PhD skills training, 30/31-10-2017: Exploring the origin and use of the term “digital source criticism”

On 30 and 31 October 2017 skills training was organised for the PhD students in the Digital History and Hermeunetics Doctoral Training Unit on the concept of “digital source criticism”. Here you can find a description of the skills training. If you are interested in reusing the full programme, please contact: ……….


Skills training on digital source criticism
DHH Doctoral Training Unit
Run by Prof. Andreas Fickers, Dr Stefania Scagliola, Andy O’Dwyer
30 + 31 October 2017
Participants: 16
Required: photo scanner, book scanner, 3D scanner, cassette/video player and software for analogue/digital conversion


The term “digital source criticism” refers to the critical appraisal of digital sources of knowledge that can be retrieved through the web. It draws on the legacy of Leopold von Ranke, the 19th-century German historian who is regarded as the father of modern professional history. Through his seminars he introduced the archive as the historian’s habitat and rigorous fact-checking as the essence of the historian’s craft. He is said to be responsible for the archival turn at the end of the 19th century, but we are currently facing the emergence of a new period of transition, the “digital turn”.
Adding the prefix “digital” to “source criticism” means that the traditional way of questioning the authenticity of a document – finding out who created it, when, for what purpose and in what context – is no longer enough. We need to investigate additional layers of manipulation and interpretation. Historians of the 21st century need to be aware of how these transformations from analogue to digital affect the epistemological value and appearance of historical sources. This skills training explores the meanings and practices of “digital source criticism”. It looks at how the digital turn requires a further reconsideration of the historian’s craft. The training is geared towards PhD candidates with an interest in digital history and hermeneutics, source criticism and digital literacy.

Keywords: digital source criticism, digital history, digital hermeneutics, digitisation, multimodality, protocol, boundary objects, source collection, age of abundance


The skills training is organised by the DHH Doctoral Training Unit and will be led by Prof. Andreas Fickers, Dr Stefania Scagliola and Andy O’Dwyer. The two-day programme combines lectures and theoretical discussions with hands-on demonstrations and group experiments. The first day focuses on literature and making sketches and drawings of how digital technologies affect the nature of a historical source.
On the second day, the participants will digitise various data types and reflect on their observations of this process and the differences between data types. The last part of the training consists of a crowdsourcing experiment in which the genealogy of the term “digital source criticism” will be traced and documented.


Schedule for the training

DAY 1 Monday 30 October 2017 – Digital History Lab

9.10 – 10.45

Introduction to the notion of “digital source criticism” – the history of source criticism and its problematisation from a digital history perspective

Lecture by Prof. Andreas Fickers (45 mins) followed by discussion (45 mins) (TURN TITLE INTO LINK TO PDF FICKERS WINTERSCHOOL)

10.45 – 11.00 Coffee/tea break

11.00 – 12.30

A. Tag the literature

Teams will be formed with the task of tagging the literature that has been read, on the basis of abstracts that have been written as preparatory work and the glossary on digital history (
For the last 20 mins each team will present its results.

12.30 – 13.30 Lunch

13.30 – 15.00

B. Source transformation from analogue to digital – envisioning the phases of transformation

The teams consider the objects/data/sources that they have brought along, choose a number of different data types, and attempt to make sketches of the phases of transformation from analogue to digital. The result should be a series of drawings/sketches that help to visualise and reconstruct the transformation process. White boards, digital boards and paper will be available for use. A number of websites will be listed where you can find information about electricity, light, sound and other physical processes.

15.00 - 15.20

Source transformation: from analogue to digital (text, images and 3D objects)

Lecture by Andy O’Dwyer – Reflection on the life cycle from creation to presentation and transformation by exploring the materiality of three data types: text, images and 3D objects (TURN TITLE INTO LINK TO PDF POWER POINT ANDY O’DWYER)

15.20 - 15.40 Coffee/tea break

15.40 - 16.00

Source transformation: from analogue to digital (oral history)

Lecture by Stefania Scagliola about the transformation of sound – Reflection on the life cycle of the interview collection of David Boder, from steel wire to interactive web resource (TURN TITLE INTO LINK TO PDF SKILL TRAINING STEF)

16.00 - 16.30 Integrating new insights and missing features
Adjusting/correcting visualisations. The teams will have time to adjust/complement their sketches on the basis of new insights and prepare them for presentation.

16.30 - 17.00

Review of the results of the visualisations

A team of specialists (Stefan Krebs, Daniele Guido and Andy O’Dwyer) will review and comment on the results.

DAY 2 Tuesday 31 October 2017 – Digital History Lab

9.00 - 9.10
Day overview, show clip on transformation

9.10 – 12.00

C. Hands-on digitisation of data

The exercise consists of tangible hands-on experiences of digitisation processes with different data types: texts, images, audio footage and 3D objects. The groups are divided into teams; each team will look at the various phases of transformation and document its observations in a diagram.

10.15 – 10.30 Coffee/tea break

12.00 – 12.30 Discussion about how the teams’ practical experiences have influenced their understanding of the transformation process. Presentation of each team’s diagram and opportunity to make adjustments/corrections.

12.30 – 14.00 Lunch

14.00 – 16.00

D. The genealogy of the term “digital source criticism” – Changing meanings of digital source criticism

The group is split into teams, each of which will conduct web research and consult a series of analogue books and articles that will be provided with the aim of tracing the origins and use of the term “digital source criticism” – the combination of all three words, combinations of two of the words, and each separate word. The N-gram can be used for this purpose, as well as some specific bibliographical search strategies. The results will be turned into lemmas and inserted into a table. One of the PhD students will present the results. These will then be reviewed by experts. If the members of the team agree, the results of this research may be published on the Ranke.2 website on teaching digital source criticism, as a collaborative project by the PhD Doctoral Training Unit Group.

16.00 – 17.00

Presentation of research on digital source criticism to a team of specialists. Discussion of results

17.00 – 17.30

E. Evaluation

Record short video clips in pairs. Participants take the short description of their source that they have prepared in advance, read it out loud and reflect on how what they have learned/experienced during the skills training relates to their own source material (3 minutes). What added value have they gained from the training to enable them to apply digital source criticism to their own sources? This material is sent to a Google folder and will form the basis for a reflective report and a blog about the training.

17.30 - 18.00 Drinks and closing remarks
Post-training assignment