Contributions to Teaching, Scholarship, and Service

I was a professional archaeologist and heritage consultant when I was hired at Carleton in July 2010 to fill a need identified by the Department of History, in Digital Humanities and in Public History. I am now cross-appointed in History (100%) and Greek and Roman Studies (0%).

The Digital Humanities are about how the digital representation of information intersects with and alters humanities scholarship and scholarly communication. In the same way early cinema recreated the metaphors and techniques of the stage before developing its own unique language of expression, the Digital Humanities are moving away from recreating in digital media the archives and research tools we have always used. The Digital Humanities are now developing methods to allow us to ask completely different kinds of questions, which were previously not possible to ask. My co-authored contribution to The Programming Historian (2012) on topic modeling for instance shows how to use computational natural language processing techniques to extract the statistically-probable topics permeating vast corpuses of text. My ’8000 Canadians’ topic model browser (see cv, ‘Interactive Data Visualizations’) visualizes linkages in the biographical essays of the Dictionary of Canadian Biography based on statistically significant patterns of discourse within those essays. The resulting network spans 300 years of history, linking historical Canadians together via the degree their life stories coalesce around the various topics.

My research is reflective; I take stock of where we are going and where we might go next, and how we might get there. Thus, I am intrigued by the questions that emerge when we re-appropriate tools developed in other domains for humanistic inquiry. In this, I am following in a well-established tradition in archaeological research, of methodological cross-fertilization from geology, remote-sensing, and other hard sciences. My research blog,  becomes an important venue for working through these questions in public (the role and value of research blogging in the world of knowledge production was the subject of my paper to the Society for American Archaeology in 2011. See also dossier, ‘Impact’).

Given the speed with which digital tools emerge and disappear, new experiments in the forms of what ‘scholarly communication’ might mean are a central part of the Digital Humanities. I have written for the profession on these kinds of hybrid structures, in a contribution in-press for the Canadian Historical Association Bulletin. There I argue ‘massive online open courses’ (MOOCs) might not be a challenge to our teaching but rather to our publishing. This contribution is a reflection that emerged from my continuing role on the University’s Online Learning Working Group, responsible for designing the strategy to implement online education at Carleton. My specific role is to look at the implications for faculty of various means of online teaching (a role to which I bring professional experience from previous employment at a for-profit online university in the United States).

My initial training was in Roman archaeology and in particular the archaeology of Roman construction and the significance of maker’s marks (complex epigraphic and figurative devices) on Roman bricks. I then worked as a professional archaeologist and heritage researcher, with contracts from government agencies and youth development agencies. My contract work fitted squarely within the ambit of public history. I developed conservation and promotion plans for the heritage resources of Gatineau Park. I worked with high school students on the revitalization of Shawville Quebec’s cultural heritage; we also conducted a research excavation into the historical brickyards in that village. I volunteered with organizations such as the Friends of Gatineau Park, chairing their social history committee, to bring my contract work public (see cv, ‘consultancies and contract work’). I continue to advise the municipal regional county government of Pontiac in West Quebec on heritage issues.

My PhD (completed in 2002) was published as a book in 2006, in the British Archaeological Reports international series. This series is a central venue for publishing materials-specific archaeological studies and is a typical first book in Old-World archaeology. Some of the basic catalogue and archaeometric data from that work I have made available via the dataset sharing service, Figshare. This frees the data to be reanalyzed or incorporated into others’ datasets. I continue to analyze and publish the stamped bricks collected in various field work projects in Italy and North Africa (see cv, ‘catalogues’). In my PhD work I demonstrated that the information in stamped bricks could be knitted together into static snapshots of complex networks which were tied to the social and political networks of power of the landed aristocracy. While formal network analysis, the mathematical analysis of the patterning of connections of actors, is often used in historical research, it does not cope well with the dynamics of the evolution of those networks themselves, a point brought out in my co-authored contribution to a 2007 handbook on prosopography.

To answer these criticisms I turned to computer simulation in an effort to ‘reanimate’ these networks, to fill the gaps between my static, archaeologically-known networks with dynamically generated digital ones. This interest in computation and simulation drew me to the nascent field of Digital Humanities. I used agent-based modeling methodologies and theories of evolving networks to create artificial societies modeled on our understandings of past society. Agent modeling explicitly formalizes in code our implicit beliefs about how societies worked in particular times and places. It employs a form of abductive reasoning, where the relative plausibility of multiple competing explanations is evaluated. This research was the focus of my postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Manitoba. This work was recognized at the 1st Digital Humanities Workshop at the University of Nebraska in 2006 and published as ‘Behaviour Space: Simulating Roman Social Life and Civil Violence’ in 2009 (see dossier, 6a).  Another piece that I published as a result of my postdoctoral work, ‘Networks, Agent-Based Models and the Antonine Itineraries’ (see dossier, 6b), has become my most-cited work, and the one that introduced to many the idea of agent-based models in Roman archaeology. I continue to develop archaeological simulations to explore the ancient Greco-Roman economy and have been invited to several conferences to speak on the role model building and simulation can play in archaeological theory.

Simulation speaks to another important aspect to my research and teaching, what might be called digital pedagogy.  As a high school teacher in 2004 working with disadvantaged youth, I had been interested in the potential of video games for reaching these students in critical ways. At the University of Manitoba I developed the skills that allowed me to turn from formal simulation to reconfiguring commercial video games (which are just a special class of simulation) for teaching and research. I was able to join a research project at Brock University exploring these issues. This work resulted in a multi-authored paper (where I was second author) in The Canadian Historical Review on the potential of video games for university education. I have a piece in press that explores the ways commercial games may be modified for educational goals, and the dangers therein (‘Rolling Your Own’, see dossier, 7a). I co-edit a multi-authored research blog, Play the Past, on the intersection of cultural heritage and games with Trevor J Owens of the Library of Congress. My HIST3812 Digital History: Video Games and Simulation for Historians is built on the lessons of this research (Play the Past served as our textbook). The value in video games is not in the playing, but in the building. The students in HIST3812 designed and built video games that sought to foster historical empathy. If the historiography we wish to communicate is built into the rules of the game itself, then playing the game performs the history we want the player to learn. This ties to a central ethos in the Digital Humanities of ‘building as a way of knowing’, a point of view I incorporate in every class I teach.

My research and teaching are profoundly interconnected (as attested by the letters from Provost Dr. Peter Ricketts and Professor Stéfan Sinclair of McGill University who is a senior figure in the field, see dossier, 5b).  Because of the emerging nature of the field, I have created all my courses ex novo except for HIST2809, The Historian’s Craft, which I have heavily reworked and reformulated. I work to incorporate the most significant and most recent developments in digital history and public history appropriate to the content. Many students find the incorporation of digital research methods (in for instance HIST2809 The Historian’s Craft) or new ways of exploring collaborative digitally-mediated place based storytelling (as for instance in HIST5702x Digital History, part of the Public History MA program) to be exciting and stimulating. Students such as Hollis Pierce have been inspired to host a Digital Humanities ‘unconference’ (THATCamp 2012 Accessibility) and to enroll in the internationally renowned Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria; others like Zack Battist  and Allison Smith completed their honours theses with me. Zack is now completing his MA at McMaster concerning network analytic approaches to Anatolian pre-history and applying for his PhD, while Allison is enrolled in the MA in Public History at Carleton. A letter from Zack attesting to the influence of my teaching on his development is in my dossier of materials (see dossier, 5c).

At times, the teaching of digital history involves difficult materials which often represent a challenge for the instructor and student alike (as I wrote about in ‘The Wikiblitz: A Wikipedia Editing Assignment in a First Year Seminar,’ 2013, see dossier, 6d).  I am trying constantly to assist students in meeting these challenges by devising exercises that might make them feel more comfortable in the face of unfamiliar assignments or ways of communicating their learning. I am fully committed to improving my teaching. I have sought mentorship from my colleagues, the department chair, and through engagement with the research of higher education pedagogy. I have completed the Educational Development Centre’s certificate in teaching as part of that commitment. My courses are under continual evolution in terms of content and approach (see dossier, 4a,b,c for recent syllabi). I publish on digitally-informed pedagogy frequently. I was honoured this past spring to be asked to give a keynote address on the intersection of the Digital Humanities and teaching at the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education conference, and to win the 2013 Desire2Learn / Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education Innovation Award.

Since joining the department in 2010, I have sought funding continually to support both my research and teaching. My FASS junior research fellowship in 2011 led to the creation of a platform to crowdsource cultural heritage in rural regions. A ‘platform’ implies building upon (in digital work, metaphors matter – contrast with early websites that called themselves ‘portals’, which implies passing through to somewhere else). The platform was designed to allow us to collect, to curate, and to data mine the historical consciousness of place in Renfrew and Pontiac Counties. I published this project with two undergraduate co-authors who had helped develop and implement the platform (see dossier, 6c). Sadly, this platform was maliciously hacked in 2012. One of my most significant blog posts on Electric Archaeology, called ‘How I lost the crowd, a tale of sorrow and hope’ performed a digital autopsy on what we as a team had done wrong to allow the hackers to do this to our work. This piece was picked up by Digital Humanities Now as an ‘Editor’s Choice’ and widely read and discussed by the Digital Humanities community. In digital work, it is extremely important to share not just what works well, but also what has failed, and why, so that we do not have to re-invent processes and procedures with every new project.

The lessons of ‘HeritageCrowd’ have been applied in a current project called ‘Looted Heritage: Monitoring the Illicit Antiquities Trade’, which uses a similar (more secure) platform, to mine social media, news media, and other feeds for reports of archaeological looting, cultural heritage vandalism, and art crime. While this project is currently not funded, it has led to collaborations with archaeologists at the University of Michigan towards designing mobile reporting applications in the field. Designing, building, managing and mining these platforms is a serious scholarly undertaking, which I treat as a kind of digital laboratory for my students. Rob Blades, a fourth year student, has twice been recognized as a HASTAC Scholar (‘Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory’,, based at Duke University) as a result of his volunteer work with me on this platform. We have shared the data we have culled from this site via Figshare, and posted drafts of our co-written article on Electric Archaeology. Currently three new students are working within this platform. With James Opp I am a co-applicant and member of the advisory board for a Carleton Innovation Forum project called ‘DH@CWorks’, which seeks to create a platform for showcasing and enabling innovating student-led digital history research. I successfully raised funds via Carleton’s Future Funder for an undergraduate digital history research fellowship which will allow students to work alongside faculty in these kinds of projects.

In some of my classes (FYSM1405a, HISt5702x) we have experimented with augmented reality for communicating history. Some of these experiments were supported by grants for teaching (with James Opp, ‘Historical Landscapes of the Chaudiere’). Some of these experiments (the archaeological excavation in Carleton Virtual discussed in Arya, Hartwick, Graham, and Nowlan 2012; the augmented reality museum pop-up book developed in FYSM1405a) led to formal research collaborations and grant applications (with Jim Davies, ‘Phenomenology of Virtual Spaces’, and a nascent project with archaeologists at the Museum of Civilization called ‘Keyhole History’). On other projects, the nature of my contribution has been to consult on such things as game-based learning and pedagogical design (as with Elaine Keillor, ‘First Encounters’), or to provide training to student team members on digital research design and methodology (as with Jennifer Evans, ‘Hate 2.0′).  My involvement with the recent Champlain Colloquium hosted by the History Department helped to re-conceptualize the way this two day meeting could be extended both in time and space using various digital platforms. As a consequence, we were able to expand the reach and impact of the colloquium into the wider community, as well as using its digital artifacts and platforms as spaces for teaching and research into the future (the online repository for instance will be analyzed in my winter 2013 HIST5702x digital history seminar).

My evolution as a researcher and a teacher has been bound up with service to the profession, to my colleagues, to my students, and to my community. Elements of my service inspire my research; my research informs my teaching and sometimes my teaching is the focus of my research; my teaching takes place not just in the classroom, but with my peers, on their projects, and in front of the wider world via social media. My research, service, and teaching cannot be neatly split, but nor should they be, for it is a key characteristic of the Digital Humanities that they fuse. Given these contributions at all levels, the record of publication and the established potential of my ongoing research, and the quality of my teaching and mentoring, my teaching, research, and service meet the requirements for tenure and promotion to the rank of Associate Professor.

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