Category: DH (Page 1 of 4)

Omeka of One’s Own

One of the recurring concerns/complaints surrounding the Domain of One’s Own project is the inescapability of WordPress. Most students and faculty on OU Create and other Domains projects use WordPress sites, either for personal portfolios or class blogs. As a counterpoint, I wanted to feature a few of the Omeka sites that that have been built on OU Create in the past few months.

OmekaLogoLike WordPress, Omeka is a php based platform with a one-click installer in Reclaim Hosting environments. Unlike WordPress, Omeka is not built for blogging but rather for cataloguing. Omeka is particularly useful for collecting meta-data about documents, images, movies, baseball cards, or other media. It was originally developed and is still maintained by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Below are screenshots of several OU projects along with the creators’ descriptions of each. You can click on the image to go to the project’s site.


The Carl Albert Center’s Local Digital History Lab is a project based initiative that focuses on preserving history and highlighting important policy issues in the state of Oklahoma. It combines the archival resources at the Center with materials and experiences donated by the public. The first series of lab events focus on the intersection between environment, extreme weather, and public policy in the state.

Each lab bolsters connections between archival collections and the communities they serve. The events also contextualize important issues by organizing community digitization events and making harvested materials available to the public online.

The site features archival materials made available by the Carl Albert Center Congressional and Political Collections, the City of Tulsa Engineering Services Department, and members of the public. It includes over 4,000 pages of digitized text, 255 photographs, 90 maps, and over 100 minutes of oral history.

New Deal

The United States changed rapidly during the 1930s in response to a series of economic, environmental, and social factors. The Great Depression transformed the relationship between the national government and its citizens. The physical landscape was also altered through massive public works projects and conservation initiations. Moreover, this was one of the richest periods of creative cultural activity the nation has seen.

Created by students at the University of Oklahoma, this site documents and explores the 1930s and its enduring legacies in Oklahoma. Please explore the digital exhibits and collection of photographs, documents, videos, and maps discovered and created during the research process.

Visit the About This Project Page to learn about the creation of the site.

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One of the professors from the Making Modern America project, David Wrobel, has continued his use of Omeka in a follow up class on John Steinbeck’s literature. Working again with librarian extraordinaire Sarah Clayton, Dave’s students are putting together exhibits examining the various facets of Steinbeck’s work from his travels, to his work on the War and his relationship with Oklahoma.


Videos for Italian Teaching and Learning is a curated database of openly available videos. Daniela Busciglio and her collaborators are collecting and tagging videos to help students work on various grammatical and thematic concepts. By sharing these videos online, Daniela can share these resources with undergraduates at OU, and with learners of all levels and at all schools.

Women's Advocacy Network

In January 2017, 13 members of WAN’s Gulu subgroup worked with faculty and students from the University of Oklahoma to conduct a “Photovoice” project. Photovoice is a method that combines the power of photography with critical group reflection to interrogate everyday aspects of life.

The project began with each WAN participant creating individual photos intended to show elements of daily life, including both life-giving aspects, but also significant challenges. Many participants chose to recreate memories from life in captivity. Others focused on how they live now. After the individual photography, the participants used the photos to teach each other about their own perspectives and to discuss common themes and desires for change in northern Uganda. The exhibit presents photos from each participant along with her personal statement.

The goals of the both the project and this exhibit are twofold. First, the photographs are meant to teach the viewer about the participants’ lives, their concerns, and their desires for change.  Second, the project is intended as an opportunity for the participants to reflect on their priorities and WAN’s activities aimed at improving conditions for women in post-conflict northern Uganda.

Documentary Narrative

Focusing on the history of race and education in Oklahoma, students will utilize this platform to gather and discuss primary sources that inform the rich and complicated history of the state around schooling concerns. For students engaging in historical projects, it is essential to critically examine not only literature that informs our field, but similarly engage in research projects within classes that will put theory into practice. This course, Documentary and Narrative, examines problems and methods of non-empirical/non-experimental research in history of education.  Particular attention will be paid to qualitative methods that collect data from documents, from oral history interviews, and from observations and experiences in settings that utilize approaches related to case study and narrative inquiry techniques.  Use of primary and secondary sources, field notes, and case study applications are discussed along with the roles that the researcher plays in terms of generalization and interpretation. Similarly, this platform will facilitate conversations on ways to engage in historical research that informs the evolving technological changes we are witnessing today, as a vital conversation on the survival of the field.

I am Open (and so can you!)

The book cover for Stephen Colbert's book I am America and so Can YouFor the next few weeks, I will be taking a history course, something I thought I would never do again after I finished my dissertation. Shawn Graham is teaching an online digital history course at Carleton University and has opened it up for non-matriculating students.

The entire design of the course is fantastic for open learners. Rather than just allowing us to watch from the rafters, Shawn has set up a Slack team and is active in the channels. Shawn asks that students blog for the course and use github to keep a record of their progress in the coding exercises. The course readings are all openly accessible and Shawn has asked that the students use so that their reading notes are open (you can find them in the stream with the tag hist3814o).

For the first week, Shawn has assigned a set of readings on the concept of open notes research within history and the humanities more broadly. Open notes research is more commonly practiced in the sciences. Jean Claude-Bradley was advocating for the concept in chemistry as early as 2006. Open notes science improves reproducibility and verifiability of results, and it also opens up the vast array of information that is gained during research but never published.

Open notes research has been slow to catch on, and it doesn’t take long to brainstorm possible objections. Publications are the coin of the realm in academia, and sharing your research notes could possibly allow someone to scoop your ideas. However, I agree with the readings that Shawn has curated and his push during this week of the course that open notes research is the best practice. Clearly, as I am writing this blog, I feel that sharing my thought processes helps me to clarify my thoughts and develop my understanding of my research. Sharing our reading notes with and collecting our code in GitHub take this a step further. We’re thinking, reading, and experimenting (coding) out loud.

I am taking Shawn’s course, because I want to see how he uses Slack, and because I think the course design is fantastic. I’m already a convert for open notes research and have blogged about it repeatedly hereherehere and in many other posts. This site as a whole is an argument for open notes research and the related ideas of getting rid of disposable assignments and empowering students to contribute to a broader knowledge community. However, I did enjoy the week’s readings, especially Caleb McDaniel’s post that turned me on to open notes research a few years ago. I look forward to joining in for the exercises next week (this week everyone was learning MarkDown and Git). Most of all, I want to encourage any readers in the ed tech world who have not taken a digital history or digital humanities course to at least poke around Shawn’s course to see the wonderful overlap between that knowledge domain and the current ed tech focus on digital literacy and citizenship.

Situating Chemistry: Creating a Database of 18th-c. Chemists

*This post is the first section of a talk I gave at the 7th International Conference of the European Society for the History of Science.

In 1756, fifty-nine students attended William Cullen’s (1710-1790) chemistry course at the University of Edinburgh. Amongst them was George Fordyce (1736-1802) of Aberdeen who would go on to earn his medical degree from Edinburgh and become a lecturer of chemistry and medicine in London. He also wrote a book called the Elements of Agriculture and Vegetation that includes diagrams of his interpretation of Cullen’s teachings on the chemical attractions of particles. Although there is no monograph length biography of Fordyce, he has entries in the Dictionary of National Biography and the Dictionary of Scientific Biography and is a relatively well-documented individual.

Page 83 of George Fordyce's Elements of Agriculture including diagrams of chemical particles

George Fordyce’s 1783 diagram of chemical particles

The other fifty-eight attendees of the course are less known. We know from Cullen’s notes that Robert Cumming was from Edinburgh, that John Richardson was from Northumberland, and that Henry Dunston was from some unspecified part of England. More surprisingly, at least two of the attendees were from Virginia—Thomas Clayton and James Taylor—and one was from Antigua—Christopher Hodge. Clayton, Fordyce, and eight other students would go on to earn their MDs from Edinburgh.

In designing the prosopographical part of the Situating Chemistry database, John Perkins and I wanted to ensure that we could capture structured, machine-readable data on someone like George Fordyce, or for that matter William Cullen. Additionally, we also wanted to be able to create records for people like Henry Dunston, for whom we had only a name and relationships of interest, in this case that he was a student in Cullen’s chemistry course, in Edinburgh, in 1756, with these other people, and he was from England.

Within Situating Chemistry, we assembled the structured data fields for collecting information about people with the assumption that a researcher would more often than not have incomplete data. The only required field is the title of the record. The fields to record dates of birth and death can be partially filled out when only a year or year and month are known. They can also be marked approximate to indicate ambiguity in the historical record.

Screen shot of the Situating Chemistry Database depicting the fields available for recording data about a person

The database was developed for the ‘Situating Chemistry, 1760-1840’ research group and funded in part by a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, so we built it to accommodate the variety of different research projects being conducted by the research group. John Perkins has spent a great deal of time studying probate records to collect information about the relationships, business practices, personal belongings and wealth of French apothecaries and chemical manufacturers. In my research, I have focused instead on networks of education tracking the courses taken and taught in and around universities and the note sets related to those courses. Both of us are interested in the chemical substances and processes studied by our individuals as well as their correspondence.

The record for any individual can be linked to other individuals in several different ways. In addition to familial relations, we also have structured fields to collect information on instructor-student relationships and correspondents. There is also a somewhat generic person-to-person connection field that offers a list of relationships that can be expanded if and when needed. We designed the database such that every individual is the subject of their own record. A field denoting that a person was active in chemistry is automatically checked for every new record, but can be deactivated for familial relations, business partners, and others who are of interest but were not actively ‘doing’ chemistry even in the broadest definition.

In addition to linking a person to other individuals within the system, a person can also be linked to many other kinds of data. The database was initially conceived of as a way to catalogue sites of chemistry. We thus started the database with a table to collect information on apothecary shops, lecture halls, pharmaceutical manufactories, bleach fields, labs, etc. For a given site, the latitude and longitude of the site along with a modern address can be recorded along with information about the ownership and financial history of the site, the chemical activities associated with it, the organizational history, related images, documents, sources, etc. For each individual in the system, we display the sites that they owned and operated and also those additional sites that they were associated with.

After developing tables for the sites and people involved in chemistry, we developed further tables for chemical substances collections, courses, documents, events, images, letters, objects, organizations, primary and secondary sources, processes and techniques of chemistry, and archival and museum repositories. A person can be connected to any of these record types with an extensible series of extensible subject-predicate-object. For example a given individual could be a member of an organization or might have studied a particular chemical substance or been a practitioner of a particular process or technique of chemistry. Every record, whether it be for a person or any other type of data, can and should be sourced by linking it to primary and/or secondary sources. For the system as a whole then, we have tables for more than a dozen types of information and hundreds of structured data fields, all strung together into a relational web of information.

In its first conception, the Situating Chemistry database was thought of as a single table for sites with about a dozen fields. However, this variety of tables and fields grew organically through discussion of the research questions and practices that we, as historians of chemistry, conduct. The goal for the project was not to publish a completed set of sites or records, but rather to facilitate active research. A researcher could enter the data that they were collecting for a research project to organize and analyze the information, and they could take the database with them into the archives to continue to collect information. Researchers can access their records and add new records to Situating Chemistry from a laptop, tablet, or even a phone.

To accommodate both offline note-taking and the rapid upload of external data sets, the database has also been designed so that users can upload CSV files (excel-type tables). Any data in the system can in turn be downloaded as a CSV or in other structured formats including XML, RDF, and JSON. Because Situating Chemistry was designed as a research tool rather than a data-publication, the goal of the database is to allow users to both enter and access whatever fields and records sets they consider interesting. Several visualizations including tables, graphs, and a timeline are built into the system. The user can also extract whatever structured data they want to pull from the system, so that she can also generate her own visualizations using tools like Tableau or programming languages like Python and R.

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