Digital Scholarship

A History Dissertation Goes Digital

A few months ago, Celeste Sharpe, then a graduate student at George Mason University (GMU), defended what is purportedly the first born-digital dissertation in the discipline of history. Sharpe describes her project, They Need You! Disability, Visual Culture, and the Poster Child, 1945–1980, as an examination of “the history of the national poster child—an official representative for both a disease and an organization—in post–World War II America.” In her project, Sharpe argues that “poster child imagery is vital for understanding the cultural pervasiveness of the idea of disability as diagnosis and how that understanding marginalized political avenues and policies outside of disease eradication in 20th-century America.” AHA Today caught up with Sharpe recently about the process of creating a born-digital dissertation, advice for graduate students considering similar projects, and future prospects. 

Exploring the Brutality of Expansion: Tracking Changes in the 19th Century with American Panorama

Years ago, while preparing for a lecture, I ran across a GIF depicting the territorial expansion of the United States. While I am unsure of its origins, I’ve seen similar maps in textbooks, Wikipedia articles, and Google images. The GIF—a simple rotating set of maps of the contiguous 48 states—swiftly changes color as the United States expands its territorial claims throughout the 19th century. Behind this series of images lies tremendous suffering; the projection of one on top of the other makes this effect especially jarring. 

Digitizing the Royal Archives: The Georgian Papers Programme

On September 28, 1833, Prince George FitzClarence, the oldest illegitimate son of King William IV of the United Kingdom, dined on soup, fish, chicken, and beef steak pie at Windsor Castle. On the same day, the housekeepers ate soup, duck, and leg of lamb, and the comptrollers had soup, mutton, and fillet of veal. Detailing the many, often meat heavy, dishes served to the Royal Family and the Royal Household from fall 1833 to spring 1835, this menu book is only one of the thousands of documents from the Royal Archives already uploaded to Georgian Papers Online as part of the Georgian Papers Programme.

“Wait . . . What?” Continuities, Changes, and Critical Thinking with Gapminder

“Wait, what just happened?” exclaimed one of my students. Last year, my US history class and I spent a day with Gapminder, a graph-based visualization program that charts more than 50 different historical indicators, from per-capita income, birth rate, and life expectancy to coal consumption and Internet use, on a Cartesian x-y axis over the course of 200+ years of world history. 

Open-Access Publishing: What Authors Should Know

The March 2017 issue of Perspectives on History featured a piece by Seth Denbo, the AHA’s director of scholarly communication and digital initiatives, on the trend of open-access monographs in humanities fields. As Denbo wrote, “A small but growing number of presses have started exploring new economic models that require authors or their institutions to help cover the costs of publishing while simultaneously making their work freely accessible online to readers from around the globe.” One of these is the University of California Press, which through its new initiative, Luminos, has begun publishing open-access books in history. 

“Come Let Us Build a New World Together”: The SNCC Digital Gateway

By Lauren Tilton

It can be challenging to teach about the civil rights movement. For many reasons, from time constraints to lack of access to archives, the liberation struggle is often framed through its most prominent leader, Martin Luther King Jr. Now, thanks to a partnership between Duke University and the SNCC Legacy Project, an organization comprised of SNCC participants, teachers have access to the SNCC Digital Gateway.

Before BuzzFeed: Going Viral in 19th-Century America

In 2005, David Foster Wallace told the graduating class of Kenyon College a joke:

“There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’”

Using Charters to Teach Medieval History

By Kalani Craig

The lowly charter.

It lives in infamy, perhaps because charters—written records that cemented a variety of agreements about sales, leases, officeholders, and a host of other legal transactions—are simultaneously rich treasure troves of historical information and, when you read a lot of them in a row, sleep-inducing. 

February 23, 2017