Module 12 Annotation


Online digital scholarship projects are abundant. Parsing a dataset is important to figure out what it’s trying to accomplish, what research goals it supports, and how it may encode particular assumptions and biases. The video by Dr. Miriam Posner (back in Module 2) lays out the 3 basic layers of a project, and we’ll apply those layers to the critical annotation and evaluation of historical datasets created by scholars. 

Objectives for Annotation

  • Critically evaluate an historical dataset, with particular attention to how certain the researchers were in their source base.
  • Formulate historical questions that can be answered by the dataset.


  • Choose one of the datasets in the Organizing Document. 
  • I recommend opening all files in either Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. Close read the abstract and all available documentation (e.g., abstract, “Key to Codes”) for the dataset to analyze the scope and organization of the dataset.
  • Explore the Dataset using the built-in visualization tools. 
    • In Microsoft Excel, use the Ideas feature: use it for the whole tab and/or select a column in the dataset and click the Ideas button. 
    • In Google Sheets, use the Explore feature: use it for the whole tab and/or select a column in the dataset and click the Explore button. Here’s a 1 minute YouTube video overview of where the tool is and how to use it. 
  • Complete the write-up by Friday, 11pm. Post your write up (do not include the instructions or overview sections) to the discussion board.
  • Reply to 1 other post by Monday, 11pm. 

Write-Up due Friday, 11pm

Answer the following questions for your historical dataset. Include parenthetical citations in your answers when you paraphrase or quote ideas and information from the dataset. 

How to cite sources in your write-up:

  • Cite the historical dataset as: (Abbreviated Title, File). Example: (“Historical Precipitation in Central Europe,” Read Me). 
  • Cite any use of the abstracts as: (Abbreviated Title, Abstract). Example: (“Historical Precipitation in Central Europe,” Abstract). 

A complete write-up will include the following elements:

  • List the following metadata for the dataset: Title, Authors, Publisher (institutional connections), Date Created, Temporal Coverage, Spatial Coverage, Rights. 
  • Write a paragraph about the sources that inform the dataset and how they were processed. If you need a refresher on Sources and Processed, go back to Module 2 and Miriam Posner’s video explainer on Sources, Processed, and Presented. Be sure to cite specific examples to support your answer.
  • Write 2 historical research questions that can be answered by this dataset.
  • Select 1 graph that illustrates something meaningful about the data and take a screenshot. Write a short caption and description about the graph: what it shows and why it’s meaningful. 
  • Select 1 graph that is a bad visualization of the data for historical purposes and take a screenshot. Write a short caption and description about the graph: what it shows and why it is terrible. 

Engage by Monday, 11pm

  • Each student will read and engage with at least 1 other group’s source and post by following the “I notice, I wonder” format. 
    1. For example, “I noticed that the jade cong was valued for burials and rituals. Last week’s reading about rice cultivation described how populations settled around the Yangtze River. I wonder how far people had to go to find and mine jade, or if it was close by and part of the geology and environment that helped develop rice cultivation.” 
  • Use information from the assigned readings and videos to support your response. Take at least 15-30 minutes to carefully read the post, examine the source itself, and compose a thoughtful response that furthers our understanding. Quality comments build on the ideas and work of the original post. Avoid repeating or rephrasing what has already been said. 
  • You may reply to more than 1 post — your 1 best response will be what I grade for this assignment. 
  • Spread out responses among groups — don’t rush to post on the earliest posts you see. 

Evaluation Criteria

Clarity of Ideas: demonstrates completion of both close reading and quantitative reasoning activities, and shows comprehension through carefully crafted historical research questions.

Completeness: All questions are fully answered. All quotations or paraphrasing from the primary source text or assigned readings are properly cited. Writing is grammatically sound and spelling is correct. Screenshots of graphs are included with descriptive captions. 

Response: Clearly references assigned readings and/or primary source texts in the response. Poses a nuanced question or draws connections informed by careful observation and/or the readings.