Depressing and not getting enough notice: masked police recently raided the office of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which has been digitally cataloguing the artifacts and names of those affected by the Soviet Gulag. The police took drives containing biographical information on more than 50,000 victims of Stalinist repression and over 10,000 digital photographs, among other unique archival documents. We worked with Memorial on our Gulag history project. (Thanks to Elena Razlogova for bringing this to my attention.)
Kudos to the Journal of American History for their launch this week of a podcast. In the inaugural “JAHcast,” John Nieto-Phillips speaks with James Meriwether about his article, “Worth a Lot of Negro Votes’: Black Voters, Africa, and the 1960 Presidential Campaign.” The podcast is put together well. It has relatively good sound quality (always critical for podcasts; bad sound quality repels audiences faster than bad web design), it’s open access (anyone can subscribe via iTunes), and most of all, it contains interesting subject matter for our times.
You will be unsurprised to hear (given a certain other podcast) that I think more scholarly journals and organizations should be podcasting like this. It’s a great way to build an audience and add context to print publications. It would be great for the JAH to add other kinds of podcasts, such as panels from the annual meeting and wider-ranging discussions or debates (rather than focusing on a single article). But a great first step.
On Thursday and Friday, October 2-3, 2008 (that is, starting tomorrow, if you’re reading this immediately from my feed) I’ll be at Rutgers University for the conference “Digital Humanities and the Disciplines,” sponsored by the Center for Cultural Analysis. If you’re in the area, please stop by—the conference is open to the public. If I can find some wifi I’ll also do my best to blog the conference and send brief updates via my Twitter feed (which I’ve been neglecting lately; sorry, been a little busy).
Back in January of this year I mentioned in this space that I was participating in an online discussion on digital history for the Journal of American History. That discussion has just been published in the September 2008 issue under the title “The Promise of Digital History.” The discussion ended up being extremely wide-ranging, including research possibilities in the digital age, the future of scholarly communication, training, and teaching. I’m obviously biased since I’m one of the interlocutors, but I believe the article is the perfect introduction to digital history for those who are new to the subject, and it also includes some important debates about where the field is headed. The article is available online at the History Cooperative, which is, alas, gated. Open access is another topic discussed in the article; I hope the JAH will make the article freely available soon.
Many thanks to the seven other digital historians—Bill Turkel, Will Thomas, Amy Murrell Taylor, Patrick Gallagher, Michael Frisch, Kristen Sword, and Steven Mintz—who participated in such a lively exchange!
I’m delighted to announce the Center for History and New Media‘s launch of Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives, a comprehensive and compelling new website exploring the history of the Soviet Gulag. The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities; Title VIII, The U.S. Department of State; the Kennan Institute; and the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University; and was produced in association with the Gulag Museum at Perm 36, Perm, Russia and the International Memorial Society, Moscow.
The bilingual (English/Russian) site is a powerful combination of primary documents and photographs, documentary video, and contextualization (including from George Mason’s expert on Soviet history, Steve Barnes). It also includes a rich archive and a podcast series.
The site also shows the ease and flexibility of CHNM’s Omeka, software to manage collections and create web exhibits.
Congratulations to the entire team that built the site!
Many thanks to Stephen Mihm of the University of Georgia (author of the outstanding A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States) for his cover story in the Ideas section of the Boston Globe on crowdsourcing and history. I’m grateful for his coverage of the Center for History and New Media‘s many collecting projects, and for featuring my remarks so prominently.
I’m delighted to announce that beginning this summer the Center for History and New Media will undertake a major two-year study of the potential of text-mining tools for historical (and by extension, humanities) scholarship. The project, entitled “Scholarship in the Age of Abundance: Enhancing Historical Research With Text-Mining and Analysis Tools,” has just received generous funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In the last decade the library community and other providers of digital collections have created an incredibly rich digital archive of historical and cultural materials. Yet most scholars have not yet figured out ways to take full advantage of the digitized riches suddenly available on their computers. Indeed, the abundance of digital documents has actually exacerbated the problems of some researchers who now find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of available material. Meanwhile, some of the most profound insights lurking in these digital corpora remain locked up.
For some time computer scientists have been pursuing text mining as a solution to the problem of abundance, and there have even been a few attempts at bringing text-mining tools to the humanities (such as the MONK project). Yet there is not as much research as one might hope on what non-technically savvy scholars (especially historians) might actually want and use in their research, and how we might integrate sophisticated text analysis into the workflow of these scholars.
We will first conduct a survey of historians to examine closely their use of digital resources and prospect for particularly helpful uses of digital technology. We will then explore three main areas where text mining might help in the research process: locating documents of interest in the sea of texts online; extracting and synthesizing information from these texts; and analyzing large-scale patterns across these texts. A focus group of historians will be used to assess the efficacy of different methods of text mining and analysis in real-world research situations in order to offer recommendations, and even some tools, for the most promising approaches.
In addition to other forms of dissemination, I will of course provide project updates in this space.
[Image credit: Matt Wright]
A very special announcement of a new prize from the American Historical Association and the Center for History and New Media. The Rosenzweig Prize will be awarded annually for an innovative and freely available new media project that reflects thoughtful, critical, and rigorous engagement with technology and the practice of history.
Starting today and running for the next month, I’ll be joining a half-dozen other professors in a discussion on the Journal of American History website on the promise and challenges of digital history. It’s great that the JAH is providing this forum and publishing the results in their September 2008 issue. I’m hoping they’ll open up the live discussion to the public, but it seems unlikely since they want to redact the text for publication. I’ll try to mention interesting topics that arise in the discussion in this space.