Tagged history

Three students stand at the front of a classroom. They are pointing at a computer and consult a map. A student stands behind them wearing virtual reality equipment.

Immersive Education: Virtual Reality and Project-Based Learning in the History Classroom

Andrew Wilson

This article details a student-centered assignment that integrates primary source analysis and the immersive medium of virtual reality. The goal of the activity was to increase student spatial familiarity and geographic knowledge of historic spaces, as well as expand their interest in primary sources.

Read more… Immersive Education: Virtual Reality and Project-Based Learning in the History Classroom


Collaboration Adventures with Primary Sources: Exploring Creative and Digital Outputs


The Archives & Special Collections (A&SC) Department at the University of Pittsburgh endeavors to play a central role in instruction involving the use of primary source materials. Since 2013, A&SC developed and continues to build upon a dynamic instruction program through active outreach and recruitment to invite faculty to bring their classes to visit the reading room and engage with primary sources. We collaborated with faculty to design assignments and in-class exercises that incorporate primary sources and allow students to generate and share original research. By presenting a series of case studies, the authors will share how they experimented with new ways to present research using primary sources through social media, zines, data sets, and visualizations: what we call “creative outputs.” This article highlights the experiments, challenges, and lessons learned in hopes of advancing undergraduate research with primary sources and supporting an environment of student innovation.


The Archives & Special Collections (A&SC) Department at the University of Pittsburgh endeavors to play a central role in instruction involving the use of primary source materials. In this article, Jeanann Haas, the Coordinator of Special Collections and Preservation, and Jennifer Needham, an archivist, discuss the variety of ways they have worked together to engage students in primary source research, including working with faculty to develop assignments that result in blogs, zines, data sets, and visualizations, what we call “creative outputs.” Since 2013, A&SC developed and continues to build upon a dynamic instruction program through active outreach and recruitment to invite faculty to bring their classes to visit the reading room and engage with primary sources. A&SC collaborate with faculty to design assignments and in-class exercises that incorporate primary sources and offer students the opportunity to generate and share their original research and discoveries in creative ways. This article presents a series of case studies in which students worked with primary sources and used digital humanities methods to present their research in creative ways.

Recent literature on archives and special collections reveals that the information literacy movement impelled the profession to champion participatory and collaborative learning with primary sources, thus departing from the show-and-tell model of instruction where students simply look at rare books and archives as librarians and archivists talk about them (Carini 2016, 192; Garland 2014, 326). Participatory and collaborative learning allows archivists and librarians to collaborate with faculty to support student researchers in analyzing primary sources to create, produce, innovate, and contribute to scholarship in creative and visual ways (Vong 2016, 150; DeSpain 2011, 30). Creating opportunities for students to engage with primary sources using digital humanities methods not only advances research-based learning but also fosters collaboration and communication among faculty, librarians, archivists, and digital humanists (Davis, McCullough, Panciera, and Parmer 2017, 482). In this article we share our experiences collaborating with faculty to support their pedagogical goals, design assignments that transcend the traditional research paper, and challenge students to produce creative outputs that further visualize and showcase their research.

Zines as Creative Outputs

In 2017, an English Department professor contacted A&SC to discuss possibilities for incorporating primary source research and creative projects in the two courses that she was teaching in the upcoming semester: “Women in Literature” and “Science Fiction.” The professor assigned students to create a zine or write a final paper about alternative publishing methods that would draw on class readings and discussion, personal interests, and materials consulted during their visit to A&SC.

During their visit to the A&SC reading room, students consulted science fiction fanzines, science fiction pulp magazines, feminist zines, and underground and alternative press newspapers in order to gain an understanding of pre-internet modes of communication and creative labor. As students explored the materials they completed a worksheet, designed by the professor, to prompt close examination of the materials. They were asked to consider the publisher, format, content, imagery, advertisements, and other interesting features.

Students enrolled in “Women & Literature” consulted feminist newspapers and newsletters from the 1970s including titles such as WomanSpirit, Broomstick, and Allegheny Feminist. They also reviewed lesbian feminist materials from the 1990s, comic books with women protagonists, and science fiction fanzines created by women. During their class visit, students studied the materials and considered the different literary approaches that female authors employed as well as women authors’ many perspectives on political upheaval, personal quandaries, and oppression in different literary and societal traditions. The “Science Fiction” course worked with a variety of science fiction and comic fanzines such as Cosmic Reflections, Granfalloon, Feinzine, and Cerebro. Students also worked with science fiction pulp magazines such as If and Galaxy, and superhero and science fiction comics like Superman, X-Men, Flash Gordon, and Buck Rogers.

Students in both courses returned to the reading room outside of their class time to perform a closer reading in preparation for their final assignment. The aim of the zine assignment was to encourage students to create a self-published and original work in response to the materials that they researched and consulted. Creating zines is a “reflection-based activity” that models a “student-centered approach to learning” (Vong 2016, 63). Students were challenged to think critically about the ideas, values, and events not necessarily covered by the mainstream media. In addition, those in “Science Fiction” considered the history of fandom and the subculture and emergence of the genre as a whole.

The students’ creative output was engaging and enlightening. The zines produced by students in both courses included reflections on class readings; editorials; original fiction, poetry, and art; and repurposed articles and headlines. Many of the zines modeled the common zine aesthetic and incorporated magazine clippings, repurposed illustrations, collage, and other DIY features. Students focused on gender representation in science fiction, women in the scientific community, lesbian culture and community, sexual harassment and assault, and mental illness. For the “Women & Literature” course, one zine addressed sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement, discussing the historical nature of contemporary debates. The author hopes that their zine will reach a wider audience and provide support for those who have experienced sexual assault.

A student in the “Science Fiction” course created their zine to address the lack of LGBTQ+ representation in mainstream science fiction and included a short story and reading list of what they believe to be quality queer content in books, television, and video games. They modeled the cover art after a specific issue of Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine that they consulted in A&SC and tried to emulate text produced on a typewriter. Elated by the final assignment, the faculty member showcased the zines at Pitt’s Digital and Handmade Showcase. She plans to explore this type of assignment in future courses. Taking inspiration from the professor and her assignment, A&SC hopes that this non-traditional method of scholarly output is something that can be further utilized by other professors. With the students’ permission, the class gifted the zines to the A&SC to enhance the zine collection, preserve their creative output, and serve as an example of student-produced work.


Figure 1. A selection of zines created by the classes, Women & Literature and Science Fiction

The zine collections also inspired another student who received a Brackenridge fellowship which provides undergraduates with a summer stipend so that they can devote themselves full-time to a creative or analytic research project. While other scholarship awardees were directed to submit a research paper as a final deliverable, this student negotiated to create a series of zines. She consulted with the science fiction, comic, and feminist zines as well as the contemporary zine holdings at Pitt’s Frick Fine Arts Library and Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Public Library. Interested in placing the zine, as a format, in historic context, she conducted research throughout the summer in order to publish a variety of zines based on her findings that outline zine history, how to make a zine, the social significance of the medium, and a personal zine reflecting upon her research experience. In addition, she hopes to start a zine club at the University in order to provide direction, resources, and space to students interested in self-publishing their own zines.

Digital Humanities Application

Many faculty have expressed interest in using digital humanities methods to provide opportunities for students to share research as an alternative to the traditional research paper.  Special collections, archives and rare books can provide students with the resources to inform compelling digital humanities projects. At the University of Pittsburgh, the Digital Scholarship Services (DSS), part of the library system, provides support for digital humanities teaching and research. They work closely with A&SC to recommend digital humanities applications to students and professors. For example, the Composing Digital Media course requires that students, “compose digital media while exploring the rhetorical, poetic, and political implications of multiple writing platforms. Students will learn how to compose a range of critical media objects using web-authoring languages, text, sound, images, and video in proprietary and open-source software” (University of Pittsburgh, 2018). The professor required students to visit A&SC to perform a close reading of science fiction fanzines, comic books, 1970s rock magazines, and feminist and gay press materials from the 1970s and 80s. The assignment asked students to categorize content based on a predetermined set of tags relating to gender and race, organized in the form of a digital timeline. She wanted the visual representation of the text to help students contextualize the categorized content over time. In addition, the faculty member wanted the final product to benefit A&SC. Many of these materials have not been digitized or indexed, so the professor hoped the project would render the materials more discoverable. DSS recommended that she use Timeline JS because it is a free, easy to learn software application that can quickly produce a digital timeline.

During the students’ initial visit to A&SC, the professor and archivist led a Timeline JS tutorial and introduced the content that would be incorporated into the timeline. After the students consulted the materials, the class regrouped and decided to assign tags including trans communities, objectification, sexual norms, diversity, empowerment, and animosity. Anticipating challenges, the professor required students to compose one timeline as practice before delving into the full assignment. Students voiced concern that the categories were too broad and difficult to tag and worked together to choose new tags that they believed would more accurately describe the content and settled on overcoming objectification, call to action, defying gender roles, verbal violence, and racial diversity. Although the new categories were still broad, they were nuanced enough to aid in the completion of the assignment.

The professor divided the class into groups of 3-4 students and directed them to work with a specific format such as fanzines, rock magazines, or feminist newspapers. Each student read three articles from their assigned format and assigned tags, took photographs, and entered metadata about these publications into a Google Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet detailed the bibliographic information along with the tag. Students also drafted a synopsis of each article that would position their chosen reading in the context of the tag. Timeline JS generated the timeline using the information on the spreadsheet. Examples of the timelines include Science Fiction Fanzines: A Collection of Thoughts, Theories, and other Things and Pop Rocks.

Battershill and Ross recognize that “many activities in the digital humanities require adaptability, creativity, and openness” (Battershill and Ross 2017, 5) and urge practitioners to keep an open mind and learn from those things that don’t always turn out as expected. Due to the complexity of the project, a data visualization tool may have been better suited, but visualization tools tend to require time and effort to learn beyond the two-week scope of the project. Nevertheless, this exercise still proved to be valuable in exposing students to a new digital humanities tool that challenged them to use close reading to produce a digital timeline. Furthermore, the assignment empowered students to participate in the decision-making process, negotiate and build consensus, and modify the categories based on their research and initial experiences with primary sources.

Social Media

While timelines are a great way of visualizing key events within the context of a specific period of time, multimodal social media blogs also serve as effective tools for telling a compelling narrative.  Composing a blog post is an important exercise in clear and concise writing, and it also allows students to share their work with a larger audience. In addition, when students compose multimodal blogs related to collections, they help to publicize these collections to potential future researchers.

Several years ago, A&SC started using the blog platform Tumblr to highlight collections in an engaging and visual way. Student employees served as the content creators and researched and wrote blogs based on their interests, drawing inspiration from A&SC collections. Recognizing that Tumblr could also be a great way to engage classes, A&SC invited faculty to consider assigning blog entries as alternatives to regular writing assignments.

In one example, we helped a professor design a multimodal blogging assignment in which students would collaborate with local community groups to help them memorialize their histories. This was part of a course offered in the History of Art and Architecture Department (HAA) titled, “Nationality Rooms: Visualizing Heritage in Pittsburgh.” The Nationality Rooms are thirty classrooms, located in the University of Pittsburgh’s historic Cathedral of Learning, that depict the national and ethnic groups that immigrated to Pittsburgh and also serve as University classrooms. Committees consisting of community representatives from across the world were formed to design, fundraise, and support the construction of the classrooms to represent different cultural heritages. The host committees’ planning, design, and construction for each of the Nationality Rooms are documented in the archives and include meeting minutes, correspondence, architectural drawings, and photographs. The course required each student to choose a specific room and research that room’s archive in order to identify how the host committee wanted to memorialize and represent themselves. Along with a paper and oral presentation, students wrote a short blog post using their paper abstract. For the last two weeks of the semester we featured one post per day on the A&SC Tumblr site. Some of the topics included, “Keeping Greek Heritage Alive during World War II,” “Showcasing Japan’s Cultural Past to Facilitate American Interest,” and “The Politics of the Syrian-Lebanese Nationality Room: Memorializing Unity and the Arabic-American Identity.”

The posts were written well, however, they focused more on the room as a whole and not on one aspect of the room in conjunction with a primary source from that room’s archive. Also, they did not include images of materials from the archives, but rather images of the rooms. From this experience, we learned that the students required more explicit directions. Although the instructions for the assignment were communicated to students verbally during the initial class visit, it would have been better to provide the students with written instructions outlining the requirements for the post.

Some faculty maintain their own class blogs and assign students to create posts using  A&SC materials. A&SC hosted an Introduction to Creative Writing class to look at scrapbooks from S. Leo Ruslander. Solomon Leo Ruslander (1879-1976) was a tax lawyer in Pittsburgh who compiled thirteen scrapbooks which document his professional and family life. The scrapbooks contain letters, photographs, event programs and invitations, postcards, newspaper clippings, and ephemera that document his wedding, family vacations, and material relating to local and regional associations[1]. Interacting with personal artifacts such as diaries draws researchers closer to the object’s history and cultural significance by evoking personal reflections and emotion (Lanning and Bengston 2016, 9). The professor asked students to spend time consulting with the scrapbooks and to each create their own, individual, creative portrait of Mr. Ruslander based on the information gleaned through the scrapbooks. Using WordPress, the class compiled their essays and created an online class magazine titled Seventeen Ways of Looking at S. Leo Ruslander. This project motivated students to embrace different roles throughout the creation process such as author, editor, reviewer, and publisher, while simultaneously establishing a meaningful connection with primary sources (DeSpain 2011, 26).

Faculty assign blogs to teach students how to articulate their research in shorter writing exercises that ask students to write succinctly and for a popular audience. In addition, assigning hashtags to their posts enable students to consider ways to enhance discoverability. Students often include links to their blog posts in job applications to demonstrate their writing skills. In addition, the blogs raise awareness of collections as posts are “liked” or “reblogged” by other individuals, libraries, or museums. They are indexed and discoverable through search engines such as Google, rendering these stories available to future researchers. To encourage faculty to incorporate blogging into their writing assignments, A&SC has created guidelines to assist faculty in scoping projects and has provided information about formatting, content length, and images.

Independent Student Research and Digital and Creative Outputs

In addition to class blogging assignments, independent student research opportunities teach students how to perform research using primary sources. As part of a larger library initiative and in partnership with Pitt’s Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR), A&SC offers the Archival Scholar Research Awards (ASRA) to encourage undergraduate scholars and researchers from the humanities to engage in original research using archives, special collections, and primary sources at the University of Pittsburgh. The ASRA program creates opportunities for students to connect with faculty mentors as well as with librarians, archivists, and curators who support student research and introduce students to collections. ASRA students also engage in collections work that supports their individual research projects and enhances the  discoverability of library and archival resources.  A&SC strives to find ways to incorporate creative outputs such as producing zines, timelines, social media, and other digital applications into the ASRA students’ collections work while simultaneously giving the faculty mentor a glimpse of what might be possible to include in their class assignments.

The ASRA program has made it possible for A&SC to witness the enthusiasm and passion that a researcher has when they detect a sign or clue that provides greater insight into their research. An undergraduate Biology and Philosophy major and ASRA recipient studied the archives of David Hull because it was a newer collection that had never been researched. Hull was one of the philosophers who founded the modern subdiscipline of Philosophy and Biology. The student began her research by focusing on the correspondence files in the Hull Papers to situate Hull’s thinking among twentieth-century philosophers of science within the century’s wider cultural movements. She carefully documented major themes, correspondents, events, locations, and dates that she encountered in the archive in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. The student also created Tumblr posts to raise awareness about the Hull papers and document the progress that she was making in her research.

Through her research, this student witnessed firsthand the debates among philosophers, and scientific philosophy theories that differed from the “winning” side. Based on this research, the student concluded that subject material taught in general philosophy classes is often from the viewpoint of the “winning” or most popular side of a theory. The correspondence files also revealed how the philosophers networked with one another, discussed ideas, and formulated their theories. From this data, she identified patterns in the letters and developed the thesis that Hull’s ideas synthesized the opinions of many different philosophers and that the best ideas are the products of cooperation. She worked closely with the DSS to find a tool that could visually support her theories and that she could embed in her poster for an end-of-term presentation. Figure 2 illustrates how she was able to carefully examine the manuscripts, recognize and interpret patterns in the author’s writings, create a narrative, and draw powerful conclusions about Hull’s work (Carini 2015, 194). In addition, she used the data in her Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to create a visualization using the data visualization and analytics application Tableau.


Figure 2. Visualization chart detailing themes in Hull’s correspondence

This student’s experiences and discoveries demonstrate the importance of original research with primary sources. This student is one of the first researchers to use the David Hull papers and she made some significant discoveries that other researchers can build upon; she and her Faculty Mentor published a paper titled “David Hull Through His Own Philosophical Lens” focusing on this research and made it available in D-Scholarship, the University of Pittsburgh’s institutional repository.

Another success story from the ASRA program revolves around three students who received the ASRA award to conduct research using the Black Panther, the newspaper published by the Black Panther Party. The students each conducted their own individual research using the Black Panther. They studied the Black Panther Party’s foreign involvement and support, the origins of the publication’s visual vocabulary, their use of propaganda, and the artwork of Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. At the same time, students consulted every issue of the physical newspaper that was held in Pitt’s archive and recorded information about the publication in a Google spreadsheet. Their goal was to create a dataset that would aid their research and provide insight into collections that are not necessarily discoverable through the library’s catalog and allow researchers to collect, process, and critically analyze data using quantitative methods. They recorded information about the inventory and missing issues, the cover art and accompanying headline, the back cover art, and any other art found within each issue. In addition, students noted articles about women’s health, women in prison, women’s leadership within the party, and the party’s international connections. The faculty mentor, who supervised the students’ research,  consulted this data set in order to design a new course on conflict and art. Further, this data set will also benefit A&SC in assisting other faculty interested in incorporating the newspaper into their curriculum.

The intent is to make this Black Panther newspaper dataset public so future researchers can better locate information. As Chester et al. recognize, “masses of data and statistics are no substitute for close reading, but they create an opportunity for individual scholars to pose new questions to sets of data never before assembled” (Chester 2018, 67). However, in retrospect, A&SC needed to coach the three students to adhere to the same format when entering their data.  As a result, the dataset is inconsistent and requires more revision before it can be released to the public. The project did successfully identify content for class visits and has the potential to feed into other digital humanities projects. When students engage in primary source research, they move away from being consumers of information to producing, creating, and contributing their theories and ideas to the greater body of scholarship. A&SC also supports students engaging in independent research or internships under the direction of faculty. These autonomous pursuits offer a little more freedom to experiment with creative outputs and are not necessarily confined to a specific class or curriculum. To this end, Pitt librarians seek out academic departments who wish to offer undergraduate students internship opportunities and place them in A&SC for course credit. These internships support original research and provide a mechanism for students to share their research in creative ways. For example, an undergraduate student focusing on Museum Studies focused her internship on Japanese printmaking and consulted Japanese prints in Pitt’s University Art Gallery, Carnegie Museum of Art, and in A&SC’s Walter and Martha Leuba’s print and broadside collection. The student compiled detailed information about selected prints; enumerated, re-housed, and labeled prints; and investigated unattributed prints for the eventual digitization of this material. She aimed to create a virtual exhibition of Japanese prints using Omeka, a free and open source web-publishing platform for content management and online exhibit creation, and to promote the Leuba collection prints and her research through Tumblr. Given her personal research focus on twentieth-century Japanese woodblock prints, she specifically took interest in a piece by Kiyoshi Saitō (1907-1997) titled Clay Image. The student realized that the people featured in the print were actually the hollow figures made from terracotta clay, called Haniwa, which she learned about that previous year in an Asian art class. She then shared this new insight on her blog and featured this print on her Omeka site. Through this internship, the student became familiar with the Japanese prints within Pitt’s collections and became proficient in using Omeka to help communicate her research discoveries. In addition, the student’s contributions will help lead to increased discoverability of the prints.

Digital Microscopes

In addition to encouraging creative outputs, A&SC encourages students to interact with collections through in-class exercises. When a professor teaching Making the Book brought his personal digital microscope to a class visit, A&SC immediately realized the potential to engage students in a method of active learning often reserved for the biological sciences. When the department purchased five microscopes[2] for class use, faculty enthusiastically requested that they be made available for their students. The ability to see cotton fiber threads in 17th-century paper or to distinguish a woodblock print from a lithograph allows students to identify and study the materiality of paper, ink, and printing methods.  Peter Carini notes that “Primary source materials come with special and unique challenges, particularly in an era when young people are increasingly electronically literate but have less and less interaction with physical documents” (Carini 2016, 193). Classes focusing on the history of the book appreciate being able to see and actually touch older books, compare paper to parchment, witness real evidence of animal skins in books, and study features like marginalia, decorations, watermarks, and clues to ownership and provenance such as library stamps, call numbers, annotations, etc. Faculty feedback indicated that the digital microscopes and physical interaction served as a wonderful complement to the theoretical discussions in the classroom by allowing this first-hand, philological experience. The microscopes helped students better observe examples of stereotyping, electrotyping, linotype, and rotogravure to understand how the press was mechanized. Similarly, they compared  different machine-made papers such as wood pulp, typescripts, dime novels, and mass market magazines to hand-made paper found books produced during the hand-press period and fine press books created during the Arts and Crafts movement.


Figure 3. Researcher using a digital microscope to view text from a 16th century book



Figure 4. Microscopic images of rubrication and a woodblock print[3]

Unfortunately, A&SC was not prepared for the demand for the microscopes (including out-of-class assignments which required students to come in on their own time to capture and save screenshots) and lacked the hardware needed to operate them.  The professor expressed serious concerns about asking students to use the digital microscopes on their own personal devices and download the software, but the library-owned devices proved unreliable and difficult to troubleshoot. We learned we must fully test equipment prior to implementation and we must manage expectations of faculty and students. The department will invest in dedicated devices to use with the digital microscopes and ask students to save captured images to a flash drive or upload them to Cloud storage.


By collaborating with other colleagues such as faculty, community organizations, subject specialists, and Digital Scholarship Services staff, A&SC facilitates and supports a wide variety of research endeavors in both traditional and creative formats. These collaborations support student research and allow students to explore not only how to perform research using primary sources, but how to disseminate their research through the creation of zines, digital humanities projects, and blogs. In addition, it helps us share information about our collections and services.

When learning new technological skills, students run the risk of concentrating on learning the new technology rather than prioritizing the research process. Based on these experiences, we advise others interested in these kinds of collaborative assignments to allow plenty of lead time in experimenting with innovative pedagogical approaches, especially when they involve new technologies. In the case of the digital microscopes, the microscopes were extremely popular, but we were not prepared for the hardware challenges. Make certain that the technology enhances the experience with primary sources and does not overshadow the lesson and become the focus.

A&SC wishes to build upon anecdotal feedback that we receive from faculty and students to create  a more formalized assessment program based upon the joint Association of College & Research Libraries/Rare Books & Manuscript Section–Society of American Archivists Joint Task Force on Primary Source Literacy. A&SC hopes to determine whether students are walking away with new knowledge of primary sources, how we can better collaborate with faculty, and how we can better reach ambitious goals around student success, retention, and graduation rates set by the University of Pittsburgh. Peter Carini argues that a standard is needed to “provide a collection of goals for planning class sessions for students…help shape conversations with faculty about fitting primary source teaching into the broader curriculum…and allow archivists and special collections librarians to better assess the work they do in their class sessions” (Carini 2016, 196).

Finally, A&SC acknowledges how important it is for students to become creators and producers who can make use of primary sources and digital applications in order to contribute their theories and ideas to the greater body of scholarship. Their discoveries and research outputs shed light on what modern archival research looks like in the 21st century.  Collaborations among librarians, archivists, and other experts improve student learning by encouraging innovative teaching through combined expertise and new technologies (Davis, McCullough, Panciera and Parmer, 2017, 483). These collaborations offer different perspectives, diverse ideas, and expertise from across disciplines and functions. After a series of collaborations with faculty to design assignments and in-class exercises that incorporate primary source research, we have discovered that encouraging creative outputs and the use of digital applications can foster student innovation.


[1]Description of collection taken from finding aid.
[2]Bodelin Technologies ProScope EDU 5MP High Resolution Desktop USB Microscope.
[3]Example of rubrication from Hugues of Fouilloy’s De Claustro Animae, 14–?, and Ptolemy’s Almagest, 1515.


Battershill, Claire, and Shawna Ross. 2017. Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers and Students. London; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Carini, Peter. 2016. “Information Literacy for Archives and Special Collections: Defining Outcomes.” Libraries and the Academy 16, no. 1: 191-206.

Davis, Ann Marie, Jessica McCullough, Ben Panciera, and Rebecca Parmer. 2017. “Faculty-Library Collaborations in Digital History: A Case Study of the Travel Journal of Cornelius B. Gold.” College & Undergraduate Studies 24, no. 2-4: 482-500.

DeSpain, Jessica. 2011. “On Building Things: Student-Designed Print and Digital Exhibits in the Book History Class.” Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy XXII, no. 1: 25-36.

Garland, Jessica. 2014. “Locating Traces of Hidden Culture in Rare Books and Special Collections: A Case Study in Visual Literacy.” Art Documentation: Journal of the Art Libraries Society of North America 33, no. 2: 313-326.

Lanning, Robbyn Gordon and Jonathan B. Bengston. 2016. “Traces of Humanity: Echoes of Social and Cultural Experience in Physical Objects and Digital Surrogates in the University of Victoria Libraries.” Cogent Arts & Humanities 3, 1-19.

MacDonald, Susan Peck. 2007. “The Erasure of Language.” College Composition and Communication 58, no. 4: 585-625.

Michelle Chester, et al. 2018. “Old Text and New Media: Jewish Books on the Move and a Case for Collaboration.” Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Partnerships: A Critical Examination of Labor, Networks, and Community. Edited by Robin Kear and Kate Joranson, 67.  Cambridge: Elsevier Ltd.

Miller, Kelly E. 2014. “Imagine! On the Future of Teaching and Learning and the Academic Research Library.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 14, no. 3: 329-351.

University of Pittsburgh. 2018. 2017-2018 Undergraduate Catalog.  Retrieved from https://catalog.upp.pitt.edu/

Vong, Sylvia. 2016. “Reporting or Reconstructing? The zine as a medium for reflecting on research experiences.” Communications in Information Literacy 10, no. 1: 62-80

About the Author

Jennifer Needham is a Research Librarian at Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, MA. After working five years at the University of Pittsburgh Archives & Special Collections as an archivist, in October of this year, she decided to move back to her native New England and accepted a position at Deerfield Academy. Jennifer earned her bachelor’s from Smith College in 2010 and her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in 2011.

Jeanann Croft Haas is the Special Collections Coordinator in the Archives & Special Collections (A&SC) Department at the University of Pittsburgh.

Figure 1. Digital image of a poster left at the Boston Marathon memorial in Copley Square. The poster reads “From Peoria Illinois to Beijing China, we all stand strong for Boston” in both English and Chinese (http://hdl.handle.net/2047/D20262219).

Crowdsourcing Traumatic History: Understanding the Historial Archive


This article discusses the challenges and opportunities for digital archives that aim to both historicize and memorialize recent tragedies through crowdsourcing materials from the public. Using an archive built after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings as an example, I offer the term “historial archive” as a distinction from the much-critiqued adoption of the word “(A)rchive(s)” that we see used throughout the disciplines. Although crowdsourcing in this type of archive works as a catalyst for community, the speed of collection operates (rhetorically at least) as an active buttress against the problems of provenance. That is, historical archives must go to great lengths to verify the veracity and historicity of their collections; in the historial archive’s more philosophic approach to history, the time-sensitive collection methods ensure the archive’s veracity and historicity. Using my own research, I model how students may approach historial archives and the ways these types of repositories can allow for various productive paths that go beyond simply aggregating primary materials.


With the speed at which information travels today, there has been a shift in how we engage with news: we are more likely to hear about an event as it unfolds as opposed to hearing about it after it ends. As we (literally) see in our social media feeds, in the wake of a tragedy, memorialization happens rapidly both at the physical site of the event and in digital contexts. To capture such ephemera, there has been an uptick in digital archives that use crowdsourcing in order to populate these spaces. As various libraries continue to encourage instructors to engage with their digital collections (for examples see Duke, Vanderbilt, and The Newberry), it is important to pause and understand the unique aspects of creating a digital archive in real time that seeks to both historicize and memorialize an event. I offer the portmanteau “historialize” to acknowledge the ways these collections remain distinct from traditional archives in terms of their scope, rationale, and methods of collection.

In this article, I draw upon my experience working with a team to create a digital archive after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. First, I present some context, a brief exploration of the term archive(s), and a discussion of some ways the Boston Marathon archive departs from traditional archives. I then unpack the term “historial archive” as a name for digital repositories that aim to both historicize and memorialize an event. Next, to further expand upon how one might use a historial framework, I draw from primary research conducted with community members who shared their written accounts with the archive (NU-IRB Protocol # 15-04-09). I conclude by sharing one rhetorically rich arena that came about from my study. By offering samples of the kind of follow-up possible with the historial archive—in my case, surveys and interviews with contributors—my goal is to inspire instructors to compel their students to examine such archives based upon their own disciplinary backgrounds and to see what questions—and perhaps answers—they come up with.


More than just an annual race, the Boston Marathon is an important community event: it brings together runners from around the world—both elite and amateur—and the Hopkinton-to-Boston course is a source of pride and tradition for spectators as well. On April 15, 2013, two homemade pressure-cooker bombs were detonated near the marathon’s finish line. The blasts killed three people and injured over 260 others. The days that followed this act of terror included an unprecedented shelter-in-place order that kept residents inside their homes as a manhunt for the two suspects took to the streets. In the end, the death toll reached five, including an MIT police officer and one of the suspects; the other suspect, eventually found hiding nearby, was arrested and charged for the crimes. This horrific week in Boston’s history touched people from all over as evidenced from the artifacts left at local makeshift memorials, the thousands received by the Mayor’s office, and the surge of #BostonStrong social media posts.


Figure 1. Digital image of a poster left at the Boston Marathon memorial in Copley Square. The poster reads “From Peoria Illinois to Beijing China, we all stand strong for Boston” in both English and Chinese (http://hdl.handle.net/2047/D20262219).

From mourning the victims to celebrating the first responders, many community members connected with one another and processed their emotions by sharing stories of their personal experiences both digitally and in person. Noting the historical importance of such communications, a group of professors and graduate students from the English and History departments at Northeastern University came together to create a digital repository of these materials. Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive defines itself as a community project that consists of pictures, videos, and stories related to the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings and aftermath (McGrath et al 2018). The archive was crowdsourced, which meant that anyone with an Internet connection could have potentially participated in populating the archive. The spirit of the archive involved gathering as many artifacts as possible in order to capture an important moment in Boston’s history.

Understanding Our Marathon as an Archive

Outside of academia, rarely do we hear people talking about archiving—save for clearing up email inboxes—but even in academia, people in different disciplines don’t necessarily align. For example, Marlene Manoff (2004) explores the way the word “archives” has been taken up by scholars other than librarians and archivists and explains how this word can refer to anything from the general contents of a museum to specific repositories of documents and objects; moreover, when discussing digital archives, the term can range from anything found in a digital format to a more select collection of related digital documents (10). Despite the various qualifiers certain disciplines have developed—social archive, raw archive, postcolonial archive—scholars from the social sciences and humanities understand that archives have important scholarly and political functions especially for those interested in the recovery work that accompanies actions like rewriting women and minorities back into historical records.

Digital archives add another layer of complexity to the conversation. In her article “Archives in Context and as Context” archivist Kate Theimer (2012) explains her hesitations with the field of Digital Humanities co-opting the word archives in a fairly expansive way. Theimer endorses the Society of American Archivists’ definition of archives: “Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control” (Pearce-Moses 2005). Theimer discusses how there is a long history with specific values and practices when working with/in “archives.” Though she is appreciative of how words and meanings change, she is concerned with “the potential for a loss of understanding and appreciation of the historical context that archives preserve in their collections, and the unique role that archives play as custodians of materials in this context” (Theimer 2012).

To understand Theimer’s hesitations, it is useful to consider how a more traditional, physical archive functions differently from a digital archive like Our Marathon. For example when The Boston Globe started in 1872, photography was still a very expensive craft and the technology for mass printing photos was still to come. As technology progressed, and as the newspaper continued to grow, one might imagine that a system of curating their images became important. Thus, the artifacts themselves necessitated an archive, and the staff could create a system that made most sense for their anticipated work. On the other hand, some archives are less calculated. For example, Mary Hemingway donated crates of her deceased husband’s papers to the Kennedys upon suggestion of a mutual friend. Now housed at the JFK Memorial Library in Boston, The Ernest Hemingway Collection contains the initially donated drafts of his manuscripts and personal letters, but it has also collected other related materials such as newspaper clippings and audio recordings of the author. The archivists in charge of this collection have curated the materials in ways that make sense for potential researchers and have also created finding aids.

These two examples illustrate key terms for analyzing archives: purpose, audience, location and preservation, and overall access. In what follows, I use the example of Our Marathon to discuss how the digital impacts these terms.

Purpose: How does the digital affect the purpose of Our Marathon?

With the Photo Archive, the purpose is very clear: should a news story relate to something that happened in the past, the reporter can search for the appropriate photograph. With the Hemingway Collection, there are multiple purposes: to preserve an iconic author’s writing process, to educate people about this particular person and his life, and so on. With Our Marathon, collecting stories for historical purposes made a lot of sense, but the vision of the archive was not just for history: the archive was created as an instrument of healing and a place for all community members to feel free to add their voices and share their parts of the story.

Audience: How does the digital affect the audience(s) for Our Marathon?

Although there are intended and imagined audiences, public digital archives can be viewed by anyone, as the archive itself is not located in the dusty basement of a building, like The Boston Globe photo collection was in 2013, nor does it take much effort to access, like the Hemingway Collection, which necessitates “proof” that you have business there. When Our Marathon was built, there were two main audiences in mind who would be accessing the digital archive through their devices: community members (who possibly needed a space for healing) and future researchers. We quickly found that these two audiences would both complement and complicate each other: for example, while researchers would want to know about community members’ experiences, the nature of a public digital archive might dissuade certain people from participating. Because the creators intended for the archive to be mostly crowdsourced, the overall design of the archive needed to be clean and user-friendly. From the choice of words to the colors we used, there were many discussions on how our intended audiences would engage with the digital archive.

Location and Preservation: How does the digital affect senses of location and issues of preservation with Our Marathon?

With physical archives there is always the chance of an unavoidable disaster decimating a collection, but for the things archivists can control, there are plenty of best practices for handling archival material, such as temperature-controlled rooms that are under lock and key, and protocols for handling old paper so that the oils from one’s fingers do not affect the text. When it comes to digital archives we understand that technology is not infallible and digitized and born-digital artifacts are in no less danger than their physical counterparts.

In April 2018, Northeastern University moved the archive from its open-source content management system (Omeka) to a permanent home on its server space; however, Northeastern will need to be committed to updating the site as technology changes. In her article “Digital Preservation: A Time Bomb for Digital Libraries,” Margaret Hedstrom (1998) reminds us that digital forms are vulnerable to technological obsolescence: “Digital works which are created using new or emerging software applications are especially vulnerable to software obsolescence because standards for encoding, representation, retrieval, and other functions take time to develop” (191). Digital preservation remains challenging because one is not usually aware that a change will impact digital artifacts until it actually happens.

Access: How does the digital affect access to Our Marathon?

As discussed in terms of audience, Our Marathon was accessible should one have access to the Internet, but contributors also needed to have a certain level of digital fluency to engage with the archive and to follow the archive’s prompts for sharing stories. Contributors could submit a story, image, email, video, text message, audio recording, or website. The Our Marathon team also created guides for capturing/uploading social media updates, but at the time there was not a simple way to grab one’s own updates. Upon clicking a “Share” button on the website’s homepage, a potential contributor would be guided through a series of steps to submit an item. For the purposes of this article, I focus on how people submitted their stories and note that the linear model used was based on the same design style as Tumblr, a popular blogging platform at the time.


Figure 2. First step. The screenshot shows orange buttons that signify which type of item someone would like to submit (e.g. story, image). “Story” has been selected, and below are two text boxes asking for someone to type in a “Title” and to “Tell us your story.”

After writing the title and story (or copying and pasting the text into the box) and having the option to upload a photo with the story, the arrows guide the participant through the next steps, which includes selecting where the story took place, when the story took place, details about the contributor, and the final stages of sharing.


Figure 3. Second step. The screenshot shows a map where a contributor could place the location of their story using an address.


Figure 4. Third step. The screenshot shows a clickable calendar for when the story took place.


Figure 5. Fourth step. The screenshot shows the optional data a contributor could choose to submit alongside their story. The fields are zip code, name, age, ethnic/racial identity, gender, and Twitter handle.


Figure 6. Fifth, and final, step. The submission form requires the contributor’s email address, and then asks in a series of checkboxes whether it is ok to contact the contributor for further information, if the contributor wants their item shared publicly, and if the contributor agrees to the linked Terms and Conditions.

Historial Archives

Referring to Our Marathon as an “archive” establishes it as a certain type of repository and highlights a scholarly interest; however, the fact that this archive relied so heavily on crowdsourcing makes it different from the digital archives Theimer questions in her article, such as those which brought together the works of prominent cultural figures like William Blake and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Our Marathon was interested in collecting materials from any person who experienced the events.

This type of archiving is not without challenges. Our Marathon came from a line of relatively new crowdsourced archives that aim to both historicize and memorialize recent traumatic histories, such as the terrorist attacks of September 11th (2001) and the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005). As previously discussed, some librarians and archivists would resist naming such repositories archives. While other historical archives may bring together artifacts into one useable venue through specific curatorial practices, these “historial” archives aim to collect material in real time and focus on the ephemera of an event rather than on more authoritative, mediated artifacts.

Crowdsourcing, particularly in the case of Our Marathon, relies on individuals taking agency over their participation: there were no conventional expectations for public writing of this nature. Unlike a traditional archive where already-written stories might be pulled together into an historical repository, most of these stories were specifically written for the digital archive. In fact, most of the stories in Our Marathon would not exist in their current state if the archive staff had not prompted participants to share their stories. In line with its focus on collecting real-time stories specifically for the archive, the historial function gives power to those who participate. The memorial aspect invites participation that complements the philosophical approach to history the archive enacts, and the archive becomes a co-constructed space which, rather than see power remaining mostly with the archivist, grants agency through sharing personal accounts and documents.

In practice, as we were building the archive and crowdsourcing material, we were not sure what we were collecting that might be of interest to future scholars. Elizabeth Maddock-Dillon (2014), Professor of English and project co-founder, reflects, “Realizing that the archive could provide resources for multiple kinds of research was really exciting. It’s not just this is a historical record, but this gives us a whole body of material that people might use for research purposes that we haven’t even thought of yet. Nonetheless, it’s a way to create an archive/data set that will have real historical and research value.” In a way, this archive would be contributing to, if not controlling, the future historical record and public memory; however, who knows what scholars will be interested in learning from these artifacts 20, 50, or 100 years from now? For example, Dan Cohen, one of the leaders on the September 11th Digital Archive, has mentioned to us that linguists have been drawn to that archive’s collections because 2001 was about the time that “text speak”—internet shorthand like “OMG”—started to come about. At the time of collection, the archivists would not have been aware that they were capturing this linguistic moment.


At its heart, Our Marathon collects history through stories. Given the complex nature of storytelling within the discipline of history, it is helpful to think of the linguistic turn of the 1970s and 1980s marked by the work of scholars Louis Mink and Hayden White who both contend with narrative as a focus of history. Rather than relying on examples from the natural sciences to represent historical knowledge, these historians theorized that disciplinary artifacts like works of literature were also important links to historical understanding (Little 2016). Scholars like Mink and White emphasize historical narrative rather than historical causation and champion subjectivity and various interpretations over objectivity and singular truths. This falls directly in line with archives intending to capture the larger picture of something as it unfolds.

In this philosophical approach to historicizing a moment, subjectivity and its malleability are key; however, to memorialize something means to create an object that serves as a focus for the memory of an event or person(s) in a more static fashion. Memorialization becomes a shared space that necessitates more rigidity: “Memorial sites, by their very existence, create communal spaces. Although it is possible to describe an individual’s encounter with a site, it is almost always part of a collective experience” (Blair 1999, 48). Although Carol Blair (1999) writes about physical memorial sites, her attention to communal space and collective experience resonates with those who contributed their stories to Our Marathon.

Take, for example, the following story, titled “Laundry Mat” (story reprinted here with permission from the author; original contribution and photograph can be accessed in the online repository):

Following the Boston Marathon bombings, the hotel where my family and I were staying was evacuated. We passed time by grabbing a bite to eat and wandering around the surrounding neighborhoods, but as time went on, my sisters, who finished the marathon about 30 minutes before the bombs went off and were still wrapped in their foil blankets, started to get cold and all of our phones were dead or quickly running out of battery. We came across a small, underground laundry mat on Columbus Ave. called Five Star Laundry and asked the owners if we could sit inside to keep warm and use their outlets to charge our phones. The owners did not speak much English, but their little kids did, and they translated our explanation of what had happened and our request to the owners who immediately welcomed us in. The kids became increasingly curious about my sisters and the rest my family, and before we knew it, they were chatting up a storm with us, putting on my sisters’ medals, and even sitting on their laps. As a gesture of gratitude, my husband went to the convenience store down the road and came back with candy for the children. This picture shows my sisters with the children, candy in hand. During such a dark time, it was reassuring and comforting to experience the hospitality and friendliness of the people at Five Star Laundry (Katz 2013).

“Laundry Mat” represents a key moment for Our Marathon: submitted on May 22, 2013—less than a month after the archive was even conceptualized— it was the first publicly submitted artifact. More importantly, “Laundry Mat” represents a story that might be lost without an appropriate venue for safekeeping; it is part of a supplementary historical narrative about how members of a community experienced the Boston Marathon bombings. On its own, “Laundry Mat” offers one artifact of memorialization—the kindness of strangers following the events—but when also archived as part of the historical narrative of the Boston Marathon bombings, in the future this artifact may end up recontextualized among other temporally-based narratives where the focus could shift to any number of topics such as race, gender, or linguistics. As in traditional archives, in the historial archive, the meaning of such stories will shift as time moves on; however, much research can be done soon after these archives come into fruition, which means that students may be able to directly follow up with creators, builders, and contributors of such sites.

During my graduate work, I became interested in a seemingly simple question that I imagine any interested advanced undergraduate student could take up: why did people participate? In the anonymous survey data that I collected from 48 participants who contributed their stories, there were five main responses to the more specific question: “Why did you choose to share your story with Our Marathon?” In the table below I map out those five reasons—from most prevalent to least prevalent—and highlight representative responses.

Reason for Sharing Representative Responses
Closure The Boston Marathon 2013 was my 75th lifetime marathon and my 22nd consecutive Boston Marathon, however, any short lived celebration I experienced was immediately erased upon hearing the news of the bombings.  Sharing my experience was a way of dealing with the situation and moving on.

I needed to share my experience to basically clear the air so that I could move on.  I was running with two friends, and both went ahead when I stopped to talk to my daughter (a BU student) – they both finished as the 2nd bomb went off, and I was almost directly across from it at mile 26.  It could have ended a lot differently and I’m not upset by the coverage that the victims received at all, but others need to know that it touched others who were on the course as well.

I wanted to share my experience as a runner who was stopped 10k from the finish with a daughter waiting for me at the finish. I did this at the 2014 Marathon to help with closure of the 2013 experience.

It was part therapeutic and part fueled by the memories of our 2013 experience.  The Our Marathon space allowed me the chance to vocalize those feelings that I had kept bottled up for over a year.  Our daughter, the runner, was emotionally scarred by the experience as she watched the bombings from less than a block away, suffering from a leg cramp that saved her life.  She was not physically harmed but she carried the memories and carries them to this day.

Research and Historical Purposes The bombing was and is a part of history. It needs to be recorded from all who were impacted by the events of that fateful day.

I thought of this as an opportunity for my personal experience to be catalogued and capsuled in time.

I wanted people to know. It’s important for these stories to be remembered.

Particular Point of View I think that everyone’s story is important. I was the leader of the veterans group on campus and I wanted to show how veterans responded to the crisis. People usually have ideas of veterans as either being heroes or broken and I wanted to tell the real story.

Since I’m a Swede and was not in Boston during the bombing but read about it and followed the news from Sweden, I thought my views could be interesting as from someone not directly affected.

The bombings affected not only the individuals at the sites but also the community. As a community member, I wanted to share my perspective as a distant participant.

I wanted to contribute to the broad view and understanding of the impact of the marathon bombings on Boston and the surrounding community. I was fortunate not to be directly affected; a friend of a friend was injured, I was terrified for the few hours that my close friends in attendance were unreachable, and I was a part of the citywide lock down on Friday, but my life was not significantly altered by the bombings. I contributed because I thought I could add the voice of someone who as a student is not a permanent member of the community but nonetheless very involved.  

Personal Record I shared my story about the Marathon bombing because I felt deeply about the event.  I felt saddened and violated by the people who caused the bombing, and by the fact that a pall would forever be attached to what should be a joyous day.  As a Watertown resident I wanted to record my jetlag-induced confusion during a phone conversation with my son. I hoped recording that conversation would remind us that funny things still happened in the midst of deadly chaos.

I just wanted to document my story.  I was already at the hotel when I heard about the bombing, so it really didn’t affect me as much as it did to others.

For a Class (i.e. not optional) Contributed for Advanced Writing Class, had to for a grade

My English class had a project to create an archive about anything we wanted. I chose to do mine on the Boston Marathon. She showed us the Our Marathon archive and we became familiar with it. I chose to do it because I had so many connections with the marathon and because it really was so close to home, physically and mentally. My professor encouraged me to post my story on the actual archive.

I chose to share my story as a part of a classroom project.

I became interested in things like how respondents positioned themselves in relation to the archive, their verbiage, and their ideas of agency. But, as one may notice, the answers in this chart can be categorized in multiple ways and can raise different questions based on students’ interests. The temporal dimension of the historial archive offers research opportunities that are often impossible in traditional archives, particularly when it comes to understanding the motivations and considerations of both those who build such spaces and those who contribute to such spaces. In my research, I wanted to know more about who felt authorized to participate, and, in optional follow-ups from the survey, I conducted phone interviews where I could ask participants about their hesitations to participate. Here are two examples from “Dot” (2015) and “Colleen” (2015):

Interviewer: In your survey, you mentioned that you were a little concerned that your story didn’t matter since you weren’t impacted by the event. Could you say more about that?
Dot: It did have an impact to my friends, who knew I was there, but to the public I wasn’t one of the people on the streets or that got stopped by the running. I escaped pretty unscathed from the whole event. I didn’t experience the losses, or the danger, or really any of the negative effects that a lot of the other participants did.

Interviewer: In your survey you mentioned that you were hesitant to share your story because you hadn’t actually experienced physical trauma. What do you make of an archive that aims to capture all stories of different experiences?
Colleen: I think it’s valuable. I think overall we’re understanding of how different people experience things. It is helping me to come to accept the fact that there was not physical trauma, [but it] was something that I was still a part of. That’s just as valid as some other forms of trauma. I think it’s really good—it’s really good for other people who haven’t participated in experiences like that or something that can be…What am I looking for…not necessarily traumatic but challenging to understand that different people handle different things in different ways.

Interviewer: How would you describe the act of submitting your story to the archive, for you personally?
Colleen: It was hard. It was unexpected. I don’t know if I wrote this in my survey or not, but I was at the library that day for something else. Somebody had approached me and asked if I’d be willing to do it. I said, “Sure.” I had said to her the same thing, “Yes I was down there, but I wasn’t right there.” She said, “Well, that’s fine.” It started off OK, but the more writing I did, the more the emotions and the memories of the event started to come up. It was much harder for me than I thought it was going to be in the end.

Interviewer: In your survey, you mentioned that it might have been too soon to share your story and not the right environment.
Colleen: That was an afterthought. I hadn’t realized how deeply it had affected me until afterwards.

As Dot and Colleen highlight, the historial function of the archive allowed their voices to count: Dot—a lifelong marathon runner—and Colleen—someone who was clearly traumatized by the events despite not having any scars—were given a space to share for their own immediate benefit and the longer term benefit of future researchers. How might students studying Psychology analyze these responses? Or how might they follow up differently to these responses during the interviews? With proper guidance and/or ethical practices—a caveat I hope is clear to anyone working within topics of trauma—the historial archive can open up fascinating discussions and fruitful paths for researchers as long as we are mindful of our participants’ experiences and the potential benefits and drawbacks of such work.


When tragedy strikes, people often turn to digital forms to share their sentiments. While sometimes critiqued as a type of tourism wherein one’s digital actions become more of a souvenir than a true act of solidarity, these digital postings are part of a cultural moment that digital archivists remain interested in capturing. The slogan for Our Marathon—“no story too small”—represented a key motive for the creators of the archive: this site was meant to democratize. Anyone could participate and add their stories to the public history of the event; the more voices, the richer and more nuanced that formation of public memory would be. Story sharing is a legitimate form of history being born from devices every day, and this practice will continue to offer certain challenges as more and more historial archives come into fruition, but it also offers fascinating opportunities for research.

When it comes to research that followed up with Our Marathon’s story contributors, like many of the other story sharers, Dot and Colleen expressed gaining something from their experiences in contributing their stories to the archive; in fact, story sharers often expressed much gratitude to the archive’s staff in person. Even in my follow-up interviews years after the events, many expressed gratitude to me for listening to their stories and thoughts. In this way, the historial space may be reread as not just a repository for culture and memory but as an actual affirmation of self, knowledge, and worth. When thinking about the stakes involved in this historial archive through my own research lens, sharing a story was not just something nice to do: for some, it was a meaningful act of literacy and community. This is just one finding from one disciplinary lens; the historial archive can be read and reread as time goes on and continue to offer new meaning-making opportunities.


Blair, Carol. 1999. “Contemporary U.S. Memorial Sites as Exemplars of Rhetoric’s Materiality.” In Rhetorical Bodies, edited by Jack Selzer and Sharon Crowley, 16–57. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Colleen [pseud.]. 2015. “Our Marathon Contributor Interview.” Interview by Kristi Girdharry. July 1, 2015. Audio.

Dot [pseud.]. 2015. “Our Marathon Contributor Interview.” Interview by Kristi Girdharry. June 30, 2015. Audio.

Hedstrom, Margaret. 1998. “Digital Preservation: A Time Bomb for Digital Libraries.” Computers and the Humanities 31 (1): 189–202.

Katz, Jean. 2013. “Laundry Mat.” Laundry Mat. Accessed June 15, 2018. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/D20261554.

Little, Daniel. 2016. “Philosophy of History.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed June 15, 2018. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/history/.

Maddock-Dillon, Elizabeth. 2014. “Our Marathon Creator Interview.” Interview by Kristi Girdharry. September 12, 2014. Audio.

Manoff, Marlene. 2004. “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines.” Libraries and the Academy 4 (1): 9–25. https://doi.org/10.1353/pla.2004.0015.

McGrath, Jim, Alicia Peaker, Ryan Cordell, Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, et al. 2013–2015. “Our Marathon: The Boston Bombing Digital Archive.” Accessed June 15, 2018. https://marathon.library.northeastern.edu/.

McGrath, Jim and Alicia Peaker. 2018. “Our Marathon: The Role of Graduate Student and Library Labor.” In Digital Humanities, Libraries, and Partnerships: A Critical Examination of Labor, Networks, and Community, edited by Robin Kear and Kate Joranson, 19–29. Cambridge: Chandos Publishing.

Pearce-Moses, Richard. 2005. “A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology.” Last modified May 20, 2016. Accessed October 14, 2018. https://www2.archivists.org/glossary.

Theimer, Kate. 2012. “Archives in Context and as Context.” Journal of Digital Humanities 1 (2). Accessed June 15, 2018. http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-2/archives-in-context-and-as-context-by-kate-theimer/.

About the Author

Kristi Girdharry is an Assistant Professor of English at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island where she teaches writing, research, communication, and digital literacy courses. Her research interests also include community engagement and teaching for transfer.


Confessions of a Premature Digital Humanist


Traditional interpretations of the history of the Digital Humanities (DH) have largely focused on the field’s origins in humanities computing and literary studies. The singular focus on English departments and literary scholars as progenitors of DH obscures what in fact have been the DH field’s multidisciplinary origins. This article analyzes the contributions made by the US social, public, and quantitative history subfields during the 1970s and 1980s to what would ultimately become the Digital Humanities. It uses the author’s long career as a social, quantitative, and public historian (including his early use of mainframe computers in the 1970s to analyze historical data) and his role and experiences as co-founder of CUNY’s pioneering American Social History Project to underscore the ways digital history has provided a complementary pathway to DH’s emergence. The piece also explores the importance of digital pedagogy to DH’s current growth and maturation, emphasizing various DH projects at the CUNY Graduate Center that have helped deepen and extend the impact of digital work in the academy.

“And you may ask yourself—Well… How did I get here?”
Talking Heads, “Once In a Lifetime” (1981)

Much actual and virtual ink has been spilled over the past few years recounting how the field of Digital Humanities came into being. As a social historian and someone who has been involved in digital work of one sort or another since the mid 1970s, I am somewhat bemused by what Geoffrey Rockwell has aptly termed the “canonical Roberto Busa story of origin” offered by English department colleagues (Rockwell 2007). That canonical DH history usually starts with the famous Father Roberto Busa developing his digital concordances of St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings beginning in 1949 (the first of which was published in 1974) with critical technical support provided by Thomas Watson, head of IBM.[1] It quickly moves from there to recount the emergence of humanities computing (as it was originally known) in the 1980s, followed by the development of various digitized literary archives launched by literary scholars such as Jerry McGann (Rossetti) and Ed Folsom (Whitman) in the 1990s (Hockey 2004). In this recounting, academics in English, inspired by Father Busa, pushed ahead with the idea of using computers to conceive, create, and present the digital concordances, literary editions, and, ultimately, fully digitized and online archives of materials, using common standards embodied in the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI), which was established in 1987.[2] The new field of Digital Humanities is said to have emerged after 2004 directly out of these developments in the literary studies field, what Willard McCarty terms “literary computing” (McCarty 2011, 4).[3]

As a historian who believes in multi-causal explanations of historical phenomena (including what happens intellectually inside of universities), I think there are alternative interpretations of this origin story that help reveal a much more complicated history of DH.[4] I will argue in this piece that the history field—particularly historians working in its social, public, and quantitative history sub-fields—also made a substantial and quite different contribution to the emergence of the Digital Humanities that parallels, at times diverges from, and even anticipates the efforts of literary scholars and literary studies.[5] I will first sketch broader developments in the social, public, and quantitative history sub-fields that began more than four decades ago. These transformations in the forms and content of historical inquiry would ultimately lead a group of historians to contribute to the development of DH decades later. I will also use my own evolution over this time period (what I dub in the title of this piece my “premature” Digital Humanism), first as a social and labor historian, then as a media producer, digital historian, and finally now as a teacher of digital humanities and digital pedagogy, to illustrate the different pathways that led many historians, myself included, into contributing to the birth and evolution of the Digital Humanities. I will use my ongoing collaborations with my colleagues at the American Social History Project (which I co-founded more than 35 years ago) as well as with Roy Rosenzweig and the Center for History and New Media to help tell this alternate DH origins story. In the process, I hope to complicate the rather linear Father Busa/humanities computing/TEI/digital literary archives origin story of DH that has come to define the field.

Social and Labor History

Social history first emerged in the pre-World War II era with the founding in 1929 in France of the Annales school of historical inquiry by Lucien Febvre and Marc Bloch and carried forward by Fernand Braudel in the 1950s and Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie in the 1970s. The field of social history found fertile new ground in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. The “new” social history was very much a product of the rejection of traditional political history narratives and a search for new methodologies and interdisciplinary connections. Social history examined the lives and experiences of “ordinary people”—workers, immigrants, enslaved African Americans, women, urban dwellers, farmers, etc.—rather than the narrow focus on the experiences of Great White Men that had dominated both academic and popular history writing for decades if not centuries. This changed historical focus on history “from the bottom up” necessitated the development of new methodological approaches to uncover previously unused source materials that historians needed to employ to convey a fuller sense of what happened in the past. Archives and libraries had traditionally provided historians access to large collections of private and public correspondence of major politicians, important military leaders, and big businessmen (the gendered term being entirely appropriate in this context) as well as catalogued and well-archived state papers, government documents, and memoirs and letters of the rich and famous. But if the subject of history was now to change to a focus on ordinary people, how were historians to recount the stories of those who left behind few if any traditional written records? New methodologies would have to be developed to ferret out those hidden histories.[6]

The related sub-field of labor history, which, like social history, was also committed to writing history “from the bottom up,” illustrates these methodological dilemmas and possibilities. Older approaches to US labor history had focused narrowly on the structure and function of national labor unions and national political parties, national labor and party leaders, and what happened in various workplaces, drawing on government reports, national newspapers, and union records. The new labor history, which was pioneered in the early 1960s, first by British Marxist historians such as Eric Hobsbawm and E. P. Thompson, sought to move beyond those restricted confines to tell the previously unknown story of the making of the English working class (to appropriate the title of one of Thompson’s most important works). Hobsbawm and especially Thompson relied heavily in their early work on unconventional local and literary sources to uncover this lost history of English working people. The new labor history they pioneered was soon adapted by US labor historians, including David Montgomery, David Brody, and Herbert Gutman and by graduate students, deploying an array of political and cultural sources to reveal the behaviors and beliefs of US working people in all of their racial and ethnic diversity. The new US labor history embraced unorthodox historical methodologies including: oral history; a close focus on local and community studies, including a deep dive into local working-class newspapers; broadened definitions of what constituted work (e.g. women’s housework); and working-class family and community life and self-activity (including expressions of popular working-class culture and neighborhood, political, and religious associations and organizations). I committed myself to the new labor history and its innovative methodologies in graduate school at UCLA in the early 1970s when I began to shape my doctoral dissertation, which sought to portray the ways black, white, and immigrant coal miners in the West Virginia and Colorado coal fields managed to forge interracial and interethnic local labor unions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Brier 1992).

Public History

A second activist and politically engaged approach to communicating historical scholarship—public history—also emerged in the 1970s. Public history grew in parallel to and was made possible by the new academic field of social history. To be sure, while social history spoke largely to the history profession, challenging its underlying methodological and intellectual assumptions, public history and the people who self-identified as public historians often chose to move outside the academy, embedding themselves and their public history work inside unions, community-based organizations, museums, and political groups. Public historians, whether they stayed inside the academy or chose to situate themselves outside of it, were committed to making the study of the past relevant (to appropriate that overused Sixties’ phrase) to individuals and groups that could and would most benefit from exposure to and knowledge about their “lost” pasts (Novick 1988, 512–21).

Public history’s emergence in the mid-1970s signaled that at least one wing of the profession, albeit the younger, more radical one, was committed to finding new ways and new, non-print formats to communicate historical ideas and information to a broad public audience through museum exhibits, graphic novels, audio recordings and radio broadcasts, and especially film and television. A range of projects and institutions that were made possible by this new sub-field of public history began to take shape by the late 1970s. I worked with fellow radical historians Susan Porter Benson and Roy Rosenzweig and the three of us put together in 1986 the first major collection of articles and reports on US public history projects and initiatives. Entitled Presenting the Past, the collection was based on a special theme issue of the Radical History Review (the three of us were members of the RHR editorial collective) that we had co-edited five years earlier.[7] Focusing on a range of individual and local public history projects, Presenting the Past summarized a decade of academic and non-academic public history work and projects in the United States (Benson, Brier, and Rosenzweig 1986).[8]

Stephen Robertson, who now heads the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (CHNM)[9] at George Mason University, has correctly noted, in a widely read 2014 blog post,[10] that we can and should trace the origins of the much newer sub-field of digital history, a major contributor to the Digital Humanities’ growth, to the public history movement that was launched a quarter century earlier (Robertson 2014). Robertson goes on to suggest that this early focus on public history led digital historians to ask different questions than literary scholars. Historians focused much more on producing digital history in a variety of presentational forms and formats rather than literary scholars’ emphasis on defining and theorizing the new Digital Humanities field and producing online literary archives. This alternative focus on public presentations of history (i.e., intended for the larger public outside of the academy and the profession) may explain why digital historians seem much less interested in staking out their piece of the DH academic turf while literary scholars seem more inclined both to theorize their DH scholarship and to assert that DH’s genesis can be located in literary scholars’ early digital work.

Quantitative History

A third, and arguably broader, methodological transformation in the study and writing of US history in these same years was the emergence of what was called quantitative history. “Cliometrics” (as some termed it, a bit too cutely) held out the possibility of generating new insights into historical behavior through detailed analyses of a myriad of historical data available in a variety of official sources. This included, but was certainly not limited to, raw data compiled by federal and state agencies in resources like census manuscripts.[11] Quantitative history, which had its roots in the broader turn toward social science taken by a number of US economic historians that began in the late 1950s, had in fact generated by the early 1970s a kind of fever dream among many academic historians and their graduate students (and a raging nightmare for others) (Thomas 2004).[12] Edward Shorter, a historian of psychiatry (!), for example, authored the widely-read The Historian and The Computer: A Practical Guide in 1971. Even the Annales school in France, led by Ladurie, was not immune from the embrace of quantification. Writing in a 1973 essay, Laurie argued that “history that is not quantifiable cannot claim to be scientific” (quoted in Noiret 2012). Quantitative history involved generating raw data from a variety of primary source materials (e.g., US census manuscripts) and then using a variety of statistical tools to analyze that data. The dreams and nightmares that this new methodology generated among academic historians were fueled by the publication of two studies that framed the prominence and ultimate eclipse of quantitative history: Stephan Thernstrom’s Poverty and Progress, published in 1964, and Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman’s Time on the Cross, which appeared a decade later (Thernstrom 1964; Fogel and Engerman 1974).

Thernstrom’s study used US census manuscripts (the original hand-coded forms for each resident produced by census enumerators) from 1850 to 1880 as well as local bank and tax records and city directories to generate quantitative data, which he then coded and subjected to various statistical measures. Out of this analysis of data he developed his theories of the extent of social mobility, defined occupationally and geographically, that native-born and Irish immigrant residents of Newburyport, Massachusetts enjoyed in those crucial years of the nation’s industrial takeoff. The critical success of Thernstrom’s book helped launch a mini-boom in quantitative history. A three-week seminar on computing in history drew thirty-five historians in 1965 to the University of Michigan; two years later a newsletter on computing in history had more than 800 subscribers (Graham, Milligan, and Weingart 2015). Thernstrom’s early use of quantitative data (which he analyzed without the benefit of computers) and the positive critical reception it received helped launch the quantitative history upsurge that reshaped much US social and urban history writing in the following decade. Without going into much detail here or elaborating on my own deep reservations about Thernstrom’s methodology[13] and the larger political and ideological conclusions he drew from his analysis of the census manuscripts and city directories, suffice it to say that Thernstrom’s work was widely admired by his peers and emulated by many graduate students, helping him secure a coveted position at Harvard in 1973.[14]

The other influential cliometric study, Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross, was widely reviewed (including in Time magazine) after it appeared in early 1974. Though neither author was a social historian (Fogel was an economist, Engerman an economic historian), they were lavishly praised by many academics and reviewers for their innovative statistical analysis of historical data drawn from Southern plantation records (such as the number of whippings meted out by slave owners and overseers to enslaved African Americans). Their use of statistical data led Fogel and Engerman to revise the standard view of the realities of the institution of slavery. Unlike the conclusions reached by earlier historians such as Herbert Aptheker and Kenneth Stampp that centered on the savage exploitation and brutalization of slaves and their active resistance to the institution of slavery, Fogel and Engerman concluded that the institution of slavery was not particularly economically inefficient, as traditional interpretations argued, that the slaves were only “moderately exploited,” and that they were only occasionally abused physically by their owners (Aptheker 1943 [1963]; Stampp 1956 [1967]). Time on the Cross was the focus of much breathless commentary both inside and outside of the academy about the appropriateness of the authors’ assessments of slavery and how quantitative history techniques, which had been around for several decades, would help historians fundamentally rewrite US history.[15] If this latter point sounds eerily prescient of the early hype about DH offered by many of its practitioners and non-academic enthusiasts, I would argue that this is not an accident. The theoretical and methodological orthodoxies of academic disciplines are periodically challenged from within, with new methodologies heralded as life- (or at least field-) changing transformations of the old. Of course, C. Vann Woodward’s highly critical review of Fogel and Engerman in the New York Review of Books and Herbert Gutman’s brilliant book-length takedown of Time on the Cross soon raised important questions and serious reservations about quantitative history’s limitations and its potential for outright distortion (Woodward 1974; Gutman 1975; Thomas 2004). Gutman’s and Woodward’s sharp critiques aside, many academic historians and graduate students (myself included) could not quite resist dabbling in (if not taking a headlong plunge into) quantitative analysis.

Using a Computer to do Quantitative History

Though I had reservations about quantitative history—my skepticism stemming from a general sense that quantitative historians overpromised easy answers to complex questions of historical causation—I decided to broaden the fairly basic new labor history methodology that I was then using in my early dissertation research, which had been based on printed historical sources (government reports, nineteenth-century national newspaper accounts, print archival materials, etc.). I had been drawn to coal miners and coal mining unionism as a subject for my dissertation because of the unusual role that coal miners played historically as prototypical proletarians and labor militants, not only in the United States, but also across the globe. I was interested in understanding the roots of coal miners’ militancy and solidarity in the face of the oppressive living and working conditions they were forced to endure. I also wanted to understand how (or even if) white, black, and immigrant mineworkers had been able to navigate the struggle to forge bonds of solidarity during trade union organizing drives. I had discovered an interesting amount of quantitative data in the course of my doctoral dissertation research: an enumeration of all coal strikes (1,410 in number) that occurred in the United States in the 1881–94 period detailed in the annual reports of the US Commissioner of Labor.[16] This was what we would now call a “dataset,” a term that was not yet used in my wing of the academy in 1975. This critical fourteen-year historical period witnessed the rise and fall of several national labor union organizations among coal miners, including the Knights of Labor, the most consequential nineteenth-century US labor organization, and the birth of the United Mine Workers of America, the union that continues to represent to this day the rapidly dwindling number of US coal miners.

In my collaboration with Jon Amsden, an economic and labor historian and UCLA faculty member, the two of us decided to statistically analyze this data about the behavior and actions of striking coal miners in these years. The dataset of more than 1,400 strikes statistically presented in large tables was simply too large, however, to analyze through conventional qualitative methods to divine patterns and trends. Amsden and I consequently made a decision in 1975 to take the plunge into computer-assisted data analysis. The UCLA Computer Center was a beehive of activity in these early years of academic computing, especially focused on the emerging field of computer science.[17] The center was using an IBM 360 mainframe computer, running Fortran and the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (the now venerable SPSS, originally released in 1968, and first marketed in 1975) to support social scientific analyses (Noiret 2012).

IBM 360 Computer, circa 1975
Figure 1: IBM 360 Computer, circa 1975

Amsden and I began by recording some of the characteristics involved in each of the 1,410 coal strikes that occurred in those 14 years: year of the strike, cause or objective of the strike, and whether a formal union was involved. To make more detailed comparisons we drew a one-in-five systematic random sample of the coal strikes. This additional sampled data included the number of workers involved in each strike, strike duration, and miners’ wages and hours before and after the strike. We laboriously coded each strike by hand on standard 80-character IBM Fortran coding sheets.

IBM Fortran Coding Sheet
Figure 2: IBM Fortran Coding Sheet

We then had a keypunch operator at the UCLA Computer Center (no doubt a woman, sadly unknown and faceless to us, righteous labor historians though we both were!)[18] transfer the data on each strike entry to individual IBM Fortran punch cards, originally known at Hollerith cards (Lubar 1992). That process generated a card stack large enough to carry around in a flat cardboard box the size of a large shoe box.

Fortran Punch Card
Figure 3: Fortran Punch Card

We regularly visited the UCLA Computer Center in the afternoon to have our card stack “read” by an IBM card reading machine and then asked the IBM 360 to generate specific statistical tabulations and correlations we requested, trying to uncover trends and comparative relationships among the data.[19] The nature of this work on the mainframe computer did not require us to learn Fortran (I know DHer Steve Ramsay would disapprove![20]), though Amsden and I did have to brush up on our basic statistics to be able to figure out how to analyze and make sense of the computer output. We picked up our results (the “read outs”) the next morning, printed on large, continuous sheets of fanfold paper.

IBM 360 Fanfold Paper
Figure 4: IBM 360 Fanfold Paper

It was a slow and laborious process, with many false starts and badly declared and pointless computing requests (e.g., poor choices of different data points to try to correlate).

Ultimately, however, this computerized data analysis of strike data yielded significant statistical correlations that helped us uncover previously unknown and only partially visible patterns and meanings in coal miners’ self-activity and allowed us to generate new insights (or confirm existing ones) into the changing levels of class consciousness exhibited by miners. Our historical approach to quantitative analysis was an early anticipation, if I can be permitted a bit of hyperbole, of Franco Moretti’s “distant reading” techniques in literary scholarship (Moretti 2005), using statistical methods to examine all strikes in an industry, rather than relying on a very “close reading” of one, two, or a handful of important strikes that most labor historians, myself included, typically undertook in our scholarly work. Amsden and I wrote up our results in 1975 and our scholarly article appeared in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History in 1977, a relatively new journal that featured interdisciplinary and data-driven scholarship. The article received respectful notice as a solid quantitative contribution to the field and was reprinted several times over the next three decades (Amsden and Brier 1977).[21]

One of our key statistical findings was that the power and militancy of coal miners increased as their union organizations strengthened (no surprises there) and that heightened union power between 1881 and 1894 (a particularly contentious period in US labor history) generated more militant strikes in the coal industry. Our data analysis revealed that these militant strikes often moved away from narrow efforts to secure higher wages to allow miners across the country to pose more fundamental challenges to the coal operators’ near total control over productive relations inside coal pits. Below are two screen shots, both generated by SPSS, from the published article: a scatter diagram (a new technique for historians to employ, at least in 1975) and one of the tables. The two figures convey the kinds of interesting historical questions we were able to pose quantitatively and how we were able to represent the answers to those questions graphically.

Scatter Diagram of Multi-establishment US Coal Strikes, 1881 to 1894
Figure 5: Scatter Diagram of Multi-establishment US Coal Strikes, 1881 to 1894

Figure 5 above shows the growth in the number of multi-establishment coal strikes and the increasing number of mines involved in strike activity over time, a good measure of increasing union power and worker solidarity over the critical 14-year period covered in the dataset.

Table 3: Index of Strike Solidarity, comparing Union-Called Coal Strikes with Non-Union Strikes
Table 3: Index of Strike Solidarity, comparing Union-Called Coal Strikes with Non-Union Strikes

Table 3 employs a solidarity index that Amsden and I developed out of our analysis of the coal strike statistics, based on the ratio of the number of strikers to the total number of mine employees in a given mine whose workers had gone out on strike. The data revealed that union-called strikes were consistently able to involve a higher percentage of the overall mining workforce as compared to non-union strikes and with less variation from the norm. This table lay at the heart of why I had decided to study coal miners and their unions in the first place. I hoped to analyze why and how miners consistently put themselves and their unions at the center of militant working-class struggles in industrializing America. I might have reached some of these same conclusions by analyzing traditional qualitative sources or by looking closely at one or a handful of strikes. However, Amsden and I had managed to successfully employ a statistical analysis in new ways (at least in the history field) that allowed us to “see” these developments and trends in the data nationally and regionally. We were able therefore to argue that the evolving consciousness of miners over time was reflected in their strike demands and in their ability to successfully spread the union message across the country. I should note here that the United Mine Workers of America had become the largest union by far in these early years of the American Federation of Labor. In sum, we believed we had developed a new statistical methodology to analyze and understand late nineteenth-century working-class behavior. We had used a computer to help answer conceptual questions that were important in shaping our historical interpretation. This effort proved to be a quite early instance of the use of digital techniques to ask and at least partially answer key historical (and, by definition, humanities) questions.

From Quantitative History to the American Social History Project

Around the time of the 1977 publication of the coal miners on strike article I decided to follow my public history muse, morphing from a university-based history scholar and professor-in-training, albeit one who had begun to use new digital technologies, into an activist public historian. I had moved to New York City soon after completing the computer-aided project on coal mining strikes to learn how to produce history films. This was a conscious personal and career choice I made to leave the academy to become an independent filmmaker. My commitment to historical ideas having a greater public and political impact drove my decision to change careers. On my first job in New York in 1977 as research director for a public television series of dramatic films on major moments in US labor history I met Herbert Gutman, one of the deans of the new labor and social history whose work I had read and admired as a graduate student. I spent the next two years researching and producing historical documentaries and other kinds of dramatic films.

The author in 1980 doing research for an educational television project on NYC history at the Columbia Univ. library. (Picture credit: Julie List)
Figure 7: The author in 1980 doing research for an educational television project on NYC history at the Columbia Univ. library. (Picture credit: Julie List)

Two years after meeting Gutman I was invited by Herb, who taught at the CUNY Graduate Center, to co-teach a summer seminar for labor leaders for which he had secured funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The NEH summer seminars, in an innovative combination of academic and public history, were designed to communicate to unionized workers the fruits of the new social and labor history that Herb had done so much to pioneer and to which I had committed my nascent academic career in graduate school at UCLA. With the success of these summer seminars, which we taught at the CUNY Graduate Center in 1979 and 1980, Gutman and I decided to create the American Social History Project (ASHP) at CUNY. We reasoned that reaching 15 workers each summer in our seminars, though immensely rewarding for all involved (including the two teachers), was not as efficient as creating a new curriculum that we could make available to adult and worker education programs and teachers across the country. The project quickly received major grants in 1981 and 1982, totaling $1.2 million, from the NEH and the Ford Foundation, and under Herb’s and my leadership we rapidly hired a staff of a dozen historians, teachers, artists, and administrators to create a multimedia curriculum, entitled “Who Built America?” (WBA?). The curriculum mixed the writing of a new two-volume trade book focused on working people’s contributions to US history with a range of new multimedia productions (initially 16mm films and slide/tape shows, VHS videos and, later, a range of digital productions, including two Who Built America? CD-ROMs and several web sites such as “History Matters”). ASHP also had a second, clear orientation, in addition to developing multimedia materials: We built a vibrant education program that connected the project in its first few years with CUNY community college faculty and also New York City high school teachers who used our media materials (including specially designed accompanying viewer guides) in their classes that helped deepen and refine Who Built America?’s pedagogical impact on students. We hoped this multimedia curriculum and ASHP’s ongoing engagement with teachers would broaden the scope and popular appeal of working-class and social history and would be widely adopted in high school, community college, and worker education classrooms around the country as well as by the general public.[22]

I should note here that my early exposure to electronic tools, including being a “ham” radio operator and electronics tinkerer in high school in the early 1960s and using mainframe computers at UCLA in 1975, inclined me to become an early and enthusiastic adopter of and proselytizer for personal computers when they became publicly available in the early 1980s. I insisted in 1982, for example, against resistance from some of my ASHP colleagues who expected to have secretarial help in writing and editing their WBA? chapter drafts, that we use personal computers (I was Kaypro II guy!) to facilitate the drafting and editing of the Who Built America? textbook, work on which began that year (ASHP 1990, 1992).[23]

Kaypro II Computer
Figure 8: Kaypro II Computer

ASHP stood outside of the academic history profession as traditionally understood and practiced in universities at that time. As a grant-funded, university-based project with a dozen staff members, many of us with ABDs in history who worked on the project full-time (not on traditional nine-month academic schedules), ASHP staff were clearly “alt-ac”ers several decades before anyone coined that term. We wore our non-traditional academic identities proudly and even a bit defiantly. Gutman and I also realized, nonetheless, that ASHP needed a direct link to an academic institution like CUNY to legitimize and to establish an institutional base that would allow the project to survive and thrive, which led us to instantiate ASHP inside of CUNY. The American Social History Project, in fact, celebrated its 35th anniversary in CUNY in October 2016.[24] That was a consequential decision, obviously, since ASHP might not have survived without the kind of institutional and bureaucratic support that CUNY (and the Graduate Center) have provided over the past three and a half decades. ASHP, at the same time, also stood outside of the academic history profession in believing in and in producing our work collaboratively, which militated against the “lone scholar in the archive” cult that still dominates most academic scholarship and continues to fundamentally determine the processes of promotion and tenure inside the academy. Public history, which many ASHP staff members came out of, had argued for and even privileged such collaborative work, which in a very real sense is a precursor to the more collaborative work and projects that now define much of the new digital scholarship in the Digital Humanities and in the “alt-ac” careers that have proliferated in its wake. Well before Lisa Spiro (2012) enumerated her list of key DH “values”—openness, collegiality and connectedness, diversity, and experimentation—we had embodied those very values in how we structured and operated the American Social History Project (and continue to do so), a set of values that I have also tried to incorporate and teach in all of my academic work ever since.

ASHP’s engagement with collaborative digital work began quite early. In 1990 we launched a series of co-ventures with social historian Roy Rosenzweig (who had been a valued and important ASHP collaborator from the outset of the project a decade earlier, including as a co-author of the Who Built America? textbook) and Bob Stein, the head of The Voyager Company, the pioneering digital publisher. Roy and I had begun in the late 1980s to ruminate about the possibilities of computer-enhanced historical presentations when Bob Stein approached me in 1990 with a proposal to turn the first volume of the WBA? trade book (which had just been published) into an electronic book (ASHP 1990).[25] Applying the best lessons Roy and I and our ASHP colleagues had learned as public historians who were committed to using visual, video, audio, and textual tools and resources to convey important moments and struggles in US history, we worked with Voyager staff to conceive, design, and produce the first Who Built America? CD-ROM in 1993, covering the years 1876 to 1914 (ASHP 1993).[26] As noted earlier, our use of multimedia forms was an essential attribute that we learned as practitioners of public history, a quite different orientation than that relied on by literary DHers who work with text analysis.

The disk, which was co-authored by Roy Rosenzweig, Josh Brown, and me, was arguably the first electronic history book and one of the first e-books ever to appear. The WBA? CD-ROM won critical popular acclaim and a number of prestigious awards, inside in the academy and beyond (Thomas 2004). It also generated, perhaps because of its success, a degree of political notoriety when its inclusion by Apple in the tens of thousands of educational packs of CD-ROMs the company gave away to K-12 schools that purchased Apple computers in 1994-95 led to a coordinated attack on WBA?, ASHP, and Apple by the Christian Right and the Moral Majority. The Radical Right was troubled by the notion conveyed in several of the literally hundreds of primary historical documents we included in the CD-ROM that “gay cowboys” might have been involved in the “taming” of the West or that abortion was common in early twentieth-century urban America. The right-wing attacks were reported in the mainstream press, including the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek.

Putting the ‘PC’ in PCs,” Newsweek, February 20, 1995
Figure 9: “Putting the ‘PC’ in PCs,” Newsweek, February 20, 1995

The Right, however, ironically failed in all the furor to notice the CD-ROM’s explicitly pro-worker/anti-capitalist politics! The Right tried to get Apple to remove the WBA? CD-ROM from the education packs, but Apple ultimately backed ASHP and WBA?, though only after much contention and negative publicity.[27]

Despite this political controversy, the first WBA? CD-ROM and early historical web projects like Ed Ayers’s Civil War-era The Valley of the Shadow (1993) helped imagine new possibilities for digital scholarship and digital presentations of historical work. I would suggest that the appearance of the first WBA? CD-ROM nearly a quarter century ago was one of the pioneering instances of the new digital history that contributed a decade later to the emergence of the Digital Humanities, making Roy, Josh, and me and our ASHP colleagues what I have termed in the title of this article and elsewhere in print “premature digital humanists.”[28] That said, I do believe we missed an opportunity to begin to build connections to other scholars outside of history who were undertaking similar digital work around the same time that we completed the WBA? CD-ROM in 1993. Jerry McGann, for example, was beginning his pioneering work at the University of Virginia on the Rossetti Archive and was writing his landmark study “The Rationale of HyperText” (McGann 1995). And while we became aware of each other’s work over the next half dozen years, we never quite came together to ponder the ways in which our very disparate disciplinary approaches to digital scholarship and presentation might have productively been linked up or at least put into some kind of active dialogue. As a result, digital history and digital literary studies occupied distinct academic silos, following quite different paths and embracing very different methodologies and ideas. And neither digital history nor digital literary studies had much in common with the digital new media artists who were also working in this same period and even earlier, grouped around the pioneering journal Ars Electronica.[29] This was a missed opportunity that I believe has hindered Digital Humanities from being more of a big tent and, more importantly, allowing it to become a more robust interdisciplinary force inside the academy and beyond.

In any case my digital history colleagues and I continued to pursue our own digital history work. Roy Rosenzweig, who taught at George Mason University, founded the Center for History and New Media in 1994 a year after the first WBA? CD-ROM appeared. Our two centers next collaborated on several award-winning digital history projects, including the History Matters website mentioned earlier, which made many of the public domain primary source documents presented originally in the WBA? CD-ROM available online. This proved to be a particularly useful and accessible way for teachers at both the high school and college levels to expose their students to a rich array of primary historical sources. And, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC, our two centers were invited by the Sloan Foundation to collaborate on the development of the September 11 Digital Archive (9/11DA). As Josh Brown and I argued in an article on the creation of the 9/11DA, September 11th was “the first truly digital event of world historical importance: a significant part of its historical record—from e-mail to photography to audio to video—was expressed, captured, disseminated, or viewed in (or converted to) digital forms and formats” (Brier and Brown 2011, 101). It was also one of the first digital projects to be largely “crowdsourced,” given our open solicitation of ordinary people’s digital reminiscences, photos, and videos of the events of September 11th and its aftermath. As historians faced with the task of conceiving and building a brand new digital archive from scratch that focused on a single world historical event, we were also forced to take on additional roles as archivists and preservationists, something we had previously and happily left to professional librarians. We had to make judgments about what to include and exclude in the 9/11 archive, how and whether to display it online, how to contextualize those resources, and, when voluntary online digital submissions of materials by individuals proved insufficient to allow us to offer a fully-rounded picture of what happened, how to target particular groups (including Muslims, Latinos, and the Chinese community in lower Manhattan) with special outreach efforts to be able to include their collective and individual stories and memories in the 9/11DA. Our prior work in and long-term engagement with public history proved essential in this process. We ended up putting the archive online as we were building it, getting the initial iteration of the site up on the web in January 2002 well before the lion’s share of individual digital submissions started pouring in. The body of digital materials that came to constitute the September 11 Digital Archive ultimately totaled nearly a quarter million discrete digital items, making it one of the largest and most comprehensive digital repositories of materials on the September 11 attacks.[30]

While literary scholars confront similar issues of preservation of and access to the materials they are presenting in digital archives, they usually have had the good fortune to be able to rely on extant and often far more circumscribed print sources as the primary materials they are digitizing, annotating, and presenting to fellow scholars and the general public. Public historians who are collecting digital historical data to capture what happened in the recent past or even the present, as we were forced to do in the September 11 Digital Archive, do not have the luxury of basing our work on a settled corpus of information or data. We also faced the extremely delicate task of putting contemporary people’s voices online, making their deepest and most painful personal insights and feelings available to a public audience. Being custodians of that kind of source material brings special responsibilities and sensitivities that most literary digital humanists don’t have to deal with when constructing their digital archives. Our methodologies and larger public imperatives as digital historians are therefore different from those of digital literary scholars. This is especially true given our commitment in the 9/11DA and other digital history archiving projects like the CHNM’s “Hurricane Digital Memory Bank” (on the devastating 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes Katrina and Rita), as well as ASHP’s current CUNY Digital History Archive project. The latter focuses on student and faculty activism across CUNY beginning in the late 1960s and on presenting historical materials that are deeply personal and politically consequential.[31]

It is important to note that while ASHP continued to collaborate on several ongoing digital history projects with CHNM (headed first by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt after Roy’s death in 2007, and, since 2013, by Stephen Robertson), the two centers have moved in different directions in terms of doing digital history. CHNM’s efforts have focused largely on the development of important digital software tools. CHNM’s Zotero, for example, is used to help scholars manage their research sources, while its Omeka software offers a platform for publishing online collections and exhibitions. CHNM has also established a strong and direct connection to the Digital Humanities field, especially through its THATCamps, which are participant-directed digital skills workshops and meetings.[32] On the other hand, ASHP has stayed closer to its original purpose of developing a range of well curated and pedagogically appropriate multimedia historical source materials for use by teachers and students at both the high school and college levels, intended to help them understand and learn about the past. Emblematic of ASHP’s continuing work are The Lost Museum: Exploring Antebellum American Life and Culture and HERB: Social History for Every Classroom websites as well as Mission US, an adventure-style online series of games in which younger players take on the role of young people during critical moments in US history.[33]

From ASHP to ITP and the Digital Humanities

I moved on in my own academic career after formally leaving ASHP as its executive director in 1998, though I remained actively involved in a number of ongoing ASHP digital projects. These included the development of a second WBA? CD-ROM, covering the years from 1914 to 1946, which was published in 2001 (ASHP 2001) and is still available, as well as the aforementioned 9/11 Digital Archive and the CUNY Digital History Archive. As I morphed over three decades from analog media producer, to digital media producer, to digital archivist/digital historian, I became keenly aware of the need to extend the lessons of the public and digital history movements I helped to build to my own and my graduate students’ classroom practices. That was what drove me to develop the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (ITP) certificate program at the CUNY Graduate Center in 2002. My goal was to teach graduate students that digital tools offered real promise beyond the restricted confines of academic research in a single academic field to help us reimagine and to reshape college classrooms and the entire teaching and learning experience, as my ASHP colleagues and I began doing more than 30 years ago with the Who Built America? education program. I always tell ITP students that I take the “P” in our name (“Pedagogy”) as seriously as I take the “T” (“Technology”) as a way to indicate the centrality of teaching and learning to the way the certificate program was conceived and has operated. I have coordinated ITP for almost 15 years now and will be stepping down as coordinator at the end of the spring 2017 term. I believe that the program has contributed as much to digital pedagogy and to the Digital Humanities as anything else I’ve been involved in, not only at the CUNY Graduate Center where I have been fortunate to have labored for almost all of my academic career, but also in the City University of New York as a whole.[34] One of the ITP program’s most important and ongoing contributions to the Digital Humanities and digital pedagogy fields has been the founding in 2011 of the online Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, which is produced twice-yearly and is directed by an editorial collective of digital scholars and digital pedagogues, including faculty, graduate students, and library staff.

Working with faculty colleagues like Matt Gold, Carlos Hernandez, Kimon Keramidas, Michael Mandiberg, and Maura Smale, with many highly motivated and skilled graduate students (too numerous to name here), and committed digital administrators and leaders like Luke Waltzer, Lisa Brundage, and Boone Gorges, as well as my ongoing work with long-time ASHP colleagues and comrades Josh Brown, Pennee Bender, Andrea Ades Vasquez, and Ellen Noonan, I have been blessed with opportunities to help create a robust community of digital practice at the Graduate Center and across CUNY. This community of scholars and digital practitioners has helped develop a progressive vision of digital technology and digital pedagogy that I believe can serve as a model for Digital Humanities work in the future. Though far from where I began forty years ago as a doctoral student with an IBM 360 computer and a stack of Fortran cards, my ongoing digital work at CUNY seems to me to be the logical and appropriate culmination of a career that has spanned many identities, including as a social and labor historian, public historian, digital historian, digital producer, and, finally, as a digital pedagogue who has made what I hope has been a modest contribution to the evolution and maturation of the field of Digital Humanities.


[1] Busa, an Italian Jesuit priest, traveled to New York City in 1949 and convinced IBM founder Thomas Watson to let him use IBM’s mainframe computer to generate a concordance of St. Thomas Aquinas’s writing, Busa’s life work. The best book on the key role of Father Busa is Steven E. Jones. 2016. Roberto Busa, S.J., and The Emergence of Humanities Computing: The Priest and the Punched Cards. New York: Routledge. Geoffrey Rockwell argues that an alternative to starting the history of DH with Busa is to look to the work of linguists who constructed word frequency counts and concordances as early as 1948 using simulations of computers (Rockwell 2007). Willard McCarty, one of the founders of humanities computing, has recently suggested that we could probably trace DH’s origins all the way back to Alan Turing’s “Machine” in the 1930s and 1940s. See McCarty, Willard. 2013. “What does Turing have to do with Busa?” Keynote for ACRH-3, Sofia Bulgaria, December 12. http://www.mccarty.org.uk/essays/McCarty,%20Turing%20and%20Busa.pdf.

[2] The origins of the TEI are described at http://www.tei-c.org/About/history.xml.

[3] See especially the following contributions on DH’s origins in Debates in the Digital Humanities: Matthew Kirschenbaum’s “What is DH and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/38; and Steven E. Jones’s “The Emergence of the Digital Humanities (as the Network Is Everting)” http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/52. Kenneth M. Price and Ray Siemens reproduce a similar chronology of the literary origins of DH in their 2013 introduction to Literary Studies in the Digital Age (https://dlsanthology.commons.mla.org/introduction/). Willard McCarty is apparently working on his own history of literary computing from Busa to 1991. It is interesting to note, on the other hand, that Franco Moretti, a literary scholar, a key player in DH, and author of one of the field’s foundational texts, Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History, readily acknowledges that academic work in quantitative history (which I discuss later in this essay) helped shape his important concept of “distant reading” (Moretti 2005, 1-30). Distant reading is a fundamental DH methodology at the core of digital literary studies.

[4] I am obviously not tilling this ground alone. There are several major projects underway to dig out the origins/history of Digital Humanities. One of the most promising is the efforts of Julianne Nyhan and her colleagues at the Department of Information Studies, University College London. Their “Hidden Histories: Computing and the Humanities c.1949-1980” project is based on a series of more than 40 oral history interviews with early DH practitioners with the intention of developing a deeper historical understanding of the disciplinary and interdisciplinary starting and continuation points of DH (Nyhan, et al. 2015; Nyhan and Flinn 2016).

[5] My colleague Michael Mandiberg has astutely noted that DH has other important origins and early influences besides literary studies and history. He suggests that DH “has been retracing the steps of new media art,” evidenced by the founding of Ars Electronica in 1979. https://www.aec.at/about/en/geschichte/.

[6] One of the pioneers of this new social history methodology, the Philadelphia Social History Project, based at the University of Pennsylvania, employed early mainframe computers in the late 1970s to create relational databases of historical information about the residents of Philadelphia (Thomas 2004).

[7] Radical History Review 25 (Winter 1980-81). The RHR issue had two other co-editors: Robert Entenmann and Warren Goldstein.

[8] The Presenting the Past collection included essays by Mike Wallace, Michael Frisch, and Roy Rosenzweig analyzing how historical consciousness has been constructed by history museums and mainstream historical publications, as well as essays by Linda Shopes, James Green, and Jeremy Brecher on how local groups in Baltimore, Boston, and in Connecticut’s Brass Valley created alternative ways and formats to understand and present their community’s history of oppositional struggles.

[9] Roy founded CHNM in 1994. The center was appropriately named for him following his death in 2007.

[10] A much-expanded version of Robertson’s original blog post appeared in the 2016 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities (Gold and Klein 2016): http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/76.

[11] A useful introduction to quantification in history can be found at “What Is Quantitative History?” on the History Matters website: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/numbers/what.html. Historian Cameron Blevins also discusses the origins of quantitative history in his essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016: http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/77.

[12] Carl Bridenbaugh, a traditional historian of colonial American history, sharply attacked those who would “worship at the shrine of the Bitch goddess QUANTIFICATION” (quoted in Novick 1988, 383–84; capitalization in the original).

[13] I devoted a chapter of my dissertation to a critique of Thernstrom’s conclusions in Poverty and Progress and subsequent publications about the political impact of a large “floating proletariat” on working-class social mobility in US history, which he concluded served to undercut working-class consciousness. My dissertation argued otherwise.

[14] Thernstrom had been teaching at UCLA, where I first encountered him while working on my doctorate. He departed for Harvard in 1973 just in time for Roy Rosenzweig to become one of his doctoral students. Roy completed his dissertation in 1978 on workers in Worcester, Massachusetts, which incorporated little of Thernstrom’s quantitative methodology, but instead employed much of Herbert Gutman’s social and labor history approach. See Rosenzweig, Roy. 1985. Eight Hours for What We Will: Workers and Leisure in an Industrial City, 1870-1920. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

[15] Peter Passell, a Columbia economist, in a review of Time on the Cross, declared: “If a more important book about American history has been published in the last decade, I don’t know about it” (Passell 1974). The authors, Passell concluded, “have with one stroke turned around a whole field of interpretation and exposed the frailty of history done without science.”

[16] The strikes were detailed in the third and tenth printed annual reports of the US Commissioner of Labor. U.S. Commissioner of Labor, Third Annual Report. . .1887: Strikes and Lockouts (Washington D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1888); U.S. Commissioner of Labor, Tenth Annual Report. . .1894: Strikes and Lockouts (Washington D.C.: U.S. GPO, 1896).

[17] UCLA was one of the first campuses on the West Coast to develop a computer center, growing out of its early ARPANET involvement. With Stanford, UCLA had participated in the first host-to-host computer connection on ARPANET in October 1969. See http://internetstudies.ucla.edu/. I have no idea what model number of IBM 360 UCLA was using in 1975, but it may well have been the last in the line, the Model 195. See http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/exhibits/mainframe/mainframe_FS360.html. See also Roy Rosenzweig’s (1998) important review essay on the history of the Internet, “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet”: http://rrchnm.org/essay/wizards-bureaucrats-warriors-hackers-writing-the-history-of-the-internet/.

[18] Melissa Terras and Julianne Nyhan, in an essay in Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, tell a similar story about the unknown female keypunch operators Father Busa employed. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/57.

[19] These included regression analyses, standard deviations, and F and T tests of variance.

[20] In a short blog post, Ramsay argued that DHers needed to “make things,” to learn how to code to really consider themselves DHers; it caused quite a flap. See Ramsay, Stephen. 2011. “Who’s In and Who’s Out.” Stephen Ramsay Blog. http://stephenramsay.us/text/2011/01/08/whos-in-and-whos-out/.

[21] The 1977 article was reprinted in Rabb, Theodore and Robert Rotbert, eds. 1981. Industrialization and Urbanization: Studies in Interdisciplinary History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press and in excerpted form in Brenner, A., B. Day and M. Ness, eds. 2009. The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. One of the deans of U.S. labor history, David Montgomery, referenced our data and article and employed a similar set of statistical measures in his important article on nineteenth-century US strikes. Montgomery, David. 1980. “Strikes in Nineteenth-Century America.” Social Science History 4: 91-93.

[22] I continued to serve as ASHP’s executive director until 1998, when my shoes were ably filled by my long-time ASHP colleague, Joshua Brown, who continues to head the project to this day. I went on to serve as a senior administrator (Associate Provost and then Vice President) at the Graduate Center until 2009, when I resumed my faculty duties there.

[23] I needed special permission from our funder, the Ford Foundation, to spend ten thousand dollars of our grant to buy four Kaypro II computers (running the CPM operating system and the Wordstar word processing program) on which the entire first volume of WBA? was produced. I keep my old Kaypro II, a 30-pound “luggable,” and a large box of 5.25” floppy computer disks to show my students what early personal computers looked and felt like. My fascination with and desire to hold on to older forms of technology (I also drive a fully restored 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme as well) apparently resonates with contemporary efforts to develop an archeology of older media formats and machines at places like the Media Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Colorado. See http://mediaarchaeologylab.com/.

[24] This decision to formally establish ASHP as part of the CUNY Graduate Center proved particularly important, given Herb Gutman’s untimely death in 1985 at age 56. ASHP became part of the Center for Media and Learning (CML) that we founded at CUNY in 1990, which has also provided the institutional home for the Graduate Center’s New Media Lab (NML), which I co-founded in 1998 and continue to co-direct. The NML operates under the aegis of the CML.

[25] I recounted Roy’s and my visit in 1989 to a Washington, DC trade show of computer-controlled training modules and programs in my tribute to him after his death in 2007. See http://thanksroy.org/items/show/501.

[26] Because the first WBA? CD-ROM was produced for earlier Mac (OS9) and PC (Windows 95) operating systems, it is no longer playable on current computer systems, yet another orphaned piece of digital technology in a rapidly evolving computing landscape.

[27] Michael Meyer, “Putting the ‘PC’ in PCs,” Newsweek (February 20, 1995): 46; Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, “U.S. History on a CD-ROM Stirs Up a Storm,” Wall Street Journal (February 10, 1995): B1-B2; and Juan Gonzalez. “Apple’s Big Byte Out of History.” New York Daily News (February 8, 1995): 10. We managed to fend off the Right-wing attack with what was then an unheard of barrage of email messages that we were able to generate from librarians and school teachers all over the world. It’s important to recall that email was still a relatively new technology in 1995 (AOL, Prodigy, and CompuServe were all launched in that year). The librarians emailed Apple in droves, convincing the company that unless it kept the WBA? CD-ROM in its education packs, the librarians would be unable to recommend future purchases of Apple computers for their schools. After the appointment of a panel of unnamed educators had endorsed the value of the WBA? CD-ROM, Apple resumed distributing copies of the disk in their education bundles for another year, with the total number of distributed WBA? CD-ROMs reaching almost 100,000 copies.

[28] I appropriated the “premature” phrase and explained its historical origins in the mid-1930s fight against fascism in a footnote to my article, “Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities” (Gold 2012, fn12). The standard work on digital history is Dan Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig. 2005. Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

[29] Lev Manovich (2001) in The Language of New Media notes that artists began using digital technology during the 1990s to extend and enhance their work, a key moment in what he describes as “the computerization of culture” (221).

[30] It remains, to this day, in the top 15 results one gets out of the nearly 200 million results in a Google search for “September 11.”

[31] See CHNM’s Sheila Brennan and Mills Kelly’s essay on the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5,” on the CHNM website at http://chnm.gmu.edu/essays-on-history-new-media/essays/?essayid=47. The initial online iteration of the CUNY Digital History Archive can be found at http://cdha.cuny.edu/.

[32] Descriptions and details about CHNM’s various projects described here can be found at http://chnm.gmu.edu/.

[33] Descriptions and details about ASHP’s various projects described here can be found on the ASHP website: http://ashp.cuny.edu/.

[34] My contribution to the 2012 edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities was an article entitled “Where’s the Pedagogy? The Role of Teaching and Learning in the Digital Humanities,” which argued that DHers need to pay more attention to pedagogy in their work. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/8.


American Social History Project. 1990, 1992. Who Built America? Working People and Nation’s Economy, Politics, Culture and Society. New York: Pantheon.

———. 1993. Who Built America: From the Centennial Celebration of 1876 to the Great War of 1914 (CD-ROM). Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Co.

———. 2001. Who Built America? From the Great War of 1914 to the Dawn of the Atomic Age (CD-ROM). New York: Worth Publishers.

American Social History Project and Center for History and New Media. 1998. History Matters: The U.S. History Survey on the Web. http://historymatters.gmu.edu.

Amsden, Jon and Stephen Brier. 1977. “Coal Miners on Strike: The Transformation of Strike Demands and the Formation of a National Union.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History: 8, 583–616.

Aptheker, Herbert. 1943 (1963). American Negro Slave Revolts. New York: International Publishers.

Benson, Susan Porter, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig. 1986. Presenting the Past: Essays on History and the Public. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Brier, Stephen. 1992. “‘The Most Persistent Unionists’: Class Formation and Class Conflict in the Coal Fields and the Emergence of Interracial and Interethnic Unionism, 1880 –1904.” PhD diss., UCLA.

Brier, Stephen and Joshua Brown. 2011. “The September 11 Digital Archive: Saving the Histories of September 11, 2001.” Radical History Review 111 (Fall 2011): 101-09.

Fogel, Robert William and Stanley L. Engerman. 1974. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Gold, Matthew, ed. 2012. Debates in the Digital Humanities. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Gold, Matthew and Lauren Klein, eds. 2016. Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Graham, S., I. Milligan, and S. Weingart. 2015. “Early Emergences: Father Busa, Humanities Computing, and the Emergence of the Digital Humanities.” The Historian’s Macroscope: Big Digital History. http://www.themacroscope.org/?page_id=601.

Gutman, Herbert. 1975. Slavery and the Numbers Game: A Critique of Time on the Cross. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Hockey, Susan. 2004. “The History of Humanities Computing.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Roy Siemens, and John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell. http://www.digitalhumanities.org/companion/view?docId=blackwell/9781405103213/9781405103213.xml&chunk.id=ss1-2-1.

Lubar, Steven. 1992. ‘Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate’: A Cultural History of the Punch Card.” Journal of American Culture 15: 43–55.

Manovich, Lev. 2001. The Language of New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

McCarty, Willard. 2011. “Beyond Chronology and Profession: Discovering How to Write a History of the Digital Humanities.” Willard McCarty web page. University College London. http://www.mccarty.org.uk/essays/McCarty,%20Beyond%20chronology%20and%20profession.pdf.

McGann, Jerome. 1995. “The Rationale of Hypertext.” http://www2.iath.virginia.edu/public/jjm2f/rationale.html.

Moretti, Frank. 2005. Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History. Brooklyn, NY: Verso.

Noiret, Serge. 2012 [2015]. “Digital History: The New Craft of (Public) Historians.” http://dph.hypotheses.org/14.

Novick, Peter. 1988. That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Nyhan, Julianne, Andrew Flinn, and Anne Welsh. 2015. “Oral History and the Hidden Histories Project: Towards Histories of Computing in the Humanities.” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities 30: 71-85. Oxford: Oxford University Press. http://dsh.oxfordjournals.org/content/30/1/71/.

Nyhan, Julianne and Andrew Flinn. 2016. Computation and the Humanities: Towards an Oral History of Digital Humanities. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Open. http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-3-319-20170-2.

Passell, Peter. 1974. “An Economic Analysis of that Peculiarly Economic Institution.” New York Times. April 28. http://www.nytimes.com/1974/04/28/archives/an-economic-analysis-of-that-peculiarly-economic-institution-vol-ii.html.

Robertson, Stephen. 2014. “The Differences between Digital History and Digital Humanities.” Stephen Robertson’s Blog. May 23. https://drstephenrobertson.com/blog-post/the-differences-between-digital-history-and-digital-humanities/.

Rockwell, Geoffrey. 2007. “An Alternate Beginning to Humanities Computing.” Geoffrey Rockwell’s Research Blog. May 2. http://theoreti.ca/?p=1608.

Rosenzweig, Roy. 1998. “Wizards, Bureaucrats, Warriors, and Hackers: Writing the History of the Internet.” American Historical Review 103: 1530-52. http://rrchnm.org/essay/wizards-bureaucrats-warriors-hackers-writing-the-history-of-the-internet/

Shorter, Edward. 1971. The Historian and the Computer: A Practical Guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Spiro, Lisa. 2012. “‘This is Why We Fight’: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” In Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Matthew Gold. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. http://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/debates/text/13.

Stampp, Kenneth. 1956 (1967). The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. New York: Knopf.

Thernstrom, Stephan. 1964. Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Thomas. William G. II. 2004. “Computing and the Historical Imagination.” In A Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. Oxford: Blackwell.

Woodward, C. Vann. 1974. “The Jolly Institution.” New York Review of Books. May 2.


The author thanks Jon Amsden, Josh Brown, Matt Gold, Steven Lubar, Michael Mandiberg, Julianne Nyhan, Stephen Robertson, and Luke Waltzer for helpful comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this essay.

About the Author

Stephen Brier is a social and labor historian and educational technologist who teaches in the PhD program in Urban Education and is the founder and coordinator of the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy doctoral certificate program, both at the CUNY Graduate Center. He served for eighteen years as the founding director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning and as a senior administrator for eleven years at the Graduate Center. Brier helped launch the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy in 2011 and served as a member of the journal’s editorial collective until 2017.

Other People’s Digital Tools: Adaptive Reuse, Cold War History, and the GSA’s Real Property Utilization and Disposal Website

Brian Beaton, University of Pittsburgh


This essay focuses on a property disposal website run by the General Services Administration (GSA). The website inadvertently grants intimate access to Cold War–era buildings and built environments that were previously “Off Limits” to civilians, including students and scholars of Cold War history. I begin the essay by discussing the heavy building that occurred within the mainland US during the Cold War era and explain why, in the 1990s, US policymakers suddenly came to view themselves as having too much defense-related property. I then discuss the online auction website currently used by the GSA to dispose of Cold War properties and outline the website’s key features. I also provide an example of a large military base in California that was sold through the GSA’s website and subsequently re-developed for new and unrelated purposes, a process that many architects and planners call “adaptive reuse.” In Part 2 of the essay, I explain how the GSA property disposal website can be used for teaching purposes despite its intended goal of serving private land developers. In my discussion, I borrow the term “adaptive re-use” and elaborate it into a digital humanities concept.


The Cold War era (1940s–1980s) was a time of heavy building within the mainland United States. The construction of the interstate highway system, which in part began as a civil defense scheme, fueled the rapid decentralization of American cities and mass suburbanization. Large defense contracts spawned countless new science, engineering, and manufacturing facilities dedicated to defense-related research. The US federal government also built a considerable number of military bases. From the 1940s to the 1980s, there were nearly 200 military bases constructed in the mainland US (Chambless 1998, 102). Although more commonly remembered as a geopolitical and cultural event, the Cold War was also a significant moment in the history of American architecture and infrastructure. The Cold War unfolded through built space and transformed the US landscape.

A growing fascination among US policymakers with the idea of computer-mediated warfare and the dissolution of the USSR in the early 1990s altered the US government’s perceived needs in terms of keeping and maintaining defense-related property.1 By the last decade of the twentieth century, the US had lost its principal geopolitical rival, and civil defense seemed on the verge of virtualization. As a result, the 1990s saw a rapid reduction in the heavy building of the Cold War era, and much of the defense-related property built during the Cold War came to be re-conceptualized as unnecessary and surplus.2 To this end, the Department of Defense began actively selling off many Cold War–era properties to private land developers, a process that continues in the present day. The developers commonly demolish the properties or adapt them for new and unrelated purposes. Every day, more Cold War sites are torn down, demolished, and then re-built and reused—sometimes leaving little to no record of their existence.

Architects and planners commonly call this type of property re-development “adaptive reuse.” Other common examples of adaptive reuse include the conversion of power plants into art galleries, factories into residential lofts, and abandoned box stores into small clinics or hospitals. The practice of adaptive reuse has gained currency in the building and planning professions for several reasons: cost and time-saving possibilities that can be gleaned (but not always) from adapting an existing site for new purposes instead of building from scratch; a growing interest in sustainable building practices that conserve land and resources by mitigating new construction; and an attraction to the distinctive challenges that many adaptive reuse projects present to builders and planners who understand themselves to be in creative, problem-solving industries (Coffey 2004, 56-7; Shipley, Utz and Parsons 2006, 505-520; Hunter 2007, 10, 13-14). Adaptive reuse has been called an “art form with a cause” (Coffey 2004, 56). The practice often has an environmental, aesthetic, and economic politics to it.

In this essay, I borrow the term “adaptive re-use” and elaborate it into a digital humanities concept. My focus here is the Real Property Utilization and Disposal Website used by the General Services Administration (GSA) to sell off Cold War–era properties to private land developers. The GSA’s property disposal website allows potential buyers to browse through a wide variety of aging defense architecture. Visitors to the website can search for properties by state, property type, or region using simple dropdown menus (see Gallery 1). Visitors can also move through image galleries and obtain detailed property information.

Gallery 1. Screen captures from the GSA’s property disposal website. Accessed August 26, 2012.

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The website auctions everything from office buildings, bases, hospitals, test facilities, laboratories, garages, patrol stations, and warehouses to empty lots, silos, parking lots, and checkpoints. In doing so, the website inadvertently grants intimate access to Cold War–era buildings and built environments that were previously “Off Limits” to civilians, including students and scholars of Cold War history. For example, Figure 1 shows a former army reserve facility in suburban Cleveland that was initially built between 1958 and 1962. Vacated in 2008, the army facility was auctioned off through the GSA’s property disposal website in the spring of 2012. As is typical of the website’s design, prospective buyers were able to access a series of image galleries during the auction process in a manner that simulates a visit to the property in person.

Figure 1. Screen capture from the GSA’s property disposal website. Army reserve facility in Cleveland. Accessed August 26, 2012.

Although seemingly abandoned, the properties listed on the GSA’s property disposal website are often contested places with complicated individual histories. A good example can be found in the case of El Toro Marine Corps Base in Orange County, California. Opened in the 1940s, the federal government targeted the base for closure in the early 1990s. Local officials initially aimed to convert the base to a sizeable commercial airport. After generating considerable anti-airport activism, the project eventually unraveled when a series of ballot measures designated the land for non-aviation use.3 In 2005, a capital investment partnership led by Lennar Corporation acquired the entire El Toro lot through the GSA website with a combined winning bid of $650 million (USD). The initial redevelopment plans for the former military base included 3,500 new homes, 28,000 square meters of retail and office space, a research and development corporate office complex, a set of university branch campuses, a 45-hole private golf course, and a massive public park (Lennar Homes of California, Inc. 2005).4 As part of these re-development efforts, a San Diego recycling company contracted by Lennar and a local NGO dismantled many of the installation’s 1,200 buildings and structures—trucking the doors, floors, windows and wood to nearby Northern Mexico as part of a transnational development project (Rowe 2006).

In 2007, I went to Orange County to conduct fieldwork and to document El Toro’s disassembly (see Gallery 2). Within months of my fieldwork, most of the buildings were unrecognizable, stripped, or gone.

Gallery 2. The disassembly of El Toro Marine Base. Photographs by author.

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In the following section of this essay, I shift my attention from documenting processes of physical disassembly to thinking about digital making and re-making. Specifically, I explore how the GSA property disposal website used to sell El Toro and similar properties might be used for teaching purposes despite its intended goal of serving private land developers. My claims are the following: (1) the GSA’s property disposal website provides unique and free Cold War content; (2) it functions like an authentic, albeit buggy, beta version of a digital archive documenting Cold War–era buildings and built environments. Therefore, (3) like the very properties the GSA website features, the website itself is open to “adaptive reuse” into a more properly functioning digital archive geared toward students and scholars of Cold War history.

Adapting the GSA’s Website

Thematically, the content within the GSA’s website connects to much of the recent scholarship in Cold War studies, including work on Cold War ruins, work on Cold War geographies, work on elite, off-limits, and technical spaces, work on Cold War domestic environments, and comparative work on “imperial debris.”5 The website makes visible the physical leftovers of abstract geopolitics. Given the content of the website, my discussion here is largely aimed at instructors working in history, anthropology, and allied fields who incorporate digital humanities training into their classrooms. My larger goal, however, is to use this particular case to also expand the idea of “adaptive reuse.” To put forth a working definition: adaptive reuse involves having students assess other people’s digital tools and then work on modifying those tools into scholarly works, resources, or products. The adaptive reuse proposed here can be carried out in three separate steps.

Step 1. The first step of any adaptive reuse project should likely be assessment. The assessment process can be structured as an in-class, group activity or as an individual assignment. Assessment involves asking students to think about the following: What content or services does the digital tool in question currently provide to, or perform for, its users? What features would need to be added, modified, or removed to make the digital tool in question recognizable and functional as an academic entity? In the case of the Real Property Utilization and Disposal Website, the website freely provides original content by inadvertently exhibiting some of the built spaces in which the everyday work of the Cold War happened—capturing the moment just before many of those spaces are sold, redeveloped, and possibly lost from the records. However, the designers of the GSA website organized its search features with property buyers and investors in mind, not students and scholars of Cold War history. In fact, the GSA’s website categorizes each property by its current zoning status and future possible uses (e.g. commercial, industrial, residential), not by its past uses, and certainly not by its potential academic value. Moreover, the Cold War–era properties are mixed together on the website with other surplus government real estate, like old lighthouses and post offices. There are currently no filters that allow users to view only the Cold War–era buildings and built environments. In addition, the GSA website does not currently archive its auctions. Visitors to the website can only view ongoing and upcoming auctions; they cannot access records for properties that were previously sold. These types of observations are what students might draw out during the assessment process. In this particular case, much of the content featured on the GSA’s website has obvious academic value but the design of the website makes that content difficult to use and share for academic purposes.

Step 2. The second step of this adaptive reuse project would be to have students work on adapting the digital tool in question. Depending on the technical proficiency of the students and equipment availability, students might produce mock-ups on paper, write proposals, create wireframes, or actually take up the challenge of adapting the tool for academic use. In the case of the Real Property Utilization and Disposal Website, the work required to turn the website into a functional digital archive geared toward students and scholars of Cold War history might include the following: cataloguing properties based on their past use instead of current zoning status; creating new search features predicated on scholarly terms and interests; building filters for the properties to prevent unrelated government real estate from being intermixed with the Cold War–era buildings and built environments; developing a means to archive the website’s content; developing a means to allow visitors to comment on properties or to create their own image and data galleries; making space for interpretive essays, discussion, or commentary; addressing the stewardship and preservation issues when it comes to digital content; or adding a bibliography that directly connects the website to recent scholarship in Cold War studies—to offer just a few examples.

Step 3. The third step of this particular adaptive reuse project would be to have students present their work and to reflect upon the creative challenges that are specific to adaptation. If the students produced mock-ups or proposals, they can still demonstrate technical proficiencies by addressing how those ideas might be implemented, and by discussing feasibility. If students actually took up the challenge of adapting the tool in question for academic use, the opportunity to present their adaptation(s)—be it one small component or a complete and working tool redesign—affords them the opportunity to explain their initial plans, to outline the work completed, and to generate observations about working in, through, and upon decisions and designs previously made by others. Students might also be asked to consider whether adaptive reuse has a politics to it when performed within the context of the digital humanities. Beyond the skill-building aspects of this type of assignment, might it too be an “art form with a cause” that has aesthetic, environmental, or economic stakes?


Because the purpose of the GSA’s property disposal website is to aid the US federal government in the process of auctioning off surplus properties, it is designed to suit the needs of potential property buyers. It therefore allows visitors to move through image galleries and obtain detailed property information. But the GSA website can also be re-envisioned as an incomplete digital archive, and rediscovered as a potential site for scholarly and pedagogical projects. As such, like the very properties the GSA website features, the website itself is open to adaptive reuse.

Adaptive reuse projects like the one proposed in this essay offer the potential to scaffold digital humanities training by adding new levels of challenge and practice. Given that many digital humanities projects being developed in the present day will age and thus require, over time, episodic retooling, “adaptive reuse” also has the potential to grow as a digital humanities concept from a level of practice, as described and proposed here, to a specialized area of design knowledge, skill, and expertise. Adapting other people’s digital tools can be a key part of the process of learning how to make one’s own. It might also become the very thing that helps sustain the digital humanities over time by mitigating obsolescence, conserving resources, and creating the possibility for new types of tool aesthetics, layerings, and politics.


Barboza, Tony. 2012. “Orange County’s Planned Great Park a Victim of Hard Times.” Los Angeles Times, October 27. Accessed November 1, 2012. latimes.com/news/local/la-me-great-park-20121027,0,6001604.story

Castillo, Greg. 2010. Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.  OCLC 351318481.

Chambless, Timothy M.  1998. “Pro-Defense, Pro-Growth, and Anti-Communism: Cold War Politics in the American West.” In The Cold War American West, edited by Kevin Fernlund. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. OCLC 39069512.

Coffey, Daniel P. 2004. “Adaptive Re-use.” Contract 46: 56-57. ISSN 1530-6224.

Farish, Matthew. 2010. The Contours of America’s Cold War. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. OCLC 617508692.

Gray, Chris H. 2003. “Posthuman Soldiers in Postmodern War.” Body & Society 9: 215-226. OCLC 438108206.

Hunter, Pam. 2007. “Saving Time and Money with Adaptive Re-use Projects.” Design Cost Data 51: 10, 13-14. http://www.dcd.com/insights/insights_jf_2007.html.

Kaiser, David. 2004. “The Postwar Suburbanization of American Physics.” American Quarterly 56: 851-888. OCLC 608755840.

Komska, Yuliya. 2011. “Ruins of the Cold War.” New German Critique 38: 155-180. OCLC 701896732.

Krasner, Leonard. 2002. Internet for Activists: A Hands-on Guide to Internet Tactics Field-tested in the Fight Against Building El Toro Airport. San Jose, CA: Writers Club Press. OCLC 53891514.

Lennar Homes of California, Inc. 2005. “Lennar and LNR Place Winning $650 Million Bid for All Four Parcels of El Toro Marine Base, California.” News Release, February 17.

Lockwood, David E. and George Siehl. 2004. Military Base Closures: A Historical Review from 1988 to 1995. Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.

Masco, Joseph. 2006. Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. OCLC 61151373.

———. 2008. “‘Survival is Your Business’: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America.” Cultural Anthropology 23: 361-398. OCLC 438095863.

O’Mara, Margaret Pugh. 2006. “Uncovering the City in the Suburb: Cold War Politics, Scientific Elites, and High-Tech Spaces.” In The New Suburban History, edited by Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. OCLC 62090790.

Rowe, Jeff. 2006. “Habitat for Humanity Salvaging Building Materials at El Toro.” Orange County Register, August 10. http://www.ocregister.com/news/old-36671-habitat-buildings.html.

Shipley, Robert, Steve Utz, and Michael Parsons. 2006. “Does Adaptive Reuse Pay? A Study of the Business of Building Renovation in Ontario, Canada.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 12: 505-520. OCLC 366072723.

Stoler, Ann Laura. 2008. “Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruinations.” Cultural Anthropology 23: 191-219. OCLC 438095852.



About the Author

Brian Beaton is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Information Sciences. His research and teaching interests include science and technology studies (STS), archives, social and cultural theory, information workplaces, design, public and applied history, scholarly communication, digital humanities, and public policy.



  1. For an overview of the interest in computer-mediated warfare among U.S. policymakers that covers key development in the 1990s see Chris Hables Gray, “Posthuman Soldiers in Postmodern War,” Body & Society 9 (2003): 215-226.
  2. For more on changing views regarding defense-related property see David E. Lockwood and George Siehl, Military Base Closures: A Historical Review from 1988 to 1995 (Washington D.C.: Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2004).
  3. For an overview of the efforts to prevent El Toro from becoming a commercial airport see Leonard Krasner, Internet for Activists: A Hands-on Guide to Internet Tactics Field-tested in the Fight Against Building El Toro Airport (San Jose, CA: Writers Club Press, 2002).
  4. For a status update concerning the project see Tony Barboza, “Orange County’s Planned Great Park a Victim of Hard Times,” Los Angeles Times, October 27, 2012, accessed November 1, 2012. Accessed November 1, 2012. latimes.com/news/local/la-me-great-park-20121027,0,6001604.story.
  5. For recent work on Cold War ruins see Joseph Masco, “‘Survival is Your Business’: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America,” Cultural Anthropology 23 (2008): 361-398; Yuliya Komska, “Ruins of the Cold War,” New German Critique 38 (2011): 155-180. For recent work on Cold War geographies see Matthew Farish, The Contours of the Cold War (Minneapolis, MN: 2010). On elite and technical spaces see David Kaiser, “The Postwar Suburbanization of American Physics,” American Quarterly 56 (2004): 851-888; Joseph Masco, Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Margaret Pugh O’Mara, “Uncovering the City in the Suburb: Cold War Politics, Scientific Elites, and High-Tech Spaces,” in The New Suburban History, eds. Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 57-79. On domestic environments see Greg Castillo, Cold War on the Home Front: The Soft Power of Midcentury Design (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2010); For a discussion of “imperial debris” see Ann Laura Stoler, “Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruinations,” Cultural Anthropology 23 (2008): 191-219.

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