Welcome to “The Digital Past” at George Mason University. Below is a description of our class. Please feel free to with questions or to make arrangements to talk in my office.

About this class

In this class, you will to learn to do history using digital tools. The course—which satisfies the university’s IT requirement—teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to practical problems in history. Throughout the semester, you will work individually and with classmates on a research project about American history from the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I. You will learn how to do research online, but also how to put those sources in the context of other scholarly work. You will gather data, learn how to question it, analyze it, summarize it, and interpret it. You will create visualizations of datasets, especially maps. You will learn how to present visual and textual sources online in web exhibits, and you will learn how to write and publish effectively online. Through learning by doing, you will gain both digital skills and the skills of a historian. This combination will be useful to you throughout your university career and in your future work.

On the first day of class you will pick a city in the United States. You research for your final project and many of your assignments along the way will focus on this city. More on this in class. You will make something each week in class that builds towards a final exhibit that showcases your work throughout the semester.

What each class meeting will be like

We will meet once per week. The classes will build on one another, so your attendance at each class is vital. Bring a laptop and its power cord to every class. Before class each week, you will read about both history and digital technology. You may also be asked to gather data or do historical research. During class, we will begin by discussing the readings. Then we will have a hands-on session to learn how to use some digital technology as a historian; everyone in the class will follow along. Then you will work in small groups to master the same skill. We will wrap up class with a discussion of what we learned. The day after class, you will write a blog post where you share what you created in class and reflect on what you have learned.

How to do well in this class

First and foremost, please ask me for help for any reason, whether you are stuck, or whether you want to learn more about what we’re doing in class. Second, be persistent. Be willing to experiment, and be willing to make mistakes. Some of your best blog posts might be about what you learned by making a mistake. Third, remember that your goal is not to learn tools but concepts. Look for the skills and ideas underlying the specific technologies we will work with. Fourth, keep up by coming to class having done the reading and any other preliminary assignments, then reflect on what you learned the next day. If you miss class, you’ll have a hard time keeping up.

What you will learn

In this class you will learn a mix of historical and digital skills. In particular you will meet all of Mason’s IT requirements.

  1. You will learn how to do historical research and scholarship using a range of tools and resources that are available on the web.
  2. You will successfully develop and publish historical scholarship on the web.
  3. “Students will be able to use technology to locate, access, evaluate, and use information, and appropriately cite resources from digital/electronic media.” (IT Requirement #1)
  4. “Students will understand the core IT concepts in a range of current and emerging technologies and learn to apply appropriate technologies to a range of tasks.” (IT Requirement #2)
  5. “Students will understand many of the key ethical, legal and social issues related to information technology and how to interpret and comply with ethical principles, laws, regulations, and institutional policies.” (IT Requirement #3)
  6. “Students will demonstrate the ability to communicate, create, and collaborate effectively using state-of-the-art information technologies in multiple modalities.” (IT Requirement #4)
  7. “Students will understand the essential issues related to information security, how to take precautions and use techniques and tools to defend against computer crimes.” (IT Requirement #5)