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Clio Wired: An Introduction to History and New Media (Fall 2022)

Course: HIST 696-001. Fall 2022. Department of History and Art History, George Mason University. 3 credits. Meets Mondays, 7:20–10:00pm in Horizon Hall 4016.

Instructor: Lincoln Mullen <>. Office: Research Hall 484. Office hours: By appointment. Book an appointment.

Course description

This class is an introduction to the theory and practice of digital history—but above all to the practice. I take it for granted that you already developed a scholarly interest in the history of particular places, periods, and topics, and that you have already received (or are about to receive) an education in the research practices of conventional history.

This class will focus on what is distinctive about digital history. Those distinctions include the following: the form of scholarship is digital rather than print or derived from print; the methods of scholarship may be digital rather than conventional; the work is usually collaborative; often the audience is conceived of as public rather than academic in some way; and the work might take place in a research center, library, or museum rather than an academic department. This list is imperfect, not least because it overstates the difference between conventional and digital history; finding the continuities between conventional and digital scholarship will be among the most important questions for this course. Nevertheless this list will shape many of the topics we will pursue and how we will work together as a class.

As an introduction, this class aims to prepare you for further study and research in several ways. You will gain the basic technical capabilities and confidence to attempt your own DH projects, including possibly a digital dissertation. The most important of those capabilities will be a familiarity with the technologies of the web—the Gutenberg Revolution of digital scholarship. The course also aims to give you experience working as a team of scholars on collaborative projects. It will prepare you to take the other graduate-level courses offered in digital history at George Mason. And as a decidedly secondary goal, it will introduce you to the discourse around digital history/humanities as a field, which you could pursue further as a minor field or in a readings course. Above all, this class aims to turn you into a working digital historian.

Learning goals

After taking this class, students will

  1. have a familiarity with the main areas of digital history research as a field of practice, and be able to undertake basic research in many of them;

  2. be able to read and comprehend digital scholarly projects in the same way that they would a book or journal article;

  3. have a basic competence with web technologies as a foundation for their own scholarly practices;

  4. have gained experience working collaboratively to conceive, plan, create, and disseminate scholarly projects; and

  5. have the foundational knowledge to advance in the DH curriculum at GMU.

Essential information

The structure of this class is intended to model what it is intended to teach, namely collaborative historical work. You may find that the class differs in two ways from other graduate-level classes you have taken: it requires collaboration for the main assignments in the class, and how we spend large parts of our class time will be determined collaboratively. This includes setting the agenda each week, which you are welcome to make additions to. We will figure out how to create a collaborative learning community together over the course of the semester.

I care about your success in this course and more generally as a graduate student. Please take the time to communicate with me about what you want out of this course and any challenges you may be end up facing. You are always welcome to talk with me during office hours. My office hours page has instructions on how to book an appointment. If the scheduled times don’t work for you, or if they are full, please contact me and suggest a few other times that would work for you.

Communication for this course will happen in our Slack group; you can sign up at that link. Read this getting started guide if you need help. The Slack group is a place for you to communicate with other people in the class, as well as to ask for help. Please ask for help in the public channels rather than private messages. You are almost certainly not the only person to have your question; asking and answering questions publicly benefits everyone. Should we decide together that we want to use it, we will have access to Basecamp for project management.

The one required purchase for this course is a shared hosting account ($30) and domain name ($15) through Reclaim Hosting. You can sign up here. Signing up is not hard, but you do not need to have this set up until week four at the latest. We will go over how to set this up in class. Choose your domain name wisely, or at least prudently. Reclaim Hosting provides excellent service for scholars and educators, and your account will be the basis of the DH work we put on the web.

The required readings are available online or through the GMU libraries.

Please bring a computer to each class meeting. Almost any computer should work for what we are going to do. My own experience is with Unix-like operating systems, such as Ubuntu and MacOS, but I will endeavor to help you find a way to get things done if you work on Windows. Operating systems that are limited in some way, such as ChromeOS or all phone and tablet operating systems, are likely to cause problems for both us. If you have a problem obtaining a suitable device, please let me know.


Please submit each assignment to Blackboard. (Yes, I know using Blackboard is a violation of the stated principles behind this course, but without it I am hopeless at keeping track of assignments and grades.) Send the assignments before the start of class on the day on which they are due.

Preparation and participation are expected as a matter of course in a graduate class. Complete all readings before our session begins and be prepared to actively discuss the topics at hand. Most classes will have a list of things to do before lass and things to do after class. Anything assigned to do after class is due before the start of the next class period. That said, I am not a stickler for deadlines in graduate classes and I do not assign late penalties. Please do not use this leeway to hinder other people in the class or to get yourself into an irretrievable situation. If I find your work unsatisfactory I may give you an opportunity to revise and resubmit; likewise, if you find your grade to be unsatisfactory you may (in general) revise and resubmit for a new grade. That’s how scholarship works: it’s better to get it right than get it done right away. That said, no assignments (except final projects) may be submitted beyond the last day of class, and there are no extensions for the final projects.

One half of your grade will be based on individual work, and one half on collaborative work. Final grades will be calculated using the typical percentage-based grading scale (A = 93–100, A- = 90–92, B+ = 88–89, B = 83–87, B- = 80–82, … F = 0–59).

DH project reports (4 × 5% = 20%). Three times this semester you will lead a class discussion about a digital history project (broadly defined) relevant to the subject at hand. Everyone will do so for the first day of class; you will sign up for three other times during the semester. Pick some digital history project that you think is related to the kind of scholarship you would like to create. Before class, write a one-page (single-spaced) overview of that project. Please share this in the Slack group and also submit it to Blackboard. Use the questions below as prompts, answering the questions in the course of your overview rather than as a list. But you can write about whatever is compelling about the site. Then in class, be prepared to lead a discussion of the project for about 15 minutes.

Consider questions such as these as you write your overview: What is the purpose of this project? What history does it tell? What is the intended audience? What is the form of the project, and how does that form compare to more conventional scholarship? What kinds of technologies were used to create this project? Can you find any evidence of how the project has been used or received? What use would you make of this project?

Skills assignments. These assignments are intended to build your skills for the most common modes of working as a digital historian.

  • Omeka collection (5%). Using the class Omeka S installation, create about ten items in Omeka. As necessary, you will have to define the metadata fields that are worth tracking about your item. In general, items should have both metadata (e.g., cataloging information about the item) and the data itself (i.e., a digital surrogate for the item). Work with one or two other members of the class to create collections that gather together multiple people’s items.

  • Scholarly website (10%). This assignment will take more than a week’s worth of work and will be covered in more than one class, so it is worth more than the others. It can be submitted any time before the last day of class. Create a scholarly website. Most likely this will be a website for yourself, but it might also be one for an organization, a project, or the like. The website should be hosted on your own domain, using your Reclaim Hosting website. You should create it using the Hugo static site generator. You will have to acquire a basic understanding of HTML, CSS, perhaps JavaScript, Git/GitHub, and command line programs to create this site. You will also have to prepare the content that you want to publish on your site.

  • Podcast recording (5%). Write the script, record the audio, and edit it down to an episode of five minutes or less. The podcast episodes will be thematically linked for each person in the class. My best idea is to do episodes on “Archival Stories,” where we each tell our most compelling five minute story about something we’ve found in our research. But as a class we might come up with something a lot better.

  • Database design (5%). Create a normalized, relational database in Airtable that models some kind of historical phenomenon. (Hard mode: do it in PostgreSQL using Postico or the like.) The point is not data entry, but you should plan on creating enough data to illustrate how you are modeling the problem.

  • Map (5%). Create a basic map (either points on a base layer or a choropleth) using a historical dataset. If possible, use the database you created earlier, but you can also use other historical datasets.

Collaborative project (50% total). You will work with a group (of 3–4 people, though this is negotiable) to create a digital historical project published online. The form and content of the project are up to you, though the scope will be constrained by the length of the semester.

  • Form a project team by week 5.

  • Pitch (5%). By the start of week 7, write a pitch of 500 words or less that offers a compelling explanation for a project that you want to do, especially its historical significance.

  • Proposal and work plan (5%). By week 9, your team should write a 3–5 page proposal that offers an intellectual justification for your project, the audience you intend to reach, a survey of related work, a description of the deliverables that you will create and the technologies you will use, and a workplan that includes a schedule and that details the contributions of each team member.

  • Project (30%). Your final project should be substantially completed by week 14, so that your team can present it in class that evening. Your team can continue to work on the project and submit a final version on December 7.

  • Reflection paper (10%). By December 12, write a reflection of at least three single-spaced pages on what you learned from the collaborative project. What did you learn in terms of history and in terms of technology? What do you still need to learn? What went well, and what went poorly? What did your team accomplish? How could you extend this kind of work in the future?


Week 1 (Aug. 22): Introduction


  • Read the essays in Part 4, “Digital Humanities and the Disciplines” in Debates in DH 2016. You may also wish to glance at a few essays in the “histories and future” section.

Do before class:

Do after class:

  • Finish signing up for DH project reports, if you didn’t do so in class.

Week 2 (Aug. 29): Digitization and collections


Week 3 (Sept. 12): Publishing digital history


Do before class:

Do after class:

  • Complete the Omeka collection skills assignment.

Week 4 (Sept. 19): Basics of web technologies


Do before class:

Do after class:

  • Begin work on your website. This is not due next week, unlike the other skills assignments. But we will take on pieces of this project throughout the rest of the semester. For this week, make a homepage for the website that you want to create.

Week 5 (Sept. 26): Podcasting and story telling

Guest: Jeanette Patrick


Do before class:

  • Form a project team before the start of class.
  • Install Audacity and watch this tutorial or read this one.
  • Bring a 2–3 minute clip of a podcast about history that illustrates something you can do to convey history through podcasting.

Do after class:

  • Create your podcast episode assignment.

Week 6 (Oct. 3): Videogames and virtual reality


  • Chapman, Adam. Digital Games as History: How Videogames Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice. Routledge, 2018.
  • Boom, Krijn H.J., et al, “Using Video Games as a Platform to Teach about the Past,” in Communicating the Past in the Digital Age, edited by Sebastian Hageneur (Ubiquity Press, 2020).

Do before class:

Week 7 (Oct. 11): Data and databases

Note that class meets on Tuesday this week due to the “Mason Monday.”

Guest: Jason Heppler


Do before class:

Do after class:

  • Create your database design assignment.

Week 8 (Oct. 17): Maps and space


Do before class:

Do after class:

  • Create your map assignment.

Week 9 (Oct. 24): Ethics and activism


Do before class:

  • Come prepared with your team’s proposal and work plan.
  • Install Hugo.

Do after class:

  • Translate your website to Hugo.

Week 10 (Oct. 31): Digital public history / digital art history

Guest: Deepthi Murali


Do after class:

Week 11 (Nov. 7): DH in libraries and research centers


  • Schreibman, Susan, Raymond Siemens, and John Unsworth, eds. A New Companion to Digital Humanities. Wiley/Blackwell, 2016. Section V, especially ch. 32.
  • Rosenzweig, Roy. “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.” Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (2006): 117–46.
  • Read at least one other essay in Roy Rosenzweig, Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age (Columbia University Press, 2011).

Do before class:

  • Pick an NEH grant program. Read the sample grant narratives for successful applications.

Week 12 (Nov. 14): Digital pedagogy


Do after class:

Week 13 (Nov. 21): Topic to be determined

We will determine together what other subjects we want to cover together. If enough of you ask, I will teach you the dark arts of Vim, which will not make you a better historian, but which might make you a better person.

Do after class:

  • Finish up anything about your website that remains undone.

Week 14 (Nov. 28): Final project presentations and debrief

Do before class:

  • Have a substantially complete version of your project prepared to present in class.

Do after class:

  • Final project should be submitted by December 7.
  • Reflection papers should be submitted by December 12.

Fine print

This syllabus can and will be updated online as necessary. The online version of this syllabus is the only authoritative version.

GMU has many resources available for graduate students; please see the list on the department website.

Students must satisfactorily complete all assignments in order to pass this course. No work (other than final projects) will be accepted after the last day that the class meets. I will discuss grades only during office hours, not via email or Slack.

Much of our course work will appear online, as is the norm in this field. That said, not everyone’s circumstances make being online safe for them. If this is a potential problem for you, please discuss it privately with me and we will find a solution such as anonymity or an alternative assignment that works for you.

GMU has established well-defined COVID-19 policies about masking, testing, and the like. We will follow the relevant university guidance and, if necessary, adapt if the university guidance changes. If you have individual concerns that you would like to express to me privately, you are more than welcome to do so.

While much of our class communication will be in Slack, please do check your Mason email, since critical communications from me or from the university may be sent there.

See the George Mason University catalog for general policies, as well as the university statement on diversity. You are expected to know and follow George Mason’s policies on academic integrity and the honor code. If you are a student with a disability and you need academic accommodations, please contact the Office of Disability Services at 703-993-2474 or through their website, then provide their documented accomodations to me. You are responsible for verifying your enrollment status. Please note the dates for dropping and adding courses from the GMU academic calendar.

Thanks to my colleagues Stephen Robertson and Jessica Otis, from whose syllabi I have borrowed ideas and readings.