Welcome to History 305 Digital Methods in History

Course Description:

This is a hands-on course that introduces students to the use of digital tools and sources to conduct original historical research, analyze and interpret findings, and communicate results.

Digital history is an interdisciplinary approach that seeks to bring digital technology into conversation with humanities disciplines and, specifically, seeks to analyze, synthesize, and present knowledge through computational media. Digital historians create digital archival collections, databases, digitize objects, analyze humanistic material in digital form, and address scholarly questions often difficult, if not impossible, to assess using non-computational methods.

In this course, you will apply digital methods to a historical question and produce a final, public project.

The core result of this class is a digital history project: you will work with historical data to form an original research question and, using the tools introduced throughout the course, will leverage a digital method that answers that question. In the second week of the course, you will be randomly assigned a team of collaborators. For the remainder of the semester, you and your team will work together to produce an original digital research project. We will present the results of your work in an electronic poster session and the end of the semester.

Learning Objectives
Course Objectives and Measurable Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the course, the student will

  1. Develop digital literacy and engage in networked communities.  (Assessed through students proficiency in the use of digital databases, web-based presentations, wikis, blogs, and other digital skills)
  2. Apply historical thinking and interpretation to the production of digital media. (Assessed through students proficiency in critical analysis of primary and secondary sources, and use and interpretation of these sources in both traditional and digital presentations)
  3. Demonstrate an ability to use a variety of digital technologies, including primary- and secondary-source archives/databases, wikis, blogs, interactive timelines, augmented reality, and GIS data sources and maps.
  4. Use technological resources in research and data analysis to create a variety of digital presentations. (Project bibliographies and student search algorithms and skills will determine proficiency)
  5. Use a variety of new media methods and processes (digital video, web page development, animation, etc..) made possible in history and new media. (Assessed through digital projects)
  6. Utilize and create a range of digital tools and practices (i.e. creating open digital archives) that expand access to historical resources. (Students will participate in the ongoing development of digital archival projects like VOAHA and The Elizabeth Murray project or other digital archives)
  7. Communicate and work collaboratively in a variety of digital/virtual environments.
  8. Understand the advantages and liabilities of “big data” to historians’ work (Discussions of readings about “big data” and its role in shaping new research and methods)
  9. Conduct digital and traditional research across historical fields and academic disciplines. Present their work as they would at a professional conference.

Course Requirements:
Every student and group will:

1) Complete a small group project (no more than 3 people)that makes important historical sources and historical interpretations available online or in some other digital format.

2) Participate in weekly hands-on digital history labs that will scaffold DH skills and culminate in a final DH project.

3) Present regularly to the class both on the status of their project and the hands-on activities.

4) Participate in class discussions and blog posts about readings, videos, and workshops in the process of creating digital history.

6) Create a digital resume or e-portfolio for yourself.

7) At end of the semester, complete a blog post reflecting on the process and defending your project as DH scholarship.

Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, and participate in discussions, activities and blogging exercises.

As part of our weekly labs, I encourage you to bring your own computers so that we may more easily explore the ways historians and others are undertaking research and presenting history on the web. Given the digital nature of this class the use of all electronic devices is both required and encouraged, but they should be used for class-based work only. Texting, social media or surfing the web for personal information will not be tolerated and will result in your being asked to leave, thus losing valuable participation points for the day. Projects/assignments are due when indicated in the syllabus. Assignments are late if turned in or posted anytime after that date. Late projects will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.

What to expect

This course will give you the digital research and data management skills and reflexive theoretical grounding to answer the ‘so what’. As digital historian, Adam Crymble writes, “We’ve spent millions digitizing the world’s historical resources. Let’s work together to figure out what they can teach us”.

 This course will be a bit different than your usual history course where you simply research and write about your findings. Rather than just engaging with sources and content like one would in a traditional course, in this course you will be asked to apply your knowledge to create digital projects. To attain the technical skills necessary to participate in the creation of digital projects, you will be asked to work outside of class using a variety of resources that will help you become technically proficient. Be prepared to be a bit uncomfortable, thrown into research methods and computer tools that will take some time outside of class to learn.

You and your classmates are collaborators and in that role, you will all be asked to help figure out assignment-related problems, evaluate work, and share in the overall workload. While traditional history is often a solitary act, digital history is collaborative and cross-disciplinary. Come talk with me early and often, these tools will be unfamiliar and I’m very happy to help you work out any issues you come across.  Finally, nearly all of the work for this course will be done in public on the course blog and on sites like Twitter (if you’re sharing thoughts on Twitter, use the hashtag #hist305csulb). While your grades and evaluations will remain private, you will share your work with students elsewhere and with the public at large. The course is asking you to do things not normally expected in a history course, where often the emphasis is on individual reading, research, and writing. The course will be much more informal, and you can expect that we might change assignments for the course as we go depending on where our discussions and interests take us. Your engagement and participation will be essential to the course’s success. The historical and computational methods in this course are best learned by combining them with the readings, writing, and experimentation we will be doing in the course.

This course is about crafting digital history, about data mining documents, about reading distantly thousands of documents at once, about graphing/mapping/visualizing what we find, and working out how to best communicate those findings. It is about writing history in digital media, which are primarily visual media. Thus, we will learn how to scrape data, how to find meaningful patterns within it, and how to visualize (via websites or infographics) those results. Readings will be from relevant literature in the field (mostly open access).

Things will go wrong. Stuff will break. You will be frustrated. This will not be easy, but it will be rewarding if you stick it out.


Students are expected to participate in all sessions and are expected to read the assigned material by the date indicated in the syllabus. Class participation includes actively participating in discussions and commenting on your colleagues’ understanding of the week’s material. Collaborative Reading:  To that end, for each class where there are assigned readings/videos, students will prepare comment on the material (parallels, problems, questions, reminders of past readings, connections to ideas from other classes or from “real life”) using hypothes.is and the group https://hypothes.is/groups/2i5KMXgD/history305digitalmethods This will require you to do much of your reading in the Chrome web browser with the hypothes.is extension installed. We’ll talk about this and set it up in class. If you want to try to get started on your own go to: https://web.hypothes.is/start/and follow the instructions then add our group to your account (https://hypothes.is/groups/2i5KMXgD/history305digitalmethods) or see joining hypothes.is on Beachboard.


Creating a record of the planning, research, and implementation of your projects via our blogs is a central part of this class and a way for me to comment on your progress as digital scholars, and measure your creativity and progress. Blog posts should reveal both the problems you’re facing as well as your successes. They should be a complete record of your research, the readings you’ve done for class, your participation in the labs and group projects, the discoveries you’ve made along the way and the issues that crop up as you complete your projects. You are also required to comment on each other’s blogs, help each other out and share research techniques, insights you’ve made or solutions to problems that others may be facing.  This is a community and we will all experience the same frustrations and success so let’s share the pain and the pleasures that come from creating a digital past. Weekly posts and comments are a minimum expectation of the class. You should treat these blogs as a digital diary and post whenever the need strikes. The class blog will also serve as a place where we can share tools, interesting stories about DH from around the web, and serve as an active archive of the evolution of this class.


Daniel J. Cohen & Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (2006). Available at http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/. Or you can purchase a paper copy from Amazonor many other online booksellers.

Other Articles for this semester are linked in the syllabus, on our class web page or are also available on Beachboard.

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on:

1) Class Participation in weekly labs, discussions and online activities (30%) 300 points

2) Final Project Group Proposal (10%) 100 points

3) Final Group/Ind. Project (20%) 200 points

4) Blog Posts (20 %) 200 points

5) Final Blog Post (assessment and self-reflection on project, class and what you’ve learned) (10%) 100 points

6) E-portfolio/Digital resume (5%) 50 points

7) Formal presentations of the group project (5%) 50 points

Group Proposals

Each group will create a project proposal for me outlining and justifying the historical relevance of their projects. The proposals must be approved by me and may need to be tweaked before that happens. Each proposal must include:

  • Mission statement (describe the project and justify its historical relevance and its importance to the historiography of your subject)
  • Outline the digital tools your group plans on using
  • Schedule of milestones or due dates for each of the steps in your process.
  • Basic division of labor

NOTE: These proposals are pretty much set in stone, but under certain circumstances may be revised as the semester goes on, though only with good reasons and only after a meeting with me.

Digital Resume/E-Portfolio  

During the semester, we will discuss ways of showcasing your work (digital and otherwise) in an electronic portfolio. Each student will be expected to create their own digital resume (website separate from your blog posts) by the final date. (We’ll use the free wordpress.com, but I’ll show you how to buy a custom URL, find cheap hosting and use WordPress on a personal site)

Regular Updates

You should post your progress in the class, readings, questions you may have and the kind and amount of work you’ve been doing in the class at least once a week to the class blog. Some weeks there will be prompts other weeks you’ll be on your own. As we get to work on the final projects these blog posts will become research and work diaries for the project. Explaining the work you’re doing, the tools you’re learning and the difficulties and successes you are experiencing.

End of the Semester Presentations

At the end of the semester (either in the last week of class or during the exam period) each group will make an 8-10 minute presentation to the class summarizing their project and presenting what they learned from it to the class. More on this later in the semester.

Self Reflection post

In the last week of the semester, each person will be expected to write a blog post or paper (your choice). This paper (~2-3 pages/~1000-1500 words) should reflect on what you personally learned, how you developed in your digital life, and the problems or deficits you still need to correct. In writing this self-reflection you should outline your participation in the class and in the digital learning project, you should also justify or defend your group’s project and reflect on how that process helped to develop deeper historical knowledge

Syllabi archive

Download a version of the first syllabus (History305Spring2016 v 1.0)

Download a version of the second syllabus (History 305 Fall 2016 v 2.0)

Download the current version of the syllabus