Introduction to Digital Humanities

Spring 2017 • HIST 698-002
info | readings

Fred Gibbs (
Office Hours: W 1:30-2:30 & 4-5; Th 11-12. 1703 Haven.

Course Description

This course explores new theoretical and methodological possibilities now available to historians working in the digital age. Combining provocative readings from the digital humanities with introductory tutorials on various digital methods (which build technical proficiency generally), we’ll talk about and experiment with powerful new research methodologies that now allow historians to ask and answer fundamentally different kinds of questions and innovatively communicate about them with new media.

With an emphasis on collaborative teaching and learning, we’ll explore topics such as digital workflows for accessing or organizing sources, data visualization, digital mapping and geospatial analysis, topic modeling, and network analysis. We’ll also examine new models for peer review and academic publishing, develop skills in web typography and design, and create a short video. This course both challenges and complements typical history methods courses, as well as provides strategies for effectively combining qualitative and quantitative research skills. Over the course of the semester, students will design, code, and publish their own website that will showcase their research and digital skills. No technical skills or experience is required for this course, but you will need to have a laptop that you can bring to class.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Develop conversational fluency: understand current debates and speak intelligently with both skeptics and advocates about the history and future of digital scholarship and its relationship to the humanities.

  • Appreciate the theoretical possibilities and practical limitations of digital archives and new research methodologies.

  • Understand prominent theories and principles of new media and its potential impact on scholarly communication.

  • Begin to experiment with new tools, workflows, methods, and techniques for large-scale research questions in the humanities; become able to teach yourself technical skills as needed.

Work Requirements and Grading

  • Thorough preparedness and engaged participation in every class meeting (30%)

  • Weekly 750-word blog posts that critically engage with both the readings and your experience working through the assignments. This posts not only give you the opportunity to describe your mastery of the readings (as per a more traditional seminar), they also give you a chance to foregound the hard work you’re doing, even when you can’t get everything to “work”. Your blog posts will be evalutated in terms of the quality of their original and thoughtful contribution to the overall course discussion, as well as serious engagement with the technical challenges. (25%)

  • A 5-10 minute “video” that showcases the methods, results, and significance of your MA or PhD research (whatever stage you’re at). We’ll cover tools and techniques for doing this in class (10%)

  • In lieu of a final exam or project, over the course of the semester you will create a digital portfolio hosted at GitHub, composed by hand in a text editor with Markdown, HTML and CSS. As outlined in more detail below, your portfolio must show you completing (as best you can) the technical assignments and attempting to apply the techniques in the course to your own research. Some of your portfolio will serve particular course requirements, and you might jettison those componenets when the course ends. Nonetheless, hopefully you’ll have a core of a professional website that will continue to benefit your career. (30%)

Your portfolio must include:

  • Some kind of landing page or home page that gives some idea of the site’s contents
  • A page dedicated to explaining—and ideally illustrating—your research, especially its value and significance to a broad audience
  • A mostly complete curriculum vitae with appropriate typography
  • One webpage for each seminar meeting (except network graphing) that hosts your blog post and screen shots explaining your engagement with the assignment. You might also indicate what you might do with considerable more time and expertise as it pertains to your research.
  • Your critical essays will also show you working with the technologies (creating a map, topic modeling, etc), and incorporating what you learned into your essays and your comments on the readings.
  • Perseverance and tolerance for frustration. Digital humanities intentionally engages with new methodological problems and professional challenges raised by technology and new media. While theorizing can be useful, this course emphasizes engagement and experience with the technologies themselves. Seemingly simple (and conceptually straightforward) tasks will occasionally take WAY longer than expected. Pushing through these moments is a big part of success in digital humanities work. (5%)


This syllabus is a living document and changes frequently, depending on what’s going on in the course, though the general workload will remain more or less as indicated. If you print it out, you’ll need to keep your paper version up to date with the online version.

In general, we will spend the beginning part of classes talking about the assignment due that day, addressing questions or concerns that arose while completing it, troubleshooting, and discussing more technical aspects of the tool/method and its practical utility. Then we’ll move on to the next tool/method with a general introduction, discussion of its potentials and limitations, work through some tutorials, and go over the assignment for the next meeting (and make sure everyone is ready to tackle it).

Very rarely are all readings listed required (though all assignments are); I try to list relevant readings that I think are worth knowing about and allow everyone to focus on what’s most interesting to them and bring their interests and perspectives to our discussions.

Suggested Texts

There are no required books the course. However, I highly recommend acquiring a physical copy of Thinking with Type (2nd ed.). You will also need to subscribe to the course Zotero library to access assigned articles. This will be discussed in class, but for reference, please see the instructions for connecting. The URL for the group library is, but you must have clicked on the link in your invitation to access the library!