Comments on Peer Projects: Class Blog 3

BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Please review everyone’s prospectus as well as each group’s preliminary plan and post comments/observations to the blog. These can include a direct reference to particular prospectuses and plans, but should also reflect on any potential common themes, issues and concerns that you noticed in reading them together. You are also certainly welcome to relate these issues to your own project and think about how what your colleagues are doing might influence your own work.

One common characteristic among students of the Humanities is that they tend to shy away from superficial research topics. Most hint at the development of the author’s maturity as a scholar by being deliberate, precise, and meaningful. As students of digital history, we’re charged with going further and applying our topics to non-traditional platforms and translating from typical narrative forms into digital forms. The expectations of educators and readers may be high, but those of the researchers themselves seem to exceed.

Digital Project Themes
With stark exceptions – most of the projects relate to translating personal experience, several from Southern, US history, into digital artifacts that are historical arguments or exhibits of alternative points of view. The commonalities of theme end there and branch into educational, military, public health, ethnic, and communications studies with the foundations remaining in historical analysis. As it is my own academic goal to combine social science and humanities in research and public discourse, I am excited to see the progress of each project and the exploration of methods for digital translation which suit the material and benefit the audience.

Public History
Digital History is a form of public history. A counter to this might be a scenario Jo Guldi or others discuss in which the historical research is given digital treatments for display in an online journal or exhibit but hidden behind an exclusive audience or social firewall. But in essence, bringing historical scholarship to digital forms such as interactive web space, elaborating timelines, 360 annotated maps and oral history presentation, or even further, gaming platforms that allow the consumer/viewer/student to manipulate the data for a personalized narrative, is public history at the core. Instead of a tautological relationship of research for publication to be used in future research for publication, academic “civilians” are able to learn general and highly specialized historical information where they are when the works are intentionally displayed digitally. On the web or in spaces dedicated to their exhibition, historians engaged in a digital translation of their work are putting courting non-elites in ways that previous analog generations could not.

Group Projects
Students also came together in small groups to consider a hypothetical digital history project for which they would seek funding. Idealism can have some erosion when faced with the cost of producing a quality site or exhibit, or it can inspire collaboration and the hunt for funds available.

In terms of setting, these small collaborations tended to focus on groups who participated in historical events or explore local and regional historical phenomena.
In other cases, the subject might not be local, but the audience can have an intimate exchange with their experiences and motivations by entering their “world” or actively participating in the digital platform in contrast to consuming.

In all cases, these projects have broad educational value. As I have mentioned before, the onset of interactive “gaming” in which a user and programmer dance to either achieve a goal or build on intelligence is a phenomenon that has entrenched itself in American culture and that of techno-industrialized nations since the late 1980’s.

  • One walking tour of Charlotte idea by Savannah, Gabi, and Rickey educates participants who can virtually walk the streets of Charlotte, noting people, places, and events of the past by location. One student also suggested the possibility of participants being able to create their own walking path, whereas physical tour groups would have a set itinerary and script.
  • Rachel, Nikki, and Tommy Warlick would incorporate gaming techniques to existing slave narratives.
    • “Using Twine, we will create a game that poses questions and dilemmas to the user that slaves faced daily, e.g., a question in the simulation might read “if you were Frederick Douglass, would you fight back against slave-breaker Covey or submit to Covey’s wishes?” The answer choices might include “fight back” or “submit” and each choice would produce a different consequence.”
      Instead of adding a “fun” element, this would allow the participant/student more insight where empathy is not possible. (1))
  • Applying this kind of insight into historical lives, Rachael, Laura, and Brian apply gaming or participant control techniques into a digital presentation on the Jamestown via self- paced navigation and character creation.

According to William G Thomas II  (2) most of these approaches are Digital Narratives by type and apply the digital platform not just to awaken existing historical data to users

In David Parry’s portion of essays on Hacking the Academy, he states one objective for fundamentally changing History as an academic and public discipline should be for historians to “Aspire to be a curator”. I think these projects prove that digital history breaks down barriers of elitism that have prevented researchers from being taken seriously and given a valid or fair opportunity to find an audience.

What I would suggest for each researcher is that they proceed with confidence and not be afraid to brand their projects or be bold. Not only are we in a digital age but in an age of commodification. Historians are producing not just their projects but a pro-duct in a marketplace: website hosting may require ads, libraries fight for funding, schools are never isolated from corporate strings, etc. Our task now is to encourage the scholarship and continue the spirit of collaboration for accountability and the deeper, more relevant dives for truth and a good story.

 

  1. Rachel McManimen, Nikki Oliver, and Tommy Warlick. Grant Project Prospectus.
    UNC Charlotte, Digital History Course HIST-6330. Fall 2018
  2. Thomas, William G. III. What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology.
    http://railroads.unl.edu/blog/?p=1159
  3. Parry, David “Burn the Boats/Books” from Hacking Scholarship: Getting Yourself Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps. Jackson, et al.
    https://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/dh/12172434.0001.001/1:2/–hacking-the-academy-new-approaches-to-scholarship?g=dculture;rgn=div1;view=fulltext;xc=1

 

Digital Divisions and Elevations

In reading the article “Interchange: The Promise of            Digital History “, Dr. Kirsten Sword mentioned avoiding another “digital divide” in a discussion about the use of advanced technology for public history when focused on specialized practitioners rather than generalists throughout the field. As someone trained in Sociology as well, this made my ears perk up like a fennec fox.

One reason history found itself in a paradigm shift in the mid 20th century was because there was a perception, not unfounded, that history was suited for an academic or intellectual, social elite. It was in museums and books away from accessible common spaces, save libraries. So the aim was to release history into a wider, farther reaching audience with more of a democratic sensibility. But yet I wonder if we now contend with the digital divide?

The Pew Research Center follows the use and dissemination of technology, breaking it into demographic ranges. Lee Rainie from the center presented on the current snapshot of the digital divide as it relates to age, income, and race in 2016 and there has been a great improvement in household access to the internet since the seeming “stone age” of 1999 and even 2010. Yet, some groups still have greater access than others. I think about the aim of public history to reach and engage, and I wonder about the dismally funded school systems who, without the deliberate consideration of their plight, could not provide educational tools to expose and educate children. The positive side of the report is that the 18 and younger crowd is the most “connected”. But, what they focus their eyeballs on is another issue altogether.

I firmly agree that all historians should now acquaint themselves, if not master, current and emerging technologies in order to study and interpret data while sharing and presenting research in farther reaching, more meaningful ways than the more elitist past. However, we really need to consider the most common or typical level of technical useage rather that can translate or be manipulated for more sophisticated innovation when it then becomes most accessible. Public spaces such as a well funded museum might be able to host a virtual-reality history exhibit, but that experience fulfills the goals of a humanist project by also providing a comparable experience in common technologies such as an app or 360-degree photography on a website.

I am relieved that the digital divide is closing, but we still have the hurdle of how sophisticated the experience can be, and how fruitful, once we’re on the highway.

History as Res Publica

I have been fascinated by history since a young age. In early memories I find myself looking at family photo albums, books of old movie posters, and captivated by the stories of gods and saints. It makes me feel closer to others to know of their experiences and our shared history. But, as early as high school I began to wonder about the losers of the battle, the peasants out of royal frame, my own ancestors who somehow made it to Appalachia via ports and gates.

For some the idea of a “public history”, one that is accessible and speaks of many voices, is a radical idea. Howard Zinn, an academic “saint” to be sure, is sometimes seen as an American threat because he dared to bring the experiences of those who built the country onto the stage of those who own. This is just one example of the mid-20th Century paradigm shift for the discipline of History (big H) that goes from ivory tower lectures on the greatness of white men to the significant contributions of all human groups in creating the world of the present. Public History is a dynamic telling of historical events using their words, and deliberately excavating obscured lives previously deemed marginal or insignificant.

What I’ve discovered in my first class in the new phase of my life studying public history is that it also encompasses he presentation of this information. Just as C Wright Mills and his peers advocated for “public sociology” to go from academia to social change, history underwent a more “res publica” approach- not for historians but for the people. Canon was revisited to include women, non-whites, etc. (forgive the brevity there). The way in which it is collected also expanded for inclusiveness* and more importantly the intended audience is for everyone, increasing access, scope, reach, application, and listening to feedback. This utilizes emerging technology that can reach schools and libraries as well as public spaces and museums which are aimed at educating and revealing more precise and universal experiences and truths.

The first site I’ll review here is the ROY ROSENZWEIG CENTER FOR HISTORY AND NEW MEDIA (RRCHNM). Essentially they are “a multi-disciplinary team that develops online teaching resources, digital collections and exhibits, open-source software, and training in digital literacy and skills.”  Based at George Mason University, the group collects and lists public history exhibits and programs found online and presents a searchable directory. Think of it as a static trade magazine that highlights individuals, engagement opportunities, and news items related to public history in its many forms. The benefit of such a site is that it can bring you to a collection that might be harder to search casually online. As we know, Google tells you what its friends are doing above all else, and those not in the in-crowd might have a goldmine you’ll never see. Beyond this opportunity to find what you seek you can also browse and find the wealth of other points of view and sites that open up complimentary or contrary information to the more mainstream versions of history that remain in traditional education curricula.

For instance, consider the narratives that can come from exploring these two sites:

  • Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution: a lively introduction to the French Revolution presents an extraordinary archive of some of the most important documentary evidence from the Revolution, including 338 texts, 245 images, and a number of maps and songs. Lynn Hunt of UCLA and Jack Censer of George Mason University—both internationally renowned scholars of the Revolution—served as principal authors and editors. The site is a collaboration of CHNM and American Social History Project (City University of New York), and supported by grants from the Florence Gould Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  
  • Children and Youth in Historywebsite was designed to help teachers and students learn about young people throughout history by providing access to information about the lived experiences of children and youth from multiple perspectives as well as changing notions about childhood and adolescence in past cultures and civilizations. 

The RRCHNM, while not being a snappy acronym, it a great example of the new face of public history. The scholars who lead the projects and collect the information invite collaboration and highlight achievements and opportunities to share history, not just their own. Presenting it online and for free allows educators at all levels to search the material and share among students or hobbyists or the unidentified. 

When we think about “net neutrality” or vocation and grade-driven budgeting for educational institutions and libraries, we should consider sites like these and the people behind them. Wealthy endowments can only go so far. Public history would be successful when it is a dialog all can attend to and participate in.

Feel free to share links to other archives or projects along these lines. That’s the point 😀

 

*Inclusiveness has been discussed recently as a term describing a benevolent invitation by those in power. It’s worth looking into.