Award for lecturers passionate about equipping young historians with digital skills

Lecturers at the University of Sussex have been jointly awarded a prestigious national teaching prize by the Royal Historical Society.

Dr Sharon Webb and Dr James Baker were awarded the Innovation in Teaching award on Friday 5 July, recognising the work they’ve done to equip undergraduate students with critical digital skills, while radically updating the notion of a ‘historian’s craft’.

Over the last four years, the duo have developed a series of ‘digital history’ workshops and lectures for all History and Art History first year undergraduates. Delivered to around 180 students over the course of a full year, the sessions explain how to engage critically with online and digitised historical sources, with a variety of topics from the mechanics of search engines to digital preservation.

Dr James Baker, Senior Lecturer in Digital History and Archives, said: “It’s a real honour to be recognised with this award.

“We began the digital history programme in response to the changing nature of historical research.

“Historical knowledge, the ways in which we publish our work, and the ways in which we encounter the past have increasingly moved online and into digital form. We believe that students, as young historians, should be equipped with the right skills in order to deal with this digital landscape and to enrich the stories they tell about the past.”

Dr Sharon Webb, Lecturer in Digital Humanities, added: “It’s often thought that younger people are digital natives but research shows that, whilst students are experts in using digital interfaces, these aren’t the digital skills they need in their studies. We’ve realised that, in many cases, students don’t always take a sufficiently critical approach to what they find online nor understand the technology behind it.

“We’ve had some really good feedback from students that suggests our workshops have opened their eyes to how technology and the humanities can interact - and how exciting that interaction can be - so we’re thrilled that this has also been acknowledged by the RHS.”

Dr Webb and Dr Baker were nominated for the award by Professor Tim Hitchcock and Professor Claire Langhamer , also from the University of Sussex History department. The award will be presented at a ceremony following the society’s annual Prothero Lecture , taking place at UCL.

The judges of the award said the programme introduced by Dr Webb and Dr Baker was set apart by ‘the self-conscious way in which it seeks to intervene in the history curriculum more generally.’

They wrote: ‘By building a skills/apprenticeship model into first-year teaching, it lays the foundations for the development of advanced approaches in the second and third year. The guiding narrative is to move gradually from ‘Doing history in the Digital Age’ to ‘Doing Digital History’ […] It is this accumulation of skills and layering of multiple approaches that creates a comprehensive and sophisticated understanding.’

The society’s president, Margot Finn, wrote in an email to the Sussex lecturers that ‘History is a discipline with many very fine teachers, but it is resoundingly clear from the nomination materials that your contribution to the discipline goes far beyond ’standard’ excellence.’

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By: Stephanie Allen
Last updated: Wednesday, 10 July 2019