Storytelling on the web

Barbara Ganley, on the impact and connections made by sharing stories on the web:


Bryan Alexander on storytelling with Dracula:

RadioLab’s “Patient Zero” episode (also available here):


This American Life


NPR Storycorps podcast

True Story podcast


Interview with Dr. Michelle Moravec

I was privileged to interview Michelle Moravec who is an associate professor and Women’s Studies director at Rosemont College in Pennsylvania and a subject area specialist for NITLE. Dr. Moravec is highly engaged with the digital humanities. She blogs at History in the City, converses with her colleagues and students via Twitter , is currently working on several digital projects, regularly presents at digital history conferences and uses class blogs and digital assignments with her students.

As the digital humanities are a relatively new field, I was first curious how Dr. Moravec found herself a part of it. While some digital humanists purposefully pursue the discipline at larger institutions, many have found themselves a part of the field by happenstance; they combined their traditional education with the technologies of the modern world. Dr. Moravec is a part of this later group. She called her participation in the digital humanities “accidental.” While out on sabbatical, she was looking for a way to keep in touch with her students so she kept a blog and communicated via Twitter. She enjoyed that and began to look at different ways to communicate with her colleagues. As an associate professor at a small, private university, she often felt isolated from her peers across the country. She began to explore digital methods of networking with them and quickly became enveloped in the digital world. Dr. Moravec did point out that she was tenured and mid-career and felt that she had a lot of freedom to play around with new ideas. Had she been at the beginning of her career, raising small children, and focused on publishing, she probably would not have pursued digital methods with such fervor.

Dr. Moravec has been blogging, tweeting and using digital research tools for over three years now. This past year has been the first time that she has started using digital methods in her classroom and publishing digitally and she is happy with the results from both. Her students use hands-on, real world digital skills to engage with history. They participate digitally by editing Wikepedia entries or browsing Pinterest to find historical images. Both of these methods not only prompt her students to think like 21st century historians, they also allow her to have a quick “check-in” with what they have digested in class. Her current book project is also going to be digitally peer-reviewed. She is excited about the amount of new readers that she is able to reach online and is looking forward to getting feedback as she is writing, rather than at the end. She values collaboration and transparency and seeks to “erode the division between private and public.”

There are still some tensions in academia about blogging. I am interested in the reception that blogging professors have received from their peers and if they have ever run into privacy or over-exposure issues. Dr. Moravec indicated that blogging has been an overall positive experience for her. It rebooted her career and gave her a much wider audience and peer group. The majority of her speaking engagements come from groups that found her blog or other digital platforms, rather than a journaled article or her older books. She did indicate that her credentials help. She has a PhD from a prestigious university and was already an established historian before she began employing digital methods. We discussed the difficulty of using digitally published work to apply for tenure and she was not able to say what that journey might look like for a new digital historian. But she did say that she felt the time that it took to create an online presence has been completely worth the effort and that she is now reaping more rewards as a digital historian than in her earlier career.

The last piece of advice that Dr. Moravec left me with was to first create a firm foundation in my discipline and then find digital methods to fill in gaps and expand my horizons. Regardless of the strides that technology makes, we will not stop using the tried and true historical analysis practices of the past. A digital historian must first be a good historian. Even if one is a genius coder or website designer, you will not go far in any form of academia without a strong historical background. Although a history student would be a fool to leave Graduate school without digital skills, she cautioned an over-emphasis in this area. We live in an over-saturated job market and students must be engaged and comfortable with the old and the new.

Interviewing Dr. Moravec was a rewarding experience not only for the encouragement I received about what I am interested in, but also for the cautionary warnings. She was upbeat and positive, while still honest about the pitfalls of the digital humanities. I also felt inspired to step up my game and work even harder to be an excellent historian with excellent digital skills.

Digital Humanist Interview of Dr. Ian Milligan

Brittany Reichel

Digital Humanist Interview

Interviewee: Dr. Ian Milligan

On September 4th at 12:00pm Central Mountain Time

When I first started looking for a digital humanist to interview I thought twitter would be the best way to find one. I instead ended up posting a sub-reddit under ‘Digital Humanism’ calling out for any digital humanists in need of interviewing. There I found a flurry of people I could delve into. I chose Ian Milligan because of this website I found through reddit. The website, hosted on word press, is It is co-authored by Ian, Scott, and Shawn. What caught my attention immediately was the content of the website. It is called ‘The Historian’s Macroscope: Big Digital History’ and they “peel back the layers of a particular approach to big data using topic modeling and network analysis”. This is a fancy way of getting my attention because this topic is of particular interest to me as a history major that has quite literally grown up in the new digital medium that they discuss in more detail.

After a few technical difficulties i.e. my microphone not working for the interview, and neither Ian nor I realizing until the last minute that we are in different time zones, we got the ball rolling. Ian is an assistant professor of Digital, Canadian, and Youth History at Waterloo University in Canada. He did his PhD work at York University; where he first started finding his interests lie in digital methods and learned web archives. He told me about finishing his PhD early and that he decided to stick around at York for a while. After his PhD he decided, from a lack of not much to do after a doctorate, that he would teach himself to program. He ended up doing a postdoctoral for about three months long at Western University. Here he looked at sources, music lyrics, old websites and archived all this information.

More than anything he thought that his mathematical and language textual training helped him with his current position. He sighed heavily when telling me about all the coding he has had to do. Ian’s passion is focused towards his current work. I asked him what a typical day looked like for him and he responded ‘now or in the summer?’ with enthusiastic gusto. He told me all about his back and forth schedule. Right now he teaches two courses during school semesters. One is a senior seminar on Canadian Social Movements and the other is a Research History Methods course. In between his class work he tries to work on the book he is currently writing on the website mentioned above and earlier. During the summer he is doing full time research and writing for his book. He starts off reading lots of blogs and moves into web archives. In this book project he is working on with Shawn and Scott, he explained, “at this time historians don’t know how to analyze web archives. With 500,000 images from the web, how can we use computer science methods to learn about history? What do web archives mean for historians?”

After discussing his book I really wanted to ask him if he had any advice for someone interested in digital humanities. He told me that a basic understanding of everything from computers and algorithms, to a basic Google search is important. He also said it is important to know why some search engines are at the top of the list vs. the bottom. Along with that the basic skills of being able to write well, take criticism, give criticism, and maintain that spirit of inquiry among yourself is important as someone seeking this profession. As you might delve into those skills, it is also important to decide early on which side of the digital humanities you are passionate about. We talked about the academic side vs. the programming side. He says the reality of the market to many people who get PhD’s in this field know that programming is in high demand. But he also said it is like every other job. He recommended that if you have sincere interests in this field you want to find a mentor and a good grad program that you can follow. “Don’t work to hard but treat it like a job. Work every day, have a good research question that you think you need digital methods to answer.”

All in all I had a great time getting to know Ian. I think the book he and his fellow academics are writing is going to be very useful to us historians of the future. They are right when they say that historians don’t really have a way of analyzing web archives right now. There is an increasing amount of digital sources being produced every day and hardly any way or know how of cataloging them. Eventually an academic standard is going to need to be set in stone just like any other format of the professions like APA, MLA, etc. More than that, I think their book project will challenge our lens of inquiry. It’s telling us to look at the humanities through a larger lens and multiple lenses at the same time.

Digital Humanities Questions, Day 2

How has historical computing changed over time?

What are the digital humanities? What are its various “camps”?

What do digital humanists do?

What are the advantages of digital humanities over more traditional, analog forms of historical practice?

What do you see as the disadvantages or liabilities of digital humanities practice?

Digital humanities skills — as found in job ads

strong computer skills

website development

web-based publishing

data mining


digital collections

social media marketing

app development


programming skills

digital scholarship

digital cataloging

social network analysis

digital preservation

good communication through web

metrics and analytics

content specialization

current system architectures

research skills


database design and development

marketing and publicity

contemporary art knowledge

topic modeling

data visualization


online and in-person interaction and community-building


Welcome to Digital History!

Welcome to the Digital History course for fall 2014.


Reflection on Local Wiki

Eric Schooley
19 December, 2012

My first project idea for the Boise Wiki was a history of a local ranch in the Lake Hazel area that has been sold and converted to a housing subdivision. A few weeks before the project was due, I spoke to the ranch-owner’s wife and got her permission to speak with her husband, as the ranch had been in his family for generations.

On the day he was available, two days before the wiki was due, he had suffered a change of heart. I approached him on the road and could tell from 20 yards off that something was wrong. His body language was defensive and he called to me too loudly. As I came up to him I smiled and put my hand out while I introduced myself and began to explain myself. He refused my handshake and cut my sentence short. Claiming, “I don’t wanna talk about that at all! We won’t even go there, and if I see my name in print, I’ll sue!” While I don’t think he’d have a case, I’d still like to respect his wishes, even if they were badly put forth.

For a variety of personal reasons, along with this major setback, I had to both request an extension on this project and find a new topic. I eventually started the AR project and got thoroughly distracted. So, I decided to combine my resources and focus on the Idanha Hotel. Since there was already a brief article concerning the hotel on the Boise Wiki, I added much more information, an anecdote and some citations.

I discovered this morning that I was, in fact, out of printer paper! So this will have to do for now =)


Aaron Elfering

Hist. 381


Technology in the Classroom: A Digital Frontier

            Reflecting upon my experiences with educational technology, both in theory and in practice, I believe that we are in the midst of a major revolution in this field. Over the past semester, I have been introduced to a plethora of technology aids, resources, and tools that even I never suspected to exist. Technology can be made to be a great asset in any classroom, both as a motivational aid and a teaching tool to help students succeed. The realms of technology in the classroom have expanded far beyond mere word processing and basic presentations with images, and technology is now a prime way to motivate students. Now, those same programs used for simple tasks are capable of so much more. For example, instead of merely creating a linear PowerPoint presentation, teachers can use the Kiosk features of the program to create interactive, non-linear activities for students such as Jeopardy or Hollywood Squares for use during lessons. Video games, before used only for children’s entertainment, now can be learning tools instead with a proper introduction. For example, strategy games created about the civil war can be used as instructional tools when describing the lives of soldiers during the conflict or other related topics. By using technology in this fashion, students can become more engaged in instruction and achieve a more substantive learning experience.

Perhaps my favorite use of technology over the past semester has been our use and discussion of GIS oriented tools. I’ve been acquainted with these types of tools for a long time now but never cease to be amazed by the potential that lies in GIS based learning and technology. Stretching far beyond dinking around with google earth, I was fairly excited to get to incorporate this kind of technology into our grant proposals and discuss the huge potential that this sort of technology can bring to the class room.

One of the things I find most interesting about technology is that, for the most part, users are able to use many different kinds of technology in conjunction with the other to create/present information in ways that many people might not think possible. It was great to see this same effect occur first hand in class with each project/study area. It’s nice to know that I could combine GIS technologies along with some augmented reality (QR codes, video reporting etc.) and analyze through copious amounts of big data and primary sources to create one killer wiki page or even a large scale grant proposal. Ultimately there just don’t seem to be many classes I’ve taken where towards the end I felt that I could use each project or area of study in a practical, impressive manner.

The fact that students were encouraged to use any technology available to them felt very refreshing and in my opinion, access to smart phones, tablets and laptops being openly encouraged seemed to make for less distraction for students. It is my hope that other courses will start to step away from the idea that these devices are taboo in the classroom. While I personally stand by the use of technology in the classroom due to its seemingly limitless potential, I feel like it’s important to note that if technology is to be implemented heavily into the educational world, it is crucial that it is used to foster a more encouraging, interesting and creative learning environment rather than being used to homogenize education and allow for lazier teaching methods; the focus must remain on the student and in many cases, the classroom will still play a vital role.

Digital Humanities Reflection

Kyle Varnadoe

Digital humanities

Prof. Leslie Madsen-Brooks

Technology Reflection

I was most intrigued by how much technology relies upon games in aspects of storytelling and what goes into creating a virtual environment for gaming, as well as accuracy in historical interpretations.  Technology through History using games; this was described comprehensively by Bryan Alexander in his book The New Digital Storytelling and also by a new digital pen-pal of mine named Adam Chapman, who I’d describe as a younger generation’s version of a developing digital humanist.  I met Chapman on my digital humanist interview assignment and was enlightened by his field of research.  Problem-based storytelling in games, along with historical accuracy, is developing into one of the fastest forms of learning popular history.

There are certain characteristics that storytelling within a game has on the audience that other popular form of historical interpretations, such as film, don’t have.  The filming industry portraying historical events is often criticized for lacking in historical accuracy, portraying inconsistent accuracy in historical interpretation to the viewer.  One can argue that such assimilation to the viewer can be miss-leading, directing a discourse for historical interpretation.  Aside from documentaries, it’s a real bummer because I’m such a historical movie buff, but I often catch myself analyzing a movie as I watch it to find these misinterpretations.  They can be as tedious as German Shepherds in “Gladiator” or as overwhelmingly inaccurate as FDR standing up out of his wheel chair in Pearl Harbor.  These forms of skeptic analysis in historical film formats are conjunctive to the popular design of problem-solving based models in the storytelling of games.  I mean come on, who wants to watch a movie with someone who points out all the mistakes or refutes claims made by the film-makers, who cares?  I could only imagine how an early French film-artist may have felt when witnessing Joseph Goebbels accuracy in historical interpretations on film.  The difficulty behind historical narratives being used as a standard for applying accuracy to a story and relying upon both evidence of the past and the historical writing is the interpretations.  This new game based story-telling is a new opportunity to avoid past mistakes in historical interpretation, promoting more accurate forms of learning history.

Clearly what’s being sought after by historical researchers in connection to the gaming industry is a solution to the discourse of learning accurate history.  This was my favorite aspect of this course, what lays on the horizon for new potential careers and industries focused on History! I’m pursuing a degree in history and teaching, but I’m not sure that I want to teach yet, nor am I certain of what I truly know anymore sometimes.  It’s all so speculative and can sometimes be frustrating, when analyzing the past.  Bitter truths are sometimes hard to take in and those of us like Jack Nicholson saying to Tom Cruise “you can’t handle the truth,” acquire a mode of thinking that goes past the ideals of society to unveil the realities which we face today, my true struggle.  There are little things that frustrate me sometimes, that reveal a truth inside me, perhaps my human nature.  For instance, why the hell am I frustrated about cell phone reception and computer issues in a day and age when my parents would have killed for these conveniences in school? There’s a lesson in being the only student with a flip phone in this class, my stubbornness to adapt to new technology has been intimidating, especially amongst my peers who all have iphones and ipads, I feel Jurassic in my era sometimes.  More importantly it comes down to fear for me I believe.  I’m afraid there may be a motive for misinterpretation.  It’s true that many of these discoursed lessons are simply misinterpreted or embellished purely by accident, however if there’s one thing I know about real history, it comes with a heavy dose of sobering reality to those who find what they fear the most of it.


Alexander, Bryan. The New Digital Storytelling. Praeger, 2011. Print.

Chapman, Adam. “Privileging Form Over Content: Analysing Historical Videogames.”       Journal of Digital Humanities. Volume 1.2 (2012): n. page. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.

ARG Resources for November 28


World Without Oil overview

World Without Oil archive — use the “Time Machine” drop-down menu at upper right to navigate through the game

Nina Simon on WWO, museums, and ARGs

Mark Sample on ARGs as history games

Jewel of the Valleys Civil War ARG

Superstruct archive

More of Bryan Alexander’s writing on ARGs, from his blog Infocult

Questions for today

1. Futurists have been using ARGs to crowdsource forecasting and preparation for an uncertain environmental and social future. How can historians harness this technology and user energy to either (a) expand our collective understanding of the past or (b) help people better understand what we already know about the past?

2. Might/should/could your augmented reality tour incorporate elements of gaming, and particularly ARGs?