Teaching Digital (Middle Eastern) History

Summer is over, Fall Semester has started, and I am teaching a new course entitled, “Minorities and Diversity of the Middle East.”  The class covers both ethnic and religious diversity from Muhammad to the present, so we have a lot of ground to go over.  As this is a topic of particular interest to me, I am very excited to be offering this class.  But I am excited not only due to the content, but also due to an additional experiment: I am offering a digital history extra credit project, to see if it works.

What is digital history?  Definitions vary, but it involves something related to doing history with computers.  That isn’t exactly new, since computer enabled a wave of quantitative history already in the 1960s.  But some people view Digital History less as quantitative history, which attempted to establish history as one of the Social Sciences, and more a subclass of the new Digital Humanities.  Of course, Digital Humanities has roots in the 1950s as well.  But hey, definitions vary.

After much brainstorming, I have created a new website for the course where the students will build essentially a reference work that they can use for studying for exams.  (As with most website launches, there’s not much there yet!)  They will create content of certain types and propose links between articles.  Creating the articles will use the same skills as are tested on the class exams, and students will also gain experience with the potentials (and limitations) of online history frameworks, as well as generating an online presence to which they can point future employers as a collaborative project.  I will manage the WordPress interface, so I am not requiring students to develop technical skills extraneous to the course subject matter.  I met with four students today interested in contributing, and two more have expressed interest, so I hope this will develop into a framework that the whole class can benefit from.  And it will persist beyond the end of the class, so if it works, I can have future classes augment it.  I am excited to see what comes of it!

There isn’t much over there yet, but check back over the course of the semester and see if my students are taking the bait!

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