Sound in History Classes

For Week 2 of “Doing Digital History,” we were asked to reflect on how we might use sound in our history classes.

For me, I can see making increased use of historical podcasts in my classes. Podcasts offer the chance not only to enrich historical understanding but to go into greater depth on topics that I would not have time to cover in class.

One podcast that was mentioned in the large-group discussion was Liz Covart’s podcast “Ben Franklin’s World.” This podcast has several distinctives in its favor. It’s very focused on Early American History–it doesn’t wander. Next, it connects listeners to outstanding scholars in the field, so the information is both very sound and very up-to-date. In listening to the podcast, you can tell that it’s very strategic and organized in how it’s aiming to communicate.

I also appreciate the way Liz has defined her audience, which she described this way:

A “podcast avatar” assists podcasters like an “ideal reader” helps writers. In both cases, a fictional person stands in for the ideal audience member a podcaster or writer wants to reach.

I created an avatar who is hard to please: Janet Watkins. Janet isn’t into history. She’s a 22-year-old pre-med student at SUNY-Buffalo. She wants to fill her schedule with math and science courses, but she ended up in a history course that assigns Ben Franklin’s World episodes because SUNY requires all students to take several Liberal Arts classes before they graduate. Janet is a good student so she decides to brace herself for the inevitable: another boring history course that discusses dead white men. As an African American woman, she long ago grew tired of how her primary and secondary school history courses always seemed to focus on the lives of elite, white men.

My challenge: How do I reach Janet and change her mind about history? How can I show her that the study of history has as much value as the study of science and math?

(From: “How I Select Guests…”)

Setting this fictional Janet as an imagined listener allows Liz to keep the tone of the podcast focused and very accessible to undergraduate students–just the level I am looking for.

Finally, Liz has also provided “6 Podcast Interview Tips That Will Make You Shine“–which should serve all of us well.

DH as Scholarship

For my “official” homework post, let me post something controversial.

In the morning session, the conversation briefly touched on the dispute of whether DH was “scholarship.” The conversation moved on after that, but had we followed it up, this is where I would have gone…

The complaints that DH isn’t scholarship seem tied to the one-size-fits-all of print articles and monographs. But, many voices from outside the digital community have challenged that model.

Here, I’m thinking of Ernest Boyer’s classic work Scholarship Reconsidered (1990). [Selection Here, Full Book here]

Boyer’s picture of scholarship advocated four separate ways of contributing to scholarship:

  1. The scholarship of discovery, the traditional model of new scholarship.
  2. The scholarship of integration, or synthesis.
  3. The scholarship of engagement, which recognizes public interaction and outreach to constituencies beyond the academy.
  4. The scholarship of teaching and learning, recognizing that we can grow in our understanding of teaching systematically (in passing, this is a field which has seen huge growth in the past decade).

Using Boyer’s schema, DH in all its iterations (as discussed today) touches on at least one and often more than one of these types of scholarship.

So, an appreciation of Boyer’s model could help move along our defense of DH as scholarship.

On this front, I think “the Humanities” can help support “the Digital” in showing the broader uses of humane learning. And, this broader view of DH as scholarship could be nurtured particularly well at liberal arts institutions, which at least some participants represent. For my part, I’m grateful that my institution, the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota values all forms of scholarship and that my administration has been very supportive as I’ve been thinking about DH and its place in our institution.



Blog vs. Blog

That title was meant to evoke Mad Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy series, although this does make me wonder if this blog is “black” or “white.”

I’m feeling a bit of tension working on this blog, when I run (or, occasionally run, as the case may be) another blog that needs attention.To add confusion, that other blog also uses wordpress, but it’s hosted by

I call the other blog the Historical Conversations blog, on the grounds that I hope it will generate conversation and maybe even be a landing place for a wider audience than just professional historians.

I encourage seminar participants to hop over there, too.

Our blogging practicum this afternoon, though, was a great encouragement for me to work on it further. I think several of the pages beyond the blog need some updating.

Doing Digital History 2016

[This is cross-posted from the “Historical Conversations” blog. I encourage everyone to visit it and bookmark it, as well.]

One highlight for me this summer is the opportunity to participate in a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Summer Seminar called “Doing Digital History 2016.”

I’m joining twenty-three other historians for the next two weeks in Washington, D.C. The seminar has been organized by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. These are some of the leaders of the field, so it’s good to learn from the best.

This seminar is designed for mid-career scholars who are interested in gaining more digital skills for their work in history–this definitely applies to me!

If you’d like to see what we’re doing, you can check out the seminar’s website.

We’re also using the twitter hashtag #doingdh16.

I’m looking forward to developing skills that I can use both in my research and in my teaching at the University of Northwestern.

One day in, and I already have some good ideas. I’m sure more will be coming.