“History on the Web” course at West Chester University

A hybrid course at West Chester University synthesizes many of the core elements of #histcomm by teaching students to critically engage with, evaluate, and synthesize history on the World Wide Web; learn digital literacy; and produce a Wikipedia article and other online history content. Check out the syllabus:


 Spring 2017 Hybrid Course; meeting in person Tuesday 12:30-1:45 PM, Anderson 218

Assistant Professor Janneken Smucker


In an age when both professional historians and students of history can conduct much of their research remotely via the Internet and an abundance of historical resources are available digitally, it is imperative to develop skills to critically engage with, evaluate, and synthesize these resources. This is all the more important during our current era of fake news. This class teaches critical information literacy by providing instruction in searching and discovering information, evaluating material critically, and collecting and curating information. This course will develop your ability to gain the transferable skill of moving from information to knowledge.

Too often, we go to the easiest and quickest online history reference when conducting research, the one that ends up first in the search engine results. Often, this is Wikipedia. While Wikipedia articles can be a valuable starting place when we have the critical skills to evaluate an article’s content, too often we miss the wealth of historical resources available on the Internet.

Classroom time will concentrate on developing and sustaining a community of shared researchers, a key element in the critical evaluation of digital source materials. Beyond the classroom, you will work together and alone using Zotero, an open-source software tool for information literacy, annotation, and collaboration (developed by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University). Through annotations, presentations, shared evaluations, and an introduction to digital history methodologies, you will develop the core skills of critical information literacy necessary for 21st-century graduates.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Broaden capacity to identify and evaluate relevant humanities focused resources on the Internet, skills necessary for academic work in any discipline in the digital age (through all assignments).
  • Contribute to history on the Internet by curating, annotating, and synthesizing resources, as well as improving upon them. (through literature review, curating the web, and re-writing Wikipedia assignment)
  • Learn how to use the web effectively as a student of history, and in doing so, increase your personal digital literacy. (through peer collaboration, literature review, Final Multimedia Synthesis, and weekly Slack posts)
  • Develop essential skills in remote collaboration via digital tools and platforms. (through peer collaboration, curating the web, literature review)

Departmental Learning Outcomes

To meet department of history learning outcomes, this course will help you

  • develop your ability to communicate your knowledge of history in reasoned arguments supported by historical evidence and an appreciation of multiple causes, effects, and perspectives, in both oral and written presentations. (through all assignments)
  • analyze and interpret a variety of written, oral, visual, and material evidence (through literature review, curating the web, and Rewriting Wikipedia assignment)
  • connect your knowledge of historical events and topics to contemporary life and issues (through weekly Slack assignments and Rewriting Wikipedia assignment)


Participation & Attendance

Active and engaged participation both in class and online is essential to your success and enjoyment of this hybrid course. In a face-to-face course, you are “present” 3 hours a week, in addition to out of class work. In this course, you will be present in class 75 minutes a week, with the balance of that engaged time occurring out of class. Coming to class prepared to participate, having read and thought about any assigned readings, will make it a more rewarding experience for you, your classmates, and your professor. Likewise, using the tools and platforms for collaboration and discussion online are not an “extra,” but a required component of your participation in this course.

During weekly in-class meetings, students will sign an attendance sheet on their own behalf. Since we have limited face-to-face meetings, each student is granted only one free unexcused absence. Additional unexcused absences will result in a reduction in 1% points of the final participation grade. Excused absences (such as illness, medical appointments, legal obligations, or deaths in the family), however, will not be counted against a student’s grade as long as a reasonable effort is made to inform the professor either before or as soon after the absence as possible Excused Absences (as described above and in Excused Absences Policy for University-Sanctioned Events) will not result in a penalty, provided the student follows the university and professor’s policies.

I will assess online participation by both quantity and quality of Slack posts and general participation. Weekly posts are mandatory, as are weekly comments on others’ posts. Please see the posted rubric regarding quality of posts.

Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability that requires accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), please present your letter of accommodations and meet with me as soon as possible so that I can support your success in an informed manner. Accommodations cannot be granted retroactively. If you would like to know more about West Chester University’s Services for Students with Disabilities (OSSD), please visit them at 223 Lawrence Center. The OSSD hours of Operation are Monday – Friday, 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Their phone number is 610-436-2564, their fax number is 610-436-2600, their email address is ossd@wcupa.edu, and their website is at www.wcupa.edu/ussss/ossd.

Academic Integrity

We take violations of academic integrity very seriously, and it is your responsibility to adhere to West Chester University’s standards, outlined in the Undergraduate Catalogue.

It is the responsibility of each student to adhere to the university’s standards for academic integrity. Violations of academic integrity include any act that violates the rights of another student in academic work, that involves misrepresentation of your own work, or that disrupts the instruction of the course. Other violations include (but are not limited to): cheating on assignments or examinations; plagiarizing, which means copying any part of another’s work and/or using ideas of another and presenting them as one’s own without giving proper credit to the source; selling, purchasing, or exchanging of term papers; falsifying of information; and using your own work from one class to fulfill the assignment for another class without significant modification. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Proof of academic misconduct can result in the automatic failure and removal from this course. For questions regarding Academic Integrity, the No-Grade Policy, Sexual Harassment, or the Student Code of Conduct, students are encouraged to refer to the Department Undergraduate Handbook, the Undergraduate Catalog, the Ram’s Eye View, and the University website at www.wcupa.edu. Plagiarism will not be tolerated.

Reporting incidents of sexual violence

West Chester University and its faculty are committed to assuring a safe and productive educational environment for all students. In order to meet this commitment and to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and guidance from the Office for Civil Rights, the University requires faculty members to report incidents of sexual violence shared by students to the University’s Title IX Coordinator, Ms. Lynn Klingensmith. The only exceptions to the faculty member’s reporting obligation are when incidents of sexual violence are communicated by a student during a classroom discussion, in a writing assignment for a class, or as part of a University-approved research project. Faculty members are obligated to report sexual violence or any other abuse of a student who was, or is, a child (a person under 18 years of age) when the abuse allegedly occurred to the person designated in the University protection of minors policy.  Information regarding the reporting of sexual violence and the resources that are available to victims of sexual violence is set forth at the webpage for the Office of Social Equity at http://www.wcupa.edu/_admin/social.equity/.

Classroom Climate

This course encourages the open exchange of ideas in an atmosphere that values diversity and mutual respect. Please treat each other with respect no matter what your differences in abilities, appearance, age, political persuasion, religious beliefs, gender, sexual orientation, race, or other differences.


It is expected that faculty, staff, and students activate and maintain regular access to University provided e-mail accounts. Official university communications, including those from your instructor, will be sent through your university e-mail account. You are responsible for accessing that mail to be sure to obtain official University communications. Failure to access will not exempt individuals from the responsibilities associated with this course. Students must check email on a daily basis for announcements, changes to schedule, and for personal communication regarding assignments and other matters. I will make every effort to respond to student emails in a timely fashion. I value open and transparent communication. Please make an appointment to see or come to my office hours if you need to talk.



For assistance with D2L, please contact the D2L helpdesk


  • access to a computer connected to the internet


  • Google Chrome, Safari, or Firefox internet browser
  • Zotero standalone (downloadable at zotero.org)
  • D2L
  • Microsoft Word with Zotero plug-in
  • Slack (downloadable at https://slack.com/ and in App/Play stores)


  • D2L
  • Zotero
  • Slack
  • Wikipedia


At a minimum, students should feel comfortable navigating the World Wide Web and be willing to learn unfamiliar platforms and tools.


All readings are available as links or PDFs, which will be accessed through our Slack team, #readings_etc


Critique of Wikipedia article: 10%

Literature Review (Wikipedia sources plus your own) in Zotero: 15%

Curating the Web: 10%

Re-Writing Wikipedia: 20%

  • 5% Proposal for re-writing article
  • 15% Re-writing the article

Weekly posts and comments to Slack: 30%

  • Each worth 5 points

Discussion of readings/topics/videos on Slack (minimum of weekly substantive contribution to receive 5/10%; must go above and beyond this minimum to receive full 10%): 10%

Good Faith Collaboration: 5% (assessed by your participation in class and in group)


Week 1: Introductions

In class:

  • Introductions to the class and each other
  • Accept my Slack invitation
  • Using Zotero

Out of class:

Slack Post: Introduce yourself on Slack. Why are you taking this class? What do you hope to learn? What is your dream career? What are your hobbies? What else would you like us to know about you?

Module 1: Discovering the History Web

Week 2: January 30 – February 3

In class:

  • How to find stuff – searching strategies for historical content.
  • Zotero bootcamp (bring laptops if you have them)
  • Topic/article/team assignments


Out of class:

  • Explore the Research Guide for our course; familiarize yourself with the different databases and resources. Identify the best three resources you will explore for your topic.
  • Establish your Zotero group
    • One group per team
    • Invite “Janneken” to join group as well.
    • Create folder for each of the three articles.
  • Begin to add resources on your general topic and specific article into your shared Zotero library, including books, academic journal articles, podcasts, websites, blog posts, primary sources, documentary films, museum collections, newspaper articles, and anything else you find applicable.

Slack Post: How have you typically found resources for history (or other) classes using the WWW? What works? What doesn’t? Be specific and concrete in your suggestions and examples.

Week 3: February 6-10

In class:

  • Pros and cons of open access/free and proprietary/pay-walled resources

Read prior to class:

  • Char Booth, “Information Privilege” in Theories: Wikipedia and the Production of Knowledge (PDF posted to Slack)

Watch prior to class:

Out of class:

Slack Post: Identify one freely available and one proprietary source that falls into our broad classification of “History on the Web.” Contrast their usefulness for conducting historical research. Be specific and concrete in your analysis of what makes one a better source than another.

Week 4: February 13-17

In class:

  • The Fake News Phenomenon
  • Discussion and demonstration of evaluating sources


Out of class:

Slack Post (2 tasks)

  • Identify what you suspect to be a fake news story and describe how you determined it might not be real.
  • Choose one of the internet sources in your Zotero library and evaluate of it using the Checklist (PDF on Slack).

Week 5: Feb 20-24

In class:

  • Introduction to Curating the Web assignment
  • Discussion of what a curator does/is.
  • Examples of web curation.

Read prior to class:

  • Steve Zeitlin, “Where Are the Best Stories? Where Is My Story? Participation and Curation in The New Media Age,” in Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-generated World, ed. Bill Adair, Benjamin Filene, and Laura Koloski (Philadelphia, PA; Walnut Creek: Pew Center for Arts & Heritage; Distributed by Left Coast Press, 2011). [PDF posted to Slack]

Out of Class:

  • Work on Curating the Web assignment, using platform of your choosing (Learnist, Pinterist, Tumblr, other things I’ve never considered).

Slack Post:

  • How and why are you a curator? What have you curated? What do you imagine a traditional curator does, and how does this differ in the new realm of the World Wide Web? Be specific and concrete in your examples, providing links as appropriate.

Module 2: Understanding, Evaluating, and Using Wikipedia

Week 6: Feb 27-March 3 – History and Philosophy of Wikipedia

In class:

  • Discussion: the pros and cons of Wikipedia
  • Wikipedia article critique – Assignment introduction

Read prior to class:

Out of class:



Slack Post:

  • How do you use Wikipedia? How has it helped you as a history (or other) student? How has it hurt you? What have you been told about Wikipedia in the past? What do you believe about Wikipedia? Be specific and concrete in your analysis.

Due: Curating the Web assignment. Post link to #curatingtheweb channel on Slack

Spring Break

Week 7: March 13-17 – Nuts and Bolts of Editing Wikipedia

In class:

  • Bootcamp on editing Wikipedia

Read prior to class:

Out of class:

  • Do Wikipedia editing tutorial (allow one hour)
  • Identify several Wikipedia articles that need minor editing and practice using the mark-up code and making changes. These changes will give you credibility as a Wikipedia editor. Save each change separately, describing the nature of the changes.

Slack Post:

  • Reactions and analysis of the back-end of Wikipedia and its neutral point of view philosophy. What do Wikipedia’s policies and administrative interface tell you about it as a resource?

Due: Wikipedia Critique Assignment (attached to direct message in Slack)

Week 8: March 20-24 – The Culture of Wikipedia

In class:

  • Guest lecture from Andy.
  • Read prior to class: Joseph Reagle, Chapters 3-4. Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia, http://reagle.org/joseph/2010/gfc/toc.html
  • Introduction to Literature Review assignment

Out of class:

  • Add all references in the existing Wikipedia article on your topic into your Zotero library. Evaluate the sources you have compiled in your Zotero library, writing brief abstracts and tagging them with keywords.
  • Identify and acquire (via library databases, the library, or ILL) a minimum of 2 print sources on your topic. Once you acquire them, read them.
  • Find online Britannica entry on your topic or similar and go to the library to find articles in historic encyclopedias.

Slack Post: Write a comparison of the print sources, Wikipedia article, Britannica (or other entry), and historic encyclopedia entries.

Module 3: Integrating History on the Web with “traditional” history

Week 9: March 27-31

In class:

  • Discussion of the differences in ways the WWW and “traditional” history differently disseminate historical research. How have things evolved since Rosenzweig wrote his article?

Read prior to class:

Out of class:

  • Browse, search, and otherwise uncover examples of good historical interpretation (including writing, podcasts, museums projects, digital projects, maps, anything) on the web, that which is tailored specifically for the web rather than print forms. Consider looking at media sites such as Slate, NPR, and HuffPost, as well as historic sites, universities, and museums.

Slack Post:

  • What can history on the web add to so-called “traditional” history? Is it only the medium that is different? What else changes? Post a link to an example of history on the web that changes our understanding of the past. Link to the example you found above and post a brief review of what specifically the author(s) does well and why it is well-suited to its medium. Use examples and discuss how you can integrate the techniques into your own writing/interpretation.

Week 10: April 3-7

In class:

  • Guest lecture by Jason Steinhauer, History Communicator, Director, Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest, Villanova University

Read prior to class:

Out of class:

  • Find what you consider a good example of history communication.

Slack Post: Drawing on the example you found, analyze what you think makes this effective communication. Be specific about what the author/speaker/filmmaker does that communicates the historical content in an engaging way to diverse audiences. Consider how is this an act of translation. How would the content be different if it was in a textbook, peer reviewed academic journal, or monograph?

Week 11: April 10-14

In class:

  • Bad history on the web
  • Can history be good in 140 characters?
  • Introduce Wikipedia article editing proposal assignment


Out of class:

  • Follow–or if you really are opposed to Twitter for a valid reason–review the Twitter feeds from at least 5 history focused Twitter accounts (examples posted to Slack). Be sure to follow both individuals and organizations.
  • Consider whether these feeds simplify or give adequate attention to interpretation, multiple perspectives, nuance, and bias.

Slack Post: Report on your study of the Twitter feeds from history accounts. Which feeds do you find most engaging? In what ways do they convey history? Are these feeds conveying historical content or marketing for projects? Be specific and concrete in your analysis.

Module 4: Re-writing history on the web

Week 12: April 17-21

In class:

  • Editing Wikipedia consultations (with out of class appointments this week as well)


Slack Post: Share the 5 most important issues you plan to fix in the Wikipedia article you are working with. Be specific with your examples and describe concrete ways you plan to rectify the existing issues.

Due: Editing Wikipedia proposal (attached to direct message in Slack)

Week 13: April 24-28

In class:

  • Wikipedia article editing lab time; your chance to get assistance from classmates and instructor on Wiki editing if you are having trouble.

Post: No post this week

Week 14: May 1-5

In class:

  • Lightening round sharing final edits to articles

Post: No post this week

Due: Re-Writing History on the Web Final Paper, including making edits on Wikipedia. See full assignment and rubric


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