Write a lesson

Guiding principles for authoring a lesson for Ranke.2

Below you will find some guiding principles for authors that we hope will help you plan a clear and effective lesson. The first section presents the general educational purpose of Ranke.2 lessons, their specific multilingual vocation, and their structure. We hope this will help authors to understand the general scope of the lessons and our expectations. The second section provides more specific instructions on how to plan the general layout of a lesson and anticipate multilingual outputs. The following section provides specific instructions on how to develop the content of a lesson. Finally, we explain the steps to take once you have finished writing a lesson.

General scope of the lessons

Educational purpose

The main purpose of the Ranke.2 educational resources is to offer an introduction to the critical analysis of historical sources in the digital age (digital source criticism). Each lesson focuses on a specific type of historical source and its digital representation(s) – for example, diplomatic correspondence in electronic form or digitised oral history testimonies. The lessons are intended to be used either for self-learning or in the classroom and the target audience is beginners.

The lessons consist of a short video animation and the main lesson, with a series of assignments to dig deeper into the selected topic. The video animation is primarily our responsibility, although we may need a little help from you, mostly to ensure that the result reflects the spirit of your approach. The main lesson and the assignments are your main responsibility. You might want to use our handout for teaching digital source criticism as a reminder of the questions you should be keeping in mind, but feel free to build your lesson in a way that you feel makes sense for your topic and the methodological aspects you wish to highlight.

The lessons do not involve developing specific technical skills to conduct research using various digital humanities methods and techniques (e.g. network analysis, geographic information systems, etc.). Rather, their focus is mainly on why and for what purpose it might be important to develop such skills to be able to apply source criticism. If, however, your lesson involves considerable technical aspects, you can always prepare a how-to tutorial that we can publish separately. For instance, we provide a tutorial on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine that is associated with the lesson on web archives. Please note, however, that in most cases you can simply recommend skill-building tutorials published elsewhere in your reading/viewing suggestions.

Multilingual vocation

Ranke.2 is available in three languages: English, French and German. What does this mean for you? First, you can write your lesson in any of these languages. Second, we will translate your lesson into the two other languages and will try to do so within a reasonable timeframe. Finally, precisely because your lesson will be available in three languages, we would kindly ask you to anticipate its translatability wherever possible, as we acknowledge that not everything is necessarily translatable.

Design your lesson

Designing and preparing a lesson can be challenging. This is why we have provided some instructions below that we hope will prove useful to you. The aim is to produce an easy-to-follow, pedagogically effective tutorial that will hopefully remain relevant and usable over time.

Select the topic and set the learning objectives

Identify the type of historical source your lesson deals with and carefully select the topic you wish to highlight. You can also pinpoint the specific phase of the historical research process your lesson mainly focuses on (searching for sources, analysis, interpretation, dissemination or preservation). Clearly defining these elements provides you with a basis to set specific learning objectives and develop assignments. We would suggest that you avoid setting more than three main learning objectives for reasons of clarity and coherence.

For example, the lesson From the shelf to the web, exploring historical newspapers in the digital age focuses on a historical source, the press. It explores how the digitisation of large press corpora is affecting the way in which historians search for sources and compile corpora. The lesson therefore identifies specific challenges historians may face during the phase of searching for sources. The main learning objectives are to help historians understand the process of digitisation, the way search environments work and, finally, how to cope with different search interfaces.

Produce a lesson plan

The lesson plan should be between 4,000 and 6,000 words maximum. Please provide an introduction and well-defined sections, each dealing with an aspect you consider important for your topic. Three to five sections can give an efficient and easily reproducible lesson.

Each section should involve one or more assignments (ideally no more than three).

Where relevant, we would recommend that you provide reading and viewing suggestions that can help learners complete the assignments or delve more deeply into the subject. The following section provides useful advice about how to write your lesson and how to choose complementary resources. You can also use the lesson plan template that we have prepared for you.

Anticipate translatability

Ranke.2 is available in three languages. It is a challenge to make lessons work in different cultural environments that can often have distinct academic traditions. Anticipating this potential obstacle when designing a lesson can be key so that it can be effectively adapted to other languages and contexts. Read on for some advice that we hope will be useful.

  1. The examples of historical research and approach that you highlight in a lesson should lend themselves to an international scope and outlook. This makes it easier to find contact zones between different languages and available resources. Connected histories, international or transnational history and interdisciplinary fields may be a source of appropriate case studies, although there may of course be other avenues that also provide suitable material.
  2. The teaching resources for the lesson (data, tools, reading suggestions, images, etc.) should be flexible so that they either fit into wider cultural frameworks or are interchangeable with available teaching materials in different languages. It is crucial that you use resources of this type to demonstrate your point, rather than organising your assignments around powerful but not necessarily generalisable materials.
  3. Any technical environments the lesson may use should function in various language environments. For example, the digitised historical newspapers lesson refers to a database of newspapers in French, German and Luxembourgish, and the lessons on web archives and David Boder use both international and local examples.
  4. If you are aware of alternative resources (datasets, reading and viewing suggestions, etc.) that we can use when translating your lesson, please feel free to let us know.

We acknowledge of course that not everything is translatable and we are not likely to exclude a lesson of great educational value solely on this ground. However, we would be grateful for every effort you can spare beforehand to enlarge the scope and usability of your lesson.

Write your lesson

Below we provide detailed advice on how to develop the content of your lesson.


Please provide an introduction that presents the type of sources you are dealing with, the topic and the main learning objectives that you have carefully set while designing your lesson. Do not forget to mention the way in which the topic relates to traditional source criticism and how it is relevant in the digital age. Does your case highlight continuities in applying the historical method or changes resulting from the transformation from traditional source types to digital historical data? Does it raise specific questions? What does your case reveal about historical practice in the digital age?

You should also outline the learning objectives and the knowledge and skills that learners will have gained after completing your lesson. Our lessons are aimed at beginners, so please do not assume that readers have an in-depth knowledge of your subject. If for any reason prior knowledge of tools and methods is required, please mention this.

At the end of the introduction, you can briefly present the structure of the main lesson with the assignments, so that learners know what to expect. If your lesson builds on one or more of our existing resources (lessons, video animations, how-to tutorials), feel free to mention this and provide links.

Ideally, the introduction should consist of three succinct paragraphs.


The assignments are the key part of your lesson, as they illustrate how you propose to apply the historical method to digital sources in practice. They should consist of a series of questions relating to historical context, method, technology, theory and reflection.

The assignments constitute the sections of your lesson. It is up to you to decide how many assignments you wish to propose, but we would encourage you to organise your lesson around no more than three to five assignments, which can also be split into sub-assignments, as we explain below. You are also free to choose whether the assignments, and consequently the sections of your lesson, are linked sequentially (i.e. the first assignment needs to be completed before starting the second, etc.) or whether they explore several different angles. Bear in mind that the entire lesson should ideally take no more than two hours to complete, even though this is difficult to estimate as many parameters may be at play: continuous or intermittent availability of learners, context of use, number of learners, individual level of knowledge, prior knowledge and skills requirements, etc. To enhance the usability of your lesson, a good tactic is to plan assignments that can be completed in 20-30 minutes each, with clearly defined learning objectives. This will mean that they can easily fit into a class or workshop context or busy individual schedules.

An assignment may be composed of short sub-assignments. In this case, you should enumerate these as “a.”, “b.” and so on. The first element is a brief introduction. Remember that you are introducing your readers to your topic and you need to provide necessary context and clear instructions. Parts a, b and c (or more if necessary) of the assignment then follow. It is preferable to make a clear distinction between these parts, with the first being the most flexible and achievable within a set length of time, so that it can be completed individually or in a classroom context. The rest of the assignment can consist of more complex options, for example requiring collaborative work or more lengthy readings. Think of part “a.” as a basic element that needs to be taught and the rest as options to go further. You have the possibility to provide specific reading and viewing suggestions for each assignment and we encourage you do so.

Please avoid only providing a list of links and tasks and try to keep your audience focused on the learning goals of your lesson. Do not forget to use simple language and clearly explain the steps learners have to follow to complete the assignments. If a resource needs to be read or viewed to complete an assignment, make sure that it is a suitable length and that the reading/viewing time is included in the total estimated time needed to complete the exercise.

If you propose using digital methods or tools, take some time to present them briefly, explain why and how they are useful for historians and assess them critically.

Use open resources

You may provide images or data or base your assignments on viewing and reading suggestions. You may even propose use of specific software or technical environments. In this case, please note that these should be openly accessible, non commercial, and preferably freely licensed resources. Complementary readings may of course include bibliographic references that learners can consult in a library if they are not immediately available on the web. However, any reading/viewing resources (journal articles, videos, etc.) and technical environments (digital archives, bibliographic databases, etc.) that are required for the completion of an assignment should be openly accessible.

Make sure that there are no restrictions on any images you provide. If, in spite of your efforts, rights of use need to be obtained for resources you wish to use, please get in touch with us beforehand to discuss your project.

Please note that it is preferable to use resources with persistent identifiers (such as DOIs and permalinks) so that your lesson will remain accessible over the long term.

Make use of existing educational resources

When explaining digital methods or tools, you might find it useful to recommend tutorials for readers who would like to learn more, and we would encourage you to do so. There is no point in wasting time and space recreating from scratch knowledge that may already be available elsewhere. Programming Historian and Dariah Campus, for example, offer useful tutorials for historians, and we welcome use of any high quality open educational resources.

After you have written your lesson

Choose a title and prepare an abstract

Think of a short title that describes your lesson with clarity and precision. The title is important so that learners can spot your lesson and quickly judge whether it is of interest to them. It is an important factor in making your lesson discoverable online and we would be happy to make suggestions if necessary.

We would also ask you to provide a very short abstract, ideally one or two sentences, to complement the title and succinctly describe the scope of your lesson. For both the title and the abstract, please use simple language and avoid overly sophisticated or ambiguous sentences.

Write a description

How would you narrate your topic and the essence of your lesson in five minutes to a non-specialised audience? Lessons on Ranke.2 may include a short video animation (or a simple video or voice recording) lasting around five minutes to offer a very general introduction to the topic. We therefore suggest that once you have finished writing your lesson, you work on a one-page description that we can use to prepare the video animation that will serve as the introduction to your lesson. This will be a great help for us and will guarantee that the video animation follows the spirit of your approach, and it will also provide you with a useful and reusable output for various contexts (classroom, workshop, presentation, etc.). If for any reason we are the ones to produce this description, we may ask you to review it. In any case, we are happy to provide guidance on the steps to take during this process.

Send us the lesson files

Please provide separate folders for the text of the lesson, images and data. For images in particular, remember to name each file clearly and provide a separate list of the captions you wish to use for each image. If you are familiar with Markdown syntax, you are welcome to send us your lesson in this format; if not, feel free to use a format you are familiar with and we will take charge of the rest! If you have any queries or require any additional information, please contact us.