New Classes

Digital History

Professor Kathryn Morse on Vermont Life Collaborative Web

By Drew Jacobs

I recently spoke with Professor Kathryn Morse about the new course she is co-teaching this semester with Professor Michael Newbury of the American Studies department: HIST/AMST 445, Vermont Life Collaborative Web. With the recent explosion in new technologies, historians have changed how they study and present history. Historians are now able to quickly search for specific terms and themes with relative ease. For example, contains over 10,400 newspapers from the 1700’s-2000’s, allowing one to search by keyword, name, and location. Realizing this new frontier in historical research, Professor Morse began to ask herself: How can we best use these tools? She saw historians now presenting their work through podcasts, websites, and databases. Historians were not merely showcasing their findings in books, articles, and talks as they previously had done. Wanting to further explore the implications of how historians research and teach, the History and American Studies Department’s applied for a grant to teach a class striving to answer these questions. From this grant came HIST/AMST 445.

Professors Morse and Newbury wanted to create an online archive through which their students could explore a given theme across time. They selected a relatively discreet text, Vermont Life, the tourist promotion magazine of Vermont, and had the library put all of the magazines editions online. In this online archive, students can quickly search through text by keyword. Each student selected a theme and has been tasked with investigating it over a span of time. Using solely online research, they will ultimately create a website, podcast, or online timeline. Professor Morse stressed that this is the same task of a regular History essay, yet the students are presenting the material differently.

Last week the students worked on creating an online timeline complete with information, pictures, citations, and brief descriptions showing change over time on their respective subjects. Again, the process was similar to a typical history assignment as the students found sources, critiqued these sources, and ultimately made arguments. Yet, the all of the work was completed online. Now, they can look at a large amount of data and quickly analyze certain patterns. Professor Morse stressed that History majors have significant experience with reading sources, making an argument, and artfully using evidence. Through this new digital history class, the students are challenged to present their findings in a different way.

Ultimately, these podcasts, timelines, and websites are a more interactive way of showing change over time. Professor Morse also mentioned how the students have worked in groups of five for certain projects, stressing the importance and relevance of collaborative work after graduation. While historians have often preferred working alone, Professor Morse is challenging these students to come together to research and present history in a new way. HIST/AMST 445 challenges students to best utilize the online tools available to them to explore historical themes over time.