Recently, the National Endowment of Humanities’ Office of Digital Humanities (ODH) offered a briefing for congressional staff, alternatively described as a “technology fair” or an “open house,” to help educate staffers and promote NEH-funded projects. The briefing, held in the US Capitol, offered attendees the opportunity to “test drive” NEH-funded projects, meet the creators behind them, and learn more about the ODH.
Brett Bobley, director of the Office of Digital Humanities, kicked off the event with a brief summary about the ODH, its strategic goals, and some of the projects on display. Bobley concluded his remarks by calling for more collaboration in the scholarly community.
The emphasis on collaboration was reinforced by the amalgam of scholars and project staff on site to demonstrate their various NEH-supported digital projects. Historians Sharon Leon and Sheila Brennan demonstrated their Division of Public Programs-supported project Histories of the National Mall, an online portal that allows users to explore historical maps, read stories and events related to the National Mall’s past, and participate in digital scavenger hunts around particular monuments.
Along the same lines of digital tourism, representatives from Mission US demonstrated their “virtual field trip” resource that allows middle school students to relive American history through an interactive role-playing game. Students can choose from a variety of different “missions” (or interactive games), including “For Crown or Colony?”—a game that places students in the lead-up to the American Revolution, where they experience the events of the Boston Massacre and are ultimately asked to choose between the Patriots or Loyalists.
Historian Tom Ewing discussed his project, An Epidemiology of Information, a Digging into Data Challenge. Perspectives on History readers are already familiar with the project and Ewing’s use of text mining methods to track the spread of information about the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic.
NEH and Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) staff showcased the DPLA’s website, which acts as an online portal for millions of digital items from libraries and archives around the United States. Users can test out the impressive search timeline, which allows users to search collection material by decade,specific year, subject, or place; the virtual bookshelf; an app library (including an app dedicated to historical pictures of cats!); and the DPLA’s growing map collection.
And last but not least, Porter Olsen was on hand to discuss how we can preserve born-digital materials for the future. The BitCurator project, or as Bobley called it “CSI: Cultural History,” uses digital forensics tools and techniques for collecting institutions to help them extract data from a variety of different digital formats (think floppy disks and CDs) and move it onto another platform for storage. This work is particularly important because many of the media we use now will not be readable in the future and will naturally deteriorate through physical aging. BitCurator offers librarians and archivists the ability to lift the data from a range of media and store the files without damaging any of the contents.
These are just a few of the projects on display at the NEH Tech Fair. More information about these and other NEH-supported digital projects can be found at the Office of Digital Humanities.