On Writing in Public/Peer to Peer Review
Dougherty, Jack and Kristen Nawrotzki, Eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013.
In the volume of essays, various historians address the ways in which the digital revolution has transformed the way they write about, think, teach, and publish history. The essays are in book and electronic forms. The book seeks to explain and embody the promise of digital history. The book’s arguments pertain to “rethinking how we academics create and share knowledge, particularly in history and other humanities fields that have been relatively slow to embrace change in this new era of digital tools and publishing.” The editors also ask, “Could technology help us to create a more intellectually collaborative volume, with a more transparent process, in a relatively shorter period of time? And if so, would it produce a better book?” Dougherty and Nawrotzki calls the open access “born digital” book an experiment to show the radically different ways that historians could approach publishing. The book also underwent an open peer review in order to encourage engagement on the topic concerning what “good writing” means in history. Part Five is particularly relevant to my research due its focus on visualizations and spatial dynamics.
Gold, Matthew K. Ed. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
The 2012 book is divided into six parts that pertain to defining, theorizing, critiquing, practicing, teaching, and envisioning the digital humanities. The book is valuable as a handbook for anyone who is interested in delving into the world of digital humanities. Throughout the book, the authors attempt to define digital humanities and the role of digital humanists. The book contains at least thirty definitions for digital humanities. In his essay, Matthew Kirschenbaum claims that Wikipedia’s definition of digital humanities is as good as any that he has seen. Wikipedia calls digital humanities “a field of study, research, teaching, and invention concerned with the intersection of computing and the disciplines of the humanities.” Wikipedia goes on to describe it as “methodological” and “interdisciplinary”. While some may scoff at deriving information from Wikipedia, it is interesting to note that the site itself adheres to the goals of digital humanities, which is to engage with the public in a transparent, interdisciplinary, and collaborative way. Kathleen Fitzpatrick defines digital humanities as “a nexus of fields within which scholars use computing technologies to investigate the kinds of questions that are traditional to the humanities.” Meanwhile, Lisa Spiro cautions against attempts to “pigeonhole” digital humanities by defining it. Instead of concentrating on a definition, she focuses on the “values” of digital humanities, such as public involvement, collaboration, and transparency. While the authors seem unable to give a succinct definition for digital humanities, the characteristics are discussed repeatedly. According to several of the essays in the book, collaboration, transparency, interdisciplinarity, experimentation, and public engagement are all essential aspects of digital humanities. The book depicts digital humanists as the hippies of the humanities world. In such an interdisciplinary and collaborative field, making connections and building a sense of community seems to come naturally. Digital humanists are eager to exchange ideas and they often seek out different skills, projects, and viewpoints.
Graham, Shawn, Ian Milligan, Scott Weingart. The Historian’s Macroscope. Under contract with Imperial College Press. Open Draft Version, Autumn 2013, http://themacroscope.org
The authors Shawn Graham, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart are all professors who specialize in the digital humanities. The book explains that while a microscope hones in on the very small, a macroscope is a tool for looking at very large data. While microhistories examine a single story or moment in history, a microhistory analyzes long term trends. For its embrace of the longue duree, the book reminds me of The History Manifesto by Jo Guldi and David Armitage. Graham, Milligan, and Weingart argue that historians must be able to study both the micro and the macro aspects of history. Throughout the book, the authors focus on the opportunities and the implications of being a historian in the “Era of Big Data”. The book is intended for anyone who wants to “turn the macroscope on their own research”. The book is divided into three parts. Chapter One and Chapter Two make up the first section of the book. Chapter One familiarizes the reader with the historical context of the Big Data Era. Chapter Two focuses on defining “Digital Humanities” and providing an overview of key terms. The second section of the book includes Chapter Three and Chapter Four. Chapter Three discusses hands on tools that historians can use in their research. The chapters touch upon data mining, word clouds, and topic modeling. Chapter Four is quite hands on and walks the reader through topic modeling sources. Chapters Five, Six, and Seven make up the third part of the book. The final chapters emphasize network analysis and describes the ways to effectively use interactive visualizations. The structure of the book is effective because it first introduces the reader to the historiography and the historical context of digital humanities before then challenging the reader to use simple tools such as word clouds, and finally the book discusses ways to properly create more complex interactive visualizations.
On Methodological Transparency
Blevins, Cameron. “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston.” an online supplement to “Space, Nation and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World of Houston.” Journal of American History, Volume 101 (June 2014): 122-147.
In the article, Blevins signifies the emergence of the methods essay, or the “metagraph,” as a supplement to print articles with a digital component. The publication of a metagraph promotes transparency because of its focus on methodological accountability. Due to the the increased prominence of digital history, the issue of transparency and openness in historical scholarship only becomes more important as time goes on. The online supplement to the essay, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space: A View of the World From Houston,” is included in a Journal of American History series called “Metagraph” that reviews books and original JAH articles with digital components. In the online supplement to his essay, Blevins describes his project’s methodology. Additionally, Blevins uses the metagraph to address his issues, such as working with flawed digital newspapers, sources Blevins describes as “inherently messy”. Blevins further explains in his metagraph that newspapers “often resemble a jumbled bag of mistake-ridden words as much as neatly segmented columns of text.” Alas, drawing meaning from flawed sources is what historians must often do. In the metagraph, Blevins undertakes the sort of “methodological transparency” Gibbs and Owens promote in “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing.” in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age.
Gibbs, Frederick W. and Trevor Owens. “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing.” in Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. University of Michigan Press. Trinity College (CT) web-book edition, Spring 2012, http://WritingHistory.trincoll.edu
In their 2012 essay, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing,” Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor Owens argue for methodological transparency in historical writing. Gibbs and Owens claim that openness is an ethos of the humanities. For that reason, the methodology must be clearly explained. While humanists are often wary of data manipulation, the authors explain, “One way of reducing hostility to data and its manipulation is to lay bare whatever manipulations have led to some historical insight.”
On Digital History Reviews
Blevins, Cameron. “The New Wave of Reviews.” CameronBlevins.org. March 16, 2016 http://www.cameronblevins.org/posts/the-new-wave-of-review (accessed April 11, 2016).
Blevins claims that there are three different kinds of digital history reviews. Blevins explains that digital history projects fall under pedagogy and public engagement, academic scholarship, and data and design criticism. Most digital history reviews pertain to public engagement and pedagogy. However, Blevins admits to being unsatisfied with the three kinds of digital history reviews as they all have shortcomings. In his blog, Blevins states the reasons for the frustrations. Blevins asks thought provoking questions such as, “Does a digital history project fundamentally change how we understand a particular topic? How does it fit within the existing literature about this subject? What are a project’s methodological strengths or flaws specifically in relation to the project’s historical contributions?” The blog concludes with Blevins stating, “I’m calling for digital historians to seize and shape the current wave of review…we need to more substantively evaluate the work of our peers…and critique each other’s work not just in terms of public engagement and pedagogy or data and design, but in terms of new historical knowledge, insight, and interpretations that these projects contribute to the field.” The blog and the recent review work of Blevins indicates an increased interest in digital history reviews.
Cohen, Deborah, Peter Mandler, Jo Guldi, and David Armitage. “AHR Exchange: The History Manifesto.” The American Historical Review (2015) 120 (2): 527-554. https://www.historians.org/Documents/AHR_Exchange.pdf
In their book, the authors Guldi and Armitage claim that modern historians are currently too enamored with micro-histories to solve long term issues. In their book, Guldi and Armitage evoke the spirit of Braudel with their discussion of time and their embrace of the longue-duree. They argue that the scholarly world is inundated with short term studies that focus on local experiences, race, and class. According to the authors, society is “hungry” for “long term thinking”. The authors reproach historians for their supposed retreat from the longue-duree and they ask that historians return to the study of complex issues such as famine, drought, poverty, and political matters. After the book was written, the American Historical Review included a scholarly exchange about the book’s assertions. In the exchange, Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler take issue with many of Guldi and Armitage’s statements. They question the book’s arguments and lack of evidence pertaining to the retreat of the longue-duree. They challenge the book’s assumptions about the historian’s role as keepers of big data, and they accuse Guldi and Armitage of narrowing the public role of historians. Ultimately, Cohen and Mandler claim that Guldi and Armitage cherry-pick data from doctoral dissertations and other sources to support their arguments about the retreat of the longue-duree. In the American Historical Review exchange, Guldi and Armitage respond to the criticisms of Cohen and Mandler. They defend their assertions and their data. They also explain that The History Manifesto’s central argument concerns the fact that “major institutions that shape most people’s lives, most of the time—governments, corporations, NGOs, international agencies, and the like—often lack a sense of history and do not engage the expertise of historians as they gather information, formulate policy, or make far-reaching decisions.” That is why they challenge historians to shift their focus from short term narratives in order to take on larger topics. They argue that the longue-duree approach can be used by historians to address pressing, long term concerns of our time such as climate change.
Georgini, Sara. “Reviewing Digital History.” The Junto. January 20, 2015. https://earlyamericanists.com/2015/01/20/reviewing-digital-history (accessed April 11, 2016).
In the interview, The Junto discusses reviewing digital history with Dr. Jeffrey W. McClurken, Professor of History and American Studies at the University of Mary Washington. McClurken is Contributing Editor for Digital History Reviews, Journal of American History. McClurken points out the complexities of doing digital history reviews. For one, the work is usually ongoing; it changes and evolves. There is often no “final version”. Also, there is not usually one creator; most works are collaborative. McClurken argues that it important to identify everyone’s role and contribution to a digital project. In the interview, McClurken also helpfully states to digital historians in order to motivate them, “One of the mistakes is not starting at all, because you think it’s going to be too complicated. Some of the technical pieces may be too complicated—at first. But it’s important to dive in, pilot projects, and do digital work in small batches.” He also claims that it is okay to make mistakes as that is part of the learning process.
Lichtenstein, Alex, Joshua Sternfeld, Stephen Robertson, Natalie A. Zacek, and Vincent Brown, “AHR Exchange: Reviewing Digital History.” American Historical Review, Vol. 121, No. 1, (February 2016): 140-187.
In the exchange’s introduction, the editor Alex Lichtenstein discusses the current lack of digital history review sites and explains that the AHR had not included digital history in their review section in the past because they had no “comparable procedure for receiving and combing through digital scholarship for review.” In the exchange, the AHR hopes to remedy that exclusion by reviewing two digital history projects: Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915–1930 and Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760–1761: A Cartographic Narrative. In the article, the creators of the digital history projects were also given the chance to respond to the reviews. The responses from the project creators gave the digital editors the chance to defend their methods and to explain their interpretations of their topics. The reviewers evaluated the digital history projects based on presentation, legibility, organization, historiography, research, and interpretation.
In the AHR article, Joshua Sternfeld reviewed Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930. Digital Harlem examines criminal records and places them onto an interactive map of Harlem to reveal the lives of ordinary African Americans in Harlem. Sternfield’s review points out the strengths and weaknesses of Digital Harlem. For one, he states that the site “reinforces a racialized perception of black, predominantly male, criminality.” Instead of exploring everyday life in Harlem, he claims that the site primarily reflects daily criminal activities in the community. Ultimately, Sternfeld concludes, “Trying to be equal parts sociological and historical case study, Digital Harlem winds up doing neither effectively.” In his response, Stephen Robertson attempts to address the weaknesses identified by Sternfeld. Robertson explains that many of the weaknesses stems from decisions he and his team made early in the project’s design stage. He also claims that Sternfeld misreads the site’s maps and misunderstands some of the site’s goals. He also accuses Sternfeld of oversimplifying the sources from Digital Harlem when he asserts that the site is too focused on data related to crime.
The AHR exchange also includes Natalie Zacek’s review of Vincent Brown’s Slave Revolt in Jamaica, 1760-1761: A Cartographic Narrative. Zacek recognizes the site for including a plethora of text and images and for making the vast information available to the public. At the same time, Zecek faults the site because “the site does not currently allow a viewer to map the locations from which slaves escaped, or those to which they were believed to have fled; nor does it present an argument about broader patterns in the experiences of fugitive slaves over the century, or at any point therein.” Ultimately, Zacek calls Slave Revolt in Jamaica “essential reading not only for historians who are interested in the Caribbean, slavery, or military strategy, but for anyone who would like to learn more about how digital tools can contribute to the humanities, and about how she or he might engage with a form of inquiry that has much to offer in relation to the advancement of historical understanding.” In Vincent Brown’s response to Zacek’s review, Brown highlights the exciting opportunities that converged media offer to the academic world and the public. He also further explains his site’s purpose and aims. The exchanges in the recent AHR journal indicates just how important reviews of Digital Humanities projects in scholarly journals are to the development of Digital Humanities as a field. Reviews of digital projects not only hold creators accountable for their work, they also allow the project creators to address issues with interpretation, argument, sources, and design. Reviews can also increase traffic to the sites and give the projects scholarly credibility. Reviews of digital history projects are necessary in order for the projects to be taken seriously as academic works.
McClurken Jeffrey W. Organization of American Historians. “OAH/JAH Guidelines for Digital History Reviews.” Journal of American History. http://jah.oah.org/submit/digital-history-reviews (accessed April 11, 2016).
McClurken states that digital history reviews have specific features. The guidelines set forth by the Journal of American History provide specific suggestions for reviewing digital history. While digital history projects share a common medium, they are diverse in their character and their aims. McClurken states that, “Reviewers need to keep that diversity in mind and to evaluate them on their own terms.” Most projects fall under the genre of archives, electronic essay/exhibit, or teaching resource. There are also those that act as tools, gateways, journals, organizations, or virtual communities. McClurken points out that an archival site should be evaluated on the quality of the materials and the care with which they have been organized, the ease of navigation, and its usefulness to teachers, students, and scholars. One must ask, “How comprehensive is the archive? Are there biases in what has been included or excluded? Does the archive, in effect, offer a point of view or interpretation?” As with other types of reviews, the digital reviewer provides information to readers concerning the usefulness of the site in its teaching or scholarship. At the same time, reviewers participate “in a community of critical discourse”. In summary, most reviews will address the following four areas: Content: Is the scholarship sound and current? What is the interpretation or point of view? Form: Is it clear? Easy to navigate? Does it function effectively? Does it have a clear, effective, and original design? Does it have a coherent structure? Audience/Use: Is it directed at a clear audience? Will it serve the needs of that audience? New Media: Does it make effective use of new media and new technology? Does it do something that could not be done in other media—print, exhibition, film? As in a scholarly book review, digital reviewers speak both to potential readers and to producers of similar work.