Category Archives: News

The Digital Public Library of America, Me, and You

Twenty years ago Roy Rosenzweig imagined a compelling mission for a new institution: “To use digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.” I’ve been incredibly lucky to be a part of that mission for over twelve years, at what became the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, with last five and a half years as director.

Today I am announcing that I will be leaving the center, and my professorship at George Mason University, the home of RRCHNM, but I am not leaving Roy’s powerful vision behind. Instead, I will be extending his vision—one now shared by so many—on a new national initiative, the Digital Public Library of America. I will be the founding executive director of the DPLA.

The DPLA, which you will be hearing much more about in the coming months, will be connecting the riches of America’s libraries, archives, and museums so that the public can access all of those collections in one place; providing a platform, with an API, for others to build creative and transformative applications upon; and advocating strongly for a public option for reading and research in the twenty-first century. The DPLA will in no way replace the thousands of public libraries that are at the heart of so many communities across this country, but instead will extend their commitment to the public sphere, and provide them with an extraordinary digital attic and the technical infrastructure and services to deliver local cultural heritage materials everywhere in the nation and the world. DPLA_logo The DPLA has been in the planning stages for the last few years, but is about to spin out of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and move from vision to reality. It will officially launch, as an independent nonprofit, on April 18 at the Boston Public Library. I will move to Boston with my family this summer to lead the organization, which will be based there. It is such a great honor to have this opportunity.

Until then I will be transitioning from my role as director of RRCHNM, and my academic life at Mason. Everything at the center will be in great hands, of course; as anyone who visits the center immediately grasps, it is a highly collaborative and nonhierarchical place with an amazing staff and an especially experienced and innovative senior staff. They will continue to shape “the future the past,” as Roy liked to put it. I will miss my good friends at the center, but I still expect to work closely with them, since so many critical software initiatives, educational projects, and digital collections are based at RRCHNM. A search for a new director will begin shortly. I will also greatly miss my colleagues in Mason’s wonderful Department of History and Art History.

At the same time, I look forward to collaborating with new friends, both in the Boston office of the DPLA and across the United States. The DPLA is a unique, special idea—you don’t get to build a massive new library every day. It is apt that the DPLA will launch at the Boston Public Library’s McKim Building, with those potent words carved into stone above its entrance: “Free to all.” The architect Charles Follen McKim rightly called it “a palace for the people,” where anyone could enter to learn, create, and be entertained by the wonders of books and other forms of human expression.

We now have the chance to build something like this for the twenty-first century—a rare, joyous possibility in our too-often cynical age. I hope you will join me in this effort, with your ideas, your contributions, your energy, and your public spirit.

Let’s build the Digital Public Library of America together.

Just the Text

This post marks the third major redesign of my site and its fourth incarnation. The site began more than a decade ago as a place to put some basic information about myself online. Not much happening in 2003:

In 2005, I wrote some PHP scripts to add a simple homemade blog to the site:

In 2007, I switched to using WordPress behind the scenes, and in doing so moved from post excerpts on the home page to full posts. I also added my other online presences, such as Twitter and the Digital Campus podcast.

Five years and 400 posts later, I’ve made a more radical change for 2012 and beyond, as the title of this post suggests. But the thinking behind this redesign goes back to the beginning of this blog, when I struggled, in a series called “Creating a Blog from Scratch,” with how best to highlight the most important feature of the site: the writing. As I wrote in “Creating a Blog from Scratch, Part I: What is a Blog, Anyway?” I wanted to author my own blogging software so I could “emphasize, above all, the subject matter and the content of each post.” The existing blogging packages I had considered had other priorities apparent in their design, such as a prominent calendar showing how frequently you posted. I wanted to stress quality over quantity.

Recent favorable developments in online text and web design have had a similar stress. As I noted in “Reading is Believing,”

rather than focusing on a new technology or website in our year-end review on the Digital Campus podcast, I chose reading as the big story of 2011. Surely 2011 was the year that digital reading came of age, with iPad and Kindle sales skyrocketing, apps for reading flourishing, and sites for finding high-quality long-form writing proliferating. It was apropos that Alan Jacobs‘s wonderful book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction was published in 2011.

Now comes a forceful movement in web design to strip down sites to their essential text. Like many others, I appreciated Dustin Curtis’s great design of the Svbtle blog network this spring, and my site redesign obviously owes a significant debt to Dustin. (Indeed, this theme is a somewhat involved modification of Ricardo Rauch’s WordPress clone of Svbtle; I’ve made some important changes, such as adding comments—Svbtle and its clones eschew comments for thumbs-up “kudos.”)

One of the deans of web design, Jeffrey Zeldman, summarized much of this “just the text” thinking in his “Web Design Manifesto 2012” last week. Count me as part of that movement, which is part of an older movement to make the web not just hospitable toward writing and reading, but a medium that puts writing and reading first. Academics, among many others, should welcome this change.

Digital History Research Awards for New PhD Students at Mason

George Mason University and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media are pleased to announce Digital History Research Awards for students entering the History and Art History doctoral program in fall 2012. Students receiving these awards will get five years of fully funded studies, as follows: $20,000 research stipends in years 1 and 2; research assistantships at RRCHNM in years 3, 4, and 5. Awards include fulltime tuition waivers and student health insurance. For more information, contact Professor Cynthia A. Kierner (Director of the Ph.D. Program) at ckierner@gmu.edu or Professor Dan Cohen (Director, Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media) at dcohen@gmu.edu. The deadline for applications is January 15, 2012.

Digital Humanities Now 2.0: Bigger and Better, with a New Review Process

After five months of retooling, we’re relaunching Digital Humanities Now today. As part of this relaunch it has been moved into the PressForward family of publications, as one of that project’s new models of how high-quality work can emerge from, and reach, scholarly communities.

The first iteration of DH Now, which we launched two years ago, relied almost entirely on an automated process to find what digital humanities scholars were talking about and linking to (namely, on Twitter). About a year ago, in an attempt to make the signal-to-noise ratio a bit better, I took my slightly tongue-in-cheek “Editor-in-Chief” role more seriously, vetting each potential item for inclusion and adding better titles and “abstracts.”

Today we take a much larger step forward, in an attempt to find and highlight the best work in digital humanities, and curate it in such a way as to be maximally useful to the scholarly community. The DH Now team, including Joan Fragaszy Troyano, Sasha Boni, and Jeri Wieringa, have corralled a large array of digital humanities content into the base for the publication. Building on a Digital Humanities Registry I set up in the summer, they have located and are now tracking the content streams of hundreds of scholars and institutions (what we’re calling the Compendium of Digital Humanities), from which we can select items for highlighting in the “news” and “Editors’ Choice” columns on the site. As before, social media (including Twitter) and other means for assessing the resonance of scholarly works will serve a role, but not an exclusive one, as we seek out new and important work wherever that work may be found.

The foundation of the editorial model, as I explained in this space on the launch of PressForward, is that instead of a traditional process of submission to a journal that leads to a binary acceptance/rejection decision many months later (and publication many more months or years later), we can begin to think of scholarly communication as a process that begins with open publication on the web and that leads to successive layers of review. Contrary to the concerns of critics, this is far from a stream of unvetted work.

Imagine a pyramid of scholarship. At the bottom is a broad base of scholarship on the open web (which understandably worries many scholars who object to new models of scholarly communication that do not rely on the decisive eye of a paid editor and the scarcity of journal pages). From that base, however, a minority of scholarly works seem worthy of additional attention, and after word of mouth and dissemination of those potentially important pieces, more scholars weigh in, making a work rise or fall. As we move up the pyramid—to more exclusive forms of “publication,” fewer and fewer works survive. Far from lacking peer review, the model we are proposing involves significant winnowing as a scholarly work passes through various levels of review.

For the new DH Now, these levels of publication are transparent on the site, and can be subscribed to individually depending on how unfiltered or filtered scholars would like their stream to be:

• Most people will likely want to subscribe to the main DHNow feed, which will include the Editors’ Choice articles as well as important news items such as jobs, resources, and conferences.

• Those who want full access to the wide base of the scholarly pyramid (or who don’t trust the editorial board’s decisions) can subscribe to the unfiltered Compendium of Digital Humanities, which includes feeds from hundreds of scholars.

• For those who felt that the original DH Now worked well for them, we have maintained a “top tweeted stories” feed.

• Finally, a major new addition is the launch of a quarterly review of the best of the best—the top of the pyramid of review, which will likely contain less than 1% of works that begin at the base. We will notify scholars about potential inclusion, and pass along comments and suggestions for improvement before publication. We hope and expect that inclusion in this journal form of DH Now will be worthy of inclusion on CVs, in promotion and tenure decisions, and other areas helpful to digital humanities scholars. DH Now will have an ISSN, an editorial board, and all of the other signifiers of quality and peer review that individuals and institutions expect.

You can read more about our process on DH Now‘s “How This Works” page.

We believe this new format has several critical benefits. First, it democratizes scholarly communication in a helpful way. Over the last two years, for instance, DH Now has highlighted up-and-coming work by promising graduate students simply because they chose to post their ideas to a new blog or institutional website. Second, it democratizes the editorial process while still taking into account the scarcity of attention and without sacrificing quality. Although we have a managing group of editors here at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, we are accounting for the views and criticisms of a much broader circle of scholars to make decisions about inclusion and exclusion, and those decisions themselves can be reviewed. Third, DH Now broadens the definition of what scholarship is, by highlighting forms beyond the traditional article. Finally, it encourages open access publishing, which we think has an ethical benefit as well as a reputational benefit to the scholars who post their work online.

Introducing PressForward

For some time here at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media we have been thinking about the state of scholarly publishing, and its increasing disconnect with how we have come to communicate online. Among our concerns:

• A variety of scholarly work is flourishing online, ranging from long-form writing on blogs, to “gray literature” such as conference papers, to well-curated corpora or data sets, to entirely novel formats enabled by the web

• This scholarship is decentralized, thriving on personal and institutional sites, as well as the open web, but could use some way to receive attention from scholarly communities so works can receive credit and influence others

• The existing scholarly publishing infrastructure has been slow-moving in accounting for this growing and multifaceted realm of online scholarship

• Too much academic publishing remains inert—publication-as-broadcast rather than taking advantage of the web’s peer-to-peer interactivity

• Too much scholarship remains gated when it could be open

Legacy formats like the journal of course have considerable merit, and they are rightly valued: they act as critical, if sometimes imperfect, arbiters of the good and important. At the same time, the web has found ways to filter the abundance of online work, ranging from the tech world (Techmeme) to long-form posts (The Browser), which act as screening agents for those interested in an area of thought or practice.

What if we could combine the best of the scholarly review process with the best of open-web filters? What if we had a scholarly communication system that was digital first?

Today we’re announcing a new initiative to do just that: PressForward, generously supported by a $862,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation‘s Digital Information Technology program.

PressForward will bring together the best scholarship from across the web, producing vital, open publications scholarly communities can gather around. PressForward will:

Develop effective methods for collecting, screening, and drawing attention to the best online scholarship, including scholarly blogs, digital projects, and other web genres that don’t fit into traditional articles or books, as well as conference papers, white papers, and reports

Encourage the proliferation of open access scholarship through active new forms of publication, concentrating the attention of scholarly communities around high-quality, digital-first scholarship

Create a new platform that will make it simple for any organization or community of scholars to launch similar publications and give guidance to institutions, scholarly societies, and academic publishers who wish to supplement their current journals with online outlets

We hope you’ll join us making this new form of scholarly communication a reality. You may be a researcher in a field that is underserved by traditional outlets, because it is new, interdisciplinary, or involves non-textual media. Perhaps you have a digital project that can only be “published” if you describe it in an article. You may be an editor of a journal who would like to supplement standard articles with digital content from across the web, or a scholarly society that wants to find and feature online work. As PressForward evolves, we hope to serve all of these constituencies, as well as a broad audience currently locked out of gated scholarship.

Learn more about PressForward on our new site, or by sending us an email. You can also follow us on Twitter or via RSS.

 

The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

On April 15, 2011, the Center for History and New Media became the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. This was made possible by the incredible generosity of hundreds of donors, who gave over a million dollars to rename the center. I’m enormously grateful to those contributors, many of whom read this blog. Thank you. It was especially touching that in addition to the tremendous donations from Roy’s friends, there were scores of donations from people who had never met Roy, such as a $5 contribution from a student in rural India who learned from our websites and tools.

Here’s what I said at the beginning of the dedication ceremony:

On behalf of the entire staff of the center and also for the Department of History and Art History that the center is a part of, let me welcome you on this wonderful occasion to the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. We wouldn’t be here today without your extraordinary friendship and generosity, and so let me give the first of many thanks to everyone for making this day happen.

We have several speakers this afternoon that I have the privilege of introducing, who will each say a few words about Roy and the center. But I wanted to start off the proceedings by giving voice to something miraculous that is happening as we celebrate today.

Right now, silently in the background, literally thousands of people worldwide are connected to the center’s servers, studying and conversing and learning. I checked our server logs just before this celebration, and just today, tens of thousands of people have visited CHNM sites. And just in the last thirty days well over a million visitors took advantage of the center’s open access resources and open source tools. For this reason, I can’t imagine that any academic in history has affected more people than Roy has.

And from this day forward, all of these millions of visitors to the many sites of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media will know who Roy is. They will see the new logo that is behind this curtain on our many websites, and know whom to thank for the incredible riches and generosity that Roy envisioned when he came up with the then-radical mission statement for the center: “to use digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.” On a personal note, it’s truly a joy to be able to carry on the work of a good friend every day.

The endowment you have helped to raise will support the work of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media for years to come. Thank you.

Digital Humanities on the Kojo Nnamdi Show

I really enjoyed being on the Kojo Nnamdi Show today talking about digital humanities for an hour with Kojo, the NEH‘s Brett Bobley, and UVA‘s Bill Ferster. Kojo’s show is produced at Washington’s NPR station, WAMU, and syndicated nationally. It’s also available as an audio stream and a podcast.

Having done podcasts for four years now, I’ve come to understand how difficult it is to do a radio show—to ask the right questions, to not um and er a lot, and to stimulate informative conversation. Kojo really makes it look easy, which is even more impressive given the wide variety of topics he covers. As I left the studio today he immediately prepped to do a show on Eisenhower and the military-industrial complex.

Brett, Bill, and I talked about how to define digital humanities, the use of text mining, visualization, and digital mapping, problems associated with the abundant digital record, collaboration in the digital humanities, and questions of publishing, open access, and tenure. We also took numerous questions from callers. I thought the show had a good vibe.

So, worth a listen: The Kojo Nnamdi Show: “History Meets High-Tech: Digital Humanities”

Today was also a moment to reflect on the fact that the last time I was on the Kojo Nnamdi Show was exactly five years ago, with Roy Rosenzweig. Our book Digital History had just come out. It was just before Roy got sick. Probably said a lot on the broadcast today that Roy would have said.

Special Campaign to name CHNM after Roy Rosenzweig

Many of those who follow the work of the Center for History and New Media know that we are in the middle of a special fundraising campaign in which the National Endowment for the Humanities will match donations to the CHNM endowment. Some of you have already given to this campaign, and we are tremendously grateful for your generosity. The endowment helps us to sustain dozens of educational, archival, and software projects, all of which have been and will be freely available to the millions of people who take advantage of them every year.

The NEH challenge grant is now entering the home stretch, and we have decided to do something very special with the remaining effort: raise enough funds to name the Center for History and New Media after Roy Rosenzweig, the founding director of CHNM, who tragically passed away in 2007.

Roy was—and remains—the animating spirit of CHNM. (Learn more about Roy.) We can’t tell you how important Roy is any better than Julie Meloni, who spent a week at the Center working on a new project:

The reason CHNM is uniquely positioned as instigator of and support system for this project…is the longstanding tradition of enthusiasm, creativity, collaboration, and support put in place by its founding director, Roy Rosenzweig. It is impossible to spend any time around CHNM without learning something about this man and the reasons the center exists and is a success.

Universities usually price naming opportunities in the millions of dollars, but George Mason University will allow us to name CHNM after Roy for $750,000 (plus the NEH match). An anonymous donor has already stepped forward to provide $100,000, and we need to raise the remaining $650,000 in the next two and a half years.

We welcome all donations, but believe that Roy, a true champion of democracy, would have loved the idea that small donors could have as much impact as those with deeper pockets.

So we are asking you join our Circle of Friends by pledging just $10 a month for the next 30 months. With this tax-deductible contribution, which will be matched by $100 from NEH, CHNM will officially become the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media on its 20th anniversary.

Maybe you keep your precious research in Zotero or your treasured digital archive in Omeka, saving you from the expense of commercial programs. Maybe as a teacher or student you have learned more from CHNM’s free sites than from pricey textbooks. Or maybe you are grateful for our unique and powerful historical collections from George Washington through 9/11.

If so, we hope you’ll consider joining the Circle of Friends. These donors will be honored on a special page of our website and on the wall of CHNM.

Please join the Circle now, and thanks so much in advance for your support!

Zotero Everywhere

Here’s the big news today from our Zotero project, or you can hear me do my best to explain what’s next for Zotero on the recording of today’s broadcast of the Zotero announcement.

We’re delighted to announce Zotero Everywhere, a major new initiative generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Zotero Everywhere is aimed at dramatically increasing the accessibility of Zotero to the widest possible range of users today and in the future. Zotero Everywhere will have two main components: a standalone desktop version of Zotero with full integration into a variety of web browsers and a radically expanded application programming interface (API) to provide web and mobile access to Zotero libraries.

Zotero is the only research software that provides full and seamless access to a comprehensive range of open and gated resources. With a single click, Zotero users have long been able to add a complete journal article, book, or other resource to their personal libraries, including bibliographic metadata and attached files like PDFs. Until now, this powerful functionality has been tied exclusively to the Firefox browser, which not all researchers can or want to use. Today we are announcing support for Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Microsoft Internet Explorer, which account for 98% of the web’s usage share. Plugins for these browsers will soon allow users to add anything they find on the web to their Zotero libraries with a single click, regardless of the their browser preferences. Rather than use the Zotero pane in Firefox, users will have the new option of accessing their libraries via a standalone desktop version of Zotero, available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Zotero’s web API offers any application developer the ability to access individual and group libraries via a simple, human-readable programming interface. Until now, this API has been “read-only”—users could view their libraries but they could not change them via the web or via the API. Today we’re announcing the opening of Zotero’s write API to the public over the coming months. Because Zotero “eats its own dog food”—we already use the very same programming interface to serve pages at zotero.org—application developers can be confident that the public API will ultimately provide all the same functionality used internally at the Zotero project. With full read/write access to bibliographic data, attached files like PDFs, and the citation formatting engine, developers will be able to integrate a full range of Zotero features into their own web, mobile, and desktop applications, and users will be able to take advantage of this functionality at zotero.org.

Zotero Everywhere responds to the constantly changing needs of Zotero’s enormous research community. Downloaded millions of times since 2006 and used by hundreds of thousands of researchers daily, Zotero has grown to the world’s largest and most diverse online research community, with nearly 50 million library items presently synced to zotero.org. In addition to sharing their own individual libraries, Zotero users have formed over 25,000 collaborative research groups to pool references, share files, and coauthor manuscripts. By providing new ways of accessing and integrating this vast array of data, Zotero Everywhere will ensure that Zotero continues to be the catalyst for the next generation of research and scholarship.

Live Broadcast of “What’s Next for Zotero”

If you’re interested in what’s next for the Zotero project (hopefully your favorite open-source tool for research management), please tune in on Wednesday, September 22, at 11am EDT (1500 GMT) for a live broadcast of the announcement on the Center for History and New Media’s Ustream channel, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. This is a chance for the team behind Zotero to talk about where the project has come over the last four years, and the exciting new directions it will go in the coming years. Should be of interest to Zotero users as well as developers. Hope you’ll join us.