Digital history for undergraduates….without the coding

tags: digital humanities, digital history



Aaron Cowan is Assistant Professor of History at Slippery Rock University. His research interests focus on modern US history, urban history, and public history.  In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Cowan also serves as curator of the Old Stone House, a reconstructed 1822 stagecoach tavern museum owned by Slippery Rock University.

The digital humanities are rapidly transforming both the discipline of history and the pedagogy of public history.  When I taught my first Introduction to Public History course six years ago, my course schedule had two weeks devoted to digital history; today it occupies more than half of the semester.

Digital history presents several obstacles for introductory-level students, though.  For all the claims about the millennial generation’s tech literacy, they are more adept as consumers than creators.  This is perhaps even more true at institutions like my own – a mid-size state university with a student body drawn largely from the suburban and rural counties in a 100-mile radius.  More than half of them are first-generation college students.  These supposed “digital natives” use smartphones and Twitter with relative ease but rarely have had access to the educational enrichment programs or expensive technology that might give them familiarity with computer programming.  Within the confines of a 15-week academic term, learning the intricacies of Javascript or Google Earth databases from scratch AND deploying those for a digital history project seemed unrealistic....



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