Digital History and Its Collaborative Future

American Historical Association’s (AHA) came up with a set of guidelines that had not been not uniform prior. “Guidelines for the Professional Evaluation of Digital Scholarship by Historians” clarify the policies associated with the evaluation of scholarly work in digital forms.

The AHA defines digital history as “scholarship that is either produced using computational tools and methods or presented using digital technologies.” It also invites employees to consider digital methodologies when evaluating a historian’s candidacy, just like any other skill or tool.  

What do all historians have in common? The shared commitment of all historians to the informed and evidence-based conversation that is history can smooth our discipline’s integration of new possibilities. With agreement on the purpose of our work, new and varying forms of that work can be seen as strengths rather than impediments.

Responsibilities of History Departments

  • They should inform themselves about developments in the digital context of our work. E.g. Library and IT tech training are available in many universities.
  • Departments should review and revise written guidelines that define the expectations of ways that colleagues might use digital resources, tools, and networks in their scholarship.
  • Digital scholarship should be evaluated in its native digital medium, not printed out for inclusion in review materials.
  • Departments should consider how to evaluate as scholarship the development of sophisticated digital tools.
  • Departments without expertise in digital scholarship should consider enlisting colleagues who possess expertise in particular forms of digital scholarship to help them evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the work before them.

Responsibilities of Scholars

  • Before initiating a digital project and throughout the course of the project, you should be prepared to explain and document its development and progress and its contributions to scholarship.
  • Seek support and guidance in preparing your promotion or tenure portfolio.
  • Bring colleagues into your project, taking advantage of opportunities to explain how your work contributes to the scholarly conversation in on-campus forums, professional meetings, and print or online publications.
  • Historians who are experimenting with new forms need to be especially clear about what they are doing, what opportunities it offers, what challenges their work presents to their colleagues, and the impact of their work on the intended audiences.

The American Historical Association’s Role

  • The AHA gather historians experienced in digital scholarship into a working group that will keep itself informed of developments in the field and maintain a directory of historians qualified to assist departments looking for expert outside reviewers for candidates at times of tenure and promotion.
  • The AHA consider this working group as a resource that could also help to foster conversations using AHA Communities, and produce regular pieces for the AHA’s blog AHA Today, and Perspectives on History related to digital scholarship.
  • The AHA sustain a curated gallery of ongoing digital scholarship so that historians can learn directly from one another as they conceive, build, and interpret new forms of scholarship.
  • The editor of the American Historical Review considers implementing more regular reviews of digital scholarship, means for featuring digital projects, and peer review of those projects.

Besides normalizing digital history from top-down, scholars should open up to public. History, digital or not, needs to be accessible to the larger public. Rebecca Conard reviews and praises Historians in Public: The Practice of American History, 1890–1970, by Ian Tyrrell (2006) as extremely important, especially for bridging academic historians and public historians but does not shy away from criticism. According to her, Ian Tyrell demonstrates that from 1890 to 1970 the historical profession “adapted to and influenced its changing publics more than the profession is given credit for, though not evenly and not always apparent. (Tyrrell, 2). Tyrrell focuses on mass culture, the classroom, and the particularistic audiences associated with marketing history as a discipline relevant to state legitimation and public policy. (252) Conrad claims that Tyrrell argues that all history if public history and identifies public intellectual the same as public history.

Do you agree with Tyrell that all history is public history? How effective do you think are the AHA guidelines and how could they encourage people to follow them or on the other hand enforce them?

Racism and Sexism in Online Games

January 28, 2011: “You know you’re doing well at Call of Duty when you get a death wish.”

We are going to dive into a territory that is deeply relevant and current-online games and the issues they host and reflect. Those issues hurt marginalized groups in particular. In “Gender and Race Online” chapter of Society and the Internet: How Networks of Information and Communication are Changing Our Lives (2014), Professor Lisa Nakamura successfully evaluates the racial and gender climate in the world of console gaming. She also discusses how racism and sexism have continued to flourish on the Internet, and indeed to some extent have been come to define it, despite our supposedly post-racial moment (p. 82). Nakamura cites some of the latest studies on the topic. For instance, Anna Everett and Craig Watkins found in a qualitative study of video games, games continue to represent black and brown bodies predominantly as criminals, gangsters, and athletes. Racist representation within games can be found in every genre: stimulation games like Civilization series depict non-Western culture as shot through with superstition, cruelty, and irrationality (Galloway 2006, 83). An important part of Nakamura’s article concerns “racial discourse.” Sociologist Ashley Doane defines “racial discourse” as the collective text and talk of society with respect to issues of race (Doane 2006: 256).

A professional black female gamer known as “BurnYourBra,” a nationally ranked Mortal Kombat player, explained in an interview on a gaming website that (86):

At tournaments players talk crap at each other. That’s just the way tournaments are…For me, I’ve been called a dyke, a butch, a slut, a bitch…I was even called a black bitch to my face along with being called a lesbian, a gorilla, and a monkey.

The most unfair and frustrating part is that the burden of addressing and solving these despicable incidents falls on the receiver of these slurs who is in turn then told to “shake it off,” to “relax,” or to “be less sensitive.” Another problem besides placing all the work on those who are under these attacks is that racism and sexism in video games is presented as some kind of inevitability. It is almost like when people say things like, “there always will be some racist and rapists, but they are the exception, not the norm.”

Online gamers under attack did not take it. They resisted. For example, The Border House: Breaking Down Borders in Gaming is a blog for gamers. It’s a blog for those who are feminist, queer, disabled, people of color, transgender, poor, gay, lesbian, and others who belong to marginalized groups and allies. They address what the game industry can’t and won’t by publicizing sexist interactions on popular game platforms and exposing abusive gamers to public ridicule (87).

A very hilarious expose: COMBO PACK #3 – BRIEF FLIRTATIONS. Posted on April 25, 2011. From Fat, Ugly, or Slutty

Here is the description of one of such resistance and safe space crowd-sourcing sites– Fat, Ugly, or Slutty. Their bio says: “Some players like to send creepy, disturbing, insulting, degrading and/or just plain rude messages to other online players, usually women. We think this is funny. Why do they send them? There are a few theories. But instead of getting offended, we offer a method for people to share these messages and laugh together.” While it is great to use laughter to expose the shameful behavior and heal, perhaps using the very language of those who use sexist and racist language “Don’t get so offended” may be counterproductive. That site has a few categories; besides “Fat, “Ugly,” “Slutty,” “Unprovoked Rage,” “Sandwich Making 101,” there is also of course “Death Threats” category for submissions. On their most recent blog post, June 21, 2015, the page moderators underlined some progress that had been achieved since they began: “We’re relieved that everybody now recognizes the fact that the software and websites we use are under human control and can be used to protect, rather than harm. In the non-gaming space, Facebook has been coming to grips with harassment on its service.  Reddit is banning subreddits that specifically harass others. Google announced just recently that they’ll be removing revenge porn from search results. Twitter has been making many changes to its safety features lately.” The issue is that some of these improvements are performed by those with little protection: “Facebook’s 7,500 Moderators Protect You From the Internet’s Most Horrifying Content. But Who’s Protecting Them?”

Highly recommend this video! The player behavior team at Riot uses science to understand toxic player behavior. During this session, Jeffrey “Dr. Lyte” Lin discusses what Riot’s statisticians, scientists, and developers are doing with the latest research in behavioral, social, and cognitive psychology to solve one of the biggest problems in online gaming today. From the player-driven Tribunal to the Honor Initiative, Jeff Lin talks about how science can reform toxic players, and reinforce positive player behavior.

So, after this overall grim picture what can we conclude? Dr. Nakamura argues that it is important to remember that preserving so-called “cultural authenticity” at the expense of marginalized groups, their safety, dignity, and humanity. She hopes for an expanded community based on skill, pleasure, engagement, and collaboration (93). Are you hopeful about the future of inclusive online gaming? Do you know of any studies on profanity against marginalized groups? Have you witnessed something like what is described here? Video gaming industry is lucrative: how could the public ensure that some of its revenue goes towards improving the field for everyone?

Mystery House: The First Graphics Adventure Game Ever

Mystery House is an adventure game released in 1980 by Roberta and Ken Williams for the Apple II. The game is remembered as one of the first adventure games to feature computer graphics and the first game produced by On-Line Systems, the company which would evolve into Sierra On-Line. Though the game is often considered the first to use graphics, role-playing video games had already been using graphics for several years at the time of release. Applying graphics to an adventure game, however, was unprecedented as previous story-based adventure games were entirely text-based.

Development and Release

Roberta Williams created Mystery House, the first graphical adventure game, a detective story inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Her husband Ken spent a few nights developing the game on his Apple II using 70 simple two-dimensional drawings done by Roberta. The software was packaged in Ziploc bags containing a 5¼-inch disk and a photocopied paper describing the game and was sold in local software shops in Los Angeles County. To their great surprise, Mystery House was an enormous success, quickly becoming a best-seller. In 1980, the Williams founded On-Line Systems, which would become Sierra On-Line in 1982.

The Game

The game starts near an abandoned Victorian mansion. The player is soon locked inside the house with no other option than to explore. The mansion contains many interesting rooms and seven other people: Tom, a plumber; Sam, a mechanic; Sally, a seamstress; Dr. Green, a surgeon; Joe, a gravedigger; Bill, a butcher; and Daisy, a cook. Initially, the player has to search the house in order to find a hidden cache of jewels. However, terrible events start happening and dead bodies (of the other people) begin appearing. It becomes obvious that there is a murderer on the loose in the house, and the player must discover who it is or become the next victim. The parser understands two words, the monochrome graphics are extremely basic and there is no sound to speak of.

How to Play



If you would like another walk-through, here is another example.

Want to see someone play this? Go here. Maybe put on some music, the sound of the keyboard is depressing.

  Kirschenbaum Using Mystery House

In chapter 3 of  Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (2008), Matthew Kirschenbaum uses a disk image of the vintage interactive fiction game Mystery House to conduct a forensic walk-through, or multivalent reading, of an electronic object, a bitstream image of an original instance of 5 1/4-inch disk storage media. This exercise allows the reader to explore critical reading strategies that are tightly coupled to technical praxis, including the use of a hex editor to inspect heterogeneous information once deposited on the original storage media. It distinguishes between forensic and formal materiality more sharply into focus, using the overtly forensically charged spaces of the original game to peek and poke at the content of the disk image. Chapter 3 locates the “factive synechdoches” of bibliographical knowledge within new media, while exposing a new kind of media-specific reading, new tools for critical practice, and relevant contexts surrounding personal computing in the 1980s. Forensics is ultimately presented as a mode of difference or defamiliarization rather than an attempt to get closer to the soul of the machine (20). By walking through Mystery_House.dsk, by reading the disk image forensically, he conducts a media-specific analysis: a close reading of the text that is also sensitive to the minute particulars of its medium and the idiosyncratic production and reception histories of the work (129). Kirschenbaum successfully argues that formal materiality is the normative condition of working in a digital environment. Mystery House emulators are textbook examples of formal materiality, relying on cascades of virtual machinery to reproduce the functionality of long-gone systems and hardware, the physical limitations of mothballed chips re-instantiated in formally construed mechanisms of control and constraints (155).

Digital Project Proposal: Digital Mapping of Personal Stories during the Holocaust

An Online Exhibit of Jewish Evacuee Paths from Soviet-Occupied Poland to the Gulag during the Holocaust

By using Google MyMaps and PowerPoint, my digital project aims to create an annotated map and a graphical depiction of the paths taken from Soviet-Occupied Poland to the Soviet Gulags in Central Asia and Siberia by Jewish evacuees during the Second World War. Joseph Stalin sent over 200,000 Polish Jews to the inner parts of the Soviet Union because: 1. He considered them to be “suspect nationalities” prone to treason, who needed to be far away from the front line; 2. There was labor shortage, so they were used for forced labor. Dynamic cartography can better display the development of the their movement because it considers time and space in a different manner. Print maps do not show the fluid and changing relationship between pace, geography, concentration, movement, and place. Moreover, digital map annotations provide more information about the changing events and conditions. Lastly, a graphical depiction clarifies a complex series of events and improves the audience’s visual understanding of the process that evacuees had to undergo. These tools could facilitate new findings by assessing numerous geographic and topographical factors that affected the evacuees: for instance, if an evacuee was released from the Gulag on the terms on Polish Repatriation of 1946, the proximity of a town could be a matter of survival.

In particular I want to focus on a family history that depicts that displacement. Ellen G. Friedman’s Seven: A Family Holocaust History tells a story of one extended Polish-Jewish family that survived the Holocaust in the Soviet Union. The title of the book comes from the closeness that set seven individuals apart from the hundreds of thousands of other refugees in the Gulags of the USSR. The Seven—a name given to them by their fellow refugees—were Polish Jews from Warsaw, most of them related.

The project will complement the digital mapping dedicated to the book with a more general digital map of Polish Jewish evacuees’ journey. Their displacement tended to begin with 1. the arrest of Jews who fled from Nazi-occupied Poland on charges of spying. It was followed by 2. an interrogation, and the subsequent 3. train journey to 4. a prison where they awaited “a trial” as a “suspect nationality.” After that, many women and younger children were sent to 5. Soviet settlements, while Jewish evacuee men were typically placed in Stalin’s labor camps. Soviet guards and a resentful local population were likely to be a part of their daily lives. 6. The Polish repatriation act of 1946 allowed Polish evacuees to try and make their way back to their homes where Polish Jews were likely to find hostile and murderous neighbors. Every experience was different, and this project merely hopes to help people learn and understand their stories by using the available digital tools.

My project aims to create a more detailed digital map of the movement that would include Eastern Europe.

Google MyMaps would allow me to add points and draw shapes, which would be useful to differentiate between a Soviet labor camp, a prison, and a closed settlement. It also lets you add pictures and videos, which opens up an enormous and exciting opportunity to use digital archival collections (e.g. USHMM Online Photo Archive and Fortunoff Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies). My project is about communicating and telling people’s stories through digital maps and graphic depictions. The project would result in an online exhibit of Jewish evacuee paths from Soviet-Occupied Poland to the Soviet Gulag during the Holocaust.


General public and scholars interested in the Holocaust and the Soviet Union

Existing projects

There are several related existing projects, including Holocaust History animated maps and Holocaust Geography Collaborative. USHMM uses animated maps such as the map on the Aftermath of the Holocaust to help the viewer understand the enormous scope and impact of the Holocaust. While the Holocaust Geography Collaborative underlines the importance of location, scale, resolution, territoriality and the space/place dichotomy for an expanded understanding of the Nazi genocide. The scholars of the collaborative use the dynamic digital environment and the use of GIScience to allow for visualizations of these spatial concerns in more robust and innovative ways. Another important inspiration for my project is Waitman Beorn’s graphical depictions. His project A Geography of Complicity concludes that the more willing soldiers often found themselves closest to the killing, spatially. It shows that extended physical contact with the Nazi genocidal project over time led most soldiers to become more deeply complicit.

A graphical depiction using PowerPoint of the positions of Wehrmacht soldiers during mass killings in Belarus. —Waitman W. Beorn, 2010

Plan for Outreach and Publicity

For outreach I aim to create a WordPress blog post about my project. In my description, I will kindly invite people to the readers to express their thoughts and suggestions. This should allow to get some feedback from the general public. The post will include the relevant tags and categories to make it easier for people to find it. I will also kindly write emails to scholars involved in the spatial geography project for some possible feedback and hopefully even a discussion.

Evaluation Plan

I aim to evaluate my digital project by assessing my WordPress blog post’s comment section. Another important type of feedback would be my email communication with the scholars of the Holocaust on their thoughts, questions, and suggestions regarding my project. I also hope to take advantage of living in Washington by making an appointment with one of the specialists on the Holocaust museum’s digital map project. I am particularly excited by the prospect of collaboration. Hopefully, it would be someone who perhaps holds a different set of technical skills or is interested in contributing in other ways,