Digital History in the Surveillance State

nsahqThree days ago, the Washington Post reported the results of an investigation into a large collection of files provided by Edward Snowden. Reviewing 160,000 intercepted electronic conversations and 8,000 other documents, which Snowden apparently accessed on NSA servers after that agency collected them, the Post’s reporters found that nearly half of them contained information pertaining to U.S. citizens. Overall, the article says, the sample showed that the government scooped up information on nine bystanders (as it were) for every “targeted” individual under electronic surveillance. On that basis, the reporters speculate that the NSA may have collected information on as many as 800,000 non-target individuals in 2013.

I don’t intend to comment here on the legality, ethics, or wisdom of the NSA’s programs or the Snowden leaks. But I do think this report is fascinating and important. And I think it’s worth considering from the standpoint of digital history.

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Throw John Smith Off Ship

Spring is in the air in Southern California! Well, to be fair, this isn’t usual: it always smells like flowers in Los Angeles (when it doesn’t smell like poisonous smog or wildfire smoke), but recent much needed rain has definitely made the city seem more verdant. My students are sunken-eyed and groggy from midterms, but spring break is just around the corner. What better time to take stock of how a new course is going?

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The Generation Game

The AHA recently announced the formation of an ad hoc committee to produce standard guidelines for evaluating digital scholarship. It is hoped that the guidelines will allow professional recognition of new scholarship in a way that can become codified within the tenure process. The committee is a veritable who’s who of digital humanities worthies—all with an excellent track record of traditional peer-reviewed scholarship and engagement with a variety of digital media. When this committee speaks, it will command attention.

This is an important step forward for the profession; having a rigorous set of guidelines for evaluation will serve as an important starting point for encouraging recalcitrant colleagues and administrators to take digital scholarship seriously. But there is one thing that is also notable about the committee—not to put too fine a point on it, it is rather old. All the scholars are safely tenured. Where are the voices of the new generation, of the digital natives? Continue reading

Guest Post: Introducing “The American Yawp”

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Wright, a doctoral candidate at Rice University, who focuses on religious conversion and early American antislavery. He is the co-editor of Apocalypse and the Millennium in the Era of the American Civil War (LSU, 2013), the editor of the Teaching United States History blog, and co-editor of The American Yawp.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 8.09.18 AMLike many of you, I find myself teaching the first half of the U.S. history survey this fall. The first few times through the course, I used a textbook and appreciated the clear organizational structure and built-in pacing. Teaching with a textbook felt like teaching with training wheels, and I certainly needed them for my first few laps. But as my confidence grew, so did my desire to assign primary sources, articles, monographs, museum catalogs, and other readings. While I am impressed with the quality of many texts – Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty, and Kevin Schultz’s HIST are among my favorites – I cannot justify assigning an (often outrageously) expensive textbook if it is not going to be the cornerstone of my course. But my course evaluations often include requests for textbooks, particularly among athletes or other students with serial absences. I have tried placing a textbook on reserve, but in the three semesters of doing so, no one has ever checked out the book. It seems like our discipline could use an affordable, synthetic safety net for students who would like one. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s not every Sunday that we get to begin this recap with a genuinely fresh proslavery argument. But this week the International Herald Tribune ran a brief column by Humayan Dar, a self-described “Islamic economist” with a PhD from Cambridge.  Under the headline, “Modern slavery: how bad is bonded labour,” the essay decried “the negative perception of slavery and bonded labour,” and suggested that a legal forced-labor regime in Pakistan would “work for the mutual benefit of the parties, the employer and the worker and their families.”

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Collecting Delaware

TCaesarRodneyhis week, Chief Curator Constance Cooper shares what’s next for the past at the Delaware Historical Society.

JUNTO: Can you describe the range and scope of the Society’s pre-1865 collections, and how researchers can access materials?

COOPER: The Delaware Historical Society has rich pre-1865 collections. Special strengths are the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, Delaware founding fathers, early businesses, and early organizations. The Society’s collections are cataloged in Ask Caesar. Researchers are welcome to visit the library on Monday, 1pm-9pm, Tuesday, 9am-1pm, Thursday, 9am-1pm, Friday 9am-5pm, and the third Saturday of the month, 10am-4pm. A good deal of basic Delaware information and bibliography is available in the Delaware Online section here. Continue reading