My how time flies! It seems like it was just a few months ago that I began this blog at the start of the Spring 2018 semester. By now, I have gotten used to writing 2018 on checks and class notes. Additionally, having taken this digital history course, I am more aware of the ways that both academic and public historians can use the tools of the twenty-first century to further their work. Historians can more easily preserve primary sources, reach broader audiences, and connect with colleagues on the internet. At the same time, since the internet has become an almost indispensable and omnipresent aspect of our lives, historians must use digital tools respectfully and responsibly.
One of the resources that I have read in the past few weeks that makes this case extremely well is Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig’s Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. This online book, which can be accessed here, outlines ways that historians can use the internet, without hysteria. Indeed, Cohen and Rosenzweig that both the “cyber-enthusiasts and the techno-skeptics” of the 1990s overstated their case. Nonetheless, the internet has clearly had an impact on our everyday life, so of course it has also had an impact of the lives of historians. To the authors of this book, seven qualities of digital media allow historians to do things better, yet there are also five dangers on the information super highway. Such a realist view, (as opposed to an overly optimistic or profoundly pessimistic view) allows these authors to give practical advice.
Another source that I have found useful is History in the Digital Age, edited by Toni Weller (New York: Routledge, 2013). Although a printed book in the digital age, the contents of this collection of articles should be taken seriously. For instance, in the article entitled “A Method for Navigating the Infinite Archive,” Turkel, Kee, and Roberts problematize the ways that many universities are preparing future historians, as well as the manner in which many current historians are conducting historical research. All is not at a loss, however, since there already exist solutions to many of these issues. According to these digital historians, the processes and tools “are not more complicated than those used for email or word processing,” yet the results will be extremely beneficial. Other digital historians in this collection of essays explain new ways of studying and teaching history in the digital age, while some attempt to predict the future of digital history and humanities.
Throughout the semester, I have also read other useful readings on a variety of topics in digital history, including readings on copyright issues, metadata, digital preservation, and methods for making digital history relevant. I found these topics interesting and informative, as I hope my blog posts each week demonstrated. Frequently, they compelled me to think about the topic of the week in a different light, and I appreciate that they came from a variety of different sources and perspectives. For instance, in week seven we read and discussed the topic of historians as collaborators on Wikipedia. Some articles we read that week were rather supportive of the collaborative nature of Wikipedia, while others questioned its utility.
I have quite enjoyed writing these weekly blogposts. While I will not pretend that I will write as often after this digital history course is over, I do plan on continuing to write posts on topics in digital history, public history, and the lost threads of history.
What do you think: If you have read either of the two sources I mentioned above, what were your opinions on them? What are the most important topics in digital history? What issues should historians be prepared to tackle in the digital age? What should I write about in my next blog post? Feel free to comment below.