This class is a unique one: a history class that meets the IT requirements for the Mason Core. It’s not like any class you’ve taken before, mostly likely. In it, you’ll be stretched and you may be confused at times, but by the end you’ll come out with knowledge and skills you didn’t expect.

What is this class going to be like?

This semester, for the first time, this class will be fully online. I chose to make it online and asynchronous for a few reasons. First, I don’t believe we can operate safely in a large class on campus this semester. That’s just the reality. So that’s why we’re online. We’re asynchronous because I believe that it’s not possible to replicate the in-class experience merely by meeting on Zoom (this is your first lesson about digital technology). So instead of trying to use Zoom as a substitute for an in-person class, I’ve designed a whole new asynchronous class for you. You’ll be doing individual work, but you’ll also have a chance to build community with me and your classmates in different ways than you might in person.

I hope that we’ll embrace these differences, rather than chafe against them. Things are different now. They may be different for the rest of your college career. Maybe the old ways aren’t gone forever, but this semester we can create new paths for learning and community that can enrich your experience going forward, no matter what that experience looks like.

But this kind of teaching and learning is new! It might not be new for you, but it is new for me, your professor. So we may do some things that absolutely flop. That’s ok. We’ll learn from our mistakes, correct course, and carry on.

The biggest challenge in asynchronous classes is that students have to be intrinsically motivated to do all the activities. You won’t have the watchful eye of your teacher staring balefully at you (just kidding, I don’t do that even face-to-face) during class to encourage you to get involved. You’re going to have to WANT to get involved. I’ve tried to help you by making the class activities meaningful and even fun, but there will likely be some that you don’t see the value of or that seem silly to you. I’d ask that you just do them anyway, if you can.

What is this class about, anyway?

This class is called “The Digital Past,” and we will be learning about the past and the digital, but mostly not about the past of the digital. Instead, we’re focusing on a particular historical topic—War in the Antebellum United States—and seeing how digital tools and technologies can help us understand this topic and others.

In this class, you will:

  • Create digital history on the Internet.
  • Evaluate how technology shapes and is shaped by our understanding of the past.
  • Analyze how war affected the antebellum United States.

Because it is a Mason Core IT course, this course will also meet the following learning outcomes:

  1. Students will understand the principles of information storage, exchange, security, and privacy and be aware of related ethical issues.
  2. Students will become critical consumers of digital information; they will be capable of selecting and evaluating appropriate, relevant, and trustworthy sources of information.
  3. Students can use appropriate information and computing technologies to organize and analyze information and use it to guide decision-making.
  4. Students will be able to choose and apply appropriate algorithmic methods to solve a problem.

What materials do I need for this class?

There is no textbook for this class; all readings will be online. That said, you do need a few things.

  • A personal website, set up through Reclaim Hosting, that includes WordPress (we’ll set this up during the first week of class); this will cost $30 for a calendar year
  • A Gmail account. You’ll need this so we can do some collaborative work in Google Docs and Sheets. If you don’t already have a Gmail account, you can make one that’s solely for the purposes of this class and delete it afterward.
  • A computer or computing device like a tablet that has an Internet connection. If you don’t have this, talk to me very very early in the semester.
  • A way to create video or audio content (a phone, a computer, a tablet) that you can post for discussion


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). Thanks to Lindsay Passenger Wieck for being a constant sounding board for my more outlandish ideas; this course is better because of you. Thanks also the HIST390 instructors from this and past semesters, especially Katja Hering and Nate Sleeter. I’ve adapted the grading system in this course from Ryan Cordell.