Digital Humanities

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.


Ben Franklin's World: 1 Year Anniversary

Happy Birthday Ben Franklins WorldHappy Birthday Ben Franklin's World! Today marks the 1-year anniversary of Ben Franklin's World: A Podcast About Early American History.

I thought it would be fun to discuss the current status of the show, how it has evolved over the last year, and how I intend to experiment with, and add to, this digital history project over the course of the next year.


By the Numbers

Statistics as of October 7, 2015, 7:59am

Number of Episodes: 55 published; 61 recorded

Total Downloads: 333,374 (this includes the Spreaker & iHeartRadio stats, which I always forget to consult)

E-mail Subscribers: 824

Listener Community Members: 227

Monthly Download Total October 2014: 288

Monthly Download Total September 2015: 43,829


Evolution of the Podcast

Podcast-MicI started Ben Franklin's World to see if a podcast could create wide public awareness about the work of professional historians. Over the last year, the show has positively answered this question. It has also proven that people are interested in professional historians' scholarship and that our work enriches their lives.

However, Ben Franklin's World has also become more than a platform to generate interest in historical scholarship.

Educational tool: High school teachers and college professors incorporate episodes into their classroom teaching.

High school and college students listen to the show to study for their exams and papers. One high school student told me that she passed her history exam in part because she listens to the podcast.

Graduate students use episodes to study for their comprehensive exams.


Professional development and service tool: Potential guests note Ben Franklin's World as part of their marketing strategy in book proposals. Guests use show and episode download numbers in their tenure and promotion packets. Many professional historians listen to the show to keep up to date with early American historiography.


Networking tool: Not only have I had 30-60 minute conversations with many great historians, but historians have connected with each other as a result of hearing about each other's work.


Community building tool: Over 200 listeners have joined "Poor Richard's Club," a community for Ben Franklin's World listeners on Facebook. Members of the community share articles, discuss history, and interact with each other based on their shared interest in early American history.


Ben Franklin's World serves all of these functions and yet I did not create the podcast to serve these purposes. Like many digital history projects it has taken on a life of its own. It will be fun and exciting to see how the show continues to evolve beyond its original purpose.


Experiments & Goals for 2015-2016

Vector internet marketing conceptThree big projects will dominate my attention over the next year: Monetization, community development, and time management.


Can Ben Franklin's World become a self-supporting project? Over the next year, I intend to investigate ways to make Ben Franklin's World pay for itself. Experimentation begins later this month when I will launch my first crowdfunding campaign.


Community Development

I have been surprised by how many listeners want to interact with me via Twitter, Facebook, or e-mail and by how many listeners want to spend time hanging out with other listeners in Poor Richard's Club. The community-building aspect of Ben Franklin's World requires more attention. This unintended aspect of the show could further historians' efforts to engage with the public and, in turn, the public could help us with how we write about, talk about, and interpret history.

Presently, I am halfway through an online course on how to build and develop online communities on Facebook.*


Time Management

I love working on Ben Franklin's World, but this work has come at the expense of my scholarship. As much fun as the podcast has been, and continues to be, I miss researching and writing about history.

I started Ben Franklin's World as an historian with a podcast. A year later I am a podcaster who happens to be an historian. I do not regret the quick success of the show or the challenges it has created for me, but I am also not intellectually satisfied by working on the podcast alone. Over the next few months, I need to find a way that I can continue to produce a high-quality show and work on my book projects.


Share Your Story

Do you listen to the show? What has your favorite episode been?

Do you have tried and true strategies I could use to better manage my time?


Listener Testimonials

"I am not an historian, but subscribe to many history-related podcasts. Liz's is one of my favorites. It is fun and provides historical views and perspectives that I trust."--krrat

“If my teachers had been half this engaging I would not have slept through most of history class.”—Sheryse Lang

“If you remember a really great university history class— not the one where you fell asleep in the back row, but the one where you got their early to get the good seats in the front row—that’s Ben Franklin’s world.”—Friscodog

"I LOVE Ben Franklin's World podcasts.  Liz Covart's enthusiasm for history is contagious!  I have always enjoyed learning about American History, but I can't emphasize enough how much I look forward to each new episode."--Pat Kerper

*I am taking the "Facebook Groups Rock!" course by Katie Krimitsos. Her course is closed at the moment, but this special link works in case you want to take the course too. This is not an affiliate link.


Edupreneur or Institutional Historian? Questions Raised by SHEAR & Podcast Movement

Edupreneur or Institutional Historian-This past weekend, I attended Podcast Movement, the world’s largest podcast conference. In this post, I reveal the ideas Podcast Movement 2015 gave me and helped me to articulate, including the idea of whether I want to be an edupreneur or an institutional historian.


Culture Shock

Podcast Movement marked my first non-academic conference and it left me with a feeling of culture shock for two reasons: First, the conference took place in Fort Worth, Texas.

Second, I attended the conference as an historian in a world that appears dominated by marketers.


A New England Yankee in Fort Worth, Texas

My trip to Podcast Movement marked my first visit to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I have visited Houston twice and find it to be a cosmopolitan city that sprawls like no other city I have ever visited (even Los Angeles). Although I have enjoyed my visits to Houston, I will admit that I left disappointed that it didn’t feel like the Texas I had imagined.

I am disappointed no longer.

Scenes from Podcast Movement

Not long after I deplaned in Fort Worth, I asked for directions to the shared van stand. The man who assisted me called me “darlin’” and pointed the way. I had expected a slightly southern accent, but the term caught me off guard. I couldn’t help but think that my helpful guide was being a bit fresh.

It turns out, he wasn’t being brazen. When I reached the shared van stand the male attendant also used “darlin’” to address me. In Texas, “darlin” is used in place of “ma’am.”

Other cultural experiences included country music (not the pop kind), cowboy boots (Texans really wear them), choices regarding the pork and beef you put in your Tex-Mex tacos (choices?), and a few other linguistic variations.

My visit to Fort Worth reminded me why I love, and am so fascinated by, the United States. The U.S. stands as a huge country, with many regional identities, and yet every citizen who lives within its borders proclaims to be “an American.” We portray ourselves as one people and yet Americans in Fort Worth, Texas are different from Americans in Boston, Massachusetts.


An Historian Attends a Non-Academic Conference

What happens when you attend a non-academic conference? You get a hefty conference badge and a swag bag!

Podcast Movement Swag Bag Contents

Inside my swag bag I found a glossy, color program, ads for corporate sponsors, a book, sunglasses, and a portable power stick to charge my smartphone or tablet.

Aside from the swag bag, I experienced business card overload.

A friend told me that I should bring at least 100 business cards to the conference and develop a system for dealing with the business cards I received. I laughed at these suggestions.

Earlier this month I attended SHEAR. I handed out more business cards at SHEAR than I have ever handed out at one conference; I probably gave out between 15-20. At SHEAR and other academic conferences I follow the tried and true etiquette of giving a card only when asked or when I want someone to remember me after a conversation.

At Podcast Movement, attendees handed out business cards to everyone they saw, regardless of whether they engaged you in conversation.

I must have given out between 75 and 80 business cards and between 100-200 Ben Franklin’s World bookmarks. I think I came home with more than 100 business cards.

Finally, I have never been to a conference where so many of speakers presented without being aware of the composition of their audience.

Podcast Movement attracted an audience of hobbyists, business owners, marketers, and public radio professionals. I enjoyed many conference sessions and panel discussions, but the public radio professionals spoke to everyone as if their audience worked in public radio and had NPR’s budget. As small as NPR’s budget may be, it is much bigger than that of an indy podcaster.

Additionally, many of the presenters at “How-To Monetize Your Podcast” sessions spent more time selling themselves than they did conveying useful information about how a podcaster could court advertisers or develop salable products. They were marketers, not educators.

When you attend a history conference, nearly every presenter knows their audience. I found the change of pace at this quasi-business conference a bit jarring at times.


Standing at a Crossroads

As different as Podcast Movement was from the academic conferences I normally attend, I had a really good time. I met many amazing podcasters and made several new friends. I heard fantastic talks given by Roman Mars (I met him too!), Marc Maron, and Sarah Koenig. I also came home with several ideas about how I can tweak Ben Franklin’s World and grow its audience.

I plan to start with developing an app and by seeking crowdfunding.

Ben-Franklin-at-a-CrossroadsAttending both SHEAR and Podcast Movement also helped me articulate that I feel like I am standing at a crossroads with Ben Franklin’s World.

The podcast started as an experiment. Now that it has and continues to succeed, I need to decide whether I am an “edupreneur” starting a history-based business or whether I am a podcaster looking for an institutional job.

If I am honest with myself, I want to be the latter.

I am an historian and educator. I know little about starting a business and the thought of "monetizing" history makes me uneasy.

At SHEAR some of my colleagues seemed surprised I wasn’t on the job market. They told me I have an impressive work portfolio. I appreciate their recognition, but no institutions place job ads for the type of work I do so I have stopped looking.

Creating public digital history projects is important work, it is the type of work that will return history to the forefront of the public mind, which will in turn help us get funding and increase our enrollment rates.

But public digital history projects do not contribute to our culture’s corporate model of university education. Nor is it the type of work that earns tenure or garners an alternative academic position. I am a digital historian, but I don’t work on databases that lead to a better understanding of historic sources.

Macro shot of a new 100 dollar billThere is also the not-so-insignificant price tag that comes with creating and operating a public digital history project. Technology allows us to convey history in incredible and meaningful ways to large public audiences. But technology isn’t always free.

Ben Franklin’s World costs approximately $90 per episode to produce (sometimes more) and this cost does not include my time.

If I fulfill my goal of completely outsourcing my audio editing, each episode will cost $165, again not including my time. This cost is far less than NPR spends on each of its podcast and radio episodes, but it still means that a project such as mine requires a minimum operating budget of $360-$450 per month to keep it going.

Ideally, I would have a budget of $660-$825 per month so I can create more time for my scholarship.

In a perfect world, my monthly budget would be closer to $1,000 per month so I could hire graduate students to find and attach primary source documents, and suggestions for how educators can use them in their classrooms, to each episode.

I am not sure an institutional digital history job is in my future.



I suppose in the end I will be an edupreneur who holds hope that some day there will be institutional jobs for historians like me. Then we can help institutions build new projects and train others who want to engage in public digital history.

Vector internet marketing conceptUntil that day comes, I will persist in my work. I keep going because I believe that the historical profession has to take history to the public. We need to help our fellow citizens remember why the past and what we do is important. I believe that technology and new media can help us bring history back into the forefront of the public mind.

I am not sure how long the podcast will continue, but I do know that I want to build a career that includes both traditional archival research and writing and experimentation with public digital history projects. I am not alone in this desire. However, ours is a tricky road.

When we bootstrap and succeed in our work the beancounters at institutions will at some point take note. I think they will appreciate our work, but they will question why they should hire us. We are, after all, doing this important and beneficial work for free. This thought has me staring down the road of edupreneur.


5 Must-Have Experiences for History Graduate Students

Must-HaveIf you enrolled in graduate school today, what courses would you take? What experiences would you make sure you had before you graduated?

For the last few weeks I have been reflecting on theses questions.

A prospective graduate student asked me to lunch to learn more about my grad school experiences. He wanted advice about how to apply, what courses he should take, and what experiences he should have while in graduate school.

I gave him advice about what I would do if I enrolled in graduate school today. The advice amounted to five different courses or experiences.

In this post you will learn about the what I think are the five must-have experiences for a history graduate student today.



I would like to note that I had a fantastic graduate school experience.

I enrolled in a funded program that was focused on collaboration. I also worked with an advisor who took the time to teach me how to write, teach, research, and apply for funding.

My advice does not stem from any deficiencies in my program, but from how technology and the economy have changed over the last decade.


5 Must-Have Courses & Experiences

In my opinion, these are 5 experiences that history graduate students should strive to have while in graduate school.


1. Keep an Open Mind to Non-Academic History Careers

I wish I had kept an open mind to non-academic history careers while in graduate school.

As a grad student, I thought I wanted to be a professor and I had rather strong feelings about an academic career path.

I had entered graduate school with a bit of public history experience; I spent five summers working as an interpretive ranger for the National Park Service in Boston. I respected the work of public historians, but I had decided I wanted to do more research and writing than many public historians get the opportunity to do.

Open MindI attended talks by the public historians my department occasionally brought in, but during each talk I told myself that I wanted to research and write more. I wanted to be like my advisor, someone who conducts serious scholarly work and then volunteers his time to bring that work to public history institutions.

The funny part about my young, naive view: By the end of my fourth year I began having doubts about working as an academic.

In fact, my extracurricular activities suggested that I might be better suited to a career in public history. My frequent presence in the archives led me to volunteer at a couple of the historical societies and museums where I researched.

Even with my volunteer work and doubts, I clung to the idea of an academic career.

My close mindedness prevented me from seeking internships and volunteer opportunities that could have helped me land a public history job.

When I finally admitted that I did not want to be a traditional academic (ca. 2011/2012), I had missed my opportunity to prepare for the public history job market.

The public history job market is just as competitive as the academic job market and, despite what many professors had told me, most public history institutions do not want to hire traditionally-trained historians.

What type of historian do they want?

My experience has been that public history institutions want candidates with experience in creating digital exhibits, some background in nonprofit management and donor cultivation, and experience, or at least knowledge, of how to apply for institutional grants. The ability to do traditional historical work, i.e. research, writing, analysis, and interpretation, is a bonus.

This realization leads me to recommend the next two graduate school experiences.


2. Find an Internship in Non-Profit Development

Graduate students have a lot of work, but I wish I had found a way to intern in the business or development office of a nonprofit.

An internship in a nonprofit development office would have allowed me to enhance and develop skills in donor cultivation, customer service, accounting, and applying for institutional grants. These are transferrable skills that would allow anyone who had them to compete for jobs with nonprofit organizations as well as for positions within in big corporations or small businesses. These skills would also come in handy for any historian who wants to start their own business.


DH Historian3. Take a Digital Humanities Course or Seek an Internship with a DH Project

Digital humanities is the way of the future.

DH projects vary from helping scholars make sense of large amounts of data to websites that make history more accessible to non-specialized audiences.

Digital humanists perform important work.

Experience in DH helps historians become better and more well-rounded scholars. In my experience, digital humanists have a knack for looking at data and the ways scholars can contextualize it in ways that differ from non-digital humanists.

Additionally, many DH projects lend themselves well to acquiring new and transferrable skills in computers and technology; skills historians can use to apply for different types of academic and non-academic work.


4. Develop Social Media Skills

Today, I blog, tweet, and hold conversations on Google+. However, I did not develop a fluency in social media until after graduate school.

If I enrolled in graduate school today, I would devote a bit of time to developing social media skills.


3 Reasons:

1. Social media makes scholars more productive.

Historians who blog tend to write more than scholars who don’t blog.

Blogging also helps scholars think through and develop their ideas. The act also helps them develop a regular writing practice.

Many of us take thinking and writing for granted, but they are skills that get better and sharper the more we do them.

If I were to enroll in graduate school today, I would look into forming or joining a group blog like The Junto. Group blogs provide all of the benefits of blogging, but spread out the work of blog maintenance.


Social Media2. Social media makes scholars more collaborative.

Whether you blog about an idea for your dissertation or tweet a question about a source, other scholars will find you and help you develop your ideas or find the source you seek.

Of course, being a social and collaborative process, you will get as much out of social media as you put into it. The more you converse with and help other scholars with their questions or ideas, the more you will benefit from scholars commenting on your work.


3. Social media will help you build your platform.

Being an active blogger, Facebook poster, or tweeter will help raise your profile among others who share your interests.

Social media can help you position yourself as a thought leader in your field or subfield.

Opportunities come to thought leaders by way of jobs, interview requests (which will enhance and raise your profile more), speaking opportunities, and possibly even book deals.

At the very least, social media can help you develop a following that will help you get a book contract; followings mean that you can market your books to hundreds, if not thousands, of potential book buyers.


5. Attend More Conferences

Conferences provide opportunities to network with other scholars and to learn about new scholarship.

Conferences can be expensive, but they provide invaluable networking opportunities.  Attending a conference may help you find an outside member for your dissertation committee, a potential reference for a job, grant, or internship opportunity, or a possible project collaborator.



The job market has changed a lot in the ten years since I enrolled in graduate school. My Five Must-Have Experiences are based on my graduate school and post-graduate school experiences.


Thoughtful-WomanWhat Do You Think?

If you were to enroll in graduate school today, what courses would you look to take or experiences would you look to have?

If you are enrolled in graduate school today, what course are you looking to take and what experiences would you like to have?