Digital Historian Roy A. Rosenzweig
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Roy A. Rosenzweig, 57, a social and cultural historian at George Mason University who became a prominent advocate for "digital history," a field combining historical scholarship with digital media's broad reach and interactive possibilities, died Oct. 11 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County. He had lung cancer.
Dr. Rosenzweig, who taught history at GMU for the past 26 years, founded the university's Center for History and New Media in 1994. As its director, he oversaw the creation of online history projects aimed mostly at high school and college students, including Web sites about U.S. history, the French Revolution and the history of science and technology.
Perhaps its most visible project was the September 11 Digital Archive, a collection of 150,000 items -- including e-mails, digital voice mails, BlackBerry communications and video clips -- made by average citizens at the time of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The center gave the materials to the Library of Congress in September 2003.
The center, part of GMU's Department of History and Art History, has more than 40 full- and part-time staff members.
Dr. Rosenzweig was an author, filmmaker and documenter of oral histories. His books, including a social history of New York's Central Park and the labor movement's struggle in the 19th century for a shorter workday, underscored his interest in presenting what he called "perspectives of ordinary men and women" over the wealthy and powerful.
In the early 1990s, he helped create an award-winning U.S. history survey presented on CD-ROM. He then started the Center for History and New Media, which stemmed from his wish "to democratize the study of the past -- both by incorporating forgotten voices and by presenting the fullest possible story of the past to diverse audiences."
Edward L. Ayers, president of the University of Richmond, who conducted early digital history projects as a University of Virginia history professor, said Dr. Rosenzweig "was the real pioneer in this."
Ayers said that Dr. Rosenzweig's CD-ROM "Who Built America?" (1994), created with the help of two other historians, "first showed the possibilities of digital history" and that he remained important as an advocate by writing articles and reviews of Web sites for professional journals, through which he was a "facilitator and translator of digital history."
Roy Alan Rosenzweig was born Aug. 6, 1950, in New York and was raised in the Bayside neighborhood of Queens. He graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University in 1971.
He received a fellowship to study history at St. John's College at Cambridge University and received a doctorate in history from Harvard University in 1978.
He joined GMU's history faculty in 1981 and became a full professor in 1992. His best-known early book, "Eight Hours for What We Will" (1983), was about the labor movement's demand for an eight-hour workday and the subsequent rise in more urban leisure spaces such as public parks and movie theaters.
Dr. Rosenzweig wrote often in journals for historians about what he once called the "fragility of evidence in the digital era" because of e-mail documentation that is too easily deleted.
He was a former vice president for research at the American Historical Association and formerly chaired the Organization of American Historians technology committee. Among his honors was the 2003 Lyman Award presented by the National Humanities Center for innovative use of information technology in the humanities. It carried a purse of $25,000.
His marriage to Beth Bernick Rosenzweig ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 26 years, Deborah Kaplan of Arlington; his mother, Mae Rosenzweig of Coconut Creek, Fla.; and a sister.