2021 HIST 696 – Clio Wired

Dr. Jessica Otis
Class Location & Time:  W 7:20-10pm, Innovation 336 and Zoom
Office Hours: Whenever/wherever, just send me an email or Slack message and we’ll figure out a time/place

Note on COVID-19:

As your instructor, my first responsibility is to provide you a safe environment in which to learn. If you experience pandemic-related (or other) disruptions to your ability to participate in this course, please also discuss them with me regardless of what point in the semester they arise. As the last 18 months have shown, we are in an ever-evolving crisis and I do not assume your situation in August will be the same as your situation in October or December.

Course Description:

Digital history encompasses a wide variety of computationally-assisted historical scholarship methods, tools, and publications. As with the larger digital humanities community of practice, it is often–but not always–associated with an ethos of collaborative, iterative, open, and/or public-facing scholarship. This course will introduce the rapidly evolving field of digital history with the goal of enabling students to incorporate digital history into both their current research agendas and their future teaching experiences. Students will learn how to use and critique digital methods; assess and employ digital tools; evaluate the merits and pitfalls of digitally publishing various forms of scholarship; and generally navigate this digital research environment.

Honor Code:

By putting your name on your assignments, you are acknowledging the integrity of your work. If you have any questions about academic integrity, please either consult with me or go to https://oai.gmu.edu/mason-honor-code/


If you have learning needs and have been evaluated or are in the process of being evaluated by Mason’s Disability Services (http://ds.gmu.edu), please let me know so that I may make certain you are receiving the support you need.

Should you require other accommodations during the semester, particularly if it involves obtaining access to the necessary technology to perform your coursework, please contact me as soon as you are aware of the issue.


Students must use their MasonLive email account to receive important University information, including communications related to this class. Please also use this email address to sign up for the class Slack and Basecamp instances.

Privacy and Safety:

Because many of this course’s activities will require you to have an internet presence, please contact me immediately if you have privacy concerns or experience online harassment doing class activities during the course of this semester. Aliases may be an appropriate solution and/or alternative activities may be substituted for required course activities, as necessary. While I believe that your education will benefit from your participation in the online digital history community, your privacy and security is a higher priority than any particular course activity.


My goal is to create a supportive learning environment for students with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences. As such, I fully support the Mason Diversity Statement.

Mandatory Reporting:

As a faculty member, I am designated as a “Responsible Employee,” and must report all disclosures of sexual assault, interpersonal violence, and stalking to Mason’s Title IX Coordinator per University Policy. If you wish to speak with someone confidentially, please contact one of Mason’s confidential resources, such as Student Support and Advocacy Center (SSAC) at 703-993-3686 or Counseling and Psychology Services (CAPS) at 703-993-2380. The 24-hour Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Crisis Line for Mason is 703-380-1434.

You may also seek assistance from Mason’s Title IX Coordinator by calling 703-993-8730 or email titleix@gmu.edu.

Required Course Materials/Expenses:

  • Reclaim Hosting (https://reclaimhosting.com/shared-hosting/) personal website plan ($45)
  • Laptop Computer that runs full version of Mac, Windows, or Linux operating system
    • NOTE1: Devices such as ChromeBooks (running ChromeOS), iPads (running iOS), or Microsoft Surface Go (running the “S Mode” of Windows) will not allow you to install the software we will be using in this course. While you can break devices out of “S Mode”into the full version of Windows, you cannot reverse this and return to “S Mode” after the course ends.
    • NOTE2: if you don’t have and can’t obtain access to a laptop, please contact me ASAP and we’ll find a path forward for you.

Optional Course Materials/Expenses:

  • Ian Milligan, History in the Age of Abundance?: How the Web is Transforming Historical Research (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019)
  • Safiya Umoja Noble, Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism (NYU Press, 2018)
  • Trevor Owens, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018)
  • Claire Battershill and Shawna Ross, Using Digital Humanities in the Classroom: A Practical Introduction for Teachers, Lecturers, and Students (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017)

Requirements and Grading:

This course will use a contract grading system. Instead of me assigning you a grade of A, A-, B+, etc. on assignments, you will commit to completing a certain number of assignments at a level I consider satisfactory for graduate work. Just as with professional academics submitting their work to a journal for publication, I may accept your assignment on first submission or I might ask you to “revise and resubmit” until the results are satisfactory.

In the first 2 weeks of the class, you will email me with your desired grade for the semester and your commitment to fulfilling the requirements to receive that grade. If you do not submit a contract I will assume you are contracting for a B.

You may participate EITHER VIRTUALLY OR IN PERSON, regardless of which course section you have signed up for. If you have any symptoms of illness or believe you have been exposed to a contagious disease (COVID, flu, etc.), please participate virtually that week. Per current GMU policy and CDC recommendations, all students must wear a mask that fully covers their mouth and nose (and does not contain an exhalation valve). Course participation will occur primarily through class discussions, the course instance of Slack, and commenting on each others’ blog posts (see below).

Students will write weekly blog posts (ca. 500-1000 words) reflecting on the previous week’s readings, discussion, and technical assignments. These will be due every Sunday night. Students will then have until Tuesday night to comment on other students’ blog posts.

Modules are listed in the course schedule and marked as required or optional. A module corresponds to ~1 week of work.

Course projects will be done in small teams. You will have access to the course Basecamp instance to help with your project management (scheduling meetings, tracking to-dos, document sharing, check-ins, etc.) and I may be able to supply Basecamp integrations with other software (e.g. GitHub) on request.

Course projects have 5 elements that are due throughout the semester; the first 4 are group work, the project reflection paper will be your individual thoughts on your experiences during the project.

1. Project Environmental Survey – due 9/29

2. Project Work Plan – due 10/13

3. Project Presentation – due 11/17

4. Final Project – due 12/1

5. Project Reflection Paper – due 12/8

Your final projects will be assessed on a combination of effort, process, and self-reflective writing. In other words: don’t be afraid of breaking things and failing to accomplish a specific technical task as long as you work hard, can explain what you’ve done, and learn something new along the way. See, for example, Quinn Dombrowski, “Whatever Happened to Project Bamboo?” or Shawn Graham, Failing Gloriously and Other Essays.

Technical Assistance:

In addition to consulting with me during office hours, students can receive technical assistance at the Digital Scholarship Center (https://dsc.gmu.edu/) in the University Libraries.

Tutorials can also be found on the Programming Historian at http://programminghistorian.org