Final Debriefing

Thanks to everyone who made this year so interesting and fun, and especially to you students, who turned out for the events and contributed such great questions and insights. Since our last debriefing post, we’ve had two events attended by some or all of you: the Digitization in the Humanities workshop and Sharon Leon’s workshop and talk. For this final debriefing post of the semester, please post a comment reflecting either on these recent events or the year as a whole. What are the “takeaway” points that you will remember from the class?

9 Responses to Final Debriefing

  1. Sharon Leon’s talk on Friday served as an excellent concluding piece. I loved the (brief) history of DH (Father Roberto Buso seems like he deserves more attention!), but I particularly appreciate the call to “answer questions, now.” I began the semester curious as to what has been the most impactful historiographical intervention to result from digital research. Throughout the term it became clear to me that while the field has busied itself with consolidating its institutional presence and fostering methodological dialog, there has been a surprising lack of new answers to old questions.

    Methodological innovation in the past has transformed generations of historians. The rise of social history in the 1960s encouraged historians to expand historical subjects away from the affluent white men who had previously garnered all of attention. This resulted in an explosion of rich scholarship. Similarly, the rise of cultural history in the 1980s and 1990s and even the move towards transnational narratives in the last decade have yielded tremendous results. So, what has DH given us?

    In what was likely the first major digital project to come to the attention of most historians, Ed Ayers led a team of researchers to produce the In the Valley of the Shadow project (http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/). Ayers paired this public, digital history project with conventional scholarship, arguing in the American Historical Review that “the differences slavery made for white people were pervasive and structural but not intrinsically opposed to modernity.” (AHR, 108:5, p. 1301). We are a long way from 2003, and we are far overdue for another intervention on this scale.

    DH appears to have endless possibilities. It’s time to cash in on some of that possibility and use these tools to answer questions. Is the field ready? In the words of Sharon Leon, “yes, now.”

  2. What I’m taking away from this Digital History Masterclass is courage: courage to step outside my comfort zone, courage to learn new tools and techniques, courage to experiment with my research methodology and presentation style. The diverse group of speakers spoke with throughout the year revealed to me that I don’t have to be a computer scientist (or be related to one- though that sure seems nice) to “do” Digital History. I can pick and choose what is right for my project and what I feel I can master in a timely manner. Sharon Leon’s call to action for historians to use DH to ask and answer questions was right on the mark. This relates to many of the questions we as a class have been asking the entire year: what’s the pay-off of DH in regards to historical scholarship? How can it yield different, possibly more accurate or intriguing, results? What does it mean to be a digital historian rather than an historian? Well, for Leon, that last question seems to beg the answer: nothing! As we move forward, Digital History will become more ingrained in the methodology of historians en masse. “Digital History” will become a part of “history,” according to Leon. Thus the courage I’ve gained to move forward in learning, experimenting, practicing, engaging, and utilizing DH will help me become a better historian. I’m excited to continue to play around with the different tools we learned about — especially, as I begin work in a museum, Omeka — and try to find ways to integrate them into my work. Thanks, Caleb, for this eye opening opportunity, and the courage you’ve given me to move into and around the world of Digital History!

  3. I really enjoyed Sharon Leon’s talk/workshop, and felt that of all of the sessions we’ve had this year, this was the one that spoke most directly to my interests. As I mentioned in class, I am planning on designing a web project to accompany my dissertation, and it seems like Omeka is the ideal way to make a scholarly web resource that’s open and accesible to the public. Looking at the Lincoln at 200 site was an inspiration for me, really showing the kinds of things that can be done with Omeka, CSS, and some photoshop work. I hope to design my site as an “exhibit,” and separate out sections for different chapters. I think this will be a good way to get my dissertation research to the scholarly community AND the public, long before it (hopefully) becomes available as a book. I also plan to include a specific teaching component (perhaps including a guide to further reading), to discuss how I would teach the content of my dissertation within a broader Atlantic World course.

    Ultimately though, I felt like this session brought us back to where we began with this master class: “What is digital humanities?” If I am utilizing DH on the “output” end rather than the “input” end (so to speak), will I still be considered a digital humanist? Do I need to be using digital tools to alter the way I approach my research questions? And getting at the themes of Sharon’s Friday lecture, do digital tools need to change my argument in order to stake a claim in the digital humanities world? While I consider myself at least somewhat plugged in to the digital humanities world, I am methodologically still very much a traditional historian.

    I think using digital tools at any point in the process of researching and producing scholarship means you are, in one way or another, you’re a digital humanist. So perhaps the question we’re left with then, is “Are all digital humanists created equal?”

  4. The digital history masterclass has been a stellar introduction into the growing field of digital humanities. The skepticism which I entered the class with was largely based on my ignorance of all that DH encompassed, and perhaps a bit of defensiveness against the notion that in order to move forward as a historian, I must learn how to be a computer scientist as well. The course has showed me that while any digital project I pursue would benefit from learning more about digital tools, it isn’t necessary. I walked away from Sharon Leon’s workshop last Thursday thinking that even I could use Omeka to build a really interesting project!

    I think that Sharon’s workshop and talk the next day were the perfect way to end this series because she brought us full circle as she discussed the ways in which digital history has progressed over time, what it is capable of now, and what it has the potential to do for the discipline. For me, one of the most exciting things that DH appears to do is create a community of scholars who are interested not only in similar research topics, but also research methods and strategies that extends beyond the hedges of Rice. People in the DH community, particularly on Twitter, seem genuinely interested in helping others with their projects, whether it’s suggesting fixes or giving general feedback. I think that this is wonderful, and hope that it will push historians and other humanities scholars out of the mindset that collaboration is somehow less rigorous (or whatever the stigma is).

    Finally, this masterclass has piqued my interested in the future of digital publishing. I’m not convinced that conventional publishing is going anywhere, particularly because I’m not aware of a publishing company that has figured out a model for digital publication that will make them as much money as print publication does. However, I think that more and more will be available only in digital forms, and that this is a good thing so long as the material is widely accessible. I’m not yet sure what the digital dissertation will look like, or how you use a digital project for purposes of tenure, but I suspect that we’ll figure that out in the next few years as scholars demand credit for the digital projects that they produce. It’s exciting to me that there are so many possibilities, and that DH will continue to expand as scholars think of new ways to utilize its tools.

  5. Charlie Behr

    Following on this, an Adam Crymble wrote this, which this site is linking to right now, and which I think characterizes exactly that notion that the greater perceived objectivity of your work is meant to be so important that you may have to abandon some other questions which couldn’t be answered with as much reliability:

    “The [online proceedings of Old Bailey] trials run from 1678 to 1914, making it a great resource for social historians or historians of crime. I broadly fit into both of those categories, but what really interests me is knowledge management. I want to know how we can extract useful knowledge from bodies of text far larger than we could ever read in our lifetime. I’m interested in the historical research questions I pursue, but I’m more interested in the processes of understanding and discovery that the pursuing of those questions lets me explore. That is to say: I’m more interested in how we can know something than what we find out. This all means I have slightly different criteria for a good resource than does a typical historian. When I’m planning a project I’m not looking for ‘gaps in the literature’. Instead, I’m really only looking for 2 things:

    A corpus of downloadable electronic text
    A corpus that does not assume I want to read anything”

  6. Sophie Haase

    I liked what Whitney said about taking courage away from the Digital History class. I really saw this class as an opportunity to find personal ways to innovate through a series of great and very different speakers. Although I may never use some of the techniques we touched on in class because they’re far beyond my technical abilities, I also had no idea at the beginning of the year that I would be able to be so comfortable using GIS maps and integrating them into a humanities paper. I think the class showed me that everyone is capable of finding tools that they are comfortable with to make projects easier and more effective. Even though we are studying history, we need not be limited by obsolete researching techniques.

  7. Elizabeth Liu

    I came with a little bit of a different perspective to this class, but I think I enjoyed it as much as everyone else. Not everything was totally applicable to me, but I found it interesting to see applied computer science.
    A few points that I thought were especially relevant were other people’s views on the growing impact of technology and how developers worked with people who were a little less technical. One of the big questions for me was whether or not everyone will begin to become more technical or if there will be some integration since these people can work together, but in general people will remain specialists in their own fields. Also, how publications and other material of that sort will work in a digital format, which is something I hadn’t considered at all before.
    Overall, I enjoyed the discussions very much and although I didn’t always have a lot to say, listening the thoughts of people I don’t always get to hear a lot from was very enlightening!

  8. Christina Villarreal

    I really enjoyed participating in the Digital Humanities Masterclass. As many of my colleagues have mentioned, all of the speakers’s took risk and used creative ways to approach their research. Their innovative ways of engaging in digital tools for advancing knowledge and answering their own questions has helped me grow in my confidence. I believe that I will definitely use some of the tools that I’ve learned about in the class and will continue to keep up with digital humanities in the field of history. The class has revealed how useful and accessible digital tools can make history and scholarship for non-academics as well. To me, this is very exciting and I look forward to seeing what myself and my peers come up with next!

  9. Christian Hauser

    What this class gave me was a whole world in which my computer science training need not be separate from that which resonates most deeply. I’ve long aimed not for balance, but for unity in my varied pursuits, and the digital humanities now represent one of those beautiful axes of unification. Indeed, here is a world where technology can be used in countering the disturbing shortsightedness that characterizes so much of the technologically-driven world. How cool is that? DH is fantastic, and might even have gotten me a job this fall 🙂