What’s Livetweeting For, Anyway?

What’s Livetweeting For, Anyway?

No longer live tweetingLast week, an anonymous Ph.D. student published a Guardian op-ed under the headline “I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer.” Among other complaints, the author (a laboratory scientist) condemned the practice of livetweeting academic conferences. Livetweeters care less about disseminating new knowledge, Anonymous wrote, than about making self-promotional displays: Look at me taking part in this event.

I hate to admit it, but the author may have a point. When I shared the article, one of my friends, an anthropologist, observed that she finds livetweeting “baffling” because she would rather listen—and be listened to—than be distracted during a conference talk. Katrina Gulliver, an influential advocate of Twitter use by historians, told me (via, yes, Twitter) that she no longer approves of conference livetweeting either. “Staring at screens is uncollegial,” she argued; it interferes with face-to-face discussions, and the value of the information passed along is dubious too, because “tweets present (or misrepresent) work in [a] disconnected, out of context way.” Bradley Proctor told me he has had one of his talks misrepresented by a livetweeter—a particularly sensitive issue for someone who researches Reconstruction-era racial violence.

Surely these are important concerns. It seems to me that conference livetweeters—yours truly included—need to get better at articulating explicit objectives and boundaries if we’re going to take these risks. So what do people say about the way they use Twitter at conferences?

Continue reading

The Value of Storytelling: Recap

The Value of Storytelling: Recap

SABFAB9780615With just days left in the semester and students scrambling to finish papers and prepare for exams, I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on an idea I raised in my first post here at The Junto. Back in September, I declared my intentions to assign the Librivox.org recording of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno. The prospects of assigning audio content in a classroom situation seemed the ideal solution to unrealistic weekly reading word counts while doing to double duty of engaging students in early American history through storytelling. And then I got cold feet. Could I really make it mandatory for 37 students to sit back and listen to several hours worth of recordings simply for the pedagogical payoff of connecting them in a more real way to the nineteenth-century world inhabited by the slave ship Tryal and Captain Amasa Delano? As the semester wore on, and more and more students realized how long the recordings would take to listen to, my trepidation only increased. Continue reading

A Beginner’s Guide to Mapping Early America with Basic GIS

QGISOver the past couple years, friends have asked me a lot about maps and mapping software—questions I probably have no business fielding. I’m not truly formally trained in GIS, I’ve picked up a lot of things online, from books, in workshops, but mostly through trial-and-error, and half the time I still prefer to draw my maps by hand. (Yes, I like to draw.) It’s sort of like the four-eyed leading the blind.

There’s a reason, though, that my friends have few other places to turn. Workshops at universities, as well as many guides online, are still largely geared towards those working on more contemporary history, and to those looking to manipulate census and other large data sets. For those of us working on colonial America—especially those working on frontiers, borderlands, and native grounds—our materials rarely support this kind of work.

As I thought about my post the last couple days, I realized I wanted to write something less to those also working on spatial-intensive projects, and something more for those—like my friends—looking to find quick and simple ways to add maps to presentations and papers. In other words, those who aren’t about to download ArcGIS, run windows on their mac, enroll in a series of workshops, lose days (weeks and months) to inputting vector and raster data, and become geospatial pros. Those who are more interested in manipulating a historic map than creating a new one from historic data. Casual mappers and prospective weekend warriors of geohistorical analysis, this is for you. Continue reading

Academic Audiobooks: Or, a Thinly-Veiled Plea for Recommendations

IMG_5335Over the past few years, I’ve become (to my great surprise) an avid listener of audiobooks. What initially began as a means to keep me awake and alert during a series of near-monthly drives back and forth from Virginia to northern New Jersey has become, over time, what I prefer to listen to in almost all circumstances: on my morning run, on my daily commute, during the several short walks I take across campus throughout the week, and even occasionally at day’s end, as I lay in bed trying to unwind before falling asleep (with my headphones in, this is a far less intrusive means of me “reading” for my slumbering wife).  Continue reading

Guest Post: The Value of Storytelling

We’re thrilled to welcome as our latest guest poster, Casey Schmitt. Casey is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law under the supervision of Brett Rushforth. Casey holds an MA in history from the University of Utah, where she wrote an excellent thesis on the British Asiento, illicit trade, and the limits of empire in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Her teaching and research interests center on the inter-imperial nature of the early modern Americas.

As a newly-minted ABD embarking on my first stab at teaching the early American history survey, I find myself buried beneath my own excitement for the material. No one warned me that the biggest obstacle to designing a course would be curbing my own unrelenting enthusiasm. Perhaps no part of that enthusiasm has proven more damaging to my syllabus than my passion for storytelling. Specifically, I approached teaching the early America survey with a litany of historical works of fiction and non-fiction that I wanted to familiarize undergraduates with: 12 Years a Slave, Benito Cereno, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Letters From an American Farmer, among many, many other titles. Before too long I was looking at a weekly reading word count over 150 pages. Yikes. Continue reading

Trials and Tribulations of Writing while Sleeping

Trials and Tribulations of Writing while Sleeping

iphone notes screencapA few weeks ago, I dropped my iPhone in water. If you were wondering, those things do not float. As I pulled the phone out and dried it as best I could, all I could think about was my dissertation. I was in the throes of finishing a chapter, and I had a lot of really good ideas on that phone. In this post, I want to explain why my phone has become so important to my scholarly life. Continue reading

“Let a thousand MOOCs bloom”: An Interview with Peter Onuf

OnufHere at The Junto, we noted last semester’s flurry of history MOOCs with a combination of interest, excitement, and trepidation. Peter Onuf—the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor, Emeritus, and the instructor of Coursera’s recent MOOC, “The Age of Jefferson”—graciously agreed to answer some of our questions about his experience. In the transcribed interview that follows, we discussed not only the process of designing and creating his MOOC, but also his thoughts about online classes and the future of higher education in general.

Continue reading

A MOOC Confession

Peter Onuf on BikeI have a confession to make: I have been watching MOOCs. I feel guilty about it, honestly, I do—not so much about the fact that I have been watching them, but more about the fact that I have also been enjoying them.

Continue reading

Using Local History in the Survey: City Streets

digitalmapsofphillyrecent conversation with Joe, Ken, and Michelle Moravec has me thinking about ways to use local history in a US survey course. Right now, Michelle and I have it easy; we’re both teaching in greater Philadelphia. It doesn’t take a lot of creativity to find ways to call out local attractions in class. (I can even display a map showing my campus smack in the middle of the Battle of Germantown.) But what about local history in general? How can we demonstrate that history is experienced in particular places, and that every place, at least potentially, has a history?

Continue reading

Using Blogs in the Classroom


Hist339schedule
This week Framingham State University held its annual faculty professional development day (known on campus by its chronological moniker, January Day). As part of the day, I and a colleague in the English department put together a session on using social media in the classroom. What follows is an approximation of my half of the discussion, which focused on using blogs in a classroom setting. With the semester looming for almost everyone (though not, apparently, Rachel), it’s a good time to think about course syllabi, readings, and assignments. These sessions are aimed broadly at generating discussion among the faculty across disciplines about pedagogy, so I tried less to talk about how innovative I am (in some ways, not in others) but rather to provide a narrative of my experiences and raise a few questions.

Continue reading