This offering is an applied course in digital history that explores the adaptation of history to a digital environment. Although the central goal of the course is development of an original, digital history project of professional quality, the course will also examine “best practices” in digital history, the problems and possibilities inherent in digital history, and issues in information,
HIST 697 Syllabus PDFtechnical, and aesthetic design. In end, the course will tackle look at what interactivity and games might bring to digital history. Be aware that this class is an applied course. In other words, we will begin by thinking (and writing) about good history and then proceed to learning the tools and techniques to bring history into digital form. Be also mindful that any digital work is a collaborative venture, so be prepared to both aid others and ask for help for yourself.
The texts (of one kind or another) serve three purposes: 1) to provide you with the background in graphic design and usability; 2) to introduce you to some texts that are intended to promote some “right brain” thinking or provide inspiration; and 3) to furnish you with a modest technical, reference library. We will discuss some of the books briefly, some in depth, and some not at all, but they all should be read either in toto or in small bites. All the books are available at the campus bookstore or from vendors of your choice.
- Adobe Team,
Dreamweaver Classroom in a Book
- Katrin Eismann, Steve Simmons,
Photoshop Restoration and Retouching (3rd ed.)
- Edward Tufte,
- Robin Williams,
Non-Designers Web Book (3rd ed.)
- Charles Wyke-Smith,
Stylin’ with CSS
- Steven Krug,
Don’t Make Me Think (2nd ed.)
Blogs have become an important element on the web and something that you’ve already done in Clio Wired. Rather than have a group blog or design a blog from the ground up, you’ll be doing something a bit different. I’m going to recommend two options. (Why not one of the free services?Because I have experienced enormous problems with downtime, trolls, and spam in previous semesters.)
You can obtain a Plus-level subscription to Typepad, a blog. The cost is $8.95 per month or roughly $27.00 for the semester (the cost of a modest textbook). The best thing to do is sign up for a free trial; this will furnish you with a period of free service. At the end of the semester, you can cancel your subscription. Or, you may discover that you like blogging so much that you retain your subscription. The advantages of TypePad are ease of use and the option to customize your design.
Alternatively, you can use WordPress. WordPress is free, but the installation of the software can be challenging on your own, and you will need to contact your ISP to ensure that the necessary software is in place. There are some ISPs that will do an automatic WordPress install. Be aware that most free web page areas do not support CGI or MySQL or charge extra. I do not recommend doing your own installation unless you have some solid computer skills and access to a sophisticated ISP, but there may some in the class who can avail themselves of WordPress or other options.
A word about design. There are a number of designs suitable for history, but please avoid anything on a black or dark background with light or white type. Known as “reversing out” among graphic designers, this format is very difficult to read. If you elect to use TypePad or a WordPress template, avoid the special interest design or media designs unless you will be using the features of a media design template extensively. Be sure to enable comments and the RSS feed so that you can access your classmates' blogs using a newsreader. This will save you an enormous amount of time. Or, you can simply use the “Students“ list on the website.
Because this course will introduce you to standards-based, accessible design, you will need several browsers to test your web work. This, of course, brings me to the good news and the bad news. Standards-based design is, on the whole, much more tractable than its predecessor, convoluted table-based design. The XHTML code is much easier to write and cleaner. The bad news is that Internet browsers carry the baggage of the Browser Wars and, as result, interpret CSS, the web presentation language, in a number of different ways. What to do? You should download at least two different browsers.
Mac people should acquire Safari (latest version) and Firefox (latest version); Wintel folk should also obtain the latest versions of IE. Both Opera and Chrome on both platforms are also good and available for free. If you elect to use Firefox, there is a handy plugin, Web Developer Tools, that provides a means to look at your CSS in different ways.
Wintel people face a different problem: their dominant browsers are not fully standards-compliant and don't implement the latest CSS options. (Note that IE 7.0 and 8.0 is much more standards-compliant, 70 percent of the Wintel systems are using IE 7.0 and 8.0 at this writing. Explorer 9.0 Beta will be fully compliant, but it has not been released formally.) Should historians use IE exclusively, they will develop some poor habits. In the end, the best practice for Wintel historians is to design and preview on a standards-compliant browser and correct for the IE family. So, for our purposes, Wintel folk should use the latest versions of Firefox, Opera, or Chrome as their primary browser, and Mac people should use Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Chrome.
Class participants will also need an image editor or access to an image editor. For those who envision using new media as an ongoing part of their history graduate work, Adobe Photoshop CS5 is the de facto standard. For those who see their new media work as occasional, Adobe Photoshop Elements (9.0 for both Mac and Win) is an extremely powerful (and inexpensive) program that, except for some advanced color capabilities, has the same features as Photoshop CS5. If you use Elements, please understand that there will be some techniques that the software cannot manage. One of these is Zoomify.
Clio 2 students will also need an HTML editor. Adobe Dreamweaver has become the standard (and the one installed in the lab). Adobe products are available at Patriot Computer at an educational discount, but order early so that you will have software for the requisite class assignments. You may also wish to explore acquiring Adobe CS5 Premium Suite; it contains both Photoshop CS5 and Dreamweaver5 as well as a host of other useful applications. There is, of course, a matching price tag. Those who envision using digital media in their professional lives should opt for the Adobe CS5 Suite
Since we will be working extensively with CSS, you might also find a dedicated CSS editor handy. StyleMaster, a cross-platform product from WestCiv, is a good bet. CSSEdit for the Mac is also intuitive and easy to use. There are undoubtedly other CSS editors available for the Wintel platform.
Finally, class participants will need to subscribe to lynda.com for at least a month. There are two training videos on the site that are required for the course. (There are also lots of other good and helpful videos that you might find useful.)