Final Project: Creatures of Comfort

My final project is titled “Creatures of Comfort: A Historical Interpretation of Domestic Animals in Victorian Art.” The path to this final iteration of the project was a long and winding one–along the way I entertained several different possibilities of how it might look, or what its ultimate focus might be. For example, one of ArcGIS StoryMaps’ most interesting features is the ability to create interactive maps that pertain to the project’s narrative, and I was quite tied to the idea of using it. However, after establishing the core of my research I realized the map feature would be all but useless for my particular approach. Ultimately, it became clear that alongside an abbreviated timeline, the focus of “Creatures of Comfort” would be the profoundly impressive works of art from the Victorian era (accompanied by relevant scholarship, of course). StoryMaps turned out to be the perfect platform for seeing this vision out.

Due to the relatively narrow scope of the project, I was only able to focus on the Victorian era’s most preeminent animal painters, including (in no particular order): Briton Rivière, Edwin Landseer, Charles Burton Barber, Henry Gillard Glindoni, William Daniels, and John E. Ferneley. These artists’ works revealed a few important things about Victorian society and its relationship with domestic animals. First, heavy sentimentality evident within most of the pieces points to Victorians’ increasingly emotional bonds with household pets as the practice became more common. Additionally, the types of pieces that featured domestic animals prominently were almost always representations of lifestyles of (or created specifically for) wealthy, upper-class Victorians–including the Queen herself. And finally, in the most broad sense, Victorian artists’ newfound obsession with creating artistic depictions of animals generated excellent examples of the near-impossibility of capturing them without using an overtly anthropomorphic lens.

Whether or not this project is useful or relevant to anyone outside of our classroom, the process of creating it has been a great exercise in thinking for a more general audience. Although I found myself unable to resist the urge to include actual footnotes, I did enjoy having the option to develop a visually interesting, digital media-centric presentation (that in no way resembles a traditional academic research paper!). And, similarly, this class as a whole has served as a wonderful introduction to the expansive and ever-complex field of digital history.

My project link is included below–do let me know your thoughts! ☺︎

Notes on “Scholarly Communications in the History Discipline,” by Griffiths, Dawson, & Rascoff

Executive Summary

This article is a report commissioned by JSTOR in 2006 which illuminates the “resources and processes” employed by historians. The report’s research was obtained from interviews with senior and junior faculty and graduate students from a range of schools.

Overarching themes of the report are laid out in this section. First, the interviews revealed that books–historical monographs–continue to be the “preeminent form of scholarly communications in history” and faculty are hard-pressed to obtain a tenured position without publishing at least one. Second, interviewees related that they felt history was comparatively slow to transferring the field over to digital. And third, the report emphasizes historians’ dedication to understanding the historiography of a particular topic, which in turn creates a more extensive and “wider-ranging” research process compared to other disciplines (Griffiths, Dawson, & Rascoff, 3).

Introduction and Methodology

Study Objectives

  • Develop a general understanding of the tools and processes historians use in their research
  • Understand the role that journals and other types of resources play in the field of history (4)

Study Participant Backgrounds

  • 8 people from Ivy League Institutions
  • 9 people from non-Ivy League Institutions
  • 1 person from Cambridge
  • 4 Librarians
  • 3 History Museum Staff Members
  • Mostly Scholars of American/European History

Overview of Resources Used in History: Past, Present, and Future


As stated above, monographs were still considered the most important mode of publishing research for historians in 2006. The report observed no signs of this trend shifting in the near future, though there are arguments against the continued prioritization of the monograph. These arguments include: teaching should be emphasized over research; monographs are less accessible online as opposed to journal articles; and monograph publishing has become increasingly difficult following the decline of university presses and below-average book sales.


Since 1975, the number of history journals in existence by 2006 had “more than doubled” (6). These journals contain articles and book reviews. The former, although considered less useful to scholars’ careers, were thought to be more accessible for researchers and thus, more frequently in use. The latter, book reviews, also serve a particular purpose within journals: writing them is a “prestigious” opportunity, and also provide a bite-sized summary of books that scholars use to stay up to date on their field (7).

Peer review is another topic of focus in this section. Expectedly, this study found that interviewees and historians generally find this process to be one of great importance in their field. The peer review subsection breaks down some of the intricacies of the process and the importance of the practice to historians’ careers.

Conference Proceedings and Multi-Author Volumes

The report states that interviewees saw multi-author volumes as a relatively new format. They vary in size and quality and typically were not available online.

Abstracting Services

Abstracting services were reported as an incredibly important tool of research by interviewees. America: History and Life, Historical Abstracts, and the History of Science were a few of the services noted by study participants.

Primary Materials

The stark lack of digitized primary source material is noted in this subsection. Interestingly, when this study was conducted, scholars reported having not used digitized source material because “doing so would not be perceived as real research” (9).


All historians interviewed in this study reported having used “some component” of H-Net, whether to engage in dialogue with other historians or to ask general questions (10).

Transition from Print to Electronic

According to this subsection, by 2006 the sciences and social sciences were well beyond history in their adoption of digital resources. Historians at the time were not clamoring to integrate historical work into the digital space; thus, at the time there were few journals which were entirely available online.

The report cited the lack of electronic scholarship largely as an issue of academia’s recognition of its value. “Very few books are available electronically,” they write, “and many scholars are still skeptical about the quality of e-books, which are thought to be books that were not good enough to be published in print” (11). While electronic journals and other digital history resources were beginning to pop up around this time, there were still significant concerns surrounding revenues and respectability.

How Historians Do Research

In a conclusion of sorts, the report states that historians at the time were far less likely to use digital resources than scholars within other disciplines. Moreover, there was not much of a desire to break down institutional paywalls in the interest of open access journals/other scholarly materials. The African Studies Association’s panel on open access, as well as public historians generally, are noted as having been ahead of the curve in terms of dialogue about accessibility.

Discussion Questions

  1. Considering that this report was written in 2006, in what ways has the field changed in its relationship toward the Internet?
  2. Are there any particular ways you think the field hasn’t changed since this report was published?

Notes on “The Ivory Tower and the Open Web: Introduction,” by Dan Cohen

Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight

This week we’ll be taking a look at the introduction of Dan Cohen’s book, The Ivory Tower and the Open Web, published July 26, 2011, on his website. Cohen begins the introduction (aptly titled, “Burritos, Browsers, and Books”) with a disclaimer, explaining that the book will analyze academia’s rejection of “modes and genres” of the Internet and, furthermore, how these might actually present profound opportunities for growth and change within the academy.

The introduction is narrative-driven, describing the story of statistician Nate Silver as he set out to document his neighborhood’s Mexican restaurants on the web. What began as a humble blog documenting and rating his culinary findings snowballed into a gradual comfortability with blogging and web page creation.

Unable to cultivate much public interest in his restaurant blog, Silver turned to politics. He enlisted his statistical skills to create (“a reference to the total number of electors in the United States electoral college,” Cohen writes), which analyzed polls for the upcoming 2008 election. These “clear-eyed, well-written, statistically rigorous posts began to be passed from browsers to BlackBerries, from bloggers to political junkies to Beltway insiders,” according to Cohen.

He argues that mainstream media’s reactions to Silver’s website demonstrated common misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding blogs as a means of communication. Contrasting against a waterfall of quotes questioning the trustworthiness and even safety of the format, he posits that blogs are not just a “locus of ‘information,'” but they are also one of knowledge.

Silver eventually found himself connected with the editor of the New York Times Magazine, and, later, FiveThirtyEight situated itself under the NYT Umbrella. Cohen emphasizes that this might not have been possible had Silver not had complete, unadulterated access to the web.

Academia and the Internet

Cohen lays out some “lessons” which can be gleaned from the success story of Nate Silver. They are as follows:

  1. Do-It-Yourself
    • With a lack of oversight or micromanagement, the open web offers opportunities for creativity and ingenuity.
  2. Iterate Toward Perfection & Recursive Review
    • In contrast to academia, digital content creation allows for a continual process of improvement through edits.
  3. Recursive Review & Good is Good
    • Cohen argues that because of the nature of the Internet, the “best” academic work is constantly being pushed to the forefront.
  4. Openness
    • The web’s openness provides pathways for “dissemination” and “dialogue” and a more productive relationship between scholars and their wider audience.
  5. Unexpected Uses and Genres
    • The open web, in its lack of conventionality, encourages unexpected uses and genres that are traditionally rejected within academia.

The Ivory Tower and the Open Web

Cohen writes, “If Digital History was about the mechanisms for moving academic work online this book is about how the digital-first culture of the web might become more widespread and acceptable to the professoriate and their students.” His argument that the web is largely commensurate with academia’s principles frames The Ivory Tower and the Open Web.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree/disagree that the Internet should be respected more by academia as a pedagogical tool? Why or why not?
  2. In what ways (if any) has the Internet changed in the decade since Cohen’s piece was published? How might this be reflected in an updated version?
  3. In your own experience, have you seen any standout examples of the kind of academic blogs/more accessible academic works that Cohen discusses in this piece?

Practicum: PressForward

PressForward is a WordPress plugin created by Aram Zucker-Scharff, Boone Gorges, and Jeremy Boggs. The plugin functions by aggregating content using RSS/Atom feeds, collecting it via a bookmarklet, and importing it in the form of text, images, videos, and metadata. According to the project’s “About” page, “just about anything on the open web is fair game,” including journal articles, conference papers, white papers, reports, scholarly blogs, and digital projects. The project is available within the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media through the George Mason Archival Repository Service.

The landing page for the PressForward project.

On the MARS PressForward project page you can view various pieces of the project, from screenshots of the “About” page and other landing pages to entire files of project documents. Below is an example of one of these screenshots.

Screenshot of the PressForward “About” page.

Digital Humanities Now is one of two examples I’ll be showing you that utilizes PressForward to aggregate and provide content to the public. Below is an image of the main content categories available on DHN: job announcements, general announcements, resources, CFPs/conferences, funding/opportunities, and reports. DHN is a great example of how useful PressForward is for professionals–not only can one find up-to-date scholarship for a peek into the state of the field, but there are also lots of resources available to aid those seeking jobs and/or funding.

DHN’s content categories.

dh+lib employs the same general concept as DHN, but as you can see below, it’s organized a bit differently. The site posts events, conferences, job opportunities, field-specific pieces, and more, in addition to more blog-style posts by dh+lib editors. You can also view the site’s archive, organized by month, to retrieve older posts.

Above are a couple of examples from dh+lib’s feed.

After taking a look at DHN and dh+lib’s websites, which both use PressForward to function, I was quite convinced of the project’s usefulness. I think its ability to aggregate content must save a decent chunk of time and energy on behalf of the folks running these sites, which in turn allows them to contribute to the field in other critical ways. Moreover, the ability to view scholarship, conference information, and job/funding opportunities in one place is immensely valuable to those of us who are relatively new to the professional world.

Practicum: Scalar


Scalar describes itself as “a free, open-source authoring and publishing platform…designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online.” The nature of its platform makes it a sort of democratizing force in the academic space, and it offers interesting ways to showcase visual material within scholarship. The latter function is an aspect of significant importance, considering that Scalar is a project created by The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture—an organization which prioritizes greater scholarly understanding (and usage) of visual culture. 

Scalar “About” page. List of attributes can be found directly underneath the Scalar logo.


Scalar’s most noteworthy attributes are broken down into categories: annotations, media support, flexible structure, web standards, open API, archive partners, reader feedback, custom styling, built-in visualizations, multiple authors, and third-party apps. Here is an abbreviated breakdown of each:

Annotations: This is a really neat function of Scalar. It allows you to annotate video and audio files, and even source code. As the site explains, “Want to annotate source code with poetry? Or audio with video? Scalar makes it possible.”

Media Support: The site says that “Scalar pages are HTML, just about anything you can imbed in a webpage will work in your publication.” Here, you can find a list of supported media formats for native support.

Flexible Structure: Scalar distinguishes itself from other publishing platforms through its usage of paths (linear) and tags (non-linear), which, in the most simple terms possible, means “‘anything can do everything to anything'” according to the site. Read more about it here.

Web Standards: Scalar is based on the semantic web standard RDF (Resource Description Framework) and is compatible with Dublin Core, SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities), and ArtSTOR.

Open API: Through Scalar’s open API, your content is easily accessible. You can create custom interfaces for it and mashup with other data sources.

Archive Partners: Scalar partners with the Internet Archive, Hemispheric Institute Digital Video Library, and the Shoah Foundation Institute Visual History Archive to make a wide range of source material available to users.

Reader Feedback: Scalar’s comments feature makes open communication between authors and readers possible.

Custom Styling: Scalar offers a variety of options for authors to create visual interest within their publications with image galleries, Google Map layouts, and CSS functionality.

Built-In Visualizations: Built-in visualizations allow for page-level and book-level viewing. Through the latter function, content from an entire book can be viewed by readers in “graphical format.”

Multiple Authors: This function is pretty self-explanatory–Scalar allows multiple authors to edit a project, and it keeps track of who contributes what.

Third-Party Apps: Scalar maintains a “flattened hierarchy” which utilizes various third-party apps like CodeIgniter and ARC2 to achieve full functionality. The full list of third-party apps can be viewed here.


Under the Scalar Showcase tab, you will find a wealth of projects created using the platform. The work showcased here displays Scalar’s impressive range—authors can upload theses and dissertations, create digital exhibits, and even write “book companions” to help readers understand the basics of their work.

Click the “Showcase” tab to view different project categories.


Visit Scalar’s “Webinars” tab to view upcoming webinars (of which there are currently none –and I’m not entirely sure this is an active feature of the site).

Get Involved

Scalar offers some neat ways to get involved with the site, from offering feedback, to hosting workshops, to coding. You can also check back occasionally to see if Scalar is hiring (but currently, they are not). If you’re interested in providing feedback about bugs and other suggestions, check out Scalar’s public issue tracker; and if you fancy yourself a Scalar expert, you can contact the team and get involved in their feature and platform testing.


Overall, Scalar seems like an incredibly interesting platform for anyone interested in publishing their work on a more democratized, open, digital media-focused platform. I really enjoyed looking through their project showcase and appreciate that they make all of these academic works available to the public. Scalar also offers great opportunities to brush up on your tech skills and contribute to the site’s improvement. Check it out!