DH 180: Born Digital

TR 3:15-4:45pm

Prof. Mackenzie Brooks

Assistant Professor and Digital Humanities Librarian

[email protected] // 540-458-8659 // Leyburn 218 // office hours: Wed 4-5pm, Thurs 2-3pm

Course description:

This course will explore the concept of “born digital” archives and our relationship to them as humans and scholars. The information that we create, consume, and communicate is almost entirely digital. Entire libraries fit in our pockets and every day sees 500 million new tweets of human expression. We now have constant access to a vast archive of human record – or do we? The average lifespan of a webpage is 100 days. Studies show that that 20% of academic articles contain broken links. How will future scholars understand our world of fragmented and fragile knowledge production and storage? Through discussion and lab time, this course will explore methods for studying and preserving contemporary culture and events. We will examine issues related to the ethics of appraisal, privacy, digital obsolescence, under-represented communities, media studies, and collective memory. Students will learn the basics of archival theory, practice, and technology in order to create a web archive of their design.

Learning objectives:

  • Students will learn and be able to apply the principles of archival theory and practice.
  • Students will think critically about the use and creation of digital records in their own lives and communities.
  • Students will analyze “born digital” archives through the lens of their chosen discipline(s).
  • Students will practice methods for collecting and preserving born digital archives by conducting their own digital preservation project.

The following HU FDR Learning Objectives will be met through the analysis of born-digital archives:

  • analyze and/or interpret texts and/or cultural artifacts using appropriate discipline-specific terminology and methods;
  • demonstrate competency in analysis and interpretation of texts and/or cultural artifacts; and
  • write interpretive studies of specific texts and/or cultural artifacts.

Policies & accommodations:

  • I allow two “free passes” for absences or late assignments. You must declare the pass before class begins or before the assignment is due for it to count. Unexcused absences or late assignments will result in the reduction of your final grade by one percentage point.
  • Proper citations and attributions are mandatory in all assignments. Academic integrity is especially important as we will encounter and reference a variety of publications in this class, not just peer-reviewed academic sources.
  • Washington and Lee University makes reasonable academic accommodations for qualified students with disabilities. All undergraduate accommodations must be approved through the Title IX Coordinator and Director of Disability Resources, Elrod Commons 212 (540) 458-4055. Students requesting accommodations for this course should present an official accommodation letter within the first two weeks of the term and schedule a meeting outside of class time to discuss accommodations. It is the student’s responsibility to present this paperwork in a timely fashion and to follow up about accommodation arrangements. Accommodations for test-taking must be arranged with the professor at least a week before the date of the test or exam, including finals.


Most readings will be available online through the library’s subscriptions or open access. The following represent core texts for the course:

Brügger, Niels, and Ralph Schroeder. The Web as History: Using Web Archives to Understand the Past and the Present. UCL Press, 2017, http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1542998/1/The-Web-as-History.pdf.

Owens, Trevor. Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming. https://osf.io/preprints/lissa/5cpjt

Rumsey, Abby Smith. When We Are No More. Bloomsbury Press, 2016. (purchase required)

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