#thatcamp report part 3 (finally!)

Here at last is my final installment of my experiences at ThatCamp.  The conference proceedings will be released on August 1st so you can read more about the sessions there.  Meanwhile, I’ll give my reflections on what I got out of the sessions.

Since the first session day coincided with Bloomsday, I sat in on the hacking session Visualizing Ulysses.  Here is Amanda Visconti’s report on the results so far.  Amanda is looking for volunteers to help with this, so if interested, please contact her directly.

We got done a bit early, so I attended the tail end of Mark Sample’s session on building a better blogging assignment.  Lots of good ideas, some of which I might actually implement this semester!

After lunch, I attended a session on museums and authority.  It didn’t interest me as much as I expected so I utilized the rule of two feet and wandered between a few other sessions before I decided to collect my thoughts for the session I proposed, More Disruptive Pedagogy: Thoughts on Teaching an Un-Course.  Attendance was great, maybe because Mills Kelly was mistakenly listed as session organizer!  As I wrote in my proposal, ”

The idea for this session stems from my experiences and challenges teaching a graduate public history course on the theory and practice of digital history.  The first challenge I face has to do with coverage: what are the most important things that students should know to get a reasonable introduction to the field?  The second challenge regards levels of experience: some students have little or no experience with anything beyond word processing and using an online catalog; others are far more advanced in their skill level (the last time I taught the course I had a student with an undergraduate degree in computer science. Talk about a humbling experience). The third challenge is keeping up with the field and making sure that the course stays fresh and up to date.

So, what I’d like to discuss is — would the un-conference model, in which students decide on at least some of the themes and topics of the course, work for a graduate level course?”  Mills has an excellent post on what we discussed.  I still don’t know if/when I will use the “un-course” idea but the pedagogy of disruption intrigues me enough to pursue it further.

#Thatcamp report part 2: workshops

Here’s the second  part of my THATCamp report.  Friday was a full day of various workshops for those interested in learning more about specific digital tools.  I decided to start by honing my Omeka skills and took Sharon Leon’s workshop on Web Publishing for Humanists.  While the session was aimed primarily at beginners, I did learn a few new things and got a chance to create a mock website for the department.

Next, I attended a workshop on Viewshare, taught by Trevor Owens, a digital archivist at the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program (NDIIPP) in the Office of Strategic Initiatives at the Library of Congress. According to the website, “Viewshare is a free, Library-of-Congress-sponsored platform that empowers historians, librarians, archivists and curators to create and customize dynamic interfaces to collections of digital content.” Go watch the screencast and hopefully you will agree it’s pretty cool.  One problem — it doesn’t work with newer versions of ContentDM, which is what the CCSU library and the CT State Library use for their digital collections.  I think there are plans to fix this in the future.

The last workshop I attended was on Digital Humanities and Mobile Devices taught by Mike Tedeschi.  Here is a link to the slides for his presentation.  My energy level and attention span by this point were pretty minimal so I left early and went for a run to give my brain a rest up before another full day of that-camping.

#THATcamp report part 1: Roy Rosenzweig Forum on Technology and Humanities

Hi folks,

I’m back from a busy four days at THATCamp CHNM (aka THATCamp Prime). I’ll start by discussing the fascinating presentation by Pamela Wright, Chief Digital Access Strategist at the National Archives and Records Administration about the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, online projects created with the recently-released 1940 census data, and other exciting digital projects from “our nation’s attic.” I thought Sharon Leon‘s choice to use an interview format was excellent and made for a much more dynamic and engaging forum than a straight-up presentation. The Citizen Archivist Dashboard grew out of the Open Government Platform initiated by President Obama. The goal of Citizen Archivist is to make NARA’s documents more accessible while also serving as a forum for engaging the public in the intellectual work that makes accessibility happen. Pam realized that simply opening the archive’s data to the public without any guidelines would be like dumping out a load of raw cake batter: it might be yummy for the most dedicated enthusiasts (e.g. “Lincoln Lady”) but most people would like to have a “cupcake” — i.e. a specific task or subject on which to work (e.g. the Titanic is the featured “cupcake” right now).

So far, Citizen Archivist has been wildly popular: within two weeks of going live, the archive received 1,000 page transcriptions (by contrast it took Sharon several years to reach the same number of transcribed pages for the Papers of the War Department). The 1940 census received 20 million hits the morning it went live.  Pam hoped that one of the hackers at THATCamp or elsewhere would design a “pocket archivist” app that would allow users to upload images while they are doing research at NARA. She also asked for suggestions for other topics and projects to add to the initiative.

Another way that NARA engaged the public was in the redesign of its website. They received 4 choices from the designer and then let the public vote on which one they liked best. Voters overwhelmingly chose the simplest design (which many at NARA found too minimalist). This is something to keep in mind as my colleagues and I set out to redesign our department website.  Perhaps we should survey our students to see what they want from a website?

Stressing quality over quantity, or why I’m not worried I haven’t blogged in awhile

via Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog

Cohen has just redesigned his blog.  Here’s why:

“the thinking behind this redesign goes back to the beginning of this blog, when I struggled, in a series called “Creating a Blog from Scratch,” with how best to highlight the most important feature of the site: the writing. As I wrote in “Creating a Blog from Scratch, Part I: What is a Blog, Anyway?” I wanted to author my own blogging software so I could “emphasize, above all, the subject matter and the content of each post.” The existing blogging packages I had considered had other priorities apparent in their design, such as a prominent calendar showing how frequently you posted. I wanted to stress quality over quantity.”

Unlike Cohen, I’m not planning on writing my own blogging software (or any software for that matter).  But, I do like the idea of waiting until I have something meaningful to say rather than accumulating posts for the sake of doing so.

I will be attending THATCamp CHNM 2012 (aka ThatCamp Prime) where I hope to learn and/or polish some useful things for my teaching and research.  So, I might write about that.  Or not.  We’ll see how the summer goes.



Happy Second Birthday #twitterstorians

Two years ago today, Katrina Gulliver began compiling a list of fellow historians on Twitter, and coined the term “twitterstorian” to describe this group.  She also instructed to use the #twitterstorian hashtag (which I don’t always remember to do!).   Although I was a relative newcomer to Twitter, she invited me to a Twitterstorians happy hour and dinner at this year’s AHA convention in Boston.  In honor of this anniversary Katrina has asked us to write about our experiences with Twitter, how it has helped with our research, networking, finding information, and so forth.

In my experience, Jeremy Boggs nicely sums up the advantages and disadvantages of Twitter with the pithy phrase: “Twitter to connect, blogging to reflect.”  Readers of this blog will notice that my output here has dwindled since I joined Twitter, which is why I have my feed embedded on the blog, and have my feed automatically compiled as the Knitting Clio daily.   The “daily” isn’t just for my fans, though:  it’s the only way I can keep up with all the cool stuff that posted by those I follow without going out of my mind!   Even then, it feels overwhelming.  Also, the daily only compiles shared links, not the back and forth conversation on the network.  I don’t check the status updates on a constant basis — I just can’t or I wouldn’t get any work done (or find time to ride my bike, or knit, or play guitar, or sleep, or other stuff I like to do).

So, in short, Twitter has been a great way to connect with new people and to get new information about trends in the field.  The downside is that most of my digital output has shifted to Twitter and the longer, reflective writing that I used to do on this blog has shrunk considerably.  I need to find a balance, somehow.

Getting Ready for #BigBerks aka #Berks2011

Hi folks,

Like many historians of women I’m getting ready to head off to the Fifteenth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women  at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst on June 9-12.  (See the program here).  Note:  this is a conference on the history of women, not a conference just for female historians — men, both cis and trans, are welcome as well (as are, of course, trans-women).

If you want to meet other women’s historians who blog, come to the  meet-up organized by Historiann.  This will be held Friday afternoon from 5:30-6:30  in the Grad Lounge of the Lincoln Campus. If you consult the campus map on page 27 of the program, you’ll see that the Lincoln Campus Center is also the conference hotel, and is right across the street from Worcester Dining, where you can find your dinner after the meetup.In addition to yours truly, you can meet Tenured RadicalClio Bluestocking, Another Damned Medievalist, Janice Liedl

Now, why am I using this “#” thing in the title of this blog post?  Well, because I’ve set up this blog so that my posts are automatically sent to my Twitter feed (see column at left.  My Twitter name is @hmprescott).  You can follow the Berkshire Conference feed using @Berksconference.  But that’s only part of the Twitter experience.  If you want to find out what other Twitter users are saying, use #BigBerks and/or #Berks2011.

I’m one of the few people who was allowed to appear more than once on the program because a session commentator dropped out.  This is quite an honor — but I can’t help expressing a minor gripe to the conference organizers:  did you have to put both my panels back to back, on opposite sides of campus?!  Otherwise, great job at putting together an impressive program.

Yesterday, I got an important question from Cliotropic, aka Shane Landrum via Twitter (@Cliotropic).   Shane will be attending his first Berkshire Conference and wanted to know what to wear.  He said in a direct message: “Since you’ve attended the Berks before & I haven’t: how dressed-up is it? I’m assuming “tie, no jacket” for presenting but want to be sure.”  To which I replied, ” The Berks are supposed to be casual and I’m fighting those who want to turn it into the AHA. So, shorts, no tie!”  I then tweeted:  “recommended dress code for #BigBerks aka #Berks2011 — casual please! #nottheAHA”

Seriously, the first time I attended the Berkshire Conference, at Douglass College, Rutgers University, in 1990, it was like a summer camp.  Most of the attendees wore shorts and t-shirts — the most dressed up had on sun dresses and casual skirts.  Then I noticed a disturbing trend, starting with the 1993 conference at Vassar — folks were dressing to impress.  There were power suits!  Fancy dresses.  Oh no, we’re becoming the AHA.  Not good!

So, I’m making a plea to all of you who are packing to head off to Western Massachusetts — please think casual casual.  Dress for comfort.  In particular, keep in mind that we are going to have record heat — mid-90s — for the first day or two of the conference, with high humidity.  Unlike other areas of the country, air conditioning is not a standard feature of college and university buildings in the Northeast.  So, don’t assume that the room you’ve been assigned will be cooled to perfection (or beyond — seriously, why do you folks in warm climates set the thermostat at or below 60 degrees — isn’t that considered winter where you are?)  This being New England, the weather will go in the other direction — it cool off by Saturday with showers during the day and perhaps downright chilly evenings.

Okay, enough advice.  Got to finish the comments for my second panel.  Hope to see some of you soon!

What I Would Want from a History Web Conference

via ArchivesNext.  Those who read my blog know that I’ve been to a couple of conferences lately and have yet to write reports.  I’m about to go off to another next week, and yet another at the end of June.

In an effort to get caught up on what I’m getting out of all this conferencing, I’m replying to questions posed at Archivesnext about “the possibilities of using the popular Museums and the Web conference as a model for something like a History & the Web conference. The concept would be to connect organizations with historical collections and the people who use them to make the web a better place for studying and expanding our knowledge about history. Possible participants and stakeholders could include:

  • organizations like archives, museums, special collections, historical societies, and libraries who have historical collections and build tools to access them, and the people who work in such organizations
  • scholars and researchers who have used materials available on the web in innovative ways or who have built their own tools to promote access to historical collections
  • scholars and researchers who study how historical materials are used
  • educators at all levels who use historical materials available on the Web in their teaching
  • people or organizations from other fields who have projects that can be used as models for the history community (such as the citizen science efforts)
  • students and educators in archival science, library science, museum studies, public history, and history who are studying the use of the web for the study of history

One question that being asked is what would people most like to get out of a conference like this?”

I thought this post was great because I attended Museums and the Web this year and while I thought it was great was very overwhelmed.  It also seemed like there weren’t many participants from history museums and other heritage organizations, and hardly any from history departments with public history programs.  So, I think there is definitely a need for a separate place to address the interests of this subgroup.  Here’s my reply to the query at Archivesnext:

“The short answer is yes, there needs to be something like this and I think NCPH would be the best venue for this. I also think that in order to get more involved in the field there needs to be some concrete, hands-on training in technical skills. Although I teach a graduate course in digital history, I’m largely self-taught and my skills are way behind those who attend and present at THATCamp and Museums and the Web. I attended the latter this past April and while I enjoyed it I also felt overwhelmed at how little I know how to do, and how poorly I know how to do that.”

There is now a follow-up post at Archivesnext to ask for more concrete suggestions:

  • The objectives or goals for a History & the Web conference should be . . .
  • I think we need a new conference because . . .
  • The audience for a History & the Web conference would be . . .
  • I want to see these activities at a History & the Web conference . . .
  • I would like a History & the Web conference to achieve these outcomes . . .
  • I think the most important thing for the planners to keep in mind is that the event  . . . (for example, be affordable, have an online virtual component, attract international participation, attract diverse participation, have opportunities for informal collaboration, attract as many participants as possible, be small and regional, etc.)

They wanted these all by the end of May, but I was buried in exams and, of course, getting ready for my upcoming conferences!  They only received two replies so far so maybe it’s not too late to join the conversation.

Also, my colleagues at Trinity College is soliciting comments and ideas for Writing History in the Digital Age, an born digital, open-review volume under contract with University of Michigan press.

Blogging for Emergency Contraception

via Back Up Your Birth Control.  Today is the 10th annual national day of action for Back Up Your Birth Control, a media campaign sponsored by the National Institute for Reproductive Health. I’ve agreed to blog to raise awareness about this.

Because I’m a shameless self-promoter, I’m also going to start with an update on my forthcoming book, The Morning After: A History of Emergency Contraception in the United States.  The page proofs will be arriving in a couple of weeks.  Meanwhile, here’s the blurb that will appear on the publisher’s website, catalog, and the book cover:

“Since 2006, when the “morning-after pill” Plan B was first sold over the counter, sales of emergency contraceptives have soared, becoming an $80 million industry in the United States and throughout the Western world. But emergency contraception is nothing new. It has a long and often contentious history as the subject of clashes not only between medical researchers and religious groups, but also between different factions of feminist health advocates.

The Morning After tells the story of emergency contraception in America from the 1960s to the present day and, more importantly, it tells the story of the women who have used it. Side-stepping simplistic readings of these women as either radical feminist trailblazers or guinea pigs for the pharmaceutical industry, medical historian Heather Munro Prescott offers a portrait of how ordinary women participated in the development and popularization of emergency contraception, bringing a groundbreaking technology into the mainstream with the potential to radically alter reproductive health practices.”

I had to stop somewhere, so the book shortchanges the most recent developments — especially the most recent efforts to use of social media to raise awareness of EC. [BTW, the Back Up Your Birth Control campaign has a Facebook page and you can find related posts on Twitter using #backitup and/or by following @nirhealth).

The use of the Web to promote EC originated in the early 1990s with the emergency contraception website at Princeton. The Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign began amidst the battle to get the FDA to approve Plan B as an over-the-counter drug.  What’s interesting to me as a historian is the use of graphic artist J. Howard Miller’s “We Can Do It” poster, which he created for Westinghouse under the sponsorship of War Production Board (this image should not be confused with the Norman Rockwell painting “Rosie the Riveter” that appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post May 29, 1943, and is still under copyright.  The Rockwell paiting was recently acquired by the Bentonville Museum in Arkansas, founded by Wal-mart heiress Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation — oh the irony!).  Personally, I like the Rockwell image better, but do you think the Waltons will allow anyone to use it without paying major $$ — not bloody likely!  “We Can Do It” does not have such copyright restrictions, so various groups use it freely.  (for more on these images and American popular culture, go here).  It’s become a feminist icon of female empowerment, but this article demonstrates that “during World War II the empowering rhetorical appeal of this Westinghouse image was circumscribed by the conditions of its use and by several other posters in its series.”

Returning to EC — the history of the various awareness campaigns over the years is fascinating but was nearly impossible to illustrate in the book because, like many of us, the organizations that created these images didn’t preserve them once they were no longer useful.  Others put them on their websites, then discarded the original files.  Then there’s the problem of finding the copyright holder and getting permission from him/her.  Here’s an image that I couldn’t use because there was no digital file that had a high enough resolution for reproduction — it also nicely sums up my frustrations with the whole process:

image courtesy of Canadian Federation for Sexual Health

So, here’s a recommendation for the Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign — back up your “born digital” materials and preserve your digital heritage!