Using Digital Humanities to Teach How Historians Think

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipient: Elise Chenier, Department of History

Project team: Caroline Doerksen and Stacey Makortoff, research assistants

Timeframe: January 2014 to November 2015

Funding: $10,000

Course addressed: HIST 330 – Topics in Canadian History

Final report: View Elise Chenier's final project report (PDF) and student data (PDF).

Description: This two-phase project seeks to explore how digital technology can be used to facilitate student learning in historical methods and reasoning. By assembling archival and oral history materials collected for the grant recipient’s SSHRC (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council) funded research project “Bachelors and Consent Girls: Interracial Intimacies in Toronto’s Chinatown 1910-1950,” as well as an article based on this research (forthcoming in Urban History Review) the website will offer a new teaching tool for high school and university students. It will also be of interest to a broad general audience, especially people of mixed-race heritage, thus contributing to SFU’s mandate to be a community-engaged institution.

This teaching tool will be of interest to historians beyond Canada for two reasons: first, it is a unique tool that allows students to explore via an appbook how historians progress from initial research query through archives and oral history interviews, to the final article. The appbook permits easily navigable access to all of the primary source material. To the best of my knowledge, nothing like this exists. Second, it is about an unstudied topic in history: interracial relationships between migrant men of Chinese heritage and non-Asian women. It also demonstrates new ways that web-based technologies can be used to teach foundational concepts and methods. 

By using digital materials and new methods in web design, this study seeks to move the use of the web for historical teaching and research forward by allowing users to engage with diverse primary and secondary sources to better understand how historians think. This website will thus facilitate learning in historical reasoning, methodologies, and primary source analysis.

Questions addressed:

  • How can we use the web to present research materials to show the analytical process undertaken by historians and to teach archival research methods and modes of historical analysis?
  • Is the first version of the web tool effective? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the first iteration of the website? How can it be improved to achieve the project goal to teach archival research methods and modes of historical analysis?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the revised iteration of the website when tested with more students and faculty? How can it be improved to achieve the project goal to teach archival research methods and modes of historical analysis?

Knowledge sharing:

Chenier, E. (2015, May). Interracial intimacies: Sex and race in Toronto. Official Launch, May 30, 2015, Lillian H. Smith Public Library, Toronto, ON.

Chenier, E. (2015, April). Poster session presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), St. Louis, MO.

Chenier, E. (2014, May). Poster session presented at the 2014 CHA Annumal Meeting of the Canadian Historical Association, St. Catharines, ON.

Chenier, E., Doerksen, C., & Makortoff, S. (2015, May). Historians in action: Using digital humanities to teach research methods from project conception through to publication. Presentation at the Digital Diversity 2015: Writing | Feminism | Culture conference, Edmonton, AB.