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"Creating a New Narrative: The Promise and Pitfalls of a Computer-Based Historical Methods Course"

Peter Field

The Historical Methods course has long been bot a staple of history curricula and the course most frequently under revision. Some departments and professors envision the class as a study of historiography and earmark it as upper-level; others require it a s an introductory class in which beginning majors enroll. Often even within departments, the content of the course varies with the instructor and from year to year.

The ubiquity of the computer as a tool on college campuses has engendered yet another incarnation of the historical methods curriculum. "Methods" instructors now frequently are asked to introduce students to a myriad of computer-related topics. Everything from web page design to online research now constitutes key elements of the newest versions of the Historical Methods curriculum. In many of these newly conceived courses, instructors and students spend more time working at computer monitors than reading texts and more hours in the computer lab than in the library.

This paper seeks to make sense of the new computer-based curricula. It will present strategies for combining both old and new conceptions of the Historical Methods course. At the same time, it will seek to address just what is lost and what might be gaine d from moving more to web- and computer-based curriculum. Lastly, it will ask whether the new technologies can improve the teaching of traditional narrative and literary history and historiography.