Announcing a New Doctoral Program in Digital History

I am very excited to announce that the new Digital History doctoral program at Clemson University will be going live in the fall of 2022. I have been involved in this effort since my arrival at Clemson as a lecturer in 2018. For the past several years I worked closely with Pam Mack to develop a program curriculum that would do things a little differently. It is rare to have the opportunity to conceive of a new program from scratch. Acutely aware of the challenges facing graduate education in the humanities and the state of the job market, we envisioned a program that would train researchers to succeed in roles both within and outside of academia. Built into the required curriculum is training in grant writing, project management, non-profit administration, professional writing, and an internship/practicum that will place students within a public or private sector position where they will gain practical experience in a role in which they might seek employment.

Cohort sizes will be small; four students will be admitted each year with funding for five years. Students entering the program will be required to have earned a master’s degree but it does not need to be in history. We encourage applications from individuals holding degrees in American Studies, English, Communications, Sociology, Library and Information Science, and Computer Science.These decisions were guided by our own experiences and the generous input of others who shared what they wished they would have learned in graduate school. A more detailed description of our vision will be published in The Digital Futures of Graduate Study in the Humanities as part of the Debates in the Digital Humanities Series (forthcoming).

While our original launch date was delayed due to Covid, we used the additional time with the newly hired director, Douglas Seefeldt, to make improvements to the funding model and tinker with coursework. What we created is a curriculum that deeply engages with traditional and digital methods of historical analysis. Students will complete a traditional primary and focus field in history and a required eighteen-credit digital history field designed to train students in digital methods and tools in conjunction with historical content. The first methods course is a broader survey of digital history that encourages students to consider how digital approaches can be used to ask or answer historical questions. The second methods course will introduce students to a programming language that they will use to manipulate, analyze, and visualize historical data. The digital historiography class will examine previous digital work to both trace the development of digital history and the contributions this work has made to historiographical debates. In the digital history seminar, students will employ a digital history approach to advance a historical argument concerning their own research. The two elective courses will provide an opportunity for students to specialize in textual analysis, GIS, 3D Modeling, or other specialty. All students will be encouraged to explore innovative forms and approaches for their dissertation. Some research projects will lend themselves to different interactive visual narratives while others will utilize digital methods to produce a more traditional written manuscript informed by digital research. While this is not the first doctoral program to require coursework in digital history, it is the first in the United States to require it at this level.

The time is right for graduate education in history to try something new.

I would also like to thank Vernon Burton, James Burns, Amit Bein, Stephanie Barczewski, William Terry, John Eby, and the numerous other individuals who helped make this a reality. Before my arrival, Burton came to Clemson and laid the foundation of the program by demonstrating to the university and the department the importance of digital history. Burns and Barczewski drafted the initial proposal and budget. Mack and Seefeldt shepherded the proposal through the bewildering levels of approval and bureaucracy that comes with starting a new program. This day would not have come without all of their efforts. We are looking forward to welcoming the first digital history doctoral program cohort in the fall of 2022.

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