Fall 2017

Learning about Digital History. Working with community partners to create public projects. Building skills in collaborative teamwork.


HIS 3995/6000: Digital History

Scholars, journalists, politicians, and educators often talk about the way that digital technologies have transformed the way that we interact with each other in the present.  But these same technologies have also enabled us to engage in new ways with the past.  Historians, like other scholars in the humanities, have increasingly appropriated digital tools to reinvent the nature of historical scholarship.  These new tools help to reframe all aspects of the discipline, from research methods to scholarly communication to publication and public engagement.  From the comfort of our homes or libraries or offices, we use digital technologies to access large databases of primary sources and secondary sources and collaborate with colleagues around the world.  Many scholars have also used digital technologies to create new methods for publishing and disseminating historical scholarship.  In the process, many scholars have sought to democratize access to primary sources and historiographical material, involving the public in the production of history in new ways and creating opportunities for student research.  The democratization of history, however, also raises new challenges and questions about authorship, authority, expertise, and accuracy.

In this course, we will explore both the opportunities and the challenges of digital history.  Part of that exploration requires us to do the work of any good historian – we must understand the historiographical questions that drive current scholarship, analyze available primary sources, deploy research methodologies – in order to ask historical questions.  As we read and discuss collective readings, we will pay special attention to the way that scholars actively produce history:  what questions do they ask?  What sources do they use?  What kinds of research methodologies do their questions require?  What questions can their sources not answer and why?  What kind of contribution does their work make?

Digital history, however, requires an additional set of questions, skills, and tools.  Throughout the semester, we will work in groups to construct a digital project for the Reuther Archive.  Students will digitize sources and create content based on distinct parts of the Reuther’s collection.  Our end goal is a digital exhibit, which will both make these materials more accessible and help communicate their significance for the general public.  Based on experiences gained through that class project, students’ final projects will imagine and plan their own digital history project for their course final.

Students should have a working knowledge of computers and internet tools, but no background in programming is necessary.  [Read more]