Monthly Archives: August 2014

Digital Assignments

I’ve been writing syllabi over the last couple weeks, and while we’ve been learning about various digital tools I’ve been trying to figure out how to incorporate them into my courses.

This serves (at least) two functions.  1, the further the traditional goals of taught history – to critically read primary sources, to put information together in meaningful ways, etc. – the standard list.  2, to get my students to use computers.  The MS Delta is still, in 2014, an internet desert, and large numbers of my students do not have internet at home.  This poses problems.  They can, of course, use the computer labs on campus (when they are working, and open…).  Long story short, many are not as comfortable using technology as they might be.  Maybe should be in the 21st century…

One idea that would be easy to incorporate would be to have my students in my European History course each create a WP blog.  I have often asked students to write journals in which their assignment is to pick out and follow the story of one nation or area.  As the class as a whole works its way through the history of Europe, they each pay special attention to one area – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, etc.  By doing this online, and by linking the students’ blogs to a common page, they could benefit from each other.  The most obvious is that each will have access to these mini-histories.  As (more?) importantly, they can see each others’ work, and that, to my mind, is what makes digital history different: the ability to replicate and distribute “information” quickly and cheaply.

I would have/help the students sign up for WP blogs, and they would have the blanket assignment to summarize/outline the happenings in their country.  I would probably have them do this individually – it won’t be a big class.  Some weeks their might be little to do: the student who has Russia won’t be busy during the week we study the French Revolution; on the other hand, the French student will have less when we study the Communist Revolution/s.

This assignment has a number of benefits: no journal to lose/hand in and back; the ability to critique and comment on others’ work; most importantly, the ability to learn from each other.  It exercises both their reading and writing skills: the ability to pick out the pertinent information and then summarize it in a clear manner.

There’s no need to justify this assignment – our department is journal crazy.  I’m kind of hoping that if this works – and I see no reason it should not – they will come to me asking how they can get online.  We’ll see…

Distant Reading

Today we learned about distant reading.  Well, we’d learned about it before – but today we learned a lot more.  I’ve been thinking about how I use this potentially powerful tool.  In the project I proposed – to follow the movements of Delta sharecroppers – I’m not sure how to employ this technique.  That’s not to say that tomorrow won’t bring some new insight.

But I can see this as useful in some of my other research.  One of the projects mentioned last week was about using deep reading/data mining to examine when “World War I” replaced “the Great War” in newspaper writing.  I write about milk, and I am interested in the ways people have defined and regulated dairy products.  It might be useful to look at things like “certified milk” and “pasteurized milk” and, for that matter, “grade A milk” to see when those phrases entered our lexicon.  Just a thought.  This all really hasn’t had time to settle in yet, and I’m a person who needs to cogitate.


Update – decided I was here to work with this stuff, so I did.  Here’s one thing I found:

I knew about the growth of both certified and pasteurized milk circa 1900.  I didn’t realize that (writing about) certified milk dropped off that sharply that much sooner.  Hmm…


Since I now have this page and need to add some content, let’s talk guitars.  Specifically, let’s talk Telecasters.  I’ve played guitar on and off for better than 25 years now, and I keep coming back to Leo Fender’s first design, the Fender Telecaster.  I’ve owned several over the years, and currently own two.  If you have to ask “why two similar guitars?” you obviously are not a guitar player…

For those of you unfamiliar with guitars, here’s an early example:


They still make them, and not all that much different.  You can see it’s pretty simple: two pickups (one under that chrome cover on the left), a volume know, a tone knob, and a switch to select between the pickups.  Done.  The neck is a separate piece of wood, bolted on to the body.  If it breaks, swap it out.  Easy to make, easy to fix – just a good design.  You can buy fancier guitars, with nicer woods and more knobs and various bells and whistles, but this has everything you need.  In fact, more than you need: Fender also offered a budget priced, single-pickup version called the Esquire – and if you have one sitting around offending your senses I’d be happy to give it a new home.

Now that we know what they are, I’ll talk about what they do – and why I think they haven’t been bettered – in the next few days.  You know, ‘cuz I need to practice my blogging skillz.


Welcome to my (web) world.  Like me, it’s unfinished, incomplete, lacking – pick your adjective.  Hopefully it’s improved the next time you see it.

Thoughts on making/using video for class

I’ll admit it – the longer I teach the more I like using videos – and it’s not about being lazy.  It’s the fact that videos can do things that are either difficult or impossible to do in class.  The only problem is finding something suitable – either what I find is too long, too short, or I can’t find what I want at all.  Given the tools we learned today, that’s no longer an excuse.  I can, pretty easily, make what I want – apparently with a minimum of fuss and effort.  Or lots of fuss and effort…