Do We Need Digital History?

In a word, yes.  But I have reservations about the implementation and use of digital history.  Coming into this class as a skeptic, I was pleasantly surprised that many of my concerns were alleviated by the time December rolled in.  Digital history is obviously still in its infancy and many things need to be worked out to achieve its potential.  This course, readings, and projects have convinced me that new media is an evolving discipline and these issues will be worked out in time.  In my opinion, digital history, and more importantly historical scholarship, will be the better for it. 

I still fear that many digital history projects are heavy on “digital” and light on “history.”  To put it another way some might be more interested in what they can create using new media than doing due diligence to the research, analyzing, and writing of a historical product.  However, what I have come to learn is this can and does already happen in the historical profession.  Historians, whether amateur or professional, can already perform minimal or poor scholarship and slap up a “product” that is grotesque, overly simplistic, or just plain bad history.[1]  If you are going to be a lazy historian, you’ll be one whether writing a book, filming a documentary, or creating a digital exhibit or archive.  The medium isn’t the problem.

Examining the sites and tools throughout the semester was eye opening.  The amount of innovation and creativity in digital history is inspiring and there are some wonderful sites, exhibits, tools, and archives out there.  Of course there is also a lot of crap, but that is what the internet is all about.  Good stuff surrounded by crap…you just have to know where to put your shovel.

Sitting down and creating a piece of digital history (though admittedly very basic) I understand the appeal of using new media in my research.  Being able to show pictures, video, maps, etc. as well as incorporating tools and interactivity enables a different (greater?) understanding not only for those that happen to view a sight/use a tool, but also for the author.  Design my exhibit and thinking about my scholarship from the perspective of a viewer (as opposed to the reader of a paper) is an entirely different mindset and forced me to reconsider how I present my research and arguments.  This can only be helpful in refining my work ensuring its accessibility/clarity for more than just myself and a small cadre of interested historians. 

About a month ago I was dreading CLIO II.  Now, I am actually looking forward to it and (dare I say) excited about the potential of digital history! 

As I said in my very first post…it’s a brave new world.


[1] See 90% of the programming on The History Channel (unless you consider aliens, conspiracy theories, and reality TV good history). 

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