HIST 471C3: Digital History

TR, 9:30-10:45
Spring 2008
Monroe 204

Jeffrey McClurken
Office Hours: MWF, 9-10, TR, 1:30-2:30, or by appointment

Supplemental resources can be found at

Course Description
This seminar will focus on the process of creating digital history. The course readings, workshops, and discussions expose students to the philosophy and practice of the emerging field of History and New Media. 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 include the creation of an online presence for the James Monroe Papers, the construction of a site expanding on the state historical markers in the Fredericksburg area, the expansion of digital work previously done on James Farmer’s presence on campus, and the building of a digital exhibit for UMW’s Centennial.

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 blog

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

4) Participate in the writing of the text of a UMW Centennial Historical Marker in a group wiki

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

6) Participate in class workshops related to specific programs

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

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 (9:30 AM) on the day they are due. Assignments are considered late if turned in/posted anytime after that. Late papers/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.


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

Online: Most of our texts for this semester are available on-line

Final Grades

Final grades will be determined based on class participation (including blogging 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 Digital Projects page above or click here.

Group Contracts

Each group will create contracts with me about their projects. The contracts are due February 12, 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)

— Tools planning on using

— Schedule of milestones (when critical pieces are ready to present)

NOTE: These contracts may be revised as the semester goes on, though only with good reasons.

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.

Regular Presentations (Updates)

Starting in week 6, each group will be expected to make weekly status updates in class 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 (either in the last week of class or during the exam period) each group will make a 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.


If you receive services through the Office of Disability Services 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 Services (x1266) about the appropriate documentation of a disability.

Course Schedule*

Week 1

Jan. 15 — Introduction and Digital Workshop – Personal Content Tools

Jan. 17 — What is Digital History?

— Brief Group Meeting

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Introduction, Ch. 1; The Machine is Us/ing Us, Information R/evolution.

Assignments over the weekend:

Write and publish first blog post

Use Google Reader or Bloglines to subscribe to the blogs of the people in class and two history blogs from Cliopatria’s blogroll (

Week 2

Jan. 22 — Digital Workshop – Web Publication

Jan. 24 — Exploring Other Digital History Projects

— Brief Group Meeting

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Ch. 2, 4

Check out the following websites: Valley of the Shadow, French Revolution, US Civil War in 4 min,, Southern History Database

Assignments: Blog about some creative uses of the tools we’ve learned about so far. [e.g., how might you use for something other than bookmarking? What could a blog be used for other than personal reflection? What creative ways can you think of to use RSS or 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.]

Week 3

Jan. 29 — Digital Workshop – Media & Mashups

Jan. 31 — Digital Archives and Issues of Digitization

— Brief Group Meeting

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Ch. 3, 6; Tony Grafton, “Future Reading,” New Yorker, Nov. 5, 2007.

Check out the following websites: Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, September 11 Digital Archive,; JSTOR; Internet Archive; A House Divided: America in the Age of Lincoln. A list of other digital archives and digitization efforts can be found at

Assignments: Go to and pick out one tool that could be helpful for your project. Discuss it in a blog post.

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

Week 4

Feb. 5 — Digital Workshop – Behind the Scenes on Web Publishing

Feb. 7 — Thinking About and Building an Audience

— Brief Group Meeting

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Ch. 5

Group Contracts are due from each group on Tuesday, February 12

Week 5

Feb. 12 — Group Meeting and Planning

Feb. 14 — Exhibit/Timeline Workshop

Ask me about the Exhibit/Timeline Assignment to prepare for Thursday’s class

Week 6

Feb. 19 — Copyright and Wikipedia: What’s the Big Deal?

Reading: Cohen & Rosenzweig, Digital History, Ch. 7;; Video of 2007 Debate over Wikipedia at Middlebury College (

Assignment: Look at the History and Discussion tabs of several Wikipedia history entries and blog about what you see.

Feb. 21 — HMP, CP present 10-15 minute progress reports; JMP, JFP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Week 7

Feb. 26 — Group Meeting and Planning

Feb. 28 — JMP, JFP present 10-15 minute progress reports; HMP, CP present 3-5 minute progress reports


Week 8

Mar. 11 — Writing a UMW Historical Marker

Reading: Read the text of some existing Historical Markers at

Assignments: Write joint marker text within your group using a wiki.

Mar. 13 — HMP, CP present 10-15 minute progress reports; JMP, JFP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Week 9

Mar. 18 — Group Meeting and Planning

Mar. 20 — JMP, JFP present 10-15 minute progress reports; HMP, CP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Week 10

Mar. 25Historical Digital Searching (Web and Data Mining)

Reading: Peter Norvig talk (; Dan Cohen, “From Babel to Knowledge” (; Patrick Leary, “Googling the Victorians” ( ); William Turkel, “Searching for History,” Digital History Hacks (12 Oct 2006).

Mar. 27 — HMP, CP present 10-15 minute progress reports; JMP, JFP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Week 11

Apr. 1 — Group Meeting and Planning

Apr. 3JMP, JFP present 10-15 minute progress reports; HMP, CP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Week 12

Apr. 8 — Impact of Digital History on Historians and on the Practice of History

Reading and Assignment: [Pick two or three articles and blog about them.]  See also, Main Page – The Age of Lincoln.

Apr. 10HMP, CP present 10-15 minute progress reports; JMP, JFP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Week 13

Apr. 15 — Group Meeting and Planning

Apr. 19JMP, JFP present 10-15 minute progress reports; HMP, CP present 3-5 minute progress reports

Public presentations of projects will be in the last week of classes. More on this in class.

Projects due April 22 at the start of class. Reflection paper/blog post due April 24

Week 14

Apr. 22 — Projects due

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 History and New Media

* Many of my choices for readings here are indebted to the work and teaching of Bill Turkel and Dan Cohen.