Digital History at Washington and Lee


This lab course is designed to introduce humanities students to the practice of digital history as a research environment that fosters historical thinking and explores the impact of the digital as a medium for thinking about history. What is happening as scholarship shifts from print books to digital formats that allow for different ways of understanding the past? Through hands-on practice, students learn about the digital tools for analyzing primary sources with new methodologies. Students participate in creating a digital project that utilizes multiple techniques such as spatial history, network analysis, or text mining. Prior experience with these digital methods is not required.

This one-credit course will make extensive use of the university archives to create a digital research environment for studying the history of Washington and Lee University.

Our starting point: what can we learn about the shift in student demographics over time? We will gather data about students in at least four different years (2015, 1940, 1865, 1790) and create an interactive map visualizing the changes. We also will examine census data to reveal further characteristics about their families.

Profiling the student body of 1865 leads to a research question: what challenges did Robert E. Lee face when he assumed the presidency of Washington College after the Civil War? We’ll explore the use archival materials and the scholarly record to examine that question. We’ll also consider what cannot be answered through primary sources due to gaps in research material and how those holes in an archives may lead to wrong interpretations.

Finally, we’ll learn how to document and present our research on the Web, particularly in ways that are open and reusable by the public.

The course meets Thursday afternoons 3pm – 5pm, Fall Term 2015.

Instructor: Jeff Barry (Associate Professor & Associate University Librarian)