Category Archives: Margins

Guidelines for Digital Dissertations in History

On September 25, 2015, the History and Art History Department at George Mason University voted unanimously to endorse a set of guidelines for our graduate students that set out baseline expectations for digital dissertation projects.

This endorsement marked the culmination of a year of drafting and consultation between the Graduate Studies Committee, the faculty in the department who teach digital history courses and advise digital projects, and the graduate students who are in the midst of doing digital history work.

Under the auspices of the Graduate Studies Committee, I began drafting a set of guidelines in Fall 2014. I knew from working with my own doctoral advisees through the dissertation prospectus process that there was a good deal of confusion about what the department as a whole would require of a dissertation project with a non-traditional format. Doctoral candidates need a concrete sense of the expectations they need to meet to achieve success with their work.

Initially, I consulted the thin collection of existing work on digital dissertations. This included the outcomes of Kathie Gossett and Liza Potts’s NEH workshop on “Building an Open-Source Archive for Born-Digital Dissertations” and several other sources from the world of literary studies. The most promising active work here came from Amanda Visconti’s ongoing discussion on her blog of her process in creating “‘How Can You Love a Work if You Don’t Know It?’: Critical Code and Design Toward Participatory Digital Editions” at the University of Maryland.

Next, I turned to statements on evaluating digital scholarship. The Modern Language Association has been the leader here, approving guidelines first in 2000. The most recent statement was updated and approved in 2012. Also in 2012, the Journal of Digital Humanities produced an issue that focused on the subject of evaluation. Finally, at the point that I began drafting, none of the professional organizations for historians had developed guidelines, but the American Historical Association was in the process of developing a set. They have since approved and disseminated guidelines for evaluation. Most of this discussion has been targeted at the needs of junior scholars who are facing possibly hostile promotion and tenure committees, not at doctoral candidates working to complete their degrees.

Over the past year, the guidelines that resulted from this research underwent several rounds of review, commentary, and revision. And, I think that the final product marks a significant step toward loosening the grip of the proto-monograph format for dissertation work, while continuing to emphasize the need for rigorous scholarship in whatever format is most appropriate.

While this is a positive move, we still have serious issues to address in the realm of official deposit and preservation of digital dissertation work. This is usually the responsibility of the university library, but very few institutions are equipped to ingest and provide access to web archives, or to provide emulators for other kinds of digital work. Digital humanities scholars are going to need to enter into a serious conversations with our university librarians and institutional repository administrators to develop a official submission process that preserves digital dissertation work.

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#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 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.

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Management? But I’m an Historian

Below are some resources to accompany my project management workshops for the “How to Get Started in Digital History” pre-conference session at AHA2014.

Workshop Documents:

Project Management Software:

Further Reading:

Posted in Margins, Technology | 3 Comments