Environmental Scan Project (13% of final grade)

Situating your plans within its environment is part of proper planning, and helps you to fine tune your project to take advantage of work already accomplished and address gaps in the existing scholarship, both on and off the Web.

The NEH defines the process thusly:

Provide a clear and concise summary of an environmental scan of the relevant field. The goal of an environmental scan is to take a careful look at similar work being done in the applicant’s area of study. For example, if the applicant is developing software to solve a particular humanities problem, please discuss similar software developed for other projects and explain how the proposed solution differs. If there are existing software products that could be adapted and re-used for the proposed project, please identify them and discuss the pros and cons of taking that approach. If there are existing humanities projects that are similar in nature to the applicant’s project, please describe them and discuss how they relate to the proposed project. The environmental scan should make it clear that the applicant is aware of similar work being done and should explain how the applicant’s proposed project contributes to and advances the field.

How to do an Environmental Scan

Focus on two major aspects of your project—its topic and its genre.


Make sure that someone else has not already done what you plan to do!

  • What kinds of scholarship (web-based or not) has been done on your topic? Search for scholarly books and articles to see whether the resources that you intend to digitize would have an impact on scholarship.
  • What kinds of popular coverage has been mounted on the web? How do the materials that you plan to digitize complement or contradict the common perception of the topic?
  • Is your topic a popular one, with many existing sites and resources, or a more specialized one that might not have been covered in any depth?
  • If there are resources, who has produced them? Are they well done?
  • What audiences do existing materials address?
  • What kinds of resources (images, documents, analysis, etc.) are available?

The bottom line is that you need to convince your funders that you know what is out there and that your project is different, superior, or more user-friendly than what is out there.


  • How do other websites treat the kind of documents you are working with?
  • How do they present the materials themselves?
  • How do they enable searching and browsing?
  • Are there different approaches that you should consider?
  • What kinds of software, encoding, or databases do they use to manage their documents?


Presentation (5% of final grade) Consider the presentation as a draft of the written environmental scan. Come up with your ideas and present them, demonstrating at least one website that deals with your topic or your genre.

Written (8% of final grade) Based on comments and suggestions offered at the presentation, prepare a 3-5 pages that covers three main points:
1) The current state of your topic on the Web— What do you see when you Google your topic, when you search for images, primary sources, and information about your subject. Is the information accurate, well-presented, or amateurish? Does it duplicate all or part of what you plan to put up, and how will your site interact with it? Due May 3, posted on wiki

2) The current state of historical research using your materials?— Are the materials that you plan to digitize known to scholars and students? Does your project seek to broaden access to "popular" sources, or make available for the first time materials that have not been widely used? Use Google Books, JSTOR, and other bibliographic databases to determine how your materials have appeared in print.

3) How have other history websites dealt with the problems inherent in the type of materials that you are using? If your documents are diaries, look at how they have been treated; if you plan a site merging many different types of media (images, video, audio, and a variety of text forms), how do other projects create useful divisions and searches for a similar corpus?

Sign up for presentation slots below on any of the following dates: Feb. 16, Feb. 23, Mar. 1, Mar. 8, Mar. 22, Mar. 29, Apr. 5. First come, first served.

Date Name Topic Link
date name topic link
date name topic link
Mar. 1 Kate Feighery Irish Political Pamphlets link
Mar. 8 Matthew Hockenberry Telephonic Supply Chains telephonic-supplychains
Mar. 22 Hanan Ohayon Daily Worker Negatives link
Mar. 29 Abby Davis American history textbooks link


For a look at environmental scans done by students in previous semesters, see http://historynewmedia.wikidot.com/search:site/q/environmental%20scan .

Also, look at NEH Digital Startup Grants for an idea of how to construct the written project. Note that the guidelines for Startup Grants are very different from the ones that you will be working on for your final project. Do not use the format of these proposals for anything but the Environmental Scan.

Grading Criteria

Presented Scan

  • Is your presentation well organized?
  • Have you prepared the web site(s) to discuss ahead of time and have you spend enough time with them to figure out how they influence your topic?
  • Have you mentioned or discussed the most popular/best sites related to your project?

Written Scan

  • Is your essay well written?
  • Does it discuss the way that scholars and the general public investigate the topic?
  • Does it provide a good understanding of what the current state of work on the Web and in the academy is on the topic?
  • Does it explain how your project fits into this larger environment, both in terms of the topic of your project and its genre?
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