visual aids. I have a wonderful colleague who regularly asks students in the methods course to write their papers on a Post-It note — the idea being that if you can’t explain your argument in that amount of space (at least in the context of a semester-long essay of about 10 pages), you probably don’t have one yet. Making an Animoto movie would serve the same purpose, forcing students to zero in on what they thought was really important.

Source: Non-Text Sources and Teaching Ideas

Thoughts on non-textual sources

Music:  While I have used music in my teaching for at least one class period in most of my classes each semester, Mike O’Malley’s presentations provided some new tools and ideas for providing more sophisticated and frequent work with sound.  I will definitely use the national jukebox in my US survey class.  The idea of the genealogy of a song for an assignment is one I will also likely utilize in a class this coming semester.

Film:  I attempted my first class film assignment last year with mixed results.  The tools we examined and practiced (a bit) today give me more confidence and some new ideas for continuing with such assignments.  For example, the students and I spent considerable time locating open-license appropriate music tracks for their films, never thinking of the possibility of creating our own tracks in Garage Band.

I like the idea of either replacing a traditional research paper with a film (as a publicly available digital history project), or offering it as an option for students.  Our work was encouraging and made me feel less concerned about students spending more time on mastering technology than on research, analysis, and interpretation.  I still feel some concern about the fact that my students use a mix of macs and pcs, and I don’t feel very confident using the basic windows movie-making tools.

Scalar:  This was the most challenging tool for me today.  It was interesting to look at and hear Celeste talk about, but I’m struggling with how I would use it or when I might suggest that it is appropriate for my students.

Source: Thoughts on non-textual sources

A total cop out.

So my Doing DH 2014 homework for tonight is to write a short blog post about using non-textual sources in history classes. Since I’ve written two articles for AHA Perspectives on precisely that subject, I’m just going to link to them here and here.

Now I’m going to go back to playing with Omeka.

Non-textual sources

Our tour of tools and conversation about sound on Thursday inspired me to think especially about course curriculum and ways that I could build assignments around digital projects. I teach an oral history course every year and Audacity or GarageBand would be great for a podcast assignment. I like that that kind of exercise would allow students to learn the tool and also think about interpretation/presentation of the oral history that doesn’t rely on its textual complement, the transcript.

I’m thinking more about using Scalar and Omeka for my own work. I’ve used Omeka for classes and know that it rocks in that way, but I’ve never thought about how I might use it to present a digital portfolio (or does it even make sense for that?) and/or to organize or present my own research (well, I use Zotero). Scalar is especially interesting based on the range of relationships it can visualize in a given body of work. There aren’t any immediate projects in my docket that would be great for Scalar but I’m most definitely going to continue to explore.

Source: Non-textual sources

thinking about my course

One of the points in the early readings that has stayed with me is the need to have students reflect about how doing history digitally differs from more traditional methods, and how it can change the way we do history. So I’m thinking that my course, which is for undergraduates will have a 3-part structure (with the first part most fleshed out right now):

1. Introductory: What is DH? How does it change history/humanities? This will include readings about DH; intro to various types of projects; explorations & discussions of DH projects; and much discussion/reflection on how these change history/humanities.

2. Learning and playing with some easy DH tools.

3. Working on a class DH project.

Struggling with Omeka…

Having a little trouble figuring out how to put things on Omeka, or really what I’d want to put there. I guess I’m not far enough on this project to have much in the way of content. I did play around with ThingLink a little more, and I took the jpeg of this 1882 map of Wilmington, NC (which I saved from North Carolina Maps purely as something to scribble on as I worked with one of my students), and noted the home locations of a few of the city’s slaveholders in 1860, as well as their occupations and the size of their households.

Source: Struggling with Omeka…

Planning for my Digital History Course

One of the projects I have spent my time at the Doing Digital History Institute thinking about is how I might teach my proposed introductory digital history course during Fall 2015. As I noted earlier, teaching this course at the introductory level was not necessarily my first choice., as I remained unsure how to teach students about the benefits, modes, and methodologies of digital history without having the benefit of earlier course-based knowledge.

Why might I have this concern? First, having surveyed current digital history courses being taught throughout the country, I continuously encountered courses that were aimed at upper-level students. I appeared to me that many of these courses sought to do two things: to disrupt and challenge students understanding of traditional historical methodology while also providing these students with advanced research and interrogatory skills similar to those we typically teach in upper-level research seminars. These courses clearly assumed students would enter the course with certain investigatory and analytical skills already in place (i.e., the ability to read and unpack a primary source), freeing the students to focus their attention on the new digital methodologies being explored in the class.

Second, though, I am wondering if part of the reason I keep finding digital history courses placed at the upper-level of an undergraduate curriculum has to do with the way that we, as instructors, are coming to digital history (or at least why my first inclination was certainly to situate the course at that level). For most of us, digital history is new, complicated, and even (at least for me) a little bit intimidating. It requires us to learn a whole new set of methodologies, approaches to material, and technical skills. Digital history, rightly or wrongly, has the ability to conjure up images of the technologically deterministic, scaled-up, and boiled-down digital threats leveled at humanities education, specifically, and general education, broadly, today.  Moreover, arguably this is how we always have taught new material. Upper-level classes exist for us to explore complex subject matters deemed too advanced for introductory undergraduate audiences, all the while honing our own understanding of the material in order to determine how to simplify it for introductory undergraduate consumption.

Yet, for better or worse, I am teaching the course at the introductory undergraduate level. Consequentially, it needs to introduce students both to digital history and methods and to “traditional” ones as well. Part of the reason why I am here is to figure out how this melding could work.

So far, I have two possible ways to permit the class to (hopefully) accomplish its goal. First, I absolutely need to give the class some content to anchor the analysis we might do. Contextual thinking is a key component to our early historical scaffolding, and I am wondering if the appropriate content might help to allow us to approach the tools themselves as primary sources. Specifically, I am interested in adding a “History of the Digital” component to the class that explores the development of information technology, the rise of digital modes of communication and analysis, and the place of history in this analysis (in essence expanding the analysis done by Cohen and Rosenzweig here).

In addition, I have begun to believe that I need to be careful and enthusiastic in my choice to pick tools that use content. A key bedrock of digital history classes seems to be to “build” (which is something I need to return to), but it seems useful that having students practice reading and interpreting developed digital sites (both as digital content and as history) could be useful. Here I worry about not providing the proper historical context for students to interpret the evidence on these sites appropriately. But that is a problem for the coming days.

Source: Planning for my Digital History Course

Another Day, Another Project

For the last couple of days I’ve been thinking about digital history more or less, 24-7. And I’ve decided that even though my original project idea (a blog documenting history exhibition installation shots) is useful, I think I could pretty much do it right now (well, theoretically….will I have time to do it? maybe not!) and so, because I’m in an environment where I’ll have more support than at any other time, I think that maybe I should try to go back to my original, much more ambitious, proposal.

My history department at Eastern Illinois University is full of wonderful, committed public and local historians. And what they’ve been doing for a long time (since 1998!) is gathering primary sources, mostly pertaining to Illinois state and local history, and putting them online. So what we have right now is two websites, Localities and Past Tracker, both which contain lots and lots of great primary sources (no one knows how many!) as well as some student and faculty projects using these sources. In other words, collections, and exhibitions. There are also some lesson plans, another great resource. We already know that many local teachers and researchers use them, and many of the documents on the site are not reproduced anywhere else. So we have a sense of who our audience is, and what their needs are, and how we might help meet those needs while at the same time expanding Localities and Past Tracker–perhaps with data visualization? Or collaboration? There are lots of good possibilities here, but before we do anything else, we need to strengthen our foundation–the collections.

When I came to Eastern last year, I began working with other faculty and a few graduate students on making these sources more accessible and more dynamic. So far, we’ve reorganized the two websites and regrouped our links, but they remain websites, and not databases. All of these sources and exhibitions need to be catalogued, organized, and invested with metadata. And after we get this back end done, we can start working on front end and interface. This is going to be a giant project that will likely take many years, but I’d like to begin now, by at least creating a project plan on how we might begin to use Omeka so that incoming graduate students have a place to start. This is my new plan, and I’m pretty excited about it. My new goal is to come out of the Doing Digital History summer institute with a game plan for this very big project.

Source: Another Day, Another Project