Introduction to Digital History

Brock University

Department of History


Fall 2017

Lecture: Monday 10:00 – 12:00, ST107

Seminar: Monday 12:00 – 1:00, PL309; Tuesday 8:00 – 9:00, WH205

Instructor and Course Information

Dr. Colin Rose

Office: GL247

Office Hours: Wednesday 9:00 am – 10:45 am; or by appointment


Liaison Librarian: John Dingle (

Course Hashtag: #HIST2P26

Course Blog:


Course Description

How has the onset of digital technologies shaped how we think about, research and learn history? This is a question that all students of history must now address to have a full understanding of the field. In HIST2P26, “Introduction to Digital History” we will explore some of the major methodological and epistemological issues surrounding the integration of digital tools into historical study. We will seek to identify issues specific to digital history and to place history into the broader field known as the “digital humanities”. The course will be a combination of theoretical analysis and hands-on, practical learning. No technical skills are required at the outset; you will learn some practical skills for historical analysis along the way.

The emphasis of this course will be on thinking about how to retain core historical skills – fidelity to primary sources, critical readings of texts, and analysis of the context and setting of historical events and people – while employing digital methods to enhance those skills. We will examine best practices for doing so using both positive and negative examples.

Our lectures will be devoted to studying the methods of digital history and exploring various projects that have employed those tools, in order to understand how historians have embraced elements of the digital humanities while perhaps remaining uncomfortable with some others.

At the same time we will consider how the digital age has allowed historians to increase their public outreach and has shaped how history is presented and communicated to the public. At the end of the course students will create a historical website to share their research into a topic using digital tools.


Grade Breakdown, Required Texts, Computers

Grade Breakdown

Seminar and course participation: 20%

Course Blog Posts: 4 posts X 5% = 20%

ArcGIS Online StoryMap: 15%

Text Analysis Using Voyant Tools: 15%

Historical Website: 30%

Course Texts

This course uses a free, online textbook:

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rozenweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving and Presenting the Past on the Web, Center for History and New Media / University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.

The book can be accessed at and can also be purchased in hard copy, if you wish from

Other readings will be assigned and will be accessible via BrockU Library or directly from the Web.

Required Software / Licenses

Students will need to sign-up for a Brock University account, which we will  do together while visiting the Map and Data Library in Week Five.

Students should also download onto their personal machines a free copy of Google Earth Pro, available here:

We will be exploring some digital note-taking and bibliography platforms. Students should sign-up for a free account with Evernote and install it on their machine. They should also install the Zotero stand-alone bibliography manager as well as its “connector” for their preferred web browser.

Classroom Electronics Use

This being a digital history course, students are encouraged to bring and to use their personal laptops or tablets, though I expect you to use these responsibly and without distracting or disturbing other students.


Course Assignments

Assignment #1: Course Blog Posts

Students should set up a profile for the course blog at . There are four required blog posts, each of which should be between 300 and 600 words long and should include some images and media (e.g. screenshots, GIFS, etc) to help illustrate your thoughts. Together these four posts account for 20% of your total grade. Posts are due on Friday of the week they are assigned, by noon.

Post 1: Week One (September 11-15)

Write a blog post about who you are and why you are interested in digital history. Tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you from? What is your program at Brock?  What do you want to do after university? What do you like to do outside of school? Then, give a brief overview of the Digital History chapter Introduction to Digital History. What are some of the “promises” of digital history? Some of the “perils”? What are your thoughts on digital history as we begin the course?

Post 2: Week Four (October 2-6)

Write a blog post about the online history archives assigned in the syllabus. What are they? What do they offer? Do they provide something valuable for historians? What are their limitations?

Post 3: Week Seven (October 30-Nov 3)

Write a blog post about digital mapping for historians. Review an online HGIS project that you’ve found through the GeoSpatial Historian. What is it? Describe the project – what kind of map is it, what sort of data does it use, how does it visualize it? What does it do well, and what does it do poorly?

Post 4: Week 10 (November 20-24)

Write a blog post about Voyant Tools and digital text analysis for historians. Does the ability to quickly analyze patterns in large bodies of text help or hinder historical analysis? Does it give us something new that we could not otherwise access? How does this kind of analysis augment traditional historical reading skills?

Blog posts will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Clarity: Is it well written? Do you follow proper grammar, spelling and stylistic conventions?
  • Engagement: How much do you engage with the topic at hand? Does your blog post show evidence that you have used the tool and thought about its usefulness as a method for history research?
  • Nuts and Bolts: What is the tool? Who makes it? Is it built for scholarship or for other uses? Is it for-profit or non-profit?
  • Analysis: This is your opportunity to be critical. If something frustrates you and you need to vent your reasons why, do it! Not all of these tools appeal to everyone. On the other hand, if you really liked something, say so; why?
Assignment #2: ArcGIS Online Story Map. Worth 15%. DUE WEEK 7.

Story maps allow us to create a narrative or a presentation based on spatial analysis of a given topic. Students will select, in conjunction with the Map and Data Library or me, a topic to do with local Niagara history and, using maps and other resources available through the Map and Data Library, create a story map that outlines your historical topic and its relationship to local geography. Examples include the construction of the Welland Canal, the War of 1812, the development of industries in the 20th century, or indigenous life before and after colonization.

More details and methods will be provided during our Map and Data Library session during Week Five.

Assignment #3: Text Analysis using Voyant Tools. Worth 15%. DUE WEEK 11

Voyant Tools is a free, online engine for conducting large-scale text analysis of single texts or a corpus of texts. Students will select two related works in conjunction with me and will use Voyant to conduct an analysis of them. What patterns emerge? What can we learn about texts and historical events using text analysis tools such as this?

Details and Methods will be provided in class during Week 7. I can provide suggestions for various corpuses of texts to analyze, such as religious treatises, political document, historical plaques etc.

Assignment #4: Historical Website. Worth 30%. DUE DECEMBER 11.

For this assignment you will build, using a web hosting service like, a historical website that provides an overview of a topic chosen by you according to your interests. Your topic could be something like the history of the War of 1812, or the history of Confederation, or, anything that you’re interested in as an historian. Your website should have at least five different pages:

  • A Homepage that introduces the topic and the webpage, and makes a statement about why the public should be interested in learning more about it. Your homepage should also include your website’s “thesis statement,” the main point you are making about your chosen topic.
  • A Personalities page that introduces the major “players” in your historical topic, and gives a bit of biography about each. Who were they? What was their role in your historical topic? What motivated them and what do we know about their lives outside of this topic?
  • An Events This can be built using a variety of online timeline tools or can be done as a series of text blurbs. What happened, in what order? When? Where? You might consider using a basic StoryMap to help illustrate this.
  • A Primary Documents What are the major sources that we use to understand this topic? List the major sources that historians use, and give me an in-depth (c. 500 word) analysis of one of them. See if you can find digitized pictures of the sources to include as examples, and maybe run one or two of them through Voyant Tools.
  • A Bibliography of major secondary works. This should include at least 8 peer-reviewed books and scholarly articles written by professional historians that you have used to do the research for this website. You can either list your bibliography as text on the website or use a Zotero API to create a formatted bibliography for you.

This website should be the workload equivalent of an 8-10 page paper and should follow similar guidelines for citation and presentation. When your website is complete please send me the URL and I will grade it according to the standards of Brock History essay-writing.


Weekly Topics and Readings

Week 1 – September 11

Introduction to Class and Syllabus Overview

Lecture: What is Digital History? Why should historians care?

Seminar / Lab: Set-up of Class Blog Profiles and Software Install

Homework: Read Digital History “Introduction: Promises and Perils of Digital History”; Blog Post #1 due Friday, September 15

Week 2 – September 18

Digital History as an emerging field

Lecture: The History of the Digital Humanities and Digital History

Seminar / Lab: Digital Bibliographies: Zotero Tutorial

Reading: Digital History, “Exploring the History Web”

Homework: Begin building a Zotero bibliography of History Websites and Archives

Week 3 – September 25

Public History and Public Facing History

Lecture: Digital History as Public History: Scholarly Responsibilities

Seminar / Lab: Building Simple Websites with WordPress

Reading: Digital History, “Designing for the History Web”

Homework: Explore some history websites; think about what works and what doesn’t?

Week 4 – October 2

Digital Archives

Lecture: Digital Archives and Documents as Historical Sources

Seminar / Lab: Exploring Digital Archives

Reading: Explore the following websites before class:

The Darwin Correspondence Project:

Medici Archive Project:

Homework: Blog Post #2 Due Friday, October 6

Week 5 – October 16

Digital Mapping

Lecture (1 hr): GIS and History = Historical GIS

Seminar / Lab (2hrs): Visit to Map and Data Library; Set up ArcGIS Online accounts

Reading: Martí-Henneberg, Jordi. “Geographical Information Systems and the Study of History.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 42, no. 1 (July 1, 2011): 1-13.

The Geospatial Historian,

DECIMA: The Digitally Encoded Census Information and Mapping Archive,

Homework: Play with ArcGIS Online and Google Earth, explore BrockU content on ArcGIS Online; look at some of the GIS projects on The Geospatial Historian

Week 6 – October 23

Digital Mapping Cont’d

Lecture: Historical GIS: Old Maps and New Technologies

Seminar: Georeferencing Historical Maps in Google Earth and ArcGIS Online

Reading: “Georeferencing Scanned Map Images” – BrockU tutorial available here

Locating London’s Past,

Homework: Georeference the map you will use for your ArcGIS StoryMap (due Week 7)

Week 7 – October 30

Digital Mapping Cont’d

Lecture: Rebuilding Past Environments: 3d Modelling and Mapping (Guest Lecturer: John Raimondo, MA)

Seminar: Work on your StoryMap

Reading: Bonnett, John. “Following in Rabelais’ Footsteps: Immersive History and the 3d Virtual Buildings Project.” History & Computing 13, no. 2 (June 2001): 107–50.

Balletti, Caterina, and Francesco Guerra. “Historical Maps for 3D Digital City’s History.” Cartographica 51, no. 3 (September 2016): 115–26. doi:10.3138/cart.51.3.3140. (Available on SAKAI)

Watch: “Reconstructing the Destroyed Church of San Pier Maggiore”,

Homework: Blog Post #3 due Friday November 3

Week 8 – November 6

3d Modelling for Historians

Lecture: 3d Modelling, SketchUp and Historical Buildings

Seminar / Lab: Basic SketchUp modelling

Reading: Gatta, Giorgia, Elisabetta Arioti, and Gabriele Bitelli. “Geomatics Science Applied to Cartographic Heritage and Archive Sources: A New Way to Explore the XIXth Century Gregorian Cadastre of Bologna (Italy), an Ante-Litteram 3D GIS.” Journal of Cultural Heritage 23, no. Complete (2017): 68–76. doi:10.1016/j.culher.2016.06.009. (available on SAKAI)

Week 9 – November 13

Digitizing Primary Sources

Lecture: Digital Sources from Manuscript to Screen; Born-Digital Sources

Seminar: Digitizing Sources with Scans and Transcriptions

Reading: Digital History, “Collecting History Online” and “Preserving Digital History”

Week 10 – November 20

Text Analysis for Historians

Lecture: Large-scale text analysis as historical method

Seminar: Text analysis using Voyant or Google N-Grams

Reading: Michel, Jean-Baptiste et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Culture Using Millions of Digitized Books.” Science 331, no. 6014 (2011): 176–82. (Available on SAKAI)

Homework: Blog Post #4 Due on Friday November 24

Preparation for Week 11 Seminar: Play an Assassin’s Creed game for a couple of hours; read an article or two about the time period it represents.

Week 11 – November 27

Public History Cont’d – Gaming History

Lecture: History Games and Gaming History

Seminar: How do the Assassin’s Creed games get it right? How do they get it wrong?

Reading: Menon, Lakshmi. “History First-Hand: Memory, the Player and the Video Game Narrative in the Assassin’s Creed Games.” Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities 7, no. 1 (January 2015): 108. (available on SAKAI)

Chapman, Adam. Digital Games as History : How Video Games Represent the Past and Offer Access to Historical Practice. Routledge Advances in Game Studies: 7. New York, NY ; Abingdon, Oxon : Routledge, 2016, Chapter Three: “Simulation Styles and Epistemologies”. (EBook available through BrockU Library)

Week 12 – December 4

Course Conclusion: The future of History? Roundtable discussion on digital history

Seminar / Lab: Time to work on Website

No readings this week


Course Policies

Late Submission Policy:

This course follows the standard Brock Late Submission Policy, i.e. 5% per day late, up to a maximum of 25% penalty. This is a stiff penalty; extensions are granted on the basis of medical or emergency need, and most importantly, advance notice.

With the exception of medical or personal (e.g. sudden death in family) emergencies, extensions will be granted equal to the amount of time in advance of the due date that you request an extension. I.e. an extension requested one week prior to a paper’s due date will most likely receive a one-week extension; an extension requested the day before a paper is due will receive at most a one-day extension.

Please plan your work and schedule accordingly; if you know that a particular week is heavy with assignments, think ahead of time about whether you can effectively complete all those assignments.

Relationship between attendance and grades:

Students are expected to attend all classes and must submit all assignments in order to pass this course. Because there is significant practical labwork in this course, any student who misses more than two seminars without documentation will receive a failing grade.

Important dates:

7 November 2017 is the date for withdrawal from the course without academic penalty.

31 October 2017 is the date you will be notified of at least 15% of your course grade

10 – 13 October 2017  is the scheduled reading week.

6 December 2017 is set aside for designated reading days (these may be used to cover classes missed because of adverse weather).

7 – 19 December 2017 are set aside for formal examination periods.

Academic Policies

Academic Integrity:

Academic misconduct is a serious offence. The principle of academic integrity, particularly of doing one’s own work, documenting properly (including use of quotation marks, appropriate paraphrasing and referencing/citation), collaborating appropriately, and avoiding misrepresentation, is a core principle in university study. Students should consult Section VII, “Academic Misconduct”, in the “Academic Regulations and University Polices” entry in the Undergraduate Calendar, available at to view a fuller description of prohibited actions, and the procedures and penalties.

Intellectual Property Notice:   

All slides, presentations, handouts, tests, exams, and other course materials created by the instructor in this course are the intellectual property of the instructor. A student who publicly posts or sells an instructor’s work, without the instructor’s express consent, may be charged with misconduct under Brock’s Academic Integrity Policy and/or Code of Conduct, and may also face adverse legal consequences for infringement of intellectual property rights.

Academic Accommodation:

As part of Brock University’s commitment to a respectful work and learning environment, the University will make every reasonable effort to accommodate all members of the university community with disabilities. If you require academic accommodations related to a documented disability to participate in this course, you are encouraged to contact Services for Students with Disabilities in the Student Development Centre (4th floor Schmon Tower, ex. 3240). You are also encouraged to discuss any accommodations with the instructor well in advance of due dates and scheduled assessments.

Academic Accommodation due to Religious Obligations:

Brock University acknowledges the pluralistic nature of the undergraduate and graduate communities such that accommodations will be made for students who, by reason of religious obligation, must miss an examination, test, assignment deadline, laboratory or other compulsory academic event. Students requesting academic accommodation on the basis of religious obligation should make a formal, written request to their instructor(s) for alternative dates and/or means of satisfying requirements.

Medical Exemption Policy:

The University requires that a student be medically examined in Health Services, or by an off-campus physician prior to an absence due to medical reasons from an exam, lab, test, quiz, seminar, assignment, etc. The Medical Certificate can be found at: