Author Archives: Sharon Leon

About Sharon Leon

Sharon M. Leon is Director of Public Projects at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media and Associate Professor of History at George Mason University. Her research interests include the history of religion in the U.S., especially Roman Catholicism, history of science and twentieth century cultural history. She received her bachelor's degree from Georgetown University and her doctorate in American Studies at the University of Minnesota in 2004. Her first book, An Image of God: the Catholic Struggle with Eugenics, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2013.

Rebuilding the Portfolio, Week 1: A Report from the Field

At the moment, we’re in the weekend break for the first of two summer institutes that Sheila Brennan and I are running through the Center this summer: Rebuilding the Portfolio: Digital Humanities for Art Historians. From what I can tell, the participants, Sheila and I, and the wonderful folks who have been supporting our learning (Megan Brett, Stephanie Grimes, Spencer Roberts, and Celeste Sharpe) are pretty wiped out. Hopefully, the weekend will give everyone a chance to recharge, but in the meantime, I thought I’d take a minute to process some of the ground that we’ve covered.

We’ve approached our curriculum with no assumptions about participants technical background, but with the full awareness that they are careful, critical scholars in their fields. This has allowed us to offer the introduction of new techniques in the context of important disciplinary perspectives. As a result, our opening conversations on the first day were based in bringing these commitments into play with the methods, generating productive discussions of the threshold concepts that set art historians apart from other humanities scholars and the ways those concepts might help us define the parameters of digital art history.

We’ve approached our work with a pattern of modelling techniques and then offering participants the opportunity to try their hands at working with the tools themselves. Thus, in the course of the week, the whole group has managed to sign up for a domain of their own with Reclaim Hosting, install WordPress and Omeka, work with themes and plugins for those platforms, annotate images with a range of tools, assemble digital narratives using several platforms, and begin to work with spatial approaches. That’s an awful lot of ground to cover in the space of a week for participants who arrived as digital novices.

This progress would not have been possible if the participants were not willing to embrace the gaps in their experience and understanding of these methods and tools. At the same time, we as instructors have had to work really hard to surface the tacit knowledge involved in working with the tools so that we can actually model each and every step required to work with them successfully. Hard work on everyone’s part. But, as we begin week two, everyone is moving forward through the reciprocal process of framing research questions, approaching the digital tools and their outputs, and refining our questions–all the while sharing our work and our process with the wider community of scholars.

Finally, none of our explorations during these two weeks would be happening without the generous support of the Getty Foundation, which has risen to the challenge of increasing the use of digital techniques in art history through professional development opportunities. This kind of support is essential to the project of broadening the base of scholars working with digital technologies and the scholarship that employes them. Based on the our work so far in this institute, I’m confident that we’ll start to see a nice range of new digitally inflected projects and courses in the near future.

Follow along with our work at #doingdah14.

Posted in CHNM, Scholarship, Teaching, Technology | Leave a comment

#DayofDH Compilation

[cross-posted for #DayofDH]

The Day Begins

… earlier than usual this Tuesday. So, I’m a morning person, but I’m not usually in the office by 6am. Today, however, I had a bunch of student work to comment on before class at 9am and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it last night. (Monday evening work is hard because so much of the day is usually dedicated to project team meetings that I have a hard time putting together complete sentences after 7pm).

So, I came in early with copious amounts of coffee in hand, and did the commenting on my undergraduates’ project contracts. This semester I’m teaching a digital history course and we’re barreling toward the finish line on eight group projects that each have something to do with American immigration history. We spent most of class today thinking about how various lightweight tools can help students add a spatial dimension to their Omeka.net sites.

Now, I’m back in my office, with some time to get some project work done on RRCHNM stuff before we head into afternoon meetings.

And, against my better judgement, I just ordered a hefty sandwich from RRCHNMLunch.

On with the day.

Mid-day — Energy is Waning

Time to pause for another blog post.

This has been a kind of atypical Tuesday so far at RRCHNM. I haven’t done a lot of direct project work after class this morning, but in the end, almost everything I do contributes in some way. So far, I’ve split my activities among four main areas: application review, meeting with visitors, reviewing student work, and email triage. Sounds like DH to me.

Right now, I am in the in midst of reviewing applications for two summer institutes that Sheila Brennan and I are running, which are designed to introduce mid-career novices to the theories and methods of digital history. The applications and their authors are a fascinating group: young and older; international; academic, independent, and GLAM professionals; wide ranges of interests and skills. This all bodes well for our summer gatherings and the cohorts that will join us in July and August.

While I spent the remainder of my morning reading applications, Sheila and I spent the early part of the afternoon meeting with Adrian Grant from the University of Ulster. Adrian and his colleagues at the International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE) are working on creating a website to share and interpret the materials that they have collected over the last 20-30 years: personal accounts of the conflict in and about Northern Ireland. It’s a great project, and the folks at INCORE are leaning toward using Omeka as their web publishing platform, so he wanted to consult with us about migration paths (OAI-PMH to the institutional repository) and community outreach/collecting/crowdsourcing. At RRCHNM, we do this kind of project design and development consulting on a regular basis. Sometimes it happens via telephone, skype, or email, but sometimes we have the pleasure of meeting new DH’ers in person, as we did today.

[Time out for the ill-advised, but delicious sandwich from Taylor Gourmet in there somewhere.]

After Adrian’s departure, I turned my attention to reviewing my student’s blog posts for this evening’s graduate seminar in Digital Public History. We’ll be talking about oral history in the larger context of DPH, and I’m looking forward to the conversation. This is a smart group at all different stages of their graduate careers, and each of them is venturing in to public history work from a different direction.

With energy waning, I took some time to do email triage and catch up with some material from my feed reader. Two very interesting posts: Cooper-Hewitt is moving to WordPress from Drupal (h/t @sherah1918) and the Snowy Owl from DC is recovering her strength.

And now, in hopes of recharging, I’m headed out for a run. More later…..

And, close.

The long day of DH comes to an end.

It’s 10:40pm and I’ve just arrived home from my evening class on Digital Public History, and I’m kind of exhausted. That run at the end of the afternoon did help, but grad seminars are hard in a good way when everyone is grappling with good questions. Tonight we were thinking about oral history and where that work fits in the scope of DPH — as with all historical methodologies, doing history that uses sources from the ordinary members of the public does not necessarily mean that that history is presented for those members of the public to use and interact with…..

In the midst of those discussions, my inbox filled with the usual pile of DH inquiries and reminders: page proofs for an article about community sourcing transcription of the Papers of the War Department, a call for a meeting to reinvigorate a dormant Omeka collaboration, a request from a student for some research advice, a reminder to make travel plans for the Archives Leadership Institute at Luther College where I’ll be an instructor in June. The list goes on, but it is in many ways the same everyday: communications from dedicated collaborators in the work of digital history and digital humanities.

Now I’m going to go watch some mindless television.

Posted in CHNM, Margins, Public History, Teaching, Technology | Leave a comment

Sustaining Digital Public History

I’m facilitating a working group at the National Council on Public History’s 2014 meeting about “Sustaining Digital Public History.” We’ve got a good group and I’m hoping we can examine a nice range of sustainability questions.

I’ve started the case study flow with a post on the September 11 Digital Archive. All are welcome to join the conversation through the website and at the conference in Monterey.

Posted in Public History, Technology | Leave a comment