Week 1: Living and Learning in a Digital World

Part of doing and thinking about digital history involves first understanding and thinking about digital citizenship, identity, and work.  Digital technologies are the “water” we swim in today, but we often don’t pause to consider how best to live and learn in that context.

In this week, we will explore:

  • Introduction & basics of digital technology
  • Challenges of learning in a digital environment
  • Tools to enable better learning
  • Establishing your own digital space for creating and showcasing your work

Tuesday, January 18

  • What is digital history? What is this class?
  • Review of policies, grading, assignments
  • Discussion about digital work, learning and growth
  • Hypothesis setup

Tools for aiding focus and limiting online distractions/frustrations:

Thursday, January 20

Becoming a (digital) 1-percenter

  • establishing your own digital presence & identity
  • basic elements that make up a website
  • how to set up a website with an external hosting service & custom domain
  • how to install software on a server
  • basic skills for using WordPress

Note: In this class, we will be establishing a personal online domain with Reclaim Hosting & installing and learning to use WordPress. Please have credit card information available at this class session to pay the registration fee of $45. Please wait to do this until our class meeting. Finally, you may want to be thinking ahead of time about the domain name you will choose!


Week 1 Assignments

Week 2: Origins and Evolution of Digital History (January 25)

The History of #DH

In this unit, we will explore:

  • the origins and evolution of historians’ usage of digital technology
  • the specific methods historians tend to use
  • “digital history” as a subfield within the larger practice of digital humanities

As mentioned in the Syllabus under “Assignments” we’ll be using Hypothesis to annotate our readings. We will practice using this annotation tool in the first week of class, and you should make use of it in all readings this week. Also be sure to review Annotation Tips for Students


Thursday, January 28

Exploring and customizing WordPress

Week 2 Homework
  • Share your domain URL with me DUE ASAP
  • Learning Reflection: Write a short (150-250 words) blog post reflecting on what you’ve learned thus far in our class, and any skills you think you have developed. If you wish, you may also add a discussion of any concerns or anxieties you have about the material so far. DUE MONDAY, January 31 by 12 noon.
  • Annotate Week 3 readings with Hypothesis DUE TUESDAY, February 1 by 12 noon
  • Week 3: Surveying the #DH Landscape (January 31)

    What Are Different Ways of “Doing” Digital History?

    As we’ve come to see thus far, digital history/humanities is a broad field that can encompass a lot of different types of historical research and interpretation. So, it’s time to try and develop some concrete ways of classifying and describing digital history projects. In this unit, we will explore:

    • a taxonomy of digital history projects
    • criteria for assessing quality and effectiveness of digital project
    • practice in “reading” DH projects

    *don’t forget to annotate in our class group with Hypothesis

    In-class work: Digital History Reviews (You may visit any of these ahead of time; I will assign you a site to review in class)

    Week 3 Homework
  • Complete the Digital History project review assignment DUE TUESDAY, February 8 by 12 noon
  • Annotate Week 4 readings with Hypothesis DUE THURSDAY, February 10 by 12 noon (readings available by 12 pm Feb. 4)
  • Week 4: The Data Behind the Stories

    Thus far in the class we’ve gotten a sense of the scope of digital history, and the possibilities and methods. In this week we’ll begin exploring the use of historical data, which forms the basis of almost every form of digital storytelling.

    Topics for this week:

    • the purposes and rationale behind data visualization
    • various methods of communicating historical data in visual forms
    “Chart Shewing the Value of the Quarter of Wheat in Shillings & in Days Wages of a Good Mechanic from 1565 to 1821” by William Playfair, 1822


    Additional Resources

    These do not need to be annotated with Hypothesis, but are pretty cool and should be reviewed. They will come in most handy when you start working with data.

    Week 4 Homework
  • Read Chapter 1 and Chapter 6 of Hands-On Data Visualization. NO Hypothesis annotations due this week!
  • Create Google Drive and Datawrapper accounts (be sure to save login info in your password manager
  • Week 5: Exploring and Working with Data

    Tuesday, February 15


    (NOTE: NO Hypothesis annotations for this week)

    Sample Data for In-Class Use

    Or, feel free to take a stab at a dataset from the Final Project page

    Thursday, February 17

    Refining Data for Better Visualizations with Pivot Tables

    Today we’ll learn how to use pivot tables to better analyze large sets of data by focusing in on specific values.

    Reference: Hands on Dataviz, Summarize Data with Pivot Tables

    Practicum use data (Note: these are set to “View Only” – click File, then “Make a Copy” before you begin.)

    In-Class Practicum
    Exercise #1

    Using the 1915 Butler County Poor Farm data,

    1. create a pivot table that counts residents by some variable
    2. try adding another variable (for example, how many women are widowed? how many laborers are born in Austria?)
    Exercise #2

    Using the US Presidential Cabinet data above,

    1. create a pivot table in Google Sheets that shows Cabinet members who served in the military by branch (ie, how many served in the Navy, how many in the Army, etc.).
      NOTE: when you do this, you will come up with some messy data (as pictured at right). How could you use the Find & Replace command to clean this up? Give it a shot!
    2. create a pivot table in Google Sheets that shows the number of cabinet departments (note: not total number of appointments) under each president in the 20th century only. This one is a bit more challenging (hint: use “CountUnique” and the Filter tool)
    3. use this data to create a visualization in Datawrapper (just copy and paste your pivot table data) – or, you can do it right in Google Sheets!
    Week 5 Homework (all due Tuesday, February 22)
  • Read Chapter 6 of Hands-On Data Visualization (again – or, for the first time) NOTE: you may omit the third section on Tableau Public).
  • Complete Hypothesis annotations on the reading above
  • Write a 500-word blog post summarizing the skills you are developing with regards to data visualization and analysis. Embed at least one visualization you have created with either the sample data here, or another dataset.
  • Week 6: Are You Tired of Data Yet?

    Filing room for FBI records, DC Armory, 1944

    Tuesday, February 22


    Working with data is lovely when it’s prepared for us in handy CSV files, all nice and tidy. But, sadly, much historical data remains trapped in paper copies or scanned PDFs. This week we’ll explore how to extract and clean data that you might encounter during your research.

    • Tabula, a tool for extracting data from PDFs (if you’re on a Chromebook, a Chrome extension called Tabello seems to accomplish the same task)
    • The instructions for using Tabula to extract data can be found in Chapter 4 of Hands-On Data Visualization
    Sample PDFs for In-Class Practice

    Thursday, February 24

    Data Visualization and Text

    Today we’ll look at some simple methods of textual analysis using a few web-based tools. While intensive textual analysis usually requires learning some coding, these tools can provide an accessible way to explore what computational analysis can tell us about texts.

    Examples of Textual Analysis
    Sample Texts for In-Class Practice with Voyant
    Week 6 Homework (all due Tuesday, March 1)
  • Read Week 7 readings on geospatial data and digital history
  • Complete Hypothesis annotations on the reading above
  • Complete the first milestone for you final project

    Write a 500ish word blog post to the following questions:

    What questions can I explore with this dataset?
    What questions do I want to explore, but are impossible with this data?
    Is it possible to obtain the missing data I describe in question two? If so, how can I do it?
    What kinds of manipulation will this dataset require? Am I (will I be) capable of doing this myself, or will I need help?

    You should also create a few sketch-like data visualizations. These can be literal sketches on paper, with photos of the drawings posted in your blog. These are not final or authoritative! They’re a way to start thinking about what data have, and what kinds of questions you can ask about it.

  • Week 7: Mapping and Geospatial History

    1925 Sanborn insurance map of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania State University Libraries

    In this unit, we will explore:

    • advantages and challenges of analyzing historical data spatially
    • tools for creating spatial representations of historical data
    • methods for creating data-based maps

    Tuesday, March 1

    What can digital mapping tell us about the past?


    Remember to annotate these in our class Hypothesis group

    Recommended (not required)

    Thursday, March 3

    Today we’ll learn how to create basic data maps using Carto

    Datasets for in-class use:

    If we have time….

    Georectifying with MapWarper

    David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

    Slippery Rock 1925 Sanborn map

    Pittsburgh 1872 map

    This practicum has two parts:

    1. practice georectification of a historical map using MapWarper
    2. reflect on the value of georectification for historical analysis and interpretation

    Part 1: Georectification

    MapWarper is a tool that allows you to georectify historical maps. Georectification involves matching control points to align the map image with an existing coordinate system. After plotting corresponding points, the tool warps the historical map (using an algorithm) so that it lines up with the contemporary OpenStreetMap.

    1. Open Map Warper (you’ll need to create a new account if you did not do so on Tuesday)
    2. Select a new map from the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection. Obviously some maps in the collection will be more suitable for georectification than others. I recommend choosing one of a city from an overhead perspective. When you find a map you want to use, click the “Export” button and choose the largest image, then download it.
    3. In the MapWarper window, click to “Upload Map.” Enter metadata and upload the image, and click to “Create.”
    4. Click the “Rectify” tab. In the side-by-side interface, you can navigate between each map using the mapping tools on the left.
      • Navigation: Click the white triangles to move up/down/left/right.
      • Zoom: Click the plus or negative signs to zoom in or out one step. Move the blue slider button to move multiple steps at once. (Note: you may also use your mouse/trackpad to pan and zoom).
    5. Locate shared points on each map. Use the controls at the top right to add and modify Control Points on each map. (Note: You should add at least three points to rectify. Focus on locating points across the map- not in one single area)

    Week 8: Research in #DH

    Tuesday, March 8

    Special guest research presentation by Dr. Seth Lee, SRU English Dept. Please review the brief readings below in preparation for his talk.

    After Dr. Lee’s presentation and discussion, the remaining class time will be dedicated to workshopping your project research and planning your websites.


    Week 10: In-Class Project Workshops

    Week 11: Playing the Past

    In this unit we will explore:

    • the potential of video games for engaging with the past
    • challenges and potential problems with gaming as a mode of engagement
    Literally the only way most people know anything about the history of the 19th-century American West

    Tuesday, March 29


    It’s been a few weeks since we’ve had readings, so don’t forget to annotate with Hypothesis!

    Thursday, March 31

    Let’s play!

    Below are a few online games dealing with historical topics. Play at least two, and write a 250-word blog post addressing these questions:

    • did the experience of “playing the past” add anything to your understanding of the historical topic?
    • could you envision improvements that would have enhanced the experience? (focus here on content or gaming elements, rather than “the graphics weren’t good” or something)
    • what are the advantages of this kind of engagement with the past?
    • does the medium of gaming risk trivializing history? why or why not?
    Week 11 Homework (all due Tuesday, April 5)
  • Read Week 12 readings on digital history and the public
  • Complete Hypothesis annotations on the reading
  • Write a 500-word blog post addressing the prompts under Week 12
  • Week 12: The Perils and Challenges of Digital History

    In this unit, we will explore:

    • the definition of “public history” and its goals, methods, and relationship to the academic field
    • how digital platforms provide new methods for engaging broad non-academic audiences
    • the potential challenges and limitations of using digital tools for public historical engagement

    Blog Post Prompts

    Address one of these questions in a post of approximately 500 words, using specific examples from the reading.

    • Why should we be cautious about viewing digital technology as the ultimate tool for public engagement?
    • Is the Internet bad for history?
    • What “lessons” do these readings provide for doing digital history?


    DateTopicAssignment Due
    Week 10 (March 22)
    Week 11 (March 29)Playing the Past: Video Games as Historical InterpretationHypothesis annotations; blog post
    Week 12 (April 5)
    Week 13 (April 12)
    Week 14 (April 19)
    Week 15 (April 26)