HIST680 Introduction to Digital Humanities – online course

Fall 2015 | 3 credits

Course Overview

New technologies are transforming how humanities scholars do research, construct interpretations and communicate our ideas. This course provides an introduction to the field of digital humanities, and to digital tools for text analysis, mapping, network graphing, and the presentation of material online.  We will also explore blogs, wikis, and social media, and the ways these platforms have been used for publication, communication and collaboration. The course emphasizes hands-on work, including creating an individual digital project on a topic chosen by the student.

Learning Outcomes

  • You will have an understanding of how new technologies are transforming historical teaching, research, writing, and publishing
  • You will have a working knowledge of the methods and basic tools used in digital humanities
  • You will have an understanding of the development and nature of the field of digital humanities and its intersection with other disciplines
  • You will have established an online professional identity
  • You will have created a piece of digital scholarship

Contact Information

  • Email: srober30@gmu — this is the best way to reach me. During the week, you will receive a response within 24 hours, usually much faster. I generally do not respond to email during the weekend.
  • Office hours — Tuesdays, from 4-5pm, when you can speak with me by phone (703-993-4524) or in a Skype call. You can also email me to schedule appointments at other times.

Course Structure

The course is organized around three topics and divided into 14 modules.

  • An introductory module explores what the digital humanities are and how the field is defined.
  • The first topic explores the digital sources with which digital humanists work – their availability, creation, nature, relationship to material objects, organization, description and presentation.
  • The second topic explores software tools for the analysis of those digital sources, focusing on text analysis (with hands-on activities using Voyant), mapping (with hands-on activities using CartoDB), and networks (with hands-on activities using Palladio).
  • The final topic explores the public, collaborative dimension of digital humanities, focusing on crowdsourcing, and social media as a platform for communication.
  • A module is devoted to progress reports and peer feedback on the project
  • The final module is a reflection on the course as a whole, and to next steps

Each topic starts with a synchronous (scheduled) meeting on a specific date. After that meeting, you may complete the modules within that topic asynchronously (on your own time) by the stated deadline.

Course Requirements

  • You must have access to a computer and a reliable Internet connection. The modules for this course are web-based and require several hours weekly. The online portfolio and digital project also require Internet access.
  • 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.
  • 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.

University Policies

Academic Integrity

All George Mason University students have agreed to abide by the letter and the spirit of the Honor Code: “not to cheat, plagiarize, steal, and/or lie in matters related to academic work.” If you are uncertain what that policy covers, see the information provided by the Office of Academic Integrity. All violations of the Honor Code will be reported to the Honor Committee for review.

If you are copying and pasting text that someone else wrote, you might be plagiarizing. Pasted or manually retyped text is not plagiarized only when all of the following three conditions are true: 1) the pasted text is surrounded by quotation marks or set off as a block quote, and 2) the pasted text is attributed in your text to its author and its source (e.g., “As Jane Smith writes on her blog . . . “), and 3) the pasted text is cited in a footnote, endnote, and/or a bibliography (e.g., “Smith, Jane. Smith Stuff. Blog. Available http://smithstuff.wordpress.com. Accessed August 1, 2012.”)

Disability Accommodations

Any student who requires special arrangements in order to meet course requirements should contact me to make necessary accommodations (before 8/31 please). Students should present appropriate verification from the Office of Disability Services (http://ods.gmu.edu/distance.php, 703-993-2474). All academic accommodations must be arranged through that office.

Diversity Policy

George Mason University is an inclusive community of learners.  Your instructor and all classmates should abide by the University’s Diversity Policy found at Mason Diversity Statement (http://ctfe.gmu.edu/professional-development/mason-diversity-statement/).

Student Privacy

Students must use their MasonLive email account to receive important University information, including messages related to this class. See Mason Live (http://masonlive.gmu.edu) and Student  for more information.

Student Services

  • Writing Center <http://writingcenter.gmu.edu> (703-993-1200)
  • Ask A Librarian <http://library.gmu.edu/ask>
  • Counseling and Psychological Services <http://caps.gmu.edu> (703-993-2380)

Grading Scale

The following grading scale from the Graduate Catalog is in effect for this course.

A+    99-100 4.00

A     93-98 4.00

A-     90-92 3.67

B+     87-89 3.33

B     83-86 3.00

B-     80-82 2.67

C     70-79 2.00

F     69 and below


Online Activities [35%]

Each module has a series of activities for you to complete. These activities are hands-on — they require you to engage with and analyze sources, software tools, databases, search engines, digital projects, and social media. The goal is to extend what you have learned from the assigned readings, and give you experience with, or first hand information about, the issues raised in the readings.

The activities are assessed as PASS/FAIL. If you complete the task, you will receive a PASS grade, and full marks for that portion of the final grade. This grading policy is in keeping with the design of these activities as learning experiences. The success of the tasks does not depend on whether your answers or the products of your experiments are ‘correct’ or not; what matters to the learning outcomes is that you experiment and offer, and revise, interpretations.

  • Activities for each topic are due before the scheduled date of the next topic.
  • No late work will be accepted.

Online Portfolio [20%]

The online portfolio is a public-facing presentation of what you learn in the course, created using the WordPress blog platform, and hosted on your Reclaim Hosting domain.

Blogs have become a ubiquitous feature of many classes, but most are inward facing, directed only at an instructor, and sometimes classmates, and have no life beyond the class. The portfolio in this course, by contrast, is intended for an audience beyond the classroom, as a place to capture and showcase your digital humanities knowledge, skills, and projects, beginning with what you learn and create in this class – and as such part of your online professional identity, which hopefully you will want to maintain and develop beyond this class.

In keeping with this aim, many of the posts will be framed as guides to issues, tools, and resources. (If you already have an online blog or portfolio, please discuss with me ways to incorporate your work into your existing online identity). For examples, look at the sites maintained by digital humanities scholars such as Lincoln Mullen <http://lincolnmullen.com >, Miriam Posner <http://miriamposner.com>, and Cameron Blevins <http://www.cameronblevins.org> (Note: these sites include much more material than you will generate in this course, so are much more elaborate than yours needs to be.)

  • Portfolio posts are for each topic are due before the scheduled date of the next topic.
  • No late work will be accepted.

Online Portfolio Due Dates

Topic 1: Beginnings and Definitions — Due September 10

  • Module 2: Defining Digital Humanities

Topic 2: Getting Your Humanities Digital — Due October 8

  • Module 3: Sources for Finding Usable Digital Data
  • Module 4: A Guide to Digitization
  • Module 5: Database Review
  • Module 6: Why Metadata Matters

Topic 3: Now What? Working With Digitized Material — Due November 5

  • Module 7: Text Analysis with Voyant
  • Module 8: Mapping with CartoDB
  • Module 9: Network Analysis with Palladio
  • Module 9:  Compare Tools

Topic 4: Public Facing — Due December 3

  • Module 10: How to Read a Wikipedia Article
  • Module 11: What Can You Do with Crowdsourced Digitization?
  • Module 12: Social Media Strategy

Topic 5: Digital Humanities Project — Due December 16

  • Module 13: No portfolio post
  • Module 14: Doing Digital Humanities

Project [45%]

Complete a project using digital methods and tools. You can work on any topic and sources that interest you. You can use any of software tools and platforms that we cover in the course.

Writing an essay and putting it online is not using a digital method. You could build an online exhibit in Omeka or Scalar, build maps in CartoDB, undertake text analysis using Voyant or network analysis using Palladio. The entry-level tools that we are examining in this course lend themselves to discovery rather than investigation; hence, your project will likely be testing whether a digital method offers a new perspective rather than offering an explanation or argument.

  • By the start of Module 7, October 15, each student should have identified the digital material they will use in their project.
  • At the start of Module 10, during the week beginning November 2, each student will meet individually with the instructor to discuss their proposed project and finalize the digital tools and methods they will use. Before that meeting you will complete a proposal for your project by answering a series of questions.
  • In Module 13, during the week of November 30, you will complete a project progress report by revisiting the questions you answered for your proposal. Other students, and the instructor, will provide asynchronous feedback on your work-in-progress digital project.
  • The project will be due by midnight on December 16
  • No late work will be accepted.



Topic 1 – Beginnings and Definitions

Module 1 – Course Introduction (to be completed prior to first online meeting 9/3/15 7:20pm EDT)

No Readings



  • Are You Ready?
  • Informed Consent Form
  • Setting Up Your Domain with Reclaim Hosting
  • Setting up Your WordPress Portfolio Blog
  • Meet Online 1.1


Module 2 – What is Digital Humanities?



  • DH Over Time
  • Annotating Definitions
  • Categorizing Projects
  • Defining Digital Humanities


Topic 2 – Getting Your Humanities Digital

Module 3 – Who Owns What?



  • Copyright Scavenger Hunt
  • What is Fair Use?
  • Sources for Finding Usable Digital Data


Module 4 – Digitization (Online Meeting: 9/24/2015 7:20pm EDT)



  • Meet Online 4.1
  • Digitizing Your Kitchen: Part I
  • A Guide to Digitization


Module 5 – Databases and Searches



  • Digitizing Your Kitchen: Part II
  • Understanding Searches
  • Database Review


Module 6 – Humanities on the Web



  • Why Metadata Matters?
  • Setting Up Omeka
  • Uploading to Omeka using CSV Import Plugin


Topic 3: Now What? Working With Digitized Material

Module 7- Digital Tools (Text Mining/Topic Modeling) (Meets online: 10/15/2015 7:20pm EST)




  • Meet Online 7.1
  • Compare Projects
  • Voyant
  • Text Analysis with Voyant
  • Submit Project Idea


Module 8 – Digital Tools (Mapping)




  • Compare Projects
  • CartoDB
  • Mapping with CartoDB


Module 9 – Digital Tools (Networks and Visualizations)




  • Compare Projects
  • Palladio
  • Network Analysis with Palladio
  • Compare Tools


Topic 4: Public Facing

Module 10 – Crowdsourced Knowledge (Meet Individually with Instructor week of 11/2/15)



  • Project Idea Questionnaire
  • Meet Individually with Instructor regarding Project
  • Deconstructing Wikipedia Entries
  • Linkypedia Analysis
  • How to Read a Wikipedia Article


Module 11 – Crowdsourced Digitization




  • Contribute to a Crowdsourced Digitization Project
  • Compare Projects
  • What Can You Do with Crowdsourced Digitization?


Module 12 – Online Communication


Readings to skim for Comparing Social Media Platforms Activity


  • Evaluate Social Media Strategy
  • Compare Social Media Platforms
  • Social Media Strategy


Topic 5: Digital Humanities Project

Module 13 – Reviewing Work in Progress

No Readings


  • Your Project
  • Gallery of Student Projects
  • Feedback to Projects


Module 14 – Conclusion (Meets online 12/10/2015 7:20pm EST)

No Readings


  • Doing Digital Humanities