[ on digital matters and a dissertation ]

Student projects in digital history

The Digital Past (History 390) at George Mason University is an undergraduate course exploring conceptual and applied approaches to digital history–that is, how to go about historical research and scholarship using a range of digital tools and resources. The class bridges an often-perceived duality between humanities and technology. Not only does it introduce undergraduates to digital history; it also fulfills George Mason University‚Äôs general education requirements in information technology.

I taught The Digital Past this spring, building on inherited syllabi from innovative and experienced faculty in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University. Analytical blogposts will follow, talking about what worked (scaffolding), what didn’t (epic technology fails), the challenges of teaching a class for the first time (yike), and what I’d do differently as an encore.

But for now, it’s “show and tell”

Forty students from an original enrollment of 45 completed the semester. From freshmen to seniors, only eight had declared history as a major. chart_1

Their assignments included creating individual projects built in The mega-topic: develop research question on a narrowly-defined aspect of the history of the District of Columbia. And so they did, from punk rock to urban geography, from the history of the LGBT movement to the backstories of memorials and monuments. For each, this was a digital first: a first-time digital project; a first-time exploration of Omeka; and for most, a first-time focus on primary source materials.

A double rationale motivated assigning individual projects rather than group work. Individual projects gave each student a personal take-away, a work product uniquely his or her own demonstrating individual capabilities with specific research and technical skills. Second, given the range of academic experience within the class, individual projects seemed the best approach to enable each student to move forward from his or her own starting point, ideally boosted through small-group, shared, collaborative work in-class with digital tools and research.


The individual projects linked below reflect class diversity in subject-matter and in execution. Often, student reflections about their process, about what they found both valuable and challenging while creating their projects, offer surprises.