The Who, What, Why and Where of Primary Sources in Undergraduate Education

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The Digital Public Library of America just unveiled an exciting new Education component.  In addition to providing access to a host of excellent primary source sets on such topics as the Black Power Movement, American Indian Boarding Schools, and the Bracero Program, the site features Education Outreach Materials including a PowerPoint presentation I’ve given many a time around campus here at Southwestern University.  (I hope versions of it will now make their way around other campuses, too!)  The presentation is aimed at undergrads and its goal is to get everyone on the same page about what primary sources are, why we should engage with them in the humanities, and how to research them.  You can access the complete PowerPoint including presentation notes and discussion questions here: Nunes_Primary-Sources-in-Undergraduate-Education-Presentation.  Or check out the PDF below.

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Teaching with Omeka: Help Documents to Scaffold the Process

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*UPDATE May 12, 2016: This updated and condensed Generic Omeka Lab covers setting up an account, selecting a theme, activating plug-ins, adding an item, starting a collection, etc.  I’ve come to use this document as a general introduction to Omeka.net for students and faculty.

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Omeka.net is a free online platform that allows users to build digital exhibits.  Omeka has fabulous applications in the humanities classroom (a topic for another post!), so I’ve developed a suite of help documents to support students here at Southwestern to build writing-intensive Omeka projects.

Omeka itself offers great resources on the teaching front, including these user guides for students and educators.  There’s certainly some overlap with these guides in the documents below, but I tailored my help documents to forefront and pre-empt sticking points and questions that I’ve found students commonly have, at least in my particular experience teaching with Omeka.

First, a fine example of a student-built Omeka site:

Native Books, Images, & Objects, created by Dr. Patrick Hajovsky‘s Spring 2015 Art History course at Southwestern University.

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I consulted with Dr. Hajovsky’s class over the course of this Omeka project, and the help documents I created subsequently were inspired in part by that experience.  Since Omeka’s many functions and features can be daunting at first, these documents are meant to guide students through the process of building an Omeka project in a fluid, intuitive, integrative progression, where one step–starting an account, adding an item, building a collection–leads to another.

Without further ado, here are the help documents!  Your comments and additions are most welcome.  Don’t hesitate to get in touch (nunesc@southwestern.edu) if you have feedback or ideas for documents to add to this series.

Omeka Help Doc 1_Starting Your Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 2_Contributing To Your Class or Group Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 3_Adding an Item to Your Omeka Site

Omeka Help Doc 4_Creating a Writing Intensive Omeka Project

New Article on Teaching with Digital Archives in the World Literature Classroom

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I’m glad to report that my article “Digital Archives in the Wired World Literature Classroom” is now out in the journal ARIEL!

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You can access the article here, or check out the PDF here: Digital Archives in the World Literature Classroom.  The article includes several striking visuals from the archives, as well as case studies on how I incorporated selected primary sources in classroom teaching and assignments.  I also touch on the ethical implications of digitally archiving collections with relevance in the world literature classroom.  I conclude with strategies for enhancing undergraduate student engagement with archival materials.  Huge thanks to everyone (you are legion, and you are in the acknowledgements!) who supported my work for this article.

Favorite Resources for Teaching with Archives

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Increasingly, exciting initiatives such as TeachArchives and Archives Alive! provide support for educators interested in incorporating primary sources in undergraduate education across the disciplines. Following is my running list of favored resources for teaching with archives.  Have a resource to add? Let me know and I’d love to include it (with proper credit to you, of course!).

Resources I’ve developed:

Archival Research Glossary and Exercise. This glossary pulls from the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.  The accompanying exercise enables students to familiarize themselves with common concepts and terms they’ll encounter in physical and digital archives.

Archival Research Glossary and Terms for Digital Collections. This glossary and accompanying exercise are very similar to the ones above, but geared toward digital collections.

Archival Artifact Analysis Worksheet. This basic worksheet challenges students to make analytical observations about a selected archival object.

Close-Listening Worksheet. I assign this worksheet to get students started analyzing audio and audiovisual primary sources such as oral histories.

Transcription as Close-Reading Worksheet. I assigned this worksheet for a component of my Spring 2015 English class involving transcription tasks for the American Prison Writing Archive. The worksheet is premised on the idea that transcription is an effective mode of close-reading as a humanities practice.

Teaching with social media? If your students will be posting on WordPress, Twitter, or other social media platforms, consider distributing this Social Media Privacy Agreement at the beginning of the semester.

Other resources:

The National Archives DocsTeach.  This project of the U.S. National Archives provides ready-made activities and selected primary sources searchable by time period and historic theme. Extensive supplementary resources include this simple but brilliant formulation of how to guide students through a step-by-step analysis during their initial encounter with a primary source.

The Claremont Colleges Library Early Modern Studies Primary Source Lab. This series of worksheets is highly adaptable for a variety of disciplines.

Analyzing primary sources undoubtedly facilitates student learning in terms of humanities content and research methods, but how to assess this learning? The student-generated rubric is one promising avenue for assessment.  Danica Savonick offers her experience guiding students in setting the priorities of a given assignment in HASTAC blog posts here and here, while her article in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy provides a complete case study.

Pertinent for digital archives projects that may entail including digitized archival objects on publicly accessible project websites or platforms: Society of Authors Guide to Copyright and Permissions.

Summer DH Sizzlers: SHARP and the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference

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With support from Southwestern University, in addition to bursaries from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) and the Association for Computers and Humanities (ACH), I attended two exciting conferences over the course of July 2015: the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) Conference, which took place July 7-10 at the Longueuil Campus of the University of Sherbrooke and McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, and the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference held July 22-24 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.  Highlights follow!

The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) Conference (#SHARP15)

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My main takeaway from this conference was that digital projects in academic libraries interact in important, generative, and various ways with physical collections.  It’s easy to think about digital projects in academic libraries such as the Provenance Online Project and the Book Traces Project as diverging from a tradition of librarianship stewarding material collections.  In fact, as the Book Traces Project itself points out, the rise of the digital can threaten the existence of print collections.  The project appeals to users to help identify unique copies of books with interesting ownership features (bookplates, striking marginalia) and inserted ephemera (locks of hair, dried flowers, personal notes, etc.) published between 1820 and 1923: “We need your help identifying them because many are in danger of being discarded as libraries go digital” (http://www.booktraces.org/).  Many presentations at SHARP touched on the role digital projects play in preserving and enhancing access to physical books and material collections.

For example, on the panel on which I presented, “Old Books and New Tricks: Regenerating the Library Visit,” Karla Nielsen, Curator at Columbia University Libraries, emphasized that the Book Traces Project ultimately exists in order to make a case for maintaining extensive print collections that include multiple copies and editions of a given text.  Moreover, far from alienating student users from physical collections, the Book Traces Project in fact provides many students with their first exposure to the library stacks, since the project actively involves students in surveying areas of the stacks looking for items to digitize.  Thus, the Book Traces digital project does crucial work to advocate print collections, demonstrate the value of retaining multiple editions, and promote student engagement with the rich materiality of these collections.  Despite its identity as a digital project, the Book Traces Project ultimately makes a case not to replace print editions with digital surrogates.

Over the course of my own panel as well as others such as “Generations of Readers: Appeals to Audiences and their Reactions Across Editions” and “Archive Accumulation : Antiquarian Affect and Obsolescence” I enjoyed learning useful tips and strategies for launching and running successful digital projects in libraries.  For example, in order to engage faculty, it’s important to make very specific pitches, suggesting how particular library or archive items might figure in a course syllabus, and providing sample assignment prompts and assessment models.  Gale Burrow of the Claremont Colleges Library provided great models on this front; see her highly adaptable series of exercises and prompts for her Early Modern Studies Primary Source Lab here.

The Keystone Digital Humanities Conference (#keyDH)

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This conference blended long paper presentations with punchy digital project lightening talks.  Keynote Miriam Posner‘s thoughtful talk, “What’s Next?: The Radical, Unrealized Potential of Digital Humanities,” encouraged digital humanists to frame projects that illuminate marginalized histories and perspectives, in a spirit of solidarity rather than charity.  Posner referenced a tradition of ethics that holds the “gesture toward plenitude and contingency,” not the encompassing of these (which is impossible), as the ethical act.  She pointed to The Knotted Line as a digital humanities project that embraces a non-linear, de-centered, deconstructivist approach in the service of one pressing humanities question: “how is freedom measured”?

A list of every exciting digital project showcased at the conference would be impossible long, but here are a few that I especially enjoyed learning about:

Goin’ North.  This Omeka project, which involves contributions from graduate and undergraduate students at West Chester University, synthesizes oral histories and digitized regional archival materials to highlight narratives of the Great Migration of African Americans from the southeast to northern regions of the U.S. during the early decades of the twentieth century.

Our Marathon. The Boston Bombing Digital Archive.  Also an Omeka project, Our Marathon marshals images, videos, social media, and other digital primary sources responding to the Boston Marathon bombing.

Doctor or Doctress?  This project centers the unique perspectives of African American female physicians in order to examine U.S. history during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Story of the Stuff.  This web documentary examines the phenomenon where sites of devastating mass shootings–Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech, for example–are flooded with “stuff” (teddy bears, paper cranes, cards, etc.), thus creating impromptu, ephemeral memorial sites.

College Women.  This digital archives project documents the history of women in higher education through a focus on pertinent digital collections at the Seven Sisters.

In addition to the multitude of fascinating panels and digital project showcases, I also enjoyed tours sponsored by the conference of the Library Company and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where we had the privilege of visiting the digitization lab.

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These 19th-century fabric samples archived at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania are being digitized for an online exhibit.

The tours reaffirmed for me the very fun relationships among digital humanities, archives, and special collections.  A big thank you to the organizers of the Keystone Digital Humanities Conference for their hard work on this hugely successful conference!

HASTAC Highlights: Digital Scholars Descend on Michigan State University, May 27-30

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With the generous support of both Southwestern University and the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR), I recently had the privilege of attending the HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory) 2015 Conference at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.

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The HASTAC 2015 Conference brought digital scholarship practitioners together May 27-30, 2015.

It was an utterly stimulating few days of reconnecting with my fellow CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows in Academic Libraries and making new connections with people building exciting digital projects all over the country.  Check out the HASTAC Panel and Event Schedule here.  Following are some highlights from #hastac2015.

Inspiring digital tools and projects to explore:

  • The web-based Palladio data visualization platform.  Andy Wilson uses Palladio to map and examine international aspects of the Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution.  He blogs about his research here.  In response to Wilson’s presentation, Devin Higgins made a great point by tweet: “Nice to hear about network visualization being used as one step in a research process, not as the final product.”  We need to remember that data visualization and spatial analysis tools are good for more than providing flashy visual research products; they can also transform research methodologies.
  • The Homestead Nebraska Project.  Rebecca Wingo presented on this fascinating digital project, which uses the platform Gephi to visualize ethnic communities, neighborhoods, and identities of place on the Nebraska plains.
  • Open Folklore.  This comprehensive online resource for folklorists represents a partnership between the American Folklore Society and the Indiana University Bloomington Libraries.
  • Library Juice Academy.  This online professional development site is the Lynda.com of the library world.
  • The AfroLatin@ Project, the LatiNegrxs Project, and Afro-Digital Connections, presented by Amilcar Priestley, Jessica Marie Johnson, and Eduard Arriaga, respectively, on the panel “African and African-Descendent Cultures in the Digital Age: Adoption, Adaption and the Emergence of Complex Identities.”  The panel, which also included Dorothy Odartey-Wellington on born-digital African literature, offered an in-depth examination of the digital tools engaged by Afro-Latino, African American, other Afro-descended users and communities.  Arriaga discussed the function of the Afro-Digital Connections repository to illuminate the variety of ways African and African-descended artists, academics, and activists use digital tools to construct digital identities.  I look forward to keeping in touch with Arriaga about possibilities for involving students in contributing to the Afro-Digital Connections repository in future World Literature classes I may teach.
  • HASTAC Forum on Colonial Legacies, Postcolonial Realities and Decolonial Futures of Digital Media.

Selected pearls of wisdom from HASTAC presenters and panels:

I had opportunities to present on two panels: “Tales From the Library Basement: Doing Digital Humanities as CLIR Fellows” (with co-panelists Rachel Deblinger, Emily McGinn, and Alicia Peaker”) and “Thinking Outside the Archive: Engaging Students and Community in Special Collections Digital Projects” (with co-panelists Chella Vaidyanathan, Caitlin Christian-Lamb, Robin Wharton, and Elon Lang).

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CLIR Fellows unite! From left to right: Charlotte Nunes, Justin Schell, Alicia Peaker, Emily McGinn, and Rachel Deblinger.

Both panels were followed by extremely useful discussions.  During our discussion, gracefully moderated by former CLIR fellow and current Director of the Center for Digital Learning and Research at Occidental College Daniel Chamberlain, about doing Digital Humanities as CLIR fellows, we compared tensions and challenges in various institutional settings where we circulate not exactly as faculty, and not exactly as librarians.  It can be a very productive (if sometimes uncomfortable!) place to be.  Despite our very different project responsibilities and position descriptions, all of us function as “human hubs,” or “Collaborators-in-Chief” (Dr. Chamberlain’s term), working as intermediaries between libraries, academic departments, and other bodies on campus.

All of my fellow panelists on “Thinking Outside the Archive: Engaging Students and Community in Special Collections Digital Projects” are doing fabulous work to enhance undergraduate education through engagement with archives and special collections.  Check out the Hoccleve Archive project run by Elon Lang and Robin Wharton.  And see Caitlin Christian-Lamb’s absorbing blog posts about archives-oriented digital projects she’s undertaken at Davidson College Archives and Special Collections here.  Christian-Lamb recommends that DH practitioners hone a “DH and Archives elevator speech” to effectively and directly articulate the benefits of allying digital humanities work with archives and special collections.

During the panel discussion, I posed the question of how to assess student work on digital archives projects.  Here are two ideas from the audience that I look forward to implementing:

  • Badges.  Beau Case, Head of the Arts & Humanities Team at University of Michigan Libraries, suggested implementing a digital skills badge system as a way to incentivize and assess student work on digital archives projects in the semester-long classroom setting.
  • Student-generated rubrics.   offered her experience guiding students in setting the priorities of a given assignment by collaborating on rubrics for assessment.  Her HASTAC blog posts here and here offer insights into the collaborative process, while her article in the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy provides a complete case study.

Other pearls of wisdom from the conference at large:

  • With regard to building digital humanities projects in libraries: Julie Bobay of Indiana University Libraries emphasized that libraries need a “digital humanities consultation checklist” to work with faculty to anticipate audience, impact, sustainability, rights, grant-funding prospects, and other crucial criteria for successful and sustainable projects.  She added that it’s important to align project goals with existing support and infrastructure.  Nancy Maron of Ithaka S+R suggested the Sustainability Implementation Toolkit as a first step toward building sustainable digital projects.
  • With regard to digital archives projects: in her presentation on the 9/11 Digital Archive, Dhanashree Thorat reminded us that we must examine not only the content but the structure of archives to learn how they may privilege and/or de-privilege certain voices and perspectives.  Dorothy Odartey-Wellington argued for the preservation of “inactive voices” (such as discontinued blogs) as crucial for the historical record.  And Rebecca Wingo analogized digital humanities and archival research: we can go in with an agenda, but we must be open to a journey elsewhere, since both digital humanities and archival projects often take on lives and identities of their own, regardless of original intentions.

Huge thanks to the HASTAC Conference Organizing Committee for making this dynamic, inspirational, and beautifully-run event possible!

A Day in the Life of a Digital Humanist: Day of DH 2015

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May 19th’s Day of Digital Humanities 2015 (#DayofDH, #DayofDH2015) is over and done with, but I can’t resist the urge to participate for posterity!  I love the concept behind this international project.  Registered digital humanists everywhere document what they do in a work day, in order to crowd-source data that will be processed using digital humanities methods in order to provide us all with a better sense of what DH encompasses.  It’s a DH feedback mechanism extraordinaire!

Even if it’s too late to provide a data point for the project, it’s important to make DH work visible.  Although no two days in the life of a digital humanist are exactly alike, I would say that yesterday was pretty representative of my professional life these days.  Here’s what I got up to:

  • Blogged about my Spring 2015 digital humanities class, “Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition.” My post cites several student posts from our class blog.
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Screenshot of our class blog for “Freedom and Imprisonment in the American Literary Tradition.”

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Themed graphic for the Modernist Studies Association 2015 Conference.

Here’s my description of the workshop: “This interactive workshop will focus on how to incorporate digital archives into research and teaching on modernism.  Participants will 1) learn about digital archives and digitization initiatives pertinent to modernist studies; 2) mine selected digital archives and databases for primary source materials that speak to their research interests; and 3) learn strategies for incorporating these archives into their teaching.”

  • Communicated with colleagues in the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium about logistics for making a recording of a recent TxDHC webinar on the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) publicly available on the TxDHC website.  Matt Christy of Texas A&M has been the point of contact for the TxDHC website, while Jennifer Hecker of UT-Austin has been coordinating closed captioning for the webinar recording using Amara.  Accessibility is one of the core values of the digital humanities, so we look forward to posting a video that is accessible to hearing-impaired users.
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Screenshot of the landing page of the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium website.

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Screenshot from the GLIFOS editing page on the Human Rights Documentation Initiative website.

In addition to the above, I wrote a slew of e-mails (naturally) and had some nice hallway chats with fellow library staff, including Head Research and Instruction Librarian Joan Parks, who clued me in to this webinar introduction to Native American primary source databases.  All in all, it was an enchanting day of DH-related work and activities!

What did you do during Day of DH 2015?  If you tweeted, blogged, or otherwise participated in Texas, consider logging in and linking as appropriate to this running list on the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium website.  It would be great to get insights into a day in the life of DH across Texas.