Guest Post: Dr. Strangehonor, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Snapchat

Today’s guest post is by Honor Sachs, an assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University and author of Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier.

image6Several years ago, I attended a seminar on digital pedagogy. I thought it might be worthwhile to explore new opportunities out there for social media in the classroom. It was indeed an eye-opening experience, though not in the way I had hoped. Seminar leaders regaled us with software package after software package filled with whistles, bells, alerts, gimmicks, everything, they claimed, one would need to connect with this generation of “digital natives” (their term, not mine.) Students these days spend so much time on social media, they claimed, that faculty need to learn to connect with them online in order to really engage. “Here’s a program that allows you to text your students!” “Here’s another that allows you to collect data on how much time your students spend on homework!” “Here’s a program where you can instant message your student and remind them to study!” 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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Identity and the Founders: A Response to Mark Lilla

marymunrosampler-1788This weekend, Mark Lilla, a historian of ideas at Columbia University, published a New York Times op-ed on “identity liberalism.” Reacting to the outcome of the presidential election, Lilla argues that contemporary American liberalism’s celebration of diversity, however morally salutary in private life, has been politically suicidal at the national level. “National politics in healthy periods is not about ‘difference,'” Lilla writes; “it is about commonality. And it will be dominated by whoever best captures Americans’ imaginations about our shared destiny.”

Lilla’s argument is a response—one of several possible responses—to what I see as a real problem. In contemporary America, demands for inclusion, equality, and dignity often seem to be made in the name of particular groups rather than in the name of the common good. Whether this perception is accurate is another matter. I won’t address that complicated question here. But Lilla’s perspective on early American history warrants a critical response.

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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

Men of La Mancha

don-quixote-book-coverIn a certain village of vast early America, whose name I do not recall, a book fell open. Then another. And another. By 1860, many generations’ worth of American readers had imbibed the two-volume work of Spain’s early modern master, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra: Don Quixote, or, El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha (1605). Cervantes’ metafiction of a mad knight-errant, often hailed as the first Western novel, bustled and blistered with originality. Continue reading

The Strange Death(?) of Political History

The glory days

The glory days of American political history?

Historians are back in the news, this time not as a scolds (“this bit of history in popular culture isn’t historical enough”) but as Cassandras. Recently Fredrik Logevall and Kenneth Osgood, writing under the New York Times print edition headline “The End of Political History?,” bemoan the collapse political history as an area fit for study by professional historians.[1] Jobs in political history have dried up, fewer courses in the subject are offered in universities, few people are entering graduate school to specialize in the subject and hence “the study of America’s political past is being marginalized.” To Logevall and Osgood this marginalization has two tragic effects. Firstly, it denies American citizens’ access to the intellectual tools necessary to historicize our contemporary politics and “serve as an antidote to the misuse of history by our leaders and save us from being bamboozled by analogies, by the easy ‘lessons of the past.’” It also denies historians access to political power, the ability to influence policy and policymakers in the mode of C. Vann Woodward and Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Continue reading

Love Letters and the Digital Turn

IMG_3738There should be no need to mention in a blog about early American history that the digital turn is, perhaps, a fait accompli. However, over the past couple of years more and more articles have called into question the ways in which access to digital archives and digitized sources has changed both the questions historians ask and the kinds of research we do. Of this surge in publications, Lara Putnam’s recent AHR article stands out as a kind of canary-in-the-coal-mine warning to both graduate students and established professionals. Putnam, professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, calls on all of us to have an “extensive discussion of digitization,” thereby pulling our research approaches out of, “the realm of invisible methods, the black box where by consensus we leave so much of our discipline’s heavy lifting.”[1] For Putnam and others, the digital turn remains full of pitfalls that deserve our serious consideration. Continue reading