Three Immediate Steps

As we conclude the institute, we have been asked to identify three things that we will do in the near future to put some of what we learned here to work.  I have a number of ideas, but the following are actions that I am pretty certain I can take in the next two semesters.

1. My department will be engaging in a curriculum revision this year.  I’m on the committee directing this process. I will push for the inclusion of a digital competency objective in the new curriculum documents and for a digital history course.  My department will probably not accept the first item, but most likely it will accept the second.  I will work with the director of our public history program and our library’s new digital initiatives person to begin developing the course.

2. I will pursue the project I outlined in my blog yesterday.  Several colleagues and I have been talking with a local community group about helping to organize and present a collection of oral histories, text records, and images related to the African American community in Haywood Co., NC. We will incorporate this work into several undergraduate courses over the next few semesters, with the goal of creating a digital archive of these materials for inclusion in my university’s existing Appalachian heritage site.

3. I will migrate my courses for the spring away from Blackboard to a site under my own control (a reconstructed version of this one, most likely).  Take that, Blackboard!

Source: Three Immediate Steps

Sketching Digital Projects for Undergraduate Teaching

Today at Doing DH, we’re talking about using digital projects in undergraduate teaching, led by Jeff McClurken of the University of Mary Washington.  Jeff asked us to sketch and workshop some project ideas.  Here is what I came up with, based on some conversations I and several colleagues have had this summer with a community group in our region.  It’s still a bit vague.

Working Title:

Haywood Co. African American Archive


This summer, a community group contacted me and several of my colleagues regarding a project involving African American history in western North Carolina. The leaders of this group have been recording oral histories and gathering textual materials and images documenting the black community in Haywood County, NC, and they have asked for help in organizing and presenting this material. The African American presence in southern Appalachia is often overlooked in both academic sources and by the regional heritage industry, so this project offers an opportunity to address a neglected aspect of the history of the southern highlands. I would like to create a course project that would result in the digital presentation of a portion of this material.

Digital course or “digitally inflected?”

Digitally inflected. This project would form a research component of an upper-level undergraduate course on either modern US history or Appalachian history. Upper-level courses are capped at around 35 students, and our courses are generally full.

Individual or group-based?

This project would be group-based. Different groups would work with different kinds of materials or with different small parts of this community archive. I should explain that we are currently talking with the local group about the scope and contents of their collections, so the details are still a bit vague.

At the moment, I envision two stages. In the first stage, students would work with members of the community group to identify which materials should be made publicly available and then prepare those materials – by transcribing oral interviews, for instance. In the second stage, student groups would present and interpret selected materials.

The goal would be to produce the beginnings of an online archive of these materials, plus brief interpretive essays or multi-media presentations. My hope is that this could be a multi-stage project spanning several semesters, with different classes working with small discrete sections of the community archive.

My university has an existing Appalachian digital heritage project, one that has not been terribly active in recent years, but that includes blogs, textual materials, and audio and video files. My hope is that this African American history archive could become a part of that existing project, making use of the digital architecture already in place.


• Local history group, Pigeon Community Center (Waynesville, NC)
• Digital Heritage, WCU Mountain Heritage Center


• Students would work with community members to define the goals of the project, select, and organize archival materials for public presentation.
• Students would analyze and interpret heretofore unexamined primary sources tied to local history.


This project would represent “community engagement,” which my department and the university administrators will like.  It would also represent an authentic research experience with a public expression.

Source: Sketching Digital Projects for Undergraduate Teaching

Text Mining

The data sets I’m working with in my current book project do not seem big enough to benefit from the text mining processes we discussed today, powerful as those techniques may be.  I’m in the late stages of the current project, however, and today’s session led me to start thinking about subjects in my field that might be better suited for text-mining tools.

Cherokee Freedman Enrollment Card

Cherokee Freedman Enrollment Card

It strikes me, for instance, that the enrollment records compiled for Native communities facing allotment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries might be worthy of text-mining and visualization.  These records are vast in number, cover a huge geographical area, and adhere to certain bureaucratic forms.  Some have already been digitized, although not (as far as I know) in machine-readable form.  I suspect that these records, with the right processing, would make very good fodder for the tools we discussed today.  I’m not sure what distant reading of these materials would yield, but the idea may warrant further exploration.

Source: Text Mining

Non-Textual Sources

One of the resolutions I’ve made during this first week is to make better use of my institution’s existing digital history resources in my teaching.  Our library has a small number of fairly rich collections of images (and some audio files) illustrating the history of southern Appalachia.

Early 20th century postcard, Western North Carolina

Early 20th century postcard, Western North Carolina

I’d like to ask students (undergrads, lower level) to create brief visual essays from a selection of images, with the help of course readings and discussions of regional history.  Students would browse a particular collection, select a small number of images, and attempt to form these into a narrative or argument reflecting some aspect of the course’s regional history content.  They could use a basic tool like Animoto to caption the images and present their work (with terrible music selections).  I could then conclude the activity with a discussion of how they selected and arranged their images and how they drew links between the particular images and the context provided by readings and other course materials.  If I manage this activity properly, it could provide a low-stakes way to identify and practice a couple of the cognitive moves involved in historical research.

Source: Non-Textual Sources

Doing Digital History, Initial Thoughts

Last year students in several of my classes contributed research to an ongoing digital history project called “Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina,” directed by Fitz Brundage at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The goal of CommLands is to document North Carolina history through a “spatially based presentation of commemorative monuments, shrines, and public art.” My students researched individual sites of memory in the state’s western mountains, creating material for CommLands’ growing database of North Carolina monuments.  This material will start appearing on the site later this year.

Confederate Monument, Salisbury, NCConfederate Monument, Salisbury, NC

One of my goals in using the CommLands projects in my teaching was for students to gain an appreciation of the complex histories behind these ostensibly simple memorials. The presentation of data on CommLands, however, is rather linear and straightforward, only hinting at that complexity. I would like to use this institute, then, to consider more elaborate ways of recounting the biographies of particular sites of memory – through, for instance, a layering of images, documents, contextual material, and contemporary reflection by residents of southern Appalachia.

I should add that my current research also deals with questions of public memory. I’m finishing up a book on the public memory of Cherokee removal in the modern South (basically, I’m trying to shove a Native American studies topic into the literature on “southern memory”). The sites and monuments I am most interested in exploring, then, relate to Cherokee history in the southern highlands.

John Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NCJohn Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC

Source: Doing Digital History, Initial Thoughts