Information Fluency and Digital History

I’m not sure I had heard of the term “infofluency” before attending a workshop on the subject last spring in Baltimore. Hosted by the Council of Independent Colleges, the theme of the workshop was “information fluency” in ancient studies. A grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded a number of small CIC colleges like mine to participate in a three-day conversation about teaching the ancient world in an age when information is a theory and a flood. The organizers of the workshop required that small teams from each institution include ancient world faculty, librarians, and senior administrators, a strategic request reflecting the belief that institutional change comes easiest when everyone is on board.

The workshop was good, really good, better organized and focused than the THATCamp I attended in Philly in September. The presentations were interesting, and included talks about successful digital projects in ancient studies, such as Trollope’s Apollo, that accomplished real research goals while also leading students to work directly in digitizing ancient texts (links to some of the presentations are included below the 2012 Workshop Resources heading on this page). Presentations led to discussions that generally centered on how to navigate the deluge of information about ancient studies, and how to teach our students that information actually originates from particular kinds of sources that are now disembodied from their original physical forms (as one example, many undergraduate students no longer seem to get the concept of “journal” since institutions have traded physical volumes for intangible databases). As our discussion developed, I learned that information fluency is much like the old term “information literacy”—with connotations in reading in understanding—except for its stronger emphasis on using and producing information.

As I sat through a number of presentations and discussions in an ornate hotel meeting room called, to my amusement, “The Corinthian Room,” I couldn’t help but thinking about how much information has flooded even niche academic subjects like Corinthian Studies. Diana sent me a link to this flow of digital data bits related to Corinthians on Google Plus. The same flow one can find in twitter feeds—posts every few minutes that make some note of Corinth. Who can keep up with all the ephemera? No one, but this hardly means that ephemera are insignificant. The point, rather, is to learn to navigate the flood of info in ancient studies and help our students to do likewise.

The information fluency workshop ended with the teams of each institution producing plans (with magic markers on physical paper, no less) to implement information fluency in ancient studies on their own campuses. I walked away with the realization that I needed to do a better job collaborating with the librarians on campus in creating course projects that encourage developing digital skills and understanding of information. And that I need to find a way to get students plugged in to doing digital history.

I spent the morning putting together a syllabus for a course titled simply “Digital History,” which I plan to teach next year so long as the course is approved. It’s a small step to fostering information fluency by an emphasis on “labs,” small “collaborative projects,” and a major digital production rather than the typical history research paper. Nothing brilliant but it’s a step in the right direction.

A tentative course description:

What does it mean to practice history in the digital age? In this course, we explore how technology is changing the way we think about, research, and present the past. Our emphasis will be on the practice of digital history through specific exercises in GIS, data collection and manipulation, internet archiving, database creation, website development, social media, image and video editing, and digitization. Through a range of applications, tools, and collaborative exercises, we will see how digital tools readily intersect with the practice of history and how these applications are changing the way we understand our discipline.

For texts, I’ll use Roy Rosenzweig’s Clio Wired: The Future of the Past in the Digital Age, New York 2011: Columbia University Press, and Toni Weller (ed), History in the Digital Age, London 2013: Routledge.

And the tentative schedule.


Week 1. Rethinking History in the Digital Age

Feb. 3. Digital History and the Digital Humanities

Feb. 5. The Field of Digital History

Feb. 7. Discussion: Continuities and Changes


Week 2. Practicing History in the Digital Age

Feb. 10. Research and Production

Feb. 12. Teaching and Communication

Feb. 14. Best Practices in Digitization


Week 3. Surveying History in the Digital Age

Feb. 17. Resources

Feb. 19. Projects

Feb. 21. Applications



Week 4. Creating and Evaluating Historical Knowledge

Feb. 24. Information and Infofluency

Feb. 26. Lab: Wikipedia

Feb. 28. Collaborative Project


Week 5. Managing Digital Sources

March 3. Reference Management Applications: Zotero, End Note, and RefWorks

March 5. Lab: Zotero

March 7. Collaborative Project


Week 6. Organizing Digital Data

March 10. Databases, Omeka

March 12. Lab: Microsoft Access

March 14. Collaborative Project




Week 7. Websites and Blogs

March 24. Creating a Digital Presence

March 26. Lab: WordPress

March 28. Collaborative Project


Week 8. Geographic Information Systems

March 31. GIS and History

April 2. Lab: ArcView

April 4. Collaborative Project


Week 9. GIS and 3D Modeling: Google Sketchup

April 7. Collecting Spatial Data

April 9. Lab: Google Sketchup

April 11. Collaborative Project


Week 10. Digital Story Telling

April 14. Using Video to Tell a Story

April 16. Lab: Windows Live Movie Maker / iMovie



Week 11. Digital Publication


April 23. Dynamic History Publications

April 25. Lab: iBooks Author


Week 12. Final Project

April 28. Final Project

April 30. Final Project

May 2. Final Project


Week 13. The Future of the Past

May 5. Presentations of Final Projects

May 7. Final Exam: Presentations and Reflection


The labs and projects will center around four research tracts which I have experience to direct. Students will choose tracts at the start of the semester and work with groups from week 4 on one of these topics:

1) Digital Harrisburg (to be developed)

2) Stouffer Farm and Cemetery Project (a fun local history project I started to investigate an 18th century farm and cemetery in York county)

3) Corinthian Studies (related to this website, among others)

4) The Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project

More on this next year!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: