Tag Archives: House Divided

Lincoln’s Writings: Multimedia Edition

The Multi-Media Edition of Lincoln’s Writings at the House Divided Project offers 150 of Abraham Lincoln’s most teachable documents organized around five major themes and designed provide key alignments with the Common Core State Standards.


In addition to transcripts there are audio recordings of readings by the wonderful Todd Wronski of Dickinson’s Theatre and Dance Department. My favorite feature is the inclusion at the beginning of a paragraph on the context of each document by Civil War historian and House Divided director Prof. Matthew Pinsker. Here, for example, is his lead-in to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Context: The Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863 culminated more than eighteen months of heated policy debates in Washington over how to prevent Confederates from using slavery to support their rebellion. Lincoln drafted his first version of the proclamation in mid-July 1862, following passage of the landmark Second Confiscation Act, though he did not make his executive order public until September 22, 1862, after the Union victory at Antietam. The January 1st proclamation then promised to free enslaved people in Confederate states (with some specific exceptions for certain –but not all– areas under Union occupation) and authorized the immediate enlistment of black men in the Union military. The proclamation did not destroy slavery everywhere, but it marked a critical turning point in the effort to free slaves. (By Matthew Pinsker)

Prof. Pinsker also offers a 12-minute close reading of the text of the document itself. And there is bibliography, and excerpts from other historians, writing about how they understand the document. Check out this excellent use of the web to richly annotate key historical documents!


Annotating with Poetry Genius and House Divided

David Foster Wallace's annotated copy of Don Delillo's Players, from the Harry Ransom Research Center in Austin, TX. http://bit.ly/1ef5ziL

David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Don Delillo’s Players, from the Harry Ransom Research Center in Austin, TX. http://bit.ly/1ef5ziL

From scribbled marginalia  to full-scale scholarly treatises that gobble the works on which they comment, text annotation is one of the most basic and diverse activities of the humanities. Its purposes embrace the intensely personal, the didactic, and the evangelical. It serves all kinds of communities, from the classroom to the law court, from the synagogue to the university research library.

The movement of text annotation to an online environment is still very much a work in progress. There are many platforms attempting to marry original text and a stream of added comments, some attractive and functional, some awkward. Crowd-sourced annotation is being tried in many corners, and sometimes it catches on (check out the remarkable wiki commentaries on the novels of Thomas Pynchon), sometimes they build it and nobody comes.

Rap Genius and its sister sites Poetry Genius and Education Genius are the most exciting recent entrants into this field. What distinguishes these sites is first the astonishing ease and flexibility of the interface. The mere selecting of a chunk of text allows one to add not just a typed comment but audio, video, links to parallel passages, embedded tweets, virtually anything digital. The other good thing about the Genius sites is the way they tap into existing communities of fans, readers, teachers, and students. Education Genius is well-funded by venture capital and has a staff that talks directly to teachers, works to make the site useful to students, and builds bridges with other sites and institutions.

A case in point is the emerging collaboration of Education Genius with Dickinson’s House Divided Project. An annotated version of Abraham Lincoln’s 1859 autobiographical sketch is now available at Poetry Genius, and represents the beginning of partnership between the House Divided Project and the Genius platform spearheaded by Dickinson College student Will Nelligan (’14). There is a general annotated guide to the sketch, which was originally written for a Pennsylvania newspaper when Lincoln was a presidential candidate, and also a version especially designed as an open Common Core platform. This is in keeping with the  strong educational outreach of House Divided and its director, Associate Professor of History and Pohanka Chair in American Civil War History Matthew Pinsker.

There is an audio recording of the sketch in the voice of Lincoln as recreated by Todd Wronski, part of a larger multimedia edition of Lincoln’s writings being undertaken by House Divided. In the Genius platform clicking on different colored text brings up an annotation. Here is one with an embedded video player. Note that annotations are fully “social,” in that one can give them a thumbs up or down, share in various ways, and leave a comment on the comment.

Clicking on different colored text brings up the annotation, in this case one with an embedded video player.

Clicking on different colored text brings up the annotation, in this case one with an embedded video player.

Some annotations simply add contextual information. Others, like the one above, hint at an interpretation, as a teacher might, in an attempt to get the reader thinking beyond the surface of the text. Others amount to polite essay prompts:

Lincoln Genius Screenshot 2

One can easily create an account and start annotating.

Lincoln Genius Screenshot  3

House Divided’s annotations often take the form of questions.

The idea of annotating with questions, in addition to statements, is a fine one, helpful to teachers and students alike. Note also the ability to brand annotations with the House Divided logo, which marks them as more authoritative and “verified.” The folks at Poetry Genius understand the power of reputation, and unobtrusively include it in the platform in a variety of ways.

The ease of annotation—one can sign up for an account in a moment and fire away—makes this platform well-suited to “class-sourcing,” the adding of content by students under academic supervision, and in fact that is how these particular annotations were created. High quality content created collaboratively for a well-defined audience in an attractive, open, and flexible format: digital humanities doesn’t get much better than that.

I am delighted to say that Jeremy Dean of Education Genius will be visiting Dickinson on April 17, 2014 to speak with a group of faculty and students about text annotation and to further develop this collaboration between the Genius sites and Dickinson College. If you would like further information about this event please contact me (francese@dickinson.edu).

–Chris Francese


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.