Why I’m in the George Mason University digital public history program – 3rd version

Hi Tim Roberts here. I have a longish background in traditional teaching and scholarship in American history. I am a professor and graduate studies director of a history department at a small university.

I had two principal interests in studying in the GMU digital public history program. One was to attain skills in showcasing some of my research in digital projects as an augmentation or alternative to publishing books and journal articles. The other was to learn how to develop and teach a college-level class in digital humanities, especially digital history.

So far in the program (the first two courses) I have been impressed by the potential of tools in the digital humanities to broaden how historians conduct and communicate research. The digital era redefines traditional concepts of things and activities like archives, authorship, scholarly independence, reading and attributing sources, and publishing. I have experimented with some tools, particularly Omeka and Palladio, in two class-required projects and in a course I myself have been concurrently teaching. I consider those projects marginally successful, though have found learning how to fine-tune Omeka’s and Palladio’s features frustrating, and am surprised how little formal support there appears to be available from either those projects’ institutional designers or simply open-access web sources. As I wrote in a comment this spring, while digital scholars rightly espouse public collaboration, I wonder what that really looks like. Does it mean merely that the public is invited to share raw data, leaving it to scholars to interpret, manipulate, and display, as cultivated by various important “crowdsourcing” digital projects we have studied? Or does it mean that the public is invited to learn tools to conduct and communicate their own digital research. More than once I have invoked the old image of “Everyman His Own Historian,” a phrase coined by an eminent historian Carl Becker in 1931. To what extent does digital public history (try to) fulfill Becker’s ambition? That’s perhaps a bit rantish to share at the beginning of this course, but it’s a question the prior courses’ have stirred me to think about.

My goal for this course is to get some good experience in developing learning objectives and rubrics for teaching a college-level class in digital history, particularly in a way that students have the chance to learn by doing. There are no such classes where I teach at present at the undergraduate or graduate level, though there are courses in other departments that engage students in digital media. Ideally, I could apply my learning in this class towards developing an interdisciplinary digital studies curriculum at my institution.

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