This course is crosslisted as Digital Humanities 2130A.

Course Description

Digital History refers to the use of computers, computer programs, digital media and other electronic technologies to teach, communicate, simulate, preserve, access, analyze, research, present and publish interpretations of the past. In this course you will learn how historical content is produced, presented and published in digital form; how to find and evaluate digital primary and secondary sources; and how to use computational techniques to work with digital resources. No programming experience or previous background in the subject area is required.

Course Objectives

  • Discover the enormous range of historical sources, both primary and secondary, that are available online in digital form
  • Learn to utilize sources that are ‘born-digital’
  • Apply computational tools to the scholarly activities of discovering,
    annotating, comparing, referring, sampling, illustrating and representing (Unsworth)
  • Be able to critically engage with the emerging methods of digital history and digital humanities
  • Evaluate and determine strategies for historical practice with digital sources and tools

In-class Activities, Evaluation and Assignments

There are two 2-hour sessions per week. For the first hour each day, I will explain and demonstrate the use of particular computational methods or tools on a range of digital historical sources. For the second hour, you will practice using the tool or method in class and I will go around and answer questions and provide assistance. We will follow the in-class work with a group discussion. At the end of each class you will upload a copy of your day’s notebook to the OWL Site.

In-class hands-on work 30%
Short assignments 30%
Final research project 40%

The short assignments (2-5 pages each) will test your understanding of the course material and your ability to apply the techniques that you have learned. In the final research project you will be asked to use the computational analysis of sources to support or question historical claims made in the scholarly literature on a particular topic. You will also be asked to reflect on the aspects of the process that you felt were successful or not, about other ways that the technology might be used to assist the historian in his or her work, and things that historians should be cautious or critically aware of when using similar tools. More information about the assignments and ways to approach them will be discussed in class.

OWL Site

The OWL Site for the course will only be used to submit coursework and assignments. All other course material will be available on this webpage.

Required Software and Textbook

To get the most out of this class, you will need a Windows, Mac or Linux laptop, which you should bring to every class.

There is one required textbook, which is available free of charge. Download the Mathematica notebook version to use for this course.

Turkel, William J. Digital Research Methods with Mathematica. 2015.

You will also need a desktop license for the Mathematica software. (Don’t let the name scare you. You don’t need any particular experience with mathematics to do well in this course).

Although Mathematica is a commercial product, Wolfram Research, the company that makes it, has provided us with free copies to use in this class. If you are registered in the course, I will send your email address to the Campus Computer Store, where you will be able to pick up a Mathematica license to use for the term.

Late Work and Attendance

Participation in in-class activities is a key component of this class. I expect you to attend every class and participate in the day’s activities.

In general, I don’t like to penalize late work. Each assignment will have a suggested due date and, a week or so later, a zero date. If you hand in your assignment before the zero date, you will receive full credit for your work. After the zero date, it will be worth nothing.

If you are unable to meet a course requirement due to illness or other serious circumstances, you must provide valid medical or other supporting documentation to the Dean’s office as soon as possible and contact me immediately.

Regarding absence for medical illness, see the Policy on Accommodation for Medical Illness:


Statement on Academic Offences

Scholastic offences are taken seriously and students are directed to read the appropriate policy, specifically, the definition of what constitutes a Scholastic Offence, at the following Web site:

Support Services

Students who are in emotional/mental distress should refer to Mental Health@Western

for a complete list of options about how to obtain help.