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About the Author

Robert Ranstadler

Robert Ranstadler

A decorated veteran and retired U.S. Marine, Robert is an armchair historian and freelance writer exploring potential career paths in public administration, web writing, historical studies, education, and digital scholarship. Some of his recent projects involve remote tutoring, privately-contracted academic research, and independent blogging.

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Places and Faces: Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association

Whew! It has been a whirlwind summer and things are very busy behind the scenes here at The Digitorian. Again, I offer the humblest of apologies for not providing regular updates but competing personal and academic demands have unfortunately placed virtual blogging rather low on my ever-expanding list of priorities.

With the preamble out of the way, I’d like to bring some attention to an incredible story and outstanding non-profit group that I recently discovered, while writing a recent article for HistoryCollection.co. In performing research on the history of U.S. Special Operations Forces, I discovered a frequently overlooked story, lost to realm of antiquarians and academic historians. The U.S. Army, while combating recalcitrant Amerindians in the Southwest, once employed a very elite group of Black Seminole Indian Scouts in their efforts to pacify the Great Plains. These unique people were previously displaced from Florida, due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830, but later fought on behalf of the U.S. Government across Indian Territory, Texas, and parts of New Mexico.

One of the main sources I used in conducting this research was the Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association, a non-profit organization based out of Brackettville, Texas. Their self-described mission is to:

[M]aintain the cemetery, where our ancestors are buried, and to raise awareness about the Four Medal of Honor Recipients that have been laid to rest there. We also continue to restore and preserve the Historic Carver School Building and Grounds. This building was used by the black Seminoles during segregation. We strive to keep our legacy alive.

In addition to the many community events and fundraisers they orchestrate each year, the SISCA also has a wonderful website. Several digitized photos and source documents are available in their virtual museum, along with a colorful history about the Seminole Negro Scouts and the cemetery they maintain.

I could ramble on forever but just do yourself a favor and go check-out their website when time permits. It’s a powerful story and a rich piece of American history worth any digital history buff’s time and attention.

Want to Know More?

Seminole Indian Scout Cemetery Association: http://www.seminolecemeteryassociation.com/

HistoryCollection.co: http://historycollection.co/americas-original-special-forces-black-seminole-scouts-american-west/

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Researching and Writing in the Digital Age

As I mentioned in a preceding post, I decided to share some of my exterior projects here on The Digitorian, provided those efforts in someway relate to digital history and the digital humanities. That being said, I recently wrote an article about the USS Texas, a battleship, converted to a permanent museum, currently moored near Houston, Texas. All of my research was exclusively performed online, where I discovered and relied upon a variety of digital sources.

I thought this worth sharing because we often lose sight of how convenient it is living in an age of information and advanced technology. Had I set out to write this article 15 or 20 years ago, only a fraction of the needed information would have been available via the World Wide Web. Today, however, an assortment of archives and research libraries are readily available online.

On a separate note, there’s also a massive effort underway to save the ship. Although she survived two world wars, The Texas is currently under assault by time. Rust is eating away her hull and the ship is taking on more than 300 gallons of a water per day. Several organizations are involved in preserving and conserving this tremendous piece of American history, but they could use our help. Please visit my article at the History Collection and share it to get the word out.

Want to Know More?

The Battleship Texas Foundation

The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Office of the Texas Governor, Greg Abbott

The Texas State Legislature

The Houston Chronicle

Neptune Research, Inc.

 

Personal Update

I must apologize to my regular readers for not providing more frequent updates but time, as they say, certainly does fly. A series of personal events has irrevocably impacted my future academic plans, which have migrated from pursuing a PhD in the Humanities to a second master’s degree in Public Administration. Without placing the cart in front of the horse, I anticipate pursuing a MPA (with a certificate in Nonprofit Management) at Villanova University later this August. Eventually, I would like to engage in nonprofit work associated with digital history and the digital humanities.

I’m also very pleased to announce that I landed a new position, as a contributing writer, at History Collection—a commercial website that focuses on military history, war, and politics. The Digitorian is a labor of love that, unfortunately, does not pay the bills. Thus, when push comes to shove, I frequently find myself writing articles about military history rather than the digital humanities.

So, after giving my situation some serious thought, I concluded that I’ll continue posting on The Digitorian, while also sharing regular updates from other projects, provided they in some way relate to digital history or the digital humanities. The articles I write, for example, are crafted almost exclusively upon digital resources available online, so I imagine they’ll find a place here in the future.

Thanks for the continued support and please remember, no matter how fast the march forward, we must pause to consider from whence we came, lest we lose sight of our destination.

Places and Faces: Edward L. Ayers

Today, I’m introducing the first installment of another ongoing segment, which I call “Places and Faces.” Each month, I’ll look at some of the more influential institutions, organizations, or people associated with the inception, rise, and promulgation of Digital History and the Digital Humanities. This week’s focus concerns Edward L. Ayers, President Emeritus of the University of Richmond and Tucker-Boatwright Professor of the Humanities.

Dr. Edward Lynn Ayers has an incredibly distinguished career and is one of the leading academic figures within the digital humanities. Ayres received a B.A. in American Studies from the University of Tennessee in 1974. Over the next four years, he went on to study at Yale, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1980. His areas of expertise include the American Civil War and the Digital Humanities. Ayers has published almost a dozen books and received an even greater number of accolades. Chief among his awards are the Bancroft Prize for distinguished writing in American History, a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize, and the National Humanities Medal (awarded by President Obama in 2013).

ayers2

Dr. Ayers speaking during a commencement ceremony at the University of Richmond. Richmond-Times Dispatch

Of significant note is Dr. Ayers’s work with the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab and his continued efforts towards expanding various aspects of humanistic and historical studies. The DSL is dedicated to advanced technological research and expanding the overall reach and influence of the digital humanities, both inside and outside of the traditional classroom environment. As a Senior Research Fellow, Ayers made original contributions to “Visualizing Emancipation,” a digital history project aimed at exploring some of the underlying patterns associated with the abolition of slavery, both during and after the American Civil War. His collaboration with the DSL additionally facilitated the advancement of numerous projects concerned with the spatial relationships between significant historical events. A comprehensive collection of these works may be found at: http://dsl.richmond.edu/.

Ayers continues to act as a true ambassador of the humanities by participating in many projects that transcend traditional academia. BackStoryRadio.org, for example, is a podcast, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, that publicly addresses many of the historical events associated with some of today’s most pressing cultural and social issues.

Please feel free to explore many more of Dr. Ayers’s various accomplishments, or some of the current projects at Richmond’s DSL, and share your opinions here, at The Digitorian.

 

Want to Know More? 

Edward L. Ayers’s CV:  http://assets.richmond.edu/files/faculty-staff-bio/as/ayers-cv.pdf.

National Humanities Medal: https://www.neh.gov/about/awards/national-humanities-medals.

Digital Scholarship Lab, University of Richmond: http://dsl.richmond.edu/people/.

Back Story Radio: http://backstoryradio.org/about/.

Virginia Foundation for the Humanities: http://virginiahumanities.org/

Technological Spotlight: Geographic Information Systems

This week, I’m presenting the first installment in a series I call the Technological Spotlight.  Once a month, I plan on making the focus of my weekly blog an emerging or popular technological innovation within the field of digital history and/or the digital humanities.  The overall aim of this series is to increase my familiarity and working knowledge of the selected topic, while simultaneously generating productive and enriching dialogues about said subject among academics, enthusiasts, and industry experts.  With that being said, let’s look at one of the more popular platforms within digital history, the Geographic Information System.

A Geographic Information System, or GIS, is a computerized system used for collecting, organizing, and presenting data about the people and objects that occupy the surface of our planet.  The distinguishing feature of most Geographic Information Systems are their ability to transpose multiple layers of information over a single map or chart.  Geographic Information Systems rely upon data gathered from a variety of sources, such as Global Positioning Systems, topographic software, historical data, and various dedicated networks.  Common applications of this technology include environmental mapping, archaeology, seismological studies, and oceanographic research.

GIS model

The GIS World Model.  henrico.us

Although only recently achieving mainstream status within the fields of the digital history and the digital humanities, GIS is hardly a nascent technology.  Experts typically identify the late geographer, Roger Tomlinson, as the creator of GIS.  Tomlinson, who in the late 1960s was working for a Canadian aerial survey company, had a chance meeting with Lee Pratt, then head of the Canada Land Inventory (CLI).  Tomlinson listened to Pratt’s ambitious plan to completely rework and consolidate the thousands of maps used in inventorying over 2.5 million square miles of rural Canadian mountains and woodlands.  The pair eventually collaborated on the project, which resulted the creation of the first operational GIS.

Tomlinson

Dr. Roger Tomlinson, creator of GIS.  gisblog.com

Since its inception during the late twentieth-century, educators and academics have incorporated GIS into their studies in a variety of intriguing and exciting ways.  In 2014, for instance, the White House presented a STEM initiative to provide free GIS software to every public school across the nation.  In more recent news, the University of Central Florida teamed up with educators and technology experts to teach elementary school students about the vast potential of GIS and drones.  A bold project, that I’ve been following on LinkedIn, even involves consolidating data from British Royal Navy logbooks and charting the historical passages of WWI-era warships.

HMS Perth

HMS Perth, part of the Naval-History.net GIS project.  naval-history.net

The sky is the virtual limit for the future of GIS and its manifold commercial, private, and academic applications.  Please feel free to explore the wide array of projects currently emerging within this field and share them here at The Digitorian.

Want to Know More?

GIS (Geographic Information System): https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/geographic-information-system-gis/

Stanford Geospatial Center: http://library.stanford.edu/research/stanford-geospatial-center

The Smithsonian’s History of GIS: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/unlikely-history-origins-modern-maps-180951617/

 

Digital History and the Digital Humanities: The Current Debate

A succinct description of Digital History is “an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems.”[1]  This comprehensive explanation contextually orients the reader, but what are the practical implications of such pithy observations?  In other words, what does it realistically mean to practice and create digital history rather than, say, performing traditional academic research?

I extracted the above-excerpt from a 2009 American Historical Association article penned by Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas, two scholars synonymous with Digital History and its parent discipline, the Digital Humanities.  Both began practicing their respective crafts before the birth of the World Wide Web, eventually experimenting with digital history techniques and methods in the early 1990s.  This proved an incredibly transitive era, which thrust academia headlong into the Information Age by the turn of the 21st century.  Seefeldt and Thomas agree that there are two specific components to Digital History.  In one sense, it’s a venue that encourages and facilitates the robust exchange of scholarly ideas on an unprecedented level.[2]  On the other hand, it’s also an entirely new methodological approach to studying the past.[3]  These two attributes led historians to experiment with previously unfamiliar techniques, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, spatial analysis, digitization, and a variety of other cutting-edge methods.

In 2012, five MIT scholars collaborated to produce an original work aimed at explaining the inception, evolution, and practical application of their nascent and arguably abstract academic discipline.  Their book, Digital_humanities, addresses pressing concerns about the academic and professional standards of a field wholly accessible to the general public.  They argue that enthusiastic non-specialists, unfamiliar with the rigors of achieving and maintaining objective academic accuracy, could potentially and unwittingly dilute the credibility of humanistic studies.[4]  Anne Burdick et al. stress that the Digital Humanities is/are predicated upon “a concern with textual analysis and cataloging, the study of linguistic features, an emphasis on pedagogical supports and learning environments, and research questions driven by analyzing structured data.”[5]  The overall implication is that there exists a critical distinction between traditional humanism, born out of the ancient western philosophy, and today’s digital studies—entirely new branches of the liberal scholarship with their own unique orthodoxies and methodologies.

The unique relationship between the Digital Humanities and the public prompted the implementation and development of a whole new field of digital pedagogy, which PC Magazine contributor William Fenton discussed earlier this year in his article, “Digital Humanities: The Most Exciting Field You’ve Never Heard Of.”[6]  Similar to the preceding works, Fenton’s contribution focuses upon the nascent characteristics of digital scholarship and the persistent issues that trouble today’s digital humanists.  “[D]igital humanities,” according to Fenton, “is an interdisciplinary field in which scholars and educators bring computational tools and methods to humanistic inquiry.”[7]  Concerns over media literacy stand at the forefront of many interdisciplinary debates, with an emphasis placed on identifying the critical distinctions between genuine academic research and more teleological studies, crafted with specific ideologies in mind.

So where does this leave digital humanists and historians?  Is Digital History just another avenue from which to approach the past, or is it instead a new type of distinctly independent historiographic scholarship?  Should the digital humanities be subject to public conveyances at the risk of academic integrity?  These questions lack definitive answers, but one thing is certain: Society has entered a new realm of liberal awareness—one not confined to classrooms or archives—accessible to an unprecedented number of enthusiasts, ideologues, and non-specialists.  Only time will reveal the consequences of this paradigm shift within liberal scholarship and humanistic studies.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions by commenting on this post or via a tweet @Digitorian.  Alternatively, contact me on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/rranstadler or email me at: robert.ranstadler@salve.edu.

 

Want to Know More?

The Digital History Project: http://digitalhistory.unl.edu/

GIS (Geographic Information System): https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/geographic-information-system-gis/

HyperStudio: Digital Humanities at MIT: http://hyperstudio.mit.edu/

PC Magazine and Education: http://www.pcmag.com/education

 

Notes:

[1] Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas, “What Is Digital History?” Perspectives on History, accessed June 10, 2017, https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/may-2009/intersections-history-and-new-media/what-is-digital-history#.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Anne Burdick et al., Digital_humanities (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2012), vii, PDF e-book, accessed June 10, 2017, https://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/content/9780262018470_Open_Access_Edition.pdf.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] William Fenton, “Digital Humanities: The Most Exciting Field You’ve Never Heard Of,” PC Magazine, accessed June 10, 2017, http://www.pcmag.com/commentary/350984/digital-humanities-the-most-exciting-field-youve-never-hea.

[7] Ibid.

First Post Coming Soon!

Thanks for stopping by!  Please feel free to look around and explore my About page.  Check back later next week, when we’ll try to answer the question, “What exactly is Digital History?”

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