Digital History

The National Archives and America's Founding Documents

Have you heard of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? It's also known as the frequency or recency illusion. It's the phenomenon when you hear or see something unusual and then hear and notice that something repeatedly.

Last week, I noticed that the earliest histories of the American Revolution virtually omitted the Articles of Confederation. Now, I see the omission of the Articles from nearly every place where I would expect to read and find more information about them, like the National Archives' website.[1]

The National Archives holds, conserves, and preserves the founding documents of the United States. When you visit its website, a menu bar at the top of the homepage prominently displays a link to "America's Founding Documents."

Screen shot of National Archives' Homepage

Click the link and you will find pictures for and links to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

National Archives, "America's Founding Documents" webpage

The Articles of Confederation is conspicuously absent from the page.[2] In fact, it isn't even a sidebar or bottom-page link away. In this digital representation of "America's Founding Documents," the Articles of Confederation doesn't exist.

The National Archives houses the original, signed copy of the Articles of Confederation. But to find its digital copy, you have to search for it. And the first link you will find, "Welcome to," takes you to a completely different website, which has a far inferior display and web view for documents compared to the Archives' "America's Founding Documents" page.[3]

Articles of Confederation as displayed on ""


Archives and History

Archives shape the way we view and interpret history. It's something Jennifer Morgan and Peter Drummey reminded me of during our conversations for the "Doing History: How Historians Work" podcast series and something Karin Wulf talks about in her tweets and blog posts.

The National Archives plays a large role in how we view our nation's written record and what we view as historically important in that record. According to its interpretation, the Articles of Confederation is not a significant document. Therefore the document is hard to find on the National Archives' website--a casual browser would not find it--and the Archives has omitted it from the digital pantheon it created to highlight "America's Founding Documents."[4]

Of course, I disagree with the National Archives.

The Articles of Confederation is one of "America's Founding Documents." In fact, it shares the same lineage as the three documents the National Archives includes within its "Charters of Freedom."


The "America's Founding Documents" Family Tree

The Second Continental Congress agreed to draft articles of confederation on the same day it moved to draft a declaration to declare the colonies' independence from Great Britain.[5]

The fact that the Articles of Confederation placed too much sovereignty in the states caused the Constitutional Convention to convene and draft a new constitution in 1787. The Articles of Confederation directly informed the Constitution of 1787.

The Articles of Confederation also informed Madison's Bill of Rights. For example, Article 2 of the Articles of Confederation states that "Each State retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."[6]

Amendment X of the Bill of Rights: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."[7]


Project Direction

The ultimate goal of my research into the drafting and ratification of the Articles of Confederation is to produce a multimedia/multi-platform book. In the poetic words of Robert Frost, I have "miles to go before I sleep/And miles to go before I sleep"; I am years away from realizing this goal.[8]

One of the mistakes I made with my dissertation was I waited too long to start writing. Therefore, I'm thinking about writing an article. I have so much research to conduct for this project. Pursuing an article would both direct the directions I go in my research and ensure that I start writing sooner rather than later.

I have two article projects in mind. One article would explore the omission of the Articles of Confederation from histories of the American Revolution. I imagine the article would investigate the early histories of the American Revolution, why the Articles do not fit neatly within those nationalist interpretations of American history, and how the historiography of the Revolution has rarely looked back at the Articles since those early histories.

The second article would be to explore the settlement of the boundary between New York and Massachusetts. The article would explore issues over western land, cultural differences, and how Article 9 of the Articles of Confederation operated. I've wanted to write this article since grad school and I already have a fair amount of the research for it in my files. But I'm not sure I should write it. The article would deal with issues that affected the drafting and ratification of the Articles of Confederation, but it's not a piece I see fitting within a multimedia/multi-platform book focused on how the Second Continental Congress drafted and ratified the Articles.




[1] Alan Taylor's American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804, is one place I expected to find the Articles of Confederation mentioned and it appeared. Taylor devoted three pages (pages 337-339) to summarizing the Articles  and the challenges the Second Congress experienced in drafting and ratifying them.

[2] The Articles of Confederation are also absent from the National Archives online gift shop. For the record, I would purchase a facsimile of the Articles to hang on my wall if one existed.

[3] A bit more searching and you will find the National Archives' wonderful high-resolution images of the signed copy of the Articles of Confederation.

[4] The National Archives also omits the Articles of Confederation from its physical pantheon to the United States' founding documents: the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom.

[5] Richard Henry Lee's Resolution, June 7, 1776.

[6] It's important to note the importance of Article 2. It appears after Article 1, which states "The Stile of this confederacy shall be, "The United States of America." Transcript of the Articles of Confederation, OurDocuments.Gov.

[7] U.S. National Archives, "The Bill of Rights: A Transcription."

[8] Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"

A Traditional Historian in a Digital World: How I Write History for Podcasts

Digital AudioAt NCPH 2016, someone asked the panelists of "Drafting History for the Digital Public" how we acquired the digital skills to work on our various projects. My answer: My historical training drives my digital work. For the next three days, colleagues asked me about my response and since the conference more questions have found their way into my inbox. Most of the questions inquire about the “specialized” and “technical” training I use to write history for digital audio.

Confession: I am a traditional historian using traditional historical skills to work in an accessible digital media.

Ben Franklin's World represents an interview-driven form of narrative history. The end product of each episode may be a digital audio file, but the historian’s traditional tools—research, analysis, interpretation, and writing—give birth to each episode.

In this post, you will take a behind-the-scenes tour of Ben Franklin's World to see how I use my traditional historical training to produce its digital audio content.



Like most history books and journal articles, Ben Franklin's World episodes begin with questions and research.

Listeners determine most episode topics. They e-mail, tweet, Facebook message, and verbally request topics such as the American Revolution, Everyday Life, the Constitutional Convention, and George Rogers Clark. It’s helpful to know what aspects of early American history listeners want to explore, but as we learned in graduate school, what makes history fascinating is asking the right questions of broad topics. It’s up to me to come up with the historical questions each episode will explore.

How do I know what questions to ask and investigate? I research. I look at the historiography to see what arguments and interpretations of the broad topic exist and which historians to contact. After I schedule a guest, I prepare for each interview by reading their work or researching their project/historic site.



Analysis plays a role in all stages of episode production. I use the historian’s ability to analyze information when I research episode topics, read guest books and articles, prepare interview questions, interview guests, edit episodes, and when I write episode intros, outros, and show notes.

When I read a book for the show, I read it for information and structure and reference both with the historiography. I facilitate this analysis by taking notes on argument, interesting facts, the historical questions the author asks, their answers to those questions, and how the historian structured their narrative as I read. Upon finishing a book, I review my notes and use my knowledge of the historiography to contextualize the information they contain. This comparison and contextualization allows me to determine what information we should highlight in the interview, how to ask questions that get at the desired information, and how to sequence the questions so that the questions and answers tell a coherent story about the topic of the episode.

It’s the same type of analysis we do when we study for comps, explore the secondary source literature for course reading assignments and lectures, and consider as we determine how to write up our research projects for books and articles.



Ben Franklin’s World seeks to create advocates for history and historical research by generating wide, public awareness about the work of professional historians. The project generates awareness by offering accessible interpretations of the modern historiography of early America.

Each episode contains two types of interpretation: The guest historian’s interpretation of the historical record and my interpretation of their interpretation.

My interpretation comes through in the questions I ask and how I edit each episode. Each question reflects information I want to highlight for listeners. The order in which I ask questions reflects the sequence of how I think listeners should explore or think about historical people, events, and themes.

Historians rely on this type of interpretation every time they offer a lecture, build an exhibit, lead a tour, write a synthesis narrative, or edit a collection of scholarly essays.



I cannot overstate the role good writing and editing skills have played in the success of Ben Franklin’s World. The reason that most Ben Franklin’s World episodes convey tight, coherent mini-narratives about early American history is my graduate advisor took the time to teach me how to write and edit my work.

Every episode of Ben Franklin’s World relies on a scripted structure and undergoes at least three rounds of editing.

Guest historians offer natural, unscripted responses just as I offer unscripted commentary and follow-up questions. However, I script out the intro and outro for each episode as well as 50 to 80 percent of the questions you hear me ask. This is not to say I read the scripts verbatim, but writing out my ideas ahead of time and referencing the script as I record is a large part of why each episode sounds tight and well organized-- “smooth,” as many listeners say.

Editing serves as the other reason why episodes sound tight and coherent. Each episode receives a minimum of three rounds of editing. I conduct the first and third rounds, my audio engineer (Darrell Darnell) conducts the second and possibly fourth rounds. We edit each interview in a program called Adobe Audition. Audition works like a word processor for audio files. I record each interview as a .wav file and Audition allows me to read the interview by displaying it’s waveforms. You read through audio files by listening to the interview and watching the waveforms.

BFWorld Episode Waveform


The First Edit: I look and listen for long breath sounds, pauses, unnecessary tangents, misstated information, and whether I can improve the flow of an interview by restating a question, shortening an answer, or by moving around questions and answers. When I find a section I want to remove, I use Audition’s delete or cut feature much like we use the delete key in our word processor.

Occasionally, I find misstated information and I try to correct it. For example, one guest said “Rhode Island” when they meant “New Hampshire.” Neither of us heard this mistake during our conversation, but I caught it during the edit. As my guest said “New Hampshire” elsewhere in the interview, I used Audition’s copy and paste feature to replace the misstated “Rhode Island” with “New Hampshire."

I would classify the edits I make in this first round as content edits. I focus on the content of the episode and use the remove, copy, and paste tools to get the “text” of the episode how I want it.


The Second Edit: Darrell goes through the edited files and focuses on cleaning up the audio. He removes most of the ahs and ums, long breath sounds, and long pauses. He also levels the waveforms so the volume of the recording sounds even, adds my intro, outro, and bumper segments (show music), and adds compression to the file. Darrell is the magician behind the fantastic audio quality of each episode.

Waveforms after Leveling


The Third Edit: At this point the file is equivalent to the page proofs of an article or manuscript. It’s just about ready for publication but it needs a final proof read. I listen through the file to determine whether we need to cut or add anything else from the episode and whether the audio has imperfections we need tweak. If I find a problem in the proof, I send the file back to Darrell and he fixes it.


Editing is the most time intensive part of producing episodes. To save time most podcasters either don’t edit or they hire out this work completely. Outsourcing all of the editing for a podcast about history doesn’t work. Unless the engineer has had historical training, they cannot write and edit historical content the way a historian can.



Historians' ability to research, analyze, interpret, and write makes us well suited to convey our scholarship through digital media. The only special training historians need to work in digital media is time: time to research the different voice(s) of the media they want to work in, time to read a few how-to books or blog posts about how to use software like WordPress or Audition, and time to ask questions of others who work in the same medium.

As we complete the second decade of the 21st century, we need to stop viewing “digital history” projects, like podcasts, as separate or “non-traditional" categories of the historical discipline. This outlook has created a mental hurdle that prevents many historians from trying and embracing new media; media which our traditional work is well suited for and which can extend the reach of our work beyond those who read our books and journal articles.

Digital Projects Income Report, December 2015 & January 2016

In an effort to help historians who wish to practice history online, here are my digital project income reports for December 2015 and January 2016. My apologies for being a bit late.

Earnings Report Color

December 2015 & January 2016 Income Reports

In December and January, I attempted to earn income from my digital projects in two ways: Amazon affiliate income and crowdfunding donations.

Amazon Affiliate Income

Affiliate income from linked books on this blog, the Ben Franklin’s World website, and within the Ben Franklin’s World apps increased in December.

In November 2015, affiliate income from Amazon totaled $6.26.

Total Amazon Affiliate Income for December 2015: $31.86


Affiliate income decreased in January 2016.

In December 2015, affiliate income from Amazon totaled $31.86.

Total Amazon Affiliate Income for January 2016: $16.08



The Ben Franklin’s World Movement crowdfunding campaign continues.

I increased in-show mention of the campaign in December 2015 and January 2016. I also moved most of the mentions of the campaign to the pre-roll spot—the place in the show that occurs before the main content, which in the case of Ben Franklin’s World is the interview.


Crowdfunding Stats: December 1, 2015-January 31, 2016


New One-Time Donations: 1 New Monthly Recurring Donations: 2 New Annual Recurring Donations: 2 Total Number of New Donors: 5

Total Number of Campaign Donors: 46


Funds Raised to Date

Total Amount Donated: $2775 Total pledged for recurring monthly contributions: $140 Total pledged for recurring annual contributions (monthly contributions excluded): $500




I still have a lot of work to do with this campaign. There are more ways I could increase its visibility, I just want for time to do it. However, I am still pleased with how the campaign has progressed.

The $140 that comes in each month covers the final engineering costs of one episode. Three months ago, I paid for the engineering costs for all episodes.


I have two big projects that I intend to work on part-time: a media kit and a swag store.

Media kits outline program information for potential sponsors. They include details about the program, the demographics of its audience, and ad packages potential sponsors/advertisers can purchase. I intend to experiment with seeking sponsors among publishers and other groups, organizations, and companies who have products, events, and sites that would interest my audience.

Believe it or not, there might be demand for a Ben Franklin's World Swag Store.

Prior to placing an order for t-shirts to fulfill crowdfunding pledges, I posted two possible designs on both Twitter and Facebook. Much to my surprise, listeners started requesting the ability to buy t-shirts outside of the crowdfunding campaign and to purchase additional forms of Ben Franklin’s World merchandise. It seems as though people want to help the show by purchasing items that will both yield a small profit and advertise the podcast.


Ben Franklin's World Income Report, November 2015

November 2015 marked the first month I attempted to earn money from and for Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History. Going forward, I intend to report the monies I earn from my digital projects. Each report will begin with a summary of what I did to make money during the past month.

I hope the information in these reports will help other historians figure out how to earn money by practicing history online.

Earnings Report Color

November 2015 Earnings Report

I attempted to earn money in two ways: Amazon affiliate income and crowdfunding.


Amazon Affiliate Income

I signed up to be an Amazon Affiliate when I started my blog Uncommonplace Book. I added Ben Franklin’s World to my affiliate account when the show launched.

Every link to a book on the Ben Franklin’s World website is an Amazon affiliate link, as are the items displayed in the “Ben Franklin’s World Bookstore." When someone clicks on a link and purchases the book, or anything else during the same visit to Amazon, I earn a small percentage of the sale.

Prior to November, the link for the podcast bookstore lived at the top, right corner of the website. In early November, I created an image link and placed it on the right sidebar to increase awareness and visibility.

In late October/early November, I increased my use and placement of Amazon affiliate links by adding them to episode descriptions. These descriptions appear on podcast apps such as Overcast, PocketCasts, and the Ben Franklin’s World apps. The links do not appear in iTunes or the Apple Podcasts app.

Total Amazon Affiliate Income for November 2015: $6.26


The Ben Franklin’s World Movement crowdfunding campaign launched on October 27, 2015.

Admittedly, I have not done a lot to promote it.

Since the start of the campaign, I have made an announcement in each episode from Episode 53 on, posted a description of the campaign with a link to the information page on the BFWorld Facebook page, my personal Facebook page, and in the Poor Richard’s Club listener community on Facebook, and I have scheduled two or three tweets to go out each day to ask listeners for support.

I am devising a plan to better promote the campaign. This plan will include more active promotion and ways I can encourage listeners to opt-in to one of the monthly recurring donation plans.

Between October 27 and November 30, listeners donated $1555 to the campaign, which received a nice bump thanks to Ann Little’s blog post on Historiann.


Crowdfunding Stats for October 27-November 30, 2015:


One-Time Donations: 19 Monthly Recurring Donations: 13 Annual Recurring Donations: 1 Total Donors: 33


Funds Raised

Total Amount Donated: $1555 Total pledged for recurring monthly contributions: $100 Total pledged for recurring annual contributions (monthly contributions included): $1325



I have a lot of work to do, but I am pleased with this start.

The income generated in November will cover the bill from my audio engineer for 3 months. It will also buy me some time while I create a media kit and a comprehensive promotion plan for 2016.


Initial Blueprint for a Digital History Communications Lab

Vintage ScienceFor the last year or so, my brain has been formulating ideas for a digital history communications lab. This post represents my first attempt to articulate and sketch out what my brain envisions.

Note on terminology: I use “scholarly history” as a stand in for well-researched historical projects. These projects include traditional articles and monographs as well as museum exhibits or other new media projects.


Digital History Communications Lab Services Two Needs

1. Convenient Public Access to Scholarly History

People love history and if granted convenient access to historians and their work they will become advocates for history and its study.

Presently, a divide exists between historians and non-historians. People who love history want to consume high-quality historical scholarship, but they settle for "history-lite” books and programs because that is what they can conveniently access.

The Digital History Communications Lab will produce high-quality digital platforms that make scholarly history conveniently available to non-historians. Additionally, the lab will create programs that foster a sense of community and interaction between those who consume this content and the historians who contributed to its production.


2. Resource Center for Historians Who Want to Learn and Perfect Digital Communication

Vector internet marketing conceptThe Digital History Communications Lab will serve as an information hub for historians who want to learn how to communicate their work via digital means.

The Lab will curate content about social and new media and offer suggestions for how historians might adapt these platforms and tools to communicate their work. It will also offer how-to tutorials for digital platforms, social networks, and tools such as WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Tutorials will provide both basic and advanced instruction in an effort to serve the skill levels of all historians. Private consulting will be an option.

Some universities offer digital education resources for faculty and staff, but sometimes faculty and staff members feel uncomfortable seeking help because it means they have to admit their digital illiteracy in a public way. The resources of the digital history communications lab will use the anonymous feeling of the internet to allow those who want to learn, but feel embarrassed about seeking in-person help, to access the help they need on the web. The Lab's tutorials and resources will be available to all historians, regardless of affiliation.

Additionally, the Digital History Communications Lab will support experimentation with new forms of scholarly communications. It will not only offer assistance in producing audio and visual podcasts, multimedia blogs, exhibits, and apps, but it will also offer a space where scholars can produce their projects. Think a digital communications makers' space.


Digital History Communications Lab Public Outreach Network

Ben Franklin’s World represents just one of my ideas for how scholars can communicate scholarly history to a wide audience. I have ideas for more podcasts, audio and visual, as well as how historians can use the new emerging technologies of virtual and augmented realities.

The Digital History Communications Lab will serve as a leader in digital history communications. It will present the best-of-the-best projects. Its content will set a high standard that will help the public understand that scholarly history is accessible and easy to consume.

The Lab's in-house projects will be part of a network that cross-promotes its other projects and projects that meet its high, quality standards; word-of-mouth recommendation serves as the best way to attract new audience members. Production quality matters, although the Digital History Communications Lab will offer space to historians who wish to create a project, not all projects produced in its space will become a member of its network.



My thoughts about the Digital History Communications Lab are still preliminary, but they are maturing. If you have feedback, I would love to read it.

What excites me most about this concept is that it helps serve both society and the profession. It allows historians to produce and convey historical scholarship and enables non-historians to grapple with history and historical thinking in new and different ways-- ways that have become more natural for them than books.

I have thought about how I will fund this venture. It involves several different revenue streams.