Digital History: Brock University

Brock History Dep't European and Digital History

A Proposal to convert Dr. Colin Rose from his status as a three-year LTA to a tenure-stream appointment in European and Digital History.

Summary: The position combines two core areas – digital history and European history – and thus enables the Department to both cover a core historical field and continue building the important new field that is digital history. Dr. Rose is an Italian Renaissance scholar whose work on crime utilizes traditional and digital methods. As we elaborate below, he is a world-class scholar filling a critical hole in the department, and allowing us to continue to develop our proposed Concentration in Digital History. Brock will be the only university in Ontario with such a program. In addition to the many other experiential, Co-op, and skills training opportunities offered by our programme, Digital History training offers highly transferable skills which will make Brock graduates stand out as exceptionally well-trained academics and professionals.

Figure 1. Live output from text analysis of Marc Lescarbot, History of New France (Paris, 1624). Size indicates frequency; rolling cursor over text connects to passages.


The Template:

1. Student/Faculty ratio: Three key points that provide a context for our student/faculty ratios: (1) The Department has been aggressive in its recruitment efforts overall. (2) Internationalizing our curriculum has resulted in an increased global breadth in our course offerings – we are working on increasing the numbers in those global offerings, alongside the University increasing its internationalization efforts. (3) Dr. Rose has demonstrated that he is a key factor in increasing our enrolments. 

2. Percentage of courses taught by CUPE or on overload: We have no ILTAs, and few sessionals. The History Department prides itself on having tenured and tenure-track Professors teach at all  levels of its program, including our large first-year classes, and delivering quality graduates with effective skills development, top-notch academic preparation, and rich community engagement. Our NSSE scores are excellent.The development of a Digital Concentration, with the conversion of Dr. Rose’s position, would protect our high standing and develop our place as an attractive 21st-century hub of academic training.

3. Five-year trend in 1st-year applications: Although history departments in North America have seen a downward trend in recent years, the pattern is changing. At Brock we are actively working to reverse that trend. Our actions include: (1) “History Day” high school recruitment program, drawing over 500 regional students to campus for “a day at Brock” experience. (2) Two new and highly successful Co-op programs. (3) Creating a new Concentration in Digital Historical Practice. (4) Two new highly successful online courses (drawing 100s of students per year, and winning two eCampusOntario grants). (5) Student mentoring program (third-year Co-op students mentoring struggling first-year students). (6) Undergraduate-led video production aimed at retention of first and second-year students (3200$ grant from Vice-Provost’s 2017 Retention competition). (7) Building a strong base in social media. This work is beginning to pay off with a significant increase in applications this past year.

4. Five-year trend in 1st-year registrations: We have been proactive in improving our conversion rate. This has included faculty members and students volunteers calling  applicants to give them a  personal introduction and invitation to join  Brock.  Building our regional, national, and international profile, through our Digital scholars,  will also help to convert interested applicants. 

5. Five-year trend in headcount and FTEs: FTEs are stable owing to good first-year enrolments. (Please note that an emergency faculty medical leave accounts for a loss of 360 first-year course enrolments for September 2017 – this is an anomaly we are rectifying).

6. Graduation Rate: See retention

7. Retention Rate: We are actively working to improve our retention rate. All our first-year courses have been totally overhauled with an eye to generating interest, teaching skills, and placing much greater emphasis on learning how to do history. New courses introduced last year were over-subscribed, and received outstanding evaluations. New History of Sports and History Through Music courses both drew over 300 registrations. We’ve also introduced first and third-year core courses to strengthen cohort development; our student society, the Brock University Historical Society, is running faculty-supported “what to do with a history degree” workshops, community initiatives with local museums, and is developing student-produced video series on Historical Skills. Now, far more than in the past, Brock History is about developing good historical skills, providing support for struggling students, and ensuring their success. 

8. Faculty Revenue to Expense Situation

9. Academic Program Review and ARC Ranking: APR: No. 1 in BOTH graduate and undergraduate categories; Arc: 2 “very good”. History was one of only two units in the entire university to score no. 1 rankings at both the undergraduate and graduate programs. The profile offered by Digital History and our rich background in European history was central to that calculation.

The 2014 ARC assessment stressed that digital history “enhances the profile” of the deparment. Noting that “innovative and specialized program growth exists”, the reviewers urged the department create “a larger teaching footprint” for digital history at the undergraduate level. As indicated in point 3, we've been trying. The loss of Kevin Kee was potentially crippling here, but hiring Dr. Rose offers potential. Converting his LTA to a new tenure-stream Digital-European position goes directly to that ARC recommendation.

10. Research Productivity: A simple tabulation of output since 2012 shows:

Edited collections:             
Peer-reviewed articles:    
Articles in books:             
University grants:            
SSHRC or other national:    
Other international grants:
Other (web/media):         
Invited lectures/keynotes:
Conference presentations:
Documentary films:          
Book reviews:                

History is a book-driven discipline. Thirty-three books in five years is plainly and simply outstanding. And we didn’t include three forthcoming titles.


Narrative: Explain the rationale for the position, including, but not limited to: fit with the University Strategic Plan, fit with the Strategic Mandate Agreement, opportunities served by this request, and risks involved if request denied. 

The position in European-Digital History replaces the loss of Dr. Kevin Kee.  Dr. Kee and Dr. John Bonnett came to Brock as CRCs in 2005, establishing Brock as a significant location for research and graduate training in Digital History. Since then the Department has moved to incorporate that expertise into our undergraduate program, building new courses in Digital methodologies, new wholly online courses that employ an array of digital tools, co-op experiences, and experiential learning opportunities, and research collaboration with graduate and undergraduate students. Dr. Rose’s iteration of the 2nd-year digital course has increased demand for digital history by over 500 per cent!

Figure 2. Live output from text analysis of Marc Lescarbot, History of New France (Paris, 1624). Move your cursor over the text to see word frequencies, relations, and locations.
The History Department is one of the strongest research and teaching units at Brock. Both its undergraduate and graduate programs obtained number 1 rankings in the 2015 Program Review. Two critical features of that success stem from our outstanding European offerings and our national reputation as a centre for Digital History. This position ensures that our reputation is carried forward, a reputation that is central to the department’s recruitment strategy and commitment to increasing its enrolments. Our 2014 ARC review recommended enhancing our digital presence at the undergraduate level. We’ve been doing that, but can’t without Dr. Rose.

Over the past five years, the department has launched six significant initiatives directed at boosting enrollment and improving retention (Section 3 above). Two of these initiatives (Digital Concentration and Co-op mentoring) are directly related to Dr. Rose’s contributions. This work is beginning to pay off with significant increases in applications and enrollments this past year.
Colin Rose is simply an outstanding scholar. His CV (attached) is already impressive; the Decima website garners international interest; he is part of a major SSHRC grant and will be Co-PI when they apply to develop that into a SSHRC Partnership Grant next year; his network is international; he brings great experiential and Co-op possibilities; he inspires and draws students; he’ll be teaching our required first-year Co-op course, mentoring 18-year-olds into the world of collaborative research, digital tools, web design, academic blogging and good rigorous academic history. He’ll also bring that exciting approach to popular courses like “The Culture of War”.

It’s a powerful combination for our 21st-century students, and there's more in development. Rose's course "The History of Crime and Violence" is under consideration as a required course in Sociology's proposed criminology program, and his interdisciplinary focus on DH and textual analysis can contribute to the PhD in Interdiciplinary Humanities. He is also working closely with Alex Christie in CDH; History and IASC envision significant collaborations and cross-listings emerging here.

Dr. Rose is part of an extensive international collaborative endeavor in the Digital Humanities. His leading work on the Decima project, his collaboration with major American and European scholars, and his already evident position as a global scholar mark him as a major draw for graduate students. Brock’s now 10-year-old MA has placed seventeen students in major PhD programs in Canada, the United States, Iceland, and the United Kingdom. We have positioned our program as a small school MA that can get you into a big school PhD program. A scholar of Dr Rose’s magnitude will help build that still further.

Figure 3. Decima allows one to explore any household in sixteenth-century Florence. Using GIS over a Google map, the Decima team notes every household in the 1561 census on the map, allowing one to see who lived there, whether they owned or rented, the value, what they produced, and other information that allows an incredibly complete and dynamic picture of the most important city of the Renaissance.

In sum, the opportunity is to keep a top-ranked program at the top by rejuvenating one of its key strengths. The program risk is that twelve years of developing Digital History at Brock is reduced to a level that makes it unsustainable. The personnel risk is that Brock loses an emerging world-class scholar with an already impressive CV, and much in the pipe, who students are responding to very well and in strong numbers. He’s also a great colleague, a contributor, who’d be happy to remain at Brock.


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