HIST 7219: Digital Space and Place

Course Meeting Time: Wednesdays, 5pm-6:30pm via Zoom

Instructor: Dr. Jim McGrath (he/his pronouns)


Office Hours: Fridays, 2:30-4pm or by appointment (please email me to request a meeting and I’ll send you a Zoom invite)

Slack: [redacted] (you’ll receive invites to our Slack channel during the first week of the semester)

Email and Slack messages are the best way to contact me this spring. I will aim to respond to any correspondence received during M-F working hours within 24 hours. Messages received on weekends will receive a response no later than end-of-day the following Monday. 

Location: Jim will be teaching remotely this semester. We will primarily meet via weekly Zoom sessions: Zoom meeting links can be found in our Canvas course site. Please note our start and end time. Based on previous teaching experiences via Zoom, I find that anything beyond 90 consecutive minutes gets a bit draining. You are required to attend weekly Zoom meetings, and we’ll make up the additional time via following up on weekly coursework in asynchronous contexts. I’ll have recommendations for how you might use that time each week.

A Note on The Course

I have tried to design this course, its major assignments, and its weekly topics and readings in a manner that acknowledges that we are all grappling in various ways with COVID-19, national news, and other concerns. This course, its major assignments, and its workload would look different under different circumstances. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you require additional clarification, time, or even revised expectations regarding the completion of major assignments. And please find ways to take care of yourselves and your mental / physical this semester. Let me know if you need info on available resources at Northeastern. Happy to talk more.

Course Description

This course is generally known as “Digital Space and Place,” and so generally speaking we will be discussing ideas and representations of space and place in digital contexts: maps and other kinds of spatial visualizations, uses of data to account for uses of physical spaces, digital remediations of interior and exterior spaces (and the metaphors, design choices, and forms of interaction taken up, abandoned, or reimagined), the impact of augmented and extended reality on perceptions and uses of digital and non-digital spaces, what we talk about when we talk about and value digital and non-digital spaces, and the limits of that binary despite its continued prevalence in some circles, among other things.

More specifically, we will consider the topic of “hyperlocal history.” The work of hyperlocal history is taken up in many ways: the curation and preservation of community archives, the collection and use of civic data, the creation of historical markers and monuments, efforts in regional and citizen journalism, forms of local activism and protest. This course will consider how digital tools, technologies, and sites of publication have reimagined and transformed these and other contexts for hyperlocal history. 

Drawing on readings and methodologies from digital humanities, public history, data science, and urban studies (among others), students will consider the value and uses of hyperlocal history for local, national, and global audiences in the age of digital networks and online media. We will also reflect on the affordances and limitations of the term “hyperlocal” in our global, interconnected, increasingly generalized, homogenized, and privatized pasts, presents, and futures. We will acknowledge the ways that particular academic fields, institutions, and practitioners take up ideas of space and place, but we will also try to think about why “the spatial turn” took so long to arrive in the specific context of history, among other topics. And we will survey materials across disciplines and genres.

In the version of “Digital Space and Place” that he taught in the Spring of 2020, Cameron Blevins identified “spatial literacy” as one of his course learning goals (“The ability to critically read, analyze, and interpret maps, visualizations, and digital scholarship related to space and place”), and I think that’s a useful framework to keep in mind in the Spring of 2021. But beyond “literacy,” my hope is that this course helps you think about the spaces and places you currently inhabit, as well as the technological, economic, and cultural conditions (among others) informing (and, often, restricting) our ideas and uses of specific spaces and places.

Course Readings and Materials

You are not required to purchase any course readings this semester. Links and files for readings will be circulated via Slack and stored in Canvas. Please let me know if you have difficulties accessing or viewing assigned readings.

A laptop or desktop may be preferred for certain course readings and assignments. Given the online dimensions of this course, I have tried to ensure that we make use of technologies and materials that are usable and accessible on a wide range of devices and operating systems. There are some mapping tools and technologies that require particular hardware and software requirements, but we will try to work within our available resources and constraints.

Online Course Contexts

Canvas course site: Used for Zoom links and storage of important documents and reading materials; if we use the site for anything further, I will let you know via email.

Slack: I prefer using the communication platform Slack for discussion of course materials and assignment work-in-process. We’ll discuss our planned uses of Slack at our first synchronous session, and you’ll receive login details prior to that meeting. Students can also use Slack to message me or check in with one another.

Other: Given the digital dimensions of this course, you will likely make use of digital tools at various points in the semester. We’ll prioritize software and resources available via Northeastern and things that are freely available online / available for use in multiple hardware / software contexts. Some tools may require particular system requirements and may warrant use of laptops or desktops. Please check in with me if you have questions or concerns about digital tools and software that may aid your successful completion of the course. 

Reliable wifi access is required for this course. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns about this requirement and we will consider available resources and forms of support at Northeastern.

If you encounter any issues related to accessibility on any of our online spaces or materials, please email me and we’ll course-correct. I am prioritizing accessibility in these contexts but there may be instances where revision is required on this front.