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Bringing the Digital Humanities into the classroom

As a leader in oral history and digital humanities, Doug Boyd always gives his time to preach the gospel of the intersection of the two, particularly using OHMS as a conduit to bring the two of them together effectively. We at the OUPblog always appreciate the time he gives us to speak to or write about his work. Chime into the discussion in the comments below or on TwitterFacebookTumblr, or Google+. If you’d like to discuss an innovative project you’re working on, consider submitting it for publication on this blog. — Andrew Shaffer

I spent four days last month with my colleague and friend, Doug Boyd, as he and I (mainly he) gave oral history workshops in Milwaukee and Madison. While the idea to bring Boyd to Wisconsin for these trainings began with Ann Hanlon, Digital Humanities Lab head at UW-Milwaukee, I jumped at the chance to find groups to sponsor his time in Madison. I knew it would give attendees (and me) an opportunity to pick his brain about oral history, digital humanities, and his latest creation, the Oral History Metadata Synchronizer (OHMS).

It would also give Andrew and I a chance to promote Boyd’s new article, co-written with Janice W. Fernheimer, and Rachel Dixon, titled “Indexing as Engaging Oral History Research: Using OHMS to ‘Compose History’ in the Writing Classroom.” For those unfamiliar with OHMS, Boyd has talked about it in an OUPblog podcast, and also maintains a website and blog on the topic. Here are some excerpts of our chat.

Doug, why bring OHMS into the classroom?

It was not my original intention when I created OHMS to have students in the classroom working on the back-end. But once the Nunn Center began to increase our indexing efforts, we began to learn a great deal about indexing that shaped policies and workflow. Most of all, I saw the student workers really engaging with oral history in a new way. I originally tested the concept of using students in a classroom setting with a graduate Library Science course that I was teaching. OHMS provided the class with an engaging opportunity to learn something completely new about metadata, and incorporate a digital humanities element into the course. At the time we did not have very well developed tutorials for OHMS, so I was not expecting much in term of the outcome. That said, I was blown away when the interview indexes were turned in. The quality of the index was outstanding. I had the students write reflective papers on the process and got some really great feedback—they loved the opportunity to contribute to what the Nunn Center was doing and loved working with OHMS. The project provided a real opportunity to enhance the quality of pedagogy—to connect the classroom more directly to the archive. When UK Professor Jan Fernheimer and I connected, I was eager to put OHMS to the test in an undergraduate classroom. As the article suggests, the experiment was an incredible success. 

Why did you feel it important to co-write the piece?

From the beginning we felt like we were creating a collaborative model, so there was no doubt when we began looking back at the experience that we needed all three voices present in the article. I have written a great deal about OHMS, but never from this perspective. What really made this successful was Professor Fernheimer’s course design and energy. She was willing to experiment and was flexible enough to roll with variables that presented themselves during the semester. I think I can speak for Jan when I say that both of us were adamant that we needed student voices represented in this article—and not just in the form of quotations from their papers. Rachel Dixon’s perspective on being a student in that class is what makes this article so very powerful and the impact of OHMS as a pedagogical tool so real. I think there should be much more collaboration with regard to scholarship, especially integrating students into the process.

Have you brought OHMS into other classrooms? What were the results?

As a matter of fact, yes. Since the article was originally submitted, I used the experiences gleaned from working with Professor Fernheimer’s classes when presented with the opportunity to work with Charlie Hardy and Janneken Smucker at West Chester University this year. Charlie and Janneken were teaching a digital history course and wanted to utilize OHMS to present interviews Charlie conducted back in the 1980s that documented the First Great Migration North to Philadelphia (the interviews had been archived at the Nunn Center). By the end of the semester, the students had used OHMS and Omeka to produce the Goin’ North website that won the 2015 Oral History Association Award for Use of Oral History in a Non Print Format. I am so proud of this collaboration. It was largely built on the lessons learned from the original collaboration presented in our article and really takes the model of using OHMS as a pedagogical tool to the next level.

Image Credit: “Classroom” by Miki Yoshihita. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.