Projects

Ongoing Research

The Unnatural History of Natural Food

This project maps out the shifting contours of the idea of “natural food” in the United States beginning around the early nineteenth-century as religious and health reformers responded to the emergence of new convenience and packaged foods. Perhaps because the term “natural” has become so ubiquitous, its long, complex, and enlightening history has been overlooked, yet it provides a revealing lens onto popular relationships between nature, technology, and modernity. Even amidst massive cultural change over the last century, the way appeals to natural food have been formulated, contested, and appropriated provides much needed perspective on contemporary (but often ahistorical and reductive) debates about the meaning and implications of natural food, its place in our food system, and ways it continues to shape food production and consumption.

Public Digital History Infrastructure

For reasons unknown, I’ve started in my classes to do more digital public history projects rather than standard essays and other assignments. I like building things and working with students to do that rather than just submitting work for grades. Students indicate that they enjoy it, work harder, and learn more. Each class makes new contributions, and over time that work adds up to digital history projects that would be nearly impossible to do otherwise.

While there seems to be a rapidly increasing number of student-driven digital history projects (and not only in digital history courses). But there also seems to be a fair amount of reinventing the wheel within each project. Some is necessary for many reasons, but it also seems useful to have a more centralized place for explaining a strategy for planning and executing these kinds of projects, both from technical and logistical standpoints.

With an emphasis on simplicity, sustainability, and thorough documentation, this project seeks to develop and maintain a jumping off point for public digital history projects with GitHub and GitHub Pages. You can check out the latest version of Jekylton in my repository and use it as a template for a new project.

A brief set of slides provides more detail.

Minor / Certificate in Digital Heritage Studies

Over the last year (with my colleague Taylor Spence) I have been working to formalize a new undergraduate minor and graduate certificate in Digital Heritage Studies at UNM. This program capitalizes on UNM’s position at the crossroads of both regional and international cultures, and offers undergraduates and graduates the opportunity to create a powerful synergy between their chosen major or research interests, the cultural diversity of the Southwest, core tenets of the humanities, and public digital humanities.

To promote digital research and publishing skills more broadly, faculty and students will collectively maintain a Digital Heritage Lab, which will offer training for students in the conception, implementation, and maintenance of regional digital humanities projects, as well as integrate the certificate program to cultural heritage partners around the region.

The DHS grew out of a Spatial Humanities Working Group, which helped build connections across disciplinary boundaries by providing an informal setting in which students and faculty across the university can meet to discuss theoretical, conceptual, and methodological questions regarding space and human societies.

National Park Service / Historic Trails Collaboration

Working with the National Trails - Intermountain Region (NTIR) Office, and then-graduate student Guy McClellan, I organized an multidisciplinary research practicum course that provides an introduction to the study, interpretation, and significance of the National Historic Trails System, as well as engages students as core contributors to ongoing research projects at the NTIR office. As preparation for research projects, students read about trail historiography, overland migration, gender dynamics on the trail, interactions with native communities, international commerce, and borderlands. The strong public history facet of the course encourages students to grapple with key questions about historic trails and national memory: How does a historic trail retain cultural significance? What are the challenges and strategies in communicating about the trails to a 21st-century audience?

Previous Digital Engagements

Programming Historian

Programming Historian offers novice-friendly, peer-reviewed tutorials that help humanists learn a wide range of digital tools, techniques, and workflows to facilitate their research. As a general editor from early 2012 to mid 2017, I carefully edited and guided over a half-dozen lessons through the publication process. More importantly, I have focused my efforts on developing and documenting a transparent and sustainable editorial process anchored with free, open source tools and a commitment to open access.

Histories of the Future

This project was an experiment to see if a small academic workshop (on speculative futures in the history of science) could produce and make available a collection of scholarly work in an open access web format that would remain more visible an active than the results (and papers) from a typical academic workshop. Our work lives on at histscifi.com.

Metadata Improvement VIA Mapping (MIVIAM)

This project developed a prototype (funded by the Mellon Foundation) to ease the process of mapping historical data and clean up (inevitably) messy data in the process. MIVIAM’s rich user interface allows users to map specific sets of data—about which they have expertise—and thus can easily recognize and correct problems with metadata, thus improving their own maps and making the data more useful for everyone else at the same time.

Reframing the Victorians

With funding from one of the twelve Google Digital Humanities Grants, Dan Cohen and I explored the massive corpus of Victorian literature held at Google Books in order to reevaluate and complicate the stereotypical characterizations of the Victorians based on anecdotal sampling of the traditional literary canon.

Digging Into Data: Criminal Intent

With one of the earliest “Digging Into Data” grants from the Digital Humanities Office at NEH, the Criminal Intent project demonstrates the potential roles for text mining in historical practice, showing that greater historical rigor can be achieved, and new insights gained, by moving from a single trial or narrow run of relevant examples to an analysis of statistically significant textual patterns found in Proceedings of the Old Bailey, London’s central criminal court over a period of 240 years, as a single, massive whole. In addition to the Old Bailey Proceedings, our work builds on the successes of Zotero virtual collections, TAPoR and Voyeur analytics.

ScholarPress

Most online education tools remain far too closed, proprietary, and complex for most of the essential tasks that scholars need to do on a daily basis. Scholarpress created a suite of focused plug-ins for the ubiquitous blogging platform WordPress to help humanities teachers and researchers create syllabi, course websites, and display bibliographies.

Zotero

My work centered on citation formatting, an effort fundamentally about abstracting and standardizing non-standardized data and theories about data, both of which greatly enhanced my knowledge of bibliographic metadata and standards and reflection on what I call the metaphysics of metadata–how our taxonomies and categories have important implications for access to information and research questions.