The sources for the history of our times are fragile. Joe Ricketts, the billionaire owner of DNAInfo and Gothamist, shut the local news publications down rather than tolerate a unionized workforce. For 11 minutes, Trump was kicked off Twitter. Ian Bogost sees in both episodes a symptom of a deeper problem

both are pulling on the same brittle levers that have made the contemporary social, economic, and political environment so lawless.

As public historians, what are we to do about this? There are a lot of issues highlighted here, but let’s start at the most basic. It takes nothing to delete the record. The fragility of materials online is both a danger, and an opportunity, for us. Some scholars have “gone rogue” in trying to deal with this problem. That is to say, they neither sought nor obtained permission. They just scoped out a process, and did it.

I initially called this class ‘guerrilla public digital history’ partly tongue in cheek. I imagined us doing some augmented reality type projects in public spaces. Reprogramming those public spaces. Using digital techs to surface hidden histories, and insert them into spaces where they didn’t ‘belong’. Counterprogramming. That was the ‘guerilla’ bit.

I still want to do all that. But I think we’re going to have to do a bit more. Digital Public Historians have a role to play I suspect in countering the information power asymmetry. These ways are impromptu, without authorization. Rogue. Improvised.

What is a ‘guerilla digital public history’?

I don’t know. But we’re going to find out.

The Question

[…a guerrilla narrative is the] interrupting [of] mainstream organized narratives through counter hegemonic storytelling, and the sabotage of toxic narratives … particularly those which reproduce or silence injustice… Methodologically, adopting a guerrilla narrative approach implies a commitment towards the co-design and co-production of knowledge and the recognition of storytelling as a fundamental tool in this process. - Iengo, Ilenia and Armiero, M. The politicization of ill bodies in Campania, Italy. Journal of Political Ecology 24 (2017)

Guerrilla narrative can also be considered an expansion of the oral history methodology to include word-based memoirs, images, videos, audio recordings, and different forms of art among the different storytelling tools. Moreover, the expression guerrilla narrative implies the exercise of storytelling as a deliberate counter-hegemonic strategy, with an explicit political aim. - Ilenia Iengo and Marco Armiero “Toxic Bios: A guerrilla narrative project mapping contamination, illness and resistance” 3 Nov 2017

What are the stories in Ottawa that require a guerilla digital public history?

What do you need to know in order to tell such a story?

In this course, we will develop a guerilla digital public history cookbook and perhaps even put some of it into practice.


This is a studio course. We will spend very little time in class on readings, as such; when we do discuss such things, it will be to provide context for what we are doing. I’m inspired very much by the work of historian Bill Turkle, who says to his own students in a similar kind of studio-led course,

Most of your in-class time will be devoted to experimenting with various kinds of technologies and learning how to apply them. It is playful and open-ended, and most of the drive has to come from you. I provide tools and equipment, I can show you how it works and suggest ways you might use it, and if you get stuck I can help you figure out a way forward.

That goes for us too.

This can be disappointing if you are expecting a more traditional arrangement. If you want to learn how to do computational analysis of historical texts, I’d suggest the self-directed version of Crafting Digital History would be more appropriate for you. But in this class, we’re doing something very different.

If you have questions or concerns, get in touch right away.

Get Started

NB As the schedule, supporting readings, and work we do can change rapidly, I’m electing to use the Wiki attached to this course repository for handling any updates. Please check the course wiki for the latest course information & syllabus.

At a minimum, you’ll need:

  • an account with Github or a domain of your own
  • an account with Hypothesis

Whether or not you use your own name in any part of your username is up to you - you can be pseudonymous.

Join our 5702w collaborative web annotation group here. If you’ve not used Hypothesis before, here is some help.

Do I need to be ‘techy’?

What does that mean, ‘techy’? It’s worth pondering. Short answer: no. If you can write an email, there’s nothing we’ll do in this course that is beyond you.

But what happens if something doesn’t work?

That is, in many ways, part of the point. Things will break. It’s when things break that we discover how best they can serve the broader goal. You will keep track of what you do, what you’re thinking, as you experiment and push yourself.

Glorious Failure is as valuable as Glorious Success

An ambitious project that succeeds is just as important to me as an ambitious project that fails spectacularly: both earn high grades! Document everything, and swing for the bleachers. That is the recipe for success. You’re welcome to play it safe, but know that playing it safe leads to lower grades.


Shawn Graham

I’m Associate Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of History at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

No one is more surprised by this than me.


  • Computational Creativity for History & Archaeology
  • Open Access Everything
  • Digital Public History & Archaeology

This is me

I’m currently working on things like machine learning, and the dodgy trade in human remains, and a textbook on digital archaeology with its own integrated computational environment. Recently I designed, built, and launched a journal for creativity in history and archaeology called Epoiesen. The journal went live in October 2017.


You can find me most mornings in the Starbucks in the Library. Or in PA406. By chance or appointment.

shawn dot graham at carleton dot ca.

Image and Code Credits

Images are provided by Emily Morter, Anastasia Polischuk, Joey Banks, Abraham Wiebe, and Timon Studler via

This site is built using hugo and the Dimension theme. Once the site is created, I push it to the gh-pages branch of the course repo on github.