Stanford Literary Lab – Reflection

The internship at Stanford University’s Literary Lab began with a round-table discussion event I attended. The event explored, as Mark Algee-Hewitt, director of the Literary Lab phrased it, “the relationship between Literary Studies and the Digital Humanities, specifically that associated with text mining or quantitative analysis. In what ways have we been successful in integrating the two fields to produce new methodologies for studying Literary Criticism and History? Where do the fault lines between the fields still exist and what work might be necessary to synthesize the methodologies of close reading and computation? And are there fundamental incompatibilities between the humanistic study of literature and the Digital Humanities that we may not be able to solve? With four very different perspectives, our round-table participants will lay out the stakes of this compatibility and engage the audience in a larger conversation about the future(s) of the field.”

The discussion revolved around the democratic nature of the projects, the question of graphs and Ngrams analyzing language, and the practicality of it in literary criticism. For instance, the issue of close reading being possible replace or in some ways supplemented by a nonhuman analytical tool is a touchy subject of humanities scholars.  While many views and more inquires were raised, the answer were scarce in light of the proposed ideas. As this field continues to evolve, the methodologies of research, developing critical questions, the tools applied, and the emerging criticism are all subject to change and interpretation. In addition, one of the puzzling notions of the crossroad of DH and Literary Studies is the question of where it leads to and what possible answer can we gain from “studying” literature through these tools that haven’t been already considered. An additional missing piece of the puzzle is the interest and connection to the general public, which probes the democratic nature of Literary DH projects and how if at all they may reach beyond the academic realm of readers. As an intern, just beginning to become familiar with the mission and the projects of the Lit. Lab, the event held an impressively involved, intimidatingly intriguing approach to the function of DH in Literary studies.

A few days after the event, and following an introductory meeting with the Literary Lab’s director, Algee-Hewitt, assistant director, J D Porter, and coordinator Erik Fredner, I was able to attend a project meeting. While the Lab has several ongoing projects, I was lucky enough to sit in on the first meeting for the New Yorker Project. As I found out, when opportunity presents itself in a form of a corpus becoming available, DH enthusiast gather to brainstorm  possible analytical avenues and the methodologies through which these ideas may unfold and become visible representations. Thus, the New Yorker Project set out to examine 4, 695 issues of the magazine published between February, 1925 and July, 2017: 559,924 number of pages, 617,088,848 number of words. Some possible suggestions for the study of this corpus were:

  • how to identify fiction/poetry
  • breakdown by editors
  • predictable genre  in the New Yorker
  • examining page-level geography, XML
  • geography of ads
  • cartoon captions
  • viewed Vector analysis of the word “inflation”
  • What changed? What didn’t exist?
  • portion of ads in comparison to articles/fiction over time
  • short story index
  • Is there a New Yorker genre?
  • timeliness vs. timelesness
  • signals of the the sense of the century
  • comparison of cultural artifacts with literary focus
  • tracing gender pronouns
  • ethnic breakdown of names
  • readership: upper bourgeois vs. academia
  • literary titles over time
  • When did photographs come into the publication?
  • Vector model analysis of discursive span within: variation in the number of pages published – 1940-1960 top increase, largest volume 2/21/2000 (75th anniversary issue)

Th overall aim and result of the meeting was to share areas of interest in the research and analysis of the New Yorker and then break into focus groups. The upcoming meeting will begin in assembling the groups and begin tagging the corpus for markers of short story, poetry, reviews, text vs. non-text,

On the wall of the conference room, all present and future projects are listed, indicating the phase of each. I will try to attend the Microgenre project meeting to get an idea of the development of a given project and different stages of this “organic” collaboration in the Lab. The Migrant Discourse Project (examining migrations in South America and mapping literature along the way) also intrigued me, however, it does not have a set date for its first meeting, so it might be some time before it even begins.

As much as the focus of the Literary Lab is to examine various literature while applying computational criticism to the study of literature, I find an inevitable historical component in the process.

Smithsonian Learning Lab Internship – Reflection 3

In its mission statement, The Smithsonian Learning Lab declares, “The Smithsonian Learning Lab is a major rethinking of how the digital resources from across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, 9 major research centers, the National Zoo, and more, can be used together, for learning.” It further explains that “The Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access created the Smithsonian Learning Lab to inspire the discovery and creative use of its rich digital materials—more than a million images, recordings, and texts. It is easy to find something of interest because search results display pictures rather than lists. Whether you’ve found what you were looking for or just discovered something new, it’s easy to personalize it. Add your own notes and tags, incorporate discussion questions, and save and share. The Learning Lab makes it simple.” And it is definitely the case whether a teacher is planning to build a collection for a lesson, use an already existing one, or students complete various assignments, build collections, and  research.

I have adopted one of the six Frederick Douglass collections created by a fellow teacher in the Lab as part of the culminating activities for my junior English classes. Students reviewed not only the life of Frederick Douglass, learned about one of his most famous speeches, “The Meaning of Fourth of July for the Negro,” but they also were able to examine primary and secondary sources. Through these sources, they were able to determine what Douglas’s goal was with this speech and how it is often perceived today. In addition, the collection invited students to enter some of the Smithsonian museums and view primary texts and objects in connection to slavery and the times that created it. Moreover, they were able to go on a virtual tour of Washington Dc to discover the location, design, and symbolism of the newest Smithsonian building, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened on Sept. 24 in Washington after a long journey. None of my students have ever been to the East Coast and likely will never travel to Washington DC, so the engagement and interest was beyond 100% in class even though the assignment was not getting graded. I told them to “discover, create, and share” in the spirit of the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which they did happily. By the end of the class, several students were researching for additional artifacts within the Smithsonian archives. They were curious to explore Native American history and learn more about the Hispanic heritage most carry. I have also alerted history teachers to keep track of the Staff Picks, Updates and “New Resources for National History Day 2018:Conflict and Compromise in History.”

While the reviewing of the collections as part of my internship duty has enabled me to begin to explore the depth of the museums online, it has also allowed me to discover a new tool for my English classes and share this tool with my colleagues at school. Although, as far as I can discern, the collections I have been reviewing are created for students in the U.S., the Learning Lab has an enormous potential to share this country’s history, science, and beautiful artifacts with the world. Fresh eyes, new interpretations, and revolutionary perspectives are the moving force of education and fuel progress in the world. Thus, the Smithsonian Learning Lab has been doing its part initiating and inspiring this forward movement, staying true to their statement: “By encouraging users to create and share personalized collections of Smithsonian assets and user-generated resources, the Learning Lab aspires to build a global community of learners who are passionate about adding to and bringing to light new knowledge, ideas, and insight.”

It has been a rewarding experience to view the various collection, learn from their creativity, compare assessments with fellow reviewers, and try to comprehend the enormity of this Digital Archive that provides access to rich digital materials that comprise of more than a million images. I will probably volunteer to review collection at the Lab in the near future.

Smithsonian Learning Lab Internship – Reflection 2

Over the past few weeks of the internship, I have had the opportunity to browse many interesting collections at the Smithsonian Learning Lab. Besides the expected curriculum driven typical history projects exploring immigration, migration, slavery, the depression era, and the wars, more and more collections are shifting perspectives on these topics or investigating new ideas. For instance, one of the Civil War collections focused on reconstructive plastic surgeries that were aiding wounded soldiers in recovery. Surprisingly, there is quite a bit of documentation on the process. In addition, the collection does an amazing job at emphasizing the massive devastation of the war and how people within the limitations of the time expended and advanced medicine. The Lab certainly allows for students to supplement their history textbook knowledge and explore beyond the obvious.

One other aspect that stood out among all the collection was a series of images collected to study patterns, colors, and shapes in tapestry, paintings, and textile from the various art museums. These collections were meant to supplement art and social study classes for elementary and middle school students as they view the various cultures, their traditional colors and shapes to tell stories. For example, one of the collections directs primary school students to interact with the images the following way:

  • First, sort the images by type of art/artist. Teacher should make index card headings for the following categories: Painting/Painter, Textile/Weaver, Clothing/Fashion Designer, Architecture/Architect, Prints/Printmaker, Sculpture/Sculptor, Functional Ceramics/Potter or Ceramist. Sometimes an image may cross categories (painting of a house might be categorized in architecture or painting); either answer would be acceptable if the student can justify why.
  • Second, make an educated guess about culture represented in selected images. Students can “guess and check” with teacher. Online research option: students work in pairs to access this collection and click on the info button for an image to learn about the maker, time period, and culture. They can record their findings to help answer the reflection questions below. 
  • After the sorting activities, ask students to choose an image and answer: Why is/was this object of value (or useful)? How do you think it expresses something important to the people of that culture? (Art & Cultue Sort by Jean-Marie Galing)  

These types of collection allow students to see the art without actually going to the museum and experience/interact with cultures they may not know much about or understand the elements and importance of their ordinary, but essential moments.

One collection, however, changed the direction of my experience. For the first time, I had to flag and report one of the collections, which made me realize how imperative this reviewing process really is. The collection involved Native American traditions and attempted to speak to advocate for their rights, offered commentary on the decline of its cultural values, and more. However, in the process of awareness and criticism, the collection exuded a voice that was borderline derogatory and the images used were inappropriate.  Thus, it alerted me about the fact of how these digital opportunities could easily become the avenue for expressions of one-sided criticism and confuse rather than instruct to explore its users.

On a side note, being a “virtual intern” seems like a lonely existence, however, our coordinator does send the three of us reviewing the collections encouraging and thankful messages. It seems that we somehow know each other based on the comments given about the collections and the frequency of our visits to the review sheet.

Smithsonian Learning Lab Internship – Reflection 1

While I was hoping to work on a project during my internship, I’ve come to realize that the opportunity to be a reviewer at the Smithsonian Learning Lab also offers an excellent learning experience in Digital Humanities and it directly relates to my everyday job as a high school English teacher. Its motto: Discover, Create, Share speaks for itself and by searching through its collections, that is exactly what this digital platform offers and allows participants to experience.

The initial contact with Tracie Spinale to set up my working schedule, requirements, and expectations was encouraging and certainly made me feel like I was becoming part of a team that supports and reviews the collections created in the Learning Lab. Before I began, I was asked to create a collection in the Lab to understand how it works, which was a relatively easy assignment, enjoyable, and useful. I created a lesson for my juniors, which connected directly to our unit we were studying at the time. The project is titled: Stories of the American Dream.  In our brief discussions, Tracie also recommended collections and items for me to review to peek my interest regarding materials I may use for teaching. The Learning Lab will be a new tool I am going to use in my instructions.

Each time I review collections, I get to have an insight into other teachers’,  professors’, or students’ creations in connection to history, narrative, art, and many more inspiring ways to view, interpret, and teach humanities. For instance, the collection on Decades of Transformation: Bridging the 1920’s and 30’s offers a great way to have students think critically and analytically about the times surrounding The Great Gatsby and Of Mice and Men as they look through artifacts, photos, and paintings. Many of the collections and lessons are an eye-opener to new ideas and strategies to understand, examine, and explore the connections between all of the disciplines in humanities.

So far, it has been an interesting journey to review fellow educators’ work in the humanities.


Browsing Other Projects

Hearing about other students’ project examples was helpful in several ways. Firs, they presented a good variety of projects, which allowed me to focus my own ideas. I could compare my own goals and topics and see how broad or narrow they are, what direction I am heading towards, and what I want my students to accomplish by the end of the unit. Erin Bush’s realization of student may not know how to read trials made me rethink, what is it that I will assume my students understand, but in reality, they do not have the practical knowledge. Also, it was iterated in nearly all project interviews how important it is for teachers to star with something they are interested in or know a lot about. It helps pass on the excitement and does communicate the importance of the project to students, which will hopefully transfer during the course. Nate Sleeter pointed out the importance of modeling the process of research and historical thinking, which in turn will result in students approaching their project as historians. I think that the greatest revelation for me came from Celeste and Jeri’s interview because they reminded me of writing. I am planning on combining AP English Language and Composition and AP US History objectives and what better way to do it then expecting students to write and think historically.

Finally, in one way or another all interviews emphasized what Maura Seale expressed “Making it cohesive and coherent and doable is the biggest challenge and the most important thing because if you try to be too broad you end up saying nothing of substance.” I need to narrow the focus of the historical questions I want students to be able to consider and the learning outcomes. Thus the questions I need to be able to answer are: What do I want students to read, view or listen to? How are they going to respond to them? What sort of writing will take place? What will be the final project they will accomplish?

Sixth Piece of the Puzzle

For my final project, I will create an Omeka site to help students consider multiple perspectives of pilots’ experiences in WWII. While examining various sources, students will be asked to think about audiences, purpose, language, and the argument presented to ask questions and analyze historical content and context.

It will contain:

  • items such as images of pilots, personal narratives, oral history, and popular culture examples
  • collections will contain writings about pilot’s experiences and student pages where they will post reflections, websites, wikipedia pages examples, questions, and research findings

The end product will be twofold: For the first part, I would like to have students reflect on how the variety perspectives on WWII pilots informed their understanding of the war or created a fresh view of what it meant to become a pilot and go to war. How did the rhetoric of those varying perspectives affect their interpretation? For the second part, students will create a new wikipedia page for the local flight school that existed in King City during WWII and reflect on the process.

Malleability of the Past

Educators today have a tremendous opportunity to engage their audiences or students precisely because of the malleability of the past in the digital world. Chalana and Coslett cited Tilden’s assertion in regards to educating audiences and promoting historical thinking, “the chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation.” In addition, we should also consider the quotation by Thomas Sowell posted at the WM-NHS entrance ‘‘Cultures are not ‘superior’ or ‘inferior.’ They are for better or worse adapted to a particular set of circumstances.’’ While Tilden invites incitement as the process of historical thinking, Thomas Stowell promotes tolerance. As Chalana and Colsett point out, current demographic, cultural, historiographic, and professional circumstances are changing; therefore our approach to understanding and presenting our shared heritage must also change. The digital world that accompany our physical surroundings not only connect audiences, but also have the potential to reveal perspectives and engage us in a conversation that could change our current perception of history.

A fresh perspective could easily provoke audiences and be perceived as a false interpretation. So, one of the challenges for educators of history is which perspective to choose and how to present it. That is exactly why the digital world, while perhaps complicating the work of history educators, forces them to rethink what they do, say, or show that will become a historical interpretation of students of history. I can’t help but think of my own children’s fourth grade history (actually part of social studies) project about the California missions. They have read the standard story about the Spanish establishing missions, helping the Natives, teaching them by bringing religion and in general civilization. To better understand the historical significance of these events, each student built their own mission to represent the grand vision of this historical success. Classes have also visited and toured various missions. This history class was also part of a religious education as my children were attending a Catholic school at a time. Although, their severely outdated history book may have mentioned occasional mistreatment of the Native Americans, no complicated or provoking questions were discussed or even dismissed. Students simply did not question the mission of this expansion. The Spanish Empire had the right to expand and evangelize the Native Americans. A few years ago, however, when these fourth graders were in my eight-grade Literature class, Junipero Serra was nominated for sainthood by the Pope, which created a string of controversy. Since our latest efforts in writing focused of argumentation, I had presented my students with several articles that discussed both sides of the issue. They have read and probably already heard about Serra’s efforts in the church, but they also examined the Native American perspective. One story detailed two brothers, one that vehemently opposed Serra’s elevation to sainthood and the other who actually became a guide at one of the twenty-one missions. I have obtained a verbal permission from our deacon and religion teacher to actually have students think and write about this issue. Students read the articles, took sides, and argued in small groups citing examples from the articles. As the final step, they shared the essays in small groups and concluded this unit with a whole class discussion. I have also encouraged them to engage their parents and my fellow teachers at the school. Although, visions of the Holocaust and practices of slavery peppered our discussions and were cited in the articles, including primary sources, more students felt that Junipero Serra deserves to be a saint. In this case, the past did not seem so malleable rather stale and incomplete. Since this was my last year teaching this Literature class that followed themes of prejudice, persecution, segregation, slavery, Holocaust, and the Civil Rights Movement I was not able build on it or improve my strategies to provoke a more critical historical thinking. It seemed that avoiding bias or examining sources needed a deeper and broader research.

What complicates history educators’ work is what has been missing from past interpretations of history and the constant evolution of interpreting it. In addition the challenges of incorporating present perceptions of wide-opened, often outlandish opinions that perhaps have no historical relevance or truth may complicate understanding. Educators should use digital tools to expose these complications, provoke, and facilitate in order to foster historical thinking that questions, facts, sources, and is willing to evaluate alternate views as historical truths. Such practices and challenges need not only be explored in parks, articles, or museums, they should populate classrooms to begin the creation of digital sites that accompany them where others may contemplate the views they offer. These disputed and evolving patterns by which Americans remember, rewrite, and contemplate our civic traditions allow us to meet new challenges and ultimately inspire tolerance.

Works Cited

Coslett, Daniel E., and Manish Chalana. “National Parks for New Audiences. Diversifying Interpretation for Enhanced Contemporary Relevance.” The Public Historian 38, no. 4: 101-128. November 2016

Sowell, Thomas, Ethnic America: A History (New York: Basic Books, 1981).
Tilden, Interpreting


National Parks for New Audiences

The article “National Parks for New Audiences” paints a picture of a slowly changing landscape of NPS properties that maintains and preserves aspects of American history and identity. It also attempts to educate visitors, therefore their interpretive programs require change to be more inclusive of all their “contributors and constituents.” While these NPS units are typically “overshadowed by the nation’s increasingly popular flagship wilderness parks,” these venues offer a more comprehensive interpretive techniques to promote historical thinking.

How well, if at all, do Coslett and Chalana incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay?

Coslett and Chalana discuss two NPPS sites by tracing their origin, historical background, and development over the years. They explore ways to rewrite the one-sided, predominantly white perspective of the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and the San Juan Island National Historical Park. They point out several challenges for each site to broaden their historical perspectives, such as diversity in staffing to engage historically marginalized groups. Both parks draw disproportionately white audiences/visitors even though the complete history at those sites came to exist because of a conflict between whites and Natives. They also voice that the NPS is “committed to both diversity and equity, and to better conveying to all visitors the full richness of American cultural history.” However, as they examine the sites, at each turn, and from every angle, thees goals seem to fall short. Coslett and Chalana raise important questions that challenge authenticity and interpretation. They attempt to bring a new kind of historical thinking to light when they reflect on both online and on site of the WM-NHS as it tries to update and modernize its presentation of the past, but “occasionally still suffers from inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory interpretation.” Further examining the website,  Chalana and Coslett, also point out that it both redeems and criticizes, “explicitly tether[s] the site’s past to the lived present” by pointing out that in the Cayuse attack, the federal government found ‘‘an excuse to set up reservations and restrict the movement of Native Americans.’’ The NPS not only attempts to acknowledge the problematic nature of the site’s history and interpretation, but features the larger ramifications of events. Moreover, Chalana and Coslett approves the site’s interpretation of Native American voices as they, unlike the physical site partnered with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. In the end, they conclude that ‘‘regardless of the changing judgments and interpretation of westward expansion, the Whitman story continues to be one of courage, commitment, and sacrifice for an ideal.’’  Thus, by laying out several other examples of controversy and conflicting viewpoints, Chalana and Coslett incorporate ideas we’ve discussed in our work on teaching historical thinking in their essay. One that weaves the specific examples together is the controversy of historical thinking or representation. Although, by the end of the article they cite one NPS historian who has suggested that “the agency staff should ‘step back from the position of authority and become provokers, facilitators and encourage the public to engage with … [historical] material, consider multiple perspectives, and make their own choices.’’’ In their essay, Coslett and Chalana question perspectives, raise awareness of interpretation, and examine a variety aspects of the historical function NPS carries in representing the nation’s history. Although, they include the words of Marie Sanchez of the Northern Cheyenne regarding the infamous Sand Creek massacre, which resonate at WM-NHS and other NPS units with difficult pasts, in it she says that she knows ‘‘it won’t alleviate alcoholism and drug abuse and crimes of passion or suicides, but it would help our children understand what happened to us as a people.” Thus, the perspective of the Native is still largely lacking, the research from Native American Scholars, their view on the NPS as opposed to what NPS plans to change to better represent them as part of the complete history.

Given what you’ve learned thus far, what advice would you give the National Park Service on how best to use their historic sites to teach to a more diverse audience?

First and foremost, it is crucial that both perspectives of history are represented. When a historical site is presented from the perspective of the winners or the details their heroism, sacrifice, and commitment, it diminishes other views and makes those cultures less significant or valued as past of the existing society. The National Park Service must make it its own mission to facilitate by investing in research to equalize its representation of both perspectives. Then the sites will challenge or even provoke visitors to think critically and analyze the past by reflecting on it from the present perspective they hold. I believe that digital tools hold an important role in fostering this way thinking and interaction as they invite comments to further expand views.

Coslett, Daniel E., and Manish Chalana. “National Parks for New Audiences. Diversifying Interpretation for Enhanced Contemporary Relevance.” The Public Historian 38, no. 4: 101-128. November 2016

Historical Thinking and Digital Media

Given the current discussion about facts, real or “alternative”, how should we use what we know about historical thinking, public perceptions of the past, and what we can do with digital media, to promote a more accurate understanding of the past? Write a blog post that explores these questions.

Wineburg points out the effects of change in how the public receives history and by that how it perceives and thinks about it. While “Back in the uncomplicated pre-Web days, libraries and archives were places of quiet stability and authority,” (Wineburg) today “The Internet has obliterated [this} authority.” Does this allow the public to know more history? Does easy and instant access to information promote a broader perception of history? Wineburg shows the pitfalls and dangers of real or alternative facts as they are circulating in the media. Surprisingly, digital natives do not seem to question the facts presented. When anyone who wishes to comment or contribute to past or present history is able and allowed to do so, our level of caution and skepticism should rise.

I can personally relate to Wineburg’s example of high school students being persuaded by articles floating on the web that the Holocaust never happened or it was  Jewish propaganda. Several years ago, after having 6th grade students read Behind the Bedroom Wall by Laura E. Williams, they gave presentations about Nazi camps that resembled a youth summer camp today. They believed that people who were imprisoned had a fairly good life, having food, bed, and friendship. The fictional account of the Holocaust, the hunting of Jews, and their research in the Internet did not paint a “real” picture. As a person who was born not so long after the war and grew up in Europe surrounded by reminders of it, I could never ignore or not know the atrocities of the Holocaust. It was ever present and never doubted. I was simply shocked by my students’ interpretation. How could they not see the obvious facts? What was missing? What aspects of their readings derailed the thinking and perception of history? What could I do to enable their thinking and ability to question and have an opened mind? Wineburg iterated historical thinking by explaining the “treshold concept,” when he discussed students’ difficulties making sense of the past. He noted thatwe are called to expand our conception and understanding of what it means to be human and examine seemingly irrelevant material to discover the relevance of the past. Thus the question arises, How could we make, for example, the Holocaust relevant to their present?

Wineburg refers to Thomas Jefferson in his article, “Historical Thinking is Not About History” saying that Jefferson “argued for the wisdom of the yeoman farmer, a person who would think, discern, and come to reasoned conclusions in the face of conflicting information. Teachers of history should keep this in mind as they set students free on the Internet for historical research and educate them about what informed citizenship means in the digital age. They should question the credibility of sources, what information should be believed, and caution them about the massive amount of facts and the equally large amount of bias. Using his two highly recommended tools ( to incorporate in student research should be a must for history teachers. We must teach students a critical/analytical approach to media, the Internet, and historical research in general to avoid becoming a “a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both”. As Wineburg concludes, knowledge is power, and we should empower our students to seek that knowledge above popular belief. We must teach historical thinking, the query, the analysis, the discussion of facts so students will become informed citizens who are able to make sense of history in the digital age.

 Wineburg, Sam. “Why Historical Thinking is Not About History.” History News 71, no. 2. 2016.

Fifth Piece of the Puzzle

The text I would like to use in my final project is  Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Since I am interested in having students examine history as a memory, combining local with national and world history, the story of a young pilot would allow students to look at these aspects through a personal narrative. His story combines the personal with the national and extends the commentary to broader historical questions.

Students will examine the text through close reading, asking questions, collecting quotes, and keywords. They then will research other places in the war, listen to interviews with WWII veteran pilots, and read transcripts to ask questions and draw conclusions regarding the effects of the war on the war and on the home-front from the perspective of the pilots and the people who remained home.