Digital Humanities Course

Course Description and Objectives

The course will introduce Digital Humanities (DH) concepts, and then we will use case studies from Early American History to examine their application. We will start with an introduction to the field of digital humanities and data in a historical/humanities context. In these initial weeks, I want us to develop a working knowledge of the theory behind DH, which requires a combination of humanistic and computational thinking. We will then move into more specific aspects of DH, such as data visualization, geospatial analysis, text mining, etc. The theory pieces I have you read will be drawn from interdisciplinary settings, and sometimes outside of Early America. Our goals are as follows:

  • Gain a core knowledge of key human-computing terms and concepts.
  • Develop an understanding of DH historiography.
  • Introduce learners to some key tools.
  • Help learners understand how to acquire further DH knowledge.
  • Begin applying DH methodologies to research.

The tutorials will provide a gentle introduction to each of the tools introduced in this course, but you are not expected to master all of them. Rather, I encourage you to try out the introductions, and then pick one or two to pursue further for your research paper. As with any field, Digital Humanists typically specialize in a few tools. 


Claiming Your Identity (20%): Each student will start to build a professional website. Please purchase a 2 GB personal account from Reclaim Hosting ($30). I recommend choosing a domain name that is clearly identifiable as you. We will build the websites in stages over the course of the semester. See the course schedule and topics for deadlines.

COVID-19 (15%): This semester, we are partnering with the COVID-19 Archive of Greater Boston to help them process digital objects for inclusion into the archive (an Omeka repository). Further details will be posted in the course website.

Tools (15%): Over the course of the semester, there are a few points in which you will be asked to complete a hands-on “make” using a DH tool. All students should do the OpenRefine tutorial, but then you should pick at least two more. Students may work in pairs for the tools other than OpenRefine if they wish. See the course schedule and topics for the schedule of tools. 

Historiography Essay (10%): Pick an area of DH to “specialize” in, and write a short historiographical essay discussing that methodology. Your focus might be data visualization, spatial humanities, digital pedagogy, digital archives, textual analysis, or something else. Students should check in with me before choosing their topics. Papers should be 4-5 pages in length, double-spaced with a standard 12 pt. Font with margins that are no larger than 1 inch. Please use proper citation.

Seminar Paper (40% total): You will write a 15-20 page, double-spaced seminar paper using digital humanities methods. The methodology is open. Each of you should plan to meet with me virtually before you submit your course proposal. Please use a standard 12 pt font, with margins no larger than 1 inch. The paper assignment is structured as follows (see the course schedule for due dates):

Proposal (5%): a write up of about one page with your topic and proposed tool or tools.

Bibliography (10%): A bibliography of your primary sources, secondary sources, and any data sets you intend to use.

Rough Draft (10%): The rough draft should be at least 10-15 pages in length.

Final Draft (15%): The final draft should be 15-20 pages in length, and demonstrate thoughtful incorporation of the feedback you received at the rough draft stage.


Books are available through the bookstore as well as electronically through the library reserves. There may be limits to the number of users who can access the library’s e-books at one time, so please plan ahead if you intend to use library copies. These readings will be enhanced with essays, chapters, and DH projects posted on Moodle.

Sharon Block, Colonial Complexion
Anne Burdick, et al, Digital_Humanities
Elizabeth Fenn, Pox Americana
Shawn Graham, et al, Exploring Big Historical Data
Jen Manion, Liberty’s Prisoners
Katherine McKittrick, Demonic Ground
Risam and Josephs, The Digital Black Atlantic

Course Schedule and Topics

Weeks run Monday-Sunday. ALL assignments (reading, etc) are due by 11 pm your time on the Sunday at the end of the week in which they are assigned unless otherwise indicated. The online meetings will run from 6-8 EST on Tuesday evenings.  Please *also* participate in the asynchronous discussions.

Live sessions will mostly focus on demos and discussion of readings and the case studies listed on Moodle. Tutorials are also posted so that students who miss class or who need to see the demonstration again can rewatch them.

Part I: Surveying and Understanding the Field

Week 1: 2-7 Feb: What is DH?: Theory and Practice 

Reading: Schreibman, The History of Humanities Computing;” Burdick, et al, Digital_Humanities, Ch. 1-3; Sharon Block, “#DigEarlyAm: Reflections on the Digital Humanities and Early American Studies,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 76:4 (Oct 2019); Adeline Koh, “Niceness, Building, and Opening the Genealogy of the Digital Humanities.”

Assignment: Sign up for your Reclaim Account and install a WordPress theme.

Week 2: 8-14 Feb: Data for Humanists.

Reading: Ravenscroft and Allen, Finding and Interpreting Arguments, Digital Humanities Quarterly; Graham, et al, Exploring Big Historical Data, Chs 1 & 2; Freistat, “Data First,” Debates in DH (2019); Wheelan, Naked Statistics, Ch. 7; Structured Vs. Unstructured Data

Tools: OpenRefine (this is a free web-based tool. Please install).

Assignment: Add a menu (see my tutorial). Create an “About” page with a short professional biography of yourself. Add a second page with your CV/resume. Follow my OpenRefine tutorial and take a screenshot of your data wrangling.

Week 3: 15-21 Feb: Algorithms, Databases, and Metadata

Reading: Renear, “Text Encoding,” in Schreibman, ed; Block, “Erasure, Misrepresentation and Confusion: Investigating JSTOR Topics on Women’s and Race Histories,” Digital Humanities Quarterly; Spiro, Introduction to TEI

Tools: Oxygen (Free 30-day trial)

Assignments: Paper Proposal Due in the Dropbox by 11 pm on 21 Feb; Using your Oxygen trial with the TEI schema (see the tutorial on Moodle for how to import it), pick a paragraph from one of your readings (any reading!) and try encoding it. Take a screenshot of your TEI encoding

Part II: Textual Methodologies and Visual Representation

Week 4: 22-28 Feb: Text Mining and Analysis

Reading: Burrow, “Textual Analysis,” in Schreibman, ed.; Graham, et al, Exploring Big Data, Chs. 3 & 4; Shu, Ch. 11

Assignment: Bibliography Due; Add a “portfolio” section. Post the screenshots of your Open Refine and/or TEI with suitable captions.

Week 5: 1- 7 Mar: Textual Analysis in the Wild

Reading: Sharon Block, Colonial Complexion (entire)
Tools: Voyant; DataBasic

Week 6: 8-14 Mar: Data Visualization

Reading: Shu, Ch. 4; Knaflic, Storytelling With Data, Ch.7; Graham, et al, Exploring Big Data, Ch. 5

Tool: Tableau

Assignment: Create a basic visualization in Tableau using one of the MEADS datasets supplied in Moodle. Take a screenshot of your visualization and post it on your portfolio page with a suitable caption. Your bibliography (in Chicago) is also due.

Part III: Spatial Humanities

Week 7: 15-21 Mar: Human Geographies

Reading: Metcalf, Chs. 2 & 3; McKittrick, Common Ground (entire)

Week 8: 22-28 Mar: Spatial Theories

Reading: Wilson, New Lines, Ch. 2; Barnes and Porter, Spatial Histories of Radical Geographies, Ch. 1; Porter, “The Importance of Openness…;” Richmond and Tanner, “Using JavaScript to Create Maps of Correspondence,” Colson, “Geocoding Historical Data,” Clifford, et al, “Intro to Google Maps and Google Earth

Optional Reading: Clifford, et al, “Installing QGIS 2.0 and Adding Layers” and “Georeferencing in QGIS” (This or the Richmond/Tanner may be enjoyable for students who are comfortable with programming and/or more advanced with technology.)

Tools: Create a map using Tableau, Google Maps/Earth, or work through the Richmond and Tanner or Clifford tutorials. If you are using this as one of your tools demos, create a screenshot of your work for your Digital Portfolio page and add a caption. Due by Sunday next week at 11 pm.

Week 9: 29 Mar-4 Apr: Spatial Histories

Reading: Fenn, Pox Americana; Slayton, “Modeling Amerindian Sea Travel in the Early Colonial Caribbean,” Digital Humanities Quarterly

Assignment: Draw a basic map with Tableau, or complete the Richmond/Tavenner tutorial. Take a screenshot of your results and post it on your portfolio page with a suitable caption.

Part III: Black DH

Week 10: 5-11 Apr: The Contours of Black DH

Reading: Gallon, “Making the Case for Black DH,” Debates in DH (2016); Johnson, “Mark-Up Bodies,” Social Text; Johnson and Neal, “Wild Seed in the Machine,” The Black Scholar, Caitlin Pollack and Jessica Lu, “Hacking TEI for Black DH”

Week 11: 12-18 Apr: The Black Atlantic

Reading: Risam and Josephs, eds, The Digital Black Atlantic (entire)
Assignment: Rough Draft is due

Week 12: 19-25 Apr: 3D, VR, and Gamification

Reading: Lugmayr & Teras, Immersive Interactive Technologies; Kateros, et al, “A Comparison of Gamified, Immersive VR Curation Methods for Enhanced Presence and Human-Computer Interaction in Digital Humanities; Hendery, XR in DH; Craig, VR and AR: Transforming Learning and Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences; Jagoda, “Gaming the Digital Humanities;” Zabin, The Boston Massacre, Chs. 7 & 8

Listen: Please listen to this “Thinking 3D” talk.
Tools: SketchUp (Sign up for a free web account)

Week 13: 26 Apr-2 May: Archives and Databases

Reading: Manion, Liberty’s Prisoners; Piper, et al, “The Page Image;” Blaney, “The Intro to Linked Open Data.”

Tools: Airtable. Use one of the datasets provided to create a basic table. Post a screenshot of your results with a suitable caption on your portfolio page. Due by 11 pm on 2 May. I will also show you demos of Transkribus and Read&Search, two AI-powered tools for digital archives.

Part V Infrastructure and Administrivia 

Week 14: 3-9 May: Grant Writing

Reading: Spiro, Tips on Writing a Successful DH Grant; and please review the two grant applications on Moodle.

Guest Speaker: Elena Glatman, Director of the Simmons University Office of Sponsored Research (6-6:45 pm, EST via Zoom).

Week 15: 10-16 May: Project Management for DH

Reading: Reed, “Managing an Established Digital Humanities Project,” Digital Humanities Quarterly; Schriebman and Hanlon, “Determining Value for Digital Humanities Tools,” Digital Humanities Quarterly; Burris and Rowell, Project Management for Digital Projects Beyond the Library

Assignment: Final Draft, due in the drop box on 16 May by 11 pm EST.

Week 16: 17 & 18 May: Digital Humanities as Collaborative Practice: Positives and Pitfalls

Reading: Broadwell, et al, “Ticha,” Digital Humanities Quarterly; Terras, “Crowdsourcing in the Digital Humanities,” in Schreiber et al; Opel and Simon, “The Invisible World of the Digital Humanities Lab,” Digital Humanities Quarterly; Huet, et al, “Manifesto,” Digital Humanities Quarterly

Assignment: The COVID-19 Archive contributions are due by 11 pm on 18 May.

Class Expectations:

Attendance: Students should make every effort to be regularly engaged in the online course week-to-week. Although much of the course is asynchronous, it will ordinarily not be possible to revert to past weeks to make up new ground. Exceptions will be made for students with accommodation letters from Accessibility Services, and may be extended to students who are dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Students who find themselves facing extenuating circumstances should contact me as early as possible, as I may be less able to help if you disappear from class for an extended period.

Medical or Family Emergencies: Students who face medical or family emergencies during the term should contact the Office of Student Affairs, who will then notify your professors ( For your own privacy, please do not send me medical documentation. If you’re facing food insecurity or other obstacles to your success, Student Affairs also runs campus support services.

Academic Integrity: You are expected to do your own thinking, write your own words, and create your own arguments. If you use someone else’s words, ideas, or arguments, you must always make that clear in your paper using footnotes, citations, or references. Please ask if you have questions about citation. Cases of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Simmons Honor Board. To learn more, information is available at:

Checking Email: You should get in the habit of checking your Simmons email regularly, and ensuring that your Moodle profile is linked to an email account you use. I sent announcements, assignments, and other course materials via email. Students are responsible for knowing the contents of those emails. Please note that due to federal privacy laws and institutional policies, I cannot discuss grades over email. If you have questions about assignments, you should contact me to arrange an appointment. I am also unable to discuss the either course content, or an individual student’s progress with anyone but the student.

Moodle Course Site: Please make sure that you visit the course site regularly, to check for announcements, and also to access readings.

Late Assignment Policy: Students are responsible for making sure they understand all expectations and keep track of deadlines. If you run into problems, please email me to make other arrangements. Please note: I will be more flexible, given the pandemic, but may be less able to accept tardy work towards the end of the semester. It may also limit my ability to provide feedback.

Incompletes: Incompletes are awarded only for extenuating circumstances that are beyond the student’s control, and generally limited to students who are in good standing and who have completed most of their course work. Students who think they may need an incomplete should reach out to me to discuss the procedure.

Classroom Citizenship: The classroom is a professional environment. Uncivil conduct towards other students or the professor is a violation of the student code of conduct and will not be tolerated. “Incivility” includes the use of racial, ethnic, trans/homophobic, or ableist slurs, derogatory comments about classmates, or other disrespectful conduct. Students also may not take and share screenshots of discussions, repost any content (including course materials), or record class contents without prior permission. 

Technology: All students should be mindful that technology is not infallible. It is wise to save a second copy of your paper somewhere you can access it if your computer fails. I also recommend that you save copies of your own posts.  Students are permitted to join our weekly Zoom discussions audio-only. Please mute yourself when not talking. For privacy reasons, only students who are enrolled in the course may participate in live Zoom sessions. No guests. Screenshoting and sharing course content (including discussion posts) without permission of the author is strictly prohibited.

Communication: Email is the fastest way to reach me. I respond to all messages within 24 hours of receipt, Monday through Friday. I check email occasionally on weekends, but may not respond quite as quickly. Please allow sufficient time for me to respond before emailing again. Please use a clear subject heading, and note which class you are in in your correspondence.

Office Hours: I strongly encourage students who want to speak to me during office hours to email me to set up an appointment. I typically have my email open during office hours. This will reduce the need for students to sit in a waiting room if I am with another student. If you are unable to make my office hours, please email me to find a mutually convenient time. Please let me know which class you are emailing about, and give me 3-4 times where you are available when you contact me.

Grades: Most assignments will be graded within two weeks. As a general rule, grades are only changed in the event of a mathematical error. When graded assignments are returned, please take the time to read your feedback before coming to me with questions or concerns about grades. If you still have concerns about your grade after reading your feedback, please write me a memo, which includes a paragraph-length response that directly addresses each of your concerns raised by your feedback, using the assignment guidelines, and explaining why it merits a re-grade. I will take your concerns seriously, but there are no guarantees that your grade will be changed, and all decisions are final. Please note: I can only assign grades based on the quality of the final product, and cannot take effort, life circumstances or other factors into consideration. If you are unclear on the expectations for an assignment, it is your responsibility to ask for clarification in advance of the assignment’s deadline. You should bring any concerns about your grade to my attention within a week of receiving the graded paper back. Queries made thereafter will not be entertained.