Instructor: Jim McGrath (he/him/his)

Course Meeting Times: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 2:30pm-3:50pm

Location: Seminar Room, Nightingale-Brown House, John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage (357 Benefit St.)

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11-12pm (Office Location: 2nd floor of Nightingale-Brown House)


Twitter: @JimMc_Grath

Course Site:

Course Slack:

Official Course Description

This course considers the (perhaps surprisingly) long history of digital archives in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, surveying the various efforts of academic institutions, community organizers, activists, amateurs, and anarchists, examining digitized and “born-digital” materials, reflecting on relationships between ideas of cultural value and forms of materiality, technology, access, and dissemination. Particular attention will be paid to imagined audiences and uses of digital archives: scholarly, political, speculative, creative, memetic, and otherwise. This course provides students with opportunities to learn from archivists (and to visit local special collections on and off-campus) and to develop projects informed by best practices in digital public humanities.  

Learning Goals

Over the course of this semester, students will:

  • learn archival theory and its applications to digital contexts and projects
  • survey contemporary approaches to digital archives, innovative uses of digitized archival materials, and efforts by local archivists, librarians, and digital humanities scholars at Brown and in New England
  • review exemplary models and experiment with uses of digital archival materials in the contexts of publication, data visualization, social media dissemination, podcasts, augmented reality, APIs, artificial intelligence, and other approaches to digital collections and digital storytelling
  • demonstrate their understanding of the relationship between digital archive and audience through the creation and dissemination of a digital public humanities project

Course Requirements

Over 15 weeks, students will spend three hours per week in class (45 hours total). Engagement with course readings and research related to digital tools and projects will take approximately 4 1/2 hours per week (68 hours total). Completion of major course assignments is estimated to take 67 hours total (spread across the semester). In total, time estimated to complete activities related to this class should take 180 hours to complete over the course of the semester (on average, 12 hours per week). These estimates are in line with time estimates for typical Brown University courses. Please be in touch ASAP if you have questions about course completion expectations.

We may leave the classroom on a few occasions to complete course-related field research or workshopping: in those instances, you will receive sufficient advance notice and we’ll utilize our regular meeting time for these activities (in the event that you have other commitments before or after our course, we’ll talk and figure that out). If there are events or programming that seem of interest to the course but fall outside our regular meeting times, I will let you know about them, but your attendance is not required.

Brown University is committed to full inclusion of all students. Please inform me early in the term if you have a disability or other conditions that might require accommodations or modification of any of these course procedures. You may speak with me after class or during office hours. For more information, please contact Student and Employee Accessibility Services at 401-863-9588 or Students in need of short-term academic advice or support can contact one of the deans in the Dean of the College office.

Reliable web access: Given the nature of this course, it’s essential that you be able to get on the web on a regular basis. Please see me if you have any questions about this requirement or if you’d like to talk about resources here at Brown. 

Classroom technology: There will be days when we will require the use of laptops, tablets, and/or smartphones to view and complete course work. There may be particular days when a laptop is preferable to a tablet, given the need to work with a particular tool. I will let you know in advance should these needs arise if you require additional resources. You are not required to purchase or own laptops, tablets, and/or smart phones for this course, though you may find that bringing one or more of these devices to class is useful. Bringing a Wifi-enabled device you’re comfortable reading and writing on in class is recommended but not required. Please see me if you have questions or concerns about technology resources available to you at Brown.

Slack: The class will use Slack to share links related to our themes and readings and to check in on progress on major assignments. Slack also offers a chat feature allowing users to privately message one another, a feature that should be used for course-related conversations. Slack is free and accessible via a web address or the Slack application. We’ll discuss how we’re using Slack this semester during our first class. Please contact me ASAP if you have questions or concerns about use of Slack or particular messages you’ve seen or received on Slack.

Course Materials and Readings

Course reading are outlined in further detail in the semester calendar. Direct links to readings can be found on the course site. Readings will be taken from material that is accessible online or via physical / digital library resources; check email and Slack on a regular basis for materials, and be in touch if you can’t find a particular text.

Course Policies

I expect that students will regularly attend class sessions, keep up with readings, and submit graded work in a completed fashion and on time. I also assume that students will participate in class discussions and be respectful of their peers in said discussions. Excessive absences or missing assignments / contributions to Slack can negatively impact your grade.

If you have concerns about your ability to meet particular course requirements or assignment due dates, please email me or talk to me after class.