Monthly Archives: September 2010

Collaborative Pedagogy

I wrote this post in response to a ProfHacker Open-Thread Wednesday, but I kept getting an error message when I tried to post it. So I’m posting it here instead. The question for the day was about IT success stories.

We have had enormous success in collaborations among technologists, librarians, archivists, students, and faculty in the Wheaton College Digital History Project, which began in 2004. And the inspiration of our staff in what was then Academic Computing and a former staff member at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) laid the groundwork. From a classroom assignment for an introductory level course in U.S. Women’s History, we developed a digitization project that has employed students during summers to transcribe and encode the diaries of our institution’s founder, Eliza Baylies Wheaton. We have now begun similar work on financial records that are part of the Wheaton Family Papers. Eventually, we plan to digitize all of the documents from the founding era of the college, 1834-1911.

Collaborations are essential in classroom uses of technology as well as in projects that extend beyond the classroom, and whilst technologists are one significant group in the mix, so too are archivists and reference librarians, who bring other strengths and professional perspectives to any course or project.

Collaborative pedagogy requires forethought, something I’m very bad at. So I would urge faculty members who seek to enrich their pedagogy with technological and research tools to do this part of the job better than I do. Plan such assignments early. Contact the appropriate archivists, librarians, and technologists before the semester begins. Call a meeting in which you bring together the members of the faculty and staff who will be working with your students. Ask them what they think your students need to get the most out of your assignment. You, your students, and your staff colleagues will all benefit from the extra time it takes to craft the classroom experience.

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Filed under education, Wheaton College Digital History Project

Transcribe Bentham

I’m not spending much time on Twitter right now because I’m trying to minimize distractions. (She said, thinking of how she has just spent the entire day on errands in celebration of payday. Oh well, she thinks, the dog is happy to have food. Now, where’s that new toy I bought her?) But today I dipped a toe into the stream and noticed that the transcription desk is now open at Transcribe Bentham. Talk about distraction. I love the idea of this project and I’m shamelessly stealing from it for the next step in the Wheaton College Digital History Project, Transcribe Wheaton. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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Filed under digital humanities, Wheaton College Digital History Project

Creating Reference Files for an Expanding Project

I spent much of Labor Day 2010 in the land of XML/TEI, adding to a personography file I began to work on after a TEI seminar in April. This rather intensive set of tasks arose because we at the Wheaton College Digital History Project are proceeding apace with imaging financial records created by Laban Morey Wheaton and his agents between 1828 and 1859. (Thanks, Chris!) This is exciting news in a project that began with transcription of Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s diaries in spring 2005.

The need for a consolidated personography is related in part to our extending this work in P5, the current version of the TEI. I can’t remember whether we were using P3 or P4 when we began the project. I took a rather distant approach to the project at the time, relying on my colleagues in Archives and Special Collections and in Research and Instruction to manage much of the daily work of transcription and coding undertaken by our undergraduate research assistants. In the past couple of years, I have been learning more and more TEI and taking more responsibility for being able to communicate the needs of the program to a changing (growing) group of technical and library colleagues as the project has expanded from diaries to financial records.

When we were working on the diaries, my colleagues created a reference file that included name identifiers for people whose names appeared in them. As we began to transcribe the financial records, we kept another list of names that appeared in them. Now that we have established a workflow for transcribing and coding the financial records, we are ready for a consolidated personography that allows us to assign unique identifiers for every name in the Wheaton Family Papers.

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Filed under digital humanities, Laban Morey Wheaton Financial Records, Wheaton College Digital History Project

Working in the Garden

Today–the day after hurricane Earl missed the coast of New England–the weather is sunny, breezy, dry. It has been a beautiful day to sit in the garden with the dog and read about women’s work in the nineteenth-century United States. This is a history that is often romanticized and one that we often think we know better than we actually do.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been discovering how much I have idealized a pleasant work pattern that I established for a few weeks in July and August, one in which I spent much of the day outdoors with the dog, following the shade around the garden, reading and beginning to poke at an article project that has been on the back burner for longer than I care to think about. There was pleasure and hope in those weeks, at least in part because they came before the drudgery, anxiety and–most significantly–perplexity that have characterized this particular writing project more recently. Clearly, a heavy overtone of nostalgia colors my mental picture of those summer days so recently past. Now, as the weather begins to cool and I note how challenging I have found productivity on days when I have been unable to practice my idealized work pattern, I realize that I must establish alternate sites for reading, thinking, and productivity.

The living room holds several comfy reading spots, but my mind turns more convincingly to the landing at the top of the stairs, a space with good light and enough room for a cozy reading nook. That space degenerated when I was focusing on clearing the spare room so that guests could stay there comfortably over the summer, so now it’s time once again to establish a new order in a portion of my living space.

Such order need not be pristine nor finished by any means. A quick look at my beloved garden workspace demonstrates this point. The dog looks cleaner than she has in weeks, mostly because–before her hurricane bath and during the very hot weeks that preceded today’s halcyon weather–I allowed her to dig holes at will so that she could follow her dog nature and keep cool by lying in dirt only recently exposed to hot surface air. Among the spots in which I allowed the digging was the future brick terrace, currently a 9′ x 13′ patch of dirt outside the back door.

Straight ahead of me, as I sit in my reading, writing, thinking chair, a mature garden of shrubs and perennials rewards the years of planting and tending that I have given this space since I bought this house in 2002. But to my right, the area one friend kindly designated my “workspace” attests to the tasks that remain before the garden I survey becomes the garden I see in my mind’s eye. The hole in the tarmac that covers a full one-third of this suburban oasis witnesses my determination to unpave the area and plant it as lushly in the next eight years as I have the other two-thirds of the space in the past.

The chaotic “workspace” reminds me to honor process, to appreciate the annoying drudgery and anxieties and perplexities of a project’s many middles and to have the patience to persevere. That I can turn away from the chaos and focus my attention on the pleasures of gazing on the results of my earlier labors reminds me that such patience and perseverance will be rewarded.

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Filed under productivity, writing

Advice from Lydia

When last we left Eliza Baylies Wheaton and her traveling companions, they had arrived in London and taken rooms at a hotel in Holborn. To Wheaton’s great joy, two letters from her friend, Lydia Folger Fowler awaited her at the desk.

A former student at Wheaton Female Seminary, Lydia Folger had married phrenologist Lorenzo Niles Fowler in Nantucket, her home, in September 1844. She had studied medicine at Central Medical College in Syracuse and Rochester, New York, in 1849 and 1850, becoming the second woman to receive a medical degree in the United States (after Elizabeth Blackwell). First principal of the women’s department and then professor of midwifery and diseases of women and children at Central Medical College, Fowler also published books of Familiar Lessons in Physiology, Astronomy, and Phrenology. Fowler also accompanied her husband on a lecture tour of western cities, lecturing to ladies on her specialities. She had a private medical practice and taught medical courses for women in New York City in the 1850s. Lydia and Lorenzo Fowler undertook another lecture tour through the United States and Canada between 1858 and 1860, and in August 1860, they began a two-year tour through Great Britain, lecturing in Liverpool, Newcastle, Perth, and Edinburgh. Biographer Madeleine B. Stern noted that Lydia “found time for a trip to Italy, a winter of medical study in Paris, and a three-months’ stint in charge of the obstetrical department of a London hospital” (181).

Like Wheaton and her husband, Fowler and hers were in London in spring 1862 for the International Exhibition. The friendship between Lydia Folger Fowler and Eliza Baylies Wheaton and the fact that the Fowlers had been touring Great Britain probably contributed to the decision by Laban Morey Wheaton and David Emory Holman to journey to London on business that spring. Lydia Folger Fowler certainly appeared as a significant source of information about the city and about travel in Europe in notations in both the travel journal and the myriad notes that Eliza Wheaton and her husband made during their stay in London.
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Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Madeleine B. Stern, Heads and Headlines: The Phrenological Fowlers (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1971).

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