“…history may be better suited to digital technology than any other humanistic discipline. Changes in our field far removed from anything to do with computers have helped create a situation in history where the advantages of computers can seem appealing, and perhaps even necessary. At the same time, changes in information technology, far removed from any consideration of its possible uses for our discipline, have made it possible for us to think of new ways to approach the past. The new technologies seem tailor-made for history, a match for the growing bulk and complexity of our ever more self-conscious practice, efficient vehicles to connect with larger and more diverse audiences.”

—Edward L. Ayers, “The Pasts and Futures of Digital History” (1999)

This is a hands-on course that introduces students to the intersections of digital history and public history to serve the needs of academic and non-academic audiences. Digital environments such as social media, blogs, exhibits, digital collections and archives, and mobile applications are changing the ways historians interact with their publics. This course introduces theories and methods of digital history and public history, including designing digital exhibits, describing and publishing digital collections, mobile computing, shared authority, and methods for evaluating public history.

To keep our efforts focused, we will apply what we learn to a particular area of historical study: the history of Silicon Valley. We all live, work, and play in this place, and over the past two hundred years the Santa Clara Valley has undergone dramatic environmental, urban, rural, political, social, and economic change. We will explore this history through the creation of a digital history project. We will work with a platform called Curatescape in a new public digital history project called Silicon Valley Historical. Silicon Valley Historical will allow us to build spatially-embedded exhibits on the history of Silicon Valley, drawing on relationships with physical archives in the area. We will produce publicly-accessible exhibits over the course of the quarter. You will present the results of your research during an electronic poster session at the end of the class.

What is different about this course?

This course will differ in a few key ways from the usual history course.

  1. We won’t attempt covering everything; instead, we will work the way historians work. Instead of trying to survey the history of Silicon Valley, we will instead consider the ways historians do their work and the ways its changing with digital history. My expectation is that you will emerge from this class with a good understanding of history by pursuing historical questions.

  2. We won’t be working through a book; we will be writing it. While we will spend quite a bit of time reading in this course, our ultimate goal is the creation of a digital exhibit that tells the history of Silicon Valley. We’ll be making tough decisions about the primary and secondary sources we’ll use, synthesizing interpretations of the past, and crafting concise narratives.

  3. And I do mean we above: like a math teacher that tries to demonstrate how to solve problems by working them out herself, I’m going to be working alongside you and share how I think about these tasks. Not only will I be participating in the writing assignments, I’ll also be creating my own exhibits and tours in Silicon Valley Historical.

What will I be able to do at the end of the quarter?

We are working on mastering skills during the course of the quarter, and as such we’ll be after a few learning objectives over the next twelve weeks1:

  1. Narrative: Write complex historical narratives that answer a question or solve a problem using a sophisticated understanding of causation, continuity, and change.
  2. Inquiry: Support and revise claims about the past using critical approaches to the available evidence.
  3. Empathy: Look for the strengths and insights offered by alternative points of view, especially if they conflict with your own or conventional understandings.
  4. Style: Communicate clearly and concisely in writing, with appropriate detail and awareness of audience.
  5. Self-reflection: Show you can think reflexively and critically about yourself as a student of history.

We will revisit these themes often throughout the quarter, and will build on each other through the assignments. As we work our way through the five core skills above, you will make contributions to other learning objectives including:

  1. Have an understanding of digital history and public history work.
  2. You will have an understanding of how digital public history work has grown from the field and currently ongoing in the field.
  3. You will gain a familiarity with a range of tools and approaches historians are using to create digital public history.
  4. Create a public-facing digital exhibit and gain experience in the creation of digital public history.

Contact Information

Course Requirements

  • You must have access to a computer and a reliable Internet connection. The modules for this course are web­based and require several hours weekly.
  • You are required to sign up for a domain hosting with Reclaim Hosting. The cost is $25 for a year. There is no required textbook. All readings and assignments are online or provided on Canvas.
  • Late work will not be accepted.
  • No incompletes will be issued.
  • Attendance is mandatory except for medical reasons or religious holidays. If you are absent, inform me of the circumstances as soon as possible. It is your responsibility to research and make up what you have missed.
  • If you are forced to miss the due date for an assignment either as the result of an illness or a family emergency, fairness to all students in the class requires the proper documentation, without which your excuses will not be accepted.

Evaluation

Assignments in the course will receive these weights

Component Points Details
Weekly reading assignments 10 x 4 pts. Guidelines
Weekly blog posts 10 x 30 pts. Guidelines
In-class participation2 10 x 15 pts. Guidelines
Digital exhibit 210 pts. Guidelines

Grading will be based on this point scale.

Grade Points
A 488-525
A- 472-487
B+ 456-471
B 435-455
B- 420-434
C+ 404-419
C 383-403
C- 367-382
D 315-366
F 0-314

How will my learning be assessed?

Assessments are judgments about how you are progressing through mastering the objectives of this course. Both you and I will make informal assessments often throughout the class, but I will also share assessments with you in several forms, including comments and feedback on blog posts as well as progress reports to assess how well you are mastering the five skills outlined above. Anything you produce in class—comments in class, text in your blog posts, comments on other blog posts, your final assignment—are relevant to assessment.

Grades are formal certifications of your overall performance in a course. Your grade will result in the culmination of the above assessments: if you demonstrate a mastery of the five core learning objectives, you will receive an A; if you demonstrate mastery of four, you will receive a B; three of five, C; two of the five, D; one or none of the skills, an F. “Mastery” is reliant on you completing all of the assignments for the class. I cannot certify how well you’ve done towards this mastery without your attempt to apply them to the range of work we’ll be doing this quarter.

Texts

There is no required text. All of the readings we will read will be freely available and found on the schedule.

In lieu of a textbook, however, you will need to purchase a domain through Reclaim Hosting. The domain can be anything you choose, but your name is often a good default. We will use your domain hosting to set up a WordPress blog for your writing assignments. See the schedule for steps on installing WordPress.


  1. These are based off the AHA Tuning Project, Caleb McDaniel’s backwards survey course, and Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, Understanding by Design, second edition (Alexandria, Va.: ASCD, 2005).

  2. This includes your final public presentation, class discussion, and class presentations.