GraduateRoundtable Teaching Digital Methods for History Graduate Students

AHA Session 251
Sunday, January 6, 2013: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Rhythms Ballroom 3 (Sheraton New Orleans)
Sharon M. Leon, George Mason University
Scot A. French, University of Central Florida
T. Mills Kelly, George Mason University
W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University
Douglas Seefeldt, Ball State University
The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age

Session Abstract

In his first communication as President of the American Historical Association, “The Public Practice of History in and for a Digital Age,” William Cronon commented that he “knew from the outset that fostering conversations about the impact of the digital revolution on the practice of history would be among [his] highest priorities.” Cronon’s reading of the contemporary setting highlighted recent sweeping changing in information circulation and scholarly communication that have implications for all historians, not just those who engage digital methods. In the midst of his larger reflections on the implications of these changes for the profession, Cronon made a point to single out the impact they might have on “the students who represent both the future of the discipline and its future public.”*

At almost the same moment, Bethany Nowviskie, Director of Digital Research and Scholarship a the University of Virginia Library, used a guest post on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog to call for invoking the nuclear option on all humanities graduate methods seminars. In their place, she favors an interdisciplinary course that focuses on digital and project management skills, and new modes of scholarly communication.** Nowviskie’s admirable goal is to better prepare graduate students for the jobs that actually exist and that are rarely in traditional tenure track lines.***  

Nowviskie’s call begs the question of whether it is time to radically reimagine graduate history methods courses. As the profession changes, so must the process of preparing graduate students to practice history, either in traditional tenure track situations, in public history positions, or in other alternative academic careers. This roundtable will consider a range of issues associated with teaching digital methods for history graduate students.  Bringing together a group of historians who are working to teach digital methods to History graduate students in a variety of environments including the core methods seminar, additional digital methods courses, libraries, and digital humanities centers, the discussion will address some of the following questions:

  • Is it appropriate to do away with disciplinary methods classes in order to teach the skills necessary for graduate students to pursue digital projects and alternative academic careers?
  • If it is, how will graduate students learn to do rigorous historical work?
  • If it is not, what should the future of methods education for history graduate students look like?
  • What role, if any, should the university library play in this methodological training?
  • What about digital humanities centers?

* William Cronon, “The Public Practice of History in and for the Digital Age,” Perspectives (January 2012). Available at

** Bethany Nowviskie, “ProfHacker: It Starts on Day One,” The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 12, 2012). Available at

*** This point was recognized by AHA President Anthony T. Grafton and Executive Director Jim Grossman in “No More Plan B,” Perspectives (October 2011). Available at

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