- Grants, fellowships and awards
- $370,000 in grants (including NSF external grant)
- 2018 IU Trustees Teaching Award
- Research support, workshops and consulting
- 2017 appointment to Co-Directorship of Institute for Digital Arts & Humanities
- 6 Getting Started In Digital History workshops for the American Historical Association annual meeting
- Recruited leaders for 10 individual sessions/year
- Managed start-to-finish workshop experience for more than 600 participants across all 6 years
- More than 30 digital-methods workshops personally delivered since Fall 2015
- More than 300 digital-methods or digital-pedagogy consults for faculty or graduate students since Fall 2015, including consults for 20 different affiliates of the Department of History
- Graduate teaching and mentoring:
- Digital-history course developed and revised three times, once for dual graduate-undergraduate enrollment, once to include service-learning History Harvest project
- 10 graduate students mentored in digital history methods, including 2 dissertation committees and mentoring of 6 IDAH graduate assistants (2 from history)
- 6 graduate-student co-authors
- Undergraduate teaching and mentoring
- 4 new courses developed for history, including 2 Digital History courses focused on history of Indiana. 3 courses revised multiple times, 2 with major adaptations to include service-learning History Harvest project
- 5 students returning from courses to work independently on digital projects
- 3 undergraduate-research-intern mentoring experiences
When I was transitioning from industry to academia in the mid-2000s, someone asked me how I would define success in an academic setting. I thought at the time that it was a throwaway question, and I gave an equally offhanded answer:
If one person takes one small positive thing away from working with me, and I from working with them, once a term each term, I’d consider that a success.
In the years since, that offhanded answer has come to mean a great deal more.
Helping one person at a time has become part and parcel of the service and teaching that defines my current appointment as Clinical Assistant Professor of History. This emphasis on mutual support and learning has shaped my understanding of how I fit into the educational mission of Indiana University as a teacher, as a colleague, as a research-center administrator, and as a pedagogy and digital-history researcher. I’m fortunate to have been well supported in these endeavors by colleagues in the medieval history field whose careful planning has supported development of the courses in which I do my digital-methods research; by a Department of History that has facilitated me in incorporating digital history into its course offering and research goals; and by a campus community that has privileged new approaches to humanistic inquiry and thus eagerly taken up many of the initiatives that I have been part of advancing.
Since beginning this appointment in Fall of 2015, I have sought to blur the boundaries between service, teaching, and research in digital methods by offering a clinical practice based on the integration of evidence-based digital-humanities pedagogy and innovative digital-history methods. My work in these joint spaces for the Department of History led to a 2017 appointment as Co-Director for Indiana University’s Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities (IDAH, with my co-director Michelle Dalmau), in which I’ve been able to extend the integrated digital-humanities methods activities that I pioneered and supported within the Department of History to a wide range of arts & humanities practitioners at Indiana University–Bloomington and beyond.
A case study
Net.Create for history reading comprehension and powerful but easy-to-use network analysis in history
Digital historians integrate digital methods into the exploration of change and continuity over time in a variety of ways. Analytical approaches used by big-data analysts help historians find patterns, fill gaps, and look for new questions in historical documents. Interactive modes of presentation afford historians new ways to present historical scholarship and to engage with new publics. My teaching and service work draws on both the analytical and presentational traditions of digital history.
Many of the items in the portfolio speak to more than one aspect of these digital-methods approaches, to more than one element of the appointment, to more than one of the communities in which I serve and teach, and to the need to sustain a project over a long period of time. As each person with whom I work offers suggestions or has additional needs for each of the projects in which I’m involved, and as the fields of education and digital history innovate and change over time, I follow suit. As I learn and innovate with my colleagues, I stay on the lookout for potential iterations that might improve each project for the benefit of my colleagues and students alike.
One project in particular provides a microcosmic view of the integrated, longitudinal approach around which I’ve structured my appointment: Net.Create, a grant-funded tool for humanists who want to explore connections in their research. Experienced humanists walk into a new reading with a framework in place—a general narrative of periods, geographies, and theories into which we can easily fit, and evaluate the significance of, new information. Students are often novice readers, and they haven’t yet built that framework for themselves. Net.Create is designed to bridge that gap.
I designed Net.Create, at first independently and then with my research partners, from the ground up to support novice readers coming to grips with the complex task of close-reading a humanities text.
- Students work in small groups to collect a set of notes about the interactions between people, places, things and concepts in a text.
- Each note is entered into Net.Create, which uses simple web-based forms (like those you might see in an online shopping cart) to prompt the inclusion of citations and more detailed specifics about the historical significance of each entry.
- As groups enter these notes, various pieces of the note are also reproduced in visual form: each thing is a circle (a node), and each connection they make draws a line (an edge) between two circles that interact.
- With each entry, nodes with many edge connections become visually larger and a network “gravity” begins to develop, pulling larger nodes to the center and distributing smaller connected nodes around them. These two features provide immediate feedback to the students as they try to sort through the significant figures in a new-to-them text.
The collaboration in a Net.Create activity has two layers. Within their small groups, students organically begin to discuss what should be in the network, how things in the network interact, and how to describe those interactions. At the same time, they also get prompts from the activity of the whole class, since each group can see all of the other groups’ entries appearing live. New nodes, edges, and notes from other groups can provide inspiration for groups who are confused or lost and need a little help refocusing. When students leave the classroom, the network and all of its notes are still accessible, as a unique and dynamic study guide produced by students with instructor guidance.
I knew that doing my small contribution may have seemed small but everyone else doing the same provided an extremely useful and beneficial network for the entire class.
–Student in H213 The Black Death, Spring 2020 on their Net.Create experience
As a network-analysis tool, Net.Create is ground-breaking because it allows many users to collaborate in real time as they build an interactive network dataset and visualization easily and with minimal technical skill. As a digital-humanities pedagogy tool, it is even more valuable because it allows an instructor to see what novice readers are drawing collaboratively from a text in real time. Instructors can immediately adjust and respond to those reading practices, and re-use the resulting network and its notes for the remainder of the class experience with that text or texts.
Net.Create’s first iterations were confined to the walls of my classroom. My hope at the very beginning—and the reality now—is that Net.Create’s subsequent forms would support teaching and research, mine and others, both here at IU and elsewhere. The integration of teaching, research, and service that Net.Create represents is an example of the groundwork in a variety of digital-history environments that I have established in my clinical practice as a historian. To date, Net.Create has supported:
- innovative digital-methods pedagogy. In addition to 6 of my own classes, Net.Create has supported digital-pedagogy opportunities in a variety of other instructional settings. These settings range from community-college undergraduate classrooms to digital-humanities research workshops to a citation network of learning theory built by conference-goers overseas.
- grant-funded activity. It was the primary platform for a successful digital-tools grant from the NSF on which I am the PI and an unsuccessful one that’s in the process of resubmission to the NEH (on which I will be a Co-PI). A new grant collaborator spearheaded a grant that uses Net.Create to help students and teachers find inter-personal connections as a way to support culturally relevant pedagogy in 6th grade math classrooms (on which I am a Co-PI).
- educational research. It forms the core of an educational-research program that explores reading comprehension, historical thinking skills, and student engagement in both my and other instructors’ history classrooms. We are currently on our 4th round of data collection and have several published and in-progress papers.
- public humanities in undergraduate service learning. It was the primary tool for students who wanted to explore the connections between audience-contributed material-culture objects in a public-engagement project rooted in a Fall 2019 History Harvest at IUB.
- affordable digital-humanities research. Net.Create is open-source, which means it’s free and other software developers can contribute to it. As a result, a number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, and faculty from fields that include history, musicology, media studies, and education are currently using Net.Create for their own research. One of IDAH’s former graduate assistants is using Net.Create to support network-analysis workshops at UC Santa Cruz, and we are currently surveying users nationwide as we explore the outlines of a next-stage grant for more widespread research use.
- workshops and professional development. Net.Create supported a number of workshops designed to teach network analysis as well as digital-humanities pedagogy approaches, both on the IU campus through the Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities (IDAH) and on a national and international basis
- online teaching. I anchored the remote-learning experience of students in a class on The Black Death on Net.Create during the COVID-19 pandemic, which one student described as “effing brilliant”. Because preparation for a history-learning study was already in place, we were also able to document the student learning-outcome experience for an article in the June 2020 special issue of Information and Learning Sciences. I plan to use these spring experiences and the results of that study to prepare better online-learning activities for students in the future.
With Net.Create, I have a digital-methods platform in which I can experiment, refine, and reshape not just the activities but the platform itself to explore how I can continue to improve my support for student learning and colleague research.
Research in Teaching: Digital-methods pedagogy
Research conducted in history classrooms has given me a way to structure a significant portion of both the teaching and service components of my clinical activities. These research projects center on an evidence-based practice that combines learning theory with practical teaching and technology considerations for historical inquiry. The digital methods that are at the center of my research questions, however, are only one part of the story. Each of these research projects builds on one aspect of my primary learning goal for students: being able to independently develop their own historical arguments. That larger category covers a number of specific historical thinking skills that I want students to have:
- recognizing different perspectives in primary sources
- developing context for a historical event using primary sources
- integrating secondary sources in a consideration of historical perspective and context
- developing the writing, presentation and organizational skillset to communicate their work.
While each of these 5 projects got their start differently, all of them blend two approaches to educational research on history learning:
An approach grounded in the scholarship-of-teaching-and-learning (SoTL) explores history learning through the lens of our own disciplinary training and aims to reproduce the values and skills of professional historians. SoTL explorations are primarily geared toward understanding which specific historical thinking skills are best supported by digital methods (and which aren’t). A secondary focus demonstrates how instructors at the college level might draw on the results of these articles for their own practical purposes. With a SoTL approach, I generally begin with a digital method that meets some classroom or engagement need and then develop an activity that uses the elements of that digital method most directly suited to developing student historical thinking in a particular way. Partnerships with instructional consultants and fellowships from in IU’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning have resulted from these SoTL approaches.
An approach grounded in the learning sciences looks at how disciplinary activities are informed by cutting edge theories of learning, collaboration and educational tool and activity design. In particular, I am interested in activity theory, which explores how learning is shaped by the differences between novice and expert discipinary practices and how the tools to which we have access and the ways in which we interact in a classroom can help bridge that novice-expert gap. I’ve narrowed that activity-theoretical lens to three specific areas of interest. First, I want to understand how individual student learning is shaped by interactions with other students and instructors. Second, I explore how historical thinking is shaped by the organization of face-to-face and computer-mediated activities, with a particular eye to the many different physical and online classroom spaces in which those activities take place. Finally, I explore how particular digital-humanities methods map to particular historical-thinking skills. With a learning-sciences approach, I generally start with a perceived gap in novice-expert historical thinking and apply activity theory in the design of skill-building activities to bridge that gap. This approach makes it easier to identify which tool-building or digital-method approach will best support my learning goals. Faculty affiliations in the IU Learning Sciences program, and as a research collaborator of the Center for Research on Learning and Technology (CRLT) within the IU School of Education, have resulted from the successful incorporation of these learning sciences theories and methods.
The blend of these two approaches allows me to better accommodate the messiness of the classroom setting as a site of evidence-based educational research, so that each of the approaches pioneered in these studies can speak to, and be useful in, a variety of teaching environments. The mixed approach also serves as a bridge between the teaching and service portions of my appointment by providing practical insight into which tools support digital-methods activities best and how those tools might be modified to suit the needs of digital-humanities practitioners at all levels. For instance, with Net.Create, the history pedagogue in me was focused on how difficult it can be for students to reconstruct historical context in an unfamiliar reading; the learning scientist wanted to explore the specifics of a collaborative computer-supported activity in which each element, including user-friendly software with carefully chosen features, was designed from the ground up to support students as they engaged in reconstructing historical context.
In each of the following five projects, I have tried to strike a balance between my interests in digital methods for historians, the practical needs of historians in the classroom, and the evidence-based understanding of how these digital-methods approaches work to support students as they learn.
Service in Teaching: Digital-methods training & consulting
My teaching most often overlaps with service in the form of professional-development instruction and consulting for faculty and graduate students who have begun to explore digital methods in their own research and in their classrooms. I incorporate lessons from my tool building and digital-history pedagogy research into invited and research-conference talks, structured workshops, and consulting practices. These events help other faculty and graduate students hone their digital-methods approaches in disciplinary-specific ways. By contributing professional-development and digital-humanities training opportunities, I can help bring perspectives on developing digital-methods expertise from the Department of History and IDAH to a broader audience outside of IU.
Digital-methods invited talks and research presentations
Invited talks often draw equally on my administrative and professional-development skills in digital humanities and my digital-methods research skills. As my interest and expertise in professional development in digital humanities has grown, I’ve also begun to provide digital-methods capacity-building consulting as part of an invited-talk visit. Two international invited talks characteristic of this change since 2015 are the highlight of this part of the dossier, which includes 12 invited talks and more than 20 research presentations (6 of which were full-length papers for peer-reviewed conference proceedings).
My first international invited research talk, to the Chinese University of Hong Kong for their “Translation Studies in/and the Digital Humanities” conference, was a fairly traditional research-oriented talk on multi-lingual topic modeling as one approach to computational text analysis. Audience interest led to an impromptu workshop teaching topic modeling; this request came as I was first thinking about the integration of digital-methods teaching with my work at IDAH, and the experience teaching topic modeling overseas on a whim shaped much of my thinking about the work I’ve done since. The second international invited talk–“Subject, Object, Centrality: Network Analysis in History Research and Teaching” for a 2019 “Workshop on Quantitative Analysis and the Digital Turn in Historical Studies” at The Fields Institute in Toronto–reflects that shift in its explicit focus on how my research in undergraduate classrooms shapes and is shaped by my research and tool-building contributions to the digital-humanities community.
As my interest in professional development in digital humanities has grown, I’ve also begun to provide digital-methods capacity-building consulting. Two institutions (Ball State University and Baylor University) have invited me to their campus for talks and workshops designed to develop their local digital-humanities teaching and research expertise, and these visits also included both impromptu and scheduled meetings with administrators about funding models, graduate training and faculty-research program design. IDAH also hosted the administrators of Saint Louis University’s Center for Digital Humanities to the same end; their director and a post-doc shadowed Michelle and me in Fall of 2019 for a two-day exploration of our model for developing digital-humanities projects from nascency to publication.
In addition to the AHA and to larger-scale invited talks with integrated workshops, I have done a number of smaller invited talks and workshops beyond the walls of IU, including a virtual talk that was streamed nationwide live in April 2016 for The Association for Jewish Studies and the Association for Slavic, East European, & Eurasian Studies, which has been viewed 340 times since. A full-day workshop for DePaul’s history faculty in 2017, entitled “Crafting a Digital Syllabus”, brought 12 faculty from DePaul together to look at the basics of digital methods in a lunchtime brown-bag talk, which was followed by a 3-hour workshop on crafting syllabi for digital-history courses and digitally-inflected topics courses. I also provided an introduction to humanities for Case Western’s Big Data working group in 2016.
Research-methods talks at national and international conferences—the AHA’s Annual Meeting, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and the Association for Computing and the Humanities—follow this same trajectory and are representative of a number of other local or regional talks on digital methods.
I have personally led more than thirty workshops ranging in size from 5 to 150 people, many of which focus on best practices for getting started in digital humanities. These form the core of my service-in-teaching work. Organization of the Getting Started in Digital History Workshop for the American Historical Association’s annual meeting from 2013-2019 (AHA GSDH) is particularly representative of workshops that have helped raise IU’s profile in digital-humanities expertise outside the bounds of IU’s campus.
In 2012, Seth Denbo, the former Director of Scholarly Communication at the AHA, approached me to help plan the first AHA GSDH workshop and it’s been a staple of the annual meeting’s digital offerings since then. I organized the 2014 workshop individually, and have since collaborated with Rebecca Wingo, now Director of Public History at University of Cincinnati. Attendance increased each year, from 75 initially to nearly 150 in 2019. All told, the workshop has provided training for approximately 625 attendees, 10% of whom have attended at least a second, and sometimes a third workshop. The plenary presentation in each year of the workshop has been my responsibility (shared with Seth Denbo or Rebecca Wingo, depending on the year). In 2014, 2015 and 2017, I also personally offered one of the training sessions embedded in the GSDH workshop: introductory mapping to approximately 35 people, an intermediate workshop on historical evidence as data to 14 people, and a text analysis workshop to 10 people. The text-analysis workshop attendees included a former head of Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Director of the Washington Office at American Academy of Arts and Sciences, who used the text-analysis workshop to underpin an NEH grant. Each AHA GSDH workshop is also accompanied by an AHA-sponsored Digital Drop-In session. Conference attendees bring an impromptu question to the session organzer and are triaged on a first-come-first-serve basis for 15-minute short consults with the digital-history experts in attendance, and I offer my consulting expertise each year (right); hearing about the projects from other AHA members at each year’s Digital Drop-In session is a highlight of my AHA conference-going experience. Finally, the workshop spawned an article for AHA’s Perspectives on History magazine entitled “What Do Digital Historians Want? Lessons from the AHA’s Digital History Workshop”, coauthored with Rebecca Wingo.
Workshops done on IU’s campus constitute another major arena of digital-methods outreach that takes service form but is teaching-oriented. These workshops are dominated by two series sponsored by IDAH, in which I participated first as a member of the Department of History and then in official capacity as IDAH’s Co-Director. Each year since 2017, IDAH has hosted a Choosing a Digital Method series, which includes workshops that shift the language around digital methods away from the tools and approaches and into the specific research questions that digital methods can support. With Michelle Dalmau, I have restructured IDAH’s spring workshop series to accommodate the changing trends in digital humanities by crafting a workshop series around matching the traditional work of humanities evidence gathering with the systematic structuring of data that drives maps, text analysis and networks. In total, I personally delivered 12 of the 20 workshops we have presented over the course of 3 years. These IDAH workshops have drawn in-person audiences of more than 300 people since Fall 2017, and the talks continue to influence budding digital humanists as part of the online resources IDAH includes in its web-based digital-methods training section.
Smaller-scale workshops across a variety of subjects—an introduction to Laser Cutting for the School of Education’s Make Innovate Learn Lab makerspace, three digital-methods workshops for the Department of History’s Historical Teaching and Practice series, and a single-summer-teaching-activity pedagogy workshop for the History Graduate Student Association—demonstrate the breadth of topics these workshops have covered.
Digital-methods research and teaching consults
Rounding out the service-in-teaching work is a regular practice in digital-methods and digital-pedagogy consulting. Some of these teaching consults take the form of publications, like a teaching-activity review of a digital-history platform, the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe, for the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History magazine.
At IU, that has had several iterations. In 2015 and 2016, these consults with individual faculty and graduate students were largely limited to faculty and graduate students in the Department of History looking for new approaches to their research and new activities to bring into their classrooms.
In 2017, on appointment to IDAH, I worked with Michelle Dalmau to incorporate practices from our two consulting models (hers from the digital-collections-services consulting that began in 2014) into a model that acknowledged the need to combine disciplinary research questions with digitization and digital-archive considerations from the very beginning of every digital project. Since then, IDAH has offered more than 300 digital-methods consults on this model, including almost 70 digital-pedagogy consults; with each of these consults comes the opportunity learn something new.
Across all of these iterations, formal and informal consults with faculty, graduate students and digital-methods consults with a number of history faculty have benefited the department at large. Digital-methods consults with Arlene Diaz, Kon Dierks, Ellen Wu, Jason McGraw, Michelle Moyd and others have resulted in both internal and external funding for traditional articles and monographs as well as for digital projects. These include a book project that tackles the historiography of American colonialism in the Cuban War of Independence, a social-media text analysis project that tracks Asian-American responses to affirmative action in academic admissions, a History Harvest focused on IUB identities, a spatial-history appendix to a book project on Jewish choral music in the nineteenth century, and a network of 16th century Venetian musicians.
Formal classroom consults take these digital methods and repurpose them in service of teaching humanities analysis at the undergraduate and graduate levels. My goal for classroom interventions has been twofold: for faculty and graduate students, I see these classroom visits as demonstrations of potential that lead to more substantive digital-methods research consultations. For undergraduates, these classroom interventions are designed to provide thoughtful active-learning lesson plans that anchor students’ experiences as lifelong smartphone users in the humanistic disciplines. Since 2015, in-classroom visits for history faculty have included: Colin Elliott, Jonathan Schlesinger, Pedro Machado, Jason McGraw, Maria Bucur, Roberta Pergher, Arlene Diaz, Ke Chin Hsia, Michelle Moyd, Cara Caddoo, and Fei Hsien Wang, with whom I worked to build this mid-1960s Chinese mango shrine. In addition to these in-classroom visits, I’ve provided shorter out-of-classroom digital-pedagogy consulting on timelines for Leah Shopkow, museum exhibits for Eric Sandweiss in his role as a member of the steering committee on IU’s Environmental Grand Challenges grant, games in history learning for Eric Robinson, and formal and informal Canvas support for more than a dozen other faculty members (including Rob Schneider, Danny James, Jeff Gould, Ben Eklof, and Tatiana Saburova).
During the frantic COVID-19 transition to remote learning in March and April of 2020, I also helped the Department of History restructure its teaching offerings, both in individual Zoom consults and by way of a public online teaching-resource web page that incorporated many of the best practices from IU’s CITL, from IU’s online-course-design faculty, from my own research and experience, and from the outcome of history-department-specific COVID-19 consults. As part of building this web-based guide to remote teaching, I explored the range of options available to faculty, narrowed down those that were likeliest to result in readily approachable classroom practices for faculty used to in-person instruction, and then produced video guides for many of the tools faculty were most likely to need under the circumstances. Instructional consultants at IU’s Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning (CITL) used resources from the page I created in portions of their campus-wide remote-teaching support, and I used it as the basis for my contribution to a CITL-sponsored Zoom panel entitled “The Affordances and Constraints of Using Zoom in Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching”, which had 75 attendees from all across IUB’s campus. Between its launch on March 8 and May 20, the page was viewed 175 times by more than 150 viewers.
When I began teaching history, my primary goal was to help students understand the skills involved in historical practice as a way to accommodate, synthesize and intelligently use the ever-increasing volume of communication they deal with, both personally and professionally. The high-level critical thinking and analysis we employ to deconstruct, contextualize and synthesize primary and secondary sources can be used equally well in support of a historical argument, to analyze a voting choice, or to justify an important business decision. In an early course evaluation, though, a student expressed disappointment that my assignments were too focused on supporting an argument with evidence. While I was thrilled that the student felt comfortable using a newly learned historian’s tool kit, I was also reminded that historical practice sometimes overshadows the wonder that comes with exploring a world full of new names, dates, and places. My ongoing teaching challenge is thus to both demonstrate the utility of historical practice and simultaneously communicate my awe of and enthusiasm for exploring the past.
Curriculum development at the campus level has occupied a portion of my service duties, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Each of these curriculum-development efforts has centered on the ways in which humanities learning can be augmented by digital methods at the same time that we encourage students to question the assumptions and algorithms built into those digital methods.
The Digital Arts and Humanities PhD Certificate and Minor have been part of my service to IU since before my official appointment to history. In 2014, the committee to develop a certificate program convened without a historian, and I sought permission from then-chair Eric Sandweiss to represent history’s needs. The certificate and minor program cleared the IU systemwide approval process in mid-2017, and on my appointment as IDAH’s co-director in August of 2017, I took on the task of developing the curricular and administrative infrastructure necessary to launch the program. That included the recruiting and convening of a curriculum committee to oversee and advise students in the program, as well as the development, submission and teaching of new courses to meet the program requirements. At the end of the 2017-2018 year, its first year in existence, we awarded the certificate to 3 people (including the producer IU’s first born-digital dissertation in the College of Arts & Sciences, right, and 1 history graduate student) and the minor to another 3 (1 history graduate student), and the program currently has 8 students at various stages of progress to degree, with 5 of them matriculating to the minor or certificate program in 2019-2020. As part of IDAH program-building efforts under my purview, the IDAH staff visits a number graduate student orientation programs each fall–I presented at 5 personally in 2019 alone–and we have developed outreach programs to DGSs and chairs across a variety of schools and departments to bring more students into the certificate/minor program. Advising and peer-review of students in the certificate and minor program is my responsibility as the disciplinary specialist among IDAH’s co-directors.
The College is also developing several undergraduate programs that center technical and scientific practice in the critical lens of humanities interpretation. I was initially invited to join a working group tasked with developing a humanities research track for first-year students; now called ASURE, the program has been on offer for College direct admits since Fall of 2018 and includes a fall-semester introductory course, which I chaired a subcommittee to develop, and a spring-semester hands-on research course, for which I developed and taught A200 Digital Public History. These curricular-development efforts also include a committee seat on the College’s Undergrad Computing Task Force and its subsequent Committee on Undergraduate Computing in the College, which resulted in a Spring 2020 report that lays out concrete curricular programming, in several tracks, to prepare students for disciplinary-specific use of technology in service of their chosen humanities majors. In the long term, both programs include efforts to bring students from the University’s professional schools to courses in the College and the Department of History.
Each of the courses developed for IU’s Department of History is either oriented toward teaching digital methods for historical argument or is digitally inflected and uses digital methods where appropriate in a topics course. As I develop or redevelop a course, I keep a single guiding principle in mind: history’s systematic approach to interpreting documents in service of rebuilding historical context and exploring change and continuity over time. While a professional historian can and should push the boundaries of that system in order to create new knowledge, our students often need scaffolding before they can be asked to use all of these skills together. I want to provide enough systematic training for students to do history on their own—to systematically assess documents, take historical perspective, build context, and integrate primary and secondary sources—while still giving the advanced students who do understand the basics of a systematic approach to history enough room to push those boundaries.
This principle has resulted in two practical goals for students: a learned independence that fosters willingness to make mistakes, which in turn supports the construction of open-ended historical argumentation. My emphasis on classroom-based activities, then, is designed to give students access to expert guidance in class, so that guidance can shape their reading and research outside of class. This approach is reflected in student evaluations. Across all classes, evaluations consistently note the emphasis on learning in class, on having high expectations for student work, and on instructor support for in-class projects. Clarity of expectations has been less consistent, a rating which I’m willing to accept for the sake of encouraging students to set their own expectations, and which I believe is more prevalent in my digital history courses, which require undergraduates to undertake an initially scary digital-history research project from the ground up in a single semester (see H301 below). To address this gap, I start semester by clearly communicating my preference for learning over grading, which I have supported in all of my classrooms with generous grading policies that encourage mistakes and revisions.
In all of these courses, I use what I’ve affectionately nicknamed a “Living Syllabus”, documented by a 2015 CITL faculty spotlight, that replaces the static syllabus with several pages in our learning-management system, Canvas, and uses cloud storage to archive and organize the work students do in class. The end result is a body of resources collaboratively built by students in the class, with my guidance, that brings all of their work over the course of the semester together into an archive. I start with individual Canvas assignments for each reading assignment and due dates easily accessible from the Canvas calendar. I then use the Canvas web-pages feature to build a course home page that changes, course-session by course-session, linking to the day’s reading, any resources students might need for in-class activities that day, and to the specific location in our cloud storage where I’d like them to save their work.
The syllabi in this packet were originally structured as interactive web sites on this model to support daily active-learning engagement. I’ve provided a brief 3-minute tour of one course to model how students interact with the syllabus to engage in in-class inquiry, team-based argumentation and writing, and the creation of an activity archive built over the course of the semester. While H213 The Black Death and H301 Digital History are both well developed courses with several versions of each course in place, I’ve chosen to feature B200 Medieval Saints and Sinners as the case study for the syllabus walkthrough and the video demo of my teaching practice. As a new course prep that hasn’t been repeated since it’s initial offering, it provides a good example of how I bring all of the different elements of my appointment into conversation. It’s 2 years old, so I had a well developed digital history and Black Death course at the undergraduate level to draw on; at the same time, because it’s now 2 years old, I can point to specific elements of this class that made it into the digital history courses that took place in the two following semesters, and I’m using the grading scheme from Saints and Sinners in a redeveloped Black Death course for the Fall 2020.
From small to large classrooms, from teaching to research and back again, with an eye to assessing each course activity at a small scale, the “Living Syllabus” is emblematic on a small scale of how I look at the evolving framework of my teaching from semester to semester on a larger scale, so that even well-developed courses get a critical look each time I teach them.
- View a list of courses taught by chronological order
- View a set of sample course materials and learning outcomes from B200
Graduate student mentoring is one of my primary responsibilities, both as IDAH’s co-director and as a leader in IU’s digital-history endeavors. In addition to more than 25 students mentored through the HASTAC fellowship program at IDAH (including 6 historians), I currently serve on a history dissertation committee and have supported four successful dissertations: one each as a methods consultant in history, English and musicology, and one in musicology as a member of the committee. I also provide direct scholarly and professional-development mentoring for IDAH’s graduate assistants, a total of 6 students between 2017 and 2020, including Mary Borgo Ton (Digital Librarian, UI-UC as of Fall 2020, IU PhD 2019 in English), Daniel Story (Digital Librarian, UC-Santa Cruz, IU PhD 2019 in History), and Mia Partlow (Resource Sharing Librarian, NC State-Raleigh, 2018 MLS in Digital Humanities).
Support for individual undergraduate research has included two students from Informatics through IU’s Center of Excellence for Women & Technology’s Research Experience for Undergraduate Women program, who helped respectively with an analysis of Cuban spy networks and an exploration of the role of student interaction in history learning. In Spring of 2020, I mentored a history intern and 4 independent-study history students returning from Fall 2019’s H301 course to assist in the completion of the Identity Through Objects History Harvest exhibit. The Spring 2020 history intern also undertook an independent study on the potential connections between Grimm fairy tales and other folklore tales. Finally, a student from my Fall 2017 J300 Digital History course took her digital project through IU’s HASTAC program in 2018-2019. She used that experience to successfully apply for a Digital Humanities Fellowship through IU’s Luddy School of Informatics, Computer Science and Engineering, in which capacity she will be joining the IDAH graduate-assistant team in Fall 2020 as she pursues a Masters in Library Science.
Outside of the integrated teaching-and-research service that takes the form of workshops and consulting, providing digital-methods service to the Department of History means making space, both literally and figuratively, for digital arts and humanities methods at a departmental, campus and national/international level in a variety of service writing and committee environments.
Service to the discipline
A number of outside service projects bring my digital-methods expertise from IU to the history discipline more broadly. Two service activities take particular advantage of the clinical nature of my work in history. First, participation in the AHA’s Digital History Working Group has allowed me to provide support for colleagues outside of IU. The working group was tasked with providing guidance in interpreting the AHA’s digital-history evaluation guidelines to scholars, chairs and administrators working on tenure and promotion cases that include digital projects. We have done so by collecting exemplary digital projects and situating the digital components of those projects in the context of disciplinary contributions. We also connect scholars and administrators with digital historians who can provide support and external letters as part of the review process. In 2019, the AHA published a guide focused on communicating these findings to the AHA’s constituents, and I took primary responsibility for writing Project Roles and a Consideration of Process and Product, one of the central pieces of that guide.
Second, I was invited to participate in the “Arguing in Digital History Workshop,” a 2-day invitation-only workshop that brought 25 experts in digital history to George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM) to talk about challenges in the field. Since its initial meeting, the workshop has given rise to several other service opportunities. Our initial gathering to talk about how to encourage traditional argumentation in digital history resulted in a jointly produced white paper which ultimately addressed a broader set of issues that focus in integrating digital methods into the field at large, as the white paper description notes:
On the one hand, it aims to demonstrate to the wider historical discipline how digital history is already making arguments in different forms than analog scholarship. On the other hand, it aims to help digital historians weave the scholarship they produce into historiographical conversations in the discipline.
–Arguing with Digital History working group, “Digital History and Argument,” white paper, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (November 13, 2017): https://rrchnm.org/argument-white-paper/
In addition to the creation of a peer-reviewed conference, Current Research in Digital History, on which I serve as a member of the conference committee, and a resulting journal, for which I provide peer-review service, the directors of CHNM asked me to join a field of five scholars who wrote the white paper in presenting an Arguing in Digital History roundtable at the 2018 AHA annual meeting.
My service to the the field also includes peer-review and peer-contribution work in a number of forums. In 2016 and 2019, I was invited to join review panels for the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. I also provided a book review of The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars for The Medieval Review and a review of Bookworm for the Journal of American History (Journal of American History, Volume 105, Issue 1, June 2018, Pages 244–247, https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jay139). As an advisory board member for or partner in nationally funded grants that include Always Already Computational: Collections as Data and DataScribe, I can stay connected to changing trends in the world of digital humanities and contribute to the direction in which those trends develop.
Finally, I also offer communications expertise to several national and international academic societies in the realm of medieval studies. One highlight of this experience was bringing Brevia, a panel of short lightning talks designed to make space for nascent scholarship that could be developed in formal conversation at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI, to Episcopus, an organization that promotes the study of bishops and secular clergy in the Middle Ages. We developed these Brevia as the first step in encouraging open, generous scholarship in a conference setting with the idea that longer papers and articles developed out of Brevia would garner long-term support from Episcopus’ board, for which I have been the communications chair since 2012. We took advantage of this format to offer virtual presentations to presenters whose 2020 papers were postponed to the 2021 conference, and we are currently shifting our society’s priorities to support the long-term development of scholarship by contingent faculty and graduate students into conference panels on medieval bishops and secular clergy in both published and virtual-conference form. I am also the communications chair for the 2021 Medieval Academy of America, which will be hosted in Bloomington.
Service to the public
One of the more exciting service opportunities that presented itself was the chance to help design an exhibit as part of the Mather’s Museum of Art’s 800 Season’s exhibit, an offshoot of IU’s Environmental Change Grand Challenge in partnership with Eric Sandweiss, Theresa Quill, Matt Sieber, Sarah Hatcher and others. Our project revolved around a “kinetic sandbox” that uses the live movement capture of Microsoft’s X-Box platform to track the height of sand in a sandbox and project live topographical outlines, complete with colors, onto the sandbox as the user shifts the sand around into different formations. We wanted exhibit visitors to understand how water shapes the human experience in a local context, so we built two activities that asked visitors to get their hands dirty (or at least sandy) in the service of rebuilding Bloomington in a sandbox. The first provided a map of 1910 Bloomington with only topographical lines and asked visitors to try to recreate that topography in the sand; a reveal map showed them how close their sand-scape was to the reality of Bloomington and asked them where the flooding might happen during heavy rains, with the idea that they would take a better idea of how to read maps out of the exercise. The second map showed them a pre-World-War-II map and asked them to predict where a man-made reservoir now lies by digging out the map and looking at where the kinetic-sandbox projection showed water collecting, with the idea that we could impart some water-engineering understanding to visitors.
Finally, efforts in digital public history, both through teaching and partnerships with other researchers, have culminated in a now-ongoing History Harvest project that brings digital collections, digital-methods analysis, undergraduate service learning and historical research together into a single series of projects. To make this particular project possible, I wrote new or revised existing structures within a web-site generation program, Jekyll, to accommodate the collection and display of History Harvest items. Github, a free platform for storing and collaboratively editing files, offers a free web site hosting solution that reads Jekyll; pages hosted at Github can be edited on smartphones and tablets, making Github an ideal platform for minimal-computing public-engagement projects. My hope is that as we develop the History Harvest project further, that we will be able to streamline the files that support History Harvest creation and offer a package to communities who would like to host their own collections but need resource support and simple technical solutions.
Service to IU
Closer to home, support for the digital work done by other faculty and graduate students here at IU has guided my committee and working-group commitments. To that end, I’ve focused on service duties that address the importance of IU’s digital and physical infrastructure in supporting digital methods, so that there is practical support available for faculty who would like to integrate digital methods or digital tools more broadly construed into their teaching and research.
As co-director of the Institute for Digital Arts and Humanities, my service to the University has drawn on the history department’s goals and needs to help other humanities researchers and educators. In addition to fellowship administration and consulting for both faculty and student fellows, I work with my colleague Michelle Dalmau, and our research assistants and office staff, to manage several active speaker series and a weeklong Summer Incubator, which is designed to jumpstart 6 digital-methods research projects each year. In late July of 2020, we completed our third-year review, which is available publicly.
Beyond IDAH, I’ve also made it a mission to find ways to merge the technical needs of digital methods with the broad variety of concerns driven by researchers and teachers across IU’s campus. Work in virtual and physical spaces on campus and system wide, as well as contributions to the college strategic plan, have provided inroads for history to make its needs and presence known campus wide. At an IU-system level, I’ve provided infrastructure-oriented service as a Mosaic Fellow and on the Smart Classroom Working Group. In Bloomington, I’ve served as the faculty representative on the Bloomington Faculty Council Teaching and Learning Spaces Committee (2019-2020) and on the Bloomington Faculty Council Tech Policy Committee (2019-2020). These service commitments have given the Department of History input into the shape of IU’s future classrooms and technology needs across the entire system. The result is a vision of a smart classroom that is flexible enough to support faculty who prefer minimal technology, faculty who do active learning, and faculty who combine active learning with technology. Participation in the 2016-2017 College Strategic Planning Committee as a member of the Facilities and Technology committee documented the IT and computer support needs of College Faculty, our wish for more effective communication of technical and classroom resources, and updated department-by-department considerations for the responsibility-centered management budgeting that drives IU systemwide allocations.
Service to the department
Much of my work for the department clearly ties to teaching and professional digital-history development, or the research that supports those two endeavors. While it may seem like maintaining our department’s web presence is an outlier, redeveloping the department’s web site, it too aligns with these historical considerations. Maintaining it and offering it as a communication platform has given me yet another avenue through which I can make use of my industry skillset to bring the work and tools of a professional historian to bear on public life. I’ve drawn on the research skills of a historian to understand our audience needs and the evidence-based user-interface practices that dominate the world of web design as I tackle these web-based administrative tasks. As a result, many of these administrative service tasks have both professional and personal payoff.
A new-look launch in May of 2016, which dominated the first 8 months of my appointment, took content from the old site and repurposed it in the context of a new design with features that are both better suited to the smartphones on which the bulk of our audience view the site and to making our web presence more widely accessible for viewers with visual impairment. Elements of this redesign were instrumental in helping the campus at large as it moved wholesale to the new platform in which I developed the site. Notably, The College of Arts & Sciences used elements from the course listings, faculty profiles, publication listings and newsletter formats that I developed as templates for a College-wide rollout of in other departments. A full content update of the web site in Sept 2016, largely focused on undergraduate and graduate needs, included newly written copy across the entirety of the site and a variety of new photos to accompany the copy (some of which I took). The notable changes included mechanisms for faculty to do simple content updates to their own faculty pages, a sophisticated course-listing page that helps with undergraduate-registration marketing, and a graduate student listing that will help us use up-to-date graduate profiles for intellectual and recruiting purposes.
In 2017, I began to think about how the web site might serve as an administrative center to help us coordinate course offerings, manage our day-to-day teaching needs, and help students navigate the university’s policies and procedures. The transfer of some of the forms we use for administrative purposes—course requests, faculty voting, undergraduate surveys, graduate student admissions ratings, etc.—from Word to online form began in late 2018. This process accelerated during the Spring 2020 COVID-19 closure. Because we had familiarized our faculty and staff with the process, it was much easier to manage these faculty governance items remotely. I hope that refining these processes when we’re not in a time crunch and stressed by a pandemic will help further reduce administrative load for faculty as we plan and offer courses, as well as limiting the instances in which our administrative staff have to do a second round of redundant data entry.
Finally, in 2019 and 2020, the foundation we built as a department to handle simple administrative tasks gave us a platform to speak out on issues that face history departments everywhere. First, in the process of reformatting our alumni newsletter in summer and fall of 2019, I wrote several alumni features on graduates of IU’s program whose careers offer a vision of how the history Ph.D. serves our alumni working outside of the academy. These features brought visibility to the department’s focus on the many career paths open to history PhDs, which we have pursued as a member of the Association of American Universities’ PhD Education Initiative; they also provided publicity for alumni from our department whose careers have taken them to a variety of positions not often featured in alumni newsletters, providing both a point of pride for our existing alumni and a set of role models for our current graduate students. When we were called on to handle a semester of remote learning, the web site celebrated our graduates and their paths to the practice of history.
Since May of 2016, more than 189,000 viewers have come to the Department of History’s web site to find out more about the contributions our students, faculty and staff make here at IU and beyond. More than 50,000 people have learned about our faculty research specialities and more than 14,000 undergraduates have depended on our course listings to make their enrollment choices. As our department’s major communal public platform, the web site played a vital role as we tackled the world of remote communication in Spring of 2020. Department-wide efforts to promote research, archival work and student celebrations included a virtual Spring Symposium for our 2020 History Honors students, and a virtual “stage” for our graduates to walk across.
A coda (or: “What’s next?”)
While much of my work feels technical in nature–designing software, teaching students how to structure data–these technical choices are rooted in a commitment to the values of a historian. The technological considerations of a world dominated by smartphones and digital archives should accommodate the needs of the people operating in that world. As I built the page that offered our Spring 2020 graduates their virtual commencement stage, I was reminded that the value of an appointment that melds the digital and the historical is in its ability to communicate with living people. Guiding students and colleagues through the use of digital platforms to explore historical documents has underscored the fact that what we produce now will be part of the meaning-making in which future historians engage. My appointment is part of that meaning-making, and the projects in which I am currently mid-stage–from the department’s web site, to building the next version of Net.Create, to collecting the next round of material culture for a new History Harvest–contribute to the creation of new knowledge about our collective past.