A Newsletter for Faculty & Staff in the
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
Volume 11, Issue 3
On the interior of the bend of the Ljubljanica River, which runs through the heart of Ljubljana in Slovenia, stands the green-domed baroque Cathedral of St. Nicholas. Just north of the cathedral is an old seminary building, which houses an impressive seminary library. The library was established in 1701, and, as you can see in the picture, is beautifully decorated in the baroque style, with paintings by the Italian master Giulio Quaglio and oak cabinets and shelves by Joseph Wergant. Within the library is a treasure-trove of historical materials—7000 items to be exact, including 30 incunabula, 377 Latin, German, and Slovenian manuscripts, and a special collection of opera librettos. I had the privilege of visiting the library when I was on my Fulbright last December, and, while I gazed around at the beauty of this splendid interior, I delighted to imagine myself there as a historian, patiently working in the dim light through the multitude of bound treasures lining the walls of this venerable collection.
Sitting in libraries and archives, patiently discovering and reviewing old primary materials, is still a critically important part of the lives of present-day historians. A review of recent 2015-16 PLOA reports from four members of the History Department confirms this. In these reports, we learn, for example, that Rob Shelton completed two articles—one on C.H Guenther, a Texas miller who began a food processing company in the 19th century, the second an article on race and the reconfiguration of space in Galveston, Texas, in the 1880s. But he also spent time researching a host of primary documents related to his teaching an Honors section of History 220, Debates in African American History. Karen Sotiropoulos conducted research in two manuscript collections to continue her progress on the book The Black Atlantic World of African Education from John Chilembwe to Barack Obama. In addition, Kelly Wrenhaven built on research from visits to two museums to complete a chapter in her new book Animate Tools and Invisible Men: Themes in Classical and American Slavery. The primary sources for Wenqing Kang’s research were not only government documents and media publications but also interviews with those who lived through the period of time that he was researching. He spent his leave transcribing and translating these materials for his forthcoming book Life in Silence, Life in Question: Male Same-Sex Relations in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-Present. All of this is, clearly, very significant historical work.
However, my experiences with the History Department at Cleveland State have shown me that the study of history, like the study of so many other fields, has come a long way in the digital age. I was again reminded of this when I learned of the “Digital Drop-in” organized by two of our historians, Shelley Rose and Dr. Shelton, as well as colleagues in the Digital CSU working group, which was founded by Dr. Rose and Dr. Shelton with the help of Glenda Thornton, Director of the Michael Schwartz Library, and the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. The Digital Drop-in took place on January 26th, and it was held for an hour and a half in the beautifully remodeled MC 420. The idea was to create a kind of walk-in clinic, staffed by a collection of experts in various aspects of commonly used software programs, such as HTML, Omeka, WordPress, Blackboard, Curatescape, Google Apps, and Pandoc. The Drop-in was a success. Nineteen CSU students and several faculty brought their individual projects in and got advice and guidance from one of the experts.
Dr. Rose has been incorporating technology into her classes since her arrival in 2012. For example, she developed the Google Earth Virtual Workbook, to train future social studies teachers in this critical resource for teaching geography, and she developed a WordPress site for students to have access to open access sources to help defray the costs of history textbooks. She also leads workshops in Google Mapping Tools for educators. Finally, she (sometimes with Mark Souther) has led three different undergraduate research projects, including one entitled “Connecting Historical Thinking and Technology in the Classroom.”
One can’t, of course, speak of historical thinking and technology without recognizing the work of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. Under the leadership of Dr. Souther, and with the support of the college, the department, and the university, this center has been adapting modern technologies to problems in public history for nine years now. It created the mobile app called “Cleveland Historical,” which curates Cleveland from the convenience of your cell phone. The foundational software for this app, called Curatescape, has been marketed internationally and forms the basis for about 30 apps similar to “Cleveland Historical” in towns and cities across the United States and even in Africa. A second version of the software was just developed in the past year by Erin Bell, the Center’s full-time programmer. The software has been adopted by historians in such cities as Baltimore, MD, Washington, D.C., Savannah, GA, and New Orleans, LA.
In addition, the Center, with the assistance of Meshack Owino and in partnership with Maseno University, has been working on a grant-funded project to bring Curatescape to East Africa. The website they produced, called MaCleki, already has 25 stories. The partnership has recently expanded, including researchers from Texas Southern University and the University of Dodoma in Tanzania. If a new proposal is funded via an NEH Digital Humanities Implementation Grant, these new partners will begin to help to curate even more stories collaboratively.
In sum, the History Department has its feet planted both in the traditional world of library research and also on the forefront of developments in digital humanities. It is certainly not the only department or program in the college that has become heavily invested in adapting new technology to the demands of research, pedagogy and community service, but as I think about historians sitting in that beautiful seminary library in Ljubljana, the department’s full embrace of new technology becomes ever more notable.
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