Syllabus—Digitizing Folk Music History

spring 2019 @ middlebury college.


Pivoting between technology and tradition—between digital computers and acoustic guitars—in this interdepartmental course, we use tactics of digital analysis to investigate the US folk music revival, from its nineteenth-century origins to the 1960s “Great Folk Scare” to more recent modes of folk revivalism. Students acquire digital skills and fluencies by applying them to historical and contextual thinking about music, culture, politics, economics, identity, community, authenticity, heritage, race, gender, class, region, and the methods of historical research itself. We read primary and secondary sources; listen to Dylan, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, and others; watch documentary and fictional films; and explore tactics of digital analysis and scholarly communication.

Paul Arnoldi plugs into a tree, Berkeley, CA, 1968 (Photo: Barry Olivier).

Vermont native Anna Roberts-Gevalt of Folkways recording artists Anna & Elizabeth will join us for a mini-residency to explore “deep listening” and “engaged listening” tactics at the boundary between embodied performance, history, memory, and digitality. Students complete a final, multimedia project in the course that builds upon our semester-long digital and historical investigations. Taught by Michael J. Kramer, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Digital History and Acting Director of the Digital Liberal Arts @ Middlebury College. No prior digital, musical, or historical training required.Satisfies AMR, HIS, NOR, SOC.

Anna & Elizabeth, The Invisible Comes To Us (Smithsonian Folkways, 2018).

Course Objectives

  • Deepen understanding of the folk revival in relation to US history.
  • Sharpen historical research skills (wielding primary sources to produce convincing, fresh, compelling interpretations in conversation with past historical arguments, evidence, and methods).
  • Develop a sense of cultural history methods in particular.
  • Investigate emerging digital history methods of analysis and narrative.
  • Improve digital competencies and multimedia skills, particularly with the use of the WordPress platform (currently in use on roughly 25% of all websites in the world).

Required Materials

(Available at Campus Bookstore or online at book retailer of your choice; also available on either electronic reserves or at the library circulation reserves desk)

  • Filene, Benjamin. Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. ISBN-13: 9780807848623.
  • Cantwell, Robert. When We Were Good: The Folk Revival. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997. ISBN-13: 9780674951334.
  • Hagstrom Miller, Karl. Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. ISBN-13: 9780822346890.
  • Fischlin, Daniel and Ajay Heble and George Lipsitz. The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013. ISBN-13: 9780822354789.
  • Petrusich, Amanda. Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records. New York: Scribner, 2015. ISBN-13: 9781451667066.
  • Rosenberg, Neil V., ed. Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993. ISBN-13: 9780252019821.
  • Additional required material (readings, listenings, viewings) on course website.

Optional Materials

  • Cohen, Ronald D. Rainbow Quest: The Folk Music Revival and American Society, 1940-1970. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002. ISBN-13: 9781558493483.
  • Lornell, Kip. Exploring American Folk Music: Ethnic, Grassroots, and Regional Traditions in the United States. Third edition, Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. ISBN-13: 9781617032646.



Tu 02/12 Getting An Overview: What the Folk?

Part 1. The “Great Folk Scare”: Height of the US Folk Revival


  • Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), Prologue and Chapter 1, 1-42
  • Susan Montgomery, “The Folk Furor,” Madamoiselle, December 1960, 98-100, 117-119
  • N.A. (John McPhee), “Folk Singing: Sibyl With Guitar,” Time, 23 November 1963


  • American Roots Music, dir. Jim Brown (2001), Part 1


  • Folk Introduction Mix

Part 2. Theorizing Folk Revivalism



  • David A. DeTurk and A. Poulin, Jr., “Preface” and “Introduction: Speculations on the Dimensions of a Renaissance,” in The American Folk Scene: Dimensions of the Folksong Revival, eds. David A. DeTurk and A. Poulin, Jr. (New York: Dell, 1967), 13-34
  • David Evans, “Folk Music Revival,” Journal of American Folklore 92, 363 (January 1979), 108-109
  • Richard Blaustein, “Rethinking Folk Revivalism: Grass-roots Preservationism and Folk Romanticism,” Transforming Tradition, 258-274
  • Archie Green, “Vernacular Music: A Naming Compass,” The Musical Quarterly 77, 1 (March 1993), 35–46
  • Tamara E. Livingston, “Music Revivals: Towards a General Theory,” Ethnomusicology 43, 1 (1999), 66–85


Mo 02/18, midnight Assignment 01: Getting Familiar with WordPress

Tu 02/19 Getting an Overview: The Authenticity Blues

Cultural Heritage and Cultural Mediation


  • Filene, Romancing the Folk, Introduction-Chapter 4, 1-182


  • American Roots Music,Part 2


  • Filene Introduction – Ch 4 Mix


  • Alan Lomax, “Saga of a Folksong Hunter,” HiFi/Stereo Review 4, 5 (May 1960), 40-46, reprinted in Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, 1934-1997, ed. Ronald D. Cohen (New York: Routledge, 2003), 173-186
  • Leadbelly, dir. Gordon Parks (1976)
  • David E. Whisnant, “Preface” and “Introduction,” All That is Native & Fine: Politics of Culture in an American Region (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), xiii-16
  • Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr., “Blues and the Ethnographic Truth,” Journal of Popular Music Studies13, 1 (2001), 41–58


Mo 02/25, midnight Assignment 02: Digital Annotation & Table Building for Close Reading 

Tu 02/26 1900-1950: Ramblin’ Round Your City

Folk Music and the Cultural Front


  • Robert Cantwell, When We Were Good: The Folk Revival (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), Chapters 2-4, 49-150


  • American Roots Music,Part 3      


  • Introduction Mix


  • Will Kaufman, “Woody Guthrie and the Cultural Front,” in The Life, Music and Thought of Woody Guthrie: A Critical Appraisal, ed. John S. Partington (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011), 35-50
  • Rachel Clare Donaldson, “Keeping the Torch Lit,” “I Hear America Singing”: Folk Music and National Identity (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2014), 99-128
  • Bound for Glory, dir. Hal Ashby (1976)


Mo 03/04, midnight Assignment 03: Digital Historiography with Zotero and Mindmapping

Tu 03/05 1900-1950: Segregating Sound

The Folklore of Industrial Society


  • Karl Hagstrom Miller, Segregating Sound: Inventing Folk and Pop Music in the Age of Jim Crow (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), Introduction, Chapter 2-5, 7-Afterword, 1-22, 51-186, 215-282


  • American Epic, Episode 1: The Big Bang, dir. Bernard MacMahon (2017)


  • Erich Nunn, “Introduction” and “American Balladry and the Anxiety of Ancestry,” Sounding the Color Line: Music and Race in the Southern Imagination(Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2015),” 1-44
  • Lawrence Levine, “The Folklore of Industrial Society: Popular Culture and Its Audiences,” American Historical Review 97, 5 (December 1992): 1369–1399
  • Robin D. G. Kelley, “Notes on Deconstructing ‘The Folk,’” American Historical Review 97, 5 (December 1992), 1400-08
  • Amaia Ibarraran-Bigalondo, “African-American and Mexican-American Protest Songs in the 20th century: Some Examples,” Journal of American Popular Studies 29, 2 (June 2017), 1-17


Mo 03/11, midnight Assignment 04: Digital Timelining and Storymapping For Constructing (and Challenging) Master Narratives

Tu 03/12 1950s: Folk Audiologies

Recording the Folk


  • Cantwell, When We Were Good, Chapter 6, 189-240
  • Henry Adam Svec, “Folk Media: Alan Lomax’s Deep Digitality,” Canadian Journal of Communication38 (2013), 227-244


  • American Epic, Episode 2: Blood and Soil, and Episode 3: Out of the Many, the One


  • Anthology of American Folk Music, Volumes 1-3, ed. Harry Smith (1952; released, Smithsonian Folkways, 1997) 


  • Marybeth Hamilton, “The Real Negro Blues,” In Search of the Blues (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 201-246
  • Robert S. Whitman and Sheldon S. Kagan, “The Performance of Folksongs on Recordings,” Studies in Mass Media(March 1964), reprinted in The American Folk Scene, 72-79

Fr 03/15, midnight Assignment 05: Project Imagining and Proposal Draft


Mo 03/18, midnight Assignment 06: Working with Sound—Annotated Playlists, Audio History Narrative, and “Glitch” Remixes for Interpretation

Tu 03/19 1960s: Pete & Pete’s Children

Part 1. Pete Seeger


  • Cantwell, When We Were Good, Chapter 7, 241-268
  • Henry Adam Svec, “Pete Seeger’s Mediated Folk,” Journal of Popular Music Studies, Volume 27, Issue 2, 145–162


  • Pete Seeger, Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, dir. Jim Brown (2007)

Part 2. Pete’s Children


  • Ellen J. Stekert, “Cents and Nonsense in the Urban Folksong Movement: 1930-1966,” in Transforming Tradition, 84-106
  • Archie Green, “The Campus Folksong Club: A Glimpse at the Past,” in Transforming Tradition, 61-72


  • Festival, dir. Murray Lerner (1967)


  • Pete Seeger, “Why Folk Music?” International Musician (1965), reprinted in The American Folk Scene, 44-49
  • Senator Kenneth B. Keating, “Mine Enemy, the Folksinger” (1963), reprinted in The American Folk Scene, 103-110
  • David Blake, “‘Everybody Makes Up Folksongs’: Pete Seeger’s 1950s College Concerts and the Democratic Potential of Folk Music,” Journal of the Society for American Music12, no. 4 (November 2018), 383–424
  • Alan Lomax, “The ‘Folkniks’—and the Songs They Sing,” Sing Out! 9 (1959): 30-31, reprinted in Alan Lomax, Selected Writings, 1934-1997
  • John Cohen, “In Defense of City Folksingers,” Sing Out! 9 (1959), 33-34
  • Sam Hinton, “The Singer of Folk Songs and His Conscience,” Western Folklore 14, 3 (1955): 170-173; reprinted in Sing Out! 7, 1 (Spring 1957), 24-26
  • Sheldon Posen, “On Folk Festivals and Kitchens: Questions of Authenticity in the Folksong Revival,” Transforming Tradition, 127-136
  • David Blake, “University Geographies and Folk Music Landscapes: Students and Local Folksingers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1961–1964,” The Journal of Musicology 33, 1 (2016), 92–116



Tu 04/02 The Invisible Comes to Us: Anna Roberts-Gevalt Mini-Residency

Tradition, Improvisation, and Deep Listening


  • Robert Sullivan, “What Can an Old Folk Song Tell Us?,” New Yorker, 18 March 2018
  • Daniel Fischlin, and Ajay Heble and George Lipsitz, The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Cocreation(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013), Prelude, Introduction, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 6
  • Pauline Oliveros, “The Noetics of Music,” Software for People: Collected Writings 1963-1980 (Baltimore: Smith Publications, 1984), 130-131
  • Pauline Oliveros, “Preface” and “Introduction,” Deep Listening: A Composer’s Sound Practice (New York: Deep Listening Publications/iUniverse, 2005), xv-xxv 
  • Amanda M. Black and Andrea F. Bohlman, “Resounding the Campus: Pedagogy, Race, and the Environment,” Journal of Music History Pedagogy 8, 1 (2017), 6–27
  • Hildegard Westerkamp, “Soundwalking,” originally published in Sound Heritage 3, 4 (1974, revised 2001); republished in Autumn Leaves, Sound and the Environment in Artistic Practice,ed. Angus Carlyle (Double Entendre, Paris, 2007), 49


  • Anna and Elizabeth, The Invisible Comes to Us (Smithsonian Folkways, 2018)



Tu 04/09 1960s: Freedom Songs

Folk Music and the Civil Rights Movement


  • Kerran L. Sanger, “When the Spirit Says Sing!”: The Role of Freedom Songs in the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Garland, 1995), Introduction, Section 1, 1-63
  • Shana Redmond, “Soul Intact: CORE, Conversions, and Covers of ‘To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2014), Chapter 5, 179-220



  • W.E.B. Dubois, “I. On Our Spiritual Struggle” and “2. The Dawn of Freedom,” The Souls of Black Folk, 1-40
  • Soundtrack for a Revolution, dir. Bill Guttentag (2010)

Fr 04/12, midnight Assignment 07: Working with Video: Panopto Annotations and Editing a Clip


Tu 04/16 1960s: Dylanology

Bob Dylan and the Folk Revival


  • Filene, Romancing the Folk, Chapter 5, 183-236
  • Cantwell, When We Were Good, Chapter 9, 313-354


  • No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, dir. Martin Scorsese, Part 1 and 2 (2005)


  • Filene Chapter 5 Mix


  • Barry Shank, “‘That Wild Mercury Sound’: Bob Dylan and the Illusion of American Culture,” boundary 2, 9, 1 (Spring 2002), 97-123
  • Grace Elizabeth Hale, “Black as Folk: The Folk Music Revival, the Civil Rights Movement, and Bob Dylan,” in A Nation of Outsiders: How the White Middle Class Fell in Love with Rebellion in Postwar America, 84-131
  • Elijah Wald, “Think Twice,” Oxford American 95 (Winter 2016)
  • I’m Not There, dir. Todd Haynes (2007)


Mo 04/22, midnight Assignment 08: Project Prospectus

Tu 04/23 1960s: The Ironies of Folk Authenticity

Reviving the Authenticity Question


  • Ray Allen, “In Pursuit of Authenticity: The New Lost City Ramblers and the Postwar Folk Music Revival,” Journal of the Society for American Music 4, 3 (August 2010), 277–305
  • Warren Bareiss, “Middlebrow Knowingness in 1950s San Francisco: The Kingston Trio, Beat Counterculture, and the Production of “Authenticity,'” Popular Music and Society, 33, 1 (February 2010), 9–33
  • Brian Jones, “Finding the Avant-Garde in the Old-Time: John Cohen in the American Folk Revival,” American Music 28, 4 (Winter 2010), 402-435
  • Jeff Todd Titon, “Reconstructing the Blues: Reflections on the 1960s Blues Revival,” in Transforming Tradition, 220-240


  • NLCR Covers vs. Originals Listening Mix


  • Always Been a Rambler, dir. Yasha Aginsky (2009)


  • David W. Samuels, “Singing Indian Country,” in Music of the First Nations: Tradition and Innovation in Native North America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 141-160
  • John Koegel, “Crossing Borders: Mexicana, Tejano, and Chicana Musicians in the United States and Mexico,” in From Tejano to Tango: Latin American Popular Music, ed. Walter Aaron Clark (New York: Routledge, 2002), 97-125
  • Why Old Time?, dirs. Sean Kotz and Christopher Valluzzo (2009)


Tu 04/30 Final Project Workshop / 1970s-Present: Folk Revivalism Since the 1960s


  • Bring a two-three sentence description of your project to class, ideally written down and printed out.
  • Bring one artifact (a song, article, quote, film clip, etc.) that you are most excited about to class.
  • Alternatively, feel free to post these as a blog post on our WordPress website if you wish to share them that way on your laptop.
  • We will break into pairs to exchange ideas and discuss projects, then convene for a larger group discussion.

Collecting, Organizing, Pursuing, Reviving, Distorting, and Inventing Traditional Music Since 1970


  • Amanda Petrusich, Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records (New York: Scribner, 2015), Prologue, Chapter 1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15
  • Mimi Thi Nguyen, “Riot Grrrl, Race, and Revival,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 2012 July, Vol.22 (2-3), 173-196


  • American Roots Music, Part 4



Mo 05/06, midnight Assignment 09: Prospectus Update

Tu 05/07 Conclusions

Part 1. Typologies of the Folk: Nobles, Patrons, Patriots, Reds


  • Cantwell, When We Were Good, Chapter 10, 355-382
  • Late addition! John Jeremiah Sullivan, “Rhiannon Giddens and What Folk Music Means,” New Yorker, 13 May 2019

Part 2. What’s So Funny About the Folk Revival?

PRIMARY VIEWING (watch at least one)

  • O Brother, Where Art Thou?, dirs. Ethan and Joel Coen (2000)
  • Ghost World, dir. Terry Zwigoff (2001)
  • A Mighty Wind, dir. Christopher Guest (2003)
  • Inside Llewyn Davis, dir.  Ethan and Joel Coen (2013)

Mo 05/13, midnight Assignment 10: Final Project Preliminary Draft

Mo 05/20, midnight Final Project due


Assignment Overview

  • Mo 02/18, midnight Assignment 01: Getting Familiar with WordPress
  • Mo 02/25, midnight Assignment 02: Digital Annotation for Close Reading 
  • Mo 03/04, midnight Assignment 03: Digital Historiography with Zotero and Mindmapping
  • Mo 03/11, midnight Assignment 04: Digital Timelining and Storymapping For Constructing (and Challenging) Master Narratives
  • Fr 03/15, midnight Assignment 05: Project Imagining and Proposal Draft
  • Mo 03/18, midnight Assignment 06: Working with Sound—Annotated Playlists, Audio History Narrative, and “Glitch” Remixes for Interpretation
  • Fr 04/12, midnight Assignment 07: Working with Video: Panopto Annotations and Editing a Clip
  • Mo 04/22, midnight Assignment 08: Project Prospectus
  • Mo 05/06, midnight Assignment 09: Prospectus Update
  • Mo 05/13, midnight Assignment 10: Final Project Preliminary Draft
  • Final Project

Assignment 01: Getting Familiar with WordPress


This assignment’s objectives are twofold:

  1. To get acclimated technologically to WordPress if you have not used it before or to brush up on how WordPress works as a lightweight content management system.
  2. To get acclimated intellectually to studying the cultural history of the US folk music revival.



In addition to using Canvas as a course management system for managing required materials, assignments, and schedule, we will be using a password-protected WordPress website as a lightweight content management system for work in the class. WordPress will serve as the main arena for writing, conversation, digital research, and publication. WordPress is a fairly simple content management software (a CMS), but it can be stretched and expanded in productive ways. It gives you a peek at how digital infrastructure works (templates and databases, drag-and-drop interfaces as well as access to the underling html and php code) without getting too far afield from our main focus on cultural history methods and the topic of the US folk music revival in particular.

Conceptualizing WordPress

For basic instructions and a great reference for using WordPress, see the WordPress Codex. One benefit of using WordPress is that there is a robust user community (something in the neighborhood of 25-30% of the web now runs on WordPress, with some estimates placing that percentage even higher), so you can usually find answers to questions. Most of all, I suggest simply diving in and using it. The platform is fairly intuitive.

For starters, think of WordPress as having two sides: a production side and a public side. There is the “dashboard” view that you see as the creator of your content—imagine the dashboard as the printing press room or design studio, where you are developing a publication when you are in “dashboard” mode. In this mode there are two main modes of creating content: the post, which we will mostly using; and the page. The post feature comes from WordPress’s origins as blogging software and tends to be used for temporal content, as in here’s my assignment post for this week. The page feature tends to be for more static content. But the truth is that as WordPress has shifted from a blogging platform to a content management system, the difference between posts and pages has blurred. For our purposes, think of the post as the main feature in which to develop your assignments just for simplicity sake (because it has a few more features than the pages generally do).

In addition to the dashboard view of WordPress, there is the published view (what readers see). This is like reading a magazine or a newspaper or a book: it’s published and it’s meant for consumption rather than creation. That said, because one of the points of the internet and the web is to be interactive, it’s not a completely static form of publishing.

For practical purposes, in this assignment you might explore the elements most typically used in WordPress. These include:

  1. Posts – as mentioned already.
  2. Pages – as mentioned already.
  3. Media – WordPress maintains a library of media objects: images, audio, video that you can then embed into posts and pages.
  4. Comments – WordPress allows you to comment on posts and pages.
  5. Users – we have a multi-authored WordPress setup so there are multiple users, but they can have different roles such as administrator, editor, author, contributor that allow them deeper or shallower access to control over the WordPress functions.
  6. HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) vs. WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) – in the dashboard, there are two different views of your content within WordPress’s posts and pages, in other words you can write in the code itself or in a text box that emulates what the post will look like when published.

Now let’s get a little more technical and peek under the digital hood. You might also consider what lies “underneath” the WordPress interface. What is the code and what is the “architecture” that constitutes WordPress?

The system, like so much of the Internet, uses four elements:

  1. Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) to instruct the computer where to put text and how to format it for the World Wide Web.
  2. Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP), which is a scripting code that works within HTML to allow for additional design elements on a website.
  3. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS for short), which allow you to create styles for a website across the entire site.
  4. And, finally, a database (in this case a SQL database) that stores your content as well as all the other code and instructions for style and display. We shall return to databases repeatedly in our course as a key building block of digital scholarship. Almost everything in computer-land exists as a database, which is a way to organize data into modular units in order to pull it into different online spaces (see Lev Manovich’s infamous essay “Database as Symbolic Form” for more on this topic). No more publishing the same text in multiple spots; on the web, at least in principle, one can publish something in one database cell and then pull it into other contexts as you wish. Modularity and its possibilities (and its pitfalls and problems!)—this is a key aspect to consider in the transformation from print to the digital domain.


  • Create a new “post.” Your post will ultimately consist of three paragraphs and a number of media objects.
  • Write one paragraph in it about your sense of the folk revival: What do you know about the folk revival at the start of our course? What do you wonder about the folk revival’s cultural history at the start of the course.
  • Save your post as a draft. Do this often. Or, write your text in Word or another word processing application and then paste it in to your “post” text box.
  • Look over the syllabus for the course. Select a sentence that most intrigues you. Write one paragraph about the sentence: why were you drawn to this sentence? What questions do you have about its content? Save your work.
  • Pick a song from the Introduction Mix folder and write a one-paragraph analysis of it. What do you hear in the song? What makes you curious about it? What is meaningful about it to you, not only in the lyrics, but in the sounds? You don’t need technical Western conservatory musical skills to analyze songs as historical artifacts (after all, most of the people who made this music didn’t have that training). So let’s try some other tactics. Image the song as a play on a theatrical stage (the stage of history?!): What would be happening? Who would the characters be in this play (singing parts, but also instruments as characters)? What would the set look like? What would the story be? Then, from what you know or research, how might you locate this song in a historical context? Does the song “reflect” larger historical forces? Are there ways in which the song might even be shaping larger historical forces by affecting them?
  • Now try inserting a hyperlink over a word or phrase in your post using the “insert/edit link” paperclip button. Paste in a url from the destination website to the insert/edit box after selecting some text.
  • Create a catchy title for your post in the “Enter title here” box.
  • Put a header title above each paragraph in the post. Use the pull-down style menu below the media button to change the style of the font.
  • Adjust the formatting of your post’s text, making a key word or phrase bold or italic or changing the size of the text using the pull-down style menu.
  • Use the media button to upload a relevant image to your post. Download the image from another website or source to upload to your post, trying as best as possible to include a caption that identifies the image and from where it was sourced.
  • If you are feeling daring, try embedding the song you selected from the Introduction Mix in your post. You can upload the mp3 file to the Media library. You can also try locating the song on YouTube, Soundcloud, or another streaming service and see if you can figure out how to find the embedding html code and embed the streamed version into your post. For embedded media uploads, you can refer to the following instructions on embeds at the WordPress Codex.
  • Take a peek under the hood! In the upper-right corner of the text box, locate the tabs that read “Visual” and “Text.” In the new Gutenberg editor look for the menu that appears at the top of a block and click on the three vertical dots on the righthand side of the menu. Then select “edit as HTML” (you can switch it back to the WYSIWYG function by clicking it back to “edit visually”). Click on the tab “Text” to view your post’s html code or “edit as HTML” in the new Gutenberg editor. See if you can locate any of the code for certain effects (<a href></a> for a hyperlink, the embed code for the image you uploaded, etc.).
  • Select the checkbox for “Assignment 01” in the Categories box (usually on the righthand side of the dashboard under “Document”).**
  • Create 3-5 tags in the Tags box (usually on the righthand side of the dashboard under “Document”).
  • Try uploading or adding the Featured Image in the Featured Image box of the dashboard (usually below the Tags box).
  • Be sure to Publish your post. Click to see what it looks like when published using the “View post” link. You can also save your post and preview drafts of it while working on it.
  • Think about any questions—technical or intellectual—this post provoked for you and make any notes in your post by returning to the dashboard and “Updating” the post.
  • Take a well-deserved break.

Assignment 02: Digital Annotation for Close Reading


The goal of this assignment is to harness the power of digital annotation and the modularity of database table building to develop better skills of argumentation. What is argumentation? The practice of closely reading documents in order to link an interpretation to evidence more compellingly. Think of argumentation as being good at wielding evidence to explain how you reached a conclusion about an artifact, a set of artifacts, and most especially the details found within those artifacts.



There is an irony to digital annotation: by dematerializing artifacts, it allows you to “touch” them in new ways. If we were to go into a Special Collections archive (or any library for that matter) and start writing on all the documents, the librarians would summarily kick us out. But once we create digital surrogate copies (or with born-digital materials that are easily replicable), we can start to write directly on the artifacts themselves. This poses new opportunities for historical analysis, particularly for noticing and making sense of details and then linking them to arguments and interpretations.

Digital annotation does something else, too. It lets you slow down your observational process. There is yet another irony here. Computers are usually imagined as useful (and often in fact are quite useful) for speeding things up. They automate processes of analysis. However, they can be equally useful for slowing things down. When you shift your digital annotations into a database, you can spend more time carefully creating the linkage from detail to description to significance, to a sense of the detail’s relevance for your larger argument.

In these ways, digital annotation and table building can help you develop better, more compelling, more convincing arguments that arise, inductively, from your noticing new details, describing them closely, and explaining more precisely how they support or lead to your interpretation.

The assignment has five parts: 

  • (1) pdf annotation using one of two PDF applications: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC or Apple Preview
  • (2) the exporting of annotations into WordPress and development of a “Significance Table” that begins to connect annotated detail to interpretation
  • (3) the creation of an outline of brief (2-4 paragraph) analysis of document using the Significance Table
  • (4) Brief essay structured by the annotations as you have processed them from annotation to the database form of the Significance Table to your outline
  • (5) Reflection on the assignment—did the shift to digital tools alter your “close reading” practice? If so, how? If not, why not?


(1) pdf annotation using one of two PDF applications: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC or Apple Preview

  • Select a pdf file from our first readings, available from E-Reserves. Or use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to scan a few key pages of the books we have read thus far in our course.
  • Annotate away. Begin by making observations and writing descriptions. Answer this deceptively simple question: what do you see? You should make between 5-10 annotations. Stay focused on description. Paraphrase a key sentence or phrase. Describe what you see in an image?
  • You can use sticky notes in Acrobat (usually there is a text bubble icon on the tool bar or under View menu locate Tools and chose Comment. In Preview, there is a feature on the menu Tools>Annotate>Note that allows you to create annotations.
  • You can also experiment with drawing on the document, adding a text box, highlighting, attaching a file, and other modes of annotation if you are feeling adventurous.
  • Save your annotations as a new PDF file that embeds your annotations into the PDF file itself. You can then upload this annotated PDF file to your WordPress Media Library and embed it in your WordPress post. If you paste the URL from the uploaded PDF from your Media Library file into your WordPress post in its WYSIWYG mode, the Vanilla PDF Embed Plug-in should render it as an embedded file. Updated for the new WordPress Gutenberg editor (we may encounter a few of these updates in the course, just be patient and let me know if you get stuck): To the right of your block in WordPress, you will see an icon that looks like a text document. When you hover over it, it should read “Add PDF Embedder.” Click on it and you will be able to access the Media Library to embed your pdf.

(2) the exporting of annotations into WordPress and development of a “Significance Table” that begins to connect annotated detail to interpretation

  • Open up your Annotation PDF in Adobe or Preview.
  • Your task now is to extract your annotations from your PDF reader to place in your Significance Table. In Acrobat, the easiest way to do this is to open up the Comments sidebar and under the three dots chose “Create Content Summary.” This will generate a pdf of your annotations which you can easily cut and paste. In Preview, go to the View menu and select Highlights and Notes. You can now cut and paste annotations from the lefthand column.
  • Return to your WordPress dashboard and on the lefthand sidebar select TablePress (below Comments). TablePress is a WordPress plug in that lets you create a table to embed into your WordPress post.
  • Under the All Tables tab, scroll down to **COPY THIS TEMPLATE.**
  • When you scroll over the title, you will see a menu pop up below. Click Copy on that menu.
  • Now you have your own Table, Give the Table a name that begins with your last name, as in “Kramer Cohen Annotation.” This is where you can cut and paste your annotations and add additional columns: Detail | Description | Significance | Additional Notes. Which is to say, here is where you can use the table to develop your close reading of it: how do you describe it, then what is its significance.
  • Once you have completed your table, save changes.
  • Once you have saved the changes for your table look to find the Shortcode box at the top of the table.
  • copy the shortcode [table id=<ID> /] and paste it into the corresponding place in your post editor, below your embedded PDF files. You can paste the code into the “Visual” tab for your blog post a block in the new Gutenberg editor. It should automatically read the shortcode as an embedded file you wish to place into your post. Save draft. The table will appear when you preview or publish the post, but not in the block. There you will only see the shortcode.

(3) the creation of an outline of brief (2-4 paragraph) analysis of document using the Significance Table

  • Your post now should have a PDF of your annotated document and an embedded TablePress Significance Table. Now you have an opportunity to develop an outline and an essay more grounded in your close reading of the document.
  • Cut and paste what you see as the key annotation details and their significance into an outline. The outline should include:
    • A thesis statement that mounts an argument about why the document you analyzed is significant to the cultural history of folk music in the United States.
    • Two-three details and why they support your argument. 
    • For each one, develop a paragraph topic sentence for the start of each paragraph in your essay and a transition sentence to the next part of your essay.
    • A concluding sentence.

(4) Brief essay structured by the annotations as you have processed them from annotation to the database form of the Significance Table to your outline

  • Now you can (finally!) write your essay using your outline. Refer back to your significance table and annotations as needed, but use your outline to develop a 2-4 paragraph essay of approximately 500-750 words. 
  • Remember to check that you have an argument at the start and that you provide argumentation (drawing on the work you did in your annotations, table, and outline) and that your essay possesses effective argumentation, which is to say explanation of how the details of evidence relate convincingly to your argument.

(5) Reflection on the assignment—did the shift to digital tools alter your “close reading” practice? If so, how? If not, why not?

  • Write a brief one-paragraph reflection on the assignment. How did you find using the digital to slow down, annotate, create a table, make an outline, and write an essay? Was the digital mode of doing this useful, or not? On what terms? What did you notice about digital approaches to close reading, argumentation, and analysis in working through this assignment?


  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 03: Digital Historiography with Zotero and Mindmapping


Using the powerful digital bibliography tool Zotero and a “mindmap” application such as Mindmup, MindNote, IThoughts,, or MindMeister, this assignment investigates how digital tools can enhance your understanding of historiography, which is to say the interpretive debates historians have about a historical topic. How do you start to characterize the arguments of other historians accurately in terms of their topic of focus, method employed, and interpretation offered? And how you place the positions of various historians into conversation with each other? Can digital bibliographic tools such as Zotero help to organize this information and even spark new insights? Can digital “mindmap” tools serve to map out relationships among secondary sources (or primary sources, or your own ideas for that matter)?



Historical study not only entails the close reading of primary sources to develop interpretations and narratives about the past, it also includes engagement with the close readings of others and the differences that arise from which primary sources they examine and the methods they use to interpret those sources. This is the realm of historiography, in which we join a conversation not only with people in the folk music movement itself, but also with the other historians who have interpreted those historical actors. To do so, we will explore how Zotero functions as a digital bibliography management and collaboration tool and how mindmaps can help you visualize historiographic debates.



  • Read over the Middlebury Libraries Guide to Using Zotero for Citation Management.
  • Create a free Zotero account. 
  • Download the Zotero stand alone app.
  • Download and install the Zotero Connector for your browser and/or the Zotero Bookmarklet so that you can automate the process of pulling bibliographic information from websites such as WorldCat, Google Books, Amazon, or various online article resources to your Zotero account.
  • Add 3-4 of our secondary sources (books, articles, documentary films) to Zotero. These can be from our course readings, but to use Zotero’s automated features, you will need to locate them online (you can also enter bibliographic information manually from E-Reserves information). Alternatively, you can use the Zotero tool to start to build a bibliography of secondary sources related to what you think your final project might investigate. Or, you can do a bit of both. Use the assignment to explore what you are most interested in exploring in terms of secondary sources and how Zotero might help you manage them and make sense of them.
  • Use the Notes field to describe your understanding of the secondary source:
    • What is the core argument of the text?
    • With whom is it in conversation? Who does it disagree with? Why? On what terms?
    • What do you not understand about the book’s argument? What is confusing?
    • Add tags under the tags function.
  • In the Zotero app, locate the digitizingfolkmusichistory Group Library to which you should have received an invitation via email.
  • Drag your bibliographic entries into the Group Library.
  • Look around in the Group Library to see what other records fellow students have added.
  • Create a WordPress post.
  • Select your Zotero records back in the Zotero app and under the Edit menu select Copy Bibliography or Copy Citation.
  • Paste the Bibliography or Citation info into your WordPress post.
  • Cut and paste your annotated bibliography Notes into WordPress under each bibliographic entry.
  • Write a one-paragraph reflection: what did you notice about using Zotero to assemble secondary sources into an annotated bibliography? What questions do you have about this tool? What do you see as its potential for thinking about secondary sources, both as individual works of scholarship and, possibly, in dialogue with each other?


  • Download one of the free mindmapping tools or use a web interface tool. You can try out: Mindmup, MindNote, IThoughts,, or MindMeister, among others.
  • Cut and paste your Zotero citations (using the Copy Citation feature on the Edit menu in Zotero) into the mindmapping tool.
  • Create a relationship among the secondary texts. How do they group together or not? Add any notes or other information as you see fit. Which texts are most in disagreement with each other and which flow together? How? Experiment with mapping your relationships among the texts on your mind map. Add notes as you see fit. The goal is to use the tool to think about relationships among the sources: how do their foci, methods, and interpretations relate to each other?
  • Save your mindmap.
  • If possible, export your mindmap, or download it to your computer as an image file. Or, alternatively, create a url link to the mind map or use an embed link.
  • If you are working with an image file, upload your mindmap to your WordPress Media Library and you will now be able to embed it into your post below your essay reflection on Zotero. Or you can insert a url or embed code into your post in WordPress. If you are unable to place it directly or as an embedded file in your WordPress post, simply link to it.
  • Below your mindmap or the link to it, write a one-paragraph reflection about the mindmap experiment. Did it help you think about historiographic debates or not? Could you imagine using the Mindmap tool for your thinking, research, and writing? If so, how? Or if the tool was not useful, why? How might this sort of ductile mode of visualization help you create clearer more compelling historiography or historical scholarship or outlines of your thinking? How might mindmapping improve our ability to create better explanations of relationships among elements (or not)?


  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 04: Digital Timelining and Storymapping For Constructing (and Challenging) Master Narratives 


The goals of this assignment are:

  1. Using the Timeline JS tool, to begin to organize an overarching historical narrative of the US folk revival.
  2. To explore the dilemmas of creating such a “master narrative,” as historians call it, in terms of what it excludes as well as includes.
  3. Using the Storymap JS tool, to think not only temporally, but also spatially about historical narratives.
  4. To consider how digital timeline and mapping tools, with their enhanced ductility and the capacity to compare multiple versions of the same history, can help us to better understand the US folk music revival.



This assignment is set up to make you fail! But fail in a productive way. History is many things, but one way we often conceptualize it is as a chronological story, a logical sequence of events that relate to one another through cause and effect. However, the cultural history of folk music does not have an obvious starting point or conclusion, as for instance a war might. So to create a chronology based on events is challenging, if not impossible (the same might be said of wars, in fact!).

In this assignment, therefore, you will be forced to choose some events as crucial, and emphasize some people, groups, locations, and moments as important, while at the same time not emphasizing others. In doing so you are creating what historians sometimes call, critically, a “master narrative” of the past. For history is not the sum total of what occurred, is it? How could it be? Otherwise there would be too much to include. Instead, you might think of history as a selective arrangement of the past grounded in evidence and reasoning about what has mattered most and what has not. That means there are going to be choices you have to make, shining the historical spotlight on some things and leaving others in the shadows.

And that’s ok. Fortunately, as we saw in the Zotero/Mindmap assignment, this means there are bound to be multiple historical narratives we can then compare in relation to each other.

So in this assignment, we will be using:

(1) Timeline JS

(2) As an added experiment, you can transpose your data to the Storymap JS to explore it not only on a linear timeline, but also on a map.

(3) Then you will develop a reflective essay about how the assignment helped you create your own “master narrative” of American folk music history, what you chose to emphasize (in a sense, what your argumentis about interpreting folk music history so far in our course), and your sense of what the digital tools helped (or did not help) you in beginning to develop an overarching sense of the history we are studying together.



  • Go to the Timeline JS, read the “About” section (particularly the “tips and tricks”) and browse and play around with some of the example timelines.
  • At the top of the Timeline JS page, click on the green “Make a Timeline” button and follow the instructions to use a Google Docs template to add your data.
  • In Google Docs, use this template to create your timeline data. First, retitle the document as “Last Name_BFMF Timeline.” In the document, follow the template format but update the data provided to include information on 5-15 events you wish to portray in your timeline.
  • When your spreadsheet is complete, follow instruction number 2 back on the Timeline JS website (not on Google) to select “Publish to the Web” as well as instruction items 3 and 4. This allows your database to port into the timeline template and render in your WordPress post.
  • In WordPress, create a new post.  Be sure to save your draft often.
  • Select the Text tab and paste the embed code from Timeline JS to your WordPress post.


  • In Google Docs, choose File > Download as > Open Document Format (.ods) and upload/insert that file into your post. This captures your Google Docs spreadsheet in your WordPress post.


  • Go to Storymap JS and review the website as well.
  • Click the green “Make a Storymap now” button. Follow the instructions to create points on the map from your Timeline elements.
  • When your map is complete (or even before it is finished), click on the Share button and scroll down. Cut the Embed code from the window and past it into your WordPress post with the Text tab selected rather than the Visual tab (or into a block in the new Gutenberg editor). Your Storymap should now render in your WordPress post below your timeline and spreadsheet file link.


  • You can play around with ordering and presentation of items in both Timeline JS and Storymap JS if you wish. Or create a series of comparative timelines and maps and embed them all in your WordPress post. 


  • Finally, develop a short essay (1-4 paragraphs, 500-750 words) that reflects on the experience of developing a timeline and related map to narrate the overarching “master narrative” of the folk revival. What would you say is the argument of your Timeline? What is the argument of your Storymap? Which is to say, what does each propose is the key reason for inclusion of the events you chose, their location, and their relationship to each other?
  • In one paragraph, please reflect on what you found difficult and/or useful about the digital approach to timelines and storymaps.
  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 05: Project Imagining and Proposal Draft


How does one begin to conceptualize a research project and develop a work plan for completing it? This assignment gets you started on the final project in the course.



It’s time to begin thinking about your final project in the course. What has intrigued you aesthetically, thematically, or in some other way? What would you like to spend more time investigating? What is puzzling you about American folk music history? What do you want to know more about? These can be questions that start you on your way toward formulating a project. You may have many ideas and it is ok at this point to sketch out a number of possible final projects with subsequent assignments in which you will narrow your focus. For now think big, be ambitious, and be imaginative in your ideas.


  • Read over the Final Project guidelines.
  • Write a blog post in which you answer the following questions:
    • What song, artist, story, or moment from our course so far has stayed with you the most?
    • What has bothered you the most?
    • What overarching historical question do you wish to ask?
    • What have our readings thus far in the course had to say about this question?
    • What primary sources might you use respond to this question from our course?
    • What else is out there in the world that might help you study and respond to the question you pose?
    • Why does this question matter?
    • What kind of digital form might your project take to communicate its findings?
    • What questions do you have about the final project you are imagining?
  • Develop a work plan and schedule of tasks that will allow you to pursue your final project over the next weeks leading to the end of the semester. Go week by week. What will you do? How will your steps help you move forward to completing the project? 
  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 06: Working with Sound—Annotated Playlists, Audio History Narrative, and “Glitch” Remixes for Interpretation


Since we are studying folk music, we might investigate how to wield sound effectively as historians. How can digital tools help us analyze audio material more effectively? How can it help us communicate interpretation of the past more effectively? This assignment explores how to wield sound for historical analysis and how to use sound effectively to communicate interpretation.



We have been studying digital approaches to cultural history, but at the center of our particular investigation is, of course, music. This week we address the possibilities of audio and sound as part of digital history. How might we wield sound effectively in the multimedia environment of the digital domain to both analyze the past more effectively and communicate historical interpretations in compelling and convincing (and moving and entertaining) ways? We will try out a few techniques and you can begin to develop your technical “chops” working with sound as we also continue to improve our historical “chops” thinking about cultural history.

We’ll do so through three approaches: 

(1) Creating an annotated playlist.

(2) Developing a short interpretive audio documentary from the playlist.

(3) Getting more experimental with a digital “glitching” remix experiment. 



  • Select 3-5 files from the Folk Music Introduction Playlist folder and upload to your WordPress post for this assignment by dropping them into WordPress (they will now be in the Media Library).
  • After each song, develop a 1-3 sentence annotation of the file in text below the embedded file. What is important about the song? Refer to particular details in it: a lyric, a bit of melody, a contextual fact about the song that you have learned (cite where you learned the fact if it is from one of our readings or another source).
  • Write a one-paragraph reflection on the songs as a playlist. What story or narrative or meaning do they suggest when brought into sequence? Develop an argument about the playlist as a sequence of songs and offer us a narration of how that argument unfolds through details in each song as they relate to each other.
  • BONUS OPTION: Now reorganize the songs in a different order. What argument does your playlist suggest in this new sequence? Is it different from your original sequence? In one paragraph, narrate the new sequence and its argument in relation to your original playlist.


  • Time to become a historian disc jockey! Using Garageband, Audacity, Ableton, or the audio editing software of your choice, create an audio narration with clips of each song and a version of your annotations knitting them together. Create a brief introduction and conclusion. Tell us a story about your songs and what they suggest when brought together into a historical narrative with an interpretation or argument to it.
  • Experiment simple sound production from the following options (you can try one or a few or all of them):
    • a fade in
    • a fade out
    • a crossfade between two songs
    • a sound effect 
  • Upload and embed your audio historical interpretation to your WordPress blog post.


  • Time to get weird! Use one of the presets in your audio editor software to change some aspect of one song from the Introduction Playlist or follow Tanner Howard’s experiment (bottom of this post) and convert your MP3 file to an image, manipulate it, and reproduce it as a sound file. What does the “glitched” version of the song suggest to you when compared to the original? Does the alteration or distortion of an audio file (or any artifact for that matter) through the chance operations of digital algorithmic manipulation produce a useful reflection on the original recording and what it represents?
  • Write a one-paragraph reflection on your glitch experiment. What did you notice when changing the file? Did the glitching make you notice anything new in the song? Did it spark any ideas about the significance of the song?


  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 07: Working with Video: Panopto Annotations and Editing a Clip


How can we harness the potential of multimedia historical interpretation more effectively by using video? This assignment asks you to explore video annotation of Festival in Panopto (thinking back to our earlier annotation assignment). It also asks you to develop your video editing chops by extracting a two-minute clip from the documentary film Festivaland writing a brief essay about its significance, offering in your prose how details from the clip relate to and support a larger argument about the documentary film and its historical significance.




  • In Panotpo, make 5-10 annotations of Festival. Share them to our collective annotations in the application.
  • Optional: cut and paste your annotations into a Significance Table and embed in your WordPress Post.


  • Using iMovie, Adobe Premiere, or another video editing application, extract a two-minute clip from Festival (file provided in Canvas). 
  • Experiment with any or all of the following:
    • Creating a fade in and fade out to your clip. 
    • Adding an audio commentary to your clip about its significance.


  • Write a one-paragraph reflection on video experimentation. What did you learn? What are you curious about when it comes to wielding video for historical analysis and interpretation?
  • Embed your Significance Table of your Panopto annotations if you created a table using TablePress.
  • Embed your clip in your WordPress post.
  • Write a brief one-paragraph reflection on your clip: why did you select it? What does it have to teach us about the history of folk music in the United States?
  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 08: Project Prospectus


Time to push forward with your final project through revision and iteration. 


Historical interpretation emerges through iteration and revision. Consider: has your topic changed? Has your focus? Has your research question changed? Have your primary sources changed? Your secondary sources? Have your ideas about digital modes of analysis or expression to respond to your research question? 



  • Return to Assignment 05 and rewrite your proposal.
  • Try out the “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Research Question” experiment. In a blog post, propose at least five different versions of your research question. How might you phrase it in different ways? Then explain which version you like the best and why.
  • Try out the “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Thesis” experiment. In a blog post, propose at least five different versions of your thesis. How might you phrase it in different ways? Then explain which version you like the best and why.
  • Revise your work plan and schedule of tasks that will allow you to pursue your final project What will you do? What steps help you move forward to completing the project? 
  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 09: Prospectus Update


Focus on making progress with your final project and design a rubric for evaluating it.



  • Write a brief update about your project. What is progressing? Where are you getting stuck? 
  • Continue to revise your research question, thesis, and work plan for feedback.
  • Report on the digital form your project is taking: what do you want your project to communicate in its digital form or use of digital tools for analysis and/or communication? Is your use of digital form achievable? What are the priorities and issues with the digital mode of historical interpretation in your project?
  • Design a draft of a rubric for evaluation: on what terms should your project be evaluated? Read Daniel Paul O’Donnell’s “The Unessay” for ideas. Your rubric can vary in style and content, but it should present criteria for analysis: what is it that marks success or not, qualitatively, in your final project? Professor Kramer will help you shape your rubric once you come up with a draft of it.
  • Try looking at a fellow students Prospectus and updates. Offer some feedback. Ask some constructive questions. 
  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Assignment 10: Final Project Preliminary Draft


Develop a preliminary draft of your final project and offer feedback for fellow students in the course.


  • Post a preliminary version of your final project in whatever state it currently exists. It can be fragmentary and incomplete.
  • Write a one-paragraph report on the state of the project: what is working? What is proving difficult? How do you plan to address any issues with the project at this stage to complete it by the final deadline.
  • Offer constructive feedback on one to three projects by your fellow students. What do you notice? What makes sense and what does not? What do you have questions about? Any ideas for them to improve their projects?


  • Select Category Assignment.
  • Add tags.
  • Add a featured image.
  • Add a catchy title.
  • Publish your post.

Final Project


The creation of an interpretive digital history multimedia essay based on original research, in dialogue with secondary sources and historiography, and harnessing the potential of digital technologies for analysis and communication of your findings.


A good historical interpretation blends concreteness of focus with theoretical insight and deep contextualization and does so through conveying a compelling narrative or story. A good digital historical interpretation uses computational and multimedia technologies in service of these goals. Often, but not exclusively, the main concern for historians is to track change and continuity over time, across space, or in the relations among a set of artifacts, but always with a sense of meaning: what do these artifacts and stories mean? What can they tell us about the past and how we should understand it?

The final project in our course asks you to develop and produce an “interpretive digital history” multimedia project. What does this mean, exactly? The goal of the final assignment is to develop an argument grounded in careful description and analysis of primary source material that expresses an interpretation in relation to secondary sources (the “historiography,” or the debates other historians have had about a topic) and to do so in a compelling digital format that delivers your interpretative narrative with style and interest.

In a non-digital history class, you might develop this kind of project as a written essay. In this course, we move to a digital platform and turn to multimedia tools to explore a research question, develop an interpretation of sources in response to the question, explain how the interpretation relates to existing debates about the topic, and convey the interpretation effectively and compellingly through digital means. Your project might take the form of text and images, the inclusion of timelines and maps, the use of annotation, creation of slideshows, an audio podcast, a video documentary, or some hybrid form of all of these. The goal is to fit the digital form of your project to its content: your argument, your primary sources, and the historiographical debates you identify in your secondary literature. 

Here are some ideas for final projects:

  • A study of one performer or participant in the folk revival.
  • A study of one song or set of songs, investigating and analyzing its history, circulation, music and text, and significance.
  • A study of a particular “roots” genre or boundaries between or among genres.
  • A study of an event, or aspect of an event.
  • A study of politics or some issue of cultural politics.
  • A study of change (and/or continuity) over time of a performer, event, or theme.
  • The notion of a folk “revival”—revival of what, exactly?
  • The concepts of authenticity, sincerity, irony, and other modalities or sensibilities and values of the folk revival.
  • Concepts of the audience and of participation in the folk revival.
  • Concepts of tradition in the folk revival.
  • Issues of race, gender, ethnicity, region, age, economics (capitalism), politics (socialism) as registered in specific source material and secondary debates.
  • Folk music as educational tool.
  • An exploration of the meaning of one artifact: a photograph, a document, an album cover, an instrument, a famous article, or some other source material and what it reveals about a larger theme in the cultural history of the twentieth-century US folk music revival.

Some, but not all, digital archives and resources at Middlebury that are available. These are just a sampling. Meet with a research librarian at Middlebury’s Davis Family Libraryto seek out what sources and archives exist for your research interests (and what interpretive secondary sources exist).



Archives with digitized online collections:

Lots more out there! Seek and ye shall find.

Professor Kramer will consult with you extensively on shaping the project’s focus and scope so that you can succeed in creating a digital interpretive history essay that is sophisticated but also achievable in the time we have together in the course.


This course focuses on the acquisition of three areas of knowledge:

  • (1) mastery of the topical focus on the folk music revival
  • (2) improvement in historical research methods of processing evidence to articulate original, compelling interpretations with grace, style, and clarity of communication; and
  • (3) exposure to and advancement in skills of using digital software and media tools for historical analysis and communication. 

None of these are formulaic types of knowledge; rather, the goal is to improve your capabilities as the practitioner of the craft of historical thinking with digital tools about culture, musical culture in particular. Evaluations—both qualitative and quantitative—serve to help you develop your capacities as a historian, wielder of evidence, maker of arguments, user of digital tools, and thinker about United States cultural history.

In this course, we use a special type of evaluation called specifications grading (adapted from Jason Mittell’s version of Linda B. Nilson’s approach; for more see her essay). It takes a moment of adjustment from traditional modes of grading, but it gives you much more control over what you wish to put into and get out of the class.

In specifications grading:

  • You choose a “bundle” of assignments to complete depending on what your own goal is in the course for a grade.
  • You can choose to pursue a C, B, or A bundle. Below C grades reflect not meeting the standards of the C level.
  • Your grade is determined first by the amount of work you put into the course (measured by number of assignments completed) and second by feedback on the work from the instructor (needs substantive improvement/satisfactory/exemplary).
  • Your final grade is primarily based on the bundles of assignments you complete, followed by the instructor’s assessment of the quality of the work.
  • Grades of plus and minus will be used to register exceptional work on the required assignments or when a student’s assignment falls between two bundles.
  • Some assignments merely need to be completed; others receive more extensive qualitative feedback. Professor Kramer is always available to discuss your work in the course so that expectations are clear.
  • Important: your final letter grade is not an assessment of your intelligence, your abilities, or your value as a person—in fact, grading is never a reflection of who you are as a person; they are merely an attempt to reflect what you learned in the course: no more, no less.
  • Professor Kramer is always available to confer expectations in the course so that they are clear and understandable, no matter what bundle of assignments you choose to pursue.

C Bundle – Students who complete the following will pass the course with a grade of C:

  • Actively attend and participate in all course meetings, with up to 3 absences, per the attendance policy below.
  • Complete Assignments 01-04, 06-07 at satisfactory level (some display of analysis and interpretation; clear, compelling narrative style; and thoughtful, well-argued reflection on assignments as per instructions) or higher.

B Bundle – Students who complete the following will pass the course with a grade of B: 

  • Actively attend all course meetings, with up to 2 absences, per the attendance policy.
  • Complete Assignments 01-04, 06-07 at satisfactory level (some display of analysis and interpretation; clear, compelling narrative style; and thoughtful, well-argued reflection on assignments as per instructions) or higher.
  • Complete at least two of Assignments 05, 08, 09, or 10 mapping out a potential final project plan at satisfactory level (some display of analysis and interpretation; clear, compelling narrative style; and thoughtful, well-argued reflection on assignments as per instructions) or higher.

A Bundle – Students who complete the following will pass the course with a grade of A:

  • Actively attend all course meetings, with up to 2 absences, per the attendance policy
  • Complete Assignments 01-10.
  • Complete Final Assignment to a satisfactory level (A-) or exemplary level (A).

Tokens & Flexibility 

Since you take this course in the context of your other classes and your lives, there is some flexibility built in to accommodate unexpected challenges and struggles and to allow you to revise an assignment that was not satisfactory for the first try. Students may exchange up to 3 tokens to: 

  • Revise and resubmit any of Assignments 01-10.
  • Eliminate absences from their attendance record.

Citations and Formatting

All assignments should use Chicago Manual of Style for citation and formatting.

Full assignment descriptions and learning goals are listed in the Assignments section. 



You are expected to attend all class meetings on time, having done the readings, thought about the material, and prepared to engage in discussion and in-class activities. Attendance will be taken regularly—being late two times counts as one absence. To accommodate for illness and other commitments, the grade bundles include a certain number of absences. Students who miss a class should find out what they missed from their classmates and learn the necessary material. You will certainly perform better in the course and learn more if you attend class meetings.


Effective participation in class discussions involves both listening attentively and contributing to conversations effectively. Special commendation is given for effective responses to the comments made by other students, linking one’s own perspective to the existing conversation while adding a new dimension to the discussion.

Academic Honesty
All work you submit must be your own and you may not inappropriately assist other students in their work beyond the confines of a particular assignment, in keeping with the Middlebury College Honor Code. The minimum penalty for academic misconduct will be a failing grade (F) for the course and further academic and disciplinary penalties may be assessed by the Academic Judicial Board. The definitions of plagiarism and cheating used in this course are consistent with the material in the College Handbook, Chapter V. You are always welcome to confer with Professor Kramer if you are not sure about a specific aspect of how the Honor Code relates to the course.


Students with documented disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact me as early in the semester as possible to ensure that such accommodations are implemented in a timely fashion. Assistance is available to eligible students through the ADA Office. Please contact Jodi Litchfield, the ADA Coordinator, at or 802-443-5936 for more information. All discussions will remain confidential. As the father of a child with learning differences, Professor Kramer welcomes the opportunity to work with all kinds of students and will communicate with the student, Student Accessibility Services, the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research’s Learning Resources team, or other campus or off-campus people or offices to accommodate any special needs or issues. 

As one useful resource, students can use SensusAccess via Middlebury College’s license to convert any files to a more accessible format.

Good Communication

Always feel free to reach out to Professor Kramer if you are encountering problems in the course or that are affecting your efforts in the course. Professor Kramer promises to strive to communicate expectations for course as clearly as possible.

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