UPDATED History 385: Journalism and Digital Archives


Spring 2020 – M/W 4:00-5:15

Instructor Information:

Nick Blood nblood [at] emory [dot] edu

Office Hours: Monday 1-2pm @ Kaldi’s, Emory Student Center


This class offers a basic introduction to US journalism history, and to doing research through digital journalism archives. As we move through the semester and toward the completion of your own primary source research using a digital news archive, three overlapping themes will form the bedrock of the course. In a first cluster of readings and discussion we explore the growth of modern journalism, as both a cultural institution and a social practice, from the nineteenth century to the present. A second cluster of readings, distributed across the semester, will help us situate digitization and digitalization, themselves, as part of a historically evolving US media ecosystem. With a basic understanding of both digital archives and the broader history of journalism as a backdrop, class members will then embark on the third feature of the course: completing an original work of “digital history.” This will involve analyzing the content of one or more historic newspapers, exploring the social, cultural, and/or historical meaning of the sources in an 8-10 page essay, and presenting their research findings in a digital form.

The overall goal of this class is to gain experience using a digital journalism archive to analyze the news for social meaning. Through in-class demonstrations, we will familiarize ourselves with the layout and design of the ProQuest Historical Newspapers database, the largest collection of historic journalism available via Emory University’s libraries. During the semester each class member will also author a WordPress blog with practice exercises of news analysis, before returning to the blog at the semester’s end to present the conclusions of their research in a public format. While this course is meant as an entry point into the history of journalism and the use of digital archives, students may also approach it as a history-focused companion to other Emory courses offered in digital scholarship. As you embark on “doing history” in a digital way, moreover, you will be encouraged to work in collaboration with the staff of the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship, in exploring tools for data manipulation, analysis, and visualization that you may want to incorporate into your final project.

UPDATED: Assignments

WordPress Blog – Please submit a blog post next Wednesday, April 8 where you analyze an article (or some newspaper/magazine feature) on a topic of your choice, 350 words or more. I want you to say something as well about your experiencing using a database, so far–some reflection on your process of navigating/sifting through the archive you used.

Your blog will consist of a mixture of practice exercises analyzing individual primary sources and short commentaries on your progress toward your finished research project. On three occasions during the semester, I will assign a take-home exercise in which students will analyze a news source(s) for social, cultural, and/or historical context by posting their analysis in WordPress. Students will complete an additional one-off primary source analysis related to their project as we move toward the end of the semester. Otherwise, class members must use this blog to post 4 brief updates reflecting on the progress of their research and, when possible, relating your work to class discussion and readings. These posts will provide a springboard for us to collectively discuss the issues encountered and research strategies employed as we move forward.

3-Page Research Project Overview due Wednesday, April 15: 1) Introduce your topic, or one you might pursue, and what news media you’ll be looking at for your final project. 2) Try to say something about what kind of publication/s they are–straight, objective news, political journal, satirical, etc. 3) Use at least two books or articles to help establish a context for your topic–this is what scholars have said about it, this is the cultural or political setting of the topic and time. 4) Lastly, do a sample article/feature analysis on something to do with your topic–just like you’ve done with the two assigned blog posts already.

We’ll discuss the requirements of this assignment in greater detail as the semester progresses, but this overview will be an opportunity for you to explain the nature of your research project, what publication(s) and themes you are focusing on, and to list some secondary scholarly sources you may use.

End-of-Semester Digital Research Project – 5 Page Essay + WordPress Summary of Findings/Brief Oral Presentation on Zoom:

Around the sixth week of the course, as we establish the historical context of US journalism through readings and discussion, students will be asked to identify a time period, region, and topic around which to build their original research project. ProQuest Historical Newspapers contains US newspapers from a wide geographical distribution and time range, giving you latitude in designing the contours and selecting the publications and the topic to be featured in your project. You may choose to focus on a single publication for your content analysis, or you can incorporate a small group of similar or contrasting publications and compare their respective journalistic output. The final project will include both: 1) an 8-10 page essay drawing on your research and secondary sources; as well as 2) a 5-7 minute digital presentation about your project, either using your WordPress blog or PowerPoint.

UPDATED Readings: Next week (April 6 & 8) we’ll look at some examples of digital projects–look over the links ahead of time; it shouldn’t be a lot. Beyond next week we’re done with the long chapters, so look over the online pieces linked for each week as we’ll take up some of the questions they raise. I’ll also share one or two short selections in the coming weeks that we’ll discuss (in the range of 3-5 pages)

All assigned reading for this course is 1) freely available online or 2) distributed by the professor via email

The aim of class readings is two-fold: 1) to help students think about newspapers and digital news archives critically, as the outcome of particular historical and cultural contexts; and 2) to think about journalism as both a repository of historical data and a lens through which representation of social reality is shaped by historical, cultural, and political forces. In order to better understand digital archives and newspapers in a historical context, much of our assigned reading will concern the historical backdrop of media and communications in the United States. After early sessions introducing digital archives and theories of information, we will delve broadly into the history of US (and to a lesser extent international) journalism and media. This will include selections from scholarly books and articles covering the emergence of modern journalism, the historical development of communications technology, the “network society,” and the cultural practices of media. In the second half of the semester, we will circle back once again to readings focused on digital archives and digitization, and we will give some attention to examples of ongoing digital history projects. During the second half of the semester, as a greater portion of class time is devoted to discussing progress updates for final research projects, the reading load will lessen.

Discussion and Class Participation

In order to have thoughtful and constructive class discussion on these subjects, it is essential that class members arrive each week having read the assigned material, and just as importantly, having noted ahead of time points of interest or concern in the texts than can be brought into our class discussions. As this is an upper-level class, you will be expected to attend and participate vocally each week—and careful notetaking will make your engagement much easier. In the event that I have concerns about your engagement during class, I’ll bring this concern up to you. But I encourage you to use this class as an opportunity to develop the kind of verbal communication skills that will prove valuable in any professional setting.

Learning Objectives

This course has three primary learning objectives: to help students become familiar with navigating and exploring the rich databases found in an expanding number of web-based digital news archives; to provide a broad conceptual framework for understanding the history of journalism, newspapers, and communication; and to take students through the steps of conceptualizing and developing research projects with the aid of digital archives. Accordingly, our learning outcomes include:

  • Competency in employing digital news archives to conduct primary source research and see a research project through to completion
  • Developing the analytical tools to find meaning in primary source news documents through exploration of their social, cultural, and historical contexts
  • Familiarity with the historical development of news media and communications
  • Broad familiarity with theories of media and communications
  • Ability to articulate historical arguments derived from analysis of primary sources and secondary research

UPDATED Grade Distribution: I want everyone to do well. Complete the three remaining assignments, come to class as much as possible, keep me updated on any challenges you’re having, and I will let you know in between finals week and final grade submission if I need you to make improvements to your project in order to get full credit (and an A) for the class. I’ll be liberal with grading given the circumstances, but can’t promise an A if your project/paper don’t come up to even very generous standards. I’ll elaborate on the basic elements projects should aim to have in the coming weeks.

WordPress blog posts: 40%

Class attendance and participation: 15%

2-Page Overview of Research Project: 10%

Oral Presentation: 10%

Final Research Project: 25%

Grading Policy: The 8 WordPress posts you compose over the semester will receive a checkmark for full credit as long as your responses are thoughtful and relatively free of grammatical errors. However, I may ask you to rewrite a post in order to get full credit if it does not meet those basic criteria. The same criteria will apply for your 2-page project overview: in addition to a checkmark here, I’ll also offer comments and (likely) questions for you to consider as you move on to your full research essay.

We’ll discuss the longer writing assignments and presentations related to your research project in more detail as they approach, but broadly speaking: you can expect to receive a grade in the A-range if your project contains a clear discussion of the themes you’ve found in your chosen source material, includes a thoughtful incorporation of at least two secondary sources relevant to your topic, and is largely free from grammatical error.

Important Notes

The Honor Code is in effect throughout the semester. By taking this course, you affirm that it is a violation of the code to cheat on exams, to plagiarize, to deviate from the teacher’s instructions about collaboration on work that is submitted for grades, to give false information to a faculty member, and to undertake any other form of academic misconduct. You agree that the instructor is entitled to move you to another seat during examinations, without explanation. You also affirm that if you witness others violating the code you have a duty to report them to the honor council.

Academic Conduct and Plagiarism:

The university’s policies on academic honesty and misconduct as described in Emory University’s code of academic conduct and the honor code will be rigorously enforced in this course. Paraphrasing or quoting another’s work without citing the source is a form of academic misconduct. Even inadvertent or unintentional misuse or appropriation of another’s work (such as relying heavily on source material that is not expressly acknowledged) is considered plagiarism. If you have any questions about using and citing sources, please see me for clarification. And everyone should be familiar with the honor code: http://college.emory.edu/home/academic/policy/honor_code.html Other policies of the College may be found in the College Catalog: http://college.emory.edu/home/academic/catalog/index.html

Students with Disabilities:

Any student with a university-documented disability should confer with the professor or teaching assistant so that we can arrange suitable classroom accommodations. If you have a disability but have yet to seek university support, contact the Office of Accessibility Services.

Emory Writing Center:

We strongly advise using the resources available through the Writing Center. Center tutors take a discussion- and workshop-based approach and offer 45-minute individual conferences. Tutors can talk about purpose, organization, audience, design choices, or use of sources. They also can work on sentence-level concerns (including grammar and word choice), though they will not proofread. Instead, they will discuss strategies and resources that writers can use to become better editors of their own work. The Center is located in Callaway N-212. Visit writingcenter.emory.edu for more information and to make appointments.

UPDATED Class Schedule

Week 1: Overview Jan. 15

Week 2: Introduction to Digital Archives Jan. 22

Reading: “Archives in Context and As Context,” Kate Theimer, Journal of Digital Humanities.

Daniel J. Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig, Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web, “Introduction”; Ch. 1: “Exploring the History Web”; Ch. 3: “Becoming Digital: Preparing Historical Materials for the Web.”

Week 3: The Information Society Jan 27 & 29

First primary source analysis/blog assignment given Due Monday, Feb. 3

Reading: “The Idea of an Information Society,” in Frank Webster, ed., Theories of the Information Society (London: Routledge, 2006).

Marshall McLuhan, selection from The Gutenberg Galaxy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011).

Week 4: Is the Digital “New?” Continuities and Discontinuities in the Culture of Information Feb. 3 & 5

Reading: Selections from: Alex Wright, Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2008).

Lev Manovich, “Database as a Genre of New Media,” AI and Society.

Marshall Poe, “The Internet Changes Nothing,” History News Network, 28, 2010.

Week 5: History of Newspapers in the US Feb. 10 & 12

Second primary source analysis/blog assignment given Due Mon., Feb. 17

Reading: Selections from: Christopher B. Daly, Covering the Nation: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012). Pgs. 56-66, and Pgs. 112-150

Week 6: Diversity in Historic Print Media and Its Audiences Feb 17 & 19

Reading: Selections from: David Paul Nord, Communities of Journalism: A History of American Newspapers and Their Readers (Urbana-Champlain: University of Illinois Press, 2006).

Week 7: Journalism as an Economic Force Feb 24 & 26

Reading: Selections from: Gerald Baldasty, The Commercialization of the News in the Nineteenth Century (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993). Chapter 3 Chapter 6 (short conclusion)

Week 8: News and Politics Mar. 2 & 4

Selections from: Paul Starr, The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications (New York: Basic Books, 2005). Paul Starr, “Democratic Theory and the History of Communications” 35-45

Week 9: Spring Break

Week 10: The History of Journalism in an International Context Mar. 16 & 18

Third primary source analysis/blog assignment given Due Mon., Mar. 23

Reading: Selections from: Anthony Smith, The Newspaper: An International History (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1983).

Week 11: Media as Social and Cultural Practice from a Sociological Perspective Mar. 23 & 25

Reading: Selections from: Michael Schudson, Discovering the News: A Social History of American Newspapers (New York: Basic Books, 1981).

Week 12: Digital History Projects Mar. 30 & Apr. 1

Week 13: Modern Journalism History/Digital History Projects: The Texas Slavery Project Apr. 6 & 8 Submit a blog post analyzing an article/news feature of your choice and say something about your process finding sources/navigating databases. See “Assignments” section above for more details, 350 words.

Reading: “Examples of Collaborative Digital Humanities Projects,” Lisa Spiro, Digital Scholarship in the Humanities.

“Building New Windows into Digitized Newspapers,” Andrew J. Torget and Jon Christensen, Journal of Digital Humanities.

“Mapping Texts: Visualizing American Historical Newspapers,” Andrew J. Torget and Jon Christensen, Journal of Digital Humanities.

Week 14: Digital History Projects: Coded Racism in Toledo Journalism/Class Project Presentations Apr. 13 & 15 Send me your 3-page project overview. See “Assignments” section above for more details

Reading: Timothy Messer-Kruse, “Racial Proxies in Daily News: A Case Study of the Use of Directional Euphemisms,” Digital Humanities Quarterly.

Week 15: Anticipating the Future of Digital History/Class Project Presentations Apr. 20 & 22

Reading: “The Pasts and Futures of Digital History,” Edward L. Ayers, History News (2001).

Christine L. Borgman, “The Digital Future is Now: A Call to Action for the Humanities” Digital Humanities Quarterly.

Week 16: “Digitization and Its Discontents” Apr. 27 – LAST DAY OF CLASS – Come ready to give a short overview of your project and have at least a little of your digital presentation to share on the screen while you talk (fine if only an intro section). Say what it’s about, what news media you are using, maybe something interesting/surprising you’ve found.

Anthony Grafton, “Future Reading: Digitization and Its Discontents,” The New Yorker, 2007.

Roy Rosenzweig, “Digital Archives are a Gift of Wisdom to be Used Wisely,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 2005.

Week 17: Finals Week April 29-May 6

Complete and submit final research project during finals week