Debating the Digital Humanities Gets Real

My author copies of Debating the Digital Humanities came in today. It’s humbling to have some of my words included in such a hefty tome. I’ve been reading and enjoying it, great stuff. Beyond being a useful volume, it’s also neat to see it incorporate a selection of blog posts. The format of the book is itself an argument for how publish-then-filter can work for humanities scholarship.

It is fun and weird to see things I hadn’t intended for print in print. They have a different kind of materiality to them now. As my words ended up in two of the publish-then-filter parts of the book, I thought I might be slightly interesting to take a moment to reflect on how what I wrote ended up making its way in there.

Blogging about Course Blogging Goes to Print

I teach a digital history course at American University, this is my second time around at the course. After teaching my first incarnation of the course I wrote a series of reflective blog posts about the experience. The goal of those posts was to distill and refine my thinking about the role that public blogging can play as an instructional tool. It is particularly pertinent to the digital history course as participating in online public dialog is a core goal of the course. I was both excited and flattered when Matt asked if I would be game for including one of my posts on the course for the book. See below.

It is fun and neat to have a post end up in a book, but it is also a bit disorienting. On my blog it was part of a threaded run of posts about my teaching and writing. I like to think that everything I write here always remains a draft. Everything I write here is something I might return to and revise. Undoubtedly there will be typos in this post that someone will point out that I will fix. But now, reading the post on paper in this volume, it feels completely different. Instead of being my informal thinking out loud on my teaching it has become something much more enduring. Just look at those type faces! Such dignified serifs. It’s no longer some guys words on the internet. It’s a stake in the ground about the place of technology in teaching and learning in an emerging field. I love it.

Seeing the post in print helps further validate the point of the post and blogging in the course.  It is one thing to stand up in front of a class of students and say, “hey, this blogging thing is important. It changes how power and publishing works. So take it serious, write good stuff and write it in public so you can claim credit.” It’s something completely different to be able to say, “Oh, and when you do blog, sometimes you say something interesting enough that it warrant’s being included in a really cool book.” When I tell my students about this next Wednesday I will have gone from course, to reflection, to book, to this blog post and back to course in seven months. I for one think that is rather neat.

Day of Digital Humanities Definitions

I have one other small contribution in the book. At the end of the first section are a selection of definitions of the digital humanities that some of us provided for the Day of Digital Humanities. See mine below, again in print, in the book.

What’s funny about this is that it’s a flippant comment, a personal aside. Here is some context. When you sign up to do the Day of Digital Humanities you fill out a web form, more or less a registration form. On the form there was a text box to fill in with your definition. It didn’t say “think about this really carefully, because it might end up in a big thick book.” So what I filled in was just what came off the top of my head at the time. To this end, it is all the more jarring to read something I had to fill in on a registration form printed like this. Jarring in a good way. I’m relatively happy with my definition. I’ll stand behind these jottings. Some of the value in these definitions is that they are not diplomatic. They are the things we had on hand at the moment and there is something that is a bit more direct and honest about those kinds of comments.

Trying to do the Digital Humanities Face

In conclusion, here is my best attempt at doing the debates in the digital humanities face. I should probably have shaved before taking the picture, but there lies the perils of just being able to hit the publish button before anyone else intervenes to stop you.

Tripadvisor Rates Einstein: Traces of Public Memory and Science on the Web

Arguing with Einstein is one of my favorite photos of the Albert Einstein memorial. It encapsulates how some of the sculptor’s intentions, his argument about Einstein and science, manifest themselves in an invitation to argue with a statue. The seated statue invites us to sit on him, climb him, and argue with him, and it is my contention that sites like Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Flickr offer us the ability to explore and examine our relationship to these kinds of monuments and memorials in unprecedented ways.

Photo: Schmidt, C., 2008. Arguing with Einstein, Available at:

Its been long in the making but I am excited to report that my paper Tripadvisor rates Einstein: Using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage site is out in the newest issue of The International Journal of Web Based Communities. I did the primary research for this project back in my master’s program in a great course called Museums, Monuments and Memory. That was in the Fall of 2008. (I know, wow that was a while ago my how time flys in the world of academic publishing)

The paper is largely an attempt to parse out the different kinds about sites of public memory that we can tell when we draw on traditional archival collections, in this case using materials from the National Academy of Sciences archives, as opposed to the kinds of stories we can tell when we look at traces of experience and interaction with those sites of memory online. In this case, I find it particularly interesting to try and evaluate how some of the intentions in the design of the monument can be evaluated in the kinds of things that we create online as a result of experiences with the memorial. My hope is that this can serve as both further validation of the value of preserving public discourse on the web and potentially as an example for how other’s might use social sites like Yelp, Flickr, and Tripadvisor to explore and interrogate public memory.

Below is the abstract for the paper. I would love to hear any comments or critiques in the comments. Similarly, if you end up using the paper in any way I would also love to hear about it.


Near the US Capitol, in front of the National Academy of Sciences sits a gigantic bronze statue of Albert Einstein. The monument was created to celebrate Einstein and the sense of awe and wonder his work represents. However, while under construction, art critics and some scientists derided the idea of the memorial. They felt the scale of such a giant memorial did not fit the modesty of Einstein. This paper explores the extent to which perspectives of the monument’s public supporters and critics can be seen in how people interact with it as evidenced in reviews and images of the monument posted online. I analyse how individuals appropriate the monument on social websites, including Fickr, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Yahoo Travel, as a means to explore how the broader public co-creates the meaning of this particular memorial. I argue this case-study can serve as an example for leveraging the social web as a means to understand cultural heritage sites.

If you don’t have access to the official copy I have my own personal unofficial personal archival copy that you can take a look at.