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Teaching Digital Public History

Steven Lubar Brown University


American Historical Assocation Washington, DC January 2014

Presentation for the January 2014 meeting of the American Historical Association, part "Digital History in (and out of) the Classroom." Participants: Kathleen Franz (American University, chair) Steven Lubar (Brown University), Kathryn Tomasek (Wheaton College), and Julian Chambliss (Rollins College). Description: "This panel will raise questions about, and offer examples of, what might be called a new Digital Pedagogy. This might be understood as the mobilization of digital tools to teach a variety of principles and skills that may or may not be focused on History as a discipline and thus could be seen as either a compliment to or in contrast with Digital History. Digital Pedagogy implies more than just the use of a digital teaching platform (such as with a MOOC) and takes as it aim the exposure of students to some of the basic ideas of computational thinking. In addition to the broader issues about computational literacy, we will also explore the particular advantages to digital pedagogy for understanding history, especially public histories of the local environment or the museum."

Digital Humanities Public History


How can we combine them? How would that change what we teach and how we teach it?

How can public history and digital humanities work together in the history classroom? How can we teach public history with an awareness of the new world of the digital humanities? What do we gain out of doing that? I suggest that theres much to be gained from bringing these two elds together, especially in teaching. I will focus on bringing the digital to public history, looking at two courses on the theory and practice of the public humanities. As I redo my courses, the question in my mind is this: what percentage of the course should be about digital things? This is a more general problem for all public humanities institution, not just for faculty. What percent of a museums work should be digital? What percent of a state humanities council funds should go to web projects, what percent to the real world? How about libraries? What is the commitment to books, to web access, to community? How much overlap is there? How much is either/or? What are the comparative advantages of each?

I used the word overlap, and so of course, the next thing youll expect to see is a Venn diagram, of course. Here it is. Digital humanities is part of it, and so is public history.

Digital Humanities

History
Public History

Were interested in the overlap between the digital and the public.

Digital Humanities

History
Public History

Lets look at the digital humanities side rst.

Digital Humanities

History
Public History

Ill start with a quick overview of the digital humanities. The phrase has many meanings, and perhaps thats why its practitioners spend so much time talking about denition. I want to revel in that tradition. Ive pulled together some quotes from practitioners, and arranged them roughly in order from scholarly humanities to the public humanities.

Many visions of digital humanities

Many visions of digital humanities

Humanities Computing Digital humanities scholars use computational methods either to answer existing research questions or to challenge existing theoretical paradigms, generating new questions and pioneering new approaches. Wikipedia

1. Wikipedia offers us the most basic denition, what you might call humanities computing New tools answer old questions, new ways to examine traditional texts and images, and open up new kinds of texts for examination.

Many visions of digital humanities

2. Cathy Davidson of HASTAC suggests that digital help us to interrogate and understand the contemporary digital world.
Media Literacy ...a visionary humanities program that addressed the critical needs of literacies for the twenty-first century. Cathy Davidson

Many visions of digital humanities

Dissemination New ways of representing our scholarshipintegrating text, image, sound, and videoare emerging, as are new ways of disseminating it to ever broader publics. Kathleen Woodward

3. New ways to get our work out to the public, new kinds of outreach. Kathleen Woodward of the Simpson Center for the Humanities at the University of Washington, which seeks to [take] humanities scholarship public with the new digital technologies.!

Many visions of digital humanities

4. Is it about access? John Unsworth offers a digital humanities that makes the worlds heritage available to everyone.
Access to heritage We should place the worlds cultural heritageits historical documentation, its literary and artistic achievements, its languages, beliefs, and practices within the reach of every citizen. John Unsworth

Many visions of digital humanities

Digital public sphere The Digital Humanities seeks to ... to shape natively digital models of scholarly discourse for the newly emergent public spheres of the present era [it] affirms the value of the open, the infinite, the expansive [and] the democratization of culture and scholarship. Digital Humanities Manifesto

5. The digital humanities manifesto argues that the digital redenes the public sphere afrming the value of the open, the innite, the expansive [and] the democratization of culture and scholarship.

Many visions of digital humanities

These approaches from new tools to new topics to new modes of outreach to a new ways of thinking about literacy to new ways of thinking about the public sphere suggest the range of the digital humanities.
Humanities computing Media literacies Public Audience Cultural Heritage Digital public sphere

I want to call attention to the fact that theres a lot that is public here a surprising amount, I think. The public humanities and the digital humanities have a lot overlap. Eric Johnson of the UVA Scholars Lab talks about the open humanities. He denes it as those aspects of the humanities aimed at democratizing production and consumption of humanities research. Clearly, a good bit of the digital humanities and public history ts nicely into this denition. Theres a lot of overlap.

Now lets look at the public history side.

Digital Humanities

History
Public History

Public Humanities Theory


AMST2650: Introduction to Public Humanities

Ill do this by looking at the classes that I teach. (A note comparing public humanities and public history: Browns program in one of a small number of programs that has broadened the focus of its publicly engaged humanities MA program beyond history to include arts and literature. Here, Ill be focusing mostly on the public-history aspects of my work.) AMST2650. Introduction to Public Humanities. Ive taught this a variety of ways over the years. Im going to look at some of the big divisions and see how they might change if they were conceived of as being digital, or half-digital. I like to set up my courses in subsections, usually three subsections. In class, Id assign two or three books that explore each of these categories.)

Culture

Community

Curation
What to preserve, how to interpret, for whom? New challenges of preservation, broader definition, visualization

What groupings How do groups make sense to and people enact themselves and identity? to us?
Di gi ta l

One set of categories I like to use are these: Culture, Community, and Curation. The second row explains them further. Curation is a complicated word now, with many meanings: I use it to mean both selecting things to save and interpreting them an old fashioned museum denition. The last row shows what happens when we look at these digitally. The categories work pretty well. There are new forms of culture to discuss, but the word still works. Groups interact differently; there are new groups; and theres a lot more complicated curation going on We might add data curation and visualization in these categories. Overall, there more uidity, more openness, more complexity. But one could easily teach a digital history course that used these categories.

New forms of culture online

New groups emerge; digital communities more fluid

Us

Them

You
The audience, readers, historic site and museum visitors, tourists

Another group of categories I use to organize public humanities theory: Us, Them, You. This always seems odd to the students, at rst. but its my favorite. One can understand a great deal about the public humanities by understanding the relationships of these groups. Heres what I mean by each of them: Us are the professionals, the historians and curators. Them: the object of study or display. You: the audience. The course focuses on the relationships between these groups. How would this change in a digital public humanities course? New digital tools change a lot in the relationships between experts, objects, and audiences. We need new tools; the other has new tools to use for themselves; and the audience, more and more, become co-creators of meaning. And the relationships between the categories change in interesting ways. Now, its worth asking whether this has always been true, or whether we just see it more Lets move on from the theory course to the practice course. This is AMST1550 coming up this spring! How might we mix digital and public humanities in a way that trains students to do the work of public humanities in a digital world, and brings the interests in the public to the digital world.

The other, us in Public historians, the past, the curators, intercommunity, the preters, experts object of display
Di gi ta l

We need new tools; expertise challenged

New ways for them to present themselves

New audiences; audience becomes cocreators

Public Humanities Practice


AMST1550: Methods in Public Humanities

History and Memory Culture and Community Preservation and Representation Remember and Save Preserve and Value Classify and Interpret

Here are some of the categories that I use to think about the work of public humanities. Again, sets of three, big categories with some signicant overlap. " History and Memory " Culture and Community " Preservation and Representation " " " Remembering and Saving Classifying and Valuing Preserving and Interpreting

Museum Artifacts
Curators

Memories Historic and Stories Landscapes


Oral Historians Preservationists

Another set of three categories is organized by the kinds of work that students will do. This is an abbreviated version, but it lets me show some of the changes needed when we think about the digital. Students will be curators, oral historians, or preservationists, connecting artifacts, stories and landscapes with the public. And here is where we see the biggest change in the work as it becomes increasingly digital:

Museum Visitors

Researchers and the public

Cultural Heritage

DISINTERMEDIATION

Museum Artifacts

Memories Historic and Stories Landscapes

Curators Oral Historians Preservationists Disintermediation

Thats a great word it means you cut out the mediators. Public humanists are the mediators we often use the word interpreters. But in the digital world, these relationships are changing in a big way. Disintermediation! What role will public humanists play? This is both the greatest challenge, and the most fascinating opportunity, that public humanists have before them. How might public history courses adapt to if they were to focus on the changing role of the curator, the interpreter, the public humanist? One might imagine starting with the same set of beginning and end products museums, research, cultural heritage and seeing what happens when the digital is made central?

Museum Visitors

Researchers and the public

Cultural Heritage

Topics Tools Styles Teaching


Digital Humanities

It seems to me that there are four kinds of overlap: - I'll mention them here, and get back to them at the end of the talk.

History
Public History

Topics

Museums: Collections, Exhibitions, Education, Outreach Historic Preservation/ Cultural Landscapes Oral History Community Memory Cultural Heritage: Property, Planning, Tourism

So lets look at some of the ways that a digital public history course might be different than one a few years ago. These are some of the topics that I have traditionally taught about.

Civic Engagement Public Art Creative Economy Non-profit Organizations

These are some of the topics might be added to the course as it goes digital.

Topics

Museums: Collections, Exhibitions, Education, Outreach Historic Preservation/ Cultural Landscapes Oral History Community Memory Cultural Heritage: Property, Planning, Tourism

The topics are not that different, I think, just a new way that communities express their culture.

Civic Engagement Public Art Creative Economy Non-profit Organizations Online community/ social media Digital archives

Tools
Video and audio
production

There are many new tools that show up when we add digital tools. To some extent, this may simply be that the digital world thinks in terms of tools, and the public history world thinks in terms of techniques. For example, wed not say writing or using a word processor as a tool.

Web development
(Omeka, etc.)

Design software Collections management


systems

Spatial Analysis Databases Social Media Social Media Analytics Web Analytics Mobile App Development Multimedia/Digital

Fundraising software Content Mangement


Systems

Visualization

Theres a remarkable overlap in the style of history and digital humanities.

Style
Project-based Team-oriented Individual and team w/
range of skills

Open-source Inclusivity Interdisciplinary Communities of Passion

Ive listed public history style in white, and digital in orange - but in fact, both lists apply pretty well to both fields. These fields have a lot in common. This is the most interesting aspect of overlap to me even the most technical work in the digital humanities, written by scholars for scholars, believes in openness in a way thats all too uncommon in much of humanities work - but is increasingly the rule in public history work.

Public results Outside clients Collaborative Open Access

Teaching
Exhibitions - Labels,
design, installation, public programs Collecting proposal National register nomination

Website Social media campaign Visualization

And nally, back to teaching. Adding the digital to public history gives us some new projects to do, but again, theres a great deal of overlap. The work were already doing can take advantage of new tools, and we can add some new forms of outreach - but we dont need to start over.

Program proposal/budget Community outreach


program

Program assessment

In summary: theres a useful overlap in the work of public history and digital humanities. Our public history courses can gain from increasing the amount of digital work we do and the number of digital tools we teach.

Teaching Digital Public History

Thank you.

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