Another Digital Project – History of Children

Our class might be over, but I’ve really enjoyed the possibilities of creating digital projects to aid researchers in history. Recently, I’ve been trying to do some research that deals with the history of children and childhood. Unfortunately, I’ve found it difficult to find very many sources on this subject, but those that I have found I’ve compiled. Rather than just keeping it all in my own records, I thought, why don’t we keep more of our sources that we find in some online directory to help others who may have the same interests? Well, I already have my dreamhost account, and it’s only another $10 to register another site, so I went ahead and registered a new website on the History of Children and Childhood.


I don’t know if anyone from my original digital history course will come back to this website, but I’d be interested in any feedback anyone might have on this new project of mine. So, if you have a moment, check out and let me know what you think.


Dennis Final Project Statement

The goals of my project are pretty straightforward and were outlined in my project proposal. First, is meant to be a tool in helping history grad students study for their comprehensive exams. This meant providing exactly those items that every grad student is constantly searching for: book lists and sample comp questions. Beyond simply providing these items, however, I wanted to open a cross-departmental dialogue to graduate students where they could provide their own answers to comp questions or their own book reviews, such that students across the country could learn from each other.

In creating this website, I definitely used a lot of the advice Trevor gave to make it a little easier on the eyes. I went ahead and stuck with a white background, such that comments could be more easily read. I simplified the drop-down menus, getting rid of the “complete list of books” drop-down. I actually didn’t realize I could make the homepage a static page until he explained it and I had to learn a little more about how WordPress works. I also just recently registered for the H-Grad list and am currently looking through its archives to see if I can find what grad students have written about comps in the past. I’ve been having trouble accessing the actual archive lists for some reason, but I’m not going to give up. I’m also going to create a new list on H-Grad to ask for other grad students to send me whatever comp questions, book lists they may have in other subjects (outside of US History). I’d like to have most of these sections completed with at least some book lists, comp questions, etc, before sending out invitations to grad departments and their students across the country. In other words, when other visit, I want them to actually have stuff on their that will be of use to them. Basically, there’s a lot more I hope to do with this website.

That said, I learned very quickly that this project is far more involved and time-consuming than I had previously assumed. I initially decided to limit my work to American history, though I had to limit my focus even more so that I could complete the sections on early American (pre-Civil War) history. Creating individual pages for every single book and comp question takes time. Plus, before spending this kind of time on projects, I realized how important it is to first solidify ideas regarding the site’s appearance, operation, etc. Every time I thought of something that would be better (in terms of efficiency in the site), I would have to go back through every page that I wanted to change. I probably should have listened more to Dan Brown’s suggestions in Communicating Design, though I must admit I was just a little too eager to get moving with the project to take the time necessary in planning.

Also, while my site allows for students to post their own book reviews and sample comp essays in the comments sections, it would be nice to enable the site such that students could log in and post their own .pdf files, add their own book titles, and post comp questions from their own schools. In this way, it might have been beneficial for me to have created this site using a wiki-type platform, like those we discussed in class (i.e. PBWorks). Of course, making it more open source also provides additional challenges, even if there are advantages (see also Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past).

As I continued working on the site in the last two or three weeks, I thought about other things I might add. I went ahead and added a list of links that might be beneficial for history grad students, since those studying for comp exams are often in their first couple years of grad school and could use these types of resources. I considered creating a Google Custom Search Engine which filtered through the web looking specifically for other comprehensive exam tools, though I figured that the whole point of my site was to try and create a one-stop shop for these types of tools.

Ultimately, I’m pleased with this project up to this point, and I hope you are too!

Let me know if you have any other suggestions or what you think about my project as a whole.

Digital Project Draft: Comps are Coming!

Do a quick search on Google for “history comp exam study guide” and what comes up? Well, as of March 23, 2011, the second website listed is That’s right, is up and running, and who needs GoogleAds to market your website when you’re already one of the top results?

So here’s my roadmap: after a month of work, book lists and sample comp exam questions for various subfields under US History I (Colonial to Civil War) are posted. These are the main two offerings on the site (book lists and comp questions) and, when completed, will include various historical topics, including US History II, Latin American History, Late Medieval and Early Modern European History, Modern European History, Eastern European and Russian History, History of the Middle East and North Africa, History of East and Central Asia, US Diplomatic History, Environmental History, and History of Medicine. When writing the proposal for this project, I explained that my focus would be on American history while leaving the opportunity for expansion into other fields as the website gains success. However, by posting these possible fields now and allowing students and academics to email their own books lists and comp questions from those subjects of their own interests, expansion may happen sooner than originally intended. Even without help from others, it takes between one and two months to find and post book lists and comp questions for each field, such that an all-encompassing website that includes every historical field should be completed within a year. Either way, a complete draft of my project is available under the US History I section. In proceeding with the other sections, I will essentially mirror the work I have done on this first section.

As a draft, now provides book lists divided by nine subfields of early American history such that students can search through a topic like Women and Gender. Once clicking on one of the books (like this one), the student is taken to a page dedicated to that book which shows a picture of the book cover, a link to purchase the book on (I will later include a link to Alibris as well), and a button to search for scholarly book reviews of that particular work on JSTOR. The page also includes directions on how the student might write their own review which they can post in the comments section of that book’s webpage. I chose to use the Disqus plugin for comments as it allows students to post while logged in to Disqus, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, or OpenID.  Disqus also allows visitors to click on whether they “like” posted reviews, which gives others a better idea of those reviews which are most helpful. The section on Sample Comp Questions is similar in its providing questions within each subfield and a dedicated webpage for each individual question allowing students to post their own practice essays in the comments sections at the bottom of those pages (like my own essay posted on this page). I also encourage students to email their practice essays if they’d prefer, such that a .pdf file can be uploaded to the page rather than in the comments section.

In the end, this website is meant to serve as a study guide for history graduate students across the nation, and it is up to their participation for it to succeed. Once I have completed enough of the website, an email will be sent to administrators in history departments across the country for them to forward an announcement regarding the online History Comprehensive Exam Study Guide.

Project Proposal: History (Comps) in the Digital Age

“Hey John, we’re all getting together to study for our comprehensive exams every Saturday evening for the next two months. Can you make it?” This question may be the ultimate blessing to any graduate student. Unfortunately, John’s worries about his exams are not alleviated. “I can’t,” John responds. “I work every Saturday night. Is there any other time we can get together?” The study group has already been formed, and no one is willing to budge on the day or time. “Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Mary says with a smile on her face. “Why don’t we just post our practice papers and notes online so John, and anyone else who can’t make it, can still be a part of the group.”

Comprehensive Exams (hereafter often referred to as “comps”) for history graduate students can be a daunting experience. It’s a pass or fail situation, and failure can alter your life’s plans in significant ways. Professors and universities understand how intimidating comps can be, and often provide packets of study materials to aid their students. They also encourage students to form study groups so they can learn from each other and organize their thoughts. While this can be an important tool in aiding comp study, not all students have the schedules that enable in-person discussion. In the digital age in which we live, there is no reason why these study groups cannot be formed online. In addition, creating a website that allows students from different universities to share their own notes, book reviews, and practice essays may help to create an immediate cross-departmental cohort of future historians. While it could be argued that historiography (the subject of comprehensive exams) is generally taught the same throughout the nation, experience has shown that university history departments across the nation place emphasis on different ideas and schools of thought according to their own teaching models. By opening a cross-departmental dialogue to graduate students at the very beginning of their studies, (or a similarly titled website) will help in educating students beyond their universities’ walls.

Universities, like American University, currently offer classes that help students as they study for comprehensive exams. In the Colloquium classes at AU, students are given a list of historiographically significant books within different subfields. Of these lists, which often include twenty to thirty works per week, students are assigned three to five works to read and write reviews on throughout the semester. This ensures that each week five or six students present their own book reviews to the entire class. While these reviews give students some understanding of the historiography of that particular field, many books are left unread and are never discussed in class. If the class were expanded to include students across the nation, the chances of finding book reviews of these previously “silenced” works increases. Thus, will allow students from colloquium class across the nation to post their own book reviews of works they’ve read, and read those reviews posted by other students.

The idea of online study groups is nothing new. Various websites offer students the ability to create their own groups, including,, and Unfortunately, most of these websites cater to undergraduate studies, often focusing on specific classes. In regard to comprehensive exams, most universities (and sometimes individual professors) provide study guides to their students (i.e., WCU’s Guide). Sometimes sample and past questions are even given to help students write practice essays (like these questions from American University). While these tools are useful, especially the ability to write practice essays from previous comp exams, allowing students to share what they’ve written with each has many benefits. One obvious benefit beyond simply learning the historiography is the ability to read how others conceptualize the historiography.

In order to make this website valuable to history graduate students, a number of features need to be implemented. will provide a listing of important scholarly works divided by a historical subfield whereupon students will be able to click on those works directing them to a page that includes 1) a link to scholarly book reviews on JSTOR and 2) a link to graduate student reviews that have been uploaded. Students will also be able to upload their own book reviews to share with others. One may wonder why student book reviews would have any value if students could go straight to scholarly reviews. Since graduate students typically write their reviews for classes that require explicit discussion of the historiography, these reviews play an important role in studying for comps. Of course, not every student review will have comparable value. Thus, students will be able to grade reviews they have read on a scale of 1 to 10 (from useless to useful) such that uploaded student reviews will be listed in order of usefulness.

In addition to book reviews, will also provide a list of sample comprehensive questions that students can answer in practice essays which they can later upload to the site. Students will be able to click on the individual questions which will direct them to individual pages designed for those questions. Each question’s page will include 1) a list of books (in alphabetical order) to consider when answering the question and 2) links to student-uploaded answers to those questions. The list of books will be obtained from the question’s subfield listed above. Students will be able to add books from their own university-suggested lists so that no important work will be left out. By sharing practice essays between history departments throughout the country, students will be able to view a wide variety of responses. Since different departments create their own questions to comp exams, students will also be able to post their own department sample questions. This will ensure that no single department’s focus is prioritized. It will also provide a wider variety of possible comp exam questions for students to consider in their studies.

Since this website depends on student participation, it will need to be marketed directly to university history departments. Once the website has been created (most likely using something like wordpress), department chairs will be notified by email so that they can forward the site’s address to their students. In addition, Google AdWords allows for specific marketing using key words (like “comprehensive exams”) so that students searching for help online can easily find Given the scope of this project, it will be started with a focus on American history comprehensive exams and, if successful, it can be expanded to include European history, Asian history, etc. The success of this project can easily be evaluated in time based on the number of uploads, including both student reviews and practice essays.

How Democratic Do We Really Want the Internet Anyway?

I posted my print project proposal last week, which I’m sure everyone read and enjoyed thoroughly. Anyway, as I think about the questions regarding whether the Internet has fostered elitist and institutional groups rather than egalitarian and democratic groups, I have to wonder: How democratic do we really want the Internet anyway?

In a democracy, the majority rules. Well, that means if people aren’t using a site anymore, like GeoCities, it’s just going to disappear. What if the people aren’t interested in historian-generated websites? Should we just give up and leave the Internet to those capitalist successes? We talked this week about planning a website and the need for developing an audience and trying to determine what people we want to gear our work toward. The problem is, we don’t want to filter important historical information just to make our websites more user-friendly for the general public, do we?

If historians are going to gear their digital offerings in the tradition way – directing information toward an academic audience – are we not destined ourselves to creating a solely elitist network of our own?

Of course, this all relates to another important question: Can a structure be both elitist and democratic at the same time? Perhaps this all relates to the type of republican-democracy we have in the United States today?

What do you think?