Congratulations to Dr. Jared Leighton

Last week, a 2013 graduate of our department, Dr. Jared Leighton was awarded the highest honor in the University of Nebraska–the Folsom Distinguished Dissertation Award. His advisor Professor Patrick D. Jones was on hand the make remarks and present the award to Jared. Jared’s dissertation is truly groundbreaking, and I am honored to have served on his dissertation committee.

His work explored the gay and lesbian activists, black and white, in the African American freedom struggle from the 1950s to the 1970s. For his dissertation, “Freedom Invisible: Gays and Lesbians in the African American Civil Rights Movement,”

Dr. Jared Leighton wins the Folsom Distinguished Dissertation Award, February 2014. University of Nebraska.

Dr. Jared Leighton wins the Folsom Distinguished Dissertation Award, February 2014. University of Nebraska.

Jared conducted dozens of oral histories and submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to declassify F.B.I. files on the subject. The result is a stunning piece of research and a sophisticated and subtle analysis of gay and lesbian activists. Leighton argues that the black freedom struggle provided an important training ground for gay and lesbian activists, and he turns our attention toward a range of complex and intersecting motivations for activism among gays and lesbians, as a result moving beyond the standard interpretation stressing the religious basis for activism. Congratulations Jared!

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The Promise of the Digital Humanities and the Future of the Liberal Arts

These remarks were presented October 25, 2013 at the Michigan State University Cyberinfrastructure Days conference. I have removed and modified some comments which were relevant to the local context of the conference, and I have removed some of the explanatory footnotes.

“You may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
Same as it ever was, same as it ever was . . . ”
Talking Heads, 1980

Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting me to the Cyberinfrastructure Days at Michigan State. Shelton Waggener’s fascinating keynote this morning hits on some of the same themes I have this afternoon: just as he suggested that IT needs to change its culture in higher education, I suggest that we need a change of practice in the liberal arts; and just as he has suggested that higher education IT should move toward iterative releases, perhaps most controversially, I will suggest that in the humanities especially we need to shift our expectations about the fixity of scholarship, and move to a similar model–continuously releasing our scholarship.

Based on the sessions at Cyberinfrastructure Days, I have been struck by how many of the questions and concerns of scientists match those of humanists. Fred Dyer’s presentation on computational biology emphasized the lack of adequate training for current students in the computational, statistical, and mathematical techniques that will be absolutely necessary for future research. We face a similar problem in the humanities. Dyer also discussed the vast increase in the number and size of digital images for research in the biological sciences, a problem that humanities scholars now face as well. Imaging, he noted, “freezes the phenotype,” and the processing, analyzing, and archiving of digital imaging has presented new challenges and opportunities. While humanities scholars use images differently, we have a similar problem of scale–hundreds of thousands, even millions, of newspaper page images, for example, capture a complex mixture of temporal and locational information, yet we have few ways of freely accessing and analyzing these images. I think this conference has been extremely helpful in exposing many of these commonly shared issues. It’s time for the liberal arts disciplines to come together on common solutions.
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My Home, the House of the Dead

This essay appeared in The New York Times Sunday Review, September 8, 2013: “My Home, the House of the Dead.” I am working on another essay about the Confiscation Act and how Clarens and other properties of Fort Williams were sold by the U.S. Treasury department at the end of the Civil War.

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DH2013 Reflections

The Digital Humanities 2013 Conference at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln ended yesterday, and I am still thinking through all I heard and saw. The conference was a major success with over 500 participants and panels on cyberinfrastructure for humanities, prosopography, digital humanities curriculum building, and lots more.

The highlights for me included Ryan Cordell‘s talk on undergraduate digital humanities and pedagogy, Allison Booth and Worthy Martin on the Collective Biographies of Women, the ChartEx Digging into Data project, and the welcome, important, and long-overdue panels on diversifying the digital humanities (thanks to Liana Silva-Ford, Miriam Posner, Adeline Koh, Roopika Risam, Tressie McMillan Cottom et al. and the stirring closing keynote by Isabel Galina).

We held an informal but exciting meeting on The History Harvest project with Ryan Hunt and Kim Martin from University of Western Ontario. Their DHMaker Bus has similarly democratizing DH ambitions. Scot French has been leading the RICHES project at University of Central Florida and is adapting the History Harvest into the public history program. And Justin Schell, just starting at the University of Minnesota Libraries, is interested in the possibilities for the History Harvest there.

Another highlight of the conference was the opportunity to brainstorm in informal conversations with so many digital humanities scholars. I was able to meet with Jen Guiliano and Trevor Munoz at MITH as we consider the next steps for our joint effort to digitize the case file records of the District of Columbia district court in its first decades–1808-1830. Talking further with Lea VanderVelde, we explored broader ideas for the Early D.C. Law and Family project (“O Say Can You See”). Among other ideas, we discussed linking her St. Louis court records, collaborating on a comparative article, and digitizing and annotating the full run of Blackstone’s Commentaries in U.S. legal history. After John Buckley’s presentation on prosopography, he issued an open invitation to discuss shared or “open” models of prosopography ontologies, and I look forward to that conversation.

The experience of the DH2013 Conference was in many respects exhilarating because there was so much energy, so much good scholarship, and so much hacking and collaborating. But the conference was also characterized by a welcoming and open spirit shared by the digital humanities broadly. The CIC universities sent graduate students to the conference through a bursary provided in part by University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the CIC will likely become a leading force in digital humanities production. It was exciting to see the new special interest groups (SIGs), poster sessions, and one-minute lightning rounds for pedagogy. Thanks to Bethany Noviskie for her leadership in putting the conference program together and to all who came to Lincoln, Nebraska for the conference!

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Upcoming Lecture in Alexandria, Va. on Civil War

I am looking forward to my upcoming talk on the Civil War in Alexandria, Virginia. I will be posting the materials from the talk soon, including the soldiers’ records, maps, and other records from the Hospital at Fort Williams in Alexandria. The talk is titled “Revisiting the Dead House at Fort Williams: A Story of Civil War History and Memory.”

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