Using non-textual sources

Well, I would write about using material culture sources here, but since this is digital history and we did soundscapes and music today, I know we are supposed to talk about that. As it happens, I do use a lot of music for teaching, particularly in my 20th Century U.S. Culture course. For this course each class features a “song of the day” from the relevant era.  When I first began to do this more than ten years ago, I chose all the songs and played them, providing brief background and contextual information. Later I began to ask the students to each select a day and song and present the song. With the advent of YouTube, this has become much easier for all of us, of course. I provide a master list of song choices, but I also allow the students to choose a different song for the given period (with my approval). I ask them to present their song along with some history about the song, the composer and singer, and the historical context.

After learning about today, I am thinking that when I teach this course next spring, I will ask the students to trace their song at this site as well, so that they can see who else has recorded it, and how it has changed over time. I also liked the discussion of transgression in popular song, and am thinking I could  set this assignment up more fully than I have in the past. One way might be to look at what popular songs do, and how they express and transgress social and cultural norms. I loved the Postmodern Jukebox and think that I could use the site to showcase some of the things that songs can do. In short, I think I can make this assignment more effective by tweaking it, using the insights and tools from Mike O’Malley’s presentation.

thinking about my course

One of the points in the early readings that has stayed with me is the need to have students reflect about how doing history digitally differs from more traditional methods, and how it can change the way we do history. So I’m thinking that my course, which is for undergraduates will have a 3-part structure (with the first part most fleshed out right now):

1. Introductory: What is DH? How does it change history/humanities? This will include readings about DH; intro to various types of projects; explorations & discussions of DH projects; and much discussion/reflection on how these change history/humanities.

2. Learning and playing with some easy DH tools.

3. Working on a class DH project.

Digital History Project

So, my project is not as groovy as a lot of the ones I heard about today. It is specifically teaching-oriented. I want to create a home site for my Digital History/Humanities course, with readings, schedule, etc. It’s not glamorous, but it does have a degree of urgency, since I am introducing this course starting August 26. I have seen other course set-ups using Wikidot and I am drawn to the relative simplicity and elegance of the WordPress format. I used the .com version for a course blog last semester, but did not explore all the capabilities. I have been impressed by the site for this institute, and would like to “borrow” from it for a model for my course site. I hate to be derivative, but I figure that at least it’s a starting point.

I have envisioned this course as an introduction to DH (both for the larger humanities and for history specifically) for undergraduates,  with some readings on definitions, concepts, and methods; exploration of DH sites; teaching some very basic tools. I have been thinking about using HistoryPin to begin a project to create a historical walking tour of the towns of Dunkirk & Fredonia. I want to have a community engagement element in the course and I already have relationships with the local history professionals through internships and class projects. This project (or the HistoryPin element)  is subject to change, depending on what catches my eye in this institute.

I liked the discussion today about “threshold concepts” that transform our thinking. One thing I’d like to do with this course is to blow up my students’ notions of digital tech, to move them beyond the social aspects into the new possibilities created when we “mash-up” history and technology. I was struck also by a point made in the discussion in the JAH forum about teaching graduate students DH: You have to be careful that your course is not just about “playing with technology.” You must also get them to think about how DH changes history. I know that I’ll be doing a lot of reflecting on just that  during this two weeks. And I want to be sure that I incorporate this into my course; I’m thinking that one assignment will be to have them explore a DH site/project and consider how it challenges their understanding of history and how it differs from the ways that they have traditionally encountered and understood history.