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One small step in technology; one giant step in historical analysis

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The syllabus for Fred Gibbs’s graduate course,  Programming for Historians, is ambitious.

Even for this class lurker, shadow-in-the-corner, and tech-stalker, the thought of working through the modules and the extensive list of the skills to explore (with practicum)–HTML5, CSS3, databases in theory and practice, mySQL, PHP, mark-up languages and more–is grist for intimidation or perhaps evocative of a giant time suck.

But the syllabus is at least as compelling as it is daunting. Why? Partly because requirements include “Must be able to have fun and learn while accomplishing nothing.”

It’s also the emphasis on digital tools to refocus the way we look at historical resources and how we think about them and use them. As analytical tools, these technologies promote creative thinking, but they’re also eminently practical for organizing research and resources en route to the dissertation and building foundations for complex projects.

The extensive records of the Tredegar Corporation in the nineteenth century comprise a core resource for my dissertation. They are not atypical of a mid-sized, family-owned corporation whose external accountability was limited in contrast to today’s regulatory standards and for whom the rational factory was a futuristic system. They wouldn’t pass muster today, and in fact, didn’t in 1913 …

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