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Sarah’s Midterm Project Proposal (2 of 2)

Title: Development of History Engine

Introduction
History Engine (HE) is a digital history project of the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab that has three stated goals: to be a teaching resource, educational experience, and academic tool. In ITP Core 1 I did a comprehensive assessment of the pedagogical and technical successes and shortcomings of HE; in Core 2 I will implement two of my recommendations. First, I will re-frame online publishing and tagging from a formatting responsibility to an archive-building activity. Currently, the site focuses on the importance of publishing the collection, but presents the act of publication as boring lists of rules: “uploading,” “style guide,” and “citation guide.” The site will shift its focus to how a student’s work can help a future researcher. Second, I will revamp the “Teacher’s Guide” to be more accessible and engaging. Currently, it offers a professor a step-by-step roadmap for thinking about using HE in a course, yet it is formatted as a dry, unappealing word document. I will re-vamp this guide as short videos and exercises in order to engage a professor in “cognitive apprenticeship” with the one of the experienced teachers who crafted the materials.

Set of Personas
Shelly: A student at Miami University of Ohio who’s been assigned to write an “episode” for History Engine in her class on American Slavery.
Fred: A researcher who stumbles across an HE episode in a google search.
Elan: A professor interested in assigning HE to his/her class who’s been forwarded the link by a fellow professor.

Use Case Scenario

Professors from colleges as far afield as Juniata College, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Rollins College and Furman University have opted to use HE in their classrooms. They may find it through the University of Richmond’s digital scholarship lab; learn about it in a publication by Ed Ayers, President of the University of Richmond and designer of the famous Valley of the Shadow digital history project; or they may learn about it through word-of-mouth from colleagues. Some professors use HE as a semester-long assignment; others spend just three weeks, one “episode.” Most students access the site once they’ve been assigned to write an “episode.”

Full Fledged Version
The first step in this process is learning how the back-end of HE is set-up to understand what is possible. Rob Nelson only (finally) approved my work on HE last week, so I have yet to learn on what platforms the site operates/can interface.

Reframing Online Publishing: A new section in the “For Students” section of HE called “Build a Database” will explain both the reasoning behind and the process of database building as a meaningful part of the historian’s craft. To do this, I will include a (humerous!) video introduction to databases that will highlight the differences between a database and a traditional archive; the potential uses of HE’s archive to scholars; and illustrate the potential pitfalls of incomplete/improper metadata. I can get assistance from friends who work in production as well as free movie software such as imovie to create this clip. I will also create a series of exercises for students to practice proper metadata tagging and to show the potential pitfalls of improper tagging. I would like to model this off of some of the exercises offered by Khan Academy. I have a friend who works there and can ask her for advice/contacts in how I might borrow code or think about writing my own.

Revamping Teachers Guide: Resources for teachers should be dynamic and continue to grow just as the database of “episodes” evolves. My initial thought is to create a forum for teachers to discuss syllabi, assignments, etc. When I proposed this, Rob Nelson replied that they had tried that and “It was pretty much unused.” He continued, “We don’t have enough instructors using the History Engine (probably much less than ten) to sustain a conversation [during any given semester.]” So, to best direct my efforts at improving HE’s teachers guide, I will focus my efforts on creating and administering a survey to teachers to collect assignments and best practices on how to use HE, and find out what types of questions they would like answered.

Timeline and Skills Acquisition

  • Connect with Rob Nelson to organize a time to earn the back-end of HE, identify teachers who frequently use HE, and his assessment of what teachers need/how to design the teacher survey. Continually keep Nelson informed of my progress/check in with questions. (20 hours)
  • Investigate the range of potential options for building the “Create a Database” section. (10 hours)
  • Research best practices in introducing/spinning/explaining digital uploading/archival creation/metadata as an “experience” (30 hours)
  • Contact Khan Academy/others to assess the potential to “borrow” code to write exercises (5 hours)
  • Write, record, produce and edit movie about database creation (50 hrs)
  • Administer surveys with teachers; build and manage a collection of resources they’ve developed for HE (20 hrs)
  • Interpret survey results and make recommendations for updates to teachers guide
  • Implement/publish simple solutions to teacher’s guide (20 hrs)

Minimal Viable Product
I will complete do one of the two proposed elements; most likely the reframing of online publishing. I can certainly do the research and build-out the language to include database creation as an element of the Historian’s job, even if there are no exercises and videos to accompany it.

Bio: Patrick Smyth

I’m a third year English PhD student studying the history of science in the 18th and 19th centuries. I also have an interest in new media, particularly new ways of approaching the ebook in general and the scholarly edition in particular. As a Digital Fellow with CUNY DHI, I work on digital initiatives around the GC. The Digital Fellows site is here. We have a blog, Tagging the Tower, and our workshop schedule should be going up soon.

Both my project ideas have to do with the aesthetics of science, including how science is portrayed in literature. The first idea is for an online archive or database of technologies as they appear in various works of science fiction. Visitors could view books by technology and see when new technologies were first introduced in literature. Ideally, they could also compare the advent of technologies in fiction with the real-world development of those technologies. I envision this database as primarily crowdsourced. Not sure how I’ll build it, though I’ve been experimenting with Django, a Python framework for building web apps. I also have some experience working with the Drupal content management system, although for various reasons I’d prefer not to build this project with it.

My second idea is a digital scholarly edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s memoir, which is titled Memories and Adventures. The book is interesting from a history of science perspective because of the contradiction between Doyle’s invention of Sherlock Holmes and his fascination with spiritualism, psychical phenomena, and the occult. I’d like it to be something of a linearly curated archive, where readers could branch off the central text to explore information about  Doyle, Holmes, the Boer war, and other subjects covered in the book.

I’ve researched a lot of platforms and systems for publishing on the iPad, and most have pretty big drawbacks. I’d have to either bite the bullet and pick one of those frameworks or try to come up with something on my own, which might be tough going.

It’s been great to read about everyone’s background and scholarly interests. Looking forward to class tomorrow evening!