Reflecting on Digital History

digital-clioLast semester, I taught my first section of Digital History, following my participation in the 2016 NEH Doing Digital History Institute. The program, which is headed by Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan of George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, is designed for mid-career historians who come from institutions with little infrastructure or support for DH professional development. Owing to my library science background, I came to the Institute with a strong technological background, but the two weeks I spent in Arlington, Virginia last July definitely made me rethink my approach to digital history pedagogy. Continue reading

Guest Post: Questions About the Illicit Slave Trade, State Auctions, and Urban Infrastructure [Cross-Posted]

Todd Burst is an independent scholar who is researching and blogging about the eighteenth century British-African slave trade and the development of capitalism. He is currently writing about how Fante Africans on the Gold Coast vicariously influenced the role of the British state in commerce through the Company of Merchants Trading to Africa. He also runs the Roads to Modernity blog, where he reviews current writings about the history of slavery and capitalism, and occasionally publishes some of his own works. This guest post is cross-posted from his blog.

1_3 PAR20881410_Page_1.jpgIn Antebellum America, Southern municipalities generated revenue by confiscating and reselling illicit slaves through public auctions.[1] In 1807, Congress prohibited the international slave trade, a year later, Louisiana followed suite, but this did not stop the trade. An illicit trade from Africa across the Atlantic continued to supply the America South with slaves. Illegal slaves were forfeited to the state. The Sheriff’s department placed these slaves in prison to await resale to the public. These findings raise questions about the role of the state in the slave trade, property laws, municipal revenues, and contributions of the sale of slaves at “property auctions” to modern city infrastructures.

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Monographs in the Survey: Strategies for Writing Across the Curriculum

fountain-penI am fortunate that in graduate school, I had quite a bit of guidance in writing across the curriculum pedagogy. I have since taught approximately a dozen designated writing-intensive courses. Most history courses are writing-intensive by default, and many history faculty do find themselves teaching writing and research techniques. Here, I am focusing primarily on the strategies I use in survey courses, with a short list of monographs that I have found work well for this purpose.

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Reading Race in Early America

1280px-brunias_cropped_detail-1024x738.jpgIn the past 10 years, we have seen an embarrassment of riches in scholarship that considers race in Early America (broadly understood). The list below is not exhaustive, but highlights some of the recent scholarship. Feel free to add your own favorite recent scholarship in the comments, and keep your eyes out next month, for our CFP for a roundtable on race in Early America.

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Q&A: Ibram Kendi, Stamped From the Beginning

stampedbeginningnbawinnerToday, we are pleased to offer an interview with Dr. Ibram Kendi on his National Book Award winner, Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas. Kendi is an Assistant Professor of African-American History at the University of Florida, and Associate Editor of the African-American Intellectual History Society blog. You can find his blog posts here. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Have You Read this?:” Teaching About Early Republic Print Culture with Hamilton

We are pleased to share this guest post from Michelle Orihel, an Assistant Professor of History at Southern Utah University. Dr. Orihel received her doctorate from Syracuse University and is currently working on a book manuscript about Democratic-Republican Societies in the post-revolutionary period.

2cb6aaf1795e208995692675ca22e02c.jpgLast spring, I blogged about how I used the song “Farmer Refuted” from Hamilton: An American Musical to teach about the pamphlet wars of the American Revolution.[1] But, that’s not the only song about pamphlets in the musical. There’s also “The Reynolds Pamphlet,” named after the sensational tract published in 1797 in which Alexander Hamilton confessed to adultery.[2]

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Guest Post: Digital Humanities & Digital Journalism Symposium Recap

Brad Rittenhouse is a PhD candidate at the University of Miami specializing in 19th-century American literature and the digital humanities. His work thinks about literature as data, and looks at the intersection of literary aesthetics and information management techniques. He is also working on a DH project at UM’s Center for Computational Science, where he is developing a methodology for quantitatively identifying instances of informationally “thick” literary passages.

rittenhouseThe inaugural Digital Humanities + Data Journalism Symposium recently took place at the University of Miami, from September 29 to October 1st, drawing together a diverse crowd of academics, journalists, and many in between. As conference convener and Knight Chair in Visual Journalism at UM Alberto Cairo informed the audience in his opening remarks, the somewhat speculative event topic was inspired by a February 2012 tweet by Digital Public Library of America Executive Director Dan Cohen, which hopefully conjectured that “digital journalism and digital humanities are kindred spirits, and that more commerce between the two could be mutually beneficial.” Delivering the first keynote of the weekend-long proceedings, Cohen drew equal inspiration from Thucydides and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, lightheartedly suggesting the latter as a metaphor for the symbiotic (and potentially delicious?) roles digital humanists and data journalists could play in our increasingly informational world. In referencing Thucydides, he developed one of the salient themes of the weekend, the notion that digital scholars and journalists alike were primarily motivated by the quest to rise up from data to understanding, to construct knowledge from the complicated and overwhelming. Continue reading

Guest Post: Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era

Jennifer Goloboy is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary in St. Paul, MN. She has a PhD in the history of American civilization from Harvard University, and has published articles on merchants and the early American middle class. Her book, Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era, will be published by University of Georgia Press on October 10.

unnamedAs the new history of capitalism reminds us of the immense wealth that traveled through antebellum cotton ports, an old analytical problem remains—why didn’t Southern merchants invest in their communities, in the manner of the Boston Associates? Historians have traditionally explained that this lack of investment was caused by Southern culture: the Southern commitment to slavery, shared by its mercantile class, mandated a conservative approach to economic investment and a fear of change. For example, Scott P. Marler’s recent book on merchants in New Orleans claimed that “in the context of the slave society in which they were deeply implicated, their peculiar market culture discouraged the investments necessary for the city to modernize its economic base,” such as manufacturing and railroad-building.[1]

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Guest Post: Nate Parker’s Birth of a Nation (2016) in the Classroom

Today’s guest poster, Stephanie J. Richmond, is an Assistant Professor and coordinator of history programs at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, VA. She is a historian of gender and race in the Atlantic World. The following review contains spoilers and discussion of sexual assault.

the_birth_of_a_nation_2016_filmMany historians of race and slavery in early America were very excited when the wide release of Nate Parker’s new film on the Nat Turner rebellion was announced following its rave reviews at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. With the recent surge in Hollywood depictions of slavery (12 Years a Slave, WGN’s series Underground, and even Django Unchained), films have become an important part of teaching African American history. The best of these films and tv series give students an understanding of the psychological impact of slavery on both enslaved and free African Americans, illustrating many of the tactics of control and exploitation discussed in textbooks and classrooms. I had the opportunity to see the pre-release version of the film in April 2016 when Parker’s production company held screenings for HBCU faculty in several cities around the country. Several colleagues and I attended the screening and got our first glimpse at Parker’s version of a history that is both local and national. After the screening, production assistants recorded our reactions to the film, and took detailed notes on our critiques of the film both as a work of popular entertainment and its historical inaccuracies and misrepresentations, of which there were many. My own feelings on the film and its usefulness in the classroom are complicated and have changed significantly since my first viewing of the film in April. (In full disclosure, I have seen the film twice, both times at events put on by Parker’s production company).

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Doing Digital History 2016: A Recap

Social_Network_Analysis_Visualization.pngThe NEH Doing Digital History Institute took place at the George Mason University School of Law, over two weeks in July. The primary instructors, Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan conceptualized the Institute as a means to aide mid-career scholars to learn digital tools both to serve as “ambassadors” for DH, and also because digital tools can allow historians to ask new research questions of sources. [1] This Institute in part, answers calls made by William Cronon, Cameron Blevins, and others.[2] Even as the interest in Digital History grows, there still remains the challenge of accessing digital history training for those outside of elite research universities. There is also a need to expand the number of historians who are qualified to peer review digital projects and to assess them in tenure portfolios. [3] Continue reading