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Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Brett D. Hirsch

I. Practices

3. Teaching Digital Skills in an Archives and Public History Curriculum

Peter J. Wosh, Cathy Moran Hajo et Esther Katz

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  • 1 A growing body of archival literature, evident in such traditional professional journals as The Am (...)

1Digital technology has fundamentally altered the archival, public history and editing landscapes. New media have, in many ways, promoted a convergence of these various fields. Archivists, public historians and historical editors all face increasing demands to make analog resources available online, to manage and preserve born-digital materials and to incorporate social networking technologies into their products. Professionals within these fields also necessarily need to integrate new media and advanced technology into their daily work. Archivists, editors and public historians increasingly find themselves educating students and researchers remotely through their web sites, as well as helping to develop online curricular materials for use in secondary school and undergraduate classrooms. Each profession has struggled—too often independently and in isolation—with the need to provide better metadata and explanatory materials so that their users can access and understand digital collections. All three professions are confronting the challenges of mastering new media, working collaboratively and effectively with information technology staff without allowing such services to drive their programs, and ensuring the long-term preservation of born-digital materials.1

2Preparing students for careers in archives, public history and historical editing has also become far more challenging. For generations, archivists learned to process and describe collections, public historians to create museum exhibits and film documentaries, historical editors to transcribe, annotate and publish primary source materials in print format. The products created by these scholars and professionals were aimed at a small and well-defined audience—the researchers consulting an archival collection, visiting a museum or scouring a print edition of documents. But as archives, museums and editing projects venture onto the World Wide Web, the tools of their trade are becoming more diverse, more challenging, and rapidly changing. Their audiences, previously a relatively known quantity, have expanded to the billions around the globe who have internet access. Preparing students to participate and thrive in a technologically complex and competitive world, as their products vie for attention alongside with those of enthusiastic, but untrained, amateurs has become a major challenge for educators as more and more cultural heritage and memory institutions seek to make their analog material available online.

  • 2 “Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies,” Society of American Archivists (approved (...)
  • 3 Joseph M. Turrini, “The Historical Profession and Archival Education,” AHA Perspectives 45, no. 5 (...)
  • 4 For example, see Philip M. Katz, Retrieving the Master’s Degree from the Dustbin of History (repor (...)

3Professional associations, grant agencies and employers recognize the need for greater emphasis on digital skills in professional education. The Society of American Archivists has, since 2002, required that “Digital Records and Access Systems” be a core contextual element of archival training, specifically noting that archival educators need to “include information on the development of new media formats and document genres, and changing information technologies for the creation, maintenance, and use of records and papers.”2 A 2007 survey of history-based archival education programs, however, found that most failed to adjust to these changing professional expectations.3 In public history education, programs lag behind their information science colleagues when it comes to integrating digital technology with scholarship. A few exceptions, notably George Mason University and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, prove that it is possible to integrate new media, history, and technology, but the difference between these two leading edge programs and the typical history department is stark. Recent curricular surveys of the public history field contain virtually no discussion of technology or digital issues, despite the fact that such studies also document the fact that employers expect program graduates to possess precisely the blend of technological, collaborative, and administrative skills that immersion in digital history might provide.4

4But students need more than a basic grounding in digital tools. They must still master their core professional skill sets: historiographical content, museological approaches and information theory. They also require practical immersion in such tasks as processing archival collections, curating museum exhibitions, and transcribing and annotating historical documents. They further need to engage with historical research and master some content area. In most graduate programs, this must be accomplished within the temporal constraints of a two-year masters program. If programs fail to provide real-world job skills, graduates will continue to face gloomy employment prospects. As educators need to carefully balance theoretical, practical and digital skills in their programs, program managers struggle with complex issues in trying to redesign curricula and keep programs current: Which skills do students really need? Should mastering a minimum set of digital skills constitute a graduation requirement? Should programs incorporate specific software programs and tools into their curriculum or should they focus primarily on underlying concepts? Should purely technical skills, such as learning HTML or programming be incorporated into history degrees? This chapter details the New York University archives and public history program’s experiences in reconfiguring a long-standing program and integrating digital skills throughout its curriculum.

New York University’s Archives and Public History Program

  • 5 For more on the history of the programs, see Peter J. Wosh, “Research and Reality Checks: Change a (...)

5New York University’s History Department has offered programs in archival management and in public history since 1977 and 1981 respectively. Both programs emerged from the movements to professionalize archival training and advance the public history movement in the late 1970s, and each functioned as a highly successful advanced certificate program attached to the general MA degree within the Department of History. They shared faculty and curricula, and satisfied a common mission of providing students with a theoretically and methodologically sophisticated approach to the practice of history in such venues as historical societies, history museums, documentary film, historical editing projects, educational agencies, corporate and non-profit institutions and the public sector. Both programs were designed to prepare students for diverse careers, both in and outside of the academy. In 2007, the two programs were merged to create the archives and public history (APH) program, which offers a MA in Archives and Public History and allows students to concentrate on either discipline.5 Included in its offerings is historical editing, taking advantage of the fact that New York University’s History Department currently hosts two editing projects, the Jacob Leisler​leisler.​projects/​sanger

  • 6 For example, see John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of (...)
  • 7 For more on the workshops, see “Digital Skills Workshops,” Archives and Public History Digital, ht (...)

6In 2008, the APH recognized the need to systematically review the curriculum. One significant gap in the course offerings involved digital skills. Program director Peter Wosh secured a grant from the Professional Development Grants Program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to address this situation. The grant allowed the APH Program to hire a curriculum specialist who would consult with faculty and students, restructure the APH, integrate digital skills into existing courses, and develop new courses to meet student needs. Amanda French, with a PhD in English from the University of Virginia and demonstrated experience in digital humanities, was hired to fill the position. French focused first on constructing a definition of “digital competency” and obtaining a sense of current students’ skills and interests. Much popular literature claims that the new generation of “digital natives” possesses superior technological skills to their “digital immigrant” predecessors, but French’s survey of APH students reflected a different reality.6 Few appeared conversant with digitization methods and standards. Most proved unable to define so fundamental a term as metadata. Some had experimented with basic social networking tools, though even this was far from widespread. French established a series of six extra-curricular workshops, entitled “Digital Skills for Historians,” that were intended to improve student skills. These included sessions concerning bibliographic research software, the use of HTML and CSS for web publishing, blogging with WordPress (, using social networking tools, building an online archive/exhibit with Omeka (​) and keeping up with technological trends.7 The workshop series, which included students and faculty participants, provided a basic grounding in some of the digital skills that we hoped to integrate into coursework.

7While workshops provided a short-term solution for students already enrolled in the program, more systemic changes were necessary. The APH faculty worked with French to develop a wish list of competencies and skills we hoped our students could master upon graduation. A close examination of syllabi and assignments revealed instructional gaps and overlap, as well as opportunities for incorporating new content into the program. Critical competencies were integrated into the program’s required courses, while more specialized skills were included in the elective courses. This exercise allowed us to view the entire curriculum holistically, and to ensure that individual courses did not exist as isolated silos.

Curriculum Revisions

8The primary impetus for course reform was the need to incorporate digital technology across the entire curriculum. However, APH instructors, aside from Wosh, are adjunct professors, making collaboration with one another and discussion of the content and goals of their courses more difficult. Wosh reviewed all syllabi with French and worked with individual instructors to revise and develop new units with the goal of developing an integrated and coherent approach to digital and electronic issues. A course on Preservation and Reformatting, for example, not only needed to address the issues surrounding manuscripts and photographs, but also emphasized the use of digital technology as a preservation tool, the problems inherent with born-digital materials, the need for migration and maintenance, and sustainability issues. A course on The Historian and the Visual Record integrated the impact of digital technology in all its learning objectives. To be effective, this kind of programmatic approach requires continuous revision as software, tools, and best practices change. But restructuring had to begin with the program’s core courses.

Introductory/Required Courses

9The APH offers a structured program with several required courses that form a solid base of both professional and digital competencies. Introduction to Archives and Introduction to Public History survey theoretical and methodological trends within each profession. Both courses have now been restructured to incorporate more content relating to digitization and new media. Students in the Introduction to Archives class, for example, are required to study and report on such projects as the In ternet Archive (, the Archives of American Art ( at the Smithsonian Institution’s approach to digital collections, the Library of Congress’s National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program ( and the Digital Lives Research Project in the United Kingdom ( They also receive exposure to such content management systems as the Archivists Toolkit ( and Archon (, study contemporary data structure and data content standards, consider remote reference and the use of social media in reconfiguring finding aids and gain some understanding of the ways in which archivists address born digital documentation. Students who enroll in the Introduction to Public History course systematically analyze and critique such projects as the September 11 Digital Archive ( ( They also learn about the ways in which historians have attempted to connect with local audiences through such collaborative ventures as the Historical Society of Philadelphia’s Memory Network (​). Finally, they explore historians’ efforts to create online educational tools using primary sources for secondary schools and college courses.

  • 8 In the 2009 offering, students created Omeka archives and exhibits on self-selected topics and blo (...)
  • 9 For some of the student’s Omeka installations, see Samantha Gibson, “Double Consciousness in the E (...)
  • 10 Students did have the option to work on independent projects if special circumstances permitted.

10Introductory courses, however, can only begin to suggest the transformative impact of digital technologies on historical practice. They also tend to rely more on describing and critiquing projects than examining the challenges inherent in creating digital projects. It therefore seemed necessary to supplement these introductions with an additional course devoted solely to digital practice. We created a new required course, Creating Digital History (​courses/​creating-digital-history/​.), which provides students with a basic grounding in the technological skills needed to conduct historical research and present the results of that research online. It addresses topics such as intellectual property, metadata, digitization and online exhibit curation. Wikis, collection and exhibit management software, maps and geolocation, timelines, and blogs have been incorporated into the class.8 Creating Digital History has been taught twice now, in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 the course was team-taught by French and Wosh, and students created individual digital archives and exhibits based on their research interests.9 Though this worked well for some students, it proved a frustrating exercise for others. Some encountered a scarcity of sources, others found it impossible to negotiate complex intellectual property issues in a single semester, and many of the projects failed to take full advantage of the collaborative possibilities involving public history and digital humanities work. In 2009, students purchased their own server space to house their work, but after completing the course many did not maintain these sites. In 2010 the course was taught by Cathy Moran Hajo, who decided to focus the class work on a single unifying theme, that of Greenwich Village history.10 Instead of building fifteen or twenty individual archives, the class produced one digital archive of almost 500 items and sixteen exhibits, the Greenwich Village History Digital Archive (​GVH/​), mounted on the APH server. Future classes will contribute to this archive, which will allow discussions of issues arising from maintaining a collaborative archive, insuring quality, and consistent metadata. Hajo met with and established working relationships with archivists at repositories and with local history groups, such as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the New York Public Library Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, the Tamiment Library, the Fales Rare Book Library, and the New York University Archives. Repositories allowed students to digitize appropriate material from their collections without charge, which eliminated many of the practical difficulties in obtaining digital objects to include in the archive.

11Another new required course, Approaches to Public History (, was created for students in the Public History concentration. Building on the Introduction to Public History course, it focuses on the methodologies that public historians use in order to communicate and to collaborate with various publics. It includes segments on educational programming, oral history, documentary film and video production, and digital history. Each of these methodologies has been transformed profoundly by digital technology and introducing these topics into the course work has enriched the student experience. Ellen Noonan, who currently teaches the class, has extensive experience with the American Social History Project ( and has worked on collaborative projects with the Center for History and New Media. She has incorporated several digital history units into the class and also explores such topics as electronic gaming, the Bracero Digital Archive (​) and new methods for digitizing and indexing oral history online.

12Advanced Archival Description (​courses/​advanced-archival-description/​), taught by Thomas Frusciano, a required course for students in the archives concentration, was reconfigured to emphasize online representations of archival materials. It now stresses metadata standards for digital objects, the rise of content management systems, institutional repositories, and the use of Web 2.0 techniques to create more collaborative interactive environments between archives and users.

Elective Courses

13By working additional digital competencies into the elective courses that make up the APH program, each student can personalize the curriculum, choosing the aspects of digital technologies that best meet their individual learning objectives. This requires considerable coordination between the APH faculty members, which can prove challenging when adjuncts comprise a significant portion of the instructors. One essential step has been to require prerequisites for many of the advanced electives, which guarantees that students have a baseline of digital skills and competencies.

14The Historical Editing seminar (, taught by Esther Katz, Director of the Margaret Sanger Papers Project, is an elective suitable for either concentration. The course now focuses largely on mastering the standards and techniques necessary to create online document archives and editions. By examining various online editions—including the Rotunda Projects (, Martha Ballard’s Diary Online (, and the Einstein Archives Online (, students are introduced to the new options available for selection, transcription and annotation, which are made possible by the fluidity and elasticity of digitization. Using XML authoring software (Oxygen) the course emphasizes manuscript encoding using the guidelines laid out by the Text Encoding Initiative (, as well as using online collaboration tools (Google documents and wiki software) for transcription, research, writing and presenting manuscript materials on the web. Other software options such as A-Annotate (​) have also been introduced. Katz provides students with collections of manuscript material from the Sanger archive from which to prepare a mini digital edition. Students work in small groups to learn how to work collaboratively, assigning and dividing the tasks of transcribing, proofreading, annotating and tagging documents. They consult resources available in the Sanger Project offices, and make collective decisions on the structure and presentation of their online documents.

15The Historian and the Visual Record class (​courses/​the-historian-and-the-visual-record/​), an elective for either concentration, has been redesigned to include segments involving digital photography and representation, as well as contemporary theories involving new media and visualization. Students learn how to manipulate, curate, and describe complex digital objects, as well as master the techniques necessary for scanning, sharing and delivering access to digital materials.

16History in the New Media (​courses/​historyin-the-new-media/​), also taught by Hajo, is an elective follow-up to Creating Digital History that emphasizes designing and administering digital projects rather than creating them in class. Students design a digital project by selecting a set of historic documents, preparing a digitization plan, creating a project management blueprint and workflow and identifying staff and equipment needs. They plan a website that can include in addition to digitized documents, social networking technologies, added value and other appropriate tools. Their final product consists of a grant proposal, closely following the guidelines promulgated by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) or the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Both the instructor and students use wiki software to draft and comment on student work.

17Introduction to Preservation and Reformatting (​courses/​introduction-to-preservation-and-reformatting/​), taught Paula DeStefano, is an elective for the archives concentration that provides an overview of principles and practices of archives preservation. In this course, students examine the physical composition of archival materials in all formats, including digital ones, and learn about the causal agents that contribute to archival deterioration, the application of appropriate preservation and conservation methods, and various reformatting and re-housing techniques, including digitization.

18Institutional Archives and Electronic Records (For more information, see, taught by Robert Sink, is an elective for the archives concentration. The changes made in this course include a greater emphasis on born digital content rather than a focus on paper-based resources. Students examine case studies adapted from real world situations. Making this shift to electronic records was difficult because of the lack of available online digital materials for students to examine. A potential solution to this issue may lie in a new Digital Archives and Curriculum Laboratory that is being developed by Simmons College under the auspices of NHPRC and IMLS funding (​dcl/​lab). The laboratory will be an organized, open, non-proprietary space that provides integrated access to digital content, content management tools, standards, curriculum-based scenarios, and a workspace for learning modules that can be incorporated into classroom situations. The APH program will serve as a test site for the laboratory, and this free and web accessible resource has the potential to transform electronic records education. Our students will gain hands-on experience with archival processes and situations in virtual environments through a virtual sandbox in which to manipulate electronic records, experiment with metadata standards, and solve real-world electronic records problems.

19In addition to such external partnerships, we have also collaborated with other NYU departments to enhance our elective offerings in the digital area. Courses now open to our students and approved as electives within the program include Museums and Interactive Technologies, Educational Design for Media Environments, Orality in the Electronic Age, Handling Complex Media and Digital Preservation and Restoration (​courses/​outside-courses/​). We also have undertaken more multidisciplinary programming and joint course development with NYU’s Museum Studies Program, the Department of Teaching and Learning and the Moving Image Archiving Program—and have created opportunities for students in various related programs to interact and share research interests.

Internships and Capstone Projects

20The APH program emphasizes both theory and practice, and these program elements typically meet in an internship, usually completed during the student’s second semester. Our new technological emphasis meant that we needed to expand our network to develop internships that offered experience working on digital projects. These types of hands-on internships benefit the students greatly, but also serve to introduce some local institutions to best practices and academic trends in the field, providing an excellent synergy between academic training and local institutions and organizations.

21We found that locating ongoing digital initiatives and existing projects to host interns proved more time-consuming than we had expected. There is no major digital humanities center in the New York City area, and many digital projects are scattered within individual university or library departments. They tend to employ very few students. The APH built a database of potential digital internships to provide students with a reasonably varied set of opportunities. However, this database needs to be constantly refreshed as projects are completed and new ones started, and the program director needs to be entrepreneurial in seeking out hosts and remaining in close contact with local projects. Because digital initiatives are often short-term, their needs change from year to year, far more so than do the offerings at traditional internship sponsors. We established positive working relationships with local institutions hosting long-term projects—for example, the New York Public Library and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (—and have developed close partnerships with NYU’s three repositories and its Bobst Library Digital Team. Without sustained efforts to locate a variety of new hosts for digital internships it will be difficult to match the specific needs of both the digital project and the student. Some successful digital internships have been incorporated into the program. One student worked with the New York Philharmonic Archives ( on its path-breaking project to digitize Leonard Bernstein’s scores and provide online access to its collections for musicologists, historians, and general enthusiasts. Another student interned at the Darwin Manuscripts Project (​), housed at the American Museum of Natural History, where she worked at establishing metadata standards and learned basic Text Encoding Initiative guidelines. A third intern worked on a data cleanup project with the Digital Experience Team at the New York Public Library. Though partnerships have proven more episodic and idiosyncratic than initially anticipated, we anticipate that as more digital work is done in the area and the Program gains a reputation for digital skills, we will be able to offer a broader range of opportunities.

Capstone Projects

  • 11 The site, created by Lindsay Dumas and Elizabeth Banks, was presented at the 2010 National Council (...)

22We also altered the capstone requirement for the program as part of our curriculum revision. Traditionally, we required a written thesis, thirty-five pages in length. We modified the requirements to allow for digital projects, as well as other forms of archives and public history activities, such as exhibition design, oral history projects, online documentary editions, and walking tours. Students have already begun to take advantage of these opportunities, and some have built extremely creative undertakings. An example is a historical blog, First Hundred Days (​projects/​firsthundreddays/​), created by two students around the theme of the first hundred days of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. They invented several historical characters, embedded documents and media from the period into the site, and created lesson plans that secondary school teachers might use to incorporate the site into the classroom.11

23In sum, the capstone project/internship component of the project has thus far worked very well, and we also have developed a good database of additional digital internships. One thing we have realized is that this is an ongoing project and will require regular refreshment. In any given semester there will be particular opportunities (the Leonard Levy-funded digital project at New York Philharmonic is a good example) and the landscape is constantly shifting.

Challenges in Integrating New Technologies

24New York University, like most universities, does not have a dedicated digital humanities center. This means that there is not a central place where all faculty and staff interested in the digital sphere can network. Instead we work in isolated silos, with minimal exposure to those running comparable programs at the university. One interesting side benefit of the curricular project is that we have made a concerted effort to locate kindred souls and similar projects in other humanities departments and in the Information Technology Service at NYU. After the NHPRC grant ended, NYU’s Library began a humanities computing interest group that meets several times a semester to report on work, conferences and tools.

  • 12 In 2005, WordPress announced a hosted version of their software ( In 201 (...)

25Due to security concerns, restrictions were imposed on the software that could be mounted on NYU’s servers, thus hindering our early efforts to introduce technology into the curriculum. In order to install Omeka and WordPress, for example, the APH had to purchase its own commercial server space.12 While there were advantages to running our own server, including the ability to have students work with servers and install and customize programs, as well as the flexibility to mount and test many open-source systems, a key disadvantage was that we could not use NYU’s Information Technology Service to help us resolve problems and troubleshoot technical issues. Someone at the APH, initially French and later Wosh, had to be responsible for server operations such as updating software, adding and removing users and general maintenance.

26In order to teach digital skills in the classroom, we also needed smarter facilities. The APH purchased a computer projector to use for its classes, orientation meetings and presentations. NYU’s wireless network enabled students to follow along on their laptops during class demonstrations, and it was only rarely that we needed to use specialized digital classrooms. With only modest budgetary support for the digital curriculum revision, we found that most of our needs could be met by working with NYU’s Library and Information Services Technology Department.

27We recognize that the new emphasis on technology means that courses need to be constantly and sometimes substantially revised each year. Technology moves rapidly; new issues arise and new solutions appear at a fast pace. Faculty need to continually update their skills by taking courses, attending digital humanities conferences and workshops, and collaborating on new projects using different technologies. Lecturers need to rely far more on articles, blogs and websites than on textbooks, as the rapid pace of change quickly makes books obsolete, their website links broken, and references outdated.

28Our faculty has realized that one of the general difficulties in teaching courses with a greater digital component is the varying levels of digital expertise that students bring to their work. Lecturers can become bogged down in explaining concepts that some students find difficult—while others grow impatient with the basic level of instruction. We have found that building some time in class for demonstrations of software or websites can make this process easier, though the most basic aspects of the course often cause the greatest problems. In Creating Digital History, for example, there were more technical problems with the basics of finding an HTML editor and successfully mounting a bare bones website than with creating a digital exhibit. In the Historical Editing seminar, there was no readily available software that would enable students to mount their mini editions online.

29Selecting appropriate software packages for classroom instruction also required considerable thought. Our goal in choosing particular software programs has been not to teach particular tools, but rather to engage students with the basic principles underlying the use of those packages. For example, it does not matter which software program you use to edit a scanned document—rather, students need to use those programs to focus on the principles of digitization and become familiar with available options. There are many content management systems that could work in classroom settings, but regardless of the one that is chosen, the important goal is to teach metadata standards for digital objects, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of particular systems. In order to teach a class effectively, however, instructors need to settle on software that the entire class will use. The APH consciously selected open-source software that was available free of charge. This type of software, as opposed to commercial programs that might be obtainable through NYU’s site licenses, is something that students could easily continue using after graduation. As many of these packages have achieved widespread popularity within the archives and public history communities, graduates can also bring their knowledge concerning these packages to the smaller institutions that are most likely to implement them. Some of the software solutions we adopted are:

  • Archives Toolkit ( is an open source content management system that provides broad integrated support for archival management. Since NYU participated in the initial development and implementation of the system, and since the NYU archives repositories have implemented it as part of their ongoing workflow, it seems natural to provide students with deep exposure to this tool. Further, the current discussions that involve merging the Archivists Toolkit with Archon suggest that the new product will become a standard package that will receive even more widespread adoption within the profession.
  • Omeka ( an open source content management system, museum collections management and online exhibition system, and archival digital collection system, which was developed by the Center for History and New Media. Omeka enables the creation of large or small digital archives, as well as online exhibits using a number of different optional plugins. The Creating Digital History course uses Omeka to manage the Greenwich Village History site, as well as individual student exhibits. Students also often use Omeka for their capstone and internship projects. Using Omeka is relatively straightforward as long as one uses the handful of themes that can be installed. Program customization, however, requires some knowledge of PHP and CSS, something that few students have when beginning the program. It remains a challenge to introduce students to the capabilities of these scripting and web design languages in the short confines of a weekly class.
  • publishing platform that can be used to design websites, blogs and other web-based content. WordPress is used for the APH’s own website, in the Creating Digital History course for the Researching Greenwich Village History blog, and frequently employed for capstone and internship projects.
  • creation of collaborative websites. The Creating Digital History, Historical Editing, and History and New Media courses use this software.
  • sharing resource that enables students to work collaboratively on texts, spreadsheets, and presentations. The Creating Digital History course used one Google Documents spreadsheet to create a group timeline and another to record copyright permissions for its digital archive. The Digital Editing course uses Google Documents to share transcriptions and annotations.
  • that enables students to create custom maps or walking tours. Students in Creating Digital History used Google Maps to create a themed map of Greenwich Village.

30One of the benefits of using open source software is that there is a thriving community of users who are very responsive and helpful to faculty or students having problems.


31Students and faculty have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the curriculum changes. Over 85% of those surveyed felt that digital competencies were either “very important” or “most important” in determining their career prospects. More that 92% “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” with the revisions, and those with reservations wanted more not less technical training. By surveying students on each course, the APH will continue to revise the courses offered and balance the digital training offered in each course.

32Interestingly, students demanded additional technical training but also worried that there might be an overemphasis on digital material and a shortage of historical content in the curriculum. Students want to make sure that digital techniques do not overwhelm other important aspects of archives and public history education: working creatively with local communities, engaging in sophisticated outreach activities and educational programming, and participating in significant historical debates. Maintaining an appropriate balance within the confines of a 32-credit curriculum is administratively challenging and requires a high level of coordination between the program director and the faculty.

33A survey of our recent graduates confirmed that digital training increasingly constitutes a necessity in the job market. Web design especially emerged as an important skill for recent graduates, and we are exploring ways to expand our offerings by collaborating with NYU’s Tisch School of Arts and Steinhardt School of Education.

34Constant evaluation and adaptation is the only way to keep the APH’s curriculum current and to provide its students with both the job skills and the theoretical and intellectual training that the professions demand. Most importantly, perhaps, we have seen a cultural change in the Program whereby students now expect, and are expected, to foster a deep intellectual and practical engagement with new media. This already has generated new types of capstone projects and research papers within individual courses, and has produced an extraordinary transformation in “tech literacy” among our graduate students.

35The Archives and Public History program’s curriculum was designed to be exportable, though this idea is not without problems. Every archives or public history program lives in its own unique institutional climate, facing particular challenges. Each program depends upon a peculiar ecology that includes institutional support, faculty networks and interests, student expectations and geography. To be sure, the philosophical principles that informed our effort could be adopted by other programs. But program curricula will remain dependent on particular academic contexts and the availability of local resources. So, while these changes have had a beneficial impact on New York University, it will be interesting to see whether other institutions facing the same challenges will make similar decisions.


1 A growing body of archival literature, evident in such traditional professional journals as The American Archivist and Archivaria, as well in such newer e-publications as D-LIB, Wired, and First Monday, addresses these issues and concerns. The recent book by Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), is addressed specifically to historians and offers an excellent overview of the salient issues. See also: Kate Theimer, Web 2.0 Tools and Strategies for Archives and Local History Collections (New York: Neal-Schuman, 2010).

2 “Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies,” Society of American Archivists (approved January 2002 and revised in 2005 and 2011),

3 Joseph M. Turrini, “The Historical Profession and Archival Education,” AHA Perspectives 45, no. 5 (2007): 47–49.

4 For example, see Philip M. Katz, Retrieving the Master’s Degree from the Dustbin of History (report to the Members of the American Historical Association, 2005); Patricia Mooney-Melvin, “Characteristics of Public History Programs, Fall 2005” (report by the Curriculum Committee and Training Committee of the National Council on Public, 2006); and, Marla Miller, “Playing to Strength: Teaching Public History at the Turn of the 21st-Century,” American Studies International 42 (2004): 174–212.

5 For more on the history of the programs, see Peter J. Wosh, “Research and Reality Checks: Change and Continuity in NYU’s Archival Management Program,” The American Archivist 63, no. 2 (2000): 271–83; and, Rachel Bernstein and Paul Mattingly, “The Pedagogy of Public History,” Journal of American Ethnic History 18, no. 1 (1998): 77–92.

6 For example, see John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (New York: Basic Books, 2008) for the conventional view of the “native/immigrant” divide.

7 For more on the workshops, see “Digital Skills Workshops,” Archives and Public History Digital,

8 In the 2009 offering, students created Omeka archives and exhibits on self-selected topics and blogged about digita l history ( Students in 2010 blogged about Greenwich Village research (

9 For some of the student’s Omeka installations, see Samantha Gibson, “Double Consciousness in the Early Republic: Free Blacks in Philadelphia,”; John Bence, “Major Battles of the Mexican War,” http://; Juliana Monjeau, “The Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902,”; and Brigid Harmon, “Affordable Eternity: The Lutheran Cemetery of Middle Village,”

10 Students did have the option to work on independent projects if special circumstances permitted.

11 The site, created by Lindsay Dumas and Elizabeth Banks, was presented at the 2010 National Council for Public History meeting in Portland. They continue to develop the site after graduation.

12 In 2005, WordPress announced a hosted version of their software ( In 2010, Omeka introduced beta testing of a web hosting service that offers free and low-cost hosting for Omeka databases/exhibits ( These options will allow students to host their own projects and blogs and continue to use these programs once they are working without cost to their institutions.

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