DH Spotlight: Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media

This week’s DH (Digital History) Spotlight turns to one of the earliest, best and continually innovative spaces for digital history: The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, housed at George Mason University.

Their mission statement is:

Since 1994 under the founding direction of Roy Rosenzweig, the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University has used digital media and computer technology to democratize history—to incorporate multiple voices, reach diverse audiences, and encourage popular participation in presenting and preserving the past.

CHNM uses digital media and technology to preserve and present history online, transform scholarship across the humanities, and advance historical education and understanding. Each year CHNM’s many project websites receive over 16 million visitors, and over a million people rely on its digital tools to teach, learn, and conduct research.

CHNM is one of the few sites that makes full use of digital technology in order to make history, histories, sources, and study more accessible. Best of all, it’s all free! To anyone, anywhere!

The website is divided into three main sections:

Teaching and Learning

Aimed at teachers, students, and anyone even slightly curious about history, Teaching and Learning combines teaching modules, short courses on how history is “done” and “why history matters”, and an outstanding collection of primary sources.

One of the biggest strengths of CHNM is their dedication to show that history is not just names, dates, and places – but also children, material culture like desks and voting machines, Gender and women, World-wideart, literature and film. Primary sources are organized into easy-to -navigate modules, and are accompanied by a scholarly short essay or interview that helps to contextualize the source and explain how and why historians make use of historical objects.

Most innovative are their use of video and  explorations of “recent history”.  They make ample use of video – including oral history interviews, but also interviews of historians and scholars discussing the history and context of older primary sources. Sites, sources, and discussions actively engage one another, created a site that is much more inter-active, multimedia, and integrated than most others.

Recently created modules such as Making the History of 1989, The 911Digital Archive, and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, simultaneously document events in recent history to provide an invaluable repository for research, and remind site visitors that history is not always “dead and gone”, but very much still in the making. Today’s current events are tomorrow’s PhD dissertation, and CHNM does a nice job of reminding people that one person’s history was another’s present, just as today’s present will be tomorrow’s fast.

Finally, and this is especially useful for students and teachers, CHNM provides outstanding tools for self-study. They are dedicated to teaching people how historians do what they do. Pages such as DoHistory and Historical Thinking Matters teach students how to critically read and contextualize primary sources, construct historical narratives from those sources, and think critically about current historical narratives.

I won’t go any further in-depth, but I must mention that CHNM also includes two addition valuable sites for scholars, archivists, librarians, and museum professionals. CHNM is pioneering the question “what does it mean to be or to do Digital Humanities” and is really at the center of groundbreaking work in this ares. Research and Tools includes a wide variety of sources for  new ways of publishing, archiving, collecting, collaborating, citing, and “un-conferencing” all in the digital. Finally, Collecting and Exhibiting is dedicated to creating, growing, and distributing primary and secondary material in the digital age.

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