Crafting a Digital Denver: Virtual Spaces and Undergraduate Teaching

Hello! To introduce myself, I currently teach as a special instructor in the History Department at Colorado State University (CSU), where I specialize in digital history and the history of Mexico. Over the years, I’ve utilized a number of digital tools and publication platforms in my classes, but nothing quite like Minecraft.edu, which is the subject of this talk. During the spring 2015 semester,  students in my upper-division course on digital history worked with resources from the Denver Public Library’s collection of Sanborn maps and digital photographs, Colorado State Library’s newspaper archive, and an ed-tech version of the immensely popular video game Minecraft to create a 100% scale, virtual facsimile of the city of Denver at the dawn of the twentieth century. In addition to intensive training in interpreting the complex maps needed to faithfully recreate the cityscape down to the brick, students were individually tasked with researching thematic topics from within the social, economic, political, and cultural history of the city and the larger U.S. West.

This multifaceted, multimedia exploration of the urban history of Denver will then be published on a class Tumblr account and web links to the visual and written materials will be placed within the game environment to allow the viewer the potential for a more in-depth exploration and understanding of the spaces of this rapidly-expanding city. However, given the time-intensive nature of this kind of ambitious project, it will not be possible to complete it in a single semester. Our projected launch date is currently the year 2020, but we do plan to release updated versions of the map on a yearly basis to be shared with libraries, schools, and the general public, allowing a unique opportunity for any interested parties to virtually immerse themselves within the living landscape of the city of Denver as it was over a century ago. 

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WHA 2014 Six-Shooters Session – Robert Jordan

Prior to the Six-Shooters session at this year’s WHA conference, I would like to introduce myself and some of the work I’ve been doing over the last year or so. I am a third-year instructor in the History Department of Colorado State University, specializing in Mexican history and digital history. Digital history, especially as expressed through spatial visualizations, plays a prominent role in both my research and teaching, as I believe that traditional methods of historical inquiry and publication can be greatly augmented by the incorporation of digital tools. I have utilized a number of digital tools and publication platforms in my classes, including: Twitter, Neatline, Voyant Tools, Tiki-Toki, Wikipedia, Gephi, Open Refine, Tumblr, ArcGIS, Google Earth, WordPress, SketchUp, and 3-D printing, among others.

While teaching the first undergraduate digital history course ever offered at CSU in the spring of this year, my students trained and published a wide variety of information on the history of the university and campus life. Digital timelines, maps, slideshows, and network graphs were created to be later hosted by CSU’s university webpage and mobile app. The creation of these multimedia, highly visual presentations of local, public history challenged my students with a hands-on, collaborative project which pushed their limits but provided invaluable experience for the job market and/or graduate school. I look forward to discussing the challenges during the planning and execution of this project, the pedagogical outcomes for my students, and the future of scholarly innovation inside and outside the history classroom.