HIST 428: Adventures in Digital History

TR, 11-12:15
Spring 2016
HCC 327

Jeffrey McClurken
Office Hours: 9-11 AM, MW; 10-11 AM, TR, or by appointment. Given that I have two offices (HCC 419 and Monroe 219), please contact me in advance to see where I will be.

Twitter: @jmcclurken

Course Description

This seminar will focus on the process of creating digital history.  The course readings, workshops, and discussions will be aimed at exposing students to the philosophy and practice of the emerging field of History and Digital Media (sometimes called Digital Humanities).  The course will be centered on the creation of four digital history projects, all of which are related to making local resources available online.  These projects are likely to include: the creation of a digital exhibit and repository for the diary of a Civil War Solider (CWS); the digitizing of the papers of Fredericksburg’s Civil War-era Mayor, Montgomery Slaughter (MS); a digital history of the ITCC/Hurley Convergence Center (HCC); OR the development of a series of videos on the work and artifacts of the James Monroe Museum (and a site to house the videos) including potentially 3D scanning some of those items (JMM).

This course counts in the History Major, the American Studies Major, the Museum Studies Minor, the Communication and Digital Studies Major, and as a capstone course in the Digital Studies Minor.

Departmental Learning Objectives

  • Ability to utilize technological resources in research, data analysis, and presentation.
  • Appreciation of the diversity of methods and processes.
  • Ability to make discipline-specific oral presentations to groups.
  • Ability to communicate in a group setting.
  • Ability to conduct research in multiple sites.

Course Requirements

Every student and group will:

1) Complete a group project based on a contract made between the group and the professor

2) Post weekly progress reports on your own DoOO-based blog

3) Regularly present to the class about the status of your project

4) Participate in class discussions of readings, videos, and the process of creating digital history

5) Participate in class workshops related to specific programs

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

7) At end of the semester, complete a brief paper/blog post reflecting on the process and defending your project as contracted

8) Make any changes to the project required by the professor after the final version is completed.

Students are expected to attend all classes, read all assigned texts, and participate in class. Laptops are not required, but it will often be easier to have your own computer here as you learn new skills, hear about various tools, explore particular web sites, and work on your own digital projects. [Projects are due at the start of class (11 AM) on the day they are due. Assignments are considered late if turned in/posted anytime after that. Late projects will be penalized one full letter grade or, after 24 hours, not accepted.]


Students are expected to attend all classes having read the assigned material. Class participation includes actively participating in daily discussions and responding to class presentations. To that end, for each class for which there are readings/videos, students should also prepare a list of comments on the material (parallels, problems, factual questions, reminders of past readings, connections to ideas from other classes or from “real life”) so that they have those points in front of them for the discussion. Although I have no current plan to collect these comments, I reserve the right to do so at some point during the semester.



Narrating the planning, research, and implementation processes via your blogs is a central part of the class and a way for me to measure your effort, your creativity, and your progress as digital scholars. Blog about your problems as well as your successes. Be sure to comment on each others’ blogs and help each other out. This is a community of people going through similar efforts that you can tap into, so do so. Weekly posts & comments are a minimum expectation of the class.



Daniel J. Cohen & Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (2006). Available at .

Other texts for this semester are also available on-line.


Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on class participation (including blogging, mini assignments, and regular presentations to the class) (35%), on performance on the group contract (5%) and group project (50%), and on the quality of the final formal presentations on the group projects (10%). [Unsatisfactory mid-semester reports will be reported for anyone with a grade of D or below at that time.]

Honor Code

I believe in the Honor Code as an essential, positive component of the Mary Washington experience. You should know that if you cheat or plagiarize in this class, you will fail, and I will take you to the Honor Council, so do not do it. On the other hand, I also believe that having friends or family read and comment on your writing can be extremely helpful and falls within the bounds of the Honor Code (assuming the writing itself remains yours). If you have questions about these issues, then you should talk to me sooner rather than later.

Group Projects — See Project Outlines.

Group Contracts

Each group will create contracts with me about their projects. The contracts are due Monday, February 8, though each will need to be approved by me & may need to be tweaked before that happens. Each contract must include:

  • Mission statement (describe project)
    • Include audience and advertising and sustainability model
  • Tools planning on using
    • Include suggested location for project URL
  • Schedule of milestones (when critical pieces are ready to present)
  • Basic division of labor

NOTE: These contracts may be revised as the semester goes on, though only with good reasons and only after a meeting with me.

NOTE #2: Although each group will receive one shared grade for their contract, on the final project everyone will earn an individual and a group project grade, which will be averaged together to make each person’s project grade.

Digital Résumé/E-Portfolio  

During Week 8, we will discuss ways of showcasing your work (digital and otherwise) in an electronic portfolio.  Each student will be expected to create their own (or share an existing) digital résumé by Tuesday, March 15.

Regular Presentations (Updates)

Starting in week 7, each group will be expected to make weekly status updates in class (typically) on Thursdays on its progress toward their projects. Although some weeks 3-5 minute updates will be sufficient, every other week groups will need to present a more thorough update. See the schedule for more details on when your group does which presentation.

End of the Semester (Public) Presentations

At the end of the semester each group will make a formal, public 8-10 minute presentation summarizing their project. More on this later in the semester.

Reflection post/defense of contract

In the last week of the semester, each person will be expected to write a brief blog post or paper (your choice). This paper (~1-2 pages/~500 words) should reflect on the process and defend your group’s project as contracted.

Extra credit

Our “text” is Cohen and Rosenzweig’s Digital History, written in 2006. While it remains useful in bringing up key issues for those considering creating digital history projects, it is beginning to show its age as tools and the field change signficantly.  For each week that we read a chapter or two of Digital History, I’ll offer extra credit if you write a blog post in which you identify passages or concepts that need to be updated (be precise), find current sources (at least 2015 or newer), and summarize how the section should be updated. Tag these posts “DHUpdate2016”.


If you receive services through the Office of Disability Resources and require accommodations for this class, please make an appointment with me as soon as possible to discuss your approved accommodation needs. Bring your accommodation letter with you to the appointment. I will hold any information you share with me in the strictest confidence unless you give me permission to do otherwise. If you need accommodations, (note taking assistance, extended time for tests, etc.), please consult with the Office of Disability Resources (x1266) about the appropriate documentation of a disability.

Course Schedule*

Week 1

Jan. 12 — Introduction and Digital Workshop – Domain of One’s Own, WordPress

Jan. 14 — What is Digital History?  [What are the Digital Humanities?  How are the two different?] — Brief Group Meetings

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Introduction, Ch. 1; Information R/evolution; AHA Resources on Digital History (many great resources linked here); Digital Humanities Definitions by Type; Wikipedia definitions of Digital History & Digital Humanities

Assignments for Thursday:

  • Set up a Twitter account (or use an existing one) and follow me (@jmcclurken) and/or your classmates and/or some of the scholars from the DH Compendium.  If you tweet about our class use the hashtag #ADH2016.
  • Install a (new) WordPress blog on your Domain of One’s Own account. [If you’re using an existing blog, you’ll need to create a category for your posts for this class.]
  • Add your blog (with category, if necessary) to the class blogroll using the add your site widget on this blog.  Password is Hist0ry
  • Write and publish first blog post on why you’re taking the class.
  • NOTE: There is a drop-in workshop for students on WordPress and Domain of One’s Own that you can attend on Thursday, Jan. 14, right after this class in HCC 407. Let me know if you have any questions. 


Week 2

Jan. 19 — Digital Workshop – Omeka (& Zotero)

Jan. 21 — Exploring Other Digital History Projects — Group Meeting

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital HistoryChapter 2Chapter 4

Check out at least five of the following websites (including at least one Omeka site):  Valley of the Shadow, French RevolutionThe Emancipation ProjectGilded Age Murder Omeka-based sites, including Great Molasses Flood (built in Omeka and Neatline). Map Scholar; University of Houston’s Digital History site; Emile Davis Diaries; several sites at the Digital Scholarship LabMapping the Republic of LettersVirtual Paul’s Cross ProjectTrans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, Imagining the Past, Grad Student DH Projects at UNC, How did they make that?.

Assignments for Thursday: Blog about:

1) some creative uses of the tools we’ve learned about so far. [e.g., how might you use Zotero for something other than citation/research? What could a WordPress blog be used for other than personal reflection? What creative ways can you think of to use Omeka? How might you use these tools in combination with each other or with others you’ve used outside of class. [Be playful with your ideas here.]]

2) Based on your review of the Digital History websites above: Think about what you like about these websites as a whole, and what you don’t.  What works and what doesn’t?  What elements would you want to incorporate and which do you want to avoid in your own project?

UPDATE: During Thursday’s class, each group should post a summary of their discussions (to one group member’s class blog) about the other DH sites and how that impacts their own ideas about their projects.

Miriam Posner, “Up and Running with,”  and “Creating an Exhibit,” The Programming Historian, 2 [Note that this topic is for a hosted Omeka account.  You could also create an Omeka Installation in your Domain of One’s Own account.]

More generally, for advanced topics in digital history, check out the other lessons in the Programming Historian.


Week 3

Jan. 26 — Digital Workshop – Mapping & Timeline Tools, RSS Readers, Google Tools

Jan. 28 — Digital Archives and Issues of Digitization
— Brief Group Meeting

Reading: Lincoln Mullen’s Spatial History tools; Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital HistoryChapter 3Chapter 6;  Kate Theimer, The role of “the professional discipline” in archives and digital archives, Feb. 17, 2014.

Check out at least five of the following websitesHurricane Digital Memory BankSeptember 11 Digital ArchiveFootnote.comJSTORInternet ArchiveA House Divided: America in the Age of LincolnFamous Law trialsCriminal IntentPhotogrammarMapping DuBoisHull House and Neighborhoods; Lost & Found Archive Project, Searching for Residential Schools, St. John’s Micro History Mapping Project. Lists of other digital archives and digitization efforts can be found at

Build a basic map in StoryMapJS or a similar mapping tool and a basic timeline in TimeLineJS or a similar tool with at least five events.  Blog about the experience and about how you might use this in your project.

Use Feedly or another RSS tool to subscribe to the blogs of the people in class and two digital humanities blogs from the DH Compendium.

For more information on the nuts-and-bolts process of digitization, see

For more on spatial history, see


Week 4

Feb. 2 — Digital Workshop – Media Editing

Feb. 4 — Group Meeting

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Ch. 5 (we’ll discuss this next week, but it’s important to read before you complete your group contracts).


Group Contracts are due via Google Doc from each group on Monday, February 8


Week 5

Feb. 9 — Group Meeting and Planning — discussions of contract proposals

Feb. 11 — Thinking About and Building an Audience — Discuss C&R, Ch. 5


Week 6

Feb. 16 — Copyright and Wikipedia: What’s the Big Deal?

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Ch.7;; Stanford’s guide to fair use; Jimmy Wales (2005) How a Ragtag Band Created Wikipedia (watch at

Other resources: Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video; 2007 documentary on copyright (and music and video remixing); 30+ places to find Creative Commons mediaProfHacker post on Google Images and usable works.

Blog Assignment: 1) Look at the History and Discussion tabs of several Wikipedia history entries and write about what you see. 2) Consider what Creative Commons License you might use for your own site.  What role does copyright play in the resources you are working with this semester?

Feb. 18 — Group Meeting and Planning


Week 7

Feb. 23 — Group Meeting and Planning

Feb. 25 — All groups present 10-minute progress reports.


Week 8

Mar. 8 — Building a Digital Résumé or E-portfolio; Digital Identity

Readings: Read/look at three of these and post on five lessons you learned from them about digital identity.

Mar. 10 — Group Meeting and Planning

Assignment: Create your own Digital Résumé


Week 9

Mar. 15 — All groups present 10-minute progress reports.

Mar. 17 — Group Meeting and Planning

Assignment via private message to me in slack: Write a paragraph summary of your group’s successes and problems so far. 

Week 10

Mar. 22 — Text Mining, Topic Modeling, and Searching in History

Reading: Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? (2008); William Turkel, “Searching for History,” Digital History Hacks (12 Oct 2006);  Cohen, Google Books, Ngrams and CulturomicsMining the Dispatch; Megan Brett, “Topic Modeling: A Basic Introduction,” Journal of Digital Humanities, 2012;

See also: Topic Modeling and Mallet, The Programming Historian

Mar. 24 — CWS, MS present 10-15 minute progress reports; JMM, HCC present 3-5 minute progress reports


Week 11

Mar. 29 — Group Meeting and Planning

Mar. 31 — JMM, HCC present 10-15 minute progress reports; CWS, MS present 3-5 minute progress reports


Week 12

Apr. 5 — Impact of Digital History on Historians and on the Practice of History

Reading and Assignment: See this set of articles in the AHA’s Perspectives (2007) and Writing History in the Digital Age (2011)  [Pick two or three articles and blog about them. Sherman Dorn’s in the latter is especially relevant.]  See also, “Supporting the Changing Research Practices of Historians,”, as well as reading the Archives 2.0 article here.

Apr. 7 — CWS, MS present 10-15 minute progress reports; JMM, HCC present 3-5 minute progress reports


Week 13

Apr. 12 — Group Meeting and Planning

Apr. 14 — JMM, HCC present 10-15 minute progress reports; CWS, MS present 3-5 minute progress reports


Public presentations of projects will be in the last week of classes, at the departmental symposium on April 22.

Projects due April 19 at the start of class. Reflection paper/blog post due April 24


Week 14

Apr. 19 — Projects due — quick meeting to discuss process

NOTE: Given that these are public projects, students will commit to fixing issues found by Professor McClurken during the final evaluation of projects.

Apr. 21 — Meeting with each group to discuss needed changes (if Professor McClurken has finished reviewing them by then).

Apr. 22 — Formal presentations at 2 pm in Monroe 210 as part of History & American Studies Symposium.

Apr. 24  — Brief paper/blog post due (~1-2 pages/~500 words) reflecting on the process and defending your project as contracted.

Exam Period

A Summary Discussion of Digital History


* Many of my choices for readings here are indebted to the work and teaching of Bill TurkelDan CohenEthan WatrallMartha Burtis, and Sharon Leon, as well as the excellent collections found in Writing History in the Digital Age and Learning through Digital Media.