Welcome to my website. I’ll post information here related to my teaching, research, and writing. Maybe I’ll even blog once in awhile. Thanks for visiting.

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A Cast of Gilded Age Characters who Journeyed to Guatemala City

The decade of 1890s accumulated a number of sobriquets, among them The Gay Nineties and The Gilded Age. The Central American nation of Guatemala entered the decade in the control of General Lisandro Barillas and exited in the despotic clutches of dictator Estrada Cabrera. Despite these bleak historical bookends the middle years between 1893 and 1897 were mainly bright and hopeful. There the title of bella epoca matched the happy labels applied to the English-speaking world. Those years marked the election and presidency of General Jose Maria Reina Barrios and were characterized by high prices on the nation’s main export, coffee, and an influx of foreigners bringing wealth, technology, and ‘know-how.’ Bolstering the lofty dreams of Guatemaltecos was the promise of a railroad project connecting the Atlantic and Pacific. Inspired by the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and designed to highlight their envious position astride two oceans Reina Barrios staged the International Exposicion Centro-Americana in 1897. Here we turn to that period to trace the lives of seven ex-patriot Estadounidenses (U.S. Citizens) who journeyed to Guatemala with their own dreams of better lives.

Our Cast:
General Pierce M.B. Young (C.S.A.) of Georgia, Minister Plenipotentiary to Guatemala and Honduras
Billy A. Clarke of Louisiana, African American Boxer, Promoter, and Entrepreneur
Reverend Edward Haymaker of Missouri, Presbyterian missionary and ethnographer
Francis Forrester-Brown of Tennessee, Mahogany Harvester
Juan W. Knight of Alabama, Gold Miner and “The Negro King of Guatemala”
Henry Martyn Jones of Kansas, Adventurer and Contractor
Algeria Benton de Barrios of Louisiana, First Lady


(This blog began during two weeks spent at the Doing Digital History 2016 NEH Summer Institute, July 11 through July 22 on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University.)

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JustIndy Event at Bethel July 24th

Experience Black History: Community Celebration and Remembrance

Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Indianapolis
414 W Vermont St, Indianapolis, IN 46202
July 24, 2016
Time: 12pm to 3pm

The event is a collaboration between the Bethel AME Congregation and the IUPUI’s JustIndy: Tracing Race and Place Project

On July 24, the greater Indianapolis community is invited to join in the celebration of the physical place that is currently home to the oldest African American congregation in the city. The congregation is relocating and starting a new chapter in its long life.

Bethel, the oldest African American church in the city of Indianapolis, founded in 1836, was once a vital part of a thriving African American community located in the heart of the erstwhile Indiana Avenue Jazz District. Over its 180 years of existence, the Bethel AME Church has played a vital role in the Underground Railroad, the founding of the NAACP in Indiana, the founding of the first formal School for Black children in Indianapolis, and the development of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States.
The church building and the property are in the process of the being sold and will soon become a hotel. When this occurs the building will be altered greatly and its heritage no longer discernible.

We invite you to visit the church, experience the history, bear witness to what once was and will never be again.
Transition and change are a part of any vital society but so is honoring and remembering those that have made those changes possible.

Visit the sanctuary, see and hear the A. B. Felgemaker Co., Opus 878, 1905, one of a kind organ, and take photos, share stories, and participate in this historical moment. At 1pm, Joyce Moore from the Urban Patch will speak on the importance of communities using their histories to enrich their futures. For more information, please contact Kisha Tandy, and Andrea Copeland,

For more about the JustIndy project, see the JustIndy page

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The Three (Plus) Takeaways

Wrapping it all up now . . . what am I going to take back home?
1. Sheila’s email
2. Sharon’s email
3. Hope, audacious hope

Okay, no seriously, what I’m I going to take home from this? What am I going to try in my classroom?

1. This fall, I’m going to redo the oral history assignment, but with more confidence. I appreciate the project management documents so I can think about what I need before I need it. I’d like students to use thinglink to document the images they get during oral histories. I’d also like them to make maps and maybe timelines (sorry, Sharon) for a website for their elder partner.

2. Next week, I have a meeting with one of my colleagues in the History department. We are going to discuss our methods course specifically, but also talk about scaffolding the digital skills in our major. Articulating a plan for digital skills in the History major will help the department focus on the skills we want students to try and the skills we want them to master. Eventually, I’d like to add a class (perhaps a 2 credit mini-class) for seniors to add a digital element to their senior thesis projects.

3. I want to begin, ahem, I WILL begin planning the multi-year History Harvest and Agnes Scott History documentation project.

4. (I’m an overachiever– I need more than 3) I need to play around with Omeka so I can understand the possibilities.

5. Get my digital presence online, map out my syllabi, and get the digital components up in the next month. (gulp!)

6. Hope, sweat, cry, lose sleep, and remember that being uncomfortable is a big part of learning.

Thanks so much for this! I’m leaving so inspired, so tired, but yet, so inspired!

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In Small Things Forgotten

Paper and pen

In his book, In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life,  scholar James Deetz, “the past can be seen most fully by studying the small things so often forgotten. Objects such as doorways, gravestones, musical instruments, and even shards of pottery fill in the cracks between large historical events and depict the intricacies of daily life.”  As historians, we gather, analyze and interpret evidence. We look at the world through our historical lenses and understandings. This week, I have had the opportunity to gain digital tools for my toolbox. This workshop gave us new, exciting, and challenging ways to study “the small things” by using digital tools and lens.

While I still feel like a novice just getting my feet wet, I am leaving the workshop with new knowledge and tools and more importantly confident in my ability to bring the digital humanities into my classrooms and college. And if all else fails, I know now the power of the tweet – #doingdh16 and a song (thanks @ProRoMo).  As I move forward, my strategic plan is to start small and be intentional. I would like to start slowly by building my academic digital profile, revise my service learning reflection portfolio to include digital components, and tie the digital humanities to our program review action plans and create a backwards mapping template on what we as a history program define as digital history and what we can reasonably accomplish within the academic year.







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Evolving from digital opportunist to digitally inflected

On the eve of our final day of Doing Digital History 2016, I can characterize the past nine days with far more certainty than my next steps. I have been introduced to a rich menu of tools applicable to a variety of research and public engagement methodologies. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know a cohort of mid-career (and thank you for the flexibility in that definition) historians who have been a delightful community of learners. We’ve shared our skepticism and enthusiasm as we wrapped our brains around r and Omeka, as we played around with rectifying maps and tagging images, and cheered on the Nationals.

Doing DH 2016 at the Nationals game.
Doing DH 2016 cohort at the Nationals game.

I am less confident in articulating the next steps after these heady two weeks. I have dozens of pages of notes to digest and an equal number of bookmarked sites and sources to explore. I also have links to or downloads of more than 20 specific technology tools to experiment with. I’ve always been a digital opportunist – casually using the tool at hand to do what needed to be done at the moment. But now I have a whole new sense of the digital humanities landscape and its possibilities.

So, what am I going to do next? I plan to continue to develop this site, and hopefully keep up the occasional blog. I also plan to develop a second site, http://www.californiamissionlandscape.com using Omeka to create teaching materials and lesson plans to accompany my book of the same title due out this winter. I will explore with colleagues how we can develop an online space to host digital community-based and collaborative projects. I also intend to experiment with some of these tools in my classes. Finally, I will use what I’ve learned these past two weeks to continue to lead the JustIndy project. I hope to apply not just the tools but the concepts and pedagogical issues we’ve discussed to develop JustIndy into a city-wide interactive exploration of the history and spaces of social inequalities.

In short, I leave these two weeks in Arlington grateful for the generosity and patience of those who led the seminar, inspired by the examples of the amazing digital humanities projects we’ve explored, invigorated by the intellectual curiosity and fascinating research of my companions on this journey, and excited to move forward into a digitally inflected teaching and research practice.

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Sound in History Classes

For Week 2 of “Doing Digital History,” we were asked to reflect on how we might use sound in our history classes.

For me, I can see making increased use of historical podcasts in my classes. Podcasts offer the chance not only to enrich historical understanding but to go into greater depth on topics that I would not have time to cover in class.

One podcast that was mentioned in the large-group discussion was Liz Covart’s podcast “Ben Franklin’s World.” This podcast has several distinctives in its favor. It’s very focused on Early American History–it doesn’t wander. Next, it connects listeners to outstanding scholars in the field, so the information is both very sound and very up-to-date. In listening to the podcast, you can tell that it’s very strategic and organized in how it’s aiming to communicate.

I also appreciate the way Liz has defined her audience, which she described this way:

A “podcast avatar” assists podcasters like an “ideal reader” helps writers. In both cases, a fictional person stands in for the ideal audience member a podcaster or writer wants to reach.

I created an avatar who is hard to please: Janet Watkins. Janet isn’t into history. She’s a 22-year-old pre-med student at SUNY-Buffalo. She wants to fill her schedule with math and science courses, but she ended up in a history course that assigns Ben Franklin’s World episodes because SUNY requires all students to take several Liberal Arts classes before they graduate. Janet is a good student so she decides to brace herself for the inevitable: another boring history course that discusses dead white men. As an African American woman, she long ago grew tired of how her primary and secondary school history courses always seemed to focus on the lives of elite, white men.

My challenge: How do I reach Janet and change her mind about history? How can I show her that the study of history has as much value as the study of science and math?

(From: “How I Select Guests…”)

Setting this fictional Janet as an imagined listener allows Liz to keep the tone of the podcast focused and very accessible to undergraduate students–just the level I am looking for.

Finally, Liz has also provided “6 Podcast Interview Tips That Will Make You Shine“–which should serve all of us well.

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I want to teach All the Technology Thingsā€¦

but since that is not possible at the moment, I might need to start a bit smaller.

Certainly this institute has made me appreciate the importance of sound to our understanding of the world.  I think this was something I already knew from previous experience, but sometimes you need people to tell you the things you already know so that you can remember.

As we discussed the silence of early American life, I thought back to a story a college friend relayed about her experience of silence during a solo camping trip.  At first, it was oppressive and overwhelming; but as time progressed, she embraced the silence and wrapped it around her.  Upon her return, the noisiness of modern society was jarring and disconcerting.  Increasing my students’ awareness of the impact of sound on daily life could help them to relate to people from different historical periods in new ways.

At the very least, I want to remember to incorporate more music into my courses.  In the past, I had used music fairly regularly to set the tone of different periods, but this practice fell away as my attention became pulled in too many directions.

I liked the idea of incorporating podcasts into class projects.  A podcasting assignment would force students to embrace the elements of good writing practice AND force them to revise–something they seem increasingly reluctant to do in their written work.  I think a podcasting assignment might be appropriate for one of my 200- or 300-level courses, where I have a bit more flexibility in terms of learning goals.  Or perhaps it might be best to run an experimental course to test out some of these digital techniques without needing to live up to established expectations.  Either way, I believe that a podcasting assignment (with or without video) could provide a powerful platform for student development and outreach.

Yes, I must teach All the Technology Things (a little bit at a time).


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Day Eight —

A day about sound.  Although I use sound-based sources all the time as someone who works in oral history, I don’t always think about them as sound, but as sources that, like other sources, can be crafted or manipulated to convey different meanings.  Thus, I mostly disagreed with O’Malley’s assertion that sound sources are somehow more easily manipulated than other, particularly text-based sources.  Still, the session did make me think a lot about how manipulating sound (removing background noise, reducing highs & lows in interviews–all of which I’ve done …) can indeed change the way people perceive oral histories when they listen to them.  So, I will definitely be more mindful when I start manipulating the sound of interviews in the future.

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Doing Digital History, Thoughts On Sound and Public History

As part of our discussion today, we learned how to pull looped sound into Audacity and to lay down tracks for a podcast. (AKA: The “promiscuous and lazy” way to make music.) Mike O’Malley, who was our residential instructor for the day, noted that there was a minstrel show-like element to some of the tracks. Indeed, as I looked through a sound archive, I found beats with racialized names like “ghetto taunt.” When juxtaposed with archival mp3 files like a clip of one of FDR’s Fireside Chat, the resulting sound file is loaded with (as O’Malley noted) implications about race and class.

During class today, we were asked to consider mp3 as cultural artifact. And more generally, how sound can be a cultural artifact. It made me think about the Race and Ethnicity course I teach from time to time, and also about my Issues in Public History class. Part of my professional goals from this institute is not only to enhance my DH skills generally, but also to think about how I can bring digital methods into mainstream classes. In my public history class this past spring, I brought in Beyonce’s Formation video as a means of discussing pop culture in history. Anyone who follows social media knows that the video was a big topic of conversation from the controversial sampling of Messy Mya, the implications of “creole” and colorism, the reference to Vodou loa Maman Brigitte, and the police shootings of African-Americans. More broadly, Formation and Lemonade have provoked lively discussions about black womanhood.

That sound and music more specifically can be a tool of discussion about race is not new to me. Yet, O’Malley’s focus on acoustics, the creation of sound, and encouragement to think about sound as a cultural artifact does suggest new ways of teaching about race and cultural appropriation. Having students think more specifically about layers of sound, as they might closely read documents, and maybe even getting their heads dirty as we did today would undoubtedly push them to think more critically about sound as a historical source.

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