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Welcome to the Course Page for History in a Digital Age

Instructors:

Dr. Jim Ambuske
Ambuske@law.virginia.edu
W: 12 – 4 or by appointment, Law Library - Special Collections, wb303a

Dr. Loren Moulds
moulds@virginia.edu
W: 12 – 4 or by appointment, Law Library - Special Collections, wb303c

Introduction:

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should"  -Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park (1993)

This course offers students the opportunity to consider, critique, and create digital history. As a relatively new subfield of history, digital history is an approach to historical scholarship that academics still struggle to define and employ. Throughout our course, as students learn about others’ perspectives on digital history, they will be encouraged through classroom participation, written assignments, and digital projects to define digital history for themselves. Two digital historians, Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas, provide a working definition for digital history that offers a valuable starting point:

“Digital history might be understood broadly as an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems. On one level, digital history is an open arena of scholarly production and communication, encompassing the development of new course materials and scholarly data collection efforts. On another level, digital history is a methodological approach framed by the hypertextual power of these technologies to make, define, query, and annotate associations in the human record of the past. To do digital history, then, is to digitize the past certainly, but it is much more than that. It is to create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a major historical problem.”

The first half of the course is an overview of the theory, philosophy, and methodology of digital history that will familiarize students with the origins and evolution of digital history. In the second half of the course, students will put the lessons from our first seven weeks into practice, experimenting with various digital history platforms and ultimately creating a final project that demonstrates mastery of course content. While students will learn many tools of the digital trade, the central purpose of this course is to query the extent to which we as historians should use digital tools in our work and how we should use them.

Goals:

  1. To become critically conversant in digital historical methodology and practice.
  2. To develop a sense of how digital technology may or may not influence one’s own research.
  3. To gain experience and familiarity with certain technologies and platforms by making scholarly contributions to existing digital history projects.
  4. To develop a final digital project that makes a public contribution to our historical knowledge.

Components:

Attendance Policy:

Students are allowed one absence during the semester. In the event of illness or emergency, students should contact one of the professors immediately and if at all possible before the absence.

Late Work:

Late work is not accepted. If there are extenuating circumstances, contact one of the professors well in advance of the assignment’s due date.

Participation:

This class is new; this class is small. We have given much thought into the intellectual underpinnings necessary to introduce digital methodologies to historical practice. Much of the value for you as students will come from remaining actively engaged in the course discussions as we examine, experiment, and interrogate historians’ practices in a digital age. Your participation will also help us better evaluate the effectiveness of our readings and projects. Active, substantive participation is required.

Responses & Reviews:

The first half this course schedule will require brief written reflections based on each week’s respective focus. These responses are due before the class they are assigned and should be posted to the course website. A successful response or review will need a minimum of 600 words unless otherwise stated.

  • Readings Responses: These responses should synthesize the content of each reading as a related set of documents. You should attempt to place them in context with the course readings so far and within the context of historical practice and argumentation. Questions to consider as you write these responses are: What are the relationships between these readings? What was your assessment of the major themes and debates among them? What questions, criticisms, or confusion arose in your reading? What problems and solutions are being grappled with?
  • Reviews: You will be asked to write reviews of digital history projects publicly available on the internet. We expect these reviews to be formulated for a professional historical journal, namely the Journal of American History. Specific instructions can be found in the relevant week’s assignment details.

Final Project:

Graduate students will develop a digital project in consultation with the instructors that advances some aspect of their Ph.D. or M.A. thesis. Undergraduates will work closely with the instructors to identify and pursue a suitable final digital project.

Project Consultation:

  • As a final project is a primary component of the course, students are expected to meet with the instructors outside of class to plan and report on their final project's progress. It is the student's responsibility to setup this meeting during the weeks labeled "Consultation Weeks".
  • Consultation Weeks: Week 3, Week 5, Week 7, Week 8 – 10.

Grading:

  • Participation – 20%
  • Short Reviews and Responses – 30%
  • Project Review & Presentation – 25%
  • Final Project – 25%