Yvonne Seale

Making Women Matter, One Medieval Manuscript at a Time

Category: Digital Humanities (Page 2 of 2)

(Talking About) Rewiring the Classroom

(Originally published in The Daily Iowan, February 13 2013)

One day when I was five years old, my teacher led my class across the playground to look at our school's latest acquisition: a computer. It was the first time I'd seen a computer, and it was strictly a look-don't-touch scenario. In the late 1980s, computers in the classroom were a vanishing rarity and I can't recall them ever being used as part of a lesson. Jump forward a couple of decades, and computers are no longer an educational curiosity; the phone sitting beside me on my desk undoubtedly has many times the computing power of that long defunct machine.

Yet for all the ubiquity of computers in our day-to-day life or in the classroom, it often doesn't seem as if we've gotten much better at incorporating technology into our teaching. A block of text on a PowerPoint slide is no better than a block of text on the printed page, left static and lacking in the context which provides meaning; proficiency in Twitter doesn't mean that a student has learned how to formulate a search to find that one key article online.

Discussions about the digital humanities and teaching are everywhere you turn, sprawling across blogs and newspaper columns—if you've got a couple of hours to kill and the intestinal fortitude, try searching online for 'MOOCs' or 'the gamification of education'. Yet as passionate as these discussions are, they often leave one with the impression that well-intentioned educators are either talking past one another, or not asking the right questions. Attitudes towards technology in the classroom are often shaped by preconceptions about its social, ethical or political connotations, or apprehensions about the future of higher education. Often, people forget to start with the most basic question: how can specific tools best be put to practical use in education?

The University of Iowa has made a great commitment in recent years to supporting the digital humanities, with the foundation of the Digital Studio for the Public Humanities and the hiring of several new faculty members who are tasked with exploring how digital practices can help to create new, innovative scholarship in the humanities.

On February 23rd, the University will take that commitment a step further by hosting 'Rewiring the Classroom', a symposium on practical, hands-on ways to use digital technologies in the undergraduate classroom. Through a mixture of workshops and discussions, participants will consider the myriad ways in which technology can invite more voices into the college classroom: how to create a new scenario that's all about look-touch-learn.

This conference is intended for anyone interested in creative and critical applications of technology to undergraduate education – professors, graduate instructors, librarians, information technologists, and other curious folks. Register for free by February 18th at rewiringtheclassroom.wordpress.com.

Rewiring the Classroom

Next month, the University of Iowa will host “Rewiring the Classroom”, a forum on digital pedagogy for the college classroom. I’m really excited to have been able to help put this forum together (with the able assistance of my fellow HASTAC scholars, Audrey and Craig, of course)—there’s a lot of talk and theory out there about the digital humanities in the classroom, but sometimes it’s tough to know how to actually incorporate technology into your teaching on a practical level.

We’ve tried to make “Rewiring the Classroom” a blend of a conference and a workshop, with our presenters combining hands-on experience with new technologies and critical discusion of their pedagogical values. The forum is free and open to professors, graduate instructors, librarians, information technologists, and other curious folks: just register at our website by February 18!

The Past in Colour

Photo colourisation by Sanna Dullaway / Original image from the Library of Congress

Crossposted from my HASTAC blog; you can find my original post here at the HASTAC site.

I’ve just read this fascinating short article on TIME’s website, A Vibrant Past: Colorizing the Archives of History. The magazine commissioned an artist to digitally colorise surviving photographs from Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. The results are, I think, quite startling and immediate. The artist, Sanna Dullaway, said:

“History has always been black and white to me, from the World War I soldiers to the 1800s, when ladies wore grand but colorless dresses … By colorizing, I watch the photos come alive, and suddenly the people feel more real and history becomes more tangible.”

There is certainly a very different quality and feel to the original black-and-white portrait of Lincoln below, versus the cleaned-up and polychrome version. This relatively simple use of digital technology greatly alters, in a very literal way, how we see a historical artefact.

They of course make me think of the photographs from the very early twentieth century which used a primitive colour photography technology, and prevent us with sometimes startlingly immediate images of a world which we largely think of in sepia tones: the photography commissioned by Albert Kahn, for instance, or the marvellous Prokudin-Gorskii collection, which document the Russian Empire just on the verge of revolution. Yet those photographs were “born” in colour, so to speak, whereas the Lincoln photos have been altered to appear in colour. We haven’t lost the originals, but for me there’s a tension between the two—does adding colour remove some of the exercise, some of the joy, of using our historical imagination? Does it potentially destabilise some of the artefact’s historical integrity—which one do people start thinking of as “real”? The carefully composed black-and-white image which captured a three-dimensional, polychrome world, or the new version which tries to “restore” colour? Are these reservations less important than the opportunity to reach new audiences and get them thinking about the past?

DIY History?

Crossposted from my HASTAC blog; you can find my original post here at the HASTAC site.

The University of Iowa Libraries have recently launched a new project called DIY History—a project which asks the interested general public to participate in the process of transcribing some of their Special Collections holdings. OCR is a great technology but one which really works best with print, and so older, handwritten documents still need a human eye to help make them search engine accessible—not always a very difficult task, but a pretty time-consuming one.

I think the DIY History project is a great one on a number of levels. It opens up the practice of history, allowing people who aren’t formally historians to “do” history, to see what it is that historians and archivists do; it allows us to engage with the general public; it allows us to overcome some of the limitations of technology and funding resources. I can also see it being very useful in the classroom—what better way to have students in a history class learn how to read primary sources in an analytical manner, seeing themes and contradictions and problems with the historical record as they go?

Have any of you worked on projects like this in the past, whether as organisers or contributers, or have you used them in the classroom? I’d be interested to know what you guys think about:

  • Usefulness in the classroom—what skills do students gain from working on DH projects like this?
  • Quality control issues and “good faith” revisions. (Some of these projects can be very accurate; how can we ensure that this is true of all of them?)
  • How to publicise the existence of projects like these, both to the general public and to other academics (there are projects like the Harry Ransom Center Fragments Project, which are aimed at harnessing the knowledge of a very wide range of specialists on medieval manuscripts and writings, for instance)
  • The role of the historian/archivist—who is the final arbiter and why/how?
  • Other issues that I’m forgetting here?

The Importance of the Humanities – October 13

6a013486c64e2e970c017d3ce6d2f0970cOn October 13, I was back in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol, this time to hear a talk given by Jim Leach (pictured right), a former Representative for Iowa in the U.S. Congress, and the current chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities. Leach spoke about the importance of an education in the humanities for helping us to understand and analyse the effects which words can have.

Inspired by his speech, and by some thoughts which I’ve been mulling over myself for the past couple of weeks, I’ve posted to my HASTAC blog on the topic of the digital humanities, asking what sorts of ethical or civic implications that DH might have—particularly considering the field is a current hot topic. You can read my post here on the HASTAC site, or find it below beneath the jump. All thoughts and comments are welcome!

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HASTAC and the Digital Humanities

I’m really pleased to be one of this year’s HASTAC (Humanities, Art, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory) Scholars at the University of Iowa, working in conjunction with UI’s Digital Studio for Public Humanities and the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies. HASTAC is a digital initiative, an online community of scholars working together at “the intersection of technology and the arts, humanities and sciences.”

I’ll be the first to admit that most of what I know about computers and technology has been picked up by osmosis—things I’ve read online or that I’ve heard from friends who studied the sciences at university—and so I’m not a proficient coder or deeply knowledgeable in the ways of Linux. What I am, however, is really interested in how people—scholars, students, the general public—can use technology to improve and share their understandings of history (while still sometimes being a devil’s advocate for plain old pencil and paper!). I’m really intrigued, for example, by the possibilities of digital modelling—the Premonstratensian sisters whom I study may not have left any documentation behind them, but we have the chance to get some sense of what the world that they saw looked like through, say, a combination of a careful reading of charters and a program like Google Sketchup

You can check out the bios of the other University of Iowa HASTAC scholars at the Obermann Center website, and see my profile page on the HASTAC site. I will be blogging there throughout the year about my experiences working with the DSPH and learning my way around the field of digital humanities.

Humanities Story Corps

Humanities Story Corps is a joint initiative of the University of Iowa and Humanities Iowa, which seeks to promote community dialogue while demonstrating the value of the humanities in our daily lives. I was asked by the team to contribute to Story Corps as an interviewee and was delighted to do so.

I spoke about what the study of history means to me, and how my pursuit of my studies—across, at last count, three continents—has shaped my life. You can find my interview streaming online, along with those conducted with other members of the University of Iowa Department of History, at the departmental website.

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