October 19, 2021

Historical Data

Spring 2020

Course Overview 

HST 489 – Using Digital Sources and Data in Historical Research will focus on the best practices for collecting and contextualizing historical data, methods for using historical data in research, and advantages and disadvantages to thinking about sources as data. The use of digitized primary sources—such as newspapers, photographs, and government records—has become commonplace for historical research. Students in the class will learn several different techniques for working with these materials, such as mapping, information visualization, text mining, and the filtering of information such as names and places. Students will also come away with a better understanding of storytelling and argumentation with data.

Students in HST 489 will select (or create) a historical dataset, conduct research on the historical topic and the data in question, and curate, describe, and publish the dataset for others to use. At the end of the semester, you’ll produce a well-organized, well-documented dataset and an essay discussing research findings and advancing an argument using historical data.

[Thanks to Brandon Locke and Alyssa Lopez for the initial version of this syllabus: http://historicaldata.leadr.msu.edu/]

Course Objectives

  1. Demonstrate historical thinking about data
  2. Compare different definitions and understandings of data
  3. Discuss and critique common digital history methods
  4. Classify, interpret, and select data for research
  5. Differentiate between derived data, metadata, and received data
  6. Evaluate historical data, know which questions to ask of data, craft research questions using historical data
  7. Generate or refine derived or aggregated data
  8. Critique assumptions/claims within viz
  9. Interpret information communicated by data
  10. Produce a research project pairing a method/tool with a data set and research question
  11. Work with potentially sensitive data in a responsible and ethical manner



112 Old Hort, M&W 3:00-4:20pm

Instructors and Office Hours

Sharon Leon
342 Old Horticulture
Office Hours: M&W 2:00-3:00pm

Graduate Research Assistant:
Jen Andrella, ABD
LEADR Hours: M 12-6pm, T 10am-1pm, F 10am-1pm