Fall 2018: The Digital Past

The Digital Past

The Progressive Era, 1870 – 1920

HIST 390 – 005: Fall 2018

Instructor: Eric Gonzaba ・ egonzaba@gmu.edu

General Course Information

Class Time:      Wednesday, 7:20 PM – 10:00 PM

Classroom:       James Buchanan Hall D023

Office Hours:    Wednesday, 5:00 PM – 6:00 PM and by appointment

Office:               Robinson Hall B 226C

See Full Schedule

Required Texts

Please obtain a copy of the following book. All other readings are available online or through Blackboard.

McGerr, Michael. A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920. Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN: 978-0195183658

Required Domain

At the first class meeting, all students will sign up for a year’s hosting with Reclaim Hosting (usually a $30 purchase).  You will sign up for a student plan with the coupon code reclaim4edu for a 10% discount. We will go over this at the first class, so no need to do this ahead of time.

Course Description

In this class, you will to learn to do history using digital tools. The course—which satisfies the Mason Core IT requirement—teaches the fundamentals of information technology by applying them to practical problems in history. Throughout the semester, you will work individually and with classmates on a series of projects about American history during the Progressive Era. You will learn not only how to do research online but also how to put those sources in the context of other scholarly work. You will gather data, learn how to question it, analyze it, summarize it, and interpret it. You will create visualizations of datasets, including maps. You will learn how to present visual and textual sources online in web exhibits, and you will learn how to write and publish effectively online. Through learning by doing, you will gain both digital skills and the skills of a historian. This combination will be useful to you throughout your university career and in your future work.

In this course you will

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

You will also master the IT competencies from the Mason Core:

  • 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.


In this class, you will create a number of smaller projects on the history of the American Progressive Movement. Each of these projects will demonstrate a specific skill that you learned in class. At the end of the semester, you will combine them into a portfolio of materials. You will also write blog posts on various subjects. All assignments or blog posts assigned on a given week are due before the start of class on the following Wednesday.

Quizzes (20%). There will be ten (10) short quizzes on the McGerr book and supplemental readings. You may use notes you have taken on the reading if they are on paper. If you take notes electronically, print them out. No makeup quizzes will be allowed, but the lowest two quiz scores will be dropped.

Blog (20%). For each assignment, write a well-argued blog post of approximately three hundred (300) words, with correct prose, full sentences, and paragraphs with topic sentences. Respond to the questions in the prompt thoroughly, but do not simply enumerate your answers. These posts are mostly graded by completion. Thoughtful posts will receive full credit; others will receive no credit.

Skills assignments (12 @ 5% each = 60%). You will create twelve (12) projects over the course of the semester. Whenever possible, you will embed these in a page on your WordPress website as well as upload a link to them onto Blackboard’s assignment page. Due dates and further instructions are listed on the schedule. Assignments include: (1) metadata input; (2) build an online historical exhibit; (3) image comparison and analysis ; (4) georeference a historical map; (5) edit a Wikipedia entry; (6) text mine; (7) map data; (8) create a timeline (9) use audio in textual storytelling; (10) create a short historical documentary; (11) documentary storyboard; and (12) create a portfolio of your assignments for the course.


This course utilizes Slack for most interpersonal communication outside class. Students will sign up to the course Slack group on the first day’s sitting and an invitation to join the group will be sent via Blackboard. Questions regarding minor matters (help with assignments, software trouble etc.) should first be solicited to fellow students on Slack. Students may contact the instructor through Slack, at office hours, or finally, by email. Other major announcements will also be made on Blackboard.

Late Work

No unexcused late work will be accepted. You must request any extensions before assignments are due, and excused late work will receive a one letter grade penalty unless otherwise specified. No work will be accepted after the last day of class unless specifically assigned. Note: No make-up quizzes will be given, be it a excused or unexcused absence.

University Schedule Dates

September 4, 2018: Last day to drop with no tuition penalty

September 9, 2018: Final drop deadline

November 21, 2018: No class (Thanksgiving holiday)


All students will need to bring a laptop or tablet to every class. You will need it to complete required in-class exercises. Because our class is nearly three hours long, please charge your computer beforehand and bring a charger to class with you. There is not enough outlets for all students to charge during class. Be sure to back up all work on an external hard drive or in a Dropbox/other cloud account. Computer failures are not an acceptable excuse for late assignments and will not constitute an emergency.

Academic Integrity

You are expected to know and follow George Mason’s policies on academic integrity and the honor code. Plagiarism is not acceptable in any form. All sources used must be acknowledged in a note or bibliography entry, including paraphrased material. Any copied text (exact words) must be accurately cited and surrounded in quotation marks or offset in a block quote.

Disability Services

If you have a documented learning disability or other condition that may affect academic performance, please consult George Mason’s Disability Services (SUB I, Suite 2500; (703) 993-2474) to determine the accommodations you need.

Syllabus Credits

Much of this syllabus and schedule was greatly influenced and borrowed from previous digital history courses taught at Mason and elsewhere. I’m especially indebted to assignment ideas, readings, course structure, and teaching from such awesome people like Sharon Leon, Sheila Brennan, Lincoln Mullen, Stephen Robertson, Jacqueline Beatty, Amanda Regan, Erin Bush, Jannelle Legg, Alyssa Fahringer, and Spencer Roberts.