Digital Histories Workshop 2014


Digital Histories Workshop 2014

The goals of this course are to give you exposure to a range of technologies that are used by digital historians to manage digital historical materials, and to learn how to present history effectively online.

Course Details

University of Hertfordshire Logo
6HUM1109, University of Hertfordshire
4-7pm Thursdays, de Havilland Campus, Hatfield, UK.

This course explores how the digital nature of an increasing amount of historical material allows us to ask different kinds of questions about the past, and how new media allows us to present history in new ways. We’ll explore technical topics such as working with data, HTML, XML, style and design, collaboration, audience, and sustainability. We’ll also look at how these technologies and skills allow us to ask those new questions, or present history in those new ways. And we’ll look at lots of examples of how historians have used them to good (or poor) effect. Students are strongly encouraged to bring their own laptops to each class.

The course meets once a week for 3 hours (Thursdays 4-7pm). Generally class will involve a short lecture on the week’s topic, followed by a group discussion, with the remaining time set aside for hands-on practical labs that provide a chance for you to learn the tools and technologies used by working digital historians.

4-5pm: Lecture / Seminar discussion
5-7pm: Practical Workshop

No prior technical experience is assumed, but students will be expected to bring their historical skills to the course work. Lab work is designed to gently challenge students of all levels. You will have the option of choosing lab activities that you feel meet your comfort level. You will not be expected to complete all lab tasks; rather, a variety of options are offered so that students with different levels of experience can challenge themselves.

Attendance at all scheduled learning and teaching sessions is required on this module. If attendance falls below 75% but not lower than 50% and the student passes the assessment, the module grade will be capped at the pass mark. If attendance falls below 75% and a student fails the assessment, or attendance falls below 50%, the student will normally be deemed to have failed the module at the first attempt and will not be permitted to undertake referred assessment in the module.

If you need to contact me, you can email me at

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Critically analyse historical material accessed on the Internet, both secondary and primary
  • Use major web authoring tools to create online historical sources
  • Develop strategies for effectively working collaboratively
  • Learn how and where to find help online when learning technology

Weekly Topics & Readings

  1. Digital History Introduction
  2. Digitisation & Working with Data
  3. Adding Value
  4. How the Web Works
  5. Tagging, XML, and Structured Data
  6. Collaboration
  7. Content Management Systems
  8. Style & Design
  9. Audience & User Experience
  10. Open Source, Open Access
  11. Group Project Week
  12. Staying Involved in Digital History

Assignments and Grading

Students are expected to come to class having done the Core Reading, and ready to discuss what they have read. Readings tend to be short, and have been selected to provide an understanding of the topics that we will be exploring in the hands-on labs. You are of course encouraged to do the Supplemental Reading as well.

There is no exam for this course. Assessment is based on 3 assignments. Two of those will involve working with a dataset of students who attended the University of Oxford between 1500 and 1714, derived from the ‘Alumni Oxonienses, 1500-1714‘ book, available electronically from British History Online. A copy of this dataset can be downloaded here: THE DATASET.

  1. Historical Website Presentation (10% of total mark)

    Due: (schedule to be arranged in week 1)

    A 15-minute demonstration and discussion of a ‘world class’ digital history resource (5-7 minutes demo + 5-7 minute discussion). Your presentation should critically discuss the strengths and limits of the way the resource has been published. Your critique should draw upon the themes we have discussed in class and readings we have read, up to that point. The resource you choose should not be one created by the University of Hertfordshire (no Old Bailey Online!)

    You may find the following lists of digital history projects helpful

    • (look under ‘Collections’)

    Class presentation topics (email me asap to claim your topic. First come, first served).

    1. Claire (Dublin Archives)
    2. Namiluko (Hardcore History)
    3. Corey (The National Archives – UK)
    4. Pernille (Bibliography of British and Irish History)
    5. Sam B (Texas Slavery Project)
    6. Sam G (JISC Historical Books)
    7. Bethany (Hypercities)
    8. Jack
  2. Adding Scholarly Value to a Dataset (40% of total mark)

    Due: 31 October 2014. Ensure you have attached the History Cover Sheet to your submission.

    Using THE DATASET, above, you must select approximately 500 entries and add value to them. This added value can be either extracting information already found in the entry (eg, the matriculation date), or adding information from an external source that provides new historical insight on the entry (eg, the weather on the matriculation date). Students who successfully undertake the latter (more difficult) option will receive a 5% top up on their mark for the assignment. The dataset must be accompanied by a 750-1000 word description of the methods used for adding value, and a reflection on how the dataset allows new types of historical questions to be asked that were difficult or impossible to ask previously. If you have tried something particularly challenging and have failed, include and extra few paragraphs on what you tried and what you learned from that experience. Trying and failing is not failure as long as we reflect upon it. The write-up should be written formally and will be assessed the same way as an essay.

    Assignment Checklist:

    • One Comma Separated Values (CSV) file containing the dataset with at least one added column containing your ‘added value’
    • One 750-1000 word essay as described above
  3. Group Project – Scholarly Website of the Data (50% of total mark)

    Due 8 January 2015

    A working website, giving online access to at least 1,000 entries from “the Dataset”. Each group will have to add value at least 3 times to the dataset. You can reuse the methods that you employed in assignment 1 or you can try something new. At least one of those forms of added value must be extracting information already found in the entry (eg, the matriculation date), and one must be adding information from an external source that provides new historical insight on the entry (eg, the weather on the matriculation date). Keep in mind that not all entries will necessarily have data for all types of added value (eg, an entry with no date of matriculation obviously cannot have added value about the weather on that day; that’s ok as long as it’s not an endemic problem across the majority of entries). Students will share a group mark with their team, but will be asked to rate the contributions of their colleagues and marks may be adjusted to reflect contribution. If your group is particularly passionate about working with another historical dataset, that’s fine, but you must obtain pre-approval from me.

    Your site should also include the following:

    • A historical guide of at least 1,000 words of fully referenced background material, including an explanation of why your team chose the entries it did for inclusion.
    • A 500-word technical methods guide describing the techniques used to add value to the data, and the reason for choosing the web technologies used in the project.
    • An about page containing pertinent details about the team and the project, including acknowledgments of any intellectual debts you owe others whose work enabled the project (data owners, artists, scholars, etc)
    • A downloadable version of your dataset in a standard format
    • Clear citation guidelines for an individual page, the guides, and the project as a whole
    • License information explaining what rights you grant users to your dataset