Some Retrospective Tips for Graduate School

With most universities entering their first week of classes, I’ve been spending some time reflecting on my own experience as a graduate student.  This is something I do every year, but is in part a reflection of my own anxieties with my new position as ABD.  I thoroughly enjoyed classes and I will miss the experiences.  Since I was already thinking back on my first year of grad school, I thought I’d write out four simple tips for starting graduate school.  This could also be subtitled: “Things I wish I did when I started school.”  So without further ado:

1: Start preparing for your comprehensive exams from day 1

I don’t mean you need to walk into your first graduate class knowing exactly which fields you will take your exams in, or even that you have reading lists.  Your exam fields and lists will evolve over your first few years of graduate school and will reflect your maturing interests as a scholar.  However, there are some steps you can take from your first class that will make things much easier for you come time to prep for your exams.  In my first few classes, I’d read the text, take notes, discuss the material in class, then file the notes away in a cabinet as I moved on from the course.  That was a bad idea.  Once I finalized my reading lists, I realized that many of the books had appeared on course syllabi from previous classes.  But because I didn’t make a point to keep those notes handy, I ended up rereading many of the books and articles.

Read more…

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HGSA Conference Deadline Extension

I just wanted to make a brief post that the deadline for Loyola University Chicago’s history graduate student conference has been extended! You can now submit papers up through September 3rd.

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Call for Papers: 9th Annual Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference

Call for Papers

Ninth Annual

Loyola University Chicago History Graduate Student Conference

November 3, 2012

Loyola University, Water Tower Campus, Chicago, IL

Masters and doctoral graduate students in any field of historical study are invited to submit proposals to present individual research papers at Loyola’s Ninth Annual History Graduate Student Conference. Panel applications and individual papers focusing on borderlands and transnational studies, urban history, gender history, and public history projects are especially encouraged. The goal of this conference is to provide an opportunity for students to gain experience presenting original research papers and receiving feedback from their peers on their work. Read more…

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Some changes coming

Hello again!  The end of the semester certainly limited my blogging, and I must admit that the first month of summer has been an equally effective distraction.  I do intend on settling into a fairly regular posting schedule and I hope to make some changes to the blog.

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One More Digital Narrative (?)

I’m not entirely certain if this counts as a method of digital storytelling, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this innovative use of Second Life in the classroom.  Here, students are able to use Second Life to create digital narratives centering on the Cuban Revolution.


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Analyzing Digital Narratives

In The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media, Bryan Alexander defines digital storytelling as “narratives built from the stuff of cybercultur.”  For Alexander, these narratives can play out on myriad types of technologies, from podcasts to twitter feeds and Facebook pages.  Alexander argues that stories are important because they allow us to share our material, not conceal it.  For a historian, I think this is an incredibly important point.  Certainly, historical monographs tell stories (or often try to tell stories), but all too often they fall victim to criticisms that these narratives are only written for the 5-10 people in a sub-field.  Incorporating a digital narrative into a project allows for a historians work to be shared to a wider audience.  And for scholars more grounded in “traditional” history, this can be a useful tool.

While there are countless numbers of digital narratives available online, there are two in particular I want to share.  The first is the WWII Tweets from 1940 twitter feed.  This is a six-year project that “live tweets” the events of WWII on the day and time they actually occurred.  This is an inventive way to tell the story of WWII in short, digestible bits of information through an immensely popular social medium.  As Alexander notes, the strength of twitter as a place for digital storytelling is in it’s immediacy, which “lends itself to ‘live’ stories.”  As of today, the twitter feed has over 228,000 followers.  Twitter deservedly draws criticism for the bevy of inanities posted daily, but the WWII tweets provides an interesting way for history to reach a broader audience.  In addition to the main twitter feed, the WWII Tweets has a corresponding facebook page.  Additionally, this idea is dedicated to reaching the widest audience possible, as it has corresponding pages offering translations in Spanish, Russian, German, French, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish, Korean, Hebrew, Romanian, and Latin.

While it is commendable that the WWII Tweets from 1940 page endeavors to reach such a wide audience, twitter is still limited in terms of how interactive it can be as a medium for a digital narrative.  Others can read and retweet the feed, but their ability to contribute to the conservation is limited.  I’d be interested in seeing if the same people who ran this twitter feed could start a second one that would “interact” with the first in hopes of expanding the community.

A more useful way to engage the audience and offer them a forum to discuss the topics is through podcasts.  Podcasts tap into the “ancient” tradition of storytelling, making podcasts “deeply historical, even nostalgic.”  The advantage to podcasts is, as Alexander notes, that we can google key terms, look for maps and images of relevant topics, and follow along at our own pace using the internet to supplement the podcast.  Katrina Gulliver has shown the effectiveness of podcasts as a way to reach a wider audience with a historical narrative.  Her podcast, Cities in History, explores different aspects of urban history, from the contributions of the Chicago School of urban sociology to the history of Havana.  Each podcast is paired with a series of monographs to read to offer historiographical context.  One advantage to the podcasts over the WWI twitter feed is the ability to comment.  In theory, a provocative podcast could generate a healthy conversation in the comments section.  The ability for audience engagement gives this brand of digital narrative a powerful edge over twitter.

While these are just two of many types of digital narratives, I think they offer at least a brief glimpse into the possibilities for this particular type of digital history.  Personally, of the various types of digital media I’ve studied so far, I find narratives to be the most intriguing and promising for my own work.

Categories: Full Post, HIST 479

Working with Omeka

After a brief hiatus from this blog due to an unexpectedly eventful spring break, I return to post some thoughts on a project I’m working on for my digital media class.  This week and next week we will be putting together online exhibits using Omeka.  I’ve been experimenting with Omeka for about a week now, and I’ve come to some initial conclusions.  I find the use of Dublin Core both necessary and incredibly frustrating at the same time.

On one hand, I understand the need for uniformity across the board for all Omeka users.  Dublin Core has certainly developed enough descriptive categories that most users would be hard pressed not to have a way to properly label their uploaded items.  When designing a platform to accommodate so many different users, uploading such a disparate array of items, having a standardized form makes sense.

But at the same time, for a first-time user, it has been challenging.  I’ve been uploading runaway ads from the Pennsylvania Gazette, and sometimes I’ve been unsure of how to fill out the various categories.  For the creator, do I list the newspaper, the individual who placed the ad, or something else?  Similarly, if I convert a page into a PDF and upload it as an item, what do I do if there are more than one runaway ads on that particular page?  I’m hesitant to put too much text into the description, because an excessive wall of text seems counterproductive to the way in which Omeka is set up and the way it uses Dublin Core.  So I guess you could say I’m struggling between understanding the need for uniformity and the problems caused by the rigidity of the descriptive categories.  This also leads me to question just how much variety you have in terms of uploading items.  The categories seem to make it better suited for images than text-based documents, but that might just be due to my inexperience with Omeka.

I’m also intrigued by the idea of user-generated data.  To me, this presents a similar challenge to the ability for users to tag pictures on flickr.  On one hand, allowing users to add their own data onto an exhibit item offers the ability to share authority, to connect to the visitors to the exhibit site, and, in some cases, to gain a greater, more in-depth description of a particular item.  But considering the specificity inherent in the Dublin Core classification, it seems to run contrary to the variance that could come from user-generated data.  Additionally, when you’re uploading something very specific, like a runaway ad, the terms and data can be precise.  I could see potential problems having individuals place their own terms on something like that.

I suppose this raises larger questions about who has the authority to classify these items.  Should it only be the professionals, who have the training and background necessary to input data, or are these artificial distinctions that limit the ability for historical exhibits to reach a wider audience because of some notion of a gate-keeper who holds authority?

Categories: Full Post, HIST 479