A Digital Story Assignment for my US Survey Course

This is the first of two posts about teaching. Below are directions for the digital story assignment for my survey course.  The directions also describe the traditional paper  assignment.

Section assignments require students to think like a historian. Doing so demands thoughtful consideration of why the story/narrative is an important genre within history. What is it about history that lends itself to this treatment? How do we tell persuasive stories about the past? Please begin this process with a more basic question: what are the characteristics of a good story?

The course is divided into five sections and at the end of each section students will be given a question. Students are required to complete four of the five assignments. The first assignment is required of all students. Students may select which of the remaining assignments they wish to omit. Each assignment is worth 100 points. Students are required to write a traditional essay at least three full pages long and no longer than five pages (900-1500 words) for the first section assignment.

For all remaining assignments students can chose the medium in which they want to work—traditional essay or digital story—as long as they fulfill the requirement of two essays and one digital story over the course of the semester. The digital story must be five to ten minutes long. For the papers your name must be on the first page, pages must be numbered, and standard fonts and margins must be used (Times New Roman, 12 point, one inch).

All assignments require students to make an argument, support it with evidence synthesized from lecture notes, the e-text, the primary document PDFs, and the discussion board activities. The two most important components to master for these assignments are the argument and the primary source evidence. No additional research is required or necessary to produce excellent work on the papers, but students may augment their essays with the following electronic newspaper sources available from our library: ProQuest Historical Newspapers. No other outside sources may be used without the expressed, written permission of the TA or the instructor. Wikipedia is not allowed. You are welcome to discuss your answers with your classmates, but you must submit an original work of your own scholarship.

The digital story requires analytical thinking and explication of evidence but the presentation format is different, oral and visual not written. Students should remember that visuals, sound, and tone can have an important rhetorical effect if deployed well. Students may use iMovie or Audacity or any other equivalent video-editing program; students may also simply narrate a PowerPoint if their video making skills are rudimentary. Students must narrate their digital stories and must include an argument and evidence to support the argument, the bulk of which should come from the primary documents in the assigned PDFs but approximately a quarter from original research. This assignment, like all others, requires thought and preparation. The images need to be selected with great care and they need to relate to the narrative and analysis contained in the digital story. Please note: digital story telling is not sitting and reading a script while looking at the computer camera. In addition to images, students may use music as long as it is in the public domain. Students will need to engage in some rudimentary library research to find the information they need. For the digital story students may find images at one of several approved internet sites where the images are available in the public domain: the UH Digital History site; the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs site; the National Archives site; various sites in the Creative Commons (meaning there are no copyright restrictions on usage), including the Morgue File, Wylio, WorldImages, and Google Advanced Image Search (To use the usage rights filter option, select “advanced image search” on the main Google Images page. Once in the “advanced image search” page, you will find the usage rights options at the bottom of the page. In the usage rights menu you can select one of four options; “labeled for reuse,” “labeled for commercial reuse,” “labeled for reuse with modification,” or “labeled for commercial reuse with modification.”). You may also use any other site that the professor or the TA approves. The digital story must include source attributions (listed on the last frame). The digital story assignment will be graded according to the traditional A, B, C, D, F scale defined below and not according to video editing skill, though as with a paper particularly sloppy work will not help the grade.

To do well on these assignments—paper and digital story—students must plan their work. For papers outlines are recommended as an initial step before writing. For digital stories the concept of the outline is transferred to a storyboard whereby students not only outline their content but also the visuals that will be used to demonstrate the pertinent points.

Digital stories must be loaded on YouTube (you can create a channel for the purposes of this class) with the link sent to the TA and me. Papers must be submitted to the Turnitin.com link on the course Blackboard page. We will check for originality, and students who submit plagiarized work will face serious academic consequences.

Late assignments will be penalized. For each day a section assignment is late its maximum grade will be reduced as follows: A- is the maximum for a paper one day late, B+ for a paper two days late, B for a paper three days late, and so on including weekends.

Source: A Digital Story Assignment for my US Survey Course

Digital Discussion Assignment

Digital Discussion Assignment


In my online survey course students will engage in weekly discussions about the primary documents I have assigned.  For studying the New Deal I plan to give them a word cloud of FDR’s first inaugural address and ask them to compare and contrast the concepts highlighted in the word cloud with what they think they know about this iconic speech.

Here is the word cloud and a link to the speech <http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5057/>:


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Source: Digital Discussion Assignment

Text Mining

Yesterday’s work with text mining was both helpful and daunting. I know what I want to do with it–mine deeply into documents from both the liberal and conservative politicians I am studying and look for any themes that would not be apparent from the close reading of individual documents–but my biggest challenge is finding an overlap between the right documents and documents that can be turned into text files. I have figured out how to convert the Public Papers of the President into text files to load in Voyant but that will only get me so far and just one side of the equation. This requires more thought about sources and questions to ask of my topic. I’m intrigued with the possibilities but not sure how I will get there or what I will find. In a perfect world I will be able to discern how and when rhetoric about “liberalism,” “conservatism,” the “federal government,” the “welfare state,” and other ideologically contested terms and concepts shifted.

Source: Text Mining

What I’ve Learned and What I Hope to Do With It

This post moves away from the content of my projects and to new tools and methods I’m exploring at the NEH Doing DH Institute. The first week has been intense and overwhelming.

So far, I’m impressed with WordPress as a devise for putting information about my work on the web. I think I can use this for research communication while I am still researching. I should say this is a new concept for me. Beyond conference paper presentations the idea of communicating unfinished research to a wide and unknown audience is new.
Omeka seems like a useful tool for evaluating and presenting the visual components of my work.
I’ve already worked quite a bit with iMovie, but I’m excited about using it this fall to make Podcasts for my online U.S. survey course. This tool will allow me to continue lecturing in a robust fashion without the benefit of the lecture hall. See this article from The Atlantic, which makes an argument about why we should not give up on the lecture:  http://m.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/11/dont-give-up-on-the-lecture/281624/
I’ve played less with Scalar, but I think it will allow the complex ideas with which historians work to be transferred to the web.
ThingLink is a tool that I will use to annotate images that I’m using on several different platforms.

That’s it for now, but stay tuned. I’m ready to learn about visualization today, GIS on Monday, and text and data mining on Tuesday.

Source: What I’ve Learned and What I Hope to Do With It

Two Views of the Migrant Mother

Poverty in the 1930s took many forms and created challenges for the U.S. political system. Here is a visual representation of one aspect of the problem of displaced persons. Click this link to see two pictures of the Migrant Mother.

The Rise and Fall of Lyndon Johnson’s America

“Past Politics” explores the intersection of my three ongoing projects: one on the 1964 presidential election, another that uses Texas to understand the shift from midcentury liberalism to late century conservatism, and a biography of former Speaker of the House and Vice President John Nance Garner. Lyndon Johnson is the unifying figure throughout this research, and his presidential election victory in 1964 is the subject of the book project I am most actively working on. The project that looks at the shift from liberalism to conservatism and the Garner biography are more demanding projects and are still in the formative stages. This page shares some of the digital components of my research, which mixes more traditional archival work with newer digital humanities techniques.

I am building a massive database that explores political, economic, and social trends in Texas and compares them across the rest of the country. Once I am finished my Texas data will track election returns to the county level and layer this information with data from the U.S. Census.
I will also use sources like the Congressional Directory to quantify the power Texans accumulated on Capitol Hill by studying the committee chairships held by Lone Star State lawmakers vis-a-vis chairships held by other state delegations.
I also use text mining strategies to understand the rhetorical shifts from midcentury liberalism to late century conservatism in ways that archival research alone will not permit.

Source: The Rise and Fall of Lyndon Johnson’s America