The Digital Past

History 390, Fall 2018


Welcome to History 390, The Digital Past. In this course you will learn to do history using digital tools. This course — which satisfies the university’s IT requirement — teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to practical historical problems. Although this is an upper division history course, no background in history is required. Throughout our semester, you will use the technologies and strategies we learn in class to explore the Progressive Era in the United States.

The Progressive Era in the United States emerged in response to the policies and problems of the Gilded Age. Americans were faced with and increasing divide between the ultra wealthy elite and the rapidly expanding poor, battles between capital and labor, unsanitary food production, and increased levels of immigration. Dissatisfaction with the direction of the country led to the Progressive era which is named for the many “progressive” movements that the period spawned. The movements of the era represented very different ideas about the solutions to these problems and reformers were by no means united. However, the overarching theme for this period was “reform” and the diverse social movements provide ample opportunity to explore various themes using digital tools. In this course we will touch on themes in the progressive era such as the push for women’s suffrage, immigrant culture and the backlash to increased immigration levels, working class leisure and reform efforts, labor strikes and working conditions, and reform efforts aimed at reshaping the American city. We’ll discuss, read, and use digital tools to explore each of these themes.

Over the course of this semester, you will learn how to find, interpret, and analyze primary sources on the web as well as how to put them into context with secondary literature. We will create, manipulate, and interpret datasets. You will create visualizations and analyze documents using digital tools. You will also learn how to effectively present both visual and textual sources on the web as well as how to write and publish effectively on the web. This class prioritizes learning by doing, and most weeks we’ll learn a tool and use it to analyze a historical problem.

In this course you will:

  • learn the history of the Progressive Era.
  • create historical scholarship using digital resources and tools, and
  • publish on the web

This course also fulfills the University’s IT requirements which has the following goals:

  • Students will understand the principles of information storage, exchange, security, and privacy and be aware of related ethical issues.
  • Students will become critical consumers of digital information; they will be capable of selecting and evaluating appropriate, relevant, and trustworthy sources of information.
  • Students can use appropriate information and computing technologies to organize and analyze information and use it to guide decision-making.
  • Students will be able to choose and apply appropriate algorithmic methods to solve a problem.