I recently saw an article in the Smithsonian Magazine that is really exciting. In April 2015, Queen Elizabeth II ordered the release of a treasure trove of over 350,000 documents from the reign of King George III including an intimate day by day, almost minute by minute, account of the American War of Independence. This provides an intensely personal account of King George III that challenges the current way we view this war. It challenges the portrayal of him as a solely political figure or as the "mad king." The really exciting news is that these will be available digitally starting in January 2017! This will be a great new resource for scholars focusing on Britain, the United States, and the Atlantic World.
I ran across this really interesting blog entry on The Junto, which is a collaborative Early American history blog. Casey Schmitt discusses the problems associated with determining the veracity of her source base, which in this case is super interesting pirate narratives. However, I think the issue is one that we all face. As we are in the archives, we are constantly faced with potentially unreliable sources. I work with soldiers' diaries, and I constantly face the same questions. Soldiers exhibited a camaraderie with each other, and they frequently took sides in disputes between officers and men. At times, one has to question how accurate the source might be. We all account for biases in our work. So, I am going to put out the same question that Schmitt asked in her blog, how should we handle sources that might not be at all truthful? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
I had the opportunity to hear from the creators of the Legacies of British Slave-owning Practices at an incredibly profound plenary session for the North American Conference of British Studies at the National African-American History and Culture Museum in Washington, D.C. this past weekend. I cannot quite describe the experience of sitting in the Oprah Winfrey Theatre and listening to scholars I have long admired discuss the context, findings, and future of this extremely important digital humanities project. This blog post is going to be a bit longer than most, but I want to share what I learned with everyone so bare with me.
Catherine Hall, a prolific historian primarily of Jamaica and the British Empire, is the lead contributor to this project. At the core of the LBS project is the desire to re-inscribe race at the center of place. Hall argued that race must be center in everything we do as historians, especially those of us who focus on the Early Modern and Modern periods. Indeed, Hall argued that slavery is the cornerstone of modernity. She challenges the position of abolition in our teaching of the British empire. She continued to suggest that the trauma of slavery is not yet over. The key point of the LBS project is undoing the white-washed histories that have so long dominated British history. The LBS project focuses on the silences, and in the process validates the argument that Eric Williams made in Capitalism & Slavery in the 1940s.
Keith McClellan serves as the Digital Humanities specialist for the LBS project. The first phase of the project, now complete, focused on tracing those British slaveowners who sought compensation in 1834. The British Government paid out £20 million (almost £16 billion in todays money) to 46,000 persons. The project documents who they were and what they claimed. The first finding is that 3,500 absentee landowners (people who had plantations in the Caribbean, but lived in England) represented ten percent of the claimants, but they received fifty percent of the compensation. These individuals were members of the Middle and Upper classes and were spread throughout the United Kingdom. Perhaps most surprisingly, almost 40-45% of the people who received compensation were women. This suggests the importance of marriage and family alliances. Phase II is currently underway, and in this part of the project the team is focused on expanding the information available both temporally and geographically. They hope to trace the records, although more incomplete, back to the mid-18th century.
Nicholas Draper sought to explain the impact this had on Britain. The data contributes to an ongoing historiographical debate regarding the importance of slavery to Britain and the British Empire. The answer provided is unequivocally that slavery was absolutely essential to the formation of an industrialized and expanding Britain both domestically and imperially. The team has only released about one-half of what they have so far, and one of the key aspects of Phase II is the move to a more dynamic database. They have been able to use the information accumulated to work with the Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography to provide more information on individuals who owned slaves, and to ensure that this is an important part of their bibliography. They have also started working with the British National Portrait Gallery to identify works that were obtained or commissioned by British slaveowners.
This project is one of the most important digital humanities projects to come about since the field began. It continues to provide important and necessary insights that should change the way that we research and teach. It is without a doubt the gold-standard for digital humanities, and a model that we should all use as we conceive of our own projects.
Check out our review of the LBS project here.
I came across an article published in the American Historical Association's magazine Perspectives today, and it made me think about why we do digital humanities. The central question posed by Matthew Delmont, professor of history at Arizona State University, is "does it count?" We are all extremely busy, and there is a constant pressure to publish, teach, and perform more service. So the question is, where does digital humanities projects fit into the demands placed on our time? Is it actually worth it? Especially for those of us without a tenure track job?
Delmont answers this question with a resounding yes. Here's the thing, while our field, particularly history, places a huge amount of emphasis on the scholarly monograph. I am currently in the process of trying to get a publishing contract for my book. However, if we are being honest, there are only a very few people who will ever read that research. This is where I think digital humanities becomes so much more important. Our goal as academics should be to disseminate knowledge as widely as possible. Academia is essentially an idealistic exercise. We all think that our research is important and we want to change the world. At least, I do. Digital Humanities allows us to reach a much broader audience, and if done properly it will enhance our teaching.
What do you think? Is it worth it? I'm looking forward to seeing your comments below.
So unless you grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables stories, Lucy Maud Montgomery, probably doesn't mean much to you. However, if you are a fan of the Anne of Green Gables stories, then you are going to be thrilled to find out that a new digital humanities project has collected more than 400 additional short stories, poems, and other items written by the famous Canadian author. Montgomery wrote extensively for most of her life, and now you can find all of these additional works on a new website called KindredSpirits.
If you are a Lucy Maud Montgomery fan, definitely check out the website here.
I wanted to take a moment to draw your attention to an important grant opportunity for new and established digital humanities projects. Funding is a crucial element of establishing an effective digital humanities project, so I did not want this one to get overlooked. The National Endowment for the Humanities has announced a new grant program for projects beginning in September 2017. The deadline for submission is 11 January 2017, so if this is something that might be beneficial you should definitely check it out now.
For more information, check out the National Endowment for the Humanities website now.
I ran across an article from Angela Sutton at the Digital Humanities Center at Vanderbilt the other day. She spoke about her experience as a postdoctoral fellow working with the Ecclesiastical and Secular Sources for Slave Societies (ESSS) project. The archive holds over 600,000 documents regarding slavery in the Americas, and over the past ten years the vast majority of the collection has been digitized. What struck me about Sutton's post is the importance of building symbiotic relationships in order to provide a quality project that has the most impact.
In a way, that is precisely what this site is all about. We hope to create a network of scholars who can share experiences regarding their own archival experiences. The ultimate goal is to use this information to streamline the research process making it more efficient and open. This will also directly benefit our students. With the amazing amount of digitized material that is available, there is no reason not to expect even our introductory survey classes to not engage in research projects using primary sources. I have experimented with doing a research project with my History 101 class this Fall. These students are primarily first semester freshmen. They each selected their own topics that fit within their interests and possible majors. They were required to use three primary sources, and three secondary to write a 3,000 word research paper. So far, my students feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. They really like the fact that they got to choose something they were interested in knowing more about. Think of how much better a project like this would be if you could direct your students to a one-stop place that had a massive collection of digitized databases from which they could draw material. I hope that you will think about contributing your knowledge to our resources database, or write a blog entry about your own experiences incorporating digital humanities into your classroom.
Check out Angela Sutton's blog post and share your thoughts in the comments below.
Hello again! If you are like me, you are probably pretty busy. We all use Wikipedia to look up random information about topics that are adjacent to what we study. I am horrible at remembering dates, names, and places. I always tell my students that I do not expect them to remember every name or date I mention while lecturing.
Histropedia is a new collaborative tool that harnesses the power of Wikipedia to create really amazing timelines. This draws information from Wikipedia primarily. You can also generate your own timelines fairly easily. This is a really useful tool for both you and your students. I experimented with having students create an interactive timeline of Roman History this semester using another tool that was a bit more complicated. The general feedback was that students enjoyed the results, and that it helped contextualize my lectures. They were confused by the software though. I think I might try this software the next time I teach my History of Civilization class.
Do you think it is time that we rethink our prejudices against Wikipedia? What do you think of the software. Let me know in the comments below!
Recently Paula Dumas wrote a blog entry regarding the struggles of searching for loyalists records in Canada. We've all been there where we have a database of digitized documents, but they are not done in the most logical way. Dumas discusses various reasons for these struggles, at least from a Canadian perspective. In many cases digitization projects are done for genealogists. Think of sites like ancestory.com or findmypast.org. These sites are goldmines, so perhaps it is not surprising that many places focus on resources which might generate revenue. The other struggle that we face is that most of what is digitized are based on microfiche from the 1960s. These are inherently difficult to read as all of you know who have spent any time struggling with these unwieldy materials.
I am curious to hear about your thoughts on the challenges of digitization below. What should our motives be for doing digital humanities? How could we improve our projects even when they are based on outdated archival practices? How do we deal with the struggles of limited search capability? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Check out Paula Dumas' blog entry at the British and Irish blog.
I recently came across a new archive in my Twitter Feed that immediately caught my attention. For a decade beginning in 1972, the Chicago Police under the supervision of John Burge, tortured over 100 African-American men.
The Pozen Family Center for Human Rights and the University of Chicago has archived over 10,000 documents collected by the People's Law Firm while seeking justice for these men. They have made this material public in the hopes that it will help educators and researchers shed light on these events from the not so distant past.
Image Obtained from Chicago Torture Archive
Check out the archive here.