Course Overview

On January 17, 2017, in Uncategorized, by Song Chen

EAST 203


Spring 2017


Class time:     Tuesday and Thursday: 1:00-2:22 PM
Location:        Coleman 220
Instructor:       Song Chen

Office:            14 Marts Hall
Phone:            570-577-3262
Office hours:   Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 AM – noon, 2:30 -3:30 PM, and by appointment

Moodle site: 


Course Overview

This course introduces you to digital humanities with particular reference to the study of Chinese history in the middle period (700-1300). It introduces you to three major methodologies that are transforming the discipline of history in the digital age: prosopography, spatial analysis, and network analysis. Using these tools, this course helps you discover the macroscopic changes that took place in the middle period of China, known as the Tang-Song transition. The technical topics we cover include relational databases, data processing in Microsoft Excel, and data visualization on GIS and network analysis platforms for the analysis of geographic and biographical data; we also introduce you briefly to regular expressions and XML markups.

Course Objectives

There are three main objectives in this course: i) to develop a basic literacy of computational methods in historical scholarship and a critical understanding of their capabilities and limitations; ii) to develop a deep understanding of different aspects of the Tang-Song transition: the economic revolution, the transformation of the political elite, and the Neo-Confucian movement; and iii) is to cultivate your ability to think about history in spatial and relational terms, facilitated by computational processing of large quantities of spatial and biographical data.

With study in this course, at the end of the semester, you will be able to use a variety of computational methods to process large quantities of data for answering historical questions. You will also be able to reassess influential arguments of later imperial Chinese history and critically evaluate the strengths and weakness of several major methodologies in humanities and social sciences disciplines. More specifically, you will acquire basic but crucial computational skills that allow you to:

  • Transform historical texts into annotated XML files and extract data from these files;
  • Build relational databases for effectively organizing and querying historical data; and
  • Use appropriate software to implement simple visualization and analysis of large quantities of data for answering historical questions.

You will acquire these skills in the context of thoughtful scholarly discussions over methodology and historical change. This immersive experience in data extraction, management, visualization, and analysis will allow you to:

  • Think spatially, relationally, and about broad patterns of historical change
  • Revisit and reassess major arguments of historical change that took place in China between 700 and 1800, in particular those related to life and behavior of the officeholding elites;
  • Critically evaluate the tradition of prosopography and the opportunities it faces in this digital age;
  • Critically evaluate two major modes of analysis (spatial and network) with keen awareness of the epistemological assumptions in each;
  • Evaluate and make effective use of a few major digital humanities endeavors, such as the China Biographical Database.

This course is designed primarily for history students who are interested in Chinese history. However, since the main objective of the course is to help you develop a set of research skills essential in our digital age, which will be transferrable to other courses – in and outside the humanities disciplines – and even your future career, you may find it useful even if your primary interest is elsewhere but your work has a historical dimension and draws upon spatial and biographical data.

Methods of Instruction

This course centers student presentations, discussions, and lab practices. Short lectures are given only if necessary. With all readings and assignments in English, this course requires no prior knowledge of Chinese history or language. As an introduction to digital humanities, successful completion of the course does not involve programming. Nor does enrollment in the course require prior experience with any computer software.


You are not required to purchase any textbooks for this course. All readings, assignments, and datasets will be posted on the course website. “Further readings” are recommended, but not required.

To download the full syllabus, click here.


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