History and New Media: Digital Projects in Archives and Public History (Spring 2012)


Web-based digital history projects have become an important resource for scholars and students as well as archives and public history professionals. They democratize access to historical texts and interpretations, preserve fragile original documents and contextualize documents in their historical milieu. When done well, they offer researchers powerful tools to locate, analyze and understand historical texts. This course will introduce the ideas, techniques and complexities of creating digital history texts and web sites. It will introduce standards and best practices for digitization and explain the basic steps to designing and implementing digital projects in an archives or public history setting. The focus of the course is not on the technical work of creating documents, but the intellectual work of designing digital projects that offer the best access to the documents.

Required Texts:


* Melissa M. Terras,Digital Images for the Information Professional (Ashgate, 2008). Google Books offers a limited preview.
* Dan Cohen & Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History (2005) [http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/] (If you haven’t already read this book, you should!)
* Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, John Unsworth, eds. Companion to Digital Humanities (London, 2004).

Weekly recommended texts should be read if you want more detail on any specific aspect of your collection.

Week 1 (January 26): Introduction

We will go over the course structure, major assignments, the use of the class wiki, and reasons for digitizing historical documents. Please consult Selecting a Project, to get started on identifying a semester-long project.

Week 2 (February 2): Evaluating Historical Materials for Digital Publication

Using the rough ideas supplied by students, we will discuss different rationales for choosing a collection of materials for digitization, selecting within that collection, and looking at how historians select materials for thematic projects. The importance of delineating the project’s goals before selecting materials will be emphasized.

Due: Two or three rough ideas for your digital project, to be discussed in class, posted to wiki.


  • Lorna M. Hughes, Digitizing Collections.
    • Chapter 1, “Why Digitize? The Costs and Benefits of Digitization,”
    • Chapter 2: “Selecting Materials for Digitization,” and
    • Chapter 3, “Intellectual Property, Copyright, and Other Legal Issues,”
  • Diane Vogt-O’Connor, “Selection of Materials for Scanning,” in Sitts, //Handbook for Digital Projects//, 35-63. ] This is a link to a pdf of the entire book—go to page 45 to get to the correct article.
  • North Carolina ECHO, “Digitization Guidelines: Selection”

Week 3 (February 9): Varieties of History-Based Websites

Designing a strong website involves planning and careful attention to organization and searching. Web sites can contain a variety of materials, including primary and secondary sources, images, audio, and interactive materials. Project designers need to determine the extent of the initial site and develop plans for later expansion.

Due: Draft project description posted to wiki


Also — spend time looking at websites on a historical topic that you are familiar with, be prepared to discuss the way the topic is generally handled, including the weaknesses and strengths of at least two sites. Check these sites for help locating good sites.
* “Best of History Web Sites,” [http://www.besthistorysites.net/]
* “Digital History,” University of Houston. [http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/]
* “American Memory,” Library of Congress [http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/index.html]

Week 4 (February 16): Designing and Managing Your Digital Project

After you have selected a set of historical documents or thematic topic, you must evaluate the materials and consult potential users to develop the best method for digitization. Will you focus on digitized text or images to provide the best surrogate for your documents? Session will explore issues of project organization and staffing as well as creating a plan for later expansion. Database use for managing projects.

Due: Draft site index posted to wiki.


  • “What, Why, How and For Whom,” Stevens & Burg, Editing Historical Documents, 25-40.
  • “Project Planning”, NINCH, Guide to Good Practice.
  • Miriam B. Kahn, Protecting your library’s digital sources: The Essential Guide to Planning and Preservation (ALA Editions, 2004).

Week 5 (February 23): Digitizing Images and Texts

The digital text that you create is a surrogate for the original. The transformation of historical objects to digital media will entail some distortion as the historian weighs readability versus strict adherence to the original. Developing a policy for digitizing texts is more complicated than just typing what you see.

Due: Draft project management/work flow posted to wiki


  • Lorna M. Hughes, Chapter 8, “Digitization of Rare and Fragile Materials,” Chapter 10, “Digitization of Text and Images,” in Digitizing Collections.
  • Terras, “Chapter 6: Personal Digital Image Collections,”
  • Terras, “Chapter 8: Current Issues in Digital Imaging,” in Digital Images for the Information Professional (2008).
  • Matthew Spencer and Christopher C. Howe, “Optimal Strategies for Accurate Transcription,” Literary and Linguistics Computing 21:3 (2006).
Reference Readings:
  • Lorna M. Hughes, Chapter 9 , “Digitization of Audio and Moving Image Collections,” in Digitizing Collections.
  • “Audio/Video Capture and Management,” NINCH, Guide to Good Practice
  • Melissa M. Terras, Digital Images for the Information Professional (Ashgate: 2008)—whole book is very useful.
  • “General Principles of Transcriptions and Proofreading,” “Transcription: Types of Sources,” and “Presenting the Text,” Stevens & Burg, Editing Historical Documents, 71-156
  • Howard Besser, “Introduction to Art Image Access,” Edited by Sally Hubbard with Deborah Lenert.

Week 6 (March 1): Metadata and Added Value

Digital history projects are more than just a compilation of texts. Projects add value to the documents through context and annotation, illustration and commentary. Deciding how much information to provide and how to provide it is a crucial aspect of the project.

Due: Draft digitization policy and samples posted to wiki



Week 7 (March 8): Text Encoding I

The key to long-lasting digital material is the use of XML tagging to describe format and content. Digital projects need to develop a sense of what they want to describe and create tagging guidelines to create consistent treatment.

Due: Draft essay on metadata and added value posted to wiki



Week 8 (March 15): Spring Recess — no class

Week 9 (March 22): Text Encoding II

This week we will go through the practical work of setting up a schema, loading it on Oxygen, and encoding a document. We will discuss what kinds of things to encode in a document and why, and step through encoding of samples.


Week 10 (March 29): What do Users Want?

Digital history projects on the World Wide Web reach larger and broader audiences than similar print-based projects. Digital projects need to consider the needs of this diverse audience and develop the tools they need and want.



Week 11 (April 5): Grants, Discussions

Discussion of grant funding, proposal preparation, and students projects. We will go over final project format.

Due: Draft tagging guidelines and sample for text-based projects or Omeka sample for image-based ones posted to wiki.


Also— skim a general grantsmanship how-to book. There are many out there, here are a few:

  • Ellen Karsh, Sue Fox Arlen, The Only Grant-Writing Book you Will Every Need (2009).
  • Lynn E. Miner, Jeremy T. Miner, and Jerry Griffith Proposal Planning and Writing (2003).
  • John Mutz and Kathryn Murray, Fundraising for Dummies (2005).

Week 12 (April 12): Web 2.0 for History-Based Websites

In this session we will explore the variety of ways historians use historical materials in Web sites, including historical exhibits, teaching sites, textbases, companions to museum, video or television programs, documentary editions, and on-line archival collections. We will also examine directions for the next generation of websites.

Due: Draft funding needs, identification and rationales for three possible funding sources, using Foundation Directory posted to wiki.



*Cheryl Ann Peltier-Davis, The Cybrarian’s Web: An A-Z guide to 101 free Web 2.0 tools and other resources (Feb. 2012).

Week 13 (April 19): Maintaining and Expanding Digital Projects

Decisions about free and open access vs. pay sites; articles on how digital projects don’t end quite like traditional ones do. Also want to cover the difference between digital archival collections and “doing digital history.”

Week 14 (Apr. 26): No class— work on your proposals.

Due: Written environmental scan posted to wiki

Week 15 (May 3) : Discussion of Projects (last class)

Short presentations and discussions of each grant proposal, explanation of your approach to the proposal format. This is designed to let you lay out your pitch and ask for feedback or suggestions.

*Final project due on Monday, May 7**

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