2015FA_HISTORY_393-0_SEC22 Approaches to History: Digital History

2015FA_HISTORY_393-0_SEC22 Approaches to History: Digital History



Dr. Michael J. Kramer

Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies

Co-Director, Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory, www.nudhl.net


How are digital technologies altering the study of history? What are the new possibilities for digital history, and what are new problems? In this seminar, we will explore new methods, theories, and practices of digital history. Students will read, discuss, blog, complete a final project, and deliver a presentation. No computer programming skills are prerequisites for this course, just an eagerness to dive in and explore how the digital and the historical meet. This course is open to both graduate students and undergraduates. Students will be evaluated based on robust participation in course meetings and online blog, completion of reading assignments, additional smaller assignments, and a larger final project that applies digital history methods to a historical topic of interest for each student (a research project or topic of curiosity; an analysis of existing digital history projects and approaches; or, for graduate students, a project that centers on preparation for comprehensive exams or a digital component of dissertation research).


Course Info:

History 393-0-22 (14168)

Tu Th, 3:30–4:50 pm

Parkes Hall 213


Course Websites:

Canvas, https://canvas.northwestern.edu/courses/23740

WordPress, http://sites.northwestern.edu/approachingdigitalhistory/



Dr. Michael J. Kramer

Visiting Assistant Professor, History and American Studies

Co-Director, Northwestern University Digital Humanities Laboratory (nudhl.net)

Contact: mjk@northwestern.edu

Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday, 2­–3 pm

Office: Harris Hall 212 


Attendance: Students are expected to attend all meetings. If a student misses more than three meetings, the instructor reserves the right to issue a failing grade.



Note: I recommend keeping a version of your Short Summary and Essay Assignment in an MS Word or text file on your computer for safekeeping. You can write directly in WordPress and then periodically cut and paste into a file on your computer. Alternatively, you can write your post as a plain text file and then paste it in to WordPress.

Short Summaries (in WordPress)

The goal of short summaries are to gather and organize your main thoughts about our materials to prepare for class discussion. They need not be masterpieces, but do give them some thought. 

Each reading should have its own Short Summary post in WordPress. You can assign your posts with the tag for the respective date of the assignment and add any additional thematic tags using the tags function in WordPress.

Your short summary:

(1) should attempt to summarize each required reading in one sentence. This is no easy task and a good way to crystallize your thoughts about the reading. Think of it as your thesis statement if you were writing an essay or review. You might ask yourself: with whom the author is arguing? What evidence does the author use and why? What method does the author adopt for interpreting this evidence? And what is the author’s major conclusion (the “take away,” as is sometimes now said)?

(2) should pose a question of your own about the reading. What did you not understand or want to know more about?

(3) can offer any other associations: a list of terms, a multimedia link, a miscellaneous observation, a passage you wish to examine; etc.


Students must complete all assignments to pass the course. These are designed to be fun, but they are also demanding—and perhaps for some, frustrating. Please be aware that historical analysis is not a science in the strict sense of the term. There is no purely objective, machine-like way to develop interpretation within the traditions of historical meaning-making. This means there is not some perfectly standardized way to evaluate your work. There is, however, a craft to this mode of thinking, writing, and reasoning. It is in the improvement of this craft that these assignments and evaluations can help you. Your task is to develop effective and compelling evidence-based arguments informed by historical awareness and thinking. These will often work by applying your judgment and assessment to explain how things connect or contrast to each other and what the larger stakes of those linkages and differences are, which is to say, why they matter or how they matter to our understanding of the past.


Rather than test the breadth of your absorption of course materials, the assignments test your ability to wield knowledge of materials in the course (lectures, readings, viewings) in order to mount effective and compelling evidence-based arguments. If this mode of evaluation is not to your tastes, I recommend that you do not take the course. Your assignments must be well written in order to communicate a convincing, compelling, and precise argument that is driven by our description and analysis of meaning in materials drawn from the course (and other sources if needed). Evaluations are based on the following rubric:


  • the presence of an articulated and compelling argument (a thesis statement, see number 4 below for more)
  • the presence of evidence and your ability to wield different types of evidence
  • the compelling and precise connection of evidence to argument by comparing and contrasting details and their significance to the argument of the essay
  • an effective opening introduction that uses (a) a "hook" to (b) frame a precise and compelling question in order to (c) articulate a thesis statement that addresses the question and characterizes how and why it matters to our understanding of the historical topic at hand
  • logical flow and grace of prose: the presence of an introduction that ends with a thesis statement (see number 4), clear topic sentences for each paragraph of the essay, the presence of effective transitions from one part of the essay to the next, and a compelling conclusion that restates the thesis in new language and closes with a memorable sense of why the thesis matters to our historical understanding
  • an effective use of multimedia elements (embedded images, video, or audio; relevant links; explorations of design such as size and look of type or relationship of text to other media forms) to deepen and advance an evidence based argument online
  • where applicable, proper citations in footnote or endnote form (your choice) as per Chicago Manual of Style guidelines (http://libguides.northwestern.edu/content.php?pid=67073&sid=495340)

If you have any questions about evaluation in the course geared at helping you access and develop the craft of historical analysis, please speak with the instructor. Assignments that students submit after the due date without explicit plans for an extension arranged with the instructor and teaching assistant prior to the deadline are subject to reductions in grade.


Academic Integrity: All Weinberg College and Northwestern policies concerning plagiarism and academic dishonesty are strictly enforced in this course. The instructor also reserves the right to assign a failing grade for the course if a student is found to have violated college or university policy concerning academic integrity. See http://www.weinberg.northwestern.edu/handbook/integrity/ for more details.


Special Needs: Students with special needs and disabilities that have been declared and documented through the Northwestern Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) should meet with the instructor to discuss any specific accommodations. For further information, see the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) website: http://www.northwestern.edu/disability.



Participation: 40%

  • General discussion contributions: 20%
  • Short summaries: 20%

Assignment 1: 10%

Assignment 2: 15%

Assignment 3: 15%

Final: 20%


The instructor will issue a midterm report on your grade for the course in addition to comments on your blog posts and assignments.

Course Summary:

Date Details