Category Archives: digital humanities

the basics

(Cross-posted from my Academic Technology blog at Chapman University)

I’ve made many mistakes with technology.  I’ve lost files due to not backing them up, I’ve edited the wrong versions of my articles because I didn’t have a good strategy for saving iterations of files, and I’ve had those awful moments where my printer ink runs out (which only ever happens when time is of the essence, of course).

Because of these failures, I’ve developed a set of backup practices and I always keep several of spare printer cartridges.  Of course technology still fails sometimes (like my server crashing during the middle of a technology talk–ugh), but I think I’m generally prepared for that now.

In that vein, one of my colleagues created a list of helpful links for those who want to become more tech savvy about backing up their files and learning computer shortcuts.  It seems worth sharing here, for those of you who are also eager to learn better tech practices.

View “Basic Technology Advice for Faculty

Download “Basic Technology Advice for Faculty” as a PDF

Having students write an NEH grant proposal as a course assignment

In teaching my “Intro to DH” class last semester to Chapman’s MA/MFA graduate students, I spent a lot of time discussing professionalization and a significant part of that discussion focused on how funding agencies (like the NEH-ODH) make DH projects do-able.  As the culmination of this conversation, for the final project in the course I had the students compose mock applications for an NEH-ODH startup grant.

I designed the course in this manner for three primary reasons:

1) The first time I had to write a grant proposal for external funding, I found it incredibly daunting to describe what I aimed to do with my project when I wasn’t even yet sure myself what I would find once the project got underway.  Doing the legwork and the guesswork involved in that process  and then writing coherently about it, was much more difficult than I expected.  Thus, I felt that it would be a great learning experience for the students to do this before they had actual money at stake.

2) Crafting a mock NEH-ODH application reinforced many of the concepts that we’d discussed in class, and brought them together in such a way that it showed me that the students understood the filed of DH better than if they’d simply written a traditional end-of-the-semester paper.  In their proposal they had to discuss other similar projects, outline their technical requirements, include descriptions of team members’ skills, craft a budget, and create a plan for the sustainability of their project.  From their proposals I had a strong sense of what they’d learned throughout the semester since when the class started the students had only the foggiest notion of what a DH project entailed.

3) Writing a grant application is a portable skill that could serve the students in a wide-variety of ways after they graduate, even if they don’t continue in academia.  Learning to communicate their research ideas to a general audience could serve them in many ways, including a future in technical writing, project management, journalism, or in a non-profit job.

The success of the students in their proposals far exceeded my expectations.  As each student gave a lightning talk description of what they aimed to do, I realized that nearly every one of them was worthy of funding.  And not only that, since December several of the students have moved forward with their projects on their own (sans funding), based on the proposals that they outlined in our class.

At the end of the semester I tweeted about our project and caught the attention of Brett Bobley (the CIO of the NEH and the director of the ODH).  That exchange:

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 2.57.04 PM

The “ought” of technology

This post from Cyborgology piggybacked nicely on some thoughts that I’ve had recently about the use of technology by faculty at my university.

My thoughts arose from an experience with an adjunct faculty member who came to my office for help in building a robo-graded exam on Blackboard.  In working with her for just a few minutes, I realized that she didn’t know what a web browser was or where software like Blackboard “lived” (she thought that because she created the exam on Blackboard on her laptop, that her students would somehow be remotely logging into her laptop when they took their Blackboard exam).  The upshot of this visit to my office was that she left still fairly confused about Blackboard (my outstanding explanation of servers, notwithstanding), but with a functioning exam that was set to deploy for her students to take at the appointed time.

After pondering my interaction with her for awhile, I began to wonder whether the model of Academic Technology as it works at most universities is flawed.  We automatically give faculty a login to our courseware regardless of whether they’ve attended any trainings, and we provide basic “getting started” tutorials that give faculty just enough click-by-click instructions to begin using it for teaching and assessment within just a few minutes of logging in.  As a result, few have any level of mastery at the technology.  And this approach leads to many problems, which are compounded by the seriousness of administering grades and coursework through a platform that they barely understand and can’t troubleshoot on their own.

As I thought in this vein, it occurred to me that another (perhaps more effective?) way of providing support for Academic Technology would be to do hand-on trainings of the technology first, and then have faculty who would like to use the technology pass a proficiency exam on that software before they receive a login that would deploy their courseware.  While doing that sounds like a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare (and I can just imagine the resistance to attending the training meetings), at least faculty would have a much better sense of what they’re getting themselves into when they start using an LMS for distributing their course content.  In fact, I would say that faculty “ought” to have to have acquired some level of proficiency with the software before they use it, as quoted from the article above:

The ought, I argue, is a carefully curated relationship with technology, one in which the social actor has access, know how, and above all, control.

Because when a technology enters the classroom, it changes teaching and it changes learning.  And instructors ought to be cognizant of this as they’re structuring a learning experience for their students.

But at the same time, I wonder if we ought to pile one more responsibility on the heads of our stretched-thin faculty.  Perhaps the ought should read something more like this: only faculty who have the inclination and motivation to integrate technology ought to use it in the classroom.  Others ought to continue teaching in the ways that they know best.

managing my inbox (and more)

Cross-posted from the Chapman Academics Blog

Between my work and personal accounts, I receive about six thousand emails per week (how do I know how many?  Google recently started sending me stats regularly). And, almost none of that is spam due to some awesome filtering by  gmail and my campus IT department.  Although I still let things slip through the cracks sometimes, I’ve developed some good skills for managing the email firehose:

  • Some items I delete unopened–vendor spam, online purchase confirmations, bill reminders, PR, etc (note: I have an itchy-finger tendency that automatically delete anything that invites me to a webinar, and I have yet to regret that).
  • If a message will take less than a minute to respond to (or to forward to the right person), I do that immediately.
  • If a message simply needs to be forwarded to someone else to be resolved, I do that immediately.
  • When an email entails a lengthy and complex reply, I typically open the reply window on my desktop and return to it throughout the day when I have downtime from my other tasks.  As soon as I’m done with it, I hit send.  At the end of my day, I typically don’t leave for home unless all of those “open” messages are replied-to.
  • At the end of the day I scroll through my inbox and check whether I’ve missed anything that can be resolved.  At that point I aim for inbox-zero.
  • If anything is left in my inbox from the day before, I review it first thing in the morning and attempt to resolve it then.  Rinse and repeat.

In both my personal and work email, I create a fairly exhaustive list of folders for filing away email messages.  I delete the spam, but I almost-never delete my other correspondence.  Instead, I keep it for if/when I need to refer to it again.  Because I support hundreds of faculty members on my campus, it’s helpful to have a record of what problems I’ve resolved with each of them.  Several times, I’ve found that they have the same problem more than once, and having a record of how we solved it last time, makes solving it the second or third time even easier.

sharing bibliographies (via zotero)

Recently I was speaking with a scholar-friend about a new “Pacific Worlds” project that I’m working on.  As I outlined where I was in my research process, he remarked that one of the most time-consuming elements of starting a new project, is assembling a list of seminal works in the field, and ensuring that you’ve read each of them and understand how they’re in conversation with each other.

In that vein, I thought about how much time I spend “mining” the bibliographies of other scholars to gather the relevant readings for my own work. Doing this is time-consuming, particularly if one is hand-entering the relevant data into a spreadsheet or bibliography database. Using a resource like zotero allows us to bypass some of that searching/data-entry process, but that only really works if other scholars in your field are also on zotero and are sharing their research folders (i.e. it’s pretty unlikely if you’re in any field outside of the digital humanities).

So, I decided that I would jump in and share the resources that I’ve compiled thus far with this new project.  To do so, I added the “ZotPress” plugin for WordPress to this site.  As I type this, my zotero library is being imported into my WordPress install:

zotpressIt’s taking some time–my zotero library is pretty sizable.

And now, just a few minutes later, I have a webpage of my growing bibliography for this new project.  ZotPress allows you to insert a shortcode to display the citation data from a zotero folder or from any number of other parameters (author, category, etc).  And you can also choose from a variety of citation styles to display your data.



Historians as Project Managers

“Students in history [must] learn techniques of project management” because of the growing need for collaboration on “Big History” projects, says James Herbert in the most recent issue of Perspectives (the magazine of the American Historical Society), in an article titled “Professions and Publics.”  Herbert is paraphrasing the words of author James Cortada, who writes about the ways that historian need to change their research practices in his recent book History Hunting: A Guide for Fellow Adventurers.

It would be nice to see those skills incorporated into graduate school, but I can hardly imagine such a sea-change occurring anywhere but at the most innovative of institutions, where staff support, in the form of technologists and project managers, is available to graduate students.  Off the top of my head, I can only think of two (well-heeled) programs that might have such resources allocated to their graduate students.  Few (too few) even have technical support for faculty, much less their students.

I haven’t yet read Cortada’s book, so perhaps it’s premature for me to offer my concerns about the practicality of his suggestions.  However, I’m looking forward to reading it to see what concrete ideas he offers about how this change in curriculum might fit into the training of students at non-elite universities.



Sorry for anyone who’s getting pinged every time I post.  It seems that the service that I’ve been experimenting with the past few days has set up a loop of posting and reposting my Facebook links to my blog.

That was not part of the plan.  But yet, it’s a rather interesting thing to have my blog and my Facebook in a link-laden recursive conversation with each other…without my involvement.

Changing my c.v. to a resume for #alt-ac job applications

When I began applying for alt-ac positions instead of traditional faculty jobs, I soon realized that most of these jobs asked for a resume rather than a c.v.  Given the variety in the ways that anyone structures their resumes and vitae, it was hard to know exactly how to make the changes to mine to reflect the expected differences between the two types of documents.  Moreover, I’ve learned in the meantime that I’m not the only one with this problem!  So I’m posting my c.v. and resume here as a sample for others who are applying for alt-ac careers, and welcome any feedback you might have on these or any examples in this vein that you would like to share.

First, here is my current c.v. [PDF]

You’ll see that I keep the formatting quite simple, with the following categories:

Current Position
Teaching Areas
Articles and Book Chapters
Notable Online Publications
Awards, Fellowships
Talks & Presentations
Professional Activities

Even from these categories it might be obvious that I’m a non-traditional scholar–because of the unusual category of “Notable Online Publications.” I felt that it was important to have a place to mark my online work as well as my publication in print formats, so I chose to add this section to my c.v.

And now, here is my current resume [PDF], which I’ve used in applying for positions that are “alternative” to a traditional tenure-teaching path.

This is a much shorter document, and focuses on experience and skills rather than on awards and publications.  It has the following categories, with the strongest emphasis being on my Technical Skills and on my work in the Digital Humanities:

Current Position
Technical Skills
Recent Talks about Digital Humanities
Selected Professional Activities

One peculiarity on my resume is a lack of an employment history other than my current position.  This is because I’ve had very little paid employment outside of my work as a TA or tutor.  Generally this comes up in job interviews and I explain about being in graduate school and point to the various non-paying projects, such as hosting a podcast and serving on conference committees, that gave me important skills.  Because I’ve only applied to jobs within the academy, this lack of employment history has not seemed to be much of a barrier.  However, I suspect that if I were seeking employment in the “industry,” I might encounter more difficulties with not having had much work experience.

In addition to both of these documents, I also maintain an online portfolio at my domain name.  This site breaks down some elements of my resume into more detailed categories and also offers hyperlinks to the various projects, conferences, and activities that I mention on my c.v.  Though I don’t track my website analytics closely enough to know how often this has been consulted by hiring committees, I do get a few dozen hits on these pages on any given week, so it seems worth keeping this section of my portfolio updated regularly.

Screenshot showing the dropdown menu on my website.

Being still in the early stage of my career, I offer these examples with the caveat that they’ve been successful for me so far, but that I’m far from being an expert on what hiring committees are seeking from their applicants.  And, I welcome links to your vitae and resumes in the comments below this post, as well as any feedback on my documents that you can offer.

Teaching with a Typewriter…

This semester I’m teaching a class with a strong technology component.  So far my students have used flickr, wordpress, SIMILE timelines, Wordle, Wikipedia, GDocs, Blackboard, and Prezi.  On my midterm evaluations several of them commented that they had technology-fatigue after learning so many different tools.  As a result, I decided it was high time to get old-school.

So, last week I brought in my Royal typewriter to class for the students to use for a short in-class assignment, where they would write a twitter-length summary of the day’s reading.  I learned that not one of them had used a manual typewriter before–most of them couldn’t even figure out how to load in a sheet of paper and no idea what the ding of a carriage return meant (much less how to pull on the lever to move the carriage back to the other side of the page).  Only one of them had the finger strength to consistently hit the keys hard enough to make an ink impression on the paper.  Afterwards I wondered if perhaps they were scared of breaking the machine–despite my encouraging them to pound on the keys.

Bringing a typewriter was a bit of a stunt, but I think it also underscored how useful technology can be in the classroom.  In their reflective writing after the exercise, most praised academic technology (although they still have a strong distaste for Prezi).  None of them want to have to type out an assignment manually again, although one of them said that if she could “choose” to use a typewriter on a school assignment that it might be fun.

As an instructor I’m doing all I can to not only teach the students the ins-and-outs of technology, but to foster an environment where the students are constantly working at the edge of their knowledge–to keep them actively involved in what we’re learning together.  Because of that, I expect them to feel frustrated with and even tired of technology.  I expect them to fail sometimes when they try something new (or in this case, when they try to use a tool so old that they might not have ever encountered one in real life before).  More than showing off mastery of a technological tools, I expect the students to be curious and experimental.  I want them to play with and explore the use of tools in ways that are unique to them and aren’t a carbon copy of the way that I use them.


I really miss the Gowalla app.  I liked “checking in” as I moved around and I learned a lot about my local environment.  One of my favorite tidbits was learning about famous sculptures at UCI that I’d walked past for 20 years but didn’t know about their origin until I’d “checked in” there. It helped, too, that many of my DH friends were early Gowalla adopters and I enjoyed following along virtually with their travels.

Instagram shares a few of the features that I enjoyed with Gowalla, but doesn’t offer the same incentives for check-ins, nor does it connect me to other users (or contacts) who are traveling the same paths as I am.

Recently I downloaded Wenzani which seems to share some of the location-based functionality that I enjoyed with Gowalla, but it’s not really caught on in my area so I’m navigating the app alone (which means it’s no fun, really).  Wenzani strikes me more as an cleaner-looking yelp app than a game.  But I don’t like that Wenzani is pushing its updates to Facebook (I’m incredibly weary of FB right now, but that’s a topic for another day).