All posts by Stephen Robertson

To Do

I now have a window of time between activities here at VCU to write some of what I had planned for a ‘night before Day of DH’ post that succumbed to my schedule.

What’s on my to-do list:

  • My HIST 390 The Digital Past class on Wednesday evening. We’ve begun to work with digital tools to analyse the material the students have on the Civil War soldier whose story each of them is telling. Last week we graphed some of the wealth of statistical data available on the Union military, to produce visualisations of data that places their soldier in context: how many men enlisted from their state; how many men from their regiment were killed or wounded; the heights, occupations etc of Union soldiers. On Wednesday we’ll be looking at geo-spatial projects and mapping the soldier’s lives and military service, which means using the Programming Historian tutorial to map my own soldier to try to anticipate what will cause the students problems.
  • The weekly seminar with the three first year DH Fellows at the Center, Amanda Regan, Janelle Legg and Anne McDivitt. They’ve now spent time in each of RRCHNM’s three divisions, and we’re pulling those experiences together with an exploration of the Center’s history, feeding into planning for our 20th Anniversary event, November 14 and 15.  The Fellows have been using a plan put together by Sheila Brennan and Sharon Leon to build an Omeka site to collect information on the Center, its staff and its past projects, and each looking at the proposal and reports for one of our major projects (Zotero, ECHO, Teachinghistory.org) to see what information they contain on how the Center works that could be used to hack the Center’s history on the first day of the 20th conference – watch out for registration information for this free event!
  • A paper for the Mapping New York symposium at Bard Graduate Center on 4/25 – another opportunity to talk about Digital Harlem. Face to face presentations are an important part of finding an audience for digital projects!
  • A meeting with development staff from various offices at GMU — RRCHNM has a small endowment, raised with the help of an NEH Challenge grant, which we’d love to increase to a level that gives us more flexibility in what we can do. I’m trying to raise RRCHNM’s profile within GMU’s fundraising, especially for our 20th anniversary year
  • A meeting with the Dean of CHSS at GMU — RRCHNM relies almost entirely on grant funding, more so than any comparable DH Center, and we need more support from our home institution to sustain ourselves and grow – as does everyone meeting with the Dean!
  • A meeting of the Honours 353 seminar, the capstone of the Honours Program in General Education, where I will be a guest for a discussion on new media and big data — more DH outreach, this time within the GMU community
  • A two page proposal for a tool that we’d like to build, which I’m working on with Sean Takats, to present to our Planning Group for feedback and brainstorming ahead of submission to a funder
  • A proposal for a digital project on private detectives and the invasion of privacy in the first half of the twentieth century, using mapping to visualise surveillance and data visualisation to examine the use of licensing to regulate private detectives – the next step in my research on the history of undercover surveillance in the US, on which I hope to work as my end-of-semester treat

The Bigger Picture

As is the case with many folk, my Day of DH only makes sense in the context of my job. I am the Director of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia. I started in that job in August of last year, so I’m still introducing myself as the ‘new Director,’ and still devoting much of my time to orientating myself to the Center and job of director — and to the US generally, having come from the University of Sydney. (I have lived in the US before, for much of the 1990s, when I completed a PhD at Rutgers University).

Today I’m not actually at RRCHNM – which is part of my job. I represent the Center in a variety of different settings, contributing to workshops and roundtables, offering advice, giving presentations on my own work in digital history — and of course, on countless committees, working groups etc. I’m not the ‘face of the Center;’ the talented people I work with are also regularly called on to talk to a range of different audiences about their areas of expertise and the projects on which they work.

These activities reflect the extent to which many scholars and institutions are still exploring what DH means and what in particular they might do in this area. In this context, to do DH means regularly being asked to talk about it, to explain it, to give advice on how to get started.

Today, having successfully negotiated the traffic, I’m at Virginia Commonwealth University, primarily for this event:

cropped-header6

Scholar, Maker, Creator: New Humanities Conversations

7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University

I will be a Panelist – with Susan Brown (University of Alberta); Aaron McCollough (University of Michigan Publishing), in a discussion moderated by Richard Godbeer.  Appropriately enough for the Day of DH, in our opening remarks we’ve been asked to define DH!

Before that event we’re meeting a range of folk interested in DH at VCU – but only if I stop writing and go to meet my ride. Hopefully, more to come!