Minor success with Visualization of York Riots

York Riots of 1969: Many Eyes Visualization

One of the three riots that I am examining took place in July 1969 at the very same time that Neil Armstrong took mankind’s first step on the moon.  By 1969, most contemporaries felt that the riots of the era had passed.  They had also concluded that the riots of the era differed significantly from the race riots that had taken place earlier in the century.  Specifically, they argued that there were few physical clashes.  Some even called the disorders of the sixties “commodity” because of the prevalence of looting (and arson).  In so far as shooting took place, it was deemed to be largely reserved to the actions of the police, state troopers, and poorly trained national guardsmen, and to snipers, though sniper fire in most riots was vastly over-estimated.  This visualization of all of the recorded incidents that took place in York during 1969 suggests that this was not always the case.  No incidents of looting were recorded and arson was relatively infrequent.  In contrast, there were multiple attacks on people and their homes, most often with rocks (or bricks) and with guns.   While York became famous in 2002 when its mayor was arrested for one of the murders that had taken place in 1969, it is remarkable that more people were not killed.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to map the riot in the near future.

Source: Minor success with Visualization of York Riots

A Digitally-Inflected Historical Methods Course

Yesterday was the first day since the seminar began that I didn’t post anything to my blog — but I will make up for it today with a long one. Last summer, I worked with a group of three colleagues to revamp our undergraduate methods course (and even spent about 90 minutes on the phone with Jeff McClurken to hear about the decisions UMW’s History Department had made when doing the same thing the previous year). I remember saying at the time that we should include some digital history, but since I didn’t have any good ideas about how we might do that, neither of my colleagues were willing to jump on my bandwagon. But I will be teaching the course in Spring 2015, and now I have some tools and concepts to incorporate.

All History and Social Studies Education students take this course, ideally in the second semester of their sophomore years or first semester of their junior years. The goal is to serve as a pivot from introductory courses to more advanced ones, giving students tools they can use in all their upper-level history courses. That goal is a key factor, for me, in which Digital History tools I want to emphasize (as well as which assignments I absolutely cannot change). We have broken down the course objectives into their constituent parts, and created a shell of five modules that will emphasize specific skills and ideas, regardless of which person teaches the course and what its content focus is at any point in time. The whole thing is still very much a work in progress, which means it’s a great time to incorporate new methods.

So here are some thoughts I had, broken down by course objective.

HST 3000: Historical Practice and Theory (Spring 2015)

Description & Goals: This three credit hour course is an introduction to key concepts and skills essential to the work of professional historians. This includes the following topics: the nature and types of history; the critical reading and analysis of primary and secondary sources; efficient and ethical research practices; writing skills; documentation style; and presentation and public speaking skills. The course is required for history majors, and it should be taken at the end of the sophomore or beginning of the junior year. This course is designed to prepare students for success in all upper level History courses. This course also fulfills the Writing in the Discipline (WD) requirement.

Communication skills (writing and speaking/presentation)

  • Use Blackboard internal wiki to do initial drafting/commenting/revision workshop (and then repeat at least once with the drafting/peer review/revision process for another assignment)—I have a feeling students wouldn’t want to make this experience public
  • WordPress blog with weekly posts (instead of weekly Blackboard journals or internal Blackboard blog)
  • Use Animoto to make a movie version of their project proposal, instead of giving an in-class presentation (keep other presentations)

Critical reading and analysis of primary and secondary sources

  • first step here is in-class modeling of how we analyze a primary source, next is to send students out to find new sources—different types—and practice that analysis: one example is to use ThingLink to annotate an image they’ve found (as their blog post/journal entry for the week)
  • I liked Diane’s post about text-mining runaway slave ads—use those or Documenting the American South slave narratives as the basis for a text-mining assignment and blog post or journal
  • transcription & metadata for one primary source item—I want them to understand what goes into creating the primary sources they find online (and then write blog post or journal entry about the experience)
  • use wikis to do parts of historiography jigsaw assignment (each student in a group contributes information about an important question/theme in that group’s subfield, based on book reviews and/or journal articles, some of which I select for them) outside of class
  • Write History Engine episode? (I don’t know if there’s time for this in the existing structure—it requires a lot of revision. But it fits with the goals of the course [one of which is to ingrain the habit of revising all written work], so I’ll see how the calendar works out.)

Efficient and ethical research practices

  • Use Bookworm (Chronicling America option) to identify appropriate keywords for searching other databases (esp. primary sources)
  • Work in Zotero: selecting and monitoring appropriate citation formats based on document type, organizing materials, taking notes, exporting into footnotes/bibliography/annotated bibliography

*The course overall builds to final paper of about 3000 words—that needs to remain because it’s a departmental priority. The standard book review also needs to remain, as do at least some of the in-class presentations. Since one of the course goals is to practice skills students will use in all upper-level courses, the assignments need to line up with what they are likely to see elsewhere. I also still need to use Blackboard on occasion (our Writing Across the Curriculum QEP requires that we submit and grade one assignment using a common Waypoint Rubric, and Blackboard is our route into that).

Source: A Digitally-Inflected Historical Methods Course

Digital Pedagogy


I was very energized by today’s session and have lots of ideas for my Digital History/Humanities course, as well as for making my other courses digital inflected. I think right now I need to try to keep myself from trying to do too much this fall–need to start with small steps! I have a clearer idea now of what I can do with my DHH course, and how to accomplish it. I am going to develop a pre-course skills assessment survey like Jeff McClurken’s, and get it off to the students so that I can get that information before classes begin. I also plan to identify some sources students can use for building digital projects; I have a few in mind already.

I do want to have my capstone students do their final papers on Word Press, but I may have them do a sort of hybrid with the paper and links, images on Word Press but also printed as a more “traditional” research paper–kinda how the JAH and other print journals do digital scholarship. Have to think on that a bit and see what my students think.


Source: Digital Pedagogy

Digital history? Moi?

Digital history? Moi?

Here at “Doing Digital History” in lovely Arlington, Virginia we’re currently working on ways to design and justify our respective digital history projects and courses at our home institutions. I’m fortunate enough that I won’t have to justify mine, but I’ve been working out the syllabus for a digital, experiential learning archives-based course for the last week and a half (before I start teaching it exactly two weeks from today).  If you want to see what it looks like at the moment, then click here.

About Jonathan Rees

Professor of History, Colorado State University – Pueblo.

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Category(s): Digital Humanities


Source: Digital history? Moi?

Voila!–Syllabus and Online Survey Creation and Dessimination

Now that we are in the eighth day of the workshop, a number of ideas have begun to gel and produce fruit.

The two that emerged today during workshop during discussions were a draft of my syllabus for an online graduate history course that I am teaching this fall tentatively titled “Learning and Doing African American History in the Digital Age:  Cutting-Edge Theories, Tools, and Approaches,” and an online survey that I will launch to learn more about the manner and degree to which scholars of history and public history engage digital tools, technology, and methods in professional communication, teaching, and research.  I hope to use the data collected to help identify individual, departmental, and institutional areas for professional growth and development.

I am going to ask my now wonderfully-informed DH workshop colleagues to evaluate the survey offer suggestions for improvement before I forward the survey for posting via Survey Monkey.   I hope to launch the survey next week, and I will give participants a two-week window to respond.

Both projects are integrally related to my ongoing research on the Lillian Horace Papers.

Full speed ahead!




Source: Voila!–Syllabus and Online Survey Creation and Dessimination

Now You Hear It: Music & History

I greatly appreciate the time we were granted in DH to consider or rethink how we use music in our history courses.  In my early days as a French and ESL teacher, I created songs to help my students absorb various concepts.  My favorite “Love Revised” carried my 10th and 11th graders through a jazzy lesson in composition writing that I still enjoy singing for fun when no one is in earshot:  “Baby, Dot my “i’s”/cross my “t’s”/make a polished paper out of me/You see I have had enough of fragmented love…”  And the rendition goes on….

When I entered the college classroom as a French teacher, I continued to compose little songs to help my students remember various types of grammatical configurations.  And I was more than eager to use my creative skills once again to help me remember under pressure the numbers of sharps and flats found in various key signatures.

As I was trying to establish myself as a historian, I shied away from performance in the class room, and chose to include prerecorded performances that meshed well with a given historical theme or period.   Music as social protest was more suitable to my needs at the time.  With the advent of You Tube and a boost of confidence gained from a jazz history course I took on campus, I began including on my syllabi links to various songs with clear historical import: Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of “Strange Fruit,” James Brown, “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman,” and others.

My past and ongoing appreciate for music and music literature notwithstanding,  I greatly appreciate our discussion of music and digital history because it challenged me to imagine other meaningful ways to engage music in my history classes.


Source: Now You Hear It: Music & History

Now, You See It: Visualizing History

Our detailed discussions about visualizing history have been among the most beneficial to me in my intermittent ten-year quest to find digital tools to map the missionary impulse of African American Pentecostal Charismatics in the Southwest.

As I had encountered maps in textbooks throughout my educational career, I was surprised by the opaque answers I would get each time I asked about creating maps to enhance my project.

As I poured through property records from one county to the next, it became clear almost immediately that the data collected would be best understood on a graph or map as opposed to described in a traditional narrative.  I was assured that mapping programs existed but also that they were complicated and expensive.

Of course, I was happy to learn that our recently hired geographer had ordered a copy of an excellent mapping program.  My goal since that announcement been to relocate all the data collected and now stacked away in boxes, and prepare it for fresh mapping project.

Given the length of my journey to “seeing” particular moments in history, I was delighted to learn about the various mapping programs we might use to enhance our teaching and scholarship.  With those tools and GIS in hand, I can move forward with confidence one coordinate at a time.

Source: Now, You See It: Visualizing History

Distant Reading and My Research

Before the institute and today’s session, I thought that I might be able to use text mining to aid me in my research. More specifically, I had intended to use it to examine a cluster of apx. 75 oral histories on riots that took place in Baltimore following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. These interviews have already been transcribed and are readily accessible at the Baltimiore 68 website. However, after doing the reading and playing with some of the search engines, I am less sure about the usefulness of this technique for my project. To begin, it appears that “distant reading” is best for large bodies of work, and while 75 transcripts, of apx. 15-20 pages each is significant, I’m not sure if the text mining enhances my ability to interpret the “data.” In addition, I’m not sure what the results of some of the mining shows. For example, the word clouds and/or charts generated by voyant either don’t say much or reveal things about the sources that I didn’t already know. This said, I intend to continue to experiment with overview and voyant to see if they reveal some patterns that otherwise are not readily apparent or which I have not seen.

Distant Reading and My Research | My blog.

Distant Reading for the Classroom

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Distant reading will make a world of textual evidence available in new and engaging ways for students of slavery. Looking for words and phrase patterns that reoccur in the existing recored of runaway slave advertisements using data mining techniques will also introduce students to the digital humanities. Slaveholders placed detailed advertisements in colonial era and nineteenth-century newspapers seeking the return of enslaved men and women who chose to run away from bondage. These advertisements offer a window into the world of slavery that can be enhanced using distant reading techniques and methods.

Multiple websites are dedicated to digitizing runaway slave advertisements and can form a base of data for a distant reading project. One such site, the Geography of Slavery in Virginia, pulls together advertisements from Virginia newspapers. Another deals with North Carolina Slave Advertisements from 1751 to 1840.

Distant reading will help to determine common categories and features of slavery.


Source: Distant Reading for the Classroom

Text mining

There will be no sizable body of digitized material for the project that I’m thinking about, so not sure at first blush if text mining will come in. I found myself generally less drawn to the web services and software we learned about yesterday, probably because my work has yet to include a large, digitized corpus that could undergo analysis of that kind. Looking forward to continuing to explore those tools, though, and learning more about the ways other scholars have used them!