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Category: Digital History (page 1 of 6)

Renegotiating the Archive: Scholarly Practice in the Digital Age

(Recently published by CLIR: Terra Cognita: Graduate Students in the Archives, A Retrospective on the CLIR Mellon Fellowships for Dissertation Research in Original Sources, May 2016. Reprinted with permission and with thanks to CLIR for an illuminating discussion of these issues in January 2016 at the Library of Congress.)

In the past two decades scholarly practice in archival research has changed substantially. The availability of digital finding aids and digital facsimiles of original sources combined with powerful search engines and digital library technologies have altered how historians and other researchers encounter, access, and use archives and sources. Scholars who were trained to work solely in physical archives are now dealing with a fundamentally new environment. These changes have come with considerable anxieties about whether digitization and digital archives are replacing, as well as displacing, traditional archival work in the archives. Judging from the experience of the Mellon Fellows, however, these same changes have also heightened scholars’ reliance on the expertise of archivists and librarians. The relationship between the scholar and the archivist or librarian has become more central, more direct, and more consequential, not less. As a result, we need to renegotiate what happens in and with the archive.

Archival Anxieties

In 2003 historian Roy Rosenzweig foresaw an age of digital information overload as presenting fundamentally new and different problems for scholars accustomed to scarcity and limited sources. “One of the most vexing and interesting features of the digital era,” he wrote, “is the way it unsettles traditional arrangements and forces us to ask basic questions that have been there all along.” Rosenzweig argued that historians would need to change their methods “to meet the challenge of a cornucopia of historical sources.”

Rosenzweig was mainly talking about using algorithms and computational technologies to systematically sort through and organize an ever-expanding virtual world of information. He argued that every day we generate terabytes of digital data, including emails, images, videos, and audio files. All of this material soon becomes the archival record of our cultural heritage. In the case of the Clinton administration’s correspondence, for example, millions of emails went into the archive along with thousands of printed hard-copy letters and reports. A single scholar could hardly read such voluminous correspondence. Rosenzweig pointed out that computational means would be necessary to help scholars, in any investigation and our methods would need to change, even as he asked, “will abundance bring better or more thoughtful history?”

While Rosenzweig was writing his seminal and prescient essay, other scholars were struggling to come to terms with the changing practices of original research made possible by rudimentary websites and search technologies. In 2005, historian Reneé M. Sentilles was surprised to discover online hundreds of references and documents on the subject of her research, Civil War actress and poet Adah Issacs Menken. Sentilles thought that the virtual, disembodied research experience raised doubts about the validity of the practice of historical “mastery” and the impermanence of the object of study. With websites disappearing and reappearing over time, Sentilles concluded that Google searches and digital sources, however useful, were not as satisfying as getting “the dust of two centuries under my nails.” Sentilles realized that after a few weeks of reading the private letters and diaries of her subject from folders and boxes, she had come to know her in a personal way she did not “even try to describe” in the book she eventually wrote.

This archival ideal of inhabiting the subject of our investigation is a powerful one. For many scholars this takes place in the physical space of the archive, where we touch, feel, smell, and even hear the past in the material objects we handle. Seeing the “human response to tangible objects” as the central drama of archival research, Sentilles speculated, “Virtual archives will never serve as more than a place to begin and end the research journey; never as a place to dwell.”

Yet, ten years later the reverse seems to be more accurate in describing the practice of scholars and the way that archives and sources have been renegotiated. The virtual has become the place to dwell, and the archive has become the place to begin and end. Correspondingly we are revising the archival ideal for the digital age in ways that stir the same kinds of emotional responses, commitments, and discoveries that the old ideal did.

What explains this turnaround? Certainly, mass digitization projects have offered scholars more reliable, stable, and fully documented access to original sources. But the widespread use of digital cameras has probably had the greatest effect on research practice. Judging from the findings of Jahnke and Watson (in this volume), 58 percent of all Mellon Fellows carried digital cameras into 750 sites between 2002 and 2014.

According to Roger C. Schonfeld and Jennifer Rutner, “The introduction of digital cameras to archival research is altering interactions with materials and dislocating the process of analysis, with potential impacts not only for support service providers but for the nature of history scholarship itself.” Interviewing dozens of historians, they observed that what happens in the archives has become “more photographic and less analytical.” The use of digital cameras, they concluded, is “perhaps the single most significant shift in research practices among historians.” Schonfeld and Rutner also noted that some historians “no longer engage intellectually with the sources while in the archives; these trips have become more of a collection mission.”

Both the scholars interviewed in the Ithaka report and the fellows in the CLIR/Mellon program indicate considerable anxiety about collecting digital images of original sources as a research practice. They worry about the lack of metadata, the challenge of integrating images with textual notes on sources, the difficulty of managing thousands of image files, and perhaps most significantly, the failure to analyze sources at the moment they are first encountered in the archive.

They are not alone. A random sample of faculty across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities by Ithaka S+R in 2012 found that about half of faculty members strongly agreed when asked if they would like to “more deeply” integrate digital research activities and methodologies into their work. But a third of humanities scholars “strongly disagreed” with the statement. Of these, 75 percent did so because “digital research activities and methodologies are not valuable or important” for the type of research they do. About one-third of respondents agreed that they did not know “how to effectively integrate digital research activities and methodologies” into their work.

We have done little to prepare ourselves for this transition and the anxieties it has produced. When we refer to or handle original sources in digital or physical form, we often do not recognize when the source has been deformed in subtle or substantial ways. A physical object might undergo alterations that even its closest observers do not realize. The colors in Rembrandt’s paintings, for example, have slowly changed over centuries as a result of hardened oil and varnish. Blueprints fade over time to reveal lines once drawn but previously not visible, a vista onto what was not built but was once imagined. Mary Todd Lincoln’s cloak, “wet with blood,” has become less visibly stained over time. Infrared light reveals what the human eye cannot see, but the cloak’s exact provenance remains undocumented. We often do not know the ways that our archival materials have been collected, arranged, and presented for specific uses. We often do not know what has been excluded from these collections. When we use the physical, the “original,” what are we using? When we use the “digital,” what are we using? How can we recognize the terms dictating these negotiations?

When libraries “go digital” and remove books and other materials to distant off-site locations, sometimes days away, the record of the past that humanities scholars consulted with regularity becomes, in one stroke, less accessible. The majority of volumes many humanities scholars use are copyrighted texts that are not available in mass digitization projects. As a result, the removal of these secondary sources upon which historians previously relied compounds the anxiety they are feeling about the authenticity of the digitized source. Scholars long considered the library to be a laboratory for the humanities, a central hub where the full range of secondary works mediated their access to and understanding of original archival sources. Without the ability to put hands on the secondary apparatus and its relationship to original sources, scholars understandably begin to question the confidence of their interpretive authority.

The library as a laboratory seems to have been turned on its head. As digital archival collections go online, what was once remote—the original source—has become immediately accessible. Yet what was once immediately accessible—the secondary interpretive source—has become more distant. This reversal may have long-term unanticipated and unintended effects stemming from the interruption of the fruitful negotiation in the library between original sources and their interpretive historiographical context. Repairing and mediating that negotiation in the digital library will require the collaboration of archivists and scholars.

The operations that digital humanities scholars perform on sources further complicate matters. When we encode and mark up texts for computational processing, we make various aspects of texts organizable and searchable even as we radically reduce the complexity of human language, making our entry points into the text and across texts more rigid, uniform, and far less supple than in analog form. When we build a virtual model of a place, a historical site, a genre, or a period, we highlight linkages and relationships selectively and often to the exclusion of other possibilities. Despite the advantages of the digital medium for linking texts and encoding metadata, we often make interpretive argument less apparent. Digital scholars have stressed the act of encoding original sources more than interpreting how these sources relate to the secondary apparatus of historiography and criticism. The stresses on humanities scholars conducting this research are significant and contribute to a broad sense of epistemological concern.

Historian Lara Putnam in the April 2016 American Historical Review describes another professional challenge that has accompanied mass digitization and digital searching. “For the first time,” she writes, “historians can find without knowing where to look.” She calls this new complication “disintermediated discovery.” Putnam argues that digital searching “opens shortcuts that enable ignorance as well as knowledge” and a “release from place-based research practices that have been central to our discipline’s epistemology and ethics alike.”

We see evidence of these concerns when both the scholars in the Ithaka report and the fellows in the CLIR/Mellon report the displacement of intellectual engagement with original sources as problematic. One of the premises at work is that the archive constitutes an important, indeed paramount, site of discovery and intellectual activity. The material object speaks to the scholar in tactile and sensory ways, while dwelling with these material objects allows the scholar to absorb and apprehend their meaning. Scholars find digital imaging and access convenient, but report this convenience as a trade-off. Something, they suggest, appears to have been lost. Yet, I am not so sure.

New Archival Possibilities

Historian Durba Ghosh has written about how the structure, arrangement, and management of archives can resist the narratives and questions scholars carry into them. In her case she encountered archivists who showed her some materials but not others and who made assumptions about what she should and should not have access to because she was a woman of Indian ethnicity. Although she too appreciates the dust of original documents, she has sought to “expand our definitions of the kinds of knowledges that archives produce by destabilizing the notion that archives are only places of impersonal encounters with printed documents.” Instead, some encounters can be highly personal and particular; in a second encounter with the same object, a scholar may see something entirely different. Ghosh, furthermore, notes that after completing her dissertation, and once she was back in the archives, she “finally knew” what she “was looking for.”

Two points are worth making here. The first is that colonial, gendered, and political organization and maintenance of archives in no small measure works to deflect some kinds of research and some kinds of researchers. Gatekeepers restrict access or scrutinize whether a researcher should or should not be inquiring into a subject. Ghosh’s research into interracial relations in colonial India prompted highly gendered reactions from archives and archivists, affecting her access to the original sources. Digitization can to a significant degree liberate sources from the physical, cultural, and social restrictions that attend them in the archive.

The second is that scholars do not always know what they are looking for when they enter an archive, even after intense planning and research. They bring certain questions into the archive at a given point in their research process only to find that much later they realize other questions to ask. Digital materials allow for a longer, more deliberate, continuous, iterative process of research and discovery.

Although neither the Ithaka report nor the CLIR/Mellon fellows report specified these renegotiations, scholars using digital cameras in the archives are participating in a new practice characterized by a deliberately more prolonged interaction between the researcher and the object.

Why have scholars so prized the transcendent qualities of the material object, the so-called dust in the archives? One reason is that letters and diaries in particular carry the voices of the past into the present, and these inanimate objects become animated through the personal penmanship of the correspondent and diarist. They are the physical traces of our subjects long dead and gone. In “The Historian as Death Investigator,” Stephen Berry, a historian of the American Civil War, has written about this strange “temporal vertigo” and points out that anyone who has done work in an archive knows “the Zen-like moment when you forget not merely where you are but when you are, who you are, almost that you are.” This “wormhole” into the past, he suggests, is somewhat stupefying and it works a kind of spell over the investigator. For Berry who studied death records of soldiers, it begins with the dull recognition that “this guy isn’t going to make it.” Berry, however, experiences this vertigo whether in the physical archives or perusing digital images of original hospital records and death certificates.

This state of affairs is not unlike what has happened in oral history, where the practice of historians in the digital age has undergone significant renegotiation. Historian Michael Frisch has pointed out that even with oral histories “generally nobody has spent much time listening or watching the recordings, the primary source. Instead, the modal plane of engagement has been textual.” Working with text transcriptions became “natural” even though the source was entirely aural. Frisch notes that the methods and theories used in oral history have been derivative of their textual, rather than aural, materiality. As practices emerge around and with digital technologies, as questions of these sources become “tractable” only in their aural form, other methods and theories become possible.

When we look for people long invisible in the written record, who did not leave letters and diaries, their traces in the archive are mediated and embedded to a degree that requires us to renegotiate our work in the archive. In the case of Ghosh’s investigation into interracial sex in British colonial India, she found that the archives, even those who managed them, functioned to keep such stories from ever surfacing in the record. Dust or no dust, finding their voices in the archive would mean confronting and breaking the institutional and historical modes of marginalizing. In this respect digital capture for later analysis may be essential, an act that allows for a more unmediated and extensive examination than possible in a purely physical, time limited, and on-site encounter. Even if one scholar is not able to access a collection, for whatever reason, another scholar might be able to gain access and ultimately share these sources.

In current research into legal records, a similar renegotiation is underway. Scholars seeking to build up the histories of long marginalized people are moving beyond the limitations of solely on-site, physical encounter with original sources. The Old Bailey Online, for example, has digitized the printed Proceedings of the court published from 1674 to 1913, volumes encompassing 197,745 criminal trials. While voluminous and rich in detail, these reports were highly selective and the original case papers remain at the National Archives (Public Record Office).

Similarly, the case files of the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia in Record Group 21 of the National Archives and Records Administration were administrative records designed to order and bureaucratize legal procedures and actions. Enslaved people who petitioned for their freedom worked their histories into these legal forms. But the printed records of the court’s decisions published by Chief Justice William Cranch revealed little about their lives or their experiences. Cranch’s volumes have been cited routinely in appellate decisions and legal briefs, as well as relied upon by legal historians for years. Yet, Cranch excluded the last names of African Americans throughout his volumes and focused mainly on legal procedures and rules. The result is a genealogical and historical erasure that needs repair. Digitizing Cranch’s volumes only perpetuates the historical erasure of petitioners for freedom. When the original case papers are extracted from their archival sequence and examined as a whole, the full genealogies of these families become visible to the scholar (see earlywashingtondc.org).

In my own research, continual, repeated examination of digitized case papers has led to discoveries nearly impossible to make on site using the physical records. A recent research trip to the National Archives (Public Record Office) illustrates this point. My research into a Maryland enslaved family indicated that their claim to freedom could possibly be proven today, 200 years after their case was unsuccessful. Their lawyers had filed a number of exhibits as evidence, including depositions from earlier cases tried in the 1790s. These depositions referred to litigation in London’s early eighteenth-century chancery court, where creditors hoped to extract a higher profit from the captain of a transatlantic raiding voyage. One of the Maryland depositions indicated that the family members petitioning for freedom were the direct descendants of a free woman from New Spain who was carried to London on this voyage. Every item on the vessels was accounted for and documented, and every expense double-checked. Ledgers were re-tabulated; receipts were re-bundled. A special master certified each account and record. I estimated over 3,000 individual items in the chancery record for this case. It was not possible to conduct a thorough analysis of each record while I was in the archive. In the four days I had on site, however, it was possible to review each item and digitally capture hundreds of important records for later examination and reflection. In the months following this visit I have been able to substantiate their claim based on cross-referencing original sources from other collections.


Figure 1: Chancery record at National Archives, Kew, December 2015.

Schonfeld and Rutner described this form of on-site collection as a “displacement of the intellectual engagement with the material,” and they raised understandable concerns about its “downsides.” But there are clear upsides. Some scholars are developing an alternative method as they visit archives and capture digital images for ongoing assessment and reassessment. This method supports a continual process of archival engagement, rather than one dependent on an exclusively tactile engagement with the physical object. Because the questions we ask on site may not be those we need to ask later and because the subjects we seek to investigate may only reveal themselves after weeks or months of systematic analysis, we are beginning to see a new practice in archival research take shape, one that begins and ends on site in the archives, and dwells for far longer on the virtual representation and manipulation of digitized original sources.

These scholars are inaugurating a digital archival ideal that is as powerfully alluring as that of its physical counterpart. Scholars with high-resolution digital images and large, high-resolution monitors can manipulate the digital object long after their visit to the archive. They can recast, rearrange, and renegotiate the source, seeing it in multiple frames, dimensions, scales, and abstractions. Perhaps most important, they can encounter the document again and again, returning to it with fresh questions and perspectives. In my own research, digitized collections have allowed me to conduct iterative readings and discover differences in the spelling of individual names impossible to see otherwise.

Putting the Archivist-Scholar Collaboration First

Undoubtedly, graduate programs will need to adjust to these new circumstances and practices. The current volume should prompt graduate programs to consider revitalizing historical methods and writing courses. At the 2015 Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) summit on graduate training in the humanities, faculty and graduate directors explored the nature of the graduate curriculum, the dissertation, the role of new media and the digital humanities, and the nature of the public humanities. These discussions followed calls for shortening or changing the dissertation and placing greater emphasis in our programs on skills for alternative career pathways. While the participants in the CIC meeting considered more than the changing state of archival research, they agreed to create a working group to articulate a statement of principles on the dissertation in the humanities.

The reports in this volume indicate the gap in archival training for graduate students and the pressing need for specific methodological training in archival research. One graduate student in the Schonfeld and Rutner report put the problem succinctly:

“One of my big issues with graduate education in general right now is that there’s almost no training with methodology and what you actually do in the archive and why that matters . . . There are larger philosophical questions about what an archive is. I haven’t gotten systematic training.”

At several institutions, graduate programs are already revising not only the scope and form of the dissertation but also the coursework required to gain the skills and techniques necessary for research with original sources. These courses might provide specific guidance on the materiality of sources, how to properly interrogate sources, how to conduct archival research for a large-scale project, and how to manage the research process, including digital images. One way to structure such a course is to emphasize the sharing of “archive stories” between faculty and graduate students. Our new course on research and archival methods at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is premised on such exchanges. Each week, part of the course is given over to a rotating, faculty-led archive story.

These reflections feature the experiences of practitioners working in various archives around the world and consider archives as a contact zone between researcher and what a state or institution allows her or him to see. These stories also explore the embodied experience of the researcher working within the physical environment and regime of the archive. And they provide basic hands-on guidance on how to prepare for an archive visit, how to conduct oneself when there, and, most importantly, how to do research when on site.

Further, graduate programs might bring archivists and librarians more directly into the training of graduate students. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln we have restructured the methods course to include consultation with our university archivists, drawing on the expertise of our library faculty. Many of the steps to navigate archives were once learned without formal training, by trial and error. Students in this course also visit the university and state archives and make requests for collections. With a variety of collections laid out before them, they discuss with the archivists the tactics, strategies, methods, and ways to record what is found. We seek to model a partnership between historians and archivists and provide critical skills for graduate students to make and sustain such partnerships in their own research.

In embracing a more digital archival ideal, alongside our more traditional methods we might give our students the opportunity to create new forms of scholarly communication and expression. As historian Edward L. Ayers has pointed out, “Digital scholarship may have greater impact if it takes fuller advantage of the digital medium and innovates more aggressively. Digital books and digital articles that mimic their print counterparts may be efficient, but they do not expand our imagination of what scholarship could be in an era of boundlessness . . . when our audiences can be far more fast and varied than in previous generations.”

Our graduate training in research might feature ways to see the archives as a social space and experience. Both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral scholars are finding that these new circumstances prompt more rather than less collaboration with archives, and more rather than fewer opportunities for archival engagement. Digital imaging and other techniques do not in and of themselves displace intellectual engagement with original sources, nor do they displace archives and archivists. Scholars working with archivists are negotiating partnerships and drawing on one another’s expertise. Some of these collaborations will result in more formal joint projects, while others will lead to ongoing informal exchanges. We should welcome these opportunities.


Roy Rosenzweig, “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in the Digital Era,” American Historical Review, Vol. 108, No. 3 (June 2003): 758 and 760.

Reneé M. Sentilles, “Toiling in the Archives of Cyberspace,” in Antoinette Burton, ed. Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005): 155.

Roger C. Schonfeld and Jennifer Rutner, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians,” ITHAKA S & R, December 10, 2012. http://www.sr.ithaka.org/publications/supporting-the-changing-research-practices-of-historians/ (accessed February 26, 2016).

Ross Housewright, Roger C. Schonfeld, and Kate Wulfson, “Ithaka S+R Faculty Survey 2012,” April 8, 2013, pp. 41-44. http://www.sr.ithaka.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Ithaka_SR_US_Faculty_Survey_2012_FINAL.pdf (accessed February 24, 2016).

Burton, Archive Stories, 210. Chicago History Museum, “Wet with Blood: The Investigation into Mary Todd Lincoln’s Cloak,” http://chicagohistory.org/wetwithblood/ (accessed March 4, 2016).

On modeling, see Willard McCarty, “Modeling: A study in Words and Meanings,” in Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, eds., A Companion to Digital Humanities (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

Lara Putnam, “The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast,” American Historical Review Vol. 121, No. 2 (April 2016): 377 and 379. Putnam’s essay is the first to address what she calls “a sea change at the core of our collective practice.”

Durba Ghosh, “National Narratives and the Politics of Miscegenation: Britain and India,” in Antoinette Burton, ed. Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005): 28 and 40.

Stephen Berry, “The Historian as Death Investigator,” in Stephen Berry, ed. Weirding the War: Stories from the Civil War’s Ragged Edges (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011), 184-185.

Michael Frisch in “The Promise of Digital History,” Journal of American History Vol. 95, No. 2 (September 2008): 459.

Old Baily Online, http://www.oldbaileyonline.org (accessed February 20, 2016) and O Say Can You See: Early Washington, D.C., Law and Family, http://earlywashingtondc.org (accessed February 20, 2016).

There is a growing literature on digital humanities and aesthetics and design, too much to refer to here. An essential beginning point is Johanna Drucker, SpecLab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009).

The CIC conference was held November 4-5, 2015 at Penn State University. See also Sidonie Smith, Manifesto for the Humanities: Transforming Doctoral Education in Good Enough Times (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015); Michael Bérubé, “The Humanities Unraveled,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 18, 2013; Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom: Three Necessary Arguments (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Edward L. Ayers, “Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future?” EDUCAUSE Review (August 2013), http://er.educause.edu/articles/2013/8/does-digital-scholarship-have-a-future (accessed February 24, 2016).

What is Digital Scholarship? A Typology

At a recent talk at the University of Colorado Boulder I discussed various definitions of digital scholarship and how we might categorize digital scholarship. My forthcoming essay in the second edition of Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Humanities deals with these questions in depth. This chart offers one way to consider a typology for digital scholarship in the humanities. These characteristics are offered as a beginning point. They are not meant to exclude or restrict the definition of digital scholarship. Indeed, I hope these definitions might provoke some further discussion about how to undertake reviews of digital scholarship.

Here is a a proposed typology of digital scholarship as a PDF.

Some definitions are necessary as well.

Assessing the types of data, components, organization, scope, interpretive nature, and character of digital works allows us to separate one category from another. An ISW, for example, differs from a Thematic Research Collection not only because its scope is more tightly defined, but also because its interpretive nature lies in the query structures it provides the reader rather than in the encoded affordances that a Thematic Research Collection builds into its archival materials. The ISW operates around a series of procedural inquiries, whereas the Thematic Research Collection offers open-ended investigatory structures. These characteristics of the categories are not meant to be exhaustive, but illustrative, and as a basis for categorization and review.

Interactive Scholarly Works (ISWs):

These works are hybrids of archival materials and tool components, and are situated around a historiographically significant or critical concern. These works often assert a methodological argument as well, demonstrating that the combination of tools and materials serves as a method worthy of applying to the problem. Interactive Scholarly Works have a limited set of relatively homogenous data, and they might include a textual component on the scale of a brief academic journal article. They feature an API for users to access the data and programming directly. Relatively tightly defined in subject, ISWs provide users with a high degree of interactivity in a limited framework. (Meeks and Grossner 2012)

Digital Projects or Thematic Research Collections (TRCs):

Digital projects, sometimes referred to as Thematic Research Collections, are perhaps the most well defined genre in digital humanities scholarship. Carole L. Palmer’s 2004 review of these works emphasized several qualities, such as their heterogeneous datatypes, structured but open ended, designed to support research, multi-authored, primary sources. Combining tools and archival materials framed around a historiographically significant or critical problem, these projects are sprawling investigations into a major problem. Typically gathering thousands of objects and records from widely varying institutions and in widely varying formats, digital history projects contain “digital aggregations” of primary sources that support research on a particular theme or historical question. Scholars embed interpretive affordances in the collection and use these affordances to open up new modes of inquiry and/or discovery. They are open-ended projects and often support ongoing research by multiple scholars or teams. Often traditional peer reviewed scholarship is derived from the thematic research collection. The next phase of thematic research collections might feature interpretive scholarship embedded within and in relationship to the collection. (Palmer, 2004)

Digital Narratives:

These scholarly works are born-digital, and they primarily feature a work of scholarly interpretation or argument embedded within layers of evidence and citation. They do not and presumably cannot exist in analog fashion. They may be multimodal, multi-authored, and user-directed. They may change between and among readings, either through updates or algorithmic reconstitutions. Unlike the first generation of “eBooks” which transferred analog books into digital formats, these nonlinear, multimodal narratives offer explicit hypertext structures. These works primarily provide multiple points of entry for readers and situate evidence and interpretation in ways that allow readers to unpack the scholarly work. They are highly configured, deeply structured, and strongly interpretive pieces of scholarship. They could be stand alone self-generating web sites, cloud applications, or they could be presented in a media-rich scholarly publishing framework such as Scalar.

Simulations constitute a new form for scholarly research and publication as well. Interpretive decisions are embedded at every level in any simulated, textured environment, and feature a range of media products, including video, audio, and 3D models and game engines. Historical simulations and humanities-oriented games possess varying degrees of interpretive strength. Some are purely representational and feature minimal interpretive or argument-driven analysis. Others offer simulated decision-trees in a game-engine environment with heavily interpretive choices. (Coltrain 2013, McGann and Drucker, 2000) Hybrid media objects that combine text, graphics, live action, and animation sequences also constitute what Lev Manovich calls “a new species” in the digital medium and can be evaluated using Murray’s affordance grid as well as the matrix table provided here. (Manovich, 2013) While simulations will likely become in and of themselves a category of digital scholarship with particular characteristics that set them apart from the above types of scholarly work, at this writing they are most commonly used in a supplementary fashion.

Reading list for graduate seminar in digital humanities (Fall 2014)

It’s time to work on syllabi for Fall courses, order books, and prepare readings. With the DH2014 Conference in full swing I am thinking about assignments for my graduate seminar: “Interdisciplinary Readings Seminar in Digital Humanities.” This course is the foundation seminar for our Graduate Certificate in Digital Humanities at the University of Nebraska. My colleague Steve Ramsay taught the course last fall, and I taught the course in 2012.

Based in part on the Multi-Lingualism and Multi-Culturalism Committee at DH2014, I have required an essay assignment that asks students to engage through social media with one or more scholars or working groups outside of the U.S. and publishing in a language other than English. I’ll have more to post on the particulars of that assignment soon. In the meantime the course will include the following readings (all are tentative, of course, until the syllabus is finalized and I will post my syllabus for comments and suggestions soon):

Adams, Henry. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918)

Ayers, Edward L. “The Pasts and Futures of Digital History,” Virginia Center for Digital History, (http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/PastsFutures.html)

——–. “Does Digital Scholarship Have a Future?” EDUCAUSE review, August 2013.

Borgman, Christine. “The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities,” Digital Humanities Quarterly (2009).

Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think,” Atlantic Monthly (July 1945).

Natalia Cecire, “When Digital Humanities Was in Vogue,” Journal of Digital Humanities, 2011

Ethington, Philip J. “Los Angeles and the Problem of Urban Historical Knowledege,” American Historical Review (2000).

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin, 1984.

Habermas, Jurgen. “Science and Technology as ‘Ideology’,” in Toward a Rational Society: Student Protest, Science, and Politics (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970).

Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” Socialist Review (1985).

Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology, and Other Essays. New York: Garland Publishing, 1977

Koh, Adeline and Roopika Risam, #DHPoco: Postcolonial Digital Humanities, Comics.

Latour, Bruno. An Inquiry in the Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. Harvard University Press, 2014.

Lanier, Jaron. “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism,” Edge (May 2006).

——–. You are Not a Gadget: a manifesto. New York: Vintage, 2010.

Licklider, J.C.R. “Man-Computer Symbiosis,” IRE Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics (March 1960).

Lunenfeld et al. “The Digital Humanities Manifesto 2.0” (UCLA, 2009).

Mahoney, Timothy R. “Gilded Age Plains City: Spatial Narratives,” Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (2009).

Manovich, Lev. Software Takes Command. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

McPherson, Tressie. “‘Who the Fuck Do You Think You Are?’ Academic Engagement, Microcelebrity and Digital Sociology from the Far Left of the Matrix of Domination,” (2012)

Michel, Jean-Baptiste et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books,” Science Vol. 331 (14 January 2011).

McCarty, Willard. “Humanities Computing,” Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science (2003).

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1964.

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History. Verso, 2007.

Murray, Janet. Inventing the Medium: Principles of Interaction Design as a Cultural Practice. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

Ramsay, Stephen. “Toward an Algorithmic Criticism,” Literary and Linguistic Computing 18.2 (2003): 167-174.

Staley, David. “Historical Visualizations,” in Journal of the Association for History and Computing Vol. 3 No. 3 (November 2000)

Thomas, William G. III, and Edward L. Ayers, “The Differences Slavery Made: Two Communities in the American Civil War,” American Historical Review, December 2003.(http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/AHR/)

Turing, A. M. “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Mind 49 (1950).

Turkle, Sherry. “Constructions and Reconstructions of the Self in Virtual Reality,” Mind, Culture, and Activity Vol. 1, No. 3 (Summer 1994).

White, Richard. “What is Spatial History?” (working paper, Spatial History Project, 2010)

Unsworth, John. “What is Humanities Computing and What is Not?” (2002)

Zittrain, Jonathan. The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

selected readings from Debates in the Digital Humanities online and the Blackwell’s Companion to Digital Humanities online

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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Thanks to History Harvest and NITLE Seminar Participants

Thank you to over 50 college faculty and technology professionals who joined for the final event of History Harvest Blitz Week–the NITLE Seminar on Teaching the History Harvest. We had a dynamic and rich discussion online with great questions from the participants. Thank you!

One of the questions that we did not get to address in the seminar asked us to reflect on the impact of this project in the community beyond the class semester. In North Omaha the effects were significant and have continued well beyond the semester. Our students worked with the Great Plains Black History Museum to revive and restore its remarkable archival collection. And their work has continued to play a role in the ongoing work at the GPBHM and plans for a larger historical sites city planning effort in Omaha. In short, History Harvest classes can galvanize interest and have lasting positive effects in the community. My colleague Patrick D. Jones briefly wrote about this here, as did Michelle Tiedje, and most importantly GPBHM director Jim Beatty.

For anyone who was not able to attend the NITLE Seminar, we have placed most of the teaching resources we used in our courses online (linked here) along with student produced videos and segments from The History Harvest Minute series.