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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Digital History Syllabus: Historiography and Methods

Digital History tells the deep story of the information revolutions the world is now experiencing. It looks back to earlier revolutions in information and technology, searching for analogous transformations in our notions of property, sociability, collaboration, and rule. By looking at these previous information revolutions -- including the print, urban, transport, and mass media revolutions -- historians come much better equipped to engage relevant, contemporary questions of copyright, property ownership, and the rule of experts. Such questions engage the historian in contemporary debates about the future of ongoing information revolutions for politics, society, and the self.

This search forces the historian to reprioritize new kinds of teaching, researching and publishing that may have little to do with traditional books, lectures, seminars, and conferences. As the world archive becomes digitized, the scholars who make the most persuasive and radical arguments become those who have mastered new techniques for mining information from the world-catalogue of maps, images, and automatically-translated texts of all eras. As reading shifts towards browsing, as writing becomes more collaborative, the very skills we teach undergraduates are shifting to emphasize the pithy, analytic, and interdisciplinary over the twelve-page essay within a particular discipline. As the university publishing houses collapse and university lectures become downloadable on the web, academic experts will find homes in institutions whose nature we can scarcely anticipate now.

The only way to prepare ourselves for those eventualities is to experiment broadly with the tools of participative education, writing, and publication now, testing them for the best advantages and most threatening shortcomings. What we’re attempting is actually a reflexive application of historical knowledge to self-understanding within the discipline of history. One hope of such an agenda is that the engaged historians of the present will become the architects of a new system for the future.


• Experimenting as a class with web2.0 technology with an eye to understanding its role in collaborative research, publishing, and teaching
• Testing a set of new research tools each week by asking students to apply them to their current area of interest, dissertation list, and qualifying exams material, so that they may immediately begin executing more sophisticated ways of sorting their material and more public ways of making that knowledge available to others. To become comfortable assessing and reviewing new technologies’ potential for academic use.
• Charting the historiography of information revolutions capable of helping the historian effectively comment on contemporary experience, social change, and policy
• Establishing the grounds for comparing this scholarly historiography to contemporary uses of history and theories of technology
• Beginning a conversation about the future of the academy and the professional academic in a world where the university competes with the internet as a source of expertise.
• Leaving a relic of these discussions available to the public sphere in the form of information trails in web2.0 environments

(Not at bookstore. Please order through your favorite online retailer.)
Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture
Olivier Zunz, Why the American Century?
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message
David Henkin, The Postal Age
David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous
Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone
Neil Headrick, When Information Came of Age
Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book

Required Software
All of the required software is free to download and use. The two recommended pieces of software that charge – Personal Brain and Devonthink – may be highly useful in the long term for dissertation students sorting massive quantities of data. Both have a free first-month trial, and personal brain allows you to use some of the basic features without upgrading from the free version.
Please create an account and friend the class in the following programs:
• Delicious
• Twitter
• Flickr
• Zotero
Please download and install:
• EverNote
Familiarize yourself with:
• Google Book Search
• Google Scholar
Recommended early installations – may take several weeks to master:
o Google Earth
o Firefox + Sharaholic extension (send stuff to facebook, dig, delicious) + Zotero extension (citation manager for books, articles, newspapers, websites) + Cooliris extension (better for photo browsing) + UChicago plugin (search Worldcat, lens, library catalog) + Ubiquity extension (translate on the fly)
o Personal Brain (~$100/hit) (optional)
o Devonthink/Agent (~$50 with student discount. Get the Pro Office edition so that it can recognize words from scanned archival documents) (optional)

WEEKLY ASSIGNMENTS. Each week, each student will select one technology from the “methodology” list, download/create an account, and begin integrating the technology with their workload. The student will perform experiments in using said technology to enhance their scholarship, and will report on their experience to the rest of the class.
It is hoped that the set of methodologies each student picks will remain in casual use for the duration of the semester, through various experiments, and so form a trial of the use of web 2.0 in a teaching situation. For instance, the syllabus begins with a list of everyday technologies like Facebook and Twitter, which are highly useful for signaling to the course’s professor, as well as the rest of the digital coffeehouse, that one is maintaining a critical interest in how digital technologies might enhance one’s engagement with other courses and matters of research interest.
PARTICIPATION. Conversational engagement is the most traditional way of assessing a student’s participation. This course will have a secondary record of backchanneled communication as well By the end of class, the student’s twitter, delicious, and flickr accounts should form a transcript of evolving experiments, interests, and ideas.
FIRST PROJECT (fifth week of class). The equivalent of a five page paper on the historiography of information, preferably making use of some cutting-edge methodology as a source of its overview, presented in the form of a series of flickr slides, blog entries, or an omeka project.
SECOND PROJECT (last week of class). A synthetic project aggregating material from at least 3 of the methodological categories. The project may extend the historiographical project or present research material from another research paper/dissertation chapter, made available to the public in the form of a series of flickr slides, blog entries, omeka project, podcast, videocast, annotated map, or concept map. To be presented, during class, the last week of class.

Schedule of Readings
Course readings are in two sections: I. Historiography and II. Methodology. The methodology readings are due on Tuesdays; the historiographical readings on Thursdays.
The reading list will go, like Merlin, backwards in time so that we should begin by facing contemporary prejudices about the workings of media, and end with the most distant mirror armed with new methodologies for drawing our own conclusions.


Tuesday: Class introductions and overview.
Install required software.
Friend everyone in the class on Delicious, Twitter, Flickr, and Zotero.

Thursday: Rethinking Pedagogy in the Age of P2P communication:
First Methodology Reports due in class. Software for Sharing and Annotating the web (CHOOSE ONE to report on):
• GoogleDocs
• Diigo
• Skim
• Slideshare
• PBwiki
• Scriblink
• ScienceCommons
• Anything else from
READING: (these are about 1 page each)
• Howard Rheingold, "Participative Pedagogy: For a Literacy of Literacies"
• Charles Murray, "Are Too Many People Going to College?"
• Stephen Mihm, "Everyone's a Historian Now," Boston Globe (May 25, 2008)
• Roy Rosenzweig, “Can History Be Open Sourced? The Future of the Past”
• Gideon Burton, "Dear Students: Don't Let College Unplug Your Future", Academic Evolution (January 11, 2008)
• Alex Reid, various blog entries tagged "Higher Education" in Digital Digs:
• Wikipedia Schools and Universities Project
• Intro, section on mobiles, HORIZON Report 2008:
• "Teaching as Lying," Chronicle of Higher Education (2008)

Tuesday: Historiography of Information
Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (excerpts, handed out in class)
Michael Angelo Garvey, The Silent Revolution (1852) (online - skim)

Thursday: Bibliographic Methodologies
Choose one and generate a bibliography with metadata. If you are working on a dissertation or other major project, use some books from your dissertation. Otherwise, use the readings for this course.
o Zotero
o Papers
o Librarything
o Lens
o Connotea
o Edtags
o Webcitation
o Zotz
o Citeline
o Scholar
• "Are Online Articles Changing Scientists' Reading Habits?"
• Thomas Mann, "The Peloponnesian War and the Future of Reference, Cataloguing, and Scholarship in Research Libraries"
• Daniel H. Pink, "Folksonomy," New York Times (December 11, 2005)
• "Harvard Forum on Social Tagging"
• Google Scholar Bibliography (via Dean Giustini):


Tuesday: Historiography of the Internet
Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture
Harold Innis, The Bias of Communication

Thursday: Methodologies of Publishing
Choose one:
• Blog: Wordpress, Blogger
• Podcast: Podomatic
• Videocast:,, Vimeo
• Flickr

• Alf Rehn, "Academic Publishing: A Rant," Text Sushi, 2007
• Various articles on the future of scholarly publishing from Nines
• "Harvard Opens Up Publishing"
• Robert Darnton, "The Case for Open Access," Harvard Crimson, 2008.
• George Siemens, "Scholarship in an Age of Participation," 2007.
• Lev Grossman, "Books Unbound," Time (2009),8816,1873122,00.html


Tuesday: Historiographies of c20 Media Explosions
FILM: CRAIG BALDWIN, SPECTRES OF THE SPECTRUM (I’ll see about arranging a viewing)
Intro, Mark Kurslansky, 1968 (on Chalk)
Excerpt, Alex Wright, Glut (on Chalk)

Thursday: Mass Digitization
Choose one in each category:
• Text Databases:

EEBO (c17), ECCO (c18), Old Bailey (c19 English Courts), NINES (c19 literature) GoogleBooks (includes some German, Spanish), Gallica, ArtFL

• Image Databases:

Flickr Commons, LoC (American), National Library of Australia, David Rumsey Map Collection, Perseus (Classical), Europeana

For the bigger picture, start here:

• Jim Naughton, "Google Pays Small Change to Open Every Book in the World"
• "Guerilla Open Access Manifesto" (2008)


Tuesday: Historiography – Universities, Think Tanks, and Public Relations Experts
Mark Crispin Miller, “Introduction,” and Ch 1, in Edward Bernays, Propaganda (online)
Olivier Zunz, Why the American Century?

Thursday: Methodologies for Sorting
Choose one:
• PhiloLogic
• Juxta
• Collex
• TagCrowd
• uClassify
• Topicalizer
• SemanticHacker
• *Devonthink
• *Many Eyes
• Google Timeline

• David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellanious
• Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.
• Chris Forster, "How to Measure Text" (2008)
• The Institute for the Future, "The Future of Libraries as Places"


Tuesday: Historiographies of Victorian Connections
Dionysius Lardner, The Steam Engine (online - skim)
David Henkin, The Postal Age
Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Message

Thursday: Methodologies of Visual/Spatial Analysis

Image mining/sharing:
• Flickr + flickr tag browser:
• Omeka
• Wikimapia
• "Biblical Statistics"
• "Iterative Cosmologies"
• "The Next Big Thing in Humanities, Arts and Social Science Computing: Cultural Analytics," HPCWire (July 29, 2008)
• "Geo-Everything", HORIZON Report 2008:


Tuesday: Historiographies of Urbanism
Richard Sennett, Flesh and Stone
M. H. Ebner, “Urban History: Retrospect and Prospect,” Journal of American History (1981)

Thursday: Methodologies of Mind-mapping and Concept-mapping
Choose one:
• Personal Brain (there is a free edition which allows you to take notes but not to zoom or make attachments)
•, MindMeister, XMind (collaborative!) (Free registration)
• (look especially at "synchronous collaboration" and "knowledge soups")
• Ivanhoe (literary) (free registration)


Tuesday: Historiography of the Age of Experts
Headrick, When Information Came of Age
FILM: The League of Nobel Peers, Steal This Film (available online at

Thursday: Rethinking Publishing
Investigate one of the following:
• Patricia Fumerton's Ballad Project:
• Itunes U
• Digital Installation Art, e. g.
• Clive Thompson, "Why a Famous Counterfactual Historian Loves Making History With Games", Wired (May 21, 2007)
• David Parry, Assignments from Digital Storytelling
• Bill Turkel's class's interactive, real-object models of Hervey's circulatory system and the sky:
• Peter Gallison's CV


Tuesday: Historiography of the Print Revolution
Adrian Johns, The Nature of the Book
Intro, Elizabeth Eisenstein, the Print Revolution (on Chalk)

Thursday: No Class. Work on your final projects.


Presentation of final projects


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