Digital presentation and communication with research

Mongol InvasionOur topic in class today come from the following readings:

    • Cohen and Rosenzweig ch. 5-7 (Building an Audience, Collection History Online, Owning the Past)
    • Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly, “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5,” Essays on History and New Media, http://chnm.gmu.edu/essays-on-history-new-media/essays/?essayid=47
    • Doug Seefeldt and William G. Thomas, “What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplary Projects.” Perspectives on History 47 (5), May 2009.
      http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/historyfacpub/98/ (make sure to download and read the actual paper.
    • grad students should also read: Orville Vernon Burton and Simon Appleford, “Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences,” in ECAR (Educause Center for Applied Research) Bulletin 9: 1 (January 13, 2009): 2-11. http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERB0901.pdf

For me the following statement from Burton and Appleford’s article ties these readings together: (page 8) “Any effort to seed digital humanities centers consequently must focus considerable energy in building relationships…” Cohen and Rosenzweig’s discussions in Chapters 5 – 7, certainly delve towards establishing relationships in research. Building an audience for your work is establishing a relationship, collecting history online, is a collaborative effort and consist of relationships, and gathering like minded collaborators on projects is building working relationships. Great examples of these communication relationships can be found in http://hurricanearchive.org and the 9-11 archive. These web pages create and foster a public participation as well as research participation, bringing both together in cyberspace.

For my research with the letters from war, I am daunted by Cohen and Rosenweig’s Chapter 6, “Collecting History Online.” A bad candidate for projects, the authors state, are any target topics before WW II. When I read this, I grew somewhat disheartened. But, after reading Brennan and Kelly’s article “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5” I understood my mission. The authors reference the Hurricane archive and the September 11 archive as a place where the public can participate by adding their own memories and images. These two web sites were fascinating to me. I felt that these were just a contemporary version of what letter writing is. While the public participants weren’t actually writing a physical letter, they were still digitally recording an emotion, thought, feeling, which is similar to what soldiers did in their letters home during war before computers were even a part of everyday life. Why can’t those be a part of the digital archive for future generations? People could even become participants and collaborators in recording these letters. Many of what I find on my ebay searches are collections that others have picked up in estate sales. Would there be a way to reach out and have them be able to upload them or help transcribe them?

I also would have to consider who my target audience would be in generating this archive. Brennen and Kelly reference the hurricane site and September 11 site as digital memory banks. Would there be future scholars who would even want to research these letters, or would this just be a passion of mine? Brennan and Kelly’s article certainly support the Cohen and Rosenzweig’s chapter 6, and go further by giving examples of how to market your sites. I was impressed by the Maris Gras cups with the URL on them, as well as the pre-paid postcard for recording handwritten memories. (Of course that’s just me and my letter writing affliction.)

Seefelt and Thomas’ article “What is Digital History? A look at some Exemplary Projects” talk about the communication revolution which transpired in the 1990s. They were right on the money when they stated it changed historical scholarship and teaching. With the GIS interest and new approaches towards spatial history, new insight is brought to research by being able to examine things three-dimensionally. I wonder how I could incorporate that into my letters? I’ve thought about tracking the authors on the journey from home, to camp, to battlefields, and either back home or the gravesites. It would be interesting to me to spatially see the movement of men to specific camps around the US.

Seefelt and Thomas’ article also left me with some thoughts about digital humanities:

Few scholars have engaged in digital medium because: 1)  No well defined examples of digital scholarship, 2) No established best practices, and 3) No clear standards of review for tenure.

This statement makes me focus on just how new all of this is for the humanities. How can we move to make digital history a more prevalent methodological approach than what it currently is? Perhaps it just takes more communication and more relationship building.

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