October 31, 2011

Closure of the History Subject Centre

It is of deepest regret that the History Subject Centre closes today, 31st October 2011.

Our whole team would like to thank the HE History community for their support.

We fear that the new look HEA may not fully support our discipline, but hope that all we have achieved will be sustained in the future.

Good Luck!

And Best wishes

The History Subject Centre Team


June 06, 2011

Chinese History Teaching Network

Writing about web page http://www.chinese-history-network.group.shef.ac.uk/

The Chinese History Teaching Network new resource website is now live.  

The network was established in September 2009 following a workshop on the teaching of Chinese history, held with History Subject Centre funding, led by Jeremy Taylor at the University of Sheffield. The network aims to bring together people who teach Chinese history at institutions of higher learning in the UK to share best practice, access to new resources and materials, and general experiences in the field. 

It understands Chinese history in the broadest possible sense, and includes people who work on all periods and from all angles (including the history of China itself, as well of Chinese societies outside China and the Chinese Diaspora).

The network plans to hold a second, larger workshop in 2012. It also hopes to develop contacts with similar networks and institutions abroad.


May 25, 2011

Social Media for Researchers and Academics: Workshop Review

On Friday, May 20th, the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services held a one-day workshop on the use of Social Media for Researchers and Academics in Edinburgh. I was fortunate to be able to attend on behalf of the History Subject Centre (Higher Education Academy).

Why bother with social networking?
This was the first and most important question raised at the workshop. I will admit, quite openly, that I have an ambivalent relationship with social media. On the one hand, I find the speed of information dispersal made possible by social networking truly awesome (in the dictional sense of the word). However, I have also shuddered at the idea of 'txtspk' infiltrating other forms of written communication and the shallow nature of the majority of information transmitted via Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Moreover, I maintain deep concerns regarding reputation management and personal privacy. Nonetheless, I recognise that social media are tools. If they have been misused in the past, that should not condemn their future use outright.

The organisers of the event, a group of very lovely individuals who genuinely wanted to provide information rather than proselytise, started the event by voicing my very fears, allowing a space for discussion rather than simply dismissing them as prejudicial. They then proffered the following advantages of social media, which we would consider during the rest of the workshop:

Social media platforms allow you to listen as well as speak - The main complaint surrounding social media is that it is mono-directional and not truly social. Rather than meaningful conversation, we are presented with an ever-increasing and seemingly unnavigable stream of information, often regarding cats requesting fast food. Yet, although this is the how many people use social media, it is not how social media must or even should be used. Instead, they provides a platform beyond 'traditional' promotional methods, such as printed publications and their electronic counterparts, for soliciting and responding to feedback from a limited or wide-ranging community. The example was given by one of the presenters was that he had once complained of poor service by ScotRail on Twitter and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had not only acknowledged his specific complaint, but offered him a voucher in compensation. They were listening!

Social media is cheap, easy to use, wide ranging in application and audience, much quicker than traditional media and allows for a degree of informality in conversation - The second point was that social media sites provide individuals and organisations with a ready-made medium for supporting their personal and professional aims. Most services were free, or very cheap in comparison with traditional dissemination tools, and were effectively instantaneous in reaching their intended recipients. They could also be re-purposed without retraining the user. Facebook, whether use for reconnecting with schoolmates, developing a research community or soliciting feedback on a new product, requires essentially the same skills and equipment from participants. Finally, social media sites allow informal conversations, an intermediary step between personal writings (in whatever context) and a more formal written, broadcast or commercial communication.

Social bookmarking (delicious)
The first tool we explored was social bookmarking, specifically the service delicious. This free website allows users to maintain and sort, through tagging, all of their internet bookmarks in a cloud atmosphere, making them accessible from any computer terminal with an internet connection. There were a variety of generic benefits of using this service, which are best explained by the folks at Commoncraft.

In addition to these generic benefits, however, there are a number of aspects of social bookmarking that are particularly useful to academics and researchers.

Sociability - While you can make a particular bookmark private, or set this as default, you also have the ability to make your bookmarks publicly visible. This has a number of uses. First, if someone else has tagged the same site as you, you will be notified by a blue box, which indicates how many users have also bookmarked it. By clicking on this box, you can see which tags have been used, the descriptions which have been entered and the user names of the people who have bookmarked them. Clicking on a user name brings up their bookmarks, which may introduce you to other relevant sites. Second, you can search by tag to find resources on a given topic. By noting the number of users that have also bookmarked a given site, you are given some indication of the value of the information therein.

Research and teaching collaboration - The tagging function can also aid research or teaching collaboration. By using an unusual tag, or by 'subscribing' to each others listings, a group of researchers can all tag sites which are relevant for their particular project. Likewise, a lecturer or tutor can create dynamic resource lists for their students. This is further aided by the ability to create RSS feeds of particular tags so researchers or students will be notified whenever a new resource is added.

A similar website, CiteULike, was also mentioned, though this was primarily for academic citations rather than websites in general.

RSS (Google Reader)
Another important tool highlighted by the workshop was a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) reader such as Google Reader. As researchers, we are daily visiting dozens of websites in search of updated information on a variety of projects. By obtaining RSS feeds of these websites, we can collate our information more efficiently. For example, by aggregating feeds of frequently visited news sites (BBC), academic journal publishers (Informaworld), blogs and funding agencies (AHRC), I can be instantly informed if and when any of these sites has posted new information. Although it only take a minute or two to visit each site manually, this time adds up very quickly and can unnecessarily take up a sizable portion of your day.

Want to know more? Head on over to RSS in Plain English.

Online communities (Facebook, Academia.edu, LinkedIn)
Next up was online communities such as Facebook, Academia.edu or LinkedIn. At one point or another I had joined all three of these site and was keen to know if there was more I could be getting out of my experience with them. Although LinkedIn has a growing number of professional users, I have found that Facebook and Academia.edu remain the most useful sites for me.

Academia.edu, on the one hand, does what it says on the tin. It is Facebook for academics. Because of this it has a number of academia-specific features, such as the ability to

  • post citations, publications and teaching material
  • tag yourself and your publications by research interests
  • search for others by research interest or university and
  • ask questions of the Academia.edu community

Only a few years old, Academia.edu is still growing, but already serves a very large international community.
Facebook, on the other hand, has a much wider clientele and a few features not yet available from Academia.edu. Prominent among these is the ability to create pages for communities, groups and organisations. Although they must be managed by one or more individual accounts, group pages allow you to converse with members of your community through wall posts or polls as well as disseminate information. Although feedback mechanisms such as discussion boards, web-forms and email can be integrated into your organisation's existing website, using online communities such as Facebook stop you from having to re-invent the wheel. Why develop and maintain a feedback mechanism which will require your community to create yet another online account (and remember yet another online password) when a large proportion of them will already have a Facebook account?

In the end, the most important thing I took away from the discussion of online communities was this: Whichever one you chose to use, you should approach networking online the same way you would approach it offline--organically. You wouldn't walk into a bar and yell out your research interests, hoping to secure a large number of useful contacts. Why would you do that online? Start your online network by friending or following individuals you actually know in 'real life'. By looking through their discussions and networks you will find others you want to connect with, and, through them, even more. But, importantly, they will have been chosen in a discerning fashion and, hopefully, their discussions will be ones you are interested in following.

Blogging
Before we start, head on over to Commoncraft for another great video. Now then, why should we, as researchers, blog? There are several excellent reasons, some more strategic than others. First, blogging about your research, or teaching, raises your academic profile. For early career researchers, with limited publications in major journals, blogging is a way of getting your ideas and research known to academics and the wider public. With the impact agenda becoming ever more pressing, especially for those in the arts, having a popular blog not only offers quantitative evidence that you are making an impact, it may provide qualitative evidence as well.

Let's say your researching something fairly obscure, such as passage advertisements in Scottish newspapers following the conclusion of the Napoleonic War. Sad to say, you are probably not expecting a call from Radio 4 to discuss your work. However, blogging about your project allows you to explain your research, and its relevance, to a wider audience. Once the media understand what you are doing and why, that phone call may come after all. (Note: If any Radio 4 producers are reading this, I am very happy to take your questions)

In another vein, it offers you the opportunity to workout your writing muscles on a regular basis. Writing that next article may seem daunting, but a quick 500 word blog post each week is much more manageable. While you aren't likely to post something particularly detailed, writing briefer pieces lets you test out ideas and elicit informal feedback. Think of it as the world's largest seminar series.

However, a note of caution must be made. Blogging requires dedication. If you can only post once a month, or every month, you are unlikely to retain the consistent readership you need to disseminate your ideas and start a fruitful conversation with your readers.

Microblogging (Twitter)
After a rather remarkably delicious lunch, we turned our attention to microblogging and its most famous provider, Twitter. This was probably the form of social media that received the most resistance from the delegates in the room (and academics I have spoken to in general). New to Twitter? Commoncraft's covered that too!

For those unable or unwilling to blog in the 'traditional' sense, Twitter may, in fact, be for you. By providing a very short (140 characters) commentary on your current activities, be they reading, writing, teaching or attending an academic event, you are making your thoughts available to the wider world and maintaining an active role in at least one stream of academic conversation. So, what are some good uses of Twitter for academics?

  • asking for reading suggestions or reviews "Any recent articles on...."
  • advertising a speaking engagement "In London? Come hear my paper on....."
  • searching for specialists "Looking for assistance with...."
  • finding a peer reviewers "Almost ready to submit. Anyone fancy a read of..."
  • locating the right room at a conference "#AHA2011 Where is Foner's panel being held?"
  • advertising an event, call for papers, or publication
  • facilitating an online discussion group in large lectures

There are, however, a few words of caution I must make about using Twitter in a professional context. First, if online reputation management is important to you, and it is to most of us, be careful of what you Tweet. Its very tempting to use Twitter as a soapbox or as a way to left off steam from one too many poorly written student papers. Just remember, once something is on the internet, chances are it will never (ever) be completely gone. Someone, somewhere--probably Google--will have archived that comment for posterity.

Second, try to remember that Twitter is much more and oral than a written format. It is best used for discussing what is rather than what was, expressing initial reactions than reflected thought. The latter is better suited for blogging, where you have the time and space to compose your thoughts. Of course, that doesn't mean you can't advertise your blog with Twitter.

Collaborative Writing Tools (Google Docs)
The next social media tool is probably well known to most of you. There are a number of collaborative writing tools available, but Google Docs is probably the most easily accessible. Google Docs allows your to store and edit your document, spreadsheet and presentation files online. While cloud computing is pretty handy on it own, the beauty of Google Docs is the ability for a large number of people to simultaneously work on a single document. Gone (hopefully) are the days of sending a document via email, only to end up with two, ten, or even hundreds of slightly different versions from your collaborators.

Google Docs is somewhat limited in its formatting capability, but does have a number of functions which make it worthwhile. In addition to simultaneous editing, it allows you to add comment bubbles to your text, text chat in the sidebar with any other editors who are currently online, and view a complete revision history of the document. If one of your partners (or you) accidentally delete your findings, you can simply return to an earlier version of the document and retrieve them.

Wikipedia
The last piece of social media discussed was the hero and Nemesis of so many, Wikipedia. Again, rather than re-invent the wheel, those new to the Wiki revolution should visit our friends over at Commoncraft.

So what does Wikipedia offer academic researchers beside heartache when marking student essays? As it turns out, a great deal. First, we must get over any lingering feelings of anger towards Wikipedia itself. While inaccuracies certainly abound, a recent study found that Wikipedia is actually almost as accurate the Encyclopedia Britannica. Of course, I wouldn't want my students citing the Encyclopedia Britannica in their essays either, but on raw accuracy, Wikipedia is doing quite well. The point is that it could do even better, with our help. Like blogging, contributing to Wikipedia can be for selfless or strategic aims. On the one hand, sharing your expertise by improving articles will help countless individuals who may never have the benefit of attending your classes or reading your academic papers. On the other, making your academic research more accessible to the general public will increase the likelihood that your research area will attract additional attention and funding. Just remember, it is against Wikipedia's policy to write articles about yourself or your organisation. Improving and expanding articles on your areas of expertise, however, is greatly encouraged. You may also want to join a WikiProject, to systematically improve articles in your field, or have students create and improve Wikipedia articles as an assessed project.

Conclusions
At the end of a long, enjoyable day of exploring social media, I cannot say I have come to any firm conclusions about their use in academic life. I have started to populate my delicious account and have seriously contemplated trying my hand at writing a Wikipedia article. In the end, though, I think the best advice given on the day was this. Here are the tools which are available to you; use what you find useful and leave the rest.

Helpful Links:
The Social Learning Handbook: http://www.c4lpt.co.uk/handbook/
Social Media: a Guide for Researchers: www.rin.ac.uk/social-media-guide


May 22, 2011

After the History Subject Centre

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/heahistory/elibrary/internal/br_richardson_afterthehsc_20110501

The History Subject Centre will officially close on 31st October, although effectively most activities will cease by the end of July. Sarah Richardson has written a briefing report, After the History Subject Centre, which outlines the support that will be available for HE History once the subject centre has closed. There are also details of activities and services the History community have found most valuable and recommendations on how these may be continued in the future.

Please join in the conversation!


May 12, 2011

Upcoming Events in History

Writing about web page http://www.historysubjectcentre.ac.uk/events

The History Subject Centre is pleased to announce a number of upcoming events within the history community:

Teaching the Green Humanities?
25th May 2011
University of London, Senate House, London, WC1E 7HU

This free conference is about the relationship between teaching the arts and humanities in HE and student learning about environmental and social issues. It will debate the extent to which the pedagogy of the humanities is inherently ‘green’ and should be concerned with engaging its students in environmental and social issues. It will also create opportunities to share current practices in addressing these issues in (and outside) the classroom and demonstrate how pedagogical innovation in the arts and humanities might contribute to environmental and social awareness.

Various factors are encouraging us to consider the connection between the arts and humanities and contemporary local, national and global problems. The new HEFCE working definition of Education for Sustainable Development sees it as activity where there is 'a significant element related to either or both of the natural environment and natural resources, PLUS a significant element related to either or both of economic or social issues’. The impact agenda is pushing the humanities to demonstrate its connections to people and places beyond the university, and a recent survey by the NUS* has found that most students expect skills in sustainable development to be important for employment. Looking beyond HE, the National Trust has recently launched a campaign ‘Outdoor Nation’ driven by a concern that we undervalue the physical and spiritual refreshment to be gained from the ‘outdoors’ and people need to be encouraged to re-connect with outdoor spaces.

For further information and to register please visit http://www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/events/event_detail.php?event_index=304

Interdisciplinarity: Methods and Frameworks for Teaching the Nineteenth Century
MIVSS Friday 24th June 2011, Birmingham City University
School of Art, Margaret Street, Birmingham, B3 3BX

2.00 Rosemary Mitchell, Associate Principal Lecturer in History at Leeds Trinity and Director of the Leeds Centre for Victorian Studies, ''A treasure hidden in a field'?: The Interdisciplinary Teaching of Victorian Studies'

2.45 Jane Hamlett, Lecturer in Modern British History, Royal Holloway, University of London, 'Using Photography in Teaching History'

3.15 Coffee

3.45 Anthony Howe, Senior Lecturer, School of English, Birmingham City University, ‘Teaching G. M. Hopkins’

4.15 Discussion (led by Philippa Bennet) on teaching the Victorians

4.45 Plans for future events

5.00 Close.  Those who wish to continue the discussions might like to join us in The Old Joint Stock pub (opposite St Philip’s Cathedral).

Details of the venue, which is in Birmingham city centre, and directions can be found here:
http://www.bcu.ac.uk/about-us/maps-and-campuses/school-of-art-margaret-street

The event is free, but please register by emailing Serena Trowbridge (serena.trowbridge@bcu.ac.uk) before 1 June 2011.

There are a small number of travel bursaries of approx. £20 for postgraduate students attending the event, provided by funding from the British Association for Victorian Studies. These will be allocated on a first-come first-served basis, and priority is given to postgraduates who are already on our membership list. If you want to apply for this, please contact Kate Hill (khill@lincoln.ac.uk) stating your name, affiliation, and how much your travel costs will be.


April 06, 2011

Connect to 400 years of history

Writing about web page http://www.connectedhistories.org/

JISC news release

4 April 2011

Connect to 400 years of history

Millions of historical records have become more accessible to the public today (4 April 2011) through a JISC funded project at the universities of Hertfordshire, London and Sheffield.

Connected Histories provides a single point of access to a wide range of distributed digital resources relating to early modern and nineteenth-century British history.

Access the resources at <http://www.connectedhistories.org/>

Connected Histories brings digital humanities research to a new level by providing integrated access to several key resources, moving beyond simple keyword searching to allow structured searching of millions of pages of text by names, places, and dates.

With the click of a mouse, researchers can find rich bodies of evidence for virtually any topic in British history; whether royal weddings, parliamentary reform movements, famous criminals, or the lives of plebeian Londoners.

Alastair Dunning, JISC programme manager, said: “Connected Histories provides a new type of tool for scholars, not just allowing them to find people, names and places from disparate digital resources, but create intelligent links between them. For JISC such projects are vital, permitting users to make sense of the rich and copious troves of primary sources available on the web.”

The Connected Histories website is fully searchable and provides access to millions of pages of text, hundreds of thousands of words and tens of thousands maps and images. It incorporates the following digital sources:

• British History Online

• British Newspapers 1600-1900

• Charles Booth Online Archive

• Clergy of the Church of England Database 1540–1835

• London Lives, 1690–1800

• Old Bailey Proceedings Online, 1674–1913

• Origins Network

• Parliamentary Papers

• Printed Ephemera from the Bodleian Library

• Strype’s Survey of London

The resource will grow substantially over time as new sources are added. The first update, due in September, will include 65,000 British Library books from the Historic Books Platform, 19th century pamphlets from JSTOR, and abstracts of wills from The National Archives.

Professor Robert Shoemaker, from the department of history at the University of Sheffield and co-director of the project, said: “Connected Histories represents the next big step in digital humanities research. By enabling integrated searching of diverse electronic resources it will allow everyone conducting historical research to work more efficiently and productively.”

The project used natural language processing to identify names, places and dates in unstructured texts, and combined these with structured databases to create a single resource searchable by names, places and dates, as well as by keywords and phrases. Users can save results in their own workspace and document connections between sources.

Co-director Professor Tim Hitchcock, from the University of Hertfordshire, added: “Connected Histories creates a one-stop-shop for historical information. It will allow us to search newspapers and trial reports, parliamentary papers and images across fifteen different scholarly websites, at the click of a mouse. In the process it will change how we do research."

Technical work was carried out at the Humanities Research Institute at the University of Sheffield and the website was developed by the Institute of Historical Research, University of London.

Dr Jane Winters, Head of Publications, Institute of Historical Research, said: “Connected Histories marks an enormous step forward for historians of Britain, and will transform the ways in which they engage with the wealth of digital material now available. It is also a model of cross-sectoral collaboration to further the UK research agenda.”

Search across the Connected Histories resources at <http://www.connectedhistories.org/>

Stay up to date on all of JISC's digitisation activities for universities and colleges at the digitisation blog <http://digitisation.jiscinvolve.org/wp/>


March 28, 2011

History Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Newsletter published

Writing about web page http://www.indiana.edu/~histsotl/blog/?page_id=1503

The Spring 2011 edition of the History SoTL Newsletter is now online.  Please follow the link below (or paste it into the address bar of your web browser) for the newsletter.
http://www.indiana.edu/~histsotl/blog/?page_id=1503
Features include reports on two SoTL conferences, a report on SoTL in Moldova by Svetlana Suveica, a report on numeracy from Geogg Timmins et al., and a report on historical thinking in higher education in Australia by Adele Nye.


March 16, 2011

Digging into Data Challenge

Writing about web page http://www.diggingintodata.org

Digging into data challenge

Today eight international research funders are jointly announcing their participation in round two of the Digging into Data Challenge, a grant competition designed to spur cutting edge research in the humanities and social sciences.

The challenge asks researchers these provocative questions: How can we use advanced computation to change the nature of our research methods? Now that the objects of study for researchers in the humanities and social sciences - including books, survey data, economic data, newspapers, music - and other scholarly and scientific resources are being digitized on a huge scale, how does this change the very nature of our research? How might advanced computation and data analysis techniques help researchers use these materials to ask new questions about and gain new insights into our world?

Alastair Dunning, programme manager at JISC, said: “We are delighted to continue our involvement in the Digging into Data challenge. Digging into Data offers the arts and humanities and the social sciences the opportunity to explore new frontiers in research, forging not only international partnerships but new relationships between traditional scholarship and cutting edge computer science.”

The first round of the Digging into Data Challenge sparked enormous interest from the international research community and led to eight cutting-edge projects being funded. There has also been increased media attention to the question of so-called 'big data' techniques being used for humanities and social sciences research, including a recent cover article in the journal Science.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of round one, the Digging into Data Challenge is pleased to announce that four additional funders have joined for round two, enabling this competition to have a world-wide reach into many different scholarly and scientific domains.

The eight sponsoring funding bodies include JISC, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK; the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation in the US; the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research; and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada.

Final applications will be due 16 June 2011.

Further information about the competition and the application process can be found at <http://www.diggingintodata.org>


March 13, 2011

OFSTED publishes review of History teaching in schools

Writing about web page http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-all-by/Documents-by-type/Thematic-reports/History-for-all

Ofsted has published its review of History teaching in schools based on inspections from 2007-10. The picture is generally a positive one, particularly in secondary schools, with good teaching and rising attainment.

However there are some concerns for Higher Education. The number of Academies teaching History beyond Key Stage 3 is declining whilst 48 per cent of pupils in Independent Schools study the subject beyond the age of 14. Reliance on text books (often published by the examination boards) is also noted as an issue. The key recommendations for secondary school history teaching were to: 

  • ensure that pupils have a greater understanding of the history of the interrelationships of the different countries which comprise the British Isles
  • ensure that technology is exploited to best effect in the teaching and learning of history
  • ensure that sixth form history students read widely in preparation for the demands of higher education.

March 07, 2011

High Achieving Graduates of History

Writing about web page http://www.historysubjectcentre.ac.uk/research/gwi/about_gwi/high_achievers/

The work of the government and our subject community is increasingly concentrating on enabling students to fulfil their potential during and after their studies.  The aim of the projects within 'History Graduates with Impact'is to highlight and evidence the 'value' of studying history and some of the developments in the UK.

As part of the research into 'Graduates with Impact', the Subject Centre (along with the English and Philosophical and Religious Studies Subject Centres) conducted a search of history (and wider humanities) alumni.  The result is a database of alumni who have progressed into positions of note and interest.  Findings from the database will be used in David Nicholl's forthcoming update to his 2005 work on 'The Employment of History Graduates', but we have also made the fill datasets available to the wider community on our website ... to encourage discussion with prospective students.

A publication of case studies, surveys and reports on 'History Graduates with Impact' will be available in July, in the meantime, please visit the project website for more details: http://www.historysubjectcentre.ac.uk/research/gwi/


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