HIST 407: Digital History
Fall 2017: TuTh 12:30-1:45
Student Success Center 4042

Prof. Evan Friss
Email: frissej@jmu.edu
Office Hours: Tues. 10:30-11:00, 2:00-4:30 [Jackson 220]

Course Description and Objectives:

The course will provide an overview of the developing field of digital history.  We will explore the ways in which technology can change the way we research, write, document, exhibit, and produce history.  To do so, we will read, think, discuss, and experiment.  You should not expect to become an expert in any single technology, but you will develop a familiarity with a wide range of tools and applications and will have the chance to create your own digital history projects. In the process, I hope, we will all not only reconsider the relationship between the digital realm and the field of history, but also the way we conceive of history itself.

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify the history of digital history and its current trajectory
  • Contrast digital and traditional history
  • Develop a familiarity with key digital history vocabulary
  • Discover the uses and limits of a wide range of digital tools
  • Demonstrate proficiency in producing a work of digital history

Grading and Assignments:
Participation (20%)
Blog (20%)
Module 1 Project/Presentation (15%)
Module 2 Project/Presentation (15%)
Module 3 Project/Presentation (15%)
Module 4 Project/Presentation (15%)

  • Grades: (A) means genuinely outstanding, mastery of the subject, near flawless exposition, and incisive interpretation; (B) means well above average achievements in mastery of the subject, exposition, and interpretation throughout the course; (C) means comprehension of the basic concepts, competent exposition, and interpretation; (D) means unsatisfactory but still barely passing; (F) means failure.
  • Participation: I expect you to participate actively and intelligently each class.
  • Blog: Throughout the semester, you will blog in response to the readings before each discussion day. You should think about how to synthesize the readings, identify overarching themes, highlight the main arguments of each reading, and raise your own questions. Since this is writing for the web, it can be relatively informal, but you should still maintain academic standards. Also, use this time to think about how writing on the web is different than writing in other formats. I encourage you to use links, images, audio, videos, etc. when appropriate. There is no particular length requirement for each blog post, but I would expect that most would measure around 400 words. There will be ten blog posts throughout the semester and you are required to complete eight of them (your choice).
  • Module Project/Presentations: For each of the four modules, you will create a product using the required technology. The project should be displayed on your own website for me, the rest of the class, and the public to view. You will also give a brief presentation (roughly five minutes) explaining why and how you created the project. In both the presentation and on the website, it should be clear that your project helps advance some historical argument and answers a historical question. With the possible exception of the first module, I would recommend that all of the projects speak to the same historical question/argument. For example, if you were interested in examining the effects of the late 19th century bicycle boom in New York, you might, for the first module, create an Omeka site highlighting the bicycling diaries and maps made by one such cyclist; for the second module you could construct a historical map showing some of the preferred bicycle routes or the locations of bicycle shops; for the third module you might data mine newspapers and magazines to determine the relative prevalence of certain bicycle-themed topics and its meaning; for the fourth module, you might create a 3-D model of an 1890s bicycle that was manufactured in New York. In many cases, you will need to add interpretive text to the map, object, etc. You will be graded on the quality of the finished product. Is it creative, visually attractive, and easy to interpret? Can it clearly be used to advance some historical argument? Does it demonstrate a sophistication in how to use the required technology and does it succeed in ways that “traditional” tools could not?


For information on these polices, visit: http://www.jmu.edu/history/syllabus.shtml

  • The JMU Honor Code and Academic Honesty (Plagiarism, or any other forms of academic dishonesty, will result in an automatic “F” grade for this course.)
  • Registration Dates and Deadlines
  • College of Arts and Letters First-week Attendance Policy
  • Inclement Weather
  • Intellectual Property
  • Disability Accommodations
  • Religious Accommodations



Aug. 29: Introduction

Sept. 1: Discussion
Create you own domain with Reclaim Hosting. (In most cases I would suggest using your own name. For example:  www.johndoe.com)
Edward L. Ayers, “The Pasts and Futures of Digital History”
Tom Scheinfeldt, “Where’s the Beef? Does Digital Humanities Have to Answer Questions?”
Stefan Tanaka, “Pasts in a Digital Age”
Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making us Stupid”


Sept. 5: Discussion
Anthony Grafton, “Future Readings: Digitization and its Discontents”
Nicholson Baker, Double Fold (excerpt)
Review of On Excess: Susan Sontag’s Born-Digital Archive
Examine the following sites and consider their relative strengths and weaknesses, keeping in mind the objectives, audience, functionality, and creativity: Digital Public Library of AmericaThe Georgetown Slavery ArchiveThe Roaring Twenties
Blog Post #1 Due

Sept. 7: Omeka Workshop
Dublin Core in Omeka

Sept. 12: Digital Preservation
Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Preserving Digital History)
Megan Garber, “What If You Could Snapchat a Scent?: Meet the New Technologies that Want to Transform Fragrances into Archives”
Meredith Broussard, “The Irony of Writing Online About Digital Preservation
Explore the Internet Archive

Sept. 14: Discussion
Martha Saxton, “Wikipedia and Women’s History: A Classroom Experience”
Timothy Messer-Kruse, “The ‘Undue Weight’ of Truth on Wikipedia”
Leslie Madsen-Brooks, “I nevertheless am a historian”
Rebecca Onion, “Snapshots of History”
Blog Post #2 Due

Sept. 19: Lab
Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Designing for the History Web)
Sarah Larson, “Why You Hate Google’s New Logo”

Sept. 21: Presentations


Sept. 26: Discussion
Larry Cebula, “An Open Letter to the Historians of the 22nd Century: Sorry for all the Stuff”
Lincoln Mullen, Computational Historical Thinking (1.1 & 1.3)
Frederick W. Gibbs and Trevor J. Owens, “The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing”
Stéfan Sinclair and Geoffrey Rockwell, “Text Analysis and Visualization”
Blog Post #3 Due

Sept. 28: Data Mining Workshop
Find several datasets that might be useful for historical analysis.

Oct. 3: Discussion
The 2014 Feltron Annual Report
Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, and Trees (excerpt)
Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (excerpt)
Blog Post #4 Due

Oct. 5: Lab

Oct. 10: Discussion
Ansley T. Erickson, “Historical Research and the Problem of Categories”
Patrick Leary, “Googling the Victorians”
William J. Turkel, Kevin Kee and Spencer Roberts, “A Method for Navigating the Infinite Archive”
David A. Bell, “The Bookless Future: What the Internet is doing to Scholarship, New Republic
Blog Post #5 Due

Oct. 12: No Class (Work on Projects)

Oct. 17: Data Management
Lev Manovich, “Trending: The Promises and the Challenges of Big Social Data”
Frederick W. Gibbs, “New Forms of History: Critiquing Data and Its Representations”
Johanna Drucker, “Humanities Approaches to Graphical Display,” Digital Humanities Quarterly

Oct. 19: Presentations


Oct. 24: Discussion
Richard White, “What is Spatial History?”
Bodenhamer, Corrigan, and Harris, eds., The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship (Excerpt)
Review Shaping the West and associated maps
Blog Post #6 Due

Oct. 26: Google Earth/Maps Workshop
Read and complete the lesson on Google Maps here. You can stop at the section on Google Earth, but be sure to have Google Earth installed on your laptop prior to class.

Oct. 31: Discussion
Cameron Blevins, “Space, Nation, and the Triumph of Region: A View of the World from Houston,” and the digital supplement, “Mining and Mapping the Production of Space”
Review Mapping Inequality and Visualizing Emancipation
Blog Post #7 Due

Nov. 2: Lab

Nov. 7: Discussion
Andrew Wiseman, “When Maps Lie,” CityLab
Nathan Yau, “Explorations of People Movements”
Review Mapping Occupation
Find and review another DH mapping project that we have yet to examine.
Blog Post #8 Due

Nov. 9: Presentations


Nov. 14: Discussion
William J. Turkel and Devon Elliott, “Making and Playing with Models: Using Rapid Prototyping to Explore the History and Technology of Stage Magic”
Diane Favro and Christopher Johanson, “Death in Motion: Funeral Processions in the Roman Forum”
Review Objects of Faith and several of the Smithsonian X 3D Tours
Blog Post #9 Due

Nov. 16: 3-D Scanning Workshop (Meet in Carrier Library, exact location TBA)

Nov. 28: Discussion
Liz Neely and Miriam Langer, “Please Feel the Museum: The Emergence of 3D Printing and Scanning”
Sarah Bond, “The Ethics Of 3D-Printing Syria’s Cultural Heritage”
Explore Arch of Triumph in Palmyra, Model of a Damascene Home, and Art at the British Museum
Blog Post #10 Due

Nov. 30: Lab

Dec. 5: Presentations


Dec. 7: Discussion
Come to class with an idea for a future digital history tool that does not yet exist.