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Digital History at the Institut für Geschichte

Are you interested in learning more about the theory and practice of Digital History? Are you interested in knowing more about the ways that digital technologies are expanding our opportunities to research, teach, communicate and know more about the past?

Each year, the Humanities Data Science and Methodology (HDSM) specialist area of the Institut für Geschichte offers you a range of courses on digital history and digital humanities. A rich offering of course formats, including lecture series, methods courses and seminars give you not only a solid intellectual orientation in digital history but also the opportunity to apply digital methods to historical course materials. Moreover, HDSM has recently set up an OpenLearnWare channel, which is freely accessible to students within and outside TU Darmstadt and gives you an excellent insight into the kinds of research-led teaching and learning that you can pursue here in HDSM.

Opportunities to write your master’s dissertation and PhD thesis under our supervision also exist and you should contact us to make an appointment to discuss this further if interested. Below is an overview of the classes we offer each year – not every class is offered each year so you can check the TU Darmstadt course catalogue to learn more about the classes that are available to you each semester.

Taught offer

This entry-level class will introduce historians and other students to the elementary steps of digital source criticism. It will seek to equip students to ask important questions about the accessibility, usability, content, scope, currency and positionality of the digital resources (like web pages, digital archives and other digital sources that students will use during and beyond their university study). Existing knowledge of HTML5 and CSS3 would be useful for this class but this is not a pre-requisite of the class.

A core text for this class will be:

Hauswedell, T., Nyhan, J., Beals, M.H. et al. Of global reach yet of situated contexts: an examination of the implicit and explicit selection criteria that shape digital archives of historical newspapers. Arch Sci 20, 139–165 (2020) doi.

Other texts will be specified in due course.

A recommended resource for this class is: Ranke 2. Source Criticism for the Digital Age

A full-fledged reconstruction of the history of contemporary society is impossible without studying web archives as the most valuable historical source storing artifacts of the information age. At the same time, web history as a discipline is just beginning its formation as a research field.

This class examines this problem through the lens of web history, examining the use of web archival resources in historical research. The main topics of the seminar are devoted to examining web history as an interdisciplinary research field, the process of web archiving and the main strategies of web preservation and this influences web-based sources available to study contemporary history. At the final stage of the seminar, relevant research projects based on the use of web archives are evaluated and critiqued.

What is digital history? To where can we trace the origins of the ‘digital turn’ in history?

What are the central concepts of the field? What are its most commonly used methods and techniques? Through which digital history projects and formal publications can we explore these questions? What are the limits of digital history and the problems of digital approaches to the study of history? And where might the research trajectory of this field turn next?

This lecture series will introduce students to core concepts and contexts of digital history as seen through the scholarship and digital projects of the field. Spotlights will also be placed on core emerging approaches or problematics of the field, for example, digital oral history and collections as data scholarship.

Core literature includes:

Romein, C. Annemieke, Max Kemman, Julie M. Birkholz, James Baker, Michel De Gruijter, Albert Meroño-Peñuela, Thorsten Ries, Ruben Ros, and Stefania Scagliola. 2020. State of the Field: Digital History. History 105: 291–312 doi.

Crymble, Adam. 2021. Technology and the Historian: Transformations in the Digital Age. University of Illinois Press.

Graham, Shawn, Ian Milligan, and Scott Weingart. 2015. Exploring Big Historical Data:The Historian’s Macroscope. Reprint edition ICP.

Other texts will be specified in due course.

This class will introduce students to core methods of digital history, and digitally-augmented historical research more widely. Topics covered will entail data management and manipulation, which may include:

  • Workflows for digital history;
  • Using github;
  • Html5;
  • Regular expressions;
  • Web scraping;
  • Getting started with Omeka
  • Text markup and structured text;
  • Text mining and quantitative approaches to historical analysis;

A core data-set, on which the above methods can be applied and tested will be assigned to students; alternative datasets may be suggested by students too.

Burgess has written how “Collections are history’s raw materials. They are innate in historical disciplines, providing the substrate for museums, libraries and archives upon which the majority of research outputs are built” (Burgess 2021 p.108).

In this course we will read state-of-the-art publications, and review selected digital heritage interfaces, to explore how technology is currently being used in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (though with special emphasis on museums) in order to make collections findable, searchable, transformable and interlinkable.

Recommended text:

Burgess, W. G. “State of the Field: The History of Collecting.” History 106, no. 369 (2021): 108–19, doi.

Others will be specified in class.

The sub-field of digital humanities known as ‘Collections as Data’ seeks to use digital technologies to ask new questions about the Collections held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums and the documentation that describes them.

In this class, we will gain an insight into the state of the art of Collections as Data through the lens of a recently completed and ongoing project on the Collections of Sir Hans Sloane. By examining and critiquing the new kinds of knowledge for historical research that such projects can create, and by investigating how they came to be funded in the first instance, students will be given a detailed introduction to the field of collections as data and its funding arrangements.

Recommended text:

Sloan, Kim, and Julianne Nyhan. “Enlightenment Architectures: The Reconstruction of Sir Hans Sloane’s Cabinets of ‘Miscellanies.’” Journal of the History of Collections 33, no. 2 (August 4, 2021): 199–218, doi.

Others will be specified in due course.

You are strongly encouraged to attend both parts of the course, but this is not obligatory and you may attend one part only if you prefer.

Part 1 (Mondays 14:25 – 16:05) of this course will introduce students to the fundamentals of historical network analysis. If historical network analysis allows us to understand more about the interconnections that existed between historical actors and agents, in this class we will explore: what concepts underpin historical network analysis? For how long has the method been used? What are its antecedents as a method and how has it developed over the longer term? What can and cannot network analysis allow us to understand about the past? With which kinds of historical materials can it best be used? What projects and publications have put network analysis to good use? What can we learn from those projects?

Part 2 (Mondays 16:15-17:55) of this course will introduce students to the practice of network analysis. Drawing initially on the tutorials of the Programming Historian, we will learn the fundamentals of network analysis computational techniques and survey open source software. Working both with a dataset created or compiled by students themselves, we will then apply this learning and perform network analysis on a given historical case study. Students will be asked to articulate research questions that can be asked of the dataset, and to reflect on the extent to which network analysis, and the dataset at hand, does or does not allow them to explore those questions. Students must bring their own laptops to this course in order to participate in it.

Initial suggested readings (more will be specified in due course):

The Programming Historian

Ahnert, Ruth, Sebastian E. Ahnert, Catherine Nicole Coleman, and Scott B. Weingart. 2020. The Network Turn: Changing Perspectives in the Humanities. Elements in Publishing and Book Culture. Cambridge University Press, doi.

Digital Humanities is the field that words at the intersection of computing and the humanities. It seems to ask new questions about the role of computing in the humanities and the role of the humanities in computing. The origins of this field have often been traced back to the 1940s and 1950s, to work that was done by Father Roberto Busa S.J. on the mechanisation of concordance making. In this class we will review and analyse a number of recent publications that have sought to disrupt this received origin story, and we will consider emerging understandings of the contributions of non-hegemonic actors to the emergence and development of the field now often known as Digital Humanities.

The set text for this class will be:

2016. Julianne Nyhan and Andrew Flinn. Computation and the Humanities:towards an oral history of Digital Humanities. Springer. Open Access – PDF / ePUB here.

Other texts will be specified in due course.

The course on Digital Heritage in the Spatial Dimension: 3D-reconstructions aims to provide an overview of the various techniques and tools available for creating 3D models of heritage sites and historical artifacts. The course is designed for students who studies in directions of history and archaeology and who have an interest in digital methods for cultural heritage preservation and representation.

The course covers a wide rande of topics devoted to practical implementation of the tools and services to creation of 3D models of objects and their subsequent publication in the specific platforms for representation of cultural heritage. The course introduces the theory on Spatial Digital Heritage and 3D Reconstructions through the discussion of the concept of digital heritage and overview of types of 3D reconstructions. Practically, the course offers introduction to software and tools for processing 3D data, creating 3D models and visualizations, observation of use of 3D reconstructions in cultural heritage preservation, and provides the bird eye on the case studies of successful implementationof 3D reconstructions in heritage preservation.

The course is structured in a way that allows participants to engage in 3D modeling, data processing, and publication of the models in the digital environment. By the end of the course, participants will have a solid understanding of the tools and services used in 3D reconstructions and their publication online, and will be able to apply these techniques to their own projects.

The course on Information Systems for Historians focuses on the development of information systems for historical research and teaching history. The course is designed for students who interested in history, cultural heritage, and the humanities and open to interdisciplinary activities in the field of cultural informatics to leverage information technology to facilitate their further professional activities including teaching and research. The course covers the wide range of topics including the role of information systems in historical research and education, overview of the different types of information systems used in history, and design of information systems. The students will be introduced with the tools for development of information systems, techniques for designing effective and user-friendly interfaces through considering high-quality projects and the discussion of the future of information systems in history.

Examples of completed Master’s theses

  • The digital approaches to detecting and analysing propaganda in historical newspapers: the Kyiv example (1941 – 1943).
  • The Louvre in the Digital Dimension: The Evolution of a Museum’s Website Virtual museum as an environment for Cultural Heritage representation History of Fandoms: Cultural cybersocieties and their evolution on the web (1996-2020)

Areas we are open to supervising:

  • Digital History
  • Web-history
  • Museums on the web
  • Virtual museology
  • Digital Heritage
  • History of Information Society

The courses offered in Humanities Data Science and Methodology

Our teaching is primarily offered in the context of the Data and Discourse Studies MA.

This interdisciplinary programme focuses on discourse analysis with a focus on research data.

The Chair of Humanities Data Science and Methodology contributes especially to the research data aspects of this MA, exploring central concepts, applications and methods of digital humanities and digital history research data.

For more information about this programme see here.

The advances seminar Humanities Data Science and Methodology

This seminar usually takes place in the Winter and Summer semester on Tuesdays from 16:15 – 17:45.

The seminar explores ongoing and emerging research methods, findings and hermeneutic perspectives from digital humanities, digital history and humanities data science and methodology.