Digital history is coming to York University in Fall 2016. That is to say, I finally got around to organizing and preparing to teach digital history. As I get ready to teach this course, I am surveying the landscape of digital history teaching in Canada, looking for ideas. Readers of this article, I hope, will help by posting suggestions and links to resources in the comments below.
For many years now, I have integrated digital history skills, assignments, and exercises into my history courses. This has included the development of a couple collaborative digital history projects in my fourth-year research seminar on the history of Toronto. “Development of Toronto: Urban Histories of Toronto and Its Region” is a collaboratively produced website featuring original student Web essays on topics in Toronto history. “Stories of the Development of Toronto” is a new collaborative project to develop audio tours of historic sites in Toronto. Using the tools provided by IZI.travel, we are developing tours that are integrated into a mobile app and website.
Building upon these types of digital history projects, I will now be offering a dedicated course in digital history. Last week, I launched the website for this course at digitalhist.com. The overall learning objectives for the course are to:
- Introduce students to key tools and technologies used in historical scholarship and public history
- Discuss and debate key issues concerning the use of digital technologies in history
- Engage in practical hands-on exercises in the use of such technologies
Based on these three learning objectives, I have designed this as a lab course. Students will meet once a week for a 3-hour session in a computer lab. Part of the session will be devoted to discussion of a given topic in digital history and the remainder of the class will focus on a lab exercise. I also hope to include some field trips to get us out of the classroom.
Because much of this course will focus on issues concerning open access to scholarly research and public history, I have decided to use a publicly-accessible website for course management. I am basically adopting the same approach as MIT’s OpenCourseWare. This will allow others to see how I have organized the course and to follow its progress as students work through the different topics and issues. The syllabus, readings, lab modules, and assignments will all be available to anyone who visits the site. The site also includes a blog, which will feature some of my writing and the writing of my students. Taking this one step further, I am publicly developing the syllabus on the course website here:
Readers can follow the development of the syllabus and post suggestions and comments here.
Obviously, I am following the footsteps of many other history professors who currently teach digital history. To guide my course development, I have been looking at syllabi for other digital history courses. This has led me to survey where digital history is offered in Canada. While there are plenty of courses now offered in digital humanities, I was interested in seeing how many such courses explicitly focus on history. I have also excluded courses listed as “Public History” and “Historical Methodology”. Again, many of those courses include digital history elements, but they are not necessarily focused exclusively on digital history.
In Canada, digital history is not yet a core course in history departments. Where it is taught largely depends on the faculty. Usually, one particular faculty member has initiated the introduction of digital history teaching into the curriculum and that faculty member typically sustains one or two courses on an individual basis. I found a couple instances in which digital history is occasionally taught as a special topics course, again on the initiative of an individual instructor rather than part of a core set of course offerings.
University of Western Ontario offers one of the widest ranges of courses in digital history. Here the influence of William Turkel, a leading scholar in the field of digtial history and digital humanities, is obvious. Wilfrid Laurier University offers a similar range of courses at the undergraduate level and even includes an “Applied Digital Option” for history majors. According to the program’s website, the Applied Digital Option “prepares students in the use of digital methods to manage and interrogate information, and educates them in how to disseminate their findings in creative ways.” Other universities offer single courses, usually upper-level courses. I found two graduate programs that current offer digital history. Occasionally, these courses appear to be tied to public history programs.
From what little syllabus information I could find, digital history courses in Canada tend to focus on a range uses of digital technologies in historical scholarship and public history. Broadly speaking, this includes the digitization of historical documents, search and analysis of historical records, and the dissemination of historical research findings via digital technologies. Almost all the courses included both academic and applied elements. Blogging as an assignment also seems to be common.
Overall, the landscape of digital history teaching in Canada is uneven. There are no standard textbooks and no common structures to such courses. This, I think, is exciting. It means that there are many opportunities for curricular innovation and experimentation. However, the range of course offerings is still quite limited. I was only able to find information about courses offered at
eleven fourteen fifteen universities across Canada. Most of this was concentrated in Ontario and few courses are offered in French. The close connection between course offerings and specific faculty members strongly suggests that hiring priorities will determine the extent to which digital history spreads to curriculum at other universities.
Readers can find a working list of courses offered in digital history at Canadian universities below. This list is based on published course information from department websites and may not include all digital history courses offered in Canada. If you are teaching digital history at a university or college in Canada and I missed your course, please post it in the comments section below. I’d also appreciate any suggestions as I continue to develop my course. You can post responses to my syllabus document or post comments to this article below.
Here is a working list of courses offered in digital history at Canadian universities:
***Updated 12 April 2016***
Huron College at University of Western Ontario
Université de Montréal
Université du Québec à Montréal
Université de Sherbrooke
University of Manitoba
University of New Brunswick
University of Saskatchewan
University of Toronto
University of Waterloo
University of Western Ontario
University of Windsor
Sean Kheraj is an associate professor of Canadian and environmental history at York University. He is also the director and editor-in-chief of the Network in Canadian History and Environment. For more info, visit seankheraj.com.