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Digital Humanities Pedagogy

Brett D. Hirsch

II. Principles

11. Pedagogical Principles of Digital Historiography

Joshua Sternfeld

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1“What is metadata?” The question was raised by a student in my graduate seminar, History, Media and Technology. The course was open to both history and information studies graduate students, and this query came from a history student with no background in archival or information theory. It halted my rapid introduction to the ten-week course during which I had been rattling off terms such as “Dublin Core,” “context,” “historiography,” “digital archive” and “preservation.” Instead, we launched into an impromptu discussion about metadata that touched upon areas beyond its basic definition and utility. The information studies students discussed ways in which metadata influences search and discoverability, while the history students shared their own experiences in archives that revealed a fresh perspective on user access and research behavior.

2The question and ensuing discussion reflect the pedagogical challenge for digital history, specifically how to accommodate its interdisciplinarity. Scholars and practitioners must familiarize themselves with new terminology, theories, practices and disciplines. The field extends beyond historians to include archivists, librarians, information specialists, computer scientists, engineers, scientists and linguists. Until now, pedagogical efforts have focused on advancing digital literacy—understood here as skills such as web design, database building, web blogging and other similar activities—within a history curriculum context. Digital literacy, however, marks just the starting point for higher order skills necessary in the production and use of innovative history works. Digital history has the capacity to reshape our conception of History, to generate new lines of inquiry, challenge entrenched theories using vast sets of data and materials, or draw comparisons that span wide geographic and chronological landscapes. In short, digital history holds the potential to raise complex questions of representation, epistemology and narrative.

  • 1 The thoughts and ideas expressed in this paper are entirely my own and do not reflect those of the (...)
  • 2 For a complete definition of “digital historiography,” see Joshua Sternfeld, “Archival Theory and (...)

3Given its collaborative nature, digital history requires a common language and set of theoretical principles that will allow disparate groups to talk effectively with one another. This chapter discusses the conceptualization, implementation and anecdotal assessment of an original graduate-level course taught twice at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), from 2008–2009 titled History, Media and Technology.1 The course was listed jointly with the UCLA History and Graduate School of Education and Information Studies programs, and open to other programs as well, including the Moving Image Archive Studies program. It was designed to address the following question: How do we develop a theoretical and methodological framework to evaluate effectively and comprehensively digital historical works? The solution demanded a theory capable of handling multiple media formats, technical processes and historical content. That theory is called digital historiography, which is defined as the “interdisciplinary study of the interaction of digital technology with historical practice.”2

4The History, Media and Technology course represents the pedagogical manifestation of digital historiography. The first section of this chapter will discuss how digital historiography was expressed in the structure and pedagogical approach to the course. Three principles of digital historiography guided its conceptualization:

  1. Digital history works are representations, the product of subjective decisions that humanists characterize as interpretation.
  2. Digital historical representations include both academic works, as well as non-academic productions that traverse media genres and audience groups; their unifying trait is their use of historical evidence.
  3. Regardless of a representation’s scholarly or non-scholarly intent, evaluation requires a working grasp of relevant historiographical knowledge.

5The next section will discuss the execution of the course, including a discussion of the course syllabus, readings, assignments and examples of exemplary student work. The overall course objective was for students to learn how to analyze contemporary historical representations including documentary film, educational websites, online museum exhibitions, graphic novels, and databases. Select secondary readings guided students to consider how historiographical, informational, technical and media elements did or did not coalesce to communicate a coherent, logically sound and engaging representation. Two periods—the Holocaust and the Cold War—framed the selection and discussion of historical representations.

6The concluding section will explore briefly how to apply digital historiographical principles developed in History, Media and Technology in three areas: history and information studies graduate curriculum; undergraduate history curriculum, including courses designed to teach practical skills creating digital history; and, trans-disciplinary academic programs. In all three areas, we find opportunities to merge traditional, established theories and practices with new media studies and the digital humanities. It is my hope that the ideas sketched here will spark more programmatic, cross-disciplinary dialogue at all academic and administrative levels.

Pedagogical Principles

7Digital history has spurred an explosion of innovative work. As humanities scholars interact with larger datasets, construct complex relational databases and conduct research across digital collections and archives, they must apply standards and best practices to ensure the reliability of their analysis. Similarly, archivists, librarians, museum curators, and information specialists employ technology that has expanded and reshaped access to cultural heritage content. The creation of metadata schema, digital interfaces, and the aggregation of materials that span virtual and physical repositories affects historical context in new and sometimes unexpected ways. Digital history pedagogy, thus, should provide students with the methodological means to interrogate digital historical works, build complex questions and arguments and evaluate scholarship.

8The following are a preliminary set of pedagogical principles that apply to digital historiography at all educational levels. First, digital historiography can direct students to approach digital historical works critically, to perceive them as the product of a series of design, technical and content decisions. This perhaps may be the most difficult realization for students to make. Consider the difficulty educators face trying to teach students not to accept textbooks on face value, and then consider what it would take to teach students to do the same for a database or a three-dimensional virtual reconstruction. Digital historiography challenges students to question the aura of objectivity that surrounds digital works. Students must recognize that every decision—from formal design elements to the selection of historical information—also marks an act of interpretation. Once they become aware of this, they can begin to analyze digital works for their subjectivity, just as they would primary and secondary historical texts. In short, digital historiography helps students become aware of digital historical works as representations.

9This brings us to the second principle, specifically how to define digital historical representations. Educators are welcome to adapt their definition of a digital historical representation according to the parameters of their course. With History, Media and Technology, I took an inclusive approach that included representations from all media types, which intentionally co-mingled scholarly with non-scholarly works. Digital and new media have diversified and fragmented our reception of non-textual historical information. What began with film and television documentaries has now expanded to include digital libraries, online collections, graphic novels, videogames, blogs, social media and geospatial visualizations. Trying to examine any one of these genres in isolation would be counterproductive, as many of them have borrowed traits from one another. For example, three-dimensional reconstructions appropriate navigational mechanisms from videogames, digital collections resemble documentaries and museum exhibits, while documentaries employ digital visualizations in dramatizing the past. Digital historiography encourages a flexible approach to reviewing a representation’s properties, which in the process can expose the epistemological boundaries between fictional and non-fictional narrative constructs. The media format determines the analytical approach. In History, Media and Technology, students discover that they may need to apply a combination of theoretical approaches including film, media, information, archival or game theory. Digital historiography, therefore, lays emphasis on selecting the methodological approaches most appropriate to discuss the representation.

  • 3 Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol. 1, “My Father Bleeds History” (New York: Pantheon Bo (...)

10Critics of this approach may wonder whether popular culture formats such as graphic novels or videogames do in fact convey historical information worthy of analysis. The fact of the matter is that these genres are appropriating in greater degrees actual historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, they are becoming the de facto sites for shaping historical perception for an entire generation. For example, videogames such as Assassin’s Creed or Call of Duty 4 have included professional historians in their production team in an attempt to enhance historical realism. Many young adults likely spend more free time playing these games than reading a high school history textbook, which means that they are actively internalizing the past through these new media in ways that we perhaps do not yet fully recognize or understand. The popular graphic novel Maus, one of the representations covered in History, Media and Technology, synthesizes oral history interviews conducted between the author, Art Spiegelman, and his father, a Holocaust survivor, with a distinct visual aesthetic.3 History and English teachers now teach Maus in high school classrooms. In History, Media and Technology, I encouraged students to acknowledge the fragmentation of historical reception through new media, with an objective to discern ways in which these genres represent—and at times distort—historical information.

11Recognizing a representation’s enhancement or distortion of historical information brings us to the third and perhaps most important principle: Analysis of a digital historical representation requires working historiographic knowledge. Historiography is understood in this context as the culmination of knowledge for any given historical subject, whether we are considering a specific geographic region (e.g. East Asian history), event (e.g. the U.S. Civil War), time period (e.g. the Industrial Revolution), or figure (e.g. Albert Einstein). Historiography provides the means to conduct logical inquiry and construct coherent narratives. It also recognizes that historical knowledge is not absolute, but always under revision through the application of new theories, practices and methodologies.

12Of course, this principle is not unique to digital historiography, but it may be harder to delineate than with traditional textual media. In the case of a scholarly monograph, we train students to identify the thesis, scour footnotes to compare how authors use evidence, deconstruct a table of contents to understand the work’s overall argumentative structure and ultimately place the work within the context of other relevant scholarship. Digital historical representations often fail to provide us with the same structural conveniences. They may lack sufficient documentation, references may be poorly cited, and quite often, one may be challenged to locate a “thesis statement.” This should not deter us from placing the representation within a historiographical context; rather, it may require constructing context based upon historical perceptions, assumptions, and beliefs that reside outside scholarly discourse.

13These three principles constitute a working framework with which to teach digital history. Digital and new media works, like their analog counterparts, are representations that communicate a subjective interpretation of the past. We should, therefore, not overlook the fact that digital historiography is very much a product of the humanities, with a capacity to raise difficult epistemological questions that often do not have a definitive answer. Teaching digital historiography, therefore, should mirror the strengths of the humanities by promoting ongoing dialogue among peers, examining an issue from different perspectives, considering wider socio-cultural contexts and engaging in broadly defined scholarly discourse.

History, Media and Technology

14The above principles of digital historiography guided the development of the graduate seminar. The objective was not to have students construct new works of digital history (this would be addressed in a follow-up course called Design of a History Website), but to discuss issues of historical representation through evaluation of available resources. I modeled History, Media and Technology after a traditional history reading seminar that included weekly readings, in-class open-ended discussion, and a final research paper that analyzed a digital historical representation of the student’s choosing. A copy of the original Fall 2008 syllabus is included as an appendix to this chapter (Appendix A).

15The challenge was to accommodate the different disciplinary backgrounds of the students. One solution was to limit the historical thematic material, a decision that carried with it some advantages. First, it avoided a situation in which the class analyzed a Civil War website one week and a classics database the next. Selecting a “best of” collection of digital works would have highlighted the formal merits of each work, but it would also have prevented students from connecting with the broader historiographic issues at play. Second, it added a cumulative dimension to the course readings. Information studies students, many of whom had not taken a graduate-level history course, became conversant in historiography after spending several weeks on a single topic. Conversely, history students picked up terminology and concepts related to archival, film and new media theory that broadened their perspective of historical representation.

  • 4 The Broszat-Friedländer exchange appeared in Martin Broszat and Saul Friedländer, “A Controversy A (...)

16All representations considered in the class were narrowed to two historical periods, the Holocaust and the Cold War. It should be noted that one could adapt the framework for this course to any historical period or geographic region that possesses an ample body of digital or new media work. For my course, I selected Holocaust and Cold War secondary literature that addressed meta-historiographical areas. Since the public exchange between Saul Friedländer and Martin Broszat in the late 1980s over the historicization of National Socialism, Holocaust studies has interrogated the limits of historical epistemology. Recent scholarship has addressed issues of representation, narrative, trauma and experience through a variety of media, in particular film and documentary, which fed nicely into the objectives of the course.4 Historians, of course, spend entire semesters teaching the intricacies of Holocaust historiography. For the purpose of this course, the modest goal was to convey in a matter of a few weeks that the Holocaust has engendered numerous models of explanation, narrative techniques and theories about memory and historical experience.

17Similarly, the Cold War was selected both for its chronological proximity to the Holocaust, and for the fact that within its era we see the blossoming or spawning of a host of media formats. One week was spent on CNN’s documentary series The Cold War (1998), which raised interesting questions about how to use archival news footage as evidence. The Cold War, unlike some earlier historical periods, arguably marks an occasion where too much, as opposed to too little, archival— and especially multimedia—evidence is available.

18Each week, students analyzed one digital or new media historical representation, accompanied by supplemental academic readings. Selecting a set of representations involved a delicate balance that considered a representation’s media format, historical coverage, intended audience and availability of secondary literature. Ideally, the reading set provided students with some historiographical background, media-specific theory and if available, expert analysis of the representation itself. The key to a successful pairing of a representation and supplemental readings depended on drawing connections between broader historiographic issues or problems, as expressed by the scope of the representation’s content, with the representation’s formal and design properties. At first, most students did not discover a clear correlation. For many, a search interface seemed like nothing more than a search interface. It was my responsibility to lead a guided discussion that considered how a search interface impacts user experience and consequently the user’s interaction with historical information. Once students discovered that a search interface could indeed guide the user towards forming conclusions from the representation’s content, they could hold up those conclusions against other historiographic perspectives of the topic. Students ultimately considered whether a representation reaffirmed established historiographic theories, raised possible new conclusions worthy of further investigation or perhaps reinforced long discredited postulations.

19To give a couple of examples of course readings and assignments, Week Four showcased Claude Lanzmann’s documentary Shoah (1985). This film, considered one of the most acclaimed works about the Holocaust, has inspired a rich body of academic work by historians, intellectuals and film scholars that is perfect for seminar discussion. For example, Shoah raises interesting questions about archival and historical representation. The film’s deliberate exclusion of period photographs and reliance on extended shots of the contemporary landscape, coupled with eyewitness testimony, challenged preconceptions of archival evidence and its use in documenting historical events.

  • 5 Stuart Liebman, ed., Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Key Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • 6 Leon Wieseltier, “Shoah,” in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Key Essays, ed. Stuart Liebman (Oxford: Oxfo (...)
  • 7 Wieseltier, “Shoah,” 92.

20A selection of essays from an anthology about the film directed students to consider these issues.5 Well-known intellectuals, including Elie Wiesel, Dominick LaCapra and Simone de Beauvoir, contributed essays. An essay by Leon Wieseltier discusses how the absence of archival video or photographic evidence heightens the experience of remembering.6 He proposes that the term “documentary” insufficiently describes the film and that we should instead call it a “documemory,” which triggered class discussion about the work’s narrative form.7 Other essays discuss the film’s spatialization of the Holocaust as expressed through the long shots of camp locations. Even though Lanzmann may not have relied upon sophisticated digital geospatial visualizations, the discussion of the sites of the Holocaust complemented later discussions in the course. Students returned week after week to issues such as geographic representation that traversed traditional media formats (that is, film and documentary) and digital formats (such as GIS applications).

  • 8 Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust

21Shoah and the questions it raised about archival evidence, memory and representation transitioned well into the following week’s examination of digital exhibits produced by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The background reading assignment, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum by Edward T. Linenthal,8 provides a history of the physical museum from its contentious founding to the development of its permanent exhibit. This work, coupled with additional articles, considered the historiographic issue of the memorialization— and consequently politicization—of the Holocaust. Linenthal’s work discusses the shifting place of the Holocaust in American memory, and how political forces expanded the Museum’s mission from documenting the Holocaust to its broader mission of documenting genocide.

22The Week Five assignment asked students to consider the issues associated with the brick and mortar museum in the context of online exhibitions produced by the museum (​museum/​exhibit/​online/​). Several students selected the exhibit “Auschwitz through the lens of the SS: Photos of Nazi leadership at the camp,” which featured an individual officer’s photo album that documented the everyday and leisure activities of the SS at Auschwitz. Students who chose this exhibit reflected upon the museum’s selection of the photo album from amidst its vast photograph and artifact holdings. Further, the site presents a digital facsimile of the physical photo album, which led students to explore concepts of evidential authenticity and provenance.

23The seminar’s final project mirrored the weekly reading and discussion assignments. Students selected a digital or new media historical representation related to the Holocaust or Cold War and composed a twenty-page research paper evaluating that work. The only limitation was that the representation needed to demonstrate the use of archival historical evidence, which excluded many filmic and literary works of historical fiction. The decision here was that works of pure fiction, while perhaps tapping into an historical Zeitgeist, strayed too far from the course objective to analyze the interaction between historical evidence and media formats. That being said, countless works of fictional or popular genres openly use historical evidence to great effect, which made them eligible for analysis. One student convincingly petitioned to analyze a videogame that took place during the height of the Cold War in the 1960s because of its use of archival video news footage of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev in its cut scenes. Another student working towards a master’s in children’s librarianship selected a children’s book that merges autobiographical testimony with illustrative depictions of historic newsworthy events. One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching the course was to see the variety of final projects that included documentaries, geospatial visualizations, virtual museum exhibitions, children’s literature, board games, and film. Indeed, some of these examples did not explicitly incorporate digital technology, but students nonetheless found it useful to borrow concepts and theories derived from new media studies to discuss their representation.

24Through a series of formative assignments that culminated with the final paper, students also developed important research and writing skills. For the preliminary assignment (listed in the syllabus as Assignment #1), students were required to present their representation by Week Three in a written proposal that defended their selection and indicated any preliminary research that they may have conducted. Besides getting students to map out their project early in the semester, this assignment also provided me an opportunity to accept or amend their selection. For a follow-up assignment (Assignment #3), students submitted an annotated bibliography, with strict requirements for source types. The syllabus explained that students “are expected to become fluent in three […] areas: [their] historical representation, the specific historical period or question that it addresses and the design or form elements that contribute to the representation’s composition (for example, a […] documentary filmmaking technique or a technology or program such as Google Earth).” The students’ bibliographies needed to include a minimum of four historiographic works and four works associated with relevant media, technology or information theory. This assignment enabled me to assess the progress of each student’s research. For example, I could identify and redirect students who initially cited weak secondary historical literature. If a student selected a representation about the Auschwitz camp experience but opted to use only general surveys of the Holocaust, then I would recommend more relevant works about Auschwitz for them to evaluate and consider integrating into their analysis. Furthermore, the bibliography assignment allowed students to apply evaluative skills acquired through the course to defend their selections. Students quickly discovered that the challenge was not to reach the minimum number of sources, but to apply self-imposed criteria to limit an overabundance of available sources.

  • 9 I would like to thank Steven Bingo and Kristen Chamberland for granting me permission to discuss a (...)

25Successful papers demonstrated a close analysis of the work at both the historiographic and representational levels. Two standout papers by students in the information studies master’s program, Steven Bingo and Kristen Chamberland, featured, by coincidence, the same online site, Surviving Auschwitz: Five Personal Journeys (​vhi/​survivingauschwitz/​), produced by the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation (now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education) in 2005.9 Surviving Auschwitz, according to the site, “follows the lives of five Holocaust survivors before, during and after their deportation to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.” The site presents these five journeys—two by men and three by women that span multiple continents—using various representational formats and types of historical evidence, including video oral testimony, interactive digital maps, text and photographs.

26Although Steven and Kristen arrived at similar overall conclusions, they employed entirely different analytic approaches. Steven focused on the geospatial dimension of the site by analyzing the interactive map as a representation of Jewish diaspora. In his work titled “Exploring Diaspora in Surviving Auschwitz,” he probed the site’s decision to select five survivor testimonies that terminated on five different continents, concluding that the site produced a problematic homogenization of the survivor experience. Drawing upon scholarly literature on 20th-century Jewish diaspora, he writes,

Jewish communities in Britain and Australia have a unique internal dynamic and relationship with the broader national population. Unfortunately, the exhibit does little to test these observations by paying little attention to comparative experiences of diaspora according to differences in local Jewish communities.

27Steven’s research also coincided with scholarly concerns that geospatial visualizations sometimes have trouble representing change over time. He acutely observed, for example, that the 1938 political map underlying the survivors’ journeys remains static as each journey unfolds over several decades, which belies significant geopolitical changes that likely affected their travel.

28Similarly, Kristen, in her paper “Seeking Gendered Meaning in Holocaust Testimony: A Look at the Surviving Auschwitz Online Exhibition,” identified the site’s homogenizing effect on the survivors’ narratives, but she employed an altogether different analytic framework. She applied a feminist critique to the site’s use of oral testimony, and questioned whether the site contributed to a suppressing of gender-specific camp experiences. Like Steven, she concluded that the site’s creators “struggled” to fit the testimonies into a coherent space-time framework. The video editing, which segments each survivor’s testimony into bite-size anecdotes, de-contextualizes their experience and therefore presents a predominantly gender-neutral survivor story. She wrote:

Surviving Auschwitz is not intended to be an all-inclusive in-depth resource for mature scholars. It is an online tool for high school students, built in the way lesson plans are built, with a simple objective that is easy to convey and digest. But this explanation also says something interesting about how easy it is to neglect gendered experiences, either intentionally or unintentionally. If “feminine” experiences are still considered deviations from the norm, then they will continue to be easily overlooked or ignored for the sake of universality.

29Kristen was not only interested in the oral history methods applied in the video testimony, but also how the testimony was edited and presented on the web. The merging of the testimony with “points on a map,” she argued, creates a “disjointed,” “erratic” sense of narrative. She concluded that, “while it is possible to trace the [interview] subject’s journey geographically, it is difficult to match it truly to the narrative.”

30Both papers perceptively and persuasively critiqued the fragmented narrative conveyed in Surviving Auschwitz by exploring the interplay of historiographic, media and digital components. Through their probing of this intersection, they explained the site’s historical contextual deficiencies. Their selection of contested historiographic topics—Holocaust oral history testimony and Jewish diaspora—allowed both studies to examine how audiences interact with new media representations. What set the two papers apart was how the authors qualified their conclusions according to the site’s educational objective. Surviving Auschwitz was created for a high school audience. Nonetheless, Steven and Kristen argued, the creators have a responsibility to consider the consequences of how they contextualize the survivors’ narratives, or they run the risk of perpetuating one-dimensional, hackneyed and potentially distorting narratives.

Applying Digital Historiography Principles to Curriculum and Programmatic Development

31History, Media and Technology was conceived and executed as an experiment in applying digital historiography in the classroom. My goal was never to develop a course that could be replicated week-for-week; rather, it was to develop a pedagogical framework that could be adapted for a variety of educational settings. If nothing else, digital historiography embodies the spirit of the digital humanities, that is, its adaptability and willingness to experiment. No one can anticipate precisely the latest research tool or representational mode that will ignite a wave of research. Nonetheless, digital historiography reminds us that, no matter how experimental or radical a method may appear, it must nevertheless satisfy evolving epistemological standards and expectations.

32I will conclude with a brief overview of how to consider applying the principles of digital historiography more broadly in three areas: graduate history and information studies curriculum, undergraduate history curriculum and trans-disciplinary academic programs. The following remarks are meant to serve not as a fixed guide but as a blueprint for fostering additional interdisciplinary discussion. Please note that my remarks shift back and forth between an ideal vision of digital history pedagogy and the current reality. I hope that digital history will one day become integrated with traditional curriculum to the point that the “digital” qualifier simply disappears. The reality is that we must first train a new cohort of educators at all levels to be equally proficient in both digital technologies and history.

Graduate Curriculum

33As mentioned earlier, the principles developed through History, Media and Technology could apply to any historical period or topic. It could also apply to information, library science and archival programs. The main objective would be the same regardless of the subject matter: to pair historiographical with information and media-related principles contingent to a given representation in order to analyze the representation’s contextualization. In the future, courses may shift away from generic titles such as History, Media and Technology towards subject-specific titles. For example, History, Media, and Technology might be called Holocaust Studies in Contemporary Media, or simply Cold War Studies.

  • 10 For a recent study on the extent to which the historical profession has adopted new media technolo (...)

34Digital history pedagogy at the primary and undergraduate levels will never take off unless we consider applying digital historiography principles at the graduate level. We must first train a cohort of future history educators to be conversant in both historical and digital theory and practice. Educators must develop the language and skills with which to assess student progress in non-traditional forms of historical work, including documentaries, websites or databases. Although more historians are adopting new media technologies in their daily practices,10 many still find it difficult to explain to students why a particular website is inappropriate to cite in a paper or project, or how to recognize subjectivity in a digital work.

35Advanced digital historical analysis can only move forward with sufficient resources, support, and access to historical data. Digital access to the historical record is dependent upon numerous factors ranging from digitization costs to copyright permissions that influence the capacity to conduct research. Consequently, the state of access influences the computational work that can be conducted using humanities collections. Ideally, history graduate curriculum will evolve so that historical inquiry drives technological developments, rather than the other way around. Currently, many digital history projects are conceived and executed based on showcasing the potential of a digital tool or methodology. In these cases the historical question that should be the driving force of the work is often overlooked.

36Similarly, as information programs move increasingly towards professionalization, students are discovering that they are frequently at a disadvantage without some fluency in humanities methodology and vocabulary. Construction of digital information systems, either in a library, archive or museum setting requires deep subject knowledge in order to preserve or create contextual layers. While obtaining advanced subject knowledge in a graduate program may prove too impracticable, we can nonetheless train students in basic historical practices and terminology.

37The question, however, is who would teach such a course or set of courses now? The number of instructors conversant in historical, new media and information theory remains extremely limited. For the moment, courses might best function with co-instructors: one from the history department, and the other from an outside department or program. Such collaboration may help persuade departments reluctant to support a full digital program to at least support cross-departmental partnerships that could lead to more concerted curriculum development.

Undergraduate History Curriculum

38The reality and the ideal for integrating digital methods in undergraduate curriculum are already merging as more instructors abandon the essay format. Students produce YouTube mashups that combine commentary with multimedia archival footage, write Wikipedia articles, work on a local history web project or participate in generating data for an instructor’s research study, all of which are exciting and potentially rewarding endeavors. Digital historiography teaches students to approach every digital historical artifact or work of scholarship critically, not unlike current history curriculum that deals primarily with textual materials. The key to develop effective curriculum is not to discard previous methods, but to consider ways of translating the most successful elements of those methods with available technologies. While students already have developed habits to consult digital media for information, we must do a better job at guiding them to use the tools responsibly, including how to conduct online searches, retrieve items from a digital library, add persuasive contextualization to their multimedia presentations and evaluate both primary and secondary born-digital resources.

  • 11 Two examples among several well-crafted courses that teach Digital History practices are Jeffrey M (...)

39Already we find a number of digital history courses that teach practical skills, such as best practices for developing a blog or for constructing a history website. Such curriculum prioritizes a proactive approach to doing history rather than a passive approach to consuming it, and for this reason alone, they serve as valuable pedagogical models. 11 Nonetheless, in the process of having students obtain hands-on experience working with historical materials, we should not overlook the opportunity for them to apply equally important critical thinking and research skills such as deep reading, higher order analysis and ongoing engagement with historical scholarship.

Academic Programming

  • 12 In their course evaluation, many students expressed a wish that more time had been spent on examin (...)

40History, Media and Technology was most successful in fostering dynamic weekly discussions that tackled complex interdisciplinary theoretical issues. In spite of its modest success, the course was not without its setbacks. The idealism behind the course’s inception conflicted with the unavoidable cold reality of the UCLA quarter system. Ten weeks was simply not enough time to cover three disciplinary areas with any degree of comprehensiveness.12

41Press, 2010); Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine, ed., Theorizing Digital Cultural The struggle to squeeze as much information into every reading and assignment proved that the cultivation of digital historiography must occur not through a single course, but at the programmatic level. At least for the short-term future, this will require a concerted effort to build trans-disciplinary relationships between history, information and media programs.

  • 13 See the chapter on “Teaching Digital Skills in an Archives and Public History Curriculum” by Peter (...)

42There are promising signs that programs are already moving in this direction. After an investigative period, New York University recently unveiled its revamped Archives and Public History program (described in detail in another chapter in this collection).13 As its homepage proclaims, “the program emphasizes a solid grounding in historical scholarship, intense engagement with new media technologies, and close involvement with New York’s extraordinary archival and public history institutions.” A glance at their course offerings affirms the commitment to teaching archival theory alongside digital history practices with courses such as Advanced Archival Description and Creating Digital History. In short, we can see digital historiography principles inscribed at the programmatic level.


43The principles of digital historiography outlined in this chapter—including recognizing that all digital and new media histories are representations, infusing well-grounded historiography into the evaluation of representations and maintaining a constant eye on the use (or lack) of historical evidence in representations—should remind us of the need for digital history to communicate broader humanistic significance. We have always insisted that history teaching should instill students with a critical, inquisitive eye towards the past. The adoption of new technologies should not diminish this spirit of inquiry, but rather transform and enhance it.

44A rigorous, digitally oriented pedagogical framework can have positive repercussions at all levels of historical learning and production from professional historians to students in the classroom. Scholars require professional standards in tenure review and publishing. Graduate students interested in pursuing digital-reliant research seek assurances that their work will receive appropriate accreditation by their departments and the wider academic community. Students at the undergraduate level and below require guidance in harnessing the power of digital technology to research, compose and peer review their work. In all of these scenarios, applying a few simple principles of digital historiography can ensure the integrity of historical work while at the same time accommodate diverse interdisciplinary objectives.

45As implied in my brief discussion of the many hurdles that academic programs and departments face with regards to digital historical pedagogy, the need for collaboration is an unavoidable reality. Of course, in areas such as digital humanities research and tool development, collaboration has been deservedly embraced as a new model for academic productivity. This should be no different in the educational realm. Collaboration among instructors and students at the course, departmental or programmatic levels will breed the kind of cross-disciplinary dialogue that is necessary for expanding the intellectual scope of digital historiography. Recalling the impromptu discussion about metadata referenced at the opening of this chapter, the moments of terminological and theoretical uncertainty are precisely the points that breed the most rewarding knowledge. They require us all to reflect on our own disciplinary and technical training, to reassess accepted definitions and ultimately to inscribe new boundaries or draw commonalities that slowly build a sound theoretical and practical foundation.


Appendix A: Fall 2008 Syllabus

IS 289–1: History, Media and Technology

Class Schedule

Week 1: Introduction: USHMM Google Earth

Week 2: Historical Information Science

Historical Practice

Boonstra, Onno, Leen Breure, and Peter Doorn. “Past, Present and Future of Historical Information Science.” (2004). This may be found online as a pdf.

Holocaust and Cold War Historiography
(Course Reader)

Bauer, Yehuda. Rethinking the Holocaust, Chapters 1–2, 1–38. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Gaddis, John Lewis. “On Starting All over Again: A Naive Approach to the Study of the Cold War.” In Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations and Theory, edited by Odd Arne Westad, 27–42. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

Ferguson, Yale, and Rey Koslowski. “Culture, International Relations Theory, and Cold War History.” In Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations and Theory, edited by Odd Arne Westad, 149–79. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

Leffler, Melvyn P. “Bringing It Together: The Parts and the Whole.” In Reviewing the Cold War: Approaches, Interpretations, and Theory, edited by Odd Arne Westad, 43–63. London: Frank Cass, 2000.

Week 3: Oral Testimony and the Documentary: Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah

Liebman, Stuart, ed., Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Key Essays. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Selections: 3–50, 113–124, 135–148, 191–230. (Course Reader)

Weissman, Gary. Fantasies of Witnessing: Postwar Efforts to Experience the Holocaust, 140–244. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.

VIEWING: Part I of Shoah

Assignment #1 due in class.

Week 4: Graphic (Nonfiction) Storytelling: Maus: A Survivor’s Tale

Geis, Deborah R., ed., Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

READING: Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon, 1996.

Week 5: Memorializing the Past: The U.S. Holocaust Museum

Linenthal, Edward T. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum. New York: Viking, 1995.


Assignment #2 due in class.

Week 6: The 21st-Century Museum and Archive: The Wende Museum

Stokes, Gale. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

TRIP: Wende Museum

Week 7: Holiday (We will schedule a make-up session that will be an opportunity to return to issues, representations, topics that you would like to discuss).

Week 8: Web 2.0 Historical Education: Making the History of 1989 (Articles below are available either in the Course Reader or online).

Barlow, Jeffrey G. “Historical Research and Electronic Evidence: Problems and Promises.” In Writing, Teaching and Researching History in the Electronic Age: Historians and Computers, edited by Dennis A. Trinkle, 194–223.

Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1998.

Staley, David J. “From Writing to Associative Assemblages: ‘History’ In an Electronic Culture.” In Writing, Teaching, and Researching History in the Electronic Age: Historians and Computers, edited by Dennis A. Trinkle, 5–13. Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1998.

Kelly, T. Mills. “Using New Media to Teach East European History.” Nationalities Papers 29, no. 3 (2001),​resources/​essays/​d/​16.

Rosenzweig, Roy. “Can History Be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past.” The Journal of American History 93, no. 1 (2006): 117–46.​resources/​essays/​d/​42.

Rosenzweig, Roy. “Digital Archives Are a Gift of Wisdom to Be Used Wisely.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 51, no. 42 (2005),​resources/​essays/​d/​32.

Cohen, Daniel. “The Future of Preserving the Past.” The Journal of Heritage Stewardship 2, no. 2 (2005),​resources/​essays/​d/​39.

VIEWING: Making the History of 1989.​1989/​.

Assignment #3 due in class.

Week 9: GIS and Geotemporal Reconstructions: The UCLA Experiential Technologies Center

Knowles, Anne Kelly, ed., Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.

TRIP: UCLA Experiential Technologies Center

Week 10: Student Presentations (Assignment #4)

Final Paper Guidelines

The following is a series of guidelines for composing your final paper. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to come talk to me.

  • You must include a title page that is separate from the final page count of your paper. The title should reflect your paper’s thesis argument and it should grab the reader’s attention. “Final Paper: IS 289” is unacceptable!
  • Your paper should be at least 20 full pages, double-spaced, 1” margins all-around, Times Roman, 12 pt font.
  • You should include page numbers in the header.
  • Your introduction should grab the reader’s attention. There are a number of techniques to do this: you may begin with an anecdote or passage from your representation, or even a single quote. The introductory paragraph(s) should not conclude with a thesis statement.
  • You must conclude the introductory section with a thesis paragraph. This paragraph will contain the argument that you will prove in the rest of the paper. A thesis argument is not a statement of fact, your opinion or simply a summary of your historical representation. A thesis argument is provable with evidence that you acquired from your bibliographic sources.
  • Your paper should be clearly marked with sections. Each section should in some way support your thesis argument. Section headings should be clearly marked in bold and should introduce the topic of the section.
  • Your paper should not spend a copious amount of space summarizing or describing your representation. This is not a satisfactory analysis. You should only summarize/describe those elements or aspects that go towards proving your larger argument.
  • Your conclusion section should do more than simply restate your argument; it should also offer something new in terms of future analysis of the historical topic, representation, media format, or some combination of the three.
  • All references should be cited as footnotes. You may use either MLA or Chicago style. All resources used must also be included in a bibliography (also not part of the final page count).
  • Finally, your paper should give equal weight to both the historical issue and format elements relevant to your representation. The key to the paper, and the purpose of the course overall is to evaluate how historical information interacts with contemporary representational forms. This relationship should guide every aspect of your project from choosing a representation rich with analytical possibilities to the final framework of your paper and class presentation.

The more specific and focused you choose to make your argument, the better your paper will be. You may choose to analyze a single passage or element of your representation rather than cover the entire representation. This will enable you to select more specific bibliographic references which in turn will tighten and strengthen your overall thesis argument.

Course Description

Welcome to History, Media and Technology! In this course we will explore the intersection of new media and technology—which can include documentaries, virtual exhibitions and archives, open source encyclopedias, television, GIS technologies, videogaming and much more—with contemporary historical representation. Scholars are currently struggling to devise a working set of evaluative criteria for these representations that still accounts for traditional historiographic methodology. Too often the rush to incorporate new technology has the detrimental effect of overshadowing historical content, which may jeopardize the progress of scholarship and education.

Rather than jump from one historical period to another, the core of this course will focus on modern 20th-century history, in particular, the Holocaust and the Cold War. Both periods have become points of contention in historical representation, not only for their sensitive subject matter, but also for the unprecedented availability of archival source materials such as oral testimonies, video and official records. The access (and at times critical restrictions) to this wealth of materials further complicates historical reconstruction.

This seminar will thus explore the intersection of scholastic, public and digital histories as they appear in contemporary society. It will pay close attention to applying basic historiographic principles to the evaluation of history-based media and new information technologies, considering both their scholarship and pedagogical value.

Course Requirements

This is a discussion-based seminar, and as such, participation is critical for its success. I have selected a set of readings that should provide a working understanding of the current historiographic issues and debates; I strongly recommend, however, if you feel you need further background that you come see me and I will suggest further readings.

Class Participation: 20%

This not only includes in-class discussion, but also periodic submissions to our Moodle site according to discussion topics.

Assignments: 30%

The following assignments are intended to guide you through the process of composing a strong final paper, and to avoid drafting the paper at the last possible moment. Although it is not mandatory, I strongly recommend that you visit me during office hours to discuss your topic. This will provide me with an opportunity to approve your project, offer any guidance in sources to obtain and answer any questions you may have.

Assignment #1 (5%): Written proposal (at least 4 full pages), due Week 3 in class. In this paper, you will state the historical representation you wish to analyze, any background materials you have already obtained, questions you would like to explore, as well as possible arguments or conclusions you intend to draw.

Assignment #2 (5%): Critique of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum online exhibition (at least 3 full pages), due Week 5 in class. Select one exhibition (there are many to choose from!) and analyze its educational/ informational value in relation to its design elements, similar to the expectations of your final paper.

Assignment #3 (10%): Annotated Bibliography, at least 10 sources, due in class in Week 8. For your final paper you are expected to become fluent in three specific areas: your historical representation, the specific historical period or question that it addresses, and the design or format elements that contribute to the representation’s composition (for example, a specific documentary filmmaking technique or a new technology or program such as Google Earth). For each source, please provide a brief summary along with how the particular source will be used to support your thesis argument. Do you agree with the argument(s) presented in the source, or do you plan to refute all or part of it? Sources need not all be full monographs, but may include journal articles, (credible) websites and other secondary credible materials—Wikipedia entries will not suffice! Your bibliography should be comprised accordingly:

  • At least four secondary sources associated with your historical period. These works should represent the most recent literature on your topic, and cover multiple points of view. For example, if your representation covers the Auschwitz concentration camp, your secondary literature should reflect the historiographic arguments surrounding the camp. A general Holocaust reader in this case will probably not suffice; there are plenty of articles and monographs that delve specifically into all aspects of the camp. I would suggest beginning your search in electronic databases such as JSTOR, which will lead you to additional sources through the articles’ footnotes and bibliographies.
  • At least four secondary sources associated with your representation’s format. If your representation is a documentary film, you may want to explore a particular film or editing technique that is employed by the film. If your film happens to be produced, for example, by CNN, you may want to explore the influence of CNN on communicating historical information. Be creative in your approach to your representation!
  • Any sources directly linked to your representation. If there is literature or materials that directly reference your representation, you should include them in your analysis. This may include scholarly secondary literature, as well as news stories, user reviews/comments or discussions by the authors or creators.

Assignment #4 (10%): Final Presentation, Week 10. This presentation should be no more than 10 minutes in length. The presentation should include a summary of your final paper’s thesis argument. You may want show a brief clip or portion of your representation to illustrate your points to the class. Otherwise, the presentation should not be a fancy set of bells and whistles.

Final Paper: 50%

The final paper, at least 20 full pages, will be an evaluation of an historical representation of your choice. The representation you select must pertain to either the Holocaust or the Cold War, although this still leaves plenty of room for creativity. For example, your selection will likely cover a sub-period/topic within either period, such as a single battle or event during the Vietnam War or a particular concentration camp from the Holocaust. Please refer to the Paper Guidelines for details on the expectations for the paper. Ultimately, the paper should be an opportunity for you to explore an idea or topic that you find most interesting… and enjoyable!

Course Materials

Required Books (Available at the Luvalle book store except the course reader)

Geis, Deborah R., ed., Considering Maus: Approaches to Art Spiegelman’s “Survivor’s Tale” of the Holocaust. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2003.

Knowles, Anne Kelly, ed., Placing History: How Maps, Spatial Data, and GIS Are Changing Historical Scholarship. Redlands: ESRI Press, 2008.

Linenthal, Edward T. Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust Museum. New York: Viking, 1995.

Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon, 1996.

Stokes, Gale. The Walls Came Tumbling Down: The Collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Weissman, Gary. Fantasies of Witnessing: Postwar Efforts to Experience the Holocaust. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.

Course Reader: Available at Course Reader Material on Westwood Blvd.


1 The thoughts and ideas expressed in this paper are entirely my own and do not reflect those of the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities or any other federal agency.
I would like to note that my course was taught just prior to the establishment of the UCLA Digital Humanities undergraduate minor and graduate certificate by the Center for Digital Humanities. The ongoing and tireless work to develop this program, led by Todd Presner, Johanna Drucker, Diane Favro, Janice Reiff, Chris Johanson, Lisa Snyder, and others has been tremendous. Had it been in place, I am sure I would have adjusted my course to follow programmatic requirements. I am grateful for the many informal, yet enlightening discussions that we had over the years.

2 For a complete definition of “digital historiography,” see Joshua Sternfeld, “Archival Theory and Digital Historiography: Selection, Search, and Metadata as Archival Processes for Assessing Historical Contextualization,” The American Archivist 74 (2011): 544–75.

3 Art Spiegelman, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol. 1, “My Father Bleeds History” (New York: Pantheon Books, 1986), and Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, vol. 2, “And Here My Troubles Began” (New York: Pantheon Books, 1991).

4 The Broszat-Friedländer exchange appeared in Martin Broszat and Saul Friedländer, “A Controversy About the Historicization of National Socialism,” New German Critique 44 (1988): 85–126. As mentioned, one could generate an extensive bibliography on the topic of Holocaust representation in scholarship and the media. Besides the readings listed in the syllabus, the following works provide a useful starting point: Saul Friedländer, ed., Probing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the “Final Solution” (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992); “Historical Representation and Historical Truth,” the special Theme Issue of the journal History and Theory 48, no. 2 (2009) (in particular essays by Wulf Kansteiner, “Success, Truth, and Modernism in Holocaust Historiography: Reading Saul Friedländer Thirty-Five Years After the Publication of Metahistory”: 25–53, Judith Keilbach, “Photographs, Symbolic Images, and the Holocaust: On the (Im) Possibility of Depicting Historical Truth”: 54–76, Claudio Fogu, “Digitalizing Historical Consciousness”: 103–21, and Christoph Classen, “Balanced Truth: Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List Among History, Memory, and Popular Culture”: 77–102); and Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider, The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, trans. Assenka Oksiloff (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006), among many others.

5 Stuart Liebman, ed., Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Key Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

6 Leon Wieseltier, “Shoah,” in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Key Essays, ed. Stuart Liebman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 89–93.

7 Wieseltier, “Shoah,” 92.

8 Edward T. Linenthal, Preserving Memory: The Struggle to Create America’s Holocaust

9 I would like to thank Steven Bingo and Kristen Chamberland for granting me permission to discuss and cite passages from their student work.

10 For a recent study on the extent to which the historical profession has adopted new media technologies, see Robert B. Townsend, “How Is New Media Reshaping the Work of Historians?” Perspectives on History 48, no. 8 (2010): 36–39, also available on Perspectives on History Online, November 1, 2010,

11 Two examples among several well-crafted courses that teach Digital History practices are Jeffrey McClurken’s Adventures in Digital History ( at the University of Mary Washington, which is one of several pioneering courses McClurken has developed, and Trevor Owen’s History in the Digital Age ( taught at American University.

12 In their course evaluation, many students expressed a wish that more time had been spent on examining visual and digital representation, pointing out that the readings in Weeks 9 and 10 would have been more useful had they been assigned earlier in the semester. If given the luxury of additional weeks, as well as the benefit of hindsight and the publication of many wonderful new works of scholarship since the completion of the course, the following works would have been considered (in no particular order of preference): David J. Bodenhamer, John Corrigan, and Trevor M. Harris, The Spatial Humanities: GIS and the Future of Humanities Scholarship (Bloomington: Indiana University Heritage: A Critical Discourse (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007); Victoria Vesna, ed., Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008); Martin Hand, Making Digital Cultures: Access, Interactivity, and Authenticity (Burlington: Ashgate, 2008); Alan Liu, Local Transcendence: Essays on Postmodern Historicism and the Database (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Matthew K. Gold, ed., Debates in the Digital Humanities (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

13 See the chapter on “Teaching Digital Skills in an Archives and Public History Curriculum” by Peter J. Wosh, Cathy Moran Hajo and Esther Katz, in this volume.

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