Tona Hangen

Teaching with Archival Materials

This page is created for a NERCOMP session, “Digital Data for the Rest of Us” on June 4, 2012 at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT (sadly, the session had to be cancelled).

Presentation Abstract: As part of a panel on using digital resources in the classroom, I will be sharing simple steps towards the digital humanities, ranging from the basic (developing assignments around stellar digital collections) to the more ambitious (creating lasting digital and online resources on a shoestring budget). Each has been tested in my own teaching, refined through trial and error, and can be adapted to a wide range of teaching situations and institutional settings. I focus especially on tools and ideas that are open-source and accessible without specialized training or skills. Get inspired by creative ideas to use digital resources for better teaching and learning on your campus.

Here are the resources and ideas I’ll be featuring, in the order I plan to discuss them.

1) Using well-built digital resources for student research, course readings, and as the foundation of assignments. I keep a list of my favorites.

2) Interrogate the digital environment as a cultural text. Just because they’re so-called digital natives (or maybe especially *because* they’re native to this environment) doesn’t mean they’ve ever paid much attention to its infrastructure. Case in point: Wikipedia.

3) Have students write for real audiences or make/do things with real-world application. Some of my examples: a “mythbuster” of the 19th century American West (Fall 2009), documenting Obama’s first 100 days in office (Spring 2009), or getting them involved in crowdsourced transcription (Fall 2011), e.g. NY Diner Menus (NY Public Library); Civil War Diaries and Letters (University of Iowa). Or creating a task, like catalog and write finding aids for an actual cash-strapped/stalled digital project on your campus or in your community.

5) Collaborative tools for group work: Google Docs, Wikis. I’ve used Wikispaces to manage a semester-long Congressional simulation and as a workspace for students writing a group-authored historical novel about P.T. Barnum.

6) Site creation and ePortfolios for the department’s methods course using GoogleSites or WordPress; here and here are two student examples.

7) Use tools of data analysis or visualization to “do stuff” with texts & artifacts. Geolocation: e.g. Historypin or Pinterest

8 ) An Omeka site could be one-stop shopping for many of the above. Mine = DigitalWorcester.org. Although currently under renovation, it contains a total of 257 items and five kinds of projects since Fall 2008:

    • Digitization of our uncatalogued college archive materials – e.g. photographs, yearbooks, teaching diaries, circa 1874-1940; US History II survey
    • Documentation of historic places in Worcester, including buildings, monuments, cemeteries, markers, US History II survey
    • Selective digitization of local history print materials in the public domain, circa 1890-1920 (partnering with Local Desk of the Worcester Public Library), US History II survey
    • Piloting the creation of casefiles of the Edwards Street Temporary Home & Day Nursery, circa 1910s/1920s (partnering with the Worcester Historical Museum), US social history course
    • Student-authored profiles of local church congregations, US religion course

Note: An earlier version of this presentation was given during the Friday bootcamp of THATCamp New England on 10/21/11 as “Digital Humanities in the Classroom: Simple Steps.”

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Header Image: Adapted from Niki Feijens

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