Category Archives: projects

Class-sourcing on Soviet Sustainability

Karl Qualls of Dickinson’s History Department reflects on plans to use digital tools in the teaching of Russian history and sustainability (re-blogged with minor edits from Teaching History)

Gleb Tsipursky of Ohio State University has advocated for the value of “class-sourcing,” that is, class assignments where students build websites, Pinterest boards, wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and other digital artifacts aimed at informing a broad audience about a specific subject.   In this post I would like to introduce how I have adapted Gleb’s project to my Soviet history course (Russia: Quest for the Modern, History 254) at Dickinson.

Gail Troussoff Marks ('73) and Karl Qualls, associate professor of history at Dickinson College, look over documents that Marks has contributed to the Dickinson archives. source: Dickinson College flickr

Gail Troussoff Marks (’73) and Karl Qualls, associate professor of history at Dickinson College, look over documents that Marks has contributed to the Dickinson archives. source: Dickinson College flickr

Dickinson  College has long been known for fostering global education and study abroad. More recently, we have taken up the call to teach our students and ourselves to be better stewards through the study and practice of sustainability. To this end, many faculty have been creating and reworking, to varying degrees, courses to highlight issues of sustainability in our fields. Given that most definitions of sustainability include not only environmental concerns, but also issues of human rights, access to political and economic power, and maintenance of cultures, the study of the Soviet Union seemed a logical course with which to begin.

Following Gleb’s lead, I have changed assignments in this course from a traditional research paper to a series of projects that will support students’ use of and contribution to our digitized knowledge base. In a series of steps, students will accumulate a bibliography on their topics, modify and annotate the bibliography, collect digitized sources (e.g. films, maps, timelines, photographs, etc.) that will help them tell a story, and then construct a lengthy multimedia blog post that will educate the broader public on their topics. Notes and bibliographies will be collected using Evernote so that students can easily sync their work between tablets and computers. Students will then share these Evernote assignments with classmates for peer review and with the wider world via the Twitter hashtag #h254 (after the course number) and other social media. Final projects will be posted to our blog in December and will be promoted via my Teaching History blog and on various social media outlets.

Updates on the course’s progress will appear every few weeks over on the Teaching History blog, and I’ll provide my thoughts on the pros and cons at each stage. Gleb will be providing his perspective in guest blog posts there as well.

Dickinson College Commentaries: Summer 2013

Dan Plekhov and Qingyu Wang sitting at table in book lined seminar room, smiling

Summer Research Assistants Qingyu Wang and Dan Plekhov, both of the Dickinson class of 2014, have just completed an eight week stint working on the Dickinson College Commentaries, and their accomplishments have been substantial.  Qingyu is a Computer Science and Economics major from Nanjing, China, and Dan is a Classical Studies and Archaeology major from Glen Rock, New Jersey. They were paid a stipend and given housing through the Christopher Roberts Fund for classical studies at Dickinson.

The first order of business was to create systematic linkages between DCC and Pleiades,

Pleiades screenshotvia the Pelagios Project. Pleiades is the main hub online for linked data about the geography of the ancient Mediterranean. More than a map or gazetteer, it is a platform for comprehensively linking data from disparate sources about ancient places. DCC is now one of many digital projects whose geographical data (in our case, notes about specific places mentioned in the texts we cover) is automatically fed into Pleiades. This magic happens through the Pelagios Project, which is a third party that funnels data into Pleiades so the linkages happen without further human intervention.Pelagios screenshot

On our end what needed to be done was to create a single file that listed all of our geographical annotations. We already had Google Earth maps made last summer by Merri Wilson, that contained placemarks with all places mentioned in two of the existing commentaries, each placemark annotated with Pleiades URIs (unique identifiers). The existing Caesar map did not have the Pleiades URIs, and all the linkages in the other commentaries had to be checked for errors. As an Archaeology and Classics major, Dan was perfect for this job, which required a good knowledge of ancient geography, Latin, Greek, and solid research skills.

Meanwhile, Qingyu investigated the .RDF format we were to use for the comprehensive file, and the very specific formatting required by Pelagios. This is not exactly the kind of thing computer science majors do all day, but she dove in and taught herself the skills she needed to complete the work. She was aided by good advice from Sebastian Heath at New York University, and Rainer Simon of Pelagios, a scientist at the Digital Memory Engineering research group of the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology. We had to invent a human-readable code for our specific type of annotations-—so we could keep track of things and every annotation would have a unique designation-—then put all that into a format that Pelagios could deal with. Once we figured all that out, Qingyu created the .RDF file that specifies the linkages between a unique ancient place as referred to in Pleiades, with a specific annotation on a page of our site. Soon, when you go to that place in Pleiades (Gallia, for instance), under “Related Content from Pelagios” you will see “geographical annotations from Dickinson College Commentaries.”

Another aspect of that process, in a sense the reverse of it, was the automatic channeling of data from Pleiades into DCC, via the addition of thumbnail pop-ups on the names of places mentioned in the notes fields. As of this summer, when you mouse over such a linked place name in DCC, a thumbnail with a small map pops up, with the link to Pleiades.

Pleiades pop up screen shotThe beauty of this is that one does not have to navigate away from the text to get an idea of where roughly the place is; but at the same time, Pleiades is only a click way. Qingyu and Ryan Burke made this happen, using a bit of css code created by Sebastian Heath for use in his ISAW papers. So now DCC is comprehensively linked with Pleiades, and we owe a big debt of thanks not just to Dan and Qingyu, but to the folks at Pleiades (Tom Elliott and Sebastian Heath) and Pelagios (Elton Barker and Rainer Simon).

Dan has extensive training in ArcGIS, so I took advantage of that to have him create some new maps for the Caesar commentary. The showpiece is his beautiful new map to go with BG 1.1, the overview of Gaul. We were also fortunate to get some advice from Caesar expert Andrew Riggsby at the University of Texas, who has written extensively on the representation of space in Caesar. Dan himself did substantial research on geography in Caesar, reading through all of the BG up through Book 6, and making a comprehensive list of places and ethnic names mentioned for future inclusion in an expanded version of our Caesar commentary. He also used ArcGIS to update and beautify several of Antonio Salinas’ strategy maps.

Gaul Map screenshot

Meanwhile, Qingyu was working on her next major project, creating relational database versions of the DCC Latin and Greek Core Vocabulary lists. Derek Frymark (’13) provided spreadsheets that presented the lists in table form. Qingyu hashed out exactly what needed to be done to create the database in Drupal. She miraculously mastered the inner workings of Drupal in virtually no time, imported Derek’s spreadsheets, and the result is the attractive, flexible interface you can see here (Latin) and here (Greek). This represents a major improvement to a popular and useful feature of our site, and the feedback from users has been great.

Greek core screenshot

After finishing his mapping efforts, Dan entered the Greek vocabulary lists into our forthcoming site on Lucian’s True Story, the first known piece of science fiction. These lists had been initially created by Evan Hayes and Stephen Nimis for their print edition, but had to be adapted for our format.


He then  moved on to the preparation of our Callimachus Aetia site, which as you can imagine is a very complicated endeavor due to the fragmentary nature of that text. Just figuring out what we have and don’t have as a legacy of Stanford University’s Aetia site begun under the direction of Prof. Susan Stephens has been a real chore. Dan has created a new table of contents which, when it goes live, will be an excellent way to see the work as a whole, and to navigate within the text. Dan has been carefully checking everything on the site against the best scholarly editions (Harder, Massimilla, Pfeiffer, D’Alessio), making sure that the formatting is correct, and that the TOC accurately reflects what we are including on the site. He has also helped me to make innumerable judgment calls about what fragments are actually legible and thus to be included on the site, as opposed to so fragmentary as to be for all practical purposes illegible.

Aetia TOC

Qingyu’s third major task, and the most challenging as it turned out, was creating our own instance of Allen & Greenough’s Latin Grammar. We link out to A&G at Perseus at the moment, but for various reasons we really need to have our own copy on our servers.

The Perseus Project carried out the original digitization of Allen & Greenough with support from the National Endowment of the Humanities. Perseus makes their tagged XML version available through a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license, which means anyone can remix, tweak, and build upon it, even for commercial purposes, as long as they give credit and license their new creations under the identical terms. Paul Hudson, author of the SPQR app, provided his own copy of the XML file, along with the php code he wrote that parses the XML file and converts it to an SQLite database. It is this database version of the Perseus XML that forms the basis of our site. Qingyu created the interface based on Hudson’s code and a design by Chris Stamas, with the help of Dickinson web developer Ryan Burke. She built it in html, using css and javascript to create the effects and menus on the pages, and used php to make the page interact with the database. All of this took substantial effort and problem solving, but when it goes live I think you’ll agree the result is a fast and attractive way to consult A&G, and a real asset to the site.

We view the navigation of Allen & Greenough via the table of contents as a IMG_2507temporary stopgap, and plan in the future to create navigation via Allen & Greenough’s Index of Words and Subjects (which is the way most people actually consult the book). But the index has evidently not yet been digitized, and is not part of the XML file. So stay tuned for that. In the long run we would like to have a whole stable of such reference works. My highest priority at the moment would be digitizing Goodell’s Greek grammar. But that’s a project for another summer!


All these things sound fairly straightforward in retrospect, but they took a great deal of skill, hard work, and creativity on the part of Dan and Qingyu. This summer has been an experiment and an adventure, and in my view a highly successful one, thanks to their outstanding efforts. I am so grateful to have had the chance to work with them, and I believe that the future holds great things for them.

–Chris Francese (reblogged from

Carlisle Indian Industrial School records digitized

With support from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Digital Humanities grant, and from the College’s Research and Development Committee, Jim Gerencser (College Archivist), Susan Rose (Professor of Sociology, Director Community Studies Center), and Malinda Triller Doran (Special Collections Librarian) have spent this summer working with a team of four interns to digitize materials relating to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School held at the National Archives in Washington, DC. In the past two months the three undergraduate interns, along with Kacee Cooke (Friends of the Library Intern), have scanned 2101 student files, comprising roughly 18,200 page images. In addition, Pierce Bounds photographed twelve bound ledgers, totaling roughly 2000 pages: “Registers of Pupils (1890-1906),” “Consecutive Record of Pupils Enrolled (1905-1918),” “Attendance Books (1884-1891),” “Enrollment Status Book (1898-1902),” “Data Concerning Former Students (1898),” “Registers of Outings (1881-1887, 1912-1918),” and “Register of Visitors (1909-1917).”

Along with the materials from the National Archives, the
interns scanned items from the college’s special collections, which include 20 letters written between Richard Henry Pratt and Dr. Cornelius Rea Agnew, 6 commencement programs and invitations, and 3 souvenir programs. At this time, at least half of the student files from the National Archives records have been placed online. To learn more about the pro
ject and the materials uploaded, check out the website:

Matthew J. Kochis (


Dickinson College Commentaries Video

Dickinson’s Marketing and Communications Office has produced a very nice short video about Dickinson College Commentaries, highlighting student involvement in the project. Thank you to all who helped make it, especially Connie MacNamara, who put it in motion, and to the featured students, Chloe Miller and Jimmy Martin.

[youtube_sc url=””]

House Divided: Summer 2013 Plans

Summer 2013 plans for House Divided include the creation of an audio archive of Abraham Lincoln’s  selected writings, a series of short, instructional videos featuring Prof. Matthew Pinsker teaching key documents from the Civil War era, increased alignment with the Common Core Standards for Social Studies literacy, and the launching of Dickinson’s first open online course.

House Divided screen shot

Since its public launch in 2011 at the start of the Civil War 150th anniversary, Dickinson’s House Divided project, directed by Prof. Pinsker, has experienced more than 500,000 visitors and over two million page views across its network of two dozen websites.

Its research engine contains 11,000 public domain images and tens of thousands more historic documents and records.  The other related sites, such as digital classrooms, special exhibitions, and blogs, have evolved from this vast main resource (see Index Page). House Divided also maintains a significant presence on social media, including a Twitter following now approaching one thousand.  Prof. Pinsker will carry out an ambitious expansion this summer, thanks in part to the digital humanities grant the College received this year from the Andrew W. Mellon foundation.

Matthew Pinsker

Across the House Divided network, its target audience remains K-12 and undergraduate classrooms, but the site also spurs a steady stream of requests from authors, journalists, genealogists, Civil War buffs and others.   “The next challenge, beyond simply editing, refining and expanding the content,” says Prof. Pinsker, “is to find ways to relate the site to what is called the Common Core. These are nationally developed state standards for reading and math that have been adopted just in the last few years by 46 states.”  The Common Core standards for social studies literacy emphasize close readings of primary source documents–an approach that fits perfectly with the nature of the House Divided Project. With help from the Mellon Digital Humanities Fund Pinsker plans to transform House Divided into one of the nation’s leading web-based Common Core resources for Social Studies and English teachers.

Dickinson College theatre professor Todd Wronski will prepare in August 2013 a series of freely available podcasts for Abraham Lincoln’s selected writings.  Wronski will become in effect the “voice of Lincoln” for the House Divided Project. He has already recorded a podcast of Lincoln’s 1859 autobiographical sketch. The recording was recently used as part of a Common Core-aligned lesson plan that features several components of the House Divided Project, including a Dickinson History Department course on the 1860 election that was filmed by C-SPAN and relied heavily on a close reading of the sketch.  This post offers a model for what is intended for 150 of the most significant Lincoln documents, including his most quoted letters and speeches.

Civil War digital classroom screenshot

With funding from the Mellon DH initiative a team of consultants at the Gilder Lehrman Institute for American History, led by independent filmmaker Lance Warren, will help the Dickinson team create a series of short, instructional videos featuring Prof. Pinsker teaching key documents from the Civil War era (including many of the same Lincoln documents developed in the Wronski audio project).  Warren and his documentary team have already created a series of such short instructional videos with Prof. Pinsker (including a virtual field trip to Gettysburg) that can be accessed here. These videos helped support a summer 2012 online professional development course that House Divided created with Gilder Lehrman.

Building on this experience, Pinsker will expand that partnership to launch Dickinson’s first open online graduate course in summer 2013.  The videos will be used as the base instructional material for quiz-taking by auditors and also as freely available online resources for English and Social Studies teachers who want to “flip” their classrooms when teaching the Common Core.  An example of how that might work can be seen here, with a video-based teaching unit on the Emancipation Proclamation. 

As part of this effort to launch Dickinson’s first open online course, two Dickinson students will participate in shaping and evaluating the course materials and curriculum History 800, “Understanding Lincoln.”  Dickinson will  offer full graduate course credit for up to 100 eligible participants, and then free access to others who simply want to follow along.  The Dickinson students will work closely with Pinsker in June 2013 to refine and test various course content and assessment materials; help support the initial launch of the course in July 2013, and contribute significant research and analysis to a planned pedagogical article by Pinsker about the experience of online liberal arts learning.

Meanwhile, House Divided also continues important digitization and transcription work on major printed sources from the Civil War era, such as the illustrated periodicals Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and Harper’s Weekly Magazine and from many other leading period newspapers and books. 

Isomer Musical Metacreation Project

With support from Dickinson’s Mellon Digital Humanities initiative Dickinson student Jamie Leidwinger (’15) will be working this summer under the direction of composer, technologist, pianist, and entrepreneur Greg Wilder on his Isomer Project, an ongoing research project in computational creativity.

logo for the Isomer projectThe Isomer Project is a suite of software tools that is the culmination of a decade of independent research and commercial development. Its aim is to combine musical models of human creativity with modern machine learning techniques to more fully understand and explore computational creativity.

Greg has taught a number of courses at Dickinson over the years, including advanced composition, music theory, aural skills, choral arranging, and computer music. As a founder and the chief science officer of Clio Music, he designed, developed, and implemented a proprietary autonomous music analysis and motivic data mining technology (“Clio”) capable of generating comprehensive models from music in any style or genre and comparing them for similarity.

head shot of Greg Wilder

Greg Wilder

The summer research collaboration will take place in Philadelphia, at Drexel University’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, which is a hub for teams of faculty, students, and entrepreneurs to pursue highly multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. ExCITe project participants come from engineering, fashion design, digital media, performing arts, computer and information science, product design, and many other fields.

Co-working at the ExCITe center with its director Dr. Youngmoo Kim and his team of PhD researchers at the Media Entertainment and Technology laboratory, Leidwinger will be helping Wilder to develop the full potential of the Isomer software.

The immediate goal of the summer project will be to validate the boundaries of the Isomer software’s capacity for musical analysis, model representation, and algorithmic transformation using advanced machine-learning techniques. Leidwinger will be assisting with the curation and preparation of musical models, analyzing musical data for research validation, creating musical metadata, and keeping us up to date with blog posts via the Isomer web site and other social media outlets.

graphic of music made by Isomer Project

Metacreation (or computational creativity) is the idea of endowing machines with creative behavior. Metacreation, as a technology-driven approach to generative art, involves using tools and techniques from artificial intelligence, artificial life, and machine learning (themselves inspired by cognitive and life sciences) to develop software that is creative on its own.

graph showing processed version of a Chopin etude

An essential step in the development of a metacreation tool like Isomer is to validate its analyzed data and musical output (i.e., does Isomer capture the essential aspects of the musical models in terms of musical grammar, affect and mood?). In the past, Dr. Wilder’s technology has powered products for some of the largest companies in the music industry (e.g., Rovi Corp) and is now finding application in the creation of new art and academic research projects. Building on seminal research in musical perception and cognition (e.g.  Leonard B. Meyer, Fred Lerdahl, Eugene Narmour, Emilios Cambouropoulos), Isomer relies on a comprehensive ontology of musical parameters. It accepts model input as raw audio, symbolic representation, or both, and extracts a range of analysis vectors that capture trends in terms of texture (timbre), pitch, rhythm, and form.

Russian Rooms Project

The Dickinson College Russian Department has launched a new multimedia project, Russian Rooms, which combines photography, text, and audio in an evolving archive with diverse pedagogical applications. The project’s primary aim is to provide a snapshot of contemporary Russian society by building up a series of photographs of Russians and their favorite rooms.

young Russian woman holds pet snailAccording to contemporary Russian philosopher Michael Epstein, the boundaries of private and public space are drawn differently in Russian and in the West: in Russia, private and public are demarcated far more sharply, and private space is warmer and more intense than in the West. This project seeks to test this premise. The site’s creator and curator is Maria Rubin, Visiting International Scholar in Russian. Prof. Rubin takes an intimate, close-up portrait of each subject standing next to or holding an object he or she values. She also takes a picture of the subject’s empty room. The viewer is invited to guess what sort of person inhabits the space, a curiosity which can be satisfied by referring to the portrait, the audio interview, and a transcribed version of the interview.

With support from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Digital Humanities grant, Prof. Rubin will spend part of summer 2013 in Russia substantially expanding the archive.

bedroom of Russian woman, with cat, and pictures on walls

In her teaching at Dickinson Prof. Rubin and her colleagues use these photo-audio pairs in various ways. The simplest is a “Guess Who?” game, in which students ask questions to find out who lives in this or that room. Another type of assignment includes listening to the interviews and making presentations about a specific person. Sometimes students are asked to read the texts and write descriptions of the people using grammatical constructions to be learned in a particular lesson. Alyssa DeBlasio, Assistant Professor of Russian, regularly uses Russian Rooms in her senior seminar on translation. There the students translate a simplified transcript of an interview into English, then practice simultaneous translation on the original audio.

old Russian woman in yard with foliage

Plans for the future include incorporating students into the project, particularly students studying abroad in Moscow, who can help conduct the interviews and write up the texts. When Prof. Rubin returns to Moscow she will remain in charge of overseeing the creation of the interviews and  photographs, working from Dickinson’s program headquarters in Moscow, while Prof. DeBlasio will  supervise the expansion and improvement of the site on the Dickinson side. The project will thus form an important bridge between Dickinson’s Russian programs in Carlisle and Moscow.

Russian room interior with wood paneling, low natural lightHaving already explored different ages and genders, Prof. Rubin plans to expand the subject range to include Russian citizens of different ethnic backgrounds, a move that should prove a challenge to notions of public and private space explored so far. Newer inhabitants of Russia, such as Kirghiz and Uzbek guest-workers in Moscow city and in the Moscow county region, and native Muscovite Tatars and Chechens, have quite different notions of personal space, partly inherited from the Islamic house design and architecture of their homelands, but also compelled by the necessity of their sometimes harsh living arrangements in Russia: basements of tower-blocks, in wooden shacks on building-sites, etc. The project, so expanded, will thus allow Russian students all over the world to appreciate the diversity of contemporary Russia’s population, as well as to come to philosophical conclusions about overlapping conceptions of private and public space in one living area. All the material created in this project will become a part of the permanent teaching open resources of the Dickinson Russian department, and anyone else who wishes to use it.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School Project

7368794278_603109deacThis summer a team of researchers at Dickinson are beginning a multi-year project to develop a comprehensive digital resource regarding the Carlisle Indian Industrial School (CIIS). The project will bring together widely dispersed materials to aid research and study, and serve as a virtual home for the ongoing work of an active CIIS community of memory and inquiry. With support from an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Digital Humanities grant, and from the College’s Research and Development Committee, Jim Gerencser (College Archivist), Susan Rose (Professor of Sociology, Director Community Studies Center), and  Malinda Triller Doran (Special Collections Librarian) will begin in summer 2013 by digitizing materials held at the National Archives in Washington, DC.  In collaboration with student assistants, they will begin the process of transcribing documents, creating metadata, uploading materials, and analyzing the information.

7368693122_49305ea86cThe CIIS is a major site of memory for many Native peoples. Richard Henry Pratt implemented his vision for educating Native American students by removing them from their communities and bringing them to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. More than 10,000 Native American students from all over the country (and Puerto Rico) were enrolled at CIIS from 1879 to 1918. The school at Carlisle served as a model for many other non-reservation boarding schools across the country.

The CIIS and indigenous boarding school movement represents a very active area of research among scholars, teachers, students (both native and non-native), Carlisle-area residents, and descendants from across the U.S. and around the world.  Scholars are working hand in hand with descendants of the CIIS students, who are learning from and contributing to this research.  In the last decade, not only have many scholarly and popular books, articles and documentaries related to the CIIS been produced, but also a number of symposia and community events, such as pow-wows and commemorations, have been held. Dickinson College faculty members have been particularly active and involved with publications and events such as these.

The project aims at a comprehensive searchable database using the information contained in the digitized materials. Subsequent phases will develop the capability for user interactivity, so that individuals may contribute digitized photos, documents, oral histories, and other personal materials to the online collection. The site wll host teaching and learning materials utilizing the digitized content and database, and support the addition of original scholarly and popular works based on the CIIS Project resources.

Images: Press Department (circa 1902). Image from The Indian Industrial School Carlisle, Pa. 23rd Year, 1902. via flickr Copyright All rights reserved by DickinsonLibrary. Rose White Thunder, Daughter of Sioux Chief White Thunder, in Elk Tooth Dress, Carlisle (1883 – 1887). From J. N. Choate, photographer, Carlisle, Pa., A Souvenir of the Carlisle Indian School, 1902. via flickr Copyright All rights reserved by DickinsonLibrary