digital history

Folks, please apply to this awesome unconference that I’m helping to organize–and of which archaeologist, serious games expert, and all around instigator Ethan Watrall is the mastermind.  Applications due 2/10!

Announcing Great Lakes THATCamp

Held on the campus of Michigan State University on March 20th and 21st, Great Lakes THATCamp (The Humanities And Technology Camp) is a user-generated “unconference” on digital humanities originally inspired by the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University.

At THATCamp 2009, CHNM floated the idea of holding regional camps around the country, an idea that quickly took hold, leading to events in Austin, Texas (THATCamp Austin) Washington state (THATcamp Pacific Northwest), Columbus, OH (THATCamp Columbus) as well as planned events in California (THATCamp SoCal), and Paris (THATCamp Paris).

Who Should Attend?

Anyone interested in studying, supporting, teaching, researching, creating or otherwise shaping digital humanities, humanistic social sciences, information sciences, new media, and any other allied fields.
You can be an academic, a librarian, an archivist, a developer, a writer, a student (grad or undergrad), a curator, a designer, an educator, a public historian, an archaeologist, an independent scholar, or any combination thereof (as most of us are). You can be an expert or a newbie; as long as you have something to talk about and things you want to learn regarding the intersection and integration of the humanities and technology, this is the place to be. The list of “who should attend” is as broad as the field of “digital humanities” itself.

So, No Suits, No Papers…What Do You do?

Show, tell, collaborate, share, and walk away inspired. Sessions at Great Lakes THATCamp will range from software demos to training sessions to discussions of research findings to half-baked rants. The only real thing we don’t want to see is people standing up and reading a full blown paper, this isn’t your typical academic conference – we’re not here to read or be read to.

Submitting a Proposal

Submitting a proposal to Great Lakes THATCamp is easy. Just fill out the form on the website ( No formal (lengthy) proposal is required – just a brief description of what you would like to talk about. Unfortunately, we can only accept a max of 75 people, so we’re going to have to do some vetting. Deadline for submitting is February 10th, 2010.

Hacking Wearables and E-Textiles Workshop

In addition to sessions, Great Lakes THATCamp will be hosting a “Hacking Wearables & E-Textiles Workshop.” Organized by Bill Turkel and Beth Nowviskie, the workshop will allow participants will play with components like the Lilypad Arduino (, a tiny computer that can be sewn into clothing, stuffed toys, textiles and other craft items to create soft, interactive devices that are ‘high-touch’ as well as high tech. The workshop is intended for people of all skill levels – so no prior experience is required.

The workshop will be limited to those who are attending Great Lakes THATCamp (and only 20 people max). So, if you are interested in participating, just fill out the relevant sections of the form when you submit your Great Lakes THATCamp application.

How Much Does Great Lakes THATCamp Cost?

THATCamp isn’t your average academic conference, so you aren’t going to have to pay an expensive conference registration fee. All we ask is that all attendees pay $25 to cover meals (attendees will be provided breakfast & lunch during the event), as well as a t-shirt to commemorate the event.

For more information on Great Lakes THATCamp, go to Any questions can be sent directly to Ethan Watrall (


Over the last few months, the museum blogosphere has been talking about conferences.  Are conferences broken?  Yes.  (Particularly in environmental terms.)  Do we still need f2f conferences? Yes! Folks have been discussing other models, like virtual conferences, conferences as discrete points in ongoing conversations, Maker Faire (or skillshares in general?)  and camp.

I’m happy to say that I’m going to camp,  THATcamp, this weekend at CHNM.  There will be a bit of a mw2009 reunion there, it looks like (a conference that is not broken), and many of my favorite digital historians will be there, including many internet friends whom I’ve met and many I’ve yet to meet.  I expect that this will be an extremely well-tweeted conference, and also watch the THATcamp blog for ideas both already presented and emerging.

I see my role at THATcamp as mostly jumping up and down to say “What about museums?  What about material culture?”  That was basically my proposal:  “I’d like to talk about how to make museum collections, particularly three dimensional artifacts of material culture, part of ongoing digital humanities work. What are the challenges involved in 3D imaging, providing access, building ways for visitors and scholars to interact and engage with non-scanner-ready historical collections?”  Luckily, it looks like other campers are thinking about these issues too!  I’ll keep you posted on our discussions.

I’m going to post wrap-ups of my NCPH experience throughout the week, but here’s a morsel to start with.

(crossposted at the NCPH 2009 conference blog)

Public history is happening on the web. In Friday’s Digital Projects Showcase, we saw 10 presentations about web projects in various stages of development. The session was unfortunately in a small, narrow room where sounds of revelry penetrated from the reception outside, and many of the projects were presented with screenshots rather than live. A better presentation might be as a digital poster session where interested parties could explore the projects hands-on and ask questions directly. This could also help the developers evaluate usability for historians and researchers. For now, I’ve linked to all the projects so you can explore on your own.

CHNM‘s Hurricane Digital Memory Bank

Mass Memories Roadshow from UMass Boston, “a state-wide digital humanities project that documents Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories,” through community scanning events, and their Mass history social network (on Ning).

Annapolis GIS, which provides access to locational data around urban archaeology in Annapolis.

PhilaPlace, about Philadelphia neighborhoods and communities, launches in September. It uses Collective Access as a backend.

Venerable community collections project Maine Memory Net has been facilitating some innovative collaborations.

Lehigh Digital Library’s Beyond Steel. Want to know who lived in a particular house, what plant they worked for, if they owned or boarded? Beyond Steel can tell you.

The Knowledge Cube, still in the planning stages, from Clarkson.

Virtual tours of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, still under development.

(I regret to say that I missed the last two presentations, and can only find a link to one of them. Sorry, civil war mappers from WVU!)

Mapping Memories of Fox Point maps oral histories of Fox Point, Providence, and creates “memory maps” for each person’s experience of the place.

The NCPH has been establishing spaces and places for public historians to connect online.  Please come and join in.  As Cathy Stanton asked on H-Public, What does the changing digital face of the public history field look like?  Let’s find out!

Please join, for instance, our Facebook page , which has 250 fans and counting.  You can read a superinteresting piece on the history of “public history” and the NCPH there as well.  There’s also a LinkedIn group (the Linkedin group is just for NCPH members).  

I also challenge you all to contribute to this neat project, an “online brainstorming session,” called Forward Capture (built in Omeka, natch) to collect and visualize how public historians conceptualize the past and future of “public history.”  This is a place where anyone interested in the place of history and material culture  in public life can contribute to a collective vision and revisioning.  I am asking my archivist readers particularly to think about how they will do history in the future, and how they might be involved a big tent public history field.  (I also challenge myself to contribute soon!)

Many congratulations to our colleague Larry Cebula at Northwest History, who has received the Cliopatria award for Best Individual Blog this year.  Public historians should be proud of his excellent work.*  Good choice, Cliopatricians!

Here are the rest of the winners:

Best Group BlogThe Edge of the American West

Witty and insightful, the Edge of the American West puts the group in group blog, with frequent contributions from an irreverent band that includes several historians, a grad student in philosophy, a grad student in literature, and a software developer. Always entertaining, often enlightening, the blog features snazzy visuals—graphs, photos, videos—and zippy writing on everything from meditations on Obama, to a reflection on the 1967 Detroit riots, to tips for preparing for an academic job interview.

Ari Kelman and Eric Rauchway of the history department at UC, Davis, founded The Edge and are now joined in it by others.

Best Individual BlogNorthwest History

In addition to a strong focus on the historical materials and historiography of the American Northwest, Prof. Cebula introduces and explains digital resources and techniques with great range and depth. The writing is engaging and incisive and the result both entertaining and very useful.

Larry Cebula is a Public Historian at Eastern Washington University and Assistant Digital Archivist at the Washington State Digital Archives.

Best New BlogWynken de Worde

Wynken de Worde is a blog about books: not only their history, but also their cultural significance and myriad uses. It’s richly illustrated and always immensely thoughtful. Though the focus is on Renaissance and Elizabethan materials, Sarah Werner brings the history to life, and also addresses the present state of books, reading and intellectual property as well.

Dr. Sarah Werner is Director of the Undergraduate Program at the Folger Shakespeare Library and a scholar of Shakesperean and Renaissance drama.

Best Post: Claire Potter, Tenured Radical, “What Would Natalie Zemon Davis Do?” 19 June 2008.

In this eloquent, well-argued response to the blogger Rusticus’ attack on women’s history and women historians, Potter uses a 1988 exchange between Natalie Zemon Davis and Robert Finlay to illustrate how women’s history can “illuminate what it meant to be human” while showing “how to argue in a civilized way.” She argues that historians succeed because they persuade their colleagues, male and female; this blog post is a good example of one such success.

Claire Potter is a professor of History and American Studies at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University.

Best Series of Posts: Tim Abbott on Trumbull’s The Death of General MontgomeryJan. 12Jan. 13Jan. 14Jan. 17Jan. 18.

The examination of Jonathan Trumbull’s famous painting The Death of General Montgomery in Attack on Quebec, December 31 1775 over five posts at Tim Abbott’s Walking the Berkshires is good scholarly writing and engaging analysis. Abbott raises intriguing questions about historical memory, as he guides his readers through the examination of historical records.

Tim Abbott is a conservation professional.

Best WriterZunguzungu

Whether in his examination of Henry Morton Stanley’s encounter with Dr. Livingstone, or tracing the African imaginary in Charlton Heston’s Naked Jungle or his expositions of John Ford’s American West, Zunguzungu is always thought- provoking and illuminating. His writing consistently demonstrates a gift of narrative and the willingness to eschew easy questions. He draws heavily on visuals to augment his readings, but never at the expense of readability. 

Zunguzungu is a graduate student in English. His project is broadly concerned with tracking the extent to which “America’s Africa” and “Africa’s America” have been mutually constitutive — even, occasionally, dialogic — narratives of identity.


*I am particularly proud since I nominated Northwest History for the award.

Check out this cool new historic mapping application.  DC Historic Tours uses open data from the District to map historic landmarks, structures, and districts, city heritage tours, African-American heritage sites and DC heritage trails, and where to get a pizza afterwards.  You can also create your own tour.  The application is part of the Apps for Democracy contest, which challenges developers to create useful apps from DC municipal data. (via)

Check out the demo videos for this interesting project, World History, which mashes map data and historical content about people, events, artifacts, photos and so on. (I found the middle video, How Content Works, particularly cool, if you have time for just one).  You can, for instance, see on the map all of George Washington’s travel to battles and other events throughout his entire life, matched with modern photos of the places and information on collaborators and events.  Or you can see events that happened in Detroit at any given point in time.  You can also access, upload and develop genealogical data about your family and map their locations, movements, and relationship to events, places and other people (if your ancestor died at Dunkirk, for instance, you could enter that information into content around the battle.)  World History seems to pull most of its content from Wikipedia at the moment,  but it will hopefully be more populated when it gets into public beta and more people start contributing.  Also it sounds like they’ll release an API.

I’m always happy to see new ways to connect people to history.  I can see a lot of interesting museum applications, especially because they want to key artifacts to the map.  Keep your eyes on this one. (via)

This upcoming conference on maintaining digital collections still has some seats left, so register today. 

Persistence of Memory:
Sustaining Digital Collections 
December 9-10, 2008
Chicago, Illinois

Co-sponsored by 
American Library Association 
Center for Research Libraries 
Society of American Archivists

What is Persistence of Memory? This conference, taught by a faculty of national experts, addresses the question of digital longevity. Institutions are rapidly acquiring collections of digitized and born-digital resources. Without intervention, these materials will not survive even a single human career. This two-day conference will highlight evolving best practices for digital preservation to help you with the life-cycle management of your institution’s collections. 

Who should attend? Librarians, archivists, museum professionals, information technology specialists, chief information officers, and administrators responsible for managing and preserving digital resources. 

Conference topics include:

  • Preservation in the Age of Google
  • Digital Collections that Persist
  • Electronic Collections and the Law
  • Trusted Digital Repositories
  • Preserving Audio
  • Preserving Video
  • Preserving Digital Art
  • Building a Successful Digital Preservation Program
  • Creating and Sustaining External Partnerships
  • Values and Business Models for Preservation
  • Technology and the Global Village

 Conference faculty include: 

  • Paul Conway, University of Michigan
  • Robin L. Dale, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Andy Kolovos, Vermont Folklife Center
  • David Liroff, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
  • Bernard Reilly, Center for Research Libraries
  • Richard Rinehart, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive
  • Shelby Sanett, Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science
  • Katherine Skinner, Emory University
  • Sarah Stauderman, Smithsonian Institution Archives
  • Simon Tanner, King’s College London
  • Ken Withers, The Sedona Conference®

What does the conference cost?  $425   

When is the registration deadline?  Tuesday, November 11, 2008  

Via Museumatic, here’s a fascinating report on barriers to universal access to digital collections.  The paper, “Digital Assets and Digital Burdens:  Obstacles to the Dream of Universal Access,” by Nicholas Crofts, presented at CIDOC last month, argues that museums and other cultural institutions need to examine our assumptions about the technology available, about what kinds of records are appropriate for dissemination, and about museums’ willingness  to make digital material freely available.  He concludes by noting that if museums do not commit to providing free access to their digital materials, we may lose our role as provider of content.   (See, for instance, public.resource)

What the foregoing examples seem to suggest is that museums and other cultural heritage institutions may be caught in a Catch 22 situation with respect to universal access to cultural heritage. While making cultural material freely available is part of their mission, and therefore a goal that they are obliged to support, it may still come into conflict with other factors, notably commercial interests: the need to maintain a high-profile and to protect an effective brand image. If museums are to cooperate successfully and make digital resources widely available on collaborative platforms, they will either need to find ways of avoiding institutional anonymity, or agree to put aside their institutional identity to one side. While cultural institutions are wrangling with these problems, other organisations and individuals are actively engaged in producing attractive digital content and making it widely available. Universal access to cultural heritage will likely soon become a reality, but museums may be losing their role as key players. [emphasis mine]

In honor of this report, and my recent interest in continued museum survival past 2019, I’m adding a new tag:  shareordie.

Congratulations to public history blogger Larry Cebula on his new job in Washington State!  His excellent blog, Northwest History, is a great resource for research on the Pacific Northwest and all things digital-historical.  Check it out and tell him I sent you!

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