Course Description

This course will explore the current and potential impact of digital media on the theory and practice of history. The course will be structured by central themes that include digitization, preservation, interpretation, and presentation.  Students will learn the best practices in the field of creating, editing, managing, and preserving digital content.  We will explore how the vast array of historical evidence that is now accessible to us online has the potential to transform the way historians practice their art of interpretation.  We will consider the way many historians and public historians have transformed the way they present history through their use of new media tools.  We will also examine the challenges new media presents in the realms of ownership, authority, and peer review.

Course Objectives

On completion of the class, students will:

  • Be able to critically engage the emerging field of digital history
  • Become versed in the best practices in the areas of digitization and preservation
  • Gain an understanding of the potential and limitations of presenting history using new media platforms
  • Recognize the potential for new media to enhance the ability of historians to collaborate, network, and build community beyond the walls of academia
  • Have a practical understanding of how to work with digital source material, use social media tools, and manage and design digital projects

Required Books

Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Available Online)

Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World

Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps Trees

Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jazsi, Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright

Dan M. Brown, Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning (2nd Edition)

Evaluation and Grading

Social Media Participation (20%)

Students are expected to blog (once a week for grads and once every other week for undergrads–six posts total for undergrads) on that week’s reading (300 words) and comment on other student blogs at least once a week. Over the course of the semester, you are required to comment on each of your fellow students’ blog postings at least once.  All students will also be required to post one tweet (140 characters) each week and comment on other student’s tweets.  You should think of this class not as meeting solely during class time but as an ongoing conversation that is active all semester. For tips and guidelines on successful blog posting and commenting, see the course blog.

Class participation (20% undergrad, 15% grad)

You will be expected to actively participate in every class in an informed manner.  Before every class, you are required to present a clear and concise question that pushes us to engage with some aspect of the course material (readings, websites, tools, etc.) more deeply.  The question will be posted on the comments section on the course blog page for that week.   When we have a scheduled guest speaker, you are expected to prepare questions ahead of time so that we can have a lively and informative discussion after their presentations.

Book Reviews (10% grad)

Graduate students will review three works, which could include books pertinent to the digital humanities or major works of digital scholarship.  The reviews will be done as 500 word blog posts.

Skills Building Assignments (20%)

Throughout the semester we will have several projects that are designed to help you develop your digital literacy.

New Media Training (15% undergrad and 10% grad)

Complete the following training modules on and present your certificates of completion to Prof. Kerr.  The link should allow you to use your AU account to access the training modules. Essential Training (5hr 3min)

Enhancing Photos with I-Photo (1hr 30min)

Up and Running with Audacity (1hr 46min)

Complete the following training modules from the AU New Media Center (Training Schedule).  Draft a note indicating your name along with the name and date of the session and have the instructor sign it.  Present the note to Prof. Kerr.

Podcasting 101 (Audacity)

Get Started With Photoshop

Final Project (25%)

Track One: Work in partnership with a cultural institution to produce a viable digital resource.  You may choose to work in a team of up to three students.  You will need to consult with the organization and Dr. Kerr as you define the project and throughout the semester. The project should be the digital resource you devise and a 1,000 word project statement that articulates the goals of the project, connects it to other projects we discussed in class, and briefly offers personal reflections on what you learned from the project.

Track Two: Envisioning and executing a work of digital scholarship. Such a work will explore the past in part using digital methods such as text mining, mapping, or visualizations. For this work, students can use digital tools to analyze historical data and/or publish their findings online.  For project should be approximately 2,000-4,000 words for undergrads and 3,500-5,000 words for grads.  It should also include visual materials.

Examples of projects from 2011 and 2012 and also from a similar course taught at Concordia University in the fall of 2012

Project proposal, in a 500-800 word blog post, due February 18th

Final project due by 5:30 pm on May 6th


Assignments for this class must come in on the deadlines.  Late work will receive a 10-point penalty.

Attendance.  All students can miss one class with no questions asked.  However, missing more than one class without permission will lower the final grade by one letter.  If you must miss class because of a religious holiday or if you’re sick, please let me know as soon as possible.

Plagiarism.  It goes without saying that plagiarism is unacceptable.  Using the ideas and words of others’ without citation will result in a failing grade.  But how do you credit ideas in a new media format or forum?  The answer will vary based on the platform.  Depending on the tool and the context, consider adding footnotes, in text parenthetical notes, or bibliographic essays.

History Department Learning Objectives

This course will meet the following learning objectives of the History Department:

Undergraduates Students:

1. Critical Thinking: Students will learn to apply historical methods to critically evaluate the record of the past and how historians and others have interpreted it.

3. Research Skills: Students will acquire basic historical research skills, including (as appropriate) the effective use of libraries, archives, and databases.

4. Communication Skills: Students will learn to organize and express their thoughts clearly and coherently both in writing and orally.

5. Writing & Intellectual: Students will demonstrate their mastery of the knowledge and skills

6. Integration: involved in historical practice by conceptualizing and executing a significant piece of original research.

Graduate Students:

1. Students will be able to deploy skills of critical analysis, including formulating persuasive arguments, evaluating evidence and critiquing claims in the literature, and interpreting a variety of primary sources.

2. Students will be able to conduct research that makes an original contribution to knowledge.

Please Note: The syllabus will be frequently updated on the course blog throughout the semester.  Assignments, readings, and guest speakers will be added and also changed.  These changes will be announced via the course twitter account, and they can also be monitored via an RSS feed.  Generally all readings will be finalized a week before the respective class.  Assignments will be defined so that you will be able to begin them at the appropriate time.  Given that the class is a skill building class, you should not try and do the work ahead of schedule.

Acknowledgments:  I would like to thank Trevor Owens, Elena Razlogova, Dan Cohen, and Fred Gibbs who have all provided valuable resources that have helped shape this syllabus.


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