062: Daniel J. Cohen, 38


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

62: Daniel J. Cohen, 8-6-07

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Assistant Professor, Department of History and Art History, and Director of Research Projects at the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University
Area of Research: Scholar of Victorian European and American intellectual history as well as the history of science who also explores—and tries to influence through theory, software, websites, and his blog—the impact of computing on the humanities.
Education: Ph.D. in History, Yale University, 1999
Major Publications: Cohen is the author of Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith. Daniel J. Cohen JPG (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007) and co-author of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005).
He has also published articles and book chapters on the history of mathematics and religion, the teaching of history, and the future of history in a digital age in journals such as the Journal of American History, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Rethinking History, and include: “Reasoning and Belief in Victorian Mathematics,” in Martin Daunton, ed., The Organisation of Knowledge in Victorian Britain (Oxford University Press/The British Academy, 2005); “By the Book: Assessing the Place of Textbooks in U.S. Survey Courses,” Journal of American History 91 (March 2005), among others.
Cohen is currently working on a book project tentatively entitled Digital Scholarship: Theory & Practice.
Awards: Cohen is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
George Mason University Faculty Fellowship, 2007-8;
American Council of Learned Societies Digital Innovation Fellowship, 2006-7 (inaugural recipient);
George Washington Egleston Prize, awarded for “Symbols of Heaven, Symbols of Man: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Religion,” 1999;
Charlotte W. Newcombe Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, awarded by the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1996-1997 Whiting Dissertation Fellowship winner, 1996;
Pew Charitable Trusts Fellowship, 1996;
Mellon Dissertation Research Fellowship, 1996;
John F. Enders Grant, 1995-1996;
Yale University Fellowship, 1992-1997;
Harvard University Fellowship, 1990-1992;
Zotero 2.0 (zotero.org), funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, $890,000, Lead Primary Investigator, 2006-2008;
Zotero 1.0 (zotero.org), funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, $250,000, Co-Primary Investigator, 2006-2007;
Echo 2 (echo.gmu.edu), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $700,000, Co-Director, 2004-2008;
Hurricane Digital Memory Bank (hurricanearchive.org), funded by the Alfred P Sloan Foundation, $250,000, Co-Director, 2006-2008;
Preserving the Record of the Dot-Com Era, funded by the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, $143,000 (part of a larger grant to the University of Maryland), Director, 2006-2008;
Scholarly software for the National Endowment for the Humanities’ EDSITEment project, funded by NEH, $150,000, Co-Director, 2005-2007;
September 11 Digital Archive (911digitalarchive.org), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $750,000, Co-Director, 2002-2004;
Echo: Exploring and Collecting History Online (echo.gmu.edu), funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, $720,000, Co-Director, 2001-2004.
Additional Info:
At the Center for History and New Media, George Mason University Cohen has co-directed, among other projects, the “September 11 Digital Archive” and “Echo,” and has developed software for scholars, teachers, and students, including the popular Zotero research tool.
He writes a blog; Dan Cohen’s Digital Humanities Blog: http://www.dancohen.org/

Personal Anecdote

To spruce up a nondescript apartment tower that rises a few blocks from my home in Silver Spring, Maryland, the landlords hired a metalworker who spent several days channeling Frank Gehry to create an ambitious but rather impractical porous, upside-down archway in front of the building’s entrance. The new facade has become widely known, or at least widely known in my household, as the “Giant Hammock.” I know this because I live with two discerning architectural critics: my three-year-old twins, Eve and Arlo.

Eve and Arlo have many other shrewd insights, which they do not hesitate to share with anyone who will listen, as well as many who care not to. After witnessing me say several times that I was “going to work,” followed by a short trip across the room to my computer, they became quite sure that I do not actually work.

Perhaps they are right. Although I happen to think I work very hard on several fronts at once (writing, teaching, creating scholarly websites and software), given the relative freedom of my schedule compared to others (farmers, bakers, Paris Hilton paparazzi), I try to remind myself often that we academics are extraordinarily lucky.

And with good fortune comes responsibility. Combined with my kids’ insight that their daddy doesn’t work–“he types”–this sense of responsibility has led me to give away as much as I can. A couple of years ago I decided to start blogging much of what I know, and have since “typed” close to a book’s worth of content on my website. With the exception of my latest book, all of my publications are also freely available online, as are my digital research tools. It’s not all altruism, of course; that which is openly accessible on the Web also spreads the word more widely and rapidly about you and what you care about.

When I do leave the house and go to the university, I return to questions from Eve and Arlo not about “my work” (already established: Daddy doesn’t work), but about whether I “spoke to Roy” (Rosenzweig, my friend and collaborator at the Center for History and New Media) or “told stories to my students.”

My kids may not fully comprehend what I do, but they sense that I tell stories not unlike the ones in their picture books, and I try to keep the simplicity of that notion in mind. Because I often write about highly technical topics–the complexity of the twenty-first century digital realm or the nuances of nineteenth-century mathematics–I always put extra effort into my “typing” to avoid jargon or esoteric terms and to make sure that the sum is greater than the parts. If I’m lucky, I’m able to communicate the larger human expression behind a sequence of equations or lines of code.

Recently I was walking in downtown Silver Spring with Eve and Arlo. Arlo turned to Eve and said, “Look, Eve, it’s the Giant Hammock.” Eve looked carefully at the combination of abstract metal pieces and thought for a moment. She then turned to Arlo and responded, “No, Arlo, I think that’s a sculpture.”


By Daniel J. Cohen

  • “It is wrong to assume that the purpose of nineteenth-century pure mathematics and the symbolic logic that arose out of it was to construct a completely scientific, secular Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith JPG realm of philosophy…A panoramic examination of [the] writing [of these mathematicians]–not only their mathematical treatises but also their private letters, unpublished works, and even poetry–makes it clear that the creators of symbolic logic and their supporters yearned for a more profound religion than contemporary sects seemed to offer, a religion that did not have its foundation in dogma, liturgy, or ecclesiastical organizations. Mathematical logic would serve God by providing a way to ascend above such human constructions…With the current stereotype of mathematics–dry, abstract, unrelated to larger social concerns–it is easy to forget the earlier divine proclamations about the discipline. Yet the warm-blooded sentiments behind those declarations form an unlikely, but critical, source out of which arose the dispassionate reasoning of modern philosophy and the digital logic at the heart of modern computers.” — Daniel J. Cohen in “Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith”

About Daniel J. Cohen

  • “While there is significant mathematics in the book, there are more significant insights into the times and the thinking of the 19th century protagonists who produced the mathematics. The book is a good read. — Barnabas Hughes, O.F.M., Professor Emeritus, California State University, Northridge reviewing “Equations from God: Pure Mathematics and Victorian Faith”
  • “Cohen and Rosenzweig’s book makes accessible the new field of digital history to a wide audience that Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web includes K-12 teachers, as well as amateur and professional historians. The power of the text rests with its depth and clarity, though the authors do not downplay the technical aspects required in developing digital history archives, Such technical details are sensibly provided in the appendices. The text is well structured and easy to follow. The introduction illuminates the promise and perils of digital history. Here the authors describe what makes digital history unique, by focusing on the capacity, accessibility, flexibility, diversity, interactivity, and non-linearity of digital historical resources. Importantly, the authors provide wonderful examples of how easy it is to manipulate images and texts in an effort to educate the reader about being critical consumers of information on the web…. Regardless of why one might read this book, it is clear that Cohen and Rosenzweig have advanced the field of digital history, and in many ways have given definition to this emerging field of study.” — David Hicks and John K. Lee reviewing “Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web”
  • :This work represents a practical guide for historians, teachers, archivists, and curators for building web projects. Cohen and Rosenzweig, both directors at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, provide procedures in order to plan and execute a successful on-line history site…. Digital History is a welcome addition for professionals and enthusiasts who want a comprehensive introduction to the topic. Information specialists will also find the book useful for honing their technical skills, and academic libraries should include this title in their collections.” — Gayla Koerting, The University of South Dakota reviewing “Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web”
  • This book is a thorough, easy-to-understand introduction to the web for historians, as well as for anyone wishing to post any type of historical document on the web. Anyone wishing to develop and construct an online historical work or project will find step-by-step instructions for doing so, from initiating, planning, designing, and digitization, to copyright, interactivity, and more. The authors have a wealth of experience in online historical projects and websites. Cohen is Director of Research Projects at the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) and Assistant Professor of History at George Mason University, while Rosenzweig is the founder and director of CHNM and also serves as Professor of History at George Mason University. Together, the two men build on their decade of experience and expertise at CHNM, where their work has won numerous awards…. All in all, the authors have put together a book that is concise yet complete in content, more practical than scholarly, and aimed particularly towards the amateur historian or the archive/museum just beginning to get started in putting their historical content online. Still, many historians, along with scholars working in the humanities and social sciences, will find this to be a very useful handbook.” — Brad Eden, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, H-HRE (March, 2006) reviewing “Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web”
  • “He is an excellent communicator who does not hold himself aloof and actively engages his students.”
    “Dr. Cohen did an excellent job of organizing a tremendous amount of material into themes that made the history relevant and easy to understand.”
    “Dr. Cohen is an exceptional professor who is incredibly bright and knowledgeable. He presented material from a broad range of disciplines. I LOVED the course.”
    “Prof. Cohen was very good at explaining complicated and/or unfamiliar terms and scientific concepts and kind to those of use who were slow to understand them.”
    “An outstanding speaker who encourages participation from all his students, and selects very interesting topics to discuss.”
    “He was always available out of the classroom in order to help me with my paper. You can tell he really loves his students and takes pride in his position.” — Anonymous students

Posted on Sunday, August 5, 2007 at 4:30 PM

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