Variety of images of famous defendants -- the Scottsboro Boys, Leopold and Loeb, the Rosenbergs, Lizzie Borden, Salem Witch Trials, Tokyo Rose, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, John Brown

Welcome to the Digital Past.

What does it look like when we apply digital technology to the study and writing of the past? How must we adapt how we study the past when we’re faced with millions of digitized primary and secondary sources—texts, newspapers, photographs, artifacts, maps, and more? What tools can help us make sense of this abundance?

As we attempt to answer these questions, this course will prepare you to use and understand a wide variety of current and emerging digital technologies, including maps, data sets, and visualizations. We’ll explore these technologies in the context of an upper-division history class, but no background in history is required.  We’ll discuss how to find and use digital information for research, including how to write and publish effectively online. We’ll explore issues of ethics, copyright and information security, and experiment with a wide variety of online tools and technologies. Additionally, we’ll cover advanced search methods and online publishing platforms. Over the course of the semester, students will use these technologies to create and publish an individual digital research project (of their choosing) about a sensational trial in American history.

This course site is the only authoritative resource for the class. It houses all the information contained in this syllabus PLUS any additional class resources, links, slides, tools and reading & assignment updates.

Learning Goals

The Digital Past, section 002 has four primary learning goals.

  1. You will master the skills that make up the Mason Core Information Technology requirements.
  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 about a sensational trial in American 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.

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 foundation 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 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 you are willing to reflect on those mistakes and try again, you will learn from them. I am always available to help should you find yourself stuck or falling behind. I’m happy to read drafts and review work in progress, but you have to be willing to communicate with me.  You can email me any time and we’ll schedule time to meet