Drugs & Data
An Introduction to Digital History
21H.S02, Spring 2020

Instructor: Stephan Risi (risi@mit.edu), Postdoctoral Associate, MIT Digital Humanities Lab

Monday & Wednesday, 1-2:30 PM. Room: 56-167

Office Hours: Monday 4-5 PM & Thursday 3-5 PM. Room 16-635

In this class, you will learn how to use digital techniques in your historical research. We will cover how to analyze datasets, how to create interactive maps and visualizations, and how to set up your own website to present your findings. Our discussions will be grounded in the history of drugs in the United States from alcohol prohibition to algorithmic bias in today’s drug courts, which we will explore using news reports, digital projects, and video games. Throughout the semester, you will work on a collaborative final project for which you will analyze a dataset with thousands of sources and use it to develop your own research questions. Maybe you want to investigate prescription data behind the current opioid epidemic, or you might want to explore gender representations in cigarette advertisements. There are many exciting datasets for us to work with.

Course Objectives

In addition to learning about the history of licit and illicit drugs in the United States, you will learn key digital history skills.

By the end of the class, you will be able to:

  • Use quantitative data for historical research
  • Critique and clean datasets
  • Perform basic text analysis
  • Create interative visualizations
  • Use mapping tools
  • Host projects on your own website

Target Audience

This class is designed for undergraduate and graduate students interested in working with data regardless of your skill level. If you have never programmed before, you will learn important basics and if you’re a course 6 major, we will find many ways to challenge you with complex real-world datasets.

Assignments & Grading