Digital Heritage Fieldschool

The Digital Heritage Fieldschool (ANP 465) will be offered next during the summer of 2023.  The planned theme for this fieldschool will be Digitizing and Documenting Heritage Collections.  

The Digital Heritage Fieldschool (ANP 465) is a unique experience that employs the model of an archaeological fieldschool (in which students come together for a period of 5 or 6 weeks to work on an archaeological site in order to learn how to do archaeology).  Instead of working on an archaeological site, however, students in the Digital Heritage Fieldschool work collaboratively on building several digital heritage projects (both minor and major).  The goal of the Digital Heritage Fieldschool is to provide students intensive experience on applying digital methods and computational approaches to heritage collections, materials, data, questions, and challenges.

Why a Fieldschool in Digital Heritage?

Digital media, information technology, and computing technology has become increasingly vital in the various fields that comprise the domain of cultural heritage – for research, scholarly communication & publication, and public outreach and engagement.  The problem is that many professionals come to these skills after they have finished their undergraduate (or graduate) degree.  The Digital Heritage Fieldschool is intended to address this problem.  Students will receive a foundation in the skills and strategies necessary to conceive, build, and deploy a digital heritge project – skills that can be applied as they continue their education or enter into the professional world.  The experience gained in the Digital Heritage Fieldschool will also make students far more marketable as they apply for graduate school or enter the job market.

Building as a Way of Knowing

The Digital Heritage Fieldschool is highly applied, and built firmly on the principle that students develop a robust understanding of digital heritage by actually building tools, applications, and digital experiences. As such, the organizational focus and structure of the fieldschool is the collaborative development of a variety of digital heritage projects (both minor and major).  The added benefit of this applied approach is that students have the opportunity to make a tangible and potentially significant contribution to the heritage community.

Fieldschool Projects

Instead of being given specific projects on which to work at the beginning of the fieldschool, students are challenged to work collaboratively to brainstorm and conceive of the major fieldschool project.  This model is important for several reasons.  First, it is important because it gives students an opportunity to step through the entire development process – from concept to launch.  Second, the model gives the students ownership of their projects – they come up with the idea, developed it, and then collaboratively built it.  Finally, this model allows students to integrate the “theoretical” portions of the fieldschool (design research, user centered design, best practices, etc.) with the applied (development) portions of the fieldschool – thereby building applications that truly meet the needs of the heritage community.

Fieldschool Theme

Each year, the Digital Heritage Fieldschool has a specific theme in order to guide both instruction and projects. Each year’s theme is chosen in order to reflect current trends in digital heritage. In the past, themes have included Mobile, Locative & Geospatial and Visualizing Time, Space, and Data.  The theme for the next fieldschool (2024) will be Digitizing and Documenting Heritage Collections.

Eligibility & Application

The Digital Heritage Fieldschool is open to both graduate students and undergraduates. Students must register for section ANP 465 (6 credits).  The Fieldschool is also open to a limited number of non-students (specifically, professionals working in the field of cultural heritage, the digital humanities, information science, informatics, user centered design, user experience design, etc.).  Please note, non-students interested in taking the Digital Heritage Fieldschool are still required to register for the class (as a Guest Student).  Given the small number of available spots, the Digital Heritage Fieldschool cannot be audited.

Applicants will be notified as to whether their application has been accepted within no more than 3 weeks of the submission deadline. Please do not submit an application if you cannot commit to enrolling in the fieldschool.

To apply, students will be required to fill out an application form (which will be available in advance of the in advance of the fieldschool deadline).

Students will enroll for fieldschool credits only after their application has been accepted.

Organization & Schedule

The Digital Heritage Fieldschool will runs for 5 weeks during MSU’s first summer session (specific dates will be posted in advance of the fieldschool).  Students will meet from Monday to Friday, 9am – 4pm.

During the Fieldschool, students will engage in lectures (focusing on a specific topic, platform, or technology), hands on workshops, discussion/brainstorming sessions, and focused development sessions (in which teams of students will work collaboratively on their project or projects).  Students will also be expected to regularly report on their work (in relation to their group’s project) and present their work to the fieldschool as a whole.  Students are expected to be highly motivated, and willing to solve problems (both technical and theoretical) independently or collectively.  It is also extremely important to note that students are expected to attend all days.  The Digital Heritage fieldschool isn’t a class where you can sleep in or decide now to show up for a day or two.  In short, students will be expected to adhere to the highest standards of professionalism.

Equipment Requirements

All Digital Heritage Fieldschool students will be required to bring a laptop (Mac, Windows, or Linux) – which will be used for all project development during the course of the Fieldschool. Students should have a code editor installed on their laptop. A good list of (free/open source) options can be found here.


Before the start of the fieldschool, students are expected to complete s series of technical tutorials and readings. If students already have (demonstrated) familiarity with the content covered in these three tracks, they can be excused from doing the exercises. Students will be provided with a specific list of prerequisites when their application is accepted.


The Digital Cultural Heritage Fieldschool will be led by Ethan Watrall.  Ethan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Associate Director of MATRIX: The Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at Michigan State University.  In addition, Ethan is Director of the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative at Michigan State University.

Ethan can be found on Twitter at

Frequently Asked Questions

When you say  “Heritage,” what exactly do you mean?

Heritage is used to refer to the tangible (material culture) or intangible (culture) products of humankind viewed within the framework of time.  The term is often used as a reference to a number of related disciplines: history, anthropology, archaeology, classics, cultural resource management, heritage studies, cultural studies, art history, historic and social geography, historic literature, etc, etc, etc.  It is also often used as a reference for specific kinds of institutions like historic societies, museums, archives, libraries, galleries, and historic parks & interpretive centers.  So, if your interests lie in any of these areas, then the Digital Heritage Fieldschool is potentially for you.

But, I’m not an archaeologist…

Even though the Digital Heritage Fieldschool is offered through the MSU Department of Anthropology and uses an archaeological fieldschool model, it is open to any student with an interest in heritage (broadly defined).  In fact, the Digital Heritge Fieldschool thrives on a diverse and interdisciplinary body of students.

Can I take the Digital Heritage Fieldschool in place of an archaeological fieldschool?

No.  This class isn’t an archaeological fieldschool.  If you are looking to learn how to do archaeology, I would strongly suggest checking out the MSU Campus Archaeology Fieldschool.  However, the Digital Heritage Fieldschool is a great complement for a traditional archaeology fieldschool (that you’ve already taken or you plan to take).

Do I need technical or design experience?

The only pre-requisites for the Digital Heritage Fieldschool are those stated above. Beyond those,  as long as you are passionate about the application of digital methods and computational approaches to heritage materials, collections, data, or questions, you will be amply prepared.

Do I need to have to have a background in heritage?

Nope – but you do (of course) have to have an interest. Students with more technical chops (in programming, web development, user experience design, project management, game design, video, user centered design, database design, etc.) are just as welcome in the Digital Heritage Fieldschool as those students with a background in heritage.

Will the Digital Heritage Fieldschool teach me to be a programmer?

Yes and no.  The Digital Heritage fieldschool isn’t intended to be a formal technical learning experience.  You aren’t going to get the same kind of rigorous and comprehensive instruction in programming, project management, or user centered design (for examples) that you might find if you took a class dedicated to that subject (in a Computer Science, Information Science, or UX program).  If you are looking to become a hard core C# programmer or crazy experienced web developer, the Digital Heritage Fieldschool probably isn’t for you.  Instead, students will receive an excellent foundation in the skills and strategies necessary to conceive, build, and deploy a digital heritage project (as well as the implications of such projects within the domain of heritage) – skills that will be easily applicable in other settings after the fieldschool (other classes, projects, or in their professional career).

I’m not a a student at another university, Can I still take the fieldschool?

Absolutely!  Students (graduate or undergraduate) from other institutions (U.S. or non-U.S.) are welcome (and even encouraged) to apply.

Students (graduate or undergraduate) who are not now and are not seeking to become regular degree candidates at MSU but wish to attend MSU during the summer as a guest should register as Lifelong Education students. Students applying for Lifelong status are not required to submit transcripts of prior education, and there is no application fee.

For more information, please review the Guest Student Guidelines.

I’m not actually a student, I’m a professional. Can I enroll in the class?

Yes! The Digital Heritage Fieldschool is also open to non-students (professionals working in the field of heritage, information science, informatics, user centered design, digital humanities, user experience design, museums, libraries, etc.).  Please note, non-students interested in taking the Digital Heritage Fieldschool are still required to register for the class (as a Guest Student).  Given the small number of available spots, the Digital Heritage Fieldschool can not be audited. For more information, please review the Guest and Non-degree Student Guidelines.

If I’m a non-MSU student, how much will the class cost me?

Guest students/Lifelong learners are only required to pay the cost of tuition (with no additional registration fees).  For in-state students (undergraduate or graduate) and out of state students, the costs (per credit hour) can be found here.

If I’m a non-MSU student, can I get these credits to count towards my degree?

Most likely.  However, you need to talk to your university department or registrar in order to find out the details.  While we will not arrange for this, we are more than happy to provide the necessary documentation and supporting materials about the class content to your university.

I’m planning on traveling to attend the fieldschool, is there housing available on campus?

Yes.  On-campus accommodation for Digital Heritage Fieldschool students is available at Owen Hall (a private room with a shared bathroom).  Detailed information will be provided to prospective students.

In addition to on-campus housing, Digital Heritage Fieldschool students might be able to arrange to rent a rooms from existing MSU graduate students.  If this is an option that interests prospective Digital Heritage Fieldschool students, please contact Ethan Watrall in order to discuss.

The Digital Heritage Fieldschool seems really expensive..

Yes, 6 credits are costly.  If you are a non-MSU student, the cost of housing during the fieldschool makes things even more expensive.  There is no doubt at all about this.  However, we’ve worked hard to keep the costs down.  The fieldschool doesn’t have any additional equipment or supplies fees that students are expected to pay. Students aren’t required to buy any costly (proprietary) software – open source solutions are always encouraged.

Are there any sorts of scholarships or bursaries available for students?

Unfortunately not (as much as we’d like to be able to offer something like this).  Students should check with their home institution or employer to see if there is something like this available to them.  We are more than happy to provide the necessary documentation and supporting materials about the class content to your university.

Further Information

For further information on any aspect of the Digital Heritage Fieldschool, please contact Ethan Watrall