Digital History

History 411

Spring 2018
Dr. Aaron Cowan
Slippery Rock University
Phone: 724.738.2409

Slippery Rock State College mainframe, c. 1972 (from SRU Digital Collections)

 Slippery Rock State College mainframe, c. 1972-1975. Image from SRU Archives Digital Photograph Collections

Course Description

This course will examine the rapidly-evolving field of digital history – the use of computer technologies to research and interpret the past, and also to present the past in potentially innovative ways. We will explore how digital tools readily intersect with the practice of history, and how these tools are changing the way we understand our discipline.

Learning Goals

Students will:

  • Become familiar with the potential of digital technologies for the study of the past, as well as some of the liabilities and limitations of these technologies
  • Practice skills such as web publishing, data visualization, geospatial mapping, text mining, digitization, and digital exhibit construction
  • Understand core principles and best practices for digital archiving, copyright compliance, and digital scholarship
  • Study ethical debates regarding the practice of digital humanities


  • Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006). You may obtain a print copy, or access a free online version.
  • Note: each week also has online readings, and/or tutorials below the topic description for each class period.  Please follow the schedule closely.
  • Glossary of terms is a useful resource


The D2L page for the course will only be used to post grades. All other course material will be available on this page.


All of the software we will use in this course is free and open-source. However, you are required to purchase hosting service via Reclaim Hosting  – they offer a very reasonable student rate of $25.  Please don’t do this ahead of time, as we will walk through the steps in class (and I will give you a 10% discount code at that time!), but I did want you to be aware of this cost up-front.

Class Policies

Attendance Student participation is an essential component of this class; attendance will be
taken every class meeting. Missing more than one (1) class sessions will result in a 10% reduction in your final course grade. Should extended illness or other extenuating circumstances arise, please contact me as soon as
possible. Makeup exams will only be given with a valid medical or university-related excuse that must include a phone number.

Classroom Etiquette Please be courteous to classmates. Turn off cell phones and devote your
full attention to the class session. During discussion, respect one another’s ideas and maintain a courteous, professional tone.

Communication NOTE: Please check your SRU email regularly, or set it up to forward mail to your preferred account. Important messages about class will be sent to your email.
I welcome student emails and try to reply promptly; please allow up to 24hours for a response. Also, please use proper capitalization, grammar, and punctuation in your emails to me – it’s a practice that will serve you well in life. Finally, emailed questions that can be answered by reviewing the syllabus will receive a simple “sys” (see your syllabus) from me.

Disabilities To receive classroom accommodations under the Americans with
Disabilities Act, you must be assessed by SRU’s Office for Students with Disabilities (phone:
738-4877). If you have done so already, please schedule a meeting with me during the first
week of class to discuss any necessary accommodations. Note: If you are registered with the
disabilities office, but do not meet with me, I will assume you have chosen not to make use of
these accommodations.


Your assignments for this course are designed to assess your understanding of the theory of digital history as well as your mastery of basic technical skills of doing digital history.

Blog Posts & Practicum Assignments (20%) You will write brief, reflective blog posts based on prompts or questions raised in class. Throughout the semester, we will be exploring various tools and methods for digital history work, and in many weeks you will be asked to do a demonstration of these tools and post it to your blog. Assignments for these are found on the page for each week.

Exams (30%) Four multiple-choice/short answer in-class exam testing your understanding and mastery of the technical material covered in class up to that point. These will be offered at the beginning of class sessions as indicated on the course schedule.

Butler County Poor Farm Project (25%) We will be working with the Genealogy Department of the Butler County Public Library to digitize some records from the Butler County Poor Farm, as well as do some cursory analysis of the data in these records.  Further detail will be provided early in the semester.

Digital History Exhibit (25%) Using Omeka, you will build a basic digital exhibit on a historical topic of your choosing.  Requirements and other details are available here.

Course Schedule

Week 1: Introductions to Digital History

Week 2: Digital Research and Publishing

Week 3: Content Management and Digital Exhibits

Week 4: Digitization

Week 5: Poor Farm Records Digitization, continued

Week 5-6: Exhibit Planning and Building

Week 8: Mapping and Geospatial History

Weeks 9-10: Digital Exhibit Review & Troubleshooting

Week 11: Mapping. Historical Data, and Visualization

Week 12: The Sounds of History

Week 13: Poor Farm Project

Week 14: Exhibit Consultations/Transcription Work

Week 15: Digital and Public History 


Notice Regarding Title IX

Slippery Rock University and its faculty are committed to assuring a safe and productive educational environment for all students. In order to meet this commitment and to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, the University requires faculty members to report incidents of sexual violence shared by students to the University’s Title IX Coordinator. The only exceptions to the faculty member’s reporting obligation are when incidents of sexual violence are communicated by a student during a classroom discussion, in a writing assignment for a class, or as part of a University-approved research project. Faculty members are obligated to report sexual violence or any other abuse of a student who was, or is, a child (a person under 18 years of age) when the abuse allegedly occurred to the person designated in the University protection of minors policy. Information regarding the reporting of sexual violence and the resources that are available to victims of sexual violence is set forth at:

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