A New Graduate Course for 2022: Digital Scholarship

This semester I will be teaching a new course, Digital Scholarship, examining the digital forms in which historical scholarship can be published. The idea for the course grew from my work over the last several years with Lincoln Mullen on digital history and argument, with both the collectively authored white paper Digital History & Argument and the website of models of argument driven articles focusing attention on the form of scholarly journal articles. I have also spent the last several years working on a digital monograph, Harlem in Disorder: A spatial history of how racial violence changed in 1935. Conceiving and developing that project has involved examining a variety of existing digital forms of historical scholarship, and thinking about the relationship between the digital medium and digital methods – the subjects of an article forthcoming in History and Theory in December 2022 and a chapter in Zoomland: Exploring Scale in Digital History and Humanities in 2023.

In thinking about how to explore digital scholarship in a course I was inspired by the example of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s recent course ‘Peculiar Genres of Academic Writing‘ to organize the classes to focus on different forms. (My course is a seminar, whereas Fitzpatrick taught her course in part as a writing class). The changing use historians have made of different digital forms required two classes on each form: the first class examines the nature and use of the form in the early phase of digital history in the 1990s and early 2000s; and the second class examines the next generation of those forms of scholarship that developed in the last 10-15 years. (Dissertations and podcasts are the subject of only one class, as they have only recently been adopted by historians as forms of digital scholarship scholarship).

My course was also shaped by a nudge from the director of my department’s MA program to try to make the course useful for students not doing digital history. As much as the use of digital history methods involves various forms of digital presentation of research and analysis, including visualizing data, that lend themselves to digital scholarship, digital forms are an option for research involving any historical method. To help highlight those opportunities, where possible I chose not to include readings and examples by scholars using digital methods. Similarly, while born digital forms of scholarship such as blogs, online exhibits and podcasts are widely used for public history, they can also be directed at scholarly audiences. Again, where possible I chose not to include readings and examples by public historians. I expect the  extent to which different forms of digital scholarship reach and are shaped by non-scholarly audiences, how they relate to public history, to be a topic of class discussions.

One of the challenges in designing the course was finding material dealing with print scholarship to provide a foundation for considering both the different options provided by the digital medium and how digital scholarship relates to print scholarship. For all the discussion of the crisis facing the scholarly monograph in the last twenty years (!), for example, there are remarkably few examinations of the features of that form. I hope the opportunity to directly consider the forms of historical scholarship, and how the historical profession evaluates that scholarship, will help students make sense of how the profession works.