MSU Historians Win Major Grant to Explore the Future of the Historical Record
Brandon Locke (Director of LEADR) and Sharon Leon (Associate Professor of Digital History) have been awarded funding through the Humanities Without Walls Consortium to undertake a major research project on teaching historical data literacy through key undergraduate digital history courses. The funding will support curriculum design and research, and provide for intensive participation from two graduate research assistants over three years.
The Humanities Without Walls Consortium fosters interdisciplinary, collaborative research, teaching, and scholarship in the humanities, sponsoring new areas of inquiry that cannot be created or maintained without cross-institutional cooperation. On Thursday, December 14, the Consortium announced the results of its latest research challenge initiative, “The Work of the Humanities in a Changing Climate.” It awarded one of these grants—a multi-year investment of $138,360—to a team of humanists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Michigan State University, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The award will support their multi-year research project, titled “The Classroom and the Future of the Historical Record.”
This project will investigate to recent, profound shifts in how the sources of our knowledge about the past are made. Mobile digital technologies have allowed documentation to become an ubiquitous practice that extends far beyond traditional memory institutions such as libraries and scholarly presses. The Internet is not an archive in a professional sense, but it is filled with a vast panoply of artifacts—images, sounds, films, texts, and data—digitized by people around the world, from originals of their own choosing. Many of these sources can be difficult to interpret or cite, however. Digitization often results in radical de-contextualization, with provenance and proof of authenticity being lost along the way. Much of this new historical record is being built on proprietary platforms provided by IT corporations (Facebook, Twitter). Their primary aim is to commercialize private data, rather than to preserve and sustain knowledge of the past as a common good.
Over the course of the three years of the study, students, faculty, and staff from the three participating universities will explore how higher education should respond to this shifting environment for the production of history. They will develop education-based practices for documentary and data literacy work in the 21st century, and partner with students to create better models for producing, preserving, and publishing the past.
In addition to Leon and Locke’s curriculum advancement work at Michigan State University, scholars at two other universities have research plans surrounding teaching and learning with digital history methods. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Patrick Jones, William G. Thomas, and Aaron Johnson will work with K-12 teachers to bring their innovative digitization project “History Harvest” to Nebraska public schools. Scholars at the University of Illinois, meanwhile, will build a curriculum that works across the entire life cycle of sources, from their initial identification, to their preservation and publication, to their use within history education and research. (Kathryn J. Oberdeck, Daniel Gilbert, Bonnie Mak, and John Randolph (Primary Investigator) will lead the group in Urbana-Champaign.)
Humanities Without Walls funds will be used to support the work of graduate and undergraduate students on the project. In particular, graduate students will be made lead researchers on the project, as part of a special Graduate Laboratory Practicum. Working as a cohort, they will collaborate across institutions to develop documentary applications, skills, and practices that they can carry over into their post-graduate careers, in a range of fields. Over the course of the project, HWW funds will also allow the team to convene for workshops where they can discuss the results of their local experiments and prepare for joint presentations of their ideas. The group intends, as well, to share its applications and model curricula through journal publications and open educational resources.