Probably the best writing tip that anyone has given me is that the last sentence of any given paragraph I write should often be the topic sentence of the next paragraph. Once this was pointed out to me, I noticed it in almost all of my writing and often in student writing as well. This error probably happens because it’s natural to build up a paragraph until it connects to the next point to be made. But how we write is not how we read. Often I can go through a first draft and move the last sentence of many paragraphs to the beginning of the next.
Bonus tip: When a colleague read a draft of my book manuscript, he said that I should try to shorten break up the paragraphs, because the paragraphs would appear longer on the printed page. Sure enough, when the proofs arrived, he was right.
In my first semester teaching one of my department’s graduate methods courses in digital history, I realized that there was not a lot good material for teaching computer programming and data analysis in R for historians. So I started writing up a series of tutorials for my students, which they said were helpful. It seemed like those materials could be the nucleus of a textbook, so I started writing one with the title Digital History Methods in R.
It was too soon to start writing, though. Besides needing to spend my time on more pressing projects, I didn’t really have a clear conception of how to teach the material. And in the past few years, the landscape for teaching computational history has been transformed. There are many more books available, some specifically aimed at humanists, such as Graham, Milligan, and Weingart’s Exploring Big Historical Data and Arnold and Tilton’s Humanities Data in R, and others aimed at teaching a modern version of R, such as Hadley Wickham’s Advanced R and R for Data Science. The “tidyverse” of R packages has made a consistent approach to data analysis possible, and the set of packages for text analysis in R is now much better. R markdown and bookdown have made writing a technical book about R much easier, and Shiny has made it much easier to demonstrate concepts interactively.
After teaching these courses a few times, I have a clearer conception of what the textbook needs to accomplish and how I want it to look.
Continue reading “Pick the title for my digital history textbook”
Imagine a photograph of a pile of pages, perhaps with a few glossy image reproductions and a cover letter, and a USPS envelope. Perhaps a few years ago I might have been able to take such a picture for this post. But without having to pay for postage, I’ve delivered the final revisions of my book manuscript to my editor before the end of December as agreed. The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America will be published by Harvard University Press in fall 2017. While there is still copyediting, proofreading, indexing and so on to be done, the book definitely feels like it is in the hands of the press and not my hands now.
Continue reading “Print historian”