Teaching and doing digital history.

Grounding the Readings in Theory

To begin my readings on gender, society, and law in America, we’re going to use the first week to ground the rest of the list using works of feminist theory.

Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (2nd ed),

Through her specific focus on Black feminist thought, Collins actually provides a nice framework through which we can view power relations in general and how they function in society. By shifting the paradigm of oppression, she fundamentally changes how we think about oppressive forces such as race, class, and gender. She rejects the additive approach and instead she argues that race, gender, and class form a system of interlocking oppression and together with sexuality, ethnicity, nation, and religion form an overarching structure of domination—what she calls the “matrix of domination.” (20-21) She moves the discussion away from descriptions of these individual types of oppression and focuses attention instead on how they interoperate to produce injustice.

She explores the intersections of oppression for Black women in the United States by exploring four powerful, controlling images of black women—the mammy figure, the matriarch, the welfare queen, and the Jezebel. Through these images, Black women are objectified as an Other, which provides an ideological justification for their oppression. In this way the Black Other, in whatever form, as she exists on the margins, actually clarifies the boundaries of society by defining the center. The Other stands in binary opposition to the “Norm.” Her discussion of the power dynamic inherent in heterosexuality as it intersects with race and gender is powerful and provides a nice illustration as to how the “matrix” capitalizes on binary thinking to function in society.

She delineates two interdependent dimensions of heterosexism—the symbolic and the structural. The symbolic refers to the sexual meanings used to represent and evaluate Black women’s sexuality (ie, the Jezebel or  hypersexual Black “freak” in opposition to the pure White woman). The structural dimension encompasses how social institutions are organized to reproduce the hegemonic “Norm” of heterosexism, particularly through law and social custom. Much as the Black Other stands in opposition to the White subject, heterosexuality as an ideology is embedded in binary thinking that casts all other sexualities as deviant. In this way, deviance is socially and legally constructed as existing outside whatever norm is useful. In discussing the specific objectification of sexuality, she adds Madonna/whore, real woman/dyke, real man/fag, stud/sissy to the typical binaries of white/black, man/woman, masculine/feminine. She argues these sexual binaries in turn receive justification via medial theories (normal/sick), religious beliefs (saved/sinner), and state regulation (legal/illegal) (140)

Nancy Levit and Robert R.M. Verchick, Feminist Legal Theory: A Primer.

Levit & Verchick address the ways in which anti-female norms and images are expressed in the law by focusing on how feminist theorists and activists have worked to change them. They outline the major camps of feminist legal theory—Equal Treatment, Cultural Feminism, Dominance Theory, Critical Race, Lesbian Feminism, Ecofeminism, Pragmatic Feminism, and Postmodern Feminism—and the tools with which these activists fight oppression inside legal doctrine. They argue that despite their differences, all feminist theorists view the world as shaped by white men who control larger shares of power and privilege. Because men originally wrote all the laws, those who did not fit their norm were silenced. Additionally all feminist legal theorists agree that men and women should have political, social, and economic equality; they disagree on the meaning of equality and how to achieve it. (15)

Feminists, they argue, regardless of their position, attempt to battle discrimination using three major tools: unmasking patriarchy, wherein they expose the often-subtle gender-based consequences of the laws; contextual reasoning, wherein they seek to understand the full context of the situation; and consciousness raising, wherein they alert others to these subtleties and form cohesive groups to oppose them. They provide an excellent chapter-by-chapter overview of the hot-button items within feminist legal theory such as workplace discrimination, schooling and organized sports, laws affecting the female body, marriage and family, sex and violence, and global issues such as sex trafficking and genital mutilation.

By reading Levit & Verchick with Collins, the intersecting forces of oppression and unintended consequences of the law become more obvious. For example, Levit & Verchick’s discussion of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 exposes how actually bringing suit under Title VII requires a woman to identify her “primary” discrimination as sex-based or race-based. By forcing one over the other, intersecting modes of discrimination are ignored in anti-discrimination cases, resulting in fewer women of color bringing suits. Similarly, in domestic violence situations, a battered lesbian woman conceivably might not escape her attacker, as neither women’s shelters nor the law recognize that women might need to be protected from other women. Fundamentally, Levit & Verchick attempt to expose the power dynamics inherent in our legal system, the consequences for women, and how activists have attempted to “correct” the unintended effects on women.

Joan Scott argued in “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” that any system of power must work to sustain itself through binary symbols because its very power is not unified, coherent or centralized and thus must constantly remake itself through objectifying the subordinate. She understands power by way of Foucault who sees it “as dispersed constellations of unequal relationships, discursively constituted in social ‘fields of force.'” (1067) Scott’s analysis focuses on the culturally available symbols that evoke complex and often contradictory representations of women—Eve/Mary, Madonna/whore, innocents/deviants.

For Scott, and I’d argue that for Collins as well, the important questions scholars can ask about how symbols work within a matrix of domination are those that seek to understand which symbolic representations are invoked, how and when they’re used. These symbols are interpreted through a set of normative behaviors and appear in  legal, medical, and political doctrines (among others) that have serious ramifications for women who must enter the legal/courts system. As such, I’m looking forward to exploring how (if) scholars address these symbols in our upcoming readings.

An Exploration of Gender, Society, and Law in America

This fall, I’ll be working with Dr. Sharon Leon to finish my minor field on gender, law, and society in America. In the spirit of open scholarly communication, I thought it prudent to share my initial thoughts on this minor field, what I will be reading, and what I hope to accomplish.

I will be examining the public and private legal experiences of men, women, and children in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Building on the argument that the family was the center of private life in the nineteenth century, I am approaching this study from the position that the family was also frequently a site of public, and often violent, legal contention.1 I am interested specifically in how men and women interacted with the American legal system in these centuries, not only in regards to domestic law, but also in how social expectations rooted in gender norms and the family defined criminal behavior in general.2

In order to understand this complex history, I am making the methodological choice to use intersectionality as the basis of my study, which will allow me to focus on social and legal institutions in America using a gender/race/class lens. Concepts of criminality, deviance, and propriety have been constructed differently for men and women of different races, classes, and ethnicities. Thus, the boundaries of acceptable behavior have changed depending on ideals of proper manhood or womanhood and illuminate deeper anxieties in American society during this time. Crime, especially violent crime committed by women within the family or the domestic sphere, has inspired a range of complex cultural, social, and institutional responses that had a direct impact on power and gender relations in American history.

The responses to violent women, specifically, can tell us much about how all women were perceived with regard to actual and potential criminal behavior. As such, I plan to explore women as both agents and victims of the shifting philosophies of punishment and rehabilitation, including the changing ideologies of prison reformers and the state, and of the professionalization of psychiatry and social work. I also plan to examine approaches to common law and domestic violence as they were rooted in patriarchal control of the family, paying special attention to the prescribed roles of women and children. I’m hoping that by grounding my study in gender theory and the history of the family, I’ve organized my readings to provide a rich foundation upon which I may pursue my dissertation research.

Gender Theory & History

  • Levit & Verchick, Feminist Legal Theory: A Primer (NYU Press, 2006)
  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, (Routledge, 2006)
  • Gerda Lerner, “Placing Women in History: Definitions and Challenges,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1/2 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 5-14
  • Gerda Lerner, “Reconceptualizing Differences Among Women,” Journal of Women’s History, Volume 1, Number 3, Winter 1990
  • Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5 (Dec., 1986), pp. 1053-1075
  • Joan W. Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, (Columbia, 1999)
  • Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America, (Oxford, 1985)
  • Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, (Routledge, 2000)
  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1992), 251-274
  • Barbara Melosh, Gender and American History since 1890 (Routledge, 1993)

Family & Sexuality

  • Sharon Ullman, Sex Seen: The Emergence of Modern Sexuality in America
  • Howard Chudacoff, The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture
  • George Chauncy, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, (Basic, 1994)
  • Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920
  • Jessica L. Weiss, To Have and to Hold: Marriage, the Baby Boom and Social Change
  • Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland

Crime & Punishment in America

  • Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, (Basic Books, 1993)
  • Edward Ayers, Vengeance & Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th-Century American South, (Oxford University Press, 1984)
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish, (Vintage, 1995)
  • Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization: A History of Insanity in an Age of Reason, (Vintage, 1988)

Women & Their Rights

  • Joan Hoff, Law, Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women, (NYU Press, 1994)
  • Nina Auerbach, The Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth, (Harvard, 1984)
  • Linda Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship, (Hill & Wang, 1998)
  • Nancy Cott, “Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States, 1830-1934,” American Historical Review 103 (1998): 1440-1474
  • Barbara Young Welke, Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920 (Cambridge, 2001)

Crime Literature & Coverage

  • Karen Halttunen, Murder Most Foul: The Killer in the American Gothic Imagination, (Harvard, 1998)
  • Suzanne Lebsock, A Murder in Virginia: Southern Justice on Trial (WW Norton, 2004)
  • Michael Ayers Trotti, The Body in the Reservoir: Murder & Sensationalism in the Old South

Institutions I: Police, Courts, & Prisons

  • L. Mara Dodge, Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind: A Study of Women, Crime and Prisons, 1835-2000, (Northern Illinois, 2006)
  • Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789, (University of North Carolina Press, 1995)
  • Eric H. Monkkonen, Police in Urban America, 1860-1920, (Cambridge, 1981)
  • Michael Willrich, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago, (Cambridge, 2003)
  • Nicole Hahn Rafter, Partial Justice: Women, Prisons, and Social Control. 2d ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1990)
  • Estelle Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930, (U Michigan Press, 1984)

Institutions II: Insanity & Asylums

  • Benjamin Reiss, Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums & Nineteenth Century American Culture, (Chicago, 2008)
  • James W. Trent, Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States (UC Press, 1995)
  • Ian Dowbiggin, Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880-1940 (Cornell UP, 1997)
  • Nicole Hahn Rafter, Creating Born Criminals (U of Illinois Press, 1998)
  • Steven Noll, Feeble-mindedness in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900-1940 (UNC Press, 1995)
  • Janet A. Tighe, “Francis Wharton and the Nineteenth-Century Insanity Defense: The Origins of a Reform Tradition,” The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 223-253
  • Carole Haber, The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West, (UNC Press, 2013)

Identifying a Criminal & Expert Testimony

  • Simon Cole, Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, (Harvard, 2001)
  • James Mohr, Doctors and the Law: Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America, (Johns Hopkins, 1993)
  • Charles E. Rosenberg, Trial of the Assassin Guiteau: Psychiatry and the Law in the Gilded Age (1968)

Domestic Law & Violence

  • Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth Century America, (U North Carolina Press, 1985)
  • Hendrik Hartog, “Lawyering, Husbands’ Rights, and ‘The Unwritten Law,’ in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of American History (1997)
  • Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, (Univ of Illinois Press, 1988)
  • Elaine Forman Crane, Witches, Wifebeaters, & Whores: Common Law and Common Folk in Early America, (Cornell University Press, 2011)
  • John Ruston Pagan, Anne Orthwood’s Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia, (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Criminal Behavior & Construction of Deviance

  • Leslie Reagan, When Abortion was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and the Law, 1867-1973, (Berkeley, 1997)
  • Elaine Abelson, When Ladies Go A-Thieving: Middle Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store, (Oxford, 1989)
  • Cheree Carlson, The Crimes of Womanhood: Defining Femininity in a Court of Law, (University of Illinois Press, 2008)
  • Kali N. Gross, Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 (2006)
  • Philip Schwartz, Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865, (LSU Press, 1988)
  • Timothy J. Gilfoyle, A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York, (WW Norton, 2006)


  • Randolph Roth, American Homicide, (Harvard, 2009)
  • Lisa Duggan, Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity, (Duke, 2001)
  • Jeffrey Adler, “’I Loved Joe, But I Had to Shoot Him’: Homicide by Women in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2003
  • Michelle Oberman, “Understanding Infanticide in Context: Mothers Who Kill 1870-1930 and Today,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2003
  • Wilma King, “’Mad’ Enough to Kill: Enslaved Women, Murder, and Southern Courts,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 92, No. 1, Women, Slavery, and Historical Research (Winter, 2007), pp. 37-56
  • Robert M. Ireland, “The Libertine Must Die: Sexual Dishonor and the Unwritten Law in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 27-44

Juvenile Delinquency

  • Patricia Cline Cohen, “Unregulated Youth: Masculinity and Murder in the 1830s City,” Radical History Review 52 (1992): 33-52
  • Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920, (Univ North Carolina Press, 1995)
  • Joseph Hawes, Children in Urban Society: Juvenile Delinquency in Nineteenth-Century America, (Oxford, 1971)
  • Anne Knupfer, Reform and Resistance: Gender, Delinquency, and America’s First Juvenile Court (Routledge, 2001)

Capital Punishment

  • Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History, (Harvard, 2003)
  • Victor Streib, The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio, (Ohio U Press, 2006)
  • Victor Streib, Death Penalty for Juveniles, (Indiana U Press, 1987)
  • Louis P. Masur, Rites of Execution: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, 1776-1865, (Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • John D. Bessler, Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, (Northeastern, 1998)
  • Annulla Linders, “The Execution Spectacle and State Legitimacy: The Changing Nature of the American Execution Audience, 1833-1937,” Law & Society Review, Vol. 36, No. 3 (2002), pp. 607-656


  1. See Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth Century America, (University of North Carolina Press, 1985), ix. Grossberg argued that the center of domestic relations in the nineteenth century consisted of a “complex and vital relationship between two primary spheres of experience: the family and the law.” []
  2. Barbara Melosh argued that the gendered discourse not only regulated the social behavior of men and women in sexuality, family, and work, but also became a way to maintain hierarchies of all kinds. “Gender describes a fundamental understanding of difference that organizes and produces other relationships of difference—of power and inequality.” Thus, I am applying these hierarchies to a spectrum of criminal behavior. Barbara Melosh, Gender and American History Since 1890 (Routledge, 1993), 5. []

Minor Field Readings: Digital History

This is my reading list for my minor in digital history, which included a separate course on Digital Pedagogy and Advanced Programming for Historians. I’ve included some of the readings from the Digital Pedagogy class here. The full list is available at our Zotero Group. Our advanced programming course was primarily a praxis; there were no readings beyond help documentation.

History Theory

Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History (1997).
Elizabeth A. Clark, History, Theory, Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn (2004).
Edward Carr, What Is History? (1961).
Roland Barthes, Image, Music, Text (1978).
Jörn Rüsen, “Rhetoric and Aesthetics of History: Leopold von Ranke,” History and Theory, Vol. 29, No. 2 (May, 1990), pp. 190-204.
Adrian Jones, “Word and Deed: Why a Post-Poststructural History Is Needed, and How It Might Look,” The Historical Journal, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp. 517-541.
Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (1980).


Manuel De Landa, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (2000).
Espen J. Aarseth, Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature (1997).
Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (1998).
Hayden White, “The Question of Narrative in Contemporary Historical Theory,” History and Theory
Vol. 23, No. 1 (Feb., 1984), pp. 1-33.
Hayden White, “The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry Vol. 7, No. 1, On Narrative (Autumn, 1980), pp. 5-27.
Alan Liu, “When Was Linearity?: The Meaning of Graphics in the Digital Age,” University of California, Santa Barbara, August 2008 (version 1.0).


George P. Landow, Hyper/Text/Theory (1994).
Jerome J. McGann, Radiant Textuality: Literature after the World Wide Web (2004).
Michael Witmore, “Text: A Massively Addressable Object,” Published on Wine Dark Sea December 31, 2010.
Ian Small and Marcus Walsh, The Theory and Practice of Text-Editing: Essays in Honour of James T. Boulton (1992).

New Media

Lauren Rabinovitz and Abraham Geil, Memory Bytes: History, Technology, and Digital Culture (2004).
Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore, The Medium is the Massage (2005).
Marshall McLuhan and Lewis H. Lapham, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1994).
Lev Manovich, “Database as a Genre of New Media,” AI & Society
Daniel V. Pitti, “Encoded Archival Description: An Introduction and Overview,” D-Lib Magazine, Vol. 5, No. 11 (November 1999).
Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort, The New Media Reader (2003).

Visual History

David J. Staley, Computers, Visualization, and History: How New Technology Will Transform Our Understanding of the Past (2002).
David J. Staley, “Sequential Art and Historical Narrative: A Visual History of Germany,” (September 2002).
Alex W. White, The Elements of Graphic Design (2011).
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (1994).


Ian N. Gregory and Paul S. Ell, Historical GIS: Technologies, Methodologies, and Scholarship (2008).
Bodenhamer, Corrigan and Harris, The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship (2010).


Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (2008).
Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2009).
Cass R. Sunstein, Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge (2008).
Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2007).


Gary Hall, Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now (2008).
Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity (2005).
John Willinsky, The Access Principle: The Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship (2009).


Christine L. Borgman, Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet (2010).
Steve Weber, The Success of Open Source (2005).
William G. Thomas, III, “Writing A Digital History Journal Article from Scratch: An Account,” University of Nebraska—Lincoln (December 2007).


David K. Levine, Against Intellectual Monopoly (2010).
Lawrence Lessig, Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0 (2006).
Siva Vaidhyanathan, Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity (2003).
5 Ways The Google Book Settlement Will Change The Future of Reading
Google Books, Fair Uses, and “Copyright” as Misnomer
Mguel Helft, “Judge Rejects Google’s Deal to Digitize Books,” New York Times, March 22, 2011.

Teaching Digital

Sample, Mark. “A Better Blogging Assignment.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. ProfHacker, July 3, 2012.
Eisenberg, Ellen. “Looking for Zalman: Making Historical Scholarship Visible to Undergraduates.” The History Teacher no. May 2005 (n.d.): 325–40.
Hunter, Leslie Gene. “The Future of Teaching History Research Methods Classes in the Electronic Age.” Journal of the Association for History and Computing (June 1998).
Lampert, Lynn. “Where Will They Find History? The Challenges of Information Literacy Instruction.”
Ramsay, Stephen. “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around: What You Can Do with a Million Books,” [pdf] April 17, 2010.
Ayers, Edward L., The Pasts and Futures of Digital History.
Samuel S. Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002)
Stephane Levesque, Thinking Historically. Educating Students for the 21st Century (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009)
Mills Kelly, Teaching History in the Digital Age
William H. Dutton and Brian D. Loader, Digital Academe: New Media in Higher Education and Learning (2002).
Jackie Marsh, Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood (2005).
James, et al., Young People, Ethics, and the New Digital Media: A Synthesis from the GoodPlay Project (2009).
Lee, Dolittle, Hicks, “Social Studies and History Teachers’ Uses of Non-Digital and Digital Historical Resources,” Social Studies Research and Practice Volume 1, Number 3, (Winter 2006).
Coventry et al., “Ways of Seeing: Evidence and Learning in the History Classroom,” The Journal of American History (2006) 92(4): 1371-1402.


Putting Theory in Action in the Classroom


Women on Trial: Exploring the History of American Women Through Criminal Trials

or my final project for Dr. Kelly’s Teaching History in the Digital Age course, I created a 200-300 level course women’s history in America, which incorporates three major theoretical contributions from the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning:

  1. “Uncoverage” and using consistency and patterns in assignments by Lendol Calder,
  2. Historical thinking by Sam Wineburg, and
  3. Kelly’s own thoughts on teaching using digital technology.

The Topic

Using the periodization put forth by Linda Kerber, et al, in their textbook Women’s America: Refocusing the Past,  I divided the history of America into four major sections for this course:1

  • 1600-1820: Early America –> The Salem Witch Trials
  • 1820-1880: The Many Frontiers of Industrializing America –> The Trial of Laura D. Fair
  • 1880-1945: Creating the State in an Industrialized Nation –> The Trial and Execution of Virginia Christian
  • 1945-2010: Struggles Against Injustice –> The Trial of Cheryl Crane

Within each major section, I chose one sensational trial involving at least one woman. The goal is to then “read out” context and content from each of these trials to explore changes in roles of women and anxieties about those changes. I hope to examine women’s public and private experiences in American society, and explore the social and cultural anxieties of American life by using various primary and secondary source materials about the trials and the surrounding topics.

My logic was to begin the course with a very well-documented set of trials–the Salem Witch Trials–to help students understand the bounds of trial evidence and the possibilities for good scholarly writing. Each subsequent trial is considerably less well-documented. So by the time we get to Cheryl Crane, students must use their new skills to help them make sense of the scarce resources that are actually available. Moreover, my hope is that they will have learned how to judge online resources as scholarly or not. (The Crane case is notoriously and comfortably enmeshed in the realm of Hollywood Reporter, People Magazine, and TruTV.)

The Underlying Theories

I was drawn to Lendol Calder’s writings on “Uncoverage,” specifically his argument that in order to teach more, you need to teach less content. By choosing only four trials, I was forced to make hard choices about the content to cover from each. The brutal reality is that I could teach an entire course on any one of these trials. In order to cover them all, I made hard choices about which anxieties or beliefs to cover from each. For example, while I cover lynching and Progressive Era anti-lynching campaigns in the Virginia Christian case, I do not adequately cover the National Association of Colored Women or their involvement in (unsuccessfully) getting Christian’s sentence commuted. However, my hope is that by covering less, I’m asking my students to think more and practice doing the work of an actual historian.

Calder structures his course with repetition of activities and a clear pattern of assignments to help provide a solid framework for his students. I believe this to be incredibly powerful for the students, so I adapted it to fit my course content. You’ll see that the main content of my course covers four modules, each lasting three weeks. The first week in each is devoted to analyzing evidence. I begin with evidence to help unsettle students in the notion that they will not start with the complete picture of the “facts” of the case–that is something they will have to earn by reading and uncovering it as they go. The second week provides some context so that they can understand the issues raised by the evidence. The third week covers the scholarship on the topics we covered in the first two weeks.

Sam Wineburg has written extensively on the skills that constitute Historical Thinking. Both he and Calder specifically mention six skills that make up historical thinking, and I would argue good critical thinking in general: questioning, connecting, sourcing, making inferences, considering alternate perspectives, and recognizing limits to one’s knowledge. My overarching goal with the course is to teach these skills while teaching students to understand specific elements of women’s history in America.

Lastly, the course has a heavy digital element. As I was creating the course, I bounced between two extremes in using digital tools; I either expected  the students to just know how to create history with digital technology or I turned the course into a digital methods class. Thus, I tried to strike a balance by asking students to do both digital and analog assignments, while giving them the option to do a digital or multi-media project for the final, if they are so inclined. The bulk of the work in the course is dedicated to finding and/or using online primary sources. In fact, I’m proud to report that ALL of the primary source materials used in this class are available online. Mills Kelly argues that the future of teaching history lies in the “making, marking, mining, and mashing” that students do online already. I tried to provide some structure to help students make sense of online documents while also teaching them how to discern good from bad information online. For example, two of the assignments deal specifically with Wikipedia entries on the trials. In one, I ask students to evaluate the entry based on the information covered in the course and in another, I ask students how they’d edit an entry.

Then again, I could do an entire course on Wikipedia and editing entries. Another time, another course perhaps.

  1. Gerda Lerner suggested the writing of women’s history can be arranged in these four stages of development, each stage more complex and sophisticated than the last []

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

I gave a presentation at the inaugural Women’s History in the Digital World conference  at Bryn Mawr a couple of weeks ago. In the spirit of openness, they posted it to their online repository. It’s available here.

Scholarly Site Review: US History Scene

This post is part of an assignment for GMU’s History course, Teaching History in the Digital Age. Last week, I reviewed two sites produced by RRCHNM.


This week, Dr. Kelly asked us to review a digital project outside the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. For this assignment, I chose US History Scene, a new site (copyright 2013) touting free digital resources “hand selected by historians” geared toward educators, students, and history enthusiasts. This gorgeous and modern site (which has a pronounced blog feel) is produced by US History Scene, a multimedia and education publishing company.

The site successfully incorporates content curated by a variety of historians from major universities in the US (not all contributors include full bios). Functionally, the site presents a collection of authoritative and scholarly essays spanning a multitude of 17th to 20th century topics in American history. Some of these essays make clear historical arguments, most read as written lectures, which incorporate both primary source materials (images, mostly) and secondary literature (historiography and video lectures by historians and authors).  The more well-rounded essays include links to other resources, such as teaching aids for educators and historical questions on topic for further study.

It’s a new site, so there are sections with very little content. It looks as if they plan to create a more robust “study guides” section, which as of this review houses information about how to pass an AP test. Additionally, they’ve curated a variety of reading lists on topics in US history and included links to online lectures by prominent historians at major universities. For example, they include Lynn Hunt’s Western Civ lectures from UCLA.

From a pedagogical perspective, while this site offers robust topical material, it functions largely as a secondary source for students. Primary sources may be linked from individual articles, but as they are presented in essay format, students are not given the opportunity to question, evaluate, or analyze these materials for themselves. Wrapped as they are in another’s historical argument, the primary sources are presented as already-interpreted for the reader. Additionally, video content, most of which is embedded from YouTube, is not presented in a way that would allow students to question potential motives or biases of the creator. As is true of all embedded content from YouTube, students have to click off the site to see who uploaded the video or its origin. In either case, the interpretation is done and the content is being presented to students in a factual way, students are not overtly being asked to “think historically” about the content presented to them.

Helpful content for educators is present for some topics, but they have to dig for it. The prominent position of “About Us” and “Contact Us” in the primary navigation bar would be better suited for special collections of resources for educators. The primary mode of organization for all the content on the site is around the topical areas. Educators must come to the site and look up a topic first, then hope some teaching aids are included as part of the essay. Given the high quality of the scholarship here, some articles on how students learn or process historical information would be welcome additions. (At the very least curated content on that topic from elsewhere would be helpful for teachers.)

Fundamentally, US History Scene is a valuable resource. Complex issues are presented as such and more than one point of view is often told. Still, because students have no flexibility to choose how they explore these complex issues, nor are they asked to source, corroborate, or contextualize these topics on their own, the site should be considered as an alternative secondary source. US History Scene is a very new site and it remains to be seen how it will evolve, especially as a resource for educators. Given the quality of the content that exists there, I do hope they add more opportunities for students to practice historical thinking on their own, and give teachers the resources to help them do so.


Historical Resources Online and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

As part of an assignment for Dr. Kelly’s History 689: Teaching History in the Digital Age, we were asked to evaluate two digital projects. I looked at two projects devoted to teaching history with online primary source material developed and published by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at my home institution of George Mason University. Exploring U.S. History tackles niche topics for a specific class and Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French functions as a portal or collection of primary source materials. These two sites, while existing on two ends of the spectrum on digital scholarship, do suffer from similar issues, namely in that they only partially address helping students ask good questions of history.

Exploring U.S. History, last updated in 2004, presents modules designed to supplement George Mason University’s History 120 course. The stated goals are to reinforce textbook readings and built IT proficiency, which is defined as learning to build and maintain webpages, completing online assignments, performing online research and using technology in historical analysis.

Given its 2004 production date, the site is presented with a very simple, yet clear design that stands the test of time. The site offers clear instructions and navigation buttons. Nice visual cues and use of breadcrumbs help with wayfinding, which allows students or readers to drop in on any page and understand how to click around. (This is important given that the majority of traffic to a website enters through a page other than the home page.)

The available topics are diverse and plentiful and offer students a broad view that the work of historians is more than just reading texts. Still the assignments presented ask students to answer questions instead of ask them. The assignments do help lead the student through what we could consider “good” historical questions, but the site does not help connect the dots between the primary material and asking historical questions of that material.1

Detailed instructions  as to how to explore these objects, which range from material culture to photographs to texts, may be  prescriptive  depending on the particular topic or source in question. Sadly one of the more sophisticated assignments–analyzing artifacts in the Barnum museum in situ–offers no such instructional layer. With respect to the specific goals of the site, much like the steps to “reading” source materials, a sophisticated historian can see how the assignments and exercises map back to the original goals, but it is doubtful an undergraduate will. Additionally, there are no conclusions to any of the assignments. As a supplemental site for a physical course, once can assume the discussion will take place in class, but as an online resource, this lack prevents non-students from exploring. With a little work, this site could be scaled for use beyond that specific classroom.

On the other end of the spectrum, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: Exploring the French Revolution provides a collection of online primary source documents. It is the older of the two sites with a copyright at 2001. It is unclear when it was last updated.

The site functions as an actual portal for an impressive array of source material including topical essays, primary sources ranging from images and paintings to  texts, songs, and maps. Due to its early creation date, the site does not benefit from directed navigation options. Browsing, exploring and searching are encouraged, yet there is no inherent difference between these three functions. A a student arriving on site without a research plan would be hard pressed to know where to begin2. One of the most useful essays, “How to Read Images” is buried at the bottom of the Explore tab. Offering a more obvious link to this essay–and providing similar instructions to help scholars “read” the other primary source types–would be one way to solve this problem.

The essays located under the Explore tab make use of the early benefits of hypertext. The supplemental primary source materials that are presented with each essay are listed in the left margin (not in context in the main body) for interested students to explore. However, the essays themselves read as chapters from a general text book and are still presented as insurmountable chunks of text without the reprieve of images to break the flow and rest the eyes. Wayfinding in these essays is complicated by the fact that each supplemental source pops as a new window (cutting edge technology in 2001) complete with new navigation buttons.

The Browse tab presents a truly non-directed browse functionality; the sources are in alphabetical order and offer no other categorization beyond the primary source type.  The primary text materials on the site are presented with a short introductory paragraph and translated to English. As Jeri mentioned in her review, this prevents students from actually seeing the original document in full context or reading it in its native French. Nuance lost in translation is lost forever and the ability to read texts in their native language is a crucial part of historical thinking. While admittedly a barrier for most undergraduate students, the importance of seeing a text in its original form (and language) allows them to “read” the document on a more sophisticated level. While the site does provide context for the text in question, an image of the original would be a helpful addition.

Knowledge of modern research on site usability, readability, and navigation undermine the truly impressive collection of artifacts on the French Revolution. The overarching challenge with this site as a teaching tool is the lack of a framework to help guide students in their historical thinking. The site itself presupposes the reader is asking sophisticated questions and in this respect functions only as a search portal for finding relevant material.

Regardless of their respective goals–admittedly one site was created to ask specific questions of history and the other functions only as a warehouse–these sites would benefit from more open-ended questions and better instructions on how to “read” sources. Despite their age, with these additions, these sites would remain relevant to helping students learn to think historically.

  1. See Wineburg, “On the Reading of Historical Texts: Notes on the Breach Between School and Academy,” Am Educ Res J September 21, 1991 vol. 28 no. 3 495-519. []
  2. For the challenges with search, see Beyond Google: How Students Conduct Academic Research []

How I Learned to Read Class Materials on my iPad

I’ve always been a paper person. I like to print articles and mark them up in multi-colored highlighters. I write notes in the margins. I employ a complicated symbol system of stars, boxes, brackets and arrows to help me keep track of my thoughts.  The process of writing it down helps me to clarify my thoughts. It helps me remember. I’ve always done it this way.

It occurred to me that it’s a little insane to call myself a “digital” person when I don’t fully employ the technology or the tools available to me. I got an iPad for my birthday in June and until now I only used it for social media. This semester, I decided to experiment with reading articles online instead of wasting the paper to print them. I’d already organized my Zotero libraries to keep track of my sources. I also had purchased GoodReader (at the encouragement of several friends) to help me annotate pdfs, so I don’t lose the note-taking capability.

So far, to keep myself organized between my laptop and my iPad, I’ve been using GoodReader and Dropbox. These apps help me get the articles on my iPad and annotate like a fiend.  It’s pretty efficient. In the event that this system may help others, here is what I did.

Set up Dropbox

Install Dropbox on your computer. (Accounts are free for up to 2GB of storage.)

Open the Dropbox folder and create a new folder. Mine is called “Goodreader Sync.” The only items I put in here are items I plan to read on my iPad.

Set up GoodReader

Once you’ve installed GoodReader ($4.99), open it and select “Connect to Servers” > “Add” > “Dropbox” and input your account information.

Now it’s time to set up the sync: select “Connect to Servers,” click on Dropbox, name your connection–I named mine “Readings.” Tap the folder to connect to Dropbox and sign in with your  login information. Select the Dropbox folder you want to sync,  and select “Sync” from the buttons at the bottom of the window.

Click “Proceed”. GoodReader will then ask you to either create a new folder or “Download Here and Sync”. If you select “download here” all of your readings will populate your general GoodReader folder. I created a special folder in GoodReader to eliminate clutter, but it’s up to you.

Sync Thyself

That’s it! You can now use the green “Sync” button to connect the two. (Remember, you need to be connected to the Internet to sync your files.)


So far, my work flow consists of collecting all the week’s pdf readings from the browser on my laptop and organizing them into my “GoodReader Sync” folder in Dropbox. Once I sync from GoodReader, I’m ready to annotate for class.

Anyone else have a way to manage this? As this is the year I organize myself digitally, I’m always looking for suggestions.

Using JavaScript Libraries: Download or Link?

There are numerous open-source JavaScript libraries floating around the web that can be of particular use to historians. Google hosts quite a few of these, including the very popular jQuery and jQueryUI. For data visualization, some good options for historians include: Stanford University’s D3, or MIT’s SIMILE Widgets such as TimelineExhibit andTimePlotTimeMap combines the functionality of Timeline with popular mapping APIs to provide an easy way to plot geographic and chronological events in context.

Once you find a library and decide you want to use it, you need to make a decision, do you download and install the library on your own server or do you just link to the hosted library?  Your answer will depend on a variety of issues.

Libraries that are hosted elsewhere are handy, there are no files to install and a simple line of script can bring you all the functionality you’d want without you having to architect the file structure on your own servers. To load a hosted library, copy and paste the code snippet for that library (shown below) in your web page. For instance, to load jQuery, embed the <script src="//ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.8.2/jquery.min.js"></script> snippet in the <head> tag of your HTML page.

However, it’s important to note that any JavaScript that gets included in your webpage runs  within the context of your entire domain and can access any data contained therein. Using a library from a known and frequently-validated entity, such as Google, isn’t likely to cause problems, but it you’re looking to grab functionality from a third-party that isn’t as well-known, these files might cause issues on your own site. Always use code (whether you opt to link to it or download it) from sources you trust.

Additionally, the hosts of the library you’d like to use might not appreciate the additional server load that is created when you link to their libraries. Always read the documentation for instructions how best to use their library. In these cases, you should consider downloading the library to run from your own server. But where do you put it once you have it on your local machine?

If you opt to download a JavaScript library, you’ll need (eventually) to upload the entire library to your web server. For ease of organization, you can create a separate “javascript” or “js” folder at the root level of your site to house all of your libraries.

“js” is the folder and contains only JavaScript files and other libraries. You’ll notice here that I’ve installed the “timemap” library. I’ve organized all of my libraries into distinct folders, so that I can keep track of my files. Some of these libraries come with dozens of separate files, so keeping them organized becomes critical as you use more and more of them.

Most library documentation is helpful and includes instructions on how to download, but if you happen upon one that does not, these basic instructions apply:

1. Download the entire library to your local machine.
2. Unzip it and FTP it to the “javascript” or “js” folder on your web server.

That’s it. The library is now available for you to use on any page on your site.

To call your library, you’ll need to include all the appropriate <script> tags in the <head> tag of your HTML page. For example, to load TimeMap, one would need to call five different JavaScript files. In the example below the Google Maps API v3 is being called by a URL, while the rest are pulling from the local server by using the relative path “../js/timemap/lib/” code as seen below.

You can use multiple JavaScript libraries, but you should be aware of any possible conflicts. Always check the library documentation for issues of library incompatibilities. You can check for known JavaScript Library conflicts by searching Google for your library name and “conflict,” (e.g., jquery conflict)

To ensure your library is loading correctly, you can use any of the popular in-browser debugging tools like Firebug or Chrome Developer Tools. For example, if one incorrectly types the file name for the Timeline JavaScript file in the <script> tags, the page will fail to load. By using Chrome Developer Tools, it’s easy to see the Internal Server Error is due to a non-existent file on the server; the tool even gives the number of the problematic line of code causing the issue.

JavaScript libraries are a convenient way to harness the power of JavaScript functionality without having to write all the code yourself. Happy coding!

Great Expectations

I had partial success with my mapping project this weekend.

I had originally planned to map each state with little popup boxes showing details on the numbers for each state. It turns out that I greatly underestimated both my skills with JSON files and the Google APIv3 for maps.

But let me back up. I did have success mapping multiple points on a map. I also successfully mapped a point on a map with a detail window on click (click on the marker to see the details.) However, when I tried to map multiple points on a map with detail boxes, that’s where the train went off the rails.

Apparently, the Google Maps API has issues with looping through a long list of details to set markers and info boxes. It only pulls the last info box in the list. There are a nice bunch of tutorials on how to fix the issue, BUT since I am not as well schooled in javascript and calling JSON information, I could not get it to work.. although I did try. My attempt to get it to work is avail here and frankly, I think it’s a big old mess. For one, I’m not sure how to call the separate JSON file. [The tutorial I was using is here. I have his book and his examples were working well for me up until this point, which makes me think it’s a js/json problem.]

For reference, here is my JSON data.


I’ll continue to try to debug and hack at it to get it to work, but I’m finding the online documentation only partially helpful. One big problem is that I’m not totally confident that I know how to code the start and end to each file. So when I find code snippets of “solutions” to common problems, I’m not entirely sure where to put the code. Since the order is really important, I’m sure I have some things out of order.

Full code examples would be more helpful so that I can see it in context, but I know this is a learning curve problem, and that it will diminish with time. These “help” blog posts are written for experienced coders and right now I’m a hack at best. So for the time being, I’m embracing my hack status and putting this to the side as a problem for another day.