This course, which satisfies the university’s foundation IT requirement, prepares you to use and understand a wide variety of current and emerging digital technologies—everything from basic collaboration tools to more complex services such as data visualization tools and digital maps.

This course teaches the fundamentals of digital literacy within the context of an upper division history course. While you are not required to have a background in history, you will be asked to analyze primary sources, synthesize existing historical scholarship, construct a clear and convincing argument about the past, and tie it all together in a digital project. This semester we will be focusing on Chicago’s history between 1870 and 1930. While we will be focusing primarily on that particular place during that particular historical era, you will be free to pursue a well-formed research question within that framework that reflects your individual interests.

Learning Goals

The Digital Past, section 003 has five primary learning goals.

  1. You will master the skills that make up the General Education Information Technology requirement.
  2. Through your thoughtful written work and participation in class discussions, you will learn to communicate effectively.
  3. You will learn to conduct historical scholarship using primary and secondary sources, a wide range of tools, and resources that are available on the web in an effort to publish an original, analytical research project in history.
  4. You will learn to evaluate information online, understand some of the ethical challenges of digital technology, and balance the trade-offs between technical efficiency and data security.
  5. You will become familiar with the key issues in the history of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era, including vice, organized crime, Prohibition, labor and race riots, social and reform movements, immigration, and sensational murder trials.


To achieve these learning goals we will use a combination of reading, writing, exploring, and experimenting with digital tools and materials. You will learn some foundational material, but in most weeks you will attempt to make or do something historical using your newly-learned skills.

Persistence and a willingness to try many approaches will be a key to doing well in this course. For many, this work with digital tools will be a new experience and it is important to remember that a crucial part of learning is failing. Not every exercise may go successfully, and we may make mistakes. If we reflect on those mistakes, we can all learn from them.