I am an assistant professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University, working on digital history and the history of American religions. You can find a link to just about anything I've worked on in my CV or in the blog archives. Some of my work is described in more detail on the research page, and my syllabi are on the teaching page along with workshop materials. You can write to me at lincoln@lincolnmullen.com.


Gender package now on CRAN

Gender is an R package which takes names and associated dates or ranges of dates and predicts the gender of the name. The gender package is now on CRAN for the first time; you can also see the package README at GitHub. This is the package description:

Encodes gender based on names and dates of birth, using either the Social Security Administration’s data set of first names by year of birth or Census Bureau data from 1789 to 1940, both from the United States of America. By using these data sets instead of lists of male and female names, this package is able to more accurately guess the gender of a name, and it is able to report the probability that a name was male or female.

The package was based on an idea by Cameron Blevins, with whom I’m collaborating on a related article, and it includes significant contributions from Ben Schmidt.

A Vagrant Development Environment for R

Most of the time when I’m working in R I’m using Mac OS X and I have a bunch of packages installed. But often I want to run my R code in a clean environment, and when I’m developing a package I want to test it on a Linux instance. The combination of Vagrant and VirtualBox makes it easy to write a script which spools up a virtual machine for this purpose. I’ve created a set of files for Vagrant that created an Ubuntu 14.04 virtual machine, provision it with all the development tools I need, then install commonly used R packages. Creating a new development environment is as simple as cloning the repository and running vagrant up. You can get these scripts at GitHub.

Every so often, I also want to spool up a server at Amazon EC2 with far more RAM and processing power than I have on my laptop. While the Vagrantfile is unnecessary for this, the files bootstrap.sh and install-r-packages.R can be adapted with just a little modification to provision an EC2 instance.

Two New Classes for the Spring

This spring I’ll be teaching two new courses. This first is a graduate course on “Religion and Capitalism in the United States.” The new history of capitalism is bringing tremendous energy to American history generally, and historians of American religions have been producing lots of great books on the connection between religion and capitalism recently. Here is my first take at a course description:

Religion and Capitalism in the US

It seems obvious that there is some relationship between religion and capitalism, but what is that relationship? Historians of the United States have tried to answer this question in many ways; even more, it was a problem that perplexed the people whom historians study. In this class, you will meet many people whose religion led them to interact with capitalism in incredibly diverse ways. You will meet the Puritans whose work ethic supposedly created capitalism, but who insisted on resting on the Sabbath; Moravian missionaries who made converts and money; slaves, slaveowners, and abolitionists who all claimed the Bible when reckoning with the capitalist system of slavery; a Protestant writer who insisted that Jesus was a businessman, and Catholics who believed Jesus called them to a kind of socialism; Jews who mass-manufactured matzah and who were prosecuted for breaking Sunday “blue laws”; an industrialist who wrote The Gospel of Wealth, and laborers who created churches for the working class; nineteenth-century consumers who turned gift-giving into a ritual, and a twenty-first-century television personality who turned consumption into therapy; converts who thought religion required poverty, and Prosperity Gospelers who thought it promised wealth. You will read primary sources from American history, secondary works in both religious history and the new history of capitalism, and excerpts from theorists of religion and capitalism. Through these readings and your own research project, you are invited make sense of this perpetual historical puzzle.

The second class is called “The Digital Past.” It is a course taught by many people in my department. The class is both a history class, focusing on digital history methods, and a course which meets the university’s IT requirement. Here is the course description for my version of the class (heavily indebted to both Sharon Leon’s version and Stephen Robertson’s):

The Digital Past

In this class, you will to learn to do history using digital tools. The course—which satisfies the university’s IT requirement—teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to a practical problem in history. Throughout the semester, you will work individually and with classmates on a research project about American religious history. You will learn how to do research online, but also how to put those sources in the context of other scholarly work. You will gather data, learn how to question it, analyze it, summarize it, and interpret it. You will create visualizations of datasets, especially maps. But you will also learn how to integrate data with narratives from individual lives. You will learn how to present visual and textual sources online in web exhibits, and you will learn how to write and publish effectively online. Through learning by doing, you will gain many digital skills which are broadly applicable; even more important, you will learn how to use these skills to create arguments and stories. This combination will be useful to you throughout your university career and in your professional life.

Syllabus for Programming for Historians

This fall I will be teaching a grad class called “Programming in History/New Media.” It is the third (optional) course in a three-part sequence of digital history classes taken by PhD students, hence the shorthand name #clio3. My aim in this course is to get students familiar with basic computer programming, then show them how to apply a number of the most useful technique for historical research, such as mapping, text mining, and network analysis. We will start out with JavaScript (in part because it is an obligatory language for web programming, but also because Marijn Haverbeke has written an excellent and free introduction to programming with JavaScript). Then we will move on to R for most of the applied section, circling back to JavaScript and D3.js at the end. The main student work for the course is a programming project of their choice, which I’m asking them to think of as the rough equivalent of a seminar research paper. I have some ideas about what form those projects might take, but I think I’ll be surprised at the ingenuity of the people taking the course.

Here is the syllabus for the course.