Goodbye, Ross

Ross ScaifeA couple of years ago I first heard from Ross Scaife in a lengthy and incredibly intelligent response to a post on this blog. A few months later I met him—and befriended him—at a digital humanities conference, and we have had spirited conversations about scholarship and digital media ever since.

Very sadly, I learned today on the Stoa Consortium blog (which Ross founded) that Ross had finally succumbed to cancer this week at the heartbreakingly young age of 47.

Like my friend and colleague Roy Rosenzweig, who passed away five months ago from cancer, Ross approached his series of painful treatments with a bravery and even nonchalance that is frankly unfathomable to me. Until fairly recently he was still sending me upbeat, hilarious notes via email, and talking about hunting and fishing on Facebook.

In the digital world it’s sometimes easy to lose track of the real humans on the other side of the network. That was never the case with Ross. His humanity, kindness, and enthusiasm was instantly apparent to everyone he spoke to online and off.

I’ll miss him greatly.

Conferences and Workshops News

Spring 2008 Rosenzweig Forum on Technology and the Humanities

[An announcement from Matt Kirschenbaum and our good friends at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities.]

This spring the Rosenzweig Forum on Technology and the Humanities is pleased to present:

Ken Price on “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?” Ken’s abstract:

What are the implications of the terms we use to describe large-scale text-based electronic scholarship, especially undertakings that share some of the ambitions and methods of the traditional multi-volume scholarly edition? What genre or genres are we now working in? And how do the conceptions inhering in these choices of language frame and perhaps limit what we attempt? How do terms such as edition, project, database, archive, and thematic research collection relate to the past, present, and future of textual studies? Drawing on a range of resources including the Walt Whitman Archive, I consider how current terms describing digital scholarship both clarify and obscure our collective enterprise. In addition, I’ll use the final term, thematic research collection, to discuss yet-to-be-developed parts of the Whitman Archive dealing with place-based cultural analysis and translation studies as a way to illustrate the expansive possibilities of this new model of scholarship.

Our speaker will be Professor Kenneth Price, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Price received his B.A. from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, and then earned both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. He is University Professor and Hillegass Chair of Nineteenth-Century American literature at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he also serves as co-director of the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities. Price is the author of over forty articles and author or editor of nine books. His most recent book is co-edited with Ed Folsom and with Susan Belasco, Leaves of Grass: The Sesquicentennial Essays (University of Nebraska Press, 2007). His other recent books include Re-Scripting Walt Whitman: An Introduction to His Life and Work , co-authored with Folsom (Blackwell Publishing, 2005) and To Walt Whitman, America (University of North Carolina Press 2004), a main selection of The Readers Subscription, a national book club.

Since 1995 Price has served as co-director of The Walt Whitman Archive an electronic research and teaching tool that sets out to make Whitman’s vast work, for the first time, easily and conveniently accessible to scholars, students, and general readers. The Whitman Archive has been awarded federal grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the U. S. Department of Education, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The Whitman Archive has received many honors, including the C. F. W. Coker award from the Society of American Archivists and a “We the People” grant from the NEH to build a permanent endowment to support ongoing editorial work.

We will meet on Tuesday, March 11 fom 4:00-6:30 PM in the McKeldin Special Events Room (6th floor, room 6137), McKeldin Library, on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. There will be an informal dinner downstairs in MITH after the forum, at a cost of $10 per person. Please RSVP to Matt Kirschenbaum (mgk[at]umd[dot]edu) by March 7, 2008 if you would like to have dinner (money will be collected at the door–please have cash).

Co-sponsored by the Center for History & New Media (CHNM) at George Mason, the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship (CNDLS) at Georgetown, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), the Rosenzweig Technology and Humanities Forum explores important issues in humanities computing and provide an opportunity for DC area scholars interested the uses of new technology in the humanities to meet and get acquainted.

McKeldin Library is located at the top of McKeldin Mall at the center of the University of Maryland, College Park campus. There is free shuttle service to campus from the College Park Metro station (Green line). Best parking for visitors is the lot next to Stamp Student Union, less than five minute walk to the Library.

Grants News

2007-2008 Digital Media and Learning Competition Winners Announced

The Digital Media and Learning Competition, administered by HASTAC and supported by the MacArthur Foundation, has announced the winning projects for 2007-2008. Projects include virtual worlds, social networking sites, fair use advocacy, gaming, and even homebrew science.

News Omeka

Introducing Omeka

Omeka logoToday the Center for History and New Media launches another major software platform that we hope will be of great help to universities, libraries, museums, historians, researchers, and anyone else who would like to put a collection or exhibit online. It’s called Omeka, from the Swahili word meaning “to display or layout goods or wares; to speak out; to spread out; to unpack.” The public beta released today was underwritten by the generosity of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

I’ll get to the details momentarily, but I’ve found that it’s often helpful to brashly distill years of careful thought, design, and programming into a handy catchphrase that anyone can understand and pass around. For Zotero, it’s “like iTunes for your references and research”; for Omeka, think “WordPress for your exhibits and collections.”

As with Zotero, Omeka grew organically out of a strong need that we identified at CHNM over the last decade, as we built a series of projects that presented, and in some cases collected, historical artifacts. Projects such as the September 11 Digital Archive and associated work with institutions such as the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress made us realize how much work—and how much money—it takes for institutions (and individuals) to mount high-quality and flexible exhibits online, and to manage the underlying collections.

Omeka aims to simplify this entire process, save valuable resources, and create a free and open platform that the museum and library community, and anyone else, can enrich to by developing themes and plugins. The 150 institutions already using Omeka as part of our pre-beta, ranging from the small (North Carolina’s The Light Factory and Cultural & Heritage MuseumsRiver Docs exhibit) to the large (the New York Public Library) have already responded to the ease-of-use and power of the platform.

River Docs Home Page
[River Docs exhibit, powered by Omeka]

Not only can Omeka provide a high-gloss front end for an exhibit, but it also provides an equally nice-looking and flexible back end that hews to critical standards (such as Dublin Core). Here’s a sneak peek:

Omeka Start Page
The Omeka start page.

Omeka Add Item Page
Adding items is a simple process, but collections conform to library and museum metadata standards, and you can also use tags.

The theme-switching process and plugin architecture at the heart of Omeka will be familiar to users who are accustomed to working with popular blogging software, but Omeka includes a number of features that are directed specifically at academic, museum, and library use. First, the system functions using an archive built on a rigorous metadata scheme, allowing it to be interoperable with existing content management systems and all other Omeka installations. Second, Omeka includes a process for building narrative exhibits with flexible layouts.

Omeka Layouts Page
The layout of your site can be changed with a single click.

These two features alone provide cultural institutions with the power to increase their web presence and to showcase the interpretive expertise of curators, archivists, and historians. But Omeka’s plugin architecture also allows users to do much more to extend their exhibits to include maps, timelines, and folksonomies, and it provides the APIs (application programming interfaces) that open-source developers and designers need to add additional functionality to suit their own institutions’ particular needs. In turn, a public plugins and themes directory will allow these community developers to donate their new tools back to the rest of Omeka users. The Omeka team is eager to build a large and robust community of open-source developers around this suite of technologies.

You can learn much more about Omeka on its website. Credit goes to the fantastic Omeka team: directors Tom Scheinfeldt and Sharon Leon; developer and manager Jeremy Boggs; manager Sheila Brennan; and developers Kris Kelly, Dave Lester, Jim Safley, and Jon Lesser.

News Podcasts

THAT Podcast Launches

THAT Podcast LogoJoining the growing network of CHNM podcasts (which includes Digital Campus, Tom Scheinfeldt‘s History Conversations, and occasional podcasts from our many online projects) is THAT Podcast: The Humanities and Technology Podcast. The podcast, available in both video and audio, is the brainchild of CHNM’s Creative Lead, Jeremy Boggs, and one of CHNM’s crack web developers, Dave Lester.

And what an incredible way to start the podcast: Jeremy and Dave interview Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress. Matt has a number of interesting observations about the role of blogs in academia and how to run a successful open source software project. Jeremy and Dave also demonstrate how to install their ScholarPress Courseware course management plugin, which can be used to set up a course website and blog.

News Open Access Open Source Zotero

Washington Post on Zotero, Open Academia

It was nice to see the Zotero project covered on the front page of the Washington Post yesterday in the article “Internet Access Is Only Prerequisite For More and More College Classes.” Also nice to see a quotation at the end of the article from yours truly about the movement in higher ed toward open tools and resources.

News Open Access Research Scholarship Zotero

Zotero and the Internet Archive Join Forces

IA LogoZotero LogoI’m pleased to announce a major alliance between the Zotero project at the Center for History and New Media and the Internet Archive. It’s really a match made in heaven—a project to provide free and open source software and services for scholars joining together with the leading open library. The vision and support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has made this possible, as they have made possible the major expansion of the Zotero project over the last year.

You will hear much more about this alliance in the coming months on this blog, but I wanted to outline five key elements of the project.

1. Exposing and Sharing the “Hidden Archive”

The Zotero-IA alliance will create a “Zotero Commons” into which scholarly materials can be added simply via the Zotero client. Almost every scholar and researcher has documents that they have scanned (some of which are in the public domain), finding aids they have created, or bibliographies on topics of interest. Currently there is no easy way to share these; giving them a central home at the Internet Archive will archive them permanently (before they are lost on personal hard drives) and make them broadly available to others.

We understand that not everyone will be willing to share everything (some may not be willing to share anything, even though almost every university commencement reminds graduates that they are joining a “community of scholars”), but we believe that the Commons will provide a good place for shareable materials to reside. The architectural historian with hundreds of photographs of buildings, the researcher who has scanned in old newspapers, and scholars who wish to publish materials in an open access environment will find this a helpful addition to Zotero and the Internet Archive. Some researchers may of course deposit materials only after finishing, say, a book project; what I have called “secondary scholarly materials” (e.g., bibliographies) will perhaps be more readily shared.

But we hope the second part of the project will further entice scholars to contribute important research materials to the Commons.

2. Searching the Personal Library

Most scholars have not yet figured out how to take full advantage of the digitized riches suddenly available on their computers. Indeed, the abundance of digital documents has actually exacerbated the problems of some researchers, who now find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of available material. Moreover, the major advantage of digital research—the ability to scan large masses of text quickly—is often unavailable to scholars who have done their own scanning or copying of texts.

A critical second part to this alliance of IA and Zotero is to bring robust and seamless Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to the vast majority of scholars who lack the means or do not know how to convert their scans into searchable text. In addition, this process will let others search through such newly digitized texts. After a submission to the Commons, the Internet Archive will subsequently return an OCRed version of each donated document to enable searchability. This text will be incorporated into the donor’s local index (on the Zotero client) and thus made searchable in Zotero’s powerful quick search and advanced search panes. In short, this process will provide a tremendous incentive for scholars to donate to the Commons, since it will help them with their own research.

3. Enabling Networked References and Annotations

One of the pillars of scholarship is the ability for distributed scholars to be sure they are referencing the same text or evidence. As noted in #1, one of the great advantages of the Zotero Commons at IA will be the transport of scholarly materials currently residing on personal hard drives to a public space with stable, rather than local, addresses. These addresses will become critical as scholars begin to use, refer to, and cite items in the Commons.

Yet the IA/Zotero partnership has another benefit: as scholars begin to use not only traditional primary sources that have been digitized but also “born digital” materials on the web (blogs, online essays, documents transcribed into HTML), the possibility arises for Zotero users to leverage the resources of IA to ensure a more reliable form of scholarly communication. One of the Internet Archive’s great strengths is that it has not only archived the web but also given each page a permanent URI that includes a time and date stamp in addition to the URL.

Currently when a scholar using Zotero wishes to save a web page for their research they simply store a local copy. For some, perhaps many, purposes this is fine. But for web documents that a scholar believes will be important to share, cite, or collaboratively annotate (e.g., among a group of coauthors of an article or book) we will provide a second option in the Zotero web save function to grab a permanent copy and URI from IA’s web archive. A scholar who shares this item in their library can then be sure that all others who choose to use it will be referring to the exact same document.

Moreover, unlike most research software the sophisticated annotation tools built into Zotero—the ability to highlight passages, add virtual Post-It notes, as well as regular notes on the overall document—maintain these annotations separately from the underlying document. This presents the exciting possibility for collaborative scholarly annotation of web pages.

4. Simplifying Collaborative Sharing

Groups of scholars also have the need to create more private “commons,” e.g., for documents that they would like to share in a limited way. In addition to the fully open Zotero Commons we will establish a mechanism for such restricted sharing. Via the Zotero Server, a user will be able to create a special collection with a distinct icon that shows up in the client interface (left column) for every member of the group.

Files added to these collections will be stored on the Internet Archive but will have restricted access. We believe that having these files reside on the IA server will encourage the donation of documents at the end of a collaborative project. The administrator of a shared collection will be able to move its contents into the fully open Zotero Commons via a single click in the administrative interface on the Zotero Server.

5. Facilitating Scholarly Discovery

The multiple libraries of content created by Zotero users and the multi-petabyte digital collections of the Internet Archive are resources that can potentially be of great use to the scholarly community. We believe that neither has experienced the level of exploration and usage we believe is possible through further development and collaboration.

The combined digital collections present opportunities for scholars to find primary research materials, to discover one another’s work, to identify materials that are already available in digital form and therefore do not need to be located and scanned, to find other scholars with similar interests and to share their own insights broadly. We plan to leverage the combined strengths of the Zotero project and the Internet Archive to work on better discovery tools.


Moving Forward

[Reposted from the Center for History and New Media’s news page.]

Roy Rosenzweig co-founded the Center for History and New Media in 1994 and directed the Center until he passed away last month. In the early years, the Center was just Roy and a few others, but in the last seven years the number of projects, size of the staff, and overall ambition of the Center has grown exponentially. Presently there are over forty people working full or part time at CHNM on over two dozen active projects, from landmark history education projects like History Matters and the new National History Education Clearinghouse, important collections like the September 11 Digital Archive, and innovative software such as Zotero and Omeka.

Although we always joked that Roy could do the work of many people, among his many legacies was his realization that CHNM was built not on servers and software but on people and their passion for history and digital technology, and that despite his boundless energy he could not do it all. Over the past five years Roy assembled a senior staff with decades of combined experience in the construction of new media, and hired what we like to think is one of the most talented groups of web designers, programmers, and researchers in academia.

Today, that team has assumed the reins of the Center and, although in mourning, continues without missing a beat to work on some of the most exciting and important projects in the digital realm. Dan Cohen, who has worked closely with Roy since 2001 and who co-authored with him Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, has become the new director of CHNM. Other key members of the senior staff remain in place and firmly committed to the Center, including Tom Scheinfeldt (Managing Director), Kelly Schrum (Director of Education Projects), Sharon Leon (Director of Public Projects), Sean Takats (Acting Director of Research Projects), Connie Sehat (Digital Historian), and Mike O’Malley, Paula Petrik, and Mills Kelly (Associate Directors).

At every stage in the growth of CHNM, Roy liked to say that “we are just getting started.” And thanks to Roy, we will continue “getting started” for many years to come.


Details of Roy Rosenzweig Celebration

Celebration of Roy


Remembering Roy on the Web

For those who haven’t heard yet, the Center for History and New Media has set up a Roy Rosenzweig memorial site at You can add your memories, stories, and images to a fast-growing collection that Roy would have loved. There are already many funny and touching contributions.

For those who didn’t know Roy, you can read obits and appreciations in the George Mason University Gazette, the Washington Post, the American Historical Association blog, the Chronicle of Higher Education, geek blog Boing Boing, and the blogs of Matt Kirschenbaum and Peter Suber, among many others.