Course number

This class is dual-listed as HIST389 and HIST395. That means it’s a mix of students who are taking this as a straight-up American history course, and students who are taking it as a digital history course. The content is just the same (surprise, you’ll all be doing a little bit of digital history), except that the 395 students will be required to make a digital project as their final project.

What you need

We do have a textbook for this class. PLEASE DO NOT BUY THE HARDCOVER that is extremely expensive. If you want a physical copy (which I do recommend), you can find it used for under $20. But you can also access it on ProQuest through GMU’s library (link below).

Bradford, James C. America, Sea Power, and the World. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2016. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/gmu/detail.action?docID=4205811.

You will also need a Gmail account, as we’re going to be doing quite a lot of collaborative work in Google Docs this semester.

How this class is going to work

Our class is fully online this semester, and it is listed as synchronous. Our course time is 10:30am-11:45am on Monday and Wednesday. You will receive a Zoom link to our class “room” before the first day of class; that will be the link we use for all class meetings.

It is very likely that we will not meet both days of any given week. My initial plan is to meet on Wednesdays every week, and on Mondays as needed (this could be for project workshops, guest speakers, or a number of other things).

This course is a mixture of discussion and “lecture,” though much heavier on the discussion. As such, keeping up with the readings in this course will be absolutely critical to your success in this course.

We will be using a system of assessment known as “contract grading.” More on that on the Assessment page.

We are NOT using Blackboard AT ALL in this course. We will be using other technologies like Slack or Discord and the Google ecosystem of collaborative word-processing apps. Why? Because unless you go into a very small slice of the education sector, Blackboard skills are highly non-transferable. But in many other professional settings, knowing about asynchronous collaborative platforms is critical. So we’re going to use technology that will be useful for you going forward.

How you should think about this class

One of the things that this past semester of online education has elucidated is a gap between how students think about online courses and how professors think about them. So I want to lay out how I think about this course as a way to bring you around to the same way of thinking–but I’m also open to changing the way things work if we can’t come together.

The key mismatch between students and professors is a misinterpretation of how much work is required for a class. Many professors have actually pared back their syllabi, but the online format means that they’re checking up on whether students are doing the work with much more regularity and insistence. So to students, who rely on being able to lay off or give less effort at various points throughout the semester in order to cope with their overall workload, it feels like they’re always under the microscope, and that there’s so much more work. Then professors feel like students aren’t taking the course seriously in the online format, but in reality they are requiring more work of students than they have in the past, because they’re scrutinizing each student more closely.

Neither of these positions is illegitimate. It’s possible for students to have less work required and yet feel the brunt of it more strongly, and it’s simultaneously possible for professors to assign less work and yet feel that students aren’t keeping up even with that much work.

So what can we do about that? In this class, I’m taking a few steps to help:

  • You will have some flexibility about which weeks you give me full effort, and which weeks you can lay off a little. This flexibility is in large part tied to your grade contract, but everyone will get a little flexibility.
  • You will be assessing your own effort throughout the semester and providing feedback on how things are going.
  • You will have a LOT of flexibility on your main project for the semester.

However, there may still be moments where it feels like I’m asking a lot from you. Remember that days where we don’t meet are not equivalent to a cancelled class or a day off. Instead, you should think of the amount of work on an asynchronous day as the amount of work you’d put in on a class day where we do a lot of discussion. In other words, asynchronous days aren’t passive “listen to the lecture” workloads. They’re active “talk to my classmates and come up with some cool ideas” workloads. These asynchronous days are going to help us build up the knowledge and tools we need to maximize the days where we do meet synchronously.

I’ll try to signal in the weekly plan what activities I consider “classtime activities,” for both async and sync days, and what activities are more in the “homework” or “out of class” category. Then you can weight your effort more toward the “classtime activities” if you need to (though please do the homework as well if at all possible!).

At the end of the day, though, if something isn’t working for lots of people, we’re going to change things. So the other lens you need in order to view this class properly is flexibility. The reasons we might need to change something range from personal need, to course correction, to cataclysmic societal implosion, to anything in between. So while I will certainly signal a shift in advance if one is warranted, you should assume that this syllabus is a living document.


In this mid-covid world, I have clung to many many many people’s superior wisdom about teaching technology, teaching online, and teaching with compassion. In particular, my teaching philosophy and practice is informed by scholars such as Ryan Cordell, Cate Denial, Joshua Eyler, Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Kevin Gannon, and Mills Kelly; many others have offered sage advice on Twitter (including some that I should undoubtedly call out by name but I’ve forgotten them; if that’s you, I’m sorry and I do appreciate you). Special thanks to Claude Berube and others at the U.S. Naval Academy for letting steal ideas from your American Naval History syllabi.