Final Thoughts (Final Exam)

Digital Resources: The Evolution of History

I believe that digital tools are reshaping the field of history for the better and working to ensure that the field becomes more practical and inviting. Often times, we think of the field of history as a mundane subject: studies of old people and things but not necessarily of the potential that could come from utilizing the many technological resources that are available in the 21st century. Prior to enrolling into this course, I initially picked it because I thought that this would be something new and innovative, which could help me as continue along my educational journey, however, I did not fully understand the breadth of websites and resources that are available.

While digital history can be somewhat of a broad subject, it encompasses a lot, from tools to helps historians showcase history to the utilization of digital platforms as a means of keeping resources organized during research. As someone who will be entering into another history program in the fall, one of the most interesting conversations within class was centered around the topic of digital dissertations and even the work that one university – George Mason University, was doing surrounding this topic. One of the largest issues with any discipline is the fact that we are so accustomed to doing things in one specific way and unwilling to entertain something new or innovative. This is the exact discussion (or argument) that is happening with many academics in regard to the digital dissertation phenomenon. Though digital dissertations are not a new thing, it is not the norm within the field of history, therefore, it is important that those who have done this culmination of research are able to share with others what this process looks like. One of the most pivotal parts of completing a digital dissertation is the relationship between the advisee and dissertation chair/advisor. Each of these individuals must have the bandwidth to take on this type of project as it lends into the advisor in a different way; even challenging them to learn more about something that may be out of the wheelhouse. But, this is a great thing![1] It mandates that individuals (practitioners, academics, etc.) are no longer seeing history as a one-dimensional subject but one that is ever-changing as developments change. In the field, we have to realize that doing something different does not invalidate the research that is being done nor does it mean that things are easier for the doctoral student. The guidelines set forth by George Mason are a great example of flexibility when it comes to allowing students to be innovative in their approach to creating and contributing to further scholarship.[2]

Another tool that is changing history is blogging, specifically in the ways in which we are educating students at all levels. It is pertinent that we are utilizing available and user-friendly resources that are more than just mere busy-work, but thought-provoking and meaningful. Two of the articles that we were assigned this semester allowed me to reflect on some of the work that was completed in this course and how that affected my learning. Being able to utilize a blog to articulate the main points and arguments that I connected with made me synthesize the information that I was reading in order to understand its importance to me and my educational journey. John Warner mentioned in his article his regret for “not making student write enough” however, I think that everyone has to change their mindset regarding scholarship. He later mentioned utilizing blogs as a way to engage his students and found that (like myself) they were starting to have stronger arguments through these types of assignments.[3] Blogging allows for students to put in their own unique writing style and feels less academic than writing papers; which is a win-win for educators and students.

As a lover of public history, another way in which digital tools are changing the field of history is the ways in which many exhibits are going online. Though this does not replace the same feeling of attending a museum, for example, it allows for there to be accessibility for those who may not have the resources to fly to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Museum for African-American History & Culture, for example. I believe that this was one of my greatest takeaways while completing our Omeka and Digital Visualization projects in this course. Being able to utilize resources like Omeka, Knightlab, and the myriad of websites that are able to virtually map the journeys of people, such as those who traveled west on the Oregon Trail.[4] This allows for almost all students to have the opportunity to learn about events in history through aesthetically pleasing resources. These types of sites, apps, and programs demystify history and help to showcase it for what it is: an interesting topic of an everchanging people in an everchanging world. Digital history, though disputed by some, helps alleviate some barriers of privilege. 

[1] Celeste Tường Vy Sharpe. “Digital Dissertations and the Changing Nature of Doctoral Work.” Perspectives on History, April 2019. 

[2] The Department of History and Art History. “Digital Dissertation Guidelines.” George Mason University Webpage. Accessed January 15, 2020.

[3] John Warner. “Let ’em Write.” Inside Higher Ed: #blogs (blog), August 17, 2018.

[4]University of Richmond Digital Scholarship Lab. “Mapping Inequality”


How does blogging impact classes?

I believe that blogging can definitely impact the learning that is taking place within classrooms through the merging of technology with coursework. I think that it is imperative that teachers, professors, educators remain steadfast in ensuring that their material can be grasped by their students. Each generation is different, along with the technological advances, therefore, if we are looking to effectively educate people, we must meet them where they are: online. This has been a belief that I have long held, however, it was great to see it fleshed out in the article by John Warner. He mentions the fact of introducing different types of writing prompts (related and unrelated to coursework) which ultimately yielded the results that he was interested in: thought-provoking arguments of substance. This is a part of meeting students where they are! I can remember many times being given “busy-work” by professors and teachers during K-12 which would not always challenge me to grasp a concept, but to keep me occupied. I have always appreciated professors who integrated many facets of technology and activities in order to help students find relatability within the subject matter. In the article written by Fowler, it also supports my thoughts and those of John Warner about how blogging can be used to stimulate ideas or force students to defend a specific viewpoint. This is the perfect type of learning that Warner reflects on within his experience; one that allows for students to learn in their own way and electronically mending different teaching/learning styles. I believe that by utilizing blogging, it helps students become more reflective in their content if there is intentionality behind the activity.

Project: Visualization

Stories Long Forgotten: Formerly Enslaved. (Omeka & Visualization Project)

This semester, I had the opportunity to be able to pick a research topic and find a unique way to not only display what I learned through a website but also through a visualization project. As someone whose introduction to history was through passed down oral histories of family members, I decided to pick a population of individuals who were at times forgotten and also caught in a living paradox (living parts of their lives enslaved and free). As someone who has read Slave Narratives, I understand the weird paradigm that they experienced. They were often seen as embarrassments to their family members (children, especially) because of being formerly enslaved and enduring a life that many could not dream of. Therefore, for my Omeka site, I documented the lives of 4 individuals who were interviewed by the WPA from 1936-1938 and were residents of North Carolina. These documents were found through various vital documents (marriage and death records) along with land deed information.

For my visualization project, I thought it would be cool to do a timeline specifically for one of the individuals that I documented throughout my Omeka site, however, I thought of something even different: a family tree. I decided to attempt to utilize the documentation that I have to find information not only about John Beckwith, but also his parents, siblings, children and nieces/nephews. One of the great things about is the fact that its interface creates a timeline of their life along with maps of where they have been documented to live.

Ethical Concerns

Under the academic jail, or nah?

One of the cornerstones of education, at least during my educational experiences, has been paying respect through the citation of any sources that you utilized, quoted, or referenced when creating your own work. This is extremely imperative as this practice should be one that is ethical and reinforced by laws. It is important, especially within the field of history that we are able to attribute our research and hard work to others who may have had a hand in our scholastic success. But I guess that that lends itself to the question: who owns knowledge and information? In my opinion, I don’t believe that anyone truly does, however, the blood, sweat, and tears that are put into discovering said knowledge is worthy of not only praise but citation.

I really enjoyed several of the points made by T. Mills Kelly. We should look at history with a more fun approach, as this discipline not only gives us perspective on the past but also informs us of the future. I think that it is imperative that professors take initiative to create courses that challenge historical/societal norms around normal topics such as historiography and methods. But honestly, innovation has to start way before college. It is important that we are teaching elementary and middle school students about how to properly conduct research in order to not have issues regarding copyright infringement or plagiarism. I really enjoyed the fact that Kelly spoke about integrating materials such as the US Census and how 5th graders truly enjoyed it. I think that it is not always about what we are teaching, or those lessons, but how we are doing it which piques people’s interest.

Be original. Cite when necessary. Continue laying a path for those to come.

Data/Visualizing the Past

History or His Story

This week’s readings were quite interesting to me, as they seemed to portray a common theme that I have noticed within history: perspective (or opinion). Often times, historians seem to make trivial conclusions regarding spotty details, which can be seen in the reading that concerning the 2 photographs in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. These types of trivial conclusions are not always even important (depending on who you ask) to set the scene for the historical event. For example, in reality, how does the landscape of this battlefield really impact or inform one’s thinking of the picture? I’m not claiming that whether the cannons were moved doesn’t matter, however, it isn’t pivotal for most people. The website containing the collections of maps is something that most would find to be more accurate, which it possibly is, but it is only as accurate as the technology used to gather the information. Remember, at one point, philosophers thought that the Earth was flat and to sail towards the unknown would make you fall off the face of the planet. Maps can however, tell a story about location. Though the land doesn’t physically go anywhere, invisible lines/boundaries/roads can always change and affect the way the tract of land is perceived.

The personal connection that I have made with this reading is regarding my views about white-washed history but also regarding my hobby as a genealogist. Often times, the narrative that we assume to be correct is only due to the viewpoint of the individual(s) telling it. For example, how many times have we thought that the famous 50s hit, Hound Dog, which is associated with Elvis Presley, but in reality, it was a hit stolen from Big Mama Thornton. Even within my genealogy research, there was prominent story passed down through the generations regarding an ancestor being the first Black man to own land after slavery. Well, there were things about that story that were correct, but some such as my ancestor being sold that was a little shakey. (Finding the RIGHT Tom Taylor, shameless plug: YoungBlackGenie). I say all of that to say that it is imperative that we are critical of facts in an effort to ensure that we are telling and interpreting history not making it his story.